Sometimes I find poems back-to-back relating to the same theme. In this case, callbacks to Greek and Latin classes where you're just not getting enough out of the material.|
Riposte to Ode
It isn't like that Horace Life stresses us out
However many hundreds of decades later we're told
to welcome anxiety is beneficial
and to quote honor our imperfections
You've got the Adriatic Sea We've got what
the Finger Lakes? Not quite as conducive
to worrying the infinite question so we worry
about other things equities statistics
I'm not really a wine man either
not in the unmixed sense where Alcibiades
might barge in any moment and out-naked us all
I'm an American so I prefer pig iron
Wildflowers abound somewhere I'm sure
I don't know anything about flowers though
Few of us in the cities follow them
the way you seem to as if tracking currencies
But to speak to your point about an actual
battlefront approaching Main Street who knows?
Maybe we would resort to hookers and crack
per your suggestion I can't say Horace I wish I could
Pig iron? Don't ask me, I have no idea. I did some Horace here, once upon a time. And here's a poem about Alcibiades, who will always out-naked everyone at every party.
A little earlier this evening, RC mentioned a library book that she had found back when she was in high school, about six years ago. It was big, yellow, rather scholarly anthology of nonsense poetry, and we enjoyed it a lot. I wrote down my favorites, and one of them immediately went on my Facebook page, in the part of the profile section that nobody ever looks at any more (these days it's called "Details About You" and takes at least two clicks to get to from your main profile page). This particular poem is silly and fantastical, but it's not nonsense at all. It was, in fact, extremely relatable to my life in 2008. I'll share the poem, and then I'll footnote it. |
To Minerva (from the Greek)
My temples throb, my pulses boil,
I'm sick of Song and Ode and Ballad--
So, Thyrsis, take the Midnight Oil
And pour it on a lobster salad.
My brain is dull, my sight is foul,
I cannot write a verse, or read--
Then, Pallas, take away thine Owl,
And let us have a Lark instead!
--Thomas Hood (1799-1845)
*Thyrsis: a name from a pastoral Greek poem by Theocritus
*Midnight Oil: what you burn when you stay up too late. Usually lamp oil, not salad oil!
*Minerva and Pallas: names for Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom
*Owl: Athena's symbol
*have a lark: have a good, cheery time
Some time in the early 19th century, Thomas Hood was sitting up bleary-eyed long past midnight, surrounded by piles of Greek poetry, dictionaries, and grammars. He was DONE. He longed to throw them all across the room, go out with his friends, and grab a cheap bite to eat (RC pointed out as we were talking, in the Regency period lobster salad was a very inexpensive food. Jailed prisoners used to complain about being given too much lobster to eat). In 2008-09, I was in exactly the same position, right down to the fucking Theocritus with his shepherds and his spurned lovers and his paraclausithyra. I posted Hood's poem on my profile with the words, "Proof that too much Greek homework has been keeping students up too late, and making us mentally unstable, for centuries." It's not nonsense--it's Classics.
A Map of the World|
One of the ancient maps of the world
is heart-shaped, carefully drawn
and once washed with bright colors,
though the colors have faded
as you might expect feelings to fade
from a fragile old heart, the brown map
of a life. But feeling is indelible,
and longing infinite, a starburst compass
pointing in all the directions
two lovers might go, a fresh breeze
swelling their sails, the future uncharted,
still far from the edge
where the sea pours into the stars.
I thought she was exaggerating a little
when she said that every one of her hummingbirds--she had five--
had a distinct name and that they flew
freely in her garden, where they had
distinct feeders. "If not, they fight too much."
But it was like that, just like that:
I saw them once, when the house, alone,
invited a visit to the open back garden.
There they came flying like tiny
with urgent notices and warnings.
No name fit them well. Useless
at the rapid movement of the wings:
the not being able to look at them
the approach of their tiny hearts
beating so incredibly rapidly
close, very close,
and then suddenly shooting off, high,
Beings of our world but also of another,
Translated from the Spanish by Jesse Lee Kercheval.
Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen
To the gods we attributed a dazzling existence
Consubstantial with the sea the clouds trees and light
In them the waves’ glinting the foam’s long white frieze
The woods’ secret and soft green the wheat’s tall gold
The river’s meandering the mountain’s solemn fire
And the great dome of resonant weightless free air
Emerged as self-aware consciousness
With no loss of the first day’s marriage-and-feast oneness
Anxious to have this experience for ourselves
We humans repeated the ritual gestures that re-establish
The initial whole presence of things –
This made us attentive to all forms known by the light of day
As well as to the darkness which lives within us
And in which the ineffable shimmer travels
Translated from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith
|» Owl Pellets|
Owl pellets our fifth graders teased apart
in the biology lab are like their dreams,
filled with remnants of the day before.
Different owls make different bricolages.
