Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Nayyirah Waheed

I smell my parents
on my words. 
and I weep.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Langston Hughes

I, Too

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Tomas Tranströmer


A blue light 
streams out of my clothes. 
Ringing tambourines of ice. 
I close my eyes. 
There is a silent world, 
there is a crack
where the dead 
are smuggled over the border. 

Tomas Tranströmer



I wrote to you so cautiously. But what I couldn't say
filled and grew like a hot-air balloon
and finally floated away through the night sky.


Now my letter is with the censor. He lights his lamp.
In its glare my words leap out like monkeys at a wire mesh,
clattering it, stopping to bear their teeth.


Read between the lines. We will meet in two hundred years
when the microphones in the hotel walls are forgotten –
when they can sleep at last, become ammonites.

Version by Robin Robertson

rupi kaur

i know it's hard
believe me
i know it feels like
tomorrow will never come
and today will be the most
difficult day to get through
but i swear you will get through
the hurt will pass
as it always does
if you give it time and
let it so let it
like a broken promise
let it go

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Maya Angelou

Our Grandmothers

She lay, skin down in the moist dirt, 
the canebrake rustling 
with the whispers of leaves, and 
loud longing of hounds and 
the ransack of hunters crackling the near 

She muttered, lifting her head a nod toward 
I shall not, I shall not be moved.

She gathered her babies, 
their tears slick as oil on black faces, 
their young eyes canvassing mornings of madness. 
Momma, is Master going to sell you 
from us tomorrow?

Unless you keep walking more 
and talking less. 
Unless the keeper of our lives 
releases me from all commandments. 
And your lives, 
never mine to live, 
will be executed upon the killing floor of 
Unless you match my heart and words, 
saying with me,

I shall not be moved.

In Virginia tobacco fields, 
leaning into the curve 
of Steinway 
pianos, along Arkansas roads, 
in the red hills of Georgia, 
into the palms of her chained hands, she 
cried against calamity, 
You have tried to destroy me 
and though I perish daily,

I shall not be moved.

Her universe, often 
summarized into one black body 
falling finally from the tree to her feet, 
made her cry each time into a new voice. 
All my past hastens to defeat, 
and strangers claim the glory of my love, 
Iniquity has bound me to his bed.

yet, I must not be moved.

She heard the names, 
swirling ribbons in the wind of history: 
nigger, nigger bitch, heifer, 
mammy, property, creature, ape, baboon, 
whore, hot tail, thing, it. 
She said, But my description cannot 
fit your tongue, for 
I have a certain way of being in this world,

and I shall not, I shall not be moved.

No angel stretched protecting wings 
above the heads of her children, 
fluttering and urging the winds of reason 
into the confusions of their lives. 
The sprouted like young weeds, 
but she could not shield their growth 
from the grinding blades of ignorance, nor 
shape them into symbolic topiaries. 
She sent them away, 
underground, overland, in coaches and 

When you learn, teach. 
When you get, give. 
As for me,

I shall not be moved.

She stood in midocean, seeking dry land. 
She searched God's face. 
she placed her fire of service 
on the altar, and though 
clothed in the finery of faith, 
when she appeared at the temple door, 
no sign welcomed 
Black Grandmother, Enter here.

Into the crashing sound, 
into wickedness, she cried, 
No one, no, nor no one million 
ones dare deny me God, I go forth 
along, and stand as ten thousand.

The Divine upon my right 
impels me to pull forever 
at the latch on Freedom's gate.

The Holy Spirit upon my left leads my 
feet without ceasing into the camp of the 
righteous and into the tents of the free.

These momma faces, lemon-yellow, plum-purple, 
honey-brown, have grimaced and twisted 
down a pyramid for years. 
She is Sheba the Sojourner, 
Harriet and Zora, 
Mary Bethune and Angela, 
Annie to Zenobia.

She stands 
before the abortion clinic, 
confounded by the lack of choices. 
In the Welfare line, 
reduced to the pity of handouts. 
Ordained in the pulpit, shielded 
by the mysteries. 
In the operating room, 
husbanding life. 
In the choir loft, 
holding God in her throat. 
On lonely street corners, 
hawking her body. 
In the classroom, loving the 
children to understanding.

