Poems for Poetry Papers
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Triphammer Bridge
A.R. Ammons
Arabic
Naomi Shihab Nye

The Night, The Porch
Mark Strand
Oranges
Gary Soto
Dreamtigers
Jorges Luis Borges
Orion
Adrienne Rich
The Tyger
William Blake
Entirely
Louis MacNeice
Coal
Audre Lorde
How to Build an Owl
Kathleen Lynch
Lunar Baedeker
Mina Loy
Childhood Is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Dreams of the Animals
Margaret Atwood
Dover Beach
Matthew Arnold
Circles of Doors
Carl Sandburg
A Sort of a Song
William Carlos Williams
Jabberwocky
Lewis Carroll
The Snow Man
Wallace Stevens
A Humument
Tom Phillips
Sailing to Byzantium
William Butler Yeats
Lady Lazarus
Sylvia Plath
American Poetry
Louis Simpson
Love Song
Anne Sexton
In a Station of the Metro
Ezra Pound
They Called Her Styrene
Ed Ruscha
Idea
Howard Nemerov
Lineage
Jeffrey McDaniel
Barbie
Henry J. Morro
To Me He Seems Like a God
Sappho
The Armadillo
Elizabeth Bishop
Star/Steer
Ian Hamilton Finlay
Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note
Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones)
What He Thought
Heather McHugh
Ars Poetica 
Archibald MacLeish
Evening Hawk 
Robert Penn Warren
At Baia
H. D.
Allegory of the Adolescent and the Adult
George Barker
At the Bomb Testing Site
William Stafford
Luciérnages (Fireflies)
José Juan Tablada
Neither Out Far Nor In Deep
Robert Frost
Praying Drunk
Andrew Hudgins
Untitled Poem Number 276
E.E. Cummings
Topography
Sharon Olds
Words
Vénus Khoury-Ghata
Georgia Dusk
Jean Toomer
Untitled
Peter Whyte
Charles on Fire
James Merrill
Annunciation
Kay Smith
The More Loving One
W.H. Auden
The Word Plum
Helen Chasin
Riding a One-Eyed Horse
Henry Taylor
I Remember Galileo
Gerald Stern
Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World
Sherman Alexie
The Wolf's Postscript to "Little Red Riding Hood"
Agha Shahid Ali
My Father Is a Retired Magician
Ntozake Shange
Facing It
Yusef Komunyakaa
The Stars
Passamaquoddy Indian
Deep Song
Spanish Gypsy Poem
Concentration Constellation
Lawson Fusao Inada
xylo
Peter Howard
Today
Frank O'Hara

America
Allen Ginsberg

Legend
Hart Crane

The Woman Who Loved Things
Cathleen Calbert

The Shape of Death
May Swenson

Love Like Salt
Lisel Mueller

Bluebird
Charles Bukowski

Here I Am, Lord
Michael Chitwood

After the Party
Alison Stine

Ad Hominem
Nicky Beer

And All Other Ecstasies
Tony Fitzpatrick



 
"Triphammer Bridge"
A.R. Ammons (1972)

I wonder what to mean by sanctuary, if a real or
apprehended place, as of a bell rung in a gold
surround, or as of silver roads along the beaches

of clouds seas don't break or black mountains
overspill; jail: ice here's shapelier than anything,
on the eaves massive, jawed along gorge ledges, solid

in the plastic blue boat fall left water in: if I
think the bitterest thing I can think of that seems like
reality, slickened back, hard, shocked by rip-high wind:

sanctuary, sanctuary, I say it over and over and the
word's sound is the one place to dwell: that's it, just
the sound, and the imagination of the sound -- a place.

"Arabic"
Naomi Shihab Nye (1992)
 
(Jordan, 1992)

The man with laughing eyes stopped smiling
to say, "Until you speak Arabic --
--you will not understand pain."

Something to do with the back of the head,
an Arab carries sorrow in the back of the head
that only language cracks, the thrum of stones

weeping, grating hinge on an old metal gate.
"Once you know," he whispered, "you can enter the room
whenever you need to.  Music you heard from a distance,

the slapped drum of a stranger's wedding,
wells up inside your skin, inside rain, a thousand
pulsing tongues.  You are changed."

Outside, the snow had finally stopped.
In a land where snow rarely falls,
we had felt our days grow white and still.

I thought pain had no tongue.  Or every tongue
at once, supreme translator, sieve.  I admit my
shame.  To live on the brink of Arabic, tugging

its rich threads without understanding
how to weave the rug . . . I have no gift.
The sound, but not the sense.

I kept looking over his shoulder for someone else
to talk to, recalling my dying friend who only scrawled
I can't write.  What good would any grammar have been

to her then?  I touched his arm, held it hard,
which sometimes you don't do in the Middle East, and said,
I'll work on it, feeling sad

for his good strict heart, but later in the slick street
hailed a taxi by shouting Pain! and it stopped
in every language and opened its doors.

"The Night, The Porch"
Mark Strand (1999)

To stare at nothing is to learn by heart
What all of us will be swept into, and baring oneself
To the wind is feeling the ungraspable somewhere close by.
Trees can sway or be still.  Day or night can be what they wish.
What we desire, more than a season or weather, is the comfort
Of being strangers, at least to ourselves.  This is the crux
Of the matter, which is why even now we seem to be waiting
For something whose appearance would be its vanishing -
The sound, say, of a few leaves falling, or just one leaf,
Or less.  There is no end to what we can learn.  The book out there
Tells us as much, and was never written with us in mind.

"Oranges"
Gary Soto (1995)
 

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December.  Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge.  I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore.  We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted -
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth.  I fingered
A nickel in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn't say anything.
I took the nickel from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter.  When I looked up,
The lady's eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all
About.

     Outside,
A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl's hand
in mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

"Dreamtigers"
Jorges Luis Borges (1964)
 

In my childhood I was a fervent worshiper of the tiger: not the jaguar, the spotted “tiger” of the Amazonian tangles and the isles of vegetation that float down the Paraná, but that striped, Asiatic, royal tiger, that can be faced only by a man of war, on a castle atop an elephant.  I used to linger endlessly before one of the cages at the zoo; I judged vast encyclopedias and books of natural history by the splendor of their tigers.  (I still remember those illustrations: I who cannot rightly recall the brow or the smile of a woman.)  Childhood passed away, and the tigers and my passion for them grew old, but still they are in my dreams.  At that submerged or chaotic level they keep prevailing.  And so, as I sleep, some dream beguiles me, and suddenly I know I am dreaming.  Then I think:  This is a dream, a pure diversion of my will; and now that I have unlimited power, I am going to cause a tiger.
     Oh, incompetence!  Never can my dreams engender the wild beast I long for.  The tiger indeed appears, but stuffed or flimsy, or with impure variations of shape, or of an implausible size, or all too fleeting, or with a touch of the dog or the bird.

"Orion"
Adrienne Rich (1965)


Far back when I went zig-zagging
through tamarack pastures
you were my genius, you
my cast-iron Viking, my helmed
lion-heart king in prison.
Years later now you're young

my fierce half-brother, staring
down from that simplified west
your breast open, your belt dragged down
by an oldfashioned thing, a sword
the last bravado you won't give over
though it weighs you down as you stride

and the stars in it are dim
and maybe have stopped burning.
But you burn, and I know it;
as I throw back my head to take you in
an old transfusion happens again:
divine astronomy is nothing to it.

