Monday, January 24, 2011
by Faith Shearin
For Henry and Irene Spruill
My great grandfather had some fields in North Carolina
and he willed those fields to his sons and his sons
willed them to their sons so there is a two-hundred-year-old
farm house on that land where several generations
of my family fried chicken and laughed and hung
their laundry beneath the trees. There are things you
know when your family has lived close to the earth:
things that make magic seem likely. Dig a hole on the new
of the moon and you will have dirt to throw away
but dig one on the old of the moon and you won't have
enough to fill it back up again: I learned this trick
in the backyard of childhood with my hands. If you know
the way the moon pulls at everything then you can feel
it on the streets of a city where you cannot see the sky.
My mother says the moon is like a man: it changes
its mind every eight days and you plant nothing
until its risen full and high. If you plant corn when
the signs are in the heart you will get black spots
in your grain and if you meet a lover when the
signs are in the feet he will never take you dancing.
When the signs are in the bowels you must not plant
or your seed will rot and if you want to make a baby
you must undress under earth or water. I am the one
in the post office who buys stamps when the signs
are in the air so my mail will learn to fly. I stand in my
front yard, in the suburbs, and wish for luck and
money on the new of the moon when there
are many black nights. I may walk the streets
of this century and make my living in an office
but my blood is old farming blood and my true
self is underground like a potato. At the opera
I will think of rainfall and vines. In my dreams
all my corn may grow short but the ears will be
full. If you kiss my forehead on a dark moon
in March I may disappear—but do not be afraid—
I have taken root in my grandfather's
fields: I am hanging my laundry beneath his trees
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Dishwater" by Ted Kooser
Slap of the screen door, flat knock
of my grandmother's boxy black shoes
on the wooden stoop, the hush and sweep
of her knob-kneed, cotton-aproned stride
out to the edge and then, toed in
with a furious twist and heave,
a bridge that leaps from her hot red hands
and hangs there shining for fifty years
over the mystified chickens,
over the swaying nettles, the ragweed,
the clay slope down to the creek,
over the redwing blackbirds in the tops
of the willows, a glorious rainbow
with an empty dishpan swinging at one end.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
"A Church in Italy" by Tom Tammaro, from When the Italians Came to
My Home Town
A Church in Italy
Last summer, in church in Italy,
I prayed for all of you, asked not for forgiveness
And strength, but that all the sadness of our
All the grief of our lives,
All the loneliness given us be taken,
Without judgment — asked for life and light.
That was the first time in twenty-three years something
Like that happened to me. Not knowing the modern prayers,
I fell back on the old way of ending prayer,
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
And to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning,
Is now, and ever shall be, world without end
Then dropped some lire coins in the metal offering box,
Walked through the heavily curtained doorway into the
Mediterranean heat, into the hard traffic of
Into the harsh light of the
Into this world without
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Anastasia & Sandman
by Larry Levis
The brow of a horse in that moment when
The horse is drinking water so deeply from a trough
It seems to inhale the water, is holy.
I refuse to explain.
When the horse had gone the water in the trough,
All through the empty summer,
Went on reflecting clouds & stars.
The horse cropping grass in a field,
And the fly buzzing around its eyes, are more real
Than the mist in one corner of the field.
Or the angel hidden in the mist, for that matter.
Members of the Committee on the Ineffable,
Let me illustrate this with a story, & ask you all
To rest your heads on the table, cushioned,
If you wish, in your hands, &, if you want,
Comforted by a small carton of milk
To drink from, as you once did, long ago,
When there was only a curriculum of beach grass,
When the University of Flies was only a distant humming.
In Romania, after the war, Stalin confiscated
The horses that had been used to work the fields.
"You won't need horses now," Stalin said, cupping
His hand to his ear, "Can't you hear the tractors
Coming in the distance? I hear them already."
The crowd in the Callea Victoria listened closely
But no one heard anything. In the distance
There was only the faint glow of a few clouds.
And the horses were led into boxcars & emerged
As the dimly remembered meals of flesh
That fed the starving Poles
During that famine, & part of the next one--
In which even words grew thin & transparent,
Like the pale wings of ants that flew
Out of the oldest houses, & slowly
What had been real in words began to be replaced
By what was not real, by the not exactly real.
"Well, not exactly, but. . ." became the preferred
Administrative phrasing so that the man
Standing with his hat in his hands would not guess
That the phrasing of a few words had already swept
The earth from beneath his feet. "That horse I had,
He was more real than any angel,
The housefly, when I had a house, was real too,"
Is what the man thought.
