inshallah :: rumi

translated by coleman barks

Some people work and become wealthy. Others do the same and
remain poor. Marriage

fills one with energy. Another it drains. Don’t trust ways.
They change. A means

flails about like a donkey’s tail. Always add the gratitude
clause, if God wills. Then

proceed. You may be leading a donkey, no, a goat, no, who can
tell? We sit in a dark pit

and think we’re home. We pass around delicacies. Poisoned
bait. You think this

is preachy double-talk? Those who do not breathe the God
willing
phrase live in a

collective blindness. Rubbing their eyes in the dark,
they ask, “Who’s there?”

this is the life :: heather mchugh

His watch is wicked, going on
without him. Pass your hand
across the blue man’s lips and
Q.E.D. We know we breathe

(and quite without our help) but then
we know we know, and so forget.
It’s strange to be alive but we
have not felt awe since we were someone’s

kid, and that was once
upon a time. In time we taught ourselves
to find the world mundane, and all
the unknown unsurprising, like

next Sunday, for example.
God himself gets bored, God knows.

On holidays we like to make
some sugar on a rope, some fallout

in the form of rocks,
the Science City someone gave

to Junior, Christmas Day. And you can etch
your name in the petri dish with pure

bacteria, or in the virgin snow with piss.
We draw lines at skin, for different,
at heart for dead; the EEG goes on all by itself. We used
to sing, and when we did, we sensed

the air itself was lively; then we fell
back into dream, we froze. And all night long
in the drawing room, after the household’s asleep,
the crystal grows.

how to be a poet :: wendell berry

(to remind myself)

i

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill−more of each
than you have−inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

ii

Breathe with unconditioned breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

iii

Accept what comes from silence.
Makes the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Courtesy of E.S.

song :: frederico garcía lorca

translated by a. s. kline

The girl with the lovely face,
goes, gathering olives.
The wind, that towering lover,
takes her by the waist.
Four riders go by
on Andalusian ponies,
in azure and emerald suits,
in long cloaks of shadow.
‘Come to Cordoba, sweetheart!’
The girl does not listen.
Three young bullfighters go by,
slim-waisted in suits of orange,
with swords of antique silver.
‘Come to Sevilla, sweetheart!’
The girl does not listen.
When the twilight purples,
with the daylight’s dying,
a young man goes by, holding
roses, and myrtle of moonlight.
‘Come to Granada, my sweetheart!’
But the girl does not listen.
The girl, with the lovely face,
goes on gathering olives,
while the wind’s grey arms
go circling her waist.

when autumn came :: faiz ahmed faiz

translated by naomi lazard

This is the way that autumn came to the trees:
It stripped them down to the skin,
left their ebony bodies naked.
It shook out their hearts, the yellow leaves,
scattered them over the ground.
Anyone could trample them out of shape
undisturbed by a single moan of protest.

The birds that herald dreams
were exiled from their song,
each voice torn out of its throat.
They dropped into the dust
even before the hunter strung his bow.

Oh, God of May have mercy.
Bless these withered bodies
with the passion of your resurrection;
make their dead veins flow with blood again.

Give some tree the gift of green again.
Let one bird sing.

the snow man :: wallace stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

perhaps the world ends here :: joy harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what,
we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the
table so it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe
at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what
it means to be human. We make men at it,
we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts
of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms
around our children. They laugh with us at our poor
falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back
together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella
in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place
to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate
the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared
our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow.
We pray of suffering and remorse.
We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table,
while we are laughing and crying,
eating of the last sweet bite.

mind :: jorie graham

The slow overture of rain,
each drop breaking
without breaking into
the next, describes
the unrelenting, syncopated
mind. Not unlike
the hummingbirds
imagining their wings
to be their heart, and swallows
believing the horizon
to be a line they lift
and drop. What is it
they cast for? The poplars,
advancing or retreating,
lose their stature
equally, and yet stand firm,
making arrangements
in order to become
imaginary. The city
draws the mind in streets,
and streets compel it
from their intersections
where a little
belongs to no one. It is
what is driven through
all stationary portions
of the world, gravity’s
stake in things, the leaves,
pressed against the dank
window of November
soil, remain unwelcome
till transformed, parts
of a puzzle unsolvable
till the edges give a bit
and soften. See how
then the picture becomes clear,
the mind entering the ground
more easily in pieces,
and all the richer for it.

after a death :: tomas tranströmer

translated by robert bly

Once there was a shock
that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.
It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy.
It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.

