Showing posts from 2007

A Child's Christmas in Wales

by Dylan Thomas

An excerpt from A Child's Christmas in Wales. While sorting my thoughts about Christmas, it hit me: at the family celebration that I have invited to, I will see the same uncles I see every year! And I am one of them.

"Were there Uncles like in our house?"

"There are always Uncles at Christmas. The same Uncles. And on Christmas morning, with dog-disturbing whistle and sugar fags, I would scour the swatched town for the news of the little world, and find always a dead bird by the Post Office or by the white deserted swings; perhaps a robin, all but one of his fires out. Men and women wading or scooping back from chapel, with taproom noses and wind-bussed cheeks, all albinos, huddles their stiff black jarring feathers against the irreligious snow. Mistletoe hung from the gas brackets in all the front parlors; there was sherry and walnuts and bottled beer and crackers by the dessertspoons; and cats in their fur-abouts watched the fires; and the high-heaped…

Christmas Oratio

by W. H. Auden
You can never read too much Auden. And there is an enormous amount to read. Even though Christmas is not the time for academic lectures, for anyone who thinks that I have perhaps gone overboard on Auden, I refer you to Adam Gopnik’s article in the New Yorker: The Double Man

Why Auden is an indispensable poet of our time.

Well, so that is that.
Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once aga…

A Christmas Hymn

by Richard Wilbur
A stable-lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbor heaven,
A stall become a shrine. The child through David’s city
Shall ride in triumph by:
The palm shall strew its branches,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway
To pave his kingdom come. Yet he shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
For stony hearts of men:
God’s love upon the spearhead,
God’s love refused again. But now, as at the ending,
The low is lifted high;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
In praises of the child
By whose decent among us
The worlds are reconciled.

The Forgotten Dialect Of The Heart

by Jack Gilbert

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind's labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton.…

I Hate Incense

By Ikkyu
A master's handiwork cannot be measured But still priests wag their tongues explaining
the "Way" and babbling about "Zen." This old monk has never cared for false piety And my nose wrinkles at the dark smell of
incense before the Buddha.

I am an American

At the Top of the Food Chain but the Bottom of the Line
by Judith Pordon

I am an American.
I rush to be before the bullet,
as I push air out of my way.
I snap commands, advice
without request, involuntarily.
I wait only briefly for anything.
I comb my hair without looking,
as fast as possible, then
can’t understand why my
strands are haphazard.
I brush past, my goal in sight,
but you, who are you?

I am an averter.
My eyes have never touched
anyone. I will rush to my grave
and even in the tomb
will be pissed, for everything
I didn’t get to finish.

I am an American. I pledge allegiance
to the clock, to productivity, to the bottom line.


by Alice Oswald

From time to time our love is like a sail
and when the sail begins to alternate
from tack to tack, it’s like a swallowtail
and when the swallow flies it’s like a coat;
and if the coat is yours, it has a tear
like a wide mouth and when the mouth begins
to draw the wind, it’s like a trumpeter
and when the trumpet blows, it blows like millions....
and this, my love, when millions come and go
beyond the need of us, is like a trick;
and when the trick begins, it’s like a toe
tip-toeing on a rope, which is like luck;
and when the luck begins, it’s like a wedding,
which is like love, which is like everything.

poem on a paper bag

This poem was found written on a paper bag by Richard Brautigan in a Laundromat in San Francisco. The author is unknown.

By accident, you put
Your money in my
Machine (#4)
By accident, I put
My money in another
Machine (#6)
On purpose, I put
Your clothes in the
Empty machine full
Of water and no

It was lonely.


by Lisel Mueller

(my mother used to ask me if I, tucked away in San Francisco, ever missed a New England winter. Yes, sometimes, Mother, even out of season).

Telephone poles relax their spines, sidewalks go under. The nightly groans of aging porches are put to sleep. Mercy sponges the lips of stairs.
While we talk in the old concepts- time that was, and things that are- snow has leveled the stumps of the past and the earth has a new language.
It's like the scene in which the girl moves toward the hero who has not yet said, "Come here."
Come here, then. Every ditch has been exalted. We are covered with stars. Feel how light they are, our lives.

