23 April, 2009

Some of my favorite poems AKA I can't sleep

Quid Pro Quo 
Paul Mariani

Just after my wife's miscarriage (her second
in four months), I was sitting in an empty
classroom exchanging notes with my friend,
a budding Joyce scholar with steelrimmed
glasses, when, lapsed Irish Catholic that he was,
he surprised me by asking what I thought now
of God's ways toward man. It was spring,

such spring as came to the flintbacked Chenango
Valley thirty years ago, the full force of Siberia
behind each blast of wind. Once more my poor wife
was in the local four-room hospital, recovering.
The sun was going down, the room's pinewood panels
all but swallowing the gelid light, when, suddenly,
I surprised not only myself but my colleague

by raising my middle finger up to heaven, quid
pro quo, the hardly grand defiant gesture a variant
on Vanni Fucci's figs, shocking not only my friend
but in truth the gesture's perpetrator too. I was 24,
and, in spite of having pored over the Confessions
& that Catholic Tractate called the Summa, was sure
I'd seen enough of God's erstwhile ways toward man.

That summer, under a pulsing midnight sky
shimmering with Van Gogh stars, in a creaking,
cedarscented cabin off Lake George, having lied
to the gentrified owner of the boys' camp
that indeed I knew wilderness & lakes and could,
if need be, lead a whole fleet of canoes down
the turbulent whitewater passages of the Fulton Chain

(I who had last been in a rowboat with my parents
at the age of six), my wife and I made love, trying
not to disturb whosever headboard & waterglass
lie just beyond the paperthin partition at our feet.
In the great black Adirondack stillness, as we lay
there on our sagging mattress, my wife & I gazed out
through the broken roof into a sky that seemed

somehow to look back down on us, and in that place,
that holy place, she must have conceived again,
for nine months later in a New York hospital she
brought forth a son, a little buddha-bellied
rumplestiltskin runt of a man who burned
to face the sun, the fact of his being there
both terrifying & lifting me at once, this son,

this gift, whom I still look upon with joy & awe. Worst,
best, just last year, this same son, grown
to manhood now, knelt before a marble altar to vow
everything he had to the same God I had had my own
erstwhile dealings with. How does one bargain
with a God like this, who, quid pro quo, ups
the ante each time He answers one sign with another?

In the Desert
Stephen Crane

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter – bitter", he answered,
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."

Making Love
Rebecca McClanahan

Why make ? I used to wonder.
Is it something you have to keep on
making, like beds or dinner, stir it up

or smooth it down? Sex, I understood,
an easy creaking on the upholstered
springs of a man you meet in passing.

You have sex, you don't have to make it,
it makes you—rise and fall and rise again,
each time, each man, new. But love?

It could be the name of a faraway
city, end of a tired journey you take
with some husband, your bodies chugging

their way up the mountain, glimpsing
the city lights and thinking, If we can
keep it up, we'll make Love by morning.

I guess it was fun for somebody,
my grandmother once said. By then
I was safely married and had earned

the right to ask, there in the kitchen
beside the nodding aunts. Her answer
made me sad. In her time, love meant making

babies, and if I had borne twelve
and buried three, I might see my husband
as a gun shooting off inside me, each bullet

another year gone. But sex wasn't my question.
Love was the ghost whose shape kept
shifting. For us, it did not mean babies,

those plump incarnations the minister
had promised—flesh of our flesh,
our increase. Without them, and twenty years

gone, what have we to show
for the planing and hammering, bone
against bone, chisel and wedge,

the tedious sanding of night
into morning—when we rise, stretch,
shake out the years, lean back,

and see what we've made: no ghost,
it's a house. Sunlight through the window
glazing our faces, patina of dust

on our arms. At every axis, mortise
and tenon couple and hold. Doors
swing heavy on their hinges.

Love Song: I and Thou
Alan Dugan

Nothing is plumb, level or square:
the studs are bowed, the joists
are shaky by nature, no piece fits
any other piece without a gap
or pinch, and bent nails
dance all over the surfacing
like maggots. By Christ
I am no carpenter. I built
the roof for myself, the walls
for myself, the floors
for myself, and got
hung up in it myself. I
danced with a purple thumb
at this house-warming, drunk
with my prime whiskey: rage.
Oh I spat rage's nails
into the frame-up of my work:
It held. It settled plumb.
level, solid, square and true
for that one great moment. Then
it screamed and went on through,
skewing as wrong the other way.
God damned it. This is hell,
but I planned it I sawed it
I nailed it and I
will live in it until it kills me.
I can nail my left palm
to the left-hand cross-piece but
I can't do everything myself.
I need a hand to nail the right,
a help, a love, a you, a wife.

Making a Fist
Naomi Shihab Nye
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

"How do you know if you are going to die?"
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
"When you can no longer make a fist."

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.
Habitation
Margaret Atwood


Marriage is not

a house or even a tent


it is before that, and colder:


The edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs

at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn
where painfully and with wonder

at having survived even

this far


we are learning to make fire.

Sonnet XVII
Pablo Neruda

I don't love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn't bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don't know any other way of loving

but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.


If I Could Tell You
W. H. Auden

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose all the lions get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

1 comment:

Leo said...

Thank you so much for posting this poetry. I just stumbled upon your blog today--linked from Themla's--and I have been absolutely fed and inspired by these poems. Can we please get together soon and read poetry together? Also, I want to know how the camping/hiking trip went. I am sad I missed it.
-A

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