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From the Lithuanian

The Eastern European poets are often astonishing. Here’s one by a poet who recently died that I found odd and intriguing and kind of wonderful.

Archaeopteryx

you’re home. eating lentils. talking to your
loved one. you’re abroad. eating lentils. talking to
your loved one. you’re not yourself. you’ve been stolen.
you’re talking to your lentils. you’re not a knife, not cotton.
talking to your loved one. you forgot how to talk
and forgot how to hang in the closet. you forgot
the letter p in the receit. you’re talking to cotton.
it doesn’t answer. its life was not for you.
a lot. too much. although there is never too much.
you’re anywhere. eating lentils. talking to.
she doesn’t answer. she went everywhere you went.
she flew. when you fly—you can’t cry. you’re
talking to her. she doesn’t answer. but there were
two rooms. you didn’t know where. you went
anywhere. no one was drawing your loved one there.
just a manuscript in the bottom drawer of the desk.
and its feathers are petrified. along with two dozen
of its vertebrae. you told your loved one about this.
you ate lentils and it didn’t even rain. one hundred fifty
million years—just the blink of an eye. in your
manuscript. in the solnhofen schist.

Kęstutis Navakas
Translated from the Lithuanian by Rimas Uzgiris (from Poetry Daily)

I wonder what “you forgot /the letter p in the receit” was in Lithuanian?

A little late

Sorry this is late this week–busy with local and national activism, poetry had to wait. But this came in my email from the Writers’ Almanac this morning, and thought I’d share it. I found that George Bilgere also hosts a radio show.

Musial

WEDNESDAY SEPT. 19, 1949–Stan Musial put the redbirds closer to a pennant race. Musial made a slow start but now has a batting average above .330.
PHOTO BY FRANK JURKOSKI

My father once sold a Chevy
to Stan Musial, the story goes,
back in the fifties,
when the most coveted object
in the universe of third grade
was a Stan-the-Man baseball card.

No St. Louis honkytonk
or riverfront jazz club
could be more musical
than those three syllables
rising from the tongue of Jack Buck
in the dark mouths
of garages on our street,

where men like my father
stood in their shirt-sleeved exile,
cigarette in one hand, scotch
in the other, radio rising
and ebbing with the Cards.

If Jack Buck were to call
my father’s drinking that summer,
he would have said
he was swinging for the bleachers.
He was on a torrid pace.
In any case, the dealership was failing,
the marriage a heap of ash.

And knowing my father, I doubt
if the story is true,
although I love to imagine
that big, hayseed smile
flashing in the showroom, the salesmen
and mechanics looking on
from their nosebleed seats at the edge
of history, as my dark-suited dad
handed the keys to the Man,
and for an instant each man there
knew himself a part of something
suddenly immense,

as when,
in the old myths, a bored god
dresses up like one of us, and falls
through a summer thunderhead
to shock us from our daydream drabness
with heaven’s dazzle and razzmatazz.

George Bilgere

Wait

Seeing as we all seem to be in a semi-permanent mode of waiting: waiting for life to return to normal, for the pandemic to end, for the election, for the air to be breathable again, this seemed a good time for Galway Kinnell’s poem, “Wait.”

Wait

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

Wait.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.

Galway Kinnell

 

And  you can hear him read it. He has such a wonderful voice: click here

Wanda Coleman

Today’s sonnet is from a series called “American Sonnets” by Wanda Coleman, that was later echoed by Terrance Hayes. I’ll publish one of his next week.  (Photo credit: Susan Carpendale)

American Sonnet 5

rusted busted and dusted

the spurious chain of plebeian events
(aintjahmamaauntjemimaondapancakebox?)

which allows who to claim the largest number of homicides
the largest number of deaths by cancer the largest
number of institutionalized men the largest number of
single female heads of household the largest number of
crimes of possession the largest number of functionally
insane the largest number of consumers of dark rum

largely
preoccupied with perfecting plans of escape

see you later alligator
after while crocodile
after supper muthafucka

Wanda Coleman

Lynn Emanuel on Monday

I’ve posted poems by Lynn Emanuel twice before, but I can’t resist posting this one, which feels so appropriate at this moment when everything is so provisional. I was lucky to meet Lynn and her husband when Lynn came to read at Marin Poetry Center two years ago. Larry did a wonderful broadside of her poem, “Blond Bombshell.”  Lynn was generous enough to blurb my new book, which also endears me to her. And on top of all that, I love this poem:

My Life

Like Jonas by the fish was I received by it,
swung and swept in its dark waters,
driven to the deeps by it and beyond many rocks.

