Ogden Nash |
There is one thing that ought to be taught in all the colleges,
Which is that people ought to be taught not to go around always making apologies.
I don't mean the kind of apologies people make when they run over you or borrow five dollars or step on your feet,
Because I think that is sort of sweet;
No, I object to one kind of apology alone,
Which is when people spend their time and yours apologizing for everything they own.
You go to their house for a meal,
And they apologize because the anchovies aren't caviar or the partridge is veal;
They apologize privately for the crudeness of the other guests,
And they apologize publicly for their wife's housekeeping or their husband's jests;
If they give you a book by Dickens they apologize because it isn't by Scott,
And if they take you to the theater, they apologize for the acting and the dialogue and the plot;
They contain more milk of human kindness than the most capacious diary can,
But if you are from out of town they apologize for everything local and if you are a foreigner they apologize for everything American.
I dread these apologizers even as I am depicting them,
I shudder as I think of the hours that must be spend in contradicting them,
Because you are very rude if you let them emerge from an argument victorious,
And when they say something of theirs is awful, it is your duty to convince them politely that it is magnificent and glorious,
And what particularly bores me with them,
Is that half the time you have to politely contradict them when you rudely agree with them,
So I think there is one rule every host and hostess ought to keep with the comb and nail file and bicarbonate and aromatic spirits on a handy shelf,
Which is don't spoil the denouement by telling the guests everything is terrible, but let them have the thrill of finding it out for themselves.
W S Merwin |
By this part of the century few are left who believe
in the animals for they are not there in the carved parts
of them served on plates and the pleas from the slatted trucks
are sounds of shadows that possess no future
there is still game for the pleasure of killing
and there are pets for the children but the lives that followed
courses of their own other than ours and older
have been migrating before us some are already
far on the way and yet Peter with his gaunt cheeks
and point of white beard the face of an aged Lawrence
Peter who had lived on from another time and country
and who had seen so many things set out and vanish
still believed in heaven and said he had never once
doubted it since his childhood on the farm in the days
of the horses he had not doubted it in the worst
times of the Great War and afterward and he had come
to what he took to be a kind of earthly
model of it as he wandered south in his sixties
by that time speaking the language well enough
for them to make him out he took the smallest roads
into a world he thought was a thing of the past
with wildflowers he scarcely remembered and neighbors
working together scything the morning meadows
turning the hay before the noon meal bringing it in
by milking time husbandry and abundance
all the virtues he admired and their reward bounteous
in the eyes of a foreigner and there he remained
for the rest of his days seeing what he wanted to see
until the winter when he could no longer fork
the earth in his garden and then he gave away
his house land everything and committed himself
to a home to die in an old chateau where he lingered
for some time surrounded by those who had lost
the use of body or mind and as he lay there he told me
that the wall by his bed opened almost every day
and he saw what was really there and it was eternal life
as he recognized at once when he saw the gardens
he had made and the green fields where he had been
a child and his mother was standing there then the wall would close
and around him again were the last days of the world
Margaret Atwood |
The world is full of women
who'd tell me I should be ashamed of myself
if they had the chance.
Get some self-respect
and a day job.
And minimum wage,
and varicose veins, just standing
in one place for eight hours
behind a glass counter
bundled up to the neck, instead of
naked as a meat sandwich.
Selling gloves, or something.
Instead of what I do sell.
You have to have talent
to peddle a thing so nebulous
and without material form.
Exploited, they'd say.
Yes, any way
you cut it, but I've a choice
of how, and I'll take the money.
I do give value.
Like preachers, I sell vision,
like perfume ads, desire
or its facsimile.
or war, it's all in the timing.
I sell men back their worse suspicions:
that everything's for sale,
They gaze at me and see
a chain-saw murder just before it happens,
when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, tit, and nipple
are still connected.
Such hatred leaps in them,
my beery worshippers! That, or a bleary
Seeing the rows of heads
and upturned eyes, imploring
but ready to snap at my ankles,
I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge
to step on ants.
I keep the beat,
and dance for them because
The music smells like foxes,
crisp as heated metal
searing the nostrils
or humid as August, hazy and languorous
as a looted city the day after,
when all the rape's been done
already, and the killing,
and the survivors wander around
looking for garbage
to eat, and there's only a bleak exhaustion.
Speaking of which, it's the smiling
tires me out the most.
This, and the pretence
that I can't hear them.
And I can't, because I'm after all
a foreigner to them.
The speech here is all warty gutturals,
obvious as a slab of ham,
but I come from the province of the gods
where meanings are lilting and oblique.
I don't let on to everyone,
but lean close, and I'll whisper:
My mother was raped by a holy swan.
You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.
That's what we tell all the husbands.
There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.
Not that anyone here
but you would understand.
The rest of them would like to watch me
and feel nothing.
Reduce me to components
as in a clock factory or abattoir.
Crush out the mystery.
Wall me up alive
in my own body.
They'd like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency.
Look--my feet don't hit the marble!
Like breath or a balloon, I'm rising,
I hover six inches in the air
in my blazing swan-egg of light.
