James Tate |
Some people go their whole lives
without ever writing a single poem.
Extraordinary people who don't hesitate
to cut somebody's heart or skull open.
They go to baseball games with the greatest of ease.
and play a few rounds of golf as if it were nothing.
These same people stroll into a church
as if that were a natural part of life.
Investing money is second nature to them.
They contribute to political campaigns
that have absolutely no poetry in them
and promise none for the future.
They sit around the dinner table at night
and pretend as though nothing is missing.
Their children get caught shoplifting at the mall
and no one admits that it is poetry they are missing.
The family dog howls all night,
lonely and starving for more poetry in his life.
Why is it so difficult for them to see
that, without poetry, their lives are effluvial.
Sure, they have their banquets, their celebrations,
croquet, fox hunts, their sea shores and sunsets,
their cocktails on the balcony, dog races,
and all that kissing and hugging, and don't
forget the good deeds, the charity work,
nursing the baby squirrels all through the night,
filling the birdfeeders all winter,
helping the stranger change her tire.
Still, there's that disagreeable exhalation
from decaying matter, subtle but everpresent.
They walk around erect like champions.
They are smooth-spoken and witty.
When alone, rare occasion, they stare
into the mirror for hours, bewildered.
There was something they meant to say, but didn't:
"And if we put the statue of the rhinoceros
next to the tweezers, and walk around the room three times,
learn to yodel, shave our heads, call
our ancestors back from the dead--"
poetrywise it's still a bust, bankrupt.
You haven't scribbled a syllable of it.
You're a nowhere man misfiring
the very essence of your life, flustering
nothing from nothing and back again.
The hereafter may not last all that long.
Radiant childhood sweetheart,
secret code of everlasting joy and sorrow,
fanciful pen strokes beneath the eyelids:
all day, all night meditation, knot of hope,
kernel of desire, pure ordinariness of life
seeking, through poetry, a benediction
or a bed to lie down on, to connect, reveal,
explore, to imbue meaning on the day's extravagant labor.
And yet it's cruel to expect too much.
It's a rare species of bird
that refuses to be categorized.
Its song is barely audible.
It is like a dragonfly in a dream--
here, then there, then here again,
low-flying amber-wing darting upward
then out of sight.
And the dream has a pain in its heart
the wonders of which are manifold,
or so the story is told.
James A Emanuel |
Four-letter word JAZZ:
naughty, sexy, cerebral,
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.
James Whitcomb Riley |
New Castle, July 4, 1878
or a hundred years the pulse of time
Has throbbed for Liberty;
For a hundred years the grand old clime
Columbia has been free;
For a hundred years our country's love,
The Stars and Stripes, has waved above.
Away far out on the gulf of years--
Misty and faint and white
Through the fogs of wrong--a sail appears,
And the Mayflower heaves in sight,
And drifts again, with its little flock
Of a hundred souls, on Plymouth Rock.
Do you see them there--as long, long since--
Through the lens of History;
Do you see them there as their chieftain prints
In the snow his bended knee,
And lifts his voice through the wintry blast
In thanks for a peaceful home at last?
Though the skies are dark and the coast is bleak,
And the storm is wild and fierce,
Its frozen flake on the upturned cheek
Of the Pilgrim melts in tears,
And the dawn that springs from the darkness there
Is the morning light of an answered prayer.
The morning light of the day of Peace
That gladdens the aching eyes,
And gives to the soul that sweet release
That the present verifies,--
Nor a snow so deep, nor a wind so chill
To quench the flame of a freeman's will!
Days of toil when the bleeding hand
Of the pioneer grew numb,
When the untilled tracts of the barren land
Where the weary ones had come
Could offer nought from a fruitful soil
To stay the strength of the stranger's toil.
Days of pain, when the heart beat low,
And the empty hours went by
Pitiless, with the wail of woe
And the moan of Hunger's cry--
When the trembling hands upraised in prayer
Had only the strength to hold them there.
Days when the voice of hope had fled--
Days when the eyes grown weak
Were folded to, and the tears they shed
Were frost on a frozen cheek--
When the storm bent down from the skies and gave
A shroud of snow for the Pilgrim's grave.
