Saturday, April 30, 2011

Because Life is Complicated

Dear Lonely Animal,

I'm writing to you from the loneliest, most
secluded island in the world. I mean, 
the farthest away place from anything else.

There are so many fruits here growing on trees
or on vines that wrap and wrap. Fruits
like I've never seen except the bananas.

All night the abandoned dogs howled.
I wonder if one dog gives the first howl, and if 
they take turns who's first like carrying 

the flag in school. Carrying the flag 
way out in front and the others 
following along behind in two long lines, 

pairs holding hands. Also the roosters here crow 
from 4am onward. They're still crowing right now 
and it's almost noon here on the island.

Noon stares back no matter where you are.  
Today I'm going to hike to the extinct volcano 
and balance on the rim of the crater. Yesterday 

a gust almost blew me inside. I heard 
that the black widows live inside the volcano 
far down below in the high grasses that you can't 

see from the rim. Well, I was going to tell you 
that this morning the bells rang and I 
followed them and at the source of the bells, 

there I found so many animals 
all gathered together in a room 
with carved wooden statues

and wooden benches and low wooden slats 
for kneeling. And the animals were there 
singing together, all their voices singing, 

with big strong voices rising from even 
the filthiest animals. I mean, I've seen animals 
come together and sing before, except in 

high fancy vaults where bits of colored glass 
are pieced together into stories. Some days 
I want to sing with them.

I wish more animals sang together all the time.
But then I can't sing sometimes
because I think of the news that happens

when the animals stop singing.  
And then I think of all the medications 
and their side effects that are advertised 

between the pieces of news. And then I think 
of all the money the drug companies spent
to videotape their photogenic, well-groomed animals,

and all the money they spent to buy 
a prime-time spot, and I think, what money 
buys the news, and what news 

creates the drugs, and what
drugs control the animals, and I get so
choked I can't sing anymore, Lonely Animal.  

I can't sing with the other animals. Because it's 
hard to know what an animal will do when it 
stops singing. It's complicated, you know, it's just 


by Oni Buchanan
listen to it on

Friday, April 29, 2011

All Weddings are Royal, All Marriages Sacred


How good we are for each other, walking through
a land of silence and darkness. You
open doors for me, I answer the phone for you.

I play jungle loud. You read with the light on.
Beautiful. The curve of your cheekbone,
explosive vowels, exact use of cologne.

What are you thinking? I ask in a language of touch
unique to us. You tap my palm nothing much.
At stations we compete senses, see which

comes first—light in the tunnel, whiplash down the rail.
I kick your shins when we go out for meals.
You dab my lips. I finger yours like Braille.

by Paul Farley

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Poem About Boots



We're foot—slog—slog—slog—sloggin' over Africa —
Foot—foot—foot—foot—sloggin' over Africa —
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin' up an' down again!)
                There's no discharge in the war!

Seven—six—eleven—five—nine-an'-twenty mile to-day —
Four—eleven—seventeen—thirty-two the day before —
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin' up an' down again!)
                There's no discharge in the war!

Don't—don't—don't—don't—look at what's in front of you.
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin' up an' down again);
Men—men—men—men—men go mad with watchin' em,
                An' there's no discharge in the war!

Try—try—try—try—to think o' something different —
Oh—my—God—keep—me from goin' lunatic!
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin' up an' down again!)
                There's no discharge in the war!

Count—count—count—count—the bullets in the bandoliers.
If—your—eyes—drop—they will get atop o' you!
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin' up an' down again) —
                There's no discharge in the war!

We—can—stick—out—'unger, thirst, an' weariness,
But—not—not—not—not the chronic sight of 'em —
Boot—boots—boots—boots—movin' up an' down again,
                An' there's no discharge in the war!

'Taint—so—bad—by—day because o' company,
But night—brings—long—strings—o' forty thousand million
Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin' up an' down again.
                There's no discharge in the war!

I—'ave—marched—six—weeks in 'Ell an' certify
It—is—not—fire—devils, dark, or anything,
But boots—boots—boots—boots—movin' up an' down again,
                An' there's no discharge in the war!

by Rudyard Kipling

courtesy of Old Poetry

Wednesday, April 27, 2011



Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

by Naomi Shihab Nye
From The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. © Eighth Mountain Press, 1995.
Courtesy The Writer's Almanac

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Answer: From the Same Place as Bravery

Where Dreams Come From

A girl slams the door of her little room
under the eaves where marauding squirrels
scamper overhead like herds of ideas.
She has forgotten to be grateful she has
finally a room with a door that shuts.