You think I'm not a goddess?
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you'll burn.
Marilyn Hacker |
After Joseph Roth
Parce que c'était lui; parce que c'était moi.
Montaigne, De L'amitië
The dream's forfeit was a night in jail
and now the slant light is crepuscular.
Papers or not, you are a foreigner
whose name is always difficult to spell.
You pack your one valise.
You ring the bell.
Might it not be prudent to disappear
beneath that mauve-blue sky above the square
fronting your cosmopolitan hotel?
You know two short-cuts to the train station
which could get you there, on foot, in time.
The person who's apprised of your intention
and seems to be your traveling companion
is merely the detritus of a dream.
You cross the lobby and go out alone.
You crossed the lobby and went out alone
through the square, where two red-headed girls played
hopscotch on a chalk grid, now in the shade,
of a broad-leafed plane tree, now in the sun.
The lively, lovely, widowed afternoon
disarmed, uncoupled, shuffled and disarrayed
itself; despite itself, dismayed
you with your certainties, your visa, gone
from your breast-pocket, or perhaps expired.
At the reception desk, no one inquired
if you'd be returning.
Now you wonder why.
When the stout conductor comes down the aisle
mustached, red-faced, at first jovial,
and asks for your passport, what will you say?
When they ask for your passport, will you say
that town's name they'd find unpronounceable
which resonates, when uttered, like a bell
in your mind's tower, as it did the day
you carried your green schoolbag down the gray
fog-cobbled street, past church, bakery, shul
past farm women setting up market stalls
it was so early.
"I am on my way
to school in .
" You were part of the town
now, not the furnished rooms you shared
with Mutti, since the others disappeared.
Your knees were red with cold; your itchy wool
socks had inched down, so you stooped to pull
them up, a student and a citizen.
You are a student and a citizen
of whatever state is transient.
You are no more or less the resident
of a hotel than you were of that town
whose borders were disputed and redrawn.
A prince conceded to a president.
Another language became relevant
to merchants on that street a child walked down
whom you remember, in the corridors
of cities you inhabit, polyglot
as the distinguished scholar you were not
A slight accent sets you apart,
but it would mark you on that peddlers'-cart
Which language, after all, is yours?
Which language, after all these streets, is yours,
and why are you here, waiting for a train?
You could have run a hot bath, read Montaigne.
But would footsteps beyond the bathroom door's
bolt have disturbed the nondescript interior's
familiarity, shadowed the plain
blue draperies? You reflect, you know no one
who would, of you, echo your author's
"Because it was he; because it was I,"
as a unique friendship's non sequitur.
No footsteps and no friend: that makes you free.
The train approaches, wreathed in smoke like fur
around the shoulders of a dowager
with no time for sentimentality.
With no time for sentimentality,
mulling a twice-postponed book-review,
you take an empty seat.
a voluble immigrant family
is already unwrapping garlicky
sausages—an unshaven man and his two
You once wrote: it is true,
awful, and unimportant, finally
that if the opportunity occurs
some of the exiles become storm-troopers;
and you try, culpably, to project these three
into some torch-lit future, filtering out
their wrangling (one of your languages) about
the next canto in their short odyssey.
The next canto in your short odyssey
will open, you know this, in yet another
They have become your mother
country: benevolent anonymity
of rough starched sheets, dim lamp, rickety
escritoire, one window.
Your neighbors gather
up their crusts and rinds.
Out of a leather
satchel, the man takes their frayed identity
cards, examines them.
The sons watch, pale
and less talkative.
A border, passport control,
draw near: rubber stamp or interrogation?
You hope the customs officer lunched well;
reflect on the recurrent implication
of the dream's forfeit.
One night in jail?
Jackie Kay |
I am only nineteen
My whole life is changing
Tonight I see her
Shuttered eyes in my dreams
I cannot pretend she's never been
My stitches pull and threaten to snap
My own body a witness
Leaking blood to sheets milk to shirts
My stretch marks
Record that birth
Though I feel like somebody is dying
I stand up in my bed
And wail like a banshee
On the second night
I shall suffocate her with a feather pillow
Bury her under a weeping willow
Or take her far out to sea
And watch her tiny six pound body
Sink to shells and re shape herself
So much better than her body
Encased in glass like a museum piece
Or I shall stab myself
Cut my wrists steal some sleeping pills
Better than this-mummified
Preserved as a warning
On the third night I toss
I did not go through those months
For you to die on me now
On the third night I lie
Willing life into her
Breathing air all the way down through the corridor
To the glass cot
I push my nipples through
Feel the ferocity of her lips
Landed in a place I recognize
My eyes in the mirror
Hard marbles glinting
My breasts sag my stomach
Still soft as a baby's
My voice deep and old as ammonite
I am a stranger visiting
An empty ruinous house
Cobwebs dust and broken stairs
Outside the weeds grow tall
As she must be now
She, my little foreigner
No longer familiar with my womb
Kicking her language of living
Somewhere past stalking her first words
She is six years old today
I am twenty-five; we are only
That distance apart yet
Time has fossilised
Prehistoric time is easier
I can imagine dinosaurs
More vivid than my daughter
Dinosaurs do not hurt my eyes
Nor make me old so terribly old
We are land sliced and torn.
Ogden Nash |
Foreigners are people somewhere else,
Natives are people at home;
If the place you’re at
Is your habitat,
You’re a foreigner, say in Rome.
But the scales of Justice balance true,
And tit leads into tat,
So the man who’s at home
When he stays in Rome
Is abroad when he’s where you’re at.
When we leave the limits of the land in which
Our birth certificates sat us,
It does not mean
Just a change of scene,
But also a change of status.
The Frenchman with his fetching beard,
The Scot with his kilt and sporran,
One moment he
May a native be,
And the next may find him foreign.
There’s many a difference quickly found
Between the different races,
But the only essential
Is living different places.
Yet such is the pride of prideful man,
From Austrians to Australians,
That wherever he is,
He regards as his,
And the natives there, as aliens.
Oh, I’ll be friends if you’ll be friends,
The foreigner tells the native,
And we’ll work together for our common ends
Like a preposition and a dative.
If our common ends seem mostly mine,
Why not, you ignorant foreigner?
And the native replies
And hence, my dears, the coroner.
So mind your manners when a native, please,
And doubly when you visit
And between us all
A rapport may fall
One simple thought, if you have it pat,
Will eliminate the coroner:
You may be a native in your habitat,
But to foreigners you’re just a foreigner.
Emily Dickinson |
Where every bird is bold to go
And bees abashless play,
The foreigner before he knocks
Must thrust the tears away.
Amy Lowell |
Have at you, you Devils!
My back's to this tree,
For you're nothing so nice
That the hind-side of me
Would escape your assault.
Come on now, all three!
Here's a dandified gentleman,
Rapier at point,
And a wrist which whirls round
Like a circular joint.
A spatter of blood, man!
That's just to anoint
And make supple your limbs.
'Tis a pity the silk
Of your waistcoat is stained.
Why! Your heart's full of milk,
And so full, it spills over!
I'm not of your ilk.
You said so, and laughed
At my old-fashioned hose,
At the cut of my hair,
At the length of my nose.
To carve it to pattern
I think you propose.
Your pardon, young Sir,
But my nose and my sword
Are proving themselves
In quite perfect accord.
I grieve to have spotted
On my word!
And hullo! You Bully!
That blade's not a stick
To slash right and left,
And my skull is too thick
To be cleft with such cuffs
Of a sword.
Now a lick
Down the side of your face.
What a pretty, red line!
Tell the taverns that scar
Was an honour.
That a stranger has marked you.
* * *
The tree's there, You Swine!
Did you think to get in
At the back, while your friends
Made a little diversion
In front? So it ends,
With your sword clattering down
On the ground.
I make for your courteous
Reception of me,
A foreigner, landed
From over the sea.
Your welcome was fervent
I think you'll agree.
My shoes are not buckled
With gold, nor my hair
Oiled and scented, my jacket's
Not satin, I wear
Corded breeches, wide hats,
And I make people stare!
So I do, but my heart
Is the heart of a man,
And my thoughts cannot twirl
In the limited span
'Twixt my head and my heels,
As some other men's can.
I have business more strange
Than the shape of my boots,
And my interests range
From the sky, to the roots
Of this dung-hill you live in,
You half-rotted shoots
Of a mouldering tree!
Here's at you, once more.
You Apes! You Jack-fools!
You can show me the door,
And jeer at my ways,
But you're pinked to the core.
And before I have done,
I will prick my name in
With the front of my steel,
And your lily-white skin
Shall be printed with me.
For I've come here to win!
Emily Dickinson |
Besides this May
There is Another --
Our Speculations of the Foreigner!
Some know Him whom We knew --
Sweet Wonder --
A Nature be
Where Saints, and our plain going Neighbor
Delmore Schwartz |
Caesar, the amplifier voice, announces
Crime and reparation.
In the barber shop
Recumbent men attend, while absently
The barber doffs the naked face with cream.
Caesar proposes, Caesar promises
Pride, justice, and the sun
Brilliant and strong on everyone,
Speeding one hundred miles an hour across the land:
Caesar declares the will.
The barber firmly
Planes the stubble with a steady hand,
While all in barber chairs reclining,
In wet white faces, fully understand
Good and evil, who is Gentile, weakness and command.
And now who enters quietly? Who is this one
Shy, pale, and quite abstracted? Who is he?
It is the writer merely, with a three-day beard,
His tiredness not evident.
He wears no tie.
And now he hears his enemy and trembles,
Resolving, speaks: "Ecoutez! La plupart des hommes
Vivent des vies de desespoir silenciuex,
Victimes des intentions innombrables.
Cet homme sait bien.
Les mots de cette voix sont
Des songes et des mensonges.
Il prend choix,
Il prend la volonte, il porte la fin d'ete.
Ecoutez-moi! Il porte la mort.
He stands there speaking and they laugh to hear
Rage and excitement from the foreigner.