Bedside Books

March 20, 2023

This week I’m interested in what poetry books we’re all reading right now.  What’s on your bedside table–or chairside, or desk?  The poems here are from mine, and range in time from the 1920’s (Mistral’s poems) to 2023.  I hope you’ll comment on these and add own examples.  Just a reminder that the next Fridays at 4 (eastern time) will be in two weeks, on March 31st.



Molly Tenenbaum


In old gray wood

so soft a fingernail

can scribble it, they’ve bitten

new tan trails.

Little cartographers,

chiseling maps

by subtracting the actual

land of the map.

From my house, they scrape

their house

and hang it from my house,

their house whose door

looks like the hole

a blunt pencil goes in.

In my house, the scraping’s

of teeth with floss,

of carrots with a rough brush,

of the brain,

for the hornets

chewing in there,

while these other

pencil-faced oblivions

of me go sharp and busy

all day about

their laminations.


from The Arborists, Moon Path Press 2023



Arthur Sze


Stopped in cars, we are waiting to accelerate
along different trajectories. I catch the rising

pitch of a train—today one hundred nine people
died in a stampede converging at a bridge;

radioactive water trickles underground
toward the Pacific Ocean; nickel and copper

particulates contaminate the Brocade River.
Will this planet sustain ten billion people?

Ah, switch it: a spider plant leans toward
a glass door, and six offshoots dangle from it;

the more I fingered the clay slab into a bowl,
the more misshapen it became; though I have

botched this, bungled that, the errancies
reveal it would not be better if things happened

just as I wished; a puffer fish inflates on deck;
a burst of burnt rubber rises from pavement.


from Sight Lines, Copper Canyon 2019




Marvin Bell

This year,
I’m raising the emotional ante,
putting my face
in the leaves to be stepped on,
seeing myself among them, that is;
that is, likening
leaf-vein to artery, leaf to flesh,
the passage of a leaf in autumn
to the passage of autumn,
branch-tip and winter spaces
to possibilities, and possibility
to God.  Even on East 61st Street
in the blowzy city of New York,
someone has planted a gingko
because it has leaves like fans like hands,
hand-leaves, and sex.  Those lovely
Chinese hands on the sidewalks
so far from delicacy
or even, perhaps, another gender of gingko–
do we see them?
No one ever treated us so gently
as these green-going-to-yellow hands
fanned out where we walk.
No one ever fell down so quietly
and lay where we would look
when we were tired or embarrassed,
or so bowed down by humanity
that we had to watch out lest our shoes stumble,
and looked down not to look up
until something looked like parts of people
where we were walking.  We have no
experience to make us see the gingko
or any other tree,
and, in our admiration for whatever grows tall
and outlives us,
we look away, or look at the middles of things,
which would not be our way
if we truly thought we were gods.


from These Green-Going-to-Yellow, Atheneum 1981



Gabriela Místral (1889-1957), Chilean poet, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945


El mar sus millares de olas

mece, divino.

Oyendo a los mares amantes,

mezo a mi niño.


El viento errabundo en la noche

mece lost trigos.

Oyendo a lost vientos amantes

mezo a mi niño.


Dios padre sus miles de mundos

mece sin ruido.

Sintiendo su mano en la sombra

mezo a mi niño.



The sea cradles
its millions of stars divine.
Listening to the seas in love,
I cradle the one who is mine.

The errant wind in the night
cradles the wheat.
Listening to the winds in love,
I cradle my sweet.

God Our Father cradles
His thousands of worlds without sound.
Feeling His hand in the darkness,
I cradle the babe I have found.


from Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral, trans. Langston Hughes, Indiana U. Press, 1957



Holy ocean rocks its millions

of waves in the sun.

Listening to the loving seas

I rock my little one.


Wandering in the night the wind

rocks the wheat.

Listening to the loving winds

I rock my sweet.


The Father rocks his thousand worlds

silent, mild.

Feeling His hand in the darkness

I rock my child.


from Selected Poems of Gabriela Místral, trans. Ursula K. Le Guin, University of New Mexico Press, 2003



Me encontré este niño

cuando al campo iba:

dormido lo he hallado

en unas espigas…


O tal vez ha sido

cruzando la viña:

buscando los pámpanos

topé su mejilla…


Y por eso temo,

al quedar dormida,

se evapore como

ha helada en las viñas…



I found this child
when I went to the country:
asleep I discovered him
among the springs of grain…

Or maybe it was while
cutting through the vineyard:
searching in its branches
struck his cheek…


Because of this, I fear
when I am asleep,
he might melt as frost does
on the grapevines…

trans. Langston Hughes



I came on this little boy

when I was in the fields;

I found him sleeping

in the standing wheat.


