poem index

Life

Life
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Deer Hit
Jon Loomis
You're seventeen and tunnel-vision drunk, 
swerving your father's Fairlane wagon home

at 3:00 a.m. Two-lane road, all curves 
and dips—dark woods, a stream, a patchy acre

of teazle and grass. You don't see the deer 
till they turn their heads—road full of eyeballs,

small moons glowing. You crank the wheel, 
stamp both feet on the brake, skid and jolt

into the ditch. Glitter and crunch of broken glass 
in your lap, deer hair drifting like dust. Your chin

and shirt are soaked—one eye half-obscured 
by the cocked bridge of your nose. The car

still running, its lights angled up at the trees. 
You get out. The deer lies on its side.

A doe, spinning itself around
in a frantic circle, front legs scrambling,

back legs paralyzed, dead. Making a sound—
again and again this terrible bleat.

You watch for a while. It tires, lies still. 
And here's what you do: pick the deer up

like a bride. Wrestle it into the back of the car—
the seat folded down. Somehow, you steer

the wagon out of the ditch and head home, 
night rushing in through the broken window,

headlight dangling, side-mirror gone. 
Your nose throbs, something stabs

in your side. The deer breathing behind you, 
shallow and fast. A stoplight, you're almost home

and the deer scrambles to life, its long head 
appears like a ghost in the rearview mirror

and bites you, its teeth clamp down on your shoulder 
and maybe you scream, you struggle and flail

till the deer, exhausted, lets go and lies down.

2
Your father's waiting up, watching tv.
He's had a few drinks and he's angry.

Christ, he says, when you let yourself in. 
It's Night of the Living Dead. You tell him

some of what happened: the dark road, 
the deer you couldn't avoid. Outside, he circles

the car. Jesus, he says. A long silence. 
Son of a bitch, looking in. He opens the tailgate,

drags the quivering deer out by a leg. 
What can you tell him—you weren't thinking,

you'd injured your head? You wanted to fix 
what you'd broken—restore the beautiful body,

color of wet straw, color of oak leaves in winter? 
The deer shudders and bleats in the driveway.

Your father walks to the toolshed,
comes back lugging a concrete block.

Some things stay with you. Dumping the body 
deep in the woods, like a gangster. The dent

in your nose. All your life, the trail of ruin you leave.
Life
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Mermaid Song
Kim Addonizio, 1954
         for Aya at fifteen

Damp-haired from the bath, you drape yourself 
upside down across the sofa, reading, 
one hand idly sunk into a bowl
of crackers, goldfish with smiles stamped on. 
I think they are growing gills, swimming 
up the sweet air to reach you. Small girl, 
my slim miracle, they multiply.
In the black hours when I lie sleepless, 
near drowning, dread-heavy, your face 
is the bright lure I look for, love's hook 
piercing me, hauling me cleanly up.
Life
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This Was Once a Love Poem
Jane Hirshfield, 1953
This was once a love poem,
before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short,
before it found itself sitting,
perplexed and a little embarrassed,
on the fender of a parked car,
while many people passed by without turning their heads.

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, it decides:
Many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots. 
When it finds itself disquieted 
by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life,
it will touch them—one, then another—
with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.
Life
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A Poison Tree
William Blake, 1757 - 1827
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears
Night and morning with my tears,
And I sunned it with smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright,
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,--

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning, glad, I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
Life
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A Love Song
William Carlos Williams, 1883 - 1963
What have I to say to you
When we shall meet?
Yet—
I lie here thinking of you.

The stain of love
Is upon the world.
Yellow, yellow, yellow,
It eats into the leaves,
Smears with saffron
The horned branches that lean
Heavily
Against a smooth purple sky.

There is no light—
Only a honey-thick stain
That drips from leaf to leaf
And limb to limb
Spoiling the colours
Of the whole world.

I am alone.
The weight of love
Has buoyed me up
Till my head
Knocks against the sky.

See me!
My hair is dripping with nectar—
Starlings carry it
On their black wings.
See, at last
My arms and my hands
Are lying idle.

How can I tell
If I shall ever love you again
As I do now?
Life
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"Also Birds" [excerpt]
Dawn Lundy Martin

Here, a description of stalemate looking past shore. Here is the fragment, the stunted word store.

Life brings us to the dedication of the droning fisherman, all his preparations for autumn—thermal thigh-high rubbers...

Land trauma, spill snot from earth. A hole so deep on fire and imagined ends/endless. Glory arm reaches in.

Speed is distracting.

I've a faith prescription.

If you multiply geography by time you have right here.

Wake into a dream, or first glimpses of the afterlife, God just beyond the threshold, saying you can have anything you want.

To be held fiercely, a wave: be still.

Sudden awareness of the possibility of absolute loss. From mire, everything's riding on this.

Sunlight, our undertaking.

What it means to, in the absence of wholeness—side of the self, caught by glimpse. How could we have not seen this before?

