Carol Ann Duffy |
Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.
I am trying to be truthful.
Not a cute card or a kissogram.
I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
Sylvia Plath |
I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it_____
A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot
My face featureless, fine
Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?-------
The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.
Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me
And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.
This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.
What a million filaments.
The Peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand in foot ------
The big strip tease.
Gentleman , ladies
These are my hands
I may be skin and bone,
Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.
The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut
As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call.
It's easy enough to do it in a cell.
It's easy enough to do it and stay put.
It's the theatrical
Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
That knocks me out.
There is a charge
For the eyeing my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart---
It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair on my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.
I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby
That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there----
A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.
Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.
Emily Bronte |
On a sunny brae, alone I lay
One summer afternoon;
It was the marriage-time of May
With her young lover, June.
From her mother's heart, seemed loath to part
That queen of bridal charms,
But her father smiled on the fairest child
He ever held in his arms.
The trees did wave their plumy crests,
The glad birds caroled clear;
And I, of all the wedding guests,
Was only sullen there!
There was not one, but wished to shun
My aspect void of cheer;
The very grey rocks, looking on,
Asked, "What do you here?"
And I could utter no reply;
In sooth, I did not know
Why I had brought a clouded eye
To greet the general glow.
So, resting on a heathy bank,
I took my heart to me;
And we together sadly sank
Into a reverie.
We thought, "When winter comes again,
Where will these bright things be?
All vanished, like a vision vain,
An unreal mockery!
The birds that now so blithely sing,
Through deserts, frozen dry,
Poor spectres of the perished spring,
In famished troops, will fly.
And why should we be glad at all?
The leaf is hardly green,
Before a token of its fall
Is on the surface seen!"
Now, whether it were really so,
I never could be sure;
But as in fit of peevish woe,
I stretched me on the moor.
A thousand thousand gleaming fires
Seemed kindling in the air;
A thousand thousand silvery lyres
Resounded far and near:
Methought, the very breath I breathed
Was full of sparks divine,
And all my heather-couch was wreathed
By that celestial shine!
And, while the wide earth echoing rung
To their strange minstrelsy,
The little glittering spirits sung,
Or seemed to sing, to me.
"O mortal! mortal! let them die;
Let time and tears destroy,
That we may overflow the sky
With universal joy!
Let grief distract the sufferer's breast,
And night obscure his way;
They hasten him to endless rest,
And everlasting day.
To thee the world is like a tomb,
A desert's naked shore;
To us, in unimagined bloom,
It brightens more and more!
And could we lift the veil, and give
One brief glimpse to thine eye,
Thou wouldst rejoice for those that live,
Because they live to die.
The music ceased; the noonday dream,
Like dream of night, withdrew;
But Fancy, still, will sometimes deem
Her fond creation true.
More great poems below...
Pablo Neruda |
filled with tomatoes,
through the streets.
it enters at lunchtime,
its own light,
Unfortunately, we must
into living flesh,
populates the salads
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
of the roast
at the door,
the table, at the midpoint
star of earth, recurrent
its remarkable amplitude
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
of fiery color
and cool completeness.
Jackie Kay |
I always wanted to give birth
Do that incredible natural thing
That women do-I nearly broke down
When I heard we couldn't
And then my man said to me
Well there's always adoption
(we didn't have test tubes and the rest
then) and well even in the early sixties there was something
Scandalous about adopting
Telling the world your secret failure
Bringing up an alien child
Who knew what it would turn out to be?
But I wanted a baby badly
Didn't need to come from my womb
Or his seed for me to love it
And I had sisters who looked just like me
Didn't need carbon copy features
Blueprints for generations
It was my baby a baby a baby I wanted
So I watched my child grow
Always the first to hear her in the night
All this umbilical knot business is
Nonsense-the men can afford deeper sleeps
I listened to hear her talk
And when she did I heard my voice under hers
And now some of her mannerisms
Crack me up
All them stories could have really had me
Believing unless you are breast fed
You'll never be close and the rest
My daughter's warmth spills over me
Leaves a gap
When she's gone
I think of her mother.
