Randall Jarrell |
Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical
Are selves I overlook.
Wisdom, said William James,
Is learning what to overlook.
And I am wise
If that is wisdom.
Yet somehow, as I buy All from these shelves
And the boy takes it to my station wagon,
What I've become
Troubles me even if I shut my eyes.
When I was young and miserable and pretty
And poor, I'd wish
What all girls wish: to have a husband,
A house and children.
Now that I'm old, my wish
That the boy putting groceries in my car
It bewilders me he doesn't see me.
For so many years
I was good enough to eat: the world looked at me
And its mouth watered.
How often they have undressed me,
The eyes of strangers!
And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile
Imaginings within my imagining,
I too have taken
The chance of life.
Now the boy pats my dog
And we start home.
Now I am good.
The last mistaken,
Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind
Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm
Some soap and water--
It was so long ago, back in some Gay
Twenties, Nineties, I don't know .
Today I miss
My lovely daughter
Away at school, my sons away at school,
My husband away at work--I wish for them.
The dog, the maid,
And I go through the sure unvarying days
At home in them.
As I look at my life,
I am afraid
Only that it will change, as I am changing:
I am afraid, this morning, of my face.
It looks at me
From the rear-view mirror, with the eyes I hate,
The smile I hate.
Its plain, lined look
Of gray discovery
Repeats to me: "You're old.
" That's all, I'm old.
And yet I'm afraid, as I was at the funeral
I went to yesterday.
My friend's cold made-up face, granite among its flowers,
Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body
Were my face and body.
As I think of her and I hear her telling me
How young I seem; I am exceptional;
I think of all I have.
But really no one is exceptional,
No one has anything, I'm anybody,
I stand beside my grave
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.
Langston Hughes |
Children, I come back today
To tell you a story of the long dark way
That I had to climb, that I had to know
In order that the race might live and grow.
Look at my face -- dark as the night --
Yet shining like the sun with love's true light.
I am the dark girl who crossed the red sea
Carrying in my body the seed of the free.
I am the woman who worked in the field
Bringing the cotton and the corn to yield.
I am the one who labored as a slave,
Beaten and mistreated for the work that I gave --
Children sold away from me, I'm husband sold, too.
No safety , no love, no respect was I due.
Three hundred years in the deepest South:
But God put a song and a prayer in my mouth .
God put a dream like steel in my soul.
Now, through my children, I'm reaching the goal.
Now, through my children, young and free,
I realized the blessing deed to me.
I couldn't read then.
I couldn't write.
I had nothing, back there in the night.
Sometimes, the valley was filled with tears,
But I kept trudging on through the lonely years.
Sometimes, the road was hot with the sun,
But I had to keep on till my work was done:
I had to keep on! No stopping for me --
I was the seed of the coming Free.
I nourished the dream that nothing could smother
Deep in my breast -- the Negro mother.
I had only hope then , but now through you,
Dark ones of today, my dreams must come true:
All you dark children in the world out there,
Remember my sweat, my pain, my despair.
Remember my years, heavy with sorrow --
And make of those years a torch for tomorrow.
Make of my pass a road to the light
Out of the darkness, the ignorance, the night.
Lift high my banner out of the dust.
Stand like free men supporting my trust.
Believe in the right, let none push you back.
Remember the whip and the slaver's track.
Remember how the strong in struggle and strife
Still bar you the way, and deny you life --
But march ever forward, breaking down bars.
Look ever upward at the sun and the stars.
Oh, my dark children, may my dreams and my prayers
Impel you forever up the great stairs --
For I will be with you till no white brother
Dares keep down the children of the Negro Mother.
Michael Ondaatje |
A girl whom I've not spoken to
or shared coffee with for several years
writes of an old scar.
On her wrist it sleeps, smooth and white,
the size of a leech.
I gave it to her
brandishing a new Italian penknife.
Look, I said turning,
and blood spat onto her shirt.
