Robert Frost |
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost |
Her teacher's certainty it must be Mabel
Made Maple first take notice of her name.
She asked her father and he told her, "Maple—
Maple is right.
"But teacher told the school
There's no such name.
"Teachers don't know as much
As fathers about children, you tell teacher.
You tell her that it's M-A-P-L-E.
You ask her if she knows a maple tree.
Well, you were named after a maple tree.
Your mother named you.
You and she just saw
Each other in passing in the room upstairs,
One coming this way into life, and one
Going the other out of life—you know?
So you can't have much recollection of her.
She had been having a long look at you.
She put her finger in your cheek so hard
It must have made your dimple there, and said,
' I said it too: 'Yes, for her name.
So we're sure there's no mistake.
I don't know what she wanted it to mean,
But it seems like some word she left to bid you
Be a good girl—be like a maple tree.
How like a maple tree's for us to guess.
Or for a little girl to guess sometime.
Not now—at least I shouldn't try too hard now.
By and by I will tell you all I know
About the different trees, and something, too,
About your mother that perhaps may help.
Dangerous self-arousing words to sow.
Luckily all she wanted of her name then
Was to rebuke her teacher with it next day,
And give the teacher a scare as from her father.
Anything further had been wasted on her,
Or so he tried to think to avoid blame.
She would forget it.
She all but forgot it.
What he sowed with her slept so long a sleep,
And came so near death in the dark of years,
That when it woke and came to life again
The flower was different from the parent seed.
It carne back vaguely at the glass one day,
As she stood saying her name over aloud,
Striking it gently across her lowered eyes
To make it go well with the way she looked.
What was it about her name? Its strangeness lay
In having too much meaning.
As Lesley, Carol, Irma, Marjorie,
Rose could have a meaning,
But hadn't as it went.
(She knew a Rose.
This difference from other names it was
Made people notice it—and notice her.
(They either noticed it, or got it wrong.
Her problem was to find out what it asked
In dress or manner of the girl who bore it.
If she could form some notion of her mother—
What she bad thought was lovely, and what good.
This was her mother's childhood home;
The house one story high in front, three stories
On the end it presented to the road.
(The arrangement made a pleasant sunny cellar.
Her mother's bedroom was her father's still,
Where she could watch her mother's picture fading.
Once she found for a bookmark in the Bible
A maple leaf she thought must have been laid
In wait for her there.
She read every word
Of the two pages it was pressed between,
As if it was her mother speaking to her.
But forgot to put the leaf back in closing
And lost the place never to read again.
She was sure, though, there had been nothing in it.
So she looked for herself, as everyone
Looks for himself, more or less outwardly.
And her self-seeking, fitful though it was,
May still have been what led her on to read,
And think a little, and get some city schooling.
She learned shorthand, whatever shorthand may
Have had to do with it--she sometimes wondered.
So, till she found herself in a strange place
For the name Maple to have brought her to,
Taking dictation on a paper pad
And, in the pauses when she raised her eyes,
Watching out of a nineteenth story window
An airship laboring with unshiplike motion
And a vague all-disturbing roar above the river
Beyond the highest city built with hands.
Someone was saying in such natural tones
She almost wrote the words down on her knee,
"Do you know you remind me of a tree--
A maple tree?"
"Because my name is Maple?"
"Isn't it Mabel? I thought it was Mabel.
"No doubt you've heard the office call me Mabel.
I have to let them call me what they like.
They were both stirred that he should have divined
Without the name her personal mystery.
It made it seem as if there must be something
She must have missed herself.
So they were married,
And took the fancy home with them to live by.
They went on pilgrimage once to her father's
(The house one story high in front, three stories
On the side it presented to the road)
To see if there was not some special tree
She might have overlooked.
They could find none,
Not so much as a single tree for shade,
Let alone grove of trees for sugar orchard.
She told him of the bookmark maple leaf
In the big Bible, and all she remembered
of the place marked with it—"Wave offering,
Something about wave offering, it said.
"You've never asked your father outright, have you?"
"I have, and been Put off sometime, I think.
(This was her faded memory of the way
Once long ago her father had put himself off.
"Because no telling but it may have been
Something between your father and your mother
Not meant for us at all.
"Not meant for me?
Where would the fairness be in giving me
A name to carry for life and never know
The secret of?"
