Old and new; from famous and unknown poets; many cultures. The links go directly to each section.
John Donohue, 1948-2012
The half finished jigsaw puzzle, on the card table.
The eyeglasses on the open word search book, page 117.
The newspaper folded to the comic section, resting on the pillow on the end of the couch.
Her sweater hangs on the hall tree, as does her hat.
I should clean up around here and get rid of these things.
But if I do she’ll be gone.
I think I’ll wait awhile.
How do you subtract?
Just what is the difference?
No one really knows.
You live, laugh, and cry,
There’s a reason why,
Hidden in the summer’s sky.
Dreams can come or go,
But passion lives forever.
Have passionate dreams.
It’s not the long fall that
summons your attention!
It’s the sudden stop.
Stephen Donohue, 1959-2011
Withdraw and Conquer
The last shot of debris
That hits the ground alone.
Castrated the wisdom
You thought you could control.
Back to sleepy memories
Contrast and proclaim.
Debate and debauchery
Makes a science out of grammar
And buys the platinum tongue.
It dominates their reason
And quickens the demise
To end a night of potential,
With morality in the air.
Melodic interludes so lovely
Amidst the graphic decay.
You see the poetry
Then ignore the nightmare
Which do you wake up with?
An Open Mind
Consider all the options,
Review every fact,
Return with a judgment
Which is fair,
and full of regret.
Once the tables are turned
and the curtain is drawn,
and the lights go out,
You have to let fate evolve.
A vessel full of thought
is prodded and probed,
tinkered and tugged
until saw and scalpel
leave the shallow mind
beside the empty skull.
They take it all out
and put it all back,
Just the way they found it.
Only the error of your ways,
A little piece of the puzzle
which just wouldn’t fit,
is left in the tin
He’ll never know it is gone,
He’ll never care where it’s been.
All in all,
a surgical sensation,
now skillfully adjusted
to fit any society.
A Full Crescent Moon
In the dimples of your sanity
And measured with a caliper
Checking the degrees of remorse,
Calculating right angles of regret,
You remember those thirsty nights.
Romance, love and lust
With lascivious potential
Went wisping about the light bulb
Of another’s reality
Like a moth in a tirade
Demanding its vision of the sun.
Emotions take you dancing
In a dark sky,
Stepping on starlight,
Howling to a moon
That doesn’t care why,
Then breaks the back of aspirations.
Humiliated, lonely and destroyed
Downtrodden, oppressed and stagnant
Broken, hungry and defeated
Walking through hot city air
Wincing at cold city smiles
Otherwise it’s a beautiful night.
Staggering past the neon lights
While sifting through darkness
Created by expectations
Never learning from experience
Just keep trying to go home
Until the explosion of the dawn.
British Classics, Shakespeare to Wordsworth to Yeats
A classic is a poem you can read numerous times during your life and gain something different from it each time. Here is the conclusion of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou WeddingGuest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.”
The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone; and now the WeddingGuest
Turned from the bridegroom’s door.
He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man
He rose the morrow morn.
Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802
Earth has not any thing to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
When You are Old
A tiny treasure from W.B. Yeats:
When you are old and gray and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead,
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
Yeats’ 50th Year
My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble tabletop.
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed, and could bless.
Percy Bysshe Shelley: Ozymandias
One of the great short poems of them all, actually written in a friendly contest with another poet:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
The Winter of Our Discontent
[My introduction to this famous monologue was written amid the depths of the Bush administration]
The famous phrase that you’re hearing so much of in our economic moment comes from one of the more fully frontal character introductions of literary history. It’s Act I, Sc. i of Shakespeare’s Richard III, and if you experience the play (that is, read it and see it), you’ll feel more of Dick Cheney in Gloster (later Richard III) than you will of Bernie Madoff.
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums chang’d to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visag’d war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now,–instead of mounting barbed steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I,–that am not shap’d for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun,
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore,–since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain,
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels, and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false, and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up,
About a prophecy which says that G
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Shakespeare: Sonnet 29
One of the great poems of all time.
When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon my self and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least,
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate,
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Shakespeare, Sonnet 73
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Rainer Maria Rilke
From “The Voices,” a collection of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. The translation is by Robert Bly, from Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke.
