As you have probably guessed, I love poetry. Recently, I bought The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets. It is a very good book filled with excellent poets. I have selected a few of my favorite poems to share with you. I hope you enjoy them. ;)
The repairman in the doorway, yellow hard-hat, scrub-jacket; Goodbye. Name flashed on a plastic card. He slips back into his life with a fence around it. Draped windows. Not mine. Lately I am so hard people slide off me forever. This emptiness sharpens me. Light prints itself on the plate of memory, acid on metal. It's twenty years since we invented, you and I, a ritual for leaving. Back to back in the city street at noon we walked five paces apart, and were swallowed up by our lives. When they said, If you eat this fruit you will die, they didn't mean right away.Back to the top
Somewhere along the road you meet up with yourself. Recognition is immediate. If it happens at the proper time and place, you propose a toast: May you remain as my shadow when I lie down. May I live on as your ghost. Then you pass, knowing you'll never see yourself that way again: the fires which burn before you are your penance, the ashes you leave behind are your name.Back to the top
I sent your own words back bent by temperamental need, mine, too cautious of that whipped heat, all yours, of sorrow and uncertainty. "Great walls of bamboo, killed back severely in untimely frost, looked like the soul of desolation, bare and gray in the dimlight before the sun." Don't you see how that fullness drives out sympathy? How can I wish to be closer? It's easier to touch that language than come near your grief, which turns more dreadful, but more clear, in its saying. Forgive me. I'm glad you're far, remote in the purity of speech, coherent, singular. That much I can take. It's all I want.Back to the top
She wants what no clerk in the city can bring her, a hat that will make up her mind. While satin speaks to the read in her cheeks, red satin to the white. Blue crepe shades the clear well of her eye. She wants a hat to fit her head like an idea so perfect only she could have dreamed it up, a hat that draws attention to itself by disapearing and to the head by building on it a profustion of silent worlds in incomparable colors. She wants a hat that can think for itself, that will select the proper head for its household. She turns her back on the round table-mirror and a garden of hats on spindles, admiring the beige lid with a feathery band. Holding it at arm's length, her eyes half-closed, she leans back under a straw bonnet crowned with flowers that casually tries itself on her.
Earl stood on two legs when he had one to spare, then on one leg when the cancer got him, a short leg and a wicked crutch. By his own count Earl was accomplice to thirty-four murders, ninety-two muggings and five suicides. His finger followed the headlines in the paper spread out on a glass case that bristled with knives: Florentine daggers, Arkansas toothpicks, black bone and pearl-handled stilettos with blades that kick loose and lock fast with a flick of the wrist, Turkish daggers with serpentine blades to snake the guts from the meanest vendetta. He stood there in the back end of the arcade and they came to him from bars, the precinct lock-up, from flop-houses, whore houses, foreclosed houses, faithless wives, good friends gone bad, betrayals, threats, divorces. Earl had the voice and nose of Jimmie Durante and knew how to sell knives. He just stood there behind the display case.Back to the top
Gimme the ball, Willie is saying throughout this 2-on-2 pick-up game. Winners are the ones who play, being at the sidelines is ridiculous. So what happens here is a history won not by the measure of points, but by simply getting into it. Willie plays like it could all be gone at once, like his being is at stake. Gimme the ball, he cusses. Gwen Brooks' player from the streets. The game is wherever there's a chance. It is nothing easy he's after, but the rapture gained with presence. His catalogue of moves represents his life. Recognize its stance. So alive to be the steps in whose mind the symbol forms, miraculous to be the feeling which threads these steps to dance. The other side is very serious-- they want to play him 2-on-1. Messrs. Death and Uniformity. He's got a move to make them smile. Gimme the ball, Willie says again and again, "Gimme the goddamn ball."Back to the top
