Oh, how the wind howls,
howls the blossoms from the boughs;
Oh how the boughs bend,
bend and willow to the ground;
Oh, how the ground wells,
wells with blossoms blown to hills;
Oh, how the hills sound,
sound a whisper pink and loud.
Oh, how the wind howls,
howls the blossoms from the boughs;
Oh how the boughs bend,
bend and willow to the ground;
Oh, how the ground wells,
wells with blossoms blown to hills;
Oh, how the hills sound,
sound a whisper pink and loud.
When did you start your tricks
What do you stand on such high legs for?
Why this length of shredded shank
Is it so that you shall lift your centre of gravity upwards
And weigh no more than air as you alight upon me,
Stand upon me weightless, you phantom?
I heard a woman call you the Winged Victory
In sluggish Venice.
You turn your head towards your tail, and smile.
How can you put so much devilry
Into that translucent phantom shred
Of a frail corpus?
Queer, with your thin wings and your streaming legs
How you sail like a heron, or a dull clot of air,
Yet what an aura surrounds you;
Your evil little aura, prowling, and casting a numbness on my mind.
That is your trick, your bit of filthy magic:
Invisibility, and the anæsthetic power
To deaden my attention in your direction.
But I know your game now, streaky sorcerer.
Queer, how you stalk and prowl the air
In circles and evasions, enveloping me,
Ghoul on wings
Settle, and stand on long thin shanks
Eyeing me sideways, and cunningly conscious that I am aware,
I hate the way you lurch off sideways into air
Having read my thoughts against you.
Come then, let us play at unawares,
And see who wins in this sly game of bluff.
Man or mosquito.
You don’t know that I exist, and I don’t know that you exist.
It is your trump
It is your hateful little trump
You pointed fiend,
Which shakes my sudden blood to hatred of you:
It is your small, high, hateful bugle in my ear.
Why do you do it?
Surely it is bad policy.
They say you can’t help it.
If that is so, then I believe a little in Providence protecting the innocent.
But it sounds so amazingly like a slogan
A yell of triumph as you snatch my scalp.
Blood, red blood
I behold you stand
For a second enspasmed in oblivion,
Sucking live blood
Such silence, such suspended transport,
Such obscenity of trespass.
As well as you may.
Only your accursed hairy frailty
Your own imponderable weightlessness
Saves you, wafts you away on the very draught my anger makes in its snatching.
Away with a pæan of derision
You winged blood-drop.
Can I not overtake you?
Are you one too many for me
Am I not mosquito enough to out-mosquito you?
Queer, what a big stain my sucked blood makes
Beside the infinitesimal faint smear of you!
Queer, what a dim dark smudge you have disappeared into!
Terrace deep as the sky.
Stone bench where I sit and read,
I wandered by myself
Into the heart of the mountains of Yoshino.
In one hand a book, in the other, a bag made of newsprint—
No weather-beaten bones here
Just lychees bought in the market,
Thirty rupees per kilogram.
Stalks mottled red tied up with string,
Flesh the color of pigeon wings—
Sunlight bruises air
Pine trees blacken.
Where shall I go?
The Dhauladhar peaks
Are covered in snow.
It’s alot like a cave full of pictures
& black & white checked flags
you may overdose on caffeine
it’s the closest restaurant to our house
maybe five miles, it’s very cheap
you can go there when you have almost no money
they let you use the telephone
i can get steak tartare there for $2.25
but i’ve never called it that
just raw hamburger with an egg yolk,
pickle relish & garlic powder plus
the celtic salt i bring along
the owner, h (after whom the h-burger is named)
is loquacious, surprising, has a santa claus belly & wears suspenders
there’s ashtrays everywhere & a great old pinball machine
it’s like east nassau but it’s in west lebanon i think
you can always talk about the weather & hunting
the clientele is open-minded as are the waitress & waiter
who kneels when he takes your order
during hunting season it opens at 4:30 a.m.
it’s for sale but that’s not quite serious
h’s wife thinks he spends too much time there (which he does)
so she started calling him by their dog’s name, peaches
h is a big fan of northern exposure, oh & i
forgot to mention the biscuits & sausage gravy
which are genuine, greyish & great. recently
h got a smoker & this year we’ll go to the new year’s
eve party & eat stuffed shrimp and/or lobster
Not many people know it but Adam and Eve had a dog.
Its name was Kelev Reeshon, which means, first dog.
Some scholars say it had green fur and ate only plants
and grasses, and that is why some dogs still like to eat grass.
