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.

Mary Oliver


In Singapore, in the airport,
a darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women's restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something
in the white bowl.

Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.

A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings.
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that's not possible, a fountain
rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and
neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor,
which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as
hubcaps, with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, but like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

I don't doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop
and fly down to the river.
This probably won't happen.
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?

Of course, it isn't.
Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only
the light that can shine out of a life. I mean
the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
the way her smile was only for my sake; I mean
the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

James Merill

The Broken Home

Crossing the street,
I saw the parents and the child
At their window, gleaming like fruit
With evening's mild gold leaf.

In a room on the floor below,
Sunless, cooler—a brimming
Saucer of wax, marbly and dim—
I have lit what's left of my life.

I have thrown out yesterday's milk
And opened a book of maxims.
The flame quickens. The word stirs.

Tell me, tongue of fire,
That you and I are as real
At least as the people upstairs.

My father, who had flown in World War I,
Might have continued to invest his life
In cloud banks well above Wall Street and wife.
But the race was run below, and the point was to win.

Too late now, I make out in his blue gaze
(Through the smoked glass of being thirty-six)
The soul eclipsed by twin black pupils, sex
And business; time was money in those days.

Each thirteenth year he married. When he died
There were already several chilled wives
In sable orbit—rings, cars, permanent waves.
We'd felt him warming up for a green bride.

He could afford it. He was "in his prime"
At three score ten. But money was not time.

When my parents were younger this was a popular act:
A veiled woman would leap from an electric, wine-dark car
To the steps of no matter what—the Senate or the Ritz Bar—
And bodily, at newsreel speed, attack

No matter whom—Al Smith or José María Sert
Or Clemenceau—veins standing out on her throat
As she yelled War mongerer! Pig! Give us the vote!,
And would have to be hauled away in her hobble skirt.

What had the man done? Oh, made history.
Her business (he had implied) was giving birth,
Tending the house, mending the socks.

Always that same old story—
Father Time and Mother Earth,
A marriage on the rocks.

One afternoon, red, satyr-thighed
Michael, the Irish setter, head
Passionately lowered, led
The child I was to a shut door. Inside,

Blinds beat sun from the bed.
The green-gold room throbbed like a bruise.
Under a sheet, clad in taboos
Lay whom we sought, her hair undone, outspread,

And of a blackness found, if ever now, in old
Engravings where the acid bit.
I must have needed to touch it
Or the whiteness—was she dead?
Her eyes flew open, startled strange and cold.
The dog slumped to the floor. She reached for me. I fled.

Tonight they have stepped out onto the gravel.
The party is over. It's the fall
Of 1931. They love each other still.

She: Charlie, I can't stand the pace.
He: Come on, honey—why, you'll bury us all!

A lead soldier guards my windowsill:
Khaki rifle, uniform, and face.
Something in me grows heavy, silvery, pliable.

How intensely people used to feel!
Like metal poured at the close of a proletarian novel,
Refined and glowing from the crucible,
I see those two hearts, I'm afraid,
Still. Cool here in the graveyard of good and evil,
They are even so to be honored and obeyed.

. . . Obeyed, at least, inversely. Thus
I rarely buy a newspaper, or vote.
To do so, I have learned, is to invite
The tread of a stone guest within my house.

Shooting this rusted bolt, though, against him,
I trust I am no less time's child than some
Who on the heath impersonate Poor Tom
Or on the barricades risk life and limb.

Nor do I try to keep a garden, only
An avocado in a glass of water—
Roots pallid, gemmed with air. And later,

When the small gilt leaves have grown
Fleshy and green, I let them die, yes, yes,
And start another. I am earth's no less.

A child, a red dog roam the corridors,
Still, of the broken home. No sound. The brilliant
Rag runners halt before wide-open doors.
My old room! Its wallpaper—cream, medallioned
With pink and brown—brings back the first nightmares,
Long summer colds, and Emma, sepia-faced,
Perspiring over broth carried upstairs
Aswim with golden fats I could not taste.

The real house became a boarding school.
Under the ballroom ceiling's allegory
Someone at last may actually be allowed
To learn something; or, from my window, cool
With the unstiflement of the entire story,
Watch a red setter stretch and sink in cloud.