She remembers how I read her
All those newspaper and magazine
Cuttings about adoption
She says her head's an encyclopedia
Of sob stories: the ones that were never
Told and committed suicide on their wedding nights
I always believed in the telling anyhow
You can't keep something like that secret
I wanted her to think of her other mother
Out there thinking that child I had will be
Eight today nine today all the way up to
God knows when.
I told my daughter;
I bet your mother's never missed your birthday
How could she
Now when people say ah but
It's not like having your own child though is it
I say of course it is what else is it
She's my child I have brought her up
Told her stories wept at losses
Laughed at her pleasures she is mine.
Well maybe that is why I don't
Like all this talk about her being black
I brought her up as my own
As I would any other child
Colour matters to the nuttters
But she says my daughter says
It matters to her.
I suppose there would have been things
I couldn't have understood with any child
We knew she was coloured
They told us they had no babies at first
And I chanced to say it didn't matter
What colour it was and then they
Said oh well are you sure in that case
We have a baby for you
To think she wasn't even thought of as a baby!
My baby my baby.
Marge Piercy |
The construction of a woman:
a woman is not made of flesh
of bone and sinew
belly and breasts, elbows and liver and toe.
She is manufactured like a sports sedan.
She is retooled, refitted and redesigned
Cecile had been seduction itself in college.
She wriggled through bars like a satin eel,
her hips and ass promising, her mouth pursed
in the dark red lipstick of desire.
She visited in '68 still wearing skirts
tight to the knees, dark red lipstick,
while I danced through Manhattan in mini skirt,
lipstick pale as apricot milk,
hair loose as a horse's mane.
I thought in my superiority of the moment,
whatever has happened to poor Cecile?
She was out of fashion, out of the game,
disqualified, disdained, dis-
membered from the club of desire.
Look at pictures in French fashion
magazines of the 18th century:
century of the ultimate lady
fantasy wrought of silk and corseting.
Paniers bring her hips out three feet
each way, while the waist is pinched
and the belly flattened under wood.
The breasts are stuffed up and out
offered like apples in a bowl.
The tiny foot is encased in a slipper
never meant for walking.
On top is a grandiose headache:
hair like a museum piece, daily
ornamented with ribbons, vases,
grottoes, mountains, frigates in full
sail, balloons, baboons, the fancy
of a hairdresser turned loose.
The hats were rococo wedding cakes
that would dim the Las Vegas strip.
Here is a woman forced into shape
rigid exoskeleton torturing flesh:
a woman made of pain.
How superior we are now: see the modern woman
thin as a blade of scissors.
She runs on a treadmill every morning,
fits herself into machines of weights
and pulleys to heave and grunt,
an image in her mind she can never
approximate, a body of rosy
glass that never wrinkles,
never grows, never fades.
sits at the table closing her eyes to food
hungry, always hungry:
a woman made of pain.
A cat or dog approaches another,
they sniff noses.
They sniff asses.
They bristle or lick.
in love as often as we do,
But they fall
in love or lust with furry flesh,
not hoop skirts or push up bras
rib removal or liposuction.
It is not for male or female dogs
that poodles are clipped
to topiary hedges.
If only we could like each other raw.
If only we could love ourselves
like healthy babies burbling in our arms.
If only we were not programmed and reprogrammed
to need what is sold us.
Why should we want to live inside ads?
Why should we want to scourge our softness
to straight lines like a Mondrian painting?
Why should we punish each other with scorn
as if to have a large ass
were worse than being greedy or mean?
When will women not be compelled
to view their bodies as science projects,
gardens to be weeded,
dogs to be trained?
When will a woman cease
to be made of pain?
