Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Morning Reading: "October arrives"



Ode to a Few Yellow Flowers
- Pablo Neruda

Against the blue shaking its blue,
the sea, and against the sea,
a few yellow flowers.

October arrives.

And although
the developed sea is so important,
its myth, mission, yeast,
the gold
of a single yellow plant
explodes on the sand
and your eyes
are tied
to the ground,
escaping from the magnanimous sea
and its whip,

We are dust, we shall become.

Not air, or fire, or water
but
earth,
we shall be
mere earth
and maybe
a few yellow flowers.


*

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Morning Reading: "The whole wide world pours down"



Assurance
- William Stafford

You will never be alone, you hear so deep
a sound when autumn comes. Yellow
pulls across the hills and thrums,
or the silence after lightening before it says
its names- and then the clouds' wide-mouthed
apologies. You were aimed from birth:
you will never be alone. Rain
will come, a gutter filled, an Amazon,
long aisles- you never heard so deep a sound,
moss on rock, and years. You turn your head-
that’s what the silence meant: you’re not alone.
The whole wide world pours down.


*

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Morning Reading: "what world is this that makes our lives sufficient even as the horizon’s rope is about to snap"



Khaled Mattawa 's book, Amorisco,
 features a long poem, “East of Carthage: An Idyll.” Mattawa was born in Benghazi, Libya and has spent much of his adult life living in the United States. Yesterday he was awarded an MacArthur genius grant.

Here's the opening.

EAST OF CARTHAGE: AN IDYLL


1.
Look here, Marcus Aurelius, we’ve come to see
your temple, deluded the guards, crawled through a hole
in the fence. Why your descendent, my guide and friend
has opted for secrecy, I don’t know. But I do know
what to call the Africans, passport-less, yellow-eyed
who will ride the boat before me for Naples, they hope.
Here the sea curls its granite lip at them and flings a winter
storm like a cough, or the seadog drops them at Hannibal’s
shores, where they’ll stand stupefied like his elephants.
What dimension of time will they cross as the Hours loop
tight plastic ropes round their ankles and wrists?
What siren song will the trucks shipping them back
to Ouagadougou drone into their ears? I look at them
loitering, waiting for the second act of their darkness
to fall. I look at the sky shake her dicey fists.
One can be thankful, I suppose, for not being one of them,
and wrap the fabric of that thought around oneself
to keep the cold wind at bay. But what world is this
that makes our lives sufficient even as the horizon’s rope
is about to snap, while the sea and sky ache to become
a moment to peel itself like skin off fruit, and let us in
on its sweetness as we wait, smoking or fondling provisions,
listening to the engine’s invocational purr. In an hour
that will dawn and dusk at once, one that will stretch
into days strung like beads on the horizon’s throat,
they will ride their tormented ship as the dog star
begins to float on the water, so bright and still,
you’d want to scoop it out in the palm of your hand.

*

U-M Arabic poetry translator wins 'genius' grant

This poem - and this poet - were brought first to my attention by Forest Gander in his essay post, "Libya: Don't Look Away." Photo of Medusa Head by Forrest Gander.

*

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Morning Reading: "The dead will think the living are worth it"

1969.


When the War Is Over
- W.S. Merwin


When the war is over

We will be proud of course the air will be

Good for breathing at last

The waters will have been improved the salmon

And the silence of heaven will migrate more perfectly

The dead will think the living are worth it we will know

Who we are

And we will all enlist again


*

Check out Matthew Zapruder's essay on Merwin at the LA Review of Books:
 When the War Is Over: On Merwin and the Language of War
 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Morning Reading: "the endeavour to balance myself upon a broken world"


 

September, 1918 
 - Amy Lowell

This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight;
The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves;
The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves,
And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.
Under a tree in the park,
Two little boys, lying flat on their faces,
Were carefully gathering red berries
To put in a pasteboard box.
Some day there will be no war,
Then I shall take out this afternoon
And turn it in my fingers,
And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,
And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves.
To-day I can only gather it
And put it into my lunch-box,
For I have time for nothing
But the endeavour to balance myself
Upon a broken world.

