poem index

Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012

Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
You Can't Have It All
Barbara Ras

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam's twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man's legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who'll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can't bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can't count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother's,
it will always whisper, you can't have it all,
but there is this.

Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
The Kiss
Stephen Dunn, 1939
She pressed her lips to mind.
	—a typo

How many years I must have yearned
for someone’s lips against mind.
Pheromones, newly born, were floating
between us. There was hardly any air.

She kissed me again, reaching that place
that sends messages to toes and fingertips,
then all the way to something like home.
Some music was playing on its own.

Nothing like a woman who knows
to kiss the right thing at the right time,
then kisses the things she’s missed.
How had I ever settled for less?

I was thinking this is intelligence,
this is the wisest tongue
since the Oracle got into a Greek’s ear,
speaking sense. It’s the Good,

defining itself. I was out of my mind.
She was in. We married as soon as we could.
Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
Crossings
Ravi Shankar
Between forest and field, a threshold 
like stepping from a cathedral into the street—
the quality of air alters, an eclipse lifts, 

boundlessness opens, earth itself retextured 
into weeds where woods once were.
Even planes of motion shift from vertical

navigation to horizontal quiescence:   
there’s a standing invitation to lie back 
as sky’s unpredictable theater proceeds. 

Suspended in this ephemeral moment 
after leaving a forest, before entering
a field, the nature of reality is revealed. 
Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
A Table in the Wilderness
Li-Young Lee, 1957
I draw a window
and a man sitting inside it.

I draw a bird in flight above the lintel.

That's my picture of thinking.

If I put a woman there instead
of the man, it's a picture of speaking.

If I draw a second bird
in the woman's lap, it’s ministering.

A third flying below her feet.
Now it's singing.

Or erase the birds
make ivy branching
around the woman's ankles, clinging
to her knees, and it becomes remembering.

You'll have to find your own
pictures, whoever you are,
whatever your need.

As for me, many small hands
issuing from a waterfall
means silence
mothered me.

The hours hung like fruit in night's tree
means when I close my eyes
and look inside me,

a thousand open eyes
span the moment of my waking.

Meanwhile, the clock
adding a grain to a grain
and not getting bigger,

subtracting a day from a day
and never having less, means the honey

lies awake all night
inside the honeycomb
wondering who its parents are.

And even my death isn't my death
unless it's the unfathomed brow
of a nameless face. 

Even my name isn't my name
except the bees assemble

a table to grant a stranger
light and moment in a wilderness
of Who? Where?
Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
Her Body Like a Lantern Next to Me
John Rybicki
            There's this movie I am watching:
my love's belly almost five months 
            pregnant with cancer, 

            more like a little rock wall 
piled and fitted inside her 
            than some prenatal rounding.

            Over there's her face 
near the frying pan she's bent over,
            but there's no water in the pan, 

            and so, no reflection.  No pool 
where I might gather such a thing as a face, 
            or sew it there on a tablet made of water.  

            To have and to haul it away, 
sometimes dipping into her 
            in the next room that waits for me.

                        •

            I am old at this.  I am stretching
the wick again into my throat 
            when the flame burns down.

            She's splashing in the tub 
and singing, I love him very much, 
            though I'm old and tired
 
            and cancerous.  It's spring 
and now she's stopping traffic, 
            lifting one of her painted turtles 

            across the road.  Someone's honking, 
pumping one arm out the window, 
            cheering her on.

            She falls then like there's a house 
on her back, hides her head in the bank grass
            and vomits into the ditch.
	
                        •

            She keeps her radioactive linen, 
Bowl, and spoon separate. For seven days
            we sleep in different rooms.

            Over there's the toilet she's been
heaving her roots into. One time I heard her
            through the door make a toast to it, 

            Here's to you, toilet bowl.  
There's nothing poetic about this.
            I have one oar that hangs 

            from our bedroom window, 
and I am rowing our hut 
            in the same desperate circle.  

