THE END REWARD
by Jonathan Greene
What passes in this world
amusing sleight of hand
or child’s play
or a magic trick that has
made all disappear
in the end does not fill
the requisite gravitas
and solace of Quiet
one has worked all of a life
to be gifted.
Jonathan Greene, “The End Reward”
from Ebb & Flow. Published by Broadstone Books
My Heart Leaps Up
by William Wordsworth
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
Wild Geese Alighting on a Lake
by Anne Porter
I watched them
As they neared the lake
In a wide arc
With beating wings
They put their wings to sleep
And glided downward in a drift
Of pure abandonment
Until they touched
The surface of the lake
Composed their wings
On the rippling water
As though it were a nest.
Anne Porter, "Wild Geese Alighting on a Lake" from Living Things, Zoland Books.
Tulips for Elsie
by Jonathan Potter
The day before you died I thought I'd bring
You tulips for your bedside table, bright
Ones, pink and white, to give your gaze a place
To rest, to make your labor seem less harsh.
I told my daughter so, my four-year-old
Who'd told me I should visit you, who'd hinted:
Your work, this dying business you were in,
Was making worldly things seem flimsy, thin.
The day moved on and tulips left my mind, though,
Until I thought of you again, too late,
The night descending, bringing sleep's regrets.
The morning came and with its obligations
Distracting me, I let my dream of tulip
Fields plow under and turned to hear the news.
Jonathan Potter, "Tulips for Elsie" from
Tulips for Elsie (Korrektiv Press 2021).
by C.K. Williams
I'd have thought by now it would have stopped,
as anything sooner or later will stop, but still it happens
that when I unexpectedly catch sight of myself in a mirror,
there's a kind of concussion, a cringe; I look quickly away.
Lately, since my father died and I've come closer to his age,
I sometimes see him first, and have to focus to find myself.
I've thought it's that, my precious singularity being diluted,
but it's harsher than that, crueler, the way, when I was young,
I believed how you looked was supposed to mean,
something graver, more substantial: I'd gaze at my poor face
and think, "It's still not there." Apparently I still do.
What isn't there? Beauty? Not likely. Wisdom? Less.
Is how we live or try to live supposed to embellish us?
All I see is the residue of my other, failed faces.
But maybe what we're after is just a less abrasive regard:
not "It's still not there," but something like "Come in, be still."
"Glass" from COLLECTED POEMS by C. K. Williams.
Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,
dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
becomes for a moment fragmented,
then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can't imagine
how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,
this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.
Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;
I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.
by Tony Hoagland
Once, in the cool blue middle of a lake,
up to my neck in that most precious element of all,
I found a pale-gray, curled-upwards pigeon feather
floating on the tension of the water
at the very instant when a dragonfly,
like a blue-green iridescent bobby pin,
hovered over it, then lit, and rested.
I mention this in the same way
that I fold the corner of a page
in certain library books,
so that the next reader will know
where to look for the good parts.
Tony Hoagland, “Field Guide” from
Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty.
Winter Is the Best Time
by David Budbill
Winter is the best time
to find out who you are.
Quiet, contemplation time,
away from the rushing world,
cold time, dark time, holed-up
pulled-in time and space
to see that inner landscape,
that place hidden and within.
David Budbill, "Winter Is the Best Time" from While We've Still Got Feet.
by Sue Ellen Thompson
Sometimes, in the middle of a crowded store on a Saturday
afternoon, my husband will rest his hand
on my neck, or on the soft flesh belted at my waist,
and pull me to him. I understand
his question: Why are we so fortunate
when all around us, friends are falling prey
to divorce and illness? It seems intemperate
to celebrate in a more conspicuous way
so we just stand there, leaning in
to one another, until that moment
of sheer blessedness dissolves and our skin,
which has been touching, cools and relents,
settling back into our separate skeletons
as we head toward Housewares to resume our errands.
Sue Ellen Thompson, "Leaning In" from
The Golden Hour. Copyright © 2006
Months later, my father and I
discovered his mother’s last word—
deep in the downstairs freezer,
one loaf of dark rye.
Its thaw slowed the hours.
I could not bear
the thought of eating it.
Then the ice subsided. The bread
was firm, fragrant, forgiving.
My father got the knife,
the butter. The slices
held. Together we ate
that Finnish silence.
by Susanna Brougham in the
Spring 2020 issue of Beloit
by Joy Harjo
To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can't see, can't hear
Can't know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren't always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon, within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
We pray that it will be done
"Eagle Poem" by Joy Harjo, from In Mad Love and War.
© Wesleyan University Press, 1990.
Winter Morning by James Crews
When I can no longer say thank you
for this new day and the waking into it,
for the cold scrape of the kitchen chair
and the ticking of the space heater glowing
orange as it warms the floor near my feet,
I know it’s because I’ve been fooled again
by the selfish, unruly man who lives in me
and believes he deserves only safety
and comfort. But if I pause as I do now,
and watch the streetlights outside flashing
off one by one like old men blinking their
cloudy eyes, if I listen to my tired neighbors
slamming car doors hard against the morning
and see the steaming coffee in their mugs
kissing chapped lips as they sip and
exhale each of their worries white into
the icy air around their faces—then I can
remember this one life is a gift each of us
was handed and told to open: Untie the bow
and tear off the paper, look inside
and be grateful for whatever you find
even if it is only the scent of a tangerine
that lingers on the fingers long after
you’ve finished peeling it.
James Crews is the editor of the anthology,
Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and
Connection, Green Writers Press.