Walter Savage Landor |
When the buds began to burst,
Long ago, with Rose the First
I was walking; joyous then
Far above all other men,
Till before us up there stood
Britonferry's oaken wood,
Whispering, "Happy as thou art,
Happiness and thou must part.
Many summers have gone by
Since a Second Rose and I
(Rose from the same stem) have told
This and other tales of old.
She upon her wedding day
Carried home my tenderest lay:
From her lap I now have heard
Gleeful, chirping, Rose the Third.
Not for her this hand of mine
Rhyme with nuptial wreath shall twine;
Cold and torpid it must lie,
Mute the tongue, and closed the eye.
Robert Penn Warren |
In silence the heart raves.
It utters words
Meaningless, that never had
I was ten, skinny, red-headed,
In a big black Buick,
Driven by a big grown boy, with a necktie, she sat
In front of the drugstore, sipping something
Through a straw.
There is nothing like
It stops your heart.
Thickens your blood.
It stops your breath.
Makes you feel dirty.
You need a hot bath.
I leaned against a telephone pole, and watched.
I thought I would die if she saw me.
How could I exist in the same world with that brightness?
Two years later she smiled at me.
Named my name.
I thought I would wake up dead.
Her grown brothers walked with the bent-knee
Swagger of horsemen.
They were slick-faced.
Told jokes in the barbershop.
Did no work.
Their father was what is called a drunkard.
Whatever he was he stayed on the third floor
Of the big white farmhouse under the maples for twenty-five years.
He never came down.
They brought everything up to him.
I did not know what a mortgage was.
His wife was a good, Christian woman, and prayed.
When the daughter got married, the old man came down wearing
An old tail coat, the pleated shirt yellowing.
The sons propped him.
I saw the wedding.
Engraved invitations, it was so fashionable.
I would cry.
I lay in bed that night
And wondered if she would cry when something was done to her.
The mortgage was foreclosed.
That last word was whispered.
She never came back.
Sort of drifted off.
Nobody wears shiny boots like that now.
But I know she is beautiful forever, and lives
In a beautiful house, far away.
She called my name once.
I didn't even know she knew it.
Denise Levertov |
My wedding-ring lies in a basket
as if at the bottom of a well.
Nothing will come to fish it back up
and onto my finger again.
among keys to abandoned houses,
nails waiting to be needed and hammered
into some wall,
telephone numbers with no names attached,
It can't be given away
for fear of bringing ill-luck.
It can't be sold
for the marriage was good in its own
time, though that time is gone.
Could some artificer
beat into it bright stones, transform it
into a dazzling circlet no one could take
for solemn betrothal or to make promises
living will not let them keep? Change it
into a simple gift I could give in friendship?
Lucy Maud Montgomery |
Lo, I have loved thee long, long have I yearned and entreated!
Tell me how I may win thee, tell me how I must woo.
Shall I creep to thy white feet, in guise of a humble lover ?
Shall I croon in mild petition, murmuring vows anew ?
Shall I stretch my arms unto thee, biding thy maiden coyness,
Under the silver of morning, under the purple of night ?
Taming my ancient rudeness, checking my heady clamor
Thus, is it thus I must woo thee, oh, my delight?
Nay, 'tis no way of the sea thus to be meekly suitor
I shall storm thee away with laughter wrapped in my beard of snow,
With the wildest of billows for chords I shall harp thee a song for thy bridal,
A mighty lyric of love that feared not nor would forego!
With a red-gold wedding ring, mined from the caves of sunset,
Fast shall I bind thy faith to my faith evermore,
And the stars will wait on our pleasure, the great north wind will trumpet
A thunderous marriage march for the nuptials of sea and shore.
Carolyn Kizer |
For Ann London
As you described your mastectomy in calm detail
and bared your chest so I might see
the puckered scar,
"They took a hatchet to your breast!" I said.
Amazon you are.
When we were girls we climbed Mt.
chewing bay leaves we had plucked
along the way;
we got high all right, from animal pleasure in each other,
shouting to the sky.