My wife has scars like spread raindrops
on knees and ankles,
she talks of broken greenhouse panes
and yet, apart from imagining red feet,
(a nymph out of Chagall)
I bring little to that scene.
We remember the time around scars,
they freeze irrelevant emotions
and divide us from present friends.
I remember this girl's face,
the widening rise of surprise.
And would she
moving with lover or husband
conceal or flaunt it,
or keep it at her wrist
a mysterious watch.
And this scar I then remember
is a medallion of no emotion.
I would meet you now
and I would wish this scar
to have been given with
all the love
that never occurred between us.
More great poems below...
Walt Whitman |
I SIT and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame;
I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish with themselves, remorseful after
I see, in low life, the mother misused by her children, dying, neglected, gaunt,
I see the wife misused by her husband—I see the treacherous seducer of young women;
I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love, attempted to be hid—I see these
I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny—I see martyrs and prisoners;
I observe a famine at sea—I observe the sailors casting lots who shall be
preserve the lives of the rest;
I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon laborers, the poor,
negroes, and the like;
All these—All the meanness and agony without end, I sitting, look out upon,
See, hear, and am silent.
Phillis Wheatley |
Grim monarch! see, depriv'd of vital breath,
A young physician in the dust of death:
Dost thou go on incessant to destroy,
Our griefs to double, and lay waste our joy?
"Enough" thou never yet wast known to say,
Though millions die, the vassals of thy sway:
Nor youth, nor science, nor the ties of love,
Nor aught on earth thy flinty heart can move.
The friend, the spouse from his dire dart to save,
In vain we ask the sovereign of the grave.
Fair mourner, there see thy lov'd Leonard laid,
And o'er him spread the deep impervious shade;
Clos'd are his eyes, and heavy fetters keep
His senses bound in never-waking sleep,
Till time shall cease, till many a starry world
Shall fall from heav'n, in dire confusion hurl'd,
Till nature in her final wreck shall lie,
And her last groan shall rend the azure sky:
Not, not till then his active soul shall claim
His body, a divine immortal frame.
But see the softly-stealing tears apace
Pursue each other down the mourner's face;
But cease thy tears, bid ev'ry sigh depart,
And cast the load of anguish from thine heart:
From the cold shell of his great soul arise,
And look beyond, thou native of the skies;
There fix thy view, where fleeter than the wind
Thy Leonard mounts, and leaves the earth behind.
Thyself prepare to pass the vale of night
To join for ever on the hills of light:
To thine embrace his joyful sprit moves
To thee, the partner of his earthly loves;
He welcomes thee to pleasures more refin'd,
And better suited to th' immortal mind.
Gwendolyn Brooks |
Already I am no longer looked at with lechery or love.
My daughters and sons have put me away with marbles and dolls,
Are gone from the house.
My husband and lovers are pleasant or somewhat polite
And night is night.
It is a real chill out,
The genuine thing.
I am not deceived, I do not think it is still summer
Because sun stays and birds continue to sing.
It is summer-gone that I see, it is summer-gone.
The sweet flowers indrying and dying down,
The grasses forgetting their blaze and consenting to brown.
It is a real chill out.
The fall crisp comes
I am aware there is winter to heed.
There is no warm house
That is fitted with my need.
I am cold in this cold house this house
Whose washed echoes are tremulous down lost halls.
I am a woman, and dusty, standing among new affairs.
I am a woman who hurries through her prayers.
Tin intimations of a quiet core to be my
Desert and my dear relief
Come: there shall be such islanding from grief,
And small communion with the master shore.
And I incline this ear to tin,
Consult a dual dilemma.
Whether to dry
In humming pallor or to leap and die.
Somebody muffed it?? Somebody wanted to joke
Erica Jong |
All the endings in my life
rise up against me
like that sea of troubles
like Vikings in their boats
to my fate.
