Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bernadette Mayer

Bernadette Mayer [The Arbiter]

from Bernadette Mayer's A Bernadette Mayer Reader:


I guess it's too late to live on the farm
I guess it's too late to move to a farm
I guess it's too late to start farming
I guess it's too late to begin farming
I guess we'll never have a farm
I guess we're too old to do farming
I guess we couldn't afford to buy a farm anyway
I guess we're not suited to being farmers
I guess we'll never have a farm now
I guess farming is not in the cards now
I guess Lewis wouldn't make a good farmer
I guess I can't expect we'll ever have a farm now
I guess I have to give up all my dreams of being a farmer
I guess I'll never be a farmer now
We couldn't get a farm anyway though Allen Ginsburg got one late in life
Maybe someday I'll have a big garden
I guess farming is really out
Feeding the pigs and chickens, walking between miles of rose of crops
I guess farming is just too difficult
We'll never have a farm
Too much work and still to be poets
Who are the farmer poets
Was there ever a poet who had a self-sufficient farm
Flannery O'Connor raised peacocks
And Wendell Berry has a farm
Faulkner may have farmed a little
And Robert Frost had farmland
And someone tole me Samuel Beckett farmed
Very few poets are real farmers
If William Carlos Williams could be a doctor and Charlie Vermont too,
Why not a poet who is also a farmer
Of course there was Brook Farm
And Virgil raised bees
Perhaps some poets of the past were overseers of farmers
I guess poets tend to live more momentarily
Than life on a farm would allow
You could never leave the farm to give a reading
Or go to a lecture by Emerson in Concord
I don't want to be a farmer but my mother was right
I should never have tried to rise out of the proletariat
Unless I can convince myself as Satan argues with Eve
That we are among a proletariat of poets of all the classes
Each ill-paid and surviving on nothing
Or on as little as one needs to survive
Steadfast as any farmer and fixed as the stars
Tenants of a vision w rent out endlessly

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Ode to Firestarting

Ode to Firestarting

Even before
I admire
starter risen 
through the night 
to frothy 
Torn shipping box
in hand
I open 
the stove door,
yesterday’s ash
with sandwiched 
brown paper,
toss in
a handful of
grocery receipts,
of fir cones
by mossy twigs,
two larger twigs
with serrate leaves,
a half-rotted 
redwood chunk,
thick curl 
of oak bark.
One match 
two paper corners,
brittle leaves,
though minutes 
pass before flame
through the bark tunnel,
to iron 
firebox roof,
my signal
to layer on
a starter log
without tumbling
the still
fragile pyre.
I brew & drink
Earl Grey,
on egg & bacon,
ready myself
to measure
water, flour, & salt,
to kneel
& knead
the morning bread.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda [Haiti Chery]

from Pablo Neruda's Odes to Opposites, tr. Ken Krabbenhoft:

Ode to Solitude

O solitude, beautiful 
word: crab- 
grows between your syllables! 
But you are only a pale 
word, fool’s 
and counterfeit coin! 
I painted solitude in literary 
dressed it in a tie 
I had copied from a book, 
and the shirt 
of sleep. 
I first really saw it when I was by myself. 
I’d never seen an animal 
quite like it: 
it looks like 
a hairy spider 
or the flies 
that hover over dung, 
and its camel paws have 
suckers like a deep-sea snake. 
It stinks like a warehouse piled high 
with brown hides of rats and seals 
that have been rotting forever. 
Solitude, I want you 
to stop lying through the mouths of books. 
Consider the brooding young poet: 
he’s looking for a black marble slab 
to seduce 
the sleeping senorita; in your honor he erects 
a simple statue 
that he’ll forget 
the morning of his wedding. 
in the half-light of those early years 
we boys stumble across her 
and take her for a black goddess 
shipped from distant islands. 
We play with her torso and pledge 
the perfect reverence of childhood. 
As for the creativity
of solitude: it’s a lie. 
Seeds don’t live 
singly underneath the soil: 
it takes hordes of them to insure 
the deep harmony of our lives, 
and water is but the transparent mother 
of invisible submarine choirs. 

The desert 
Is the earth’s solitude, and mankind’s 
is sterile 
like the desert. The same 
hours, nights and days 
wrap the whole planet 
in their cloak — 
but they leave nothing in the desert. 
Solitude does not accept seeds. 

A ship on the sea 
isn’t the only image of its beauty. 
It flies over the water like a dove, 
end product 
of wondrous collaborations 
between fires and stokers, 
navigators and stars, 
men’s arms and flags in congregation, 
shared loves and destinies. 

In its search for self-expression 
music sought out 
the choir’s coral hardness. 
It was written 
not by a single man 
but by a whole score 
of musical relations. 

And this word 
which I poise here suspended on a branch, 
this song that yearns 
solely for the solitude of your lips 
to repeat it — 
the air inscribes it at my side, lives 
that were lived long before me. 
And you, who are reading my ode: 
you’ve used it against your own solitude. 
We’ve never met, and yet it’s your hands 
that wrote these lines, with mine.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda [Fabreeze]

from The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, ed. Mark Eisner:

Ode to a Watch in the Night

In the night, in your hand
my watch glowed
like a firefly.
I heard
its ticking:
like a dry whisper
it arose
from your invisible hand.
Then your hand
returned to my dark breast
to gather my sleep and its pulse.