On your houseboat we tried to ignore the impossible guy
you had married to enrage your family,
a typical ploy.
We were great fools let loose in the No Name bar
on Sausalito's bay.
In San Francisco we'd perch on a waterfront pier
chewing sourdough and cheese, swilling champagne,
kicking our heels;
crooning lewd songs, hooting like seagulls,
we bayed with the seals.
Then you married someone in Mexico,
broke up in two weeks, didn't bother to divorce,
claimed it didn't count.
You dumped number three, fled to Albany
to become a pedant.
Averse to domesticity, you read for your Ph.
Your four-year-old looked like a miniature
You fed him peanut butter from your jar and raised him
on Beowulf and Grendal.
Much later in New York we reunited;
in an elevator at Sak's a woman asked for
You glowed like a star, like Anouk Aimee
at forty, close enough.
Your pedantry found its place in the Women's Movement.
You rose fast, seen suddenly as the morning star;
wrote the ERA
found the right man at last, a sensitive artist;
flying too high
not to crash.
When the cancer caught you
you went on talk shows to say you had no fear
In Baltimore we joked on your bed as you turned into
a witty wraith.
When you died I cleaned out your bureau drawers:
your usual disorder; an assortment of gorgeous wigs
and prosthetic breasts
tossed in garbage bags, to spare your gentle spouse.
Then the bequests
you had made to every friend you had!
For each of us a necklace or a ring.
A snapshot for me:
We two, barefoot in chiffon, laughing amid blossoms
your last wedding day.
Sidney Lanier |
O marriage-bells, your clamor tells
Two weddings in one breath.
SHE marries whom her love compels:
-- And I wed Goodman Death!
My brain is blank, my tears are red;
Listen, O God: -- "I will," he said: --
And I would that I were dead.
Come groomsman Grief and bridesmaid Pain
Come and stand with a ghastly twain.
My Bridegroom Death is come o'er the meres
To wed a bride with bloody tears.
Ring, ring, O bells, full merrily:
Life-bells to her, death-bells to me:
O Death, I am true wife to thee!
Edward Field |
The Baron has decided to mate the monster,
to breed him perhaps,
in the interests of pure science, his only god.
So he goes up into his laboratory
which he has built in the tower of the castle
to be as near the interplanetary forces as possible,
and puts together the prettiest monster-woman you ever saw
with a body like a pin-up girl
and hardly any stitching at all
where he sewed on the head of a raped and murdered beauty queen.
He sets his liquids burping, and coils blinking and buzzing,
and waits for an electric storm to send through the equipment
the spark vital for life.
The storm breaks over the castle
and the equipment really goes crazy
like a kitchen full of modern appliances
as the lightning juice starts oozing right into that pretty corpse.
He goes to get the monster
so he will be right there when she opens her eyes,
for she might fall in love with the first thing she sees as ducklings do.
That monster is already straining at his chains and slurping,
ready to go right to it:
He has been well prepared for coupling
by his pinching leering keeper who's been saying for weeks,
"Ya gonna get a little nookie, kid,"
or "How do you go for some poontang, baby?"
All the evil in him is focused on this one thing now
as he is led into her very presence.
She awakens slowly,
she bats her eyes,
she gets up out of the equipment,
and finally she stands in all her seamed glory,
a monster princess with a hairdo like a fright wig,
lightning flashing in the background
like a halo and a wedding veil,
like a photographer snapping pictures of great moments.
She stands and stares with her electric eyes,
beginning to understand that in this life too
she was just another body to be raped.
The monster is ready to go:
He roars with joy at the sight of her,
so they let him loose and he goes right for those knockers.
And she starts screaming to break your heart
and you realize that she was just born:
In spite of her big tits she was just a baby.
But her instincts are right --
rather death than that green slobber:
She jumps off the parapet.
And then the monster's sex drive goes wild.