Or maybe I was coming

through the vineyard,

looking for the little cluster,

and brushed against his cheek.


And that’s why I’m afraid

he’ll disappear like

frost from the vine leaves

if I stay asleep.


trans. Ursula K. Le Guin





Adam Zagajewski

Figs are sweet, but don’t last long.
They spoil fast in transit,
says the shopkeeper.
Like kisses, adds his wife,
a hunched old woman with bright eyes.

from True Life, trans.  from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh, FSG 2022












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Mary Ruefle’s Poems and Prose

March 13, 2023

  This week I’d like to talk about Mary Ruefle’s poetry, and some excerpts from her prose.  Her work always shakes me awake, and makes me see the world in new ways.  Sparks fly.  Please feel free to add your own comments and favorites, and we’ll discuss it all at this week’s Fridays at 4 (eastern time).


One of the loveliest possibilities
is that the truth is made of glass
but shaped like a hammer
by using it you’ve broken it
think of it! & it lies broken
at your feet not in your hands
never can you hold it, lassie
it will not come back
but there it is, verily
no matter what matter is
wonderful quiet white clouds
in the night sky



It was one of those mornings the earth seemed
not to have had any rest at all, her face dour
and unrefreshed, no particular place– subway,
park– expressed sufficient interest in present circumstances
though flowers popped up and tokens
dropped down, deep in the turnstiles. And from
the dovecots nothing was released or killed.
No one seemed to mind, though everyone noticed.
If the alphabet died– even the o collapsing, the l
a lance in its groin– what of it? The question
‘krispies, flakes or loops?’– always an indicator of
attention– took a turn for the worse, though crumpets
could still be successfully toasted: machines worked,
the idiom death warmed over was in use. By noon,
postage stamps were half their width and worth
but no one stopped licking. Neutrinos passed,
undetected. Corpulent clouds formed in the sky.
Tea was served at four. When the wind blew off a shingle
or two, like hairs, and the scalp of the house began
to howl, not a roofer nailed it down. That was that.
When the moon came out and glowed like a night light
loose in its socket, no one was captious, cautious or wise,
though the toes of a few behaved strangely in bed–
they peeped out of the blankets like insects’ antennae,
then turned into periscopes scouting to see
if the daze that was morning had actually managed to doze.



Ann Galbraith
loves Barry Soyers.

Please pray for Lucius Fenn
who suffers greatly whilst shaking hands.

Bonny Polton
loves a pug named Cowl.

Please pray for Olina Korsk
who holds the record for missing fingers.

Leon Bendrix loves Odelia Jonson
who loves Kurt who loves Carlos who loves Paul.

Please pray for Cortland Filby
who handles a dead wasp, a conceit for his mother.

Harold loves looking at Londa’s hair under the microscope.
Londa loves plaiting the mane of her pony.

Please pray for Fancy Dancer
who is troubled by the vibrissa in his nostrils.

Nadine St. Clair loves Ogden Smythe
who loves blowing his nose on postage stamps.

Please pray for William Shakespeare
who does not know how much we love him, miss him and think of him.

Yukiko Pearl loves the little bits of toffee
that fall to the floor when Jeffrey is done with his snack.

Please pray for the florist Marieko
who wraps roses in a paper cone then punches the wrong code.

Muriel Frame loves retelling the incident
that happened on the afternoon of November third.

Please pray for our teacher Ursula Twombly
who does not know the half of it.

By the radiator in a wooden chair
wearing woolen stockings sits a little girl
in a dunce’s cap, a paper cone rolled to a point
and inverted on her hair; she’s got her hands
in her lap and her head bowed down, her chin
is trembling with having been singled out like this
and she is sincere in her fervent wish to die.

Take it away and give it to the Tartars
who roll gloriously into battle.



I am rejecting your request for a letter of rejection. One must reject everything in order to live. That may be true, but the rejected know another knowledge—that if they were not rejected, heaven would descend upon the earth in earthly dreams and an infinite flowering of all living forms would form a silveresque film over our sordid history, which has adventitiously progressed through violent upheavals in reaction to rejection; without rejection there would be no as-we-know-it Earth. What is our ball but a rejected stone flung from the mother lode? The rejected know that if they were nonrejected a clear cerulean blue would be the result, an endless love ever dissolving in more endless love. This is their secret, and none share it save them. They remain, therefore, the unbelieved, they remain the embodiment of heaven herself. Let others perpetuate life as we know it—that admixture, that amalgam, the happy, the sad, the profusion of all things under the sunny moon existing in a delicate balance, such as it is. Alone, the rejected walk a straight path, they enter a straight gate, they see in their dreams what no one else can see—an end to all confusion, an end to all suffering, an elysian mist of eternally good vapor. Forgive me if I have put your thoughts into words. It was the least I could do for such a comrade, whose orphaned sighs reach me in my squat hut.



