poem index

Phylum-Cnidaria (223 W12)

Phylum-Cnidaria (223 W12)
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The Edge of the World [excerpt]
Adonis, 1930
      I release the earth and I imprison the skies.  I fall down in order to stay faithful to 
the light, in order to make the world ambiguous, fascinating, changeable, dangerous, in 
order to announce the steps beyond.
     The blood of the gods is still fresh on my clothes.  A seagull's scream echoes 
through my pages.  Let me just pack up my words and leave.
Phylum-Cnidaria (223 W12)
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Two, Three
Rae Armantrout, 1947
Sad, fat boy in pirate hat.
Long, old, dented,
copper-colored Ford.

How many traits
must a thing have
in order to be singular?

(Echo persuades us
everything we say
has been said at least once 
                                        before.)

Two plump, bald men
in gray tee-shirts
and tan shorts 

are walking a small bulldog –
followed by the eyes
of an invisible third person.

The Trinity was born
from what we know
of the bitter 

symbiosis of couples.
Can we reduce echo’s sadness
by synchronizing our speeches?

Is it the beginning or end
of real love
when we pity a person

because, in him,
we see ourselves?
Phylum-Cnidaria (223 W12)
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The Red Wheelbarrow
William Carlos Williams, 1883 - 1963
so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.
Phylum-Cnidaria (223 W12)
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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.
Phylum-Cnidaria (223 W12)
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The Forest
Susan Stewart, 1952
You should lie down now and remember the forest, 
for it is disappearing--
no, the truth is it is gone now 
and so what details you can bring back 
might have a kind of life.

Not the one you had hoped for, but a life
--you should lie down now and remember the forest--
nonetheless, you might call it "in the forest,"
no the truth is, it is gone now,
starting somewhere near the beginning, that edge,

Or instead the first layer, the place you remember 
(not the one you had hoped for, but a life)
as if it were firm, underfoot, for that place is a sea, 
nonetheless, you might call it "in the forest,"
which we can never drift above, we were there or we were not,

No surface, skimming. And blank in life, too, 
or instead the first layer, the place you remember, 
as layers fold in time, black humus there, 
as if it were firm, underfoot, for that place is a sea, 
like a light left hand descending, always on the same keys.

The flecked birds of the forest sing behind and before 
no surface, skimming. And blank in life, too, 
sing without a music where there cannot be an order, 
as layers fold in time, black humus there, 
where wide swatches of light slice between gray trunks,

Where the air has a texture of drying moss, 
the flecked birds of the forest sing behind and before:
a musk from the mushrooms and scalloped molds. 
They sing without a music where there cannot be an order, 
though high in the dry leaves something does fall,

Nothing comes down to us here. 
Where the air has a texture of drying moss, 
(in that place where I was raised) the forest was tangled, 
a musk from the mushrooms and scalloped molds, 
tangled with brambles, soft-starred and moving, ferns

And the marred twines of cinquefoil, false strawberry, sumac--
nothing comes down to us here, 
stained. A low branch swinging above a brook 
in that place where I was raised, the forest was tangled, 
and a cave just the width of shoulder blades.

You can understand what I am doing when I think of the entry--
and the marred twines of cinquefoil, false strawberry, sumac--
as a kind of limit. Sometimes I imagine us walking there 
(. . .pokeberry, stained. A low branch swinging above a brook) 
in a place that is something like a forest.

But perhaps the other kind, where the ground is covered 
(you can understand what I am doing when I think of the entry) 
by pliant green needles, there below the piney fronds, 
a kind of limit. Sometimes I imagine us walking there. 
And quickening below lie the sharp brown blades,

The disfiguring blackness, then the bulbed phosphorescence of the roots. 
But perhaps the other kind, where the ground is covered, 
so strangely alike and yet singular, too, below
the pliant green needles, the piney fronds.
Once we were lost in the forest, so strangely alike and yet singular, too, 
but the truth is, it is, lost to us now.
Phylum-Cnidaria (223 W12)
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Phantom Noise
Brian Turner
There is this ringing hum  this
bullet-borne language  ringing
shell-fall and static this  late-night
ringing of threadwork and carpet  ringing
hiss and steam  this wing-beat
of rotors and tanks  broken
bodies ringing in steel  humming these
voices of dust  these years ringing
rifles in Babylon  rifles in Sumer
ringing these children their gravestones
and candy  their limbs gone missing  their
static-borne television  their ringing
this eardrum  this rifled symphonic  this
ringing of midnight in gunpowder and oil this
brake pad gone useless  this muzzle-flash singing  this
threading of bullets in muscle and bone  this ringing
hum  this ringing hum  this
ringing
Phylum-Cnidaria (223 W12)
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Shedding Skin
Harryette Mullen, 1953
Pulling out of the old scarred skin
(old rough thing I don't need now
I strip off
slip out of
leave behind)

I slough off deadscales
flick skinflakes to the ground

Shedding toughness
peeling layers down
to vulnerable stuff

And I'm blinking off old eyelids
for a new way of seeing

By the rock I rub against
I'm going to be tender again
Phylum-Cnidaria (223 W12)
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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.
Phylum-Cnidaria (223 W12)
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A Table in the Wilderness
Li-Young Lee, 1957
I draw a window
and a man sitting inside it.

I draw a bird in flight above the lintel.

That's my picture of thinking.

