Watching news of the ongoing invasion of the Ukraine, where my father was born, reminds me of the fragility of the equilibrium we take for granted.

For today’s poem, I’ve selected a translation of a Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, who also lived in troubled times. It seems appropriate for all those who are standing their ground in the Ukraine. The Russian follows the English.


Lot’s Wife

And God’s luminous messenger, larger than life,
led the one righteous man along the black mountain.
But regret cried out to his wife:
“It’s not too late, you can still catch a glimpse
of Sodom, the red rooftops of home,
the square where you sang, the yard where you spun,
the tall house, its windows abandoned—
the house where your sons and daughters were born.”

She looked back—a sudden arc of pain stripped her eyes of sight,
fused her feet to the ground—
her flesh became transparent salt.

Who will mourn this nameless woman? She seems the least of all we lack.
Yet I, for one, can never forget
how she gave her life for one look back.

Anna Akhmatova, 1924

Лотова жена

И праведник шел за посланником бога, Огромный и светлый, по черной горе.
Но громко жене говорила тревога:
Не поздно, ты можешь еще посмотреть На красные башни родного Содома,
На площадь, где пела, на двор, где пряла, На окна пустые высокого дома,

Где милому мужу детей родила.

Взглянула – и, скованы смертною болью, Глаза ее больше смотреть не могли;
И сделалось тело прозрачною солью,
И быстрые ноги к земле приросли.

Кто женщину эту оплакивать будет?
Не меньшей ли мнится она из утрат?
Лишь сердце мое никогда не забудет
Отдавшую жизнь за единственный взгляд.

Translated by Meryl Natchez
Poems from the Stray Dog Cafe, 2013

Monday Villanelle

This French song form, made famous in English by Dylan Thomas and Elizabeth Bishop, is so tricky. The repeating first and third lines doubled at the end, is a form that it’s very hard to make sound natural. I think Tim Seibles achieved this by slightly altering the lines.  This arrived in my inbox today from the Academy of American Poets “poem-a-day” series.

All Time Blues Villanelle

Hard to watch somebody lose their mind
Maybe everybody    should just go get stoned
My father said it happens all the time

I knew a woman    lost her to soul to wine
But who doesn’t live with their life on loan?
Shame to watch somebody lose their mind

Don’tchu gotta wonder when people say they’re fine?
Given what we’re given, I guess they actin grown
I think I used to say that      all the time

When my parents died, I coined a little shrine
And thought about all the stuff they used to own
Felt like I was gonna lose my mind

Used to have a friend    who smiled all the time
Then he started sayin he could hear the devil moan
Hate to see a brotha lose his gotdam mind

Doesn’t matter how you pull, the hours break the line
Mirror, Mirror on the wall, how come nobody’s home?
Broke my soul for real, when my mother lost her mind

Tried to keep my head right, but sanity’s a climb
Been workin on the straight face—I guess my cover’s blown
My father tried to tell me     all the time

Had one last question, baby, but maybe never mind
After’while, even springtime starts to drone

Hard to see somebody lose their mind
My pop said, “Boy, it happens all the time”

Tim Seibles

Love poem for Valentine’s day

I have noticed over my association with many poets, that there were many times a male poet might write a stunning love poem to a woman that he treated pretty shabbily. Not always the case, but it made me less jealous that I wasn’t getting so many love poems.

I have a sense that E Ethelbert Miller treats Maria well:

Crossing the Line

.         for Maria

Sitting across the table from you
I think back to when our friendship
came down from the mountains.
It was a cold day and the miners
had not left for work.

You break a cookie in half like bread
and this sharing is what we both now need.
That which breaks into crumbs are memories.
Your gray hair cut short and you ask if I notice.

How can I tell you that Bolivia will always be
beautiful and everything I notice is you
and yes is you. Our napkins folded in our hands.
Folded as if our meeting now is prayer.

Did I ever tell you that your eyes are a map
and I would lose myself if you ever turned away
E. Ethelbert Miller

Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 14, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets. You can read his comments about this poem on their website.

A Political Poem?

This poem is simply one long impression of a part of Chicago. It offers no moral or solution. But it seems to me like a political poem because of the accuracy of the description.

The Bad Old Days

The summer of nineteen eighteen
I read The Jungle and The
Research Magnificent. That fall
My father died and my aunt
Took me to Chicago to live.
The first thing I did was to take
A streetcar to the stockyards.
In the winter afternoon,
Gritty and fetid, I walked
Through the filthy snow, through the
Squalid streets, looking shyly
Into the people’s faces,
Those who were home in the daytime.
Debauched and exhausted faces,
Starved and looted brains, faces
Like the faces in the senile
And insane wards of charity
Hospitals. Predatory
Faces of little children.
Then as the soiled twilight darkened,
Under the green gas lamps, and the
Sputtering purple arc lamps,
The faces of the men coming
Home from work, some still alive with
The last pulse of hope or courage,
Some sly and bitter, some smart and
Silly, most of them already
Broken and empty, no life,
Only blinding tiredness, worse
Than any tired animal.

Continue reading “A Political Poem?”

Home Repair in Berkeley

Andrew, who plumbed my house, quit the MFA program at Stanford to work in his uncle’s plumbing business. “The best writer in our group, one year ahead of me, struggled to find a job. If it was so hard for her, what hope was there for me?” He explained, while fixing my dishwasher. While he curls under my sink, we chat about who we are reading, who we should read next. When he went to Yosemite, he texted me photos of the rainbow over the falls; he had hiked six miles to get the right angle.

Martin installed the new cat doors and fixed the curtain rod that was pulling out of the sheetrock. He is from Mexico City, and keeps his horse in El Sobrante. His favorite author is Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Frank, who built the redwood fence that keeps out the deer, recited Frost to me as he worked once he knew I wrote poetry. And yesterday, while Rob was replacing the ballast in the fluorescent in my husband’s workroom, we talked about Joan Didion’s essays versus her fiction. Continue reading “Home Repair in Berkeley”