Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I was eating lunch and thinking about poems. Here is a poem from Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems about 1960s New York. O'Hara was a curator at MOMA during its formative years. Curators, poetry, sugar-free peach pie--sounds like a lunch break well spent.

Ave Maria
by Frank O'Hara


Mothers of America
let your kids go to the movies!
get them out of the house so they won't know what you're up to
it's true that fresh air is good for the body
but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images
and when you grow old as grow old you must
they won't hate you
they won't criticize you they won't know
they'll be in some glamorous country
they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing hookey
they may even be grateful to you
for their first sexual experience
which only cost you a quarter
and didn't upset the peaceful home
they will know where candy bars come from
and gratuitous bags of popcorn
as gratuitous as leaving the movie before it's over
with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg
near the Williamsburg Bridge
oh mothers you will have made the little tykes
so happy because if nobody does pick them up in the movies
they won't know the difference
and if somebody does it'll be sheer gravy
and they'll have been truly entertained either way
instead of hanging around the yard
or up in their room
hating you
prematurely since you won't have done anything horribly mean yet
except keeping them from the darker joys
it's unforgivable the latter
so don't blame me if you won't take this advice
and the family breaks up
and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set
seeing movies you wouldn't let them see when they were young

Friday, April 17, 2009

Immigrant blues

Will introduced me to Li-Young Lee not long after we started dating. The immigrant experience in America fascinates me, and this poem does a lovely job of encapsulating one man's experience.

Immigrant Blues
by Li-Young Lee


People have been trying to kill me since I was born,
a man tells his son, trying to explain
the wisdom of learning a second tongue.

It's the same old story from the previous century
about my father and me.

The same old story from yesterday morning
about me and my son.

It's called "Survival Strategies
and the Melancholy of Racial Assimilation."

It's called "Psychological Paradigms of Displaced Persons,"

called "The Child Who'd Rather Play than Study."

Practice until you feel
the language inside you, says the man.

But what does he know about inside and outside,
my father who was spared nothing
in spite of the languages he used?

And me, confused about the flesh and soul,
who asked once into a telephone,
Am I inside you?

You're always inside me, a woman answered,
at peace with the body's finitude,
at peace with the soul's disregard
of space and time.

Am I inside you? I asked once
lying between her legs, confused
about the body and the heart.

If you don't believe you're inside me, you're not,
she answered, at peace with the body's greed,
at peace with the heart's bewilderment.

It's an ancient story from yesterday evening

called "Patterns of Love in Peoples of Diaspora,"

called "Loss of the Homeplace
and the Defilement of the Beloved,"

called "I Want to Sing but I Don’t Know Any Songs."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Another long poem. sorry. Tried steering away from them, but this is a good one. A colleague and I are instituting a new walking plan today. Since my thyroid has been overactive, I have felt terrible, both mentally and physically. I have stopped walking places entirely, because it caused my heart to beat a little too hard for comfort. But after a week of medications, I feel better enough to tackle the 2-mile round trip to work and back. I miss the feeling of striding along at a comfortable pace, the slight stretch up the back of my hamstring, the swing of my arms. I'm ready to have that back. It's also amazing how much your thyroid controls feelings like irritation which can be bottled in, and produced by the most unlikely of sources. Cracks in the sidewalk? Really?! I've almost been brought to tears because of it.

Pablo Neruda is best known for his sensual poems of "Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair" and the open sexuality of "The Body of a Woman." Freud would probably have plenty to say about our eagerness to identify Neruda as a purely sexual poet. But readers often miss what Neruda's hallmark as a poet really is: his mastery of describing all sensory experiences. Enjoy this one about a walk through his neighborhood.

Walking Around
It so happens I am sick of being a man.
And it happens that I walk into tailorshops and movie houses
dried up, waterproof, like a swan made of felt
steering my way in a water of wombs and ashes.

The smell of barbershops makes me break into hoarse sobs.
The only thing I want is to lie still like stones or wool.
The only thing I want is to see no more stores, no gardens,
no more goods, no spectacles, no elevators.

It so happens that I am sick of my feet and my nails
and my hair and my shadow.
It so happens I am sick of being a man.

Still it would be marvelous
to terrify a law clerk with a cut lily,
or kill a nun with a blow on the ear.
It would be great
to go through the streets with a green knife
letting out yells until I died of the cold.

I don't want to go on being a root in the dark,
insecure, stretched out, shivering with sleep,
going on down, into the moist guts of the earth,
taking in and thinking, eating every day.

I don't want so much misery.
I don't want to go on as a root and a tomb,
alone under the ground, a warehouse with corpses,
half frozen, dying of grief.

That's why Monday, when it sees me coming
with my convict face, blazes up like gasoline,
and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel,
and leaves tracks full of warm blood leading toward the night.

And it pushes me into certain corners, into some moist houses,
into hospitals where the bones fly out the window,
into shoeshops that smell like vinegar,
and certain streets hideous as cracks in the skin.

There are sulphur-colored birds, and hideous intestines
hanging over the doors of houses that I hate,
and there are false teeth forgotten in a coffeepot,
there are mirrors
that ought to have wept from shame and terror,
there are umbrellas everywhere, and venoms, and umbilical cords.