My bright scarf, a masquerade. Hinter swan.

Life
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Out, Out–
Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963

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.

Life
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A Hedge of Rubber Trees
Amy Clampitt
The West Village by then was changing; before long
the rundown brownstones at its farthest edge
would have slipped into trendier hands. She lived,
impervious to trends, behind a potted hedge of
rubber trees, with three cats, a canary--refuse 
from whose cage kept sifting down and then 
germinating, a yearning seedling choir, around
the saucers on the windowsill--and an inexorable
cohort of roaches she was too nearsighted to deal
with, though she knew they were there, and would
speak of them, ruefully, as of an affliction that
     might once, long ago, have been prevented.

Unclassifiable castoffs, misfits, marginal cases:
when you're one yourself, or close to it, there's
a reassurance in proving you haven't quite gone
under by taking up with somebody odder than you are.
Or trying to. "They're my friends," she'd say of
her cats--Mollie, Mitzi and Caroline, their names were,
and she was forever taking one or another in a cab
to the vet--as though she had no others. The roommate
who'd become a nun, the one who was Jewish, the couple
she'd met on a foliage tour, one fall, were all people
she no longer saw. She worked for a law firm, said all
     the judges were alcoholic, had never voted.

But would sometimes have me to dinner--breaded veal,
white wine, strawberry Bavarian--and sometimes, from 
what she didn't know she was saying, I'd snatch a shred
or two of her threadbare history. Baltic cold. Being 
sent home in a troika when her feet went numb. In
summer, carriage rides. A swarm of gypsy children 
driven off with whips. An octogenarian father, bishop
of a dying schismatic sect. A very young mother
who didn't want her. A half-brother she met just once.
Cousins in Wisconsin, one of whom phoned her from a candy 
store, out of the blue, while she was living in Chicago.
     What had brought her there, or when, remained unclear.

As did much else. We'd met in church. I noticed first
a big, soaring soprano with a wobble in it, then 
the thickly wreathed and braided crimp in the mouse-
gold coiffure. Old? Young? She was of no age.
Through rimless lenses she looked out of a child's,
or a doll's, globular blue. Wore Keds the year round,
tended otherwise to overdress. Owned a mandolin. Once
I got her to take it down from the mantel and plink out,
through a warm fuddle of sauterne, a lot of giddy Italian 
airs from a songbook whose pages had started to crumble.
The canary fluffed and quivered, and the cats, amazed,
     came out from under the couch and stared.

What could the offspring of the schismatic age and a 
reluctant child bride expect from life? Not much.
Less and less. A dream she'd had kept coming back,
years after. She'd taken a job in Washington with 
some right-wing lobby, and lived in one of those
bow-windowed mansions that turn into roominghouses,
and her room there had a full-length mirror: oval,
with a molding, is the way I picture it. In her dream
something woke her, she got up to look, and there 
in the glass she'd had was covered over--she gave it
     a wondering emphasis--with gray veils.

The West Village was changing. I was changing. The last
time I asked her to dinner, she didn't show. Hours--
or was it days?--later, she phoned to explain: she hadn't
been able to find my block; a patrolman had steered her home.
I spent my evenings canvassing for Gene McCarthy. Passing,
I'd see her shades drawn, no light behind the rubber trees.
She wasn't out, she didn't own a TV. She was in there,
getting gently blotto. What came next, I wasn't brave
enough to know. Only one day, passing, I saw
new shades, quick-chic matchstick bamboo, going up where 
the waterstained old ones had been, and where the seedlings--
     O gray veils, gray veils--had risen and gone down.
Life
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anyone lived in a pretty how town
E. E. Cummings, 1894 - 1962
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did.

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn't they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone's any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain
Life
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A Boy and His Dad
Edgar Guest, 1881 - 1959
A boy and his dad on a fishing-trip—
There is a glorious fellowship!
Father and son and the open sky
And the white clouds lazily drifting by,
And the laughing stream as it runs along
With the clicking reel like a martial song,
And the father teaching the youngster gay
How to land a fish in the sportsman's way.

I fancy I hear them talking there
In an open boat, and the speech is fair.
And the boy is learning the ways of men
From the finest man in his youthful ken.
Kings, to the youngster, cannot compare
With the gentle father who's with him there.
And the greatest mind of the human race
Not for one minute could take his place.

Which is happier, man or boy?
The soul of the father is steeped in joy,
For he's finding out, to his heart's delight,
That his son is fit for the future fight.
He is learning the glorious depths of him,
And the thoughts he thinks and his every whim;
And he shall discover, when night comes on,
How close he has grown to his little son.

A boy and his dad on a fishing-trip—
Builders of life's companionship!
Oh, I envy them, as I see them there
Under the sky in the open air,
For out of the old, old long-ago
Come the summer days that I used to know,
When I learned life's truths from my father's lips
As I shared the joy of his fishing-trips.