She is furious her parents don't comprehend
why she wants to go to college, that place
of musical comedy fantasies and weekend
football her father watches, beer can
in hand. It is as if she announced I want
to journey to Iceland or Machu Picchu.
Nobody in their family goes to college.
Where do dreams come from? Do they
sneak in through torn screens at night
to light on the arm like mosquitoes?

Are they passed from mouth to ear
like gossip or dirty jokes? Do they
sprout from underground on damp
mornings like toadstools that form
fairy rings on dewtipped grasses?

No, they slink out of books, they lurk
in the stacks of libraries. Out of pages
turned they rise like the scent of peonies
and infect the brain with their promise.
I want, I will, says the girl and already

she is halfway out the door and down
the street from this neighborhood, this
mortgaged house, this family tight
and constricting as the collar on the next
door dog who howls on his chain all night.

by Marge Piercy, from The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems, 1980-2010. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Art of an Age


What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

by Ted Kooser
from Delights & Shadows, Copper Canyon Press
Courtesy of the poet (and The Writer's Almanac)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Loving God

God Says Yes To Me

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don't paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I'm telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

 by Kaylin Haught
from The Palm of Your Hand. © Tilbury House Publishers, 1995.
Courtesy of The Writer's Almanac

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Instructions for a Satisfying Life

