Take the word of my pulse

Stunning and severe. I would expect nothing less of the influential poet and essayist Adrienne Rich (1929-) who turned down the 1997 National Medal of the Arts because she believed ”the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this Administration.”

“Art, she said, ”means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner-table of power which holds it hostage.”


The world’s
not wanton
only wild and wavering

I wanted to choose words that even you
would have to be changed by

Take the word
of my pulse, loving and ordinary
Send out your signals, hoist
your dark scribbled flags
but take
my hand

All wars are useless to the dead

My hands are knotted in the rope
and I cannot sound the bell
My hands are frozen to the switch
and I cannot throw it
The foot is in the wheel

When all is over and we’re lying
in a stubble of blistered flowers
eyes gaping, mouths staring
dusted with crushed arterial blues
barred with tiger-lily reds

I’ll have done nothing
even for you

thank you

I’ve posted this W.S. Merwin poem before, but I think it’s appropriate for today. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everybody.


with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

Put your mouthful of words away

picture of anne sexton

A firm and yet startlingly tender piece from the Pulitzer Prize-winning confessional poet, Anne Sexton (1928-1974).

“From the Garden”

Come, my beloved,
consider the lilies.
We are of little faith.
We talk too much.
Put your mouthful of words away
and come with me to watch
the lilies open in such a field,
growing there like yachts,
slowly steering their petals
without nurses or clocks.
Let us consider the view:
a house where white clouds
decorate the muddy halls.
Oh, put away your good words
and your bad words. Spit out
your words like stones!
Come here! Come here!
Come eat my pleasant fruits.

I thought pain had no tongue.

From one of my absolute favorites, the Palestinian-American poet and writer Naomi Shihab Nye (1952-), on a day when I, too, feel sadly estranged from my mother tongue.


(Jordan, 1992)

The man with laughing eyes stopped smiling
to say, “Until you speak Arabic–
–you will not understand pain.”

Something to do with the back of the head,
an Arab carries sorrow in the back of the head
that only language cracks, the thrum of stones

weeping, grating hinge on an old metal gate.
“Once you know,” he whispered, “you can enter the room
whenever you need to. Music you heard from a distance,

the slapped drum of a stranger’s wedding,
wells up inside your skin, inside rain, a thousand
pulsing tongues. You are changed.”

Outside, the snow had finally stopped.
In a land where snow rarely falls,
we had felt our days grow white and still.

I thought pain had no tongue. Or every tongue
at once, supreme translator, sieve. I admit
my shame. To live on the brink of Arabic, tugging

it’s rich threads without understanding
how to weave the rug…I have no gift.
The sound, but not the sense.

I kept looking over his shoulder for someone else
to talk to, recalling my dying friend who only scrawled
I can’t write. What good would any grammar have been

to her then? I touched his arm, held it hard
which sometimes you don’t do in the Middle Easter, and said.
I’ll work on it, feeling sad.

for his good strict heart, but later in the slick street
hailed a taxi by shouting Pain! and it stopped
in every language and opened its doors.

You have beautiful love material

From one of the most well-respected and wonderful Israeli poets, Yehuda Amichai.


A stewardess told us to extinguish all smoking materials
And did not detail, cigarette, cigar, or pipe.
I answered her in my heart: You have beautiful love material,
And I did not detail either.

And she told me to buckle up, bind myself
To the chair, and I answered:
I want all the buckles in my life to have the shape of your mouth.

And she said: You want coffee now or later,
Or never. And she passed by me
Tall to the sky.

The small scar at the top of her arm
Testified that she will never be touched by smallpox
And her eyes testified that she’ll never fall in love again:
She belongs to the conservative party
Of lovers of one great love in their life.

it will deposit you like a seed

If you are at all intrigued by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) , check out her book of uncollected poems, drafts and fragments: Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box, a lovely supplement to the 101 poems she published during her lifetime.

a picture of the book Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box by Elizabeth Bishop


You are leaving the earth
but only a little distance
a hairsbreadth, your flight–
or a short /curly/ hair of your head
laid on the earth, would describe it–
but just that much is so hard to do,
it has cost other people centuries of effort
and is costing us centuries of grief.
In the hot, crowded terminal
we both look smaller, older,
your gabardine suit looks shabbier.
Have a martini. The great effort is yet to begin.
Our eyes bleary & /      /
slightly tearful
we made lists on half-wet paper napkin–
What are we, in this mob,
in this noisy restaurant–
just at the misty window
the /slick/ heavy wings slow
it waits to /negotiate/
it will deposit you like a seed–
hold on
hold on, as I lose you.

today you get a telegram from the heart in exile

from the imaginatively candid Tony Hoagland (1953-) and his fantastic first book, Sweet Ruin

“The Word

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between “green thread”
and “broccoli” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”

Resting on the page, the word
is as beautiful, it touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent you from some place distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing,

that also needs accomplishing
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue

but today you get a telegram,
from the heart in exile
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

—to any one among them
who can find the time,
to sit out in the sun and listen.