When psalms surprise me with their music
And antiphons turn to rum
The Spirit sings: the bottom drops out of my soul.
And from the center of my cellar, Love, louder than thunder
Opens a heaven of naked air.
New eyes awaken.
I send Love's name into the world with wings
And songs grow up around me like a jungle.
Choirs of all creatures sing the tunes
Your Spirit played in Eden.
Zebras and antelopes and birds of paradise
Shine on the face of the abyss
And I am drunk with the great wilderness
Of the sixth day in Genesis.
But sound is never half so fair
As when that music turns to air
And the universe dies of excellence.
Sun, moon and stars
Fall from their heavenly towers.
Joys walk no longer down the blue world's shore.
Though fires loiter, lights still fly on the air of the gulf,
All fear another wind, another thunder:
Then one more voice
Snuffs all their flares in one gust.
And I go forth with no more wine and no more stars
And no more buds and no more Eden
And no more animals and no more sea:
While God sings by himself in acres of night
And walls fall down, that guarded Paradise.
Rich cloth under my fingers
While yours touch poor fabric.
A quick embrace
You were invited for dinner
While the minions of law are after me.
We talk about the weather and our
Lasting friendship. Anything else
Would be too bitter.
Forgive me for thinking I saw
the irregular postage stamp of death;
a black moth the size of my left
thumbnail is all I've trapped in the damask.
There is no need for alarm. And
there is no need for sadness, if
the rain at the window now reminds you
of nothing; not even of that
parlor, long like a nave, where cloud-shadow,
wing-shadow, where father-shadow
continually confused the light. In flight,
leaf-throng and, later, soldiers and
flags deepened those windows to submarine.
But you don't remember, I know,
so I won't mention that house where Chung hid,
Lin wizened, you languished, and Ming-
Ming hush-hushed us with small song. And since you
don't recall the missionary
bells chiming the hour, or those words whose sounds
alone exhaust the heart--garden,
heaven, amen--I'll mention none of it.
After all, it was just our life,
merely years in a book of years. It was
1960, and we stood with
the other families on a crowded
railroad platform. The trains came, then
the rains, and then we got separated.
And in the interval between
familiar faces, events occurred, which
one of us faithfully pencilled
in a day-book bound by a rubber band.
But birds, as you say, fly forward.
So I won't show you letters and the shawl
I've so meaninglessly preserved.
And I won't hum along, if you don't, when
our mothers sing Nights in Shanghai.
I won't, each Spring, each time I smell lilac,
recall my mother, patiently
stitching money inside my coat lining,
if you don't remember your mother
preparing for your own escape.
After all, it was only our
life, our life and its forgetting.
Alas! this is not what I thought life was.
I knew that there were crimes and evil men,
Misery and hate; nor did I hope to pass
Untouched by suffering, through the rugged glen.
In mine own heart I saw as in a glass
The hearts of others ... And when
I went among my kind, with triple brass
Of calm endurance my weak breast I armed,
To bear scorn, fear, and hate, a woful mass!
She sends me blue valentines
all the way from philadelphia
to mark the anniversary
of someone that I used to be
and it feels just like there's
a warrant out for my arrest
got me checkin' in my rearview mirrror
and I'm always on the run
thats why I change my name
and I didn't think you'd ever find me here
to send me blue valentines
like half forgotten dreams
like a pebble in my shoe
as I walk these streets
and the ghost of your memory
is the thistle in the kiss
and the burgler that that can break a roses neck
it's the tattooed broken promise
that I hide beneath my sleeve
and I see you every time I turn my back
she sends me blue valentines
though I try to remain at large
they're insisting that our love
must have a culogy
why do I save all of this madness
in the nightstand drawer
there to haunt upon my shoulders
baby I know
I'd be luckier to walk around everywhere I go
with a blind and broken heart
that sleeps beneath my lapel
she sends me blue valentines
to remind me of my cardinal sin
I can never wash the guilt
or get these bloodstains off my hands
and it takes a lot of whiskey
to make these nightmares go away
and I cut my bleedin' heart out every nite
and I die a little more on each st. valentine day
remember that I promised I would
these blue valentines
To give life you must take life,
and as our grief falls flat and hollow
upon the billion-blooded sea
I pass upon serious inward-breaking shoals rimmed
with white-legged, white-bellied rotting creatures
lengthily dead and rioting against surrounding scenes.
