Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Late Passenger

The Late Passenger
by C.S. Lewis, from Poetry 180, ed. Billy Collins, 2003

The sky was low, the sounding rain was falling dense and dark,
And Noah's sons were standing at the window of the Ark.

The beast were in, but Japhet said, 'I see one creature more
Belated and unmated there come knocking at the door.'

'Well let him knock,' said Ham, 'Or let him drown or learn to swim.
We're overcrowded as it is; we've got no room for him.'

'And yet it knocks, how terribly it knocks,' said Shem, 'It's feet
Are hard as horn -- but oh the air that comes from it is sweet.'

'Now hush,' said Ham, 'You'll waken Dad, and once he comes to see
What's at the door, it's sure to mean more work for you and me.'

Noah's voice came roaring from the darkness down below,
'Some animal is knocking. Take it in before we go.'

Ham shouted back, and savagely he nudged the other two,
'That's only Japhet knocking down a brad-nail in his shoe.'

Said Noah, 'Boys, I hear a noise that's like a horse's hoof.'
Said Ham, 'Why, that's the dreadful rain that drums upon the roof.'

Noah tumbled up on deck and out he put his head;
His face went grey, his knees were loosed, he tore his beard and said,

'Look, look! It would not wait. It turns away. It takes flight.
Fine work you've made of it, my sons, between you all tonight!

'Even if I could outrun it now, it would not turn again.
--Not now. Our great discourtesy has earned its high disdain.

'Oh noble and unmated beast, my sons were all unkind;
In such a night what stable and what manger will you find?

'Oh golden hoofs, oh cataracts of mane, oh nostrils wide
With indignation! Oh the neck wave-arched, the lovely pride!

'Oh long shall be the furrows ploughed across the hearts of men
Before it comes to stable and to manger once again.

'And dark and crooked all the ways in which our race shall walk,
And shrivelled all their manhood like a flower with broken stalk,

'And all the world, oh Ham, may curse the hour when you were born,'
Because of you the Ark must sail without the Unicorn.'

Thursday, August 25, 2011

the way it is now

the way it is now
by Charles Bukowski, from Good Poems, ed. Garrison Keillor, 2002

I'll tell you
I've lived with some gorgeous women
and I was so bewitched by those
beautiful creatures that
my eyebrows twitched.

but I'd rather drive to New York
than to live with any of them

the next classic stupidity
will be the history
of those fellows
who inherit my female

in their case
as in mine
they will find
that madness
is caused by not
being often enough

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Herbal

A Herbal
by Seamus Heaney, from Human Chain, 2010

After Guillevic's "Herbier de Bretagne"

Everywhere plants
Flourish among graves,

Sinking their roots
In all the dynasties
Of the dead.


Was graveyard grass
In our place
Any different?

Different from ordinary
Field grass?

Remember how you wanted
The sound recordist
To make a loop,

Wildtrack of your feet
Through the wet
At the foot of a field?


Yet for all their lush
Compliant dialect
No way have plants here
Arrived at a settlement.

Not the mare's tail,
Not the broom or whins.

It must have to do
With the wind.


Not that the grass itself
Ever rests in peace.

It too takes issue,
Now sets a fire.

To the wind,
Now turns its back.


"See me?" it says.
"The wind

Has me well rehearsed
In the ways of the world.

Unstable is good.
Permission granted!

Go, then, citizen
Of the wind.
Go with the flow."


The bracken
Is less boastful.

It closes and curls back
On its secrets,

The best kept
Upon earth.


And, to be fair,
There is sun as well.

Nowhere else
Is there sun like here,

Morning sunshine
All day long.

Which is why the plants,
Even the bracken,

Are sometimes tempted
Into trust.


On sunlit tarmac,
On memories of the hearse

At walking pace
Between overgrown verges,

The dead here are borne
Towards the future.


When the funeral bell tolls
The grass is all a-tremble.

But only then.
Not every time any old bell



Is like the disregarded
And company for them,

Shows them
They have to keep going,

That the whole thing's worth
The effort.

And sometimes
Like those same characters
When the weather's very good

Broom sings.


Never, in later days,
Would fruit

So taste of earth.
There was slate

In the blackberries,
A slatey sap.


Run your hand into
The ditch back growth

And you'd grope roots,
Thick and thin.
But roots of what?

Once, one that we saw
Gave itself away,

The tail of a rat
We killed.


We had enemies,
Though why we never knew.

Among them,

Malignant things, letting on
To be asleep.


Part of a world

Nobody seemed able to explain
But that had to be
Put up with.

There would always be dock leaves
To cure the vicious stings.


There were leaves on the trees
And growth on the headrigs

You could confess
Everything to.

