Thursday, December 25, 2008

Poem Thirteen in the Twelve Poems of Christmas

Like I could stop just like that!

Christmas never really ends, so here's another poems by one of my absolute favorite poets, and from a recent book of unfinished work. 

Suicide of a Moderate Dictator

for Carlos Lacerda

This is a day when truths will out, perhaps;
leak from the dangling telephone ear-phones
sapping the festooned switchboard's strength;
fall from the windows, blow from off the sills,
- the vague, slight unremarkable contents
of emptying ash-trays; rub off on our fingers
like ink from the un-proof-read newspapers,
crocking the way the unfocused photographs
of crooked faces do that soil our coats,
our tropical-weight coats, like slapped-at moths.

Today's a day when those who work
are idling. Those who played must work
and hurry, too, to get it done,
with little dignity or none.
The newspapers are sold; the kiosk shutters
crash down. But anyway, in the night
the headlines wrote themselves, see, on the streets
and sidewalks everywhere; a sediment's splashed
even to the first floors of apartment houses.

This is a day that's beautiful as well,
and warm and clear. At seven o'clock I saw
the dogs being walked along the famous beach
as usual, in a shiny gray-green dawn,
leaving their paw prints draining in the wet.
The line of breakers was steady and the pinkish,
segmented rainbow steadily hung above it.
At eight two little boys were flying kites.

by Elizabeth Bishop
from Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box. Copyright © 2006 by Alice Helen Methfessel

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Here it is: Poem Twelve in The Twelve Poems of Christmas

Thanks to for this lovely poem!

The Worm Before Christmas

'Twas the night before finals and all through the lab
Not a student was sleeping, not even McNabb.
Their projects were finished, completed with care
In hopes that the grades would be easy (and fair).

The students were wired with caffeine in their veins

While visions of quals nearly drove them insane.

With piles of books and a brand-new highlighter,

I had just settled down for another all-nighter –

When out from our gateways arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter

Away to the console I flew like a flash

And logged on as root to fend off a crash

The windows displayed on my brand new Sun-3

Gave oodles of info -- some in 3-D.

When, what to my burning red eyes should appear

But dozens of "nobody" jobs. Oh dear!

With a blitzkrieg invasion, so virulent and firm,

I knew in a moment. It was Morris's Worm!

More rapid than eagles his processes came

And they forked and exec'd and they copied by name!

"Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!

On Comet! On Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!

To the sites in .rhosts and host.eqi

Now, dash away! dash away! dash away all!"

[ Note: the machines,,, etc., have been renamed deer1, deer2, deer3, etc., so as not to confuse the already burdened students who use those machines. We regret that this poem reflects the older naming scheme and hope it does not confuse the network administrator at your site. -Ed. ]

And then in a twinkling, I heard on the phone,

The complaints of the users (thought I was alone!)

"The load is too high!" "I can't read my files!"

"I can't send my mail over miles and miles!"

I unplugged the net, and was turning around,

When the worm-ridden system went down with a bound.

I fretted, I frittered, I sweated, I wept.

Then finally I core dumped the worm in /tmp.

It was smart and pervasive, a right jolly old stealth,

And I laughed when I saw it, in spite of myself.

A look at the dump of that invasive thread

Soon gave me to know we had nothing to dread.

The next day was slow with no network connections

For we wanted no more of those pesky infections.

But in spite of the news and the noise and the clatter

Soon all became normal, as if naught were the matter.

Then later that month, while all were away,

A virus came calling, and then went away.

The system then told us, when we logged in one night:
"Happy Christmas to all! (You guys aren't so bright.)"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Twelve Poems of Christmas - Poem Eleven

Because I liked her other poem so much, I couldn't resist. Click here to hear the poem read aloud.

The Best Ex-Husband You Could Ever Ask For

Traveling with my Ex,
we take our daughter and her friend to New York City.
Since we were traveling the same way,
it only made sense.

We settle into an old comfort,
the familiarity of all the years of car trips with our children,
as the girls chatter away in the backseat.
We worry about our sleep-deprived son at college,
and share our amazement at his last paper
he'd emailed both of us for our editing comments.

It's been six years of unwinding the knotted battles,
until they've mostly vanished, forgotten.
What were those battles all about,
when it felt like I was fighting for my life?

He talks of his girlfriend,
of living without making plans.
I gently hold him at a distance,
as he continues to vaguely court me.
as he, perhaps, vaguely courts all women.
We drive, facing our unknown lives ahead,
wondering about what still waits to be lived.

Mid trip, my mind goes blank with his talk
in all the old familiar ways.
This used to feel like dying, again and again.
Today it's like being a tourist
at a historic battleground.
Grass has grown over all the bloodshed.

We settle into the easy silence
of long married couples,
smiling as we overhear the conversations from the backseat.

It is good to find peace.
No furious expectations haunt us,
no heartbreaking slights,
no land-mined conversations.

We are thoughtful about simple things.
Thank you for driving,
for packing food, for trading off on paying tolls,
for finding this great Salsa club in Soho for our teenaged daughter.

