September 29, 2009

Under a Certain Little Star

by Wislawa Szymborska

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity in case I'm mistaken.
Don't be angry, happiness, that I take you for my own.
May the dead forgive me that their memory's but a flicker.
My apologies to time for the quantity of world overlooked per second.
My apologies to an old love for treating a new one as the first.
Forgive me, far-off wars, for carrying my flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
My apologies for the minuet record, to those calling out from the abyss.
My apologies to those in train stations for sleeping soundly at five in the morning.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing sometimes.
Pardon me, deserts, for not rushing in with a spoonful of water.
And you, O hawk, the same bird for years in the same cage,
staring, motionless, always at the same spot,
absolve me even if you happen to be stuffed.
My apologies to the tree felled for four table legs.
My apologies to large questions for small answers.
Truth, do not pay me too much attention.
Solemnity, be magnanimous toward me.
Bear with me, O mystery of being, for pulling threads from your veil.
Soul, don't blame me that I've got you so seldom.
My apologies to everything that I can't be everywhere.
My apologies to all for not knowing how to be every man and woman.
I know that as long as I live nothing can excuse me,
since I am my own obstacle.
Do not hold it against me, O speech, that I borrow weighty words,
and then labor to make them light.

September 20, 2009

For My Grandmother

by me.

Tense the lips, just so,
and receive the smoke into your lungs
as a gift, that small, un-hoped-for
zest with your morning oxygen.
Hold it there,
just a moment.
Delight in that burn
at the roof of the mouth
and leisurely, through the nostrils,

release.

Even when you've taken your last drag
and the ash is ground into dirt,
you can breathe that musk
in your jacket,
on your fingers, its secret
residue in your mouth, near the soul,
to be savored when everything else
fails.

This is something you know.
A thing familiar in the midst of the life
Made unrecognizable to yourself.
You sometimes can’t help but
think of the things you meant to do,
failed to do, did
with a sense of obligation rather
than passion. You sacrificed yourself
on the bier of duty and didn’t even
do it gracefully, didn’t even know why.

But this is something you know.
The moment flame is released
from metal and plastic catch, and sweet
acrid aroma lifts from containment in
white paper, you move
in a space made fluid by instinct.

You can, for that moment,
forget a life so easily fit
into the six by four inch picture frame
sitting at your desk.

September 18, 2009

Agoraphobia

by Linda Pastan

"Yesterday the bird of night did sit,
Even at noon-day, upon the marketplace,
Hooting and shrieking."

—William Shakespeare

1.

Imagine waking
to a scene of snow so new
not even memories
of other snow
can mar its silken
surface. What other innocence
is quite like this,
and who can blame me
for refusing
to violate such whiteness
with the booted cruelty
of tracks?

2.

Though I cannot leave this house,
I have memorized the view
from every window—
23 framed landscapes, containing
each nuance of weather and light.
And I know the measure
of every room, not as a prisoner
pacing a cell
but as the embryo knows
the walls of the womb, free
to swim as its body tells it, to nudge
the softly fleshed walls,
dreading only the moment
of contraction when it will be forced
into the gaudy world.

3.

Sometimes I travel as far
as the last stone
of the path, but
every step,
as in the children's story,
pricks that tender place
on the bottom of the foot,
and like an ebbing tide with all
the obsession of the moon behind it,
I am dragged back.

4.

I have noticed in windy fall
how leaves are torn from the trees,
each leaf waving goodbye to the oak
or the poplar that housed it;
how the moon, pinned
to the very center of the window,
is like a moth wanting only to break in.
What I mean is this house
follows all the laws of lintel and ridgepole,
obeys the commandments of broom
and of needle, custom and grace.
It is not fear that holds me here but passion
and the uncrossable moat of moonlight
outside the bolted doors.


September 11, 2009

Prompt

by me

Say "prompt" and the whole room groans.
Squeaking chairs under
fidgeting limbs, rustling
clothes atop sweating
skin, and the whirring,
stuttering hiccough of the mind.

It seeks to court creativity
and instead flirts with stock responses,
bats its eyes at end rhyme and free verse,
concocts a mighty stick with which to beat
the horse-corpse known as cliché.

It seeks desperately for that shining letter,
the word that says, that demonstrates, that--
when all else fails-- at least
breathes. But poke the body with the mighty stick
and all it does is twitch.

So say "prompt" again, please, just once more,
and though I may only birth another horse-corpse,
a shell of a once-meaning,
I will this time make it stand--
on wobbly legs, yes, and unsure--
but stand and not twitch.



My response to a prompt posed in my poetry class. I'm not so good with the prompts. I'm working on it.

September 05, 2009

This Was Once A Love Poem

by Jane Hirshfield

This was once a love poem,
before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short,
before it found itself sitting,
perplexed and a little embarrassed,
on the fender of a parked car,
while many people passed by without turning their heads.

It remembers itself dressing as if for a great engagement.
It remembers choosing these shoes,
this scarf or tie.

Once, it drank beer for breakfast,
drifted its feet
in a river side by side with the feet of another.

Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy,
dropping its head so the hair would fall forward,
so the eyes would not be seen.

It spoke with passion of history, of art.
It was lovely then, this poem.
Under its chin, no fold of skin softened.
Behind the knees, no pad of yellow fat.
What it knew in the morning it still believed at nightfall.
An unconjured confidence lifted its eyebrows, its cheeks.

The longing has not diminished.
Still it understands. It is time to consider a cat,
the cultivation of African violets or flowering cactus.

Yes, it decides:
Many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots.
When it finds itself disquieted
by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life,
it will touch them--one, then another--
with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.

September 03, 2009

Rebus

by Jane Hirshfield

You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after.
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.

Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,
honey of cruelty, fear.

This rebus--slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life--
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?
Not to understand it, only to see.

As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or a cup.

The ladder leans into its darkness.
The anvil leans into its silence.
The cup sits empty.

How can I enter this question the clay has asked?