And of my verses, the white flock, and of my eyes, the blue fire: seven poems by Anna Akhmatova

I Taught Myself to Live Simply

I taught myself to live simply and wisely,
to look at the sky and pray to God,
and to wander long before evening
to tire my superfluous worries.
When the burdocks rustle in the ravine
and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops
I compose happy verses
about life’s decay, decay and beauty.
I come back. The fluffy cat
licks my palm, purrs so sweetly
and the fire flares bright
on the saw-mill turret by the lake.
Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof
occasionally breaks the silence.
If you knock on my door
I may not even hear.


Twenty-First. Night. Monday

Twenty-first. Night. Monday.
Silhouette of the capitol in darkness.
Some good-for-nothing — who knows why–
made up the tale that love exists on earth.

People believe it, maybe from laziness
or boredom, and live accordingly:
they wait eagerly for meetings, fear parting,
and when they sing, they sing about love.

But the secret reveals itself to some,
and on them silence settles down…
I found this out by accident
and now it seems I’m sick all the time.


You will hear thunder…

You will hear thunder and remember me,
And think: she wanted storms. The rim
Of the sky will be the colour of hard crimson,
And your heart, as it was then, will be on fire.

That day in Moscow, it will all come true,
when, for the last time, I take my leave,
And hasten to the heights that I have longed for,
Leaving my shadow still to be with you.


I don’t know if you’re alive or dead…

I don’t know if you’re alive or dead.
Can you on earth be sought,
Or only when the sunsets fade
Be mourned serenely in my thought?

All is for you: the daily prayer,
The sleepless heat at night,
And of my verses, the white
Flock, and of my eyes, the blue fire.

No-one was more cherished, no-one tortured
Me more, not
Even the one who betrayed me to torture,
Not even the one who caressed me and forgot.


Lying in me…

Lying in me, as though it were a white
Stone in the depths of a well, is one
Memory that I cannot, will not, fight:
It is happiness, and it is pain.

Anyone looking straight into my eyes
Could not help seeing it, and could not fail
To become thoughtful, more sad and quiet
Than if he were listening to some tragic tale.

I know the gods changed people into things,
Leaving their consciousness alive and free.
To keep alive the wonder of suffering,
You have been metamorphosed into me.


You Thought I Was That Type

You thought I was that type:
That you could forget me,
And that I’d plead and weep
And throw myself under the hooves of a bay mare,

Or that I’d ask the sorcerers
For some magic potion made from roots and send you a terrible gift:
My precious perfumed handkerchief.

Damn you! I will not grant your cursed soul
Vicarious tears or a single glance.

And I swear to you by the garden of the angels,
I swear by the miracle-working icon,
And by the fire and smoke of our nights:
I will never come back to you.


Grey-Eyed King

Hail to thee, o, inconsolate pain!
The young grey-eyed king has been yesterday slain.

That autumnal evening was stuffy and red.
My husband, returning, had quietly said,

“He’d left for his hunting; they carried him home;
They found him under the old oak’s dome.

I pity his queen. He, so young, passed away!
During one night her black hair turned to grey.”

He picked up his pipe from the fireplace shelf,
And went off to work for the night by himself.

Now my daughter I will wake up and rise
And I will look in her little grey eyes

And murmuring poplars outside can be heard:
Your king is no longer here on this earth.

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And of my verses, the white flock, and of my eyes, the blue fire: seven poems by Anna Akhmatova

To you, who never begged me vows or verse: six poems by Dorothy Parker

A Very Short Song

Once, when I was young and true,
Someone left me sad –
Broke my brittle heart in two;
And that is very bad.

Love is for unlucky folk,
Love is but a curse.
Once there was a heart I broke;
And that, I think, is worse.


Resume

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.


Experience

Some men break your heart in two,
Some men fawn and flatter,
Some men never look at you;
And that cleans up the matter.


I Know I Have Been Happiest

I know I have been happiest at your side;
But what is done, is done, and all’s to be.
And small the good, to linger dolefully –
Gayly it lived, and gallantly it died.
I will not make you songs of hearts denied,
And you, being man, would have no tears of me,
And should I offer you fidelity,
You’d be, I think, a little terrified.

