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Poems
Carolyn Forche Dylan Thomas Ai Wallace Stevens Gerard Manley Hopkins
Randall Jarrell W.D. Snodgrass Thomas Lux William Matthews From the Greek Robert Creeley


The Colonel  (From The Country Between Us, by Carolyn Forche.)

What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man's legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of the wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower  (Collected Poems, Dylan Thomas.)

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman's lime.

The lips of time leach to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover's tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.


The German Army, Russia, 1943  (From Killing Floor, by Ai.)

For twelve days,
I drilled through Moscow ice
to reach paradise,
that white tablecloth, set with a plate
that's cracking bit by bit
like the glassy air, like me.
I know I'll fly apart soon,
the pieces of me so light they float.
The Russians burned their crops,
rather than feed our army.
Now they strike us against each other like dry rocks
and set us on fire with a hunger
nothing can feed.
Someone calls me and I look up.
It's Hitler.
I imagine eating his terrible, luminous eyes.
Brother, he says.
I stand up, tie the rags tighter around my feet.
I hear my footsteps running after me,
but I am already gone.


Arrival at the Waldorf  (Collected Poems, Wallace Stevens.)

Home from Guatemala, back at the Waldorf.
This arrival in the wild country of the soul,
All approaches gone, being completely there,
Where the wild poem is a substitute
For the woman one loves or ought to love,
One wild rhapsody a fake for another.

You touch the hotel the way you touch moonlight
Or sunlight and you hum and the orchestra
Hums and you say "The world in a verse,

A generation sealed, men remoter than mountains,
Women invisible in music and motion and color,"
After that alien, point-blank, green and actual Guatemala.


God's Grandeur  (The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins.)

The world is charged with the grandeur of God
 It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
 It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil.
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
 And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
 And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
 There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
 Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs-
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
 World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


Death of the Ball Turret Gunner  (Randall Jarrell.)

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.


Monet: Les Nympheas  (W.D. Snodgrass.)

  The eyelids glowing, some chill morning.
O world half-known through opening, twilit lids
  Before the vague face clenches into light;
O universal waters like a cloud,
  Like those first clouds of half-created matter;
O all things rising, rising like the fumes
  From waters falling, O forever falling;
Infinite, the skeletal shells that fall, relinquished,
  The snowsoft sift of the diatoms, like selves
Downdrifting age upon age through milky oceans;
  O slow downdrifting of the atoms;
O island nebulae and O the nebulous islands
  Wander these mists like falsefires, which are true;
Bobbing like milkweed, like warm lanterns bobbing
  Through the snowfilled windless air, blinking and passing
As we pass into the memory of women
  Who are passing. Within those depths
What ravening? What devouring rage?
  How shall our living know its ends of yielding?
These things have taken me as the mouth an orange-
  That acrid sweet juice entering every cell;
And I am shared out. I become these things:
  These lilies, if these things are waterlilies
Which are dancers growing dim across no floor;
  These mayflies; whirled dust orbiting in the sun;
This blossoming diffused as rushlights; galactic vapours;
  Fluorescence into which we pass and penetrate;
O soft as the thighs of women;
  O radiance, into which I go on dying....


If You See This Man  (Thomas Lux.)

Notify someone of authority
if you see this man:

He has a fish hook
in his upper lip.
He usually carries a bleeding starfish
in a dixie cup.
He is an excellent fork-lift
operator and is known
to play dice with nuns.
He is big.
He claims to detest miniature golf.

We want him for the robbery
of the first kiss ever given
to a bus driver's sickly daughter.

And remember, he is ruthless.
If he knew you had read this
he would murder you.


The Penalty for Bigamy Is Two Wives  (William Matthews.)

I don't understand how Janis Joplin did it, how she made her voice break out like that in hives of feeling. I have a friend who writes poems who says he really wants to be a rock star- the high-heeled boots, the hand-held mike, the glare of underpants in the front row, the whole package. He says he likes the way music throws you back into your body, like organic food or heroin. But when he sings it is sleek and abstract except for the pain, like the silhouette of a dog baying at the moon, almost liver-shaped, a bell hung from a rope of its own pure yearning. Naturally his life is exciting, but I sometimes think he can't tell the difference between salvation and death. When I listen to my Janis Joplin records I think of him. Once I got drunk & sloppy and told him I feared artists always had more fun and more death, too, and how I had these strong feelings but nothing to do with them and he said Don't worry I'd trade my onion collection for a good cry, wouldn't you? I didn't really understand, but poetry is how you feel so I lie back and listen to Janis's dead voice run up and down my body like a fire that has learned to live on itself and I think Here it comes, Grief's beautiful blow job. I think about the painter who was said to paint with his penis and I imagine one of his portraits letting down a local rain of hair around his penis now too stiff to paint with, as if her diligent silence meant to say You loved me enough to make me, when will I see you next? Janis, I don't care what anybody thinks or writes, I don't care if my friend who writes poems is a beautiful fake, like a planetarium ceiling, I want to hold my life in my arms as easily as my body will hold forever the silence for which the mouth slowly opens.


