Billy Collins |
Remember the 1340's? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called "Find the Cow.
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.
Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage.
We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent a badly broken code.
The 1790's will never come again.
Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.
I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.
Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.
As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.
Sylvia Plath |
Lady, your room is lousy with flowers.
When you kick me out, that's what I'll remember,
Me, sitting here bored as a loepard
In your jungle of wine-bottle lamps,
Velvet pillows the color of blood pudding
And the white china flying fish from Italy.
I forget you, hearing the cut flowers
Sipping their liquids from assorted pots,
Pitchers and Coronation goblets
Like Monday drunkards.
The milky berries
Bow down, a local constellation,
Toward their admirers in the tabletop:
Mobs of eyeballs looking up.
Are those petals of leaves you've paried with them ---
Those green-striped ovals of silver tissue?
The red geraniums I know.
They stink of armpits
And the invovled maladies of autumn,
Musky as a lovebed the morning after.
My nostrils prickle with nostalgia.
Henna hags:cloth of your cloth.
They tow old water thick as fog.
The roses in the Toby jug
Gave up the ghost last night.
Their yellow corsets were ready to split.
You snored, and I heard the petals unlatch,
Tapping and ticking like nervous fingers.
You should have junked them before they died.
Daybreak discovered the bureau lid
Littered with Chinese hands.
Now I'm stared at
By chrysanthemums the size
Of Holofernes' head, dipped in the same
Magenta as this fubsy sofa.
In the mirror their doubles back them up.
Listen: your tenant mice
Are rattling the cracker packets.
Muffles their bird feet: they whistle for joy.
And you doze on, nose to the wall.
This mizzle fits me like a sad jacket.
How did we make it up to your attic?
You handed me gin in a glass bud vase.
We slept like stones.
Lady, what am I doing
With a lung full of dust and a tongue of wood,
Knee-deep in the cold swamped by flowers?
Jorge Luis Borges |
Oh days devoted to the useless burden
of putting out of mind the biography
of a minor poet of the Southem Hemisphere,
to whom the fates or perhaps the stars have given
a body which will leave behind no child,
and blindness, which is semi-darkness and jail,
and old age, which is the dawn of death,
and fame, which absolutely nobody deserves,
and the practice of weaving hendecasyllables,
and an old love of encyclopedias
and fine handmade maps and smooth ivory,
and an incurable nostalgia for the Latin,
and bits of memories of Edinburgh and Geneva
and the loss of memory of names and dates,
and the cult of the East, which the varied peoples
of the teeming East do not themselves share,
and evening trembling with hope or expectation,
and the disease of entymology,
and the iron of Anglo-Saxon syllables,
and the moon, that always catches us by surprise,
and that worse of all bad habits, Buenos Aires,
and the subtle flavor of water, the taste of grapes,
and chocolate, oh Mexican delicacy,
and a few coins and an old hourglass,
and that an evening, like so many others,
be given over to these lines of verse.
Barry Tebb |
For Brenda Williams
La lune diminue; divin septembre.
Divine September the moon wanes.
Pierre Jean Jouve
Themes for poems and the detritus of dreams coalesce:
This is one September I shall not forget.
The grammar-school caretaker always had the boards re-blacked
And the floors waxed, but I never shone.
The stripes of the red and black blazer
You could never see things that way:
Your home had broken windows to the street.
You had the mortification of lice in your hair
While I had the choice of Brylcreem or orange pomade.
Four children, an alcoholic father and
An Irish immigrant mother.
I did not make it like Alan Bennett,
Who still sends funny postcards
About our Leeds childhood.
Of your’s, you could never speak
And found my nostalgia
Forgetting your glasses for the eleven plus,
No money for the uniform for the pass at thirteen.
It wasn’t - as I imagined - shame that kept you from telling
But fear of the consequences for your mother
Had you sobbed the night’s terrors
Of your father’s drunken homecomings,
Your mother sat with the door open
In all weathers while you, the oldest,
Waited with her, perhaps
Something might have been done.
He never missed a day’s work digging graves,
Boasting he could do a six-footer
Single-handed in two hours flat.
That hackneyed phrase
‘He drank all his wages’
Doesn’t convey his nightly rages
The flow of obscenities about menstruation
While the three younger ones were in bed
And you waited with your mother
To walk the streets of Seacroft.
“Your father murdered your mother”
As Auntie Margaret said,
Should a witness
Your mother’s growing cancer went diagnosed, but unremarked
Until the final days
She was too busy auxiliary nursing
Or working in the Lakeside Caf?.
It was her wages that put bread and jam
And baked beans into your stomachs.