                        •

            I warm her tea then spread 
cream cheese over her bagel, 
            and we lie together like two guitars, 
	
            A rose like a screw 
in each of our mouths.  
            There's that liquid river of story 

            that sometimes sweeps us away 
from all this, into the ha ha 
            and the tender. At night the streetlights 

            buzz on again with the stars, 
and the horses in the field  swat their tails 
            like we will go on forever.

                        •

            I'm at my desk herding some 
lost language when I notice how quiet 
            she has been. Twice I call her name  

            and wait after my voice has lost its legs 
and she does not ring back.  
            Dude, I'm still here, she says at last

            then the sound of her 
stretching her branches, and from them 
            the rain falling thick through our house.  

            I'm racing to place pots and pans 
everywhere.  Bottle her in super canning jars.  
            For seventeen years, I've lined  

            the shelves of our root cellar with them.  
One drop for each jar.  
            I'll need them for later.
Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape
John Ashbery, 1927
The first of the undecoded messages read: "Popeye sits 
   in thunder,
Unthought of. From that shoebox of an apartment,
From livid curtain's hue, a tangram emerges: a country."
Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch: "How 
   pleasant
To spend one's vacation en la casa de Popeye," she 
   scratched
Her cleft chin's solitary hair. She remembered spinach

And was going to ask Wimpy if he had bought any spinach.
"M'love," he intercepted, "the plains are decked out 
   in thunder
Today, and it shall be as you wish." He scratched
The part of his head under his hat. The apartment
Seemed to grow smaller. "But what if no pleasant
Inspiration plunge us now to the stars? For this is my 
   country."

Suddenly they remembered how it was cheaper in the country.
Wimpy was thoughtfully cutting open a number 2 can of spinach
When the door opened and Swee'pea crept in. "How pleasant!"
But Swee'pea looked morose. A note was pinned to his bib. 
   "Thunder
And tears are unavailing," it read. "Henceforth shall
   Popeye's apartment
Be but remembered space, toxic or salubrious, whole or 
   scratched."

Olive came hurtling through the window; its geraniums scratched
Her long thigh. "I have news!" she gasped. "Popeye, forced as 
   you know to flee the country
One musty gusty evening, by the schemes of his wizened, 
   duplicate father, jealous of the apartment
And all that it contains, myself and spinach
In particular, heaves bolts of loving thunder
At his own astonished becoming, rupturing the pleasant

Arpeggio of our years. No more shall pleasant
Rays of the sun refresh your sense of growing old, nor the 
   scratched
Tree-trunks and mossy foliage, only immaculate darkness and 
   thunder."
She grabbed Swee'pea. "I'm taking the brat to the country."
"But you can't do that--he hasn't even finished his spinach,"
Urged the Sea Hag, looking fearfully around at the apartment.

But Olive was already out of earshot. Now the apartment
Succumbed to a strange new hush. "Actually it's quite pleasant
Here," thought the Sea Hag. "If this is all we need fear from 
   spinach
Then I don't mind so much. Perhaps we could invite Alice the Goon 
   over"--she scratched
One dug pensively--"but Wimpy is such a country
Bumpkin, always burping like that." Minute at first, the thunder

Soon filled the apartment. It was domestic thunder,
The color of spinach. Popeye chuckled and scratched
His balls: it sure was pleasant to spend a day in the country.
Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
He Foretells His Passing
F. D. Reeve

I can imagine, years from now, your coming back
to this high, old, white house. "Home" I shouldn't say
because we can't predict who'll live here with a different
     name.
How tall the birches will be then. Will you look up
from the road past the ash for light in the study windows
upstairs and down? Go climb the black maple as first
in new sneakers you walked forty feet in air
and saw the life to come. Don't forget the cats.