Indoors I bruise and blunder,
break faith, leave ill enough
alone, a dead child born in the dark.
Night cracks up over the chimney,
pieces of time, frozen geodes
come showering down in the grate.

A man reaches behind my eyes
and finds them empty
a woman's head turns away
from my head in the mirror
children are dying my death
and eating crumbs of my life.

Pity is not your forte.
Calmly you ache up there
pinned aloft in your crow's nest,
my speechless pirate!
You take it all for granted
and when I look you back

it's with a starlike eye
shooting its cold and egotistical spear
where it can do least damage.
Breathe deep! No hurt, no pardon
out here in the cold with you
you with your back to the wall.

"The Tyger"
William Blake (1794)

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger, Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

"Entirely"
Louis MacNeice (1966)

If we could get the hang of it entirely
  It would take too long;
All we know is the splash of words in passing
  And falling twigs of song,
And when we try to eavesdrop on the great
  Presences it is rarely
That by a stroke of luck we can appropriate
  Even a phrase entirely.

If we could find our happiness entirely
  In somebody else's arms
We should not fear the spears of the spring nor the city's
  Yammering fire alarms
But, as it is, the spears each year go through
  Our flesh and almost hourly
Bell or siren banishes the blue
  Eyes of Love entirely.

And if the world were black or white entirely
  And all the charts were plain
Instead of a mad weir of tigerish waters,
  A prism of delight and pain,
We might be surer where we wished to go
  Or again we might be merely
Bored but in brute reality there is no
  Road that is right entirely.

"Coal"
Audre Lorde (1976)

I
is the total black, being spoken
from the earth's inside.
There are many kinds of open
how a diamond comes into a knot of flame
how sound comes into a word, colored
by who pays what for speaking.

Some words are open like a diamond
on glass windows
singing out within the passing crash of sun.
Then there are words like stapled wagers
in a perforated book, --buy and sign and tear apart--
and come whatever wills all chances
the stub remains
an ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
breeding like adders.  Others know sun
seeking like gypsies over my tongue
to explode through my lips
like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
bedevil me.

Love is a word, another kind of open.
As the diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am Black because I come from the earth's inside
now take my word for jewel in the open light.

"How to Build an Owl"
Kathleen Lynch (2006)

1.  Decide you must.

2.  Develop deep respect
     for feather, bone, claw.

3.  Place your trembling thumb
     where the heart will be:
     for one hundred hours watch
     so you will know
     where to put the first feather.

4.  Stay awake forever.
     When the bird takes shape
     gently pry open its beak
     and whisper into it: mouse

5.  Let it go.

"Lunar Baedeker"
Mina Loy (1923)

A silver Lucifer
serves
cocaine in cornucopia

To some somnambulists
of adolescent thighs
draped
in satirical draperies

Peris in livery
prepare
Lethe
for posthumous parvenues

Delirious Avenues
lit
with the chandelier souls
of infusoria
from Pharoah's tombstones

lead
to mercurial doomsdays
Odious oasis
in furrowed phosphorous---

the eye-white sky-light
white-light district
of lunar lusts

---Stellectric signs
"Wing shows on Starway"
"Zodiac carrousel"

Cyclones
of ecstatic dust
and ashes whirl
crusaders
from hallucinatory citadels
of shattered glass
into evacuate craters

A flock of dreams
browse on Necropolis

From the shores
of oval oceans
in the oxidized Orient

Onyx-eyed Odalisques
and ornithologists
observe
the flight
of Eros obsolete

And "Immortality"
mildews...
in the museums of the moon

"Nocturnal cyclops"
"Crystal concubine"
------
Pocked with personification
the fossil virgin of the skies
waxes and wanes----

"Childhood Is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies"
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1937)
 
Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age
The child is grown, and puts away childish things.
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.

Nobody that matters, that is. Distant relatives of course
Die, whom one never has seen or has seen for an hour,
And they gave one candy in a pink-and-green stripéd bag, or a
     jack-knife,
And went away, and cannot really be said to have lived at all.

And cats die. They lie on the floor and lash their tails,
And their reticent fur is suddenly all in motion
With fleas that one never knew were there,
Polished and brown, knowing all there is to know,
Trekking off into the living world.
You fetch a shoe-box, but it's much too small, because she won't
     curl up now:
So you find a bigger box, and bury her in the yard, and weep.
But you do not wake up a month from then, two months
A year from then, two years, in the middle of the night
And weep, with your knuckles in your mouth, and say Oh, God!
     Oh, God!
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies that matters,
     —mothers and fathers don't die.

And if you have said, "For heaven's sake, must you always be
     kissing a person?"
Or, "I do wish to gracious you'd stop tapping on the window with
     your thimble!"
Tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow if you're busy having
      fun,
Is plenty of time to say, "I'm sorry, mother."

To be grown up is to sit at the table with people who have died,
     who neither listen nor speak;
Who do not drink their tea, though they always said
Tea was such a comfort.

Run down into the cellar and bring up the last jar of raspberries;
      they are not tempted.
Flatter them, ask them what was it they said exactly
That time, to the bishop, or to the overseer, or to Mrs. Mason;
They are not taken in.
Shout at them, get red in the face, rise,
Drag them up out of their chairs by their stiff shoulders and shake
     them and yell at them;
They are not startled, they are not even embarrassed; they slide
     back into their chairs.

Your tea is cold now.
You drink it standing up,
And leave the house.

"Dreams of the Animals"
Margaret Atwood (1976)

Mostly the animals dream
of other animals          each
according to its kind

                (though certain mice and small rodents
                have nightmares of a huge pink
                shape with five claws descending)

: moles dream of darkness and delicate 
mole smells

frogs dream of green and golden
frogs
sparkling like wet suns
among the lilies

red and black
striped fish, their eyes open
have red and black striped
dreams         defense, attack, meaningful
patterns
birds dream of territories
enclosed by singing.

Sometimes the animals dream of evil
in the form of soap and metal
but mostly the animals dream
of other animals.

There are exceptions:

      the silver fox in the roadside zoo
      dreams of digging out
      and of baby foxes, their necks bitten

      the caged armadillo
      near the train
      station, which runs
      all day in figure eights
      its piglet feet pattering,
      no longer dreams
      but is insane when waking;

      the iguana
      in the petshop window on St. Catherine Street
      crested, royal-eyed, ruling
      its kingdom of water-dish and sawdust

      dreams of sawdust

"Dover Beach"
Matthew Arnold (1851)

The sea is calm to-night,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; - on the French coast, the light
Gleams, and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

"Circles of Doors"
Carl Sandburg (1922)

I love him, I love him, ran the patter of her lips
And she formed his name on her tongue and sang
And she sent him word she loved him so much,
So much, and death was nothing; work, art, home,
All was nothing if her love for him was not first

Of all; the patter of her lips ran, I love him,
I love him; and he knew the doors that opened
Into doors and more doors, no end of doors,
And full length mirrors doubling and tripling
The apparitions of doors: circling corridors of

Looking glasses and doors, some with knobs, some
With no knobs, some opening slow to a heavy push,
And some jumping open at a touch and a hello.
And he knew if he so wished he could follow her
Swift running through circles of doors, hearing

Sometimes her whisper, I love him, I love him,
And sometimes only a high chaser of laughter
Somewhere five or ten doors ahead or five or ten
Doors behind, or chittering h-st, h-st, among corners
Of the tall full-length dusty looking glasses.

