Ruth Stone was discovered in her 80’s, which should give hope to many.
What Is a Poem?
Such slight changes in air pressure,
tongue and palate,
and the difference in teeth.
Why do I want to say ochre,
or what is green-yellow?
The sisters of those leaves on the ground
still lisp on the branches.
Why do I want to imitate them?
Having come this far
with a handful of alphabet,
I am forced,
with these few blocks,
to invent the universe.
Ruth Stone, In the Dark
I really like the way this poem moves, its sudden shifts and its unsentimental ending.
The Beginning of Something Is Always the End of Another
Take the day, for instance: How the ruff
of sun’s first light shoulders the night
aside and when I butt my morning
cigarette, my absolute last cigarette,
I begin to chew my cuticles and why
my next-door neighbor drops by
daily to cry about her ex who ran off
with some little slut he met in tango class,
and when my twenty-year-old cat
misses the litter box, howls at
headlights that strafe the ceiling,
I know this will end in ashes
at a cemetery where we stood
over my mother’s urn, hugless, useless
hands dangling from our dumb arms
while on the hill above us a guy wearing
soiled khakis lounged in a golf cart,
waiting for us to understand this was it,
the end, we needed to leave already
so he could finally begin to dig.
“The Beginning of Something Is Always the End of Another” by Sarah Freligh from Sad Math. © Moon City Press, 2015.
Once in awhile I discover a scientist who writes a poem that moves me. That was the case with this poem, by the astronomer Rebecca Elson. I wish I’d had a chance to know her. She died at 39, but wrote, A Responsibility to Awe, edited and published after her death.
Antidotes to Fear of Death
Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.
Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.
Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:
No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
But unconstrained by form.
And sometime it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.
Rebecca Elson (1960-1999)
I know it’s appropriate to post a patriotic poem on July 4th, but a poem by our first US Poet Laureate is the best I can do. It seems to me that this is one of the few formal poems that feels entirely natural.
The Silken Tent
She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.