Yet it wasn't more than a few months
Before the man began to wonder, talking
To himself out loud before the others,
"Was the horse real? Was the house real?"
An angel flew in and out of the high window
In the factory where the man worked, his hands
Numb with cold. He hated the window & the light
Entering the window & he hated the angel.
Because the angel could not be carved into meat
Or dumped into the ossuary & become part
Of the landfill at the edge of town,
It therefore could not acquire a soul,
And resembled in significance nothing more
Than a light summer dress when the body has gone.
The man survived because, after a while,
He shut up about it.
Stalin had a deep understanding of the kulaks,
Their sense of marginalization & belief in the land;
That is why he killed them all.
Members of the Committee on Solitude, consider
Our own impoverishment & the progress of that famine,
In which, now, it is becoming impossible
To feel anything when we contemplate the burial,
Alive, in a two-hour period, of hundreds of people.
Who were not clichés, who did not know they would be
The illegible blank of the past that lives in each
Of us, even in some guy watering his lawn
On a summer night. Consider
The death of Stalin & the slow, uninterrupted
Evolution of the horse, a species no one,
Not even Stalin, could extinguish, almost as if
What could not be altered was something
Noble in the look of its face, something
Incapable of treachery.
Then imagine, in your planning proposals,
The exact moment in the future when an angel
Might alight & crawl like a fly into the ear of a horse,
And then, eventually, into the brain of a horse,
And imagine further that the angel in the brain
Of this horse is, for the horse cropping grass
In the field, largely irrelevant, a mist in the corner
Of the field, something that disappears,
The horse thinks, when weight is passed through it,
Something that will not even carry the weight
Of its own father
On its back, the horse decides, & so demonstrates
This by swishing at a fly with its tail, by continuing
To graze as the dusk comes on & almost until it is night.
Old contrivers, daydreamers, walking chemistry sets,
Exhausted chimneysweeps of the spaces
Between words, where the Holy Ghost tastes just
Like the dust it is made of,
Let's tear up our lecture notes & throw them out
Let's do it right now before wisdom descends upon us
Like a spiderweb over a burned-out theater marquee,
Because what's the use?
I keep going to meetings where no one's there,
And contributing to the discussion;
And besides, behind the angel hissing in its mist
Is a gate that leads only into another field,
Another outcropping of stones & withered grass, where
A horse named Sandman & a horse named Anastasia
Used to stand at the fence & watch the traffic pass.
Where there were outdoor concerts once, in summer,
Under the missing & innumerable stars.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
My father once broke a man’s hand
Over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor. The man,
Ruben Vasquez, wanted to kill his own father
With a sharpened fruit knife, and he held
The curved tip of it, lightly, between his first
Two fingers, so it could slash
Horizontally, & with surprising grace,
Across a throat. It was like a glinting beak in a hand,
And, for a moment, the light held still
On those vines. When it was over,
My father simply went in & ate lunch, & then, as always,
Lay alone in the dark, listening to music.
He never mentioned it.
I never understood how anyone could risk his life,
Then listen to Vivaldi.
Sometimes, I go out into this yard at night,
And stare through the wet branches of an oak
In winter, & realize I am looking at the stars
Again. A thin haze of them, shining
It used to make me feel lighter, looking up at them.
In California, that light was closer.
In a California no one will ever see again,
My father is beginning to die. Something
Inside him is slowly taking back
Every word it ever gave him.
Now, if we try to talk, I watch my father
Search for a lost syllable as if it might
Solve everything, & though he can’t remember, now,
The word for it, he is ashamed…
If you can think of the mind as a place continually
Visited, a whole city placed behind
The eyes, & shining, I can imagine, now, its end—
As when the lights go off, one by one,
In a hotel at night, until at last
All of the travelers will be asleep, or until
Even the thin glow from the lobby is a kind
Of sleep; & while the woman behind the desk
Is applying more lacquer to her nails,
You can almost believe that elevator,
As it ascends, must open upon starlight.
I stand out on the street, & do not go in.
That was our agreement, at my birth.
And for years I believed
That what went unsaid between us became empty,
And pure, like starlight, & that it persisted.
I got it all wrong.
I wound up believing in words the way a scientist
Believes in carbon, after death.
Tonight, I’m talking to you, father, although
It is quiet here in the Midwest, where a small wind,
The size of a wrist, wakes the cold again—
Which may be all that’s left of you & me.
When I left home at seventeen, I left for good.