Her final hospitalisation
Was the arena for your father’s last rage
Her fare interfering with the night’s drinking;
He fought in the Burma Campaign but won no medals.
Some kind of psychiatric discharge- ‘paranoia’
Lurked in his papers.
The madness went undiagnosed
Until his sixtieth birthday.
You never let me meet him
Even after our divorce.
In the end you took me on a visit with the children.
A neat flat with photographs of grandchildren,
Stacks of wood for the stove, washing hung precisely
In the kitchen, a Sunday suit in the wardrobe.
An unwrinkling of smiles, the hard handshake
Of work-roughened hands.
One night he smashed up the tidy flat.
The TV screen was powder
The clock ticked on the neat lawn
‘Murder in Seacroft Hospital’
Emblazoned on the kitchen wall.
I went with you and your sister in her car to Roundhay Wing.
Your sister had to leave for work or sleep
You had to back to meet the children from school.
For Ward 42 it wasn’t an especially difficult admission.
My first lesson: I shut one set of firedoors while the charge nurse
Bolted the other but after five minutes his revolt
Was over and he signed the paper.
The nurse on nights had a sociology degree
And an interest in borderline schizophrenia.
After lightsout we chatted about Kohut and Kernberg
And Melanie Klein.
Your father was occasionally truculent,
Barricading himself in on one home leave.
Nothing out of the way
For a case of that kind.
The old ladies on the estate sighed,
Single men were very scarce.
Always a gentleman, tipping
His cap to the ladies.
There seems to be objections in the family to poetry
Or at least to the kind that actually speaks
And fails to lie down quietly on command.
Yours seems to have set mine alight-
I must get something right.
David Lehman |
There comes a time in every man's life
when he thinks: I have never had a single
original thought in my life
including this one & therefore I shall
eliminate all ideas from my poems
which shall consist of cats, rice, rain
baseball cards, fire escapes, hanging plants
red brick houses where I shall give up booze
and organized religion even if it means
despair is a logical possibility that can't
be disproved I shall concentrate on the five
senses and what they half perceive and half
create, the green street signs with white
letters on them the body next to mine
asleep while I think these thoughts
that I want to eliminate like nostalgia
0 was there ever a man who felt as I do
like a pronoun out of step with all the other
floating signifiers no things but in words
an orange T-shirt a lime green awning
Weldon Kees |
The tower bell in the Tenth Street Church
Rang out nostalgia for the refugee
Who knew the source of bells by sound.
We liked it, but in ignorance.
One meets authorities on bells infrequently.
Europe alone made bells with such a tone,
Herr Mannheim said.
Struck midnight, and it shook the room.
He had heard bells in Leipzig, Chartres, Berlin,
Paris, Vienna, Brussels, Rome.
He was a white-faced man with sad enormous eyes.
Reader, for me that bell marked nights
Of restless tossing in this narrow bed,
The quarrels, the slamming of a door,
The kind words, friends for drinks, the books we read,
Breakfasts with streets in rain.
It rang from europe all the time.
That was what Mannheim said.
It is good to know, now that the bell strikes noon.
In this day's sun, the hedges are Episcopalian
As noon is marked by the twelve iron beats.
The rector moves ruminantly among the gravestones,
And the sound of a dead Europe hangs in the streets.
Nazim Hikmet |
I carved your name on my watchband
with my fingernail.
Where I am, you know,
I don't have a pearl-handled jackknife
(they won't give me anything sharp)
or a plane tree with its head in the clouds.
Trees may grow in the yard,
but I'm not allowed
to see the sky overhead.
How many others are in this place?
I don't know.
I'm alone far from them,
they're all together far from me.
To talk anyone besides myself
So I talk to myself.
But I find my conversation so boring,
my dear wife, that I sing songs.
And what do you know,
that awful, always off-key voice of mine
touches me so
that my heart breaks.
And just like the barefoot orphan
lost in the snow
in those old sad stories, my heart
-- with moist blue eyes
and a little red runny rose --
wants to snuggle up in your arms.
It doesn't make me blush
that right now
I'm this weak,
this human simply.
No doubt my state can be explained
physiologically, psychologically, etc.
Or maybe it's
this barred window,
this earthen jug,
these four walls,
which for months have kept me from hearing
another human voice.
It's five o'clock, my dear.
with its dryness,
and lame, skinny horse
standing motionless in infinity
-- I mean, it's enough to drive the man inside crazy with grief --
outside, with all its machinery and all its art,
a plains night comes down red on treeless space.
Again today, night will fall in no time.
A light will circle the lame, skinny horse.
And the treeless space, in this hopeless landscape
stretched out before me like the body of a hard man,
will suddenly be filled with stars.
