free verses :: sarah kirsch

translated by rita dove and fred viebahn

Last night I awoke knew
That I should say goodbye now
To these verses. That’s how it always goes
After a few years. They have to get out
Into the world. It’s not possible to keep them
Forever! here under the roof.
Poor things. They must set out for town.
A few will be allowed to return later.
But most of them are still hanging around out there.
Who knows what will become of them. Before they
Find their peace.

the white museum :: george bilgere

My aunt was an organ donor
and so, the day she died,
her organs were harvested
for medical science.
I suppose there must be people
who list, under “Occupation,”
“Organ Harvester,” people for whom
it is always harvest season,
each death bringing its bounty.
They spend their days
loading wagonloads of kidneys,
whole cornucopias of corneas,
burlap sacks groaning with hearts and lungs
and the pale green sprouts of gall bladders,
and even, from time to time,
the weighty cauliflower of a brain.

And perhaps today,
as I sit in this café, watching the snow
and thinking about my aunt,
a young medical student somewhere
is moving through the white museum
of her brain, making his way slowly
from one great room to the next.
Here is the gallery of her girlhood,
with that great canvas depicting her father
holding her on his lap in the backyard
of their bungalow in St. Louis.
And here is a sketch of her
the summer after her mother died,
walking down a street in Berlin
when the broken city was itself
a museum. And here
is a small, vivid oil of the two of us
sitting in a café in London
arguing over the work of Constable
or Turner, or Francis Bacon
after a visit to the Tate.

I want you to know, as you sit there
with your microscope and your slides,
there’s no need to be reverent before these images.
That’s the last thing she would have wanted.
But do be respectful. Speak quietly.
No flash photography. Tell your friends
you saw something beautiful.

chinese writing :: dick allen

In my first week of studying Chinese writing,
I placed two horses beside two tigers
and the word careless formed.
With just five brushstrokes, I made an eye,
yet it took twelve for happiness,
eleven for success and fourteen for long life,
which I brushed on rice paper,
trying to master all the hooks and angles
of those difficult strokes. But then, writing English again,
for the first time since third grade I started to count
how many barely discernible movements my fingers make
guiding my favorite pen into broken cursive loops and crannies,
swirls and down strokes, up strokes, cross strokes
entering and leaving every sentence,
the anguished commas and dashes, the little ellipses
come out of their hiding places as if they were
pinpricks of honey at the end of clover spikes,
into this fine moving world.
And with such minute pleasures I was content
at the end of the day, which the Chinese might paint as rì-yuè,
or time passing in falling tones,
almost as beautiful as míng baí, to understand
those wonderful tiny crate characters,
that miniature broken ladder character,
the rising tones of sun, moon, clear-white, in two squares of sky.

From Poetry Daily

a mysterious heart :: chase twichell

I don’t like what the world has become.
At night, the sprinklers sound like rain
but I am neither fooled nor consoled.

Real rain no longer exists,
and the fish in the rivers
flash with phosphorous.

In secret I compile the history
of the world before the tragedy,
a lonely occupation. As a foreigner,

I write in a language of immunity,
make notes of things, deciphering,
invisible as a tourist.

Inside the nebulous skies,
millions of tiny planes
disperse their seed,

and the radio calls it weather.
There was weather in my childhood
on the other planet,

not that it was lovely. It was cold.
It was lovely, but cold.
When, in my investigations,

I search through the scrapbooks
for proof of this,
I discover the pictures, six to a page,

entangled in a white trellis,
the space around them.
This is the way I remember

Father’s house, a square of darkness
crisscrossed by the moon,
a latticework the ivy climbed.

That’s me in the window,
wondering about love.
I had a mysterious heart.

Perhaps my present disorientation
began on such a night.
In the many layers of the sky,

the stars appeared to swim
and multiply, like snow, or sperm,
or the white cells of death

on the laboratory slide.
Or maybe it was Christmas,
and other people had the Spirit,

but I never had it, as far as I know.
But all childhoods are hazardous,
and their cruelties ordinary.

I love the snowfall,
the blossoms of silence
that gather around us.

Then this planet is cast as the other,
and my life as another’s.
The planes dive toward terra firma

with ice on their wings, which is justice,
their cockpits full of moonlight.
So whether the water spills

through the pipes and spigots
or freezes in the heavens,
it makes no difference.