Days at last when the smiling sun
Glanced down from a summer sky,
And a music rang where the rivers run,
And the waves went laughing by;
And the rose peeped over the mossy bank
While the wild deer stood in the stream and drank.
And the birds sang out so loud and good,
In a symphony so clear
And pure and sweet that the woodman stood
With his ax upraised to hear,
And to shape the words of the tongue unknown
Into a language all his own--
'Sing! every bird, to-day!
Sing for the sky so clear,
And the gracious breath of the atmosphere
Shall waft our cares away.
Sing! sing! for the sunshine free;
Sing through the land from sea to sea;
Lift each voice in the highest key
And sing for Liberty!'
'Sing for the arms that fling
Their fetters in the dust
And lift their hands in higher trust
Unto the one Great King;
Sing for the patriot heart and hand;
Sing for the country they have planned;
Sing that the world may understand
This is Freedom's land!'
'Sing in the tones of prayer,
Sing till the soaring soul
Shall float above the world's control
In freedom everywhere!
Sing for the good that is to be,
Sing for the eyes that are to see
The land where man at last is free,
O sing for liberty!'
A holy quiet reigned, save where the hand
Of labor sent a murmur through the land,
And happy voices in a harmony
Taught every lisping breeze a melody.
A nest of cabins, where the smoke upcurled
A breathing incense to the other world.
A land of languor from the sun of noon,
That fainted slowly to the pallid moon,
Till stars, thick-scattered in the garden-land
Of Heaven by the great Jehovah's hand,
Had blossomed into light to look upon
The dusky warrior with his arrow drawn,
As skulking from the covert of the night
With serpent cunning and a fiend's delight,
With murderous spirit, and a yell of hate
The voice of Hell might tremble to translate:
When the fond mother's tender lullaby
Went quavering in shrieks all suddenly,
And baby-lips were dabbled with the stain
Of crimson at the bosom of the slain,
And peaceful homes and fortunes ruined--lost
In smoldering embers of the holocaust.
Yet on and on, through years of gloom and strife,
Our country struggled into stronger life;
Till colonies, like footprints in the sand,
Marked Freedom's pathway winding through the land--
And not the footprints to be swept away
Before the storm we hatched in Boston Bay,--
But footprints where the path of war begun
That led to Bunker Hill and Lexington,--
For he who "dared to lead where others dared
To follow" found the promise there declared
Of Liberty, in blood of Freedom's host
Baptized to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Oh, there were times when every patriot breast
Was riotous with sentiments expressed
In tones that swelled in volume till the sound
Of lusty war itself was well-nigh drowned.
Oh, those were times when happy eyes with tears
Brimmed o'er as all the misty doubts and fears
Were washed away, and Hope with gracious mien,
Reigned from her throne again a sovereign queen.
Until at last, upon a day like this
When flowers were blushing at the summer's kiss,
And when the sky was cloudless as the face
Of some sweet infant in its angel grace,--
There came a sound of music, thrown afloat
Upon the balmy air--a clanging note
Reiterated from the brazen throat
Of Independence Bell: A sound so sweet,
The clamoring throngs of people in the streets
Were stilled as at the solemn voice of prayer,
And heads were bowed, and lips were moving there
That made no sound--until the spell had passed,
And then, as when all sudden comes the blast
Of some tornado, came the cheer on cheer
Of every eager voice, while far and near
The echoing bells upon the atmosphere
Set glorious rumors floating, till the ear
Of every listening patriot tingled clear,
And thrilled with joy and jubilee to hear.
'Stir all your echoes up,
O Independence Bell,
And pour from your inverted cup
The song we love so well.
'Lift high your happy voice,
And swing your iron tongue
Till syllables of praise rejoice
That never yet were sung.
'Ring in the gleaming dawn
Of Freedom--Toll the knell
Of Tyranny, and then ring on,
O Independence Bell.
'Ring on, and drown the moan,
Above the patriot slain,
Till sorrow's voice shall catch the tone
And join the glad refrain.
'Ring out the wounds of wrong
And rankle in the breast;
Your music like a slumber-song
Will lull revenge to rest.
'Ring out from Occident
To Orient, and peal
From continent to continent
The mighty joy you feel.
'Ring! Independence Bell!
Ring on till worlds to be
Shall listen to the tale you tell
Of love and Liberty!'