We sit together, the parents, smiling and slightly anxious
as a man asks our daughter to dance.
We stand up as well, but tentatively,
following a rhythm and steps we don't know,
dancing like chaste old friends.
We are careful,
discovering this new dance.

by Elizabeth W. Garber

from Listening Inside the Dance: A Life in Maine Infused with Tango. © The Illuminated Sea Press, 2005.

courtesy of The Writer's Almanac

Monday, December 22, 2008

Poem Ten in The Twelve Poems of Christmas

Despite my misgivings about the store named in the title, I thought this was a lovely poem.

Coming Out of Wal-Mart

The child, puny, paling toward albino,
hands fused on the handlebars of a new bike.
The man, a cut-out of the boy, gnome-like,
grizzled, knotted like a strange root,
guides him out, hand on the boy's shoulder.
They speak, but in language softer than hearing.

The boy steers the bike as if he steered
a soap bubble, a blown glass swan, a cloud.

On the walk they go still. Muzak covers them.
Sun crushes. The man is a tiny horse,
gentle at a fence. The boy's eyes are huge
as a fawn's.

He grips hard the orange and pink,
and purple and green striped handlebars,
smiling the fixed sweet smile of the sainted.

by Mark DeFoe
from The Green Chair. © Pringle Tree Press, 2003.
with thanks to The Writer's Almanac

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Poem Nine (and a bonus poem!) in the Twelve Days of Poems

The Duck

Behold the duck
It does not cluck.
A cluck it lacks.
It quacks.
It is special fond
Of a puddle or a pond.
When it dines or sups,
It bottoms ups.

by Ogden Nash
Click here for a bonus poem from Nash!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Poem Eight in the Twelve Days of Poems

Click here to hear the poem read aloud.


Second-year medical student.
An early patient interview
at the Massachusetts General Hospital
Routine hernia repair planned, not done.
Abdomen opened and closed.
Filled with disease, cancer.

The patient is fifty-six,
a workingman, Irish
I sit with him, notice
the St. Christopher medal
around his neck.
Can't hurt, can it? he laughs.
I have become his friend.

I bring him a coloring book picture
that shows this thing, this unfamiliar
organ that melted beneath our hands
at dissection:

Leaving his room, crying,
avoiding classmates,
I take the back stairs.
I find myself locked,
coatless in the courtyard outside.

by Kelley Jean White
from Body Language. © The Library of America.
courtesy of The Writer’s Almanac

Friday, December 19, 2008

Twelve Poems of Christmas - Poem Seven

Poet's Work

advised me:
Learn a trade

I learned
to sit at desk
and condense

No layoffs
from this

by Lorine Niedecker
courtesy of

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Twelve Poems of Christmas - Poem Six

Miracle Ice Cream

Miracle's truck comes down the little avenue,
Scott Joplin ragtime strewn behind it like pearls,
and, yes, you can feel happy
with one piece of your heart.

Take what's still given: in a room's rich shadow
a woman's breasts swinging lightly as she bends.
Early now the pearl of dusk dissolves.
Late, you sit weighing the evening news,
fast-food miracles, ghostly revolutions,
the rest of your heart.

by Adrienne Rich
From Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Twelve Poems of Christmas - Poem Five

Click here to hear the poem read aloud for your listening pleasure. (You might get a little history while you're at it. Relax and enjoy — it's worth it.)

The Tow Truck Driver's Story

You meet all kinds of people in this work.
You have to be polite, twenty-four hours
a day. It was a brutal winter night,
I'd worked since four a.m., finally coming in
to sleep when the phone rang, a guy calling
from up on Appleton ridge, saying
he needs a jump. I asked, "Can't it wait?
There's still snow on the roads, the plows aren't
All through. It'll take me three hours at least
to get there with the roads like this." "Ok,"
he said, "I'll wait." I went to bed an hour,
before he called, "It's an emergency."
The storm had eased as I headed out,
But the wind had been so bad, I had
To stop and climb over the drifts to knock
the snow off signs to see where to go,
a hard dark climb up to Appleton Ridge.
Over three hours to get to a lonely
country farmhouse, light glowing brightly.
Then a man in, I kid you not, a red
Satin smoking jacket comes out and waves.
I think he's waving to me, and wave back,
But it's a garage opener and out of the dark
A door rises, lit like a museum,
A car, glittering white and chrome beauty,
It was a 1954 Mercedes.
A Gull-Wing. You ever heard of them?
I think they only made ten of them.
Its doors lift up like a gull in flight.
I bet it was worth a million dollars.
I ask, "Are you going to take that out?"
"Oh, no, we just got back from Jamaica
I want a jump to make sure it's ok."
It starts like a dream, purrs dangerously.
"Oh good," he says and walks away, waving
his arm to close the door, never saying
a word, left me standing there in the snow.

by Elizabeth W. Garber
from The Mayor and Other Stories of Small Town Life © The Illuminated Sea Press, 2007.
Courtesy of The Writer's Almanac

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Twelve Poems of Christmas - Poem Four

Click on the title to listen to the poet read his work.

