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Almost over

Today is the last day of November of a year I will be happy to see fade into memory. Also, woke this morning to a gorgeous moon golden over the horizon, the second full moon of the month, a blue moon.

But today’s selection has nothing to do with either of these. It’s a poetic retelling of how the Sandhill Crane got his red mask, by an Iñupiaq poet.  Each year I go to Lodi to see these majestic birds–dust colored with a maroon swatch over the eyes. They make a cranky, creaking sound, like a rusty hinge, and are gorgeous in flight.

Aakuaksrak

One spring, sandhill cranes flew into sight.

Having landed, they became hard to spot,

Their bodies and wings dirt brown,

The color of dead willow leaves.

That fall, the crane wife fed her husband

Cranberries. He balked. He made fun

Of the tiny morsel. That night, while he slept,

She dressed his eyes in red berry pulp.

Staining him for life.

 

by Marie Tozier

 

“The American Living Room: A Tract”

Reading with Jane Hirshfield on Thursday, November 19 @7pm Pacific time

I am so lucky to be reading with the incomparable Jane Hirshfield this week, sponsored by Marin Poetry Canter and Osher Marin JCC.  It’s free, and you can register here.

It’s going to be a back and forth conversation, and I am pretty sure Jane will start with this poem:

A. R. Ammons

I came across this poem and thought it a good one to share with you, even though it references September.  On the East Coast, September is very much like November here.

Day

On a cold late
September morning,
wider than sky-wide
discs of lit-shale clouds

skim the hills,
crescents, chords
of sunlight
now and then fracturing

the long peripheries:
the crow flies
silent
on course but destinationless,

floating:
hurry, hurry,
the running light says,
while anything remains.

A. R. Ammons

A small poem for a tense time

Sometimes I see a poem and just want to translate it for myself. Maybe I don’t like the translation I see, maybe it hasn’t been translated, maybe it just seems a challenge. I can’t remember why I translated this, but it seemed a good poem for this tense week:

 

Consolación

Es tan estrepitoso nuestro día,
Desgarrado por máquinas crueles,
Que el silencio recubre nuestra noche
Como si las alturas estelares
Nos consolaran de habitar la Tierra.

Jorge Guillén

***** Continue reading “A small poem for a tense time”

Forgotten

It’s odd how poetic reputations ebb and flow. Delmore Schwartz’ debut book, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, was a star in 1938 when he was 25, and certainly impressed me when I read it in the late 60’s.  The title story was thrilling, I still remember it. But now he is almost forgotten. I used to know this poem from that book by heart, but faltered when I tried to recite it the other day. It’s worth relearning.

Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day

Calmly we walk through this April’s day,
Metropolitan poetry here and there,
In the park sit pauper and rentier,
The screaming children, the motor-car
Fugitive about us, running away,
Between the worker and the millionaire
Number provides all distances,
It is Nineteen Thirty-Seven now,
Many great dears are taken away,
What will become of you and me
(This is the school in which we learn…)
Besides the photo and the memory?
(…that time is the fire in which we burn.)

(This is the school in which we learn…)
What is the self amid this blaze?
What am I now that I was then
Which I shall suffer and act again,
The theodicy I wrote in my high school days
Restored all life from infancy,
The children shouting are bright as they run
(This is the school in which they learn…)
Ravished entirely in their passing play!
(…that time is the fire in which they burn.)

Continue reading “Forgotten”

after Louise Glück

Last week I posted a poem by Louise Glück, who won the Nobel Prize, but I wrote this homage long before that happened–earlier this year, really, thinking about the virus:

October

         after Louise Glück

Aren’t the days skimping
on light again,
mornings dark
and darker

doesn’t the time change soon,
shifting the scant light

doesn’t the chill in the air
intensify now

doesn’t it remind you
how everything slows
withers

doesn’t the garden
yield its last sweet tomato
its last cucumber

the basil turns brown
overnight, few eggs
in the nests

doesn’t it seem like this end
might be the end

Meryl Natchez

And the winner is…

Louise Glück won the Nobel Prize in literature this week, and I’m so pleased. I really admire her work. And each book is different. Here’s a sample, from Averno.

October (section 1)

Is it winter again, is it cold again,
didn’t Frank just slip on the ice,
didn’t he heal, weren’t the spring seeds planted

didn’t the night end, didn’t the melting ice flood the narrow gutters

wasn’t my body rescued, wasn’t it safe

didn’t the scar form, invisible above the injury

terror and cold,
didn’t they just end, wasn’t the back garden harrowed and planted—

I remember how the earth felt, red and dense, in stiff rows, weren’t the seeds planted, didn’t vines climb the south wall

I can’t hear your voice
for the wind’s cries, whistling over the bare ground

I no longer care what sound it makes

when was I silenced, when did it first seem pointless to describe that sound

what it sounds like can’t change what it is—

didn’t the night end, wasn’t the earth safe when it was planted

didn’t we plant the seeds,
weren’t we necessary to the earth,

the vines, were they harvested?

Derek Mahon

For those of you who follow such things, the Irish poet, Derek Mahon, died this week. He was 78.  I’ve posted a poem of his before (one that they included in his NY Times obituary, as it happens), but this one if also a favorite, though a very different tone.

Afterlives

(for James Simmons)

          1
I wake in a dark flat
To the soft roar of the world.
Pigeons neck on the white
Roofs as I draw the curtains
And look out over London
Rain-fresh in the morning light.
This is our element, the bright
Reason on which we rely
For the long-term solutions.
The orators yap, and guns
Go off in a back street;
But the faith doesn’t die
That in our time these things
Will amaze the literate children
In their non-sectarian schools
And the dark places be
Ablaze with love and poetry
When the power of good prevails.
What middle-class shits we are
To imagine for one second
That our privileged ideals
Are divine wisdom, and the dim
Forms that kneel at noon
In the city not ourselves.
          2
I am going home by sea
For the first time in years.
Somebody thumbs a guitar
On the dark deck, while a gull
Dreams at the masthead,
The moon-splashed waves exult.
At dawn the ship trembles, turns
In a wide arc to back
Shuddering up the grey lough
Past lightship and buoy,
Slipway and dry dock
Where a naked bulb burns;
And I step ashore in a fine rain
To a city so changed
By five years of war
I scarcely recognize
The places I grew up in,
The faces that try to explain.
But the hills are still the same
Grey-blue above Belfast.
Perhaps if I’d stayed behind
And lived it bomb by bomb
I might have grown up at last
And learnt what is meant by home.
Derek Mahon

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