William Stafford |
If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
Philip Levine |
In Lake Forest, a suburb of Chicago,
a woman sits at her desk to write
me a letter.
She holds a photograph
of me up to the light, one taken
17 years ago in a high school class
She sighs, and the sigh
smells of mouthwash and tobacco.
If she were writing by candlelight
she would now be in the dark, for
a living flame would refuse to be fed
by such pure exhaustion.
she is in the dark, for the man
she's about to address in her odd prose
had a life span of one 125th of a second
in the eye of a Nikon, and then he
politely asked the photographer to
get lost, whispering the request so as
not to offend the teacher presiding.
Those students are now in their thirties,
the Episcopal girls in their plaid skirts
and bright crested blazers have gone
unprepared, though French-speaking, into
a world of liars, pimps, and brokers.
7% have died by their own hands,
and all the others have considered
the act at least once.
Not one now
remembers my name, not one recalls
the reading I gave of César Vallejo's
great "memoriam" to his brother Miguel,
not even the girl who sobbed and
had to be escorted to the school nurse,
calmed, and sent home in a cab.
in Lake Forest in mid-December drop
suddenly; one moment the distant sky
is a great purple canvas, and then it's
gone, and no stars emerge; however,
not the least hint of the stockyards
or slaughterhouses is allowed to drift
out to the suburbs, so it's a deathless
darkness with no more perfume than
"Our souls are mingling
now somewhere in the open spaces
between Illinois and you," she writes.
When I read the letter, two weeks
from now, forwarded by my publisher,
I will suddenly discover a truth
of our lives on earth, and I'll bless
William Settle of Lake Forest
for giving me more than I gave
her, for addressing me as Mr.
the name my father bore, a name
a man could take with courage
and pride into the empire of death.
I'll read even unto the second page,
unstartled by the phrase "By now
you must have guessed, I am
" Soon snow will fall
on the Tudor houses of the suburbs,
turning the elegant parked sedans
into anonymous mounds; the winds
will sweep in over the Rockies
and across the great freezing plains
where America first died, winds
so fierce boys and men turn their backs
to them and simply weep, and yet
in all that air the soul of Mrs.
Settle will not release me, not even
for one second.
Male and female,
aged and middle-aged, we ride it out
blown eastward toward our origins,
one impure being become wind.
the Middle West, truth and beauty
are one though never meant to be.
Charles Bukowski |
here comes the fishhead singing
here comes the baked potato in drag
here comes nothing to do all day long
here comes another night of no sleep
here comes the phone wringing the wrong tone
here comes a termite with a banjo
here comes a flagpole with blank eyes
here comes a a cat and a dog wearing nylons
here comes a machine gun saying
here comes bacon burning in the pan
here comes a voice saying something dull
here comes a newspaper stuffed with small red birds
with flat brown beaks
here comes a cunt carrying a torch
a deathly love
here comes a victory carrying
one bucket of blood
and stumbling over the berry bush
and the sheets hang out the windows
and the bombers head east west north south
get tossed like salad
as all the fish in the sea line up and form
one long line
one very long thin line
the longest line you could ever imagine
and we get lost
walking past purple mountains
we walk lost
bare at last like the knife
having spit it out like an unexpected olive seed
as the girl at the call service
screams over the phone:
"don't call back! you sound like a jerk!"
Susan Rich |
Republic of Niger
Nomads are said to know their way by an exact spot in the sky,
the touch of sand to their fingers, granules on the tongue.
But sometimes a system breaks down.
I witness a shift of light,
study the irregular shadings of dunes.
Why am I traveling
this road to Zinder, where really there is no road? No service station
at this check point, just one commercant hawking Fanta
in gangrene hues.
C'est formidable! he gestures --- staring ahead
over a pyramid of foreign orange juice.
In the desert life is distilled to an angle of wind, camel droppings,
How long has this man been here, how long
can I stay contemplating a route home?
It's so easy to get lost and disappear, die of thirst and longing
as the Sultan's three wives did last year.
Found in their Mercedes,
the chauffeur at the wheel, how did they fail to return home
to Ágadez, retrace a landscape they'd always believed?
No cross-streets, no broken yellow lines; I feel relief at the abandonment
of my own geography.
I know there's no surveyor but want to imagine
the aerial map that will send me above flame trees, snaking
through knots of basalt.
I'll mark the exact site for a lean-to
where the wind and dust travel easily along my skin,
and I'm no longer satiated by the scent of gasoline.
I'll arrive there
out of balance, untaught; ready for something called home.
Emily Dickinson |
What is -- "Paradise" --
Who live there --
Are they "Farmers" --
Do they "hoe" --
Do they know that this is "Amherst" --
And that I -- am coming -- too --
Do they wear "new shoes" -- in "Eden" --
Is it always pleasant -- there --
Won't they scold us -- when we're homesick --
Or tell God -- how cross we are --
You are sure there's such a person
As "a Father" -- in the sky --
So if I get lost -- there -- ever --
Or do what the Nurse calls "die" --
I shan't walk the "Jasper" -- barefoot --
Ransomed folks -- won't laugh at me --
Maybe -- "Eden" a'n't so lonesome
As New England used to be!