A Slice of Wedding Cake

Why have such scores of lovely, gifted girls
Married impossible men?
Simple self-sacrifice may be ruled out,
And missionary endeavour, nine times out of ten.

Repeat 'impossible men': not merely rustic,
Foul-tempered or depraved
(Dramatic foils chosen to show the world
How well women behave, and always have behaved).

Impossible men: idle, illiterate,
Self-pitying, dirty, sly,
For whose appearance even in City parks
Excuses must be made to casual passers-by.

Has God's supply of tolerable husbands
Fallen, in fact, so low?
Or do I always over-value woman
At the expense of man?
Do I?
It might be so.

by Robert Graves

courtesy of poets. org

Monday, December 15, 2008

Poem Three in the Twelve Poems of Christmas

Latin Lessons

The daughter of the local florist taught
us Latin in the seventh grade. We sat
like hothouse flowers nodding in a mist
of conjugations, declining nouns that
made little sense and adjectives that missed
the point. She was elegant, shapely, taut.
She was dazzling and classic, a perfect
example to us of such absolute
adjectives as unique or ideal or perfect.
The room held light. Suffering from acute
puberty, we could still learn case by case
to translate with her from the ancient tongue
by looking past her body to the chaste
scribblings she left on the board. We were young
but knew that the ablative absolute
was not the last word in being a part
of something while feeling ourselves apart
from everything that mattered most. We chased
each other on the ballfield after class
though it did no good. What we caught was not
what we were after, no matter how fast
we ran. She first got sick in early fall.
A change in her voice, a flicker of pain
across her face, and nothing was the same.
She came back to us pale and more slender
than ever, a phantom orchid in strong
wind, correcting our pronoun and gender
agreement, verb tense, going over all
we had forgotten while she was gone. Long
before she left for good in early spring,
she made sure the dead language would remain
alive inside us like a buried spring.

by Floyd Skloot
from The End of Dreams. © Louisiana State University Press.
courtesy of The Writer's Almanac

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Second Poetry Day of Christmas

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?

by Robert Hayden

Remember, if you have a poem to share, I'd love to hear it!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Twelve Poems of Christmas - Poem One

blessing the boats

(at St. Mary's)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

by Lucille Clifton
From Quilting: Poems 1987-1990 by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 2001 by Lucille Clifton. Courtesy of

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ode to a Fickle Nuthatch

Because it's a cool poem....
With thanks to The Writer's Almanac.

Winter and the Nuthatch

Once or twice and maybe again, who knows,
the timid nuthatch will come to me
if I stand still, with something good to eat in my hand.
The first time he did it
he landed smack on his belly, as though
the legs wouldn't cooperate. The next time
he was bolder. Then he became absolutely
wild about those walnuts.

But there was a morning I came late and, guess what,
the nuthatch was flying into a stranger's hand.
To speak plainly, I felt betrayed.
I wanted to say: Mister,
that nuthatch and I have a relationship.
It took hours of standing in the snow
before he would drop from the tree and trust my fingers.
But I didn't say anything.
Nobody owns the sky or the trees.
Nobody owns the hearts of birds.
Still, being human and partial therefore to my own
successes —
though not resentful of others fashioning theirs —

I'll come tomorrow, I believe, quite early.

by Mary Oliver
from Red Bird. © Beacon Press, 2008

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Climbing Back on the Horse — er, Saddle — er....

Had you told me six months ago that I'd have taken half the year off running, I'd have laughed aloud. I was, at that time, in rare form: running an easy five miles a day with occasional weightlifting, looking forward to running through Central Park on my honeymoon.

And then I stepped off a curb.

Then — well, I can't even figure that out, still. Suffice it to say that one doesn't know how to explain a hole in an intestine, even if it runs in the family.

But that's all just horrifying stories that publishers would warn me against because "no one would believe it." (And they wouldn't.) Now I'm trying to get back to where I was six months ago.

Did I mention that it hurts?

Not in that "Oh, please, sweet mother of heaven, let me die and I promise I won't be any trouble to you" way. Been there, done that, didn't even keep the t-shirt.

No, this is more of a "Oh, so that's what that muscle does!" kind of pain. I remember taking a couple of weeks off back in the early aughts when I had some shoulder repairs done. It was hard to start again and my muscles rebelled.

Now, imagine that a dozen times worse.

I don't have my excellent lung capacity anymore. I get a little winded walking up the stairs, much to my surprise. My resting pulse rate and blood pressure are still good, though, so I am not going to die at the gym — but I may feel like it. And I won't like it.

Now, I am not going to throw myself into an exercise program that's too ambitious; convalescence is still too fresh in my mind to make me do something that might reverse my healing. I am not fragile, but I am cautious.

So, if you see me working away with a grimace on one of the elliptical machines at the gym, just let me be. I'll be cheerful again in no time.

I know I will start to appreciate that one-mile run, where suiting up takes longer than the actual experience of running, when it becomes two. Or three. (You get the gist.) And you'll see me on the road only when it's warm enough — I'm not yet running in the sub-freezing winter dawn. I may be crazy, but I'm not yet completely certifiable!