In Worcester, Massachusetts, I went with Aunt Consuelo to keep her dentist's appointment and sat and waited for her in the dentist's waiting room. It was winter. It got dark early. The waiting room was full of grown-up people, arctics and overcoats, lamps and magazines. My aunt was inside what seemed like a long time and while I waited I read the National Geographic (I could read) and carefully studied the photographs: the inside of a volcano, black, and full of ashes; then it was spilling over in rivulets of fire. Osa and Martin Johnson dressed in riding breeches, laced boots, and pith helmets. A dead man slung on a pole --"Long Pig," the caption said. Babies with pointed heads wound round and round with string; black, naked women with necks wound round and round with wire like the necks of light bulbs. Their breasts were horrifying. I read it right straight through. I was too shy to stop. And then I looked at the cover: the yellow margins, the date. Suddenly, from inside, came an oh! of pain --Aunt Consuelo's voice-- not very loud or long. I wasn't at all surprised; even then I knew she was a foolish, timid woman. I might have been embarrassed, but wasn't. What took me completely by surprise was that it was me: my voice, in my mouth. Without thinking at all I was my foolish aunt, I--we--were falling, falling, our eyes glued to the cover of the National Geographic, February, 1918. I said to myself: three days and you'll be seven years old. I was saying it to stop the sensation of falling off the round, turning world. into cold, blue-black space. But I felt: you are an I, you are an Elizabeth, you are one of them. Why should you be one, too? I scarcely dared to look to see what it was I was. I gave a sidelong glance --I couldn't look any higher-- at shadowy gray knees, trousers and skirts and boots and different pairs of hands lying under the lamps. I knew that nothing stranger had ever happened, that nothing stranger could ever happen. Why should I be my aunt, or me, or anyone? What similarities-- boots, hands, the family voice I felt in my throat, or even the National Geographic and those awful hanging breasts-- held us all together or made us all just one? How--I didn't know any word for it--how "unlikely". . . How had I come to be here, like them, and overhear a cry of pain that could have got loud and worse but hadn't? The waiting room was bright and too hot. It was sliding beneath a big black wave, another, and another. Then I was back in it. The War was on. Outside, in Worcester, Massachusetts, were night and slush and cold, and it was still the fifth of February, 1918.
ENG 104 Poetry Anthology
—A simple child, That lightly draws its breath, And feels its life in every limb, What should it know of death? I met a little cottage girl: She was eight years old, she said; Her hair was thick with many a curl That clustered round her head. She had a rustic, woodland air, And she was wildly clad: Her eyes were fair, and very fair; —Her beauty made me glad. "Sisters and brothers, little maid, How many may you be?" "How many? Seven in all," she said, And wondering looked at me. "And where are they? I pray you tell." She answered, "Seven are we; And two of us at Conway dwell, And two are gone to sea. "Two of us in the churchyard lie, My sister and my brother; And, in the churchyard cottage, I Dwell near them with my mother." "You say that two at Conway dwell, And two are gone to sea, Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell, Sweet maid, how this may be." Then did the little maid reply, "Seven boys and girls are we; Two of us in the churchyard lie, Beneath the churchyard tree." "You run about, my little maid, Your limbs they are alive; If two are in the churchyard laid, Then ye are only five." "Their graves are green, they may be seen," The little maid replied, "Twelve steps or more from my mother's door, And they are side by side. "My stockings there I often knit, My kerchief there I hem; And there upon the ground I sit, And sing a song to them. "And often after sunset, sir, When it is light and fair, I take my little porringer, And eat my supper there. "The first that died was sister Jane; In bed she moaning lay, Till God released her of her pain; And then she went away. "So in the churchyard she was laid; And, when the grass was dry, Together round her grave we played, My brother John and I. "And when the ground was white with snow And I could run and slide, My brother John was forced to go, And he lies by her side." "How many are you, then," said I, "If they two are in heaven?" Quick was the little maid's reply, "O master! we are seven." "But they are dead; those two are dead! Their spirits are in heaven!" 'Twas throwing words away; for still The little maid would have her will, And said, "Nay, we are seven!"
