poem index

A Feast of Modern Language

A Feast of Modern Language
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Blue or Green
James Galvin, 1951
We don't belong to each other.
		          We belong together.
	                                                                  Some poems 
belong together to prove the intentionality of subatomic particles.
                                     
Some poems eat with scissors.
                                                     Some poems are like kissing a 
porcupine. 
                   God, by the way, is disappointed in some of your recent 
choices.
               Some poems swoop.
                                                   When she said my eyes were 
definitely blue, I said, How can you see that in the dark?
				      How can
you not? she said, and that was like some poems.
                                                                                  Some poems are 
blinded three times.
                                   Some poems go like death before dishonor.
	                                                                     
Some poems go like the time she brought cherries to the movies; 
later a heedless picnic in her bed.
		                 Never revered I crumbs so
highly.
            Some poems have perfect posture, as if hanging by 
filaments from the sky. 
                                        Those poems walk like dancers, 
noiselessly.
                      All poems are love poems.  
                                                                   Some poems are better off 
dead.
           Right now I want something I don't believe in.
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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.
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Alone
Maya Angelou, 1928 - 2014
Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can't use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They've got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.
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Derrick Poem (The Lost World)
Terrance Hayes, 1971
I take my $, buy a pair of very bright kicks for the game
at the bottom of the hill on Tuesday w / Tone who averages
19.4 points a game, & told me about this spot, & this salesman
w / gold ringed fingers fitting a $100 dollar NBA Air Avenger
over the white part of me–my sock, my heel & sole,
though I tell him Avengers are too flashy & buy blue & white
Air Flights w / the dough I was suppose to use to pay
the light bill & worse, use the change to buy an Ella
Fitzgerald CD at Jerrys, then take them both in a bag
past salesmen & pedestrians to the C where there is a girl
I'd marry if I was Pablo Neruda & after 3, 4 blocks, I spill out
humming "April in Paris" while a lady w / a 12 inch cigar
calls the driver a facist cuz he won't let her smoke on the bus
& skinny Derrick rolls up in a borrowed Pontiac w / room
for me, my kicks & Ella on his way to see The Lost World
alone & though I think the title could mean something else,
I give him some skin & remember the last time I saw him
I was on the B-ball court after dark w / a white girl
who'd borrowed my shorts & the only other person out
was Derrick throwing a Spalding at the crooked rim
no one usually shoots at while I tried not to look his way
& thought how we used to talk about black women
& desire & how I was betraying him then creeping out
after sundown with a girl in my shorts & white skin
that slept around me the 5 or 6 weeks before she got tired
of late night hoop lessons & hiding out in my crib
there at the top of the hill Derrick drove up still talking,
not about black girls, but dinosaurs which if I was listening
could have been talk about loneliness, but I wasn't,
even when he said, "We should go to the movies sometime,"
& stopped.
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Muse
Meena Alexander, 1951
I was young when you came to me. 
Each thing rings its turn, 
you sang in my ear, a slip of a thing 
dressed like a convent girl--
white socks, shoes, 
dark blue pinafore, white blouse.

A pencil box in hand: girl, book, tree-- 
those were the words you gave me. 
Girl was penne, hair drawn back, 
gleaming on the scalp, 
the self in a mirror in a rosewood room 
the sky at monsoon time, pearl slits

In cloud cover, a jagged music pours:
gash of sense, raw covenant 
clasped still in a gold bound book, 
pusthakam pages parted, 
ink rubbed with mist,
a bird might have dreamt its shadow there

spreading fire in a tree maram.
You murmured the word, sliding it on your tongue, 
trying to get how a girl could turn
into a molten thing and not burn. 
Centuries later worn out from travel 
I rest under a tree.

You come to me 
a bird shedding gold feathers, 
each one a quill scraping my tympanum. 
You set a book to my ribs. 
Night after night I unclasp it 
at the mirror's edge 

alphabets flicker and soar. 
Write in the light 
of all the languages 
you know the earth contains, 
you murmur in my ear.
This is pure transport.
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Operation Memory
David Lehman, 1948
We were smoking some of this knockout weed when
Operation Memory was announced. To his separate bed
Each soldier went, counting backwards from a hundred
With a needle in his arm. And there I was, in the middle
Of a recession, in the middle of a strange city, between jobs
And apartments and wives. Nobody told me the gun was loaded.

We'd been drinking since early afternoon. I was loaded.
The doctor made me recite my name, rank, and serial number when
I woke up, sweating, in my civvies. All my friends had jobs
As professional liars, and most had partners who were good in bed.
What did I have? Just this feeling of always being in the middle
Of things, and the luck of looking younger than fifty.

At dawn I returned to draft headquarters. I was eighteen
And counting backwards. The interviewer asked one loaded
Question after another, such as why I often read the middle
Of novels, ignoring their beginnings and their ends. when
Had I decided to volunteer for intelligence work? "In bed
With a broad," I answered, with locker-room bravado. The truth was, jobs

Were scarce, and working on Operation Memory was better than no job
At all. Unamused, the judge looked at his watch. It was 1970
By the time he spoke. Recommending clemency, he ordered me to go to bed
At noon and practice my disappearing act. Someone must have loaded
The harmless gun on the wall in Act I when
I was asleep. And there I was, without an alibi, in the middle

Of a journey down nameless, snow-covered streets, in the middle
Of a mystery--or a muddle. These were the jobs
That saved men's souls, or so I was told, but when
The orphans assembled for their annual reunion, ten
Years later, on the playing fields of Eton, each unloaded
A kit bag full of troubles, and smiled bravely, and went to bed.

