The skies held angry clouds when I was young,
Shot through from time to time with sudden sun;
My garden has raked by rain so long
It’s barren of the fruit it might have borne.
Now autumn’s come, and harvest time again.
I must reclaim my solitary grove.
All that I should have reaped and gleaned is gone;
Tidewaters washed it all into the grave.
In such sick soil, eroded by the brine,
What mystic aliment for seeds like mine?
Can flowers from dream burst into bloom?
And how much human life can Time consume?
The Enemy within keeps growing fat
On lifeblood that it leeches from the heart!
- Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
Flash after flash across the horizon:
tourists trying to take the canyon
by night. They don't know
every last shot will turn out black.
It takes sixty years for Rothko
to make his way to the rim.
He goes there only after dark.
As he stands at the railing, his pupils open
like a camera shutter at the slowest speed.
He has to be patient. He has to lean
far over the railing to see
the colors of darkness:
purple, numb brown, mud-red, mauve.
At first he can see only black-on-black.
"Something you don't want to look at," he says.
As he waits,
the waves of color vibrate in the canyon
Pilgrim, bring back something
from the brink
to make us see.
- Chana Bloch
When I can not look at your face
I look at your feet.
Your feet of arched bone,
your hard little feet.
I know that they support you,
and that your gentle weight
rises upon them.
Your waist and your breast,
the doubled purple
of your nipples,
the sockets of your eyes
that have just flown away,
your wide fruit mouth,
your red tresses,
my little tower.
But I love your feet
only because they walked
upon the earth and upon
the wind and upon the waters,
until they found me.
- Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)
Sin, stinting, senseless acts and sophistries
Pester the flesh and prey upon the mind;
We keep our stainless consciences maintained
Like indigents who fatten up their fleas.
Headstrong in sin, half-hearted in remorse,
We want to make damn sure confession pays,
That easy tears will rinse away disgrace-
The better to resume our intercourse.
Great Satan lullabies our spellbound hearts
And rocks us in his cunning cradle, till
The pliant precious metal of our will
Is vaporized by his hermetic arts.
The Devil jerks the strings that make us dance!
We learn to love the smell of excrement;
Each day brings one more step in our descent
Through stinking shades that would have gagged us once.
Lechers with nothing left, whose pleasure is
To squeeze some aged whore's exhausted breast,
We grab for every passing thrill with zest
And suck them hard, like dried-up oranges.
Like serried knots of seething parasites,
Demonic forces riot in our brains;
With every rasping breath, Death's river drains
Down to our flooded lungs and out of sight.
Were petty criminals, with petty fates,
And if we haven't broken all the laws
Of God and man and nature, it's because
We haven't got the stomach for it, yet.
In our grotesque menagerie of vice,
Amid the hisses, grunts and snarls and shrieks
Of restless jackals, vultures, apes and snakes,
There's one thing even wilder, even worse.
Nastier, far more vicious than the rest!
Although the beast lies silent and withdrawn,
He'd swallow all creation with a yawn
And willingly reduce the earth to dust:
Ennui! daydreaming of the guillotine,
Grows misty-eyed, a hookah in his fist.
Reader, you know this armchair terrorist-
Yes, you - you hypocrite - my next of kin!
- Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
The tangles roots of addiction
begin in my mind
when I believe that the world is
a land of trinkets promising happiness.
In this world I feel trapped,
surrounded by a moat of deep and shadowy
waters of loneliness and despair.
The knurled, spiny roots of addiction encase and
squeeze my heart, forcing the
memory of love to fade into darkness.
Let me today come to realize
that there is a quiet place inside of me,
a place kept safe for me,
where love lies protected and unharmed.
Today my awareness of love shines light
through the darkness of addiction.
The light of love is who I am.
Today I will take time to be still
and listen to the truth about who I am.
- Lee Jampolsky (1952-)
Sometimes for cruel sport a crew will take
The sky's leviathan, an albatross,
That easygoing escort in the wake
Of vessels drifting on the salt abyss
Out of his element. A king of kings -
But once the men have wrestled him aboard,
Pathetically, he drags those futile things
Behind him like a pair of great white oars.
This noble traveler, so graceful then,
So awkward now, and comical, and meek -
One sailor apes the sea-sick alien,
Another sticks a pipestem in his beak!