Others say it was hairless like the Chihuahua. Some
say it was male, some female, or that it was androgynous
like the angels or the present-day hyena. Rabbi Peretz,
a medieval cabalist in Barcelona, thought it was a black
dog and that it could see the angels which were everywhere
in the garden, although Adam and Eve could not see them.
He writes in his book of mystical dream meditations,
The Sefer Halom, that Kelev tried to help Adam and Eve
see the angels by pointing at them with its nose, aligning
its tail in a straight line with its back and raising one paw.
But Adam and Eve thought Kelev was pointing at the birds.
All scholars agree that it had a white tip on its tail,
and that it was a small dog. Sometimes you see
paintings of Eve standing next to a tree holding an apple.
The misinterpretation of this iconography gave birth
to the legend of the forbidden fruit and the fall from grace.
Actually, it was not an apple, but Kelev’s ball and Eve
was about to throw it. One day, although there were no
days or nights as we know them, she threw the ball
right out of the garden. Kelev ran after it and did not return.
Adam and Eve missed their dog, but were afraid to leave
the garden. It was misty and dark outside the garden.
They could hear Kelev barking, always farther
and farther away, its bark echoing as if there were two dogs barking.
Finally, they could stand it no longer, and they gathered
Kelev’s bed of large leaves and exited the garden.
They were holding the leaves in front of their bodies.
Although they could not see it, an angel followed,
trying to light up the way with a flaming sword,
And the earth was without form outside the garden.
Everything was gray and without shape or outline
because nothing outside the garden had a name. Slowly,
they advanced toward the sound of barking,
holding each other, holding their dog’s bed against their bodies.
Eventually they made out something small and white,
swinging from side to side; it seemed to be leading them
through the mist into a world that was becoming more visible.
Now there were trees, and beneath their feet, there was a path.
Is there a canvas crueler than the body?
The ink is permanent. The skin is not.
I have no patience for the lover’s gaudy
heart—swollen, pierced—a hackneyed blot
beating against the odds. I’ve seen them all:
straddled by seraphim, or torn apart—
on women, men, the lesser parlor’s wall—
hallmarked MOM, or skewered by a dart
from Cupid’s quiver.
But enough of love,
I work in monochrome. I deal in skulls.
Behind each piece a brief, familiar story.
It ends in bones—the sort of plot that dulls
the point. My needle’s steadiest above
a stinging script that reads:
Tired of earth, they dwindled on their hill,
Watching and waiting in the moonlight until
The aspens’ leaves quite suddenly grew still,
No longer quaking as the disc descended,
That glowing wheel of lights whose coming ended
All waiting and watching. When it landed
The ones within it one by one came forth,
Stalking out awkwardly upon the earth,
And those who watched them were confirmed in faith:
Mysterious voyagers from outer space,
Attenuated, golden—shreds of lace
Spun into seeds of the sunflower’s spinning face—
Light was their speech, spanning mind to mind:
We come here not believing what we find—
Can it be your desire to leave behind
The earth, which even those called angels bless,
Exchanging amplitude for emptiness?
And in a single voice they answered Yes,
Discord of human melodies all blent
To the unearthly harmony of their assent.
Come then, the Strangers said, and those who were taken, went.
The man poses in the trees as a lion with a crooked tail. He looks
on the two girls with animal regret, if only he could play, if they
might want him. The upturned willow was commissioned
by the river. All afternoon he watches. The girls leap from
the willow. They hang their suits in the branches. Girls, girls
the world tells him. Girls should not sleep in the woods.
Their dinner, their fire, he watches. Pretend bear. Pretend
gun. In the air, a coal perfume. They wake twice, in the trash,
raccoons. Inside the tent they might want him. Not the raccoons,
not the bear. Girls should not sleep. Never animals
that bother you. One girl tears out the other’s hair
to wake her. Again, the raccoons. A deer then. The lake. No.
What teaches them not to sleep. The man crouched over them.
Without light what teaches them. Soured air. Car keys. He mentions
the gun, crouched over them. Bear sighting, there is a bear.
They might want him with no light. Black bears don’t bother you.
What teaches one to play along. Over there. Stand guard. Thank god
you’ll help us. A little actress in a fake play. What teaches her
what to say. What teaches her to quiet the other. To unlock
the car. Thank him. To drive away.
What are they, those burrowing crustaceans, the ones
my son and I unbeach each summer
building sandcastles? Thumb-large
helmets with dainty, iridescent feet
and as far as I can see no eyes,
no head, no front or back at all, only
the shove and pull of the waves,
or only the quick, attentive gulls, who love them
just as they would love us, my son and me, if they could,
and who, the truth be told, cannot name us either.
