poem index

Life as We Know It

Life as We Know It
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Be Drunk
Charles Baudelaire, 1821 - 1867

You have to be always drunk. That's all there is to it—it's the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: "It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish."

Life as We Know It
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As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII [All the world's a stage]
William Shakespeare, 1564 - 1616

Jaques to Duke Senior

                   
                          All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Life as We Know It
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I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl (443)
Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886
I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl— 
Life's little duties do—precisely— 
As the very least  
Were infinite—to me— 
    
I put new Blossoms in the Glass— 
And throw the old—away— 
I push a petal from my gown  
That anchored there—I weigh  
The time 'twill be till six o'clock  
I have so much to do— 
And yet—Existence—some way back— 
Stopped—struck—my ticking—through— 
We cannot put Ourself away  
As a completed Man  
Or Woman—When the Errand's done  
We came to Flesh—upon— 
There may be—Miles on Miles of Nought— 
Of Action—sicker far— 
To simulate—is stinging work— 
To cover what we are  
From Science—and from Surgery— 
Too Telescopic Eyes  
To bear on us unshaded— 
For their—sake—not for Ours— 
Twould start them— 
We—could tremble— 
But since we got a Bomb— 
And held it in our Bosom— 
Nay—Hold it—it is calm— 
    
Therefore—we do life's labor— 
Though life's Reward—be done— 
With scrupulous exactness— 
To hold our Senses—on—
Life as We Know It
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Live Blindly and Upon the Hour
Trumbull Stickney
Live blindly and upon the hour. The Lord, 
Who was the Future, died full long ago. 
Knowledge which is the Past is folly. Go, 
Poor, child, and be not to thyself abhorred. 
Around thine earth sun-winged winds do blow 
And planets roll; a meteor draws his sword; 
The rainbow breaks his seven-coloured chord 
And the long strips of river-silver flow: 
Awake! Give thyself to the lovely hours. 
Drinking their lips, catch thou the dream in flight 
About their fragile hairs' aerial gold. 
Thou art divine, thou livest,—as of old 
Apollo springing naked to the light, 
And all his island shivered into flowers.
Life as We Know It
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Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene III [O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?]
William Shakespeare, 1564 - 1616

The Clown, singing


O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?  
O stay and hear! your true-love’s coming  
That can sing both high and low;  
Trip no further, pretty sweeting,  
Journeys end in lovers’ meeting—          
Every wise man’s son doth know.  
  
What is love? ’tis not hereafter;  
Present mirth hath present laughter;  
What’s to come is still unsure:  
In delay there lies no plenty,—          
Then come kiss me, Sweet-and-twenty,  
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.
Life as We Know It
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Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.
Noah Eli Gordon
I'd give you another day dizzy 
in its bracket for the reluctant circumference 
of a sad sad satellite's antiquated orbital stoppage.
You can't jump with a lead foot, can't 
anthropomorphize insect anticipation, can't 
pixelate postcard nostalgia, can't 
trace a boy's tiny hand and call him
king of anything that crosses your path, your past,
your iconographic reluctance to let go the toehold
of ordinary New York lasting so long at night, so
lusty in traffic & another orphan absently
kicking the underside of an orange plastic chair.
Poems shouldn't make you wait for them to finish.
Like love, they should finish making you wait.
Life as We Know It
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The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Life as We Know It
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To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
Robert Herrick, 1591 - 1674
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
   Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
   Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun, 
   The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
   And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
   When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
   Times still succeed the former. 

Then be not coy, but use your time,
   And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
   You may forever tarry.
Life as We Know It
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A Song On the End of the World
Czeslaw Milosz, 1911 - 2004

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels' trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he's much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.

Life as We Know It
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To His Coy Mistress
Andrew Marvell, 1621 - 1678
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast;
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart;
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
   But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
   Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
Life as We Know It
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Archaic Torso of Apollo
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 - 1926
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could 
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
Life as We Know It
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The Layers
Stanley Kunitz, 1905 - 2006
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.  
Life as We Know It
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Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam
Ernest Dowson

The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long. –Horace




They are not long, the weeping and the laughter, 
Love and desire and hate: 
I think they have no portion in us after 
We pass the gate. 

They are not long, the days of wine and roses: 
Out of a misty dream 
Our path emerges for a while, then closes 
Within a dream.
Life as We Know It
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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.

