After the explosion, no one knew what to do For the boy who’d stood closest to the abandoned leather briefcase. By some miracle, he was the only one injured. It erupted In an incense of sulfur and nails as he made his way To steal it. Holiness has an aura, everyone knows that, But why would terrorists bother to murder a thief? The ethics of this question paralyzed everyone in sight While the boy, unable to breathe, watched God wandering The station in a business suit, asking occasional strangers Have you seen my briefcase? There was something urgent in it.
Our Favorite Poems English 223 Fall 2011
Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press from The Infinity Sessions: Poems by T. R. Hummer. Copyright © 2005 by T. R. Hummer.
from (→) prep. 1. Starting at (a particular place or time): As in, John was from Chicago, but he played guitar straight from the Delta; he wore a blue suit from Robert Hall's; his hair smelled like coconut; his breath, like mint and bourbon; his hands felt like they were from slave times when he touched me—hungry, stealthy, trembling. 2. Out of: He pulled a knot of bills from his pocket, paid the man and we went upstairs. 3. Not near to or in contact with: He smoked the weed, but, surprisingly, he kept it from me. He ~aid it would make me too self-conscious, and he wanted those feelings as far away from us as possible; he said a good part of my beauty was that I wasn't conscious of my beauty. Isn't that funny? So we drank Bloody Mothers (Hennessey and tomato juice), which was hard to keep from him—he always did like to drink. 4· Out of the control or authority of: I was released from my mama's house, from dreams of hands holding me down, from the threat of hands not pulling me up, from the man that knew me, but of whom I did not know; released from the dimming of twilight, from the brightness of morning; from the love I thought had to look like love; from the love I thought had to taste like love, from the love I thought I had to love like love. 5. Out of the totality of: I came from a family full of women; I came from a family full of believers; I came from a pack of witches—I'm just waiting to conjure my powers; I came from a legacy of lovers—I'm just waiting to seduce my seducer; I came from a pride of proud women, and we take good care of our young. 6. As being other or another than: He couldn't tell me from his mother; he couldn't tell me from his sister; he couldn't tell me from the last woman he had before me, and why should he—we're all the same woman. 7. With (some person, place, or thing) as the instrument, maker, or source: Here's a note from my mother, and you can take it as advice from me: A weak lover is more dangerous than a strong enemy; if you're going to love someone, make sure you know where they're coming from. 8. Because of: Becoming an alcoholic, learning to walk away, being a good speller, being good in bed, falling in love—they all come from practice. 9. Outside or beyond the possibility of: In the room, he kept me from leaving by keeping me curious; he kept me from drowning by holding my breath in his mouth; yes, he kept me from leaving till the next day when he said Leave. Then, he couldn't keep me from coming back.
From M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, published by W. W. Norton & Company. Copyright © 2004 by A. Van Jordan. Used with permission.
This is not a poem about sex, or even about fish or the genitals of fish, So if you are a fisherman or someone interested primarily in sex, this would be as good a time As any to put another worm on your hook or find a poem that is really about fucking. This, rather, is a poem about language, and about the connections between mind and ear And the strange way a day makes its tenuous progress from almost anywhere. Which is why I've decided to begin with the idea of fish fucking (not literally, mind you, But the idea of fish fucking), because the other day, and a beautiful day it was, in Virginia The woman I was with, commenting on the time between the stocking of a pond and the First day of fishing season, asked me if this was perhaps because of the frequency with which Fish fuck, and—though I myself know nothing at all about the fucking of fish—indeed, I believe From the little biology I know that fish do not fuck at all as we know it, but rather the male Deposits his sperm on the larvae, which the female, in turn, has deposited—yet the question Somehow suggested itself to my mind as the starting point of the day, and from the idea of fish Fucking came thoughts of the time that passes between things and our experience of them, Not only between the stocking of the pond and our being permitted to fish in it, but the time, For example, that passes between the bouncing of light on the pond and our perception of the Pond, or between the time I say the word jujungawop and the moment that word bounces against your Eardrum and the moment a bit further on when the nerves that run from the eardrum to the brain Inform you that you do not, in fact, know the meaning of the word jujungawop, but this, Perhaps, is moving a bit too far from the idea of fish fucking and how beautifully blue the pond was That morning and how, lying among the reeds atop the dam and listening to the water run under it, The thought occurred to me how the germ of an idea has little to do with the idea itself, and how It is rather a small leap from fish fucking to the anthropomorphic forms in a Miró painting, Or the way certain women, when they make love, pucker their lips and gurgle like fish, and how This all points out how dangerous it is for a man or a woman who wants a poet's attention To bring up an idea, even so ludicrous and biologically ungrounded a one as fish fucking, Because the next