The heat so peaked tonight
the moon can’t cool
a scum-mucked swimming
pool, or breeze
emerge to lift the frowsy
ruff of owls too hot
to hoot, (the mouse and brown
barn rat astute
enough to know to drop
and dash) while
on the bunched up,
corkscrewed sheets of cots
and slumped brass beds,
the fitful twist
and kink and plead to dream
a dream of air
as bitter cruel as winter
gale that scrapes and blows
and gusts the grate
the whitened ashes from the coal.
The release of water in the base
so controlled that the surface tension,
tabletop of stability, a mirror,
remains unbroken. Moisture seeps
down polished basalt sides.
This is how I grieve, barely
enough to dampen river stones,
until fibers in my husband’s
tweed jacket brush my fingers
as I fold it into a box. How close
the whirlpool under my feet.
Tell us of a bypassed heart beating in 12C,
how the woman holds a stranger’s hand
to the battery sewn in beneath her collarbone,
and says feel this. Tell us of the man’s ear
listening across the aisle, hugging itself,
a fist long since blistered by blaze.
Outside, morning sun buckling up.
Inside, twitching bonesacks of bat, birdsong
erupting as light cracks the far jungle canopy.
Ten thousand feet below ours, a grey cat
tongues the morning’s butter left out to soft.
Last night we broke open the sweet folds
around two paper fortunes. One said variety.
One said caution. The woman in 12C would hold that
her heart needs its hidden spark, but the man shows
how some live the rest of their lives with half a face
remembering its before expression. Who was it
that said our souls know one another
by smell, like horses?
What every painter knows, but most others forget
is how bright colors dim in artificial light
and lobster tastes most fresh
the nearer to death
you set your teeth into the lobster’s flesh.
Often I imagine the earth
through the eyes of the atoms we’re made of—
no me, no you, no opinions,
no beginning, no middle, no end,
soaring together like those
ancient Chinese birds
hatched miraculously with only one wing,
helping each other fly home.
I wondered if the others felt
as safe: my unmangled family
slept while I slid uncertain feet ahead
behind my flashlight’s beam.
Stones, thick roots as twisted as
a ruined body,
what did I fear?
I hoped my batteries
had eight more lives
than the lost child.
I feared I’d find something.
Reader, by now you must be sure
you know just where we are,
deep in symbolic woods.
someone else’s suffering.
The search is that of art.
You’re wrong, though it’s
an intelligent mistake.
There was a real lost child.
I don’t want to swaddle it
I’m just a journalist
who can’t believe in objectivity.
I’m in these poems
because I’m in my life.
But I digress.
A man four volunteers
to the left of me
made the discovery.
We circled in like waves
returning to the parent shock.
You’ve read this far, you might as well
have been there too. Your eyes accuse
me of false chase. Come off it,
you’re the one who thought it wouldn’t
matter what we found.
Though we came with lights
and tongues thick in our heads,
the issue was a human life.
The child was still
alive. Admit you’re glad.
Spokes, spooks: your tinsel hair weaves the wheel
that streams through my dreams of battle. Another
apocalypse, and your weird blondeness cycling in
and out of the march: down in a bunker, we hunker,
can hear the boots from miles off clop. We tend to
our flowers in the meantime. And in the meantime,
a daughter is born. She begins as a mere inch, lost
in the folds of a sheet; it’s horror to lose her before
she’s yet born. Night nurses embody the darkness.
Only your brain remains, floating in a jar that sits
in a lab far off, some place away, and terribly far.
Your skull no longer exists, its ash has been lifted
to wind from a mountain’s top by brothers, friends.
I am no friend. According to them. Accordion, the
child pulls its witching wind between its opposite
handles: the lungs of the thing grieve, and that is
its noise. She writhes the floor in tantrum. When
you climbed the sides of the house spider-wise to
let yourself in, unlocked the front door, let me in
to climb up into your attic the last time I saw you
that infected cat rubbed its face against my hand.
Wanting to keep it. No, you said. We are friends.
I wear my green jacket with the furred hood. You
pushed me against chain-length. Today is the day
that the planet circles the night we began. A child
is born. Night nurses coagulate her glassed-in crib.
Your organs, distant, still float the darkness of jars.
First of all, I do not want to be doing this.