Some General Instructions

Do not bake bread in an oven that is not made of stone
Or you risk having imperfect bread. Byron wrote,
“The greatest pleasure in life is drinking hock
And soda water the morning after, when one has
A hangover,” or words to that effect. It is a
Pleasure, for me, of the past. I do not drink so much
Any more. And when I do, I am not in sufficiently good
Shape to enjoy the hock and seltzer in the morning.
I am envious of this pleasure as I think of it. Do not
You be envious. In fact I cannot tell envy
From wish and desire and sharing imperfectly
What others have got and not got. But envy is a good word
To use, as hate is, and lust, because they make their point
In the worst and most direct way, so that as a
Result one is able to deal with them and go on one’s way.
I read Don Juan twenty years ago, and six years later
I wrote a poem in emulation of it. I began
Searching for another stanza but gave in
To the ottava rima after a while, after I’d tried
Some practice stanzas in it; it worked so well
It was too late to stop, it seemed to me. Do not
Be in too much of a hurry to emulate what
You admire. Sometimes it may take a number of years
Before you are ready, but there it is, building
Inside you, a constructing egg. Low-slung
Buildings are sometimes dangerous to walk in and
Out of. A building should be at least one foot and a half
Above one’s height, so that if one leaps
In surprise or joy or fear, one’s head will not be injured.
Very high ceilings such as those in Gothic
Churches are excellent for giving a spiritual feeling.
Low roofs make one feel like a mole in general. But
Smallish rooms can be cosy. Many tiny people
In a little room make an amusing sight. Large
Persons, both male and female, are best seen out of doors.
Ships sided against a canal’s side may be touched and
Patted, but sleeping animals should not be, for
They may bite, in anger and surprise. Of all animals
The duck is seventeenth lowliest, the eagle not as high
On the list as one would imagine, rating
Only ninety-fifth. The elephant is either two or four
Depending on the author of the list, and the tiger
Is seven. The lion is three or six. Blue is the
Favorite color of many people because the sky
Is blue and the sea is blue and many people’s eyes
Are blue, but blue is not popular in those countries
Where it is the color of mold. In Spain blue
Symbolizes cowardice. In America it symbolizes “Americanness.”
The racial mixture in North America should
Not be misunderstood. The English came here first,
And the Irish and the Germans and the Dutch. There were
Some French here also. The Russians, the Jews, and
The Blacks came afterwards. The women are only coming now
To a new kind of prominence in America, where “Liberation”
Is their byword. Giraffes, which people ordinarily
Associate with Africa, can be seen in many urban zoos
All over the world. They are an adaptable animal,
As Greek culture was an adaptable culture. Rome
Spread it all over the world. You should know,
Before it did, Alexander spread it as well. Read
As many books as you can without reading interfering
With your time for living. Boxing was formerly illegal
In England, and also, I believe, in America. If
You feel a law is unjust, you may work to change it.
It is not true, as many people say, that
That is just the way things are. Or, Those are the rules,
Immutably. The rules can be changed, although
It may be a slow process. When decorating a window, you
Should try to catch the eye of the passerby, then
Hold it; he’or she should become constantly more
Absorbed in what is being seen. Stuffed animal toys should be
Fluffy and a pleasure to hold in the hands. They
Should not be too resistant, nor should they be made
With any poisonous materials. Be careful not to set fire
To a friend’s house. When covering over
A gas stove with paper or inflammable plastic
So you can paint the kitchen without injuring the stove,
Be sure there is no pilot light, or that it is out.
Do not take pills too quickly when you think you have a cold
Or other minor ailment, but wait and see if it
Goes away by itself, as many processes do
Which are really part of something else, not
What we suspected. Raphael’s art is no longer as popular
As it was fifty years ago, but an aura
Still hangs about it, partly from its former renown.
The numbers seven and eleven are important to remember in dice
As are the expressions “hard eight,” “Little Joe,” and “fever,”
Which means five. Girls in short skirts when they
Kneel to play dice are beautiful, and even if they
Are not very rich or good rollers, may be
Pleasant as a part of the game. Saint Ursula
And her eleven thousand virgins has
Recently been discovered to be a printer’s mistake;
There were only eleven virgins, not eleven thousand.
This makes it necessary to append a brief explanation
When speaking of Apollinaire’s parody Les
Onze Mille Verges, which means eleven thousand
Male sexual organs—or sticks, for beating. It is a pornographic book.
Sexual information should be obtained while one is young
Enough to enjoy it. To learn of cunnilingus at fifty
Argues a wasted life. One may be tempted to
Rush out into the streets of Hong Kong or
Wherever one is and try to do too much all in one day.
Birds should never be chased out of a nature sanctuary
And shot. Do not believe the beauty of people’s faces
Is a sure indication of virtue. The days of
Allegory are over. The Days of Irony are here.
Irony and Deception. But do not harden your heart. Remain
Kind and flexible. Travel a lot. By all means
Go to Greece. Meet persons of various social
Orders. Morocco should be visited by foot,
Siberia by plane. Do not be put off by
Thinking of mortality. You live long enough. There
Would, if you lived longer, never be any new
People. Enjoy the new people you see. Put your hand out
And touch that girl’s arm. If you are
Able to, have children. When taking pills, be sure
You know what they are. Avoid cholesterol. In conversation
Be understanding and witty, in order that you may give
Comfort and excitement at the same time. This is the
   high road to popularity
And social success, but it is also good
For your soul and for your sense of yourself. Be supportive of others
At the expense of your wit, not otherwise. No
Joke is worth hurting someone deeply. Avoid contagious diseases.
If you do not have money, you must probably earn some
But do it in a way that is pleasant and does
Not take too much time. Painting ridiculous pictures
Is one good way, and giving lectures about yourself is another.
I once had the idea of importing tropical birds
From Africa to America, but the test cage of birds
All died on the ship, so I was unable to become
Rich that way. Another scheme I had was
To translate some songs from French into English, but
No one wanted to sing them. Living outside Florence
In February, March, and April was an excellent idea
For me, and may be for you, although I recently revisited
The place where I lived, and it is now more “built up”;
Still, a little bit further out, it is not, and the fruit trees
There seem the most beautiful in the world. Every day
A new flower would appear in the garden, or every other day,
And I was able to put all this in what I wrote. I let
The weather and the landscape be narrative in me. To make money
By writing, though, was difficult. So I taught
English in a university in spite of my fear that
I knew nothing. Do not let your fear of ignorance keep you
From teaching, if that would be good for you, nor
Should you let your need for success interfere with what you love,
In fact, to do. Things have a way of working out
Which is nonsensical, and one should try to see
How that process works. If you can understand chance,
You will be lucky, for luck is what chance is about
To become, in a human context, either
Good luck or bad. You should visit places that
Have a lot of savour for you. You should be glad
To be alive. You must try to be as good as you can.
I do not know what virtue is in an absolute way,
But in the particular it is excellence which does not harm
The material but ennobles and refines it. So, honesty
Ennobles the heart and harms not the person or the coins
He remembers to give back. So, courage ennobles the heart
And the bearer’s body; and tenderness refines the touch.
The problem of being good and also doing what one wishes
Is not as difficult as it seems. It is, however,
Best to get embarked early on one’s dearest desires.
Be attentive to your dreams. They are usually about sex,
But they deal with other things as well in an indirect fashion
And contain information that you should have.
You should also read poetry. Do not eat too many bananas.
In the springtime, plant. In the autumn, harvest.
In the summer and winter, exercise. Do not put
Your finger inside a clam shell or
It may be snapped off by the living clam. Do not wear a shirt
More than two times without sending it to the laundry.
Be a bee fancier only if you have a face net. Avoid flies,
Hornets, and wasps. Clasp other people’s hands firmly
When you are introduced to them. Say “I am glad to meet you!”
Be able to make a mouth and cheeks like a fish. It
Is entertaining. Speaking in accents
Can also entertain people. But do not think
Mainly of being entertaining. Think of your death.
Think of the death of the fish you just imitated. Be
   artistic, and be unfamiliar.
Think of the blue sky, how artists have
Imitated it. Think of your secretest thoughts,
How poets have imitated them. Think of what you feel
Secretly, and how music has imitated that. Make a moue.
Get faucets for every water outlet in your
House. You may like to spend some summers on
An island. Buy woolen material in Scotland and have
The cloth cut in London, lapels made in France.
Become religious when you are tired of everything
Else. As a little old man or woman, die
In a fine and original spirit that is yours alone.
When you are dead, waste, and make room for the future.
Do not make tea from water which is already boiling.
Use the water just as it starts to boil. Otherwise
It will not successfully “draw” the tea, or
The tea will not successfully “draw” it. Byron
Wrote that no man under thirty should ever see
An ugly woman, suggesting desire should be so strong
It affected the princeliest of senses; and Schopenhauer
Suggested the elimination of the human species
As the way to escape from the Will, which he saw as a monstrous
Demon-like force which destroys us. When
Pleasure is mild, you should enjoy it, and
When it is violent, permit it, as far as
You can, to enjoy you. Pain should be
Dealt with as efficiently as possible. To “cure” a dead octopus
You hold it by one leg and bang it against a rock.
This makes a noise heard all around the harbor,
But it is necessary, for otherwise the meat would be too tough.
Fowl are best plucked by humans, but machines
Are more humanitarian, since extended chicken
Plucking is an unpleasant job. Do not eat unwashed beets
Or rare pork, nor should you gobble uncooked dough.
Fruits, vegetables, and cheese make an excellent diet.
You should understand some science. Electricity
Is fascinating. Do not be defeated by the
Feeling that there is too much for you to know. That
Is a myth of the oppressor. You are
Capable of understanding life. And it is yours alone
And only this time. Women who appeal to you
Should be told so, and loved, if you can, but no one
Should be able to shake you so much that you wish to
Give up. The sensations you feel are caused by outside
Phenomena and inside impulses. Whatever you
Experience is both “a person out there” and a dream
As well as unwashed electrons. It is your task to see this through
To a conclusion that makes sense to all concerned
And that reflects credit on this poem, your species, and yourself.
Now go. You cannot come back until these lessons are learned
And you can show that you have learned them for yourself.

