Saturday, May 30, 2009

In Honor of My Mother, Valarie Bryan

Holy Sonnet 10: Death, be not proud, John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Ophelia, 1900-1905, Odilon Redon

Friday, May 29, 2009

Insect Life of Florida, Lynda Hull

In those days I thought their endless thrum
was the great wheel that turned the days, the nights.
In the throats of hibiscus and oleander

I’d see them clustered yellow, blue, their shells
enameled hard as the sky before the rain.
All that summer, my second, from city

to city my young father drove the black coupe
through humid mornings I’d wake to like fever
parceled between luggage and sample goods.

Afternoons, showers drummed the roof,
my parents silent for hours. Even then I knew
something of love was cruel, was distant.

Mother leaned over the seat to me, the orchid
Father’d pinned in her hair shriveled
to a purple fist. A necklace of shells

coiled her throat, moving a little as she
murmured of alligators that float the rivers
able to swallow a child whole, of mosquitoes

whose bite would make you sleep a thousand years.
And always the trance of blacktop shimmering
through swamps with names like incantations—

Okeefenokee, where Father held my hand
and pointed to an egret’s flight unfolding
white above swamp reeds that sang with insects

until I was lost, until I was part
of the singing, their thousand wings gauze
on my body, tattooing my skin.

Father rocked me later by the water,
the motel balcony, singing calypso
with the Jamaican radio. The lyrics

a net over the sea, its lesson
of desire and repetition. Lizards flashed
over his shoes, over the rail

where the citronella burned merging our
shadows—Father’s face floating over mine
in the black changing sound

of night, the enormous Florida night,
metallic with cicadas, musical
and dangerous as the human heart.

Constellation, detail, 1996, Kiki Smith

Thursday, May 28, 2009

my dreams, my works, must wait till after hell, Gwendolyn Brooks

I hold my honey and I store my bread
In little jars and cabinets of my will.
I label clearly, and each latch and lid
I bid, Be firm till I return from hell.
I am very hungry. I am incomplete.
And none can tell when I may dine again.
No man can give me any word but Wait,
The puny light. I keep eyes pointed in;
Hoping that, when the devil days of my hurt
Drag out to their last dregs and I resume
On such legs as are left me, in such heart
As I can manage, remember to go home,
My taste will not have turned insensitive
To honey and bread old purity could love.

New Galaxy, 1970, Alma Thomas

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Simile for Her Smile, Richard Wilbur

Your smiling, or the hope, the thought of it,
Makes in my mind such pause and abrupt ease
As when the highway bridgegates fall,
Balking the hasty traffic, which must sit
On each side massed and staring, while
Deliberately the drawbridge starts to rise:

Then horns are hushed, the oilsmoke rarefies,
Above the idling motors one can tell
The packet's smooth approach, the slip,
Slip of the silken river past the sides,
The ringing of clear bells, the dip
And slow cascading of the paddle wheel.

Untitled, from the portfolio, Women Are Beautiful, n.d., Garry Winogrand

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Our Masterpiece is the Private Life, Mark Strand


Is there something down by the water keeping itself from us,
Some shy event, some secret of the light that falls upon the deep,
Some source of sorrow that does not wish to be discovered yet?

Why should we care? Doesn’t desire cast its
rainbows over the coarse porcelain
Of the world’s skin and with its measures fill the
air? Why look for more?


And now, while the advocates of awfulness and sorrow
Push their dripping barge up and down the beach, let’s eat
Our brill, and sip this beautiful white Beaune.

True, the light is artificial, and we are not well-dressed.
So what. We like it here. We like the bullocks in the field next door,
We like the sound of wind passing over grass. The way you speak,

In that low voice, our late night disclosures . . . why live
For anything else? Our masterpiece is the private life.


Standing on the quay between the Roving Swan and the Star Immaculate,
Breathing the night air as the moment of pleasure taken
In pleasure vanishing seems to grow, its self-soiling

Beauty, which can only be what it was, sustaining itself
A little longer in its going, I think of our own smooth passage
Through the graded partitions, the crises that bleed

Into the ordinary, leaving us a little more tired each time,
A little more distant from the experiences, which, in the old days,
Held us captive for hours. The drive along the winding road

Back to the house, the sea pounding against the cliffs,
The glass of whiskey on the table, the open book, the questions,
All the day’s rewards waiting at the doors of sleep . . .

My Parents, 1977, David Hockney

Monday, May 25, 2009

Afternoon on a Hill, Edna St. Vincent Millay

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers 
And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.

And when light begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine, 
And then start down!

Girl in a Landscape, 1965, Fairfield Porter

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Prospects, Anthony Hecht


We have set out from here for the sublime
Pastures of summer shade and mountain stream;
I have no doubt we shall arrive on time.

Is all the green of that enameled prime
A snapshot recollection or a dream?
We have set out from here for the sublime

Without provisions, without one thin dime,
And yet, for all our clumsiness, I deem
It certain that we shall arrive on time.

No guidebook tells you if you'll have to climb
Or swim. However foolish we may seem,
We have set out from here for the sublime

And must get past the scene of an old crime
Before we falter and run out of steam,
Riddled by doubt that we'll arrive on time.

Yet even in winter a pale paradigm
Of birdsong utters its obsessive theme.
We have set out from here for the sublime;
I have no doubt we shall arrive on time.

Pearblossom Hwy., 11-18th April 1986, #2, 1986, David Hockney

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ars Poetica, Czeslaw Milosz

I have always aspired to a more spacious form 
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose 
and would let us understand each other without exposing 
the author or reader to sublime agonies. 

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent: 
a thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us, 
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out 
and stood in the light, lashing his tail. 

That’s why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion, 
though it’s an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel. 
It’s hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from, 
when so often they’re put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty. 

What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons, 
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues, 
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand, 
work at changing his destiny for their convenience? 

It’s true that what is morbid is highly valued today, 
and so you may think that I am only joking 
or that I’ve devised just one more means 
of praising Art with the help of irony. 

There was a time when only wise books were read, 
helping us to bear our pain and misery. 
This, after all, is not quite the same 
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics. 

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be 
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings. 
People therefore preserve silent integrity, 
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors. 

The purpose of poetry is to remind us 
how difficult it is to remain just one person, 
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors, 
and invisible guests come in and out at will. 

What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry, 
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly, 
under unbearable duress and only with the hope 
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.

Cloud Study, c. 1820s, John Constable

Rain Light, W.S. Merwin

All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without a question
even though the whole world is burning

Crying Men, Jude, 2004, Sam Taylor-Wood

Thursday, May 21, 2009

After Making Love We Hear Footsteps, Galway Kinnell

For I can snore like a bullhorn 
or play loud music 
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman 
and Fergus will only sink deeper 
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash, 
but let there be that heavy breathing 
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house 
and he will wrench himself awake 
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together, 
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies, 
familiar touch of the long-married, 
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens, 
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on— 
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep, 
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child. 

In the half darkness we look at each other 
and smile 
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body— 
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making, 
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake, 
this blessing love gives again into our arms.

IB and Her Husband, 1992, Lucian Freud

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Touch Me, Stanley Kunitz

"Summer is late, my heart."
Words plucked out of the air 
some forty years ago 
when I was wild with love 
and torn almost in two 
scatter like leaves this night 
of whistling wind and rain. 
It is my heart that’s late, 
it is my song that’s flown. 
Outdoors all afternoon 
under a gunmetal sky 
staking my garden down, 
I kneeled to the crickets trilling 
underfoot as if about 
to burst from their crusty shells; 
and like a child again 
marveled to hear so clear 
and brave a music pour 
from such a small machine. 
What makes the engine go? 
Desire, desire, desire. 
The longing for the dance 
stirs in the buried life. 
One season only, 
and it’s done.
So let the battered old willow 
thrash against the windowpanes 
and the house timbers creak. 
Darling, do you remember 
the man you married? Touch me, 
remind me who I am.