Second of all, Percy does not want me
to be doing this.
bent over the desk like a besieged person
with a dull pencil and innumerable lists
Outside the water is blue, the sky is clear,
the tide rising.
Percy, I say, this has to be done. This is
essential. I’ll be finished eventually.
“Keep me in your thoughts,” he replies. “Just because
I can’t count to ten doesn’t mean
I don’t remember yesterday, or anticipate today.
I’ll give you ten more minutes,” and he does.
Then shouts—who could resist—his
favorite words: Let’s go!
(for children and others)
The roc’s a huge, bold, hungry bird who’s able
To eat an elephant. (So says the fable.)
No farmer likes to see one feasting cockily
Right in the middle of his field of broccoli.
At heart, ambassadors are always sad.
Why? Because world affairs are always bad,
So that they’re always having to express
“Regret,” and “grave concern,” and “deep distress.”
The barnacle is found in salty seas,
Clinging to rocks in crusty colonies;
And salt, which chemists call NaCl,
Is found inside the barnacle as well.
What could be sillier than for a cow
To try to cross the ocean in a scow?
With such a captain, to my way of thinking,
The wretched vessel would be sure of sinking!
No one should be entrusted with a rudder
Who has two horns and four hooves and an udder.
If a carp is in your carport, go find out
Whether the living room is full of trout
And eels and salamanders, and if there’s
A snapping turtle paddling up the stairs.
If that’s what’s going on, your house (beyond
A doubt) is at the bottom of a pond.
Some snakes are nice to handle, but an asp
Is not the kind to take within your grasp.
That is what Cleopatra did, I fear,
And, as you know, she is no longer here.
I was parading the Côte d’Azur,
hopping the short trains from Nice to Cannes,
following the maze of streets in Monte Carlo
to the hill that overlooks the ville.
A woman fed me pâté in the afternoon,
calling from her stall to offer me more.
At breakfast I talked in French with an old man
about what he loved about America–the Kennedys.
On the beaches I walked and watched
topless women sunbathe and swim,
loving both home and being so far from it.
At a phone looking to Africa over the Mediterranean,
I called my father, and, missing me, he said,
“You almost home boy. Go on cross that sea!”
One was fire red,
Hand carved and new—
The local maker pried the wood
From a torn-down church’s pew,
The Devil’s instrument
Wrenched from the house of God.
It answered merrily and clear
Though my fingering was flawed;
Bright and sharp as a young wine,
They said, but it would mellow,
And that I would grow into it.
The other one was yellow
And nicked down at the chin,
A varnish of Baltic amber,
A one-piece back of tiger maple
And a low, dark timbre.
A century old, they said,
Its sound will never change.
Rich and deep on G and D,
Thin on the upper range,
And how it came from the Old World
Was anybody’s guess—
Light as an exile’s suitcase,
A belly of emptiness:
That was the one I chose
(Not the one of flame)
And teachers would turn in their practiced hands
To see whence the sad notes came.
translated by chana bloch
Not the peace of a cease-fire
not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb,
as in the heart when the excitement is over
and you can talk only about a great weariness.
I know that I know how to kill, that makes me an adult.
And my son plays with a toy gun that knows
how to open and close its eyes and say Mama.
without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares,
without words, without
the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be
light, floating, like lazy white foam.
A little rest for the wounds – who speaks of healing?
(And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation
to the next, as in a relay race:
the baton never falls.)
Let it come
suddenly, because the field
must have it: wildpeace.
you have big eyes
feathers that stick in all different directions
you wake up
your panties are funny
the sounds words make
as they plead for life
that’s all that remains
of the language of language
what is this forest
of “letters,” black light
of unintelligible suns
I cannot see
who I am
who you are
the difference between good and evil
the end of human desire
how to tell the truth
Is this my life
Are you in it
And here you are
outside the Sovereign Bank
in the night-blown rain, old now; almost unable
to grip your million blossoms,
bride whose groom, spring after blustery spring,
doesn’t show up;
what can you do
but stand there, idly fashion one more
sapwood ring of your own, and keep on
Not one star, not even the half moon
on the night you were born
Not the flash of salmon
nor ridges on blue snow
Not the flicker of raven’s
Not breath frozen in fine hairs
beading the bull moose’s nostril
Not one hand under flannel
warming before reaching
Not burbot at home under Tanana ice
not burbot pulled up into failing light
Not the knife blade honed, not the leather sheath
Not raw bawling in the dog yard
when the musher barks gee
Not the gnawed ends of wrist-thick sticks
mounded over beaver dens
Not solar flares scouring the earth over China
Not rime crystals bearding a sleek cheek of snow
Not six minutes more of darkness each day
Not air water food words touch
Not anything we expect
Not anything we expect to keep
Not anything we expect to keep us alive
Not the center of the sea
Not the birthplace of the waves
Not the compass too close to true north to guide us
Then with no warning
flukes of three orcas
rise, arc clear of sea water
As Death often
it is good
even if so little
as to shovel
for John Hilgert
With your cock-eyed rhythm you couldn’t play your way
out of a 12-bar blues with your eyes closed,
so we’d strum a minute and spend the rest of the night
sighing and telling lies. Drowsy from pot roast,
we’d sprawl across the back porch and guzzle
Rolling Rocks like children eat chocolate,
though even then you complained of stomach pains,
and though I’d smoke a pack of cigarettes,
you would be the one we’d lose to cancer.