"And then it may have been
Something a father couldn't tell a daughter
As well as could a mother.
It may have been their one lapse into fancy
'Twould be too bad to make him sorry for
By bringing it up to him when be was too old.
Your father feels us round him with our questing,
And holds us off unnecessarily,
As if he didn't know what little thing
Might lead us on to a discovery.
It was as personal as be could be
About the way he saw it was with you
To say your mother, bad she lived, would be
As far again as from being born to bearing.
"Just one look more with what you say in mind,
And I give up"; which last look came to nothing.
But though they now gave up the search forever,
They clung to what one had seen in the other
It proved there was something.
They kept their thoughts away from when the maples
Stood uniform in buckets, and the steam
Of sap and snow rolled off the sugarhouse.
When they made her related to the maples,
It was the tree the autumn fire ran through
And swept of leathern leaves, but left the bark
Unscorched, unblackened, even, by any smoke.
They always took their holidays in autumn.
Once they came on a maple in a glade,
Standing alone with smooth arms lifted up,
And every leaf of foliage she'd worn
Laid scarlet and pale pink about her feet.
But its age kept them from considering this one.
Twenty-five years ago at Maple's naming
It hardly could have been a two-leaved seedling
The next cow might have licked up out at pasture.
Could it have been another maple like it?
They hovered for a moment near discovery,
Figurative enough to see the symbol,
But lacking faith in anything to mean
The same at different times to different people.
Perhaps a filial diffidence partly kept them
From thinking it could be a thing so bridal.
And anyway it came too late for Maple.
She used her hands to cover up her eyes.
"We would not see the secret if we could now:
We are not looking for it any more.
Thus had a name with meaning, given in death,
Made a girl's marriage, and ruled in her life.
No matter that the meaning was not clear.
A name with meaning could bring up a child,
Taking the child out of the parents' hands.
Better a meaningless name, I should say,
As leaving more to nature and happy chance.
Name children some names and see what you do.
Robert Pinsky |
to Robert Hass and in memory of Elliot Gilbert
Slow dulcimer, gavotte and bow, in autumn,
Bashõ and his friends go out to view the moon;
In summer, gasoline rainbow in the gutter,
The secret courtesy that courses like ichor
Through the old form of the rude, full-scale joke,
Impossible to tell in writing.
He named himself, "Banana Tree": banana
After the plant some grateful students gave him,
Maybe in appreciation of his guidance
Threading a long night through the rules and channels
Of their collaborative linking-poem
Scored in their teacher's heart: live, rigid, fluid
Like passages etched in a microscopic cicuit.
Elliot had in his memory so many jokes
They seemed to breed like microbes in a culture
Inside his brain, one so much making another
It was impossible to tell them all:
In the court-culture of jokes, a top banana.
Imagine a court of one: the queen a young mother,
Unhappy, alone all day with her firstborn child
And her new baby in a squalid apartment
Of too few rooms, a different race from her neighbors.
She tells the child she's going to kill herself.
She broods, she rages.
Hoping to distract her,
The child cuts capers, he sings, he does imitations
Of different people in the building, he jokes,
He feels if he keeps her alive until the father
Gets home from work, they'll be okay till morning.
It's laughter versus the bedroom and the pills.
What is he in his efforts but a courtier?
Impossible to tell his whole delusion.
In the first months when I had moved back East
From California and had to leave a message
On Bob's machine, I used to make a habit
Of telling the tape a joke; and part-way through,
I would pretend that I forgot the punchline,
Or make believe that I was interrupted--
As though he'd be so eager to hear the end
He'd have to call me back.
The joke was Elliot's,
More often than not.
The doctors made the blunder
That killed him some time later that same year.
One day when I got home I found a message
On my machine from Bob.
He had a story
About two rabbis, one of them tall, one short,
One day while walking along the street together
They see the corpse of a Chinese man before them,
And Bob said, sorry, he forgot the rest.
Of course he thought that his joke was a dummy,
Impossible to tell--a dead-end challenge.
But here it is, as Elliot told it to me:
The dead man's widow came to the rabbis weeping,
Begging them, if they could, to resurrect him.
Shocked, the tall rabbi said absolutely not.
But the short rabbi told her to bring the body
Into the study house, and ordered the shutters
Closed so the room was night-dark.
