Love means you breathe in two countries.

Thank you for joining me for National Poetry Month, dear readers. I will try and post at least once a week or whenever I come across a poem that strikes me…

“Two Countries”

Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that’s what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers–silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin’s secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.

by Naomi Shihab Nye (1952-)

What you gave me you gave whole

“To My Twenties”

How lucky that I ran into you
When everything was possible
For my legs and arms, and with hope in my heart
And so happy to see any woman—
O woman! O my twentieth year!
Basking in you, you
Oasis from both growing and decay
Fantastic unheard of nine- or ten-year oasis
A palm tree, hey! And then another
And another—and water!
I’m still very impressed by you. Whither,
Midst falling decades, have you gone? Oh in what lucky fellow,
Unsure of himself, upset, and unemployable
For the moment in any case, do you live now?
From my window I drop a nickel
By mistake. With
You I race down to get it
But I find there on
The street instead, a good friend,
X— N—, who says to me
Kenneth do you have a minute?
And I say yes! I am in my twenties!
I have plenty of time! In you I marry,
In you I first go to France; I make my best friends
In you, and a few enemies. I
Write a lot and am living all the time
And thinking about living. I loved to frequent you
After my teens and before my thirties.
You three together in a bar
I always preferred you because you were midmost
Most lustrous apparently strongest
Although now that I look back on you
What part have you played?
You never, ever, were stingy.
What you gave me you gave whole
But as for telling
Me how best to use it
You weren’t a genius at that.
Twenties, my soul
Is yours for the asking
You know that, if you ever come back.

by Kenneth Koch

Hurry up now darling


We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.

Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?
Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,
Honey I’m sorry I keep saying Hurry—
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.

And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

by Marie Howe (1950-)

it’s no use worrying about Time


Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

it’s no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn’t need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water

I wouldn’t want to be faster
or greener than now if you were with me O you
were the best of all my days

by Frank O’Hara

The children come to the banks to be healed

I was just on the phone with my dear friend Killeen and randomly asked her for a poet recommendation because I needed inspiration for tonight’s post. She suggested the German poet Lisel Mueller (1924-), whose work I had never read until 30 minutes ago. And now I find myself liking so many of her poems that I can’t choose just one. So here are two shortish pieces by her. (Thanks Killeen!)

“Bedtime Story”

The moon lies on the river
like a drop of oil.
The children come to the banks to be healed
of their wounds and bruises.
The fathers who gave them their wounds and bruises
come to be healed of their rage.
The mothers grow lovely; their faces soften,
the birds in their throats awake.
They all stand hand in hand
and the trees around them,
forever on the verge
of becoming one of them,
stop shuddering and speak their first word.

But that is not the beginning.
It is the end of the story,
and before we come to the end,
the mothers and fathers and children
must find their way to the river,
separately, with no one to guide them.
That is the long, pitiless part,
and it will scare you.


What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.

We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,

and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.

Even what was beyond us
was recast in our image;
we gave the country a heart,
the storm an eye,
the cave a mouth
so we could pass into safety.

I was your nightgown

“Young Love”

by William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

What about all this writing?

O “Kiki”
O Miss Margaret Jarvis
The backhandspring
I: clean
clean: yes . . New York

Wrigley’s, appendicitis, John Marin:
skyscraper soup—

Either that or a bullet!

anything might have happened
You lay relaxed on my knees—
the starry night
spread out warm and blind
above the hospital—


It is unclean
which is not straight to the mark—

In my life the furniture eats me

the chairs, the floor
the walls
which heard your sobs
drank up my emotion—
they which alone know everything

and snitched on us in the morning—

What to want?

Drunk we go forward surely
Not I

beds, beds, beds
elevators, fruit, night-tables
breasts to see, white and blue—
to hold in the hand, to nozzle

It is not onion soup
Your sobs soaked through the walls
breaking the hospital to pieces
—windows, chairs
obscenely drunk, spinning—

white, blue, orange
—hot with our passion
wild tears, desperate rejoinders
my legs, turning slowly
end over end in the air!

But what would you have?

All I said was:
there, you see, it is broken
stockings, shoes, hairpins
your bed, I wrapped myself round you—

I watched.

You sobbed, you beat your pillow
you tore your hair
you dug your nails into your sides

I was your nightgown
I watched!

Clean is he alone
after whom stream
the broken pieces of the city—
flying apart at his approaches

but I merely
caressed you curiously
fifteen years ago and you still
go about the city, they say
patching up sick school children

and we were no longer alone in the world

This poem by Maria Hummel–a wonderful writer and my first creative writing professor in college–is more beautiful each time I read it. I’m not sure any sort of introduction I could give this late at night would do it justice, so I’ll let you see for yourself. You can also listen to Maria reading it here.


I have grown used to your second departures,
after the car is already thrumming in the driveway,
but the checkbook, the wallet perches on the back

of the couch, and you must charge in for it again,
the cold reaching through the open door, the intensity
of geese just as they sweep the earth, your arrival,

my second chance at good-bye. I used to resent it,
young enough to think we should remember all
our necessities before we left, my pockets stuffed

with lists, my handbag swinging like a heart
on a string. What is it, I would say, impatient
at your return, until I learned to find for you the item

you left behind, usually your money. That was
before the door became another kind of window,
held fast, crossed by storms like the rest of them,

whistled in the high wind. Before the house ached
around us like stretched skin, and the possibility
of children, and we were no longer alone in the world,

two people beneath a bird-shattered sky, but
accountable to hold each other, like roots and riverbank,
air and branches. Although every year we grow less

divisible, as clay and tree-knot gleaming with a steep,
worn loveliness, as leaf hush and the quiet of sky
unfolding into rain, I still can’t forget things. I always

take them when I leave, and much as I long for a second
departure, to find you standing there, handing me the one
lost glove, the mashed hat, I already know one of us

must go first, entering the singing canopy of streets,
and one of us will wait, hope for the sound of a door
opening, that love is the last remembered thing.