Poems for right now, with its rain and previews of warmth

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….”

Poems for all seasons, catching up

From a NYT article on Chinese poet Yu Xiuhua:

“What is poetry?” she wrote in an epilogue to “Moonlight.” “I don’t know and can’t tell. It’s when my heart roars, it emerges like a newborn. It’s like a crutch when one walks unsteadily in this unsteady world. Only when I write poetry do I feel complete, at peace and content.”

I’ve been saving these up for far too long! Favorites as they’ve passed across my email and feeds. All worth reading for some kind of fire or peace.

After the Wedding” by John Daniel, via Lori. “…how good it is / to find you now beyond all / the loud joy, driving north in rain / and the lovely ease of our silence.”

Enemies,” Wendell Berry. “If you are not to become a monster, / you must care what they think. / If you care what they think, / how will you not hate them, / and so become a monster / of the opposite kind?”

Antique” by Robert Pinsky. “I drowned in the fire of having you, I burned / In the river of not having you, we lived / Together for hours in a house of a thousand rooms / And we were parted for a thousand years.”

Early October Snow” by Robert Haight. “The pumpkins, still in the fields, are planets / shrouded by clouds. / The Weber wears a dunce cap / and sits in the corner by the garage….”

Enough Music” by Dorianne Laux. “…we fall into this rhythm of silence. / It swings back and forth between us / like a rope over a lake.”

Peace” by C.K. Williams, via Lori. “We fight for hours, through dinner, through the endless evening, who / even knows now what about, / what could be so dire to have to suffer so for, stuck in one another’s craws / like fishbones….”

Thanksgiving for Two”  by Marjorie Saiser. “The adults we call our children will not be arriving / with their children in tow for Thanksgiving. / We must make our feast ourselves….”

Ennui” by Elizabeth Murawski. “lightning bolts of sorrow / knowing he’s neither here / nor there my new life / making my way through drifts….”

Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost. “The way a crow / Shook down on me / The dust of snow / From a hemlock tree….”

Bread” by Richard Levine. “Each night, in a space he’d make / between waking and purpose, / my grandfather donned his one / suit, in our still dark house, and drove….”

A Perfect Mess” by Mary Karr. “I read somewhere / that if pedestrians didn’t break traffic laws to cross / Times Square whenever and by whatever means possible, / 
the whole city / would stop, it would stop.”

Frederick Douglass” by Robert Hayden. “…beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world / where none is lonely, none hunted, alien, / this man, superb in love and logic, this man / shall be remembered.”

Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall. “Mother dear, may I go downtown / Instead of out to play, / And march the streets of Birmingham / In a Freedom March today?”

I, Too” by Langston Hughes. “Tomorrow, / I’ll be at the table / When company comes. / Nobody’ll dare / Say to me, / ‘Eat in the kitchen,’ / Then.”

May You Always be the Darling of Fortune” by Jane Miller. “March 10th and the snow flees like eloping brides / into rain. The imperceptible change begins / out of an old rage and glistens, chaste, with its new / craving, spring.”

St. Patrick’s Day” by Derek Mahon. “Not even the love of friends can quite appease / the vertigo, sore ears and inner voices; / deep-draughted rain clouds, a rock lost in space, / yahoos triumphant in the marketplace, / the isle is full of intolerable noises.”

Don’t Bother the Earth Spirit” by Joy Harjo. “Don’t bother the earth spirit who lives here. She is working on a story. It is the oldest story in the world and it is delicate, changing. If she sees you watching she will invite you in for coffee, give you warm bread, and you will be obligated to stay and listen. But this is no ordinary story.”

In a Word, a World” by C. D. Wright. “I love the particular lexicons of particular occupations. The substrate of those activities. The nomenclatures within nomenclatures.”

Walking on Tiptoe” by Ted Kooser. “Long ago we quit lifting our heels / like the others—horse, dog, and tiger— / though we thrill to their speed / as they flee.”

The Late Wisconsin Spring” by John Koethe. “The sky shakes itself out. And the invisible birds / Winter put away somewhere return, the air relaxes, / People start to circulate again in twos and threes.”

Voyage” by Carmen Tafolla. “I was the fourth ship. / Behind Niña, Pinta, Santa María, / Lost at sea while watching a seagull, / Following the wind and sunset skies, / While the others set their charts.”

Prayer” by Francisco X. Alarcon. “a god / who spits / blood from / tuberculosis and / doesn’t even have / enough for bus fare.”

More Than Enough” by Marge Piercy. “Season of / joy for the bee. The green will never / again be so green, so purely and lushly / new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads / into the wind.”

‘Called to witness and perhaps ease’

Christian Wiman’s recent “Issues of Blood” essay is a show-stopper. Lori read it and encouraged me to do the same. The piece from the former editor of Poetry magazine starts with an injured dog and ends with a Holocaust victim.

“Few of us will ever be called to witness to world pain—to weltschmerz—as Etty [Etty Hillesum, whose work Wiman teaches at Yale Divinity School] was called, but I feel sure that there is some one pain to which every one of us is called to witness and perhaps ease,” Wiman writes. “It might be as simple as some phone call to a family member you haven’t spoken to in too long, it might be some thorn in the heart of a friend to whom you have not paid sufficient attention, it might be some wholly ordinary encounter you have in the next few hours of this wholly ordinary day—when suddenly you feel some power going out of you.”

Also in the poetry-meets-religion vein, poet Lindsey Weishar writes: “I have come to realize the cowardice of sidestepping revision. … My task is to acknowledge my broken humanity, and to say yes to being broken further in the act of writing.”

 

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.)