Yet this the need of woman, this her curse:
To range her little gifts, and give, and give,
Because the throb of giving’s sweet to bear.
To you, who never begged me vows or verse,
My gift shall be my absence, while I live;
But after that, my dear, I cannot swear.


Unfortunate Coincidence 

By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying –
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.


Sonnet For The End Of A Sequence

So take my vows and scatter them to sea;
Who swears the sweetest is no more than human.
And say no kinder words than these of me:
“Ever she longed for peace, but was a woman!
And thus they are, whose silly female dust
Needs little enough to clutter it and bind it,
Who meet a slanted gaze, and ever must
Go build themselves a soul to dwell behind it.”

For now I am my own again, my friend!
This scar but points the whiteness of my breast;
This frenzy, like its betters, spins an end,
And now I am my own. And that is best.
Therefore, I am immeasurably grateful
To you, for proving shallow, false, and hateful.

To you, who never begged me vows or verse: six poems by Dorothy Parker

It was this way when Rome was clanging, when Troy was being built: five poems by William Stafford

When I Met My Muse

I glanced at her and took my glasses
off–they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. “I am your own
way of looking at things,” she said. “When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand.


Saint Matthew and All

Lorene—we thought she’d come home. But
it got late, and then days. Now
it has been years. Why shouldn’t she,
if she wanted? I would: something comes
along, a sunny day, you start walking;
you meet a person who says, “Follow me,”
and things lead on.

Usually, it wouldn’t happen, but sometimes
the neighbors notice your car is gone, the
patch of oil in the driveway, and it fades.
They forget.

In the Bible it happened—fishermen, Levites.
They just went away and kept going. Thomas,
away off in India, never came back.

But Lorene—it was a stranger maybe, and he
said, “Your life, I need it.” And nobody else did.


Once in the 40’s

We were alone one night on a long
road in Montana. This was in winter, a big
night, far to the stars. We had hitched,
my wife and I, and left our ride at
a crossing to go on. Tired and cold–but
brave–we trudged along. This, we said,
was our life, watched over, allowed to go
where we wanted. We said we’d come back some time
when we got rich. We’d leave the others and find
a night like this, whatever we had to give,
and no matter how far, to be so happy again.


How to Regain Your Soul

Come down Canyon Creek trail on a summer afternoon
that one place where the valley floor opens out. You will see
the white butterflies. Because of the way shadows
come off those vertical rocks in the west, there are
shafts of sunlight hitting the river and a deep
long purple gorge straight ahead. Put down your pack.

Above, air sighs the pines. It was this way
when Rome was clanging, when Troy was being built,
when campfires lighted caves. The white butterflies dance
by the thousands in the still sunshine. Suddenly, anything
could happen to you. Your soul pulls toward the canyon
and then shines back through the white wings to be you
again.


A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give– yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

It was this way when Rome was clanging, when Troy was being built: five poems by William Stafford

My memory keeps getting in the way of your history: four poems by Agha Shahid Ali

Beyond the Ash Rains

‘What have you known of loss
That makes you different from other men?’
Gilgamesh

When the desert refused my history,
Refused to acknowledge that I had lived
there, with you, among a vanished tribe,

two, three thousand years ago, you parted
the dawn rain, its thickest monsoon curtains,

and beckoned me to the northern canyons.
There, among the red rocks, you lived alone.
I had still not learned the style of nomads:

to walk between the rain drops to keep dry.
Wet and cold, I spoke like a poor man,

without irony. You showed me the relics
of our former life, proof that we’d at last
found each other, but in your arms I felt

singled out for loss. When you lit the fire
and poured the wine, “I am going,” I murmured,
repeatedly, “going where no one has been
and no one will be… Will you come with me?”
You took my hand, and we walked through the streets

of an emptied world, vulnerable
to our suddenly bare history in which I was,

but you said won’t again be, singled
out for loss in your arms, won’t ever again
be exiled, never again, from your arms.


Tonight

Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar
– Laurence Hope

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?

Those “Fabrics of Cashmere—” “to make Me beautiful—”
“Trinket”—to gem—“Me to adorn—How tell”—tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates—
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar—
All the archangels—their wings frozen—fell tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.

He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open—for God—the doors of Hell tonight.

In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed.
No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight.

God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day—
I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.

Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.

The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.

My rivals for your love—you’ve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee—
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.


