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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  • Reply Ned March 27, 2023 at 10:24 am

    Here’s a new omnibus in case a title or three catches your eye. Thanks!

    • Reply Sharon March 27, 2023 at 10:26 am

      Thanks for this!

  • Reply maryjanewhite March 27, 2023 at 1:44 pm

    From The Country Where Everyone’s Name is Fear, edited by Katie Farris & Ilya Kaminsky, translations of poems (from the Russian) of Boris & Lydmyla Khersonsky, a married couple, Russian emigres to Odessa, Ukraine (Lost Horse Press, 2022), From The Country Where Everyone’s Name is Fear, edited by Katie Farris & Ilya Kaminsky, translations of poems (from the Russian) of Boris & Lydmyla Khersonsky, a married couple, Russian emigres to Odessa, Ukraine (Lost Horse Press, 2022), which I picked up at AWP:


    One night, a humanitarian convoy arrived in her dream.
    Legs drawn to her chest, head under the sheet,
    she sleeps on her right side, back braced by the wall,
    the way people sleep during humanitarian wars.
    The same exact way all tribes sleep at all times,
    waking only because of silence, that awful silence,
    during this silence, don’t open the gates—
    behind them, little humanitarians, heads facing the wrong way.

    By Lydmyla Khersonsky, Translated by Katherine E. Young

    From The Book of John, poems, by Lindsey Royce (Press 53, Winston-Salem, N.C. 2023), also picked up at AWP:


    to John

    Let me feel your sun warm in my throat,
    illuminating me from inside.

    What spills from crows’ beaks
    but seeds and trinkets—

    an earring, dry fly, fishing line,
    All slide through watery mouths.

    Do I walk away, heart tight as a walnut—
    or towards, which is really the same direction

    the swallows eddy and a cormorant rises,
    wet with a rainbow in his mouth.

    From Refugee, poems, by Pamela Uschuck (Red Hen Press, 2023


    Nameless tiny lilac flowers sing wanton as finches
    cosseted by grass near Los Pinos River
    tumescent with runoff the color of cappuccino on a humid day in Venice
    when love was a hand full of violets lusting
    in a foreign tongue thrust down my throat.
    I refuse to gather these perfect purple blooms, knowing
    they live longer in their own thawed soil,
    along this water rushing wild as sex in another life.

    From Praise Song for My Children, New and Selected Poems, by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Autumn House Press 2020), born in Liberia, now at U. Penn. Altoona.


    Some of us are made of steel.
    Some of us are made of twigs. Some of us break
    in order to stand and rise above the bend.
    Some of us bend and wobble and rock
    to the rhythm of all the scars we pick up

    as the roads wind us in their hard grip, and toss
    us up in the cold, sometimes, hot air
    against the dashing against the wall of life.
    Some of us are made of jelly, soft to the touch,
    but when life gives us a blow, we slide

    and glide, and before you know it, we’ve made
    it to the other side away from destruction,
    surviving the punches only jelly could take.
    Some of us are made of tears,
    tears, tears, and we weep hard so rain

    falls on the hardened, drought-weary soil,
    and then the rivers swell and swell and swell,
    because somehow, life has made us cry.
    But in our tears, salt, healing, salty and forever,
    we are forever. Yes, some of us are forever.

    No matter what you toss at us, we rise
    again and again and again, like that old river
    in my backyard at home, that river that rises,
    and we say, oh, the river, and then it goes away,
    and we say, oh, the swamp. Some of us are hard,

    sometimes, the river, sometimes, the rock.

  • Reply Anne Myles March 28, 2023 at 11:35 am

    I am currently sleeping on the living room floor to be with my dog after her orthopedic surgery (what bedside?), and my reading and attention has been a little scattered – a number of small press books/chapbooks by non-famous people I have some connection to, which feel less demanding and which I enjoyed to varying degrees.

    I’ve been reading two new poetry-related prose books I can recommend: DEMYSTIFYING THE MANUSCRIPT, edited by Susan Rich and Kelli Russell Agodon (extremely useful, fairly terrifying, even though I’m in a low-stress period for considering the issue), and THE POETICS OF WRONGNESS by Rachel Zucker – hard to describe, totally fascinating and provocative; I got it because I saw she engages with the issue of confessional poetry. I haven’t read her poetry yet.

    Another new prose book I read recently and loved was Carl Phillips’s MY TRADE IS MYSTERY: SEVEN MEDITATIONS FROM A LIFE IN WRITING – wise and eloquent. So then I wanted to read Phillips’s poetry, which was new to me, and have been dipping into THEN THE WAR AND SELECTED POEMS, 2007-2020. I’m having trouble getting into it, though I want to like it, but I need to try with more focus.

    The poetry book I’m most impressed with currently is by a poet I heard in a recent reading, Rebecca Aronson. ANCHOR is her third book, and it deals with the degeneration and death of her parents, a resonant theme for me. It’s an unusually short collection, but the poems are so moving and gorgeously crafted and the whole is so well integrated.. A series of letter-poems addressed to Gravity runs through it. Here is the book’s opening poem:

    Dear Gravity [May I Call You Grave?]