One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun
through brush where a few leaves hang on.
They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.
Names swallowed by the cold.

It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armor of black dragon scales.

iris :: david st. john

Vivian St. John (1981-1974)

There is a train inside this iris:

You think I’m crazy, & like to say boyish
& outrageous things. No, there is

A train inside this iris.

It’s a child’s finger bearded in black banners.
A single window like a child’s nail,

A darkened porthole lit by the white, angular face

Of an old woman, or perhaps the boy beside her in the stuffy,
Hot compartment. Her hair is silver, & sweeps

Back off her forehead, onto her cold and bruised shoulders.

The prairies fall along Chicago. Past the five
Lakes. Into the black woods of her New York; & as I bend

Close above the iris, I see the train

Drive deep into the damp heart of its stem, & the gravel
Of the garden path

Cracks under my feet as I walk this long corridor

Of elms, arched
Like the ceiling of a French railway pier where a boy

With pale curls holding

A fresh iris is waving goodbye to a grandmother, gazing
A long time

Into the flower, as if he were looking some great

Distance, or down an empty garden path & he believes a man
Is walking toward him, working

Dull shears in one hand; & now believe me: The train

Is gone. The old woman is dead, & the boy. The iris curls,
On its stalk, in the shade

Of those elms: Where something like the icy & bitter fragrance

In the wake of a woman who’d just swept past you on her way
Home

& you remain.

the letter :: amy lowell

Little cramped words scrawling all over
the paper
Like draggled fly’s legs,
What can you tell of the flaring moon
Through the oak leaves?
Or of my uncertain window and the
bare floor

Spattered with moonlight?
Your silly quirks and twists have nothing
in them
Of blossoming hawthorns,
And this paper is dull, crisp, smooth,
virgin of loveliness
Beneath my hand.

I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart
against
The want of you;
Of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it.
And I scald alone, here, under the fire
Of the great moon.

shapeshifter poems :: lucille clifton

1

the legend is whispered
in the women’s tent
how the mood when she rises
full
follows some men into themselves
and changes them there
the season is short
but dreadful shapeshifters
they wear strange hands
they walk though the houses
at night their daughters
do not know them

2

who is there to protect her
from the hands of the father
not the windows which see and
say nothing not the moon
that awful eye not the woman
she will become with her
scarred tongue who who who the owl
laments into the evening who
will protect her this prettylittlegirl

3

if the little girl lies
still enough
shut enough
hard enough
shapeshifter may not
walk tonight
the full moon may not
find him here
the hair on him
bristling
rising
up

4

the poem at the end of the world
is the poem the little girl breathes
into her pillow the one
she cannot tell the one
there is no one to hear this poem
is a political poem is a war poem is a
universal poem but is not about
these things this poem
is about one human heart this poem
is the poem at the end of the world

too many names :: pablo neruda

translated by a. s. kline

Monday entangles itself with Tuesday
and the week with the year:
time cannot be severed
with your weary shears,
and all the names of the day
the water of night clears.

No man can call himself Peter,
no woman Rose or Mary,
we are all sand or dust,
we are all rain in the rain.
They have told me of Venezuelas,
Paraguays and Chiles,
I don’t know what they’re talking about:
I know the skin of the Earth
and I know that it has no name.

When I lived among roots
they delighted me more than flowers,
and when I talked to a stone
it echoed like a bell.