Centered on the world's stage, 
she sings to her loves and beloveds, 
to her foes and detractors: 
However I am perceived and deceived, 
however my ignorance and conceits, 
lay aside your fears that I will be undone,

for I shall not be moved. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Jack Gilbert

Finding Something 

I say moon is horses in the tempered dark,
because horse is the closest I can get to it.
I sit on the terrace of this worn villa the king's
telegrapher built on the mountain that looks down
on a blue sea and the small white ferry
that crosses slowly to the next island each noon.
Michiko is dying in the house behind me,
the long windows opens so I can hear
the faint sound she will make when she wants
watermelon to suck on so I can take her
to a bucket in the corner of the high-ceilinged room
which is the best we can do for a chamber pot.
She will lean against my leg as she sits
so as not to fall over in her weakness.
How strange and fine to get so near to it.
The arches of her feet are like voices
of children calling in the grove of lemon trees,
where my heart is as helpless as crushed birds.

Jack Gilbert


I came back from the funeral and crawled 
around the apartment, crying hard, 
searching for my wife's hair. 
For two months got them from the drain, 
from the vacuum cleaner, under the refrigerator, 
and off the clothes in the closet. 
But after other Japanese women came, 
there was no way to be sure which were 
hers, and I stopped. A year later, 
repotting Michiko's avocado, I find 
a long black hair tangled in the dirt. 

Janusz Szuber

The Crowing of Roosters 

The crowing of roosters at the change in the weather: 
Under a dark blue cloud the dark testicles of plums 
With their ash-gary coating and sticky cracks–
There are sweet scabs of dirty amber. 

Translated from Polish by Czeslaw Milosz

Friday, February 10, 2017

street poetry

I inhale a world,
budding with inv
isible actors, tel
ling their story,
whispering motio
nless, I watch the
ir movements, at
times quiet, at ti
mes violent. I list
en to their words
without letters,
only life  I am he
re, on this stage
too, a part of this
show, a breath of
this life.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Warsan Shire

When We Last Saw Your Father

He was sitting in the hospital parking lot
in a borrowed car, counting the windows
of the building, guessing which one
was glowing with his mistake.

Tennessee Williams

We Have Not Long To Love

We have not long to love. 
Light does not stay. 
The tender things are those 
we fold away. 
Coarse fabrics are the ones 
for common wear. 
In silence I have watched you 
comb your hair. 
Intimate the silence, 
dim and warm. 
I could but did not, reach 
to touch your arm. 
I could, but do not, break 
that which is still. 
(Almost the faintest whisper 
would be shrill.) 
So moments pass as though 
they wished to stay. 
We have not long to love. 
A night. A day.... 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Warsan Shire


My older sister soaps between her legs, her hair
a prayer of curls. When she was my age, she stole
the neighbour's husband, burnt his name into her skin.
For weeks she smelt of cheap perfume and dying flesh.

It's 4 a.m. and she winks at me, bending over the sink,
her small breasts bruised from sucking.
She smiles, pops her gum before saying
boys are haram, don't ever forget that.

Some nights I hear her in her room screaming.
We play Surah Al-Baqarah to drown her out.
Anything that leaves her mouth sounds like sex.
Our mother has banned her from saying God's name.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Ocean Vuong

     Aubade with Burning City

South Vietnam, April 29, 1975: Armed Forces Radio played Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” as a code to begin Operation Frequent Wind, the ultimate evacuation of American civilians and Vietnamese refugees by helicopter during the fall of Saigon.

            Milkflower petals on the street
                                                     like pieces of a girl’s dress.

May your days be merry and bright...

He fills a teacup with champagne, brings it to her lips.
            Open, he says.
                                        She opens.
                                                      Outside, a soldier spits out
            his cigarette as footsteps
                            fill the square like stones fallen from the sky. May all
                                         your Christmases be white as the traffic guard
            unstraps his holster.

                                        His hand running the hem
of  her white dress.
                            His black eyes.
            Her black hair.
                            A single candle.
                                        Their shadows: two wicks.

A military truck speeds through the intersection, the sound of children
                                        shrieking inside. A bicycle hurled
            through a store window. When the dust rises, a black dog
                            lies in the road, panting. Its hind legs
                                                                                   crushed into the shine
                                                       of a white Christmas.

On the nightstand, a sprig of magnolia expands like a secret heard
                                                                      for the first time.

The treetops glisten and children listen, the chief of police
                                facedown in a pool of Coca-Cola.
                                             A palm-sized photo of his father soaking
                beside his left ear.

The song moving through the city like a widow.
                A white ...    A white ...    I’m dreaming of a curtain of snow

                                                          falling from her shoulders.

Snow crackling against the window. Snow shredded

                                           with gunfire. Red sky.
                              Snow on the tanks rolling over the city walls.
A helicopter lifting the living just out of reach.