Even your fears
Of the night,

Of people


What was better then

Than to crush a leaf or a herb
Between your palms

Then wave it slowly, soothingly
Past your mouth and nose

And breathe?


If you know a bit
About the universe

It's because you've taken it in
Like that,

Looked as hard
As you look into yourself,

Into the rat hole,
Through the vetch and dock
That mantled it.

Because you've laid your cheek
Against the rush clump

And known soft stone to break
On the quarry floor.


Between heather and marigold,
Between spaghnum and buttercup,
Between dandelion and broom,
Between forget-me-not and honeysuckle,

As between clear blue and cloud,
Between haystack and sunset sky,
Between oak tree and slated roof,
I had my existence. I was there.
Me in place and the place in me.


Where can it be found again,
An elsewhere world, beyond

Maps and atlases
Where all is woven into

And of itself, like a nest
Of crosshatched grass blades?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Every Day

Every Day
by Denise Levertov, from Breathing the Water, 1984

Three men spoke to me today.

One, bereaved, told me his grief, saying
Had God abandoned him, or was there
no God to abandon him?

One, condemned, told me his epitaph,
'Groomed to die.' On Death Row he remembers
the underside of his gradeschool desk, air-raid drill.
He never expected to live
even this long.
He sticks his head back down between his knees,
'not even sad.'

One, a young father, told me
how he had needed his child, even
before she was conceived.
How he had planted a garden too big to hoe.
He told me about the small leaves near his window,
how he had seen in them their desire to be,
to be the world.

With this one I sat laughing,
eating, drinking wine. 'The same word,'
he said, 'she has the same word for me and the dog!
She loves us!'

Every day, every day I hear
enough to fill
a year of nights with wondering.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Girl on a Tractor

Girl on a Tractor
by Joyce Sutphen, from Good Poems, ed. Garrison Keillor, 2002

I knew the names of all the cows before
I knew my alphabet, but no matter the
subject; I had mastery of it, and when
it came time to help in the fields, I
learned to drive a tractor at just the right
speed, so that two men, walking
on either side of the moving wagon
could each lift a bale, walk towards

the steadily arriving platform and
simultaneously hoist the hay onto
the rack, walk to the next bale, lift,
turn, and find me there, exactly where
I should be, my hand on the throttle,
carefully measuring out the pace.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Introduction to Poetry

Introduction to Poetry
by Billy Collins, from Poetry 180, ed. Billy Collins, 2003

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with a rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Poem About Morning

Poem About Morning
by William Meredith, from Good Poems, ed. Garrison Keillor, 1995

Whether its sunny or not, it's sure
To be enormously complex--
Trees or streets outdoors, indoors whoever you share,
And yourself, thirsty, hungry, washing,
An attitude towards sex.
No wonder half of you wants to stay
With your head dark and wishing
Rather than take it all on again:
Weren't you duped yesterday?
Things are not orderly here, no matter what they say.

But the clock goes off, if you have a dog
It wags, if you get up now you'll be less
Late. Life is some kind of loathsome hag
Who is forever threatening to turn beautiful.
Now she gives you a quick toothpaste kiss
And puts a glass of cold cranberry juice,
Like a big fake garnet, in your hand.
Cranberry juice! You're lucky, on the whole,
But there is a great deal about it you don't understand.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Companionable Dark

The Companionable Dark
by Kathleen Norris, from Little Girls in Church, 1995

of here and now,
seed lying dormant
in the earth. The dark
to which all lost things come -- scarves
and rings and precious photographs, and
of course, our beloved
dead. The brooding dark,
our most vulnerable hours, limbs loose
in sleep, mouths agape.
The faithful dark,
where each door leads,
each one of us, alone.
The dark of God come close
as breath, our one companion
all the way through, the dark
of a needle's eye.

Not the easy dark
of dusk and candles,
but dark from which comforts flee.
The deep down dark
of one by one,
dark of wind
and dust, dark in which stars burn.
The floodwater dark
of hope, Jesus in agony
in the garden, Esther pacing
her bitter palace. A dark
by which we see, dark like truth,
like flesh on bone:
Help me, who am alone,
and have no help but thee.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

where we are

where we are
by Gerald Locklin, from Good Poems, ed. Garrison Keillor, 2002

i envy those
who live in two places:
new york, say, and london;
wales and spain;
l.a. and paris;
hawaii and switzerland.

there is always the anticipation
of the change, the chance that what is wrong
is the result of where you are. i have
always loved both the freshness of
arriving and the relief of leaving. with
two homes every move would be a homecoming.
i am not even considering the weather, hot
or cold, dry or wet: i am talking about hope.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Welcome Morning

Welcome Morning
by Anne Sexton, from Good Poems, ed. Garrison Keillor, 2002

There is joy
in all:
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
each morning,
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
each morning,
in the spoon and the chair
that cry "hello there, Anne"
each morning,
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
each morning.

