30 June 2013

Sown with immigrant grasses

               by Amy Clampitt

Nothing Stays Put

                           IN MEMORY OF FATHER FLYE, 1884-1085

The strange and wonderful are too much with us.
The protea of the antipodes —a great,
globed, blazing honeybee of a bloom —
for sale in the supermarket! We are in
our decadence, we are not entitled.
What have we done to deserve
all the produce of the tropics —
this fiery trove, the largess of it
heaped up like cannonballs, these pineapples, bossed
and crested, standing like troops at attention,
these tiers, these balconies of green, festoons
grown sumptuous wiht stoop labor?

The exotic is everywhere, it comes to us
before there is a yen or need for it. The green-
groces, uptown and down, are from South Korea.
Orchids, opulence by the pailful, just slightly
fatigued by the plane trip from Hawaii, are
disposed on the sidewalks; alstroemerias, freesias
fattened a bit in translation from overseas; gladioli
likewise estranged from their piercing ancestral crimson;
as well as, less altered from the original blue cornflower
of the roadsides and railway embankments of Europe, these
bachelor's buttons. But it isn't the railway embankments
their featherweight wheels of cobalt remind me of, it's

a row of them among prim colonnades of cosmos,
snapdragon, nasturtium, bloodsilk red poppies,
in my grandmother's garden: a prarie childhood,
the grassland shorn, overlaid with a grid,
unsealed, furrowed, harrowed and sown with immigrant grasses,
their massive corduroy, their wavering feltings embroidered
here and there by the scarlet shoulder patch of cannas
on a courthouse lawn, by a love knot, a cross stitch
of living matter, sown and tended by women,
nurturers everywhere of the strange and wonderful,
beneath whose hands what had been alien begins,
as it alters, to grow as though it were indigenous.

But at this remove what I think of as
strange and wonderful, strolling the side streets of Manhattan
on an April afternoon, seeing hybrid pear trees in blossom,
a tossing, vertiginous colonnade of foam, up above —
is the white petalfall, the warm snowdrift
of the indigenous wild plum of my childhood.
Nothing stays put. The world is a wheel.
All that we know, that we'remade of, is motion.

23 June 2013

Voices out of stone out of sleep

by George Seferis


Santorini is geologically composed of pumice stone and china clay; in her bay, islands have appeared and disappeared. this island was once the center of a very ancient religion. the lyrical dances, with a strict and heavy rhythm, performed here were called: Gymnopaidia.



Stoop if you can to the dark sea forgetting
the sound of a flute on naked feet
that trod on your sleep in the other, the sunken life.

Write if you can on your last shell
the day the name the place
and fling it into the sea so it sinks.

We found ourselves naked on the pumice stones
watching the rising islands
watching the red islands sink
into their sleep, into our sleep.
Here we found ourselves naked holding
the scales that tipped toward

Instep of power unshadowed will considered love
projects that ripen in the midday sun,
course of fate with the slap of a young hand
on the shoulder;
in the land that was scattered, that can't resist,
in the land that was once our land
the islands -- rust and ash -- are sinking.
Altars destroyed
and friends forgotten
leaves of the palm tree in mud.

Let your hands go traveling if you can
here on time's curve with the ship that touched the horizon.
When the dice struck the flagstone
when the lance struck the breast-plate
when the eye recognized the stranger
and love dried
in punctured souls;
when looking around you see
feet harvested everywhere
dead hands everywhere
darkened eyes everywhere;
when it is no longer left for you to choose
the death you wanted as your own
hearing a cry
even the wolf's cry,
your due;
let your hands go traveling if you can
free yourself from unfaithful time
and sink,
sinks whoever raises the great stones.


Give me your hands, give me your hands, give me your hands

I have seen in the night
the sharp peak of the mountain
seen the plain beyond flooded
with the light of an invisible moon,
seen, turning my head,
black stones huddled
and my life taut as a chord
beginning and end
the final moment:
my hands.

Sinks whoever raises the great stones;
I've raised these stones as long as I was able
I've loved these stones as long as I was able
these stones, my fate.
Wounded by my own soil
tortured by my own shirt
condemned by my own gods,
these stones.

I know that they don't know, but I
who've followed so many times
the path from killer to victim
from victim to punishment
from punishment to the next murder,
the inexhaustible purple
that night of the return
when the Furies began whistling
in the meager grass --
I've seen snakes crossed with vipers
knotted over the evil generation
our fate.