One night my backyard neighbor built a bonfire,
burning what must have been a decade’s worth
of newspapers and phonebooks, who knows what—
wedding pictures, love letters? In a month
he’d sell his house and move. “Gee,”
you said, “that must feel really really good.”
We watched his silhouette stalking back and forth,
tossing more and more things onto the fire,
each time sending up a fountain of sparks
blinking orange then drifting over the fence
into our yard, winking out and whitening
as they fluttered to us and settled on the porch
like a flock of grizzled gulls, a silent ash-storm.
We breathed and tasted ash, and you lay peppered
and unperturbed, an empty on your chest.
“You asleep?” I wondered. “No,” you said,
“just taking in the night. And your neighbor’s past.
But I wouldn’t mind another beer.” Inside,
I scrounged another stale cigarette,
bleeped the messages from my own ex-wife
(“Who cares,” you’d say, “she’ll still be pissed tomorrow.”)
and grabbed a few more beers for each of us,
but back out on the porch I found you gone,
drawn to the dying fire like a moth
or child, pushing your way through leafy greens,
my dogwoods, further into the dark. Below me,
the whole porch mottled in white and gray except
the blank space where your body had lain, your outline
in ash, and you, covered in the ashen remains
of what can only cling to us, the living.
When some people talk about money
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
Who went out to buy milk and never
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
Like a woman journeying for water
From a village without a well, then living
One or two nights like everyone else
On roast chicken and red wine.
Courtesy of New York subways’ Poetry in Motion
for Billie Holiday
Lady could pour you a song,
Coffee and a little cream.
Stir it the whole night long
Into a brown-sugar dream.
Lady could wrap you a note
Up in a velvet night—
Sometimes Manhattan satin,
Always Harlem delight.
Lady Day could sing it
Like nobody ever has
At the Shim Sham Club, Hot Cha Cha,
Joints that swung on jazz.
Her bittersweet songs told Heartbreak,
Meet your sister Pain,
But Lady melted yesterdays
Into beautiful rain.
Anyone, growing up in a space you hadn’t used yet
would’ve done the same: bother the family’s bickering
to head straight into the channel. My, those times
crackled near about us, from sickly melodrama
instead of losing, and the odd confusion…confusion.
I thought of it then, and in the mountains.
During the day we perforated the eponymous city limits
and then some. No one knew all about us
but some knew plenty. It was time to leave that town
for an empty drawer
into which they sailed. Some of the eleven thousand
virgins were getting queasy. I say, stop the ship!
No can do. Here come the bald arbiters
with their eyes on chains, just so, like glasses.
Heck, it’s only a muskrat
that’s seen better years, when things were medieval
So you people in the front,
leave. You see them. And you understand it all.
It doesn’t end, night’s sorcery notwithstanding.
Would you have preferred to be a grownup in earlier times
than the child can contain or imagine?
Or is right now the answer—you know, the radio
we heard news on late at night,
our checkered fortunes so pretty.
Here’s your ton of plumes, and your Red Seal Records.
The whole embrace.
Blue windows, blue rooftops
and the blue light of the rain,
these contiguous phrases of Rachmaninoff
pouring into my enormous ears
and the tears falling into my blindness
for without him I do not play,
especially in the afternoon
on the day of his birthday. Good
fortune, you would have been
my teacher and I your only pupil
and I would always play again.
Secrets of Liszt and Scriabin
whispered to me over the keyboard
on unsunny afternoons! and growing
still in my stormy heart.
Only my eyes would be blue as I played
and you rapped my knuckles,
dearest father of all the Russians,
placing my fingers tenderly upon your cold, tired eyes.