Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Late Passenger

The Late Passenger
by C.S. Lewis, from Poetry 180, ed. Billy Collins, 2003

The sky was low, the sounding rain was falling dense and dark,
And Noah's sons were standing at the window of the Ark.

The beast were in, but Japhet said, 'I see one creature more
Belated and unmated there come knocking at the door.'

'Well let him knock,' said Ham, 'Or let him drown or learn to swim.
We're overcrowded as it is; we've got no room for him.'

'And yet it knocks, how terribly it knocks,' said Shem, 'It's feet
Are hard as horn -- but oh the air that comes from it is sweet.'

'Now hush,' said Ham, 'You'll waken Dad, and once he comes to see
What's at the door, it's sure to mean more work for you and me.'

Noah's voice came roaring from the darkness down below,
'Some animal is knocking. Take it in before we go.'

Ham shouted back, and savagely he nudged the other two,
'That's only Japhet knocking down a brad-nail in his shoe.'

Said Noah, 'Boys, I hear a noise that's like a horse's hoof.'
Said Ham, 'Why, that's the dreadful rain that drums upon the roof.'

Noah tumbled up on deck and out he put his head;
His face went grey, his knees were loosed, he tore his beard and said,

'Look, look! It would not wait. It turns away. It takes flight.
Fine work you've made of it, my sons, between you all tonight!

'Even if I could outrun it now, it would not turn again.
--Not now. Our great discourtesy has earned its high disdain.

'Oh noble and unmated beast, my sons were all unkind;
In such a night what stable and what manger will you find?

'Oh golden hoofs, oh cataracts of mane, oh nostrils wide
With indignation! Oh the neck wave-arched, the lovely pride!

'Oh long shall be the furrows ploughed across the hearts of men
Before it comes to stable and to manger once again.

'And dark and crooked all the ways in which our race shall walk,
And shrivelled all their manhood like a flower with broken stalk,

'And all the world, oh Ham, may curse the hour when you were born,'
Because of you the Ark must sail without the Unicorn.'

Thursday, August 25, 2011

the way it is now

the way it is now
by Charles Bukowski, from Good Poems, ed. Garrison Keillor, 2002

I'll tell you
I've lived with some gorgeous women
and I was so bewitched by those
beautiful creatures that
my eyebrows twitched.

but I'd rather drive to New York
than to live with any of them

the next classic stupidity
will be the history
of those fellows
who inherit my female

in their case
as in mine
they will find
that madness
is caused by not
being often enough

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Herbal

A Herbal
by Seamus Heaney, from Human Chain, 2010

After Guillevic's "Herbier de Bretagne"

Everywhere plants
Flourish among graves,

Sinking their roots
In all the dynasties
Of the dead.


Was graveyard grass
In our place
Any different?

Different from ordinary
Field grass?

Remember how you wanted
The sound recordist
To make a loop,

Wildtrack of your feet
Through the wet
At the foot of a field?


Yet for all their lush
Compliant dialect
No way have plants here
Arrived at a settlement.

Not the mare's tail,
Not the broom or whins.

It must have to do
With the wind.


Not that the grass itself
Ever rests in peace.

It too takes issue,
Now sets a fire.

To the wind,
Now turns its back.


"See me?" it says.
"The wind

Has me well rehearsed
In the ways of the world.

Unstable is good.
Permission granted!

Go, then, citizen
Of the wind.
Go with the flow."


The bracken
Is less boastful.

It closes and curls back
On its secrets,

The best kept
Upon earth.


And, to be fair,
There is sun as well.

Nowhere else
Is there sun like here,

Morning sunshine
All day long.

Which is why the plants,
Even the bracken,

Are sometimes tempted
Into trust.


On sunlit tarmac,
On memories of the hearse

At walking pace
Between overgrown verges,

The dead here are borne
Towards the future.


When the funeral bell tolls
The grass is all a-tremble.

But only then.
Not every time any old bell



Is like the disregarded
And company for them,

Shows them
They have to keep going,

That the whole thing's worth
The effort.

And sometimes
Like those same characters
When the weather's very good

Broom sings.


Never, in later days,
Would fruit

So taste of earth.
There was slate

In the blackberries,
A slatey sap.


Run your hand into
The ditch back growth

And you'd grope roots,
Thick and thin.
But roots of what?

Once, one that we saw
Gave itself away,

The tail of a rat
We killed.


We had enemies,
Though why we never knew.

Among them,

Malignant things, letting on
To be asleep.


Part of a world

Nobody seemed able to explain
But that had to be
Put up with.

There would always be dock leaves
To cure the vicious stings.


There were leaves on the trees
And growth on the headrigs

You could confess
Everything to.

Even your fears
Of the night,

Of people


What was better then

Than to crush a leaf or a herb
Between your palms

Then wave it slowly, soothingly
Past your mouth and nose

And breathe?


If you know a bit
About the universe

It's because you've taken it in
Like that,

Looked as hard
As you look into yourself,

Into the rat hole,
Through the vetch and dock
That mantled it.

Because you've laid your cheek
Against the rush clump

And known soft stone to break
On the quarry floor.


Between heather and marigold,
Between spaghnum and buttercup,
Between dandelion and broom,
Between forget-me-not and honeysuckle,

As between clear blue and cloud,
Between haystack and sunset sky,
Between oak tree and slated roof,
I had my existence. I was there.
Me in place and the place in me.


Where can it be found again,
An elsewhere world, beyond

Maps and atlases
Where all is woven into

And of itself, like a nest
Of crosshatched grass blades?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Every Day

Every Day
by Denise Levertov, from Breathing the Water, 1984

Three men spoke to me today.

One, bereaved, told me his grief, saying
Had God abandoned him, or was there
no God to abandon him?

One, condemned, told me his epitaph,
'Groomed to die.' On Death Row he remembers
the underside of his gradeschool desk, air-raid drill.
He never expected to live
even this long.
He sticks his head back down between his knees,
'not even sad.'

One, a young father, told me
how he had needed his child, even
before she was conceived.
How he had planted a garden too big to hoe.
He told me about the small leaves near his window,
how he had seen in them their desire to be,
to be the world.

With this one I sat laughing,
eating, drinking wine. 'The same word,'
he said, 'she has the same word for me and the dog!
She loves us!'

Every day, every day I hear
enough to fill
a year of nights with wondering.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Girl on a Tractor

Girl on a Tractor
by Joyce Sutphen, from Good Poems, ed. Garrison Keillor, 2002

I knew the names of all the cows before
I knew my alphabet, but no matter the
subject; I had mastery of it, and when
it came time to help in the fields, I
learned to drive a tractor at just the right
speed, so that two men, walking
on either side of the moving wagon
could each lift a bale, walk towards

the steadily arriving platform and
simultaneously hoist the hay onto
the rack, walk to the next bale, lift,
turn, and find me there, exactly where
I should be, my hand on the throttle,
carefully measuring out the pace.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Introduction to Poetry

Introduction to Poetry
by Billy Collins, from Poetry 180, ed. Billy Collins, 2003

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with a rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.