From one of my favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye:
“What People Do”
November November November the days crowd together
like families of leaves in a dry field
I pick up a round stone take it to my father
who lies in bed waiting for his heart to mend
and he turns it over and over in his hands
My father is writing me the story of his village
He tells what people did in another country
before I was born how his best friend was buried alive
and the boy survived two days in the ground
how my father was lowered into a well on ropes to discover
clay jars a thousand years old how each jar held seeds
carob and melon and the villagers chose secrecy
knowing the British would come with trucks and dig up their town
My father’s handwriting changes from page to page
sometimes a wild scrawl and disconnected letters
sometimes a new serious upward slant
And me I travel the old roads again and again
wearing a different life in a house surrounded by trees
At night the dropping pecans make little clicks above us
More and more I understand what people do
I appreciate the daily braveries clean white shirts
morning greetings between old men
Again I see how once the boat tips you never forget
the sensation of drowning
even if you sing yourself the familiar songs
Today my face is stone my eyes are buckets
I walk the streets lowering them into everything
but they come up empty
I would tell my father
I cannot move one block without you
I will never recover from your love
yet I stand by his bed saying things I have said before
and he answers and we go on this way
smoothing the silences
nothing can heal
Happy Thanksgiving, dear Readers. Today the lovely California writer, Joseph Stroud, reminds us that there is much to be grateful for, not the least of which is a poet’s ability to serve us a carefully chosen feast of images, a profound taste of life.
“Homage to Life”
It is good to have chosen
a living home
and harbored time
in a constant heart,
to have seen one’s hands
touch the world
as an apple
in a small garden,
to have loved the earth,
the moon and the sun,
like old friends
beyond any others,
and to have entrusted
the world to memory
like a luminous horseman
to his black steed,
to have given shape
to these words: wife, children,
and to have served as a shore
for roving continents,
to have come upon the soul
with little oarstrokes
for it is frightened
by a sudden approach.
It is good to have known
the shade under the leaves
and to have felt age
steal over the naked body
accompanying the grief
of dark blood in our veins
and glazing its silence
with the star, Patience,
and to have all these words
stirring in the head,
to choose the least beautiful
and make a little feast for them,
to have felt life
rushed and ill-loved,
to have held it
in this poetry.
From Robert Bly’s newest book, Talking into the Ear of a Donkey:
“Ravens Hiding in a Shoe”
There is something men and women living in houses
Don’t understand. The old alchemists standing
Near their stoves hinted at it a thousand times.
Ravens at night hide in an old woman’s shoe.
A four-year-old speaks some ancient language.
We have lived our own death a thousand times.
Each sentence we speak to friends means the opposite
As well. Each time we say, “I trust in God,” it means
God has already abandoned us a thousand times.
Mothers again and again have knelt in church
In wartime asking God to protect their sons,
And their prayers were refused a thousand times.
The baby loon follows the mother’s sleek
Body for months. By the end of summer, she
Has dipped her head into Rainy Lake a thousand times.
Robert, you’ve wasted so much of your life
Sitting indoors to write poems. Would you
Do that again? I would, a thousand times.
From Master of Disguises by Charles Simic (1938-):
“The Elusive Something”
Was it in the smell of freshly baked bread
That came out to meet me in the street?
The face of a girl carrying a white dress
From the cleaners with her eyes half closed?
The sight of a building blackened by fire
Where once I went to look for work?
The toothless old man passing out leaflets
For a clothing store going out of business?
Or was it the woman pushing a baby carriage
About to turn the corner? I ran after,
As if the little one lying in it was known to me,
And found myself alone on a busy street
I didn’t recognize, feeling like someone
Out for the first time after a long illness,
Who sees the world with his heart,
Then hurries home to forget how it felt.
Dreams make a significant appearance in both this Richard Siken poem and his other piece that I posted a few months ago. So this may be influenced by the fact that it’s quite late, and I’m growing sleepier (and less coherent) by the minute, but I find Siken’s poems sort of dreamlike themselves. Threaded tightly with images and assertions both head-noddingly familiar and somewhat jarring, these two poems leave me feeling a bit like I do after just waking from some dreams–intrigued and bewildered and startlingly, perhaps reassuringly, exposed.
“Detail of the Woods”
I looked at all the trees and didn’t know what to do.
A box made out of leaves.
What else was in the woods? A heart, closing. Nevertheless.
Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else.
I kept my mind on the moon. Cold moon, long nights moon.
From the landscape: a sense of scale.
From the dead: a sense of scale.
I turned my back on the story. A sense of superiority.
Everything casts a shadow.
Your body told me in a dream it’s never been afraid of anything.
From the beautifully sharp Polish poet Wislawa Szymborsksa (1923-), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996.
“Beneath One Little Star”
(translated by by Adam Czerniawski)
My apologies to the accidental for calling it necessary.
However apologies to necessity if I happen to by wrong.
Hope happiness won’t be angry if I claim it as my own.
May the dead forget they barely smolder in my remembrance.
Apologies to time for the abundance of the world missed every second.
Apologies to my old love for treating the new as the first.
Forgive me, distant wounds, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, that I prick my finger.
Apologies to those calling from the abyss for a record of a minuet.
Apologies to people catching trains for sleeping at dawn.
Pardon me, baited hope, for my sporadic laugh.
Pardon me, deserts, for not rushing with a spoonful of water;
And you too, hawk, unchanged in years, in that self-same cage.
Staring motionless, always at the self-same spot.
Forgive me, even if you are stuffed.
Apologies for the hewn tree for four table legs.
Apologies to the big questions for small replies.
Truth, don’t pay me too much attention.
Seriousness – be magnanimous.
Mystery of Being – suffer me to pluck threads from your train.
Soul – don’t blame me for having you but rarely.
Apologies to everyone for failing to be every him or her.
I know that while I live nothing can excuse me,
Since I am my own impediment.
Speech – don’t blame me for borrowing big words and
then struggling to make them light.