After Years

Ted Kooser

This is a love poem in which the poet's imagination flies far from his own experience.

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Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer's retina
as he stood on the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.

from Solo: A Journal of Poetry, Premiere Issue, Spring 1996

Reckless Poem

Mary Oliver


Today again I am hardly myself.
It happens over and over.
It is heaven-sent.

It flows through me
like the blue wave.
Green leaves – you may believe this or not –
have once or twice
emerged from the tips of my fingers

somewhere
deep in the woods,
in the reckless seizure of spring.

Though, of course, I also know that other song,
the sweet passion of one-ness.

Just yesterday I watched an ant crossing a path, through the
tumbled pine needles she toiled.
And I thought: she will never live another life but this one.
And I thought: if she lives her life with all her strength
is she not wonderful and wise?
And I continued this up the miraculous pyramid of everything
until I came to myself.

And still, even in these northern woods, on these hills of sand,
I have flown from the other window of myself
to become white heron, blue whale,
red fox, hedgehog.
Oh, sometimes already my body has felt like the body of a flower!
Sometimes already my heart is a red parrot, perched
among strange, dark trees, flapping and screaming.

From Five Points
Volume 6, No.3 2002

My Life

after Henri Michaux
Joe Wenderoth


Somehow it got into my room.
I found it, and it was, naturally, trapped.
It was nothing more than a frightened animal.
Since than I raised it up.
I kept it for myself, kept it in my room,
kept it for its own good.
I named the animal, My Life.
I found food for it and fed it with my bare hands.
I let it into my bed, let it breathe in my sleep.
And the animal, in my love, my constant care,
grew up to be strong, and capable of many clever tricks.
One day, quite recently,
I was running my hand over the animal's side
and I came to understand
that it could very easily kill me.
I realized, further, that it would kill me.
This is why it exists, why I raised it.
Since then I have not known what to do.
I stopped feeding it,
only to find that its growth
has nothing to do with food.
I stopped cleaning it
and found that it cleans itself.
I stopped singing it to sleep
and found that it falls asleep faster without my song.
I don't know what to do.
I no longer make My Life do tricks.
I leave the animal alone
and, for now, it leaves me alone, too.
I have nothing to say, nothing to do.
Between My Life and me,
a silence is coming.
Together, we will not get through this.

from It Is If I Speak, 2000
Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT

A Birthday Candle

Donald Justice


Thirty today, I saw
The trees flare briefly like
The candles on a cake,
As the sun went down the sky,
A momentary flash,
Yet there was time to wish

from The Summer Anniversaries, 1960
Originally published in The New Yorker
Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT

June 11

David Lehman

Sometimes a birthday passes without much fanfare, which is what this poem is about.


It's my birthday I've got an empty
stomach and the desire to be
lazy in the hammock and maybe
go for a cool swim on a hot day
with the trombone in Sinatra's
"I've Got You Under My Skin"
in my head and then to break for
lunch a corned-beef sandwich and Pepsi
with plenty of ice cubes unlike France
where they put one measly ice cube
in your expensive Coke and when
you ask for more they argue with
you they say this way you get more
Coke for the money showing they
completely misunderstand the nature of
American soft drinks which are an
excuse for ice cubes still I wouldn't
mind being there for a couple of
days Philip Larkin's attitude
toward China comes to mind when
asked if he'd like to go there he said
yes if he could return the same day

from The Daily Mirror, 2000
Scribner, New York

Near the Wall of a House

Yehuda Amichai


Near the wall of a house painted
to look like stone,
I saw visions of God.

A sleepless night that gives others a headache
gave me flowers
opening beautifully inside my brain.

And he who was lost like a dog
will be found like a human being
and brought back home again.

Love is not the last room: there are others
after it, the whole length of the corridor
that has no end.


from Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai.
Edited and translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell (1986).
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York, NY

Bringing My Son to the Police Station to be Fingerprinted

Shoshauna Shy

The speaker of this poem is trying to distract herself from an unpleasant reality. Here, the title means everything.