The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom
who knows the answer, because the person
in question is yourself, and on that
you are the greatest living authority,
but you don’t raise your hand.
You raise the top of your desk
and take out an apple.
You look out the window.
You don’t raise your hand and there is
some essential beauty in your fingers,
which aren’t even drumming, but lie
flat and peaceful.
The teacher repeats the question.
Outside the window, on an overhanging branch,
a robin is ruffling its feathers
and spring is in the air.


Some excerpts from her essay collection Madness, Rack, and Honey

from “On Beginnings”:

You might say a poem is a semicolon, a living semicolon, what connects the first line to the last, the act of keeping together that whose nature is to fly apart.  Between the first and last lines there exists–a poem–and if it were not for the poem that intervenes, the first and last lines of a poem would not speak to each other.

Would not speak to each other.  Because the lines of a poem are speaking to each other, not you to them or they to you.


But it is growing damp and I must go in.  Memory’s fog is rising.  Among Emily Dickinson’s last words (in a letter).  A woman whom everyone thought of as shut-in, homebound, cloistered, spoke as if she had been out, exploring the earth, her whole life, and it was finally time to go in.  And it was.


from “Secrets”:

The words secret and sacred are siblings.


The origins of poetry are clearly rooted in obscurity, in secretiveness, in incantation, in spells that must at once invoke and protect, tell the secret and keep it.


Poems are written in secret….


When the secret is exposed we turn away.  When the secret is hidden we try to see it.


We speak of secrets from the point of view of the teller or keeper, but what of the listener?  What about the one who hears the secret?  What happens to him?


from “Madness, Rack, and Honey”:

The great sculptor Giacometti once said, “I do not know whether I work in order to make something or in order to know why I cannot make what I would like to make.”


from “Someone Reading a Book”:

Kafka, in a letter: “Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us.  If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place?  So that it can make us happy, as you put it?  Good god, we’d be happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves.  What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide.  A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.  That is what I believe.”


There is a world that poets cannot seem to enter.  It is the world everybody else lives in.  And the only thing poets seem to have in common is their yearning to enter this world.

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Favorite Poems

March 5, 2023


     I assume you’re all familiar with the Favorite Poem Project that was founded by Robert Pinsky when he was US Poet Laureate in 1997.  Eighteen thousand people responded, from all across the country, and videos are available online.  It’s incredibly moving to listen and watch as people read the poems and say why they chose them, and always reminds me of the place of poetry in our ongoing lives.   This statement on the Project home page describes my own sense of poems: “Poetry is a vocal art, an art meant to be heard in the reader’s voice—whether actually read aloud or in the inner voice of the imagination. The experience, in both ways, is bodily. As with conversation and song and many other uses of language, understanding is rooted in sound.”  Pinsky describes why he shaped the project as he did: “When you say a poem aloud by William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson or Langston Hughes, or even imagine saying it aloud, your voice becomes the artist’s medium. It is a form of collaboration, or mutual possession.”

I’ve often thought about what poems I might choose to submit, and of course it’s a wide, various, fluid group.  I chose two to post here, an old favorite and a newer one.  I first read “To Earthward” as a teenager, then memorized it as I circled my tiny bedroom.  I was just discovering the pleasures of touch, the overwhelming sensations and emotions, the intensity, but I could even then, imagine a little–thanks to the poem–what it would mean to lose them.  And of course Frost was imagining the future too–he was just forty when he wrote it.  I was also writing poems myself, so I noticed the beautiful rhythms and word sounds and rhymes (honeysuckle/ knuckle!)  I heard the speed and lightness of the first line, and later the slowing down of “Now no joy but lacks salt”–six monosyllabic words, six stresses.  I felt the poem not just in my ears, but in my whole body–and I still do.

I discovered Alice Oswald’s poems much more recently, and find them literally breathtaking–sometimes I realize I’m holding my breath as I read.  Her imagery is vivid and unexpected, and in “Swan” I don’t know what I’m seeing until it’s too late, I can’t close my eyes.  She’s made something horrifying and sad into something beautiful–that’s a work of art.  But she shows us the beauty and sadness first, the imagined, long before she ever offers a glimpse of how the encounter began.  I think almost any other poet would have begun with finding the swan and them perhaps moved to the transcendental, so it’s a moment of real genius to me that she doesn’t.

