-- Sharon Olds
A prejudice is an addiction, and it’s
contagious—parents infect their children.
And addiction’s obsessive, if a man finds it
difficult to show his love to his
son, it may be because his father
escaped with his life from the village in which
his own father had just been murdered
in a pogrom, his model as a father
a man in terror.
But addiction to such a silence can be
healed, as Carl and his son tried to do,
through hard work. Workers of the world,
unite, we have nothing to lose
but the death of the earth.
Death of the Earth Sonnet
Perhaps we are all addicted to prejudice.
Maybe we stubbornly love what promises
to kill us. Could be that our parents are born
into murder, bloodstream memory, and it runs
through them into us hot and insistent as gun
fire in a distant jungle, the obsessive chop
chop chop of flying blades soundtrack to
genetic suicide. But our desire for terror
might at last be turned to account -- after
the final countdown, the last triggers
pulled and buttons pushed, after the smoke
of our addiction to killing finally clears,
the earth might wake to a healing absence of
all that is human, a blessed silence.
Suggested soundtrack: Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi” and REM, “The End of the World of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)
-- Edna St. Vincent Millay
To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
April is an Idiot
indeed, breeding lilacs and etc.
And you're right, Edna, sticky beauty --
flowering trees preparing to
turn riot and daffodils popping
their bulbs underground --
it's not nearly enough
to distract us from hordes of
maggot-brained men and their
empty cups of impotent (they say
Why, even today, we again
to the polls, cast
against their endless campaigns to
confine us in their
pumpkin shells (because there
they vow they will keep us,
very well), these
citizens of the fall, these
leafless November mother-
Not the Words
Grandma worshipped the god of hurricanes
who molded the world from a man made of clay,
and filled the house she lived in with his
kudzu vines, his sickly sweet honeysuckle
sweat, his dim shadows trapped in jars of
wet marbles lining her bathroom sills.
He lay down next to her on Sunday afternoons
in the bed where her husband died,
his hot New Orleans breath thick
on her neck, her white skin, and shuddering up
from her lungs in choked dreams.
Before bed, she put us on our knees
in the room where our father and his brothers
lay awake for years, waiting, plotting their chance
to escape. "Now I lay me down to sleep,"
she taught us, "I pray the Lord my soul to keep."
We clasped our small hands tight on the knobby
bedspread, bones grinding the wood floor.
"If I should die before I wake," we said,
"I pray the Lord my soul to take."
I prefer the god of hawks, who waits on the wire
along the highway, glass eyes on frozen grass, alive
to the swish and sigh of my tires, the flash of metal
I make as I speed past under December sun.
When I die, I hope my soul flies with him into
his wild sky, clouds and wind and snow, free
leaves, ruffled feathers, cold joy.
Suggested soundtrack: The Pretenders, “Brass in Pocket.”
Musee des Beaux Arts
W. H. Auden
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
In that first apartment, dank
I etched Auden’s poem onto
my tablecloth, shaking
the flimsy table,
pressing down in
before climbing up into
gray sunlight to
join the other would-be poets
in our beige metal classroom
I can’t recall -- perhaps
on the edge of that famous university
known mostly for launching
There, we pursued our
dreadful martyrdom to art,
glorified our untidy lives and
thought we could torture our
unsuitable affairs and boring mistakes
into important failures.
We imagined we were cheating
pain into poetry, weaving song
from meaningless suffering.
. . . Now we are old, and nameless, and
at least one of us is a ghost.
Breughel’s green water still hangs
on its museum wall,
and Auden's words echo there
multiplied by the internet
Suggested soundtrack: Father John Misty, “Pure Comedy”
-- William Carlos Williams
When I was younger
it was plain to me
I must make something of myself.
I walk back streets
admiring the houses
of the very poor:
roof out of line with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
the fences and outhouses
built of barrel-staves
and parts of boxes, all,
if I am fortunate,
smeared a bluish green
that properly weathered
pleases me best
of all colors.
will believe this
of vast import to the nation.
will believe this
of vast import to the nation
-- William Carlos Williams
the images and lives that
obsess us are just
leaves falling to
a pond’s mottled surface:
they swirl in reds and yellows for
a moment then
while the important air, stitched
with busyness, rushes
there’s a beauty to this
i think, a sense that
we are part of some
strange and urgent
return to an
It’s that time of the year again — time to think about poetry, about writing poetry, and then time to stop thinking and start doing.
