Thursday, January 31, 2013

Doug Cockrell: "Quiet Counsel"

I’ve decided to hold quiet
counsel with the spiders.

Their webs are skeletons
of survival. They rest and hang

sensitively there. A small breeze
may shake them for a moment

But they take a philosophical pose:
a stance against disturbance.

They are there
just to listen.

They are there
just to hold

life, its essence:
so they have more time

to live in the heavy
halls of my home.

"Quiet Counsel" by Doug Cockrell, from A Strange Descending. © Eagle Earth Press, 1992.  

Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Philip Booth: "How to See Deer"

Forget roadside crossings.
Go nowhere with guns.
Go elsewhere your own way,

lonely and wanting. Or
stay and be early:
next to deep woods

inhabit old orchards.
All clearings promise.
Sunrise is good,

and fog before sun.
Expect nothing always;
find your luck slowly.

Wait out the windfall.
Take your good time
to learn to read ferns;

make like a turtle:
downhill toward slow water.
Instructed by heron,

drink the pure silence.
Be compassed by wind.
If you quiver like aspen

trust your quick nature:
let your ear teach you
which way to listen.

You've come to assume
protective color; now
colors reform to

new shapes in your eye.
You've learned by now
to wait without waiting;

as if it were dusk
look into light falling:
in deep relief

things even out. Be
careless of nothing. See
what you see.

"How to See Deer" by Philip Booth from Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999. © Penguin Group, 1999. 

Photograph: "Sunrise Deer" by Oscar Dewhurst (originally color).

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Nick Penna: "Waiting in Line"

[Curator's note: Nick Penna was in fifth grade when he wrote this poem.]

When you listen you reach
into dark corners and
pull out your wonders.
When you listen your
ideas come in and out
like they were waiting in line.
Your ears don’t always listen.
It can be your brain, your
fingers, your toes.
You can listen anywhere.
Your mind might not want to go.
If you can listen you can find
answers to questions you didn’t know.
If you have listened, truly
listened, you don’t find your
self alone.

"Waiting in Line" by Nick Penna, from Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making, by John Fox. © Jeremy P. Tarcher Putnam, 1997.

Photograph: Detail of "Boy Listening to a Conch Shell with a Girl Standing Behind Him," by Purestock (originally color).

Monday, January 28, 2013

Kay N. Sanders: "Bath, in House Alone"

The unexpected has happened.
Children gone, husband away,

and I alone in hot wash
of rocking water, pores open
to whatever may come.

A whirr, long whine from aging pipes—
cricket? imprisoned insect?
echo of neighbor's saw
through ground not yet frozen?

I think it is my spirit,
coming home,
pushed away as I push
all who would draw near,
that part of me so long lost

that I fear never to find again,
so long lost that I scarce
remember its being.

I have looked
in quake of overwhelming loss,
in vile wind that assails me daily,
in fire of anger, in acrid smoulder,
in bitter lees of dying flame.

I have looked for you,
spirit of myself.
I hear you now
coming home

in the quiet settling of this house,
in the lap of this hot water,
in this being still. 

"Bath, in House Alone" by Kay N. Sanders. © Kay N. Sanders.

Photography credit: "Feet of Woman Taking a Bath," by Corbis Super RF (originally horizontal, color).


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lynne Sharon Schwartz: "Repotting"

The healthy plant outgrows its pot
the way a healthy child outgrows its clothes.
Don't let it suffer constriction. Spread the Sports
or Business section of the New York Times
on the dining room table. Find a clay pot
big enough for fresh growth. In the bottom
place pebbles and shards from a broken pot for drainage.
Add handfuls of moist black potting soil,
digging your hands deep in the bag, rooting
so the soil gets under your fingernails.
Using a small spade or butter knife,
ease the plant out of its old pot with extreme
care so as not to disturb its wiry roots.

The plant is naked, suspended from your hand
like a newborn, roots and clinging soil
exposed. Treat it gently. Settle it
into the center of the new pot, adding soil
on the sides for support—who isn't shaky,
moving into a new home?
Pack more soil around the plant,
tapping it down till you almost reach the rim.
Flounce the leaves as you would a skirt. Then water.
Place the pot back on the shelf in the sunlight.
Gather the Sports section around the spilled soil
and discard. Watch your plant flourish.
You have done a good and necessary deed.

