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.

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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.

Even this late the bones of the body shine

Here’s a beautiful winter solstice poem by Mark Strand (1934-2014). Wishing you a 2019 full of love and light, dear readers.

“The Coming of Light”

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

Who can utter the poignance of all that is constantly threatened

As wildfire smoke covers so much of California in an eerie, devastating haze, I can’t help but think of this Denise Levertov poem that I posted years ago. Tonight I am holding not only this ever-fragile paradise I call home and all its people close to my heart but also the threatened landscapes and communities disintegrating across the world every day.

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“In California: Morning, Evening, Late January”

Pale, then enkindled,
light
advancing,
emblazoning
summits of palm and pine,

the dew
lingering,
scripture of
scintillas.

Soon the roar
of mowers
cropping the already short
grass of lawns,

men with long-nozzled
cylinders of pesticide
poking at weeds,
at moss in cracks of cement,

and louder roar
of helicopters off to spray
vineyards where braceros try
to hold their breath,

and in the distance, bulldozers, excavators,
babel of destructive construction.

Banded by deep
oakshadow, airy
shadow of eucalyptus,

miner’s lettuce,
tender, untasted,
and other grass, unmown,
luxuriant,
no green more brilliant.

Fragile paradise.

. . . .

At day’s end the whole sky,
vast, unstinting, flooded with transparent
mauve,
tint of wisteria,
cloudless
over the malls, the industrial parks,
the homes with the lights going on,
the homeless arranging their bundles.

. . . .

Who can utter
the poignance of all that is constantly
threatened, invaded, expended

and constantly
nevertheless
persists in beauty,

tranquil as this young moon
just risen and slowly
drinking light
from the vanished sun.

Who can utter
the praise of such generosity
or the shame?

There is a time for everything.

Dear readers,

Thank you kindly for following along for another April of verse. I want to close this month with one of my favorite poems, written by the brilliant Ross Gay (1974-).

I realize many of the works I selected this month (and for years prior) may seem a little dark at times. But I love this poem so much because it speaks to my most hopeful self, the self that believes so fervently that amidst all this darkness there is so much life and light to be grateful for–not the least of which are beautiful words and all of you for taking the time to appreciate them alongside me.

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“Sorrow is Not My Name”

—after Gwendolyn Brooks

No matter the pull toward brink. No
matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.
There is a time for everything. Look,
just this morning a vulture
nodded his red, grizzled head at me,
and I looked at him, admiring
the sickle of his beak.
Then the wind kicked up, and,
after arranging that good suit of feathers
he up and took off.
Just like that. And to boot,
there are, on this planet alone, something like two
million naturally occurring sweet things,
some with names so generous as to kick
the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,
stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks
at the market. Think of that. The long night,
the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me
on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.
But look; my niece is running through a field
calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel
and at the end of my block is a basketball court.
I remember. My color’s green. I’m spring.

—for Walter Aikens