So here’s your assignment: choose a favorite (two if they’re short), post them in Comments (just click on Favorite Poems in red on the right and scroll down), along with a brief statement of why you’re choosing them, and plan to read them at this week’s Fridays at 4 (eastern time) discussion.



Robert Frost


Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air

That crossed me from sweet things,
The flow of—was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Downhill at dusk?

I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they’re gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.

I craved strong sweets, but those
Seemed strong when I was young;
The petal of the rose
It was that stung.

Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain

Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.

When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass and sand,

The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough
To all my length.



Alice Oswald


A rotted swan

is hurrying away from the plane-crash mess of her wings

one here

one there


getting panicky up out of her clothes and mid-splash

looking down again at what a horrible plastic

mould of herself split-second

climbing out of her own cockpit


and lifting away again and bending back for another look thinking




what are those two -white clips that connected my strength

to its floatings


and lifting away again and bending back for another look

at the clean china serving-dish of a breast bone

and how thickly the symmetrical quill-points

were threaded in backwards through the leather underdress

of the heart saying





it’s not as if such fastenings could ever contain

the regular yearning wing-beat of my evenings

and that surely can’t be my own black feet

lying poised in their slippers

what a waste of detail

what a heaviness inside each feather

and leaving her life and all its tools

with their rusty juices trickling back to the river

she is lifting away she is taking a last look thinking





say something to the

frozen cloud of the head

before it thaws


whose one dead eye

is a growing cone of twilight

in the middle of winter


it is snowing there

and the bride has just set out

to walk to her wedding


but how can she reach

the little black-lit church

it is so cold


the bells like iron angels

hung from one note

keep ringing and ringing




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Long-line Metrical Poems

February 28, 2023


    Now that we’ve spent two weeks looking at ways poets create music in long-lined free verse, I wanted to listen back to long lines in meter–specifically pentameter and hexameter, five- and six-feet lines.  Iambic pentameter is the most frequently used used foot and measure in English poetry, of course, but there’s very little hexameter (though as you’ll see I found a few examples).  But some of the earliest Western literature was composed in dactylic hexameter: /– /– /– /– /– /–.  If you google it, you can listen to how it sounded.  I happened to come across a page that had three different translations side by side of the openings of the Iliad and the Odyssey, so I began with them and then leapt forward.  You can see (hear) what meter each translator used in English.  In the last poem here, by Terrance Hayes, he’s addressing Robert Hayden’s poem “Those Early Sunday Mornings.”  Once you’ve read these, go back and read some of last week’s poems aloud, then these–how does the music differ?

Feel free to add comments and examples, and we’ll discuss them at this week’s Fridays at 4 (eastern time).


from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, late 8th-early 7th century B.C.

Opening of the Iliad:

Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus
and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians,
hurled in their multitudes to the house of Hades strong souls
of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting
of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished
since that time when first there stood in division of conflict
Atreus’ son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus. . . .

Translated by Richmond Lattimore (1951)


Anger be now your song, immortal one,
Akhilleus’ anger, doomed and ruinous,
that caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss
and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,
leaving so many dead men — carrion
for dogs and birds; and the will of Zeus was done.
Begin it when the two men first contending
broke with one another —
the Lord Marshal
Agamémnon, Atreus’ son, and Prince Akhilleus. . . .

Translated by Robert Fitzgerald (1974)


Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles. . . .

Translated by Robert Fagles (1990)


 Opening of the Odyssey:

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy.
He saw the townlands
and learned the minds of many distant men,
and weathered many bitter nights and days
in his deep heart at sea, while he fought only
to save his life, to bring his shipmates home.
But not by will nor valor could he save them,
for their own recklessness destroyed them all —
children and fools, they killed and feasted on
the cattle of Lord Hêlios, the Sun,
and he who moves all day through the heaven
took from their eyes the dawn of their return. . . .

Translated by Robert Fitzgerald (1961)


Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel.
Many were they whose cities he saw, whose minds he learned of,
many the pains he suffered in his spirit on the wide sea,
struggling for his own life and the homecoming of his companions.
Even so he could not save his companions, hard though
he strove to; they were destroyed by their own wild recklessness,
fools, who devoured the oxen of Helios, the Sun God,
and he took away the day of their homecoming. . . .