Then he prayed
Over the body, chanting a secret blessing
Out of Kabala.
"Arise and breathe," he shouted;
But nothing happened.
The body lay still.
The little rabbi called for hundreds of candles
And danced around the body, chanting and praying
In Hebrew, then Yiddish, then Aramaic.
In Turkish and Egyptian and Old Galician
For nearly three hours, leaping about the coffin
In the candlelight so that his tiny black shoes
Seemed not to touch the floor.
With one last prayer
Sobbed in the Spanish of before the Inquisition
He stopped, exhausted, and looked in the dead man's face.
Panting, he raised both arms in a mystic gesture
And said, "Arise and breathe!" And still the body
Lay as before.
Impossible to tell
In words how Elliot's eyebrows flailed and snorted
Like shaggy mammoths as--the Chinese widow
Granting permission--the little rabbi sang
The blessing for performing a circumcision
And removed the dead man's foreskin, chanting blessings
In Finnish and Swahili, and bathed the corpse
From head to foot, and with a final prayer
In Babylonian, gasping with exhaustion,
He seized the dead man's head and kissed the lips
And dropped it again and leaping back commanded,
"Arise and breathe!" The corpse lay still as ever.
At this, as when Bashõ's disciples wind
Along the curving spine that links the renga
Across the different voices, each one adding
A transformation according to the rules
Of stasis and repetition, all in order
And yet impossible to tell beforehand,
Elliot changes for the punchline: the wee
Rabbi, still panting, like a startled boxer,
Looks at the dead one, then up at all those watching,
A kind of Mel Brooks gesture: "Hoo boy!" he says,
"Now that's what I call really dead.
" O mortal
Powers and princes of earth, and you immortal
Lords of the underground and afterlife,
Jehovah, Raa, Bol-Morah, Hecate, Pluto,
What has a brilliant, living soul to do with
Your harps and fires and boats, your bric-a-brac
And troughs of smoking blood? Provincial stinkers,
Our languages don't touch you, you're like that mother
Whose small child entertained her to beg her life.
Possibly he grew up to be the tall rabbi,
The one who washed his hands of all those capers
Right at the outset.
Or maybe he became
The author of these lines, a one-man renga
The one for whom it seems to be impossible
To tell a story straight.
It was a routine
When it was finished the physicians
Told Sandra and the kids it had succeeded,
But Elliot wouldn't wake up for maybe an hour,
They should go eat.
The two of them loved to bicker
In a way that on his side went back to Yiddish,
On Sandra's to some Sicilian dialect.
He used to scold her endlessly for smoking.
When she got back from dinner with their children
The doctors had to tell them about the mistake.
Oh swirling petals, falling leaves! The movement
Of linking renga coursing from moment to moment
Is meaning, Bob says in his Haiku book.
Oh swirling petals, all living things are contingent,
Falling leaves, and transient, and they suffer.
But the Universal is the goal of jokes,
Especially certain ethnic jokes, which taper
Down through the swirling funnel of tongues and gestures
Toward their preposterous Ithaca.
A journalist told me.
He heard it while a hero
Of the South African freedom movement was speaking
To elderly Jews.
The speaker's own right arm
Had been blown off by right-wing letter-bombers.
He told his listeners they had to cast their ballots
For the ANC--a group the old Jews feared
As "in with the Arabs.
" But they started weeping
As the old one-armed fighter told them their country
Needed them to vote for what was right, their vote
Could make a country their children could return to
From London and Chicago.
The moved old people
Applauded wildly, and the speaker's friend
Whispered to the journalist, "It's the Belgian Army
Joke come to life.
" I wish I could tell it
In the Belgian Army, the feud
Between the Flemings and Walloons grew vicious,
So out of hand the army could barely function.
Finally one commander assembled his men
In one great room, to deal with things directly.
They stood before him at attention.
He ordered, "to the left wall.
" Half the men
Clustered to the left.
"Now all Walloons," he ordered,
"Move to the right.
" An equal number crowded
Against the right wall.
Only one man remained
At attention in the middle: "What are you, soldier?"
Saluting, the man said, "Sir, I am a Belgian.
"Why, that's astonishing, Corporal--what's your name?"
Saluting again, "Rabinowitz," he answered:
A joke that seems at first to be a story
About the Jews.