O Liberty--the dearest word
A bleeding country ever heard,--
We lay our hopes upon thy shrine
And offer up our lives for thine.
You gave us many happy years
Of peace and plenty ere the tears
A mourning country wept were dried
Above the graves of those who died
Upon thy threshold.
When newer wars were bred, and men
Went marching in the cannon's breath
And died for thee and loved the death,
While, high above them, gleaming bright,
The dear old flag remained in sight,
And lighted up their dying eyes
With smiles that brightened paradise.
O Liberty, it is thy power
To gladden us in every hour
Of gloom, and lead us by thy hand
As little children through a land
Of bud and blossom; while the days
Are filled with sunshine, and thy praise
Is warbled in the roundelays
Of joyous birds, and in the song
Of waters, murmuring along
The paths of peace, whose flowery fringe
Has roses finding deeper tinge
Of crimson, looking on themselves
Reflected--leaning from the shelves
Of cliff and crag and mossy mound
Of emerald splendor shadow-drowned.
We hail thy presence, as you come
With bugle blast and rolling drum,
And booming guns and shouts of glee
Commingled in a symphony
That thrills the worlds that throng to see
The glory of thy pageantry.
0And with thy praise, we breathe a prayer
That God who leaves you in our care
May favor us from this day on
With thy dear presence--till the dawn
Of Heaven, breaking on thy face,
Lights up thy first abiding place.
James Tate |
This is the hardest part:
When I came back to life
I was a good family dog
and not too friendly to strangers.
I got a thirty-five dollar raise
in salary, and through the pea-soup fogs
I drove the General, and introduced him
I had a totalitarian approach
and was a massive boost to his popularity.
I did my best to reduce the number of people.
The local bourgeoisie did not exist.
One of them was a mystic
and walked right over me
as if I were a bed of hot coals.
This is par for the course-
I will be employing sundry golf metaphors
henceforth, because a dog, best friend
and chief advisor to the General, should.
While dining with the General I said,
"Let's play the back nine in a sacred rage.
Let's tee-off over the foredoomed community
and putt ourselves thunderously, touching bottom.
He drank it all in, rugged and dusky.
I think I know what he was thinking.
He held his automatic to my little head
and recited a poem about my many weaknesses,
for which I loved him so.
Edgar Bowers |
Every month or so, Sundays, we walked the line,
The limit and the boundary.
Past the sweet gum
Superb above the cabin, along the wall—
Stones gathered from the level field nearby
When first we cleared it.
Stung the two mules.
Thirteen, I ran.
And then the field: thread-leaf maple, deciduous
Magnolia, hybrid broom, and, further down,
In light shade, one Franklinia Alatamaha
In solstice bloom, all white, most graciously.
On the sunnier slope, the wild plums that my mother
Later would make preserves of, to give to friends
Or sell, in autumn, with the foxgrape, quince,
Elderberry, and muscadine.
The granite overhang, moist den of foxes;
Gradually up a long hill, high in pine,
Park-like, years of dry needles on the ground,
And dogwood, slopes the settlers terraced; pine
We cut at Christmas, berries, hollies, anise,
And cones for sale in Mister Haymore’s yard
In town, below the Courthouse Square.
One of the two good teachers at Boys’ High,
Ironic and demanding, chemistry;
Mary Lou Culver taught us English: essays,
Plot summaries, outlines, meters, kinds of clauses
(Noun, adjective, and adverb, five at a time),
Written each day and then revised, and she
Up half the night to read them once again
Through her pince-nez, under a single lamp.
Across the road, on a steeper hill, the settlers
Set a house, unpainted, the porch fallen in,
The road a red clay strip without a bridge,
A shallow stream that liked to overflow.
Oliver Brand’s mules pulled our station wagon
Out of the gluey mire, earth’s rust.
And there, back from the road, the specimen
Shrubs and small trees my father planted, some
Taller than we were, some in bloom, some berried,
And some we still brought water to.
Paused at the weed-filled hole beside the beech
That, one year, brought forth beech nuts by the thousands,
A hole still reminiscent of the man
Chewing tobacco in among his whiskers
My father happened on, who, discovered, told
Of dreaming he should dig there for the gold
And promised to give half of what he found.