            The city so white it is ready for ink.

                                                     The radio saying run run run.
Milkflower petals on a black dog
                            like pieces of a girl’s dress.

May your days be merry and bright. She is saying
            something neither of them can hear. The hotel rocks
                        beneath them. The bed a field of ice

Don’t worry, he says, as the first bomb brightens
                             their faces, my brothers have won the war
                                                                       and tomorrow ...    
                                             The lights go out.

I’m dreaming. I’m dreaming ...    
                                                            to hear sleigh bells in the snow ...    

In the square below: a nun, on fire,
                                            runs silently toward her god — 

                           Open, he says.
                                                         She opens.

Jim Moore

Poem Without An Ending 

    Listening to acorns fall 
such a lovely sound
     I thought it was the whole poem
until I saw the girl in the paper
     with the mussed hair 
the bombed bus 
     no one bothering yet 
to close those two black eyes  

Mary Oliver

 Wild Geese 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees, 
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination, 
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Anne Carson


When my brother died (unexpectedly) his
widow couldn't find a phone number for me among his
papers until two weeks later. While I swept my porch
and bought apples and sat by the window in the evening
with the radio on, his death came wandering slowly
towards me across the sea.

Nox by Anne Carson; 2010

Jim Moore


The old woman who lives across the street
runs her vacuum
on the day after Christmas,
cleaning up after the silence
of the day before.
Two small geraniums in the window
lean into one another
like people whispering at a funeral:
signs of life.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Now the hour bows down, it touches me, throbs
metallic, lucid and bold:
my senses are trembling. I feel my own power –
on the plastic day I lay hold.

Until I perceived it, no thing was complete,
but waited, hushed, unfulfilled.
My vision is ripe, to each glance like a bride
comes softly the thing that was willed.

There is nothing too small, but my tenderness paints
it large on a background of gold,
and I prize it, not knowing whose soul at the sight,
released, may unfold . . .

[Poems from The Book of Hours]

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Claudia Emerson


There were warnings: he had, at forty, never
married; he was too close to his mother,
calling her by her given name, Manuela,
ah, Manuela⎯like a lover; even her face

had bled, even the walls, giving birth to him;
she still had saved all of his baby teeth
except the one he had yet to lose, a small
eyetooth embedded, stubborn in the gum.

I would eat an artichoke down to its heart,
then feed the heart to him. It was enough
that he was not you⎯and utterly foreign,
related to no one. So it was not love.

So it ended badly, but to some relief.
I was again alone in my bed, but not
invisible as I had been to you⎯
and I had learned that when I drank sherry

I was drinking a chalk-white landscape, a distant
poor soil; that such vines have to suffer; and that
champagne can be kept effervescent by putting
a knife in the open mouth of the bottle.

Late Wife Poems by Claudia Emerson; Louisiana State University Press

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Carol Ann Duffy


Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer ⎯
Rocakall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.

Carol Ann Duffy


I dream through a wordless, familiar place.
The small boat of the day sails into morning,
past the postman with his modest haul, the full trees
which sound like the sea, leaving my hands free
to remember. Moments of grace. Like this.

Shaken by first love and kissing a wall. Of course.
The dried ink on the palms then ran suddenly wet,
a glistening blue name in each fist. I sit now
in a kind of sly trance, hoping I will not feel me
breathing too close across time. A face to the name. Gone.

The chimes of mothers calling in children
at dusk. Yes. It seems we live in those staggering years
only to haunt them; the vanishing scents
and colours of infinite hours like a melting balloon
in earlier hands. The boredom since.

Memory’s caged bird won’t fly. These days
we are adjectives, nouns. In moments of grace
we were verbs, the secret of poems, talented.
A thin skin lies on the language. We stare
deep in the eyes of strangers, look for the doing words.

Now I smell you peeling an orange in the other room.
Now I take off my watch, let a minute unravel
in my hands, listen and look as I do so,
and mild loss opens my lips like No.
Passing, you kiss the back of my neck. A blessing.

Carol Ann Duffy


Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
A wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Alice Oswald

Pruning in Frost

Last night, without a sound,
a ghost of a world lay down on a world,

trees like dream-wrecks
coralled with increments of frost.

Found crevices
and wound and wound
the clock-spring cobwebs.

All life’s ribbon frozen mid-fling.

Oh I am
stone thumbs,
feet of glass.

Work knocks in me the winter’s nail.

I can imagine
Pain, turned heron,
could fly off slowly in a creak of wings.

And I’d be staring, like one of those
cold-holy and granite kings,
getting carved into this effigy of orchard.