But as the renga describes
Religious meaning by moving in drifting petals
And brittle leaves that touch and die and suffer
The changing winds that riffle the gutter swirl,
So in the joke, just under the raucous music
Of Fleming, Jew, Walloon, a courtly allegiance
Moves to the dulcimer, gavotte and bow,
Over the banana tree the moon in autumn--
Allegiance to a state impossible to tell.
Charles Bukowski |
either peace or happiness,
let it enfold you
when i was a young man
I felt these things were
I had bad blood,a twisted
mind, a pecarious
I was hard as granite,I
leered at the
I trusted no man and
I was living a hell in
small rooms, I broke
things, smashed things,
walked through glass,
I challenged everything,
was continually being
out of fights,in and aout
of my mind.
women were something
to screw and rail
at,i had no male
I changed jobs and
cities,I hated holidays,
algebra angred me,
opera sickened me,
charlie chaplin was a
and flowers were for
peace an happiness to me
were signs of
tenants of the weak
but as I went on with
my alley fights,
my suicidal years,
my passage through
any number of
began to occur to
that I wasn't diffrent
others, I was the same,
they were all fulsome
glossed over with petty
the men I fought in
alleys had hearts of stone.
everybody was nudging,
inching, cheating for
the lie was the
weapon and the
darkness was the
cautiously, I allowed
myself to feel good
I found moments of
peace in cheap
just staring at the
knobs of some
or listening to the
rain in the
the less i needed
the better i
maybe the other life had worn me
I no longer found
in topping somebody
or in mounting the
body of some poor
whose life had
slipped away into
I could never accept
life as it was,
i could never gobble
down all its
but there were parts,
tenous magic parts
open for the
I re formulated
I don't know when,
but the change
something in me
i no longer had to
prove that i was a
I did'nt have to prove
I began to see things:
coffe cups lined up
behind a counter in a
or a dog walking along
or the way the mouse
on my dresser top
with its body,
it was fixed,
a bit of life
caught within itself
and its eyes looked
and they were
then- it was
I began to feel good,
I began to feel good
in the worst situations
and there were plenty
like say, the boss
behind his desk,
he is going to have
to fire me.
I've missed too many
he is dressed in a
suit, necktie, glasses,
he says, "i am going
to have to let you go"
"it's all right" i tell
He must do what he
must do, he has a
wife, a house, children.
expenses, most probably
I am sorry for him
he is caught.
I walk onto the blazing
the whole day is
(the whole world is at the
throat of the world,
everybody feels angry,
everybody is despondent,
I welcomed shots of
peace, tattered shards of
I embraced that stuff
like the hottest number,
like high heels,breasts,
(dont get me wrong,
there is such a thing as cockeyed optimism
that overlooks all
basic problems justr for
the sake of
this is a sheild and a
The knife got near my
I almost turned on the
but when the good
I did'nt fight them off
like an alley
I let them take me,
i luxuriated in them,
I bade them welcome
I even looked into
once having thought
myself to be
I now liked what
a bit ripped and
but all in all,
not too bad,
better at least than
some of those movie
like the cheeks of
and finally I discovered
real feelings fo
like this morning,
as I was leaving,
for the track,
i saw my wif in bed,
her head there
centuries of the living
and the dead and
but his music still
there in the
room, weeds growing,
the earth turning,
the toteboard waiting for
I saw the shape of my
she so still,
i ached for her life,
just being there
i kissed her in the,
got down the stairway,
got into my marvelous
fixed the seatbelt,
backed out the
feeling warm to
down to my
foot on the gas
I entered the world
drove down the
past the houses
full and emptey
i saw the mailman,
Sara Teasdale |
I am not sorry for my soul
That it must go unsatisfied,
For it can live a thousand times,
Eternity is deep and wide.
I am not sorry for my soul,
But oh, my body that must go
Back to a little drift of dust
Without the joy it longed to know.
Robert Burns |
Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!
I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow mortal!
I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!
Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
Its silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's win's ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!
Thou saw the fields laid bare an waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.
That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou's turned out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!
But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain
For promised joy!
Still thou art blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho I canna see,
I guess an' fear!