I love, I love, I love, she sang short and quick in
High thin beaten soprano and he knew the meanings,
The high chaser of laughter, the doors on doors
And the looking glasses, the room to room hunt,
The ends opening into new ends always.

"A Sort of a Song"
William Carlos Williams (1944)

Let the snake wait under
his weed
and his writing
be of words, slow and quick, sharp
to strike, quiet to wait,
sleepless.

--through metaphor to reconcile
the people and the stones.
Compose.  (No ideas
but in things)  Invent!
Saxifrage is my flower that splits
the rocks.

"Jabberwocky"
Lewis Carroll (1872)
 

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre
  and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son 
  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun 
  The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand; 
  Long time the manxome foe he sought -
So rested he by the Tumtum tree, 
  And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood, 
  The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, 
  And burbied as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through 
  The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head 
  He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock? 
  Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!" 
  He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves 
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

"The Snow Man"
Wallace Stevens (1921)
 

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think 
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel
Tom Phillips (1970)

With his work, A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel, Phillips has taken a Victorian novel and created a visual artwork around it, or more accurately on top of it, allowing only certain words to show through.  On the book jacket, Phillips offers a glimpse into the rationale for his project: “I took a forgotten Victorian novel found by chance.  I plundered, mined, and undermined its text to make it yield the ghosts of other possible stories, scenes, poems, erotic incidents and surrealist catastrophes which seemed to lurk within its wall of words.”  Below are three examples of hundreds of pages


A Humument
 

A Humument

A Humument

"Sailing to Byzantium"
William Butler Yeats (1926)
 

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
--Those dying generations --at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come

"Lady Lazarus"
Sylvia Plath (1962)
 

You do not do, you do not do
I have done it again. 
One year in every ten 
I manage it----- 

A sort of walking miracle, my skin 
Bright as a Nazi lampshade, 
My right foot 

A paperweight, 
My featureless, fine 
Jew linen. 

Peel off the napkin 
O my enemy. 
Do I terrify?------- 

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth? 
The sour breath 
Will vanish in a day. 

Soon, soon the flesh 
The grave cave ate will be 
At home on me 

And I a smiling woman. 
I am only thirty. 
And like the cat I have nine times to die. 

This is Number Three. 
What a trash 
To annihilate each decade. 

What a million filaments. 
The peanut-crunching crowd 
Shoves in to see 

Them unwrap me hand in foot ------ 
The big strip tease. 
Gentleman , ladies 

These are my hands 
My knees. 
I may be skin and bone, 

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman. 
The first time it happened I was ten. 
It was an accident. 

The second time I meant 
To last it out and not come back at all. 
I rocked shut 

As a seashell. 
They had to call and call 
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls. 

Dying 
Is an art, like everything else. 
I do it exceptionally well. 

I do it so it feels like hell. 
I do it so it feels real. 
I guess you could say I've a call. 

It's easy enough to do it in a cell. 
It's easy enough to do it and stay put. 
It's the theatrical 

Comeback in broad day 
To the same place, the same face, the same brute 
Amused shout: 

'A miracle!' 
That knocks me out. 
There is a charge 

For the eyeing my scars, there is a charge 
For the hearing of my heart--- 
It really goes. 

And there is a charge, a very large charge 
For a word or a touch 
Or a bit of blood 

Or a piece of my hair on my clothes. 
So, so, Herr Doktor. 
So, Herr Enemy. 

I am your opus, 
I am your valuable, 
The pure gold baby 

That melts to a shriek. 
I turn and burn. 
Do not think I underestimate your great concern. 

Ash, ash--- 
You poke and stir. 
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there---- 

A cake of soap, 
A wedding ring, 
A gold filling. 

Herr God, Herr Lucifer 
Beware 
Beware. 

Out of the ash 
I rise with my red hair 
And I eat men like air.

"American Poetry"
Louis Simpson (1963)

Whatever it is, it must have
A stomach that can digest
Rubber, coal, uranium, moons, poems.

Like the shark, it contains a shoe.
It must swim for miles through the desert
Uttering cries that are almost human.

"Love Song"
Anne Sexton (1963)

I was
the girl of the chain letter,
the girl full of talk of coffins and keyholes,
the one of the telephone bills,
the wrinkled photo and the lost connections,
the one who kept saying -
Listen!  Listen!
We must never! We must never!
and all those things . . .

the one
with her eyes half under her coat,
with her large gun-metal blue eyes,
with the thin vein at the bend of her neck
that hummed like a tuning fork,
with her shoulders as bare as a building,
with her thin foot and her thin toes,
with an old red hook in her mouth,
the mouth that kept bleeding
into the terrible fields of her soul . . .

the one
who kept dropping off to sleep,
as old as a stone she was,
each hand like a piece of cement,
for hours and hours
and then she'd wake,
after the small death,
and then she'd be as soft as,
as delicate as . . .

as soft and delicate as
an excess of light,
with nothing dangerous at all,
like a beggar who eats
or a mouse on a rooftop
with no trap doors,
with nothing more honest
than your hand in her hand -
with nobody, nobody but you!
and all those things.
nobody, nobody but you!
Oh!  There is no translating
that ocean,
that music,
that theater,
that field of ponies.

"In a Station of the Metro"
Ezra Pound (1913)

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

They Called Her Styrene
Ed Ruscha (2000)

In his volume They Called Her Styrene, artist and poet Ed Ruscha turns words into objects in their own right on his canvases.  Below are just three of hundreds of pages.

Noise
.
Paradise
.
Empire

"Idea"
Howard Nemerov (1962)

Idea blazes in darkness, a lonely star.
The witching hour is not twelve, but one.
Pure thought, in principle, some say, is near
Madness, but the independent mind thinks on,
Breathing and burning, abstract as the air.

Supposing all this were a game of chess.
One learned to do without the pieces first,
And then the board; and finally, I guess,
Without the game.  The lightship gone adrift,
Endangering others with its own distress.

O holy light!  All other stars are gone,
The shapeless constellations sag and fall
Till navigation fails, though ships go on
This merry, mad adventure as before
Their single-minded masters meant to drown.

"Lineage"
Jeffrey McDaniel (1998)

When I was little, I thought the word loin
and the word lion were the same thing.

I thought celibate was a kind of fish.

My parents wanted me to be well-rounded
so they threw dinner plates at each other
until I curled up into a little ball.

I've had the wind knocked out of me
but never the hurricane.

I've seen two hundred and sixty-three rats
in the past year, but never more than one at a time.
It could be the same rat, with a very high profile.

I know what it's like to wear my liver on my sleeve.

I go into department stores, looking suspicious,
approach the security guard and say
what, what, I didn't take anything.
Go ahead.  Frisk me, big boy!