Life as We Know It
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In View of the Fact
A. R. Ammons, 1926 - 2001
The people of my time are passing away: my
wife is baking for a funeral, a 60-year-old who

died suddenly, when the phone rings, and it's
Ruth we care so much about in intensive care:

it was once weddings that came so thick and
fast, and then, first babies, such a hullabaloo:

now, it's this that and the other and somebody
else gone or on the brink: well, we never

thought we would live forever (although we did)
and now it looks like we won't: some of us

are losing a leg to diabetes, some don't know
what they went downstairs for, some know that

a hired watchful person is around, some like
to touch the cane tip into something steady,

so nice: we have already lost so many,
brushed the loss of ourselves ourselves: our

address books for so long a slow scramble now
are palimpsests, scribbles and scratches: our

index cards for Christmases, birthdays,
Halloweens drop clean away into sympathies:

at the same time we are getting used to so
many leaving, we are hanging on with a grip

to the ones left: we are not giving up on the
congestive heart failure or brain tumors, on

the nice old men left in empty houses or on
the widows who decide to travel a lot: we

think the sun may shine someday when we'll
drink wine together and think of what used to

be: until we die we will remember every
single thing, recall every word, love every

loss: then we will, as we must, leave it to
others to love, love that can grow brighter

and deeper till the very end, gaining strength
and getting more precious all the way. . . .
Life as We Know It
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Abandonment Under the Walnut Tree
D. A. Powell, 1963
        "Your gang's done gone away."
                —The 119th Calypso, Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Something seems to have gnawed that walnut leaf.

You face your wrinkles, daily, in the mirror.
But the wrinkles are so slimming, they rather flatter.

Revel in the squat luck of that unhappy tree,
who can't take a mate from among the oaks or gums.

Ah, but if I could I would, the mirror version says, 
because he speaks to you. He is your truer self
all dopey in the glass. He wouldn't stand alone
for hours, without at least a feel for the gall of oaks,
the gum tree bud caps, the sweet gum's prickly balls.

Oh, he's a caution, that reflection man. 
He's made himself a study in the trees.
You is a strewn shattered leaf I'd step on, he says.
Do whatever it is you'd like to do. Be quick.
Life as We Know It
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El Dorado
Edgar Allan Poe, 1809 - 1849
   Gaily bedight,
   A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
   Had journeyed long,
   Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.

   But he grew old,
   This knight so bold,
And o'er his heart a shadow
   Fell as he found
   No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.

   And, as his strength
   Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow;
   "Shadow," said he,
   "Where can it be,
This land of Eldorado?"

   "Over the mountains
   Of the moon,
Down the valley of the shadow,
   Ride, boldly ride,"
   The shade replied,--
"If you seek for Eldorado!"
Life as We Know It
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Moonlight
Sara Teasdale, 1884 - 1933
It will not hurt me when I am old,
     A running tide where moonlight burned
          Will not sting me like silver snakes;
The years will make me sad and cold,
          It is the happy heart that breaks.

The heart asks more than life can give,
     When that is learned, then all is learned;
          The waves break fold on jewelled fold,
But beauty itself is fugitive,
          It will not hurt me when I am old.
Life as We Know It
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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.
Life as We Know It
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Fear of the Future
John Koethe, 1945
In the end one simply withdraws
From others and time, one's own time,
Becoming an imaginary Everyman
Inhabiting a few rooms, personifying 
The urge to tend one's garden,
A character of no strong attachments
Who made nothing happen, and to whom
Nothing ever actually happened—a fictitious
Man whose life was over from the start,
Like a diary or a daybook whose poems
And stories told the same story over
And over again, or no story. The pictures
And paintings hang crooked on the walls, 
The limbs beneath the sheets are frail and cold
And morning is an exercise in memory
Of a long failure, and of the years
Mirrored in the face of the immaculate
Child who can't believe he's old.
Life as We Know It
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The Young Man's Song
W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939
I whispered, "I am too young,"  
And then, "I am old enough";   
Wherefore I threw a penny   
To find out if I might love.   
"Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair,"   
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,   
I am looped in the loops of her hair.   
   
