Poems

There is nothing but beauty – and beauty has only one perfect expression, Poetry. All the rest is a lie. ~ Stephane Mallarmé

Each week our parish Newsletter features a poem related to the liturgical season, or seasonal or topical concerns. These poems are featured on this page.

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Holly

It rained when it should have snowed.
When we went to gather holly

the ditches were swimming, we were wet
to the knees, our hands were all jags

and water ran up our sleeves.
There should have been berries

but the sprigs we brought into the house
gleamed like smashed bottle-glass.

Now here I am, in a room that is decked
with the red-berried, waxy-leafed stuff,

and I almost forget what it’s like
to be wet to the skin or longing for snow.

I reach for a book like a doubter
and want it to flare round my hand,

a black-letter bush, a glittering shield-wall
cutting as holly and ice.

~ Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

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A Poem of Thanks

Wendell Berry

I have been spared another day
to come into this night
as though there is a mercy in things
mindful of me. Love, cast all
thought aside. I cast aside
all thought. Our bodies enter
their brief precedence,
surrounded by their sleep.
Through you I rise, and you
through me, into the joy
we make, but may not keep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friendship

But oh! the blessing it is to have a friend
to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject;
with whom one’s deepest
as well as one’s most foolish thoughts
come out simply and safely.
Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort
of feeling safe with a person;
having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
but to pour them all out,
just as they are,
chaff and grain together,
knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping,
and then, with a breath of kindness,
blow the rest away.

from ‘A Life for a Life’, Dinah Maria Mulock Craik (1826-1887)

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For Youth Sunday:

A Little Tooth
Thomas Lux

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It’s all

over: she’ll learn some words, she’ll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It’s dusk. Your daughter’s tall.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Refugees

Brian Bilston

 They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now read the above from bottom to top)

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A Soldier’s Grave

Francis Ledwidge (1887-1917)

Then in the lull of midnight, gentle arms
Lifted him slowly down the slopes of death
Lest he should hear again the mad alarms
Of battle, dying moans, and painful breath.

And where the earth was soft for flowers we made
A grave for him that he might better rest.
So, Spring shall come and leave it sweet arrayed,
And there the lark shall turn her dewy nest.

The Irish poet Francis Ledwidge, the son of a poor labourer and the eighth of nine children, left school at the age of 14 and worked in various manual labour jobs while honing his poetic talents. A Nationalist, he initially opposed the call to join the British Army but did so in October 1914 on the basis that it was unreasonable to expect others to fight for the freedoms he would enjoy. He survived harsh service in Gallipoli and Serbia, but was killed at the age of 29 while serving in Flanders during the Third Battle of Ypres. He was buried in Passchendaele. This poem was read at the Paschendale Memorial Service in July this year.

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Peace
C K Williams (1936-2015)

  We fight for hours, through dinner, through the endless evening, who
even knows now what about,
what could be so dire to have to suffer so for, stuck in one another’s craws
like fishbones,
the cadavers of our argument dissected, flayed, but we go on with it, to
bed, and through the night,
feigning sleep, dreaming sleep, hardly sleeping, so precisely never touch-
ing, back to back,
the blanket bridged across us for the wintry air to tunnel down, to keep
us lifting, turning,
through the angry dark that holds us in its cup of pain, the aching dark,
the weary dark,
then, toward dawn, I can’t help it, though justice won’t I know be served,
I pull her to me,
and with such accurate, graceful deftness she rolls to me that we arrive
embracing our entire lengths.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Elegy

Linda Pastan

Our final dogwood leans
over the forest floor

offering berries
to the birds, the squirrels.

It’s a relic
of the days when dogwoods

flourished—creamy lace in April,
spilled milk in May—

their beauty delicate
but commonplace.

When I took for granted
that the world would remain

as it was, and I
would remain with it.

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Lucky

Louis Jenkins

All my life I’ve been lucky. Not that I made money,
or had a beautiful house or cars. But lucky to have
had good friends, a wife who loves me, and a good
son. Lucky that war and famine or disease did not
come to my doorstep. Lucky that all the wrong
turns I made, even if they did turn out well, at least
were not complete disasters. I still have some of my
original teeth. All that could change, I know, in the
wink of an eye. And what an eye it is, bright blue
contrasting with her dark skin and black hair. And
oh, what long eyelashes! She turns and with a slight
smile gives me a long slow wink, a wink that says,
“Come on over here, you lucky boy.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Preface to Leaves of Grass
WALT WHITMAN (1819-1892)

This is what you shall do;
love the earth and sun and the animals,
despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labour to others,
hate tyrants,
argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people,
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown
or to any man or number of men,
go freely with powerful uneducated persons
and with the young
and with the mothers of families,
read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life,
re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book,
dismiss whatever insults your own soul,
and your very flesh shall be a great poem
and have the richest fluency not only in its words
but in the silent lines of its lips and face
and between the lashes of your eyes
and in every motion and joint of your body.

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Chorus
by Gillian Wegener

Listen: there are those of us from somewhere else,
the names of birthplaces, of hometowns,
under our skin, tattoos always felt, never seen.
We live here now, though we always meant to leave.

And there are those of us who were born here,
passing the landmarks of our lives so often
we don’t think about them. We never meant to stay.
This place was marked as just for now, as stepping stone,
as temporary on our well-drawn maps.
But for one reason or another, years pass
and we find ourselves hot-stepping with jobs and kids
and this and that and a million little possessions.

Now, the kids say they want to move away. They point
their faces the same directions our faces used to point.
We’ll let them go, of course, knowing more of them
than they think will come back, and that various wayfarers
too will stop for lunch and find themselves
staying for years’ worth of dinners. They will all
find themselves here with the earth spreading
out around them, whispering a welcome
they will be more than a little surprised to hear.

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On Closing the Apartment of my Grandparents of Blessed Memory
by Robyn Sarah

And then I stood for the last time in that room.
The key was in my hand. I held my ground,
and listened to the quiet that was like a sound,
and saw how the long sun of winter afternoon
fell slantwise on the floorboards, making bloom
the grain in the blond wood. (All that they owned
was once contained here.) At the window moaned
a splinter of wind. I would be going soon.