All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
each morning
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.

So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.

The Joy that isn't shared, I've heard,
dies young.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What Song, Then?

What Song, Then?
by Kathleen Norris, from Little Girls in Church, 1995

When my life is alien soil
and a wind
like fear
makes restless ground
of all I have done--

what song, then,
to send out roots
that will drink the rain
that does not come--

how could I sing?

Watch light come
from dark and mist rise
from waters
as sky and shore
emerge out of night,
and a tree half-green,

Half-afraid of what is in me
(though God has called it good)
I sob over nothing,

desires I cannot name.

Sing us, they say,
a song you remember...

Friday, March 25, 2011


by Carl Adamshick, from here

I always thought death would be like traveling
in a car, through the desert,
the earth a little darker than sky at the horizon,
that your life would settle like the end of a day
and you would think of everyone you ever met,
that you would be the invisible passenger,
quiet in the car, moving through the night,
forever, with the beautiful thought of home.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Spirits Appeased

The Spirits Appeased
by Denise Levertov, from Breathing the Water, 1984

A wanderer comes at last
to the forest hut where it was promised
someone wise would receive him.
And there's no one there; birds and small animals
flutter and vanish, then return to observe.
No human eye meets his.
But in the hut there's food,
set to keep warm beside glowing logs,
and fragrant garments to fit him, replacing
the rags of his journey,
and a bed of heather from the hills.
He stays there waiting. Each day the fire
is replenished, the pot refilled while he sleeps.
He draws up water from the well,
writes of his travels, listens for footsteps.
Little by little he finds
the absent sage is speaking to him,
is present.
This is the way
you have spoken to me, the way--startled--
I find I have heard you. When I need it,
a book or a slip of paper
appears in my hand, inscribed by yours: messages
waiting on cellar shelves, in forgotten boxes
until I would listen.
Your spirits relax;
now she is looking, you say to each other,
now she begins to see.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Ballad of Reading Gaol (excerpt)

The Ballad of Reading Gaol
by Oscar Wilde, quoted in Bread and Wine, 2003

...And thus we rust Life's iron chain
Degraded and alone:
And some men curse, and some men weep,
And some men make no moan:
But God's eternal Laws are kind
And break the heart of stone.

And every human heart that breaks,
In prison-cell or yard,
Is as that broken box that gave
Its treasure to the Lord,
And filled the unclean leper's house
With the scent of costliest nard.

Ah! happy those whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?

Friday, February 25, 2011

How to Read a Poem: Beginner's Manual

How to Read a Poem: Beginner's Manual
by Pamela Spiro Wagner, from here

First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma,
your steel-tipped boots,
or your white-collar misunderstandings.

Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.

To read poetry requires only courage
enough to leap from the edge
and trust.

Treat a poem like dirt,
humus rich and heavy from the garden.
Later it will become the fat tomatoes
and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

Poetry demands surrender,
language saying what is true,
doing holy things to the ordinary.

Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.

When you can name five poets
without including Bob Dylan,
when you exceed your quota
and don't even notice,
close this manual.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

August in Paris

August in Paris
by Billy Collins, from Ballistics, 2008

I have stopped here on the rue des Ecoles
just off the boulevard St-Germain
to look over the shoulder of a man
in a flannel shirt and a straw hat
who has set up an easel and a canvas chair
on the sidewalk in order to paint from a droll angle
a side-view of the Church of Saint Thomas Aquinas

But where are you, reader,
who have not paused in your walk
to look over my shoulder
to see what I am jotting in this notebook?

Alone in this city,
I some times wonder what you look like,
if you are wearing a flannel shirt
or a wraparound blue skirt held together by a pin.

But every time I turn around
you have fled through a crease in the air
to a quiet room where the shutters are closed
against the heat of the afternoon,
where there is only the sound of your breathing
and every so often, the turning of a page.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


by Joyce Kilmer from here.

(For Katherine Bregy)

I went to gather roses and twine them in a ring,
For I would make a posy, a posy for the King.
I got an hundred roses, the loveliest there be,
From the white rose vine and the pink rose bush and from the red rose tree.

But when I took my posy and laid it at His feet
I found He had His roses a million times more sweet.
There was a scarlet blossom upon each foot and hand,
And a great pink rose bloomed from his side for the healing of the land.

Now of this fair and awful King there is this marvel told,
That He wears a crown of linked thorns instead of one of gold.
Where there are thorns are roses, and I saw a line of red,
A little wreath of roses around His radiant head.