"Repotting" by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, from See You in the Dark. © Curbstone Books, 2012.

Photograph: From (originally color).


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Kevin Hart: "Snow"

Some days
The snow has taken me in
To know the time of snow, to live
Inside a world so quiet

Its music
Is all a shimmering. Some evenings
When quite alone
I turn off every light

And watch the snow
Enjoy the dark, moving lushly
Through spiky air,
Finding more time

In time
Than when I stretch myself
And am
My father's father. Oh yes,

There is
A sparkling choir, there surely is,
And dark ice air
Through which we fall

"Snow" by Kevin Hart, from The Harvard Review (29), 2005.

Photograph: "Snowstorm, Newcastle," by Only Alice (originally black and white).

Friday, January 25, 2013

Susan Wood: "Daily Life"

A parrot of irritation sits
on my shoulder, pecks
at my head, ruffling his feathers
in my ear. He repeats
everything I say, like a child
trying to irritate the parent.
Too much to do today: the dracena
that's outgrown its pot, a mountain
of bills to pay and nothing in the house
to eat. Too many clothes need washing
and the dog needs his shots.
It just goes on and on, I say
to myself, no one around, and catch
myself saying it, a ball hit so straight
to your glove you'd have to be
blind not to catch it. And of course
I hope it does go on and on
forever, the little pain,
the little pleasure, the sun
a blood orange in the sky, the sky
parrot blue and the day
unfolding like a bird slowly
spreading its wings, though I know,
saying it, that it won't.

"Daily Life" by Susan Wood, from The Book of Ten. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011.

Photograph: Unknown (originally color).


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ellen Bass: "The Thing Is"

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

"The Thing Is" by Ellen Bass, from Mules of Love. © BOW Editions, Ltd., 2002.

Photograph: Detail from "Elderly Woman Holding Hands to Face," by Image 100 (originally color).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Francis Dorff: "Lightening the Load"

The first thing we have to do
is to notice
that we've loaded down this camel
with so much baggage
we'll never get through the desert alive.
Something has to go.

Then we can begin to dump
the thousand things
we've brought along
until even the camel has to go
and we're walking barefoot
on the desert sand.

There's no telling what will happen then.
But I've heard that someone,
walking in this way,
has seen a burning bush.

"Lightening the Load" by Francis Dorff, O. Praem., from Last Night I Died: Poems from Retirement. © Francis Dorff, O. Praem., 1999.

Photograph: Detail from "Moses and the Burning Bush," a painting by Arnold Friberg, 1957 (some effects added).


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pat Schneider: "The Patience of Ordinary Things"

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they're supposed to be.
I've been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

"The Patience of Ordinary Things" by Pat Schneider, from New and Selected Poems. © Amherst Writers and Artists Press, 2005.

Photograph: "New Light Through Old Windows," by Ragman (originally black and white).


Monday, January 21, 2013

Elizabeth Alexander: "Praise Song for the Day"

[Curator's note: This poem, written for Barack Obama's first presidential inauguration, is offered today in honor of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Let us be mindful of this day, and "walk forward together in that light."]

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other's
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what's on the other side.

I know there's something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need
. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

"Praise Song for the Day" by Elizabeth Alexander. © 2009 Elizabeth Alexander.

Photograph: Untitled artwork by Jonathan Bruns, with an image of Martin Luther King, Jr., painted over the words of his "I Have a Dream" speech (originally black and white).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dorothea Grossman: "I Have to Tell You"

I have to tell you,
there are times when
the sun strikes me
like a gong,
and I remember everything,
even your ears.

"I Have to Tell You" by Dorothea Grossman, from Poetry (March 2010).

Photographic credit: Unknown (originally color).

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Wallace Stevens: "The Snow Man"

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

"The Snow Man" by Wallace Stevens, from Harmonium. © Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1923.

Photographic credit: Unknown (originally black and white).

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mark Nepo: "Where Is God?"

It’s as if what is unbreakable—
the very pulse of life—waits for
everything else to be torn away,
and then in the bareness that
only silence and suffering and
great love can expose, it dares
to speak through us and to us.

It seems to say, if you want to last,
hold on to nothing. If you want
to know love, let in everything.
If you want to feel the presence
of everything, stop counting the
things that break along the way.