Cloud-sovereign himself, the Poet seems
To rule the storm and taunt the crossbow’ strings,
But exiled on the earth in scornful times,
Can never walk for such outlandish wings.
- Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
What to say of it, the fish part,
that does not sound like
any fish: rough to the fingers,
difficult to scale, knife catching on hide,
platelets glancing off my glasses?
For it is hard enough anyway
to hold it steady in the sink
without the soft voice in the ear,
the plaintive singing, the water in its lungs
echoing the faucet's laughter.
I suppose it was that, and the easy
reception of my thumb upon
it throat, that made me wonder
if there might be something, this time,
to feel sad about.
- William L. Ramsey
After so many decades of . . . of what?
I have a permanent sabbatical.
I pass my time on actuarial time,
Listen to music, and, going to bed
Leave something in the bottom of the glass,
A little wastefulness to end the day.
- J.V. Cunningham (1911-1985)
The combat vet who works the lawn has
a hole in his neck I can’t stop glancing at, dark
thumb pushed into cracked clay. Ain’t pretty,
he says and winks, and the hole in his neck
winks as he twists to pick up a rake. He
was lucky, he says, ‘cause his brother got
one too, but his, well his was in the middle
of his forehead, life-years ago
in a place where it felt not even the stones
liked them, and sand grew like nobody’s business.
Not theirs anyway. Never saw so much sun,
he can still see it when he shuts his eyes,
it’s like he can’t quite close them all the way.
He pulls up a bag of grass seed and drapes
the dead weight on his shoulder. Ain’t heavy,
he says, if you can balance it right.
- Mark Smith-Soto
Just as a year might end
the world tonight may die
around the darkside moon
with one wipe of the eye.
The world makes something to see
if we go out and look
at fields of snow and stars:
the ogle eye of Mars
throbbing toc and tic
burns red in the dark.
See how it all ends,
this time that was never ready,
this future that never worked
fallen into our hands
and our hands deadly
and the dead, friends.
- Louis Coxe (1918-1993)
Because I feel that, in the Heavens above,
The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, among their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of “Mother,”
Therefore by that dear name I long have called you-
You who are more than mother unto me,
And fill my heart, where Death installed you
In setting my Virginia’s spirit free.
My mother--my own mother, who died early,
Was but the mother of myself; but you
Are mother to the one I loved so dearly,
And thus are dearer than the mother I know
By that infinity with which my wife
Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life.
- Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)
I want warriors at my funeral,
each red necked, milked-chested fellow
in his one tie, a suit that used to fit.
They make great pallbearers,
are okay at the grave, in any role
where silence is required, but it’s hard
to get them inside afterward,
church basement, at the house. They clump
in the parking lot, out in the yard,
near the comfort of pickup trucks. While the women
chat and fuss, put out sandwiches, potato salad,
despair-black coffee, the men
talk in short words, call the dead man
by his last name, his clan. In the second hour
the laughter starts. They’re stepping back,
as they used to from the pyre they’d pile
with axes, spears, gold rings,
away from that heat changing flesh to story.
- Susan Blackwell Ramsey (1958-)
After our damp skins slid apart
I nearly starved, pulling
on my mother’s drained tit.
She used all her strength
to shove me out of her body,
the last link stretched, slashed,
tied in a knot I wear on the beach,
flaunting the twisted emblem
of first rejection, the eye of flesh
that saw love couldn’t last.
- Lauren Shakely (1948-)
In Spanish he whispers there is no time left.
It is the sound of scythes arcing in wheat,
the ache of some field song in Salvador.
The wind along the prison, cautious
as Francisco’s hands on the inside, touching
the walls as he walks, it is his wife’s breath
slipping into his cell each night while he
imagines his hand to be hers. It is a small country.
There is nothing one man will not do to another.
- Carolyn Forche (1950-)
By fate, not option, frugal Nature gave
One scent to hyson and to wall-flower,
One sound to pine-groves and to waterfalls,
One aspect to the desert and the lake.
It was her stern necessity: all things
Are of one pattern made; bird, beast, and flower,
Song, picture, form, space, thought and character
Deceive us, seeming to be many things,
And are but one. Beheld far off, they part
As God and devil; bring them to the mind,
They dull its edge with their monotony.
To know one element, explore another,
And in the second reappears the first.