by Kenneth Koch
Courtesy New York Review of Books

Friday, April 22, 2011

One of My Faves by One of My Faves

XIII (Dedications)

I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a gray day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains' enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running
up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.

by Adrienne Rich
from Atlas of a Difficult World

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pulitzer Prize for Poetry: The Best of It

Kay Ryan won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.  Enjoy this title poem for the award-winning book, The Best of It.

The Best of It 

However carved up
or pared down we get,
we keep on making
the best of it as though
it doesn't matter that
our acre's down to
a square foot. As
though our garden
could be one bean
and we'd rejoice if
it flourishes, as
though one bean
could nourish us.

by Kay Ryan
Originally published in The Niagara River
© Grove Press
Courtesy The Writer's Almanac

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Passover Poem

Yes, I know the first night of Passover was last night, but I think you still can enjoy this poem on the second day.

Peace Is Not the Product of Despair

Monday, April 18, 2011


The Things
When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging
—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore—
that I've cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters 
of the trivial—a white stone perfectly round, 
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell, 
a broken great-grandmother's rocker,
a dead dog's toy—valueless, unforgettable 
detritus that my children will throw away
as I did my mother's souvenirs of trips 
with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens, 
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Romeo and Juliet

'Twas in a restaurant they met,
Romeo and Juliet,
He had no cash to pay the debt, so
Romeo'd what Julie-et.