Oh, love is the crooked thing,   
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,   
For he would be thinking of love   
Till the stars had run away,   
And the shadows eaten the moon.   
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon. 
Life as We Know It
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My Lost Youth
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 - 1882
Often I think of the beautiful town  
  That is seated by the sea;  
Often in thought go up and down  
The pleasant streets of that dear old town,  
  And my youth comes back to me.           
    And a verse of a Lapland song  
    Is haunting my memory still  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
I can see the shadowy lines of its trees,            
  And catch, in sudden gleams,  
The sheen of the far-surrounding seas,  
And islands that were the Hesperides  
  Of all my boyish dreams.  
    And the burden of that old song,            
    It murmurs and whispers still:  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
I remember the black wharves and the slips,  
  And the sea-tides tossing free;            
And the Spanish sailors with bearded lips,  
And the beauty and mystery of the ships,  
  And the magic of the sea.  
    And the voice of that wayward song  
    Is singing and saying still:            
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
I remember the bulwarks by the shore,  
  And the fort upon the hill;  
The sunrise gun, with its hollow roar,            
The drum-beat repeated o'er and o'er,  
  And the bugle wild and shrill.  
    And the music of that old song  
    Throbs in my memory still:  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,            
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
I remember the sea-fight far away,  
  How it thundered o'er the tide!  
And the dead captains, as they lay  
In their graves, o'erlooking the tranquil bay            
  Where they in battle died.  
    And the sound of that mournful song  
    Goes through me with a thrill:  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'            
  
I can see the breezy dome of groves,  
  The shadows of Deering's Woods;  
And the friendship old and the early loves  
Come back with a Sabbath sound, as of doves  
  In quiet neighborhoods.            
    And the verse of that sweet old song,  
    It flutters and murmurs still:  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
I remember the gleams and glooms that dart            
  Across the school-boy's brain;  
The song and the silence in the heart,  
That in part are prophecies, and in part  
  Are longings wild and vain.  
    And the voice of that fitful song            
    Sings on, and is never still:  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
There are things of which I may not speak;  
  There are dreams that cannot die;            
There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,  
And bring a pallor into the cheek,  
  And a mist before the eye.  
    And the words of that fatal song  
    Come over me like a chill:            
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
Strange to me now are the forms I meet  
  When I visit the dear old town;  
But the native air is pure and sweet,            
And the trees that o'ershadow each well-known street,  
  As they balance up and down,  
    Are singing the beautiful song,  
    Are sighing and whispering still:  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,            
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'  
  
And Deering's Woods are fresh and fair,  
  And with joy that is almost pain  
My heart goes back to wander there,  
And among the dreams of the days that were,            
  I find my lost youth again.  
    And the strange and beautiful song,  
    The groves are repeating it still:  
    'A boy's will is the wind's will,  
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'
Life as We Know It
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Along with Youth
Ernest Hemingway
A porcupine skin,
Stiff with bad tanning,
It must have ended somewhere.
Stuffed horned owl
Pompous
Yellow eyed;
Chuck-wills-widow on a biassed twig
Sooted with dust.
Piles of old magazines,
Drawers of boy’s letters
And the line of love
They must have ended somewhere.
Yesterday's Tribune is gone
Along with youth
And the canoe that went to pieces on the beach
The year of the big storm
When the hotel burned down
At Seney, Michigan.
Life as We Know It
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Heart's Needle
W. D. Snodgrass, 1926 - 2009

 

For Cynthia
When Suibhe would not return to fine garments and good food, to his houses and his people, Loingseachan told him, "Your father is dead." "I'm sorry to hear it," he said. "Your mother is dead," said the lad. "All pity for me has gone out of the world." "Your sister, too, is dead." "The mild sun rests on every ditch," he said; "a sister loves even though not loved." "Suibhne, your daughter is dead." "And an only daughter is the needle of the heart." "And Suibhne, your little boy, who used to call you 'Daddy' he is dead." "Aye," said Suibhne, "that's the drop that brings a man to the ground."
     He fell out of the yew tree; Loingseachan closed his arms around him and placed him in manacles.

—after The Middle-Irish Romance
     The Madness of Suibhne

 

 

1

Child of my winter, born
When the new fallen soldiers froze
In Asia's steep ravines and fouled the snows,
When I was torn

By love I could not still,
By fear that silenced my cramped mind
To that cold war where, lost, I could not find
My peace in my will, 

All those days we could keep
Your mind a landscape of new snow
Where the chilled tenant-farmer finds, below,
His fields asleep

In their smooth covering, white
As quilts to warm the resting bed
Of birth or pain, spotless as paper spread
For me to write,

And thinks: Here lies my land
Unmarked by agony, the lean foot
Of the weasel tracking, the thick trapper's boot;
And I have planned

My chances to restrain
The torments of demented summer or
Increase the deepening harvest here before
It snows again.