    May I call you Grave? An old tree falls
    after long weakening, after years of unseen hollowing,
    and it keeps falling, rotted core turning to damp dust,
    becoming earth. The body its own trench.
    At the doctor’s office, the nurse says
    I’ve grown shorter. Only natural. I stare hard
    but can’t wipe the pleasant smile off her face.
    I am sinking not quite like a ship or a deflating balloon,
    but like the house’s foundation or I am the house
    and the clay it is built on and eventually
    the unrecognizable ruin. My mother’s hips
    are out of plum; she lists like a sailboat
    about to slice sideways into waves and then under.
    My father’s head is even with my own, so he’s winning
    the shrinking race. Imagine us becoming not just shorter
    but thinner, not lying down for a last time
    but disappearing altogether, like a popsicle
    that has melted into a stain on someone’s smile.

    And here’s a list poem from the volume I found very enjoyable:

    My Mother Disapproves

    of afternoon languor, lying on couches,
    textured wallpaper. Hammocks; guest rooms
    in which the fold-out bed is left unfolded.
    Curtains left closed past eight or open
    past dark. Matinees, drive-ins, daytime television.
    Snacking, sweet cocktails, state fairs. Corn dogs, hotdogs, dogs,
    any talk of god. Dive bars. Motorcycles, mini-skirts,
    pleather. Cartoons, line dancing. Most music
    composed past the eighteenth century. Day-drinking, playing hooky, ganja,
    and boy bands. Camping. Car trips, RVs, Christmas lights.
    Orange soda. Messy rooms. Spell check, tube tops. Arrows
    drawn through a heart or shot
    at a bullseye.
    Drama, melodrama, melancholy, snakes. Cigarettes,
    green cars, mistletoe, skinny-dipping. A smoky eye,
    tight pants, my uncombed hair,
    the fleshy, unbound hours of my every day and night.

    • Reply Sharon March 28, 2023 at 12:28 pm

      I love this! Exactly what I hope for. I think if you stick with Carl Phillips work you’ll really love it.

  • Reply Rolly Kent March 29, 2023 at 3:43 pm

    I’ve been reading Borges, one of my hero-poets from early days of writing, but long since fallen out of favor. I wanted to see what I had liked so much fin the 1970s, perhaps in order to learn why I had neglected him all those intervening years. Then, reading the title poem from IN PRAISE OF DARKNESS, I found what I had liked most in his work wasn’t wisdom (who even knows what that is in their twenties) but the ease with which Borges simply tells a poem, how the poem is congruent with “telling.”

    In Praise of Darkness

    Old age (the name that others give it)
    can be the time of our greatest bliss.
    The animal has died or almost died.
    The man and his spirit remain.
    I live among vague, luminous shapes
    that are not darkness yet.
    Buenos Aires,
    whose edges disintegrated
    into the endless plain,
    has gone back to being the Recoleta, the Retiro,
    the nondescript streets of the Once,
    and the rickety old houses
    we still call the South.
    In my life there were always too many things.
    Democritus of Abdera plucked out his eyes in order to think;
    Time has been my Democritus.
    This penumbra is slow and does not pain me;
    it flows down a gentle slope,
    resembling eternity.
    My friends have no faces,
    women are what they were so many years ago,
    these corners could be other corners,
    there are no letters on the pages of the books.
    All this should frighten me,
    but it is a sweetness, a return.
    Of the generations of texts on earth
    I will have read only a few –
    the ones that I keep reading in my memory,
    reading and transforming.
    From South, East, West, and North
    the paths converge that have led me
    to my secret centre.
    Those paths were echoes and footsteps,
    women, men, death-throes, resurrections
    days and nights,
    dreams and half-wakeful dreams,
    every inmost moment of yesterday
    and all the yesterdays of the world,
    the Dane’s staunch sword and the Persian’s moon,
    the acts of the dead,
    shared love, and words,
    Emerson and snow, so many things.
    Now I can forget them. I reach my centre,
    my algebra and my key,
    my mirror.
    Soon I will know who I am.

    Jorge Louis Borges
    translated from the Spanish by Hoyt Rogers

    • Reply Sharon March 29, 2023 at 4:00 pm

      Thanks for this. It’s so interesting to me, the phases we go through with reading different poets. Our lives change, our sense of the poems changes. It’s like meeting old friends and old loves over time. I like your description about what matters to you in his work.

  • Reply Chris Dahl March 31, 2023 at 8:40 am

    Here’s what’s on my desk now: Hospice House by Joanne Clarkson. Chaos Theory for Beginners, Ronda Piszk Broatch. Waymaking by Moonlight, Bill Yake. Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head, Warsan Shire. I also have Gluck’s Meadowlands in the stack somewhere. Don’t have time to pull any poems. Busy, busy week!

    • Reply Sharon March 31, 2023 at 8:47 am

      This is really helpful. Thanks.

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