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Best Famous Donald Hall Poems

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Written by Donald Hall | Create an image from this poem

Distressed Haiku

 In a week or ten days
the snow and ice
will melt from Cemetery Road.
I'm coming! Don't move! Once again it is April.
Today is the day we would have been married twenty-six years.
I finished with April halfway through March.
You think that their dying is the worst thing that could happen.
Then they stay dead.
Will Hall ever write lines that do anything but whine and complain? In April the blue mountain revises from white to green.
The Boston Red Sox win a hundred straight games.
The mouse rips the throat of the lion and the dead return.

Written by Donald Hall | Create an image from this poem


 To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young, we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer pond, ignorant and content.
But a marriage, that began without harm, scatters into debris on the shore, and a friend from school drops cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us past middle age, our wife will die at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go.
All go.
The pretty lover who announces that she is temporary is temporary.
The bold woman, middle-aged against our old age, sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge and affirm that it is fitting and delicious to lose everything.
Written by Donald Hall | Create an image from this poem

Wolf Knife

 In the mid August, in the second year
of my First Polar Expedition, the snow and ice of winter
almost upon us, Kantiuk and I
attempted to dash the sledge
along Crispin Bay, searching again for relics
of the Frankline Expedition.
Now a storm blew, and we turned back, and we struggled slowly in snow, lest we depart land and venture onto ice from which a sudden fog and thaw would abandon us to the Providence of the sea.
Near nightfall I thought I heard snarling behind us.
Kantiuk told me that two wolves, lean as the bones of a wrecked ship, had followed us the last hour, and snapped their teeth as if already feasting.
I carried the one cartridge only in my riffle, since, approaching the second winter, we rationed stores.
As it turned dark, we could push no further, and made camp in a corner of ice hummocks, and the wolves stopped also, growling just past the limits of vision, coming closer, until I could hear the click of their feet on ice.
Kantiuk laughed and remarked that the wolves appeared to be most hungry.
I raised my rifle, prepared to shoot the first that ventured close, hoping to frighten the other.
Kantiuk struck my rifle down and said again that the wolves were hungry, and laughed.
I feared that my old companion was mad, here in the storm, among ice-hummocks, stalked by wolves.
Now Kantiuk searched in his pack, and extracted two knives--turnoks, the Innuits called them-- which by great labor were sharpened, on both sides, to the sharpness like the edge of a barber's razor, and approached our dogs and plunged both knives into the body of our youngest dog who had limped all day.
I remember that I consider turning my rifle on Kantiuk as he approached, then passed me, carrying knives red with the gore of our dog-- who had yowled, moaned, and now lay expired, surrounded by curious cousins and uncles, possibly hungry--and he trusted the knives handle-down in the snow.
Immediately after he left the knives, the vague, gray shape of wolves turned solid, out of the darkness and the snow, and set ravenously to licking blood from the honed steel.
the double-edge of the knives so lacerated the tongues of the starved beasts that their own blood poured copiously forth to replenish the dog's blood, and they ate more furiously than before, while Knatiuk laughed, and held his sides laughing.
And I laughed also, perhaps in relief that Providence had delivered us yet again, or perhaps--under conditions of extremity-- far from Connecticut--finding there creatures acutely ridiculous, so avid to swallow their own blood.
First one, and then the other collapsed, dying, bloodless in the snow black with their own blood, and Kantiuk retrieved his turnoks, and hacked lean meat from the thigh of the larger wolf, which we ate grateful, blessing the Creator, for we were hungry.
Written by Donald Hall | Create an image from this poem

An old life

 Snow fell in the night.
At five-fifteen I woke to a bluish mounded softness where the Honda was.
Cat fed and coffee made, I broomed snow off the car and drove to the Kearsarge Mini-Mart before Amy opened to yank my Globe out of the bundle.
Back, I set my cup of coffee beside Jane, still half-asleep, murmuring stuporous thanks in the aquamarine morning.
Then I sat in my blue chair with blueberry bagels and strong black coffee reading news, the obits, the comics, and the sports.
Carrying my cup twenty feet, I sat myself at the desk for this day's lifelong engagement with the one task and desire.
Written by Donald Hall | Create an image from this poem

Sudden Things

 A storm was coming, that was why it was dark.
The wind was blowing the fronds of the palm trees off.
They were maples.
I looked out the window across the big lawn.
The house was huge, full of children and old people.
The lion was loose.
Either because of the wind, or by malevolent human energy, which is the same thing, the cage had come open.
Suppose a child walked outside! A child walked outside.
I knew that I must protect him from the lion.
I threw myself on top of the child.
The lion roared over me.
In the branches and the bushes there was suddenly a loud crackling.
The lion cringed.
I looked up and saw that the elephant was loose! The elephant was taller than the redwoods.
He was hairy like a mammoth.
His tusks trailed vines.
Parrots screeched around his head.
His eyes rolled crazily.
He trumpeted.
The ice-cap was breaking up! The lion backed off, whining.
The boy ran for the house.
I covered his retreat, locked all the doors and pulled the bars across them.
An old lady tried to open a door to get a better look.
I spoke sharply to her, she sat down grumbling and pulled a blanket over her knees.
Out of the window I saw zebras and rattlesnakes and wildebeests and cougars and woodchucks on the lawns and in the tennis courts.
I worried how, after the storm, we would put the animals back in their cages, and get to the mainland.

