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.
Friday, January 8, 2021
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
Starlings in Winter
by Mary Oliver
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.
Monday, January 4, 2021
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.
Sunday, January 3, 2021
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.
Monday, December 28, 2020
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
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
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
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
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.
Monday, November 16, 2020
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.
Monday, November 9, 2020
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.
Friday, October 23, 2020
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.
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
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
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
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
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
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.
Thursday, October 8, 2020
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)
Wednesday, September 23, 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.
Monday, September 21, 2020
Monday, September 14, 2020
And Now It’s September,
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
Wednesday, September 2, 2020
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.
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
You don't believe
by William Blake (public domain)
You don't believe — I won't attempt to make ye.
You are asleep — I won't attempt to wake ye.
Sleep on, sleep on, while in your pleasant dreams
Of reason you may drink of life's clear streams
Reason and Newton, they are quite two things,
For so the swallow and the sparrow sings.
Reason says 'Miracle', Newton says 'Doubt'.
Aye, that's the way to make all Nature out:
Doubt, doubt, and don't believe without experiment.
That is the very thing that Jesus meant
When he said: 'Only believe.' Believe and try,
Try, try, and never mind the reason why.
Thursday, August 20, 2020
by Jacinta V. White
There are some who are meant to sleep
and live inside dreams. They come
as visitors to carry
messages from there to now.
You know them. The baby who looks
deeply into your eyes while stealing your heart.
The lover who hypnotizes you,
the old man who speaks in riddles
before falling off to sleep. We shake
them out of selfish yearnings but
do not wake them or chastise them
for not being among the woke.
Some need to sleep so that others
will know what it is like to be alive.
“The Sleeping” by Jacinta V. White, from Resurrecting the Bones. Press 53 © 2019.
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
by Joyce Sutphen
The kitchen is sweet with the smell of apples,
big yellow pie apples, light in the hand,
their skins freckled, the stems knobby
and thick with bark, as if the tree
could not bear to let the apple go.
Baskets of apples circle the back door,
fill the porch, cover the kitchen table.
My mother and my grandmother are
running the apple brigade. My mother,
always better with machines, is standing
at the apple peeler; my grandmother,
more at home with a paring knife,
faces her across the breadboard.
My mother takes an apple in her hand,
She pushes it neatly onto the sharp
prong and turns the handle that turns
the apple that swivels the blade pressed
tight against the apple's side and peels
the skin away in long curling strips that
twist and fall to a bucket on the floor.
The apples, coming off the peeler,
Are winding staircases, little accordions,
slinky toys, jack-in-the-box fruit, until
my grandmother's paring knife goes slicing
through the rings and they become apple
pies, apple cakes, apple crisp. Soon
they will be married to butter and live with
cinnamon and sugar, happily ever after.
Joyce Sutphen, “Apple Season” from Coming Back to the Body. Copyright © 2000 by Joyce Sutphen.
Monday, July 27, 2020
Rebecca Who Slammed Doors for Fun
And Perished Miserably
by Hilaire Belloc (Public Domain)
A trick that everyone abhors
In little girls is slamming doors.
A wealthy banker’s little daughter
Who lived in Palace Green, Bayswater
(By name Rebecca Offendort),
Was given to this furious sport.
She would deliberately go
And slam the door like billy-o!
To make her Uncle Jacob start.
She was not really bad at heart,
But only rather rude and wild;
She was an aggravating child…
It happened that a marble bust
Of Abraham was standing just
Above the door this little lamb
Had carefully prepared to slam,
And down it came! It knocked her flat!
It laid her out! She looked like that.
Her funeral sermon (which was long
And followed by a sacred song)
Mentioned her virtues, it is true,
But dwelt upon her vices too,
And showed the dreadful end of one
Who goes and slams the door for fun.
Sarah Byng, Who Could Not Read and Was Tossed into a Thorny Hedge by a Bullby Hilaire Belloc (Public Domain)
When George’s Grandmamma was told
That George had been as good as gold,
She promised in the afternoon
To buy him an Immense BALLOON.
And so she did; but when it came,
It got into the candle flame,
And being of a dangerous sort
Exploded with a loud report!
The lights went out! The windows broke!
The room was filled with reeking smoke.
And in the darkness shrieks and yells
Were mingled with electric bells,
And falling masonry and groans,
And crunching, as of broken bones,
And dreadful shrieks, when, worst of all,
The house itself began to fall!
It tottered, shuddering to and fro,
Then crashed into the street below—
Which happened to be Savile Row.
Were Cousin Mary, Little Fred,
The Footmen (both of them), the Groom,
The man that cleaned the Billiard-Room,
The Chaplain, and the Still-Room Maid.
And I am dreadfully afraid
That Monsieur Champignon, the Chef,
Will now be permanently deaf—
And both his aides are much the same;
While George, who was in part to blame,
Received, you will regret to hear,
A nasty lump behind the ear.
The moral is that little boys
Should not be given dangerous toys.