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So many love poems

The American Academy of poets sent me a link to “Poems for Valentine’s Day.” I chose this one to share:

I Loved You Before I Was Born

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn’t make sense, I know.

I saw your eyes before I had eyes to see.
And I’ve lived longing 
for your ever look ever since.
That longing entered time as this body. 
And the longing grew as this body waxed.
And the longing grows as the body wanes.
The longing will outlive this body.

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn’t make sense, I know.

Long before eternity, I caught a glimpse
of your neck and shoulders, your ankles and toes.
And I’ve been lonely for you from that instant.
That loneliness appeared on earth as this body. 
And my share of time has been nothing 
but your name outrunning my ever saying it clearly. 
Your face fleeing my ever
kissing it firmly once on the mouth.

In longing, I am most myself, rapt,
my lamp mortal, my light 
hidden and singing. 

I give you my blank heart.
Please write on it
what you wish. 

Lee-Young Li

Reprise

Today in my email was the Atlantic Gallery of Owls, including this stock photo by Liu Guoxing, from Getty. It reminded me of a poem I posted in 2013 by M. Wyrebeck. It’s the opening poem in her book Be Properly Scared, and I think the best one. She died in 2003, from the cancer she had been battling most of her adult life. This photo made me think of the poem, and it’s worth reprinting here.

Night Owl

.                         You are nearing the land that is life
.                         You will recognize it by its seriousness.
.                                                                  Rainer Maria Rilke
Driving my bad news the back way home
I know I’m in the land that is life
when I reach my favorite stretch of road—fields
flat and wide where corn appears soon after
planting the soil tilled, night-soaked
and crumbled into fists.
Ferguson’s barn is somewhere
at the end of this long arm of tar
and as I near it, something grazes the back
passenger-side door, luffs parallel to my car—
a huge owl on headlight spray floating,
holding night over the hood to see
if this moving thing is real, alive,
something to kill—then gliding in
close as if to taste glass.
The road levitates, buffeted on a surf
of light, the fog-eaten farm disappearing
as I ride into starlessness, cells conspiring
so I am bright-flecked and uplifted—is this
what it feels like to be chosen—to be taken
under the wing of something vast
that knows its way blindly?

M. Wyrebek

 

Icarus

So many wonderful poems about Icarus–probably my two favorites are Jack Gilbert’s Failing and Flying and Auden’s Musee des Beaux Arts.  I love Muriel Rukeyser’s Waiting for Icarus  too.  This one by Robert Cording (from Poetry Daily) adds something new to the assemblage. It takes flight from a stark opening:

Icarus

After our son died, my wife found him
in coincidences—sightings of hawks, mostly,
at the oddest of times and places, and then
in a pair of redtails that took up residence,
nesting in a larch above our barn, and how
their low, frequent sweeps just a few feet above us
before rising over our kitchen roof
made it seem as if they were looking in on us.
In a way, it all made sense, our son so at home
in high places—the edges of mountain trails,
walking on a roof, or later, after he became
a house painter, at the top of a forty-foot ladder.
So many mornings we woke to the redtails’
jolting screeches and, even if I was a casual believer,
their presence multiplied my love
for the ordinary more every day. We never thought,
of course, any of those hawks was our son—
who would ever want that?—but, once,
watching one rise and rise on a draft of air,
I thought of Icarus soaring toward the sun—
as if an old story could provide the distance
I needed—waxed and feathered, his arms winged,
and remembered a babysitter’s frantic call
to come home, immediately, after she’d found
our ten-year-old nearly forty feet up
in an oak tree. I can almost hear him again, laughing
high up in the sky, throned on a branch,
his feet dangling, knowing nothing but the promise
of heights as he waved to me—
and I must have looked very small
calling up to him, staying calm
so falsely as I pleaded with him
to come down, to come down now.

Robert Cording

New beginnings

Is everyone feeling a sense that this existential dread is lifting? I know I am. This poem seems apt for this moment of uncertainty and hope.

Gestational Size Equivalency Chart

Catherine Pierce 
(photo by Megan Bean / © Mississippi State University)

Your baby is the size of a sweet pea.
Your baby is the size of a cherry.
Your baby is the size of a single red leaf
in early September. Your baby is the size
of What if. The size of Please Lord.
The size of a young lynx stretching.
Heat lightning. A lava lamp.
Your baby is the size of every dream
you’ve ever had about being onstage
and not knowing your lines. Your baby
is the size of a can of Miller Lite.
Apple-picking. Google. All of Google.
Your baby is also the size of a googol,
and also the size of the iridescence
at a hummingbird’s throat. Your baby
is the size of a bulletproof nap mat.
Cassiopeia on a cold night. The size
of the 1.5-degree rise in ocean temps
between 1901 and 2015. Your baby
is the size of the lie you told your mother
the night before Senior Skip Day, and
also the size of the first time you saw
a whale shark glide by, its gray heft
filling the tank’s window, and also
the size of just the very best acorn.
Your baby is the size of the Mona Lisa.
The size of the Louvre. The size
of that moment in “Levon” when
the strings first kick in. Your baby
is the size of a baby-sized pumpkin.
A bright hibiscus. A door. Your baby
is the size of the Gravitron, and your fear
the first time you rode it that your heart
might drop right through your body,
and then your elation when it didn’t,
when the red vinyl panels rose and fell
and you rose and fell with them.