A red rose is His Sacred Heart, a white rose His face,
And His breath has turned the barren world to a rich and flowery place.
He is the Rose of Sharon, His gardener am I,
And I shall drink His fragrance in Heaven when I die.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


by Richard Jones, from here.

It's so late I could cut my lights
and drive the next fifty miles
of empty interstate
by starlight,
flying along in a dream,
countryside alive with shapes and shadows,
but exit ramps lined
with eighteen wheelers
and truckers sleeping in their cabs
make me consider pulling into a rest stop
and closing my eyes. I've done it before,
parking next to a family sleeping in a Chevy,
mom and dad up front, three kids in the back,
the windows slightly misted by the sleepers' breath.
But instead of resting, I'd smoke a cigarette,
play the radio low, and keep watch over
the wayfarers in the car next to me,
a strange paternal concern
and compassion for their well being
rising up inside me.
This was before
I had children of my own,
and had felt the sharp edge of love
and anxiety whenever I tiptoed
into darkened rooms of sleep
to study the small, peaceful faces
of my beloved darlings. Now,
the fatherly feelings are so strong
the snoring truckers are lucky
I'm not standing on the running board,
tapping on the window,
asking, Is everything okay?
But it is. Everything's fine.
The trucks are all together, sleeping
on the gravel shoulders of exit ramps,
and the crowded rest stop I'm driving by
is a perfect oasis in the moonlight.
The way I see it, I've got a second wind
and on the radio an all-night country station.
Nothing for me to do on this road
but drive and give thanks:
I'll be home by dawn.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Hymn

A Hymn
by G.K. Chesterton, from here.

O god of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide,
Take not thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
From sale and profanation
Of honour and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord.

Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to thee.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


by Joyce Kilmer, found here.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Monday, January 10, 2011


by Mary Oliver, from The Best American Poetry 2009

All the while
I was teaching
in the state of Virginia
I wanted to see
gray fox.
Finally I found him.
He was in the highway.
He was singing
his death song.
I picked him up
and carried him
into a field
while the cars kept coming.
He showed me
how he could ripple
how he could bleed.
Goodbye I said
to the light of his eye
as the cars went by.
Two mornings later
I found the other.
She was in the highway.
She was singing
her death song.
I picked her up
and carried her
into the field
where she rippled
half of her gray
half of her red
while the cars kept coming.
While the cars kept coming.
Gray fox and gray fox.
Red, red, red.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunday Discordancies

Sunday Discordancies
by Jim Harrison, from The Best American Poetry 2009

This morning I seem to hear the nearly inaudible
whining grind of creation similar to the harmonics
of pine trees in the wind. My outrageously lovely
hollyhocks are now collapsing of their own weight,
clearly too big for their britches. I'm making notes
for a novel called "The End of Man, and Not Incidentally,
Women and Children," a fable for our low-living time.
Quite early after walking the dogs, who are frightened
of the Sandhill Cranes in the pasture, I fried some ham
with a fresh peach, a touch of brown sugar and clove.
Pretty good but I was wondering at how the dogs
often pretend the Sandhill Cranes don't exist despite
their mighty squawks, like we can't hear
the crying of coal miners and our wounded in Iraq.
A friend on his deathbed cried and said it felt good.
He was crying because he couldn't eat, a lifelong habit.
My little grandson Silas cried painfully until he was fed
macaroni and cheese and then he was merry indeed.
I'm not up to crying this morning over that pretty girl
in the row boat fifty-five years ago. I heard on the radio
that we creatures have about a billion and a half
heartbeats to use. Voles and birds use theirs fast
as do meth heads and stockbrokers, while whales
and elephants are slower. This morning I'm thinking
of recounting mine to see exactly where I am.
I warn the hummingbirds out front, "just slow down,"
as they chase me away from the falling hollyhocks.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Who Shall Deliver Me?

Who Shall Deliver Me?
by Christina Rosetti, Selected Poems, 1996

God strengthen me to bear myself;
That heaviest weight of all to bear,
Inalienable weight of care.

All others are outside myself;
I lock my door and bar them out,
The turmoil, tedium, gad-about.

I lock my door upon myself,
And bar them out; but who shall wall
Self from myself, most loathed of all?

If I could once lay down myself,
And start self-purged upon the race
That all must run! Death runs apace.

If I could set aside myself,
And start with lightened heart upon
The road by all men overgone!

God harden me against myself,
This coward with pathetic voice
Who craves for ease, and rest, and joys:

Myself, arch-traitor to myself;
My hollowest friend, my deadilest foe,
My clog whatever road I go.

Yet One there is can curb myself,
Can roll the strangling road from me,
Break off the yoke and set me free.