I hear before seeing, no need to see
to know morning’s ocarina, plaintive
call, soft strut on leafmeal. It was the first
creature I saw when the needle was done
and my sheepdog limped into last night.
That dove, I thought, will house his sable
spirit, coat feathered like joy in the wind.
Dove comes when my scattered mind
needs herding—bitter anniversaries,
leavings dire as tornadic rumble. Comes
when sky rivers blue, cooing all’s well
after all. Comes not to forbid mourning,
but trills core deep, beyond the senses,
glances back to make sure I follow
its white-tipped tail. Plaintive ocarina,
call me to bear all the light coming.
by Linda Parsons, 2020
by Lucille Clifton
call it our craziness even,
call it anything.
it is the life thing in us
that will not let us die.
even in death's hand
we fold the fingers up
and call them greens and
grow on them,
we hum them and make music.
call it our wildness then,
we are lost from the field
of flowers, we become
a field of flowers.
call it our craziness
call it our roots,
it is the light in us
it is the light of us
it is the light, call it
whatever you have to,
call it anything.
Lucille Clifton, “roots” from How to Carry Water: Selected Poems.
A Pasture Poem
Threatening to wield
Butterflies will dare
The leaf meets the stem,
Summer will grow old
To which the small hum
Till its purple crown
from Anterooms. © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.
What if you slept...
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Public Domain
The New Song
by W. S. Merwin
For some time I thought there was time
and that there would always be time
for what I had a mind to do
and what I could imagine
going back to and finding it
as I had found it the first time
but by this time I do not know
what I thought when I thought back then
there is no time yet it grows less
there is the sound of rain at night
arriving unknown in the leaves
once without before or after
then I hear the thrush waking
at daybreak singing the new song
from the book, The Moon Before Morning
O sweet spontaneous
by e e cummings
O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have
prurient philosophers pinched
, has the naughty thumb
of science prodded
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
to the incomparable
couch of death thy
them only with
"O Sweet Spontaneous" by e e cummings. Public Domain.
Monarchs, Viceroys, Swallowtails
For years they came tacking in, full sail,
Riding the light down through the trees,
Over the rooftops, and not just monarchs,
But viceroys, swallowtails, so many
They became unremarkable, showing up
As they did whether we noticed them or not,
Swooping and fanning out at the bright
Margins of the day. So how did we know
Until it was too late, until they quit coming,
That the flowers in the flower beds
Would close their shutters, and the birds
Grow so dull they’d lose the power to sing,
And how later, after the river died,
Others would follow, admirals, buckeyes,
All going off like some lavish parade
Into the great overcrowded silence.
And no one bothered to tell the trees
They wouldn’t be coming back any more,
The huge shade trees where they used
To gather, every last branch and leaf sagging
Under the bright freight of their wings.
by Robert Hedin, in Alaska Quarterly Review (2020)
by George Bilgere
My father once sold a Chevy
to Stan Musial, the story goes,
back in the fifties,
when the most coveted object
in the universe of third grade
was a Stan-the-Man baseball card.
No St. Louis honkytonk
or riverfront jazz club
could be more musical
than those three syllables
rising from the tongue of Jack Buck
in the dark mouths
of garages on our street,
where men like my father
stood in their shirt-sleeved exile,
cigarette in one hand, scotch
in the other, radio rising
and ebbing with the Cards.
If Jack Buck were to call
my father's drinking that summer,
he would have said
he was swinging for the bleachers.
He was on a torrid pace.
In any case, the dealership was failing,
the marriage a heap of ash.
And knowing my father, I doubt
if the story is true,
although I love to imagine
that big, hayseed smile
flashing in the showroom, the salesmen
and mechanics looking on
from their nosebleed seats at the edge
of history, as my dark-suited dad
handed the keys to the Man,
and for an instant each man there
knew himself a part of something
in the old myths, a bored god
dresses up like one of us, and falls
through a summer thunderhead
to shock us from our daydream drabness
with heaven's dazzle and razzmatazz.
"Musial" by George Bilgere.
and the garden diminishes: cucumber leaves rumpled
and rusty, zucchini felled by borers, tomatoes sparse
on the vines. But out in the perennial beds, there’s one last
blast of color: ignitions of goldenrod, flamboyant
asters, spiraling mums, all those flashy spikes waving
in the wind, conducting summer’s final notes.
The ornamental grasses have gone to seed, haloed
in the last light. Nights grow chilly, but the days
are still warm; I wear the sun like a shawl on my neck
and arms. Hundreds of blackbirds ribbon in, settle
in the trees, so many black leaves, then, just as suddenly,
they’re gone. This is autumn’s great Departure Gate,
and everyone, boarding passes in hand, waits
patiently in a long, long line.
by Barbara Crooker, first published in Spillway magazine
At the Pitch
by Maxine Kumin
If I could only live at the pitch
that is near madness, Eberhart wrote
but there was his wife Betty hanging onto
his coattails for dear life to the end of her life.
No one intervened when my mother’s brother’s
wife ran off with the new young rabbi
every woman in the congregation had a crush on.
They rose unleashed, fleeing west
into the sooty sky over Philadelphia
in a pillar of fire, at the pitch that is near madness
touching down in the outskirts of Pittsburgh.
Cleveland. Chicago. O westward!
O fornication! I was sixteen.
Eberhart had written his poem before
he sailed off to World War II and a boy
had just put his tongue in my mouth
which meant he could make
me do anything. No one
holding onto his coattails, no one onto my skirt
until my father switched on the back porch light.
“At the Pitch” by Maxine Kumin from Where I Live: New & Selected Poems.