poem index

Palm to Palm

Palm to Palm
next
Nomad Exquisite
Wallace Stevens, 1879 - 1955
As the immense dew of Florida
Brings forth
The big-finned palm
And green vine angering for life,

As the immense dew of Florida
Brings forth hymn and hymn
From the beholder,
Beholding all these green sides
And gold sides of green sides,

And blessed mornings,
Meet for the eye of the young alligator,
And lightning colors
So, in me, come flinging
Forms, flames, and the flakes of flames.
Palm to Palm
next
Auguries of Innocence
William Blake, 1757 - 1827
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour
A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage 
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr' all its regions 
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State 
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood 
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear 
A Skylark wounded in the wing 
A Cherubim does cease to sing 
The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright 
Every Wolfs & Lions howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul 
The wild deer, wandring here & there 
Keeps the Human Soul from Care 
The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife
And yet forgives the Butchers knife 
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that wont Believe
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbelievers fright
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belovd by Men 
He who the Ox to wrath has movd
Shall never be by Woman lovd
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spiders enmity 
He who torments the Chafers Sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night 
The Catterpiller on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief 
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly 
For the Last Judgment draweth nigh 
He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar 
The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat 
Feed them & thou wilt grow fat 
The Gnat that sings his Summers Song
Poison gets from Slanders tongue 
The poison of the Snake & Newt
Is the sweat of Envys Foot 
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artists Jealousy
The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags
Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags 
A Truth thats told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent 
It is right it should be so 
Man was made for Joy & Woe 
And when this we rightly know 
Thro the World we safely go 
Joy & Woe are woven fine 
A Clothing for the soul divine 
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine 
The Babe is more than swadling Bands
Throughout all these Human Lands
Tools were made & Born were hands 
Every Farmer Understands
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity 
This is caught by Females bright
And returnd to its own delight 
The Bleat the Bark Bellow & Roar 
Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore 
The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of Death 
The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air
Does to Rags the Heavens tear 
The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun 
Palsied strikes the Summers Sun
The poor Mans Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Africs Shore
One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands
Shall buy & sell the Misers Lands 
Or if protected from on high 
Does that whole Nation sell & buy 
He who mocks the Infants Faith
Shall be mockd in Age & Death 
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall neer get out 
He who respects the Infants faith
Triumphs over Hell & Death 
The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons 
The Questioner who sits so sly 
Shall never know how to Reply 
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out 
The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesars Laurel Crown 
Nought can Deform the Human Race
Like to the Armours iron brace 
When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow 
A Riddle or the Crickets Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply 
The Emmets Inch & Eagles Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile 
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will neer Believe do what you Please 
If the Sun & Moon should Doubt 
Theyd immediately Go out 
To be in a Passion you Good may Do 
But no Good if a Passion is in you 
The Whore & Gambler by the State
Licencd build that Nations Fate 
The Harlots cry from Street to Street 
Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet 
The Winners Shout the Losers Curse 
Dance before dead Englands Hearse 
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born 
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to sweet delight 
Some are Born to Endless Night 
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night 
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light 
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night 
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day
Palm to Palm
next
The Letter
Mary Ruefle, 1952

Beloved, men in thick green coats came crunching
through the snow, the insignia on their shoulders
of uncertain origin, a country I could not be sure of,
a salute so terrifying I heard myself lying to avoid
arrest, and was arrested along with Jocko, whose tear
had snapped off, a tiny icicle he put in his mouth.
We were taken to the ice prison, a palace encrusted
with hoarfrost, its dome lit from within, Jocko admired
the wiring, he kicked the walls to test the strength
of his new boots. A television stood in a block of ice,
its blue image still moving like a liquid center.
You asked for my innermost thoughts. I wonder will I
ever see a grape again? When I think of the vineyard
where we met in October-- when you dropped a cluster
custom insisted you be kissed by a stranger-- how after
the harvest we plunged into a stream so icy our palms
turned pink. It seemed our future was sealed. Everyone
said so. It is quiet here. Not closing our ranks
weakens us hugely. The snowflakes fall in a featureless
bath. I am the stranger who kissed you. On sunny days
each tree is a glittering chandelier. The power of
mindless beauty! Jocko told a joke and has been dead
since May. A bullethole in his forehead the officers
call a third eye. For a month I milked a barnful of
cows. It is a lot like cleansing a chandelier. Wipe
and polish, wipe and polish, round and round you go.
I have lost my spectacles. Is the book I was reading
still open by the side of our bed? Treat it as a bookmark
saving my place in our story.