 

 

2

   Late April and you are three; today
      We dug your garden in the yard.
   To curb the damage of your play,
Strange dogs at night and the moles tunneling,
   Four slender sticks of lath stand guard
      Uplifting their thin string.

   So you were the first to tramp it down.
      And after the earth was sifted close
   You brought your watering can to drown
All earth and us.  But these mixed seeds are pressed
   With light loam in their steadfast rows.
      Child, we've done our best.

   Someone will have to weed and spread
      The young sprouts.  Sprinkle them in the hour
   When shadow falls across their bed.
You should try to look at them every day
   Because when they come to full flower
      I will be away.

 

3

The child between them on the street
Comes to a puddle, lifts his feet
   And hangs on their hands. They start
At the Jive weight and lurch together,
Recoil to swing him through the weather,
   Stiffen and pull apart.

We read of cold war soldiers that
Never gained ground, gave none, but sat
   Tight in their chill trenches.
Pain seeps up from some cavity
Through the ranked teeth in sympathy;
   The whole jaw grinds and clenches

Till something somewhere has to give.
It's better the poor soldiers live
   In someone else's hands
Than drop where helpless powers fall
On crops and barns, on towns where all
   Will burn. And no man stands.

For good, they sever and divide
Their won and lost land. On each side
   Prisoners are returned
Excepting a few unknown names.
The peasant plods back and reclaims
   His fields that strangers burned

And nobody seems very pleased.
It's best. Still, what must not be seized
   Clenches the empty fist.
I tugged your hand, once, when I hated
Things less: a mere game dislocated
   The radius of your wrist.

Love's wishbone, child, although I've gone
As men must and let you be drawn
   Off to appease another,
It may help that a Chinese play
Or Solomon himself might say
   I am your real mother.

 

 

4

      No one can tell you why
   the season will not wait;
      the night I told you I
must leave, you wept a fearful rate
         to stay up late.

      Now that it's turning Fan,
   we go to take our walk
      among municipal
flowers, to steal one off its stalk,
         to try and talk.

      We huff like windy giants
   scattering with our breath
      gray-headed dandelions;
Spring is the cold wind's aftermath.
         The poet saith.

      But the asters, too, are gray,
   ghost-gray. Last night's cold
      is sending on their way
petunias and dwarf marigold,
         hunched sick and old.

      Like nerves caught in a graph,
   the morning-glory vines
      frost has erased by half
still scrawl across their rigid twines.
         Like broken lines

      of verses I can't make.
   In its unraveling loom
      we find a flower to take,
with some late buds that might still bloom,
         back to your room.

      Night comes and the stiff dew.
   I'm told a friend's child cried
      because a cricket, who
had minstreled every night outside
         her window, died.

 

 

5

Winter again and it is snowing;
Although you are still three,
You are already growing
Strange to me.

You chatter about new playmates, sing
Strange songs; you do not know
Hey ding-a-ding-a-ding
Or where I go

Or when I sang for bedtime, Fox
Went out on a chilly night,
Before I went for walks
And did not write;

You never mind the squalls and storms
That are renewed long since;
Outside, the thick snow swarms
Into my prints

And swirls out by warehouses, sealed,
Dark cowbarns, huddled, still,
Beyond to the blank field,
The fox's hill

Where he backtracks and sees the paw,
Gnawed off, he cannot feel;
Conceded to the jaw
Of toothed, blue steel.

 

 

6

      Easter has come around
   again; the river is rising
      over the thawed ground
   and the banksides. When you come you bring
      an egg dyed lavender.
   We shout along our bank to hear
our voices returning from the hills to meet us.
   We need the landscape to repeat us.

      You Jived on this bank first.
   While nine months filled your term, we knew
      how your lungs, immersed
   in the womb, miraculously grew
      their useless folds till
   the fierce, cold air rushed in to fill
them out like bushes thick with leaves. You took your hour,
   caught breath, and cried with your full lung power.