Farewell

At a certain point I lost track of you.
They make a desolation and call it peace.
when you left even the stones were buried:
the defenceless would have no weapons.

When the ibex rubs itself against the rocks,
who collects its fallen fleece from the slopes?
O Weaver whose seams perfectly vanished,
who weighs the hairs on the jeweller’s balance?
They make a desolation and call it peace.
Who is the guardian tonight of the Gates of Paradise?

My memory is again in the way of your history.
Army convoys all night like desert caravans:
In the smoking oil of dimmed headlights, time dissolved- all
winter- its crushed fennel.
We can’t ask them: Are you done with the world?

In the lake the arms of temples and mosques are locked in each other’s
reflections.

Have you soaked saffron to pour on them when they are found like this
centuries later in this country
I have stitched to your shadow?

In this country we step out with doors in our arms
Children run out with windows in their arms.
You drag it behind you in lit corridors.
if the switch is pulled you will be torn from everything.

At a certain point I lost track of you.
You needed me. You needed to perfect me.
In your absence you polished me into the Enemy.
Your history gets in the way of my memory.
I am everything you lost. You can’t forgive me.
I am everything you lost. Your perfect Enemy.
Your memory gets in the way of my memory:

I am being rowed through Paradise in a river of Hell:
Exquisite ghost, it is night.

The paddle is a heart; it breaks the porcelain waves.
It is still night. The paddle is a lotus.
I am rowed- as it withers-toward the breeze which is soft as
if it had pity on me.

If only somehow you could have been mine, what wouldn’t
have happened in the world?

I’m everything you lost. You won’t forgive me.
My memory keeps getting in the way of your history.
There is nothing to forgive.You can’t forgive me.
I hid my pain even from myself; I revealed my pain only to myself.

There is everything to forgive. You can’t forgive me.

If only somehow you could have been mine,
what would not have been possible in the world?


The Wolf’s Postscript to ‘Little Red Riding Hood’

First, grant me my sense of history:
I did it for posterity,
for kindergarten teachers
and a clear moral:
Little girls shouldn’t wander off
in search of strange flowers,
and they mustn’t speak to strangers.

And then grant me my generous sense of plot:
Couldn’t I have gobbled her up
right there in the jungle?
Why did I ask her where her grandma lived?
As if I, a forest-dweller,
didn’t know of the cottage
under the three oak trees
and the old woman lived there
all alone?
As if I couldn’t have swallowed her years before?

And you may call me the Big Bad Wolf,
now my only reputation.
But I was no child-molester
though you’ll agree she was pretty.

And the huntsman:
Was I sleeping while he snipped
my thick black fur
and filled me with garbage and stones?
I ran with that weight and fell down,
simply so children could laugh
at the noise of the stones
cutting through my belly,
at the garbage spilling out
with a perfect sense of timing,
just when the tale
should have come to an end.

My memory keeps getting in the way of your history: four poems by Agha Shahid Ali

Not because we are out of reach but because we are out of touch: four poems by Billy Merrell

To The Living

Listen, I am talking to you.
—William Bronk

I am afraid for each of us, daily,
and often in more than one way—
I am afraid for us all.

Not because we are not careful
but because we are not safe. Living:
heating leftovers, searching to match

that unmatched sock, letting the mail pile up.
I am scared for each of us as we separate
the egg white from the yolk. Not because

we are out of reach but because we are
out of touch— I press a shirt,
though I don’t know when I’ll wear it.
I print a second copy just in case,
never thinking of myself
as sensible. But I worry.

I would know if something were to happen
to you. Wouldn’t I? I would know
if you weren’t all right.

That makes it easier, somehow.
The world is much smaller and I am
glad you are still here— maybe not

around— but still with me.


Talking in the Dark

Before college, before high school, before my voice
finally cracked, before I could do my first pull-up,
and long before my first real kiss, you and I

held the same girls’ hands. First Karen, then Tiffany,
then Jessica. And by the time you kissed Amy, I knew
it wasn’t her I wanted to kiss. I spent the night at your house

and we talked in the dark until we fell asleep. Those years
were short ones, seem shorter now. I hated myself for lying
so still in the bed beside you, as awkward as a body

and as inarticulate. I have never wanted to kiss you,
only hold you now and then or be held. I know now
that you wouldn’t have cared and just wanted to be

trusted. I have pictures of us with girls at dances.
I’m wearing my father’s dress shirt. It balloons away
from my body. But you are right there next to me,

in my shirt’s reach. Later you won’t stand so close, and Amy
will have to pose us, pleading closer. No, no. Closer.


