poem index

Laughter, Lost and Love

Laughter, Lost and Love
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My First Memory (of Librarians)
Nikki Giovanni, 1943
This is my first memory:
A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky
       wood floor
A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center
Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply
       too short
              For me to sit in and read
So my first book was always big

In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided
To the left side the card catalogue
On the right newspapers draped over what looked like
       a quilt rack
Magazines face out from the wall

The welcoming smile of my librarian
The anticipation in my heart
All those books—another world—just waiting
At my fingertips.
Laughter, Lost and Love
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Forgetfulness
Billy Collins, 1941
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, 
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those 
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
Laughter, Lost and Love
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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.
Laughter, Lost and Love
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In the Library
Charles Simic, 1938
for Octavio


There's a book called
"A Dictionary of Angels."
No one has opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.

She's very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.
Laughter, Lost and Love
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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.
Laughter, Lost and Love
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Snow
Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952
Once with my scarf knotted over my mouth
I lumbered into a storm of snow up the long hill
and did not know where I was going except to the top of it.
In those days we went out like that.
Even children went out like that.
Someone was crying hard at home again, 
raging blizzard of sobs.

I dragged the sled by its rope, 
which we normally did not do
when snow was coming down so hard,
pulling my brother whom I called by our secret name
as if we could be other people under the skin.
The snow bit into my face, prickling the rim
of the head where the hair starts coming out.
And it was a big one. It would come down and down
for days. People would dig their cars out like potatoes.

How are you doing back there? I shouted,
and he said Fine, I’m doing fine, 
in the sunniest voice he could muster 
and I think I should love him more today
for having used it.

At the top we turned and he slid down,
steering himself with the rope gripped in
his mittened hands. I stumbled behind
sinking deeply, shouting Ho! Look at him go!
as if we were having a good time.
Alone on the hill. That was the deepest
I ever went into the snow. Now I think of it
when I stare at paper or into silences
between human beings. The drifting 
accumulation. A father goes months 
without speaking to his son. 

How there can be a place 
so cold any movement saves you.

Ho! You bang your hands together,
stomp your feet.  The father could die!
The son! Before the weather changes.
Laughter, Lost and Love
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Affirmation
Donald Hall, 1928
To grow old is to lose everything. 
Aging, everybody knows it. 
Even when we are young, 
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads 
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer 
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters 
into debris on the shore, 
and a friend from school drops 
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us 
past middle age, our wife will die 
at her strongest and most beautiful. 
New women come and go. All go. 
The pretty lover who announces 
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand. 
Another friend of decades estranges himself 
in words that pollute thirty years. 
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge 
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.
Laughter, Lost and Love
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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.

Laughter, Lost and Love
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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.
Laughter, Lost and Love
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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.