Catherine Pierce
from Danger Days

So many poems…

I subscribe to  five or six “poem a day” type lists, and scroll through them to see if there is something I might like to post.  This one, from Academy of American Poets, is by José Olivarez..  I think the mix of Spanish and English works especially well, and the narrative is vivid and compelling. That effect, that you are just telling the story, seems so simple, and is so hard to achieve.

poem where no one is deported

now i like to imagine la migra running
into the sock factory where my mom
& her friends worked. it was all women

who worked there. women who braided
each other’s hair during breaks.
women who wore rosaries, & never

had a hair out of place. women who were ready
for cameras or for God, who ended all their sentences
with si dios quiere. as in: the day before

the immigration raid when the rumor
of a raid was passed around like bread
& the women made plans, si dios quiere.

so when the immigration officers arrived
they found boxes of socks & all the women absent.
safe at home. those officers thought

no one was working. they were wrong.
the women would say it was god working.
& it was god, but the god

my mom taught us to fear
was vengeful. he might have wet his thumb
& wiped la migra out of this world like a smudge

on a mirror. this god was the god that woke me up
at 7am every day for school to let me know
there was food in the fridge for me & my brothers.

i never asked my mom where the food came from,
but she told me anyway: gracias a dios.
gracias a dios del chisme, who heard all la migra’s plans

& whispered them into the right ears
to keep our families safe.

José Olivarez
from Citizen Illegal

 

After a crazy week

As Bette Davis once said, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” Only in this case, a bumpy 10 days.  I came again to this Robert Duncan poem, imagining a quiet and sacred place.

But this poem, by Ishion Hutchinson also seems to resonate.

The Difference

They talk oil in heavy jackets and plaid over
their coffee, they talk Texas and the north cold,

but mostly oil and Obama, voices dipping
vexed and then they talk Egypt failing,

Greece broken and it takes cash for France not
charity and I rather speak Russia than Ukraine

one says in rubles than whatever, whatever
the trouble, because there is sea and gold,

a tunnel, wherever right now, an-anyhow-Belarus,
oh, I will show you something, conspiring

coins, this one, China, and they marvel,
their minds hatched crosses, a frontier

zeroed not by voyage or pipeline nor the milk
foam of God, no, not the gutsy weather they talk

frizzled, the abomination worsening
opulence to squalor, never the inverse.

Ishion Hutchinson

Starting fresh

With hope for a better new year, a poem that seems appropriate–of course, right now no flying to Rome or Greece. Still…

The New Experience

I was ready for a new experience.
All the old ones had burned out.

They lay in little ashy heaps along the roadside
And blew in drifts across the fairgrounds and fields.

From a distance some appeared to be smoldering
But when I approached with my hat in my hands

They let out small puffs of smoke and expired.
Through the windows of houses I saw lives lit up

With the otherworldly glow of TV
And these were smoking a little bit too.

 I flew to Rome. I flew to Greece.
I sat on a rock in the shade of the Acropolis

And conjured dusky columns in the clouds.
I watched waves lap the crumbling coast.

 I heard wind strip the woods.
I saw the last living snow leopard 

Pacing in the dirt. Experience taught me
That nothing worth doing is worth doing

 For the sake of experience alone.
I bit into an apple that tasted sweetly of time.

The sun came out. It was the old sun
With only a few billion years left to shine.

Suzanne Buffam

from The Irrationalist

Goodbye 2020

This little poem by Emily Dickinson seems as fitting as any for this ending. How sly her title and first line! Here’s to the slow shifting towards what used to be normal.

As imperceptibly as Grief

As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away—
Too imperceptible at last,
To seem like Perfidy—

A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon—

The Dusk drew earlier in—
The Morning foreign shone—
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone—

And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful.

Emily Dickinson

Solstice

Each evening I watch the sun set further toward San Francisco each day, until it hits the south end of the Golden Gate. Tonight is its furthest stretch, and the return begins.

I looked hard to find a poem about solstice I liked, and here’s the title poem from Timothy Steele’s book that seems to capture some of the strangeness of this time in California–an especially strange time this year. It’s that rare formal poem that transcends its form to feel like natural speech.

Toward the Winter Solstice

Although the roof is just a story high,
It dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights
And cast it to the weeping birch’s crown;
A dowel into which I’ve screwed a hook
Enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
The cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
Will accent the tree’s elegant design.

Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause
And call up commendations or critiques.
I make adjustments. Though a potpourri
Of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,
We all are conscious of the time of year;
We all enjoy its colorful displays
And keep some festival that mitigates
The dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

Some say that L.A. doesn’t suit the Yule,
But UPS vans now like magi make
Their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
Are gaily resurrected in their wake;
The desert lifts a full moon from the east
And issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,
And valets at chic restaurants will soon
Be tending flocks of cars and SUVs.

And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk
The fan palms scattered all across town stand
More calmly prominent, and this place seems
A vast oasis in the Holy Land.
This house might be a caravansary,
The tree a kind of cordial fountainhead
Of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces
And ceintures of green, yellow, blue, and red.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
It’s comforting to look up from this roof
And feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
To recollect that in antiquity
The winter solstice fell in Capricorn
And that, in the Orion Nebula,
From swirling gas, new stars are being born.

How it feels while you are waiting

This poem, by Catherine Pierce, does a great job of encompassing the hopes, fears, anticipation and strangeness of pregnancy:

Gestational Size Equivalency Chart

Your baby is the size of a sweet pea.
Your baby is the size of a cherry.
Your baby is the size of a single red leaf
in early September. Your baby is the size
of What if. The size of Please Lord.
The size of a young lynx stretching.
Heat lightning. A lava lamp.
Your baby is the size of every dream
you’ve ever had about being onstage
and not knowing your lines. Your baby
is the size of a can of Miller Lite. Continue reading “How it feels while you are waiting”

Kindness

I live in the hills above the bay–tiny winding streets that are nonetheless open to two-way traffic, so we are all having to find a spot to pull to the side to let each other pass. We do this daily, with a nod or a wave, and it always makes me feel there is hope in a world with such small civilities.  All this made me think of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem:

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye 

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”