23 April 2017

The Problem with Sappho

                                            by Charles Rafferty

The Problem with Sappho

Only one complete poem remains. The rest of it is berries left in the
bramble after a visit from midday starlings. For years I couldn't
understand how this redaction moved anyone to tears. She was a
dampness in the matchbook. But the world is patient. Eventually the
diamond travels from the mantle to the finger of the woman you love.
Eventually the light from an exploded star arrives to confirm the
emperor's power. It's clear now that a very old bruise can tell us how
hard someone was punched. The detective solves a murder with the help of a single hair. Archaeologists find a molar and build a face to fit.

from The New Yorker  2/27/2017

29 January 2017

Desperate for normalcy they made everything normal

                                                       by Danny Bryck

"I know, I know
If you could go back you
would walk with Jesus
You would march with King
Maybe assassinate Hitler
At least hide Jews in your basement
It would all be clear to you
But people then, just like you
were baffled, had bills
to pay and children they didn’t
understand and they too
were so desperate for normalcy
they made anything normal
Even turning everything inside out
Even killing, and killing, and it’s easy
for turning the other cheek
to be looking the other way, for walking
to be talking, and they hid
in their houses
and watched it on television, when they had television,
and wrung their hands
or didn’t, and your hands
are just like theirs. Lined, permeable,
small, and you
would follow Caesar, and quote McCarthy, and Hoover, and you would want
to make Germany great again
Because you are afraid, and your
parents are sick, and your
job pays shit and where’s your
dignity? Just a little dignity and those kids sitting down in the highway,
and chaining themselves to
buildings, what’s their fucking problem? And that kid
That’s King. And this is Selma. And Berlin. And Jerusalem. And now
is when they need you to be brave.
is when we need you to go back
and forget everything you know
and give up the things you’re chained to
and make it look so easy in your
grandkids’ history books (they should still have them, kinehora)
is when it will all be clear to them."

Thanks to MJ on Facebook

22 January 2017

The man in the iron mask

Heather McHugh

What He Thought 

for Fabbio Doplicher

We were supposed to do a job in Italy
and, full of our feeling for
ourselves (our sense of being
Poets from America) we went
from Rome to Fano, met
the mayor, mulled
a couple matters over (what's
a cheap date, they asked us; what's
flat drink). Among Italian literati

we could recognize our counterparts:
the academic, the apologist,
the arrogant, the amorous,
the brazen and the glib—and there was one

administrator (the conservative), in suit
of regulation gray, who like a good tour guide
with measured pace and uninflected tone narrated
sights and histories the hired van hauled us past.
Of all, he was the most politic and least poetic,
so it seemed. Our last few days in Rome
(when all but three of the New World Bards had flown)
I found a book of poems this
unprepossessing one had written: it was there
in the pensione room (a room he'd recommended)
where it must have been abandoned by
the German visitor (was there a bus of them?)
to whom he had inscribed and dated it a month before.
I couldn't read Italian, either, so I put the book
back into the wardrobe's dark. We last Americans
were due to leave tomorrow. For our parting evening then
our host chose something in a family restaurant, and there
we sat and chatted, sat and chewed,
till, sensible it was our last
big chance to be poetic, make
our mark, one of us asked
"What's poetry?"
Is it the fruits and vegetables and
marketplace of Campo dei Fiori, or
the statue there?" Because I was

the glib one, I identified the answer
instantly, I didn't have to think—"The truth
is both, it's both," I blurted out. But that
was easy. That was easiest to say. What followed
taught me something about difficulty,
for our underestimated host spoke out,
all of a sudden, with a rising passion, and he said:

The statue represents Giordano Bruno,
brought to be burned in the public square
because of his offense against
authority, which is to say
the Church. His crime was his belief
the universe does not revolve around
the human being: God is no
fixed point or central government, but rather is
poured in waves through all things. All things
move. "If God is not the soul itself, He is
the soul of the soul of the world." Such was
his heresy. The day they brought him
forth to die, they feared he might
incite the crowd (the man was famous
for his eloquence). And so his captors
placed upon his face
an iron mask, in which

he could not speak. That's
how they burned him. That is how
he died: without a word, in front
of everyone.
And poetry—
(we'd all
put down our forks by now, to listen to
the man in gray; he went on
poetry is what

he thought, but did not say.

25 December 2016

I, Joseph, was walking, and not walking

And I, Joseph, was walking, and not walking, and I looked up
into the heavens and I saw the vault of the heavens standing still,
and the birds of the heavens trembling,
and I looked down on the earth and I saw a dish
lying on the ground and workmen reclining,
and their hands were in the dish,
and those raising their hands were not raising them,
and those who were bringing food to their mouths were not eating,
but all of their faces were looking up,
and I saw sheep being driven and the sheep standing still,
and the driver's hand raised up as if to strike them,
and I looked up to the winter stream and saw the young goats
and their mouths were touching the water and they drank not,
and everything was astonished.