Sorry, it is one of my favorite poems.  However, today is the birthday of Olivia Hussy, the woman who is the iconic Juliet for a generation, thanks to Italian director Franco Zeffirelli.  Click here for her Wikipedia entry.

Enjoy the snippet of Romeo and Juliet below.  It's sheer poetry!


Act 2, Scene 2

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
It is my lady, O, it is my love!
O, that she knew she were!
She speaks yet she says nothing: what of that?
Her eye discourses; I will answer it.
I am too bold, 'tis not to me she speaks:
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
What if her eyes were there, they in her head?
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!


Ay me!


She speaks:
O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art
As glorious to this night, being o'er my head
As is a winged messenger of heaven
Unto the white-upturned wondering eyes
Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him
When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds
And sails upon the bosom of the air.


O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.


[Aside] Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?


'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

For Cat and Jeremy, Who Wed Today

The Kiss

She pressed her lips to mind.
 —a typo

How many years I must have yearned
for someone’s lips against mind.
Pheromones, newly born, were floating
between us. There was hardly any air.

She kissed me again, reaching that place
that sends messages to toes and fingertips,
then all the way to something like home.
Some music was playing on its own.

Nothing like a woman who knows
to kiss the right thing at the right time,
then kisses the things she’s missed.
How had I ever settled for less?

I was thinking this is intelligence,
this is the wisest tongue
since the Oracle got into a Greek’s ear,
speaking sense. It’s the Good,

defining itself. I was out of my mind.
She was in. We married as soon as we could.

by Stephen Dunn 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Love your Library — and Enjoy Carl Sandburg, Dead Poet

 April 10-16 is National Library Week!  To honor libraries and librarians, I share with you a poem shared with me by my librarian friend, Suzanne, who serves as a prime example of what is great about libraries and librarians.   I'm glad she has been a part of my library — and my life.

 Please enjoy this poem shared by Suzanne, who grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan and whose family has a personal connection to Carl Sandburg and his family's goats.



SUNDAY night and the park policemen tell each other it
     is dark as a stack of black cats on Lake Michigan.
A big picnic boat comes home to Chicago from the peach
     farms of Saugatuck.
Hundreds of electric bulbs break the night's darkness, a
     flock of red and yellow birds with wings at a standstill.
Running along the deck railings are festoons and leaping
     in curves are loops of light from prow and stern
     to the tall smokestacks.
Over the hoarse crunch of waves at my pier comes a
     hoarse answer in the rhythmic oompa of the brasses

by Carl Sandburg

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Poem in Your Pocket Day is Today!

Here is my favorite poem in my "pocket," which doubles as my bulletin board at work.  What's yours?  Let me know!

Small Frogs Killed On The Highway

I would leap too
Into the light,
If I had the chance.
It is everything, the wet green stalk of the field
On the other side of the road.
They crouch there, too, faltering in terror
And take strange wing. Many
Of the dead never moved, but many
Of the dead are alive forever in the split second
Auto headlights more sudden
Than their drivers know.
The drivers burrow backward into dank pools
Where nothing begets

Across the road, tadpoles are dancing
On the quarter thumbnail
Of the moon. They can't see,
Not yet.

by James Wright
courtesy of

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bet You Know This Dead Poet

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my 
life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
by Edgar Allan Poe

Now, who is your favorite dead poet?  Tell me!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wallace Stevens: The Plain Sense of Things

The Plain Sense of Things

After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Morning Poem

12 Line Thank You: A Monday Morning Poem

She was rushing busy busy
When she tripped on the reflection
Stopped by beauty
Stunned by wonder
When she fell into the time warp
Timeless beauty
Endless wonder
When she heard the monk-voice whisper
‘Write them beauty
Sing them wonder’
And she stopped to write a poem
Twelve line thank you, ode to wonder.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Are You Ready for Poem in Your Pocket Day?

Here's a tasty little morsel for you, just in case you're not quite ready for that special day April 14.

Being walkers with the dawn and morning

Being walkers with the dawn and morning,
Walkers with the sun and morning,
We are not afraid of night,
Nor days of gloom,
Nor darkness–
Being walkers with the sun and morning.