During the wars with Germany and Japan,
Descendents of the settlers, of Oliver Brand
And of that man built Flying Fortresses
For Lockheed, in Atlanta; now they build
Brick mansions in the woods they left, with lawns
To paved and lighted streets, azaleas, camellias
Blooming among the pines and tulip trees—
Mercedes Benz and Cadillac Republicans.
There was another stream further along
Divided through a marsh, lined by the fence
We stretched to posts with Mister Garner’s help
The time he needed cash for his son’s bail
And offered all his place.
A noble spring
Under the oak root cooled his milk and butter.
He called me “honey,” working with us there
(My father bought three acres as a gift),
His wife pale, hair a country orange, voice
Uncanny, like a ghost’s, through the open door
Behind her, chickens scratching on the floor.
Barred Rocks, our chickens; one, a rooster, splendid
Sliver and grey, red comb and long sharp spurs,
Once chased Aunt Jennie as far as the daphne bed
The two big king snakes were familiars of.
My father’s dog would challenge him sometimes
To laughter and applause.
Once, in Stone Mountain,
Travelers, stopped for gas, drove off with Smokey;
Angrily, grievingly, leaving his work, my father
Traced the car and found them way far south,
Had them arrested and, bringing Smokey home,
Was proud as Sherlock Holmes, and happier.
Above the spring, my sister’s cats, black Amy,
Grey Junior, down to meet us.
The rose trees,
Domestic, Asiatic, my father’s favorites.
The bridge, marauding dragonflies, the bullfrog,
Camellias cracked and blackened by the freeze,
Bay tree, mimosa, mountain laurel, apple,
Monkey pine twenty feet high, banana shrub,
The owls’ tall pine curved like a flattened S.
The pump house Mort and I built block by block,
Smooth concrete floor, roof pale aluminum
Half-covered by a clematis, the pump
Thirty feet down the mountain’s granite foot.
Mort was the hired man sent to us by Fortune,
Childlike enough to lead us.
He brought home,
Although he could not even drive a tractor,
Cheated, a worthless car, which we returned.
When, at the trial to garnishee his wages,
Frank Guess, the judge, Grandmother’s longtime neighbor,
Whose children my mother taught in Cradle Roll,
Heard Mort’s examination, he broke in
As if in disbelief on the bank’s attorneys:
“Gentlemen, must we continue this charade?”
Finally, past the compost heap, the garden,
Tomatoes and sweet corn for succotash,
Okra for frying, Kentucky Wonders, limas,
Cucumbers, squashes, leeks heaped round with soil,
Lavender, dill, parsley, and rosemary,
Tithonia and zinnias between the rows;
The greenhouse by the rock wall, used for cuttings
In late spring, frames to grow them strong for planting
Through winter into summer.
Early one morning
Mort called out, lying helpless by the bridge.
His ashes we let drift where the magnolia
We planted as a stem divides the path
The others lie, too young, at Silver Hill,
Except my mother.
Ninety-five, she lives
Three thousand miles away, beside the bare
Pacific, in rooms that overlook the Mission,
The Riviera, and the silver range
La Cumbre east.
And one druidic live oak guard the view.
Proudly around the walls, she shows her paintings
Of twenty years ago: the great oak’s arm
Extended, Zeuslike, straight and strong, wisteria
Tangled among the branches, amaryllis
Around the base; her cat, UC, at ease
In marigolds; the weeping cherry, pink
And white arms like a blessing to the blue
Bird feeder Mort made; cabin, scarlet sweet gum
Superb when tribes migrated north and south.
Alert, still quick of speech, a little blind,
Active, ready for laughter, open to fear,
Pity, and wonder that such things may be,
Some Sundays, I think, she must walk the line,
Aunt Jennie, too, if she were still alive,
And Eleanor, whose story is untold,
Their presences like muses, prompting me
In my small study, all listening to the sea,
All of one mind, the true posterity.
Barry Tebb |
(or ‘Huddersfield the Second Poetry Capital of England Re-visited’)
What was it Janice Simmons said to me as James lay dying in Ireland?
“Phone Peter Pegnall in Leeds, an ex-pupil of Jimmy’s.
A benefit reading, he’d love to hear from you and have your help.
‘Like hell he would’ I thought but I phoned him all the same
At his converted farmhouse at Barswill, a Lecturer in Creative Writing
At the uni.
