Friday, November 27, 2009

837. To The Required Unknown - William Wehrmeister

This world, with its flashing lights, and images, and blazing with speed

gives us little time, and less to reflect, and worse does our lives impede

so much so, that even to glance at a book, or any printed matter to read

it drops from our hands, with nervous tics and birdlike jumps that bleed

and betray only too well how this very second steals even that small seed

of graciousness, of time well spent quietly and well, to soothe others need.

But at times, must we whether work, travel, or move to events accurst,

yet must we stop, in force, for there is no other choice, no, this calls first,

only breathing that never stops, and the human voice, and baking thirst

wins precedence, for stopping brings only disaster, the horrid worst

but, with that duress, there comes a surety, a certainty that knows erst

a chance to be still and reflect, think deep thoughts, and write this verse.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

836. Oatmeal - Galway Kinnell

I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone.
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that it is better for your mental health if
somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have
breakfast with.
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal with
John Keats.
Keats said I was right to invite him: due to its glutinous texture,
gluey lumpishness, hint of slime, and unusual willingness to
disintegrate, oatmeal must never be eaten alone.
He said that in his opinion, however, it is OK to eat it with an
imaginary companion, and that he himself had enjoyed
memorable porridges with Edmund Spenser and John Milton.
Even if such porridges are not as wholesome as Keats claims,
still, you can learn something from them.
Yesterday morning, for instance, Keats told me about writing the
"Ode to a Nightingale."
He had a heck of a time finishing it––those were his words––
"Oi ad a 'eck of a toime, "he said more or less, speaking
through his porridge.
He wrote it quickly, on scraps of paper, which he then stuck
in his pocket, but when he got home he couldn't figure out the
order of the stanzas, and he and a friend spread the papers on
a table, and they made some sense of them, but he isn't sure
to this day if they got if right
He still wonders about the occasional sense of drift between
stanzas and the way here and there a line will go into the
configuration of a Moslem at prayer, then raise itself up
and peer about, and then lay itself down slightly off the mark,
causing the poem to move forward with God's reckless wobble.
He said someone told him that later in life Wordsworth heard
about the scraps of paper on the table and tried shuffling
some stanzas of his own but only made matters worse.
When breakfast was over John recited "To Autumn."
He recited it slowly, with much feeling, and he articulated the
works lovingly, and his odd accent sounded sweet.
He didn't offer the story of writing "To Autumn." I doubt if there
is much of one.
But he did say the sight of a just-harvested oat field got him
started on it and two the lines, "For Summer has o'er-brimmed
their clammy cells" and "Thou watchest the last oozings hours by
hours," came to him while eating oatmeal alone.
I can see him––drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into
the glimmering furrows, muttering––and it occurs to me:
maybe there is no sublime, only the shining of the amnion's
For supper tonight I am going to have a baked potato left over
from lunch.
I am aware that a leftover baked potato is damp, slippery, and
simultaneously gummy and crumbly, and therefore I'm going to
invite Patrick Kavanagh to join me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

835. Theodotus - C. P. Cavafy

Translated from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn

If you are among the truly elect,
watch how you achieve your predominance.
However much you're glorified, however much
your accomplishments in Italy and Thessaly
are blazoned far and wide by governments,
however many honorary decrees
are bestowed on you in Rome by your admirers,
neither your elation nor your triumph will endure,
nor will you feel superior—superior how?—
when, in Alexandria, Theodotus brings you,
upon a charger that's been stained with blood,
poor wretched Pompey's head.

And do not take it for granted that in your life,
restricted, regimented, and mundane,
such spectacular and terrifying things don't exist.
Maybe at this very moment, into some neighbor's
nicely tidied house there comes—
invisible, immaterial—Theodotus,
bringing one such terrifying head.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

834. I Am Too Close. - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

I am too close for him to dream of me.
I don't flutter over him, don't flee him
beneath the roots of trees. I am too close.
The caught fish doesn't sing with my voice.
The ring doesn't roll from my finger.
I am too close. The great house is on fire
without me calling for help. Too close
for one of my hairs to turn into the rope
of the alarm bell. Too close to enter
as the guest before whom walls retreat.
I'll never die again so lightly,
so far beyond my body, so unknowingly
as I did once in his dream. I am too close,
too close, I hear the word hiss
and see its glistening scales as I lie motionless
in his embrace. He's sleeping,
more accessible at this moment to an usherette
he saw once in a traveling circus with one lion,
than to me, who lies at his side.
A valley now grows within him for her,
rusty-leaved, with a snowcapped mountain at one end
rising in the azure air. I am too close
to fall from that sky like a gift from heaven.
My cry could only waken him. And what
a poor gift: I, confined to my own form,
when I used to be a birch, a lizard
shedding times and satin skins
in many shimmering hues. And I possessed
the gift of vanishing before astonished eyes,
which is the riches of all. I am too close,
too close for him to dream of me.
I slip my arm from underneath his sleeping head -
it's numb, swarming with imaginary pins.
A host of fallen angels perches on each tip,
waiting to be counted.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

833. Pursery Rhyme - Gen. Isaac R. Sherwood

(From: An Anthology of Revolutionary Poetry, 1929)
Sing a song of Europe,
Highly civilized.
Four and twenty nations
Wholly hypnotized.

When the battles open
The bullets start to sing;
Isn't that a silly way
To act for any King?

The Kings are in the background
Issuing commands;
The Queens are in the parlor,
Per etiquette's demands.

The bankers in the counting house
Are busy multiplying;
The common people at the front
Are doing all the dying.

Monday, November 09, 2009

832. A World To Do - Theodore Weiss

“I busy too,” the little boy
said, lost in his book
about a little boy, lost
in his book, with nothing

but a purple crayon
and his wits to get him out.
“Nobody can sit with me,
I have no room.
I busy
too. So don’t do any noise.
We don’t want any noise
right now.”
He leafs
through once, leafs twice;
the pictures, mixed with windy
sighs, grow dizzy,
as difficult, high-drifting
as the two-day snow that can
not stop.
How will the bushes,
sinking deeper and deeper,
trees and birds, wrapt
up, ever creep
out again?
Any minute now the blizzard,
scared and wild, the animals
lost in it—O the fur,

the red-eyed claws, crying
for their home—may burst
into the room. Try words
he’s almost learned
on them?
He sighs, “I need a man here;
I can’t do all this work
And still, as though
intent on reading its own
argument, winter continues
thumbing through itself.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

831. The Sun - Mary Oliver

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone—
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance—
and have you ever felt for anything

such wild love—
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world—

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?