Marilyn Hacker |
An unwrapped icon, too potent to touch,
she freed my breasts from the camp Empire dress.
Now one of them's the shadow of a breast
with a lost object's half-life, with as much
life as an anecdotal photograph:
me, Kim and Iva, all stripped to the waist,
hiking near Russian River on June first
'79: Iva's five-and-a-half.
While she was almost twenty, wearing black
T-shirts in D.
, where we hadn't met.
You lay your palm, my love, on my flat chest.
In lines alive with what is not regret,
she takes her own path past, doesn't turn back.
Persistently, on paper, we exist.
Persistently, on paper, we exist.
You'd touch me if you could, but you're, in fact,
three thousand miles away.
And my intact
body is eighteen months paper: the past
a fragile eighteen months regime of trust
in slash-and-burn, in vitamin pills, backed
by no statistics.
Each day I enact
survivor's rituals, blessing the crust
I tear from the warm loaf, blessing the hours
in which I didn't or in which I did
consider my own death.
I am not yet
statistically a survivor (that
is sixty months).
On paper, someone flowers
and flares alive.
I knew her.
But she's dead.
She flares alive.
I knew her.
But she's dead.
I flirted with her, might have been her friend,
but transatlantic schedules intervened.
She wrote a book about her Freedom Ride,
the wary elders whom she taught to read,
— herself half-British, twenty-six, white-blonde,
with thirty years to live.
And I happened
to open up The Nation to that bad
news which I otherwise might not have known
(not breast cancer: cancer of the brain).
Words take the absent friend away again.
Alone, I think, she called, alone, upon
her courage, tried in ways she'd not have wished
by pain and fear: her courage, extinguished.
The pain and fear some courage extinguished
at disaster's denouement come back
daily, banal: is that brownish-black
mole the next chapter? Was the ache enmeshed
between my chest and armpit when I washed
rogue cells' new claw, or just a muscle ache?
I'm not yet desperate enough to take
comfort in being predeceased: the anguish
when the Harlem doctor, the Jewish dancer,
die of AIDS, the Boston seminary's
dean succumbs "after brief illness" to cancer.
I like mossed slabs in country cemeteries
with wide-paced dates, candles in jars, whose tallow
glows on summer evenings, desk-lamp yellow.
Aglow in summer evening, a desk-lamp's yellow
moonlight peruses notebooks, houseplants, texts,
while an aging woman thinks of sex
in the present tense.
Desire may follow,
urgent or elegant, cut raw or mellow
with wine and ripe black figs: a proof, the next
course, a simple question, the complex
response, a burning sweetness she will swallow.
The opening mind is sexual and ready
to embrace, incarnate in its prime.
Rippling concentrically from summer's gold
disc, desire's iris expands, steady
with blood beat.
Each time implies the next time.
The aging woman hopes she will grow old.
The aging woman hopes she will grow old.
A younger woman has a dazzling vision
of bleeding wrists, her own, the clean incisions
suddenly there, two open mouths.
their speechless secrets, witnesses not called
to what occurred with as little volition
of hers as these phantom wounds.
of scars, in flesh, in spirit.
by mine in ranks where now I'm "being brave"
if I take off my shirt in a hot crowd
sunbathing, or demonstrating for Dyke Pride.
Her bravery counters the kitchen knives'
insinuation that the scars be made.
With, or despite our scars, we stay alive.
"With, or despite our scars, we stayed alive
until the Contras or the Government
or rebel troops came, until we were sent
to 'relocation camps' until the archives
burned, until we dug the ditch, the grave
beside the aspen grove where adolescent
boys used to cut class, until we went
to the precinct house, eager to behave
I count my hours and days,
finger for luck the word-scarred table which
is not my witness, shares all innocent
objects' silence: a tin plate, a basement
door, a spade, barbed wire, a ring of keys,
an unwrapped icon, too potent to touch.
Rita Dove |
She was thinner, with a mannered gauntness
as she paused just inside the double
glass doors to survey the room, silvery cape
billowing dramatically behind her.