Charles Bukowski |
George was lying in his trailer, flat on his back, watching a small portable T.
dinner dishes were undone, his breakfast dishes were undone, he needed a shave, and ash
from his rolled cigarettes dropped onto his undershirt.
Some of the ash was still burning.
Sometimes the burning ash missed the undershirt and hit his skin, then he cursed, brushing
There was a knock on the trailer door.
He got slowly to his feet and answered the
It was Constance.
She had a fifth of unopened whiskey in a bag.
"George, I left that son of a *****, I couldn't stand that son of a *****
George opened the fifth, got two glasses, filled each a third with whiskey, two thirds
He sat down on the bed with Constance.
She took a cigarette out of her purse
and lit it.
She was drunk and her hands trembled.
"I took his damn money too.
I took his damn money and split while he was at work.
You don't know how I've suffered with that son of a *****.
Lemme have a smoke," said George.
She handed it to him and as she leaned near,
George put his arm around her, pulled her over and kissed her.
"You son of a *****," she said, "I missed you.
"I miss those good legs of yours , Connie.
I've really missed those good
"You still like 'em?"
"I get hot just looking.
"I could never make it with a college guy," said Connie.
soft, they're milktoast.
And he kept his house clean.
George , it was like having a maid.
He did it all.
The place was spotless.
You could eat beef stew right off the crapper.
was antisceptic, that's what he was.
"Drink up, you'll feel better.
"And he couldn't make love.
"You mean he couldn't get it up?"
"Oh he got it up, he got it up all the time.
But he didn't know how to make a
woman happy, you know.
He didn't know what to do.
All that money, all that education, he
"I wish I had a college education.
"You don't need one.
You have everything you need, George.
"I'm just a flunkey.
All the **** jobs.
"I said you have everything you need, George.
You know how to make a woman
And you know what else? His mother came around! His mother! Two or three
times a week.
And she'd sit there looking at me, pretending to like me but all the time
she was treating me like I was a whore.
Like I was a big bad whore stealing her son away
from her! Her precious Wallace! Christ! What a mess!" "He claimed he loved me.
And I'd say, 'Look at my pussy, Walter!' And he wouldn't look at my pussy.
He said, 'I
don't want to look at that thing.
' That thing! That's what he called it! You're not afraid
of my pussy, are you, George?"
"It's never bit me yet.
" "But you've bit it, you've nibbled it, haven't
"I suppose I have.
"And you've licked it , sucked it?"
"I suppose so.
"You know damn well, George, what you've done.
"How much money did you get?"
"Six hundred dollars.
"I don't like people who rob other people, Connie.
"That's why you're a fucking dishwasher.
But he's such an ***,
And he can afford the money, and I've earned it.
him and his mother and his
love, his mother-love, his clean l;ittle wash bowls and toilets and disposal bags and
breath chasers and after shave lotions and his little hard-ons and his precious
All for himself, you understand, all for himself! You know what a woman
"Thanks for the whiskey, Connie.
Lemme have another cigarette.
George filled them up again.
"I missed your legs, Connie.
I've really missed those
I like the way you wear those high heels.
They drive me crazy.
These modern women
don't know what they're missing.
The high heel shapes the calf, the thigh, the ***; it
puts rythm into the walk.
It really turns me on!"
"You talk like a poet, George.
Sometimes you talk like that.
You are one hell of a
"You know what I'd really like to do?"
"I'd like to whip you with my belt on the legs, the ***, the thighs.
I'd like to
make you quiver and cry and then when you're quivering and crying I'd slam it into you
"I don't want that, George.
You've never talked like that to me before.
always done right with me.
"Pull your dress up higher.
"Pull your dress up higher, I want to see more of your legs.
"You like my legs, don't you, George?"
"Let the light shine on them!"
Constance hiked her dress.
"God christ ****," said George.
"You like my legs?"
"I love your legs!" Then george reached across the bed and slapped Constance
hard across the face.
Her cigarette flipped out of her mouth.
"what'd you do that for?"
"You fucked Walter! You fucked Walter!"
"So what the hell?"
"So pull your dress up higher!"
"Do what I say!" George slapped again, harder.
Constance hiked her skirt.
"Just up to the panties!" shouted George.
"I don't quite want to see the
"Christ, george, what's gone wrong with you?"
"You fucked Walter!"
"George, I swear, you've gone crazy.
I want to leave.