I come from the snowbound planet,
so far away it seems a spark,
a chip of ice. The truth is,

I did not consent to exile here.
So the mind goes into the past,
or up into a clean, new galaxy.

vague poem :: elizabeth bishop

The trip west.
—I think I dreamed that trip.
They talked a lot of “rose rocks”
or maybe “rock roses”
—I’m not sure now, but someone tried to get me some.
(And two or three students had.)

She said she had some at her house.
They were by the back door, she said.
—A ramshackle house.
An Army house? No, “a Navy house.” Yes,
that far inland.
There was nothing by the back door but dirt
or that same dry, monochrome, sepia straw I’d seen everywhere.
Oh, she said, the dog has carried them off.
(A big black dog, female, was dancing around us.)

Later, as we drank tea from mugs, she found one
“a sort of one.” “This one is just beginning. See—
you can see here, it’s beginning to look like a rose.
It’s—well, a crystal, crystals form—
I don’t know any geology myself …”
(Neither did I.)
Faintly, I could make out—perhaps—in the dull,
rose-red lump of, apparently, soil
a rose-like shape; faint glitters . . . Yes, perhaps
there was a secret, powerful crystal at work inside.

I almost saw it: turning into a rose
without any of the intervening
roots, stem, buds, and so on; just
earth to rose and back again.
Crystallography and its laws:
something I once wanted badly to study,
until I learned that it would involve a lot of arithmetic,
that is, mathematics.

Just now, when I saw you naked again,
I thought the same words: rose-rock, rock-rose . . .
Rose, trying, working, to show itself,
forming, folding over,
unimaginable connections, unseen, shining edges.
Rose-rock, unformed, flesh beginning, crystal by crystal,
clear pink breasts and darker, crystalline nipples,
rose-rock, rose-quartz, roses, roses, roses,
exacting roses from the body,
and the even darker, accurate, rose of sex—

nothing twice :: wislawa szymborska

translated by clare cavanagh and stanislaw baranczak

Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice.

Even if there is no one dumber,
if you’re the planet’s biggest dunce,
you can’t repeat the class in summer:
this course is only offered once.

No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with precisely the same kisses.

One day, perhaps some idle tongue
mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and scent.

The next day, though you’re here with me,
I can’t help looking at the clock:
A rose? A rose? What could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock?

Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It’s in its nature not to stay:
Today is always gone tomorrow.

With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we’re different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are.

the thunder shower :: derek mahon

A blink of lightning, then
a rumor, a grumble of white rain
growing in volume, rustling over the ground,
drenching the gravel in a wash of sound.
Drops tap like timpani or shine
like quavers on a line.

It rings on exposed tin,
a suite for water, wind and bin,
plinky Poulenc or strongly groaning Brahms’
rain-strings, a whole string section that describes
the very shapes of thought in warm
self-referential vibes

and spreading ripples. Soon
the whispering roar is a recital.
Jostling rain-crowds, clamorous and vital,
struggle in runnels through the afternoon.
The rhythm becomes a regular beat;
steam rises, body heat—

and now there’s city noise,
bits of recorded pop and rock,
the drums, the strident electronic shock,
a vast polyphony, the dense refrain
of wailing siren, truck and train
and incoherent cries.

All human life is there
in the unconfined, continuous crash
whose slow, diffused implosions gather up
car radios and alarms, the honk and beep,
and tiny voices in a crèche
piercing the muggy air.

Squalor and decadence,
the rackety global-franchise rush,
oil wars and water wars, the diatonic
crescendo of a cascading world economy
are audible in the hectic thrash
of this luxurious cadence.

The voice of Baal explodes,
raging and rumbling round the clouds,
frantic to crush the self-sufficient spaces
and re-impose his failed hegemony
in Canaan before moving on
to other simpler places.

At length the twining chords
run thin, a watery sun shines out,
the deluge slowly ceases, the guttural chant
subsides; a thrush sings, and discordant thirds
diminish like an exhausted concert
on the subdominant.

The angry downpour swarms
growling to far-flung fields and farms.
The drains are still alive with trickling water,
a few last drops drip from a broken gutter;
but the storm that created so much fuss
has lost interest in us.

From The New Yorker