Poems

 

THE GIFT                                        

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

 

GROUSE CALL

 

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

 

THIS ECSTACY

 

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

 

 

PASTERNAK

 

 

      What century have we got out there, my dears?

                                                                  Boris Pasternak

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