You Never Know The World Aright

by Thomas Traherne (1636-1674)

You never know the world aright till the Sea floweth in your Veins,
till you are Clothed with the Heavens, and Crowned with the Stars;
And perceive yourself to be the Sole Heir of the Whole World;
And more then so, because Men are in it who are every
one Sole Heirs, as well as you.
Till you are intimately Acquainted with that Shady
Nothing out of which this World was made;
Till your spirit filleth the whole World and the Stars are your Jewels
Till you love Men so as to Desire their Happiness
with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own.

from Centuries of Meditation

Here I am in the garden laughing

by Grace Paley (she died yesterday, August 23, 2007)
Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face how did this happen
well that's who I wanted to be at last a woman
in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sliding
on off my lap a pleasant
summer perspiration that's my old man across the yard
he's talking to the meter reader
he's telling him the world's sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips.

Primary Wonder

by Denise Levertov

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes, cap and bells.
And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

from Sands of the Well (1996)


by Sophie Katz

She wrote this poem in memory of her mother, Chaya Esther Perelman, who died on November 22, 1947. When Sophie died on June 10, 2007, Joel Katz, found among her papers a famous Japanese wood block of Nicherin claming the seas on his way into exile. Yes, as the sutra says, being born of a good mother helps a son find the dharma,

My mother died. We opened up her bedside table
Just before the auction. Pills
For migraine, cough drops, a dusty comb,
Old pens that didn't work.
Scraps of cloth from old dresses,
A dozen paperbacks, high sounding titles
On poetry, metaphysics,
But mostly never read.
And papers
Hundreds of papers
Like leaves in an autumn storm,
and just as ragged.
Old bills with lines of poetry --
Her disembodied souls come into being
With no before or after.
Ten-cent notebooks
The home of daring thoughts on women's needs
Before Friedan or Greer.
Health diary of the children, and in the back,
A list of topics that would someday make
Great articles,
Never …

At the Cathedral's Foot

by Adam Zagajewski

In June once, in the evening,
returning from a long trip,
with memories of France's blooming trees
still fresh in our minds,
its yellow fields, green plane trees
sprinting before the car,
we sat on the curb at the cathedral's foot
and spoke softly about disasters,
about what lay ahead, the coming fear,
and someone said this was the best
we could do now-
to talk of darkness in that bright shadow.

Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh

[1.5.09. Today I am entirely sure that I love this poem. I could not get it out of my mind, when I returned to the 'real' world after 7 days of intensive meditation retreat in June of '07].


by Samih al-Qasim

The day I'm killed
my killer will find
tickets in my pockets:
One to peace,
one to fields and the rain,
and one
to humanity's conscience. I beg you--please don't waste them.
I beg you, you who kill me: Go.

End of a Talk with a Jailer

by Samih al-Qasim
From the narrow window of my small cell,
I see trees that are smiling at me
and rooftops crowded with my family.
And windows weeping and praying for me.
From the narrow window of my small cell--
I can see your big cell!

"As we were marching"

by Aharon Shabtai

Two days ago in Rafi'ah,
nine Arabs were killed,
yesterday six
were killed in Hebron,
and today -- just two.
Last year
as we were marching
from Shenkin Street,
a man on a motorcycle
shouted toward us:
"Death to the Arabs!"

You can read interviews with three Israeli poets on The News Hour's website.

the beginning of a difficult poem

by Agi Mishol
(taken from a segment on "The News Hour" on PBS)

You are only twenty
and your first pregnancy is a bomb.
Under your broad skirt you are pregnant with dynamite
and metal shavings. This is how you walk in the market,
ticking among the people, you, Andaleeb Takatka.
Someone loosened the screws in your head
and launched you toward the city;
even though you come from Bethlehem,
the House of Bread, you chose a bakery.
And there you pulled the trigger out of yourself,
and together with the Sabbath loaves,
sesame and poppy seed,
you flung yourself into the sky.


by Richard Wilbur
In any company, he listens hard For signs of vanity and self-regard Reacting to each name that’s dropped, to each Complacent anecdote or turn of speech With subtle indications of surprise— A wince, perhaps, a widening of the eyes, Or a slight lifting of the brow, addressed To the egomaniac within his breast.

An Elegy

by Wendell Berry

I stand at the cistern in front of the old barn
in the darkness, in the dead of winter,
night strangely warm, the wind blowing,
rattling an unlatched door.
I draw the cold water up out of the ground, and drink.

At the house the light is still waiting.
An old man I've loved all my life is dying
in his bed there. He is going
slowly down from himself.
In final obedience to his life, he follows
his body out of our knowing.
his hands, quiet on the sheet, keep
a painful resemblance to what they no longer are.