That pale haze of stars goes on & on,
Like laughter that has found a final, silent shape
On a black sky. It means everything
It cannot say. Look, it’s empty out there, & cold.
Cold enough to reconcile
Even a father, even a son.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Hymn to My hands
By Steven Fortney
Again, the spider appears on the ceiling
above my head as he always does each time
he approves my thinking. The mudra
I make at my work and puja table floats thus:
both hands flat. Aum: The right hand rises
and touches my heart. Mani: The left hand
joins it there. Padme: The right hand
floats back to the table top. Hum: The left hand
then joins it there.
In the heart is the flowering
of universes. My hands rest on the altar.
They, with their body, have both lived more
than eight decades. They are small for a man,
short fingered, yet strong enough. On one
finger of the left hand, a wedding ring;
a university ring on the finger of the right.
The hair on both is sparse: oak opening,
African savannah, sparse.
On the sandy loam plains are rivers, blue veins that course
through that tanned tundra that is the back
of both hands. In places the surface cracks
in the parallelograms and triangles of soil
surfaces starved of water.
Whirlpools and eddys at fingertips.
Canyons and arroyosin palms. Hands can caress or make a fist.
Living things, they. Even here, a mystery.
Consciousness can will some things,
holding a pencil, saluting; but when still,
life, vitality, beyond mere will. I tell my thumb
to move and it does. But then the hands
at rest are packed with energy. I do not
know how this has happened. I cherish
And there are spots.
Death spots? Liver marks? Sunspots?
Speak of the mortal life. Speak of coming
terminus. Speak of the star inset in galaxies.
The spots are galaxies. They become groups
of galaxies. On my hands, universes. We are
made of star stuff. Those astronomies
before me on my two hands are the astronomies
of the ever living, pulsing, unlimited Cosmos.
That should make me afraid, as I was terrified
when seated on my meditation blanket and I saw,
long ago, paralyzed by the sight of my dissolution
among the pulsars and exploding novas. I did not
want to die. But now watching the galaxies
on the backs of my two hands, I am not afraid.
I take comfort. My meditation is cool. I am grateful.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
by Anne Sexton
have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.
I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.
I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Bad News About My Vocation
By Ron Koertge
I remember how the upper crust in my hometown
pronounced it- Care-a-mel. Which is correct, I guess,
but to everyone else it was carmel.
Which led to the misconception about the order of
I imagined they served God by heating sugar
to about 170 C, then adding milk and butter
and vanilla essence while they
listened to the radio.
I thought I could do that. I could wear the white
shirt and pants. I knew I couldn't be good
but I might be a good candy maker.
So imagine my chagrin when I learned about
the vows of poverty and toil enjoined
by these particular friars.
I also crossed off my list the Marshmallowites
and the Applepieites, two other orders
I was thinking of joining.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
New Year's Resolution
By Linda Davis
I ask my friend Bob what his New Year’s Resolutions are and he says, with a shrug (indicating that this is obvious or not surprising ): to drink less, to lose weight… He asks me the same, but I am not ready to answer him yet.
I have been studying my Zen again, in a mild way, out of desperation over the holidays, though mild desperation. A medal or a rotten tomato, it’s all the same, says the book I have been reading. After a few days of consideration, I think the most truthful answer to my friend Bob would be: My New Year’s Resolution is to learn to see myself as nothing.
Is this com¬petitive? He wants to lose some weight, I want to learn to see myself as nothing. Of course, to be competitive is not in keeping with any Buddhist philosophy. A true nothing is not competitive. But I don’t think I’m being competitive when I say it. I am feeling truly humble, at that moment. Or I think I am—in fact, can anyone be truly humble at the moment they say they want to learn to be nothing?
But there is another problem, which I have been wanting to describe to Bob for a few weeks now: at last, halfway through your life, you are smart enough to see that it all amounts to nothing, even success amounts to nothing. But how does a person learn to see herself as nothing when she has already had so much trouble learning to see herself as, something in the first place? It’s so confusing.
You spend the first half of your life learning that you are something after all, now you have to spend the second half learning to see yourself as nothing. You have been a negative nothing, now you want to be a positive nothing.
I have begun trying, in these first days of the New Year, bur so far it’s pretty difficult. I’m pretty close to nothing all morning, but by late afternoon what is in me that is something starts throwing its weight around.
This happens many days. By evening, I’m full of something and it’s often something nasty and pushy. So what I think at this point is that I’m aiming too high, that maybe nothing is too much, to begin with. Maybe for now I should just try, each day, to be a little less than I usually am.