Because you grow away from a house, no matter how much you
     come back,
if the people you love are elsewhere, or if the reason is,
     say,
nostalgia, don't worry about small changes or lost names.
Sit down for a minute under the tallest birch. Look up
at the clouds reflected in the red barn's twisted window.
Lean on the wall. Hear our voices as at first
they shook the plaster, laughed, then burned in the dry air
like a wooden house. I imagine you won't forget the cats.

Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
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.

Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
Automatic Teller Machine
Ben Mirov
If you work at a steady rate
you may reach the river by nightfall
and if you have the will

a canoe will be waiting 
by the ash factory 
for you to take upstream

to the takoyaki shack
where you can eat delicious food
and drink as much beer as you like

until late into the night.
In other words you have 
your whole life ahead of you

and no one can tell you 
what to do or how to act
or what to say or anything

said the machine in the wall
before dispensing my receipt 
in a tiny wadded ball.
Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
Counting
Douglas Goetsch
I'd walk close to buildings counting 
bricks, run my finger in the grout 
till it grew hot and numb. Bricks 
in a row, rows on a floor, multiply 
floors, buildings, blocks in the city. 
I knew there were numbers for everything-- 
tires piled in mountains at the dump, 
cars on the interstate to Maine, 
pine needles blanketing the shoulder of the road, 
bubbles in my white summer spit. 
I dreamed of counting the galaxies 
of freckles on Laura MacNally, 
touching each one--she loves me, 
she loves me not--right on up her leg, 
my pulse beating away at the sea 
wall of my skin, my breath
inhaling odd, exhaling even.

To know certain numbers 
would be like standing next to God, 
a counting God, too busy 
to stop for war or famine. 
I'd go out under the night sky 
to search for Him up there:
God counting, next to Orion 
drawing his bow. I'd seen 
an orthodox Jew on the subway, 
bobbing into the black volume 
in his palms, mouthing words 
with fury and precision, a single 
drop of spittle at the center 
of his lip catching the other lip 
and stretching like silk thread. 
At night I dreamed a constant stream
of numbers shooting past my eyes so fast 
all I could do was whisper as they 
came. I'd wake up reading the red 
flesh of my lids, my tongue 
flapping like ticker tape.
I come from a family of counters; 
my brother had 41 cavities in 20 teeth 
and he told everyone he met; 
Grandpa figured his compound 
daily interest in the den, at dusk, 
the lights turned off, the ice 
crackling in his bourbon; my father 
hunched over his desk working 
overtime for the insurance company, 
using numbers to predict 
when men were going to die.

When I saw the tenth digit added 
to the giant odometer in Times Square 
tracking world population, I wondered 
what it would take for those wheels 
to stop and reverse. What monsoon 
or earthquake could fill graves faster 
than babies wriggled out of wombs? 
Those vast cemeteries in Queens-- 
white tablets lined up like dominoes 
running over hills in perfect rows-- 
which was higher, the number 
of the living or the dead? Was it 
true, what a teacher had said:
get everyone in China to stand on a bucket, 
jump at exactly the same time 
and it'd knock us out of orbit? 
You wouldn't need everyone, 
just enough, the right number, 
and if you knew that number 
you could point to a skinny 
copper-colored kid and say
You're the one, you can send us flying. 
That's all any child wants: to count. 
That's all I wanted to be, the millionth 
customer, the billionth burger sold, the one 
with the foul ball, waving for TV.

Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
Lady Lazarus
Sylvia Plath, 1932 - 1963
I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it--

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?--

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot--
The big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call.