(here the letter breaks off)
Palm to Palm
next
The Widening Spell of the Leaves
Larry Levis, 1946 - 1996
   --The Carpathian Frontier, October, 1968
          --for my brother

Once, in a foreign country, I was suddenly ill.
I was driving south toward a large city famous
For so little it had a replica, in concrete,
In two-thirds scale, of the Arc de Triomphe stuck
In the midst of traffic, & obstructing it.
But the city was hours away, beyond the hills
Shaped like the bodies of sleeping women.
Often I had to slow down for herds of goats
Or cattle milling on those narrow roads, & for
The narrower, lost, stone streets of villages
I passed through. The pains in my stomach had grown
Gradually sharper & more frequent as the day
Wore on, & now a fever had set up house.
In the villages there wasn't much point in asking
Anyone for help. In those places, where tanks
Were bivouacked in shade on their way back
From some routine exercise along
The Danube, even food was scarce that year.
And the languages shifted for no clear reason
From two hard quarries of Slavic into German,
Then to a shred of Latin spliced with oohs
And hisses. Even when I tried the simplest phrases,
The peasants passing over those uneven stones
Paused just long enough to look up once,
Uncomprehendingly. Then they turned
Quickly away, vanishing quietly into that
Moment, like bark chips whirled downriver.
It was autumn. Beyond each village the wind
Threw gusts of yellowing leaves across the road.
The goats I passed were thin, gray; their hind legs,
Caked with dried shit, seesawed along--
Not even mild contempt in their expressionless,
Pale eyes, & their brays like the scraping of metal.
Except for one village that had a kind
Of museum where I stopped to rest, & saw
A dead Scythian soldier under glass,
Turning to dust while holding a small sword
At attention forever, there wasn't much to look at.
Wind, leaves, goats, the higher passes
Locked in stone, the peasants with their fate
Embroidering a stillness into them,
And a spell over all things in that landscape,
Like . . .
             That was the trouble; it couldn't be
Compared to anything else, not even the sleep
Of some asylum at a wood's edge with the sound
Of a pond's spillway beside it. But as each cramp
Grew worse & lasted longer than the one before,
It was hard to keep myself aloof from the threadbare
World walking on that road. After all,
Even as they moved, the peasants, the herds of goats
And cattle, the spiralling leaves, at least were part
Of that spell, that stillness.
                    After a while,
The villages grew even poorer, then thinned out,
Then vanished entirely. An hour later,
There were no longer even the goats, only wind,
Then more & more leaves blown over the road, sometimes
Covering it completely for a second.
And yet, except for a random oak or some brush
Writhing out of the ravine I drove beside,
The trees had thinned into rock, into large,
Tough blonde rosettes of fading pasture grass.
Then that gave out in a bare plateau. . . . And then,
Easing the Dacia down a winding grade
In second gear, rounding a long, funneled curve--
In a complete stillness of yellow leaves filling
A wide field--like something thoughtlessly,
Mistakenly erased, the road simply ended.
I stopped the car. There was no wind now.
I expected that, & though I was sick & lost,
I wasn't afraid. I should have been afraid.
To this day I don't know why I wasn't.
I could hear time cease, the field quietly widen.
I could feel the spreading stillness of the place
Moving like something I'd witnessed as a child,
Like the ancient, armored leisure of some reptile
Gliding, gray-yellow, into the slightly tepid,
Unidentical gray-brown stillness of the water--
Something blank & unresponsive in its tough,
Pimpled skin--seen only a moment, then unseen
As it submerged to rest on mud, or glided just
Beneath the lustreless, calm yellow leaves
That clustered along a log, or floated there
In broken ringlets, held by a gray froth
On the opaque, unbroken surface of the pond,
Which reflected nothing, no one.
                    And then I remembered.
When I was a child, our neighbors would disappear.
And there wasn't a pond of crocodiles at all.
And they hadn't moved. They couldn't move. They
Lived in the small, fenced-off backwater
Of a canal. I'd never seen them alive. They
Were in still photographs taken on the Ivory Coast.
I saw them only once in a studio when
I was a child in a city I once loved.
I was afraid until our neighbor, a photographer,
Explained it all to me, explained how far
Away they were, how harmless; how they were praised
In rituals as "powers." But they had no "powers,"
He said. The next week he vanished. I thought
Someone had cast a spell & that the crocodiles
Swam out of the pictures on the wall & grew
Silently & multiplied & then turned into
Shadows resting on the banks of lakes & streams
Or took the shapes of fallen logs in campgrounds