While it's still light out set the table for one: a red linen tablecloth, one white plate, a bowl for the salad and the proper silverware. Take out a three-pound leg of lamb, rub it with salt, pepper and cumin, then push in two cloves of garlic splinters. Place it in a 325-degree oven and set the timer for an hour. Put freshly cut vegetables into a pot with some herbs and the crudest olive oil you can fine. Heat on a low flame. Clean the salad. Be sure the dressing is made with fresh dill, mustard and the juice of hard lemons. Open a bottle of good late harvest zinfandel and let it breathe on the table. Pour yourself a glass of cold California chardonnay and go to your study and read. As the story unfolds you will smell the lamb and the vegetables. This is the best part of the evening: the food cooking, the armchair, the book and bright flavor of the chilled wine. When the timer goes off toss the salad and prepare the vegetables and the lamb. Bring them out to the table. Light the candles and pour the red wine into your glass. Before you begin to eat, raise your glass in honor of yourself. The company is the best you'll ever have.Back to the top
Which is our star this night? Belsen is bathed in blue, every footworn lane, every strand of wire, pale blue. The guards' bodies, the prisoners' bodies--all black and invisible. Only their pale blue eyes float above the lanes or between the wires. Or they are all dead, and these are the blue eyes of those haunted by what happened here. Which eyes are yours, which mine? Even blue-eyed crows drift the darkness overhead. Even blue-eyed worms sip dew from the weeping leaves of the black Erika over the graves.... But now, at once, every eye, every blue light closes. As we do. For rest. For now. Which was our star this night?Back to the top
Tonight I want to say something wonderful for the sleepwalkers who have so much faith in their legs, so much faith in the invisible arrow carved into the carpet, the worn path that leads to the stairs instead of the window, the gaping doorway instead of the seamless mirror. I love the way that sleepwalkers are willing to step out of their bodies into the night, to raise their arms and welcome the darkness, palming the blank spaces, touching everything. Always they return home safely, like blind men who know it is morning by feeling shadows. And always they wake up as themselves again. That's why I want to say something astonishing like: Our hearts are leaving our bodies. Our hearts are thirsty black handkerchiefs flying throught he trees at night, soaking up the darkest beams of moonlight, the music of owls, the motion of wind-torn branches. And now our hearts are thich black fists flying back to the glove of our chests. We have to learn to trust our hearts like that. We have to learn the desperate faith of sleep- walkers who rise our of their calm beds and walk through the skin of another life. We have to drink the stupefying cup of darkness and wake up to ourselves, nourished and suprised.Back to the top
Every morning she'd smear something brown over her eyes, already bagged and dark underneath, as if that would get her sympathy. She never slept, she said, but wandered like a phantom through the yard. I knew it. Knew how she knelt beneath our bedroom window too, and listened to Janet and me. One night when again Janet said No I called her a cow, said she might as well be dead for all she was good to me. The old lady had fur in her head and in her ears, at breakfast slipped and told us she didn't think the cows would die. Today when I caught her in the garage at dawn, that dyed hair growing out in stripes, eyes like any animal suprised from sleep or prowling where it shouldn't be, I did think, for a minute, she was the raider of the garden, and the ax felt good, coming down on a life like that.
If I could start my life again, I'd keep the notebook I promised myself at nine-- a record of all the injustice done by adults: that accusing tone when they speak, the embarrassments before relatives, like the time I had to put on my swimsuit in the car while Mother chatted with an uncle who peered in, teasing. And wouldn't they be sorry later, when they read it, after I'd been run over by a truck their faces darkening like winter afternoons. And I, of course (if I survived), would have a reminder, in my own had, so I'd be the perfect parent, my children radiant as the northern lights. It's like poems you hope will be read by someone who knows they're for him, and cry at what he did or didn't do, wishing to touch your face once more, to cradle your body. You can almost hear what he'd tell you with his voice that sounds like the sea rolling in over and over, like a song.Back to the top
The ambulance men touched her cold body, lifted it, heavy as iron, onto the stretcher, tried to close the mouth, closed the eyes, tied the arms to the sides, moved a caught strand of hair, as if it mattered, saw the shape of her breasts, flattened by gravity, under the sheet carried her, as if it were she, down the steps. These men were never the same. They went out afterwards, as they always did, for a drink or two, but they could not meet each other's eyes. Their lives took a turn--one had nightmares, strange pains, impotence, depression. On did not like his work, his wife looked different, his kids. Even death seemed different to him--a place where she would be waiting, and one found himself standing at night in the doorway to a room of sleep, listening to a woman breathing, just an ordinary woman breathing.Back to the top