One loved mice–here are the vertebrae
and bent-comb ribcages of three,
with two of their skulls and a skeletal tail,
neatly pasted to the labeled file card.
Another found a young chipmunk;
we can tell it by its teeth, and the length
of its leg bones, laid out on the white
rectangle as though on a mortuary slab
below the wing-cases of a beetle.
This one seems to have dined on baby birds,
coughing up their inch-long yellow legs,
their beaked skulls, their fledgling feathers;
and the next card shows a schematic frog
from an owl who hunted near a pond.
As retold dreams catch only shards
this gluey display lacks the juicy crunch
of each starlit meal, the blood and innards,
the wriggle and squeal and flutter of death,
the warm joy of hunger assuaged again.
|» Heading for May|
April in Maine|
The days are cold and brown,
Brown fields, no sign of green,
Brown twigs, not even swelling,
And dirty snow in the woods.
But as the dark flows in
The tree frogs begin
Their shrill sweet singing,
And we lie on our beds
Through the ecstatic night,
Wide awake, cracked open.
There will be no going back.
You so tender are so
rough, so coarse are so
delicate: if it were not so
you would not fit me.
|» A Kiss, a Glance, Never Mind True North|
If You Need a Reason|
The way things move sometimes,
light or air,
the distance between
two points, or a map unfolding
on a table, or wind,
never mind sadness.
The difference between sky and room,
between geometry and breath,
the sound we hear
when two opposites finally collide,
smashed bottle, country song,
a bell, any bridge, a connection.
The way some stories end in the middle
of a word,
the words themselves,
galaxies, statuaries, perspectives,
the stone over stone that is life,
never mind hunger.
The way things move, road,
mirror, blind luck. The way nothing moves sometimes,
a kiss, a glance,
never mind true north.
The difference between history
and desire, between biology
and prayer, any light
to read by, any voice at the bottom
of the stairs, or the sound
of your own name softly, a tiny bone
breaking near the heart.
What the Hour Hand Said to the Minute Hand|
At 7:35 A.M, you lay your tired body on mine
before peeling off, like a slow band-aid.
At 8:40 you sprint home and make instant coffee.
At 9:45 we finally drink it, cold.
I finish your leftover half.
By 10:50 you are already breathless.
I live for every time we overlap.
When 11:55 comes I spend the entire minute convincing you to stay.
You never do.
By noon I put my hands on your shoulders and say, “Baby,
you’re getting thin. All this running in circles and barely sitting down to eat.”
At 1:05 you tell me that while you were gone,
15,300 babies were born.
At 2:10 you don’t say a word,
just come in and kiss me for sixty seconds straight.
At 3:15 we sit quiet, listening to rain falling everywhere
in the world at once: all 15,000 tons.
At 4:20 we pull a little from the tight joint I keep behind your ear.
You do not inhale.
At 5:25 you meet me for happy hour.
My neck already salted, a lime wedged in my teeth,
a shot of tequila sitting on the bar.
At 6:30 I hear the ticking.
I count your heartbeat like seconds between thunderclaps.
By 7:35 I can see you in the distance,
each second a tease until you drape over me.
We always love quick and you never let me hold you.
I dream of drinking you through a straw.
At 8:40 you watch my beard grow 0.00027 of an inch.
At 9:45 we do not speak.
Too many people have died since we last met.
At 10:50 we pray for a meteor,
at least a clumsy kid to spill sugar in our gears.
11:55 is my favorite.
We’re only apart for mere minutes.
But at midnight you’ll apologize sixty times
because it will always be like this.
At 1:04 AM I am already sleeping.
It’s exhausting loving someone
who is constantly running away.
Up from wood rot,
wrinkling up from duff
and homely damps,
spore-born and cauled
like a meager seer,
it pushes aside earth
to make a small place
from decay. Bashful,
it brings honeycombed
news from below
of the coming plenty
and everything rising.
|» It's a Beautiful World, You Said|
It’s a beautiful world, you said,
with these trees, marshes, deserts,
grasses, rivers and seas
and so on. And the moon is really something
in its circuits
of relative radiance. Include
the wingèd M, voluptuous
Venus, hotheaded Mars, that lucky devil
J and cranky Saturn, of course, plus
U and N and the wanderer P, in short
the whole solar family, complete with its
Milky Way, and count up all the other
systems with dots and spots and in
that endless emptiness what you’ve got
is a commotion of you-know-what. It’s a beautiful
universe, you said, just take a good look
through the desert’s dark glasses
for instance or on your back
in seas of grass, take a good look
at the deluge of that Rorschach—we’re standing out there
Translated from the Dutch by Jacquelyn Pope
|» I Wasn't Joking|
. . . but I found something much better to post than a gushing panegyric to Charlemagne. Which I was considering, not gonna lie. |
Walafrid Strabo (9th century)
Then come the showers of Spring, from time to time
Watering our tiny crop, and in its turn
The gentle moon caresses the delicate leaves.