Let me out of here,
"Don't move or I'll kill you!"
"You'd kill me?"
"I swear it!" George got up and poured himself a shot of straight whiskey,
drank it, and sat down next to Constance.
He took the cigarette and held it against her
HE held it there, firmly, then pulled it away.
"I'm a man , baby, understand that?"
"I know you're a man , George.
"Here, look at my muscles!" george sat up and flexed both of his arms.
"Beautiful, eh ,baby? Look at that muscle! Feel it! Feel it!"
Constance felt one of the arms, then the other.
"Yes, you have a beautiful body, George.
"I'm a man.
I'm a dishwasher but I'm a man, a real man.
"I know it, George.
" "I'm not the milkshit you left.
"I know it.
"And I can sing, too.
You ought to hear my voice.
Constance sat there.
George began to sing.
He sang "Old man River.
" Then he
sang "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen.
" He sang "The St.
" He sasng "God Bless America," stopping several times and laughing.
Then he sat down next to Constance.
He said, "Connie, you have beautiful legs.
He asked for another cigarette.
He smoked it, drank two more drinks, then put his head
down on Connie's legs, against the stockings, in her lap, and he said, "Connie, I
guess I'm no good, I guess I'm crazy, I'm sorry I hit you, I'm sorry I burned you with
Constance sat there.
She ran her fingers through George's hair, stroking him, soothing
Soon he was asleep.
She waited a while longer.
Then she lifted his head and placed it
on the pillow, lifted his legs and straightened them out on the bed.
She stood up, walked
to the fifth, poured a jolt of good whiskey in to her glass, added a touch of water and
drank it sown.
She walked to the trailer door, pulled it open, stepped out, closed it.
walked through the backyard, opened the fence gate, walked up the alley under the one
The sky was clear of clouds.
The same skyful of clouds was up there.
out on the boulevard and walked east and reached the entrance of The Blue Mirror.
walked in, and there was Walter sitting alone and drunk at the end of the bar.
up and sat down next to him.
"Missed me, baby?" she asked.
Walter looked up.
He didn't answer.
He looked at the bartender and the bartender walked
toward them They all knew eachother.
William Cullen Bryant |
The landscape sleeps in mist from morn till noon;
And, if the sun looks through, 'tis with a face
Beamless and pale and round, as if the moon,
When done the journey of her nightly race,
Had found him sleeping, and supplied his place.
For days the shepherds in the fields may be,
Nor mark a patch of sky— blindfold they trace,
The plains, that seem without a bush or tree,
Whistling aloud by guess, to flocks they cannot see.
The timid hare seems half its fears to lose,
Crouching and sleeping 'neath its grassy lair,
And scarcely startles, tho' the shepherd goes
Close by its home, and dogs are barking there;
The wild colt only turns around to stare
At passer by, then knaps his hide again;
And moody crows beside the road forbear
To fly, tho' pelted by the passing swain;
Thus day seems turn'd to night, and tries to wake in vain.
The owlet leaves her hiding-place at noon,
And flaps her grey wings in the doubling light;
The hoarse jay screams to see her out so soon,
And small birds chirp and startle with affright;
Much doth it scare the superstitious wight,
Who dreams of sorry luck, and sore dismay;
While cow-boys think the day a dream of night,
And oft grow fearful on their lonely way,
Fancying that ghosts may wake, and leave their graves by day.
Yet but awhile the slumbering weather flings
Its murky prison round— then winds wake loud;
With sudden stir the startled forest sings
Winter's returning song— cloud races cloud,
And the horizon throws away its shroud,
Sweeping a stretching circle from the eye;
Storms upon storms in quick succession crowd,
And o'er the sameness of the purple sky
Heaven paints, with hurried hand, wild hues of every dye.
At length it comes along the forest oaks,
With sobbing ebbs, and uproar gathering high;
The scared, hoarse raven on its cradle croaks,
And stockdove-flocks in hurried terrors fly,
While the blue hawk hangs o'er them in the sky.
The hedger hastens from the storm begun,
To seek a shelter that may keep him dry;
And foresters low bent, the wind to shun,
Scarce hear amid the strife the poacher's muttering gun.
