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Archive for April, 2012

Dear friends, readers, and lovely strangers who somehow ended up here because of a search term and decided to stay awhile,

Thank you for following my daily posts for National Poetry Month. I hope reading the poems has been as meaningful for you as it has been for me. Rest assured, I will continue to post from time to time…just not every day!

Today, I give you a piece from the great Israeli poet Natan Zach (1930-) via the comprehensive collection of translations recently published by Tavern Books. Here’s to sorrow and honey, the old and the young, to the lost and found…to the wind-shapes and to poetry.

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“A Farewell Song”

The old man holding the oar,
the man in shadows, the miller,
the couple making love in the barn
confirm the distant rumor of life
spoken of in rumors.
Night after night they stand near us,
spirits captive of their past–
once they resembled us
and could, if they so desired, sing.
Look! A youthful evening is falling
and they all return, the old with the young.
Oh, there’s never an end to sorrow,
also there is no sorrow in the world.
Frozen like figures of wax
far from the honey we gathered,
they turn out lives, as well,
in their own way to honey.
So open your window to the evening
and let the wind-shapes enter–
the old man holding the oar,
the man in shadows, the miller,
the couple crying out in the night–
to testify that nothing is lost here
and that nothing is here but what is lost
and that all their wants are laid upon us
and they rest in peace at last.

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From the Palestinian-American poet and physician Fady Joudah (1971-).

“Travel Document”

It must be like forgetting how to die:
Your grass-grown ruins,
Stonewalls, sadness without eyes.
The body puts on its phantom
Limbs’ pain as true account
Of what happens, and a woman
Who’s worn the wrong size
Shoes, all her life in flight, her toes
Now crooked, calls flowers by names
You gave then took them back.

If it’s the body you want, there is the body
That couldn’t return, there is the one
That wouldn’t. Sullen
Vengeance. An egg’s
Invisible axis rising and sinking
In boiling water, salt
As measure for pickling olives,
Hands without echo’s desire
To be heard. Tell me, what else
Is there to say about land?

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“For This”

If I’ve reached for your lines (I have)
like letters from the dead that stir the nerves
dowsed you for a springhead
to water my thirst
dug into my compost skeletons and petals
you surely meant to catch the light:

-at work in my wormeaten wormwood-raftered
stateless underground
have I a plea?

If I’ve touched your finger
with a ravenous tongue
licked from your palm a rift of salt
if I’ve dreamt or thought you
a pack of blood fresh-drawn
hanging darkred from a hook
higher than my heart
(you who understand transfusion)
where else should I appeal?

A pilot light lies low
while the gas jets sleep
(a cat getting toed from stove
into nocturnal ice)
language uncommon and agile as truth
melts down the most intractable silence

A lighthouse keeper’s ethics:
you tend for all or none
for this you might set your furniture on fire
A this we have blundered over
as if the lamp could be shut off at will
rescue denied for some

and still a lighthouse be

–Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

 

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Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other 
doesn’t make any sense.

–Rumi

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Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day. What words have you been carrying around today? I’ve been dispersing all sorts of verse, but this gem from an all-time favorite poet of mine, Naomi Shihab Nye (1952-), is the one I want to share with you all.

“The Tunnel of Questions”

What’s been going on?
Gene asked Rusty at the reunion.
Rusty answered, I’m sorry sir,
but you’ll have to be more specific,
which made the sky between us light up
like the best answer lights the mouth
of the boy who speaks it. His classmates
stare in awe. How did he know?
We cannot say what is going on,
or what we want to be when we grow up,
just as we cannot grow up.

I held rupees in my hand.
The Abu Dhabi airport is shaped like a mushroom.
He purchased a house with thick stone walls.
All the time my friend was dying,
she said a carved owl spoke to her.
The last letter—“I still have hope,
that’s something you don’t lose”—
has burrowed a tunnel inside my throat.
Questions live there. As for hope,
something inside us is a stone
bigger than moving, and the question is
how to love it.

Last summer a bull escaped from the stockyards,
clattered down Main Street looking for grass.
He found some. Bounded away again when the truck came
with pistols and nets, and all the old men
who pass by draping beat-up coats over their arms,
lugging sacks of crushed soda cans,
felt a little cry come out of their own tunnels
when the truck caught up with the bull
on the Salvation Army steps.
He didn’t get away.
Could he have gotten away?

The days which are brothers to us
pump their blood back and forth,
not telling. A man crosses a street,
using his shadow as an oar. And still
we want to go places, saying if we lived in Portugal, we could eat
white beans and shrimp,
bury our faces in vats of orange petals.
Or Paris—visiting the flower market
every day might change things,
the questions grow different bodies,
fluting out of themselves into yellow crowns
on slim green stalks. And the days you felt
the questions open into boats
and drift, leaving you
like some bridge or umbrella-table, firm?
That was the day you walked like a free man or woman nodding your head
and said whatever had to be done,
you could do it.

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From my first college creative writing teacher, the incredible Maria Hummel. For another heartbreaking piece of hers, check out the poem I posted last year. Heimweh, by the way, is the German word for homesickness.

“Heimweh”

I used to think if I overcame this sadness
I would have nothing left
but particulars, a way of saying
the word mountain, a habit
of carting sweaters everywhere,
and memories of the last day
of winter, its bareness on the wind
and white snow sailing
over the green grass,
burying it with such delicacy
the field will never look
alive again, even when the poppies
and asters, even when the daisies
and cornflowers, even when
the birds of fall
hunt for seeds in the damp
earth, under the shadowed stems.
That kind of nothing
deserves a parade, a marching
band slapping an old bass drum,
trumpets and flutes, and when
I have overcome this sadness
what remains
will fit into the long brass neck of the tuba,
which is always played
simply and badly
to punctuate the passing
of a song.

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Dear readers,

Have you mostly been sitting behind a screen this month, scrolling through poems in isolation and then moving on with your day? Do your friends not know you actually like poetry? Has one line of verse been haunting, confusing, or delighting you for weeks?

How about you invite others to share in that experience with you for a day?

Tomorrow, April 26, marks what I suppose could be called the climax of National Poetry Month: Poem In Your Pocket Day. The name itself is self-explanatory, so I won’t belabor the point. But I do want to encourage you to unleash a poem from a book–or a blog–and carry it into the world. Read it to a friend over lunch, startle your coworkers at a meeting, recite one to somebody before bed. Or if you’d rather share quietly, slip some verse into the pocket of a loved one, leave one at a cafe table, or print out dozens of poems, as I did years ago, and plaster them all over your dorm walls. Disrupt the ritual of their days with beautiful words.

And, if you are so inclined, please comment with the poem you decide to share. My pockets are ready to be filled.

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