It is so slow the spring
that lasts the winter long:
time has lost his shoes:
one year’s four centuries.

When I go to sleep each night
what am I called, not called?
And when I wake up, who am I
if it wasn’t ‘I’ who was sleeping?
This is to say that as soon as we
are thrust out into life,
that we come newly born,
that our mouths are not filled
with all these dubious names,
with all these mournful labels,
with all these meaningless letters,
with all this ‘yours’ and ‘mine’,
with all this signing of papers.

I think to confound things
mingling them, hatching them new,
seeing through them, stripping them naked,
until the light of the earth
has the unity of the ocean,
a generous integrity,
a crackle of starched perfume.

acting like a tree :: jonathan aaron

When I got to the party and saw everybody
walking around in Christmas costumes,
I remembered I was supposed to be wearing one, too.
Bending slightly, I held out my hands
and waved them a little, wiggling my fingers.
I narrowed my eyes and pursed my lips, making
a tree face, and started slowly hopping on one foot,
then the other, the way I imagine trees do
in the forest when they’re not being watched.
Maybe people would take me for a hemlock,
or a tamarack. A little girl disguised as an elf
looked at me skeptically. Oh, come on!
her expression said. You call that acting like a tree?
Behind her I could see a guy in a reindeer suit
sitting down at the piano. As he hit the opening
chords of “Joy to the World” I closed my eyes
and tried again. This time I could feel the wind
struggling to lift my boughs, which were heavy
with snow. I was clinging to a mountain crag
and could see over the tops of other trees a few late-
afternoon clouds and the thin red ribbon of a river.
I smelled more snow in the air. A gust or two whispered
around my neck and face, but by now
all I could hear was the meditative creaking
of this neighbor or that—and a moment later, farther off,
the faint but eager call of a wolf.

From The New Yorker; December 15, 2008

Courtesy of S.L.

two countries :: naomi shihab nye

Skin remembers how long the years grow
when skin is not touched, a gray tunnel
of singleness, feather lost from the tail
of a bird, swirling onto a step,
swept away by someone who never saw
it was a feather. Skin ate, walked,
slept by itself, knew how to raise a
see-you-later hand. But skin felt
it was never seen, never known as
a land on the map, nose like a city,
hip like a city, gleaming dome of the mosque
and the hundred corridors of cinnamon and rope.

Skin had hope, that’s what skin does.
Heals over the scarred place, makes a road.
Love means you breathe in two countries.
And skin remembers—silk, spiny grass,
deep in the pocket that is skin’s secret own.
Even now, when skin is not alone,
it remembers being alone and thanks something larger
that there are travelers, that people go places
larger than themselves.

cartographies of silence :: adrienne rich

1.

A conversation begins
with a lie. And each

speaker of the so-called common language feels
the ice-floe split, the drift apart

as if powerless, as if up against
a force of nature

A poem can begin
with a lie. And be torn up.

A conversation has other laws
recharges itself with its own

false energy. Cannot be torn
up. Infiltrates our blood. Repeats itself.

Inscribes with its unreturning stylus
the isolation it denies.

2.

The classical music station
playing hour upon hour in the apartment

the picking up and picking up
and again picking up the telephone

the syllables uttering
the old script over and over

The loneliness of the liar
living in the formal network of the lie

twisting the dials to drown the terror
beneath the unsaid word

3.

The technology of science
The rituals, the etiquette

the blurring of terms
silence not absence

of words or music or even
raw sounds

Silence can be a plan
rigorously executed

the blueprint to a life

It is a presence
it has a history a form

Do not confuse it
with any kind of absence

4.

How calm, how inoffensive these words
begin to seem to me

though begun in grief and anger
Can I break through this film of the abstract

without wounding myself or you
there is enough pain here

This is why the classical or the jazz music station plays?
to give a ground of meaning to our pain?

5.