Should a dry spell rob the plants of the moisture they need,
My gardening zeal and the fear that the slender shoots
May die of thirst make me scurry to bring fresh water
In brimming buckets. With my own hands I pour it
Drop by drop, taking care not to shift the seeds
By too sudden or lavish a soaking. Sure enough,
In a little while the garden is carpeted over
With tiny young shoots. True, that part there
Below the high roof is dry and rough from the lack
Of rain and the heaven’s benison; true, this
Part here is always in shade, for the high wall’s
Solid rampart forbids the sun to enter.
Yet of all that was lately entrusted to it, the garden
Has held nothing enclosed in its sluggish soil
Without hope of growth. What is more, those plants that were moved,
More dead than alive, to the newly dug furrows are now
Green again; our garden has brought them back
To life, making them good with abundant growth.
Translated from the Latin by Raef Payne.
|» Libri Carolini|
All right so I've fallen off the posting-every-day wagon. I want to find some poems about wind on the beach. Or shark teeth. I'm currently writing a lecture on Charlemagne and Christianity, and I may be reduced to posting some Carolingian court poetry, which is pretty terrible.|
Near the book a notebook
near the notebook a glass
near the glass a child
in the child's hand a cat.
And far away stars stars.
Translated from the Turkish by Taner Baybars
I'm a day behind . . . or three . . .
|» More Memories of New Mexico|
Santa Fe In Winter|
The city is closing for the night.
Stores draw their blinds one by one,
and it’s dark again, save for the dim
infrequent streetlight bending at the neck
like a weighted stem. Years have built
the city in layers: balustrades filled in
with brick, adobe reinforced with steel,
and the rounded arches smoothed
with white cement. Neighborhoods
have changed the burro trails
to streets, bare at night—
no pedestrians, no cars, no dogs.
With daylight, the houses turned galleries
and stores turned restaurants open—
the Navajos wrapped in wool
crowd the Palace of the Governors plaza
to sell their handmade blankets,
silver rings, and necklaces
to travelers who will buy jewelry
as they buy everything—
another charming history for themselves.
Even if I have never been to Santa Fe in winter . . . it still counts as a memory (and a history, perhaps).
|» The Language of Cranes|
The language of cranes
we once were told
is the wind. The wind
is their method,
their current, the translated story
of life they write across the sky.
Millions of years
they have blown here
on ancestral longing,
their wings of wide arrival,
necks long, legs stretched out
above strands of earth
where they arrive
with the shine of water,
language of exchanges
descended from the sky
and then they stand,
earth made only of crane
from bank to bank of the river
as far as you can see
the ancient story made new.
Another bird poem . . . that didn't take long, did it? I have never seen a Sandhill Crane.
|» Come and Be Fed|
Sunday Brunch at the Old Country Buffet|
Here is a genial congregation,
well fed and rosy with health and appetite,
robust children in tow. They have come
and all the generations of them, to be fed,
their old ones too who are eligible now
for a small discount, having lived to a ripe age.
Over the heaped and steaming plates, one by one,
heads bow, eyes close; the blessings are said.
Here there is good will; here peace
on earth, among the leafy greens, among the fruits
of the gardens of America's heartland. Here is abundance,
here is the promised
land of milk and honey, out of which
a flank of the fatted calf, thick still
on its socket and bone, rises like a benediction
over the loaves of bread and the little fishes, belly-up in butter.
|» Road Tripping|
I like to travel to L.A. by myself
My trips to the crowded smoggy polluted by brown
indigenous and immigrant haze are healing.
I travel from one pollution to another.
Being urban I return to where I came from
survives in L.A.
Now for over forty years.
I drive to L.A. in the darkness of the day
on the road before CHP
one with the dark
driving my black truck
invisible on my journey home.
The dark roads take me back to my childhood
riding in the camper of daddy’s truck headed home.
My brother, sister and I would be put to sleep in the camper
and sometime in the darkness of the day
daddy would clime into the cab with mom carrying a thermos full of coffee and some Pendleton blankets
And they would pray
before daddy started the truck
for journey mercies.
Often I’d rise from my lullaby sleep and stare into the darkness of the road
the long darkness empty of cars
Glowy from daddy’s headlights and lonesome from Hank Williams’ deep and twangy voice singing of cold nights and cheatin’ hearts.
About an hour from Flagstaff
the sun would greet us
and the harsh light would break the darkness
and we’d be hungry from travel and for being almost home.
I know the darkness of the roads
endless into the glowy path before me
lit by the moon high above and the heat rising from my truck’s engine.
The humming from tires whisper mile after mile
endless alongside roadside of fields shadowy from glow.
I know the darkness of the roads
It swims through my veins
dark like my skin
and silenced like a battered wife.
I know the darkness of the roads
It floods my liver
pollutes my breath
yet I still witness the white dawning.