The Yawn

Paul Blackburn


The black-haired girl
with the big
                          brown
                                          eyes
on the Queens train coming
                          in to work, so
opens her mouth so beautifully
                          wide
                                       in a ya-aawn, that
two stops after she has left the train
I have only to think of her            and I
                                                                   o-oh-aaaww-hm
                                                                      wow        !

from The Cities (Collected Poems), 1985
Persea Books, New York, NY

Smell and Envy

Douglas Goetsch

The speaker of this poem makes it clear he is a city poet.
The Pleiades is a cluster of stars.


You nature poets think you've got it, hostaged
somewhere in Vermont or Oregon,
so it blooms and withers only for you,
so all you have to do is name it: primrose
- and now you're writing poetry, and now
you ship it off to us, to smell and envy.
But we are made of newspaper and smoke
and we dunk your roses in vats of blue.
Birds don't call, our pigeons play it close
to the vest. When the moon is full
we hear it in the sirens. The Pleiades
you could probably buy downtown. Gravity
is the receiver on the hook. Mortality
we smell on certain people as they pass.

from Nobody's Hell, 1999
Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn, NY

The End and the Beginning

Wislawa Szymborska


After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won't
straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.
Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.
Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall,
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.
Photogenic it's not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.
We'll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.
Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.
From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.
Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.
In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

from Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska, 2001
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY

Social Security

Terence Winch


No one is safe. The streets are unsafe.
Even in the safety zones, it's not safe.
Even safe sex is not safe.
Even things you lock up in a safe
are not safe. Never deposit anything
in a safe-deposit box, because it
won't be safe there. Nobody is safe
at home during baseball games anymore.
At night I go around in the dark
locking everything, returning
a few minutes later
to make sure I locked
everything. It's not safe here.
It's not safe and they know it.
People get hurt using safety pins.
It was not always this way.
Long ago, everyone felt safe. Aristotle
never felt danger. Herodotus felt danger
only when Xerxes was around. Young women
were afraid of wing├Ęd dragons, but felt
relaxed otherwise. Timotheus, however,
was terrified of storms until he played
one on the flute. After that, everyone
was more afraid of him than of the violent
west wind, which was fine with Timotheus.
Euclid, full of music himself, believed only
that there was safety in numbers.

from The Paris Review, Volume 42, Number 156, Fall 2001
The Paris Review

Promised Land

Samuel Menashe


At the edge
Of a World
Beyond my eyes
Beautiful
I know Exile
Is always
Green with hope—
The river
We cannot cross
Flows forever

Ode to Thanks

Pablo Neruda - translated by Ken Krabbenhoft

Thanks to the word
that says thanks!
Thanks to thanks,
word
that melts
iron and snow!
The world is a threatening place
until
thanks
makes the rounds
from one pair of lips to another,
soft as a bright
feather
and sweet as a petal of sugar,
filling the mouth with its sound
or else a mumbled
whisper.
Life becomes human again:
it’s no longer an open window.
A bit of brightness
strikes into the forest,
and we can sing again beneath the leaves.
Thanks, you’re the medicine we take
to save us from
the bite of scorn.
Your light brightens the altar of harshness.
Or maybe
a tapestry
known
to far distant peoples.
Travelers
fan out
into the wilds,
and in the jungle
of strangers,
merci
rings out
while the hustling train
changes countries,
sweeping away borders,
then spasibo
clinging to pointy
volcanoes, to fire and freezing cold,
or danke, yes! and gracias, and
the world turns into a table:
a single word has wiped it clean,
plates and glasses gleam,
silverware tinkles,
and the tablecloth is as broad as a plain.
Thank you, thanks,
for going out and returning,
for rising up
and settling down.
We know, thanks,
that you don’t fill every space-
you’re only a word-
but
where your little petal
appears
the daggers of pride take cover,
and there’s a penny’s worth of smiles.

Ode to a Toad

Anne-Marie Wulfsberg


I was out one day for my usual jog,
(I go kinda easy, rarely full-hog)
When I happened to see, right there on the road
The squishy remains of a little green toad.

I thought to myself, where is his home?
Down yonder green valley, how far did he roam?
From out on the pond I heard sorrowful croaks,
Could that be the wailing of some of his folks?

I felt for the toad and his pitiful state,
But the day was now fading, and such was his fate.
In the grand scheme of things, now I confess,
What's one little froggie, more or less?

Locals

James Lasdun


They peopled landscapes casually like trees,
being there richly, never having gone there,
and whether clanning in cities or village-thin stands
were reticent as trees with those not born there,
and their fate, like trees, was seldom in their hands.

Others to them were always one of two
evils: the colonist or refugee.
They stared back, half-disdaining us, half-fearing;
inferring from our looks their destiny
as preservation or as clearing.

I envied them. To be local was to know
which team to support: the local team;
where to drop in for a pint with mates: the local;
best of all to feel by birthright welcome
anywhere; be everywhere a local ...

Bedouin-Brython-Algonquins; always there
before you; the original prior claim
that made your being anywhere intrusive.
There, doubtless, in Eden before Adam
wiped them out and settled in with Eve.

Whether at home or away, whether kids
playing or saying what they wanted,
or adults chatting, waiting for a bus,
or, in their well-tended graves, the contented dead,
there were always locals, and they were never us.

from Landscape with Chainsaw, 2001
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY

The Dead

Susan Mitchell

This is a fantasy poem about the dead.


At night the dead come down to the river to drink.
They unburden themselves of their fears,
their worries for us. They take out the old photographs.
They pat the lines in our hands and tell our futures,
which are cracked and yellow.
Some dead find their way to our houses.
They go up to the attics.
They read the letters they sent us, insatiable
for signs of their love.
They tell each other stories.
They make so much noise
they wake us
as they did when we were children and they stayed up
drinking all night in the kitchen.

from The Water Inside the Water, 1994
Harper Collins

This Moment

Eavan Boland

This poem just tries to capture a moment in time.


A neighbourhood.
At dusk.
Things are getting ready
to happen
out of sight.
Stars and moths.
And rinds slanting around fruit.
But not yet.
One tree is black.
One window is yellow as butter.
A woman leans down to catch a child
who has run into her arms
this moment.
Stars rise.
Moths flutter.
Apples sweeten in the dark.

from In a Time of Violence, 1994
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY

The Student Theme

Ronald Wallace


The adjectives all ganged up on the nouns,
insistent, loud, demanding, inexact,
their Latinate constructions flashing. The pronouns
lost their referents: They were dangling, lacked
the stamina to follow the prepositions' lead
in, on, into, to, toward, for, or from.
They were beset by passive voices and dead
metaphors, conjunctions shouting But! or And!

The active verbs were all routinely modified
by adverbs, that endlessly and colorlessly ran
into trouble with the participles sitting
on the margins knitting their brows like gerunds
(dangling was their problem, too). The author
was nowhere to be seen; was off somewhere.

from The Uses of Adversity, 1998
University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA

Litany

Billy Collins

            “You are the bread and the knife,
                   The crystal goblet and the wine...”
                                —-Jacques Crickillon
 
You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
 
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.
 
It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
 
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
 
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
 
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
 
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don’t worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and—somehow—the wine.

A Narrow Fellow in the Grass

Emily Dickinson

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him,--did you not,
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun,--
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature's people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.