"It took in, that human, that divin embrace, everything but soap."--Henry James Winter sunlight in Assisi, and the birds tilting their small wings over the roof-titles, And the mirror lilting from the bedroom wall, and the good and lovely and leering Signora Giving us breakfast and a shower all to ourselves. There is soap in Firenze, there is soap in Bologna, But more than ever there is soap this morning in Assisi. Henry, if you were here, we would soap your longest sentence down. As it is we gather into soap whatever sunlight lifts in our direction, Shoulders, slippery breasts, long tapering backs, Eyes clouded after a while against the burning, We are soaped all over, we are slithering somewhere, We are two well-leavened loaves of fresh Italian bread, We are the morning hillsides of Assisi. Great white doves of soapsuds fly from our shoulders, Great wings of dazzling soopsuds are walking And flying and perishing into Assisi sunlight, And we are giving the beautiful dirt-loving Francis More soap than even Henry James could ever think he wanted, And the good dead Francis is coming piercingly clean for once Where we give each other love we never bought or paid for In this room of the profane and holy bargain.Back to the top
In our house every floor was a wailing wall each sideward glance a history of insult. Nightly Grandma bolted the doors believing God had a personal grievance to settle on our heads. Not Atreus exactly but we had furies (Uncle Jake banged the tables demanding respect from fate) & enough outrage to impress Aristotle with the prophetic unity of our misfortune. No wonder I held behind the sofa sketching demons to identify the faces in my dreams stayed under bath water until my lungs split like pomegranate seeds. Stein arrived one New Year's Eve fresh from a salvation in Budapest. Nothing in his 6,000 years prepared him for our nightly bacchanal of immigrant indignity except his stint in the Hundred Years' War where he lost his eyesight faith both. This myopic angel knew everything about clamity (he taught King David the art of hubris Moses the price of fame) quoted Dante to prove otherse had it worse. On winter nights we memorized the Dead Sea Scrolls until I could sleep without a night light he explained why the stars appear only at night ("Insomniacs, they study the Torah all day!"). Once I asked him outright: "Stein, why is our house so unhappy?" Adjusting his rimless glasses, he said: "Boychick, life is a comedy salted with despair. All humans are diappointed. Laugh yourself to sleep each night with luck, pluck credit cards you'll beat them at their own game. Catharsis is necessary in this house!" Ah, Stein, bless your outsized wings blading pate while I'm at it why not bless the imagination's lonely fray with time, whic, yes, like love family romance, has neither beginning, middle nor end.
If he wrote it he could get rid of it.--"Fathers and Sons," Ernest Hemingway My father left me a book of Hemingway's stories I understood he meant this as an explanation one year later I drove to Idaho to see Hemingway's grave phoned his house as if to beg permission for a grief that held me like a second spine I saw the room upstairs where he killed himself that night I slept dreamless in a field until the sun's blank stare singed the loss into my eyes. Twenty years later I visit Hmeingway's house in Key West. "You look like you want to hear the real dope on Papa," the guide says, pointing tot he kitchen table raised to fit Hemingway's height during late-night eating binges. Like the good wedding guest buttonholed by obsession, I listen: insomnia, black dreams, his fear of death without honor--"His father killed himself too," the guide sings by rote as we head toward the back cottage where Hemingway worte each morning, "depressed, hung over, he never missed a morning..." I stare at this cottage as if into the pit his insomniac hunger only deepened. This was where his despair was hammered into an alchemy of language that still echoes in my own insomniac ears. Yes, the sons of failed fathers have much to undo, but language doesn't soften the pain that blackenes the heart's Torah absolution isn't what I am after. There is something dark in my nature. One night I woke to see my father staring out my bedroom window. "Papa," I cried as he turned to show me the fire fading in his eyes like a pilot light. Our shadows locked like clock hands as he whispered, "I am bankrupt...there's something I must tell you..." but he said nothing & the next morning I found his body in a bed of soaked with urine & his eyes staring at the ceiling as if asking a last question the silence would never answer. All my life I have wondered what he meant to tell me.Back to the top