I know beginnings,
but I do not know
I do not know
the sweet demi-boredom
of life as it lingers,
of man and wife
regarding each other
across a table of shared witnesses,
of the hand-in-hand dreams
of those who have slept
a half-century together
in a bed so used and familiar
it is rutted
I would know that
before this life closes,
a soulmate to share my roses--
I would make a spell
with long grey beard hairs
and powdered rosemary and rue,
with the jacket of a tux
for a tall man
with broad shoulders,
who loves to dance;
with one blue contact lens
for his bluest eyes;
with honey in a jar
for his love of me;
with salt in a dish
for his love of sex and skin;
with crushed rose petals
for our bed;
with tubes of cerulean blue
and vermilion and rose madder
for his artist's eye;
with a dented Land-Rover fender
for his love of travel;
with a poem by Blake
for his love of innocence
revealed by experience;
with soft rain
and a bare head;
with hand-in-hand dreams on Mondays
and the land of fuck
with mangoes, papayas
and a house towering
above the sea.
Muse, I surrender
Thy will be done,
If this love spell
send me this lover,
this dancing partner
for my empty bed
and let him fill me
until I die.
I offer my bones,
my luck with roses,
and the secret garden
I have found
walled in my center,
and the sunflower
who raises her head
despite her heavy seeds.
I am ready now, Muse,
to serve you faithfully
a graceful dancing partner--
for I have learned
to stand alone.
Give me your blessing.
Let the next
epithalamion I write
be my own.
And let it last
more than the years
of my life--
and without the least
two lovers bareheaded
in a summer rain.
Linda Pastan |
After Adam Zagajewski
I am child to no one, mother to a few,
wife for the long haul.
On fall days I am happy
with my dying brethren, the leaves,
but in spring my head aches
from the flowery scents.
My husband fills a room with Mozart
which I turn off, embracing
the silence as if it were an empty page
waiting for me alone to fill it.
He digs in the black earth
with his bare hands.
I scrub it
from the creases of his skin, longing
for the kind of perfection
that happens in books.
My house is my only heaven.
A red dog sleeps at my feet, dreaming
of the manic wings of flushed birds.
As the road shortens ahead of me
I look over my shoulder
to where it curves back
to childhood, its white line
bisecting the real and the imagined
the way the ridgepole of the spine
divides the two parts of the body, leaving
the soft belly in the center
vulnerable to anything.
As for my country, it blunders along
as well intentioned as Eve choosing
cider and windfalls, oblivious
to the famine soon to come.
I stir pots, bury my face in books, or hold
a telephone to my ear as if its cord
were the umbilicus of the world
whose voices still whisper to me
even after they have left their bodies.
James Weldon Johnson |
Weep not, weep not,
She is not dead;
She's resting in the bosom of Jesus.
Heart-broken husband--weep no more;
Grief-stricken son--weep no more;
Left-lonesome daughter --weep no more;
She only just gone home.
Day before yesterday morning,
God was looking down from his great, high heaven,
Looking down on all his children,
And his eye fell of Sister Caroline,
Tossing on her bed of pain.
And God's big heart was touched with pity,
With the everlasting pity.
And God sat back on his throne,
And he commanded that tall, bright angel standing at his right hand:
Call me Death!
And that tall, bright angel cried in a voice
That broke like a clap of thunder:
Call Death!--Call Death!
And the echo sounded down the streets of heaven
Till it reached away back to that shadowy place,
Where Death waits with his pale, white horses.
And Death heard the summons,
And he leaped on his fastest horse,
Pale as a sheet in the moonlight.
Up the golden street Death galloped,
And the hooves of his horses struck fire from the gold,
But they didn't make no sound.
Up Death rode to the Great White Throne,
And waited for God's command.
And God said: Go down, Death, go down,
Go down to Savannah, Georgia,
Down in Yamacraw,
And find Sister Caroline.
She's borne the burden and heat of the day,
She's labored long in my vineyard,
And she's tired--
Do down, Death, and bring her to me.
