poem index

Against the Dying Light

Against the Dying Light
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A Little Tooth
Thomas Lux, 1946
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.
Against the Dying Light
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Parents
William Meredith, 1919 - 2007
What it must be like to be an angel
or a squirrel, we can imagine sooner.

The last time we go to bed good,
they are there, lying about darkness.

They dandle us once too often,
these friends who become our enemies.

Suddenly one day, their juniors
are as old as we yearn to be.

They get wrinkles where it is better
smooth, odd coughs, and smells.

It is grotesque how they go on
loving us, we go on loving them

The effrontery, barely imaginable,
of having caused us.  And of how.

Their lives: surely
we can do better than that.

This goes on for a long time.  Everything
they do is wrong, and the worst thing,

they all do it, is to die,
taking with them the last explanation,

how we came out of the wet sea
or wherever they got us from,

taking the last link
of that chain with them.

Father, mother, we cry, wrinkling,
to our uncomprehending children and grandchildren.
Against the Dying Light
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To My Mother
Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850 - 1894
You too, my mother, read my rhymes
For love of unforgotten times,
And you may chance to hear once more
The little feet along the floor.
Against the Dying Light
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To My Mother
Christina Rossetti, 1830 - 1894

To-day's your natal day;
   Sweet flowers I bring:
Mother, accept, I pray
   My offering.

And may you happy live,
   And long us bless;
Receiving as you give
   Great happiness.

Against the Dying Light
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Working Late
Louis Simpson, 1923 - 2012
A light is on in my father's study.
"Still up?" he says, and we are silent,
looking at the harbor lights,
listening to the surf
and the creak of coconut boughs.

He is working late on cases.
No impassioned speech! He argues from evidence,
actually pacing out and measuring,
while the fans revolving on the ceiling
winnow the true from the false.

Once he passed a brass curtain rod
through a head made out of plaster
and showed the jury the angle of fire--
where the murderer must have stood.
For years, all through my childhood,
if I opened a closet . . . bang!
There would be the dead man's head
with a black hole in the forehead.

All the arguing in the world
will not stay the moon.
She has come all the way from Russia
to gaze for a while in a mango tree
and light the wall of a veranda,
before resuming her interrupted journey
beyond the harbor and the lighthouse
at Port Royal, turning away
from land to the open sea.

Yet, nothing in nature changes, from that day to this,
she is still the mother of us all.
I can see the drifting offshore lights,
black posts where the pelicans brood.

And the light that used to shine
at night in my father's study
now shines as late in mine.
Against the Dying Light
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Do not go gentle into that good night
Dylan Thomas, 1914 - 1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Against the Dying Light
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Infant Joy
William Blake, 1757 - 1827
"I have no name:
I am but two days old."
What shall I call thee?
"I happy am,
Joy is my name."
Sweet joy befall thee!

Pretty joy!
Sweet joy, but two days old.
Sweet Joy I call thee:
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while;
Sweet joy befall thee!
Against the Dying Light
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The Author to Her Book
Anne Bradstreet, 1612 - 1672
Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th' press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run'st more hobbling than is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save homespun cloth i' th' house I find.
In this array 'mongst vulgars may'st thou roam.
In critic's hands beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known;
If for thy father asked, say thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.
Against the Dying Light
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For a Daughter Who Leaves
Janice Mirikitani

"More than gems in my comb box shaped by the
God of the Sea, I prize you, my daughter. . ."
Lady Otomo, 8th century, Japan

A woman weaves 
her daughter's wedding 
slippers that will carry 
her steps into a new life. 
The mother weeps alone
into her jeweled sewing box	
slips red thread
around its spool, 
the same she used to stitch 
her daughter's first silk jacket 
embroidered with turtles 
that would bring luck, long life. 
She remembers all the steps 
taken by her daughter's 
unbound quick feet:
dancing on the stones 
of the yard among yellow
butterflies and white breasted sparrows. 
And she grew, legs strong 
body long, mind
independent.
Now she captures all eyes 
with her hair combed smooth 
and her hips gently 
swaying like bamboo. 
The woman
spins her thread 
from the spool of her heart, 
knotted to her daughter's 
departing
wedding slippers.
Against the Dying Light
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Beauty Secrets, Revealed by the Queen in Snow White
Natasha Sajé
Do for your neck what you do for your face.
Face your neck whatever the case. Pace yourself 
for 35-55, a quick
and bumpy ride, gone in a sneeze. Avoid 
petroleum; replace with olive oil.
Check bitterness at the door; be happy!
Do for yourself what you do for others,
the money guru says to sisters. Embrace
a stash and a place, Virginia wrote, 80
years ago. Don't be dopey or sleepy,
and don't buy all that's offered. Wake up! 
Do for your future what you should have done 
for your past. Don't be bashful:  it's one thing 
to have a neck, another to stick it out. 
Go ahead and eat fruit fallen to the ground;
be wary of apples in other hands.
Know the party's over when the hostess  
yawns, her jaw like folds of lace. Brace yourself 
for 55-85, a long 
and grumpy slide. Help, Doc! Imagine lots  
of green and see it when your eyes 
are closed. Don't see red, as in done for,
as in broke, as in give up the chase.
Do for your head what you do for your face.
Avoid asking questions of mirrors.
To check your own sad countenance each day
is a disgrace. If you hang on, cash can help. 
Despite it, the Iron Lady's now just a trace
of the woman who said, There's no such thing 
as society! It's our duty to look after ourselves.
A head of state. Debased.
Against the Dying Light
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One Art
Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 - 1979
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant 
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.


—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied.  It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.