Like a small gray
sits the squirrel.
He is not
all he should be,
kills by dozens
trees, and eats
his red-brown cousins.
The keeper, on the
who shot him, is
a Christian, and
loves his enemies,
the squirrel was not
one of those.
It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.
Even in this
you will have to choose.
That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books -
Already the first branch-tips brush at the window
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.
Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!
Give back my book and take my kiss instead.
Was it my enemy or my friend I heard?–
"What a big book for such a little head!"
Come, I will show you now my newest hat,
And you may watch me purse my mouth and prink.
Oh, I shall love you still and all of that.
I never again shall tell you what I think.
I shall be sweet and crafty, soft and sly;
You will not catch me reading any more;
I shall be called a wife to pattern by;
And some day when you knock and push the door,
Some sane day, not too bright and not too stormy,
I shall be gone, and you may whistle for me.
And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market --
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories
packed in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That's it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren't the same.
He said come to the river,
the wet, wild water that is black as a mirror
with nothing to show.
He said come to the river,
the dirt-dank river, by the dew-spangled banks
of the murmur and flow.
He said come to the river.
And I came to the river.
I came to the river, with a ribbon in my hair,
with a tune on my tongue,
with a name that he gave,
with my red shoes tied,
with my milk and my bread,
with a stone in my pocket,
with my heart, not my head,
with my knee-socks high,
and my bed unmade.
He said take your red shoes off,
leave your buttons undone.
And he kissed me by the river
until there was blood.
And the river took my ribbon,
which fled the current like a snake.
And the river took my tongue,
and the river took my name.
He took from me the tune I knew;
And the river made my bed.
He said come to the river,
the wet, wild water that is cold as a hand
with no blood to warm.
So I came to the river,
and I stay by the river, by the silt-silked shore,
by the stone that I slipped on,
by the fern-beds so dark,
by the buried red shoe,
by the salt stain I made,
near the road that I left
that leads to my bed.
And I know I am dead but I still cannot rest.
And I'm hideous and hair-thatched
because I must be trash
for him to throw me to the river
like a used cigarette.
Fish have skimmed flesh from my jaw;
they've nibbled with sharp teeth.
My finger-bones lie tangled, far
away from here, my ankle bones
are further still, my smashed hips
are the dirt . . .
He said come to the river
so I stay by the river, by the sopping wet earth,
yes, come to the river, boys,
with no ferns in your hair,
come to the river, please,
and warm my bed.
lights go off
I stay awake
by the hunger
Poetry isn't literary
poetry isn't sure which fork to
poetry can't name the parts of speech
fill out a grant application
poetry doesn't like cappuccino
poetry doesn't want to be printed in a
small press edition with its name on the
cover and get reviewed in 2 little magazines
read by 3 people
argued over by 8
poetry doesn't care about glory
glory is nice but poetry figures it's
poetry doesn't want to get laid
poetry might want to get drunk but
that's only self defense
poetry doesn't want to traipse around Europe
and collect stray bits of wisdom
from ruined empires
that it can show like slides when it gets home
poetry has a headache
poetry is a slingshot
a war you can carry in your pocket
a better way to die
the kind of fire that never goes out
and never gives an inch
poetry wants to be on every street corner
hissing from the cracks in the sidewalks
from the columns of print in the newspapers
on the lips of people on buses going to their
miserable jobs in the morning
poetry wants to be
in the prayers of dogs and the
screams of acrobats
in the terror of politicians
and the dreams of beautiful women
poetry wants to be
an eye through which the world will see itself and
poetry doesn't want to
die in the gutter
it already knows how
poetry doesn't want to sparechange strolling professors
wear anything but blood
have conversations with college students about
the meaning of life
because a bad wind is coming
you can smell it in the air
the pollution of the cities
mixed with the odor of rotting souls
the wind will climb
it will have little sense of humor
it will not want cappuccino
or anything else
except the death of
everything we love
I never dreamed
I would learn to love you so.
You are as flawed
as my vision
As short tempered
as my breath.
Every time you say
you love me
I look for shelter.
But these matters are small.
by your troubled life
within as without your arms
I am once again
Studying a way
that is not mine.
Proof of evolution's
You would choose
not to come back again,
as rock or tree.
But listen, love. Though human,
that is what you are
to this student, absorbed.
Human tree and rock already,
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo,
Shovel them under and let me work--
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.
