poem index

To Life! To Love! - English 223

To Life! To Love! - English 223
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The Blue Terrance
Terrance Hayes, 1971

If you subtract the minor losses,
you can return to your childhood too:
the blackboard chalked with crosses,

the math teacher's toe ring. You
can be the black boy not even the buck-
toothed girls took a liking to:

the match box, these bones in their funk
machine, this thumb worn smooth
as the belly of a shovel. Thump. Thump.

Thump. Everything I hold takes root.
I remember what the world was like before
I heard the tide humping the shore smooth,

and the lyrics asking: How long has your door
been closed?
I remember a garter belt wrung
like a snake around a thigh in the shadows

of a wedding gown before it was flung
out into the bluest part of the night.
Suppose you were nothing but a song

in a busted speaker? Suppose you had to wipe
sweat from the brow of a righteous woman,
but all you owned was a dirty rag? That's why

the blues will never go out of fashion:
their half rotten aroma, their bloodshot octaves of
consequence; that's why when they call, Boy, you're in

trouble. Especially if you love as I love
falling to the earth. Especially if you're a little bit
high strung and a little bit gutted balloon. I love

watching the sky regret nothing but its
self, though only my lover knows it to be so,
and only after watching me sit

and stare off past Heaven. I love the word No
for its prudence, but I love the romantic
who submits finally to sex in a burning row-

house more. That's why nothing's more romantic
than working your teeth through
the muscle. Nothing's more romantic

than the way good love can take leave of you.
That's why I'm so doggone lonesome, Baby,
yes, I'm lonesome and I'm blue.

To Life! To Love! - English 223
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O Me! O Life!
Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892
O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;   
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;   
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who  more faithless?)   
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;   
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;          
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;   
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?   
   
                                                        Answer.

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;   
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
To Life! To Love! - English 223
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Your Catfish Friend
Richard Brautigan, 1935 - 1984
If I were to live my life 
in catfish forms
in scaffolds of skin and whiskers 
at the bottom of a pond 
and you were to come by 
   one evening
when the moon was shining 
down into my dark home 
and stand there at the edge 
   of my affection
and think, "It's beautiful 
here by this pond.  I wish 
   somebody loved me,"
I'd love you and be your catfish 
friend and drive such lonely 
thoughts from your mind 
and suddenly you would be
   at peace,
and ask yourself, "I wonder 
if there are any catfish 
in this pond?  It seems like 
a perfect place for them."
To Life! To Love! - English 223
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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.
To Life! To Love! - English 223
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This Was Once a Love Poem
Jane Hirshfield, 1953
This was once a love poem,
before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short,
before it found itself sitting,
perplexed and a little embarrassed,
on the fender of a parked car,
while many people passed by without turning their heads.

It remembers itself dressing as if for a great engagement.
It remembers choosing these shoes,
this scarf or tie.

Once, it drank beer for breakfast,
drifted its feet
in a river side by side with the feet of another.

Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy,
dropping its head so the hair would fall forward,
so the eyes would not be seen.

IT spoke with passion of history, of art.
It was lovely then, this poem.
Under its chin, no fold of skin softened.
Behind the knees, no pad of yellow fat.
What it knew in the morning it still believed at nightfall.
An unconjured confidence lifted its eyebrows, its cheeks.

The longing has not diminished.
Still it understands. It is time to consider a cat,
the cultivation of African violets or flowering cactus.

Yes, it decides:
Many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots. 
When it finds itself disquieted 
by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life,
it will touch them—one, then another—
with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.
To Life! To Love! - English 223
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Man and Wife
Robert Lowell, 1917 - 1977
Tamed by Miltown, we lie on Mother's bed;
the rising sun in war paint dyes us red;
in broad daylight her gilded bed-posts shine,
abandoned, almost Dionysian.
At last the trees are green on Marlborough Street,
blossoms on our magnolia ignite
the morning with their murderous five days' white.
All night I've held your hand,
as if you had
a fourth time faced the kingdom of the mad—
its hackneyed speech, its homicidal eye—
and dragged me home alive. . . .Oh my Petite,
clearest of all God's creatures, still all air and nerve:
you were in your twenties, and I,
once hand on glass
and heart in mouth,
outdrank the Rahvs in the heat
of Greenwich Village, fainting at your feet—
too boiled and shy
and poker-faced to make a pass,
while the shrill verve
of your invective scorched the traditional South.

Now twelve years later, you turn your back.
Sleepless, you hold
your pillow to your hollows like a child;
your old-fashioned tirade—
loving, rapid, merciless—
breaks like the Atlantic Ocean on my head.
To Life! To Love! - English 223
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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.

To Life! To Love! - English 223
next
Fish Fucking
Michael Blumenthal, 1949
This is not a poem about sex, or even
   about fish or the genitals of fish, 
So if you are a fisherman or someone interested
   primarily in sex, this would be as good a time
As any to put another worm on your hook 
   or find a poem that is really about fucking. 

This, rather, is a poem about language, 
   and about the connections between mind and ear
And the strange way a day makes its tenuous
   progress from almost anywhere. 