The specious panorama of a year
But multiplies the image of day,--
A belt of mirrors round taper's flame;
And universal Nature, through her vast
And crowded whole, an infinite paroquet,
Repeats one note.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
What it must be like to be an angel
or a squirrel, we can imagine sooner.
The last time we go to bed good,
they are there, lying about darkness.
They dandle us once too often,
these friends who become our enemies.
Suddenly one day, their juniors
are as old as we yearn to be.
They get wrinkles where it is better
smooth, odd coughs, and smells.
It is grotesque how they go on
loving us, we go on loving them.
The effrontery, barely imaginable,
of having caused us. And of how.
Their lives: surely
we can do better than that.
This goes on for a long time. Everything
they do is wrong, and the worst thing,
they all do it, is to die,
taking with them the last explanation,
how we came out of the wet sea
or wherever they got us from,
taking the last link
of that chain with them.
Father, mother, we cry, wrinkling,
to our uncomprehending children and grandchildren.
- William Morris Meredith Jr. (1919-2007)
Don’t be afraid of dying. The glass of water
Is quickly poured into the waiting goblet.
Your face that will be of no further use to mirrors
Grows more and more transparent, nothing is hidden.
It’s night in the remotest provinces of the brain,
Seeing falls back into the great sea of light.
How strange to see that glittering green fly
Walk onto the eyeball, rubbing its hands and praying.
Don’t be afraid, you’re going to where you were
Before birth pushed you into this cold light.
Lie down here, next to Empedocles;
Be joined to the small grains of the brotherhood.
- Robert Mezey (1935-)
when we all
a lover coiled
around me in bed
running a hand
over a hip,
Who do you think
is going to die first?
What? I said,
It won't matter
won't be together.
- Dion Farquhar (1947-present)
Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no
Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,
who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.
- John Berryman (1914-1972)
Of the same old thing,
not to be outdone,
Blanch each morning.
But lose their nerve
The sky, discouraged
By the amount
Of work involved,
Stays the same.
- Jeremy Clarke (1962-)
Far star that tickles for me my sensitive plate
And fries a couple of ebon atoms white,
I don't believe I believe a thing you state.
I put no faith in the seeming facts of light.
I don't believe I believe you're the last in space,
I don't believe you're anywhere near the last,
I don't believe what makes you red in the face
Is after explosion going away so fast.
The universe may or may not be very immense.
As a matter of fact there are times when I am apt
To feel it close in tight against my sense
Like a caul in which I was born and still am wrapped.
- Robert Frost (1874-1963)
Houses in a row, houses in a row,
houses in a row.
Square, square, square
houses in a row.
People now have square souls,
ideas in a row
and angles on their backs.
I myself shed a tear yesterday,
my god, it was square.
- Alfonsina Storni (1892-1938)
Cold gaze reminding me
Paradise will be lost
Walking away as if…
I can't think about it
Just kiss me
Don't mind me
no matter the reasons
Emotions are what matter
Reason carries foresight
all else rolls dice outta sight
Never mind this or that
Just grow from now to then
Wondering when we'll walk past
as if we never happened.
Hitler entered Paris the way my
sister entered my room at night,
sat astride me, squeezed me with her knees,
held her thumbnails to the skin of my wrists and
peed on me, knowing Mother would
never believe my story. It was very
silent, her dim face above me
gleaming in the shadows, the dark gold
smell of her urine spreading through the room, its
heat boiling on my legs, my small
pelvis wet. When the hissing stopped, when the
hole had been scorched in my body, I lay
crisp and charred with shame and felt her
skin glitter in the air, her dark
gold pleasure unfold as he stood over
Napoleon's tomb and murmured This is the
finest moment of my life.
- Sharon Olds (1942-)
Suppose you know the definitions
of all substances and their products.
what good is this to you?
Know the true definition of yourself.
That is essential.
Then, when you know your own definition,
flee from it,
so you may become the One who cannot be
O sifter of the dust.
- Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273)
Tomorrow when the farm boys find this
freak of nature, they will wrap his body
in newspaper and carry him to the museum.
But tonight he is alive and in the north
field with his mother. It is a perfect
summer evening: the moon rising over
the orchard, the wind in the grass. And
as he stares into the sky, there are
twice as many stars as usual.