I would be going soon; but first I stood,
hearing the years turn in that emptied place
whose fullness echoed. Whose familiar smell,
of a tranquil life, lived simply, clung like a mood
or a long-loved melody there. A lingering grace.
Then I locked up, and rang the janitor’s bell.

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The Drink
Ron Padgett
I am always interested in the people in films who have just had a drink
thrown in their faces. Sometimes they react with uncontrollable rage,
but sometimes—my favourites—they do not change their expressions at
all. Instead they raise a handkerchief or napkin and calmly dab at the
offending liquid, as the hurler jumps to her feet and storms away. The
other people at the table are understandably uncomfortable. A woman
leans over and places her hand on the sleeve of the man’s jacket and
says, “David, you know she didn’t mean it.” David answers, “Yes,” but
in an ambiguous tone—the perfect adult response. But now the orchestra
has resumed its amiable and lively dance music, and the room is set in
motion as before. Out in the parking lot, however, Elizabeth is setting
fire to David’s car. Yes, this is a contemporary film.

To Boredom
Charles Simic

I’m the child of rainy Sundays.
I watched time crawl
Like an injured fly
Over the wet windowpane.
Or waited for a branch
On a tree to stop shaking,
While Grandmother knitted
Making a ball of yarn
Roll over like a kitten at her feet.
I knew every clock in the house
Had stopped ticking
And that this day will last forever.

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The New Criticism
PAUL HOSTOVSKY

My stepdaughter
says I’m boring.
“Everything you say
is boring and like
so seventies.” Her mother
says I’m wonderful, though.
“She’s being fresh. Don’t
listen to her,” she says.
But I can’t help listening
because I want to be
fresh and not boring,
and I want to say ‘like’
like my stepdaughter
because everything
is like something, not
exactly but sort of.
And she’s so contemporary
and provocative and like
alive. She knows all the new
neologisms and would
never use neologism
in a poem. Like ever.

Poem for a Daughter

Anne Stevenson

‘I think I’m going to have it,’
I said, joking between pains.
The midwife rolled competent
sleeves over corpulent milky arms.
‘Dear, you never have it,
we deliver it.’
A judgement the years proved true.
Certainly I’ve never had you

as you still have me, Caroline.
Why does a mother need a daughter?
Heart’s needle, hostage to fortune,
freedom’s end. Yet nothing’s more perfect
than that bleating, razor-shaped cry
that delivers a mother to her baby.
The bloodcord snaps that held
their sphere together. The child,
tiny and alone, creates the mother.

A woman’s life is her own
until it is taken away
by a first, particular cry.
Then she is not alone
but a part of the premises
of everything there is:
a time, a tribe, a war.
When we belong to the world
we become what we are.

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A Thunderstorm In Town
THOMAS HARDY (1840-1928)

She wore a new ‘terra-cotta’ dress,
And we stayed, because of the pelting storm,
Within the hansom’s* dry recess,
Though the horse had stopped; yea, motionless
We sat on, snug and warm.

Then the downpour ceased, to my sharp sad pain,
And the glass that had screened our forms before
Flew up, and out she sprang to her door:
I should have kissed her if the rain
Had lasted a minute more.

 * a two-wheeled horse-drawn cab accommodating two inside, with the driver seated behind.

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Gravy
RAYMOND CARVER (1938-1988)

No other word will do. For that’s what it was. Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”
he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure gravy. And don’t forget it.”

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The Bright Field
R S THOMAS (1913-2000)

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

In the first section of this poem Thomas borrows the images Jesus used to describe what it could mean to someone who grasped the feeling of belonging to His kingdom. “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls; when he finds one of great value he goes and sells everything he owns and buys it … [it’s] like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off happy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.” (Mathew 13: 44-45)

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It Is Here

(for A)*

What sound was that?

I turn away, into the shaking room.

What was that sound that came in on the dark?
What is this maze of light it leaves us in?
What is this stance we take,
To turn away and then turn back?
What did we hear?

It was the breath we took when we first met.

Listen. It is here.

Harold Pinter (1930-2008)

*Pinter dedicated this poem to his wife Lady Antonia Fraser, with whom he began a 33-year long relationship in 1975. Here, in a poem written in 1990, he looks back to their first meeting and imagines a long-term love with her overseen by the ghost of the first breath they shared.

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Woman with a Hole in Her Stocking
Anya Krugovoy Silver

Such a universal female gesture,
a woman grabbing the seam of her stocking,
tugging it forward over the exposed toe,
tucking it under her foot so the tear won’t show.
There’s something graceful and humble
about the way she will balance, crane-like,
on one foot, cradling the other in her hand,
her back bent, her face tilted downward,
trying to hide the damage of the splintered
floorboard, or untrimmed toenail.
Sometimes, while she’s leaning over,
a strand will float loose from its ponytail.
Then she’ll stand, re-combing her hair
with her hands, repair after tiny repair.

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Diagnosis
by Sharon Olds

By the time I was six months old, she knew something
was wrong with me. I got looks on my face
she had not seen on any child
in the family, or the extended family,
or the neighbourhood. My mother took me in
to the paediatrician with the kind hands,
a doctor with a name like a suit size for a wheel:
Hub Long. My mom did not tell him
what she thought in truth, that I was Possessed.
It was just these strange looks on my face—
he held me, and conversed with me
chatting as one does with a baby, and my mother
said, She’s doing it now! Look!
She’s doing it now! and the doctor said,
What your daughter has
is called a sense
of humour. Ohhh, she said, and took me
back to the house where that sense would be tested
and found to be incurable.

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Folding My Clothes
JULIA ALVAREZ
Tenderly she would take them down and fold
the arms in and fold again where my back
should go until she made a small
tight square of my chest, a knot of socks
where my feet blossomed into toes,
a stack of denim from the waist down,
my panties strictly packed into the size
of handkerchiefs on which no trace
of tears showed. All of me under control.

But there was tenderness, the careful matching
of arm to arm, the smoothing of wrinkles,
every button buttoned on the checkered blouse
I disobeyed in. There was sweet order
in those scented drawers, party dresses
perfect as pictures in the back of the closet—
until I put them on, breathing life back
into those abstract shapes of who I was
which she found so much easier to love.

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My Father, Dying
Joyce Sutphen

It was hard work, dying, harder
than anything he’d ever done.