Which is why I've decided to begin with the idea
   of fish fucking (not literally, mind you, 
But the idea of fish fucking), because the other
   day, and a beautiful day it was, in Virginia
The woman I was with, commenting on the time
   between the stocking of a pond and the 

First day of fishing season, asked me if this
   was perhaps because of the frequency with which
Fish fuck, and—though I myself know nothing at all
   about the fucking of fish—indeed, I believe 

From the little biology I know that fish do not
   fuck at all as we know it, but rather the male
Deposits his sperm on the larvae, which the female, 
   in turn, has deposited—yet the question 
Somehow suggested itself to my mind as the starting
   point of the day, and from the idea of fish 

Fucking came thoughts of the time that passes
   between things and our experience of them, 
Not only between the stocking of the pond and our
   being permitted to fish in it, but the time, 

For example, that passes between the bouncing
   of light on the pond and our perception of the
Pond, or between the time I say the word jujungawop
   and the moment that word bounces against your 
Eardrum and the moment a bit further on when the
   nerves that run from the eardrum to the brain 

Inform you that you do not, in fact, know 
   the meaning of the word jujungawop, but this,
Perhaps, is moving a bit too far from the idea of 
   fish fucking and how beautifully blue the pond was 

That morning and how, lying among the reeds atop 
   the dam and listening to the water run under it, 
The thought occurred to me how the germ of an idea
   has little to do with the idea itself, and how 
It is rather a small leap from fish fucking to the
   anthropomorphic forms in a Miró painting, 

Or the way certain women, when they make love,
   pucker their lips and gurgle like fish, and how
This all points out how dangerous it is for a 
   man or a woman who wants a poet's attention 

To bring up an idea, even so ludicrous and 
   biologically ungrounded a one as fish fucking,
Because the next thing she knows the mind is taking 
   off over the dam from her beautiful face, off 
Over the hills of Virginia, perhaps as far as Guatemala 
   and the black bass that live in Lake Atitlán who 

Feast on the flightless grebe, which is not merely
   a sexual thought or a fishy one, but a thought 
About the cruelty that underlies even great beauty,
   the cruelty of nature and love and our lives which 

We cannot do without and without which even the idea
   of fish fucking would be ordinary and no larger than
Itself, but to return now to that particular day, and to 
   the idea of love, which inevitably arises from the 
Thought that even so seemingly unintelligent a creature
   as a fish could hold his loved one, naked in the water, 

And say to her, softly, Liebes, mein Lubes; it was 
   indeed a beautiful day, the kind filled with anticipation 
And longing for the small perfections usually found only 
   in poems; the breeze was slight enough just to brush 

A few of her hairs gently over one eye, the air was
   the scent of bayberry and pine as if the gods were
Burning incense in some heavenly living room, and
   as we lay among the reeds, our faces skyward, 
The sun fondling our cheeks, it was as if each 
   time we looked away from the world it took 

On again a precise yet general luminescence when we 
   returned to it, a clarity equally convincing as pain 
But more pleasing to the senses, and though it was not 
   such a moment of perfection as Keats or Hamsun 

Speak of and for the sake of which we can go on for 
   years almost blissful in our joylessness, it was 
A day when at least the possibility of such a thing 
   seemed possible: the deer tracks suggesting that 
Deer do, indeed, come to the edge of the woods to feed
   at dusk, and the idea of fish fucking suggesting 

A world so beautiful, so divine in its generosity 
   that even the fish make love, even the fish live 
Happily ever after, chasing each other, lustful 
   as stars through the constantly breaking water.
To Life! To Love! - English 223
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Autumn Movement
Carl Sandburg, 1878 - 1967
I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman, 
       the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things 
       come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go, 
       not one lasts.
To Life! To Love! - English 223
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Ghazal of the Better-Unbegun
Heather McHugh, 1948
A book is a suicide postponed.
--Cioran
Too volatile, am I?  too voluble?  too much a word-person?
I blame the soup:  I'm a primordially
stirred person.

Two pronouns and a vehicle was Icarus with wings.
The apparatus of his selves made an ab-
surd person.

The sound I make is sympathy's:  sad dogs are tied afar.
But howling I become an ever more un-
heard person.

I need a hundred more of you to make a likelihood.
The mirror's not convincing-- that at-best in-
ferred person.

As time's revealing gets revolting, I start looking out.
Look in and what you see is one unholy
blurred person.

The only cure for birth one doesn't love to contemplate.
Better to be an unsung song, an unoc-
curred person.

McHugh, you'll be the death of me -- each self and second studied!
Addressing you like this, I'm halfway to the
third person.
To Life! To Love! - English 223
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At a Window
Carl Sandburg, 1878 - 1967
Give me hunger,  
O you gods that sit and give  
The world its orders.  
Give me hunger, pain and want,  
Shut me out with shame and failure 
From your doors of gold and fame,  
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!  
  
But leave me a little love,  
A voice to speak to me in the day end,  
A hand to touch me in the dark room 
Breaking the long loneliness.  
In the dusk of day-shapes  
Blurring the sunset,  
One little wandering, western star  
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,  
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk  
And wait and know the coming  
Of a little love. 
To Life! To Love! - English 223
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I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 - 1926
I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone 
    enough
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small 
    enough
to be to you just object and thing, 
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying 
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions, 
where something is up, 
to be among those in the know, 
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection, 
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection. 
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent; 
for there I would be dishonest, untrue. 
I want my conscience to be 
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed 
for a long time, one close up, 
like a new word I learned and embraced, 
like the everday jug, 
like my mother's face, 
like a ship that carried me along 
through the deadliest storm.
To Life! To Love! - English 223
next
San Antonio
Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952
Tonight I lingered over your name,
the delicate assembly of vowels
a voice inside my head.
You were sleeping when I arrived.
I stood by your bed
and watched the sheets rise gently.
I knew what slant of light
would make you turn over.
It was then I felt 
the highways slide out of my hands.
I remembered the old men
in the west side cafe,
dealing dominoes like magical charms.
It was then I knew,
like a woman looking backward,
I could not leave you,
or find anyone I loved more.