"Where Is God?" by Mark Nepo. No bibliographic information available.

Photographic credit: Unknown (originally black and white).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Raymond Carver: "At Least"

I want to get up early one more morning,
before sunrise. Before the birds, even.
I want to throw cold water on my face
and be at my work table
when the sky lightens and smoke
begins to rise from the chimneys
of the other houses.
I want to see the waves break
on this rocky beach, not just hear them
break as I did all night in my sleep.
I want to see again the ships
that pass through the strait from every
seafaring country in the world–––
old, dirty freighters just barely moving along,
and the swift new cargo vessels
painted every color under the sun
that cut the water as they pass.
I want to keep an eye out for them.
And for the little boat that plies
the water between the ships
and the pilot station near the lighthouse.
I want to see them take a man off the ship
and put another up on board.
I want to spend the day watching this happen
and reach my own conclusions.
I hate to seem greedy–––I have so much
to be thankful for already.
But I want to get up early one more morning, at least.
And go to my place with some coffee and wait.
Just wait, to see what's going to happen.

"At Least" by Raymond Carver, from Where Water Comes Together with Other Water. © Vintage Books, 1986.

Photograph: "Wave Crashing Portland Maine Lighthouse," by Captain Kimo (originally color).


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Marilyn Nelson: "Bali Hai Calls Mama"

As I was putting away the groceries
I'd spent the morning buying
for the week's meals I'd planned
around things the baby could eat,
things my husband would eat,
and things I should eat
because they aren't too fattening,
late on a Saturday afternoon
after flinging my coat on a chair
and wiping the baby's nose
while asking my husband
what he'd fed it for lunch
and whether
the medicine I'd brought for him
had made his cough improve,
wiping the baby's nose again,
checking its diaper,
stepping over the baby
who was reeling to and from
the bottom kitchen drawer
with pots, pans, and plastic cups,
occasionally clutching the hem of my skirt
and whining to be held,
I was half listening for the phone
which never rings for me
to ring for me
and someone's voice to say that
I could forget about handing back
my students' exams which I'd had for a week,
that I was right about The Waste Land,
that I'd been given a raise,
all the time wondering
how my sister was doing,
whatever happened to my old lover(s),
and why my husband wanted
a certain brand of toilet paper;
and wished I hadn't, but I'd bought
another fashion magazine that promised
to make me beautiful by Christmas,
and there wasn't room for the creamed corn
and every time I opened the refrigerator door
the baby rushed to grab whatever was on the bottom shelf
which meant I constantly had to wrestle
jars of its mushy food out of its sticky hands
and I stepped on the baby's hand and the baby was screaming
and I dropped the bag of cake flour I'd bought to make cookies with
and my husband rushed in to find out what was wrong because the baby
was drowning out the sound of the touchdown although I had scooped
it up and was holding it in my arms so its crying was inside
my head like an echo in a barrel and I was running cold water
on its hand while somewhere in the back of my mind wondering what
to say about The Waste Land and whether I could get away with putting
broccoli in a meatloaf when

suddenly through the window
came the wild cry of geese.

"Bali Hai Calls Mama" by Marilyn Nelson, from The Fields of Praise. © Louisiana State University Press, 1997.

Photography credit: Unknown.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Robyn Sarah: "On Closing the Apartment of My Grandparents of Blessed Memory"

And then I stood for the last time in that room.
The key was in my hand. I held my ground,
and listened to the quiet that was like a sound,
and saw how the long sun of winter afternoon
fell slantwise on the floorboards, making bloom
the grain in the blond wood. (All that they owned
was once contained here.) At the window moaned
a splinter of wind. I would be going soon.

I would be going soon; but first I stood,
hearing the years turn in that emptied place
whose fullness echoed. Whose familiar smell,
of a tranquil life, lived simply, clung like a mood
or a long-loved melody there. A lingering grace.
Then I locked up, and rang the janitor's bell.

"On Closing the Apartment of My Grandparents of Blessed Memory" by Robyn Sarah, from Questions about the Stars (Brick Books, 1998). Copyright Robyn Sarah, reprinted with permission.

Photograph credit: Unknown.