Thwarted, it turns to violence, demonstrating sublimation crudely;
and he wrecks the lab, those burping acids and buzzing coils,
overturning the control panel so the equipment goes off like a bomb,
and the stone castle crumbles and crashes in the storm
destroying them all .
Perhaps somehow the Baron got out of that wreckage of his dreams
with his evil intact, if not his good looks,
and more wicked than ever went on with his thrilling career.
And perhaps even the monster lived
to roam the earth, his desire still ungratified;
and lovers out walking in shadowy and deserted places
will see his shape loom up over them, their doom --
and children sleeping in their beds
will wake up in the dark night screaming
as his hideous body grabs them.
Vernon Scannell |
Perhaps I can make it plain by analogy.
Imagine a machine, not yet assembled,
Each part being quite necessary
To the functioning of the whole: if the job is fumbled
And a vital piece mislaid
The machine is quite valueless,
The workers will not be paid.
It is just the same when constructing a sentence
But here we must be very careful
And lay stress on the extreme importance
Of defining our terms: nothing is as simple
As it seems at first regard.
"Sentence" might well mean to you
The amorous rope or twelve years" hard.
No, by "sentence" we mean, quite simply, words
Put together like the parts of a machine.
Now remember we must have a verb: verbs
Are words of action like Murder, Love, or Sin.
But these might be nouns, depending
On how you use them –
Already the plot is thickening.
Except when the mood is imperative; that is to say
A command is given like Pray, Repent, or Forgive
(Dear me, these lessons get gloomier every day)
Except, as I was saying, when the mood is gloomy –
I mean imperative
We need nouns, or else of course
Pronouns; words like Maid,
Man, Wedding or Divorce.
A sentence must make sense.
Sometimes I believe
Our lives are ungrammatical.
I guess that some of
Have misplaced the direct object: the longer I live
The less certain I feel of anything I do.
But now I begin
Write down these simple sentences:--
I am sentenced: I love: I murder: I sin.
Philip Larkin |
What do they think has happened, the old fools,
To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose
It's more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools,
And you keep on pissing yourself, and can't remember
Who called this morning? Or that, if they only chose,
They could alter things back to when they danced all night,
Or went to their wedding, or sloped arms some September?
Or do they fancy there's really been no change,
And they've always behaved as if they were crippled or tight,
Or sat through days of thin continuous dreaming
Watching the light move? If they don't (and they can't), it's strange;
Why aren't they screaming?
At death you break up: the bits that were you
Start speeding away from each other for ever
With no one to see.
It's only oblivion, true:
We had it before, but then it was going to end,
And was all the time merging with a unique endeavour
To bring to bloom the million-petalled flower
Of being here.
Next time you can't pretend
There'll be anything else.
And these are the first signs:
Not knowing how, not hearing who, the power
Of choosing gone.
Their looks show that they're for it:
Ash hair, toad hands, prune face dried into lines -
How can they ignore it?
Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms
Inside you head, and people in them, acting
People you know, yet can't quite name; each looms
Like a deep loss restored, from known doors turning,
Setting down a lamp, smiling from a stair, extracting
A known book from the shelves; or sometimes only
The rooms themselves, chairs and a fire burning,
The blown bush at the window, or the sun's
Faint friendliness on the wall some lonely
Rain-ceased midsummer evening.
That is where they live:
Not here and now, but where all happened once.
This is why they give
An air of baffled absence, trying to be there
Yet being here.
For the rooms grow farther, leaving
Incompetent cold, the constant wear and tear
Of taken breath, and them crouching below
Extinction's alp, the old fools, never perceiving
How near it is.
This must be what keeps them quiet:
The peak that stays in view wherever we go
For them is rising ground.
Can they never tell
What is dragging them back, and how it will end? Not at night?
Not when the strangers come? Never, throughout
The whole hideous inverted childhood? Well,
We shall find out.