From The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile

Monday, January 28, 2008



The last leaves' embers in total immolation
Rise into the sky; this whole forest
Seethes with irritation, just as we did
That last year we lived together.

The path you take is reflected in our tear-filled eyes,
As bushes are reflected in the murky flood-lands.
Don't be difficult, don't touch, don't threaten,
Don't offend the forest silence by the Volga.

You can hear the old life breathing:
Clumps of mushrooms growing in damp grass -
Though gnawed to the very core by slugs,
They still inflame the skin.

All our past is like a threat -
Look, I'm coming, watch, I'll kill you!
The sky shivers and holds a maple, like a rose, -
May it burn still stronger - right into your eyes.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Anne Carson

From The Beauty of the Husband. A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos


You want to see how things were going from the husband’s point of view⎯
let’s go round the back,
there stands the wife
gripping herself at the elbows and facing the husband.
Not tears he is saying, not tears again. But still they fall.
She is watching him.
I’m sorry he says. Do you believe me.
I never wanted to harm you.
This is banal. It’s like Beckett. Say something!
I believe

your taxi is here she said.
He looked down at the street. She was right. It stung him,
the pathos of her keen hearing.
There she stood a person with particular traits,
a certain heart, life beating on its way in her.
He signals to the driver, five minutes.
Now her tears have stopped.
What will she do after I go? he wonders. Her evening. It closed his breath.
Her strange evening.
Well he said.
Do you know she began.

If I could kill you I would then have to make another exactly like you.
To tell it to.
Perfection rested on them for a moment like a calm lake.
Pain rested.
Beauty does not rest.
The husband touched his wife’s temple
and turned
and ran

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Carol Ann Duffy


When you come on Thursday, bring me a letter. We
the language of stuffed birds, teacups. We don’t have
the language of bodies. My husband will be here.
I shall inquire about your wife, stirring his cup
with a thin spoon, and my hand shall not tremble.
Give me the letter as I take your hat. Mention
the cold weather. My skin burns at the sight of you.

We skim the surface, gossip. I baked this cake and you
eat it. Words come from nowhere, drift off
like the smoke from his pipe. Beneath my dress, my
swell for your lips, belly churns to be stilled
by your brown hands. The secret life of Gulliver,
held down by strings of pleasantries. I ache. Later
your letter flares up in the heat and is gone.

Dearest Beloved, pretend I am with you . . . I read
your dark words and do to myself things
you can only imagine. I hardly know myself.
Your soft, white body in my arms . . . When we part,
you kiss my hand, bow from the waist, all passion
patiently restrained. Your servant, Ma’am. Now you
wild phrases of love. The words blur as I cry out once.

Next time we meet, in drawing-room or garden,
passing our letters cautiously between us, our eyes
fixed carefully on legal love, think of me here
on my marriage-bed an hour after you’ve left.
I have called your name over and over in my head
at the point your fiction brings me to. I have kissed
your sweet name on the paper as I knelt by the fire.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Carol Ann Duffy


I like pouring your tea, lifting
the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
so the fragrant liquid streams in your china cup.

Or when you’re away, or at work,
I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.

I like the questions – sugar? – milk? –
and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.

Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say
but it’s any tea for you, please, any time of day,

as the women harvest the slopes
for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,
and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

YOSANO AKIKO (1878-1942)

Black hair
Tangled in a thousand strands.
Tangled my hair and
Tangled my tangled memories
Of our long nights of lovemaking.


Press my breasts,
Part the veil of mystery,
A flower blooms there,
Crimson and fragrant.


Not speaking of the way,
Not thinking of what comes after,
Not questioning name or fame,
Here, loving love,
You and I look at each other.


Left on the beach
Full of water,
A worn out boat
Reflects the white sky
Of early autumn.


*Fragment 31

He seems to me equal to gods that man
who opposite you
sits and listens close
to your sweet speaking

and lovely laughing ⎯oh it
puts the heart in my chest on wings
for when I look at you, a moment, then no speaking
is left in me

no: tongue breaks, and thin
fire is racing under skin
and in eyes no sight and drumming
fills ears

and cold sweat holds me and shaking
grips me all, greener than grass
I am and dead ⎯or almost
I seem to me.