If I put a woman there instead
of the man, it's a picture of speaking.

If I draw a second bird
in the woman's lap, it’s ministering.

A third flying below her feet.
Now it's singing.

Or erase the birds
make ivy branching
around the woman's ankles, clinging
to her knees, and it becomes remembering.

You'll have to find your own
pictures, whoever you are,
whatever your need.

As for me, many small hands
issuing from a waterfall
means silence
mothered me.

The hours hung like fruit in night's tree
means when I close my eyes
and look inside me,

a thousand open eyes
span the moment of my waking.

Meanwhile, the clock
adding a grain to a grain
and not getting bigger,

subtracting a day from a day
and never having less, means the honey

lies awake all night
inside the honeycomb
wondering who its parents are.

And even my death isn't my death
unless it's the unfathomed brow
of a nameless face. 

Even my name isn't my name
except the bees assemble

a table to grant a stranger
light and moment in a wilderness
of Who? Where?
Phylum-Cnidaria (223 W12)
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The Initiate
Charles Simic, 1938
St. John of the Cross wore dark glasses
As he passed me on the street.
St. Theresa of Avila, beautiful and grave,
Turned her back on me.

"Soulmate," they hissed. "It's high time."

I was a blind child, a wind-up toy . . .
I was one of death's juggling red balls
On a certain street corner
Where they peddle things out of suitcases.

The city like a huge cinema
With lights dimmed.
The performance already started.

So many blurred faces in a complicated plot.

The great secret which kept eluding me: knowing who I am . . .

The Redeemer and the Virgin,
Their eyes wide open in the empty church
Where the killer came to hide himself . . .

The new snow on the sidewalk bore footprints
That could have been made by bare feet.
Some unknown penitent guiding me.
In truth, I didn't know where I was going.
My feet were frozen,
My stomach growled.

Four young hoods blocking my way.
Three deadpan, one smiling crazily.

I let them have my black raincoat.

Thinking constantly of the Divine Love 
     and the Absolute had disfigured me.
People mistook me for someone else.
I heard voices after me calling out unknown names.
"I'm searching for someone to sell my soul to,"
The drunk who followed me whispered,
While appraising me from head to foot.

At the address I had been given.
The building had large X's over its windows.
I knocked but no one came to open.
By and by a black girl joined me on the steps.
She banged at the door till her fist hurt.

Her name was Alma, a propitious sign.
She knew someone who solved life's riddles
In a voice of an ancient Sumerian queen.
We had a long talk about that
While shivering and stamping our wet feet.

It was necessary to stay calm, I explained,
Even with the earth trembling,
And to continue to watch oneself
As if one were a complete stranger.

Once in Chicago, for instance,
I caught sight of a man in a shaving mirror
Who had my naked shoulders and face,
But whose eyes terrified me!
Two hard staring, all-knowing eyes!

After we parted, the night, the cold, and the endless walking
Brought on a kind of ecstasy.
I went as if pursued, trying to warm myself.

There was the East River; there was the Hudson.
Their waters shone like oil in sanctuary lamps.

Something supreme was occurring
For which there will never be any words.

The sky was full of racing clouds and tall buildings,
Whirling and whirling silently.

In that whole city you could hear a pin drop.
Believe me.
I thought I heard a pin drop and I went looking for it.
Phylum-Cnidaria (223 W12)
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The Distant Moon
Rafael Campo, 1964
   I

Admitted to the hospital again.
The second bout of pneumocystis back
In January almost killed him; then,
He'd sworn to us he'd die at home.  He baked
Us cookies, which the student wouldn't eat,
Before he left--the kitchen on 5A
Is small, but serviceable and neat.
He told me stories: Richard Gere was gay
And sleeping with a friend if his, and AIDS
Was an elaborate conspiracy
Effected by the government.  He stayed
Four months. He lost his sight to CMV.
      
   II

One day, I drew his blood, and while I did
He laughed, and said I was his girlfriend now,
His blood-brother.  "Vampire-slut," he cried,
"You'll make me live forever!" Wrinkled brows
Were all I managed in reply.  I know
I'm drowning in his blood, his purple blood.
I filled my seven tubes; the warmth was slow
To leave them, pressed inside my palm.  I'm sad
Because he doesn't see my face.  Because
I can't identify with him.  I hate
The fact that he's my age, and that across
My skin he's there, my blood-brother, my mate.
      
   III

He said I was too nice, and after all
If Jodie Foster was a lesbian,
Then doctors could be queer.  Residual
Guilts tingled down my spine.  "OK, I'm done,"
I said as I withdrew the needle from
His back, and pressed.  The CSF was clear;
I never answered him.  That spot was framed
In sterile, paper drapes.  He was so near
Death, telling him seemed pointless.  Then, he died.
Unrecognizable to anyone
But me, he left my needles deep inside
His joking heart.  An autopsy was done.
      
   IV

I'd read to him at night. His horoscope,
The New York Times, The Advocate;
Some lines by Richard Howard gave us hope.
A quiet hospital is infinite,
The polished, ice-white floors, the darkened halls
That lead to almost anywhere, to death
Or ghostly, lighted Coke machines.  I call
To him one night, at home, asleep.  His breath,
I dreamed, had filled my lungs--his lips, my lips
Had touched.  I felt as though I'd touched a shrine.
Not disrespectfully, but in some lapse
Of concentration.  In a mirror shines

The distant moon.