I thought, lifting a hand until
she nodded and started across the parquet;
that's when I saw she was dressed all in gray,
from a kittenish cashmere skirt and cowl
down to the graphite signature of her shoes.
"Sorry I'm late," she panted, though
she wasn't, sliding into the chair, her cape
tossed off in a shudder of brushed steel.
Then I leaned back to peruse
my blighted child, this wary aristocratic mole.
"How's business?" I asked, and hazarded
a motherly smile to keep from crying out:
Are you content to conduct your life
as a cliché and, what's worse,
an anachronism, the brooding artist's demimonde?
Near the rue Princesse they had opened
a gallery cum souvenir shop which featured
fuzzy off-color Monets next to his acrylics, no doubt,
plus beared African drums and the occasional miniature
gargoyle from Notre Dame the Great Artist had
carved at breakfast with a pocket knife.
"Tourists love us.
The Parisians, of course"--
she blushed--"are amused, though not without
a certain admiration .
arrived on a bone-white plate, smug and absolute
in its fragrant crust, a black plug steaming
like the heart plucked from the chest of a worthy enemy;
one touch with her fork sent pink juices streaming.
"Admiration for what?"Wine, a bloody
Pinot Noir, brought color to her cheeks.
the aplomb with which we've managed
to support our Art"--meaning he'd convinced
her to pose nude for his appalling canvases,
faintly futuristic landscapes strewn
with carwrecks and bodies being chewed
by rabid cocker spaniels.
"I'd like to come by
the studio," I ventured, "and see the new stuff.
"Yes, if you wish .
"A delicate rebuff
before the warning: "He dresses all
in black now.
Me, he drapes in blues and carmine--
and even though I think it's kinda cute,
in company I tend toward more muted shades.
She paused and had the grace
to drop her eyes.
She did look ravishing,
spookily insubstantial, a lipstick ghost on tissue,
or as if one stood on a fifth-floor terrace
peering through a fringe of rain at Paris'
dreaming chimney pots, each sooty issue
wobbling skyward in an ecstatic oracular spiral.
"And he never thinks of food.
I didn't have to plead with him to eat.
and cheese appeared, arrayed on leaf-green dishes.
I stuck with café crème.
so ripe," she joked, "it's practically grown hair,"
mucking a golden glob complete with parsley sprig
onto a heel of bread.
Nothing seemed to fill
her up: She swallowed, sliced into a pear,
speared each tear-shaped lavaliere
and popped the dripping mess into her pretty mouth.
Nowhere the bright tufted fields, weighted
vines and sun poured down out of the south.
"But are you happy?"Fearing, I whispered it
"What?You know, Mother"--
she bit into the starry rose of a fig--
"one really should try the fruit here.
I've lost her, I thought, and called for the bill.
Sidney Lanier |
At midnight, death's and truth's unlocking time,
When far within the spirit's hearing rolls
The great soft rumble of the course of things --
A bulk of silence in a mask of sound, --
When darkness clears our vision that by day
Is sun-blind, and the soul's a ravening owl
For truth and flitteth here and there about
Low-lying woody tracts of time and oft
Is minded for to sit upon a bough,
Dry-dead and sharp, of some long-stricken tree
And muse in that gaunt place, -- 'twas then my heart,
Deep in the meditative dark, cried out:
"Ye companies of governor-spirits grave,
Bards, and old bringers-down of flaming news
From steep-wall'd heavens, holy malcontents,
Sweet seers, and stellar visionaries, all
That brood about the skies of poesy,
Full bright ye shine, insuperable stars;
Yet, if a man look hard upon you, none
With total lustre blazeth, no, not one
But hath some heinous freckle of the flesh
Upon his shining cheek, not one but winks
His ray, opaqued with intermittent mist
Of defect; yea, you masters all must ask
Some sweet forgiveness, which we leap to give,
We lovers of you, heavenly-glad to meet
Your largesse so with love, and interplight
Your geniuses with our mortalities.