The ploughman hears its humming rage begin,
And hies for shelter from his naked toil;
Buttoning his doublet closer to his chin,
He bends and scampers o'er the elting soil,
While clouds above him in wild fury boil,
And winds drive heavily the beating rain;
He turns his back to catch his breath awhile,
Then ekes his speed and faces it again,
To seek the shepherd's hut beside the rushy plain.
The boy, that scareth from the spiry wheat
The melancholy crow—in hurry weaves,
Beneath an ivied tree, his sheltering seat,
Of rushy flags and sedges tied in sheaves,
Or from the field a shock of stubble thieves.
There he doth dithering sit, and entertain
His eyes with marking the storm-driven leaves;
Oft spying nests where he spring eggs had ta'en,
And wishing in his heart 'twas summer-time again.
Thus wears the month along, in checker'd moods,
Sunshine and shadows, tempests loud, and calms;
One hour dies silent o'er the sleepy woods,
The next wakes loud with unexpected storms;
A dreary nakedness the field deforms—
Yet many a rural sound, and rural sight,
Lives in the village still about the farms,
Where toil's rude uproar hums from morn till night
Noises, in which the ears of Industry delight.
At length the stir of rural labour's still,
And Industry her care awhile forgoes;
When Winter comes in earnest to fulfil
His yearly task, at bleak November's close,
And stops the plough, and hides the field in snows;
When frost locks up the stream in chill delay,
And mellows on the hedge the jetty sloes,
For little birds—then Toil hath time for play,
And nought but threshers' flails awake the dreary day.
Ben Jonson |
Let it not your wonder move,
Less your laughter, that I love.
Though I now write fifty years,
I have had, and have, my peers.
Poets, though divine, are men;
Some have loved as old again.
And it is not always face,
Clothes, or fortune gives the grace,
Or the feature, or the youth;
But the language and the truth,
With the ardor and the passion,
Gives the lover weight and fashion.
If you then would hear the story,
First, prepare you to be sorry
That you never knew till now
Either whom to love or how;
But be glad as soon with me
When you hear that this is she
Of whose beauty it was sung,
She shall make the old man young,
Keep the middle age at stay,
And let nothing hide decay,
Till she be the reason why
All the world for love may die.
David Berman |
I know it's a bad title
but I'm giving it to myself as a gift
on a day nearly canceled by sunlight
when the entire hill is approaching
the ideal of Virginia
brochured with goldenrod and loblolly
and I think "at least I have not woken up
with a bloody knife in my hand"
by then having absently wandered
one hundred yards from the house
while still seated in this chair
with my eyes closed.
It is a certain hill
the one I imagine when I hear the word "hill"
and if the apocalypse turns out
to be a world-wide nervous breakdown
if our five billion minds collapse at once
well I'd call that a surprise ending
and this hill would still be beautiful
a place I wouldn't mind dying
alone or with you.
I am trying to get at something
and I want to talk very plainly to you
so that we are both comforted by the honesty.
You see there is a window by my desk
I stare out when I am stuck
though the outdoors has rarely inspired me to write
and I don't know why I keep staring at it.
My childhood hasn't made good material either
mostly being a mulch of white minutes
with a few stand out moments,
popping tar bubbles on the driveway in the summer
a certain amount of pride at school
everytime they called it "our sun"
and playing football when the only play
was "go out long" are what stand out now.
If squeezed for more information
I can remember old clock radios
with flipping metal numbers
and an entree called Surf and Turf.
As a way of getting in touch with my origins
every night I set the alarm clock
for the time I was born so that waking up
becomes a historical reenactment and the first thing I do
is take a reading of the day and try to flow with it like
when you're riding a mechanical bull and you strain to learn
the pattern quickly so you don't inadverantly resist it.
I can't remember being born
and no one else can remember it either
even the doctor who I met years later
at a cocktail party.
It's one of the little disappointments
that makes you think about getting away
going to Holly Springs or Coral Gables
and taking a room on the square
with a landlady whose hands are scored
by disinfectant, telling the people you meet
that you are from Alaska, and listen
to what they have to say about Alaska
until you have learned much more about Alaska
than you ever will about Holly Springs or Coral Gables.
Sometimes I am buying a newspaper
in a strange city and think
"I am about to learn what it's like to live here.
Oftentimes there is a news item
about the complaints of homeowners
who live beside the airport
and I realize that I read an article
on this subject nearly once a year
and always receive the same image.