Monday, January 14, 2013

James Broughton: "This is It"

This is It
and I am It
and You are It
and so is That
and He is It
and She is It
and It is It
and That is That

O it is This
and it is Thus
and it is Them
and it is Us
and it is Now
and Here It is
and Here We are
so This is It

"This is It" by James Broughton, from Packing Up for Paradise: Selected Poems 1946-1996. © HarperCollins Publishers, 1997.

Photography credit: Unknown.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jane Hirshfield: "Meeting the Light Completely"

Even the long-beloved
was once
an unrecognized stranger.

Just so,
the chipped lip
of a blue-glazed cup,
blown field
of a yellow curtain,
might also,
flooding and falling,
ruin your heart.

A table painted with roses.
An empty clothesline.

Each time,
the found world surprises—
that is its nature.

And then
what is said by all lovers:
"What fools we were, not to have seen."

"Meeting the Light Completely" by Jane Hirshfield, from The October Palace. © Harper Perennial, 1994.

Photograph: Untitled, by Auntie P (originally color).

Saturday, January 12, 2013

W.S. Merwin: "Thanks"

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

"Thanks" by W.S. Merwin, from Migration: New & Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Copyright © 1988 by W. S. Merwin.

Photograph: "Studie zu den Händen eines Apostels" ("Study of the Hands of an Apostle"), by Diver & Aguilar Photography (originally black and white).

Friday, January 11, 2013

Naomi Shihab Nye: "Fresh"

To move
Needing to be
nowhere else.
Wanting nothing
from any store.
To lift something
you already had
and set it down in
a new place.
Awakened eye
seeing freshly.
What does that do to
the old blood moving through
its channels?

"Fresh" by Naomi Shihab Nye, from You & Yours. © BOA Editions, 2005.

Photograph: " 'Simple' Still Life," by Mark Longo (originally in color).

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Albert Garcia: "Ice"

In this California valley, ice on a puddle
is a novelty for children
who stand awkward in their jackets
waiting for the school bus.
They lift off thin slabs
to hold up in the early light
like pieces of stained glass.
They run around,
throw them at each other,
lick them, laughing as their pink tongues stick
to the cold, their breath fogging
the morning gray.
           Between the Sierras
in the distance and a faint film
of clouds, the sun rises
red like the gills of a salmon.
From your porch, watching the kids,
you love this morning more
than any you remember. You hear
the bus rumbling down the road
like the future, hear the squealing
voices, feel your own blood warm
in your body as the kids sing
like winter herons, Ice, ice, ice.

"Ice" by Albert Garcia, from Skunk Talk. © Bear Star Press, 2005.

Photograph: "Ice Formation on a Water Puddle," by Frederic Clery (originally horizontal, black and white).


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

David Budbill: "Winter: Tonight: Sunset"

Tonight at sunset walking on the snowy road,
my shoes crunching on the frozen gravel, first

through the woods, then out into the open fields
past a couple of trailers and some pickup trucks, I stop

and look at the sky. Suddenly: orange, red, pink, blue,
green, purple, yellow, gray, all at once and everywhere.

I pause in this moment at the beginning of my old age
and I say a prayer of gratitude for getting to this evening

a prayer for being here, today, now, alive
in this life, in this evening, under this sky.

"Winter: Tonight: Sunset" by David Budbill, from While We've Still Got Feet. © Copper Canyon Press,  2005.

Photographic credit: Unknown.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tess Gallagher: "Choices"

I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountain. But when I look up,
saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don't cut that one.
I don't cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,
an unseen nest
where a mountain
would be.

for Drago Stambuk

"Choices" by Tess Gallagher, from Dear Ghosts. © Graywolf Press, 2006.

Photograph: "Empty Nest," by Kimberly Adams (originally black and white).


Monday, January 7, 2013

Jane Kenyon: "Man Eating"

The man at the table across from mine
is eating yogurt. His eyes, following
the progress of the spoon, cross briefly
each time it nears his face. Time,

and the world with all its principalities,
might come to an end as prophesied
by the Apostle John, but what about
this man, so completely present

to the little carton with its cool,
sweet food, which has caused no animal
to suffer, and which he is eating
with a pearl-white plastic spoon.

"Man Eating" by Jane Kenyon, from Collected Poems. © Graywolf Press, 2005.

Photograph: Detail of an image by John Dowland (originally black and white).