Thus unto thee, O sweetest Shakespeare sole,
A hundred hurts a day I do forgive
('Tis little, but, enchantment! 'tis for thee):
Small curious quibble; Juliet's prurient pun
In the poor, pale face of Romeo's fancied death;
Cold rant of Richard; Henry's fustian roar
Which frights away that sleep he invocates;
Wronged Valentine's unnatural haste to yield;
Too-silly shifts of maids that mask as men
In faint disguises that could ne'er disguise --
Viola, Julia, Portia, Rosalind;
Fatigues most drear, and needless overtax
Of speech obscure that had as lief be plain;
Last I forgive (with more delight, because
'Tis more to do) the labored-lewd discourse
That e'en thy young invention's youngest heir
Besmirched the world with.
Father Homer, thee,
Thee also I forgive thy sandy wastes
Of prose and catalogue, thy drear harangues
That tease the patience of the centuries,
Thy sleazy scrap of story, -- but a rogue's
Rape of a light-o'-love, -- too soiled a patch
To broider with the gods.
Thou dear and very strong one, I forgive
Thy year-worn cloak, thine iron stringencies
That were but dandy upside-down, thy words
Of truth that, mildlier spoke, had mainlier wrought.
So, Buddha, beautiful! I pardon thee
That all the All thou hadst for needy man
Was Nothing, and thy Best of being was
But not to be.
Worn Dante, I forgive
The implacable hates that in thy horrid hells
Or burn or freeze thy fellows, never loosed
By death, nor time, nor love.
And I forgive
Thee, Milton, those thy comic-dreadful wars
Where, armed with gross and inconclusive steel,
Immortals smite immortals mortalwise
And fill all heaven with folly.
Brave Aeschylus, thee I forgive, for that
Thine eye, by bare bright justice basilisked,
Turned not, nor ever learned to look where Love
So, unto thee, Lucretius mine
(For oh, what heart hath loved thee like to this
That's now complaining?), freely I forgive
Thy logic poor, thine error rich, thine earth
Whose graves eat souls and all.
Yea, all you hearts
Of beauty, and sweet righteous lovers large:
Aurelius fine, oft superfine; mild Saint
A Kempis, overmild; Epictetus,
Whiles low in thought, still with old slavery tinct;
Rapt Behmen, rapt too far; high Swedenborg,
O'ertoppling; Langley, that with but a touch
Of art hadst sung Piers Plowman to the top
Of English songs, whereof 'tis dearest, now,
And most adorable; Caedmon, in the morn
A-calling angels with the cow-herd's call
That late brought up the cattle; Emerson,
Most wise, that yet, in finding Wisdom, lost
Thy Self, sometimes; tense Keats, with angels' nerves
Where men's were better; Tennyson, largest voice
Since Milton, yet some register of wit
Wanting; -- all, all, I pardon, ere 'tis asked,
Your more or less, your little mole that marks
You brother and your kinship seals to man.
But Thee, but Thee, O sovereign Seer of time,
But Thee, O poets' Poet, Wisdom's Tongue,
But Thee, O man's best Man, O love's best Love,
O perfect life in perfect labor writ,
O all men's Comrade, Servant, King, or Priest, --
What `if' or `yet', what mole, what flaw, what lapse,
What least defect or shadow of defect,
What rumor, tattled by an enemy,
Of inference loose, what lack of grace
Even in torture's grasp, or sleep's, or death's, --
Oh, what amiss may I forgive in Thee,
Jesus, good Paragon, thou Crystal Christ?"
John Greenleaf Whittier |
Blessings on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
With thy turned-up pantaloons,
And thy merry whistled tunes;
With thy red lip, redder still
Kissed by strawberries on the hill;
With the sunshine on thy face,
Through thy torn brim's jaunty grace;
From my heart I give thee joy, -
I was once a barefoot boy!
Prince thou art, - the grown-up man
Only is republican.
Let the million-dollared ride!
Barefoot, trudging at his side,
Thou hast more than he can buy
In the reach of ear and eye, -
Outward sunshine, inward joy:
Blessings on thee, barefoot boy!