But what’s he written, I wondered, apart from his CV?
“Well I am organising a reading but only for the big people, you understand,
Hardman, Harrison, Doughty, Duhig, Basher O’Brien, you know the kind,
The ones that count, the ones I owe my job to.
We nattered on and on until by way of adieu I read the final couplet
Of my Goodbye poem, the lines about ‘One Leeds Jimmy who could fix the world’s.
Duhigs once and for all/Write them into the ground and still have a hundred
Lyrics in his quiver.
Pete Stifled a cough which dipped into a gurgle and sank into a mire
Of strangulated affect which almost became a convulsion until finally
He shrieked, “I have to go, the cat’s under the Christmas tree, ripping
Open all the presents, the central heating boiler’s on the blink,
The house is on fucking fire!”
So I was left with the offer of being raffle-ticket tout as a special favour,
Some recompense for giving over two entire newsletters to Jimmy’s work:
The words of the letter before his stroke still burned.
“I don’t know why
They omitted me, Armitage and Harrison were my best mates once.
You and I
A whole year’s silence until the card with its cryptic message
‘Jimmy’s recovering slowly but better than expected’.
I never heard from Pegnall about the reading, the pamphlets he asked for
Whalebone, the fellow-tutor he commended, also stayed silent.
Had the event been cancelled? Happening to be in Huddersfield on Good Friday
I staggered up three flights of stone steps in the Byram Arcade to the Poetry Business
Where, next to the ‘closed’ sign an out-of-date poster announced the reading in Leeds
At a date long gone.
I peered through the slats at empty desks, at brimming racks of books,
At overflowing bin-bags and the yellowing poster.
Desperately I tried to remember
What Janice had said.
“We were sat up in bed, planning to take the children
For a walk when Jimmy stopped looking at me, the pupils of his eyes rolled sideways,
His head lolled and he keeled over.
The title of the reading was from Jimmy’s best collection
‘With Energy To Burn’
with energy to burn.
William Topaz McGonagall |
A pathetic tale of the sea I will unfold,
Enough to make one's blood run cold;
Concerning four fishermen cast adrift in a dory.
As I've been told I'll relate the story.
T'was on the 8th April on the afternoon of that day
That the village of Louisburg was thrown into a wild state or dismay,
And the villagers flew to the beach in a state of wild uproar
And in a dory they found four men were cast ashore.
Then the villagers, in surprise assembled about the dory,
And they found that the bottom of the boat was gory;
Then their hearts were seized with sudden dread,
when they discovered that two of the men were dead.
And the two survivors were exhausted from exposure, hunger, and cold,
Which used the spectators to shudder when them they did behold;
And with hunger the poor men couldn't stand on their feet,
They felt so weakly on their legs for want of meat.
They were carried to a boarding-house without delay,
But those that were looking on were stricken with dismay,
When the remains of James and Angus McDonald were found in the boat,
Likewise three pieces or flesh in a pool or blood afloat.
Angus McDonald's right arm was missing from the elbow,
and the throat was cut in a sickening manner which filled the villagers hearts with woe,
Especially when they saw two pieces of flesh had been cut from each thigh,
'Twas then the kind-hearted villagers did murmur and sigh.
Angus McDonald must have felt the pangs of hunger before he did try
to cut two pieces of fiesh from James McDonald's thigh,
But, Oh heaven! the pangs of hunger are very hard to thole,
And anything that's eatable is precious unto an hungry soul.
Alas it is most pitiful and horrible to think
That with hunger christians will each other's blood drink
And eat each other's flesh to save themselves from starvation;
But the pangs or hunger makes them mad, and drives them to desperation.
An old American soldier that had passed through the Civil War,
Declared the scene surpassed anything he's seen by far,
And at the sight, the crowd in horror turned away,
which no doubt they will remember for many a day.
Colin Chisholm, one of the survivors was looking very pale,
Stretched on a sofa at the boarding-house, making his wail:
Poor fellow! his feet was greatly swollen, and with a melancholy air,
He gave the following account of the distressing affair:
We belonged to the American fishing schooner named "Cicely",
And our captain was a brave man, called McKenzie;
And the vessel had fourteen hands altogether
And during the passage we had favourable weather.