Translated by Richmond Lattimore (1965)


Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove –
the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,
the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun
and the Sungod blotted out the day of their return. . . .

Translated by Robert Fagles (1996)



For Christ Our Lord

 Gerard Manley Hopkins b. 1844


I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-

dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,

As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding

Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!


Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here

Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion

Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!


No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,

Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.





Gerard Manley Hopkins


The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.


And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.



William Butler Yeats b. 1865


I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.




Edna St. Vincent Millay b. 1892

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.



Louise Bogan b. 1897


You have put your two hands upon me, and your mouth,
You have said my name as a prayer.
Here where trees are planted by the water
I have watched your eyes, cleansed from regret,
And your lips, closed over all that love cannot say,

My mother remembers the agony of her womb
And long years that seemed to promise more than this.
She says, “You do not love me,
You do not want me,
You will go away.”

In the country whereto I go
I shall not see the face of my friend
Nor her hair the color of sunburnt grasses;
Together we shall not find
The land on whose hills bends the new moon
In air traversed of birds.

What have I thought of love?
I have said, “It is beauty and sorrow.”
I have thought that it would bring me lost delights, and splendor
As a wind out of old time. . .

But there is only the evening here,
And the sound of willows
Now and again dipping their long oval leaves in the water.




Mona Van Duyn b. 1921


In police procedurals they are dying all over town,
the life ripped out of them, by gun, bumper, knife,
hammer, dope, etcetera, and no clues at all.
All through the book the calls come in: body found
in bed, car, street, lake, park, garage, library,
and someone goes out to look and write it down.
Death begins life’s whole routine to-do
in these stories of our fellow citizens.

Nobody saw it happen, or everyone saw,
but can’t remember the car. What difference does it make
when the child will never fall in love, the girl will never
have a child, the man will never see a grandchild, the old maid
will never have another cup of hot cocoa at bedtime?
As in life, the dead are dead, their consciousness,
as dear to them as mine to me, snuffed out.
What has mind to do with this, when the earth is bereaved?

I lie, with my dear ones, holding a fictive umbrella,
while around us falls the real and acid rain.
The handle grows heavier and heavier in my hand.
Unlike life, tomorrow night under the bedlamp
by a quick link of thought someone will find out why,
and the policemen and their wives and I will feel better.
But all that’s toward the end of the book. Meantime, tonight,
without a clue I enter sleep’s little rehearsal.




Derek Walcott b. 1930


Summer for prose and lemons, for nakedness and languor,
for the eternal idleness of the imagined return,
for rare flutes and bare feet, and the August bedroom
of tangled sheets and the Sunday salt, ah violin!

When I press summer dusks together, it is
a month of street accordions and sprinklers
laying the dust, small shadows running from me.

It is music opening and closing, Italia mia, on Bleecker,
ciao, Antonio, and the water-cries of children
tearing the rose-coloured sky in streams of paper;
it is dusk in the nostrils and the smell of water
down littered streets that lead you to no water,
and gathering islands and lemons in the mind.

There is the Hudson, like the sea aflame.
I would undress you in the summer heat,
and laugh and dry your damp flesh if you came.



Marilyn Nelson b. 1946


Five daughters, in the slant light on the porch,
are bickering. The eldest has come home
with new truths she can hardly wait to teach.

She lectures them: the younger daughters search
the sky, elbow each other’s ribs, and groan.
Five daughters, in the slant light on the porch

and blue-sprigged dresses, like a stand of birch
saplings whose leaves are going yellow-brown
with new truths. They can hardly wait to teach,

themselves, to be called “Ma’am,” to march
high-heeled across the hanging bridge to town.
Five daughters. In the slant light on the porch

Pomp lowers his paper for a while, to watch
the beauties he’s begotten with his Ann:
these new truths they can hardly wait to teach.

The eldest sniffs, “A lady doesn’t scratch.”
The third snorts back, “Knock, knock: nobody home.”
The fourth concedes, “Well, maybe not in church . . . ”
Five daughters in the slant light on the porch.



Terrance Hayes b. 1971


Did your father come home after fighting
through the week at work? Did the sweat change
to salt in his ears? Was that bitter white

grain the only music he’d hear? Is this why
you were quiet when other poets sang
of the black man’s beauty? Is this why

you choked on the tonsil of Negro Duty?
Were there as many offices for pain
as love? Should a black man never be shy?

Was your father a mountain twenty
shovels couldn’t bury? Was he a train
leaving a lone column of smoke? Was he

a black magnolia singing at your feet?
Was he a blackjack smashed against your throat?



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