Oh for boyhood's painless play,
Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
Health that mocks the doctor's rules,
Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee's morning chase,
Of the wild-flower's time and place,
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood;
How the tortoise bears his shell,
How the woodchuck digs his cell,
And the ground-mole sinks his well;
How the robin feeds her young,
How the oriole's nest is hung;
Where the whitest lilies blow,
Where the freshest berries grow,
Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
Where the wood-grape's clusters shine;
Of the black wasp's cunning way,
Mason of his walls of clay,
And the architectural plans
Of gray hornet artisans!
For, eschewing books and tasks,
Nature answers all he asks;
Hand in hand with her he walks,
Face to face with her he talks,
Part and parcel of her joy, -
Blessings on the barefoot boy!
Oh for boyhood's time of June,
Crowding years in one brief moon,
When all things I heard or saw,
Me, their master, waited for.
I was rich in flowers and trees,
Humming-birds and honey-bees;
For my sport the squirrel played,
Plied the snouted mole his spade;
For my taste the blackberry cone
Purpled over hedge and stone;
Laughed the brook for my delight
Through the day and through the night,
Whispering at the garden wall,
Talked with me from fall to fall;
Mine the sand-rimmed pickerel pond,
Mine the walnut slopes beyond,
Mine, on bending orchard trees,
Apples of Hesperides!
Still as my horizon grew,
Larger grew my riches too;
All the world I saw or knew
Seemed a complex Chinese toy,
Fashioned for a barefoot boy!
Oh for festal dainties spread,
Like my bowl of milk and bread;
Pewter spoon and bowl of wood,
On the door-stone, gray and rude!
O'er me, like a regal tent,
Cloudy-ribbed, the sunset bent,
Purple-curtained, fringed with gold,
Looped in many a wind-swung fold;
While for music came the play
Of the pied frogs' orchestra;
And, to light the noisy choir,
Lit the fly his lamp of fire.
I was monarch: pomp and joy
Waited on the barefoot boy!
Cheerily, then, my little man,
Live and laugh, as boyhood can!
Though the flinty slopes be hard,
Stubble-speared the new-mown sward,
Every morn shall lead thee through
Fresh baptisms of the dew;
Every evening from thy feet
Shall the cool wind kiss the heat:
All too soon these feet must hide
In the prison cells of pride,
Lose the freedom of the sod,
Like a colt's for work be shod,
Made to tread the mills of toil,
Up and down in ceaseless moil:
Happy if their track be found
Never on forbidden ground;
Happy if they sink not in
Quick and treacherous sands of sin.
Ah! that thou couldst know thy joy,
Ere it passes, barefoot boy!
Anne Sexton |
for Sylvia Plath
O Sylvia, Sylvia,
with a dead box of stones and spoons,
with two children, two meteors
wandering loose in a tiny playroom,
with your mouth into the sheet,
into the roofbeam, into the dumb prayer,
where did you go
after you wrote me
about rasing potatoes
and keeping bees?)
what did you stand by,
just how did you lie down into?
how did you crawl into,
crawl down alone
into the death I wanted so badly and for so long,
the death we said we both outgrew,
the one we wore on our skinny breasts,
the one we talked of so often each time
we downed three extra dry martinis in Boston,
the death that talked of analysts and cures,
the death that talked like brides with plots,
the death we drank to,
the motives and the quiet deed?
ride in cabs,
yes death again,
that ride home
with our boy.
O Sylvia, I remember the sleepy drummer
who beat on our eyes with an old story,
how we wanted to let him come
like a sadist or a New York fairy
to do his job,
a necessity, a window in a wall or a crib,
and since that time he waited
under our heart, our cupboard,
and I see now that we store him up
year after year, old suicides
and I know at the news of your death
a terrible taste for it, like salt,
And now, Sylvia,
with death again,
that ride home
with our boy.
And I say only
with my arms stretched out into that stone place,
what is your death
but an old belonging,
a mole that fell out
of one of your poems?
while the moon's bad,
and the king's gone,
and the queen's at her wit's end
the bar fly ought to sing!)
O tiny mother,
O funny duchess!
O blonde thing!
Joseph Brodsky |
All the huskies are eaten.