᾿Ἐγὼ δὲ ᾿Ιωσὴφ περιεπάτουν καὶ οὐ περιεπάτουν καὶ ἀνέβλεψα
εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ εἶδον τὸν πόλον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἑστῶτα καὶ τὰ πετεινὰ
τοῦ οὐρανοῦ τρὲμοντα καὶ ἐνέβλεψα ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν καὶ εἶδον σκάφην
κειμένην καὶ ἐργάτας ἀνακειμένους καὶ ἦσαν αἱ χεῖρες αὐτῶν ἐν τῆ
σκάφη καὶ οἱ αἴροντες οὐκ ἀνέφερον
καὶ οἱ προσφὲροντες εἰς τὸ στόμα οὐ προσὲφερον ἀλλὰ πἀντων αὐτῶν
ἦν τὰ πρόσωπα ἄνο βλέποντα καὶ εἶδον πρόβατα ἐλαυνόμενα καὶ τὰ
πρόβατα εἱστήκει ἐπῆρεν δὲ ὁ ποιμὴν τοῦ πατάξαι αὐτά καὶ ἡ
χεὶρ αὐτοῦ ἔστη ἄνω καὶ ἀνάβλεψα ἐπὶ τὸν χείμαρρον καὶ εἱδον ἐρίφους
καὶ τὰ στόματα αὐτῶν ἐπικείμενα τῶ ὕδατι καὶ μὴ πίνοντα
καὶ πάντα ὑπὸ ἔκπληξιν ὄντα. 

Protevangelium Jacobi 18
Trans. DW

04 December 2016

To portion out the stars and dates

                                                        by Louis MacNeice

Meeting Point

Time was away and somewhere else,
There were two glasses and two chairs
And two people with the one pulse
(Somebody stopped the moving stairs):
Time was away and somewhere else,

And they were neither up nor down;
The stream’s music did not stop,
Flowing through heather, limpid brown,
Although they sat in a coffee shop
And they were neither up nor down…

The bell was silent in the air
Holding its inverted poise –
Between the clang and clang a flower,
A brazen calyx of no noise:
The bell was silent in the air.

The camels crossed the miles of sand
That stretched around the cups and plates;
The desert was their own, they planned
To portion out the stars and dates:
The camels crossed the miles of sand.

Time was away and somewhere else.
The waiter did not come, the clock
Forgot them and the radio waltz
Came out like water from a rock:
Time was away and somewhere else.

Her fingers flicked away the ash
That bloomed again in tropic trees:
Not caring if the markets crash
When they had forests such as these,
Her fingers flicked away the ash.

God or whatever means the Good
Be praised that time can stop like this,
That what the heart has understood
Can verify in the body’s peace
God or whatever means the Good.

Time was away and she was here
And life no longer what it was,
The bell was silent in the air
And all the room a glow because
Time was away and she was here.

20 November 2016

Bless our crummy little hearts

                                                 by Richard Newman

Bless Their Hearts

At Steak ‘n Shake I learned that if you add
“Bless their hearts” after their names, you can say

whatever you want about them and it’s OK.
y son, bless his heart, is an idiot,
she said. He rents storage space for his kids’
toys—they’re only one and three years old!
I said, my father, bless his heart, has turned
into a sentimental old fool. He gets
weepy when he hears my daughter’s greeting
on our voice mail. 
Before our Steakburgers came
someone else blessed her office mate’s heart,
then, as an afterthought, the jealous hearts
of the entire anthropology department.
We bestowed blessings on many a heart
that day. I even blessed my ex-wife’s heart.
Our waiter, bless his heart, would not be getting
much tip, for which, no doubt, he’d bless our hearts.
In a week it would be Thanksgiving,
and we would each sit with our respective
families, counting our blessings and blessing
the hearts of family members as only family
does best. Oh, bless us all, yes, bless us, please
bless us and bless our crummy little hearts.

Richard Newman, Domestic Fugues, 2009. 

13 November 2016

The crack in the tea-cup

                                                            by W. H. Auden
As I walked out one evening

As I walked out one evening,
   Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
   Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
   I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
Love has no ending.

I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
   Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
   And the salmon sing in the street,

I’ll love you till the ocean
   Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
   Like geese about the sky.

The years shall run like rabbits,
   For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
   And the first love of the world.'

But all the clocks in the city
   Began to whirr and chime:
O let not Time deceive you,
   You cannot conquer Time.

In the burrows of the Nightmare
   Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
   And coughs when you would kiss.

In headaches and in worry
   Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
   To-morrow or to-day.

Into many a green valley
   Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
   And the diver’s brilliant bow.

O plunge your hands in water,
   Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
   And wonder what you’ve missed.

The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
   The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
   A lane to the land of the dead.

Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
   And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
   And Jill goes down on her back.

O look, look in the mirror,
   O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
   Although you cannot bless.

O stand, stand at the window
   As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
   With your crooked heart.'

It was late, late in the evening,
   The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
   And the deep river ran on.