Voices out of stone out of sleep
deeper here where the world darkens
memory of toil rooted in the rhythm
beaten on the earth with feet
Bodies sunk into the foundations
of another time, naked. Eyes
fixed fixed on a point
that you can't make out much as you want to:
the soul
that struggles to become your own soul.

Not even the silence is now yours
here where the millstones have stopped turning.

                                                                              October 1935

From George Seferis, Collected Poems, 1924-1955.  (1967) Trans. Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard.  
DW amendments.

16 June 2013

So unimaginably different

From Autumn Journal

                           by Louis MacNeice
Now we are back to normal, now the mind is
Back to the even tenor of the usual day,
Skidding no longer across the uneasy camber
Of the nightmare way.
We are safe, though others have crashed the railings
Over the river ravine; their wheel-tracks carve the bank
But after the event all we can do is argue
And count the widening ripples where they sank.
October comes with rain whipping round the ankles
In waves of white at night
And filling the raw clay trenches (the parks of London
Are a nasty sight).
In a week I return to work, lecturing, coaching,
As impresario of the Ancient Greeks
Who wore the chiton and lived on fish and olives
And talked philosophy or smut in cliques;
Who believed in youth and did not gloze the unpleasant
Consequences of age;
What is life, one said, or what is pleasant
Once you have turned the page
Of love? The days grow worse, the dice are loaded
Against the living man who pays in tears for breath;
Never to be born was the best, call no man happy
This side death.
Conscious - long before Engels - of necessity
And therein free
They plotted out their life with truism and humour
Between the jealous heaven and the callous sea.
And Pindar sang the garland of wild olive
And Alcibiades lived from hand to mouth
Double-crossing Athens, Persia, Sparta,
And many died in the city of plague, and many of drouth
In Sicilian quarries, and many by the spear and arrow
And many more who told their lies too late
Caught in the eternal factions and reactions
Of the city state.
And free speech shivered on the pikes of Macedonia
And later on the swords of Rome
And Athens became a mere university city,
And the goddess born of the foam
Became the kept hetaera, heroine of Menander,
And the philosopher narrowed his focus, confined
His efforts to putting his own soul in order
And keeping a quiet mind.
And for a thousand years they went on talking,
Making such apt remarks,
A race no longer of heroes but of professors
And crooked business men and secretaries and clerks
Who turned out dapper little elegiac verses
On the ironies of fate, the transience of all
Affections, carefully shunning the over-statement
But working the dying fall.
The Glory that was Greece: put it in a syllabus, grade it
Page by page
To train the mind or even to point a moral
For the present age:
Models of logic and lucidity, dignity, sanity,
The golden mean between opposing ills
Though there were exceptions of course but only exceptions -
The bloody Bacchanals on the Thracian hills.
So the humanist in his room with Jacobean panels
Chewing his pipe and looking on a lazy quad
Chops the Ancient World to turn a sermon
To the greater glory of God.
But I can do nothing so useful or so simple;
These dead are dead
And when I think I should remember the paragons of Hellas
I think instead
Of the crooks, the adventurers, the opportunists,
The careless athletes and the fancy boys,
The hair-splitters, the pedants, the hard-boiled sceptics
And the Agora, and the noise
Of the demagogues and the quacks; and the women pouring
Libations over graves
And the trimmers at Delphi and the dummies at Sparta, and lastly
I think of the slaves.
And how anyone can imagine oneself among them
I do not know;
It was all so unimaginably different
And all so long ago.

09 June 2013

Where pain winces off the walls

                              Three Poems by Linda Pastan

Notes From the Delivery Room

Strapped down,  
victim in an old comic book,
I have been here before,
this place where pain winces
off the walls
like too bright light.
Bear down a doctor says,
foreman to sweating laborer,
but this work, this forcing
of one life from another
is something that I signed for
at a moment which I would have signed anything.
Babies should grow in fields;
common as beets or turnips
they should be picked and held
root end up, soil spilling
from between their toes --
how much easier it would be later,
returning them to earth.
Bear up . . . bear down . . . the audience
grows restive, and I'm a new magician
who can't produce the rabbit
from my swollen hat.
She's crowning, someone says,
but there is no one royal here,
just me, quite barefoot,
greeting my barefoot child.

