Monday, October 31, 2011

Grandmother Speaks of the Old Country

Grandmother Speaks of the Old Country
By Lola Haskins

That year there were many deaths in the village.
Germs flew like angels from one house to the next
and every family gave up its own. Mothers
died at their mending. Children fell at school.
Of three hundred twenty, there were eleven left.
Then, quietly, the sun set on a day when no one
died. And the angels whispered among themselves.
And that evening, as he sat on the stone steps,
your grandfather felt a small wind on his neck
when all the trees were still. And he would tell us
always, how he had felt that night, on the skin
of his own neck, the angels, passing.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Let me change to blue,
Or throw a violet shadow when I will."
— Dylan Thomas, from “It’s Light That Makes the Intervals” in Collected Poems

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Wild Things

The Wild Things
by John Kinsella and Dorothy Hewett

There were always magpies
in the early morning
swinging from the clothesline
on the edge of the orchard
where the ordered world
of the farm house ended
and the atavistic world began
the wild world where we roamed at will
stretching the wingspan
of a dead hawk between us
not bunched in our flannel petticoats
in bedrooms thick with night terrors
a sitting room stuffed with horsehair
a kitchen hissing with kettles
nothing to do with the rattle of leaves
the crows in the windy tops
and the foxes dancing.
The horses rear in their stalls
the dogs are howling
the cows roll their eyes at the moon
and the bull in the pasture bellows
this may be the world’s last night
don’t waste it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Coat

I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world’s eyes
As though they’d wrought it.
Song, let them take it,
For there’s more enterprise
In walking naked.

William Butler Yeats

Saturday, October 22, 2011



By Judith Harris

I can hear him,
now, even in darkness,
a trickster under the moon,
bristling his feathers,
sounding as merry
as a man whistling in a straw hat,
or a squeaky gate
to the playground, left ajar
or the jingling of a star,
having wandered too far
from the pasture.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tumblr, Rain Song, Stalwart Reader

This is so fun. This is a music maker that I could play with for hours. It was my first post on my new Tumblr page called Stalwart Reader. So many people are sharing such great stuff, I realized I was flooding my Facebook page with too much. Now I can collect all the great things people send and the flotsam and jetsom I would like to share and put them on Tumblr:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

All That Time

All That Time, May Swenson (mp3)

How well I know what I mean to do
When the long dark Autumn evenings come,
And where, my soul, is thy pleasant hue?
With the music of all thy voices, dumb
In life’s November too!

I shall be found by the fire, suppose,
O’er a great wise book as beseemeth age,
While the shutters flap as the cross-wind blows,
And I turn the page, and I turn the page,
Not verse now, only prose!

— Robert Browning, from “By the Fireside”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Olive Trees

Olive Trees

By Geoff Page

three or four times
the war moves through
these olive trees
a dry storm
sweeping up the young men
as it passes.

a few seasons on
in the capital
one side looks around
to find the other gone
withdrawn below the ground
with bones and weapons
to wait
in unmarked graves.

the victors
are busy with street names
having won for a while
from all those miles
of twisted olives

the right to remember
their dead.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Weight of Oranges

The Weight of Oranges

Anne Michaels

My cup’s the same sand colour as bread.
Rain’s the same colour of a building across the street,
its torn red dahlias
and ruined a book propped on the sill.

Rain articulates the skins of everything,
pink of bricks from the fire they baked in,
lizard green leaves,
the wrinkled tongues of pine cones.
It’s accurate the way we never are,
bringing out what’s best
without changing a thing.
Rain that makes beds damp,
our room a cave in the morning,
a tent in late afternoon,
ignites the sound of leaves we miss all winter.
The sound that pulled us to bed…
caught in the undertow of wind in wet leaves.

I’m writing in the sound we woke to,
curtains breathing into a half-dark room.

I’m up early now, walking.
Remember our walks, horizons like lips
barely red at dawn,
how kind the distance seemed?
Letters should be written to send news, to say
send me news, to say
meet me at the train station.
Not these dry tears, to honour us like a tomb.
I’m ashamed of our separation.
I wake in the middle of the night and see “shame”
written in the air like a Bible story.
I dreamed my skin was tattooed,
covered with the words that put me here,
covered in sores, in quarantine—and you know what?
I was afraid to light the lamp and look.

Your husband’s a good builder—I burned
every house we had,
with a few words to start the flames.
Words of wood,
they had no power of their own.
“The important” gave them meaning
and humble with gratitude
they exploded in my face.

Now we’re like planets, holding to each other
from a great distance. When we lay down
oceans flexed their green muscles,
life got busy in the other hemisphere,
the globe tilted, bowing to our power!
Now we’re hundreds of miles apart,
our short arms keep us lonely,
no one hears what’s in my head.
I look old. I’m losing my hair.
Where does lost hair go in this world,
lost eyesight, teeth?
We grow old like rivers, get shrunk and doubled over
until we can’t find the mouth of anything.

It’s March, even the birds
don’t know what to do with themselves.

Sometimes I’m certain those who are happy
know one thing more than us… or one thing less.
The only book I’d write again
is our bodies closing together.
That’s the language that stuns,
scars, breathes into you.
Naked, we had voices!

I want you to promise
we’ll see each other again,
you’ll send a letter.
Promise we’ll be lost together
in our forest, pale birches of our legs.