The silence that strips bare:
In Dreyer’s Passion of Joan

Falconetti’s face, hair shorn, a great geography
mutely surveyed by the camera

If there were a poetry where this could happen
not as blank spaces or as words

stretched like skin over meanings
but as silence falls at the end

of a night through which two people
have talked till dawn

6.

The scream
of an illegitimate voice

It has ceased to hear itself, therefore
it asks itself

How do I exist?

This was the silence I wanted to break in you
I had questions but you would not answer

I had answers but you could not use them
This is useless to you and perhaps to others

7.

It was an old theme even for me:
Language cannot do everything–

chalk it on the walls where the dead poets
lie in their mausoleums

If at the will of the poet the poem
could turn into a thing

a granite flank laid bare, a lifted head
alight with dew

It if could simply look you in the face
with naked eyeballs, not letting you turn

till you, and I who long to make this thing,
were finally clarified together in its stare

8.

No. Let me have this dust,
these pale clouds dourly lingering, these words

moving with ferocious accuracy
like the blind child’s fingers

or the newborn infant’s mouth
violent with hunger

No one can give me, I have long ago
taken this method

whether of bran pouring from the loose-woven sack
or of the bunsen-flame turned low and blue

If from time to time I envy
the pure annunciations to the eye

the visio beatifica
if from time to time I long to turn

like the Eleusinian hierophant
holding up a simple ear of grain

for the return to the concrete and everlasting world
what in fact I keep choosing

are these words, these whispers, these conversations
from which time after time the truth breaks moist and green

witch-wife :: edna st. vincent millay

She is neither pink nor pale,

And she never will be all mine;

She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,

And her mouth on a valentine.

She has more hair than she needs;

In the sun ’tis a woe to me!

And her voice is a string of coloured beads,

Or steps leading into the sea.

She loves me all that she can,

And her ways to my ways resign;

But she was not made for any man,

And she never will be all mine.

a dream within a dream :: edgar allan poe

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow:
You are not wrong who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in non,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
and I hold within my hand
Grains of golden sand–
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep–while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

speaking to you (from rock bottom) :: michael ondaatje

Speaking to you
this hour
these days when
I have lost the feather of poetry
and the rains
of separation
surround us tock
tock like Go tablets

Everyone has learned
to move carefully

‘Dancing’ ‘laughing’ ‘bad taste’
is a memory
a tableau behind trees of law

In the midst of love for you
my wife’s suffering
anger in every direction
and the children wise
as tough shrubs
but they are not tough
–so I fear
how anything can grow from this

all the wise blood
poured from little cuts
down into the sink

this hour it is not
your body I want
but your quiet company

in mind :: denise levertov

There’s in my mind a woman
of innocence, unadorned but

fair-featured and smelling of
apples or grass. She wears

a utopian smock or shift, her hair
is light brown and smooth, and she

is kind and very clean without
ostentation–

but she has
no imagination

And there’s a
turbulent moon-ridden girl

or old woman, or both,
dressed in opals and rags, feathers

and torn taffeta,
who knows strange songs

but she is not kind.

love song :: rainer maria rilke

How can I keep my soul in me, so that it doesn’t touch your soul?
How can I raise it high enough, past you, to other things?
I would like to shelter it, among remote lost objects,
in some dark and silent place that doesn’t resonate
when your depths resound.
Yet everything that touches me, me and you,
takes us together like a violin’s bow,
which draws one voice out of two separate strings.
Upon which instrument are we two spanned?
And what musician holds us in his hand?
Oh sweetest song.