Whatever brutal, bruising, back-
breaking chore he’d forced himself

to endure—it was nothing
compared to this. And it took

so long. When would the job
be over? Who would call him

home for supper? And it was
hard for us (his children)—

all of our lives we’d heard
my mother telling us to go out,

help your father, but this
was work we could not do.

He was way out beyond us,
in a field we could not reach.

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When I Am Old
MOYRA DONALDSON

I’ll have dewlaps and a hump and say what all the time
in a cross voice: on every one of my bony crony fingers
a ring. My lips painted with a slash of bright fuchsia,
I’ll drink margaritas by the tumbler full and if my dealer
dies before I do, I’ll just have to look for younger suppliers.
I can’t imagine not being interested in sex, but if it happens,
so be it, really I could do with a rest, complete hormonelessness.
I may forget who I am and how to find my way home, but be
patient, remember I’ve always been more than a little confused
and never did have much of a sense of direction. If I’m completely
demented, I’m depending on friends: you know who you are.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A True Story

by Jennifer Maier

An old man was dying in the hospital,
my friend the doctor told me.

He was eighty-nine, his whole life a tailor in a shop
below the room where he was born.

He had no one, so a kind aide from Ghana
sat with him, one hand in his

the other holding her sandwich. The waves
on the monitor slowed. His heart

was a small red boat on the long tide
going out. At the end he opened

his eyes. Cool air, Cool air, he said, and because it
was the twelfth floor, the windows sealed,

the aide leans over and exhales softly on the top of
his head, to ruffle his hair a bit,

and they stay like that for a few minutes until
he dies, his face turned to the breeze.

That was a long time ago. My friend is gone;
the hospital’s become a vacant lot.

Some nights I wake with those words in my ear,
unsure if they’re the plea of the old Jew

or the answering breath of the African woman,
or the beautiful lie that binds them,

like a dart and a seam; the cold clarity of glass
and the wide blue draft beyond.

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The Mower
by Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In an Iridescent Time
by Ruth Stone

My mother, when young, scrubbed laundry in a tub,
She and her sisters on an old brick walk
Under the apple trees, sweet rub-a-dub.
The bees came round their heads, the wrens made talk.
Four young ladies each with a rainbow board
Honed their knuckles, wrung their wrists to red,
Tossed back their braids and wiped their aprons wet.
The Jersey calf beyond the back fence roared;
And all the soft day, swarms about their pet
Buzzed at his big brown eyes and bullish head.
Four times they rinsed, they said. Some things they
starched,
Then shook them from the baskets two by two,
And pinned the fluttering intimacies of life
Between the lilac bushes and the yew:
Brown gingham, pink, and skirts of Alice blue.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The New Song
W S MERWIN 1929-

For some time I thought there was time
and that there would always be time
for what I had a mind to do
and what I could imagine
going back to and finding it
as I had found it the first time
but by this time I do not know
what I thought when I thought back then

here is no time yet it grows less
there is the sound of rain at night
arriving unknown in the leaves
once without before or after
then I hear the thrush waking
at daybreak singing the new song

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A Prayer in Spring
by ROBERT FROST (1874-1963)

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid-air stands still.

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Harmony in the Boudoir

by MARK STRAND (1934-2014)

After years of marriage, he stands at the foot of the bed and
tells his wife that she will never know him, that for everything
he says there is more that he does not say, that behind each
word he utters there is another word, and hundreds more be-
hind that one. All those unsaid words, he says, contain his true
self, which has been betrayed by the superficial self before her.
“So you see,” he says, kicking off his slippers, “I am more than
what I have led you to believe I am.” “Oh, you silly man,” says
his wife, “of course you are. I find that just thinking of you
having so many selves receding into nothingness is very excit-
ing. That you barely exist as you are couldn’t please me more.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Loveliest of Trees

A E HOUSMAN (1859-1936)

 Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

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Happy the Man
JOHN DRYDEN (1631-1700)

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul or rain or shine
The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not Heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Acquainted with the Night
ROBERT FROST (1874-1963)

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain – and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-by;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

The ‘night’ in this poem is most likely a metaphor for depression, despair and loneliness. While the poem could be about anyone who has gone through difficult times, Frost himself was no stranger to despair. He lost two sons, one through suicide, and two daughters when young. Another developed mental illness. Family stresses over a number of years induced depression and black moods. Here the narrator describes his loneliness as he walks the isolated city streets at night. He has walked beyond the city limits and along every city lane, but has never found anything to comfort him in his depression. Even when he makes contact with another person (such as the watchman), the narrator is unwilling to express his feelings because he knows that no one will understand him. At one point he hears a cry from a nearby street, but realizes that it is not meant for him; no one is waiting for him. He looks up at the moon in the sky and acknowledges that time has no meaning for him because his isolation is unending.

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For Mother’s Day …

What is Supposed to Happen
by NAOMI SHIHAB NYE

When you were small,
we watched you sleeping,
waves of breath
filling your chest.
Sometimes we hid behind
the wall of baby, soft cradle
of baby needs.
I loved carrying you between
my own body and the world.

Now you are sharpening pencils,
entering the forest of
lunch boxes, little desks.
People I never saw before
call out your name
and you wave.

This loss I feel,
this shrinking,
as your field of roses
grows and grows ….

Now I understand history.
Now I understand my mother’s
ancient eyes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In anticipation of Mother’s Day (next Sunday) …

At the Diamond School of Dance
by Jon Loomis

It’s me and the mothers, out in the foyer.
Linoleum floors, knotty-pine, late ’50s rumpus room-
long row of trophies, blue ribbons on a shelf.

I’m here with my daughter, who’s four.
Who, because no one gives princess lessons,
has opted for dancing. She likes the tutus, the tap shoes,

the tights. The teachers are kind.
They’re graceful as egrets, strong in the thighs.
We chitchat, the mothers and I. We futz with our phones.

We’re large, rooted like silos.
Chopin leaks from the studio: a nocturne, full of rain.
The little girls dance-plié, sashay, arabesque-

earnest as death, as if nothing
was ever so hard, or mattered so much. Mothers!
Let us rush in and embrace them! Let us snatch them

up to our great bosoms, and never tell them the truth.

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To mark St Patrick’s Day on Friday, here is a poem by Patrick Kavanagh, an Irish poet and novelist. His best-known works include the novel “Tarry Flynn”, and the poems “On Raglan Road” and “The Great Hunger”. He is known for his accounts of Irish life through reference to the everyday and commonplace.

 Having Confessed
PATRICK KAVANAGH (1904-1967)

Having confessed he feels
That he should go down on his knees and pray
For forgiveness for his pride, for having
Dared to view his soul from the outside.
Lie at the heart of the emotion, time
Has its own work to do. We must not anticipate
Or awaken for a moment. God cannot catch us
Unless we stay in the unconscious room
Of our hearts. We must be nothing,
Nothing that God may make us something.
We must not touch the immortal material
We must not daydream to-morrow’s judgement-
God must be allowed to surprise us.
We have sinned, sinned like Lucifer
By this anticipation. Let us lie down again
Deep in anonymous humility and God
May find us worthy material for His hand.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lucky
KIRSTEN DIERKING

All this time,
the life you were
supposed to live
has been rising around you
like the walls of a house
designed with warm
harmonious lines.

As if you had actually
planned it that way.

As if you had
stacked up bricks
at random,
and built by mistake
a lucky star.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

VIII – from “Twelve Songs”
W H AUDEN (1907-1973)

At last the secret is out, as it always must come in the end,
The delicious story is ripe to tell to the intimate friend;
Over the tea-cups and in the square the tongue has its desire;
Still waters run deep, my dear, there’s never smoke without fire.

Behind the corpse in the reservoir, behind the ghost on the links,
Behind the lady who dances and the man who madly drinks,
Under the look of fatigue, the attack of migraine and the sigh
There is always another story, there is more than meets the eye.

For the clear voice suddenly singing, high up in the convent wall,
The scent of the elder bushes, the sporting prints in the hall,
The croquet matches in summer, the handshake, the cough, the kiss,
There is always a wicked secret, a private reason for this.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Woodcutter Changes His Mind
DAVID BUDHILL

When I was young, I cut the bigger, older trees for firewood, the ones
with heart rot, dead and broken branches, the crippled and deformed

ones, because, I reasoned, they were going to fall soon anyway, and
therefore, I should give the younger trees more light and room to grow.

Now I’m older and I cut the younger, strong and sturdy, solid
and beautiful trees, and I let the older ones have a few more years

of light and water and leaf in the forest they have known so long.
Soon enough they will be prostrate on the ground.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here is a poem about lasting love. Millay names it “Modern Declaration” probably because her metaphors are all drawn from modern life – wars, politics, clergy, critics, chiropractors, job interviews- and are plainly stated. The last part of the poem takes us back to the first line and makes the simple statement behind the elongated verse: “I have loved very few things in my life but I have always been true to them, so when I say I love you, I mean forever.”  She acknowledges the cares and concerns of modern life and says that “yes, these exist, but my love for you is better than that”.

Modern Declaration
EDNA ST VINCENT MILLAY (1892-1950)

I, having loved ever since I was a child a few things, never having
wavered
In these affections; never through shyness in the houses of the
rich or in the presence of clergymen having denied these
loves;
Never when worked upon by cynics like chiropractors having
grunted or clicked a vertebra to the discredit of those loves;
Never when anxious to land a job having diminished them by a
conniving smile; or when befuddled by drink
Jeered at them through heartache or lazily fondled the fingers of
their alert enemies; declare

That I shall love you always.
No matter what party is in power;
No matter what temporarily expedient combination of allied
interests wins the war;
Shall love you always.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Couple
LOUISE JENKINS

They no longer sleep quite as well as they did
when they were younger. He lies awake thinking
of things that happened years ago, turning
uncomfortably from time to time, pulling on the

blankets. She worries about money. First one
and then the other is awake during the night,
in shifts as if keeping watch, though they can’t
see very much in the dark and it’s quiet. They
are sentries at some outpost, an abandoned fort
somewhere in the middle of the Great Plains
where only the wind is a regular visitor. Each
stands guard in the wilderness of an imagined
life in which the other sleeps untroubled.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nothing Is Lost
NOEL COWARD (1899-1973)

Deep in our sub-conscious, we are told
Lie all our memories, lie all the notes
Of all the music we have ever heard
And all the phrases those we loved have spoken,
Sorrows and losses time has since consoled,
Family jokes, out-moded anecdotes
Each sentimental souvenir and token
Everything seen, experienced, each word
Addressed to us in infancy, before
Before we could even know or understand
The implications of our wonderland.
There they all are, the legendary lies
The birthday treats, the sights, the sounds, the tears
Forgotten debris of forgotten years
Waiting to be recalled, waiting to rise
Before our world dissolves before our eyes
Waiting for some small, intimate reminder,
A word, a tune, a known familiar scent
An echo from the past when, innocent
We looked upon the present with delight
And doubted not the future would be kinder
And never knew the loneliness of night.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Still, I Give Thanks
MARIE REYNOLDS
Day fourteen in the radiation waiting room
and the elderly man sitting next to me
says he gives thanks every day because
he can still roll over and climb out of bed.
We wear the same cotton gowns—repeating
pattern of gold stars on a field of blue—that gape
in back, leaving our goose bump flesh exposed.
Lately, I too, give thanks for the things I can do—
sit, stand, take my next breath. Thanks for my feet,
my fingers, the ears on my head. I give thanks
for the scrub jay’s audacious cries outside
my window at dawn. He is a hungry soul,
forever foraging to feed his mortal appetite.
Like him, I want more of everything: more light,
more life, another cup of Darjeeling tea and a silver
teaspoon to stir it with. I want to see my mother again,
before the winter settles in, and when she’s gone,
I want her porcelain Madonna. I want my doctor
to use the word “cure” just once. Each day, supine
on the table, I listen to the razoring whine
of the radiation beam. It hurts to lie still,
the table sharp as an ice floe beneath the bones
of my spine. Still, I give thanks for the hands
that position me, their measurements and marking
pens, the grid of green light that slides like silk
across my skin. I close my eyes and think
of the jay. We wear the same raiment: blood, bone,
muscle. Most days I still feel joy. I give thanks
for that bird, too—invisible feathers, invisible wings—
a quickening, felt deep within the body, vigorous and fleeting.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Master,
Let your grace,
Lightsome as a snowflake,
Settle on us.

Kevin Nichols (1929 – 2006)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1960 ~ by Billy Collins

In the old joke,
the marriage counsellor
tells the couple who never talks anymore
to go to a jazz club because at a jazz club
everyone talks during the bass solo.

But of course, no one starts talking
just because of a bass solo
or any other solo for that matter.

The quieter bass solo just reveals
the people in the club
who have been talking all along,
the same ones you can hear
on some well-known recordings.

Bill Evans, for example,
who is opening a new door into the piano
while some guy chats up his date
at one of the little tables in the back.

I have listened to that album
so many times I can anticipate the moment
of his drunken laugh
as if it were a strange note in the tune.

And so, anonymous man,
you have become part of my listening,
your romance a romance lost in the past

and a reminder somehow
that each member of that trio has died since then
and maybe so have you and, sadly, maybe she.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Christmas Light

MAY SARTON

When everyone had gone
I sat in the library
With the small silent tree,
She and I alone.
How softly she shone!

And for the first time then
For the first time this year,
I felt reborn again,
I knew love’s presence near.

Love distant, love detached
And strangely without weight,
Was with me in the night
When everyone had gone
And the garland of pure light
Stayed on, stayed on.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

BC:AD

U A FANTHORPE (1929-2009)

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 I Am Joseph

 U A FANTHORPE (1929-2009)

 I am Joseph, carpenter,
Of David’s kingly line,
I wanted an heir; discovered
My wife’s son wasn’t mine.

I am an obstinate lover,
Loved Mary for better or worse.
Wouldn’t stop loving when I found
Someone Else came first.

Mine was the likeness I hoped for
When the first-born man-child came.
But nothing of him was me. I couldn’t
Even choose his name.

I am Joseph, who wanted
To teach my own boy how to live.
My lesson to my foster son:
Endure. Love. Give.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My Daughter at 14: Christmas Dance

MARIA MAZZIOTTI GILLAN

Panic in your face, you write questions
to ask him. When he arrives,
you are serene, your fear
unbetrayed. How unlike me you are.

After the dance,
I see your happiness; he holds
your hand. Though you barely speak,
your body pulses messages I can read

all too well. He kisses you goodnight,
his body moving toward yours, and yours
responding. I am frightened, guard my
tongue for fear my mother will pop out

of my mouth. “He is not shy.” You giggle,
a little girl again, but you tell me he
kissed you on the dance floor. “Once?”
I ask. “No, a lot.”

We ride through the rain-shining 1 A.M.
streets. I bite back words which long
to be said, knowing I must not shatter your
moment, fragile as a spun-glass bird,

you, the moment, poised on the edge of
flight, and I, on the ground, afraid.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Theologian

KEVIN NICHOLS 1929-2006

Being young he spoke of atonement, drew
In exact and confidant graphs
The economy of salvation.
Preaching this seamless order he left
No crevice, no escape; it was this
Or it was Judas’ step into the dark.

Grown old now, God, he perseveres,
Student of the geography of your grace,
Found coded in the chaos of love
And even at the edge of death’s confusion.
You are here, God says, to repent
Those sermons; you are here to sit
Mute in the cruciform shadow
Of a love ample as daylight.

Kevin Nichols, composer of the hymn ‘In Bread We Bring You, Lord’, was a priest of this diocese and a poet of considerable merit. ‘Theologian’ was written in 2005 when he was dying and still resident at St Mary’s Cathedral in Newcastle. Here he looks back on his early years as a priest when there was certainty and rigidity in the Church’s presentation of our faith. Now, in sickness, ‘at the edge of death’s confusion’, he is no longer a teacher but a student, learning the true meaning of the Cross and God’s grace.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Vaulting Horse

PAUL PRIEST*

Fear death?
If I had Galahad’s sword
Or a Browning automatic rifle
I could face down this bogey
Like an insignificant trifle.
But when I see
my muscles turning to spaghetti,
my bones to water,
my brain a drifting cloud,
my heart a swamp of terror,
my manly courage, such as it is, melts away.
But not so much that I entirely lose hold
Of my firmly implanted old belief
That life is wonderful beyond belief.
I can do nothing but cry
“Help! Help! Help! Help! Help! Help!
Have mercy on me, grant me to have it on others,
That we may all vault together
Across the friendly monster
Into the reflective peace
Of God’s own looking-glass country.”

*written in July 2015, three weeks before he died in a hospice.

Servants
FAITH SHEARIN

In college I read about Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton
and I thought of their great minds and their long dresses
and their gilded friendships which involved tea

in the library or on the lawn. I thought of the places
they travelled and the weight of their trunks
and all the ways their marriages did or did not

please them. I thought of the dogs that followed
at their heels and the rooms and gardens they
decorated and the beaches where they

carried umbrellas. But I never once thought of
their servants. I didn’t think of the cook who
woke up to make the fires of morning or the maids

who stood over a pot of hot soap, stirring the day.
I did not think of how someone dressed them
and scrubbed their floors, how someone

brought their dinner on a tray. It was years before
I knew they had them at all: invisible, unremembered,
people who gave their lives to drudgery. Now I

can barely write or finish a book for all the housework
and errands, now I think of them: knocking dust
from the curtains, carrying the rugs outside

each spring so they could beat them with a broom.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Invictus
WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY (1849-1903)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wallpapering

SUE ELLEN THOMPSON

My parents argued over wallpaper. Would stripes
make the room look larger? He
would measure, cut, and paste; she’d swipe
the flaws out with her brush. Once it was properly
hung, doubt would set in. Would the floral
have been a better choice? Then it would grow
until she was certain: it had to go. Divorce
terrified me as a child. I didn’t know

what led to it, but I had my suspicions.
The stripes came down. Up went
the flowers. Eventually it became my definition
of marriage: bad choices, arguments

whose victors time refused to tell,
but everything done together and done well.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What if you slept …
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE (1772-1834)

What if you slept?
And what if,
In your sleep,
You dreamed?
And what if,
In your dream,
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower?
And what if,
When you awoke,
You had that flower in your hand?
Ah, what then?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Original Sin
LAWRENCE RAAB

That was one idea my mother
always disliked. She preferred her god
to be reasonable, like Emerson or Thoreau
without their stranger moments.
Even the Old Testament God’s
sudden angers and twisted ways
of getting what he wanted she’d accept
as metaphor. But original sin
was different. Plus no one agreed
if it was personal, meaning
all Adam’s fault, or else some kind
of temporary absence of the holy,
which was Adam’s fault as well.
In any case, it made no sense
that we’d need to be saved before
we’d even had the chance
to be wrong. Yes, eventually everyone
falls into error, but when my sister and I
were babies she could see we were perfect,
as we opened our eyes and gazed up at her
with what she took for granted as love,
long before either of us knew the word
and what damage it could cause.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Future Plans
KATE BARNES

When I am an old, old woman I may very well be
living all alone like many another before me
and I rather look forward to the day when I shall have
a tumbledown house on a hill top and behave
just as I wish to. No more need to be proud—
at the tag end of life one is at last allowed
to be answerable to no one. Then I shall wear
a shapeless felt hat clapped on over my white hair,
sneakers with holes for the toes, and a ragged dress.
My house shall be always in a deep-drifted mess,
my overgrown garden a jungle. I shall keep a crew
of cats and dogs, with perhaps a goat or two
for my agate-eyed familiars. And what delight
I shall take in the vagaries of day and night,
in the wind in the branches, in the rain on the roof!
I shall toss like an old leaf, weather-mad, without reproof.
I’ll wake when I please, and when I please I shall doze;
whatever I think, I shall say; and I suppose
that with such a habit of speech I’ll be let well alone
to mumble plain truth like an old dog with a bare bone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sonnet 73

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 1564-1616

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by-and-by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

 This sonnet uses autumnal imagery to reflect the coming of old age, although Shakespeare was probably only in his early thirties (if that) when he wrote the poem. Applying human emotions to parts of nature (‘autumn’ in this case) is known in literary terms as a ‘pathetic fallacy’, a definition first created by John Ruskin in the mid-1880s.  The poem’s reference to ‘bare ruined choirs’ is generally understood as a reference to the Dissolution of the Monasteries under the reign of King Henry VIII.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Clara: In the Post Office
LINDA HASSELSTROM

I keep telling you, I’m not a feminist.
I grew up an only child on a ranch,
so I drove tractors, learned to ride.
When the truck wouldn’t start, I went to town
for parts. The man behind the counter
told me I couldn’t rebuild a carburettor.
I could: every carburettor on the place. That’s
necessity, not feminism.
I learned to do the books
after my husband left me and the debts
and the children. I shovelled snow and pitched hay
when the hired man didn’t come to work.
I learned how to pull a calf
when the vet was too busy. As I thought,
the cow did most of it herself; they’ve been
birthing alone for ten thousand years. Does
that make them feminists?
It’s not
that I don’t like men; I love them—when I can.
But I’ve stopped counting on them
to change my flats or open my doors.
That’s not feminism; that’s just good sense.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Cloths of Heaven

W B YEATS (1865-1939)

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

The message is straightforward, and a perennial one in poetry (and, indeed, song lyrics). The speaker, addressing his lover or would-be lover, says: if I were a rich man, I’d give you the world and all its treasures. If I were a god, I could take the heavenly sky and make a blanket out of it for you. But I’m only a poor man, and obviously the idea of making the sky into a blanket is silly and out of the question, so all I have of any worth are my dreams. And dreams are delicate and vulnerable – hence ‘Tread softly’. (www.interestingliterature.com)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Windows is Shutting Down

CLIVE JAMES

Windows is shutting down, and grammar are
On their last leg. So what am we to do?
A letter of complaint go just so far,
Proving the only one in step are you.

Better, perhaps, to simply let it goes.
A sentence have to be screwed pretty bad
Before they gets to where you doesnt knows
The meaning what it must be meant to had.

The meteor have hit. Extinction spread,
But evolution do not stop for that.
A mutant languages rise from the dead
And all them rules is suddenly old hat.

Too bad for we, us what has had so long
The best seat from the only game in town.
But there it am, and whom can say its wrong?
Those are the break. Windows is shutting down.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What the Doctor Said

RAYMOND CARVER (1938-1988)

He said it doesn’t look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them
I said I’m glad I wouldn’t want to know
about any more being there than that
he said are you a religious man do you kneel down
in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
when you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
I said not yet but I intend to start today
he said I’m real sorry he said
I wish I had some other kind of news to give you
I said Amen and he said something else
I didn’t catch and not knowing what else to do
and not wanting him to have to repeat it
and me to have to fully digest it
I just looked at him
for a minute and he looked back it was then
I jumped up and shook hands with this man who’d just given me
something no one else on earth had ever given me
I may have even thanked him habit being so strong

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cross
MARGARET HASSE

At concerts that I did not want to attend with my mother,
I learned to practice any number of nuisances possible in a
place of silence. I wore a cross to vex my mother, a Unitarian,
then ran the pendant back and forth along my necklace chain
like a loud zipper. During a pianissimo passage I unwrapped
waxy paper from a caramel, then coughed as if feathers tickled
my throat.

I’m paying for past trespasses now.

To my own teenage child, I have become the Grand Annoyer.
When I ask him how school went today or please pass the
butter, I annoy him because it’s none of my business, because
I don’t need butter, you already weigh too much. When I
laugh, I irritate him by showing my teeth. I bother him when
I’m sitting around in my pyjamas—he hates the colour pink;
it looks annoying on me. And when I wear polish on my
fingernails, he says my hands are dipped in blood, and when
I leave my nails alone, the pale bare hands look like dough
especially when they reach out to hug him, which constitutes
unwanted touch—and, he says, what is your problem anyhow?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Young Couple at Mass
ALBERT GARCIA

At Mass the just-married couple
hold hands in the pew. New to the parish,
they sit in front of an elderly pair,
soapy scent of a 40-year marriage,
and behind a family whose eight-year-old
leans under the seats to stare
at the many ankles and shoes.

They feel noticeable, awkward—
familiar amid the statue
of the Virgin and stations of the cross,
yet objects of the faithful eyes
around them. It’s true. At the base
of her neck and just below the short sleeves
of her blouse, her skin
blooms tan and healthy. It’s too much.
The mother of four three pews back
and across the aisle senses
something indecent in that sun-blonde hair
and the way their shoulders touch.