It’s O.K. for the rich and the lucky to keep still;
no one wants to know about them anyway.
But those in need have to step forward,
have to say: I am blind,
or: I’m about to go blind,
or: nothing is going well with me,
or: I have a child who is sick,
or: right there I’m sort of glued together….
And probably that doesn’t do anything either.
They have to sing; if they didn’t sing, everyone
would walk past, as if they were fences or trees.
That’s where you can hear good singing.
People really are strange: they prefer
to hear castratos in boy choirs.
But God himself comes and stays a long time
when the world of half-people start to bore him.
Rilke, on the Fear of Death
Rainer Maria Rilke, #13 in Das Stundenbuch (translation by Robert Bly):
I can hardly believe that this tiny death,
over whose head we look every day we wake,
is still such a threat to us and so much trouble.
I really can’t take his growls seriously.
I am still in my body, I have time to build,
my blood will be red long after the rose is gone.
My grasp of things is deeper than the clever games
he finds it fun to play with our fears.
I am the solid world
from which he slipped and fell.
He is like
those monks in cloisters that walk around and around;
one feels a fear when they approach;
one doesn’t know — is it the same one every time,
are there two, are there ten, a thousand monks, more?
All one knows is the strange yellow hand,
which is reaching out so naked and so close…
there it is,
as if it came out of your own clothes.
The Panther, from Stephen Mitchell’s remarkable collection of Rilke translations.
My translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching is on another page of this site. The following are a few selections from other poets of the East.
Three Verses of Remembrance
The first selection is from Yoel Hoffman’s Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death. The second selection is from Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching in my translation. The last piece is a haiku of mine.
Leaves never fall
in vain — from all around
(death poem of Chori, died 1778)
To live in the Tao means abiding in the eternal
Perceiving completely, with all one’s being:
Life is never exhausted;
It is only delusion that dies.
(from Tao Te Ching, Chapter 16)
Above the autumn
hillside, unheard through weeping —
silver sparrows sing.
Po Chu-i, on Old Age
We visit Po Chu-i, this time finding him in contemplation of old age. From David Hinton’s translation of Po Chu-i’s collected poems.
Grateful to escape such grave illness,
I’m happy to wither away at the root,
let this lamp gauge darkening eyes,
my belt measure this thinning waist.
On a day of frost turning leaves red,
in a time of hair gone white as snow,
I may grieve over old age coming on.
But once old age ends, I’m grief-free.
Po Chu-i: Traveling Moon
Here’s another excerpt from David Hinton’s excellent translations of the poetry of Po Chu-i, a 9th century lyricist of China whose songs ring with a soft and limpid urgency, like a farewell kiss to the Earth — think of Basho joined with Bob Dylan. It really is extraordinary stuff.
A traveler from those southlands,
I set out as a crescent moon rose.
In a journey all distances, I saw
clear moonlight three times full,
trailed an old moon away at dawn,
then met a new one for the night.
Who says the moon is heartless?
It’s followed me a thousand miles.
Leaving a Wei River bridge early,
I’m in Ch’ang-an streets by dusk,
but this moon keeps on traveling,
stays the night who knows where.
Kabir and Religion’s Loaded Gun
Kabir lived somewhere around 600 years ago, but in the following poem he might have been speaking to the self-righteous fools on every side who foment war in the name of God in the MidEast and elsewhere:
I don’t know what sort of a God we have been talking about.
The caller calls in a loud voice to the Holy One at dusk.
Why? Surely the Holy One is not deaf.
He hears the delicate anklets that ring on the feet of an insect as it walks.
Go over and over your beads, paint weird designs on your forehead,
wear your hair matted, long, and ostentatious,
but when deep inside you there is a loaded gun, how can you have God?
–from The Soul is Here For Its Own Joy, ed. Robert Bly
Kabir: An Apartment in the City of Death
Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think…and think…while you are alive.
If you don’t break your ropes while you are alive,
do you think
ghosts will do it after?
The idea that the soul will join with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten —
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life you will
have the face of satisfied desire.
Two selections from Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death, ed. Yoel Hoffmann
Although the autumn moon
has set, its light
lingers on my chest.
landing lightly on the bank.