The wax has melted
but the dream of flight
I, Icarus, though grounded
in my flesh
have one bright section in me
where a bird
night after starry night
while I'm asleep
unfolds its phantom wings
We caught the tread of dancing feet,
We loitered down the moonlit street,
And stopped beneath the Harlot's house.
Inside, above the din and fray,
We heard the loud musician play
The 'Treues Liebes Herz', of Strauss.
Like strange mechanical grotesques,
Making fantastic arabesques,
The shadows raced across the blind.
We watched the ghostly dancers spin
To sound of horn and violin,
Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.
Like wire-pulled automatons,
Slim silhouetted skeletons
Went sidling through the slow quadrille,
Then took each other by the hand,
And danced a stately saraband;
Their laughter echoed thin and shrill.
Sometimes a clock-work puppet pressed
A phantom lover to her breast,
Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.
Sometimes a horrible Marionette
Came out, and smoked its cigarette
Upon the steps like a live thing.
Then turning to my love I said,
'The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust.'
But she, she heard the violin,
And left my side, and entered in;
Love passed into the house of Lust.
Then suddenly the tune went false,
The dancers wearied of the waltz,
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl,
And down the long and silent street,
The dawn with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl.
To bear a weight that cannot be borne,
Sisyphus, even you aren't that strong,
Although your heart cannot be torn
Time is short and Art is long.
Far from celebrated sepulchers
Toward a solitary graveyard
My heart, like a drum muffled hard
Beats a funeral march for the ill-starred.
—Many jewels are buried or shrouded
In darkness and oblivion's clouds,
Far from any pick or drill bit,
Many a flower unburdens with regret
Its perfume sweet like a secret;
In profoundly empty solitude to sit.
Some say horsemen, some say warriors,
Some say a fleet of ships is the loveliest
Vision in this dark world, but I say it’s
What you love.
It’s easy to make this clear to everyone,
Since Helen, she who outshone
All others in beauty, left
A fine husband,
And headed for Troy
Without a thought for
Her daughter, her dear parents…
And I recall Anaktoria, whose sweet step
Or that flicker of light on her face,
I’d rather see than Lydian chariots
Or the armed ranks of the hoplites.
Even if I now saw you
I would long for you
Be not too hard, for life is short,
And nothing is given to man;
Be not too hard when he is sold and bought,
And he must manage as best he can;
Be not too hard when he blindly dies
Fighting for things he does not own;
And be not too hard when he tells lies,
Or his heart is sometimes like a stone;
Be not too hard, for soon he'll die,
Often no wiser than he began;
Be not too hard, for life is short,
And nothing is given to man.
I look across the table and think
(fiery with love)
Ask me, go on, ask me
to do something impossible,
something freakishly useless,
something unimaginable and inimitable
Like making a finger break into blossom
or walking for half an hour in twenty minutes
or remembering tomorrow.
I will you to ask it.
But all you say is
Will you give me a cigarette?
And I smile and,
returning to the marvelous world
I give you one
with a hand that trembles
with a human trembling.
For you I undress down to the sheaths of my nerves.
I remove my jewelry and set it on the nightstand,
I unhook my ribs, spread my lungs flat on a chair.
I dissolve like a remedy in water, in wine.
I spill without staining, and leave without stirring the air.
I do it for love. For love, I disappear.
I have been wounded so often and so painfully,
dragging my way home at the merest crawl,
impaled not only by malicious tongues—
one can be wounded even by a petal.
And I myself have wounded—quite unwittingly—
with casual tenderness while passing by,
and later someone felt the pain,
it was like walking barefoot over the ice.
So why do I step upon the ruins
of those most near and dear to me,
I, who can be so simply and so sharply wounded
and can wound others with such deadly ease?
At last I can be with you!
The grinding hours
since I left your side!
The labor of being fully human,
working my opposable thumb,
talking, and walking upright.
Now I have unclasped
unzipped, stepped out of.
Husked, soft, a be-er only,
I do nothing, but point
my bare feet into your
feel your quiet strength
the whole length of my body.
I close my eyes, hear myself
moan, so grateful to be held this way.
I am learning to abandon the world
before it can abandon me.
Already I have given up the moon
and snow, closing my shades
against the claims of white.
And the world has taken
my father, my friends.
I have given up melodic lines of hills,
moving to a flat, tuneless landscape.
And every night I give my body up
limb by limb, working upwards
across bone, towards the heart.
But morning comes with small
reprieves of coffee and birdsong.
A tree outside the window
which was simply shadow moments ago
takes back its branches twig
by leafy twig.
And as I take my body back
the sun lays its warm muzzle on my lap
as if to make amends.