It's easy enough to do it in a cell.
It's easy enough to do it and stay put.
It's the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

'A miracle!'
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart--
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash--
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there--

A cake of soap, 
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

23-29 October 1962

Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
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.
Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
Facing It
Yusef Komunyakaa, 1947
My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
dammit: No tears. 
I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way--the stone lets me go.
I turn that way--I'm inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's 
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet's image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I'm a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman's trying to erase names:
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.
Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
Identity of Images
Robert Desnos, 1900 - 1945
I am fighting furiously with animals and bottles
In a short time perhaps ten hours have passed one
   after another
The beautiful swimmer who was afraid of coral wakes
   this morning
Coral crowned with holly knocks on her door
Ah! coal again always coal
I conjure you coal tutelary genius of dreams and my
   solitude let me let me speak again of the beautiful
   swimmer who was afraid of coral
No longer tyrannize this seductive subject of my
   dreams
The beautiful swimmer was reposing in a bed of lace
   and birds
The clothes on a chair at the foot of the bed were
   illuminated by gleams the last gleams of coal
The one that had come from the depths of the sky and 
   earth and sea was proud of its coral beak and great
   wings of crape
All night long it had followed divergent funerals toward
   suburban cemeteries
It had been to embassy balls marked white satin gowns with
   its imprint a fern leaf
It had risen terribly before ships and the ships had not 
   returned
Now crouched in the chimney it was watching for the 
   waking of foam and singing of kettles
Its resounding step had disturbed the silence of nights
   in streets with sonorous pavements
Sonorous coal coal master of dreams coal
Ah tell me where is that beautiful swimmer the swimmer
   who was afraid of coral?
But the swimmer herself has gone back to sleep
And I remain face to face with the fire and shall remain
   through the night interrogating the coal with wings of
   darkness that persists in projecting on my monotonous
   road the shadow of its smoke and the terrible 
   reflections of its embers
Sonorous coal coal pitiless coal

Identité des images

Je me bats avec fureur contre des animaux et des bouteilles
Depuis peu de temps peut-être dix heures sont
   passées l'une après l'autre
La belle nageuse qui avait peur du corail ce matin s'éveille
Le corail couronné de houx frappe à sa porte
Ah! encore le charbon toujours le charbon
Je t'en conjure charbon génie tutélaire du rêve et da ma
   solitude laisse-moi laisse-moi parler encore de la
   belle nageuse qui avait peur du corail
Ne tyrannise plus ce séduisant sujet de mes rêves
La belle nageuse reposait dans un lit de dentelles et d'oiseaux
Les vêtements sur une chaise au pied du lit étaient
   illuminés par les lueurs les dernières lueurs du charbon
Celui-ci venu des profondeurs du ciel de la terre et
   de la mer était fier de son bec de corail et de ses
   grandes ailes de crêpe
Il avait toute la nuit suivi des enterrements
   divergents vers des cimetières suburbains
Il avait assisté à des bals dans les ambassades
   marqué de son empreinte une feuille de fougère
   des robes de satin blanc
It s'était dressé terrible à l'avant des navires et les
   navires n'étaient pas revenus
Maintenant tapi dans la cheminée il guettait le
   réveil de l'écume et le chant des bouilloires
Son pas retentissant avait troublé le silence des
   nuits dans les rues aux pavés sonores
Charbon sonore charbon maître du rêve charbon
Ah dis-moi où est-elle cette belle nageuse cette
   nageuse qui avait peur du corail?
Mais la nageuse elle-même s'est rendormie
Et je reste face à face avec le feu et je resterai
   la nuit durant à interroger le charbon aux ailes
   de ténèbres qui persiste à projeter sur mon
   chemin monotone l'ombre de ses fumées et le 
   reflet terrible de ses braises
Charbon sonore charbon impitoyable charbon.
Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
Life is Beautiful
Dorianne Laux, 1952

 

Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.

Favorite Poems English 223 Winter 2012
next
White Water
John Montague
for Line McKie

The light, tarred skin
of the currach rides
and receives the current, 
rolls and responds to
the harsh sea swell. 

Inside the wooden ribs
a slithering frenzy; a sheen
of black-barred silver-
green and flailing mackerel:
the iridescent hoop
of a gasping sea trout. 

As a fish gleams most
fiercely before it dies,
so the scales of the sea-hag
shine with a hectic
putrescent glitter:

luminous, bleached—
white water—
that light in the narrows
before a storm breaks.