*

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Morning Reading: "I am so sorry, so, so sorry."

Lesley McSpadden , Michael's Brown's mother.

From “Citizen” 
- Claudia Rankine

/ 

You are in the dark, in the car, watching the black-tarred street being swallowed by speed; he tells you his dean is making him hire a person of color when there are so many great writers out there.

You think maybe this is an experiment and you are being tested or retroactively insulted or you have done something that communicates this is an okay conversation to be having.

Why do you feel okay saying this to me? You wish the light would turn red or a police siren would go off so you could slam on the brakes, slam into the car ahead of you, be propelled forward so quickly both your faces would suddenly be exposed to the wind.

As usual you drive straight through the moment with the expected backing off of what was previously said. It is not only that confrontation is headache producing; it is also that you have a destination that doesn’t include acting like this moment isn’t inhabitable, hasn’t happened before, and the before isn’t part of the now as the night darkens 
and the time shortens between where we are and where we are going.

/

When you arrive in your driveway and turn off the car, you remain behind the wheel another ten minutes. You fear the night is being locked in and coded on a cellular level and want time to function as a power wash. Sitting there staring at the closed garage door you are reminded that a friend once told you there exists a medical term — John Henryism — for people exposed to stresses stemming from racism. They achieve themselves to death trying to dodge the build up of erasure. Sherman James, the researcher who came up with the term, claimed the physiological costs were high. You hope by sitting in 
silence you are bucking the trend.

/

When the stranger asks, Why do you care? you just stand there staring at him. He has just referred to the boisterous teenagers in Starbucks as niggers. Hey, I am standing right here, you responded, not necessarily expecting him to turn to you.

He is holding the lidded paper cup in one hand and a small paper bag in the other. They are just being kids. Come on, no need to get all KKK on them, you say.

Now there you go, he responds.

The people around you have turned away from their screens. The teenagers are on pause. There I go? you ask, feeling irritation begin to rain down. Yes, and something about hearing yourself repeating this stranger’s accusation in a voice usually reserved for your partner makes you smile.

/

A man knocked over her son in the subway. You feel your own body wince. He’s okay, but the son of a bitch kept walking. She says she grabbed the stranger’s arm and told him to apologize: I told him to look at the boy and apologize. And yes, you want it to stop, you want the black child pushed to the ground to be seen, to be helped to his feet and be brushed off, not brushed off  by the person that did not see him, has never seen him, has perhaps never seen anyone who is not a reflection of himself.

The beautiful thing is that a group of men began to stand behind me like a fleet of  bodyguards, she says, like newly found uncles and brothers.

/

The new therapist specializes in trauma counseling. You have only ever spoken on the phone. Her house has a side gate that leads to a back entrance she uses for patients. You walk down a path bordered on both sides with deer grass and rosemary to the gate, which turns out to be locked.

At the front door the bell is a small round disc that you press firmly. When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house. What are you doing in my yard?

It’s as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepherd has gained the power of speech. And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tell her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses. Oh, she says, followed by, oh, yes, that’s right. I am sorry.

I am so sorry, so, so sorry.

*

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Morning Reading: "The aspen doing something "



The Problem of Describing Trees
- Robert Hass

The aspen glitters in the wind
And that delights us.

The leaf flutters, turning,
Because that motion in the heat of August
Protects its cells from drying out. Likewise the leaf
Of the cottonwood.

The gene pool threw up a wobbly stem
And the tree danced. No.
The tree capitalized.
No. There are limits to saying,
In language, what the tree did.

It is good sometimes for poetry to disenchant us.

Dance with me, dancer. Oh, I will.

Mountains, sky,
The aspen doing something in the wind.


*

 
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