When they stand for Communion,
the young man places his hand
on the small of his wife’s back
to usher her into the aisle.
Square shoulders and crewcut,
he walks in line just inches behind her.
Despite the choir, she hears him breathing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Young and Old
CHARLES KINGSLEY (1819-1875)

When all the world is young, lad,
And all the trees are green;
And every goose a swan, lad,
And every lass a queen;
Then hey for boot and horse, lad,
And round the world away;
Young blood must have its course, lad,
And every dog his day.

When all the world is old, lad,
And all the trees are brown;
And all the sport is stale, lad,
And all the wheels run down;
Creep home, and take your place there,
The spent and maimed among:
God grant you find one face there,
You loved when all was young.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On Turning Thirty
BY JEN LEVITT

No one microwaves leftovers, we order in.
I haven’t prayed since 1996.
In temple the cantor was always tuning her guitar
& the metal folding chairs squeaked.
Is hypnosis dead?
I feel about as sexual as a frying pan.
At this age Sylvia had sheaves of poems,
two kids &—
my aura drips like a sieve.
According to the internet, the small ache
in our chest derives from artificial sweeteners,
anxiety, too much aptitude.
Better that than bad genes or apathy.
I wish I thought I’d be married by now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gratitude List
BY LAURA FOLEY

Praise be this morning for sleeping late,
the sandy sheets, the ocean air,
the midnight storm that blew its waters in.
Praise be the morning swim, mid-tide,
the clear sands underneath our feet,
the dogs who leap into the waves,
their fur, sticky with salt,
the ball we throw again and again.
Praise be the green tea with honey,
the bread we dip in finest olive oil,
the eggs we fry. Praise be the reeds,
gold and pink in the summer light,
the sand between our toes,
our swimsuits, flapping in the breeze.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

His Elderly Father as a Young Man
BY LEO DANGEL

This happened before I met your mother:
I took Jennie Johanson to a summer dance,
and she sent me a letter, a love letter,
I guess, even if the word love wasn’t in it.
She wrote that she had a good time
and didn’t want the night to end.
At home, she lay down on her bed
but stayed awake, listening to the songs
of morning birds outside her window.
I read that letter a hundred times
and kept it in a cigar box
with useless things I had saved:
a pocket knife with an imitation pearl handle
and a broken blade,
a harmonica I never learned to play,
one cuff link, an empty rifle shell.

When your mother and I got married,
I threw the letter away—
if I had kept it, she might wonder.
But I wanted to keep it
and even thought about hiding places,
maybe in the barn or the tool shed;
but what if it were ever found?
I knew of no way to explain why
I would keep such letter, much less
why I would take the trouble to hide it.
Jennie had gone to California
not long after that dance.
I pretty much got over
wanting to see her just once more,
but I wish I could have kept the letter,
even though I know it by heart.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To the Virgins to Make Much of Time
BY ROBERT HERRICK (1591-1654)

Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the Sun,
The higher he’s a-getting
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times, still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time;
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cinderella’s Diary
BY RON KOERTGE

I miss my stepmother. What a thing to say,
but it’s true. The prince is so boring: four
hours to dress and then the cheering throngs.
Again. The page who holds the door is cute
enough to eat. Where is he once Mr. Charming
kisses my forehead goodnight?

 

Every morning I gaze out a casement window
at the hunters, dark men with blood on their
boots who joke and mount, their black trousers
straining, rough beards, calloused hands, selfish,
abrupt…

Oh, dear diary—I am lost in ever after:
those insufferable birds, someone in every
room with a lute, the queen calling me to look
at another painting of her son, this time
holding the transparent slipper I wish
I’d never seen.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Choice
BY JO McDOUGALL

You’ve come to the oncologist’s office
to talk about your options.
You view the scans,

forgetting to breathe.
“It’s metastasized.” He frowns,
pointing to where and where.

He ticks off the preferred treatment,
the side effects,
low rates of success.

“It’s your choice,” he says,
closing your folder,
“but we need to start tomorrow.”

You think of yesterday
when you lived in a different universe,
of a waitress,
hand on her hip, asking,

“Hon, you want mustard or mayo
on that sandwich?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

String Theory
RONALD WALLACE

I have to believe a Beethoven
string quartet is not unlike
the elliptical music of gossip:
one violin excited
to pass its small story along
to the next violin and the next
until, finally, come full circle,
the whole conversation is changed.

And I have to believe such music
is at work at the deep heart of things,
that under the protons and electrons,
behind the bosons and quarks,
with their bonds and strange attractors,
these strings, these tiny vibrations,
abuzz with their big ideas,
are filling the universe with gossip,
the unsung art of small talk

that, not unlike busybody Beethoven,
keeps us forever together, even
when everything’s flying apart.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

At the Children’s Violin Concert
SUSAN CATALDO

Firmly bowed
strands of horse hair
tightened or
gathered up by
a small hand to play
a piece by J.S. Bach
who drank 36 cups of coffee every day.

I like him because he was
inspired by his belief in God
& he played the organ in a church
in Leipzig & he walked on
cobblestone streets to his home
every evening where he fathered
many children & wrote music
for his wife to clean house by.
He worked hard all his life
& when he died, he left us
all the little notes he made
for himself while he was alone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

 For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid
WILLIAM STAFFORD

There is a country to cross you will
find in the corner of your eye, in
the quick slip of your foot—air far
down, a snap that might have caught.
And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing
voice that finds its way by being
afraid. That country is there, for us,
carried as it is crossed. What you fear
will not go away: it will take you into
yourself and bless you and keep you.
That’s the world, and we all live there.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A Life

MICHELLE  Y  BURKE

Each afternoon he took his pipe
and led his goats beyond the pasture
to a neighbour’s field behind his farm—
not exactly his but not exactly not.