In the mountains. They ate our neighbor, Mr. Hirata. 
They ate his whole family. That is what I believed,
Then. . .that someone had cast a spell. I did not
Know childhood was a spell, or that then there
Had been another spell, too quiet to hear,
Entering my city, entering the dust we ate. . . .
No one knew it then. No one could see it,
Though it spread through lawnless miles of housing tracts,
And the new, bare, treeless streets; it slipped
Into the vacant rows of warehouses & picked
The padlocked doors of working-class bars
And union halls & shuttered, empty diners.
And how it clung! (forever, if one had noticed)
To the brothel with the pastel tassels on the shade
Of an unlit table lamp. Farther in, it feasted
On the decaying light of failing shopping centers;
It spilled into the older, tree-lined neighborhoods,
Into warm houses, sealing itself into books
Of bedtime stories read each night by fathers--
The books lying open to the flat, neglected
Light of dawn; & it settled like dust on windowsills
Downtown, filling the smug cafés, schools, 
Banks, offices, taverns, gymnasiums, hotels,
Newsstands, courtrooms, opium parlors, Basque
Restaurants, Armenian steam baths,
French bakeries, & two of the florists' shops--
Their plate glass windows smashed forever.
Finally it tried to infiltrate the exact
Center of my city, a small square bordered
With palm trees, olives, cypresses, a square
Where no one gathered, not even thieves or lovers.
It was a place which no longer had any purpose,
But held itself aloof, I thought, the way
A deaf aunt might, from opinions, styles, gossip.
I liked it there. It was completely lifeless,
Sad & clear in what seemed always a perfect, 
Windless noon. I saw it first as a child,
Looking down at it from that as yet 
Unvandalized, makeshift studio.
I remember leaning my right cheek against
A striped beach ball so that Mr. Hirata--
Who was Japanese, who would be sent the next week
To a place called Manzanar, a detention camp
Hidden in stunted pines almost above
The Sierra timberline--could take my picture.
I remember the way he lovingly relished 
Each camera angle, the unwobbling tripod, 
The way he checked each aperture against
The light meter, in love with all things
That were not accidental, & I remember
The care he took when focusing; how
He tried two different lens filters before
He found the one appropriate for that
Sensual, late, slow blush of afternoon
Falling through the one broad bay window.
I remember holding still & looking down
Into the square because he asked me to;
Because my mother & father had asked me please
To obey & be patient & allow the man--
Whose business was failing anyway by then--
To work as long as he wished to without any
Irritations or annoyances before
He would have to spend these years, my father said,
Far away, in snow, & without his cameras.
But Mr. Hirata did not work. He played.
His toys gleamed there. That much was clear to me . . . .
That was the day I decided I would never work.
It felt like a conversion. Play was sacred.
My father waited behind us on a sofa made
From car seats. One spring kept nosing through.
I remember the camera opening into the light . . . .
And I remember the dark after, the studio closed,
The cameras stolen, slivers of glass from the smashed
Bay window littering the unsanded floors,
And the square below it bathed in sunlight . . . . All this
Before Mr. Hirata died, months later,
From complications following pneumonia.
His death, a letter from a camp official said,
Was purely accidental. I didn't believe it.
Diseases were wise. Diseases, like the polio
My sister had endured, floating paralyzed
And strapped into her wheelchair all through
That war, seemed too precise. Like photographs . . .
Except disease left nothing. Disease was like
And equation that drank up light & never ended,
Not even in summer. Before my fever broke,
And the pains lessened, I could actually see
Myself, in the exact center of that square.
How still it had become in my absence, & how
Immaculate, windless, sunlit. I could see
The outline of every leaf on the nearest tree,
See it more clearly than ever, more clearly than
I had seen anything before in my whole life:
Against the modest, dark gray, solemn trunk,
The leaves were becoming only what they had to be--
Calm, yellow, things in themselves & nothing
More--& frankly they were nothing in themselves,
Nothing except their little reassurance
Of persisting for a few more days, or returning
The year after, & the year after that, & every
Year following--estranged from us by now--& clear,
So clear not one in a thousand trembled; hushed
And always coming back--steadfast, orderly,
Taciturn, oblivious--until the end of Time.
Palm to Palm
next
[the cocktail hour finally arrives: whether ending a day at the office]
D. A. Powell, 1963
the cocktail hour finally arrives: whether ending a day at the office
or opening the orifice at 6am [legal again to pour in californica]: the time is always right

