about   posts   tags   github  

some poems

Making it a commitment for 2022 to read some poems.

The Jackdaw


William Cowper

There is a bird who, by his coat
And by the hoarseness of his note,
Might be supposed a crow;
A great frequenter of the church,
Where, bishop-like, he finds a perch,
And dormitory too.

Above the steeple shines a plate,
That turns and turns, to indicate
From what point blows the weather.
Look up – your brains begin to swim,
‘Tis in the clouds – that pleases him,
He chooses it the rather.

Fond of the speculative height,
Thither he wings his airy flight,
And thence securely sees
The bustle and the rareeshow,
That occupy mankind below,
Secure and at his ease.

You think, no doubt, he sits and muses
On future broken bones and bruises,
If he should chance to fall.
No; not a single thought like that
Employs his philosophic pate,
Or troubles it at all.

He sees that this great roundabout,
The world, with all its motley rout,
Church, army, physic, law,
Its customs and its businesses,
Is no concern at all of his,
And says – what says he? – Caw.

Thrice happy bird! I too have seen
Much of the vanities of men;
And, sick of having seen ’em,
Would cheerfully these limbs resign
For such a pair of wings as thine
And such a head between ’em.

There’s something about the cadence and imagery here that makes this one so enthralling.



Ian Williams

Once one gets what one wants
one no longer wants it.

One no longer wants what?

One no longer wants what
one wanted.

A man and a woman want a woman and a man
or a man and a woman depending
on the man and the woman.

Once one gets what one wants once
one no longer wants it once

then one no longer wants it at all.

Yes then no. Yes and no? No.
Yes then no then yes and always
after yes comes no. Never always
yes, but always no. Always know
after yes comes no.

One wants what one wants
not what one wanted.



Percy Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Yes, this was also the title of the legendary breaking bad episode.
But where are his works? Ozymandias – is now but two broken legs in the desert which “stretch far away”.


Tina Chang

I am haunted by how much our mothers do not know.
How a republic falls because of its backhanded deals,
stairwell secrets. My mother does not know I am lying
with a man who is darker than me, that we do not
have names for how we truly treat our bodies.
What we do with them. The other possesses me.
Without him the perception of me fails to exist.
My mother now is taking her sheers and cutting
through live shrimp. When I was a child she peeled
each flushed grape until only the pale fleshy bead
remained. She placed them onto a plate in one shining
mound, deseeded, in front of me. How I sucked and bled
the fruit of all their juice, hypnotized in front of the buzz
of television in each version of my childhood. I am
her daughter. This is certain. I am lying down with a man
who is darker than me and maybe this poem is my
real republic, my face is my face, or is it stolen from
my mother and hung over mine? If I were a dream
you could say my countenance was a string of flickering lights
made of teeth or an expression unraveling like a carpet
into a narrow river of another life. Does truth matter
when it’s floating face up or face down?
The answer to this makes all the difference.

I always get excited when I see Asian-{North American} representation/themes…

The End of Landscape

Randall Mann

This is just an excerpt from it I enjoyed

There’s a certain sadness to this body of water
adjacent to the runway, its reeds and weeds,
handful of ducks, the water color

manmade. A still life. And still
life’s a cold exercise in looking back,
back to Florida, craning my neck

like a sandhill crane in Alachua Basin.
As for the scrub oaks,
the hot wind in the leaves was language,

Vivas To Those Who Have Failed: The Paterson Silk Strike, 1913

Martín Espada

Vivas to those who have fail’d!
And to those whose war-vessels sank in the sea!
And to those themselves who sank in the sea!
And to all generals that lost engagements, and all overcome heroes!
And the numberless unknown heroes equal to the greatest heroes known!
—Walt Whitman

I. The Red Flag

The newspapers said the strikers would hoist
the red flag of anarchy over the silk mills
of Paterson. At the strike meeting, a dyers’ helper
from Naples rose as if from the steam of his labor,
lifted up his hand and said here is the red flag:
brightly stained with dye for the silk of bow ties
and scarves, the skin and fingernails boiled away
for six dollars a week in the dye house.