Adam Remembering

We lived in such sweet chaos, once.
The cats slept on the Sunday Times,
flies buzzed, lost in a maze of sugar,
a bird pecked at the tassels of a lamp.
Nothing was named yet, nothing numbered.
We loved each other as we pleased,
on the blue bathroom tiles, like fish
or in the dusty flower beds,
absolved by heat.
For middle age we kept one yellow cat,
the smell of apples rotting in a bowl,
the surprise of endings.


"The extent of injury which can be directly attributed to occupation reached astounding proportions in the U.S. . . . ." Industrial Hygiene, by Wson Smillie

The poets are falling, falling
like leaves on a wind of their own words:
Dylan Thomas over the sheer edge of America;
Sylvia Plath (with and Gretel combined)
into the hospitable oven.

The poets are plugging the dike with words,
then walking calmly into the sea.
Hart Crane on a Wednesday in slippery April,
Randall Jarrell, Delmore Schwartz, Weldon Kees.
And at the factory

girls paint time's face with radium
and slowly burn; miners slip, hand over hand,
into the blind grave.
Only poets safe at their desks hear death years away,
and full of the intensity of words,
rush to meet it.

From, Linda Pastan,  A Perfect Circle of Sun, 1971.

02 June 2013

There was a goat's head hanging by ropes in a tree

                                    by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Listen: there was a goat's head hanging by ropes in a tree.
All night it hung there and sang. And those who heard it
Felt a hurt in their hearts and thought they were hearing
the song of a night bird. They sat up in their beds, and then
They lay back down again. In the night wind, th goat's head
Swayed back and forth, and from far off it shone faintly
The way the moonlight shone on the train track miles away
Beside which the goat's headless body lay. Some boys
Had hacked its head off. It was harder work than they had imagined.
The goat cried like a man and struggled hard. But they
Finished the job. The hung the bleeding head by the schoolAnd then ran off into the darkness that seems to hide everything.
The head hung in the tree. The body lay by the tracks.
the head called to the body. the body to the head.
They missed each other. the missing grew large between them,
until it pulled the heart right out of the body, until
The drawn heart flew toward the head, flew as a bird flies
Back to its cage and the familiar perch from which it trills.
Then the heart sang in the head, softly at first and then louder,
Sang long and low until the morning light came up over 
The school and over the tree, and then the singing stopped . . . .
The goat had belonged to a small girl.  She named
The goat Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, named it after
The night's bush of stars, because the goat's silky hair
Was dark as well water, because it had eyes like wild fruit.
The girl lived near a high railroad track.  At night
She hear the trains passing, the sweet sound of the train's horn
Pouring softly over her bed, and each morning she woke
To give the bleating goat his pail of warm milk.  She sang
Him songs about girls with ropes and cooks in boats.
She brushed him with a stiff brush.  She dreamed daily
That he grew bigger, and he did.  She thought her dreaming
Made it so. But one night the girl didn't hear the train's horn,
And the next morning she woke to an empty yard. The goat
Was gone.  Everything looked strange.  It was as if a storm
Had passed through while she slept, wind and stones, rain
Stripping the branches of fruit.  She knew that someone
Had stolen the goat and that he had come to harm.  She called
To him. All morning and into the afternoon, she called
And called.  She walked and walked.  In her chest a ba feeling
Like the feeling of the stones gouging the soft undersides
Of her bare feet.  Then somebody found the goat's body
By the high tracks, the flies already filling their soft bottles
At the goat's torn neck.  Then somebody found the head
Hanging in a tree by the school.  They hurried to take
These things away so that the girl would not see them.
They hurried to raise money to buy the girl another goat.
They hurried to find the boys who had done this, to hear
Them say it was a joke, a joke, it was nothing but a joke . . . .
But listen: here is the point. The boys thought to have
Their fun and be done with it.  It was harder work than they
Had imagined, this silly sacrifice, but they finished the hob,
Whistling as they washed their large hands in the dark.
What they didn't know was that the goat's head was already 
Singing behind them in the tree.  What they didn't know
Was that the goat's head would go on singing, just for them,
Long after the ropes were down, and that they would learn to listen,
Pail after pail, stroke after patient stroke. They would
Wake in the night thinking they heard the wind in the trees
Or a night bird, but their hearts beating harder. There
Would be a whistle, a hum, a high murmur, and, at last, a song,
The low song a lost boy sings remembering his mother's call.
Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all.  This song
Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.