The opening of what may be the most famous poem of the 20th century; the whole of which may be found here.
I. THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD
APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
The Hollow Men
As we hope to see off the Trump administration, it may be worth having a look at the opening of Eliot’s 1925 poem:
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us — if at all — not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
I have read these verses countless times since I was a teenager, and can still but rarely reach the end of this poem with dry eyes. From T.S. Eliot: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. To feel the full effect of this haunting music, I recommend reading it aloud.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the windowpanes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the windowpanes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the windowpanes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
Anais Nin on Risk
Risk is a strange term, because it is the cornerstone of a strange industry, insurance. I wonder how differently that business might be conducted if its executives, underwriters, and actuaries could read and feel Anais Nin’s poem, “Risk”:
And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
Neruda on Love
I do not love you as if you were saltrose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
A verse on vanity, from Ezra Pound:
What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage…
The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world.
Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.
Learn of the green world what can be thy place
In scaled invention or true artistry.
Pull down thy vanity,
Paquin pull down!
The green casque has outdone your elegance.
This is a fun little verse from Robert Bly’s “The Horse of Desire,” which appears in Eating the Honey of Words. It’s an ingenious poetic profile of…well, you’ll get what it’s about.
The bear between my legs
Has one eye only,
Which he offers
To God to see with.
The two beings below with no
Eyes at all love you
With the slow persistent
Intensity of the blind.
Robert Bly: The Death Eaters
20 years before Harry Potter, Lord Voldemort, and the “death-eaters” were a twinkle in J.K. Rowling’s eyes, Robert Bly wrote this verse in a poem called “The Teeth Mother Naked at Last”:
The ministers lie, the professors lie, the television lies, the priests lie…
These lies mean that the country wants to die.
Lie after lie starts out into the prairie grass,
like enormous caravans of Conestoga wagons…
And a long desire for death flows out, guiding the enormous caravans from beneath,
stringing together the vague and foolish words.
It is a desire to eat death,
to gobble it down,
to rush on it like a cobra with mouth open
It’s a desire to take death inside,
to feel it burning inside, pushing out velvety hairs,
like a clothes brush in the intestines –
The is the thrill that leads the President on to lie
Robert Bly: The Sense of Decline
Another favorite of mine from Robert Bly, about America’s death by slow self-mutilation. This poem is from The Man in the Black Coat Turns.
The Farallones seals clubbed,
Whales gone, tortoises
Taken from islands
To fill the holds; the Empire
Dying in its provincial cities.
No one to repair the baths;
Farms turned over
To soldiers; the judges corrupt.
The wagon behind bounces,
Breaking on boulders, back
And forth, slowly smashed
To pieces. This crumbling
Darkness is a reality
Too, the feather
On the snow, the rooster’s
Half-eaten body nearby.
And other worlds I do not see:
The Old People’s Home
At dusk, the slow
Murmur of conversation.
Bly: Snowbanks North of the House
A personal favorite, Robert Bly’s “Snowbanks North of the House” (from The Man in the Black Coat Turns).
Those great sweeps of snow that stop suddenly six feet from the house… Thoughts that go so far.
The boy gets out of high school and reads no more books;
the son stops calling home.
The mother puts down her rolling pin and makes no more bread.
And the wife looks at her husband one night at a
party, and loves him no more.
The energy leaves the wine, and the minister falls
leaving the church.
It will not come closer —
the one inside moves back, and the hands touch
nothing, and are safe.
The father grieves for his son, and will not leave the
room where the coffin stands.
He turns away from his wife, and she sleeps alone.
And the sea lifts and falls all night, the moon goes on
through the unattached heavens alone.
The toe of the shoe pivots
in the dust…
And the man in the black coat turns, and goes back
down the hill.
No one knows why he came, or why he turned away,
and did not climb the hill.
Bly on Aging
I found the following in his “August Rain,” a prose poem from Eating the Honey of Words.
The older we get the more we fail, but the more we fail the more we feel a part of the dead straw of the universe, the corners of barns with cow dung twenty years old, the belt left hanging over the chair back after the bachelor has died in the ambulance on the way to the city. These objects ride us as the child who holds on to the dog’s fur; these objects appear in our dreams; they are more and more near us, coming in slowly from the wainscoting; they make our trunks heavy, accumulating between trips; they lie against the ship’s side, and will nudge the hole open that lets the water in at last.