we need a little glamour and glamour arrives: plenty of chipped ice
a green jurassic palm tree planted. a yellow spastic monkey swinging

a pink classic flamingo impaled upon the exuberant red of cherries
dash of bitters. vermouth sweet. enough rye whiskey to kill

this longing: I take my drinks still and stuffed with plastic. like my lovers
my billfold full of rubbers. OPENs my mouth: its tiny neon lounge
Palm to Palm
next
No Palms
Dorothea Tanning, 1910 - 2012
No palms dolled up the tedium, no breathing wind.
No problem was the buzzword then, their way to go.

In truth, my case was black as sin, a thing to hide,
In that they feigned to find me sane, so not to know.

Someone brought in a medium. Anathema!
Some clown sewed up my eyes, he said it wouldn't show.

Confusing hands with craze, they howled, "Let's cut them off."
Confusing, too, their spies, my lies without an echo.

Time and again they stitched my mind with warp and woof.
Time pounded in my ruby heart, doing a slow,

Slow dim-out in that lupanar, slow take, slow fade,
Slow yawning like a door. "Hello," I said. "HELLO."

There, flung across the room between inside and out,
There must have shown itself to me. . .an afterglow.

With such a blaze to celebrate where centuries meet 
With time itself, how could I hesitate? Although

Still trapped in the millennium I knew I had 
Still time to blow some kisses. Look up, there they go!
Palm to Palm
next
Voyages II
Hart Crane, 1889 - 1932
--And yet this great wink of eternity,
Of rimless floods, unfettered leewardings,
Samite sheeted and processioned where
Her undinal vast belly moonward bends,
Laughing the wrapt inflections of our love;

Take this Sea, whose diapason knells
On scrolls of silver snowy sentences,
The sceptred terror of whose sessions rends
As her demeanors motion well or ill,
All but the pieties of lovers' hands.

And onward, as bells off San Salvador
Salute the crocus lustres of the stars,
In these poinsettia meadows of her tides,--
Adagios of islands, O my Prodigal,
Complete the dark confessions her veins spell.

Mark how her turning shoulders wind the hours,
And hasten while her penniless rich palms
Pass superscription of bent foam and wave,--
Hasten, while they are true,--sleep, death, desire,
Close round one instant in one floating flower.

Bind us in time, O Seasons clear, and awe.
O minstrel galleons of Carib fire,
Bequeath us to no earthly shore until
Is answered in the vortex of our grave
The seal's wide spindrift gaze toward paradise.
Palm to Palm
next
Spontaneous Me
Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892
Spontaneous me, Nature,   
The loving day, the mounting sun, the friend I am happy with,   
The arm of my friend hanging idly over my shoulder,   
The hill-side whiten’d with blossoms of the mountain ash,   
The same, late in autumn—the hues of red, yellow, drab, purple, and light and dark green,
The rich coverlid of the grass—animals and birds—the private untrimm’d bank—
     the primitive apples—the pebble-stones,   
Beautiful dripping fragments—the negligent list of one after another, as I happen to call
     them to me, or think of them,   
The real poems, (what we call poems being merely pictures,)   
The poems of the privacy of the night, and of men like me,   
This poem, drooping shy and unseen, that I always carry, and that all men carry,
(Know, once for all, avow’d on purpose, wherever are men like me, are our lusty, lurking,
     masculine poems;)   
Love-thoughts, love-juice, love-odor, love-yielding, love-climbers, and the climbing sap,   
Arms and hands of love—lips of love—phallic thumb of love—breasts of
     love—bellies press’d and glued together with love,   
Earth of chaste love—life that is only life after love,   
The body of my love—the body of the woman I love—the body of the man—the body of
     the earth,
Soft forenoon airs that blow from the south-west,   
The hairy wild-bee that murmurs and hankers up and down—that gripes the full-grown
     lady-flower, curves upon her with amorous firm legs, takes his will of her, and holds himself 
     tremulous and tight till he is satisfied,   
The wet of woods through the early hours,   
Two sleepers at night lying close together as they sleep, one with an arm slanting down across
     and below the waist of the other,   
The smell of apples, aromas from crush’d sage-plant, mint, birch-bark,
The boy’s longings, the glow and pressure as he confides to me what he was dreaming,   
The dead leaf whirling its spiral whirl, and falling still and content to the ground,   
The no-form’d stings that sights, people, objects, sting me with,   
The hubb’d sting of myself, stinging me as much as it ever can any one,   
The sensitive, orbic, underlapp’d brothers, that only privileged feelers may be intimate where
they are,
The curious roamer, the hand, roaming all over the body—the bashful withdrawing of flesh
     where the fingers soothingly pause and edge themselves,   
The limpid liquid within the young man,   
The vexed corrosion, so pensive and so painful,   
The torment—the irritable tide that will not be at rest,   
The like of the same I feel—the like of the same in others,
The young man that flushes and flushes, and the young woman that flushes and flushes,   
The young man that wakes, deep at night, the hot hand seeking to repress what would master
     him; The mystic amorous night—the strange half-welcome pangs, visions, sweats,   
The pulse pounding through palms and trembling encircling fingers—the young man all color’d,
     red, ashamed, angry;   
The souse upon me of my lover the sea, as I lie willing and naked,
The merriment of the twin-babes that crawl over the grass in the sun, the mother never turning
     her vigilant eyes from them,   
The walnut-trunk, the walnut-husks, and the ripening or ripen’d long-round walnuts;   
The continence of vegetables, birds, animals,   
The consequent meanness of me should I skulk or find myself indecent, while birds and animals
     never once skulk or find themselves indecent;   
The great chastity of paternity, to match the great chastity of maternity,
The oath of procreation I have sworn—my Adamic and fresh daughters,   
The greed that eats me day and night with hungry gnaw, till I saturate what shall produce boys to
     fill my place when I am through,   
The wholesome relief, repose, content;   
And this bunch, pluck’d at random from myself;   
It has done its work—I tossed it carelessly to fall where it may. 
Palm to Palm
next
Styx
Dana Levin
You put a bag around your head and walked into the river.
You