Dear child, I only did to you what the sparrow
did to you; I am old when it is fashionable to be
young; I cry when it is fashionable to laugh.
I hated you when it would have taken less courage
A hotel in whose ledgers departures are more prominent than arrivals.
With wet Koh-i-noors the October rain
strokes what's left of the naked brain.
In this country laid flat for the sake of rivers,
beer smells of Germany and the seaguls are
in the air like a page's soiled corners.
Morning enters the premises with a coroner's
punctuality, puts its ear
to the ribs of a cold radiator, detects sub-zero:
the afterlife has to start somewhere.
Correspondingly, the angelic curls
grow more blond, the skin gains its distant, lordly
white, while the bedding already coils
desperately in the basement laundry.
Welcome, the water’s voice
To one whom black sand overwhelmed,
Welcome, to the curved hand
The smooth column of the marble,
Welcome, slender labyrinths of water
Between the lemon trees,
Welcome the melodious zéjel,
Welcome is love, welcome the prayer
Offered to a God who is One,
Welcome the jasmine.
Vain the scimitar
Against the long lances of the host,
Vain to be the best.
Good to know, foreknow, grieving king,
That your courtesies are farewells,
That the key will be denied you,
The infidels’ cross eclipse the moon,
The afternoon you gaze on prove your last.
OTHERS because you did not keep
That deep-sworn vow have been friends of mine;
Yet always when I look death in the face,
When I clamber to the heights of sleep,
Or when I grow excited with wine,
Suddenly I meet your face.
And therefore if to love can be desert,
I am not all unworthy. Cheeks as pale
As these you see, and trembling knees that fail
To bear the burden of a heavy heart,--
This weary minstrel-life that once was girt
To climb Aornus, and can scarce avail
To pipe now 'gainst the valley nightingale
A melancholy music,--why advert
To these things? O Beloved, it is plain
I am not of thy worth nor for thy place!
And yet, because I love thee, I obtain
From that same love this vindicating grace,
To live on still in love, and yet in vain,--
To bless thee, yet renounce thee to thy face.
By Linda Hogan
How something is made flesh
no one can say. The buffalo soup
becomes a woman
who sings every day to her horses
or summons another to her private body
saying come, touch, this is how
it begins, the path of a newly born
who, salvaged from other lives and worlds,
will grow to become a woman, a man,
with a heart that never rests,
and the gathered berries,
the wild grapes
enter the body,
which can love,
where nothing created is wasted;
the swallowed grain
takes you through the dreams
of another night,
the deer meat becomes hands
strong enough to work.
But I love most
the white-haired creature
eating green leaves;
the sun shines there
swallowed, showing in her face
taking in all the light,
and in the end
when the shadow from the ground
enters the body and remains,
in the end, you might say,
This is myself
still unknown, still a mystery.
By César Vallejo 1892–1938
Translated By Don Paterson
I'm sitting here on the old patio
beside your absence. It is a black well.
We'd be playing, now. . . I can hear Mama yell
"Boys! Calm down!" We'd laugh, and off I'd go
to hide where you'd never look. . . under the stairs,
in the hall, the attic. . . Then you'd do the same.
Miguel, we were too good at that game.
Everything would always end in tears.
No one was laughing on that August night
you went to hide away again, so late
it was almost dawn. But now your brother's through
with this hunting and hunting and never finding you.
The shadows crowd him. Miguel, will you hurry
and show yourself? Mama will only worry.
By Sara Miller Sara Miller
The evidence was in and it went to the contrary.
The contrary wound around us rather like a river.
The river reacted, spider-like, tangling up its legs
with other wet parts we thought we knew,
such as creeks and fjords and deltas and such.
A beaver sits on the riverbank watching all of this unfold.
He doesn’t know what a fjord is, and he doesn’t care
for other waters, or even other beavers, or the merest
hint of other business, so he removes this evidence.
Then he builds a structure which for years he is rehabbing.
Inside it is hollow and there is his nest.
He is a dark little bastard, all the same.
The water had a fine way of being, now it is tortured
by these nests and their vassal.
Yet the river doesn’t overthrow the beaver.
Quite the contrary. The river goes around polite as a snake.