      Over the stagnant bight
   we see the hungry bank swallow
      flaunting his free flight
   still; we sink in mud to follow
      the killdeer from the grass
   that hides her nest. That March there was
rain; the rivers rose; you could hear killdeers flying
   all night over the mudflats crying.

      You bring back how the red-
   winged blackbird shrieked, slapping frail wings,
      diving at my head—
   I saw where her tough nest, cradled, swings
      in tall reeds that must sway
   with the winds blowing every way.
If you recall much, you recall this place. You still
   live nearby—on the opposite hill.

      After the sharp windstorm
   of July Fourth, all that summer
      through the gentle, warm
   afternoons, we heard great chain saws chirr
      like iron locusts. Crews
   of roughneck boys swarmed to cut loose
branches wrenched in the shattering wind, to hack free
   all the torn limbs that could sap the tree.

      In the debris lay
   starlings, dead. Near the park's birdrun
      we surprised one day
   a proud, tan-spatted, buff-brown pigeon.
      In my hands she flapped so
   fearfully that I let her go.
Her keeper came. And we helped snarl her in a net.
   You bring things I'd as soon forget.

      You raise into my head
   a Fall night that I came once more
      to sit on your bed;
   sweat beads stood out on your arms and fore-
      head and you wheezed for breath,
   for help, like some child caught beneath
its comfortable wooly blankets, drowning there.
   Your lungs caught and would not take the air.

      Of all things, only we
   have power to choose that we should die;
      nothing else is free
   in this world to refuse it. Yet I,
      who say this, could not raise
   myself from bed how many days
to the thieving world. Child, I have another wife,
   another child. We try to choose our life.

 

 

7

Here in the scuffled dust
   is our ground of play.
I lift you on your swing and must
   shove you away,
see you return again,
   drive you off again, then

stand quiet till you come.
   You, though you climb
higher, farther from me, longer,
   will fall back to me stronger.
Bad penny, pendulum,
   you keep my constant time

to bob in blue July
   where fat goldfinches fly
over the glittering, fecund
   reach of our growing lands.
Once more now, this second,
   I hold you in my hands.

 

 

8

I thumped on you the best I could
      which was no use;
you would not tolerate your food
until the sweet, fresh milk was soured
      with lemon juice.

That puffed you up like a fine yeast.
   The first June in your yard
like some squat Nero at a feast
you sat and chewed on white, sweet clover.
      That is over.

When you were old enough to walk
      we went to feed
the rabbits in the park milkweed;
saw the paired monkeys, under lock,
   consume each other's salt.

Going home we watched the slow
stars follow us down Heaven's vault.
You said, let's catch one that comes low,
      pull off its skin
   and cook it for our dinner.

   As absentee bread-winner,
I seldom got you such cuisine;
we ate in local restaurants
or bought what lunches we could pack
      in a brown sack

with stale, dry bread to toss for ducks
   on the green-scummed lagoons,
crackers for porcupine and fox,
life-savers for the footpad coons
      to scour and rinse,

snatch after in their muddy pail
   and stare into their paws.
When I moved next door to the jail
      I learned to fry
omelettes and griddle cakes so I

could set you supper at my table.
As I built back from helplessness,
      when I grew able,
the only possible answer was
   you had to come here less.

This Hallowe'en you come one week.
      You masquerade
   as a vermilion, sleek,
fat, crosseyed fox in the parade
or, where grim jackolanterns leer,

go with your bag from door to door
foraging for treats. How queer:
   when you take off your mask
my neighbors must forget and ask
      whose child you are.

Of course you lose your appetite,
   whine and won't touch your plate;
      as local law
I set your place on an orange crate
in your own room for days. At night

you lie asleep there on the bed
      and grate your jaw.
Assuredly your father's crimes
      are visited
on you. You visit me sometimes.

The time's up. Now our pumpkin sees
   me bringing your suitcase.
      He holds his grin;
the forehead shrivels, sinking in.
You break this year's first crust of snow

off the runningboard to eat.
   We manage, though for days
I crave sweets when you leave and know
they rot my teeth. Indeed our sweet
      foods leave us cavities.

 

 

9

   I get numb and go in
though the dry ground will not hold
   the few dry swirls of snow
and it must not be very cold.
A friend asks how you've been
      and I don't know

   or see much right to ask.
Or what use it could be to know.
   In three months since you came
the leaves have fallen and the snow;
your pictures pinned above my desk
      seem much the same.

