In memory of Ruth Stone (June 8th, 1915—November 19th, 2011)
“All I did was write them down
wherever I was at the time, hanging
laundry, baking bread, driving to Illinois.
My name was attached to them
on the page but not in my head
because the bird I listened to outside
my window said I couldn’t complain
about the blank in place of my name
if I wished to hold both ends of the wire
like a wire and continue to sing instead
of complain. It was my plight, my thorn,
my gift—the one word in three I was
permitted to call it by the Muse who took
mercy on me as long as I didn’t explain.”
From Interstate, University of Pittsburgh Press
Do si do and say hello
to drummin’ bird. Slow
it down then pick it up.
One and a half and let
her go. It’s right by right
by wrong you go. Turn
to your left and freeze
the doe. Promenade
to the field below.
It may be the last time,
I don’t know. Allemande
right with Mr. Crow.
You can’t go to heaven
when you carry on so.
Yellow rock, red rock,
oh by Joe. Dangle now
outside the know, tim’rous
beastie, beastie, O!
From Interstate, University of Pittsburgh Press
TO HEAR AND HEAR
The hermit thrush is set for six
to sing her song, as if it were
the end of the world and she was stirred
by dusk to sing the same sweet song
again and again in the understory,
as if to say, it’s neither words
nor meaning that matter in the end
but the quality of sound, as if we
were deafened by the sun and needed
her song as a key to unlock our ears,
to hear and hear and understand,
to see and see, knowing that this
one day is the end for now,
which it is, it is, she claims, with a song
just loud enough to pierce the woods
until the night descends like a thousand
veils, and then just one.
From Night Mowing, University of Pittsburgh Press
It’s not paradise I’m looking for
but the naming I hardly gave a thought to.
Call it the gift I carried in my loneliness
beneath the overstory before I started
listening to the news. Call it the hint
I had about the knowledge that would explode.
In the meantime, which is real time,
plus the past, you’re swishing your skirt
and speaking French, which is more
than I can take, which I marvel at
like a boy from the most distant seat
in the Kronos Dome, where I am one
of so many now I see the point
of falling off. They’re not enough seats
for us all to attend the eschaton.
This ecstasy that plants beauty
on my tongue, so that if it were
a wing, I’d be flying with the quickness
of a hummingbird and grace of a heron,
is so much mercy in light of the darkness
that comes. Who would say consolation?
Who would say dross? Not that anyone
would blame them. All night I hear
so may echoes in the forest I’m tempted
to look back, to save myself in hindsight,
where all I see is the absence of me.
Where all I hear is your voice
which couldn’t be more strange.
How to go on walking hand in hand
without our bodies on the path
we made for our feet, talking, talking?
From The Double Truth, University of Pittsburgh Press
What century have we got out there, my dears?
This was the life, to live in Russia
at the end of Russia and write about its history
as if it were poetry, while one beloved or the other
lay asleep nearby, dreaming of him writing nearby
in a high-ceilinged room with the vista
of snow-covered mountains, forests and fields.
More ice than glass in the window frames.
A red coal in the samovar.
Outside, in the distance, the endless rain
of shells and sough of trains behind the hills.
The old world falling to its knees like an elephant.
This was the life, to live at Peredelkino
like a prophet in his own land and dream.
"What I have lost is much too great for a single man,"
he writes in the snow with the tip of his cane.
The shelling has stopped and the world has changed.
The wind picks up and blows the words away.
He writes for the eyes that follow him,
"Nothing is lost in the other world."
This dark December day inspires him to write
the plainest things in the snow, then walk away.
From Best American Poetry, 1999
WHAT THE ANIMALS TEACH US
that love is dependent on memory,
that life is eternal and therefore criminal,
that thought is an invisible veil that covers our eyes,
that death is only another animal,
that beauty is formed by desperation,
that sex is solely a human problem,
that pets are wild in heaven,
that sounds and smells escape us,
that there are bones in the earth without any marker,
that language refers to too many things,
that music hints at what we heard before we sang,
that the circle is loaded,
that nothing we know by forgetting is sacred,
that humor charges the smallest things,
that the gods are animals without their masks,
that stones tell secrets to the wildest creatures,
that nature is an idea and not a place,
that our bodies have diminished in size and strength,
that our faces are terrible,
that our eyes are double when gazed upon,
that snakes do talk, as well as asses,
that we compose our only audience,
that we are geniuses when we wish to kill,
that we are naked despite our clothes,
that our minds are bodies in another world.
From The Pushcart Prize, 1998