I stretch out on the shore and think of you

Happy summer solstice, dear readers. Here’s a bit of verse from the great Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998) to celebrate the longest day of the year.

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Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Photo by me. 

“In the Summer”

In the summer
I stretch out on the shore
And think of you
Had I told the sea
What I felt for you,
It would have left its shores,
Its shells,
Its fish,
And followed me.

(Translated by B. Frangieh and C. Brown)

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I once found myself in a peaceful country

For this last day of National Poetry Month, here’s a poem by one of my favorite poets, Ilya Kaminsky (1977-), from one of my favorite new collections of the year. Seek out a copy of this devastatingly piercing and tender masterpiece–you will not be disappointed.

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“In a Time of Peace”

Inhabitant of earth for fortysomething years
I once found myself in a peaceful country. I watch neighbors open

their phones to watch
a cop demanding a man’s driver’s license. When a man reaches for his wallet, the cop
shoots. Into the car window. Shoots.

It is a peaceful country.

We pocket our phones and go.
To the dentist,
to pick up the kids from school,
to buy shampoo
and basil.

Ours is a country in which a boy shot by police lies on the pavement
for hours.

We see in his open mouth
the nakedness
of the whole nation.

We watch. Watch
others watch.

The body of a boy lies on the pavement exactly like the body of a boy–

It is a peaceful country.

And it clips our citizens’ bodies
effortlessly, the way the President’s wife trims her toenails.

All of us
still have to do the hard work of dentist appointments,
of remembering to make
a summer salad: basil, tomatoes, it is a joy, tomatoes, add a little salt.

This is a time of peace.

I do not hear gunshots,
but watch birds splash over the backyards of the suburbs. How bright is the sky
as the avenue spins on its axis.
How bright is the sky (forgive me) how bright.

Sooner or later everyone donates something

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“I Cannot Be Quiet an Hour”

I begin
to talk to violets.
Tears fall into my soup
and I drink them.
Sooner or later
everyone donates something.
I carry wood, stone, and
hay in my head.
The eyes of the violets
grow very wide.
At the end of the day
I reglue the broken foot
of the china shepherd
who has put up with me.
Next door, in the house
of the clock-repairer,
a hundred clocks tick
at once. He and his wife
go about their business
sleeping peacefully at night.

by Mary Ruefle (1952-)

 

The air smelled of burning clementine groves.

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From Hijra, by the Palestinian American poet, author, and clinical psychologist Hala Alyan (1986-).

“Seham”

Sit and I’ll tell you of my father’s prayer rug,
dark as plums with yellow borders,

borders like the map we ate, grit tangled
between our teeth, the years swelling

like one hundred arrows. Here,
have some stew, taste June in the steam.

Did I tell you about the name we bore
like armor, the earth they spat up

with fishbone? After they planted copper
in our eyes, we went on planting suns over

the graves. The air smelled of
burning clementine groves. We fed

our daughters until they grew
redwoods and oak trees instead of hearts,

the fever we took from the land when
our ribs turned into compasses.

I pick them as I picked you

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Wildflowers in Carrizo Plain National Monument, 2016

From Aspects of Eve, by Linda Pastan (1932-).

“Wildflowers”

You gave me dandelions.
They took our lawn
by squatters’ rights—
round suns rising
in April, soft moons
blowing away in June.
You gave me lady slippers,
bloodroot, milkweed,
trillium whose secret number
the children you gave me
tell. In the hierarchy
of flowers, the wild
rise on their stems
for naming.
Call them weeds.
I pick them as I
picked you,
for their fierce,
unruly joy.

this is what the words were meant to prophesy

Dear Readers,

Happy National Poetry Month! For the first time in the decade (!) since I started this blog, I am taking a hiatus from daily April posting. I will still post as much as I can, but in the meantime, I hope you all find ways to explore and enjoy verse this month—and every month of the year. And heartfelt thanks to all of you who have reached out to tell me how much the poems have meant to you–I have maintained my blog after all this time in part because of your collective encouragement.

If you still want that regular poem in your inbox this April, I recommend signing up for daily poems from places like:

poetrymonth

In the meantime, I will leave you with this poem from the incredible W.S. Merwin (1927-2019), who passed away just two weeks ago.

“Losing a Language”

A breath leaves the sentences and does not come back
yet the old still remember something that they could say

but they know now that such things are no longer believed
and the young have fewer words

many of the things the words were about
no longer exist

the noun for standing in mist by a haunted tree
the verb for I

the children will not repeat
the phrases their parents speak

somebody has persuaded them
that it is better to say everything differently

so that they can be admired somewhere
farther and farther away

where nothing that is here is known
we have little to say to each other

we are wrong and dark
in the eyes of the new owners

the radio is incomprehensible
the day is glass

when there is a voice at the door it is foreign
everywhere instead of a name there is a lie

nobody has seen it happening
nobody remembers

this is what the words were made
to prophesy

here are the extinct feathers
here is the rain we saw

Imagination is better than a sharp instrument.

Thank you, Mary Oliver (1935-2019), for your poetry that has accompanied me and countless others (and will continue to) throughout so much of life. I have read your words aloud at dinner tables and hospital beds, under my covers and on long meandering hikes, during moments of extreme joy and aching grief. Thank you for your imagination and your light and for reminding us to always pay attention during these wild and precious lives.

Readers, here are some of the Mary Oliver poems I’ve posted over the years, though I recommend you explore the vast collection of her incredible work. I’ll leave you this morning with one of the first poems of hers I ever loved and shared on this blog a decade ago.

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“Yes! No!”

How necessary it is to have opinions! I think the spotted trout
lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth. I
think serenity is not something you just find in the world,
like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.

The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like
small dark lanterns.

The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out

Yes! No! The

swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier
is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppy
rocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better
than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.