May 25, 2009

The Silence

by Wendell Berry

Though the air is full of singing
my head is loud
with the labor of words.

Though the season is rich
with fruit, my tongue
hungers for the sweet of speech.

Though the beech is golden
I cannot stand beside it
mute, but must say

"It is golden," while the leaves
stir and fall with a sound
that is not a name.

It is in the silence
that my hope is, and my aim.
A song whose lines

I cannot make or sing
sounds men's silence
like a root. Let me say

and not mourn: the world
lives in the death of speech
and sings there.

May 20, 2009


by Wendell Berry

Willing to die,
you give up
your will, keep still
until, moved
by what moves
all else, you move.

May 10, 2009

After a first book

by Audre Lorde

Paper is neither kind nor cruel
only white in its neutrality
and I have for reality now
the brown bar of my arm
moving in broken rhythms
across this dead place.

All the poems I have ever written
are historical reviews of a now absorbed country
a small judgement
hawking and coughing them up
I have ejected them not unlike children
now my throat is clear
perhaps I shall speak again.

All the poems I have ever written
make a small book
the shedding of my past in patched conceits
moulted like snake skin, a book of leavings
I can do anything I wish
I can love them or hate them
use them for comfort or warmth
tissues or decoration
dolls or Japanese baskets
blankets or spells;
I can use them for magic
lanterns or music
advice or small council
for napkins or past-times or
disposable diapers
I can make fire from them
or kindling
songs or paper chains

Or fold them all into a paper fan
with which to cool my husband’s dinner.

May 07, 2009


(by me)

Here it comes;
questions loiter
in the space between
the asking and the telling,
halting speech and worthwhile listening.

In that place,
rubbed raw of surety,
even the question in question
is not safe from the rape of doubt.

Why this question, God, and not another?
Why a mockery of faith waving the banner
of truth like a head on a pike, a
sheepskin nailed to a cross?

Why, why,
why the uncertainty
of shaking, finite limbs upon a rock
seeming invisible? If I can't trust rock
(once so solid and sure)...

then what?

Is there a
before-world, a behind-world? Foundation beneath
the flaking skin of containment
in a body made of eyes
and ears and fingers questing?
Well? Is there?

Oh before, before, my kingdom for a before…

Before the question, before the rhyme
and the mime of self-assurance in the
drifting lives of drones in the hive
who, unknowing, lost all hope
for soul’s thrive.

Before the dead languages and their children.
Before the need for tongues and lungs and
exhalation of air to lend consequence
to an old knowledge, quiet and sure.

Before the age of man’s rage and his
construction of the cage of hate and

Before, before, my soul cries for before…

Is this worth the answering, God,
worth the hearing?
And has any of it ever meant
a thing beyond the air I breathe
in my immediate need for a life
lived in increments and greed?

(And has any of it ever meant a thing?)

So it is
God, finally spoken.
My questions fall
                         and in
to the ocean's floor,
granules of sand awaiting their pearldom.

May 06, 2009

Rooming houses are old women

by Audre Lorde

Rooming houses are old women
rocking dark windows into their whens
waiting incomplete circles
rent office to stoop to
community bathrooms to gas rings
city issued with a twice-a-month check
the young men next door with their loud midnight parties
and fishy rings left in the bathtub
no longer arouse them
from midnight to mealtime no stops inbetween
light breaking to pass through jumbled up windows
and who was it who married the widow that Buzzie’s son messed with?

To Welfare and insult from the slow shuffle
from dayswork to shopping bags heavy with leftovers

Rooming houses
are old women waiting
through their darkening windows
the end or beginning of agony
old women seen through half –ajar doors
they are not waiting
but being
an entrance to somewhere
unknown and desired
and not new.

May 05, 2009

Long-Term Memory

by James Tate

I was sitting in the park feeding pigeons
when a man came over to me and scrutinized my
face right up close. "There's a statue of you
over there," he said. "You should be dead. What
did you do to deserve a statue?" "I've never seen
a statue of me," I said. "There can't be a statue
of me. I've never done anything to deserve a
statue. And I'm definitely not dead." "Well,
go look for yourself. It's you alright, there's
no mistaking that," he said. I got up and walked
over where it was. It was me alright. I looked
like I was gazing off into the distance, or the
future, like those statues of pioneers. It didn't
have my name on it or anything, but it was me.
A lady came up to me and said, "You're looking at
your own statue. Isn't that against the law, or
something?" "It should be," I said, "but this is
my first offense. Maybe they'll let me off light."
"It's against nature, too," she said, "and bad
manners, I think." "I couldn't agree with you
more," I said. "I'm walking away right now, sorry."
I went back to my bench. The man was sitting there.
"Maybe you're a war hero. Maybe you died in the
war," he said. "Never been a soldier," I said.
"Maybe you founded this town three hundred years
ago," he said. "Well, if I did, I don't remember
it now," I said. "That's a long time ago," he
said, "you coulda forgot." I went back to feeding
the pigeons. Oh, yes, founding the town. It was
coming back to me now. It was on a Wednesday.
A light rain, my horse slowed...

James Tate was recently recommended to me, and I have to say, he is rather refreshing (and odd, and amusing, and surreal). It's nice to have something completely different to turn to when I'm tired of the same-old-same-old.

He is really weird, though.

May 03, 2009


by Jack Gilbert

I came back from the funeral and crawled
around the apartment, crying hard,
searching for my wife’s hair.
For two months got them from the drain,
from the vacuum cleaner, under the refrigerator,
and off the clothes in the closet.
But after the Japanese women came,
there was no way to be sure which were
hers, and I stopped. A year later,
repotting Michiko’s avocado, I find
a long black hair tangled in the dirt.

May 02, 2009

The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart

by Jack Gilbert

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not a language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses and birds.