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill, He holds her helpless breast upon his breast. How can those terrified vague fingers push The feathered glory from her loosening thighs? And how can body, laid in that white rush, But feel the strange heart beating where it lies? A shudder in the loins engenders there The broken wall, the burning roof and tower And Agamemnon dead. Being so caught up, So mastered by the brute blood of the air, Did she put on his knowledge with his power Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on.
The houses are haunted By white night-gowns. None are green, Or purple with green rings, Or green with yellow rings, Or yellow with blue rings. None of them are strange, With socks of lace And beaded ceintures. People are not going To dream of baboons and periwinkles. Only, here and there, an old sailor, Drunk and asleep in his boots, Catches tigers In red weather.
I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold
The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap—
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy's first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all—
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart—
He saw all spoiled. "Don't let him cut my hand off—
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!"
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then—the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.
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.
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind. Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime... Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,— My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.
A cry was heard among the trees, not a man's, something deeper. The forest extended up one side the mountain and down the other. None wanted to ask what had made the cry. A bird, one wanted to say, although he knew it wasn't a bird. The sun climbed to the mountaintop, and slid back down the other side. The black treetops against the sky were like teeth on a saw. They waited for it to come a second time. It's lost, one said. Each thought of being lost and all the years that stretched behind. Where had wrong turns been made? Soon the cry came again. Closer now.
"Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam."
The old South Boston Aquarium stands in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded. The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales. The airy tanks are dry. Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass; my hand tingled to burst the bubbles drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish. My hand draws back. I often sigh still for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom of the fish and reptile. One morning last March, I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage, yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting as they cropped up tons of mush and grass to gouge their underworld garage. Parking spaces luxuriate like civic sandpiles in the heart of Boston. A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders braces the tingling Statehouse, shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry on St. Gaudens' shaking Civil War relief, propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake. Two months after marching through Boston, half the regiment was dead; at the dedication, William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe. Their monument sticks like a fishbone in the city's throat. Its Colonel is as lean as a compass-needle. He has an angry wrenlike vigilance, a greyhound's gentle tautness; he seems to wince at pleasure, and suffocate for privacy. He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man's lovely, peculiar power to choose life and die-- when he leads his black soldiers to death, he cannot bend his back. On a thousand small town New England greens, the old white churches hold their air of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic. The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier grow slimmer and younger each year-- wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets and muse through their sideburns . . . Shaw's father wanted no monument except the ditch, where his son's body was thrown and lost with his "niggers." The ditch is nearer. There are no statues for the last war here; on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph shows Hiroshima boiling over a Mosler Safe, the "Rock of Ages" that survived the blast. Space is nearer. When I crouch to my television set, the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons. Colonel Shaw is riding on his bubble, he waits for the blessèd break. The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere, giant finned cars nose forward like fish; a savage servility slides by on grease.
The art of losing isn't hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster. Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn't hard to master. Then practice losing farther, losing faster: places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel. None of these will bring disaster. I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or next-to-last, of three loved houses went. The art of losing isn't hard to master. I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster. —Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident the art of losing's not too hard to master though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All, I take a box And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens. The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical Food-gathering flocks Are selves I overlook. Wisdom, said William James, Is learning what to overlook. And I am wise If that is wisdom. Yet somehow, as I buy All from these shelves And the boy takes it to my station wagon, What I've become Troubles me even if I shut my eyes. When I was young and miserable and pretty And poor, I'd wish What all girls wish: to have a husband, A house and children. Now that I'm old, my wish Is womanish: That the boy putting groceries in my car See me. It bewilders me he doesn't see me. For so many years I was good enough to eat: the world looked at me And its mouth watered. How often they have undressed me, The eyes of strangers! And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile Imaginings within my imagining, I too have taken The chance of life. Now the boy pats my dog And we start home. Now I am good. The last mistaken, Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm Some soap and water-- It was so long ago, back in some Gay Twenties, Nineties, I don't know . . . Today I miss My lovely daughter Away at school, my sons away at school, My husband away at work--I wish for them. The dog, the maid, And I go through the sure unvarying days At home in them. As I look at my life, I am afraid Only that it will change, as I am changing: I am afraid, this morning, of my face. It looks at me From the rear-view mirror, with the eyes I hate, The smile I hate. Its plain, lined look Of gray discovery Repeats to me: "You're old." That's all, I'm old. And yet I'm afraid, as I was at the funeral I went to yesterday. My friend's cold made-up face, granite among its flowers, Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body Were my face and body. As I think of her I hear her telling me How young I seem; I am exceptional; I think of all I have. But really no one is exceptional, No one has anything, I'm anybody, I stand beside my grave Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary.