I Celebrate Myself
Walt Whitman, from the first page of Leaves of Grass, written in Brooklyn in 1855:
I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease….observing a spear of summer grass.
Houses and rooms are full of perfumes….the shelves are crowded
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it.
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.
The atmosphere is not a perfume….it has no taste of the distillation
….it is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever….I am in love with it,
I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.
(from the edition by Gary Schmidgall)
Whitman on Death:
At the last, tenderly,
From the walls of the fortress’d house,
From the clasp of the knitted locks, from the keep of the well-closed doors,
Let me glide noiselessly forth;
With the key of softness unlock the locks — with a whisper,
Set ope the doors O soul.
Tenderly — be not impatient,
(Strong is your hold, O mortal flesh,
Strong is your hold O love.)
–Walt Whitman, “The Last Invocation”
When Animagi Were Ordinary
Years ago, I found this old Eskimo poem in Robert Bly’s collection, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, and made it the epigraph of my book about the Tao of Harry Potter:
In the very earliest time,
When both people and animals lived on earth,
A person could become an animal if he wanted to
And an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
And sometimes animals
And there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
Might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
And what people wanted to happen could happen
All you had to do was say it.
Nobody can explain this:
That’s the way it was.
Richard Buckminster Fuller
Development is programable;
Discovery is not programable.
Since the behaviors to be sought
Computers cannot be instructed
To watch out for them.
— from Intuition
Here is Fuller again, this time on the subject of Earth’s weight problem:
Studying the experientially acquired data
We begin to discover that energies emanating
From celestial regions remote from planet Earth
Are indeed converging and accumulating
In planet Earth’s biosphere, top soil, and oceans.
Earth is a spherical importer of energies,
Both as radiation and as matter.
Recent estimates of geo and astrophysicists
Show many stardust tons landing daily on Earth.
Some estimate one hundred thousand tons daily
Probably acquired during Earth’s orbital passaging
Through the rubble of comet tails.
By virtue of such stardust and asteroid fall-ins,
Earth is actually increasing its weight.
What’s a Crusade?
Mark Twain’s prose, like much great writing in general, often takes a poetic measure. Consider this little excerpt from Tom Sawyer Abroad:
“Huck Finn, do you mean to tell me you don’t know what a crusade is?” “No,” I says, “I don’t….”
“A crusade is a war to recover the Holy Land from the paynim.”
“Which Holy Land?”
“Why, the Holy Land — there ain’t but one.”
“What do we want of it?”
“Why can’t you understand? It’s in the hands of the paynim, and it’s our duty to take it away from them.”
“How did we come to let them git hold of it?”
“We didn’t come to let them git hold of it. They always had it.”
“Why, Tom, then it must belong to them, don’t it?”
“Why, of course it does. Who said it didn’t?”
A poem of childhood, from Anne Sexton:
A thousand doors ago
when I was a lonely kid
in a big house with four
garages and it was summer
as long as I could remember, I lay on the lawn at night,
clover wrinkling under me,
the wise stars bedding over me,
my mother’s window a funnel
of yellow heat running out,
my father’s window, half shut,
an eye where sleepers pass,
and the boards of the house
were smooth and white as wax
and probably a million leaves
sailed on their strange stalks
as the crickets ticked together
and I, in my brand new body,
which was not a woman’s yet,
told the stars my questions
and thought God could really see
the heat and the painted light,
elbows, knees, dreams, goodnight.
(from All My Pretty Ones, 1962)
Richard Wilbur: “Transit”
Here’s something from Richard Wilbur, one of America’s great poets:
A woman I have never seen before
Steps from the darkness of her townhouse door
At just that crux of time when she is made
So beautiful that she or time must fade.
What use to claim that as she tugs her gloves
A phantom heraldry of all the loves
Blares from the lintel? That the staggered sun
Forgets, in his confusion, how to run?
Still, nothing changes as her perfect feet
Click down the walk that issues in the street,
Leaving the stations of her body there
As a whip maps the countries of the air.