   Somehow I come to find
myself upstairs in the third floor
   museum's halls,
walking to kill my time once more
among the enduring and resigned
      stuffed animals,

   where, through a century's
caprice, displacement and
   known treachery between
its wars, they hear some old command
and in their peaceable kingdoms freeze
      to this still scene,

   Nature Morte. Here
by the door, its guardian,
   the patchwork dodo stands
where you and your stepsister ran
laughing and pointing. Here, last year,
      you pulled my hands

   and had your first, worst quarrel,
so toys were put up on your shelves.
   Here in the first glass cage
the little bobcats arch themselves,
still practicing their snarl
      of constant rage.

   The bison, here, immense,
shoves at his calf, brow to brow,
   and looks it in the eye
to see what is it thinking now.
I forced you to obedience;
      I don't know why.

   Still the lean lioness
beyond them, on her jutting ledge
   of shale and desert shrub,
stands watching always at the edge,
stands hard and tanned and envious
      above her cub;

   with horns locked in tan heather,
two great Olympian Elk stand bound,
   fixed in their lasting hate
till hunger brings them both to ground.
Whom equal weakness binds together
      none shall separate.

   Yet separate in the ocean
of broken ice, the white bear reels
   beyond the leathery groups
of scattered, drab Arctic seals
arrested here in violent motion
      like Napoleon's troops.

   Our states have stood so long
At war, shaken with hate and dread,
   they are paralyzed at bay;
once we were out of reach, we said,
we would grow reasonable and strong.
      Some other day.

   Like the cold men of Rome,
we have won costly fields to sow
   in salt, our only seed.
Nothing but injury will grow.
I write you only the bitter poems
      that you can't read.

   Onan who would not breed
a child to take his brother's bread
   and be his brother's birth,
rose up and left his lawful bed,
went out and spilled his seed
      in the cold earth.

   I stand by the unborn,
by putty-colored children curled
   in jars of alcohol,
that waken to no other world,
unchanging, where no eye shall mourn.
      I see the caul

   that wrapped a kitten, dead.
I see the branching, doubled throat
   of a two-headed foal;
I see the hydrocephalic goat;
here is the curled and swollen head,
      there, the burst skull;

   skin of a limbless calf;
a horse's foetus, mummified;
   mounted and joined forever,
the Siamese twin dogs that ride
belly to belly, half and half,
      that none shall sever.

   I walk among the growths,
by gangrenous tissue, goiter, cysts,
   by fistulas and cancers,
where the malignancy man loathes
is held suspended and persists.
      And I don't know the answers.

   The window's turning white.
The world moves like a diseased heart
   packed with ice and snow.
Three months now we have been apart
less than a mile. I cannot fight
      or let you go.

 

 

10

The vicious winter finally yields
   the green winter wheat;
the farmer, tired in the tired fields
   he dare not leave will eat.

Once more the runs come fresh; prevailing
   piglets, stout as jugs,
harry their old sow to the railing
   to ease her swollen dugs

and game colts trail the herded mares
   that circle the pasture courses;
our seasons bring us back once more
   like merry-go-round horses.

With crocus mouths, perennial hungers,
   into the park Spring comes;
we roast hot dogs on old coat hangers
   and feed the swan bread crumbs,

pay our respects to the peacocks, rabbits,
   and leathery Canada goose
who took, last Fall, our tame white habits
   and now will not turn loose.

In full regalia, the pheasant cocks
   march past their dubious hens;
the porcupine and the lean, red fox
   trot around bachelor pens

and the miniature painted train
   wails on its oval track:
you said, I'm going to Pennsylvania!
   and waved. And you've come back.

If I loved you, they said, I'd leave
   and find my own affairs.
Well, once again this April, we've
   come around to the bears;

punished and cared for, behind bars,
   the coons on bread and water
stretch thin black fingers after ours.
   And you are still my daughter.

 

Life as We Know It
next
First Gestures
Julia Spicher Kasdorf, 1962
Among the first we learn is good-bye, 
your tiny wrist between Dad's forefinger 
and thumb forced to wave bye-bye to Mom, 
whose hand sails brightly behind a windshield. 
Then it's done to make us follow:
in a crowded mall, a woman waves, "Bye, 
we're leaving," and her son stands firm 
sobbing, until at last he runs after her, 
among shoppers drifting like sharks 
who must drag their great hulks 
underwater, even in sleep, or drown.

Living, we cover vast territories; 
imagine your life drawn on a map-- 
a scribble on the town where you grew up, 
each bus trip traced between school 
and home, or a clean line across the sea 
to a place you flew once. Think of the time 
and things we accumulate, all the while growing 
more conscious of losing and leaving. Aging, 
our bodies collect wrinkles and scars 
for each place the world would not give 
under our weight. Our thoughts get laced 
with strange aches, sweet as the final chord 
that hangs in a guitar's blond torso.

Think how a particular ridge of hills 
from a summer of your childhood grows
in significance, or one hour of light-- 
late afternoon, say, when thick sun flings 
the shadow of Virginia creeper vines 
across the wall of a tiny, white room 
where a girl makes love for the first time. 
Its leaves tremble like small hands 
against the screen while she weeps 
in the arms of her bewildered lover. 
She's too young to see that as we gather 
losses, we may also grow in love; 
as in passion, the body shudders 
and clutches what it must release.
Life as We Know It
next
Beyond the Years
Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1872 - 1906
I

Beyond the years the answer lies,
Beyond where brood the grieving skies
   And Night drops tears.
Where Faith rod-chastened smiles to rise
   And doff its fears,
And carping Sorrow pines and dies—
   Beyond the years.

II

Beyond the years the prayer for rest
Shall beat no more within the breast;
   The darkness clears,
And Morn perched on the mountain's crest
   Her form uprears—
The day that is to come is best,
   Beyond the years.

III

Beyond the years the soul shall find
That endless peace for which it pined,
   For light appears,
And to the eyes that still were blind
   With blood and tears,
Their sight shall come all unconfined
   Beyond the years.
Life as We Know It
next
When You are Old
W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
Life as We Know It
next
Almost Sixty
Jim Moore
1

    No, I don't know

the way to get there.
    Two empty suitcases sit in the corner,
if that's any kind of clue.

2

    This spring night,

everyone at the party
    younger than me
except for one man.
    We give each other the secret password.

3

    Tears? Of course, but also the marsh grass

near the Mississippi:
    your whispers and mine,
and the dog's long contented sighs.
Life as We Know It
next
Fixed Interval
Devin Johnston
When he turns fifteen, you'll be fifty-four.
When he turns thirty, you'll be sixty-nine.
This plain arithmetic amazes more
than miracle, the constant difference more
than mere recursion of father in son.
If you reach eighty, he'll be forty-one!

The same sun wheels around again, the dawn
drawn out and hammered thin as a copper sheet.
When he turns sixty you'll be gone.
Compacted mud, annealed by summer heat,
two ruts incise this ghost-forsaken plain
and keep their track width, never to part or meet.
Life as We Know It
next
The Human Seasons
John Keats, 1795 - 1821
Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of man:
He has his lusty Spring, when fancy clear Takes in all beauty with an easy span: He has his Summer, when luxuriously Spring's honeyed cud of youthful thought he loves To ruminate, and by such dreaming high Is nearest unto Heaven: quiet coves His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings He furleth close; contented so to look On mists in idleness—to let fair things Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook:— He has his Winter too of pale misfeature, Or else he would forego his mortal nature.
Life as We Know It
next
The Edges of Time
Kay Ryan, 1945

 

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Life as We Know It
next
On Time
John Milton, 1608 - 1674
Fly envious Time, till thou run out thy race,   
Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours,   
Whose speed is but the heavy Plummets pace;   
And glut thy self with what thy womb devours,   
Which is no more then what is false and vain,  
And meerly mortal dross;   
So little is our loss,   
So little is thy gain.   
For when as each thing bad thou hast entomb'd,   
And last of all, thy greedy self consum'd,
Then long Eternity shall greet our bliss   
With an individual kiss;   
And Joy shall overtake us as a flood,   
When every thing that is sincerely good   
And perfectly divine,  
With Truth, and Peace, and Love shall ever shine   
About the supreme Throne   
Of him, t'whose happy-making sight alone,   
When once our heav'nly-guided soul shall clime,   
Then all this Earthy grosnes quit,  
Attir'd with Stars, we shall for ever sit,   
  Triumphing over Death, and Chance, and thee O Time.