Written by Donald Hall | Create an image from this poem


 Katie could put her feet behind her head
Or do a grand plié, position two,
Her suppleness magnificent in bed.
I strained my lower back, and Katie bled, Only a little, doing what we could do When Katie tucked her feet behind her head.
Her torso was a C-cup'd figurehead, Wearing below its navel a tattoo That writhed in suppleness upon the bed.
As love led on to love, love's goddess said, "No lovers ever fucked as fucked these two! Katie could put her feet behind her head!" When Katie came she never stopped.
Instead, She came, cried "God!," and came, this dancer who Brought ballerina suppleness to bed.
She curled her legs around my neck, which led To depths unplumbed by lovers hitherto.
Katie could tuck her feet behind her head And by her suppleness unmake the bed.
Written by Donald Hall | Create an image from this poem

White Apples

 when my father had been dead a week
I woke with his voice in my ear 
I sat up in bed

and held my breath
and stared at the pale closed door

white apples and the taste of stone

if he called again
I would put on my coat and galoshes
Written by Donald Hall | Create an image from this poem

Christmas party at the South Danbury Church

 December twenty-first
we gather at the white Church festooned 
red and green, the tree flashing 
green-red lights beside the altar.
After the children of Sunday School recite Scripture, sing songs, and scrape out solos, they retire to dress for the finale, to perform the pageant again: Mary and Joseph kneeling cradleside, Three Kings, shepherds and shepherdesses.
Their garments are bathrobes with mothholes, cut down from the Church's ancestors.
Standing short and long, they stare in all directions for mothers, sisters and brothers, giggling and waving in recognition, and at the South Danbury Church, a moment before Santa arrives with her ho-hos and bags of popcorn, in the half-dark of whole silence, God enters the world as a newborn again.
Written by Donald Hall | Create an image from this poem

A Poet at Twenty

 Images leap with him from branch to branch.
His eyes brighten, his head cocks, he pauses under a green bough, alert.
And when I see him I want to hide him somewhere.
The other wood is past the hill.
But he will enter it, and find the particular maple.
He will walk through the door of the maple, and his arms will pull out of their sockets, and the blood will bubble from his mouth, his ears, his *****, and his nostrils.
His body will rot.
His body will dry in ropey tatters.
Maybe he will grow his body again, three years later.
Maybe he won't.
There is nothing to do, to keep this from happening.
It occurs to me that the greatest gentleness would put a bullet into his bright eye.
And when I look in his eye, it is not his eye that I see.
Written by Donald Hall | Create an image from this poem

Name of Horses

 All winter your brute shoulders strained against collars, padding 
and steerhide over the ash hames, to haul 
sledges of cordwood for drying through spring and summer, 
for the Glenwood stove next winter, and for the simmering range.
In April you pulled cartloads of manure to spread on the fields, dark manure of Holsteins, and knobs of your own clustered with oats.
All summer you mowed the grass in meadow and hayfield, the mowing machine clacketing beside you, while the sun walked high in the morning; and after noon's heat, you pulled a clawed rake through the same acres, gathering stacks, and dragged the wagon from stack to stack, and the built hayrack back, uphill to the chaffy barn, three loads of hay a day from standing grass in the morning.
Sundays you trotted the two miles to church with the light load a leather quartertop buggy, and grazed in the sound of hymns.
Generation on generation, your neck rubbed the windowsill of the stall, smoothing the wood as the sea smooths glass.
When you were old and lame, when your shoulders hurt bending to graze, one October the man, who fed you and kept you, and harnessed you every morning, led you through corn stubble to sandy ground above Eagle Pond, and dug a hole beside you where you stood shuddering in your skin, and lay the shotgun's muzzle in the boneless hollow behind your ear, and fired the slug into your brain, and felled you into your grave, shoveling sand to cover you, setting goldenrod upright above you, where by next summer a dent in the ground made your monument.
For a hundred and fifty years, in the Pasture of dead horses, roots of pine trees pushed through the pale curves of your ribs, yellow blossoms flourished above you in autumn, and in winter frost heaved your bones in the ground - old toilers, soil makers: O Roger, Mackerel, Riley, Ned, Nellie, Chester, Lady Ghost.