As the goats dipped the tall grasses,
he sat in the chair he never failed
to bring. Sometimes he read, most often
not. The vetch climbed the goldenrod,

the dandelions turned from gold
to globe, and every day he went,
thinking to himself how good it was
to be almost but not entirely alone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Danger of Wisdom
JACK GILBERT

We learn to live without passion.
To be reasonable. We go hungry
amid the giant granaries
this world is. We store up plenty
for when we are old and mild.
It is our strength that deprives us.
Like Keats listening to the doctor
who said the best thing for
tuberculosis was to eat only one
slice of bread and a fragment
of fish each day. Keats starved
himself to death because he yearned
so desperately to feast on Fanny Brawne.
Emerson and his wife decided to make
love sparingly in order to accumulate
his passion. We are taught to be
moderate. To live intelligently.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Blessings

occur.
Some days I find myself
putting my foot in
the same stream twice;
leading a horse to water
and making him drink.
I have a clue.
I can see the forest
for the trees.

All around me people
are making silk purses
out of sows’ ears,
getting blood from turnips,
building Rome in a day.
There’s a business
like show business.
There’s something new
under the sun.
Some days misery
no longer loves company;
it puts itself out of its.
There’s rest for the weary.

There’s turning back.
There are guarantees.
I can be serious.
I can mean that.
You can quite
put your finger on it.
Some days I know
I am long for this world.
I can go home again.
And when I go
I can
take it with me.

Ronald Wallace

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver (b.1935)

Who made this world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Praying

Mary Oliver (b.1935)

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A Poem for Someone Who is Juggling Her Life

This is a poem for someone
who is juggling her life.
Be still sometimes.
Be still sometimes.

It needs repeating
over and over
to catch her attention
over and over,
as someone who is juggling her life
finds it difficult to hear.

Be still sometimes.
Be still sometimes.
Let it all fall sometimes.

Rose Cook
(‘Notes From a Bright Field’, Cultured Llama, 2013)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Uses of Sorrow
MARY OLIVER

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

With Their Wings
JEAN NORDHAUS

On the evening you were born,
after the tremendous churning
that brought you forth, an owl
flew onto the rail of the balcony
where we sat, as darkness bled
from backlit hills into the sky.
In twilight, she perched on the ledge
measured us with wide, light-

gleaning eyes, then sailed off
on soft wings. Shades of my mother,
I thought, half-believing—the wide-
set eyes and level gaze.

For those who say the dead
have no more truck with us
are wrong. The dead are all around us
feathering the air with their wings.
They see in the fertile darkness
that surrounds this sac of light.
And in these hours we call them back
to steady us, who live in time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Coming

PHILIP LARKIN

On longer evenings,
Light, chill and yellow,
Bathes the serene
Foreheads of houses.
A thrush sings,
Laurel-surrounded
In the deep bare garden,
Its fresh-peeled voice
Astonishing the brickwork.
It will be spring soon,
It will be spring soon —
And I, whose childhood
Is a forgotten boredom,
Feel like a child
Who comes on a scene
Of adult reconciling,
And can understand nothing
But the unusual laughter,
And starts to be happy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

For a Friend Lying in Intensive Care
Waiting for Her White Blood Cells to Rejuvenate
After a Bone Marrow Transplant
The jonquils. They come back. They split the earth with
their green swords, bearing cups of light.
The forsythia comes back, spraying its thin whips with
blossom, one loud yellow shout.
The robins. They come back. They pull the sun on the
silver thread of their song.
The irises come back. They dance in the soft air in silken
gowns of midnight blue.
The lilacs come back. They trail their perfume like a scarf
of violet chiffon.
And the leaves come back, on every tree and bush, millions
and millions of small green hands applauding your return.

Barbara Crooker

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I See His Blood Upon The Rose

JOSEPH MARY PLUNKETT (1887–1916)

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.

All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Everness *

JORGE LUIS BORGES

One thing does not exist: Oblivion.
God saves the metal and he saves the dross,
And his prophetic memory guards from loss
The moons to come, and those of evenings gone.

Everything is: the shadows in the glass
Which, in between the day’s two twilights, you
Have scattered by the thousands, or shall strew
Henceforward in the mirrors that you pass.

And everything is part of that diverse
Crystalline memory, the universe;
Whoever through its endless mazes wanders

Hears door on door click shut behind his stride,
And only from the sunset’s farther side
Shall view at last the Archetypes and the Splendors.

(*translated by Richard Wilbur)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A Short Testament
ANNE PORTER (1911-2011)

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I’ve destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them
When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death’s bare branches.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Desperate Smugness of a Recent Convert
by Dave Will

We’ve all seen it
their cloying intensity
to the new cause:
tobacco cessation,
gluten-free digestion,
mindful rumination,
deep cleanse elimination,
erotic poetry,
for the lucky
erotic reality,
alcohol abstinence,
Yahweh’s deliverance.
And we can only
smile and nod
knowing
this too will pass.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Valentine
Carol Anne 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.
Here.

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.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.
Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Knots
Joseph Stroud

Trying to tie my shoes, clumsy, not able to work out
the logic of it, fumbling, as my father stands there,
his anger growing over a son who can’t even do
this simplest thing for the first time, can’t even manage
the knot to keep his shoes on—You think someone’s
going to tie your shoes for you the rest of your life?
No, I answer, forty-five years later, tying my shoe,
hands trembling with this memory. My father
and all those years of childhood not being able to work out
how he loved me, a knot so tight it has taken all my life
to untie.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My Daughter at 14: Christmas Dance
Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Panic in your face, you write questions
to ask him. When he arrives,
you are serene, your fear
unbetrayed. How unlike me you are.

After the dance,
I see your happiness; he holds
your hand. Though you barely speak,
your body pulses messages I can read

all too well. He kisses you goodnight,
his body moving toward yours, and yours
responding. I am frightened, guard my
tongue for fear my mother will pop out

of my mouth. “He is not shy.” You giggle,
a little girl again, but you tell me he
kissed you on the dance floor. “Once?”
I ask. “No, a lot.”

We ride through the rain-shining 1 A.M.
streets. I bite back words which long
to be said, knowing I must not shatter your
moment, fragile as a spun-glass bird,

you, the moment, poised on the edge of
flight, and I, on the ground, afraid.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What is the Greatest Gift?
Mary Oliver

What is the greatest gift?
Could it be the world itself – the oceans, the meadowlark,
the patience of the trees in the wind?
Could it be love, with its sweet clamour of passion?

Something else – something else entirely holds me in thrall.
That you have a life that I wonder about
more than I wonder about my own.
That you have a life – courteous and intelligent – that
I wonder about more than I wonder about my own.
That you h