thing she knows the mind is taking off over the dam from her beautiful face, off Over the hills of Virginia, perhaps as far as Guatemala and the black bass that live in Lake Atitlán who Feast on the flightless grebe, which is not merely a sexual thought or a fishy one, but a thought About the cruelty that underlies even great beauty, the cruelty of nature and love and our lives which We cannot do without and without which even the idea of fish fucking would be ordinary and no larger than Itself, but to return now to that particular day, and to the idea of love, which inevitably arises from the Thought that even so seemingly unintelligent a creature as a fish could hold his loved one, naked in the water, And say to her, softly, Liebes, mein Lubes; it was indeed a beautiful day, the kind filled with anticipation And longing for the small perfections usually found only in poems; the breeze was slight enough just to brush A few of her hairs gently over one eye, the air was the scent of bayberry and pine as if the gods were Burning incense in some heavenly living room, and as we lay among the reeds, our faces skyward, The sun fondling our cheeks, it was as if each time we looked away from the world it took On again a precise yet general luminescence when we returned to it, a clarity equally convincing as pain But more pleasing to the senses, and though it was not such a moment of perfection as Keats or Hamsun Speak of and for the sake of which we can go on for years almost blissful in our joylessness, it was A day when at least the possibility of such a thing seemed possible: the deer tracks suggesting that Deer do, indeed, come to the edge of the woods to feed at dusk, and the idea of fish fucking suggesting A world so beautiful, so divine in its generosity that even the fish make love, even the fish live Happily ever after, chasing each other, lustful as stars through the constantly breaking water.
From Days We Would Rather Know, published by The Viking Press. Copyright © 1984 by Michael Blumenthal. Used by permission of the author.
If I could just touch your ankle, he whispers, there on the inside, above the bone—leans closer, breath of lime and pepper—I know I could make love to you. She considers this, secretly thrilled, though she wasn’t quite sure what he meant. He was good with words, words that went straight to the liver. Was she falling for him out of sheer boredom— cooped up in this anything-but-humble dive, stone gargoyles leering and brocade drapes licked with fire? Her ankle burns where he described it. She sighs just as her mother aboveground stumbles, is caught by the fetlock—bereft in an instant— while the Great Man drives home his desire.
"Hades' Pitch", from Mother Love by Rita Dove. Copyright © 1995 by Rita Dove. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Is nothing real but when I was fifteen, Going on sixteen, like a corny song? I see myself so clearly then, and painfully— Knees bleeding through my usher's uniform Behind the candy counter in the theater After a morning's surfing; paddling frantically To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me, Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor's Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt. Is that all I have to write about? You write about the life that's vividest. And if that is your own, that is your subject. And if the years before and after sixteen Are colorless as salt and taste like sand— Return to those remembered chilly mornings, The light spreading like a great skin on the water, And the blue water scalloped with wind-ridges, And—what was it exactly?—that slow waiting When, to invigorate yourself, you peed Inside your bathing suit and felt the warmth Crawl all around your hips and thighs, And the first set rolled in and the water level Rose in expectancy, and the sun struck The water surface like a brassy palm, Flat and gonglike, and the wave face formed. Yes. But that was a summer so removed In time, so specially peculiar to my life, Why would I want to write about it again? There was a day or two when, paddling out, An older boy who had just graduated And grown a great blonde moustache, like a walrus, Skimmed past me like a smooth machine on the water, And said my name. I was so much younger, To be identified by one like him— The easy deference of a kind of god Who also went to church where I did—made me Reconsider my worth. I had been noticed. He soon was a small figure crossing waves, The shawling crest surrounding him with spray, Whiter than gull feathers. He had said my name Without scorn, just with a bit of surprise To notice me among those trying the big waves Of the morning break. His name is carved now On the black wall in Washington, the frozen wave That grievers cross to find a name or names. I knew him as I say I knew him, then, Which wasn't very well. My father preached His funeral. He came home in a bag That may have mixed in pieces of his squad. Yes, I can write about a lot of things Besides the summer that I turned sixteen. But that's my ground swell. I must start Where things began to happen and I knew it.
From Questions for Ecclesiastes published by Story Line Press, 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Mark Jarman. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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.
From The Poetry of Robert Frost by Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1916, 1923, 1928, 1930, 1934, 1939, 1947, 1949, © 1969 by Holt Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Copyright 1936, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1953, 1954, © 1956, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962 by Robert Frost. Copyright © 1962, 1967, 1970 by Leslie Frost Ballantine.