Histories

I look at pictures of an invasion, black and white
and blazing, despite how the blacks have gone gray.
I rip out photographs from an old issue
of National Geographic—or rather pieces of each:
Love carved into a park bench, a woman’s glove,
a swan, blurs of flags in the wind. The rivers
descending through the farm-green fields curve
like fractures of a jigsaw puzzle, bend back
toward themselves. The little poet I am
must be so angry. I don’t know what I’m writing,
but I write and write in journals without lines,
so that I can spin the pages any way I want.
One poem goes up the spine while another dribbles down
in lines intended to be tears. I love the impressionists,
make galleries among poems for Renoir, mostly
because I love his name.

I look at the photographs’ paused geography,
imagine how diligently the rivers must have worked
to curve back. We all want, in some way, to reach back,
to ourselves or where we descended, and whisper.
At one point, the caption explains, the Volturno River
nearly meets itself for a moment of reflection.

In my journal, I invent the rest: how hard earth is
for the waters to never mix, how at times
the tidewater rises, and the river swells as if to take over
that narrow margin. You can’t help, I write,
but hear the concatenation of a river or a history.
Where did I find that word? I wonder
if I even knew what it meant. But who wouldn’t love
the thought of standing in one place and drinking
from two generations of water? Reading it later,
I’ll know why I was upset and will want to cry again
where I did, in the margin, for the boy I was
when I was fifteen and didn’t know it was okay
to write or desire without metaphor. I dreamt I was nothing
but a kite’s anchor, collages of men’s faces,
makeshift buildings of paper. Years later
I’ll wonder how I didn’t know I was lonely
when everyone around me did.


Before

After I hear the rumor that you’re gay. After I steal your number
from the office at school. After I shake by the phone and after

I finally do call and your father answers
And you, Michael, say Come over.

After your dad walks in on us—thank God not touching
or even on the same bed. We’ve been talking.

You’ve shown me a calendar you bought at Structure,
men in their underwear but as good as naked.

Your favorite is July because there the men touch each other,
arms over and around tanned shoulders. I was once scared

as you are, your kiss like a little confession, the calendar
something to hide where no one will find it, hold it

against you. After you hear their door shut, you lean
over me, press your mouth against my mouth.

After I kiss you back, you show your body off like a kid
who brings a gun to school, not knowing what it is

or that it’s loaded. It’s easy to say our breaths rushed out
like the breaths of two men racing, because, to you, we are

racing. But I don’t know that. After your eyes roll back,
and you roll off me, and I roll onto you, you push me off,

saying that you aren’t gay, that I made you do it.

Not because we are out of reach but because we are out of touch: four poems by Billy Merrell

The way home was a milky way of blackbirds: five poems by Rebekah Remington

Happiness Severity Index

Though in the lower standard deviation, I fall, the statistician says,
within the normal range of happiness. Therefore, no drugs today.

What about tomorrow? What if doodling stars isn’t enough?
Will I be asked to color the rainbow one more time?

Name three wishes that might come true?
List everything I’ve been given within a minute?

Though within the normal range of happiness, I score poor
on bird appreciation, poor on oboe joy. My responses, in fact,

seem to indicate an overall confusion concerning joy itself.
What did I mean that during parties I choose the sofa

like a sick cat? That when tattoos are dispensed I’m first
in line? That books full of other people’s misery

make the beach infinitely more pleasant? Stargazing is another weakness.
Too much I examine the patch of dirt where nothing grows

where buried curiosa aren’t deep enough, though in Short Answer
I’m all for dancing alone in a silken robe. Friends call.

Mostly the machine answers. Mozart makes me cry.
I kill spiders without guilt. To make up for this

I take the kids to the golden arches play area.
A positive indicator. Also, interest in the existential

is minimal. I approve of make-up and ice cream.
When I wake early, I get out of bed. When I wallow

in planetary counterpoint, it never lasts. And here’s what really saves me:
if I were a ghost I’d be Casper. If I were a tradition

I’d be a dreidel. I like the rain. When the boat drifts off
I wave. When the dog runs off I follow.