I go to the funerals of absolute strangers
and tell the grieving family: the soul of the deceased
is trapped inside my rib cage
and trying to reach you.

Once I thought I found love, but then I realized
I was just out of cigarettes.

Some people are boring because their parents
had boring sex the night they were conceived.

In the year thirteen hundred and thirteen,
a little boy died, who had the exact same scars as me.

"Barbie"
Henry J. Morro (1999)

Long after the head was ripped off,
the shoes lost,
her huge, pointed tits were still hard.
I used to grip her ankles, hammer her tits
on the table like a woodpecker.

I would slide her long, skinny legs
into a wild split,
lift them straight
into the air, but her legs
wouldn't spread open.

And she wouldn't kneel.
I could get her to raise her arms
as if she was going to bow,
but she wouldn't kneel.

I stripped her, tossed her
under the bed with the hair balls.
I chucked her into the freezer naked --
she came out cold to the touch,
her skin still perfect.

I sat her on a fence rail
in her cheerleader outfit,
took out my B-B gun, cocked it.
The first shot caromed off her wrist.

The next one grazed her cheek.
The last shot rapped her in the chest
and bucked her off the post.

When I picked her up, her cheek crushed,
her blue eyes glittered in the sun.
I strode for the garage; on the workbench
was the adjustable vice.
As I cranked the steel jaws against her skull,
and reached for the hacksaw,
her mouth puckered into a kiss.

"To Me He Seems Like a God"
Sappho (610-580BC)

To me he seems like a god
as he sits facing you and
hears you near as you speak
softly and laugh
in a sweet echo that jolts
the heart in my ribs.  For now
as I look at you my voice
is empty and

can say nothing as my tongue
cracks and slender fire is quick
under my skin.  My eyes are dead
to light, my ears

pound, and sweat pours over me.
I convulse, paler than grass,
and feel my mind slip as I
go close to death

[but must suffer all, being poor]

"The Armadillo"
Elizabeth Bishop (1965)

   for Robert Lowell 

 This is the time of year 
 when almost every night 
 the frail, illegal fire balloons appear. 
 Climbing the mountain height, 

rising toward a saint 
still honored in these parts, 
the paper chambers flush and fill with light 
that comes and goes, like hearts. 

Once up against the sky it's hard 
to tell them from the stars -- 
planets, that is -- the tinted ones: 
Venus going down, or Mars, 

or the pale green one. With a wind, 
they flare and falter, wobble and toss; 
but if it's still they steer between 
the kite sticks of the Southern Cross, 

receding, dwindling, solemnly 
and steadily forsaking us, 
or, in the downdraft from a peak, 
suddenly turning dangerous. 

Last night another big one fell. 
It splattered like an egg of fire 
against the cliff behind the house. 
The flame ran down. We saw the pair 

of owls who nest there flying up 
and up, their whirling black-and-white 
stained bright pink underneath, until 
they shrieked up out of sight. 

The ancient owls' nest must have burned. 
Hastily, all alone, 
a glistening armadillo left the scene, 
rose-flecked, head down, tail down, 

and then a baby rabbit jumped out, 
short-eared, to our surprise. 
So soft! -- a handful of intangible ash 
with fixed, ignited eyes. 

Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry! 
O falling fire and piercing cry 
and panic, and a weak mailed fist 
clenched ignorant against the sky! 

"Star/Steer"
Ian Hamilton Finlay (1964)

Star/Steer

"Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note"
Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones) (1958)

Lately, I've become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelops me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus...

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars.
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night I tiptoed up
To my daughter's room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there...
Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands

"What He Thought"
Heather McHugh (1994)

We were supposed to do a job in Italy
and, full of our feeling for
ourselves (our sense of being
Poets from America) we went
from Rome to Fano, met
the Mayor, mulled a couple
matters over. The Italian literati seemed
bewildered by the language of America: they asked us
what does "flat drink" mean? and the mysterious
"cheap date" (no explanation lessened
this one's mystery). Among Italian writers we

could recognize our counterparts: the academic,
the apologist, the arrogant, the amorous,
the brazen and the glib. And there was one
administrator (The Conservative), in suit
of regulation gray, who like a good tour guide
with measured pace and uninflected tone
narrated sights and histories
the hired van hauled us past.
Of all he was most politic--
and least poetic-- so
it seemed. Our last
few days in Rome 
I found a book of poems this
unprepossessing one had written: it was there
in the pensione room (a room he'd recommended)
where it must have been abandoned by
the German visitor (was there a bus of them?) to whom
he had inscribed and dated it a month before. I couldn't
read Italian either, so I put the book
back in the wardrobe's dark. We last Americans

were due to leave
tomorrow. For our parting evening then
our host chose something in a family restaurant,
and there we sat and chatted, sat and chewed, till,
sensible it was our last big chance to be Poetic, make
our mark, one of us asked

"What's poetry?
Is it the fruits and vegetables
and marketplace at Campo dei Fiori

or the statue there?" Because I was
the glib one, I identified the answer
instantly, I didn't have to think-- "The truth
is both, it's both!" I blurted out. But that
was easy. That was easiest
to say. What followed taught me something
about difficulty, 

for our underestimated host spoke out
all of a sudden, with a rising passion, and he said:

The statue represents
Giordano Bruno, brought
to be burned in the public square
because of his offence against authority, which was to say
the Church. His crime was his belief
the universe does not revolve around
the human being: God is no
fixed point or central government
but rather is poured in waves, through
all things: all things
move. "If God is not the soul itself,
he is the soul OF THE SOUL of the world." Such was
his heresy. The day they brought him forth to die

they feared he might incite the crowd (the man
was famous for his eloquence). And so his captors
placed upon his face
an iron mask
in which he could not speak.

That is how they burned him.
That is how he died, 
without a word,
in front of everyone. And poetry--

(we'd all put down our forks by now, to listen to
the man in gray; he went on softly)-- poetry

is what he thought, but did not say.

"Ars Poetica"
Archibald MacLeish (1926)

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

Dumb
As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown-- 

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

A poem should be motionless in time 
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves, 
Memory by memory the mind--

A poem should be motionless in time 
As the moon climbs.

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea--

A poem should not mean
But be.

"Evening Hawk"
Robert Penn Warren (1975)

From plane of light to plane, wings dipping through
Geometries and orchids that the sunset builds,
Out of the peak's black angularity of shadow, riding
The last tumultuous avalanche of
Light above pines and the guttural gorge,
The hawk comes.
                          His wing
Scythes down another day, his motion 
Is that of the honed steel-edge, we hear
The crashless fall of stalks of Time.

The head of each stalk is heavy with the gold of our error.

Look!  Look!  he is climbing the last light
Who knows neither Time nor error, and under
Whose eye, unforgiving, the world, unforgiven, swings
Into shadow.

                           Long now,
The last thrush is still, the last bat
Now cruises in his sharp hieroglyphics.  His wisdom
Is ancient, too, and immense.  The star
Is steady, like Plato, over the mountain.

If there were no wind we might, we think, hear
The earth grind on its axis, or history
Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.