All great poetry has the heart of a child. That is its universal quality. Here is a living example of this principle, from the great Canadian poet and musician, Neil Young:
Some are bound for happiness,
some are bound to glory
Some are bound to live with less,
who can tell your story?
See the sky about to rain,
broken clouds and rain.
Locomotive, pull the train,
whistle blowin’ through my brain.
Signals curlin’ on an open plain,
rollin’ down the track again.
See the sky about to rain.
Search Term Verse
This is some fun stuff I did years ago when I had a political blog that received enough traffic to generate some search results. I collected the (often bizarre and always badly spelled) terms that people used to find the site and made verse out of those terms, just as they appeared in the search term listings.
Search Term Verse No. 18
from seeing the seeing has become so retail:
what part of zen do you not understand?
collapse is required for renewal, and
alexis completes felicity, which always
ranked 36th in health care.
feverish ardor americans pursue a
code of honor among thieves;
what is beater republican or democrat?
what is generally the first step in code?
save the world learn to do nothing —
sunlight in winter. Empires fall
every time i came to the end of a block.
mistress vacuum slave, the fall of american empire —
small writing on vanish, acts of condemnation,
the installar poem when i m in my bed at night.
Search Term Verse No. 17
in zen grasshopper calls his master
liebermann jesus, greed and corruption,
one more sip and ill slip beetween the
ubuntu desktop breasts, between
jesus and history.
we throw our energy about like waste in
american escapism, in protestant art today:
how can you see in the dark?
escapism video games, get motivated bullshit:
a bad apple destroys the other apple
in kurtz’s intellect.
middle aged women like sex with young
non consumptive christians, with
a hundred and fortytwo snowbanks.
Search Term Verse No. 16
words of emphaty:
sexy selfabasement blowjob girls
repent the end.
grasshopper, seek not the answers.
racism has become a loaded word.
how to cook a perdue roaster.
jews in the middle ages;
exposing an image:
conservative healthcare plan.
holy jesus i hate aig;
guilt is selfindulgence,
his mouth is a sewer.
cigna black krim tomatoes.
Search Term Verse #15
accurate jesus, sacred tortoise:
the imp and the crust.
man wearing sign in trinary code:
the meaning of ivan fyodorovich nightmare?
compare and contrast essay:
doors of perseption and mania.
it furthers one to see geek cats
in the month of may.
pineapple in ass, running internet explorer —
conservatives taxation humiliation game;
bechtel brainwashing little naked kids —
i ching please bless me.
Search Term Verse #14
poor anal texas to secede redskins brady;
houynyms live and die in the margins.
nj estate tax farm, balls heimer disease:
the meaning of looking at jesus.
palm sunday: oprah meditation 101;
turning on lights with your mind.
we have decided to pursue dick and balls —
bring me back to the dome.
flu economy: video games and escapism;
protestant church art, ozymandias, and war —
near to jesus, sphere of consciousness:
what do christians do in church?
It’s rarely good, and goodly rare. But here is some of it.
Queen of Beers: A song I wrote many years ago. No one ever offered to compose a melody for it. You’ll see why.
Taking Off the Uniform
This is an unfinished song I wrote about 20 years ago, apparently under the influence of Dylan.
There’s a colder wind blowin’
Than what we knew before.
There’s a dark man ravin’
He’s knockin’ down my door.
On the other side it’s snowin’
Now and the river rises more;
But that doesn’t mean I have to feel
Like the man in the uniform.
There’s half a man walkin’
On his chapped and broken palms;
He’s followed by his faithful cat
Whose backward legs have gone.
The observers are all talking
As two forlorn ghosts snake on
But it doesn’t mean I have to act
Like the man in the uniform.
Far away in the harbor now
A woman stands alone;
She used to have a job, they say
She used to have a home.
Selling flowers to the cars for now
She hides beneath the chrome;
But that doesn’t mean I have to think
Like the man in the uniform.
A Corporate Iliad
(another poem that was never finished)
Sing, O Muse, of greed’s Inferno, fluorescent-fringed and frigid at the core; of white-haired chiefs with square jaws and stiff-lined lips
whose speech came clipped and hollow like the towers
on whose upper reaches they sat like gods in clouds,
sealed from light by iron-toothed, two-footed dogs.