Thanks to Operation Memory, each of us woke up in a different bed
Or coffin, with a different partner beside him, in the middle
Of a war that had never been declared. No one had time to load
His weapon or see to any of the dozen essential jobs
Preceding combat duty. And there I was, dodging bullets, merely one
In a million whose lucky number had come up. When

It happened, I was asleep in bed, and when I woke up,
It was over: I was 38, on the brink of middle age,
A succession of stupid jobs behind me, a loaded gun on my lap.
A Feast of Modern Language
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Letter [Persephone to Demeter]
Rachel Zucker
At home, the bells were a high light-yellow
with no silver or gray just buttercup or sugar-and-lemon.

Here bodies are lined in blue against the sea.
And where red is red there is only red.

I have to be blue to bathe in the sea.
Red, to live in the red room with red air

to rest my head, red cheek down, on the red table.

Above, it was so green: brown, yellow, white, green.
My longing for red furious, sexual.

There things were alive but nothing moved.
Now I live near the sea in a place which has no blue and is not the sea.

Gulls flock, leeward then tangent
and pigeons bully them off the ground.

Hardly alive, almost blind-a hot geometry casts off
every color of the world. Everything moves, nothing alive.

In the red room there is a sky which is painted over in red
but is not red and was, once, the sky.

This is how I live.

A red table in a red room filled with air.
A woman, edged in blue, bathing in the blue sea.

The surface like the pale, scaled skin of fish
far below or above or away—

 

A Feast of Modern Language
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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.
A Feast of Modern Language
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Blues
Elizabeth Alexander, 1962
I am lazy, the laziest
girl in the world. I sleep during
the day when I want to, 'til
my face is creased and swollen,
'til my lips are dry and hot. I 
eat as I please: cookies and milk
after lunch, butter and sour cream
on my baked potato, foods that
slothful people eat, that turn
yellow and opaque beneath the skin.
Sometimes come dinnertime Sunday
I am still in my nightgown, the one
with the lace trim listing because
I have not mended it. Many days
I do not exercise, only
consider it, then rub my curdy
belly and lie down. Even
my poems are lazy. I use
syllabics instead of iambs,
prefer slant to the gong of full rhyme,
write briefly while others go
for pages. And yesterday,
for example, I did not work at all!
I got in my car and I drove 
to factory outlet stores, purchased
stockings and panties and socks
with my father's money.

To think, in childhood I missed only
one day of school per year. I went
to ballet class four days a week
at four-forty-five and on
Saturdays, beginning always
with plie, ending with curtsy.
To think, I knew only industry,
the industry of my race
and of immigrants, the radio
tuned always to the station
that said, Line up your summer
job months in advance. Work hard
and do not shame your family,
who worked hard to give you what you have.
There is no sin but sloth. Burn
to a wick and keep moving.

I avoided sleep for years,
up at night replaying 
evening news stories about
nearby jailbreaks, fat people
who ate fried chicken and woke up
dead. In sleep I am looking
for poems in the shape of open
V's of birds flying in formation,
or open arms saying, I forgive you, all.
A Feast of Modern Language
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Couture
Mark Doty, 1953
1.

Peony silks,
	in wax-light:
		that petal-sheen,

gold or apricot or rose
	candled into-
		what to call it,

lumina, aurora, aureole?
	About gowns,
		the Old Masters,


were they ever wrong?
	This penitent Magdalen's
		wrapped in a yellow

so voluptuous
	she seems to wear
		all she's renounced;

this boy angel
	isn't touching the ground,
		but his billow

of yardage refers
	not to heaven
		but to pleasure's

textures, the tactile
	sheers and voiles
		and tulles

which weren't made
	to adorn the soul.
		Eternity's plainly nude;

the naked here and now
	longs for a little
		dressing up. And though

they seem to prefer
	the invisible, every saint
		in the gallery

flaunts an improbable
	tumble of drapery,
		a nearly audible liquidity

(bright brass embroidery,
	satin's violin-sheen)
		raveled around the body's

plain prose; exquisite
	(dis?)guises; poetry,
		music, clothes.

2.

Nothing needs to be this lavish.
	Even the words I'd choose
		for these leaves;

intricate, stippled, foxed,
	tortoise, mottled, splotched
		-jeweled adjectives

for a forest by Fabergé,
	all cloisonné and enamel,
		a yellow grove golden

in its gleaming couture,
	brass buttons
		tumbling to the floor.

Who's it for?
	Who's the audience
		for this bravura?

Maybe the world's
	just trompe l'oeil,
		appearances laid out

to dazzle the eye;
	who could see through this
		to any world beyond forms?

Maybe the costume's
	the whole show,
		all of revelation

we'll be offered.
	So? Show me what's not
		a world of appearances.

Autumn's a grand old drag
	in torched and tumbled chiffon
		striking her weary pose.

Talk about your mellow
	fruitfulness! Smoky alto,
		thou hast thy music,

too; unforgettable,
	those October damasks,
		the dazzling kimono

worn, dishabille,
	uncountable curtain calls
		in these footlights'

dusky, flattering rose.
	The world's made fabulous
		by fabulous clothes.