From the Portuguese

This came from the Academy of American Poets. I know it’s not May, but it seemed appropriate anyway.

Previsão do Tempo

O espírito de rebelião

também chamado de tristeza e desânimo

começou de novo sua ronda sinistra.

Sua treva e seu frio são de inferno.

Por causa de maio, esperava dias felizes;

e ensolarado até agora só o recado de Albertina,

escolhido pra cantar Jesus é o pão do céu.

Pão sem manteiga, Albertina,

é bom que o saiba.

É com ervas amargas que o come.

Weather Report

The spirit of rebellion

also called hopelessness

has begun another sinister round.

His dark and cold come straight from hell.

I was expecting happy days from May,

but so far the only sunny thing was Albertina’s news

that she was chosen to sing “Jesus is the bread of heaven.”

That’s bread without butter, Albertina,

just so you know.

We eat it with bitter herbs.

Adélia Prado
translated by Ellen Doré Watson

From Women’s Voices for Change

Among the poems I receive is this one, from Women’s Voices for Change which posts a poem with commentary every Sunday. This seemed like a good one to start 2022:

Even Now

we are permitted to celebrate.
even now. “not like it was
so great in the middle ages,”
says my son, the new father.
true it is, especially for those
of peasant stock, like us.

in the ravine, small clusters of
people in masks step aside
as I push Emma in her stroller.
light falls through the leaves
like confetti over Emma.
she is perfect, though born
under the flag of Covid.

by ancient law it is said:
if a bridal party meets
a funeral party in the path,
the funeral party
must step aside.
Emma smiles
as if she knows.

Susan Zimmerman

Chi Po & the Sorcerer

This book, for “children and philosophers” has been a staple in our house for years. It’s the tale of a young painter in China and his relationship to the local sorcerer.  In one chapter, the sorcerer, teaching the painter to focus, asks him to imagine everything he wants, and the boy thinks of toys and bicycles and a dozen other material things. Then the sorcerer says he needs to banish all those thoughts if he wants to paint.

During the days leading up to Christmas, the streets and stores and online sources are full of anything we might imagine we or someone else could want, and there are plenty of terrible holiday poems to go with it. So here is a little thought from William Stafford to balance things out:

Note

straw, feathers, dust–
little things

but if they all go one way
that’s the way the wind goes

William Stafford (courtesy of Sean the Sharpener)

And of course, you can buy Chi Po & the Sorcerer or William Stafford’s poems online!

Hard to beat

I was reading through a volume of contemporary poetry this morning and came across an old favorite. It’s been awhile since I published a Dream Song, so here goes:

Dream Song #1

Huffy Henry hid the day,
unappeasable Henry sulked.
I see his point,—a trying to put things over.
It was the thought that they thought
they could do it made Henry wicked & away.
But he should have come out and talked.

All the world like a woolen lover
once did seem on Henry’s side.
Then came a departure.
Thereafter nothing fell out as it might or ought.
I don’t see how Henry, pried
open for all the world to see, survived.

What he has now to say is a long
wonder the world can bear & be.
Once in a sycamore I was glad
all at the top, and I sang.
Hard on the land wears the strong sea
and empty grows every bed.

John Berryman,

Love poem for Monday

This one, by Li Young-Lee is one of my favorites:

from Living with Her

She opens her eyes
and I see.
She counts the birds and I hear
the names of the months and days.
A girl, one of her names
is Change. And my childhood
lasted all of an evening.
Called light, she breathes, my living share
of every moment emerging.
Called life, she is a pomegranate
pecked clean by birds to entirely
become a part of their flying.
Do you love me? she asks.
I love you,
she answers, and the world keeps beginning.

Li-Young Lee

from Behind My Eyes, Norton, 2008

Another view of the mole

One morning recently, my cat brought in a dead mole–it had the softest fur I’d ever touched. And here is a poem (from Poetry Daily) in praise of the mole, so despised by gardeners.

Mole

Earth is his occupation, and the mole
works the turf in his native breaststroke, swimming
hallways into the sod—a geonaut
supreme, and connoisseur of worms; I’ve heard him
breaking roots an inch beneath my sole
and seen how the subterranean specialist
carves out for himself a single, simple role.

I envy the expertise he brings to bear
on dirt, the narrow office he was given;
as for me, my habitat is thought,
where I grope and sweat and scrabble out a living
forced to prove—up here in a windy lair
as invisible as the mole’s—that there exists
an animal who can dig a hole in air.

Deborah Warren

from CONNOISSEURS OF WORMS / Paul Dry Books

Thomas Lux

Here is a poem from a little-known poet whose work I like:

A Little Tooth

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone.  It’s all

over: she’ll learn some words, she’ll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail.  And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing.  You did, you loved, your feet
are sore.  It’s dusk.  Your daughter’s tall.

Thomas Lux – 1946-2017

From New and Selected Poems, 1975-1995, published by Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

The exemplary paragraph

I just finished reading all four of Katie Kitamura’s novels, in reverse order.  I love her writing. Here is a sample, the first paragraph of her new (and I think best) book, Intimacies.

“It is never easy to move to a new country, but in truth I was happy to be away from New York. That city had become disorienting to me, after my father’s death and my mother’s sudden retreat to Singapore. For the first time, I understood how much my parents had anchored me to this place none of us were from. It was my father’s long illness that had kept me there, and with its unhappy resolution I was suddenly free to go. I applied for the position of staff interpreter at the Court on impulse, but once I had accepted the job and moved to the Hague, I realized that I had no intention of returning to New York, I no longer knew how to be at home there.”

For more about this extraordinary novel, see my review on ZYZZYVA.

Anne Sexton

I’ve always felt that Sylvia Plath’s work was much more compelling than her contemporary, Anne Sexton, though they seem equally unhappy. But I saw a poem of Sexton’s from Paris Review recently that I like, though I still think Plath is far the better poet.

Here is the poem–I especially like it up until God slips in:

There is an animal inside me,
clutching fast to my heart,
a huge crab.
The doctors of Boston
have thrown up their hands.
They have tried scalpels,
needles, poison gases and the like.
The crab remains.
It is a great weight.
I try to forget it, go about my business,

cook the broccoli, open and shut books,
brush my teeth and tie my shoes.
I have tried prayer
but as I pray the crab grips harder
and the pain enlarges.

I had a dream once,
perhaps it was a dream,
that the crab was my ignorance of God.
But who am I to believe in dreams?

Anne Sexton, from The Poet of Ignorance

Yehuda Amichai

I was lucky to know Chana Bloch, a generous spirit, a poet and a translator.  Here is a poem she translated from the Hebrew with Stephen Mitchell. I often feel that I come from a world that no longer exists, a world where maids polished the silver and made little textured butter balls with wooden paddles for parties.

My mother comes from the days

My mother comes from the days when they made
paintings of beautiful fruit in silver bowls
and didn’t ask for more.
People moved through their lives
like ships, with the wind or against it, faithful
to their course.

I ask myself which is better
dying old or dying young.
As if I’d asked which is lighter
a pound of feathers or a pound of iron.

I want feathers, feathers, feathers.

Yehuda Amichai (trans. from Hebrew by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell)

Once again this comes from the posts of Sean the Sharpener