Tag: poemosity

Donald Hall, “The Child”


He lives among a dog,
a tricycle, and a friend.
Nobody owns him.

He walks by himself, beside
the black pool, in the cave
where icicles of rock

rain hard water,
and the walls are rough
with the light of stone.

He hears low talking
without words.
The hand of a wind touches him.

He walks until he is tired
or somebody calls him.
He leaves right away.

When he plays with his friend
he stops suddenly
to hear the black water.

~ ~ ~

From Old and New Poems. I really love how the simple language in this poem describes the fierce, innocent, ignorant independence of childhood. “Nobody owns him.” Simple. One might say obvious, maybe, but if it is so obvious why am I struck with such an intense moment of clarity when reading that line? Why does it resonate so deeply?

Charles Simic, “Navigator”


I summoned Christopher Columbus.
At the hour of the wolf,
He came out of the gloom
Looking a little like my father.

On this particular voyage
He discovered nothing.
The ocean I gave him had no end.
And the ship – an open suitcase.

He was thoroughly lost – I had forgotten to provide the stars.
Sitting in the dark with a bottle in its hand.
He sang a song from his childhood.

In the song the day was breaking.
A barefoot girl
Stepped over the wet grass
To pick a sprig of mint.

And then nothing –
Only the wind rushing off with a screech
As if it just remembered
Where it’s going, where it’s been.

~ ~ ~

I’m just starting to read some Charles Simic, a poet I have always heard of and seen referenced but never read. As the back of his Selected Poems 1963-1983 informs me, he is “critically recognized as one of America’s leading poets,” so. I like his brief, quiet style, each word precise and used for maximum effect. I think about how long-winded so many poets can get in trying to explain a thing, and then over-explaining it in the end, and then I look at the fourth stanza in this poem (“In the song…”) and how exquisite and simple it is. “A barefoot girl stepped over the wet grass to pick a sprig of mint” is so close to an absolutely perfect sentence. Beautiful.

P.S. In classic Half-Price Books form, I discovered when I came home that this book was filled with little penciled-in notes. At the end of this poem, underneath the last line “Where it’s going, where it’s been” the note-taker had written past=future. Haha. Zen-like and insightful!

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, #4 from “A Coney Island of the Mind”


In a surrealist year
                            of sandwichmen and sunbathers
                                dead sunflowers and live telephones
        house-broken politicos with party whips
        performed as usual
        in the rings of their sawdust circuses
        where tumblers and human cannonballs
                                          filled the air like cries
                        when some cool clown
                                          pressed an inedible mushroom button
and an inaudible Sunday bomb
                                          fell down
catching the president at his prayers
                                                    on the 19th green

      O it was a spring
                            of fur leaves and cobalt flowers
   when cadillacs fell thru the trees like rain
            drowning the meadows with madness
while out of every imitation cloud
                                 dropped myriad wingless crowds
                                               of nutless nagasaki survivors
        And lost teacups
        full of our ashes
        floated by

~ ~ ~

In a surrealist year, indeed. From the Beat classic A Coney Island of the Mind, a bizarre and beautiful set of poems.

B.H. Fairchild, “Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest”


In his fifth year the son, deep in the backseat
of his father’s Ford and the mysterium
of time, holds time in memory with words,
night, this night, on the way to a stalled rig south
of Kiowa Creek where the plains wind stacks
the skeletons of weeds on barbed-wire fences
and rattles the battered DeKalb sign to make
the child think of time in its passing, of death.

Cattle stare at flat-bed haulers gunning clumps
of black smoke and lugging damaged drill pipe
up the gullied, mud-hollowed road. Road, this
. Roustabouts shouting from the crow’s nest
float like Ascension angels on a ring of lights.
Chokecherries gouge the purpled sky, cloud-
swags running the moon under, and starlight
rains across the Ford’s blue hood. Blue, this blue.

Later, where black flies haunt the mud tank,
the boy walks along the pipe rack dragging
a stick across the hollow ends to make a kind
of music, and the creek throbs with frog songs,
locusts, the rasp of tree limbs blown and scattered.
The great horse people, his father, these sounds,
these shapes saved from time’s dark creek as the car
moves across the moving earth: world, this world.

From the book of the same name. And a beautiful book at that.

B.H. Fairchild, “The Himalayas”


The stewardess’ dream of the Himalayas
followed her everywhere: from Omaha
to Baltimore and back, and then to Seattle
and up and down the California coast until
she imagined herself strapped to the wing
just across from seat 7A muttering
little homemade mantras and shivering
in the cold, stiff wind of the inexpressible.
It could hardly go on like this, she thought,
the unending prayer to nothing in particular
whirling around in her head while she held
the yellow mask over her face and demonstrated
correct breathing techniques: the point was
to breathe calmly like angels observing
the final separation of light from a dead star,
or the monk described in the travel book
trying to untangle his legs and stand once more
at the mouth of his cave. The stewardess
delighted in her symmetrical gestures, the dance
of her hands describing the emergency exits
and the overhead lights that made exquisite
small cones in the night for readers and children
afraid of the dark. As the passengers fell asleep
around her, the stewardess reached up to adjust
the overhead whose cone of light rose over her
like some miniature white peak of the Himalayas
as if she were a cave in the Himalayas,
the cave of her own body, perhaps, in which
she sat patiently now, looking out, waiting.