Courtesy Short Poems

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Another Wonderful Poem by the Same Poet as Yesterday

Why I'm Here

Because my mother was on a date
with a man in the band, and my father,
thinking she was alone, asked her to dance.
And because, years earlier, my father
dug a foxhole but his buddy
sick with the flu, asked him for it, so he dug
another for himself. In the night
the first hole was shelled.
I'm here because my mother was twenty-seven
and in the '50s that was old to still be single.
And because my father wouldn't work on weapons,
though he was an atomic engineer.
My mother, having gone to Berkeley, liked that.
My father liked that she didn't eat like a bird
when he took her to the best restaurant in L.A.
The rest of the reasons are long gone.
One decides to get dressed, go out, though she'd rather
stay home, but no, melancholy must be battled through,
so the skirt, the cinched belt, the shoes, and a life is changed.
I'm here because Jews were hated
so my grandparents left their villages,
came to America, married one who could cook,
one whose brother had a business,
married longing and disappointment
and secured in this way the future.

It's good to treasure the gift, but good
to see that it wasn't really meant for you.
The feeling that it couldn't have been otherwise
is just a feeling. My family
around the patio table in July.
I've taken over the barbequing
that used to be my father's job, ask him
how many coals, though I know how many.
We've been gathering here for years,
so I believe we will go on forever.
It's right to praise the random,
the tiny god of probability that brought us here,
to praise not meaning, but feeling, the still-warm
sky at dusk, the light that lingers and the night
that when it comes is gentle.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Glimpse of a Marriage

Teaching My Husband to Swim

Usually I'm the one who knows nothing,
frozen at the computer while my husband
tries to talk me through.
But this morning at the inn where we've come
to celebrate our second anniversary,
he tells me how many people in the past
have tried and failed to teach him how to swim.
I throw my suit on and grab our towels.
This is something I know I can do.
We've already been in the pool—a late afternoon
dip when we got here, me doing laps
and my husband dog paddling beside me,
his head above water, or holding his breath
the length of the pool before coming up for air.
Now I stand by the side, pulling my elbows back
and turning my head to demonstrate the crawl.
The fog has burned off the valley
and the pool shines, set off by the vineyards
whose grapes in another month
will be ready for harvest.
My husband in the pool tries to follow what I'm showing
but yanks his head to the surface, coughing water.
I get in with him and we discuss the mechanics
of breathing. He doesn't know about exhaling
through the nose under water, never learned
the significance of making bubbles.
It's a revelation. I send him
back and forth across the pool and it works.
He's swimming. Each time his face comes up
as his arm draws back,
the O of his mouth looks like wonder
or terror. We move on to the breast stroke,
and his head, like a needle stitching cloth,
gathers the water in the thick folds.
I stand off to the side coaching,
triumphant but careful to let the victory be his.
An ironic high five when we get out of the water
is all he wants to signify the occasion.
In the delicate economy of marriage
giving costs less than receiving,
the thin wire of power
threaded through the soft body of need.
We're ready for a hot bath
and both fit in the large tub in our room
where we lather our bodies and hair,
passing the soap between us.

by Jacqueline Berger
from The Gift that Arrives Broken.
© Autumn House Press, 2010.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

In Honor of Cats, Especially My Own

The Naming Of Cats 
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey--
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter--
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover--
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
by T. S. EliotCourtesy Famous Poets and Poems

Speaking of which, who is your favorite dead poet?  Let me know by April 14 and you will be in the running for a book of poetry.  Even though Dead Poets Remembrance Day isn't until October 7, it's never too early to appreciate dead poets.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Just an Ordinary Day

The day of my father's memorial service, I was surprised to see people dressed in casual clothing, going about their daily lives.  Didn't they know the world was different?  Couldn't they feel it?

This is for all those days I didn't feel it, either.  Not yet.

Names on a Full Moon

Somewhere in a nearby yard a blue jay
yaks and yaks the morning quiet
way beyond the clicking news of smiles
and banks washing profits off casket walls.
Mid morning and the news reads
Sarandrea, Jessica Y., 22, Pfc, Army; Miami
First Cavalry Division. Killed in Iraq.

Marjorie Pollock is text messaging
by the organic oranges at Whole Foods.
Neal Bellenger holds a two pound
ground buffalo package in his left hand
a cell phone in his right.
The newlyweds contemplate organic cane
sugar as second ingredients in yogurt.
Daniel B. Hyde, 24 First Lieutenant, Army,
Modesto, California is dead in Iraq.