*Poetarum Lesborium Fragmenta (Oxford 1955)

Anne Carson


While talking to my mother I neaten things. Spines of books by the phone.
in a china dish. Fragments of eraser that dot the desk. She speaks
of death. I begin tilting all the paperclips in the other direction.
the window snow is falling straight down in lines. To my mother,
of my life, I describe what I had for brunch. The lines are falling
now. Fate has put little weights on the ends (to speed us up) I
to tell her ⎯sign of God’s pity. She won’t keep me
she says, she
won’t run up my bill. Miracles slip past us. The
are immortally aligned. God’s pity! How long
it feel like burning, said the child trying to be


[Place Nowy]

by John Berger

I have never been in this square before and I know it by heart, or rather I know by heart the people who are selling things in it. Some of them have regular stalls with awnings to keep the sun off their goods. It is already hot, hot with the blurred, gnat heat of the Eastern European plains and forest. A foliage heat. A heat full of suggestions, that does not have the assurance of a Mediterranean heat. Here nothing is certain. The nearest thing to certainty is a grandmother.

Other sellers ⎯ all of them women ⎯ have come from the outlying villages with their produce in baskets or buckets. They do not have stalls and are sitting on stools they brought with them. A few stand. I wander between them.

Lettuces, red radishes, horseradishes, cut dill like green lace, small knobby cucumbers which in this heat grow in three days, new potatoes, their skins, with a little powdered earth on them, the colour of grandchildren’s knees, stick-celery with its cleansing toothbrush smell, cuttings of liveche, which the men, drinking vodka, swear is an incomparable aphrodisiac for women as well as men, bunches of young carrots swapping fern jokes, cut roses mostly yellow, cottage cheeses, which the rags pegged to the clothes line in their gardens still smell of, wild green asparagus that the children were sent to look for near the village cemetery.

The professional traders have naturally acquired all the trading tricks for persuading the public that golden opportunities never come twice. The women on their stools, by contrast, propose nothing. They are immobile, expressionless, and rely on their own simple presence to guarantee the quality of what they have brought to see from their own gardens.

I wander between them. Different ages. Different builds. Eyes of different colour. No two women wearing the same kerchief. And each one of them has found, as she bends down to cut chives or pull out dogtooth weed or pick red radishes, her own way of protecting, of favouring, the small of her back, so that its intermittent aches do not become chronic. When they were younger it was their hips which absorbed shock of events, now it is their shoulders which have to do so.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Andrew Motion

The Message

In Memory of Sarah Raphael


A crystal mid-winter Saturday dawn
and the names of things the same

as things themselves: flash-over frost
sealing my garden square; the ash tree

perfectly matched by its ghost in mist;
unshakeable hush through the street.

I take it all in as I climb the stairs
to my room, completely at home

yet free of cash and jacket I need
before I go out to the world.

And here on my desk is the toad-head
jewel in my telephone winking.

Why should I answer it now? This moment
is mine. But I do. I answer it feeling

the terror which started inside me
a lifetime ago, and that’s how I hear

you are dead. The peaceable street;
the ash in its trance; the frost:

these all look exactly the same. What’s new
is the crash of them splitting apart from their names.


I rang your number
and heard your voice
on the answerphone ⎯
un-deliberate grace

in a message-rush,
and your hasty fall
on the word good-bye,
though you were well

when you set it down,
and never knew
how it might endure,
outliving you

like the travelling light
of a snuffed-out star
spearheaded to meet
the ignorant stare

of us below,
who blink and look,
and are not sure
which things to take

in our little mist
of breath-by-breath
as signs of life
and which of death.


In your telephone
the tape has been changed, and now the glib machine
remembers only a new regime.

In your desk
a tidy number of unopened letters lie
bearing your name and the brand of missing days.

In your studio
the bubble-cartons of all your brilliant ideas
have reached the ceiling, and stuck, and will not stir.

In your children’s room
the spine of our favourite book is aching to bend
open, and let the story end.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Jorie Graham


The slow overture of rain,
each drop breaking
without breaking into
the next, describes
the unrelenting, syncopated
mind. Not unlike
the hummingbirds
imagining their wings
to be their heart, and swallows
believing the horizon
to be a line they lift
and drop. What is it
they cast for? The poplars,
advancing or retreating,
lose their stature
equally, and yet stand firm,
making arrangements
in order to become
imaginary. The city
draws the mind in streets,
and streets compel it
from their intersections
where a little
belongs to no one. It is
what is driven through
all stationary portions
of the world, gravity's
stake in things, the leaves,
pressed against the dank
window of November
soil, remain unwelcome
till transformed, parts
of a puzzle unsolvable
till the edges give a bit
and soften. See how
then the picture becomes clear,
the mind entering the ground
more easily in pieces,
and all the richer for it.