"At Baia"
H. D. (1921)

I should have thought
in a dream you would have brought
some lovely, perilous thing,
orchids piled in a great sheath,
as who would say (in a dream),
"I send you this,
who left the blue veins
of your throat unkissed."

Why was it that your hands
(that never took mine),
your hands that I could see
drift over the orchid-heads
so carefully,
your hands, so fragile, sure to lift
so gently, the fragile flower-stuff--
ah, ah, how was it

You never sent (in a dream)
the very form, the very scent,
not heavy, not sensuous,
but perilous--perilous --
of orchids, piled in a great sheath,
and folded underneath on a bright scroll,
some word:

"Flower sent to flower;
for white hands, the lesser white,
less lovely of flower-leaf,"

or

"Lover to lover, no kiss,
no touch, but forever and ever this."

"Allegory of the Adolescent and the Adult"
George Barker (c.1935)

It was when weather was Arabian I went 
Over the downs to Alton where winds were wounded
With flowers and swathed me with aroma, I walked 
Like Saint Christopher Columbus through a sea's welter 
Of gaudy ways looking for a wonder.

Who was I, who knows, no one when I started, 
No more than the youth who takes longish strides, 
Gay with a girl and obstreperous with strangers, 
Fond of some songs, not unusually stupid, 
I ascend hills anticipating the strange. 

Looking for a wonder I went on a Monday, 
Meandering over the Alton down and moor; 
When was it I went, an hour a year or more, 
That Monday back, I cannot remember. 
I only remember I went in a gay mood. 

Hollyhock here and rock and rose there were, 
I wound among them knowing they were no wonder; 
And the bird with a worm and the fox in a wood 
Went flying and flurrying in front, but I was
Wanting a worse wonder, a rarer one. 

So I went on expecting miraculous catastrophe. 
What is it, I whispered, shall I capture a creature 
A woman for a wife, or find myself a king, 
Sleep and awake to find Sleep is my kingdom? 
How shall I know my marvel when it comes? 

Then after long striding and striving I was where 
I had so long longed to be, in the world's wind, 
At the hill's top, with no more ground to wander 
Excepting downward, and I had found no wonder. 
Found only the sorrow that I had missed my marvel. 

Then I remembered, was it the bird or worm,
The hollyhock, the flower or the strong rock, 
Was it the mere dream of the man and woman
Made me a marvel? It was not. It was 
When on the hilltop I stood in the world's wind. 

The world is my wonder, where the wind
Wanders like wind, and where the rock is
Rock. And man and woman flesh on a dream. 
I look from my hill with the woods behind, 
And Time, a sea's chaos, below. 

"At the Bomb Testing Site"
At the Bomb Testing Site (1966)

At noon in the desert a panting lizard
waited for history, its elbows tense,
watching the curve of a particular road
as if something might happen.

It was looking at something farther off
than people could see, an important scene
acted in stone for little selves
at the flute end of consequences.

There was just a continent without much on it
under a sky that never cared less.
Ready for a change, the elbows waited.
The hands gripped hard on the desert.

"Luciérnages" (Fireflies)
José Juan Tablada (c.1920)

fireflies
 

"Neither Out Far Nor In Deep"
Robert Frost (1934)

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be---
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?
 

"Praying Drunk"
Andrew Hudgins (1991)

Our Father who art in heaven, I am drunk.
Again. Red wine. For which I offer thanks.
I ought to start with praise, but praise
comes hard to me. I stutter. Did I tell you
about the woman, whom I taught, in bed,
this prayer? It starts with praise; the simple form
keeps things in order. I hear from her sometimes.
Do you? And after love, when I was hungry,
I said, Make me something to eat. She yelled,
Poof! You're a casserole! - and laughed so hard
she fell out of bed. Take care of her.

Next, confession - the dreary part. At night
deer drift from the dark woods and eat my garden.
They're like enormous rats on stilts except,
of course, they're beautiful. But why? What makes
them beautiful? I haven't shot one yet.
I might. When I was twelve I'd ride my bike
out to the dump and shoot the rats. It's hard
to kill your rats, our Father. You have to use
a hollow point and hit them solidly.
A leg is not enough. The rat won't pause.
Yeep! Yeep! it screams, and scrabbles, three-legged, back
into the trash, and I would feel a little bad
to kill something that wants to live
more savagely than I do, even if
it's just a rat. My garden's vanishing.
Perhaps I'll plant more beans, though that
might mean more beautiful and hungry deer.
Who knows?
I'm sorry for the times I've driven
home past a black, enormous, twilight ridge.
Crested with mist it looked like a giant wave
about to break and sweep across the valley,
and in my loneliness and fear I've thought,
O let it come and wash the whole world clean.
Forgive me. This is my favorite sin: despair-
whose love I celebrate with wine and prayer.

Our Father, thank you for all the birds and trees,
that nature stuff. I'm grateful for good health,
food, air, some laughs, and all the other things I've never had to do
without. I have confused myself. I'm glad
there's not a rattrap large enough for deer.
While at the zoo last week, I sat and wept
when I saw one elephant insert his trunk
into another's ass, pull out a lump,
and whip it back and forth impatiently
to free the goodies hidden in the lump.
I could have let it mean most anything,
but I was stunned again at just how little
we ask for in our lives. Don't look! Don't look!
Two young nuns tried to herd their giggling
schoolkids away. Line up, they called, Let's go
and watch the monkeys in the monkey house.
I laughed and got a dirty look. Dear Lord,
we lurch from metaphor to metaphor,
which is -let it be so- a form of praying.

I'm usually asleep by now -the time
for supplication. Requests. As if I'd stayed
up late and called the radio and asked
they play a sentimental song. Embarrassed.
I want a lot of money and a woman.
And, also, I want vanishing cream. You know-
a character like Popeye rubs it on
and disappears. Although you see right through him,
he's there. He chuckles, stumbles into things,
and smoke that's clearly visible escapes
from his invisible pipe. It makes me think,
sometimes, of you. What makes me think of me
is the poor jerk who wanders out on air
and then looks down. Below his feet, he sees
eternity, and suddenly his shoes
no longer work on nothingness, and down
he goes. As I fall past, remember me.

"Untitled Poem Number 276"
E.E. Cummings (1935)

                                   r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r 
                        who 
a)s w(e loo)k 
upnowgath 
                  PPEGORHRASS
                                               eringint(o-
aThe):l 

           eA 
                !p: 
S                                                            a 
                                  (r 
rIvInG                          .gRrEaPsPhOs) 
                                                              to 
rea(be)rran(com)gi(e)ngly 
,grasshopper; 

"Topography"
Sharon Olds (1987)

After we flew across the country we
got in bed, laid our bodies
delicately together, like maps laid
face to face, East to West, my
San Francisco against your New York, your
Fire Island against my Sonoma, my
New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho
bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas
burning against your Kansas your Kansas
burning against my Kansas, your Eastern 
Standard Time pressing into my 
Pacific Time, my Mountain Time
beating against your Central Time, your
sun rising swiftly from the right my
sun rising swiftly from the left your
moon rising slowly from the left my
moon rising slowly from the right until
all four bodies of the sky
burn above us, sealing us together,
all our cities twin cities,
all our states united, one
nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

"Words"
Vénus Khoury-Ghata
Translated by Marilyn Hacker (2003)

Where do words come from?
From what rubbing of sounds are they born
on what flint do they light their wicks
what winds brought them into our mouths

Their past is the rustling of stifled silences
the trumpeting of molten elements
the grunting of stagnant waters

Sometimes
they grip each other with a cry
expand into lamentations
become mist on the windows of dead houses
crystallize into chips of grief on dead lips
attach themselves to a fallen star
dig their hole in nothingness
breathe out strayed souls

Words are rocky tears
the keys to the first doors
they grumble in caverns
lend their ruckus to storms
their silence to bread that's ovened alive

"Georgia Dusk"
Jean Toomer (1923)

The sky, lazily disdaining to pursue
The setting sun, too indolent to hold
A lengthened tournament for flashing gold,
Passively darkens for night's barbeque,

A feast of moon and men and barking hounds.
An orgy for some genius of the South
With blood-hot eyes and cane-lipped scented mouth,
Surprised in making folk-songs from soul sounds.