We'll reach the inevitable end once more,
which is to say the stage is set
again today for an elaborate nostalgia.
the man inside,
once more I'll exhibit my customary talent,
and singing an old-fashioned lament
in the reedy voice of my childhood,
once more, by God, it will crush my unhappy heart
to hear you inside my head,
away, as if I were watching you
in a smoky, broken mirror.
It's spring outside, my dear wife, spring.
Outside on the plain, suddenly the smell
of fresh earth, birds singing, etc.
It's spring, my dear wife,
the plain outside sparkles.
And inside the bed comes alive with bugs,
the water jug no longer freezes,
and in the morning sun floods the concrete.
every day till noon now
it comes and goes
from me, flashing off
And as the day turns to afternoon, shadows climb the walls,
the glass of the barred window catches fire,
and it's night outside,
a cloudless spring night.
And inside this is spring's darkest hour.
In short, the demon called freedom,
with its glittering scales and fiery eyes,
possesses the man inside
especially in spring.
I know this from experience, my dear wife,
Today they took me out in the sun for the first time.
And I just stood there, struck for the first time in my life
by how far away the sky is,
and how wide.
Then I respectfully sat down on the earth.
I leaned back against the wall.
For a moment no trap to fall into,
no struggle, no freedom, no wife.
Only earth, sun, and me.
I am happy.
Stanley Kunitz |
If the water were clear enough,
if the water were still,
but the water is not clear,
the water is not still,
you would see yourself,
slipped out of your skin,
over the rocks
till you paint them
with your belly's blood:
yard of muscle that coils,
If the knowledge were given you,
but it is not given,
for the membrane is clouded
and the iridescent image swims
through a mirror that flows,
you would surprise yourself
in that other flesh
heavy with milt,
bruised, battering toward the dam
that lips the orgiastic pool.
Bathe in these waters.
Increase and die.
If the power were granted you
to break out of your cells,
but the imagination fails
and the doors of the senses close
on the child within,
you would dare to be changed,
as you are changing now,
into the shape you dread
beyond the merely human.
A dry fire eats you.
Fat drips from your bones.
The flutes of your gills discolor.
You have become a ship for parasites.
The great clock of your life
is slowing down,
and the small clocks run wild.
For this you were born.
You have cried to the wind
and heard the wind's reply:
"I did not choose the way,
the way chose me.
You have tasted the fire on your tongue
till it is swollen black
with a prophetic joy:
"Burn with me!
The only music is time,
the only dance is love.
If the heart were pure enough,
but it is not pure,
you would admit
that nothing compels you
any more, nothing
at all abides,
but nostalgia and desire,
the two-way ladder
between heaven and hell.
On the threshold
of the last mystery,
at the brute absolute hour,
you have looked into the eyes
of your creature self,
which are glazed with madness,
and you say
he is not broken but endures,
limber and firm
in the state of his shining,
forever inheriting his salt kingdom,
from which he is banished
Pablo Neruda |
Thinking, tangling shadows in the deep solitude.
You are far away too, oh farther than anyone.
Thinking, freeing birds, dissolving images,
Belfry of fogs, how far away, up there!
Stifling laments, milling shadowy hopes,
night falls on you face downward, far from the city.
Your presence is foreign, as strange to me as a thing.
I think, I explore great tracts of my life before you.
My life before anyone, my harsh life.
The shout facing the sea, among the rocks,
running free, mad, in the sea-spray.
The sad rage, the shout, the solitude of the sea.
Headlong, violent, stretched towards the sky.
You, woman, what were you there, what ray, what vane
of that immense fan? You were as far as you are now.
Fire in the forest! Burn in blue crosses.
Burn, burn, flame up, sparkle in trees of light.
It collapses, crackling.
And my soul dances, seared with curls of fire.
Who calls? What silence peopled with echoes?
Hour of nostalgia, hour of happiness, hour of solitude.
Hour that is mine from among them all!
Megaphone in which the wind passes singing.
Such a passion of weeping tied to my body.
Shaking of all the roots,
attack of all the waves!
My soul wandered, happy, sad, unending.
Thinking, burying lamps in the deep solitude.
Who are you, who are you?
Paul Eluard |
A few grains of dust more or less
On ancient shoulders
Locks of weakness on weary foreheads
This theatre of honey and faded roses
Where incalcuable flies
Reply to the black signs that misery makes to them
Despairing girders of a bridge
Thrown across space
Thrown across every street and every house
Heavy wandering madnesses
That we shall end by knowing by heart
Mechanical appetites and uncontrolled dances
That lead to the regret of hatred
Nostalgia of justice