And Death didn't say a word,
But he loosed the reins on his pale, white horse,
And he clamped the spurs to his bloodless sides,
And out and down he rode,
Through heaven's pearly gates,
Past suns and moons and stars;
on Death rode,
Leaving the lightning's flash behind;
Straight down he came.
While we were watching round her bed,
She turned her eyes and looked away,
She saw what we couldn't see;
She saw Old Death.
She saw Old Death
Coming like a falling star.
But Death didn't frighten Sister Caroline;
He looked to her like a welcome friend.
And she whispered to us: I'm going home,
And she smiled and closed her eyes.
And Death took her up like a baby,
And she lay in his icy arms,
But she didn't feel no chill.
And death began to ride again--
Up beyond the evening star,
Into the glittering light of glory,
On to the Great White Throne.
And there he laid Sister Caroline
On the loving breast of Jesus.
And Jesus took his own hand and wiped away her tears,
And he smoothed the furrows from her face,
And the angels sang a little song,
And Jesus rocked her in his arms,
And kept a-saying: Take your rest,
Take your rest.
Weep not--weep not,
She is not dead;
She's resting in the bosom of Jesus.
Anne Sexton |
In my dream,
drilling into the marrow
of my entire bone,
my real dream,
I'm walking up and down Beacon Hill
searching for a street sign --
namely MERCY STREET.
I try the Back Bay.
And yet I know the number.
45 Mercy Street.
I know the stained-glass window
of the foyer,
the three flights of the house
with its parquet floors.
I know the furniture and
mother, grandmother, great-grandmother,
I know the cupboard of Spode
the boat of ice, solid silver,
where the butter sits in neat squares
like strange giant's teeth
on the big mahogany table.
I know it well.
Where did you go?
45 Mercy Street,
kneeling in her whale-bone corset
and praying gently but fiercely
to the wash basin,
at five A.
dozing in her wiggy rocker,
grandfather taking a nap in the pantry,
grandmother pushing the bell for the downstairs maid,
and Nana rocking Mother with an oversized flower
on her forehead to cover the curl
of when she was good and when she was.
And where she was begat
and in a generation
the third she will beget,
with the stranger's seed blooming
into the flower called Horrid.
I walk in a yellow dress
and a white pocketbook stuffed with cigarettes,
enough pills, my wallet, my keys,
and being twenty-eight, or is it forty-five?
I hold matches at street signs
for it is dark,
as dark as the leathery dead
and I have lost my green Ford,
my house in the suburbs,
two little kids
sucked up like pollen by the bee in me
and a husband
who has wiped off his eyes
in order not to see my inside out
and I am walking and looking
and this is no dream
just my oily life
where the people are alibis
and the street is unfindable for an
Pull the shades down --
I don't care!
Bolt the door, mercy,
erase the number,
rip down the street sign,
what can it matter,
what can it matter to this cheapskate
who wants to own the past
that went out on a dead ship
and left me only with paper?
I open my pocketbook,
as women do,
and fish swim back and forth
between the dollars and the lipstick.
I pick them out,
one by one
and throw them at the street signs,
and shoot my pocketbook
into the Charles River.
Next I pull the dream off
and slam into the cement wall
of the clumsy calendar
I live in,
and its hauled up
Walt Whitman |
A WOMAN waits for me—she contains all, nothing is lacking,
Yet all were lacking, if sex were lacking, or if the moisture of the right man were
Sex contains all,
Bodies, Souls, meanings, proofs, purities, delicacies, results, promulgations,
Songs, commands, health, pride, the maternal mystery, the seminal milk;
All hopes, benefactions, bestowals,
All the passions, loves, beauties, delights of the earth,
All the governments, judges, gods, follow’d persons of the earth,
These are contain’d in sex, as parts of itself, and justifications of itself.
Without shame the man I like knows and avows the deliciousness of his sex,
Without shame the woman I like knows and avows hers.