I hear your voice now—I know,
everyone knows promises come from fear.
People don’t live past each other,
you’re always here with me. Sometimes
I pretend you’re in the other room
until it rains… and then
this is the letter I always write:
The letter I write
when they’re keeping me from home.
I smell your supper steaming in the kitchen.
There are paper bags on the table
with their bottoms melted out
by rain and the weight of oranges.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Another Loss to Stop For

Another Loss to Stop For

~ by Jill Bialosky

Against such cold and mercurial mornings,
watch the wind whirl one leaf
across the landscape,
then, in a breath, let it go.
The color in the opaque sky
seems almost not to exist.

Put on a wool sweater.
Wander in the leaves,
underneath healthy elms.
Hold your child in your arms.

After the dishes are washed,
a kiss still warm at your neck,
put down your pen. Turn out the light.

I know how difficult it is,
always balancing and weighing,
it takes years and many transformations;
and always another loss to stop for,
to send you backwards.

Why do you worry so,
when none of us is spared?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Author of American Ornithology Sketches a Bird, Now Extinct

The Author of American Ornithology Sketches a Bird, Now Extinct
(Alexander Wilson, Wilmington, N.C., 1809)

By David Wagoner

When he walked through town, the wing-shot bird he'd hidden
Inside his coat began to cry like a baby,
High and plaintive and loud as the calls he'd heard
While hunting it in the woods, and goodwives stared
And scurried indoors to guard their own from harm.

And the inkeeper and the goodmen in the tavern
Asked him whether his child was sick, then laughed.
Slapped knees, and laughed as he unswaddled his prize,
His pride and burden: an ivory-billed woodpecker
As big as a crow, still wailing and squealing.

Upstairs, when he let it go in his workroom,
it fell silent at last. He told at dinner
How devoted masters of birds drawn from the life
Must gather their flocks around them with a rifle
And make them live forever inside books.

Later, he found his bedspread covered with plaster
And the bird clinging beside a hole in the wall
Clear through to already-splintered weatherboards
And the sky beyond. While he tied one of its legs
To a table leg, it started wailing again.

And went on wailing as if toward cypress groves
While the artist dew and tinted on fine vellum
Its red cockade, gray claws, and sepia eyes
From which a white edge flowed to the lame wing
Like light flying and ended there in blackness.

He drew and studied for days, eating and dreaming
Fitfully through the dancing and loud drumming
Of an ivory bill that refused pecans and beetles,
Chestnuts and sweet-sour fruit of magnolias,
Riddling his table, slashing his fingers, wailing.

He watched it die, he said, with great regret.

The Author of American Ornithology Sketches a Bird, Now Extinct (Alexander Wilson, Wilmington, N.C., 1809 (mp3)

Sufjan Stevens, Great God Bird (mp3)



By Don Thompson

I used to think the land
had something to say to us,
back when wildflowers
would come right up to your hand
as if they were tame.

Sooner or later, I thought,
the wind would begin to make sense
if I listened hard
and took notes religiously.
That was spring.

Now I’m not so sure:
the cloudless sky has a flat affect
and the fields plowed down after harvest
seem so expressionless,
keeping their own counsel.

This afternoon, nut tree leaves
blow across them
as if autumn had written us a long letter,
changed its mind,
and tore it into little scraps.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bernard and Sarah

Bernard and Sarah
By Henry Taylor

"Hang them where they'll do some good," my grandfather
said, as he placed the dusty photograph
in my father's hands. My father and I stared
at two old people posed stiffly side by side-
my great-great-great-grandparents, in the days
when photography was young, and they were not.
My father thought it out as we drove home.
Deciding that they might do the most good
somewhere out of sight, my father drove
a nail into the back wall of his closet;
they have hung there ever since, brought out
only on such occasions as the marriage
of one of his own children. "I think you ought
to know the stock you're joining with," he says.
Then back they go to the closet, where they hang
keeping their counsel until it is called for.
Yet, through walls, over miles of fields and woods
that flourish still around the farm they cleared,
their eyes light up the closet of my brain
to draw me toward the place I started from,
and when I have come home, they take me in.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mourning Picture

Mourning Picture

They have carried the mahogany chair and the cane rocker
out under the lilac bush,
and my father and mother darkly sit there, in black clothes.
Our clapboard house stands fast on its hill,
my doll lies in her wicker pram
gazing at western Massachusetts.
This was our world.
I could remake each shaft of grass
feeling its rasp on my fingers, draw out the map of every lilac leaf
or the net of vines on my father’s
grief-tranced hand.

Out of my head, half-bursting,
still filling, the dream condenses—
shadows, crystals, ceilings, meadows, globe of dew.
Under the dull green of the lilacs, out in the light
carving each spoke of the pram, the turned porch-pillars,
under high early-summer clouds,
I am Effie, visible and invisible,
remembering and remembered.

They will move from the house,
give the toys and pets away.
Mute and rigid with loss my mother
will ride the train to Baptist Corner,
the silk-spool will run bare.
I tell you, the thread that bound us lies
faint as a web in the dew.
Should I make you, world, again,
could I give back the leaf its skeleton, the air
its early-summer cloud, the house
its noonday presence, shadowless,
and leave this out? I am Effie, you were my dream.

—Adrienne Rich