From the Greek  (Translated by Brooks Haxton, June 1998 Atlantic.)

Singer
She took the myrtle branch and sang in turn
another song of pleasure, in her left hand still
the flower of the rosetree, and let loose
over the naked shoulder, down her arm
and back, the darkness of her hair.
Archilochos, 7th century B.C.
Adonis and Aphrodite
From the wound death spread into the delicate limbs.
  What shall we do for him, Goddess?
Cry. Rip the coarse stitch of your robe, my girls,
  and cry, and tear the fine threads underneath.
Sappho, 7th century B.C.
Last Sun in the Treetops
From her roost the water hen stretched out
her purple-green neck,
the kingfisher's quick glance
shook droplets from his crown,
and I thought love would always be
that brilliant on the wing and wild.
Ibykos, 6th century B.C.
Epitaph at Thermopylae
Four thousand of us fought three million.
When you visit Sparta, tell them:
Here, the soldiers kept their word.
Simonides, 5th century B.C.
Love Token
I am an apple thrown to you for love. Nod yes,
  Xanthippe. You and I, though sweet, are not to last.
Plato, 4th century B.C.
Herakleitos of Halikarnassos
Someone, Herakleitos, spoke to me about your death,
and I with fresh tears thought again how many times
the two of us would talk until the sun sank. You,
too many years ago, though sacred in my
  memory forever
as a guest and friend, sank also into ashes. Here,
meanwhile, your poems sing to me like nightingales,
only out of the darkness where no hand can reach.
Kallimachos, 3rd century B.C.
Landscape with Young Man and Snares
Whatever sleep possess you, your body
on the leaf-strewn hillside, stakes
sunk into the ground, whatever weariness
in you needs rest, beware. Nearby, Priapus,
with this lovely rough head clothed
in yellow shoots of ivy, and Great Pan
steal, side by side, into your hiding place.
Come, loose your body from its torpor: run!
Theokritos, 3rd century B.C.
Idea of Beauty
Shy, he stepped off into the cornfield. I could see
  his back muscles under the damp shirt quiver
    and go slack.
Turning again to face the shade, he smiled at me, not
  squinted, smiled, and finished tugging shut his fly.
Now, when the cornstalks in the night wind slide
  like fire, I see him. He steps closer in my dream.
I don't know, where he sleeps, if sleep refreshes him,
  but here it works me like hot metal over a flame.
Meleagros, 3rd century B.C.
On the Emptiness of the Tomb
A black squall out of the east, and murk of night,
  and waves, struck under the deathwatch of Orion.
I, the handsomest of sailors, drowned, halfway to Libya,
  tumbling into the fleshpots of the crab and conger eel.
My stone says, Here Love mourns where Beauty lies undone.
  but nobody lies or mourns there but the stone.
Leonidas of Tarentum, 3rd centruy B.C.
Charon
You who pull the oars, who meet the dead,
who leave them at the other bank, and glide
across the reedy marsh, please take
my boy's hand as he climbs into the dark hull.
Look. The sandals trip him, and you see,
he is afraid to step there barefoot.
Zonas, 1st century B.C.
Inner Voice
A voice said, No: forget her touch, and keep in mind
those nights of jealousy and tears. Be strong, the voice
reminded me, as she was strong when she said, Yes,
and crowed, and grappled you for joy between her thighs.
Philodemos, 1st century B.C.
Echo
Up and down the meadow where the sheep graze echo,
  fadingly as afterthoughts, the cries of quail.
Satyrus, 2nd century A.D.


A Wicker Basket   (Robert Creeley.)
Comes the time when it's later
and onto your table the headwaiter
puts the bill, and very soon after
rings out the sound of lively laughter--

Picking up change, hands like a walrus,
and a face like a barndoor's,
and a head without any apparent size,
nothing but two eyes--

So that's you, man,
or me. I make it as I can,
I pick up, I go
faster than they know--

Out the door, the street like a night,
any night, and no one in sight,
but then, well, there she is,
old friend Liz--

And she opens the door of her cadillac,
I step in back,
and we're gone.
She turns me on--

There are very huge stars, man, in the sky,
and from somewhere very far off someone hands
  me a slice of apple pie,
with a gob of white, white ice cream on top of it,
and I eat it--

Slowly. And while certainly
they are laughing at me, and all around me is racket
of these cats not making it, I make it

in my wicker basket.
More Creeley


Keeping Quiet  (Pablo Neruda.)
And now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
letís not speak in any language,
letís stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas,
wars with fire,
victory with no survivors, would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
(Life is what it is about,
I want no truck with death.)

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now Iíll count up to twelve,
and you keep quiet and I will go.