- Laura Crafton Gilpin (1950-2007)
There sandy seems the golden sky
And golden seems the sandy plain.
No habitation meets the eye
Unless in the horizon rim,
Some halfway up the limestone wall,
That spot of black is not a stain
Or shadow, but a cavern hole,
Where someone used to climb and crawl
To rest from his besetting fears.
I see the callus on his sole
The disappearing last of him
And of his race starvation slim,
Oh, years ago - ten thousand years.
Robert Frost (1874-1963)
If you want my apartment, sleep in it
but let's have a clear understanding:
the books are still free agents.
If the rocking chair's arms surround you
they can also let you go,
they can shape the air like a body.
I don't want your rent, I want
a radiance of attention
like the candle's flame when we eat,
I mean a kind of awe
attending the spaces between us--
Not a roof but a field of stars.
Jane Cooper (1924-2007)
LOVE is enough: though the World be a-waning,
And the woods have no voice but the voice of complaining,
Though the sky be too dark for dim eyes to discover
The gold-cups and daisies fair blooming thereunder,
Though the hills held shadows, and the sea a dark wonder,
And this day draw a veil over all deeds pass'd over,
Yet their hands shall not tremble, their feet shall not falter;
The void shall not weary, the fear shall not alter
These lips and these eyes of the loved and the lover.
William Morris (1834-1896)
Past is past, and if one
remembers what one meant
to do and never did, is
not to have thought to do
enough? Like that gather-
ing of one of each I
planned, to gather one
of each kind of clover,
daisy, paintbrush that
grew in that field
the cabin stood in and
study them one afternoon
before they wilted. Past
is past; I salute
that various field.
James Schuyler (1923-1991)
Now blue October, smoky in the sun,
Must end the long, sweet summer of the heart.
The last brief visit of the birds is done;
They sing the autumn songs before they part.
Listen, how lovely - there’s the thrush we heard
When June was small with roses, and the bending
Blossom of branches covered nest and bird,
Singing the summer in, summer unending-
Give me your hand once more before the night,
See how the meadows darken with the frost,
How fades the green that was the summer’s light.
Beauty is only altered, never lost,
And love, before the cold November rain,
Will make its summer in the heart again.
Robert Nathan (1894-1985)
I am not jealous.
Come with a man
at your back,
come; with a hundred men in you hair,
come with a thousand men between you bosom and your feet,
come lie a river
filled with drowned men
that meets the furious sea,
the eternal foam, the weather.
Bring them all
where I wait for you:
we shall always be alone,
we shall always be, you and I,
alone upon the earth
to begin life.
Pablo Neruda (1904-1974)
The liberal arts lie eastward of this shore.
Choppy the waves at first. Then the long swells
And the being lost. Oh, centuries of salt
Till the surf booms again, and comes more land.
Not even there, except that old men point
At passes up the mountains. Over which,
Oh, centuries of soil, with olive trees
For twisted shade, and helicons for sound.
Then eastward seas, boned with peninsulas.
Then, orient, the islands, and at last,
The cave, the seven sleepers. Who will rise
And sing to you in numbers till you know
White magic. Which remember. Do you hear?
Oh, universe of sand that you must cross,
And animal the night. But do not rest.
The centuries are stars, and stud the way.
-Mark Van Doren (1894-1972)
whisper what you know.
I am molten sand,
I will expand to contain your secrets.
A long time
I have turned in the furnace.
Now the viscous bulb of my ear glows red.
Put your mouth to the pipe and speak.
while I open and shimmer at your voice.
-Lisa Huffaker (?)
Talk of passion is a winter thing,
a huddle of girls, descending wind.
There is no vehicle in a kiss
to carry fury and originality.
In that wherewithal of mouth
the body greets with cannon
the profundis and halt clamavi
of the virgin. Dying is a kiss,
it has broken me. It rimes with tiger
and the gallow tree.
-Ned O'Gorman (1926-)
One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as 'twere the merest mask of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.
I should not be withheld but that some day
Into their vastness I should steal away,
Fearless of ever finding open land,
Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.
I do not see why I should e'er turn back,
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.
They would not find me changed from him they knew-
Only more sure of all I thought was true.
-Robert Frost (1874-1963)
At night the dead come down to the river to drink.
They unburden themselves of their fears,
their worries for us. They take out the old photographs.