'Twas on March the 17th we sailed from Gloucester on the Wednesday
And all our hearts felt buoyant and gay;
And we arrived on the Western banks on the succeeding Tuesday,
While the time unto us seemed to pass merrily away.
About eight O'clock in the morning, we left the vessel in a dory,
And I hope all kind christians will take heed to my story;
Well, while we were at our work, the sky began to frown,
And with a dense fog we were suddenly shut down
Then we hunted and shouted, and every nerve did strain,
Thinking to find our schooner but, alas! it was all in vain:
Because the thick fog hid the vessel from our view,
And to keep ourselves warm we closely to each other drew.
We had not one drop of water , nor provisions of any kind,
Which, alas soon began to tell on our mind;
Especially upon James McDonald who was very thinly clad,
And with the cold and hunger he felt almost mad.
And looking from the stern where he was lying,
he said Good bye, mates, Oh! I am dying!
Poor fellow we kept his body thinking the rest of us would be saved,
Then, with hunger, Angus McDonald began to cry and madly raved.
And he cried, Oh, God! send us some kind of meat,
Because I'm resolved to have something to eat;
Oh! do not let us starve on the briny flood
Or else I will drink of poor Jim's blood.
Then he suddenly seized his knife and cut off poor Jim's arm,
Not thinking in his madness he'd done any harm;
Then poor Jim's blood he did drink and his flesh did eat,
Declaring that the blood tasted like cream, and was a treat.
Then he asked me to taste it, saying It was good without doubt,
Then I tasted it, but in disgust I instantly spat it out;
Saying, if I was to die within an hour on the briny flood,
I would neither eat the flesh nor drink the blood.
Then in the afternoon again he turned to me,
Saying, I'm going to cut Jim's throat for more blood d'ye see;
Then I begged of him, for God's sake not to cut the throat of poor Jim,
But he cried, Ha! ha! to save my own life I consider it no sin.
I tried to prevent him but he struck me without dismay
And cut poor Jim's throat in defiance of me, or all I could say,
Also a piece of flesh from each thigh, and began to eat away,
But poor fellow he sickened about noon, and died on the Sunday.
Now it is all over and I will thank all my life,
Who has preserved me and my mate, McEachern, in the midst of danger and strife;
And I hope that all landsmen of low and high degree,
Will think of the hardships of poor mariners while at sea.
James Weldon Johnson |
O Lord, we come this morning
Knee-bowed and body-bent
Before Thy throne of grace.
O Lord--this morning--
Bow our hearts beneath our knees,
And our knees in some lonesome valley.
We come this morning--
Like empty pitchers to a full fountain,
With no merits of our own.
O Lord--open up a window of heaven,
And lean out far over the battlements of glory,
And listen this morning.
Lord, have mercy on proud and dying sinners--
Sinners hanging over the mouth of hell,
Who seem to love their distance well.
Lord--ride by this morning--
Mount Your milk-white horse,
And ride-a this morning--
And in Your ride, ride by old hell,
Ride by the dingy gates of hell,
And stop poor sinners in their headlong plunge.
And now, O Lord, this man of God,
Who breaks the bread of life this morning--
Shadow him in the hollow of Thy hand,
And keep him out of the gunshot of the devil.
Take him, Lord--this morning--
Wash him with hyssop inside and out,
Hang him up and drain him dry of sin.
Pin his ear to the wisdom-post,
And make his words sledge hammers of truth--
Beating on the iron heart of sin.
Lord God, this morning--
Put his eye to the telescope of eternity,
And let him look upon the paper walls of time.
Lord, turpentine his imagination,
Put perpetual motion in his arms,
Fill him full of the dynamite of Thy power,
Anoint him all over with the oil of Thy salvation,
And set his tongue on fire.
And now, O Lord--
When I've done drunk my last cup of sorrow--
When I've been called everything but a child of God--
When I'm done traveling up the rough side of the mountain--
When I start down the steep and slippery steps of death--
When this old world begins to rock beneath my feet--
Lower me to my dusty grave in peace
To wait for that great gittin'-up morning--Amen.
Billy Collins |
Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.
Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
" "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.
Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.
Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
" "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.
And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs.
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.
We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.
Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.
And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.
Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page
A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love.