Little Invocation

Don’t open the blinds; give me fifteen minutes.

This morning my mind like a century
which sees the rise and fall of 22 emperors
and all I’ve done is empty the dishwasher.

Grant me a sweet cup of forgetfulness, god.

Let’s blot out the never-made call to the lonely friend.
The baby sunflower, gift from my son, I didn’t water
four days in a row.

Once I wrote a twenty-page paper delineating
all the muscles bones tracts synapses involved in speaking
the word spring.

Envision a system of wild estuaries, derivations,
deer skeleton, river thaw,
the road to the contagious hospital.

Now say it aloud.


My Head a Pine Cabinet with Female Cardinal Ascending

is one way to say the episode subsides.
I am a girl again. A tendril of vine
cage snakes to the floor.

Also inside you’ll find the damp
of ice melt. Whiteout
still in memory. And that outpost

room: stale biscuits and Lipton,
the trompe l’oeil of the hunted hare,
matches, gauze. A medical book

showing close-ups of frostbite,
fingers swollen to the size of blowfish.
Whether the chronic dusk

was a result of winter or heavy drapery
I can’t say. Nor am I certain
if the hungry susurrations

came from wind or dog pack or wind
in the mind. I would have gone to the post office
but there was no post office.

At home your letters piled up.
One from an emptied seaside town.
One on paper cut from the pith of a mulberry tree.


Sunday Return 

The sun was out and the moon was out.
The boys were a thousand miles off.
I purchased rubber band flying machines.
I liked my body when I was alone and
I liked my body when I thought of them.
My difficult body.

In the photo they sent I could see the mess
in the living room, the one that I would enter
the way I might enter a messy myth,
the children butterflying in the municipal pool,
the man reciting mandolin Spanish.
In my marrow what had opened was hailstorm,
a flying branch, crushed honeysuckle.

The way home was five mountain ranges,
eleven states, three time zones.
The way home was a milky way of blackbirds.
The way home was strung out flares, unshoeing,
the lonely slots of Reno.
In earlier times many died crossing that distance.


November Diary

The storm veered north and missed me.
On TV an insurance man
goes among twisted joists,
discerning wind damage from flood damage.

I read an article on over-mothering,
how it leads to long, gray days.
Better to permit cartoon violence.

The election is over.
The right people have won.

To avoid mass misery, Pascal says,
one must learn to sit alone in a room.

A poem comes to me,
but the words aren’t in the right order.
No children are mentioned.

On my three-lap jog around the block
I find a nest blown from a tree.
Inside a tiny bird skeleton,
barely discernible,
same color as the grass.

The way home was a milky way of blackbirds: five poems by Rebekah Remington

How should we like it were stars to burn with a passion for us we could not return?: three poems by W. H. Auden

O The Valley in the Summer Where I and My John

O the valley in the summer where I and my John
Beside the deep river would walk on and on
While the flowers at our feet and the birds up above
Argued so sweetly on reciprocal love,
And I leaned on his shoulder; ‘O Johnny, let’s play’:
But he frowned like thunder and he went away.

O that Friday near Christmas as I well recall
When we went to the Charity Matinee Ball,
The floor was so smooth and the band was so loud
And Johnny so handsome I felt so proud;
‘Squeeze me tighter, dear Johnny, let’s dance till it’s day’:
But he frowned like thunder and he went away.

Shall I ever forget at the Grand Opera
When music poured out of each wonderful star?
Diamonds and pearls they hung dazzling down
Over each silver and golden silk gown;
‘O John I’m in heaven,’ I whispered to say:
But he frowned like thunder and he went away.

O but he was fair as a garden in flower,
As slender and tall as the great Eiffel Tower,
When the waltz throbbed out on the long promenade
O his eyes and his smile they went straight to my heart;
‘O marry me, Johnny, I’ll love and obey’:
But he frowned like thunder and he went away.

O last night I dreamed of you, Johnny, my lover,
You’d the sun on one arm and the moon on the other,
The sea it was blue and the grass it was green,
Every star rattled a round tambourine;
Ten thousand miles deep in a pit there I lay:
But you frowned like thunder and you went away.


The More Loving One

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.


Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

How should we like it were stars to burn with a passion for us we could not return?: three poems by W. H. Auden