Carl Sandburg |
MAMIE beat her head against the bars of a little Indiana
town and dreamed of romance and big things off
somewhere the way the railroad trains all ran.
She could see the smoke of the engines get lost down
where the streaks of steel flashed in the sun and
when the newspapers came in on the morning mail
she knew there was a big Chicago far off, where all
the trains ran.
She got tired of the barber shop boys and the post office
chatter and the church gossip and the old pieces the
band played on the Fourth of July and Decoration Day
And sobbed at her fate and beat her head against the
bars and was going to kill herself
When the thought came to her that if she was going to
die she might as well die struggling for a clutch of
romance among the streets of Chicago.
She has a job now at six dollars a week in the basement
of the Boston Store
And even now she beats her head against the bars in the
same old way and wonders if there is a bigger place
the railroads run to from Chicago where maybe
and big things
and real dreams
that never go smash.
Carl Sandburg |
WHEN the sea is everywhere
from horizon to horizon .
when the salt and blue
fill a circle of horizons .
I swear again how I know
the sea is older than anything else
and the sea younger than anything else.
My first father was a landsman.
My tenth father was a sea-lover,
a gipsy sea-boy, a singer of chanties.
(Oh Blow the Man Down!)
The sea is always the same:
and yet the sea always changes.
The sea gives all,
and yet the sea keeps something back.
The sea takes without asking.
The sea is a worker, a thief and a loafer.
Why does the sea let go so slow?
Or never let go at all?
The sea always the same
day after day,
the sea always the same
night after night,
fog on fog and never a star,
wind on wind and running white sheets,
bird on bird always a sea-bird—
so the days get lost:
it is neither Saturday nor Monday,
it is any day or no day,
it is a year, ten years.
Fog on fog and never a star,
what is a man, a child, a woman,
to the green and grinding sea?
The ropes and boards squeak and groan.
On the land they know a child they have named Today.
On the sea they know three children they have named:
Yesterday, Today, To-morrow.
I made a song to a woman:—it ran:
I have wanted you.
I have called to you
on a day I counted a thousand years.
In the deep of a sea-blue noon
many women run in a man’s head,
phantom women leaping from a man’s forehead
to the railings … into the sea … to the
sea rim …
a man’s mother … a man’s wife … other
I asked a sure-footed sailor how and he said:
I have known many women but there is only one sea.
I saw the North Star once
and our old friend, The Big Dipper,
only the sea between us:
“Take away the sea
and I lift The Dipper,
swing the handle of it,
drink from the brim of it.
I saw the North Star one night
and five new stars for me in the rigging ropes,
and seven old stars in the cross of the wireless
plunging by night,
plowing by night—
Five new cool stars, seven old warm stars.
I have been let down in a thousand graves by my kinfolk.
I have been left alone with the sea and the sea’s wife, the wind, for my last friends
And my kinfolk never knew anything about it at all.
Salt from an old work of eating our graveclothes is here.
The sea-kin of my thousand graves,
The sea and the sea’s wife, the wind,
They are all here to-night
between the circle of horizons,
between the cross of the wireless
and the seven old warm stars.
Out of a thousand sea-holes I came yesterday.
Out of a thousand sea-holes I come to-morrow.
I am kin of the changer.
I am a son of the sea
and the sea’s wife, the wind.
Chris Jones |
His name has been ghosted over the fence,
leaving an alias, burn, prison clothes.
I'm half the man, he says, not my sentence,
waiting on time that other people chose.
From their windows men sing out numbers, names,
hands to the grille light for the come-back call,
but words get lost, change allegiance, and blame's
out of their mouths, love's over the wall.
Later when I phone home and catch your voice
I think of slipping out to wind and rain,
to burning winter lights, and city noise,
to waiting on the platform for the train,
the slow bus climbing toward our terrace house,
and in that space, to reach you, say your name.
Vasko Popa |
Enough chattering violets enough sweet trash
I won't hear anything know anything
Enough enough of all
I'll say the last enough
Fill my mouth with earth
Grit my teeth
To break off you skull guzzler
To break off once for all
I'll just be what I am
Without root without branch without crown
I'll lean on myself
On my own bumps and bruises
I'll be the hawthorn stake through you
That's all I can be in you
In you spoilsport in you muddlehead
Rg Gregory |
i got nothing last year
and i expect nothing this
so i've got to find
if i'm to be rewarded
so all good people
you'd better learn to give
from the goodness of your heart
or at knife-point
i'm a taker by trade
takers is keepers
it won't hurt you to bleed
it's a good colour - red
give of your blood
you're not having mine
i'm the collector
santa looks after himself
your birthright - get lost
when i'm on my rounds
what i see i snaffle
that's today's lesson
give to santa - or
i'll cut your throat
that's today's christmas
the future looks good