There is no space
left in the diary And the beads of quick
words scatter over his spouse's sepia-shaded face
adding the date in question like a mole to her lovely cheek.
Next the snapshot of his sister.
He doesn't spare his kin:
what's been reached is the highest possible latitude!
And like the silk stocking of a burlesque half-nude
queen it climbs up his thigh: gangrene.
Countee Cullen |
I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!
John Keats |
O SOFT embalmer of the still midnight!
Shutting with careful fingers and benign
Our gloom-pleased eyes embower'd from the light
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine;
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee close 5
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes
Or wait the amen ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities;
Then save me or the pass¨¨d day will shine
Upon my pillow breeding many woes; 10
Save me from curious conscience that still lords
Its strength for darkness burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oil¨¨d wards
And seal the hush¨¨d casket of my soul.
Anne Kingsmill Finch |
Tis true of courage I'm no mistress
No Boadicia nor Thalestriss
Nor shall I e'er be famed hereafter
For such a Soul as Cato's Daughter
Nor active valour nor enduring
Nor leading troops nor forts securing
Like Teckley's wife or Pucell valiant
Will e'er be reckonded for my talent
Who all things fear whilst day is shining
And my own shadow light declining
And from the Spleen's prolifick fountain
Can of a mole hill make a mountain
And if a Coach that was invented
Since Bess on Palfrey rode contented
Threatens to tumble topsy turvy
With screeches loud and faces scurvey
I break discourse whilst some are laughing
Some fall to chear me some to chaffing
As secretly the driver curses
And whips my fault upon the horses
These and ten thousand are the errours
Arising from tumultuous terrours
Yet can't I understand the merit
In Female's of a daring spirit
Since to them never was imparted
In manly strengh tho' manly hearted
Nor need that sex be self defending
Who charm the most when most depending
And by sweet plaints and soft distresses
First gain asistance then adresses
As our fourth Edward (beauty suing)
From but releiving fell to wooing
Who by Heroick speech or ranting
Had ne'er been melted to galanting
Nor had th'Egyptian Queen defying
Drawn off that fleet she led by flying
Whilst Cesar and his ships crew hollow'd
To see how Tony row'd and follow'd
Oh Action triumph of the Ladies
And plea for her who most afraid is
Then let my conduct work no wonder
When fame who cleaves the air asunder
And every thing in time discovers
Nor council keeps for Kings or Lovers
Yet stoops when tired with States and battles
To Gossips chats and idler tattles
When she I say has given no knowledge
Of what has happen'd at Wye College
Think it not strange to save my Person
I gave the family diversion
'Twas at an hour when most were sleeping
Some chimnies clean some wanted sweeping
Mine thro' good fires maintain'd this winter
(Of which no FINCH was e'er a stinter)
Pour'd down such flakes not Etna bigger
Throws up as did my fancy figure
Nor does a Cannon ram'd with Powder
To others seem to Bellow louder
All that I thought or spoke or acted
Can't in a letter be compacted
Nor how I threatn'd those with burning
Who thoughtless on their beds were turning
As Shakespear says they serv'd old Prium
When that the Greeks were got too nigh'em
And such th'effect in spite of weather
Our Hecuba's all rose together
I at their head half cloath'd and shaking
Was instantly the house forsaking
And told them 'twas no time for talking
But who'd be safe had best be walking
This hasty councel and conclusion
Seem'd harsh to those who had no shoes on
And saw no flames and heard no clatter
But as I had rehears'd the matter
And wildly talk't of fire and water
For sooner then 'thas took to tell it
Right applications did repell it
And now my fear our mirth creating
Affords still subject for repeating
Whilst some deplore th'unusual folly
Some (kinder) call it melancholy
Tho' certainly the spirits sinking
Comes not from want of wit or thinking
Since Rochester all dangers hated
And left to those were harder pated.
Wendell Berry |
The Grower of Trees, the gardener, the man born to farming,
whose hands reach into the ground and sprout
to him the soil is a divine drug.
He enters into death
yearly, and comes back rejoicing.
He has seen the light lie down
in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn.
His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
That the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth
Like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water
Descending in the dark?