Now I will dismiss myself from impassive women,
I will go stay with her who waits for me, and with those women that are warm-blooded and
sufficient for me;
I see that they understand me, and do not deny me;
I see that they are worthy of me—I will be the robust husband of those women.
They are not one jot less than I am,
They are tann’d in the face by shining suns and blowing winds,
Their flesh has the old divine suppleness and strength,
They know how to swim, row, ride, wrestle, shoot, run, strike, retreat, advance, resist,
They are ultimate in their own right—they are calm, clear, well-possess’d of
I draw you close to me, you women!
I cannot let you go, I would do you good,
I am for you, and you are for me, not only for our own sake, but for others’ sakes;
Envelop’d in you sleep greater heroes and bards,
They refuse to awake at the touch of any man but me.
It is I, you women—I make my way,
I am stern, acrid, large, undissuadable—but I love you,
I do not hurt you any more than is necessary for you,
I pour the stuff to start sons and daughters fit for These States—I press with slow
I brace myself effectually—I listen to no entreaties,
I dare not withdraw till I deposit what has so long accumulated within me.
Through you I drain the pent-up rivers of myself,
In you I wrap a thousand onward years,
On you I graft the grafts of the best-beloved of me and America,
The drops I distil upon you shall grow fierce and athletic girls, new artists, musicians,
The babes I beget upon you are to beget babes in their turn,
I shall demand perfect men and women out of my love-spendings,
I shall expect them to interpenetrate with others, as I and you interpenetrate now,
I shall count on the fruits of the gushing showers of them, as I count on the fruits of
the gushing showers I give now,
I shall look for loving crops from the birth, life, death, immortality, I plant so
Denise Duhamel |
According to Culture Shock:
A Guide to Customs and Etiquette
of Filipinos, when my husband says yes,
he could also mean one of the following:
) I don't know.
) If you say so.
) If it will please you.
) I hope I have said yes unenthusiastically enough
for you to realize I mean no.
You can imagine the confusion
surrounding our movie dates, the laundry,
who will take out the garbage
I remind him
I'm an American, that all has yeses sound alike to me.
I tell him here in America we have shrinks
who can help him to be less of a people-pleaser.
We have two-year-olds who love to scream "No!"
when they don't get their way.
I tell him,
in America we have a popular book,
When I Say No I Feel Guilty.
"Should I get you a copy?" I ask.
He says yes, but I think he means
"If it will please you," i.
"I won't read it.
"I'm trying," I tell him, "but you have to try too.
"Yes," he says, then makes tampo,
a sulking that the book Culture Shock describes as
"subliminal hostility .
withdrawal of customary cheerfulness
in the presence of the one who has displeased" him.
The book says it's up to me to make things all right,
"to restore goodwill, not by talking the problem out,
but by showing concern about the wounded person's
" Forget it, I think, even though I know
if I'm not nice, tampo can quickly escalate into nagdadabog--
foot stomping, grumbling, the slamming
Instead of talking to my husband, I storm off
to talk to my porcelain Kwan Yin,
the Chinese goddess of mercy
that I bought on Canal Street years before
my husband and I started dating.
"The real Kwan Yin is in Manila,"
he tells me.
"She's called Nuestra Señora de Guia.
Her Asian features prove Christianity
was in the Philippines before the Spanish arrived.
My husband's telling me this
tells me he's sorry.
Kwan Yin seems to wink,
congratulating me--my short prayer worked.
"Will you love me forever?" I ask,
then study his lips, wondering if I'll be able to decipher
what he means by his yes.
Allen Ginsberg |
Under silver wing
San Francisco's towers sprouting
thru thin gas clouds,
Tamalpais black-breasted above Pacific azure
Berkeley hills pine-covered below--
Dr Leary in his brown house scribing Independence
typewriter at window
silver panorama in natural eyeball--
Sacramento valley rivercourse's Chinese
dragonflames licking green flats north-hazed
State Capitol metallic rubble, dry checkered fields
to Sierras- past Reno, Pyramid Lake's
blue Altar, pure water in Nevada sands'
brown wasteland scratched by tires
Jerry Rubin arrested! Beaten, jailed,
Leary out of action--"a public menace.
persons of tender years.