for Joe Bataan 1 some waves a wave of now a trombone speaking to you a piano is trying to break a molecule is trying to lift the stage into orbit around the red spotlights a shadow the shadows of dancers dancers they are dancing falling out that space made for dancing they should dance on the tables they should dance inside of their drinks they should dance on the ceiling they should dance/dance thru universes leaning-moving we are traveling where are we going if we only knew with this rhythm with this banging with fire with this all this O my god i wonder where are we going sink into a room full of laughter full of happiness full of life those dancers the dancers are clapping their hands stomping their feet hold back them tears all those sentimental stories cooked uptown if you can hold it for after we are going away-away-away beyond these wooden tables beyond these red lights beyond these rugs & paper walls beyond way past i mean way past them clouds over the buildings over the rivers over towns over cities like on rails but faster like a train but smoother away past stars bursting with drums. 2 a sudden misunderstanding a cloud full of grayness a body thru a store window a hand reaching into the back pocket a scream a piano is talking to you thru all this why don't you answer it.
I went down to
mingle my breath
with the breath
of the cherry blossoms.
There were photographers:
Mothers arranging their
gnarled old trees;
a couple, hugging,
asks a passerby
to snap them
so that their love
will always be caught
between two friendships:
ours & the friendship
of the cherry trees.
why can't my poems
be as beautiful?
A young woman in a fur-trimmed
coat sets a card table
with linens, candles,
a picnic basket & wine.
A father tips
a boy's wheelchair back
so he can gaze
up at a branched
All around us
you have an ancient beauty.
you have an ancient beauty.
The river is famous to the fish. The loud voice is famous to silence, which knew it would inherit the earth before anybody said so. The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds watching him from the birdhouse. The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek. The idea you carry close to your bosom is famous to your bosom. The boot is famous to the earth, more famous than the dress shoe, which is famous only to floors. The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it and not at all famous to the one who is pictured. I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back. I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.
longtime hermano Bob tells me one of the monks in brown directs us to the deep sink made of two sinks the hose & the silver table where all the spoons & metal tongs are clean wait at the entrance for directions the monk gave me but he is in there & points me to another sink made of two sinks & a silver table where all the spoons & metal tongs are clean scrub off the rice burned at the bottom there it is clinging to the sides of the steel outside working the hole in the earth three monks in brown stir the blackish pots boiling four mouths of mud cakes for the new lunar year the dragon the people the monastery the mountains one monk stands staring into the nothing no thoughts around him the other monk descends through the scaly fog two children angle an exploded tree limb back & forth so the sparks play with them to the left the meditation hall is curved & faces Escondido down below where my father drove his army truck & pulled our trailer to a stop on Lincoln Road in ‘54 I watered spidered corn & noticed the deportations little friends gone the land left to ice alone lunch is served we go to the line the spoons and the speckled tongs await by the brown rice white rice eggplant kim chee & a grey shade pot pour the seaweed soup we go with our tray & sit the mud cakes are ribboned in red & gold & green there is a way to do this it requires listening & seeing & silence silence the bell rings longtime hermano Bob & I at the parking lot we leave brown cloth brown cloth naked spoons naked pots steam rises from the sink & the view the view with no one in front or in back
Comet Hyakutake's tail stretches for 360 million miles— in 1996, we saw Hyakutake through binoculars— the ion tail contains the time we saw bats emerge out of a cavern at dusk— in the cavern, we first heard stalactites dripping— first silence, then reverberating sound— our touch reverberates and makes a blossoming track— a comet's nucleus emits X-rays and leaves tracks— two thousand miles away, you box up books and, in two days, will step through the invisible rays of an airport scanner— we write on invisible pages in an invisible book with invisible ink— in nature's infinite book, we read a few pages— in the sky, we read the ion tracks from the orchard— the apple orchard where blossoms unfold, where we unfold— budding, the child who writes, "the puzzle comes to life"— elated, puzzled, shocked, dismayed, confident, loving: minutes to an hour— a minute, a pinhole lens through which light passes— Comet Hyakutake will not pass earth for another 100,000 years— no matter, ardor is here— and to the writer of fragments, each fragment is a whole—
Fall, falling, fallen. That's the way the season Changes its tense in the long-haired maples That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition With the final remaining cardinals) and then Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground. At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees In a season of odd, dusky congruences—a scarlet tanager And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance, A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything Changes and moves in the split second between summer's Sprawling past and winter's hard revision, one moment Pulling out of the station according to schedule, Another moment arriving on the next platform. It Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away From their branches and gather slowly at our feet, Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving Around us even as its colorful weather moves us, Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets. And every year there is a brief, startling moment When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air: It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies; It is the changing light of fall falling on us.