He sat down without another word, sank back
into the fumes, name and face rubbed off
by oblivion’s thumb like a Roman coin
from the earth of his birthplace dug up
after a thousand years, as the strikers
shouted the only praise he would ever hear.

II. The River Floods the Avenue

He was the other Valentino, not the romantic sheik
and bullfighter of silent movie palaces who died too young,
but the Valentino standing on his stoop to watch detectives
hired by the company bully strikebreakers onto a trolley
and a chorus of strikers bellowing the banned word scab.
He was not a striker or a scab, but the bullet fired to scatter
the crowd pulled the cork in the wine barrel of Valentino’s back.
His body, pale as the wings of a moth, lay beside his big-bellied wife.

Two white-veiled horses pulled the carriage to the cemetery.
Twenty thousand strikers walked behind the hearse, flooding
the avenue like the river that lit up the mills, surging around
the tombstones. Blood for blood, cried Tresca: at this signal,
thousands of hands dropped red carnations and ribbons
into the grave, till the coffin evaporated in a red sea.

III. The Insects in the Soup

Reed was a Harvard man. He wrote for the New York magazines.
Big Bill, the organizer, fixed his good eye on Reed and told him
of the strike. He stood on a tenement porch across from the mill
to escape the rain and listen to the weavers. The bluecoats
told him to move on. The Harvard man asked for a name to go
with the number on the badge, and the cops tried to unscrew
his arms from their sockets. When the judge asked his business,
Reed said: Poet. The judge said: Twenty days in the county jail.

Reed was a Harvard man. He taught the strikers Harvard songs,
the tunes to sing with rebel words at the gates of the mill. The strikers
taught him how to spot the insects in the soup, speaking in tongues
the gospel of One Big Union and the eight-hour day, cramming the jail
till the weary jailers had to unlock the doors. Reed would write:
There’s war in Paterson. After it was over, he rode with Pancho Villa.

IV. The Little Agitator

The cops on horseback charged into the picket line.
The weavers raised their hands across their faces,
hands that knew the loom as their fathers’ hands
knew the loom, and the billy clubs broke their fingers.
Hannah was seventeen, the captain of the picket line,
the Joan of Arc of the Silk Strike. The prosecutor called her
a little agitator. Shame, said the judge; if she picketed again,
he would ship her to the State Home for Girls in Trenton.

Hannah left the courthouse to picket the mill. She chased
a strikebreaker down the street, yelling in Yidish the word
for shame. Back in court, she hissed at the judge’s sentence
of another striker. Hannah got twenty days in jail for hissing.
She sang all the way to jail. After the strike came the blacklist,
the counter at her husband’s candy store, the words for shame.

V. Vivas to Those Who Have Failed

Strikers without shoes lose strikes. Twenty years after the weavers
and dyers’ helpers returned hollow-eyed to the loom and the steam,
Mazziotti led the other silk mill workers marching down the avenue
in Paterson, singing the old union songs for five cents more an hour.
Once again the nightsticks cracked cheekbones like teacups.
Mazziotti pressed both hands to his head, squeezing red ribbons
from his scalp. There would be no buffalo nickel for an hour’s work
at the mill, for the silk of bow ties and scarves. Skull remembered wood.

The brain thrown against the wall of the skull remembered too:
the Sons of Italy, the Workmen’s Circle, Local 152, Industrial
Workers of the World, one-eyed Big Bill and Flynn the Rebel Girl
speaking in tongues to thousands the prophecy of an eight-hour day.
Mazziotti’s son would become a doctor, his daughter a poet.
Vivas to those who have failed: for they become the river.

“Vivas to those who have failed: for they become the river.”
I like how this piece re-contextualizes the 1913 paterson silk strike as, well, not a failure because they stood up and lay the foundation for what’s to come; they became the river. In order to succeed one must go through a lot of failure. We take the 8-hour work day for granted now, but it definitely wasn’t the case when this strike happened. The rights we enjoy today can be directly correlated with their actions and as such it is important for us to remember. Also the red imagery combined with all the stories [almost like a snapshot/diorama from the protest] is just so powerful.