The sawmill blows its whistle, buzz-saws stop,
And silence breaks the bud of knoll and hill,
Soft settling pollen where plowed lands fulfill
Their early promise of a bumper crop.

Smoke from the pyramidal sawdust pile
Curls up, blue ghosts of trees, tarrying low
Where only chips and stumps are left to show
The solid proof of former domicile.

Meanwhile, the men, with vestiges of pomp,
Race memories of king and caravan,
High-priests, an ostrich, and a juju-man,
Go singing through the footpaths of the swamp.

Their voices rise...the pine trees are guitars,
Strumming, pine-needles fall like sheets of rain...
Their voices rise...the chorus of the cane
Is caroling a vesper to the stars..

O singers, resinous and soft your songs
Above the sacred whisper of the pines,
Give virgin lips to cornfield concubines,
Being dreams of Christ to dusky cane-lipped throngs

"Untitled" from Open Spaces
Peter Whyte (1977)

whyte

"Charles on Fire"
James Merrill (1992)

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
Another evening we sprawled about discussing
Appearances.  And it was the consensus
That while uncommon physical good looks
Continued to launch one, as before, in life
(Among its vaporous eddies and false calms),
Still, as one of us said into his beard,
"Without your intellectual and spiritual 
Values, man, you are sunk."  No one but squared
The shoulders of his own unloveliness.
Long-suffering Charles, having cooked and served the meal,
Now brought out little tumblers finely etched
He filled with amber liquor and then passed.
"Say," said the same young man, "in Paris, France,
They do it this way" --bounding to his feet
And touching a lit match to our host's full glass.
A blue flame, gentle, beautiful, came, went
Above the surface.  In a hush that fell
We heard the vessel crack.  The contents drained
As who should step down from a crystal coach.
Steward of spirits, Charles's glistening hand
All at once gloved itself in eeriness.
The moment passed.  He made two quick sweeps and 
Was flesh again.  "It couldn't matter less,"
He said, but with a shocked, unconscious glance
Into the mirror.  Finding nothing changed, 
He filled a fresh glass and sank down among us.

"Annunciation"
Kay Smith (1986)

for Kathy

In all the old paintings
The Virgin is reading –
No one knows what,
When she is disturbed
By an angel with a higher mission,
Beyond books.

She looks up reluctantly,
Still marking the place with her finger.
The angel is impressive,
With red shoes and just
A hint of wing and shine everywhere.
Listening to the measured message
The Virgin bows her head,
Her eyes aslant
Between the angel and the book.

At the Uffizi
We stood
Before a particularly beautiful angel
And a hesitant Sienese Virgin,
We two sometimes women.
Believing we could ignore
All messages,
Unobliged to wings or words,
We laughed in the vibrant space
Between the two,
Somewhere in the angled focus
Of the Virgin’s eye.

Now, in the harder times,
I do not laugh so often;
Still the cheap postcard in my room
Glints with the angel’s robe.
I look with envy
At the angel and the book,
Wishing I had chosen
One or the other,
Anything but the space between.

"The More Loving One"
W.H. Auden (1960)

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

"The Word Plum"
Helen Chasin (1968)

The word plum is delicious

pout and push, luxury of
self-love, and savoring murmur

full in the mouth and falling
like fruit

taut skin
pierced, bitten, provoked into
juice, and tart flesh

question
and reply, lip and tongue
of pleasure.

"Riding a One-Eyed Horse"
Henry Taylor (1975)

One side of his world is always missing.
You may give it a casual wave of the hand
or rub it with your shoulder as you pass,
but nothing on his blind side ever happens.

Hundreds of trees slip past him into darkness,
drifting into a hollow hemisphere
whose sounds you will have to try and explain.
Your legs will tell him not to be afraid

if you learn never to lie.  Do not forget
to turn his head and let what comes come seen:
he will jump the fences he has to if you swing
toward them from the side that he can see

and hold his good eye straight.  The heavy dark
will stay beside you always; let him learn
to lean against it.  It will steady him
and see you safely through diminished fields.

"I Remember Galileo"
Gerald Stern (1998)

I remember Galileo describing the mind
as a piece of paper blown around by the wind,
and I loved the sight of it sticking to a tree
or jumping into the backseat of a car,
and for years I watched paper leap through my cities;
but yesterday I saw the mind was a squirrel caught crossing
Route 80 between the wheels of a giant truck,
dancing back and forth like a thin leaf,
or a frightened string, for only two seconds living
on the white concrete before he got away,
his life shortened by all that terror, his head
jerking, his yellow teeth ground down to dust.

It was the speed of the squirrel and his lowness to the ground,
his great purpose and the alertness of his dancing,
that showed me the difference between him and paper.
Paper will do in theory, when there is time
to sit back in a metal chair and study shadows;
but for this life I need a squirrel,
his clawed feet spread, his whole soul quivering,
the hot wind rushing through his hair,
the loud noise shaking him from head to tail.
  O philosophical mind, O mind of paper, I need a squirrel
finishing his wild dash across the highway,
rushing up his green ungoverned hillside.


"Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World"
Sherman Alexie (2007)


The morning air is all awash with angels . . .
                                            - Richard Wilbur

The eyes open to a blue telephone
In the bathroom of this five-star hotel.
    
I wonder whom I should call? A plumber,
Proctologist, urologist, or priest?

Who is most among us and most deserves
The first call? I choose my father because

He's astounded by bathroom telephones.
I dial home. My mother answers. "Hey, Ma,

I say, "Can I talk to Poppa?" She gasps,  
And then I remember that my father

Has been dead for nearly a year. "Shit, Mom,"
I say. "I forgot he's dead. I’m sorry--

How did I forget?" "It's okay," she says.
"I made him a cup of instant coffee

This morning and left it on the table--
Like I have for, what, twenty-seven years--

And I didn't realize my mistake
Until this afternoon." My mother laughs

At the angels who wait for us to pause
During the most ordinary of days

And sing our praise to forgetfulness
Before they slap our souls with their cold wings.

Those angels burden and unbalance us.
Those fucking angels ride us piggyback.

Those angels, forever falling, snare us
And haul us, prey and praying, into dust.