A hand is not four fingers and a thumb. Nor is it palm and knuckles, not ligaments or the fat's yellow pillow, not tendons, star of the wristbone, meander of veins. A hand is not the thick thatch of its lines with their infinite dramas, nor what it has written, not on the page, not on the ecstatic body. Nor is the hand its meadows of holding, of shaping— not sponge of rising yeast-bread, not rotor pin's smoothness, not ink. The maple's green hands do not cup the proliferant rain. What empties itself falls into the place that is open. A hand turned upward holds only a single, transparent question. Unanswerable, humming like bees, it rises, swarms, departs.
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made: Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee; And live alone in the bee-loud glade. And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings; There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, And evening full of the linnet's wings. I will arise and go now, for always night and day I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart's core.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
The sea is calm tonight. The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. Come to the window, sweet is the night-air! Only, from the long line of spray Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land, Listen! you hear the grating roar Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, At their return, up the high strand, Begin, and cease, and then again begin, With tremulous cadence slow, and bring The eternal note of sadness in. Sophocles long ago Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow Of human misery; we Find also in the sound a thought, Hearing it by this distant northern sea. The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world. Ah, love, let us be true To one another! for the world, which seems To lie before us like a land of dreams, So various, so beautiful, so new, Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness, Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time, Sylvan historian, who canst thus express A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme: What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape Of deities or mortals, or of both, In Tempe or the dales of Arcady? What men or gods are these? what maidens loth? What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy? Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd, Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone: Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare; Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss, Though winning near the goal--yet, do not grieve; She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; And, happy melodist, unwearied, For ever piping songs for ever new; More happy love! more happy, happy love! For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd, For ever panting, and for ever young; All breathing human passion far above, That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd, A burning forehead, and a parching tongue. Who are these coming to the sacrifice? To what green altar, O mysterious priest, Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies, And all her silken flanks with garlands drest? What little town by river or sea shore, Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel, Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn? And, little town, thy streets for evermore Will silent be; and not a soul to tell Why thou art desolate, can e'er return. O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede Of marble men and maidens overwrought, With forest branches and the trodden weed; Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought As doth eternity: Cold pastoral! When old age shall this generation waste, Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st, 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty'--that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed: And on the pedestal these words appear: 'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!' Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away."
My black face fades, hiding inside the black granite. I said I wouldn't, dammit: No tears. I'm stone. I'm flesh. My clouded reflection eyes me like a bird of prey, the profile of night slanted against morning. I turn this way--the stone lets me go. I turn that way--I'm inside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial again, depending on the light to make a difference. I go down the 58,022 names, half-expecting to find my own in letters like smoke. I touch the name Andrew Johnson; I see the booby trap's white flash. Names shimmer on a woman's blouse but when she walks away the names stay on the wall. Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's wings cutting across my stare. The sky. A plane in the sky. A white vet's image floats closer to me, then his pale eyes look through mine. I'm a window. He's lost his right arm inside the stone. In the black mirror a woman's trying to erase names: No, she's brushing a boy's hair.
so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.