Sing of dark jagged lines tipping hell-ward like Abyss-sucked souls
whose eternal fall finds no bottom of either rest or termination;
of red numbers glowing like murderous stars in a flat-faced sky
whose blank, demonic edges rotate like knives dropping from heaven, shifting but never changing; killing and never dying.
The Most Trusted Name in Blues
Another song that never became music…
I’ve been on NBC and CNN and ABC and FOX;
I’ve been a Sunday morning Shouter
And a pundit roust-abouter.
But now my news career’s on the rocks.
I used to gossip with Miss Dowd,
Play the emotions of the crowd,
Laughed with Wolf Blitzer
And spat on Eliot Spitzer
I was the Prince of 24-7 Cable News…
I could dish it out and never take it,
Spread a rumor and make it
Feel true…I could ruin reputations
Plan attacks on sov’rin nations
Now I’m the most trusted name in the blues
I’ve been Rush’s right hand man,
Rode in every straighttalk van;
I’ve looked down Brit Hume’s nose
And seen Coulter with no clothes…
I’ve planned evening assassinations
On Rev’rend Pat’s true Christian stations,
But now I’m the most trusted name in blues.
I made Michael’s Savage Racist fame,
Played in Jeffrey Gannon’s softball game;
I’ve been the worst in Keith-O’s world,
I’ve taken Malkin for a twirl
I knew Chris Hitchens’ favorite booze…
I’ve been BillO’s biggest factor,
The Beltway Boys’ best actor;
I’ve been Matthew’s hardest ball
And Drudge’s know-it-all
I made the rich look poor,
I made the winners lose
Now I’m the most trusted name in blues.
To the Goddess of Transformation
Please come in: go all the way back
to the old closet past the kitchen
where the priests left their wine-stained robes.
Where the arms and legs of hallowed toys
that never worked, never played
are buried in the graveyard of lies.
Let the drunken robes sleep on,
but clear away the empty bottles of belief.
For every time I touch them,
I bleed onto the edges
of their granite labels.
our nation. conceived in liberty
but born in slavery.
a lot can happen
in nine months of history.
In The Office
My city, covered in corporate logos,
Rising through the smoke of a burning planet.
So much ink and paper here,
But not a single poet in sight.
Science Did Not Fail Me
I wrote a poem about science, and here it is.
Science did not fail me, nor I it.
The age of commitment, of the unconditional
Fell amid the rubble, after the Bombs
Of nuclear autumn.
So in an embrace of burning tongues
We lay briefly, sporadically
Amid delicious sunset passion
That each of us will remember
In the minute before sleep,
The second before death.
Perhaps every true scientist has known it,
This ambivalent lust
For the succulent food
That deepens your hunger.
Kekule followed a single night’s dream;
Newton pursued his madness
In a backward race of Order and Law.
Einstein rode a starry stallion
Of hardcharging, timedriven Libido.
Bohm, the fractal infinitude of wonder.
Science, your hair gave off light,
Your lips brushed my every nerve
With the imprint of despair.
And you always gave enough
To make me ask “what more?”
Some fun with the old Japanese mini-verse. Most of it actually holds to the 5-7-5 rule.
Manhattan Street Scene
Brinks truck, unloading:
Raindrops from the tree above
Reveal the treasure.
7 Years of Celibacy
Seven years, always
window-shopping. Skirts flow by:
Setting autumn sun.
Old Folks Protesting the War
Elders in the street:
marching their rage-filled mourning.
Autumn sun, rising.
At the Office
Our fluorescent sun:
light glaring everywhere,
yet no one can see.
One of the reasons for the popularity of haiku is that its form and flow are so natural. Consider how easily this famous quotation from Franz Kafka slides into the 5-7-5 haiku format:
So many steps on
the road to death – why does it
have to take so long?
I’ve noticed that even subway announcements fall into haiku form:
If you see something,
Belongings in site, all time.
Stand clear closing doors.
Steelgray touched by blue,
merging with the colorless
walls that disguise them.
Distance Walking for Sanity
Long walk, winter rain:
Demons running at my back,
Haven’t caught me yet.