They pat the lines in our hands and tell our futures,
which are cracked and yellow.
Some dead find their way to our houses.
They go up to the attics.
They read the letters they sent us, insatiable
for signs of their love.
They tell each other stories.
They make so much noise
they wake us
as they did when we were children and they stayed up
drinking all night in the kitchen.
-Susan Mitchell (1944-)
Could you, so arrantly of earth, so cool,
With coarse harsh hair and rapid agile pace,
So built to beat boys in a swimming race
Or dive with sheer terns to a salty pool,
So lean, so animally beautiful-
Your breast look sideways like a heifer's face,
And you stand sometimes with a surly grace
And mutinous blue eye-fires like a bull-
Could you from this most envied poise descend,
Moved by some force in me I know not of,
To mix with me and be to me a woman,
Diana down from heaven could not lend
More ecstasy, or fill my faltering human
Heart's hunger with a more celestial love.
-Max Eastman (1883-1969)
The girl sits on the hard ground,
the dry pan of Russia, in the drought
of 1921, stunned,
eyes closed, mouth open,
raw hot wind blowing
sand in her face. Hunger and puberty are
taking her together. She leans on a sack,
layers of clothes fluttering in the heat,
the new radius of her arm curved.
She cannot be not beautiful, but she is
starving. Each day she grows thinner, and her bones
grow longer, porous. The caption says
she is going to starve to death that winter
with millions of others. Deep in her body
the ovaries let out her first eggs,
golden as drops of grain.
-Sharon Olds (1942-)
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance of nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
The desert ate you my dear
Wind shaped horizons and prickly plants dot the stretching landscape
Wide and long and far as the eye can see
Empty earth beaten by the most relentless hands of the sun
Reminds me that you are not there.
On your bike you rode away
Searching for dreams and adventures and women and dances under the moon
But I see the desert
Before skyscrapers and track communities and irrigation took it away
And at least now, the view expands further into the sky
Where I look out for your return
Whether or not I fall in love in again with someone new
Even though I fear you will too
Or that the years will be so many
I will pray to the desert
That the dry and absent air will carry you back to my open arms.
For both you and the sand have taught me a great lesson
Cherish every drop.
Your memories will be like morning dew that sustains the cacti
And I will walk alone along the edges of ancient river beds
that whisper to me
How time has turned seas to dust and dust to seas.
-Quinn Riddle (1980-)
He manages like somebody carrying a box
that is too heavy, first with his arms
underneath. When their strength gives out,
he moves the hands forward, hooking them
on the corners, pulling the weight against
his chest. He moves his thumbs slightly
when fingers begin to tire, and it makes
different muscles take over. Afterward,
he carries it on his shoulder, until the blood
drains out of the arm that is stretched up
to steady the box and the arm goes numb. But now
the man can hold underneath again, so that
he can go on without ever putting the box down.
Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?
-Edgar Allan Poe(1809-1849)
As a fond mother, when the day is o'er,
Leads by the hand her little child to bed,
Half willing, half reluctant to be led,
And leave his broken playthings on the floor,
Still gazing at them through the open door,
Nor wholly reassured and comforted
By promises of theirs in their stead,
Which, though more splendid, may not please him
So Nature deals with us, and takes away
Our playthings one by one, and by the hand
Leads us to rest so gently, that we go
Scarce knowing if we wish to go or stay,
Being too full of sleep to understand
How far the unknown transcends the what we know.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Shell-less, on your slimey trail,
In mornless dawn, I meet you, snail:
Sans house, sans home, sans bivouac,
No arc of wonder spans your back.
Here, on time’s storm-shattered shelf,
Slug, you meet your crawling self,
Reaching towards eternity
Half of my life is gone, and I have let
The years slip from me and have not fulfilled
The aspiration of my youth, to build
Some tower of song with lofty parapet.
Not indolence, nor pleasure, nor the fret
Of restless passions that would not be stilled,
But sorrow, and a care that almost killed,
Kept me from what I may accomplish yet;
Though, half-way up the hill, I see the Past
Lying beneath me with its sounds and sights,--
A city in the twilight dim and vast,
With smoking roofs, soft bells, and gleaming lights,--
And hear above me on the autumnal blast
The cataract of Death far thundering from the
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for the Right;
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, -- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! -- and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)