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.
BALD-FACED HORNETS EATING THE PORCH
In old gray wood
so soft a fingernail
can scribble it, they’ve bitten
new tan trails.
by subtracting the actual
land of the map.
From my house, they scrape
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
of me go sharp and busy
all day about
from The Arborists, Moon Path Press 2023
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
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
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
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
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