Without any touching of its teeth I tumbled into it
and without more struggle than a mote of dust
entering the door of a cathedral, so muckle were its jaws.

How heel over head was I hurled down

the broad road of its throat, stopped inside
its chest wide as a hall, and like Jonas I stood up

asking where the beast was and finding it nowhere,

there in grease and sorrow I built my bower.

 

Lynn Emanuel
The Nerve of It: Poems New and Selected

 

Crepe de Chine

I went to a poetry workshop online, and this was one of the poems discussed, by the incomparable Mark Doty.  You have it now, even though you didn’t go to the workshop! Sorry to be late with it…but this virus seems to eat time!

Crepe de Chine

These drugstore windows
—one frame in the mile-long film
of lit-up trash and nothing

fronting the avenue, what Balzac called
“the great poem of display”—
are a tableau of huge bottles

of perfume, unbuyable gallons of scent
for women enormous as the movie screens
of my childhood. Spiritual pharmaceuticals

in their deco bottles,
wide-shouldered, flared,
arrayed in their pastel skylines,

their chrome-topped tiers:
a little Manhattan of tinted alcohols.
Only reading their names

—Mme. Rochas, White Shoulders, Crepe de Chine—
and I’m hearing the suss of immense stockings,
whispery static of chiffon stoles

on powdered shoulders,
click of compacts, lisp and soft glide
of blush. And I’m thinking of my wig,
Continue reading “Crepe de Chine”

A poet I thought I didn’t much care for

A couple of years ago, I heard Anne Carson read at Stanford. I didn’t enjoy the reading or Autobiography of Red, and then never read anything else. But I came across this poem, which I like very much. I guess I’ll have to dig more deeply.

God’s Justice

In the beginning there were days set aside for various tasks.
On the day He was to create justice
God got involved in making a dragonfly

and lost track of time.
It was about two inches long
with turquoise dots all down its back like Lauren Bacall.

God watched it bend its tiny wire elbows
as it set about cleaning the transparent case of its head.
The eye globes mounted on the case

rotated this way and that
as it polished every angle.
Inside the case

which was glassy black like the windows of a downtown bank
God could see the machinery humming
and He watched the hum

travel all the way down turquoise dots
to the end of the tail and breathe off as light.
Its black wings vibrated in and out.

Anne Carson
from Glass, Irony and God (New Directions, 1995)

 

Gratitude

Because of the way this word is often used, as if it is a duty or in some very smarmy context, I rarely use it. But the poet Ross Gay has managed to integrate this into his daily life in a conscious and engaging way.  Here is one of his odes:

Ode to buttoning and unbuttoning my shirt

No one knew or at least I didn’t know
they knew
what the thin disks threaded hereon my shirt
might give me
in terms of joy
this is not something to be taken lightly the gift
of buttoning one’s shirt
slowly
top to bottom
or bottom
to top or sometimes
the buttons
will be on the other
side and
I am a woman
that morning
slipping the glass
through its slot
I tread
differently that day
or some of it
anyway
my conversations
are different
and the car bomb slicing the air
and the people in it
for a quarter mile
and the honeybee’s
legs furred with pollen
mean another
thing to me
than on the other days
which too have
been drizzled in this simplest of joys
in this world
of spaceships and subatomic this and that
two maybe three
times a day
some days
I have the distinct pleasure of slowly untethering
the one side
from the other

Continue reading “Gratitude”

Elegy

The elegy is a form that has been around a long time, and can be so moving. I’ve written a few myself. I particularly love the ending of this one.

Elegy, Surrounded by Seven Trees

         All Saints Cemetery, Wilmington, Delaware

Ordinary days deliver joy easily
again & I can’t take it. If I could tell you
how her eyes laughed or describe
the rage of her suffering, I must
admit that lately my memories
are sometimes like a color
warping in my blue mind.

Metal abandoned in rain. My mother
will not move. Which is to say that
sometimes the true color o
fher casket jumps from my head
like something burnt down
in the genesis of a struck flame. Continue reading “Elegy”

Tired of yourself?

As Berryman famously said, “ever to confess you are bored / means you have no / Inner Resources.”  This period is stretching all of our inner resources, as it goes on and on. Here’s a short, powerful poem by Tracy K. Smith that should resonate.

The Everlasting Self

Comes in from a downpour
Shaking water in every direction —
A collaborative condition:
Gathered, shed, spread, then
Forgotten, reabsorbed. Like love
From a lifetime ago, and mud
A dog has tracked across the floor.

Tracy K. Smith
Wade in the Water (Graywolf Press, 2018)