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond :: e. e. cummings

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which I cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colors of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

the red poppy :: louise glück

The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
permit yourselves
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.

some dreams they forgot :: elizabeth bishop

The dead birds fell, but no one had seen them fly,
or could guess from where. They were black, their eyes were shut,
and no one knew what kind of birds they were. But
all held them and looked up through the new far-funneled sky.
Also, dark drops fell. Night-collected on the eaves,
or congregated on the ceilings over their beds,
they hung, mysterious drop-shapes, all night over their heads,
now rolling off their careless fingers quick as dew off leaves.
Where had they seen wood-berries perfect as these,
shining just so in early morning? Dark-hearted decoys on
upper-bough or below-leaf. Had they thought poison
and left? or–remember–eaten them from the loaded trees?
What flowers shrink to seeds like these, like columbine?
But their dreams are all inscrutable by eight or nine.

a dream of trees :: mary oliver

There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees,
A quiet house, some green and modest acres
A little way from every troubling town,
A little way from factories, schools, laments.
I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,
With only streams and birds for company.
To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.
And then it came to me, that so was death,
A little way away from everywhere.

There is a thing in me that still dreams of trees,
But let it go. Homesick for moderation,
Half the world’s artists shrink or fall away.
If any find solution, let him tell it.
Meanwhile I bend my heart toward lamentation
Where, as the times implore our true involvement,
The blades of every crisis point the way.

I would it were not so, but so it is.
Who ever made music of a mild day?

I didn’t apologize to the well :: mahmoud darwish

translated by fady joudah

I didn’t apologize to the well when I passed the well,
I borrowed from the ancient pine tree a cloud
and squeezed it like an orange, then waited for a gazelle
white and legendary. And I ordered my heart to be patient:
Be neutral as if you were not of me! Right here
the kind shepherds stood on air and evolved
their flutes, then persuaded the mountain quail toward
the snare. And right here I saddled a horse for flying toward
my planets, then flew. And right here the priestess
told me: Beware of the asphalt road and the cars
and walk upon your exhalation. Right here
I slackened my shadow and waited, I picked the tiniest
rock and stayed up late. I broke the myth and I broke.
And I circled the well until I flew from myself
to what isn’t of it. A deep voice shouted at me:
This grave isn’t your grave. So I apologized.
I read verses from the wise holy book, and said
to the unknown one in the well: Salaam upon you the day
you were killed in the land of peace, and the day you rise
from the darkness of the well alive!

her kind :: anne sexton

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

as I grew older :: langston hughes

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun–
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky–
The wall.
Shadow.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

poem for a young poet :: june jordan

Most people search all
of their lives
for someplace to belong to
as you said
but I look instead
into the eyes of anyone
who talks to me

I search for a face
to believe and belong to
a loosening mask
with a voice
ears
and a consciousness
breathing through
a nose
I can see

Day to day
it’s the only way
I like to travel
noticing the colors of a cheek
the curvature of brow
and the public declarations
of two lips

Okay!
I did not say male
or female
I did not say Serbian
or Tutsi
I said
what tilts my head
into the opposite of fear
or dread
is anyone
who talks to me

A face
to claim or question
my next step away
or else towards

fifteen anemones
dilated well beyond apologies
for such an open centerpiece
that soft
forever begs for bees

one morning
and the birdsong and the dew-
struck honeysuckle blending
invitations to dislodge
my fingers tangling with my sunlit
lover’s hair

A face
to spur or interdict
my mesmerized approach
or else
my agonized reproach

to strangulations of the soul
that bring a mother
to disown
her children
leaving them alone to feed
on bone and dust

A face
despite a corpse
invasion of the cradle
where I rock my love
alive

A face
despite numb fashions
of an internet connection between nobody
and no one

A face
against the narcoleptic/antiseptic
chalk streaks
in the sky
that lie
and posit credit cards
and starched de facto exposés
as copacetic evidence
that you and I
need no defense
against latrine
and bully bullet-proof decisions
launched by limousines
dividing up the big screen
into gold points
cold above the valley
of the shadow of unpardonable
tiny
tiny
tiny
this breathing and that breath
and then
that and that
that death

I search a face
a loosening mask
with voice
ears
and a consciousness
breathing through
a nose
that I can see

I search a face
for obstacles to genocide
I search beyond the dead
and driven by imperfect visions
of the living
yes and no
I come and go
back to the eyes
of anyone
who talks to me