From his book The Art of the Lathe

Elizabeth Bishop, “Large Bad Picture”


Remembering the Strait of Belle Isle or
some northerly harbor of Labrador,
before he became a schoolteacher
a great-uncle painted a big picture.

Receding for miles on either side
into a flushed, still sky
are overhanging pale blue cliffs
hundreds of feet high,

their bases fretted by little arches,
the entrances to caves
running in along the level of a bay
masked by perfect waves.

On the middle of that quiet floor
sits a fleet of small black ships,
square-rigged, sails furled, motionless,
their spars like burnt match-sticks.

And high above them, over the tall cliffs’
semi-translucent ranks,
are scribbled hundreds of fine black birds
hanging n‘s in the banks.

One can hear their crying, crying,
the only sound there is
except for occasional sighing
as a large aquatic animal breathes.

In the pink light
the small red sun goes rolling, rolling,
round and round and round at the same height
in perpetual sunset, comprehensive, consoling,

while the ships consider it.
Apparently they have reached their destination.
It would be hard to say what brought them here,
commerce or contemplation.

~ ~ ~

I recently picked up a copy of Elizabeth Bishop’s Complete Poems, and it has been an incredible read so far. What I especially love about her work is her use of rhyme. She doesn’t draw attention to it the way old poets used to, constructing elaborate mechanisms to build rhyme structures into their poems. Bishop uses her rhymes casually but deliberately, like the way you might crack an egg into a frying pan. Rhyme in this fashion adds another level to the wordplay of the poem, amplifying meaning across words and lines, without erecting an artificial structure to hold the thing up. This is exactly why rhyme is used in poetry and why it is so important, a reason often lost on poets across generations.

Milton Bracker, “Tomorrow!”


For baseball’s Opening Day! (which is today, not “tomorrow” but still.)

Hoorah, hooray!
Be glad, be gay-
The best of reasons
Is Opening Day.
And cheering the players
And counting the gate
And running the bases
And touching the plate.
And tossing the ball out
And yelling Play Ball!
(Who cares about fall-out-
At least, until fall?)
Let nothing sour
This sweetest hour;
The baseball season’s
Back in flower!

T.S. Eliot, “Journey of the Magi”


A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times when we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wineskins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

From The Collected Poems 1909-1962

Robert Creeley, “A Form of Women”


I have come far enough
from where I was not before
to have seen the things
looking in at me from through the open door

and have walked tonight
by myself
to see the moonlight
and see it as trees

and shapes more fearful
because I feared
what I did not know
but have wanted to know.

My face is my own, I thought.
But you have seen it
turn into a thousand years.
I watched you cry.

I could not touch you.
I wanted very much to
touch you
but could not.

If it is dark
when this is given to you,
have care for its content
when the moon shines.

My face is my own.
My hands are my own.
My mouth is my own
but I am not.

Moon, moon,
when you leave me alone
all the darkness is
an utter blackness,

a pit of fear,
a stench,
hands unreasonable
never to touch.

But I love you.
Do you love me.
What to say
when you see me.

Charles Bukowski, “the snow of Italy”


over my radio now
comes the sound of a truly mad organ,
I can see some monk
drunk in a cellar
mind gone or found,
talking to God in a different way;
I see candles and this man hs a red bear
as God has a red beard;
it is snowing, it is Italy, it is cold
and the bread is hard
and there is no butter,
only wine
wine in purple bottles
with giraffe necks,
and now the organ rises, again,
he violates it,
he plays it like a madman,
there is blood and spit in his beard,
he wants to laugh but there isn’t time,
the sun is going out,
then his fingers slow,
now there is exhaustion and the dream,
yes, even holiness,
man going to man,
to the mountains, the elephant, the star,
and a candle falls
but continues to burn upon its side,
a wax puddle shining in the eyes
of my red monk,
there is moss on the walls
and the stain of thought and failure and
then again the music comes like hungry tigers,
and he laughs,
it is a child’s laugh, an idiot’s laugh,
laughing at nothing,
the only laugh that understands,
he holds the keys down
like stopping everything
and the room blooms with madness,
and then he stops, stops,
and sits, the candles burning,
one up, one down,
the snow of Italy is all that’s left,
it is over: the essence and the pattern.
I watch as
he pinches out the candles with his fingers,
wincing near the outer edge of each eye
and the room is dark
as everything has always been.

Wow. From The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems, 1951-1993.