February Evening in New York

Denise Levertov
As the stores close, a winter light
opens air to iris blue,
    glint of frost through the smoke
    grains of mica, salt of the sidewalk.
As the buildings close, released autonomous
    feet pattern the streets
    in hurry and stroll; balloon heads
    drift and dive above them; the bodies
    aren't really there.
As the lights brighten, as the sky darkens,
    a woman with crooked heels says to another woman
    while they step along at a fair pace,
    "You know, I'm telling you, what I love best
    is life. I love life! Even if I ever get
    to be old and wheezy—or limp! You know?
    Limping along?—I'd still ... " Out of hearing.
To the multiple disordered tones
    of gears changing, a dance
    to the compass points, out, four-way river.
    Prospect of sky
    wedged into avenues, left at the ends of streets,
    west sky, east sky: more life tonight! A range
    of open time at winter's outskirts

It’s nice how I came across this poem the day after staying up late chatting with friends about art, music, and life. I suppose my own life choices in going off to Toronto to school is a little like going to my [Canadian] “New York”: a place of opportunity and excitement and where life happens. “… and the bodies aren’t really there…”: it’s easy to get caught up in the sea of people; others can seem like faceless balloon heads and to get lost. That’s where good friends come in – those late night talks over homemade bubble tea and leftover pasta have a wonderful effect.
I love life.
Also, there’s some really wonderful use of meter [as pointed out by my roommate]; the stresses on brighten and darken in the 2nd stanza, the weird meter on crooked heels, and so on…


Nikki Giovanni

her grandmother called her from the playground
    “yes, ma’am”
    “i want chu to learn how to make rolls” said the old
woman proudly
but the little girl didn’t want
to learn how because she knew
even if she couldn’t say it that
that would mean when the old one died she would be less
dependent on her spirit so
she said
    “i don’t want to know how to make no rolls”
with her lips poked out
and the old woman wiped her hands on
her apron saying “lord
    these children”
and neither of them ever
said what they meant
and i guess nobody ever does

At Sunset

Jason Shinder

Your death must be loved this much.

You have to know the grief—now.
Standing by the water’s edge,

looking down at the wave

touching you. You have to lie,
stiff, arms folded, on a heap of earth

and see how far the darkness

will take you. I mean it, this, now—
before the ghost the cold leaves

in your breath, rises;

before the toes are put together
inside the shoes. There it is—the goddamn

orange-going-into-rose descending

circle of beauty and time.
You have nothing to be sad about.

Hellonica (Excerpt)

Source: FreeBSD Fortunes 7 #473
Brian Aldiss

When you are young, you enjoy a sustained illusion that sooner or later something marvelous is going to happen, that you are going to transcend your parents’ limitations… At the same time, you feel sure that in all the wilderness of possibility; in all the forests of opinion, there is a vital something that can be known – known and grasped. That we will eventually know it, and convert the whole mystery into a coherent narrative. So that then one’s true life – the point of everything – will emerge from the mist into a pure light, into total comprehension. But it isn’t like that at all. But if it isn’t, where did the idea come from, to torture and unsettle us?


Kathleen Jamie

Last night, when the moon
slipped into my attic room
as an oblong of light,
I sensed she’d come to commiserate.

It was August. She traveled
with a small valise
of darkness, and the first few stars
returning to the northern sky,

and my room, it seemed,
had missed her. She pretended
an interest in the bookcase
while other objects

stirred, as in a rock pool,
with unexpected life:
strings of beads in their green bowl gleamed,
the paper-crowded desk;

the books, too, appeared inclined
to open and confess.
Being sure the moon
harbored some intention,

I waited; watched for an age
her cool gaze shift
first toward a flower sketch
pinned on the far wall

then glide down to recline
along the pinewood floor,
before I’d had enough. Moon,
I said, We’re both scarred now.

Are they quite beyond you,
the simple words of love? Say them.
You are not my mother;
with my mother, I waited unto death.

Ode on a Grecian Urn

John Keats

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
       Of deities or mortals, or of both,
               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
         Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
         For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
         For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
                For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
         That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
                A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
         To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
         And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
         Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
                Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
         Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
                Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
         Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
         "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


Samuel Taylor Coleridge

See link for full text. Too long to copy over here.

$$ _{\text{I don’t own the rights to anything here (but I’ve made sure to backlink to the source!) Let me know if I should take anything down.}} $$