It argues a tiny bit at the edges of the lodge,
where young beavers could be napping.
You and I would let loose a flood of tears. Not the river.
You and I would seep hotly into our darkest places.
Not the river. It is a long way from home
and has that on its mind, the day of rising,
when the temples will all be cleansed
and the whole unfathomable truth will out.
"Too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold."
From an essay by W. B. Yeats
wide as a watermelon,
but wise as birth,
there is so much abundance
in the people I have:
Max, Lois, Joe, Louise,
Joan, Marie, Dawn,
Arlene, Father Dunne,
and all in their short lives
give to me repeatedly,
in the way the sea
places its many fingers on the shore,
again and again
and they know me,
they help me unravel,
they listen with ears made of conch shells,
they speak back with the wine of the best region.
They are my staff.
They comfort me.
They hear how
the artery of my soul has been severed
and soul is spurting out upon them,
bleeding on them,
messing up their clothes,
dirtying their shoes.
And God is filling me,
though there are times of doubt
as hollow as the Grand Canyon,
still God is filling me.
He is giving me the thoughts of dogs,
the spider in its intricate web,
in all its amazement,
and a slain ram
that is the glory,
the mystery of great cost,
and my heart,
which is very big,
I promise it is very large,
a monster of sorts,
takes it all in--
all in comes the fury of love.
1. We two sit on our bed, you between my legs, your back to me, your head slightly bowed, that I may brush and braid your hair. My father did this for my mother, just as I do for you. One hand holds the hem of you hair, the other works the brush. Both hands climb as the strokes grow longer, until I use not only my wrists, but my arms, then my shoulders, my whole body rocking in a rower's rhythm, a lover's even time, as the tangles are undone, and brush and bare hand run the thick, fluent length of your hair, whose wintry scent comes, a faint, human musk.
2. Last night the room was so cold I dreamed we were in Pittsburgh again, where winter persisted and we fell asleep in the last seat of the 71 Negley, dark mornings going to work. How I wish we didn't hate those years while we lived them. Those were days of books, days of silences stacked high as the ceiling of that great, dim hall where we studied. I remember the thick, oak tabletops, how cool they felt against my face when I lay my head down and slept.
3. How long your hair has grown.
4. There will come a day one of us will have to imagine this: you, after your bath, crosslegged on the bed, sleepy, patient, while I braid your hair.
5. Here, what's made, these braids, unmakes itself in time, and must be made again, within and against time. So I braid your hair each day. My fingers gather, measure hair, hook, pull and twist hair and hair. Deft, quick, they plait, weave, articulate lock and lock, to make and make these braids, which point the direction of my going, of all our continuous going. And though what's made does not abide, my making is steadfast, and, besides, there is a making of which this making-in-time is just a part, a making which abides beyond the hands which rise in the combing, the hands which fall in the braiding, trailing hair in each stage of its unbraiding.
6. Love, how the hours accumulate. Uncountable. The trees grow tall, some people walk away and diminish forever. The damp pewter days slip around without warning and we cross over one year and one year.
By Sherwin Bitsui
When we river,
blood fills cracks in bullet shells,
oars become fingers scratching windows into dawn,
and faces are stirred from mounds of mica.
I notice the back isn’t as smooth anymore,
the river crests at the moment of blinking;
its blood vessels stiffen and spear the drenched coat of flies
collecting outside the jaw.
Night slows here,
the first breath held back,
clenched like a tight fist in the arroyo under shattered glass.
But we still want to shake the oxygen loose from flypaper,
hack its veins,
divert its course,
and reveal its broken back,
Out of lemon flowers
on the moonlight, love's
lashed and insatiable
sodden with fragrance,
the lemon tree's yellow
from the tree's planetarium
The harbors are big with it-
for the light and the
of a miracle,
and a clotting of acids
into the starry
so the freshness lives on
in a lemon,
in the sweet-smelling house of the rind,
the proportions, arcane and acerb.
Cutting the lemon
leaves a little cathedral:
alcoves unguessed by the eye
that open acidulous glass
to the light; topazes
riding the droplets,
So, while the hand
holds the cut of the lemon,
half a world
on a trencher,
the gold of the universe
to your touch:
a cup yellow
a breast and a nipple
perfuming the earth;
a flashing made fruitage,
the diminutive fire of a planet.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart