by Kim Roberts
PHOTO WITH WOMAN AT CLOTHES LINE
Drawn to them as if subpoenaed
to give her life to the horizontal,
the ever moving, the innumerable vertical
with its sad expectancy and ignorance
driving its legendary ribs of wind;
compelled by their intricate logic,
their proud barrier stance, she bowed
to their recommendation, hugged
the curve of their deserted houses,
their brittle dependency to weather,
to changes in the air--shirts and coveralls,
dresses and sheets--neighbored,
landscaped, holding immense and empty hands
and waiting, lined up for her blessing,
her obsession, her worship which would
transfigure, her beautiful and necessary
tunnel of devotion to a ship of air:
to the mere, to the daily, to the glorious mundane.
American Life in Poetry: Column 048
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Every parent can tell a score of tales
about the difficulties of raising children,
and then of the difficulties in letting go
of them. Here the Texas poet, Walt McDonald,
shares just such a story.
Some Boys are Born to Wander
From Michigan our son writes, How many elk?
How many big horn sheep? It's spring,
and soon they'll be gone above timberline,
climbing to tundra by summer. Some boys
are born to wander, my wife says, but rocky slopes
with spruce and Douglas fir are home.
He tried the navy, the marines, but even the army
wouldn't take him, not with a foot like that.
Maybe it's in the genes. I think of wild-eyed years
till I was twenty, and cringe. I loved motorcycles,
too dumb to say no to our son--too many switchbacks
in mountains, too many icy spots in spring.
Doctors stitched back his scalp, hoisted him in traction
like a twisted frame. I sold the motorbike to a junkyard,
but half his foot was gone. Last month, he cashed
his paycheck at the Harley house, roared off
with nothing but a backpack, waving his headband,
leaning into a downhill curve and gone.
First published in "New Letters," Vol. 69, 2002,
and reprinted from "A Thousand Miles of Stars,"
2004, by permission of the author and Texas Tech
University Press. Copyright (c) 2002 by Walt McDonald.
This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation,
The Library of Congress, and the Department of English
at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does
not accept unsolicited poetry.
by Elaine Cavanaugh
At the river, as you scatter my ashes--
watch them swirl beneath a swan's black feet--
ask my spirit, again, what form it wants to take.
I will answer that I wish my body to become
an instrument of music--a hickory tree
in a windstorm, a bur oak in sleet--
a whole grove of aspens
singing their leaves.
-Originally appeared in Hummingbird, 2004.
by Andrea Potos
TO EMILY BRONTE
Eleven years old and sunk in the red velveteen blanketing the Yorkshire moors. Heathcliff around him, how tall and alarmingly At Catherine’s grave he cried, you wrote:
chair at the Fox Bay Theater, I absorbed
the raw sculpture of Penistone Crag,
bracken and gorse, the peat
with his sea-green eyes, black cape swirled
handsome he looked.
I cannot live without my life,
desire held hostage in his eyes,
blanketing the Yorkshire moors. Heathcliff
around him, how tall and alarmingly
At Catherine’s grave he cried, you wrote:
Years later, I return to your words;
travel to the stone-
flagged floors of your home;
your desk-box saved under glass,
its lining worn, purple velvet
splotched with red sealing wax.
Walking the rocky footpath towards swells
of purple heather, I remember the words
of the local stationer who saw you
returning one evening: her countenance was lit up
by a divine light. I imagine
hear your skin
brush mine, whisper what you know:
the silence, the stars
that burn through the page.
Hone the hours to their core--you might have said--
wind and poem, passion and moor.
-Originally appeared in Poetry East.
by Rasma Haidri
I sing a song you do not quite hear
in a language you do not yet understand.
It is the song of ocean.
Hear – we have been singing to you
from the beginning
from the first word
from the first tone
stirring on the tongue of God.
Go under and wonder
at the multitude of wonders you are.
You will find a new way of breathing.
A new way to open your eyes.
In the ocean all things turn
and there is no up down.
There is breathing at birth and at death,
and to the one being born
it appears the world will end.
Where will you throw these bones?
There is no such place as “away” for them to go.
The body can dissolve in ocean
and rise again in another form.
There is no starting point or end
when you live along the circle of God.
All water is this water.
The ocean is within you now,
woven into your hair and tingling on your skin.
Open your mouth and unloose your own singing.
This is the hum of your own song.
This is your welcoming drown.
Here is where I come to you–
where I call and you come.
Here there is no alone
no end to our embrace
The ocean is one.
from Only the Sea Keeps: Poetry of the Tsunami, Bayeux Arts, 2005
American Life in Poetry: Column 046
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
We constantly compare one thing with another, or attempt to, saying, "Well, you know, love is like...it's like...well, YOU know what it's like." Here Bob King, who lives in Colorado, takes an original approach and compares love to the formation of rocks.
I know the origin of rocks, settling
out of water, hatching crystals
from fire, put under pressure
in various designs I gathered
pretty, picnic after picnic.
And I know about love, a little,
igneous lust, the slow affections
of the sedimentary, the pressure
on earth out of sight to rise up
into material, something solid
you can hold, a whole mountain,
for example, or a loose collection
of pebbles you forgot you were keeping.
Reprinted from the Marlboro Review, Issue 16, 2005, by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 2005 by Robert King, whose prose book, "Stepping Twice Into the River: Following Dakota Waters," appeared in 2005 from The University Press of Colorado. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.
by Robin Chapman
THE GORILLA THAT WALKS THROUGH THE BASKETBALL GAME
Thirty professors at the chaos talk
on how the mind works,
we watch the white-shirted players
on the videoscreen, doing our assigned job
of counting the number of passes they make,
not so easy when two different balls
have appeared in play, and our counts
at the end of the videoclip vary–
eleven say some, fourteen insist others–
but we’re feeling good
that we’ve kept our eyes on the balls
and the hands and the backs,
carried out our appointed task,
and when we’re asked
if we noticed anything odd, no one nods;
though shown the replay
we see we’ve missed
the gorilla that wanders through
the twist of bodies,
crossing the court
from left to right in a leisurely way,
looking about with curiosity–
leaving us shaken by the query
of what else we’ve missed in our lives
keeping our eye on the ball.
–from Images of a Complex World:
The Art and Poetry of Chaos (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 2005, by Robin Chapman & Julien Clinton Sprott).
American Life in Poetry: Column 045
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Poets are experts at holding mirrors
to the world. Here Anne Caston, from
Alaska, shows us a commonplace scene.
Haven't we all been in this restaurant
for the Sunday buffet? Caston overlays
the picture with language that, too,
is ordinary, even sloganistic, and overworn.
But by zooming in on the joint of meat
and the belly-up fishes floating in butter,
she compels us to look more deeply into
what is before us, and a room that at first
seemed humdrum becomes rich with inference.
Sunday Brunch at the Old Country Buffet
Madison, Wisconsin, 1996
Here is a genial congregation,
well fed and rosy with health and appetite,
robust children in tow. They have come
and all the generations of them, to be fed,
their old ones too who are eligible now
for a small discount, having lived to a ripe age.
Over the heaped and steaming plates, one by one,
heads bow, eyes close; the blessings are said.
Here there is good will; here peace
on earth, among the leafy greens, among the fruits
of the gardens of America's heartland. Here is
here is the promised
land of milk and honey, out of which
a flank of the fatted calf, thick still
on its socket and bone, rises like a benediction
over the loaves of bread and the little fishes,
belly-up in butter.
Reprinted from "Flying Out with the Wounded,"
New York University Press, 1997. Copyright (c)
1997 by Anne Caston. This weekly column is
supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress,
and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska,
Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.