"The Wolf's Postscript to 'Little Red Riding Hood'"
Agha Shahid Ali (1987)

First, grant me my sense of history:
I did it for posterity,
for kindergarten teachers
and a clear moral:
Little girls shouldn't wander off
in search of strange flowers,
and they mustn't speak to strangers.

And then grant me my generous sense of plot:
Couldn't I have gobbled her up
right there in the jungle?
Why did I ask her where her grandma lived?
As if I, a forest-dweller,
didn't know of the cottage
under the three oak trees
and the old woman lived there
all alone?
As if I couldn't have swallowed her years before?

And you may call me the Big Bad Wolf,
now my only reputation.
But I was no child-molester
though you'll agree she was pretty.

And the huntsman:
Was I sleeping while he snipped
my thick black fur
and filled me with garbage and stones?
I ran with that weight and fell down,
simply so children could laugh
at the noise of the stones
cutting through my belly,
at the garbage spilling out
with a perfect sense of timing,
just when the tale
should have come to an end.

"My Father Is a Retired Magician"
Ntozake Shange (1972)


(for ifa, p.t., & bisa)

my father is a retired magician
which accounts for my irregular behavior
everythin comes outta magic hats
or bottles wit no bottoms & parakeets
are as easy to get as a couple a rabbits
or 3 fifty cent pieces/ 1958

my daddy retired from magic & took
up another trade cuz this friend of mine
from the 3rd grade asked to be made white
on the spot

what cd any self-respectin colored american magician
do wit such a outlandish request/ cept
put all them razzamatazz hocus pocus zippity-do-dah
thingamajigs away    cuz
colored chirren believin in magic
waz becomin politically dangerous for the race
& waznt nobody gonna be made white
on the spot      just
from a clap of my daddy's hands

& the reason i'm so peculiar's
cuz i been studyin up on my daddy's technique
& everythin i do is magic these days
& it's very colored
very now you see it/ now you
dont mess wit me
                 i come from a family of retired
sorcerers/ active houngans & pennyante fortune tellers
wit 41 million spirits critturs & celestial bodies 
on our side
              i'll listen to yr problems
              help wit yr career     yr lover     yr wanderin spouse
              make yr grandma's stay in heaven more gratifyin
              ease yr mother thru menopause & show yr son
              how to clean his room

YES YES YES             3 wishes is all you get
     scarlet ribbons for yr hair
        benwa balls via hong kong
           a miniature of machu picchu

all things are possible
but aint no colored magician in her right mind
gonna make you     white
        i mean
           this is blk magic
you lookin at
             & i'm fixin you up good/ fixin you up good n colored
& you gonna be colored all yr life
& you gonna love it/ bein colored/ all yr life/ colored & love it
love it/ bein colored/

"Facing It"
Yusef Komunyakaa (1988)

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
dammit: No tears.
I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way--the stone lets me go.
I turn that way--I'm inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet's image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I'm a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman's trying to erase names:
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

"The Stars"
Passamaquoddy Indian (Translated in 1958)

For we are the stars.  For we sing.
For we sing with our light.
For we are birds made of fire.
For we spread our wings over the sky.
Our light is a voice.
We cut a road for the soul
for its journey through death.
For three of our number are hunters.
For these three hunt a bear.
For there never was a time
when these three didn't hunt.
For we face the hills with disdain.
This is the song of the stars.

"Deep Song"
Spanish Gypsy Poem (1960)

1

in the middle of the sea
a stone
my love was sitting on
to tell her troubles:
only to the earth, oh only
to the earth I tell
what happened to me
nowhere in the world would find
someone to tell
but every morning
would go out
& ask the rosemary:
if love's so bad
can there still be a cure
before I die from it?

2

I climbed the wall        the wind
would answer me
"why all this sighing, sighing
"& no end to it
the wind would cry to me
on seeing
these long gashes in my heart
until I loved
the wind        wind of a woman
as a woman is a wind
I stayed in
& was jealous of the wind
that brushed your face
if that wind was a man
I'd kill him
& not be afraid to row
but rowing, rowing
only the wind to frighten me
up from your harbor

"Concentration Constellation"
Lawson Fusao Inada (1992)

In this earthly configuration,
we have, not points of light,
but prominent barbs of dark.

It's all right there on the map.
It's all right there in the mind.
Find it.  If you care to look.

Begin between the Golden State's
highest and lowest elevations
and name that location
Manzanar. Rattlesnake a line
southward to the zone
of Arizona, to the home
of natives on the reservation,
and call those Gila, Poston.

Then just take your time
winding your way across
the Southwest expanse, the Lone
Star State of Texas, gather
up a mess of blues as you
meander around the banks
of the humid Mississippi; yes
just make yourself at home
in the swamps of Arkansas,
for this is Rohwer and Jerome.

By now, you weary of the way.
It's a big country, you say.
It's a big history, hardly
halfway through - with Amache
looming in the Colorado desert,
Heart Mountain high in wide
Wyoming, Minidoka on the moon
of Idaho, then down to Utah's
jewel of Topaz before finding
yourself at northern California's
frozen shore of Tule Lake…

Now regard what sort of shape
this constellation takes.
It sits there like a jagged scar,
massive, on the massive landscape.
It lies there like the rusted wire
of a twisted and remembered fence.

"xylo"
Peter Howard (2001)

An animated poem.  Click here to play.


"Today"
Frank O'Hara (1971)

Oh! kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!
You really are beautiful!  Pearls,
harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins!  all
the stuff they've always talked about

still makes a poem a surprise!
These things are with us every day
even on beachheads and biers.  They
do have meaning.  They're strong as rocks.

"America"
Allen Ginsberg (1956)

America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents
       January 17, 1956.
I can't stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don't feel good don't bother me.
I won't write my poem till I'm in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I'm sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what
       I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the
       next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this
       argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don't think he'll come back
       it's sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of
       practical joke?
I'm trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I'm doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven't read the newspapers for months, everyday
       somebody goes on trial for murder.
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid
       I'm not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the
       roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never
       get laid.
My mind is made up there's going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I'm perfectly right.
I won't say the Lord's Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven't told you what you did to Uncle
       Max after he came over from Russia.

I'm addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by
       Time Magazine?
I'm obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner
       candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It's always telling me about responsibility.
       Businessmen are serious. Movie producers are
       serious. Everybody's serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.

Asia is rising against me.
I haven't got a chinaman's chance.
I'd better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana
       millions of genitals an unpublishable private literature
       that goes 1400 miles and hour and twentyfivethousand
       mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underpriviliged
       who live in my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I'm a Catholic.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual
       as his automobiles more so they're all different sexes
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down
       on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell
       meetings they sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket
       costs a nickel and the speeches were free everybody was angelic
       and sentimental about the workers it was all so sincere you have
       no idea what a good thing the party was in 1935 Scott Nearing
       was a grand old man a real mensch Mother Bloor made me cry
       I once saw Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have been a spy.
America you don't really want to go to war.
America it's them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia's power mad. She wants to take
       our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader's Digest.
Her wants our auto plants in Siberia.
Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.
That no good. Ugh. Him makes Indians learn read.
Him need big black niggers.
Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I'd better get right down to the job.
It's true I don't want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts
        factories, I'm nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.