I stroll along serenely, with my eyes, my shoes,
my rage, forgetting everything,
I walk by, going through office buildings and orthopedic shops,
and courtyards with washing hanging from the line:
underwear, towels and shirts from which slow
dirty tears are falling.

Translated by Robert Bly

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Because today is that day.

Everybody Tells Me Everything

I find it very difficult to enthuse
Over the current news.
Just when you think that at least the outlook is so black that it can grow no blacker, it worsens,
And that is why I do not like the news, because there has never been an era when so many things were going so right for so many of the wrong persons.

Ogden Nash

Monday, April 13, 2009

I cannot grow flowers.

I cannot grow flowers. I can keep them from dying, but only just barely. My sister's miraculous touch with all things verdant is legendary in our family: I envy the peaceful charm and sense of life that emanates from her balcony, her living room, and the tree she once planted in the backyard of the house we grew up in. Her connection to the earth and its creatures extends to the animal kingdom, as demonstrated by that we once lost her on a walking tour of Cades Cove. When someone in the group finally spotted her, she was standing in the middle of a misty field surrounded by grazing deer, who nibbled around her like she was an expected guest. Everyone started snapping pictures, which frightened the deer, who ran away. She is pure of heart. This is what it takes to foster life in all its forms. (And she will see God.)

I do not mean to draw the parallel that I have an inferior spirit or an uglier soul than she, although I sometimes am convinced of it. It just means that fostering life, this time in my plants, does not come naturally to me. But I believe in it to the utmost extent of my being. I am trying to do better. Being in love with a kind, generous, funny, smart, loving man has helped, as has my newly-revived committment to spend more time with God's word. I will falter and be human, and not do my best on plenty of occasions. I will be awkward and probably say the wrong things but with the right intentions. And then maybe, after plenty of stumbles and errors, I just might start to look like this:

Nothing to Save
by D. H. Lawrence


There is nothing to save, now all is lost,
but a tiny core of stillness in the heart
like the eye of a violet.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I sometimes forget its message

I'm thinking about the future quite a bit, lately. Langston Hughes' tiny poem is more like a jewel box instead of a jewel. The jewel--the dream--I'm not ready to wear yet. The poem will keep it safe.


Dreams
by Langston Hughes


Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The first poem I ever memorized

Part Three: Love, by Emily Dickinson
If you were coming in the fall,
I'd brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn
As housewives do a fly.

If could see you in a year,
I'd wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers
Until their time befalls.

If only centuries delayed,
I'd count them on my hand
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen's Land.

If certain when this life was out
That yours and mind should be
I'd toss it yonder like a rind
And taste eternity.

But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time's uncertain wing,
It goads me like the goblin bee
That will not state its sting.

Monday, April 6, 2009

National Poetry Month: About today's weather

Snow-Bound [The sun that brief December day]
by John Greenleaf Whittier


The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told.
The wind blew east: we heard the roar
Of Ocean on his wintry shore,
And felt the strong pulse throbbing there
Beat with low rhythm our inland air.
Meanwhile we did your nightly chores,--
Brought in the wood from out of doors,
Littered the stalls, and from the mows
Raked down the herd's-grass for the cows;
Heard the horse whinnying for his corn;
And, sharply clashing horn on horn,
Impatient down the stanchion rows
The cattle shake their walnut bows;
While, peering from his early perch
Upon the scaffold's pole of birch,
The cock his crested helmet bent
And down his querulous challenge sent.

Unwarmed by any sunset light
The gray day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
As zigzag, wavering to and fro
Crossed and recrossed the wing├Ęd snow:
And ere the early bed-time came
The white drift piled the window-frame,
And through the glass the clothes-line posts
Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.

*

As night drew on, and, from the crest
Of wooded knolls that ridged the west,
The sun, a snow-blown traveller, sank
From sight beneath the smothering bank,
We piled, with care, our nightly stack
Of wood against the chimney-back,--
The oaken log, green, huge, and thick,
And on its top the stout back-stick;
The knotty forestick laid apart,
And filled between with curious art
The ragged brush; then, hovering near,
We watched the first red blaze appear,
Heard the sharp crackle, caught the gleam
On whitewashed wall and sagging beam,
Until the old, rude-furnished room
Burst, flower-like, into rosy bloom;
While radiant with a mimic flame
Outside the sparkling drift became,
And through the bare-boughed lilac-tree
Our own warm hearth seemed blazing free.
The crane and pendent trammels showed,
The Turks' heads on the andirons glowed;
While childish fancy, prompt to tell
The meaning of the miracle,
Whispered the old rhyme: "Under the tree,
When fire outdoors burns merrily,
There the witches are making tea."
The moon above the eastern wood
Shone at its full; the hill-range stood
Transfigured in the silver flood,
Its blown snows flashing cold and keen,
Dead white, save where some sharp ravine
Took shadow, or the somber green
Of hemlocks turned to pitchy black
Against the whiteness at their back.
For such a world and such a night
Most fitting that unwarming light,
Which only seemed where'er it fell
To make the coldness visible.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Happy National Poetry Month

anyone lived in a pretty how town by E. E. Cummingsanyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn't they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone's any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain