Robert Frost: A Boy’s Will and A Witness Tree
Galway Kinnell: The Book of Nightmares
Ellen Bryant Voight: Kyrie and Messenger, New Poems
Louise Gluck: Meadowlands
Grace Paley: Fidelity
Ruth Stone: In the Dark
Sydney Lea: Young of the Year
And Even Now
A Cento Poem in Ten Parts
What can I tell you that you don’t know
of this slipping shadow – this eclipse
won’t let go I am alone,
remote body, trembling with the rush
into the raven-black cave of self,
life on the edge, that sense of every day as being
the dusk of my time and the nights,
the crying and pounding sea. You think
what had started this mess? It was something else,
the brief shadow flickered and dissolved: the world:
the vast drift downward
of chaos, fractal patterns, atmosphere
not even the patterns of stars can tell you where,
where the voice calling from stone –
what was it it whispered? I knew not well myself.
All of this, for whatever reason, felt strange and familiar
at once. Deep holes,
like someone dead permitted to exist,
is one invented too deep in its past,
and you are positioned to be a silhouette
like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night
to dissolve into the future,
you who are not even the wind sliding under the door.
I am so troubled I cannot speak.
How will it look to you I wonder.
I walk out from myself;
one hairline path along the precipitous edge.
One doesn’t notice the scythe of the beak at rest:
my soul, an eerie blue light blooms.
Are you dumb because you know me not,
or dumb because you know?
I had only wanted to love.
and little of love could know.
I dwell in a lonely house I know –
inside it was dark
like a hibernating animal
and the hard heart beats and eases the mouth
but the bitten heart no longer cares for risk.
I have it all planned, first
with gun depressed,
into the chamber with a little click,
improbable and brutally efficient, low to the ground
in murderous despair at torture:
I’m sick of your world.
Perhaps he’s only become quite shy.
It was the smell of that time, that neighborhood.
I’d never paid a lot of mind: the merest nod, a vague hello
in that vanished abode now far apart,
in the pre-trembling of a house that falls,
a certain disheveled neighbor;
he asked with the eyes more than the lips.
He didn’t know pleasure,
denied to him forever,
and could not be consoled like a child.
We all agree: That thing must be a time bomb.
He has painted himself in, as it were.
His unfitness to grip a gun
is slowly trickling through him
to brew in a person’s mind–
most urgently the hand to stroke his head.
You could hold him:
a small fire goes on flaring in the rain, in the desolate ashes –
but there is in the sadness of his eye.
Still he pictured his inexcusable murder,
imagine – a fantasy;
moment by moment in the half-dark
carefully laid away
neck-locked, unable to swivel.
he could feel his body throb and feel:
a man like all other men
shed his skin
into his world, flew out of solitude.
Why would she leave him in darkness and in pain?
He considered the way he’d lived:
he was a winter wind.
Face skyward, as if his life had future in it,
he would cry out on life, that what it wants
and nothing ever came of what he cried.
The weakness enraged him. He knew
little of what he was doing, but any brute act
could satisfy him; he pinched the steaming heart in his hand.
Are you not a monster? But is the human mind not
monstrous in its secret appetites, its habits?
And there is always more than should be said,
but all he feels is more of what’s not there –
the human wreckage, what happened or what we did.
What he is saying is clear as type
and yet it is upside down and backward
Mom, I’m here,” he flashes, faint and
he says, “It’s too late I’m here, “
stands, looks to the backdoor, looks to the stairwell.
Then he went to town to join the war.
The many deaths one must have died
before he came to meet his own!
Then he was dead. But she was too.
Your personality like moth wings, shredding itself
that at once kept you burning low and hid you,
and the long shaft of darkness shaped as you
would be afraid if we should comprehend
but no one ever heard you make the claim.
There’s a lot yet that isn’t understood
but the last choice is still the same.
But the last choice is still the same.
This morning a man –
in a secret wood, as the countryside lay stunned –
killed my gift, exposed
us with the sting of memory
the oath sworn between earth and water, flesh and spirit, broken –
suddenly there suddenly gone.
But weren’t the early gifts a promise
I held in my hands?
Each kiss was real, then
each kiss left the face of the earth
only to keep holding the space where she was
and how full I felt of that wail,
swallowed toad still kicking in the throat.
And I must be, as he had been – alone.
Night after night
you scream, waking from a nightmare,
crying in your bed, hearing those –
I see them together:
the room becomes hushed,
eyes seeking the response of eyes
in dead shoes, in the new light –
laid them down and never did rise,
and in the almost indestructible play-yard
there’s no point in watching further
the little legs of little children
like pearls, and now a silver blade
in the shrouded parking lot.
Little family suddenly vanish
as though dawn will change them.
It doesn’t leave you alone for a minute:
a face materializes into your hands,
embraced, but only by the wind.
Oh yes I used to pray, I prayed for the baby,
the hand that waved once
when it still seemed the future could be chosen.
I give my eyelids worn out by fear, to wear
from this point on, the silence through which you move
as I shudder down into his nightmare.
Within minutes something eats the sun.
One doesn’t notice wings when they’re at rest.
Snow birds the sun caught
lifting through the sky, their voices
shuddering across the black sky and vanishing,
never again would birds’ song be the same.
A flock of birds leaving the side of the mountain:
again, again, again, frail wings beat as they hover.
Does it matter where the birds go? Does it even matter?
They leave here, that’s the point.
Not a bird in sight, not a sound.
The last blackbird lights up his gold wings: farewell.
And she who is born
of so much warmth and light,
her tenderness gathers them up
by countless silken ties of love and thought
and run[s] in little skips.
A child’s kisses, rise –
and kissed her from head to toe The other one my son
were days so very few
and did I say enough to you?
Even this haunted room,
watery shapes in the shadows of the room,
almost the whisper of your voice.
I would alchemize the ashes of your cradle back into wood.
Bring out the stars, bring out the flowers.
In your dreams the hours begin to sing,
impatient for sunrise,
and if our getting up to start the day
had stood still for us in the middle of heaven
that blows apart the mightiest of stars,
you can imagine my breath stopped then.
Who cares but for the future of the bud
and the blossoms glittering in the sky?
As above: the last scattered stars
expend their bloom in vain.
The night isn’t dark, the world is dark,
and there is always more than should be said
as if clinging could save us. I think
this absence has a smell,
and what I pity in you is something human
like the shoes left behind.
Casket of the snow:
I’ve seen it breaking open.
I walk out from myself –
I think, do you hear me now?
I cannot touch your life, much less can save,
so the past is not a scar but a wound,
and Time which is nature as well will be a poor healer no matter.
I only wanted to love.
Politicians rattling swords
or worse: deliberate, someone’s “agenda”
is just a male version of dressing up.
Of our ancestors, it says nothing.
“Now all together, fellows
let’s give them a chorus they won’t forget!”
as the women and children who
will surely be in the way
clung to the male’s plumage, which turned
history, with its moral,
and grease refuses to slide in the machinery of progress.
Science says there is no moral lesson,
but must live lives out mentally agape.
Is this the way you communicate?
Must we say what it is? Can’t we simply say
that there is no world except the worlds we dream,
and magical thinking can’t even buy you
insight to the women and children?
With pity these men: they don’t know
what they’re looking at.
What if they chose a life and, choosing
what’s worth the knowing here on earth?
Sweet are the songs of bitterness and blame –
the smallest hearts have
the greatest freedom;
you get a license enabling you
the assault of what is called
the stammered math of feeling,
that goodwill and hope may count for nothing
for the future.
What do they care?
Once we gave the matter little thought
with faint headshakings, no more wise
till it ended here:
it has come to this.
There’s nothing but injustice to be had.
The quiet authority of culture,
the witness trees.
How many times do I have to tell you
the world is cowering
with equal darkness, yours as dark as mine?
We both are the belittled human race.
Dogs know if something’s wrong.
The human animal has turned a corner –
how many times the same imperative,
so many hundreds and thousands of victims?
I thought of questions that have no reply:
the human wreckage, what happened or what we did
of changing what’s what. We need an explanation
and we, for the most part ordinary folks,
generations rise trying once more
with our eyes closed. You should show people
streets of our cities or in their workplaces:
the self is the least of it.
Who said the worst was past, who knew
we must listen in this wrong world this,
this spinning rock
made of everyone’s darkness together?
What dream would be mine? That life go on,
the loving’s made to hold each other like
all bodies, one body, one light.
No more than dream, of course, I know.