My lemon-colored
whisper-weight blouse
with keyhole closure
and sweetheart neckline is tucked
into a pastel silhouette skirt
with side-slit vents
and triplicate pleats
when I realize in the sunlight
through the windshield
that the cool yellow of this blouse clashes
with the buttermilk heather in my skirt
which makes me slightly queasy
however

the periwinkle in the pattern on the sash
is sufficiently echoed by the twill uppers
of my buckle-snug sandals
while the accents on my purse
pick up the pink
in the button stitches

and then as we pass
through Weapons Check
it's reassuring to note
how the yellows momentarily mesh
and make an overall pleasing
composite

from Poetry Northwest, Spring 2001
University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Watching the Mayan Women

Luisa Villani

"Selva" means forest or jungle.



I hang the window inside out
like a shirt drying in a breeze
and the arms that are missing come to me

Yes, it's a song, one I don't quite comprehend
although I do understand the laundry.
White ash and rain water, a method
my aunt taught me, but I'll never know
how she learned it in Brooklyn. Her mind
has gone to seed, blown by a stroke,
and that dandelion puff called memory
has flown far from her eyes. Some things remain.
Procedures. Methods. If you burn
a fire all day, feeding it snapped
branches and newspapers—
the faces pressed against the print
fading into flames-you end up
with a barrel of white ash. If
you take that same barrel and fill it
with rain, let it sit for a day,
you will have water
that can bring brightness to anything.
If you take that water,
and in it soak your husband's shirts,
he'll pause at dawn when he puts one on,
its softness like a haunting afterthought.
And if he works all day in the selva,
he'll divine his way home
in shirtsleeves aglow with torchlight.

from Hayden's Ferry Review, Issue 26, Spring / Summer 2000
Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

Days

Billy Collins


Each one is a gift, no doubt,
mysteriously placed in your waking hand
or set upon your forehead
moments before you open your eyes.

Today begins cold and bright,
the ground heavy with snow
and the thick masonry of ice,
the sun glinting off the turrets of clouds.

Through the calm eye of the window
everything is in its place
but so precariously
this day might be resting somehow

on the one before it,
all the days of the past stacked high
like the impossible tower of dishes
entertainers used to build on stage.

No wonder you find yourself
perched on the top of a tall ladder
hoping to add one more.
Just another Wednesday,

you whisper,
then holding your breath,
place this cup on yesterday's saucer
without the slightest clink.

Forgotten Planet

Doug Dorph

I ask my daughter to name the planets.
"Venus ...Mars ...and Plunis!" she says.
When I was six or seven my father
woke me in the middle of the night.
We went down to the playground and lay
on our backs on the concrete looking up
for the meteors the tv said would shower.
I don't remember any meteors. I remember
my back pressed to the planet Earth,
my father's bulk like gravity next to me,
the occasional rumble from his throat,
the apartment buildings dark-windowed,
the sky close enough to poke with my finger.
Now, knowledge erodes wonder.
The niggling voce reminds me that the sun
does shine on the dark side of the moon.
My daughter's ignorance is my bliss.
Through her eyes I spy like a voyeur.
I travel in a rocket ship to the planet Plunis.
On Plunis I no longer long for the past.
On Plunis there are actual surprises.
On Plunis I am happy.

from Too Too Flesh, Mudfish Individual Poet Series #3, 2000
Box Turtle Press, New York, NY

Dandelion

Julie Lechevsky


My science teacher said
there are no monographs
on the dandelion.
Unlike the Venus fly-trap
or Calopogon pulchellus,
it is not a plant worthy of scrutiny.
It goes on television
between the poison squirt bottles,
during commercial breakaways from Ricki Lake.
But that's how life
parachutes
to my home.
Home,
where they make you do
what you don't want to do.
Moms with Uzis of reproach,
dads with their silencers.
(My parents watch me closely because I am their jewel.)
So no one knows how strong
a dandelion is inside,
how its parts stick together,
bract, involucre, pappus,
how it clings to its fragile self.
There are 188 florets in a bloom,
which might seem a peculiar number,
but there are 188,000 square feet
in the perfectly proportioned Wal-Mart,
which allows for circulation
without getting lost.
I wish I could grow like a dandelion,
from gold to thin white hair,
and be carried on a breeze
to the next yard.

from Poems & Plays, Number 8, Spring/Summer 2001
Middle Tennessee State University