I am in bed late at night
in my house near the airport
listening to the jets fly overhead
a strange wife sleeping beside me.
In my mind, the bedroom is an amalgamation
of various cold medicine commercial sets
(there is always a box of tissue on the nightstand).
I know these recurring news articles are clues,
flaws in the design though I haven't figured out
how to string them together yet,
but I've begun to notice that the same people
are dying over and over again,
for instance Minnie Pearl
who died this year
for the fourth time in four years.
Today is the first day of Lent
and once again I'm not really sure what it is.
How many more years will I let pass
before I take the trouble to ask someone?
It reminds of this morning
when you were getting ready for work.
I was sitting by the space heater
numbly watching you dress
and when you asked why I never wear a robe
I had so many good reasons
I didn't know where to begin.
If you were cool in high school
you didn't ask too many questions.
You could tell who'd been to last night's
big metal concert by the new t-shirts in the hallway.
You didn't have to ask
and that's what cool was:
the ability to deduct
to know without asking.
And the pressure to simulate coolness
means not asking when you don't know,
which is why kids grow ever more stupid.
A yearbook's endpages, filled with promises
to stay in touch, stand as proof of the uselessness
of a teenager's promise.
Not like I'm dying
for a letter from the class stoner
ten years on but.
Do you remember the way the girls
would call out "love you!"
conveniently leaving out the "I"
as if they didn't want to commit
to their own declarations.
I agree that the "I" is a pretty heavy concept
and hope you won't get uncomfortable
if I should go into some deeper stuff here.
There are things I've given up on
like recording funny answering machine messages.
It's part of growing older
and the human race as a group
has matured along the same lines.
It seems our comedy dates the quickest.
If you laugh out loud at Shakespeare's jokes
I hope you won't be insulted
if I say you're trying too hard.
Even sketches from the original Saturday Night Live
seem slow-witted and obvious now.
It's just that our advances are irrepressible.
Nowadays little kids can't even set up lemonade stands.
It makes people too self-conscious about the past,
though try explaining that to a kid.
I'm not saying it should be this way.
All this new technology
will eventually give us new feelings
that will never completely displace the old ones
leaving everyone feeling quite nervous
and split in two.
We will travel to Mars
even as folks on Earth
are still ripping open potato chip
bags with their teeth.
Why? I don't have the time or intelligence
to make all the connections
like my friend Gordon
(this is a true story)
who grew up in Braintree Massachusetts
and had never pictured a brain snagged in a tree
until I brought it up.
He'd never broken the name down to its parts.
By then it was too late.
He had moved to Coral Gables.
The hill out my window is still looking beautiful
suffused in a kind of gold national park light
and it seems to say,
I'm sorry the world could not possibly
use another poem about Orpheus
but I'm available if you're not working
on a self-portrait or anything.
I'm watching my dog have nightmares,
twitching and whining on the office floor
and I try to imagine what beast
has cornered him in the meadow
where his dreams are set.
I'm just letting the day be what it is:
a place for a large number of things
to gather and interact --
not even a place but an occasion
a reality for real things.
Friends warned me not to get too psychedelic
or religious with this piece:
"They won't accept it if it's too psychedelic
or religious," but these are valid topics
and I'm the one with the dog twitching on the floor
possibly dreaming of me
that part of me that would beat a dog
for no good reason
no reason that a dog could see.
I am trying to get at something so simple
that I have to talk plainly
so the words don't disfigure it
and if it turns out that what I say is untrue
then at least let it be harmless
like a leaky boat in the reeds
that is bothering no one.
I can't trust the accuracy of my own memories,
many of them having blended with sentimental
telephone and margarine commercials
plainly ruined by Madison Avenue
though no one seems to call the advertising world
"Madison Avenue" anymore.
Have they moved?
Let's get an update on this.
But first I have some business to take care of.
I walked out to the hill behind our house
which looks positively Alaskan today
and it would be easier to explain this
if I had a picture to show you
but I was with our young dog
and he was running through the tall grass
like running through the tall grass
is all of life together
until a bird calls or he finds a beer can
and that thing fills all the space in his head.
his mind can only hold one thought at a time
and when he finally hears me call his name
he looks up and cocks his head
and for a single moment
my voice is everything:
Self-portrait at 28.