Hard Rock / was / "known not to take no shit From nobody," and he had the scars to prove it: Split purple lips, lumbed ears, welts above His yellow eyes, and one long scar that cut Across his temple and plowed through a thick Canopy of kinky hair. The WORD / was / that Hard Rock wasn't a mean nigger Anymore, that the doctors had bored a hole in his head, Cut out part of his brain, and shot electricity Through the rest. When they brought Hard Rock back, Handcuffed and chained, he was turned loose, Like a freshly gelded stallion, to try his new status. And we all waited and watched, like a herd of sheep, To see if the WORD was true. As we waited we wrapped ourselves in the cloak Of his exploits: "Man, the last time, it took eight Screws to put him in the Hole." "Yeah, remember when he Smacked the captain with his dinner tray?" "He set The record for time in the Hole--67 straight days!" "Ol Hard Rock! man, that's one crazy nigger." And then the jewel of a myth that Hard Rock had once bit A screw on the thumb and poisoned him with syphilitic spit. The testing came, to see if Hard Rock was really tame. A hillbilly called him a black son of a bitch And didn't lose his teeth, a screw who knew Hard Rock From before shook him down and barked in his face. And Hard Rock did nothing. Just grinned and looked silly, His eyes empty like knot holes in a fence. And even after we discovered that it took Hard Rock Exactly 3 minutes to tell you his first name, We told ourselves that he had just wised up, Was being cool; but we could not fool ourselves for long, And we turned away, our eyes on the ground. Crushed. He had been our Destroyer, the doer of things We dreamed of doing but could not bring ourselves to do, The fears of years, like a biting whip, Had cut deep bloody grooves Across our backs.
I caught a tremendous fish and held him beside the boat half out of water, with my hook fast in a corner of his mouth. He didn't fight. He hadn't fought at all. He hung a grunting weight, battered and venerable and homely. Here and there his brown skin hung in strips like ancient wallpaper, and its pattern of darker brown was like wallpaper: shapes like full-blown roses stained and lost through age. He was speckled with barnacles, fine rosettes of lime, and infested with tiny white sea-lice, and underneath two or three rags of green weed hung down. While his gills were breathing in the terrible oxygen —the frightening gills, fresh and crisp with blood, that can cut so badly— I thought of the coarse white flesh packed in like feathers, the big bones and the little bones, the dramatic reds and blacks of his shiny entrails, and the pink swim-bladder like a big peony. I looked into his eyes which were far larger than mine but shallower, and yellowed, the irises backed and packed with tarnished tinfoil seen through the lenses of old scratched isinglass. They shifted a little, but not to return my stare. —It was more like the tipping of an object toward the light. I admired his sullen face, the mechanism of his jaw, and then I saw that from his lower lip —if you could call it a lip— grim, wet, and weaponlike, hung five old pieces of fish-line, or four and a wire leader with the swivel still attached, with all their five big hooks grown firmly in his mouth. A green line, frayed at the end where he broke it, two heavier lines, and a fine black thread still crimped from the strain and snap when it broke and he got away. Like medals with their ribbons frayed and wavering, a five-haired beard of wisdom trailing from his aching jaw. I stared and stared and victory filled up the little rented boat, from the pool of bilge where oil had spread a rainbow around the rusted engine to the bailer rusted orange, the sun-cracked thwarts, the oarlocks on their strings, the gunnels—until everything was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow! And I let the fish go.
Oh, but it is dirty! —this little filling station, oil-soaked, oil-permeated to a disturbing, over-all black translucency. Be careful with that match! Father wears a dirty, oil-soaked monkey suit that cuts him under the arms, and several quick and saucy and greasy sons assist him (it's a family filling station), all quite thoroughly dirty. Do they live in the station? It has a cement porch behind the pumps, and on it a set of crushed and grease- impregnated wickerwork; on the wicker sofa a dirty dog, quite comfy. Some comic books provide the only note of color— of certain color. They lie upon a big dim doily draping a taboret (part of the set), beside a big hirsute begonia. Why the extraneous plant? Why the taboret? Why, oh why, the doily? (Embroidered in daisy stitch with marguerites, I think, and heavy with gray crochet.) Somebody embroidered the doily. Somebody waters the plant, or oils it, maybe. Somebody arranges the rows of cans so that they softly say: ESSO—SO—SO—SO to high-strung automobiles. Somebody loves us all.
