Wednesday, August 9, 2017

New Poetry


Having spent a week at the heart of all things,
I feared I might miss it, but as it turned out,
The center of the cosmos kindly followed me,
Remaining just under my feet wherever I went,
Until it was at last  revealed to be  located
Just under yours as well. Then
I saw a musrkat in Irkutsk on
The TV, and it turned out to be
Under his too.
On Cuteness

Let a kitten, fawn, or whelp
Come in our view, and we can’t help
But sense our mind’s unhardening:
A piglet moves the heart to sing.

More fearsome members of the zoo--
Wolves and lions, humans too--
And all the rest that mean us harm:
Their cuddly offspring also charm.

They’re not yet captive to the meme
Of our great hierarchic scheme,
These young, and this explains to me,
Their sweet adorability.

They’ve not yet had to hunt for prey,
Or be a dad or fiancée,
Or get a job or PhD,
Or wrestle with theodicy.

The pecking order of existence
Remains for them at quite some distance.
It hasn’t yet concealed their light,
And thus we love them at first sight.

Their naïve equanimity
And vuln’rable placidity
May, thankfully, return someday--
Though only when they’re old and gray.

Wisława Szymborska  

Rummaging through your bag
At the end of the day, you
Discovered bits of verse you’d
Scribbled on scraps of paper
And hoarded there against
Memory’s unreliability, like
Postcards written to yourself.
And, seeing that you hadn’t been 
Wrong about what it was that
Flashed through those words’
Inadequacy, you
Slyly smiled.

Making my way now again
Through the familiar book
Where these wish-you-were-here’s
Have been wrestled from your 
Slavic tongue into my 
Semi-Germanic one, a sly smile crosses
My own face on seeing what it is 
That flashes through the
Even less adequate English.
And I give thanks for something for 
Which I’d never anticipated 
The need to be grateful:
That I don’t speak Polish.

On Anniversary of My Father’s Death

I was sitting at the bar with my beer and black bean burger
When I saw him seated across from me, and was taken aback
Only for the few seconds it took me to realize
I was looking in the mirror behind the schnapps bottles.
This had taken fifty years.

Thomas Merton

In Prades,
A boy looked up
To Mont Canigou,
The tallest peak
He’d ever seen,
And he cherished the
Memory of that sight
Throughout a life spent
At lesser altitudes:
West Midlands,
Amsterdam Avenue,
And the hollers of Kentucky.

(Sorrow wrestled with privilege in him:
An orphan with the means to be profligate,
A hermit with an embarrassment of friends.
Vowed to the silent life and blessed
With the gift of articulation.)

In Darjeeling,
Five decades thence,
A man looked up
At Kangchenjunga--
Thrice loftier than the
Of his youth--
And knew there
Was nowhere
Left to look
But to the sky

Observation at 62

I lose track of a sentence’s beginning
When I’m only halfway through speaking it,
With as little control over the memories
That flee this once-dependable mind
As I have over the ones that, inexplicably,
Take up permanent residence there. Like:

The girl who had written “Beatles”
On a scrap of binder paper and bobby-pinned
It to her hair in my elementary school cafeteria,
The morning after that fateful Ed Sullivan Show.

My father’s outburst over some plaster that didn’t set,
Like Jesus’ anger at the fig tree.

The bowl of cooked turnips my mother
Dropped on the floor and left there.

The shocked delight on my English teacher’s
Face when he saw that what was he was trying
To convey about poetry had actually registered in me.

The woman who determinedly strode up to me on
Boylston street, screamed, “Your fucking ass
doesn’t mean humility!” And then walked away.

The tiny wildflower I cradled in my hand on
A Kodiak Island mountaintop
One sunny four AM in June.

The first time I saw a cantaloupe.

The light on the library wall one afternoon.

All these remain. Where I parked my car at the store
Fifteen minutes ago remains a mystery.


When I’d attained the age of four
I asked an uncle old and sage
What life was like in days of yore
For him when he was of that age.

He looked at me like I was mad
And chuckled at my wondering,
And said: “Those years are lost, my lad,” 
“I can’t remember anything.”

It struck me that I stood to lose
The joy that then surrounded me.
Alarmed at this unsettling news,
I sat myself down by a tree

And vowed to burn into my mind
That moment’s every small detail:
The tree, the grass, the hedge behind
Me. And my broken fingernail.

Next, I set about to call
That image to my mind each day,
Thinking that I’d thus forestall 
That era’s slithering away.

It worked. That picturesque tableau 
Stays vivid in my memory bank
As though it were a day ago.
Though on the rest . . . I draw a blank.

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