Poems that stop for you

I haven’t been able to read lines recently as much as I would like. To the extent that I have, I haven’t been able to stop and smell them properly. I can tell my eyes are moving too quickly across the words. But the following have come into my life here and there the last few months, fortunately.

From an April New Yorker story, where I didn’t know the subject of the story but liked the line (and its implied encouragement): “Poetry trains us to look past the advertised reality, or, better, to see surface commotion as a manifestation of inner turbulence.”

Twilight” by Rae Armantrout. “Where there’s smoke / there are mirrors / and a dry ice machine, / industrial quality fans. / If I’ve learned anything / about the present moment….”

Planetarium” by Adrienne Rich. “I am an instrument in the shape / of a woman trying to translate pulsations / into images for the relief of the body / and the reconstruction of the mind.”

In the Museum of Lost Objects” by Rebecca Lindenberg. “I hope you don’t mind, but I have kept / a few of your pieces / for my private collection. I think / you know the ones I mean.”

Colors passing through us” by Marge Piercy. Via Lori, who read this at the wedding of friends Alice and Brian this June. Among its color stanzas: “Purple as tulips in May, mauve / into lush velvet, purple / as the stain blackberries leave / on the lips, on the hands, / the purple of ripe grapes / sunlit and warm as flesh.”

Postscript” by Seamus Heaney. Via Lori, whom this poem reminded of our ocean visit in County Clare. “And some time make the time to drive out west / Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore, / In September or October, when the wind / And the light are working off each other….”

Read Me” by Naomi Shihab Nye. “Watch us humans / as we enter our rooms, / remove our shoes and watches….”

Spring Song” by Lucille Clifton. “the green of Jesus / is breaking the ground / and the sweet / smell of delicious Jesus / is opening the house and….”

The Voice of God” by Mary Karr. “The voice of God does not pander, / offers no five year plan, no long-term / solution, nary an edict. It is small & fond & local.”

‘even the symphonic / wrecking of the antique locomotive’

For a spring time:

Cabbage Days” by Stephen Sandy. “Look how in heat waves the folding metal / chairs go slack in the sun / and their withered arms settle / waiting like ritual tongs to hold your body.”

Inventory for Spring” by Wendy Xu. “Feeling rich for one moment for using money as a bookmark / Feeling deceitful for making public some opinions while neglecting others….”

Invitation” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. “Come in, come in. The water’s fine! You can’t get lost / here. Even if you want to hide behind a clutch /of spiny oysters — I’ll find you.”

Amor Fati” by Jane Hirshfield. “Little soul, / you have wandered / lost a long time. / The woods are dark now, / birded and eyed. / Then a light, a cabin, a fire, a door standing open.”

For an unsettled time:

Capriccio of the Imaginary Prison” by Richard Garcia. “O hub of panopticon, each moment on display, / from the central monitor there is no escape. / This is all accomplished, even the symphonic / wrecking of the antique locomotive, in silence.”

If They Should Come for Us” by Fatimah Asghar. “my people I follow you like constellations / we hear the glass smashing the street / & the nights opening their dark / our names this country’s wood / for the fire my people my people….”

Devotion (“I Am on the Battlefield for My Lord”)” by Cortney Lamar Charleston. “I can’t help but believe our songs, to one another,
would be familiar, church family….”

Echo” by Raymond Antrobus. “My ear amps whistle like they are singing / to Echo, goddess of noise, / the raveled knot of tongues, / of blaring birds, consonant crumbs / of dull doorbells, sounds swamped / in my misty hearing aid tubes.

Semi-Splendid” by Tracy K. Smith. “You flinch. Something flickers, not fleeing your face. My / Heart hammers at the ceiling, telling my tongue / To turn it down. Too late.”

A little more about ‘Paterson’

In Commonweal, Richard Alleva finds the small stuff very well.

  • “The quotidian provides our bus-driving bard not only with his raw material but also with the steady emotional climate he needs in order to practice his art.”
  • “The act of noticing is at the heart of both our hero’s art and the filmmaker’s method.”
  • “If her husband is good at spotting variations within sameness, Laura, his complementary opposite, seems to see the same patterns in very different objects.”
  • “Instead of hungering for action, you start responding to whatever Paterson notices, quirks of speech as well as visual anomalies….”
  • “The other way this film avoids tedium is by showing us that, though its protagonist is a strictly no-drama guy… there is drama happening all around him.”

Previously in the blog — thoughts on Paterson. (Loved it.)

Muddling through somehow

Theater” by William Greenway. Via Lori. “Like the neighborhood kind / you went to as a kid, full / of yellow light and red / velvet curtains and everybody / there, friends, bullies throwing / popcorn, somebody with red hair.”

Weather Systems” by Barbara Crooker. Via Lori. “Sugar maples, little fires in the trees, every blazing gradation / of orange to red, and this makes me think of you….”

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe” by Elizabeth Alexander. “…digging in the clam flats / for the shell that snaps, / emptying the proverbial pocketbook.”