walked into the river with a bag around your head and you were
never dead 

game on the banks of your
mental styx

for the double
audience

of smoke—


               —


You pressed a coin into his palm and stepped across the water.
You

stepped across the water with a hand on his arm and he was
silent and kind as you
               shoved off, toward the smoky coils

of the greek-seeming dead—
You’d been trying to sleep.

Found yourself here
in the mythocryptic land—

The river


               —


had widened to a lake. You were anchored
in the shallow boat 

by his faceless weight—
And on the green shore you could see their vapored

residue, how they could
smell it, those two―if you 	

slit your wrist you could make them speak.

If you


               —


slit your wrist you might be able to sleep.

Grief. 
Grief. 
Handing you back

your coin.
Palm to Palm
next
The Earth Opens and Welcomes You
Abdellatif Laâbi

To the memory of Tahar Djaout*
on the day of his funeral

The earth opens 
and welcomes you
Why these cries, these tears
these prayers
What have they lost
What are they looking for
those who trouble
your refound peace?

The earth opens
and welcomes  you
Now
you will converse without witnesses
O you have things to tell each other
and you'll have eternity to do so
Yesterday's words tarnished by the tumult
will one by one engrave themselves on silence

The earth opens
and welcomes you
She alone has desired you
without you making any advances
She has waited for you with Penelopian ruses.
Her patience was but goodness
and it is goodness brings you back to her

The earth opens
and welcomes you 
she won't ask you to account 
for your ephemeral loves
daughters of errancy
meat stars conceived in the eyes
accorded fruits from the vast orchard of life
sovereign passions that make sun
in the palm's hollow
at the tip of the tipsy tongue

The earth opens
and welcomes you
You are naked
She is even more naked than you
And you are both beautiful
in that silent embrace
where the hands know how to hold back
to avoid violence
where the soul's butterfly
turns away from this semblance of light
to go in search of its source

The earth opens 
and welcomes you
Your loved one will find again some day
your legendary smile 
and the mourning will be over
Your children will grow up 
and will read your poems without shame
your country will heal as if by miracle
when the men exhausted by illusion
will go drink from the fountain of your goodness

O my friend
sleep well
you need it
for you have worked hard
as an honest man
Before leaving
you left your desk clean
well ordered
You turned off the lights 
said a nice word to the guardian
And then as you stepped out
you looked at the sky
its near-painful blue
You elegantly smoothed your mustache
telling yourself:
only cowards
consider death to be an end

Sleep well my friend
Sleep the sleep of the just
let us for awhile carry the burden

Créteil, June 4, 1993

*An Algerian journalist and author murdered in Algiers in 1993