Shut up or Else Loonybin or Slam
Leroi on bum gun rap, $7,000
lawyer fees, years' negotiations--
SPOCK GUILTY headlined temporary, Joan Baez'
paramour husband Dave Harris to Gaol
Dylan silent on politics, & safe--
having a baby, a man--
Cleaver shot at, jail'd, maddened, parole revoked,
Vietnam War flesh-heap grows higher,
blood splashing down the mountains of bodies
on to Cholon's sidewalks--
Blond boys in airplane seats fed technicolor
Murderers advance w/ Death-chords
Earplugs in, steak on plastic
served--Eyes up to the Image--
What do I have to lose if America falls?
my body? my neck? my personality?
June 19, 1968
Isaac Watts |
O 'tis a lovely thing for youth
To early walk in wisdom's way;
To fear a lie, to speak the truth,
That we may trust to all they say!
But liars we can never trust,
Even when they say what is true.
And he who does one fault at first
And lies to hide it, makes it two.
Have we not known, nor heard, nor read
How God does hate deceit and wrong?
How Ananias was struck dead,
Caught with a lie upon his tongue?
So did his wife Sapphira die,
When she came in, and grew so bold
As to confirm that wicked lie,
Which just before her husband told.
The Lord delights in them that speak
The words of truth; but every liar
Must have his portion in the lake
That burns with brimstone and with fire.
Denise Duhamel |
I had sex with a famous poet last night
and when I rolled over and found myself beside him I shuddered
because I was married to someone else,
because I wasn't supposed to have been drinking,
because I was in fancy hotel room
I didn't recognize.
I would have told you
right off this was a dream, but recently
a friend told me, write about a dream,
lose a reader and I didn't want to lose you
I wanted you to hear
that I didn't even like the poet in the dream, that he has
four kids, the youngest one my age, and I find him
rather unattractive, that I only met him once,
that is, in real life, and that was in a large group
in which I barely spoke up.
He disgusted me
with his disparaging remarks about women.
He even used the word "Jap"
which I took as a direct insult to my husband who's Asian.
When we were first dating, I told him
"You were talking in your sleep last night
and I listened, just to make sure you didn't
call out anyone else's name.
" My future-husband said
that he couldn't be held responsible for his subconscious,
which worried me, which made me think his dreams
were full of blond vixens in rabbit-fur bikinis.
but he said no, he dreamt mostly about boulders
and the ocean and volcanoes, dangerous weather
he witnessed but could do nothing to stop.
And I said, "I dream only of you,"
which was romantic and silly and untrue.
But I never thought I'd dream of another man--
my husband and I hadn't even had a fight,
my head tucked sweetly in his armpit, my arm
around his belly, which lifted up and down
all night, gently like water in a lake.
If I passed that famous poet on the street,
he would walk by, famous in his sunglasses
and blazer with the suede patches at the elbows,
without so much as a glance in my direction.
I know you're probably curious about who the poet is,
so I should tell you the clues I've left aren't
accurate, that I've disguised his identity,
that you shouldn't guess I bet it's him.
because you'll never guess correctly
and even if you do, I won't tell you that you have.
I wouldn't want to embarrass a stranger
who is, after all, probably a nice person,
who was probably just having a bad day when I met him,
who is probably growing a little tired of his fame--
which my husband and I perceive as enormous,
but how much fame can an American poet
really have, let's say, compared to a rock star
or film director of equal talent? Not that much,
and the famous poet knows it, knows that he's not
truly given his due.
Knows that many
of these young poets tugging on his sleeve
are only pretending to have read all his books.
But he smiles anyway, tries to be helpful.
I mean, this poet has to have some redeeming qualities, right?
For instance, he writes a mean iambic.
Otherwise, what was I doing in his arms.