Once again, I plan to write a poem a day. In the effort to keep myself from wandering off into the late fifties weeds, I’m probably going to come up with an overarching structure to my challenge. Since I think that poetry is a conversation with the world (at least one small part of it for each poem), and with other poets, poems, writers, novels, characters, artists, art works, musicians, songs, pundits, politicians, fake news, speeches, watchers, listeners, readers, doers, etcetera, I plan — at this moment — to write each of my poems in response to someone or something, beginning with poems.
Just to spice things up, I’m going to include a photo with each post and a suggested soundtrack.
Wow. I’ve just larded up my self assignment with crunchy details.
Challenge: Begin your poem with “I don’t have anything to say about …” and end it with “ … but in any case that’s how I feel.”
To Dad in Dreams:
I don’t have anything to say about the way you appear ---
out of a pile of strange hoarded stuff, the flotsam of your
life and death --- smiling, as if you never left us,
first hiding in cheap beer and paranoia, then sliding
into a permanent state of erasure. You appear and take up
living as if it’s completely natural. “It was a mistake,” you say.
“I wasn’t dead but only sleeping, deeply sleeping,” your smile
shy, inviting, where in life it was sly, and vaguely biting.
Here in dream’s many rooms you don’t say too much, but
hang at my elbows, persistent, shadow protection, part of the
crew. I expect you to step back up to the podium, to issue more
ultimatums, but in this resurrection you prefer silence.
I should love you now that you’ve been burned clean of living,
your angry striving, your agitated anxieties, your small hates.
Instead I’m filled with liquid indifference, and only worry
that you will follow me back to reality, stand in my bedroom
like Bartleby, watch me dress. I’m still afraid of you. I know I
should forgive you, finally, but in any case that’s how I feel.
Challenge: Include a bird. Be sure to identify the bird by species.
When I came out of the meeting, late afternoon, Friday,
the sun had decided to warm up the parking lot,
as if to underline “the weekend!” and increase the rise
of freedom's light making my skin thin and loose.
Still, I couldn’t get into my car and go, not when two robins
twittered in the budding tree just yards away, bobbing
back and forth on bare branches, flashing me their
bulging red bellies, fluttering and fidgeting like tiny soul
containers overfilled, harbingers, signals of something mighty
coming. I tried to sneak up on them, tried to hold my phone just
so, to frame them in a photo, to capture their promise in my
machine. But of course they flew, voices trailing back on
the warming air, scolding, celebrating, saying fool foollooktoyourself and gogogo pursueyourown release ---
"April is the cruelest month," says old TS, and yes,
it tends to disappoint, anointing us with snow/rain/pain
and filling the yard with hard white pellets of cosmic
despair, with a soggy puddle going pond, dark water
signifying frigid erasure. Even my hairs, worming
into my head, feel, at the skull, frozen. Cooly cruel.
I remember when a pair of ducks once visited, sifting
through the wet wreckage, drifting on the odd pond,
paddling it with invisible feet. Indifferent, casually cruel,
it's a month of broken promise, imperfect resurrection,
mundane depression and dejection, rejection, gray skies
and dull eyes, the echoes of dead white guys like Eliot
telling me how to survive in hollow voices from poetic
tombs, when in life they were doomed, dabbling like
that long gone mallard dipping its beak into dead water
against a dying neighbor's rusty fence... It's early, now,
and far too late, as cruel skies slide up, golden red
with frigid day one sun. The month has hardly begun
and already I feel ancient, dusty, irrelevant. Done.
Tomorrow is the day to write my first official April poem.
Today in Poetry Workshop, 4 young poets shared their poems — and all 4 of them really reached out from the page to grab their readers/listeners by the eyes, ears and hearts. I’ve seen so much growth in them since the start of the semester. They’re turning what’s inside outward, throwing poems up like lifelines to the rest of us, like something for us to hold onto.
It reminds me that I think of poems as prayers, as mindful reconnections to what matters, as the embodiment of the love and light that we forget surrounds us. Is us.