On the beach at night alone, As the old mother sways her to and fro, singing her husky song, As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the clef of the universes, and of the future. A vast similitude interlocks all, All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets All distances of place however wide, All distances of time, all inanimate forms, All souls, all living bodies, though they be ever so different, or in different worlds, All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, the fishes, the brutes, All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages, All identities that have existed, or may exist, on this globe, or any globe, All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future, This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann'd, And shall forever span them and compactly hold and enclose them.
This poem is in the public domain.
Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly. Hold fast to dreams For when dreams go Life is a barren field Frozen with snow.
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes published by Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated. All rights reserved.
The child takes her first journey through the inner blue world of her mother's body, blue veins, blue eyes, frail petal lids. Beyond that unborn brackish world so deep it will be felt forever as longing, a dream of blue notes plucked from memory's guitar, the wind blows indigo shadows under streetlights, clouds crowd the moon and bear down on the limbs of a blue spruce. The child's head appears— midnight pond, weedy and glistening— draws back, reluctant to leave that first home. Blue catch in the mother's throat, ferocious bruise of a growl, and out slides the iridescent body—fish-slippery in her father's hands, plucked from water into such thin densities of air, her arms and tiny hands stutter and flail, till he places her on her mother's body, then cuts the smoky cord, releasing her into this world, its cold harbor below where a blue caul of shrink-wrap covers each boat gestating on the winter shore. Child, the world comes in twos, above and below, visible and unseen. Inside your mother's croon there's the hum of an old man tapping his foot on a porch floor, his instrument made from one string nailed to a wall, as if anything can be turned into song, always what is and what is longed for. Against the window the electric blue of cop lights signals somebody's bad news, and a lone man walks through the street, his guitar sealed in dark plush. Child, from this world now you will draw your breath and let out your moth flutter of blue sighs. Now your mother will listen for each one, alert enough to hear snow starting to flake from the sky, bay water beginning to freeze. Sleep now, little shadow, as your first world still flickers across your face, that other side where all was given and nothing desired. Soon enough you'll want milk, want faces, hands, heartbeats and voices singing in your ear. Soon the world will amaze you, and you will give back its bird-warble, its dove call, singing that blue note which deepens the song, that longing for what no one can recall, your small night cry roused from the wholeness you carry into this broken world.
From Rough Cradle by Betsy Sholl. Copyright © 2009 by Betsy Sholl. Used by permission of Alice James Books. All rights reserved.
1. Peony silks, in wax-light: that petal-sheen, gold or apricot or rose candled into- what to call it, lumina, aurora, aureole? About gowns, the Old Masters, were they ever wrong? This penitent Magdalen's wrapped in a yellow so voluptuous she seems to wear all she's renounced; this boy angel isn't touching the ground, but his billow of yardage refers not to heaven but to pleasure's textures, the tactile sheers and voiles and tulles which weren't made to adorn the soul. Eternity's plainly nude; the naked here and now longs for a little dressing up. And though they seem to prefer the invisible, every saint in the gallery flaunts an improbable tumble of drapery, a nearly audible liquidity (bright brass embroidery, satin's violin-sheen) raveled around the body's plain prose; exquisite (dis?)guises; poetry, music, clothes. 2. Nothing needs to be this lavish. Even the words I'd choose for these leaves; intricate, stippled, foxed, tortoise, mottled, splotched -jeweled adjectives for a forest by Fabergé, all cloisonné and enamel, a yellow grove golden in its gleaming couture, brass buttons tumbling to the floor. Who's it for? Who's the audience for this bravura? Maybe the world's just trompe l'oeil, appearances laid out to dazzle the eye; who could see through this to any world beyond forms? Maybe the costume's the whole show, all of revelation we'll be offered. So? Show me what's not a world of appearances. Autumn's a grand old drag in torched and tumbled chiffon striking her weary pose. Talk about your mellow fruitfulness! Smoky alto, thou hast thy music, too; unforgettable, those October damasks, the dazzling kimono worn, dishabille, uncountable curtain calls in these footlights' dusky, flattering rose. The world's made fabulous by fabulous clothes.
From Atlantis by Mark Doty, published by Harper Perennial. Copyright © 1995 by Mark Doty. Used by permission of the author.
I'm working on a poem that's so true, I can't show it to anyone. I could never show it to anyone. Because it says exactly what I think, and what I think scares me. Sometimes it pleases me. Usually it brings misery. And this poem says exactly what I think. What I think of myself, what I think of my friends, what I think about my lover. Exactly. Parts of it might please them, some of it might scare them. Some of it might bring misery. And I don't want to hurt them, I don't want to hurt them. I don't want to hurt anybody. I want everyone to love me. Still, I keep working on it. Why? Why do I keep working on it? Nobody will ever see it. Nobody will ever see it. I keep working on it even though I can never show it to anybody. I keep working on it even though someone might get hurt.