"Legend"
Hart Crane (1925)

As silent as a mirror is believed
Realities plunge in silence by . . .

I am not ready for repentance;

Nor to match regrets.  For the moth
Bends no more than the still
Imploring flame.  And tremorous
In the white falling flakes
Kisses are, ---
The only worth all granting.

It is to be learned---
This cleaving and this burning,
But only by the one who
Spends out himself again.


Twice and twice
(Again the smoking souvenir,
Bleeding eidolon!) and yet again.
Until the bright logic is won
Unwhispering as a mirror
Is believed.

Then, drop by caustic drop, a perfect cry
Shall string some constant harmony,---
Relentless caper for all those who step
The legend of their youth into the noon.

"The Woman Who Loved Things"
Cathleen Calbert (1995)

A woman finally learned how to love things, so things learned
how to love her too as she pressed herself to their shining sides,
their porous surfaces.  She smoothed along walls until walls
smoothed along her too, a joy, a climax, this flesh
against plaster, the sweet suck of consenting molecules.

Sensitive men and women became followers, wrapping themselves
in violet, pasting her image over their fast hearts,
pressing against walls until walls came to appreciate
differences in molecules.  This became a worship.
They became a love.  A church.  A cult.  A way of being.

But, of course, it had to be: the woman’s love kept growing
until she was loved by trees and appliances, from toasters
to natural obstacles, until her ceiling shook loose to send kisses,
sheets wound tight betwixt her legs, and floorboards broke free
of their nails, straining their lengths over her sleeping.

She awoke and drove out of town alone.  In love, rocks flew
through her car windows, then whole hillsides slid, loosening
with desire.  Her car shattered its shaft to embrace her,
but she ran from the wreckage, calling all the sweet things
as she waited in a field of strangely complacent daisies.

She spoke of love until losing her breath, and the things
trilled to feel that loss too, at last, sighing in thingness.
She fell down, and the things fell down around her.  She cried,
“Christ!” and the things cried “Christ!” in their thing-hearts
until everything living and unliving wonderfully collided.

"The Shape of Death"
May Swenson (1954)

What does love look like?  We know the shape of death:
death is a cloud, immense and awesome.
At first a lid is lifted from the eye of light;
there is a clap of sound; a white blossom
belches from the jaw of fright;
a pillared cloud churns from white to gray,
like a monstrous brain that bursts and burns,
then turns sickly black, spilling and spewing away,
filling the whole sky with ashes of dread.
Thickly it wraps, between the clean seas and the moon,
the earth’s green head.  Trapped in its cocoon,
its choking breath, we know the shape of death.
Death is a cloud.

What does love look like?  Is it a particle, a star,
invisible entirely, beyond the microscope and Palomar;
a dimension unimagined, past the stretch of hope?
Is it a climate far and fair, that we shall never dare
discover?  What is its color, and its alchemy?
Is it a jewel in the earth; can it be dug?
or dredged from the sea?  Can it be bought?
Can it be sown and harvested?  Is it a shy beast to be caught?

Death is a cloud, immense, a clap of sound.
Love is little, and not loud.
It nests within each cell, and it
cannot be split.
It is a ray, a seed, a note, a word,
a secret motion of our air and blood.
Love is not alien; it is near;
it is our very skin,
a sheathe that keeps us pure of fear.

"Love Like Salt"
Lisel Mueller (1996)

It lies in our hands in crystals
too intricate to decipher

It goes into the skillet
without being given a second thought

It spills on the floor so fine
we step all over it

We carry a pinch behind each eyeball

It breaks out on our foreheads

We store it inside our bodies
in secret wineskins

At supper, we pass it around the table
talking of holidays and the sea.

"Bluebird"
Charles Bukowski (1992)

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I'm not going
to let anybody see
you.
there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
he's
in there.

there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
works?
you want to blow my book sales in
Europe?
there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody's asleep.
I say, I know that you're there,
so don't be
sad.
then I put him back,
but he's singing a little
in there, I haven't quite let him
die
and we sleep together like
that
with our
secret pact
and it's nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don't
weep, do
you?

"Here I Am, Lord"
Michael Chitwood (2009)

The ribbed black of the umbrella
is an argument for the existence of God,

that little shelter
we carry with us

and may forget
beside a chair

in a committee meeting
we did not especially want to attend.

What a beautiful word, umbrella.
A shade to be opened.

Like a bat’s wing, scalloped.
It shivers.

A drum head
beaten by the silver sticks

of rain
and I do not have mine

and so the rain showers me.


"After the Party"
Alison Stine (2008)

Sugar dries on paper plates.  The cake's
decimated and barely touched.  What to do
with the balloons?  A few float listlessly,
unattached, still bearing like bandages
the tape that bore them to the wall.
They've gone dull, rubber tips darkening
to a bottle's pinch.  It's too late, or too early.
There are too many on the floor, stirred up
as I stir.  In the end, I cut them, urge a blade
into the inch between knot and blossom.
Slow deflation.  It reveals what they are:
sacs of plastic, stale with air.  I've seen this
before, in the newspaper picture of Nefertiti,
bound in the antechamber of a tomb,
cast out of favor, her body, barely wrapped.
How they know her: by the queenly jaw,
age of limbs and teeth.  Also, by the broken
mouth, smashed by priests so she cannot
eat, cannot breathe in the afterlife.

"Ad Hominem"
Nicky Beer (2008)


The Poet:

    Fugitive lung, prodigal intestine –
    where’s the pink crimp in my side
    where they took you out?


The Octopus:

    It must be a dull world, indeed,
    where everything appears
    to be a version or extrapolation
    of you.

    The birds are you.
    The springtime is you.
    Snails, hurricanes, saddles, elevators –
    everything becomes
    you.

    I, with a shift
    of my skin, divest my self
    to become the rock
    that shadows it.

    Think of when
    your reading eyes momentarily drift,
    and in that instant

    you see the maddening swarm of alien ciphers
         submerged within the text
    gone before you can focus.
    That’s me.

    Or your dozing revelation
    on the subway that you are
    slowly being
    digested.  Me again.

    I am the fever dream
    in which you see your loved ones
    as executioners.  I am also their axe.

    Friend, while you’re exhausting
    the end of a day
    with your sad approximations,

    I’m a mile deep
    in the earth, vamping
    my most flawless impression
    of the abyss
    to the wild applause of eels.


And All Other Ecstasies
Tony Fitzpatrick (2009)

Fitzpatrick collected thousands of old matchbook covers and labels and then used an Exacto-blade to carve out visual art.  His collection And All Other Ecstasies is about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans.  In an introduction of his work in the February 2009 issue of Poetry Magazine, he explains that in the case of unfathomable disasters, normal modes of representation won't work: "I've thought long and hard about how to make art about this holy place.  I didn't want to draw pictures of people trapped on rooftops, or struggling to stay above the water.  The images from cable news seemed pornographic in their quest to wrap tragedy around the commercial breaks.  So, for now, I've decided on words .... I've decided to draw poems."

"Oh Black Water"



"Red Diamond Horse"



"Oh Child"