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Mar. 10th, 2012

beyond the skylight
constellations go—
last year, this year

-- Tsuji Momoko (from Far Beyond the Field: Haiku by Japanese Women

Bread

It has the shape of goodness.
How peacefully it lies
on the cutting board.

Blissfully awaiting the quick verdict,
the knife in the back
or being torn into chunks.

The whole world is a loaf of bread.
Bite into it
as if it were the body of God's only son.

Go ahead and do it
break the crust
and the silence will fall.

The silence of the beginning,
Ah, the blazing silence
as the world ends.

— From Oranges and Snow: The Poems of Milan Djordjević, translated by Charles Simic

St. Francis and the Sow

The bud
stands for all things,
even those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as St. Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of
the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking
and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

If they come in the night

by Marge Piercy

Long ago on a night of danger and vigil
a friend said, Why are you happy?
He explained (we lay together
on a hard cold floor) what prison
meant because he had done
time, and I talked of the death
of friends.  Why are you happy
then
, he asked, close to
angry.

I said, I like my life.  If I
have to give it back, if they
take it from me, let me only
not feel I wasted any, let me
not feel I forgot to love anyone
I meant to love, that I forgot
to give what I held in my hands,
that I forgot to do some little
piece of the work that wanted
to come through.

Sun and moonshine, starshine,
the muted grey light off the waters
of the bay at night, the white
light of the fog stealing in,
the first spears of the morning,
how beautiful touching a face
I love.  We all lose
everything.  We lose
ourselves.  We are lost.

Only what we manage to do
lasts, what love sculpts from us;
but what I count, my rubies, my
children, are those moments
wide open when I know clearly
who I am, who you are, what we
do, a marigold, an oakleaf, a meteor,
with all my senses hungry and filled
at once like a pitcher with light.

Fall

Fall, falling, fallen. That's the way the season
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition
With the final remaining cardinals) and then
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground.
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees
In a season of odd, dusky congruences‐a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance,
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything
Changes and moves in the split second between summer's
Sprawling past and winter's hard revision, one moment
Pulling out of the station according to schedule,
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It
Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet,
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us,
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets.
And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.

                — Edward Hirsch (The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems, 1975-2010)

Berryman

I will tell you what he told me
in the years just after the war
as we then called
the second world war

don't lose your arrogance yet he said
you can do that when you're older
lose it too soon and you may
merely replace it with vanity

just one time he suggested
changing the usual order
of the same words in a line of verse
why point out a thing twice

he suggested I pray to the Muse
get down on my knees and pray
right there in the corner and he
said he meant it literally

it was in the days before the beard
and the drink but he was deep
in tides of his own through which he sailed
chin sideways and head tilted like a tacking sloop

he was far older than the dates allowed for
much older than I was he was in his thirties
he snapped down his nose with an accent
I think he had affected in England

as for publishing he advised me
to paper my wall with rejection slips
his lips and the bones of his long fingers trembled
with the vehemence of his views about poetry

he said the great presence
that permitted everything and transmuted it
in poetry was passion
passion was genius and he praised movement and invention

I had hardly begun to read
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can't

you can't you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don't write
                 — WS Merwin

On Angels

On Angels, Czeslaw Milosz

All was taken away from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe in you,
messengers.

There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seams.

Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at close of day
when the light makes the orchards magic.

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for the humans invented themselves as well.

The voice -- no doubt it is a valid proof,
as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
weightless and winged (after all, why not?),
girdled with the lightening.

I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

day draw near
another one
do what you can.

We Sailed the Indian Ocean for a Dime

We sailed the Indian Ocean for a dime
And went into Africa for a penny
Refreshing Argentina
Rewarded us with many silver cars
For our toy train We went to Kansas City
In the hope of finding quarters there
But instead we sailed the Manila Sea
Old sea pencils without landing quarters
Five dollars drew us to Tangiers
We saved up enough dimes to purchase the bill
There it lies all crisp and green and light
Take it pick it up in your hands it is mine

We spent the five dollars in Biarritz in seven minutes
But at least we had a good meal and now we set sail
I've heard that Milwaukee is full of dimes and quarters
and that Cincinnati is the place for half dollars
I can see all that silver I can see it and I think I want it
Can see the sunlight lighting those silver faces
In far-off Cincinnati
The slim half dollars lying in the leaves
In the blue autumn weather behind the Conservatory of Music
Oh give me the money
That I may ascend into the sky
For I have been on so many boats and trains
While endlessly seeking the summits of my life!

                     ~ Kenneth Koch (from The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch

You

     Out of nothing there comes a time called childhood, which is simply a path leading through an archway called adolescence. A small town there, past the arch called youth.
     Soon, down the road, where one almost misses the life lived beyond the flower, is a small shack labeled, you.
      And it is here the future lives in the several postures of arm on windowsill, cheek on this; elbows on knees, face in the hands; sometimes the head thrown back, eyes staring into the ceiling . . . This into nothing down the long day's arc . . .

                      —Russell Edson

homage to my hips

these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!

                   —Lucille Clifton

Bonus poems: Lucille Clifton reads at the 2008 Dodge Poetry Festival.