Copyright © 2000 by Lloyd Schwartz. From Cairo Traffic (The University of Chicago Press, 2000). Appears courtesy of the author.
You know that they burned her horse before her. Though it is not recorded, you know that they burned her Percheron first, before her eyes, because you know that story, so old that story, the routine story, carried to its extreme, of the cruelty that can make of what a woman hears a silence, that can make of what a woman sees a lie. She had no son for them to burn, for them to take from her in the world not of her making and put to its pyre, so they layered a greater one in front of where she was staked to her own-- as you have seen her pictured sometimes, her eyes raised to the sky. But they were not raised. This is yet one of their lies. They were not closed. Though her hands were bound behind her, and her feet were bound deep in what would become fire, she watched. Of greenwood stakes head-high and thicker than a man's waist they laced the narrow corral that would not burn until flesh had burned, until bone was burning, and laid it thick with tinder--fatted wicks and sulphur, kindling and logs--and ran a ramp up to its height from where the gray horse waited, his dapples making of his flesh a living metal, layers of life through which the light shone out in places as it seems to through the flesh of certain fish, a light she knew as purest, coming, like that, from within. Not flinching, not praying, she looked the last time on the body she knew better than the flesh of any man, or child, or woman, having long since left the lap of her mother--the chest with its perfect plates of muscle, the neck with its perfect, prow-like curve, the hindquarters'--pistons--powerful cleft pennoned with the silk of his tail. Having ridden as they did together --those places, that hard, that long-- their eyes found easiest that day the way to each other, their bodies wedded in a sacrament unmediated by man. With fire they drove him up the ramp and off into the pyre and tossed the flame in with him. This was the last chance they gave her to recant her world, in which their power came not from God. Unmoved, the Men of God began watching him burn, and better, watching her watch him burn, hearing the long mad godlike trumpet of his terror, his crashing in the wood, the groan of stakes that held, the silverblack hide, the pricked ears catching first like driest bark, and the eyes. and she knew, by this agony, that she might choose to live still, if she would but make her sign on the parchment they would lay before her, which now would include this new truth: that it did not happen, this death in the circle, the rearing, plunging, raging, the splendid armour-colored head raised one last time above the flames before they took him --like any game untended on the spit--into their yellow-green, their blackening red.
Copyright © 2002 by Linda McCarriston. Published 2002 by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.
I want a red dress. I want it flimsy and cheap, I want it too tight, I want to wear it until someone tears it off me. I want it sleeveless and backless, this dress, so no one has to guess what's underneath. I want to walk down the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store with all those keys glittering in the window, past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly, hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders. I want to walk like I'm the only woman on earth and I can have my pick. I want that red dress bad. I want it to confirm your worst fears about me, to show you how little I care about you or anything except what I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment from its hanger like I'm choosing a body to carry me into this world, through the birth-cries and the love-cries too, and I'll wear it like bones, like skin, it'll be the goddamned dress they bury me in.
From Tell Me by Kim Addonizio. Copyright © 2000 by Kim Addonizio. Reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. All rights reserved.
III Spring is like a perhaps hand (which comes carefully out of Nowhere)arranging a window,into which people look(while people stare arranging and changing placing carefully there a strange thing and a known thing here)and changing everything carefully spring is like a perhaps Hand in a window (carefully to and fro moving New and Old things,while people stare carefully moving a perhaps fraction of flower here placing an inch of air there)and without breaking anything.
Copyright 1923, 1925, 1951, 1953, © 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976 by George J. Firmage. From The Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, Edited by George J. Firmage. Reprinted by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.
The great thing is not having a mind. Feelings: oh, I have those; they govern me. I have a lord in heaven called the sun, and open for him, showing him the fire of my own heart, fire like his presence. What could such glory be if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters, were you like me once, long ago, before you were human? Did you permit yourselves to open once, who would never open again? Because in truth I am speaking now the way you do. I speak because I am shattered.
From The Wild Iris, published by The Ecco Press, 1992. Copyright © 1992 by Louise Glück. All Rights reserved. Used with permission.
June already, it's your birth month, nine months since the towers fell. I set olive twigs in my hair torn from a tree in Central Park, I ride a painted horse, its mane a sullen wonder. You are behind me on a lilting mare. You whisper--What of happiness? Dukham, Federico. Smoke fills my eyes. Young, I was raised to a sorrow song short fires and stubble on a monsoon coast. The leaves in your cap are very green. The eyes of your mare never close. Somewhere you wrote: Despedida. If I die leave the balcony open!