For Grace Bulmer Bowers
From narrow provinces of fish and bread and tea, home of the long tides where the bay leaves the sea twice a day and takes the herrings long rides, where if the river enters or retreats in a wall of brown foam depends on if it meets the bay coming in, the bay not at home; where, silted red, sometimes the sun sets facing a red sea, and others, veins the flats' lavender, rich mud in burning rivulets; on red, gravelly roads, down rows of sugar maples, past clapboard farmhouses and neat, clapboard churches, bleached, ridged as clamshells, past twin silver birches, through late afternoon a bus journeys west, the windshield flashing pink, pink glancing off of metal, brushing the dented flank of blue, beat-up enamel; down hollows, up rises, and waits, patient, while a lone traveller gives kisses and embraces to seven relatives and a collie supervises. Goodbye to the elms, to the farm, to the dog. The bus starts. The light grows richer; the fog, shifting, salty, thin, comes closing in. Its cold, round crystals form and slide and settle in the white hens' feathers, in gray glazed cabbages, on the cabbage roses and lupins like apostles; the sweet peas cling to their wet white string on the whitewashed fences; bumblebees creep inside the foxgloves, and evening commences. One stop at Bass River. Then the Economies Lower, Middle, Upper; Five Islands, Five Houses, where a woman shakes a tablecloth out after supper. A pale flickering. Gone. The Tantramar marshes and the smell of salt hay. An iron bridge trembles and a loose plank rattles but doesn't give way. On the left, a red light swims through the dark: a ship's port lantern. Two rubber boots show, illuminated, solemn. A dog gives one bark. A woman climbs in with two market bags, brisk, freckled, elderly. "A grand night. Yes, sir, all the way to Boston." She regards us amicably. Moonlight as we enter the New Brunswick woods, hairy, scratchy, splintery; moonlight and mist caught in them like lamb's wool on bushes in a pasture. The passengers lie back. Snores. Some long sighs. A dreamy divagation begins in the night, a gentle, auditory, slow hallucination. . . . In the creakings and noises, an old conversation --not concerning us, but recognizable, somewhere, back in the bus: Grandparents' voices uninterruptedly talking, in Eternity: names being mentioned, things cleared up finally; what he said, what she said, who got pensioned; deaths, deaths and sicknesses; the year he remarried; the year (something) happened. She died in childbirth. That was the son lost when the schooner foundered. He took to drink. Yes. She went to the bad. When Amos began to pray even in the store and finally the family had to put him away. "Yes . . ." that peculiar affirmative. "Yes . . ." A sharp, indrawn breath, half groan, half acceptance, that means "Life's like that. We know it (also death)." Talking the way they talked in the old featherbed, peacefully, on and on, dim lamplight in the hall, down in the kitchen, the dog tucked in her shawl. Now, it's all right now even to fall asleep just as on all those nights. --Suddenly the bus driver stops with a jolt, turns off his lights. A moose has come out of the impenetrable wood and stands there, looms, rather, in the middle of the road. It approaches; it sniffs at the bus's hot hood. Towering, antlerless, high as a church, homely as a house (or, safe as houses). A man's voice assures us "Perfectly harmless. . . ." Some of the passengers exclaim in whispers, childishly, softly, "Sure are big creatures." "It's awful plain." "Look! It's a she!" Taking her time, she looks the bus over, grand, otherworldly. Why, why do we feel (we all feel) this sweet sensation of joy? "Curious creatures," says our quiet driver, rolling his r's. "Look at that, would you." Then he shifts gears. For a moment longer, by craning backward, the moose can be seen on the moonlit macadam; then there's a dim smell of moose, an acrid smell of gasoline.
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold; And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea, When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee. Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green, That host with their banners at sunset were seen; Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown, That host on the morrow lay withered and strown. For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed; And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still! And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide, But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride; And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf, And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf. And there lay the rider distorted and pale, With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail; And the tents were all silent, the banners alone, The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown. And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail, And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal; And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword, Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. Shovel them under and let me work— I am the grass; I cover all. And pile them high at Gettysburg And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun. Shovel them under and let me work. Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor: What place is this? Where are we now? I am the grass. Let me work.