My Spirit Tried to Leave Me, 1994, John Dugdale

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Longings, Constantine P. Cavafy

Like the beautiful bodies of the dead who never aged,
shut away inside a splendid tomb by tearful mourners
with roses at their head and jasmine at their feet—
that’s what longings look like when they’ve passed away
without being fulfilled, before they could be made complete
by just one of pleasure’s nights, or one of its radiant mornings.

Untitled (Patrick Swimming Hole), 2007, Brandon Herman

Monday, May 18, 2009

Consolation, Wislawa Szymborska

They say he read novels to relax, 
But only certain kinds: 
nothing that ended unhappily. 
If anything like that turned up, 
enraged, he flung the book into the fire. 

True or not, 
I’m ready to believe it. 

Scanning in his mind so many times and places, 
he’d had enough of dying species, 
the triumphs of the strong over the weak, 
the endless struggles to survive, 
all doomed sooner or later. 
He’d earned the right to happy endings, 
at least in fiction 
with its diminutions. 

Hence the indispensable 
silver lining, 
the lovers reunited, the families reconciled, 
the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded, 
fortunes regained, treasures uncovered, 
stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways, 
good names restored, greed daunted, 
old maids married off to worthy parsons, 
troublemakers banished to other hemispheres, 
forgers of documents tossed down the stairs, 
seducers scurrying to the altar, 
orphans sheltered, widows comforted, 
pride humbled, wounds healed over, 
prodigal sons summoned home, 
cups of sorrow thrown into the ocean, 
hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation, 
general merriment and celebration, 
and the dog Fido, 
gone astray in the first chapter, 
turns up barking gladly 
in the last.

Flower Clouds, 1903, Odilon Redon

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Riprap, Gary Snyder

Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall
riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way,
straying planets,
These poems, people,
lost ponies with
Dragging saddles—
and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like an endless
Game of Go.
ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.

Vine and Rocks, Island of Hawaii, 1948, Ansel Adams

Milk—"If I'm killed, let that bullet destroy every closet door."

Yesterday morning, while flying from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., I watched Gus Van Sant's "Milk." It was the second time I've seen the film. The first was on the day it opened in 2008, on Thanksgiving eve. My partner Wes and I sat rapt marveling at Sean Penn's performance and Gus Van Sant's tender treatment of the subject and the era in which Harvey Milk's reputation as a passionate gay leader in San Francisco's Castro District, then the San Francisco City Council, was cemented.

For most of the film, my eyes brimmed with tears. I'm not sure whether it was Penn's performance—his utter transformation from aloof personality to the subtly seductive and irresistible Harvey Milk—or a nostalgia for a time I know only from official histories, the anecdotes of friends, and photographs. It was probably a little of both.

Still, I observe where we are today—gays, lesbians, transgendered persons—and can't help long for a time when our struggles seemed more immediate, where our very lives, sometimes our next breath, weren't things we could take for granted.

Wait. We're still there, fighting for recognition and acceptance. The fights that Harvey Milk rallied the faithful around are only nominally dimmed. To be sure the playing grounds have changed. One of Milk's legacies is legislation that ensured civil rights for gays in San Francisco. He was also instrumental in statewide legislation that guaranteed teachers believed to be gay could continue to teach in California schools. He took on and defeated the emergent Moral Majority in a state that is today still extremely conservative. Nobody needs to be reminded of the blow gays experienced when Proposition 8 passed in November 2008.

Interestingly, the story is not the same nationwide. As each month passes, more and more states are allowing gay marriage. More locally, and personally, only rarely do I recognize a threat when my partner and I express affection in public by merely holding hands. I imagine that everyday fears diminish—fears gays have of being terrorized and fears straights have about gays—and understanding increases.

Still, the world needs more Harvey Milks. Gay rights are non-existent in some countries and our worst fears as gay Americans come nowhere near to touching the extreme cases of terror experienced by gays living in places such as Iraq, as the New York Times article here reveals.

We've come so far, but struggles only diminish. They hardly ever are extinguished. We need more Milks carrying the twin banners of hope and persistence.

April 8, 2009
Iraq’s Newly Open Gays Face Scorn and Murder

BAGHDAD — The relative freedom of a newly democratic Iraq and the recent improvement in security have allowed a gay subculture to flourish here. The response has been swift and deadly.

In the past two months, the bodies of as many as 25 boys and men suspected of being gay have turned up in the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City, the police and friends of the dead say. Most have been shot, some multiple times. Several have been found with the word “pervert” in Arabic on notes attached to their bodies, the police said.

“Three of my closest friends have been killed during the past two weeks alone,” said Basim, 23, a hairdresser. “They had been planning to go to a cafe away from Sadr City because we don’t feel safe here, but they killed them on the way. I had planned to go with them, but fortunately I didn’t.”

Basim, who preferred to be called “Basima” — the feminine version of his name — wears his hair long for Iraq. It falls to just below the ear. His ears are pierced, uncommon for Iraqi males. White makeup covers his face, a popular look for gay men in Sadr City who say they prefer light skin.

Though risky, his look is one result of the overall calm here that has allowed Iraqis to enjoy freedoms unthinkable two years ago: A growing number of women walk the streets unveiled, a few even daring to wear dresses above the knee. Families gather in parks for cookouts, and more people have begun to venture out at night.

But that has not changed the reality that Iraq remains religious, conservative — and still violent. The killers, the police say, are not just Shiite death squads, but also tribal and family members shamed by their gay relatives. (And the recent spate of violence has seemed aimed at more openly gay men, rather than homosexuality generally.)

Clerics in Sadr City have urged followers to help root out homosexuality in Iraqi society, and the police have begun their own crackdown on gay men.

“Homosexuality is against the law,” said Lt. Muthana Shaad, at a police station in the Karada district, a neighborhood that has become popular with gay men. “And it’s disgusting.”

For the past four months, he said, officers have been engaged in a “campaign to clean up the streets and get the beggars and homosexuals off them.”

Gay men, he said, can be arrested only if they are seen engaging in sex, but the police try to drive them away. “These people, we make sure they can’t get together in a coffee shop or walk together in the street — we make them break up,” he said.

Gay men and lesbians in Iraq have long been among the targets of both Shiite and Sunni death squads, but their murders have been overshadowed by the hundreds of overall weekly casualties during the height of sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007.

In 2005, the country’s most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a religious decree that said gay men and lesbians should be “punished, in fact, killed.” He added, “The people should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.” The language has since been removed from his Web site.

In recent months, groups of gay men have been taking greater chances, gathering in cafes and other public places in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf and other cities. On a recent night in Sadr City, several, their hair parted down the middle, talked as they quietly sipped tea at a garishly lighted cafe, oblivious to the stares of passers-by.

Basim, who would not give his last name out of fear for his safety, said he knew at least 20 young men from Sadr City’s large but hidden gay community who had disappeared during the past two months. He said he had learned later that each was found dead. After three of his friends were killed, he stayed inside his house for a week. Recently he has begun to go out again.

“I can’t stay at home all day,” he said. “I need to see my friends.”

Publicly, the Iraqi police have acknowledged only the deaths of six gay men in the neighborhood. But privately, police officials say the figure is far higher.

The chief of a Sadr City police station, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to reporters, said family members had probably committed most of the Sadr City killings. He played down the role of death squads that had once been associated with the Mahdi Army, the militia that controlled Sadr City until American and Iraqi forces dislodged them last spring.

“Our investigation has found that these incidents are being committed by relatives of the gays — not just because of the militias,” he said. “They are killing them because it is a shame on the family.”

He said families typically refused to cooperate with the investigation or even to claim the bodies. No arrests have been made in the killings.

At the same time, though, clerics associated with Moktada al-Sadr, an anti-American cleric with significant influence in Sadr City, have devoted a portion of Friday Prayer services to inveighing against homosexuality.

“The community should be purified from such delinquent behavior like stealing, lying and the effeminacy phenomenon among men,” Sheik Jassem al-Mutairi said during his sermon last Friday. Homosexuality, he said, was “far from manhood and honesty.”

Abu Muhaned al-Diraji, a Sadrist official in Sadr City, said the clerics were in no way encouraging people to kill gay men.

“All we are doing is giving advice to people to take care of their sons,” Mr. Diraji said. He acknowledged, however, that some of the killing had been committed by members of “special groups,” or death squads.

“In general, it is the families that are killing the gay son, but I know that there are gunmen involved in this, too,” he said. “But we disavow anybody committing this kind of crime and we encourage the people to follow the law.”

In addition to the killings, a Sadr City cafe frequented by gay men recently burned down under mysterious circumstances.

Some young gay men in Sadr City have become nihilistic about the ever present threat.

“I don’t care about the militias anymore, because they’re going to kill me anyway — today, tomorrow or the day after,” said a man named Sa’ad, who has been taking estrogen and has developed small breasts. “I hate my community and my relatives. If they had their way, the result would be one gunshot.”

Reporting was contributed by Sam Dagher, Rod Nordland, Steven Lee Myers, Anwar J. Ali, Riyadh Mohammed and Campbell Robertson.

Harvey Milk outside his San Francisco camera store, November 9, 1977, unattributed photographer

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Trees, Philip Levine

I sneaked out of the house after helping with the dishes.
I made my way to the deepest center of the woods and
climbed a young maple tree and gazed up into the deepening
sky above. I must have dozed off for a few minutes,
because quite suddenly the stars emerged in a blacker sky.
Although I did not know their names—in fact I did not 
even know they had names—I began to address them 
quietly, for I never spoke with "full-throated ease" until
hidden by the cover of darkness.

A soft wind shook the leaves around me.
From my own hands I caught the 
smell of earth and iron.

The Lawrence Tree, 1929, Georgia O'Keeffe

Friday, May 15, 2009

Because I could not stop for Death, Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity –

Snap the Whip, 1872, Winslow Homer

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Peace of Wild Things, Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me 
and I wake in the night at the least sound 
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, 
I go and lie down where the wood drake 
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. 
I come into the peace of wild things 
who do not tax their lives with forethought 
of grief. I come into the presence of still water. 
And I feel above me the day-blind stars 
waiting with their light. For a time 
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

China Cove, Point Lobos, 1938, Edward Weston

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Four Haiku by Yosa Buson

White blossoms of the pear
and a woman in moonlight
reading a letter.

Coming back—
so many pathways
through the spring grass.

The short night—
the peony
has opened.

The two plum trees—
I love their blooming!
one early, one later. 

(Translations by Robert Hass)

"Koshigaya in Musashi Province," 1858, Ando Hiroshige, from Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Let Evening Come, Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

The Unmade Bed, 1957, Imogen Cunningham

Monday, May 11, 2009

I Go Back to May 1937, Sharon Olds

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges, 
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the 
red tiles glinting like bent 
plates of blood behind his head, I 
see my mother with a few light books at her hip 
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the 
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its 
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married, 
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop, 
don't do it--she's the wrong woman, 
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things 
you cannot imagine you would ever do, 
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of, 
you are going to want to die. I want to go 
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body, 
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it. I want to live. I 
take them up like the male and female 
paper dolls and bang them together 
at the hips like chips of flint as if to 
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

Portrait of Violette Heymann, Odilon Redon

Sunday, May 10, 2009

One Art, Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant 
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Black Tulips, 1980, David Hockney

Saturday, May 09, 2009

This Lunar Beauty, W.H. Auden

This lunar beauty
Has no history
Is complete and early,
If beauty later
Bear any feature
It had a lover
And is another.

This like a dream
Keeps other time
And daytime is
The loss of this,
For time is inches
And the heart's changes
Where ghost has haunted
Lost and wanted.

But this was never
A ghost's endeavor
Nor finished this,
Was ghost at ease,
And till it pass
Love shall not near
The sweetness here
Nor sorrow take
His endless look.

Nude Youth Sitting by the Sea, 1836, Hippolyte Flandrin

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Evening, Rainer Maria Rilke

The sky puts on the darkening blue coat
held for it by a row of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands grow distant in your sight,
one journeying to heaven, on that falls;

and leave you, not at home in either one,
not quite so still and dark as the darkened houses,
not calling to eternity with the passion
of what becomes a star each night, and rises;

and leave you (inexpressibly to unravel)
your life, with its immensity and fear,
so that, now bounded, now immeasurable,
it is alternately stone in you and star.

The Pond-Moonlight, 1904, Edward Steichen

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Heron, Theodore Roethke

The heron stands in water where the swamp
Has deepened to the blackness of a pool,
Or balances with one leg on a hump
Or marsh grass heaped above a muskrat hole.

He walks the shallow with an antic grace.
The great feet break the ridges of the sand,
The long eye notes the minnow's hiding place.
His beak is quicker than a human hand.

He jerks a frog across his bony lip,
Then points his heavy bill above the wood.
The wide wings flap but once to lift him up.
A single ripple starts from where he stood.

Great Blue Heron, Everglades National Park, Florida. Photograph © Tim Fitzharris

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Negro Speaks of Rivers, Langston Hughes

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow
of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when the dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. 
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went
down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom
turn all golden sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Langston Hughes, June 1958, photographed in New York City's Harlem neighborhood by Robert W. Kelly

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Night Wind, Kate Barnes

Darkness is coming at last, and the yellow evening star
hangs brightening in the west like a glow-worm in a jar.
The children's high voices shriek, their bare feet rush, they play
fiercely; they stretch the cool hour caught between night and day.

The horse stamp at their manger, the hens fly up to the trees.
Now there is wind in the garden and no more droning of bees,
and the night wind says, "Mount and go. See the notch of
the pass? 
You must cross and ride away through a thousand miles of blowing grass."

Me and The Moon, 1937, Arthur Dove

"Song of Myself," from
Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their 
parents the same,
I, now thirty seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.

Walt Whitman, 1887, photographed by George Collins Cox, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Sunday, May 03, 2009

"The Embrace," Mark Doty

You weren't well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.

I didn't for a moment doubt you were dead.
I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You'd been out—at work, maybe?—
having a good day, almost energetic.

We seemed to be moving from some old house
where we'd lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the "story" of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of narrative

by your face, the physical fact of your face:
inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without photograph, without strain?

So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of you—warm brown tea—we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.

Bless you. You came back so I could see you 
once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.

"No. 8, I Can't See to See, Morton Street, NYC," 1998, from Life's Evening House, John Dugdale

Saturday, May 02, 2009

"Marathon Song," Molly Peacock

I love you at the finish line.
I love you wishing you had run.
I love you saying you will next time.
I love you at the marathon.

We stand here on a big flat rock
on which we've placed a big fat book
so we can get a good high look
at all the runners near the clock.

I love you in repressed fear,
expressed hope, panic, fervor,
and hypocritical nonchalance here,
perched on "The Reincarnation Reader,

all about life after death. You say, "Can 
you see?" I can see just fine when
our heels grind up the past and future.
I love your even-tempered nature.

I love it that only a minor
injury kept you from the stepped-up
training a long-term cancer survivor
must do—now you're all prepped
to run for your life again next year.
I love you in mortal fear
and when the center goes dark.
I love you on a book in Central Park.

Bethesda Fountain, Central Park, New York City

Friday, May 01, 2009

An Anthology of Poetry and Art

In April, in recognition of National Poetry Month, I shared a poem-a-day on my Facebook page. Along with the poem, I featured a favorite work of art—painting, drawing, or photograph. Many of the poems were already favorites. Several of the others were new to me. The Poetry Foundation's Web site was a reliable resource when I searched for a new and surprising work by a familiar or unfamiliar poet. 

Each day this month, I'm going to post the poems and artworks that were featured on my Facebook page. If you stop by to browse the blog, I hope you'll enjoy what you find.

[I find you, Lord, in all things and in all], Rainer Maria Rilke

I find you, Lord, in all Things and in all
my fellow creatures, pulsing with your life;
as a tiny seed you sleep in what is small
and in the vast you vastly yield yourself.

The wondrous game that power plays with Things
is to move in such submission through the world:
groping in roots and growing thick in trunks
and in treetops like a rising from the dead.

 Songs of the Sky, No. 2, 1923, Alfred Stieglitz