Gilly’s Bowl & Grille” by Corey Van Landingham. “As for the beer, I bring my own. I haven’t touched / another human / in twenty-three days, not even someone’s palm / passing my change.”

Poems during a stressful season

How Wonderful” by Irving Feldman.

How wonderful to be understood,
to just sit here while some kind person
relieves you of the awful burden
of having to explain yourself…

Asleep You Become a Continent” by Francisco Aragon.

asleep you become a continent—
undiscovered, mysterious, long,
your legs mountain ranges
encircling valleys, ravines

Fiction” by Howard Nemerov, via Lori.

The people in the elevator all
Face front, they all keep still, they all
Look up with the rapt and stupid look of saints

“Something in the Night” by Bruce Springsteen.

November, November, November

Errata” by Kevin Young.

Baby, give me just
one more hiss

We must lake it fast
morever

I want to cold you
in my harms

November” by Maggie Dietz.

The days throw up a closed sign around four.
The hapless customer who’d wanted something
Arrives to find lights out, a bolted door.

On the resurrection roots of the word “remixed.”

Even when produced with the most meticulous scholarship, our dictionaries ought to remind us that words exceed our best efforts at definition and classification, and that careful reading often ends not in perfect certainty but humility.

Four poems for this weekend

Cuba, 1962” by Ai because the Poetry Foundation put it in their “Poem of the Day” RSS feed and I’ve never found a poem in that feed more surprising.

“Dividend of the Social Opt-Out” by Jennifer Moxley, via Lindsay, because it has been a busy year and a too-busy fall and I would welcome not doing things.

How nice not to hope that something will happen,
but to lie on the couch with a book, hoping that
nothing will. To hear the wood creak and to think.
It is lovely to stay without wanting to leave.

Prayer” by Yehoshua November because it finds different but equally beautiful (and powerful) means to the same end as Jennifer Moxley’s social opt-out.

“My Father Sings Like a Crow” by C. L. O’Dell because few poems capture our ideas of our fathers so well — and my good friend Jonny just became a dad.

A whole life lives in each fist of my father
the way a burning city lives in a firefly’s gut. It’s there,
a faint light cradling a chicken egg, clutching an axe,
raising a newborn’s almost see-through body.

Three poems for early fall as days start to get shorter

The God Who Loves You,” by Carl Dennis. The poem is about God until you discover the poem is about our perception of God amid our thoughts and worries. Or so I think.

It must be troubling for the god who loves you
To ponder how much happier you’d be today
Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.

Chicago,” by Carl Sandburg. So brutal, so alive. “Hog Butcher for the World,” begins Sandburg’s address to the city, his muse. “Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.”

For the Chipmunk in My Yard,” by Robert Gibb. A squirrel who guessed wrong nearly landed on Lori’s head from a great height the other day, and I’ve enjoyed paying more attention to tree creatures since then. Gibb outdoes me.

Summer poems

Here are my favorite poems from recent issues of Poetry magazine. The imagination of their writers never fails to amaze me. Always pushing on what they see, pushing on what they feel, pushing on meaning in the everyday or cornerstones of the era. And then to reduce all of the thoughts into a relative brevity– I often find myself as impressed with the editorial honesty as the philosophical.

Ampersands.” Punctuation-inspired beauty.

… and we shared thick and hearty laughs, and continued into the very
dense jungle. And thick. Preceding us on the trailsides were ruins
overgrown, boots stuck in mud, and heads of sunken ampersands.
Which made sense to us, for….

The Poem You’ve Been Waiting For.” Anxiety and peace.

I drove so long to find I forgot I had

been looking for them, for the you
I once knew and the you that was born

waiting for me to find you. I have been
twisting and turning across these lifetimes

From ‘Anagrams’.” Too hard to explain, too hard to quote.

Forget-Me-Not.” Rhymes you have to say aloud to believe.

From the get-go I have always sought
to know (what, what?) if this is all I’ve got,
to show up in a vestibule, all bothered and hot,
like silver-fingered Iscariot,
like the smiling highwayman, tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot,
while all about me are consigned to slather and rot.

Darkness of the Subjunctive.” Grammatical beauty.

Then we would thrive inside the subjunctive,
where nothing happens but dreams of being,
as paradise dreams of its inferno,
the inferno of cotton candy.

A one-ended boomerang.” What an image! What heartbreak.

How I can hear the sand slip downward in my body clock? I need to be here, could be there, and not long ago the only place you wanted me to be was by your side … maybe?

My Darling Turns to Poetry at Night.” Lover known and unknown.

When rain inspires the night birds to create
Rhyme and formal verse, stanzas can be made
Between abstract expression and first light.

Carousel.” How quiet night feels.

You were lured
in a luminous canoe
said to have once ruled
a lunar ocean.

Painted Turtle.” Tough, sad and questioning.

Summer road the ring around the lake, we drove mostly in silence.

Why aren’t I your wife?

You swerved around a turtle sunning itself.