A favorite gift from Lori this Christmas was Tracy K. Smith’s American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time, a vibrant collection of work from living American poets. Smith, the U.S. poet laureate, succeeds at making the book difficult to stop reading. I devoured the pages in two sittings, with a day’s interruption for sleep, work and baby. Each poem makes you wonder what the next poem is going to bring.
Here are five I couldn’t get off my mind.
“Second Estrangement” by Aracelis Girmay. “Please raise your hand, / whomever else of you / has been a child, / lost, in a market / or a mall, without / knowing it at first, following / a stranger, accidentally / thinking he is yours….”
“Charlottesville Nocturne” by Charles Wright. “The late September night is a train of thought, a wound / That doesn’t bleed, dead grass that’s still green, / No off-shoots, no elegance, / the late September night….”
“Heart/mind” by Laura Kasischke. “A bear batting at a beehive, how / clumsy the mind / always was with the heart. Wanting / what it wanted.”
“Object Permanence” by Nicole Sealey. “We wake as if surprised the other is still there, / each petting the sheet to be sure. / How have we managed our way / to this bed—beholden to heat like dawn / indebted to light.”
“For the Last American Buffalo” by Steve Scafidi. “Because words dazzle in the dizzy light of things / and the soul is like an animal–hunted and slow– / this buffalo walks through me every night as if I was / some kind of prairie….”
Check out the book!
And speaking of poetry books, thanks to friend Becky (L) for giving me Grady Chambers’ North American Stadiums poems. The collection was the first book I finished (four months) after the baby’s arrival. Contrary to my initial belief (and hope), all the poems aren’t about literal stadiums (and I love literal stadiums). The range is better than that, and baseball still gets a starring role from time to time.
Two of my favorites from the book are thankfully online:
“The Life.” “And we bowled in a basement alley; and we got loaded / and sober and saw the wind carry a leaf / like a hand, stem down, brown palm open / and twirling like a waiter carrying a tray / brimming with champagne flutes….”
“Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, 1966.” “Anyone can tell it’s hopeless: early July, jackhammer heat, / Pittsburgh down two in the tenth—even the diehards / in the bleachers are heading for the exits….”
So, the rally begins. Check out that book as well! Meanwhile, here are more favorites from my feeds this fall-into-winter-into-spring period.
“Annunciation” by Marie Howe, via friend Becky (H). “Even if I don’t see it again—nor ever feel it / I know it is—and that if once it hailed me / it ever does—”
“August Morning” by Albert Garcia. “I wander from room to room / like a man in a museum: / wife, children, books, flowers, / melon. Such still air.”
“First Thanksgiving” by Sharon Olds. “Those nights, I fed her to sleep, / week after week, the moon rising, / and setting, and waxing—whirling, over the months, / in a slow blur, around our planet.”
“Duty” by Natasha Trethewey. “When he tells the story now / he’s at the center of it, / everyone else in the house / falling into the backdrop—”
“Stay away from the bike lane” by Ronald Dudley. “I see so many people mad in the bike lane. / So many people think they bad in the bike lane.”
“Encounter” by Czeslaw Milosz. “That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive, / Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.”
“A Letter in October” by Ted Kooser. “I woke, / and at the waiting window found / the curtains open to my open face; / beyond me, darkness.”
“If Feeling Isn’t In It” by John Brehm. “They don’t try to impress you with how serious / or sensitive they are. They just feel everything / full blast. Everything is off the charts / with them.”
“My Therapist Wants to Know about My Relationship to Work” by Tiana Clark. “So many journals, unbroken white spines, / waiting. Did you hear that new new? / I start to text back. Ellipsis, then I forget. / I balk. I lazy the bed. I wallow when I write.”
“The Loneliness of the Military Historian” by Margaret Atwood. “Confess: it’s my profession / that alarms you. / This is why few people ask me to dinner, / though Lord knows I don’t go out of my way to be scary.”
“Rhymes for a Watertower” by Christian Wiman. “A town so flat a grave’s a hill, / A dusk the color of beer. / A row of schooldesks shadows fill, / A row of houses near.”
“Grieving” by David Dragone. “Sometimes, the grieving heart / Turns away from what could heal it. / You wait out the long winter / Opposing spring’s green faith / The way every sun-starved vine in the world / Turns beclouded by shadows / Bittering wine.”
“Late February” by Ted Kooser. “Through the heaviest drifts / rise autumn’s fallen / bicycles, small carnivals / of paint and chrome, / the Octopus / and Tilt-A-Whirl / beginning to turn / in the sun. Now children, / stiffened by winter / and dressed, somehow, / like old men, mutter / and bend to the work / of building dams.”
“Why I Can’t Cook for Your Self-Centered Architect Cousin” by Beth Ann Fennelly. “Because to me a dinner table’s like a bed— / without love it’s all appetite and stains. Let’s buy / take-out for your cousin, or other pizza—his toppings— / but I can’t lift a spatula to serve him what I am.”
“Sinkholes” by Joyce Carol Oates.
Last, cheers for the neighbors who’ve recently put a poetry box in their front yard, which I passed on a rainy day. The first poem is “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry. “When despair for the world grows in me / and I wake in the night at the least sound / in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, / I go and lie down where the wood drake / rests in his beauty on the water….”