The watch
went on cutting time
with its little saw.
As in a forest
fragments of wood,
tiny drops, pieces
of branches or nests
without changing the silence,
without ending the cool darkness,
from your invisible hand
the watch went on cutting
time, time,
and minutes fell
like leaves,
fibers of broken time,
little black feathers.
As in the forest
we smelled roots,
somewhere water released
a fat drop
like a wet grape.
A little mill
was grinding the night,
the shadow whispered
falling from your hand
and filled the earth.
earth, distance,
my watch in the night
was grinding and grinding
from your hand.

I put
my arm
under your invisible neck,
under its warm weight,
and in my hand
time fell,
the night,
little noises
of wood and forest,
of divided night,
of fragments of shadow,
of water that falls and falls:
sleep fell
from the watch and from
your two sleeping hands,
it fell like the dark water
of the forests,
from the watch
to your body,
from you toward countries,
dark water,
time that falls
and runs
inside us.

And that’s how it was, that night,
shadow and space, earth
and time,
something that runs and falls
and passes.
And that’s how all the nights
go over the earth,
leaving only a vague
black odor.
A leaf falls,
a drop
on the earth
muffles its sound,
the forest sleeps, the waters,
the meadows,
the bells,
the eyes.

I hear you and you breathe,
my love,
we sleep.

[translated by Stephen Mitchell]

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Yusef Komunyakaa

A Reed Boat

The boat's tarred and shellacked to a water-repellent finish, just sway-dancing with the current's ebb, light as a woman in love. It pushes off again, cutting through lotus blossoms, sediment, guilt, unforgivable darkness. Anything with half a root or heart could grow in this lagoon.

There's a pull against what's hidden from day, all that hurts. At dawn the gatherer's shadow backstrokes across water, an instrument tuned for gods and monsters in the murky kingdom below. Blossoms lean into his fast hands, as if snapping themselves in half, giving in to some law.

Slow, rhetorical light cuts between night and day, like nude bathers embracing. The boat nudges deeper, with the ease of silverfish. I know by his fluid movements, there isn't the shadow of a bomber on the water any more, gliding like a dream of death. Mystery grows out of the decay of dead things — each blossom a kiss from the unknown.

When I stand on the steps of Hanoi's West Lake Guest House, feeling that I am watched as I gaze at the boatman, it's hard to act like we're the only two left in the world. He balances on his boat of Ra, turning left and right, reaching through and beyond, as if the day is a woman he can pull into his arms.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Denise Levertov

What Wild Dawns There Were

What wild dawns there were
      in our first years here
when we would run outdoors naked
to pee in the long grass behind the house
             and see over the hills such streamers,
             such banners full of fire and blue (the blue
             that is Lilith to full day’s honest Eve) —
What feathers of gold under the morning star
      we saw from dazed eyes before
stumbling back to bed chilled with dew
to sleep till the sun was high!

Now if we wake early
      we don’t go outdoors — or I don’t —
      and you if you do go
      rarely call me to see the day break.
I watch the dawn through glass: this year
             only cloudless flushes of light, paleness
             slowly turning to rose,
             and fading subdued.
We have not spoken of these tired
risings of the sun.

Mad Song

My madness is dear to me.
I who was almost always the sanest among my friends,
one to whom others came for comfort,
now at my breasts (that look timid and ignorant,
                that don’t look as if milk had flowed from them,
                years gone by)
cherish a viper.
                       Hail, little serpent of useless longing
that may destroy me,
that bites me with such idle
needle teeth.

I who am loved by those who love me
for honesty,
to whom life was an honest breath
                           taken in good faith,
I’ve forgotten how to tell joy from bitterness.

Dear to me, dear to me,
blue poison, green pain in the mind’s veins.
How am I to be cured against my will?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov [Poetry Society of America]

Memory demands so much

Memory demands so much,
it wants every fiber
told and retold.
                          It gives and gives
but for a price, making you
risk drudgery, lapse
into document, treacheries
of glaring noon and a slow march.
Leaf never before
seen or envisioned, flying spider
of rose-red autumn, playing
a lone current of undecided wind,
lift me with you, take me
off this ground of memory that clings
to my feet like thick clay,
exacting gratitude for gifts and gifts.
Take me flying before
you vanish, leaf, before
I have time to remember you,
intent instead on being
in the midst of that flight,
of those unforeseeable words.

Once Only

All which, because it was
flame and song and granted us
joy, we thought we'd do, be, revisit,
turns out to have been what it was
that once, only; every initiation
did not begin
a series, a build-up: the marvelous
               did happen in our lives, our stories
               are not drab with its absence: but don't
expect now to return for more. Whatever more
there will be will be
unique as those were unique. Try
to acknowledge the next
song in its body-halo of flames as utterly
present, as now or never.