Beyond the three dollar collard greens
traffic zips and tears the afternoon.
No need to signal or cut off the competition.
It’s only three lanes and four hundred yards
to the gas station and a cheap hoagie.
A homeless man passes out a newspaper
at the traffic island. Put a little in the pot
please, and God Bless you Jeffrey Reed 23
Army Sergeant, Chesterfield, Virginia dead in Iraq.

Late afternoon stuffs the mind, wipes
pleasure off a job that may or may not
exist in a few days, or tomorrow.
Lorna Guzman, social worker for Women
in Distress hopes Day Care is taking care.
Keisha wants to tell the M.D.
with 40 patients a day that
she missed another period.
She has to get home.
She has a class tonight.
Patrick De Voe, he’s dead in Afghanistan
Twenty-seven, Private First Class
from Auburn, New York.
You know where that is, but then

It’s almost dinner time and Shirley
brings in take out hot and sour, lo mein
a side of barbecued wings.
Did you hear Tiger’s back?
TVs blink the news, the news, the news.
Who did what and who said if?
She’s a Democrat underneath.
How about that short horse in England?
They think it’s stuck in mud.
George Clooney may show up on ER.
You know Rush Lim and the other one
who took all the rich guy’s cash.
He’s going to plead and Jay Leno
will have his say later on.

By the way, it’s a full moon.
Look out the window at the perfect sky but
don’t forget the names  whispered in the stars.
Jessica, Daniel, Jeffrey, Patrick
echo in blood, in guns, in storms.
They’re coming home.

-- David Plumb
courtesy of Voices Education Project

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My New Anthem: 'Reading a Book!'

The next time someone tries to derail you from reading poetry, or any other book, just refer them to Julian Smith:

And here is your poem of the day.  Enjoy — then go read a book!

Angel Shark   

Wan oxymoron of a fish, dotted

dun and fledge winged, mud-feathered when

it glides through silt, by nature bottom fed.  

Whoever named it named himself a man

of undisputed Christian eye,

who saw in mortal depths a guardian  

and humblest trumpeter. God tongue to cry,

it haunts an earth too dread for dread-

filled man til rapture calls: Arise and fly.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Women, Poetry and History

On April 4, 2006, the women of Kuwait voted for the first time — and made a difference: about 60 percent of eligible voters were women.

In recognition of that hallmark, I share a poem written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  The book was titled Suffrage Songs and Verses and sold for 10¢ a copy.


She beats upon her bolted door,
   With faint weak hands;
Drearily walks the narrow floor;
Sullenly sits, blank walls before;
  Despairing stands. Life calls her, Duty, Pleasure, Gain–
  Her dreams respond;
But the blank daylights wax and wane,
Dull peace, sharp agony, slow pain–
  No hope beyond.

Till she comes a thought! She lifts her head,
  The world grows wide!
A voice–as if clear words were said–
"Your door, O long imprisonéd,
  Is locked inside!"  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Read Beach Glass, Start a Notebook

Beach Glass

While you walk the water's edge,
turning over concepts
I can't envision, the honking buoy
serves notice that at any time
the wind may change,
the reef-bell clatters
its treble monotone, deaf as Cassandra
to any note but warning. The ocean,
cumbered by no business more urgent
than keeping open old accounts
that never balanced,
goes on shuffling its millenniums
of quartz, granite, and basalt.
It behaves
toward the permutations of novelty—
driftwood and shipwreck, last night's
beer cans, spilt oil, the coughed-up
residue of plastic—with random
impartiality, playing catch or tag
ot touch-last like a terrier,
turning the same thing over and over,
over and over. For the ocean, nothing
is beneath consideration.
The houses
of so many mussels and periwinkles
have been abandoned here, it's hopeless
to know which to salvage. Instead
I keep a lookout for beach glass—
amber of Budweiser, chrysoprase
of Almadén and Gallo, lapis
by way of (no getting around it,
I'm afraid) Phillips'
Milk of Magnesia, with now and then a rare
translucent turquoise or blurred amethyst
of no known origin.
The process
goes on forever: they came from sand,
they go back to gravel,
along with treasuries
of Murano, the buttressed
astonishments of Chartres,
which even now are readying
for being turned over and over as gravely
and gradually as an intellect
engaged in the hazardous
redefinition of structures
no one has yet looked at.

by Amy Clampitt

 How I celebrated National Poetry Month today: I created a notebook on  It was easy and fun.  Click here to do it!