Category Archives: poetry wednesday

“Lights and Shadows” by Delaney Hall

While looking for poems to read over at the Poetry Foundation, I came across this article by Delaney Hall about the Chicago Defender column “Lights and Shadows,” a column devoted to poetry and culture. It’s a beautiful piece about a culture, a community, and, mostly, a man: Dewey R. Jones.

“Few are clamoring over Jones now. He’s one of history’s bit players, and time may slowly bury him. But until that time, his son—who shares his father’s name—will keep wading through the old photographs, letters, and writings that he left behind.”

I love that this one article has brought this one man to my attention. I wish someone would write a book about his life, the Chicago Defender. Maybe someone has. Can you recommend a good one? Gwendolyn Brooks was one of “Lights and Shadows” contributors when she was only a teenager. This line gave me chills:

There’s never enough of what I want,
Never enough sky.

You can read the full article here.


Poetry Wednesday – Louise Glück (2)

All Hallows
by Louise Glück

Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
sleep in their blue yoke,
the fields having been
picked clean, the sheaves
bound evenly and piled at the roadside
among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:
This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended, as in payment,
and the seeds
distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one
And the soul creeps out of the tree.
_________________________________________________
I know I’ve featured Louise Glück on Poetry Wednesday before, but when I came up with the idea to do a series of creepy poems for October, this one was easily my favorite. It’s chilling, frightening and all the things that a good Halloween poem should be, but it doesn’t seem to actually be about something frightening. Like the last poem we discussed by Glück, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what she is referring to, but that goes well with the transformative nature of autumn. There is no difference between the sight of a field barren from harvest and barren from pestilence. In the same way a tree becomes bare and different, the simple imagery of a woman leaning out her window becomes sinister. And that last line! I’m not exactly sure what it’s referring to, though it could be as simple as the leaves falling from the tree, but the way it is written certainly gave me chills!

Poetry Wednesday – Stanley Kunitz

End of Summer
by Stanley Kunitz

An agitation of the air,

A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.
I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones,
Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me
The song of my marrow-bones.
Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.
Already the iron door of the north
Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.
______________________________________
“The song of my marrow-bones” is beautiful.

Poetry Wednesday – Rafael Campo

What the Body Told
by Rafael Campo

Not long ago, I studied medicine.
It was terrible, what the body told.
I’d look inside another person’s mouth,
And see the desolation of the world.
I’d see his genitals and think of sin.
Because my body speaks the stranger’s language,
I’ve never understood those nods and stares.
My parents held me in their arms, and still
I think I’ve disappointed them; they care
And stare, they nod, they make their pilgrimage
To somewhere distant in my heart, they cry.
I look inside their other-person’s mouths
And see the wet interior of souls.
It’s warm and red in there—like love, with teeth.
I’ve studied medicine until I cried
All night. Through certain books, a truth unfolds.
Anatomy and physiology,
The tiny sensing organs of the tongue—
Each nameless cell contributing its needs.
It was fabulous, what the body told.
_________________________________________
I was originally trying to find “back to school” poems, but they were all cheesy and I couldn’t find one I loved, so I decided to just share this delightful poem about studying medicine. I love the transition and the truth behind this poem. What our bodies tell us is at once beautiful and terrible.

September 11th, 2001

New York American Spell, 2001
by Tom Sleigh

I / omen

What was going on in the New York American
Black/red/green helmeted neon night?
The elevator door was closing behind us, we were the ones
Plunging floor after floor after floor after floor
To the abyss-but it was someone else’s face
Staring from the screen out at us, someone else’s face
Saying something flashing from the teleprompter:
Though what the face said was meant to reassure,
Down in the abyss the footage kept playing,
All of it looping back like children chanting
The answers to nonsensical riddles, taunting
A classmate who doesn’t know the question:
“Because it’s too far to walk” “Time to get a new fence”
“A big red rock eater.” And as the images rewound
And the face kept talking, the clear night sky
Filled up with smoke and the smoke kept puring
Itself out into the air like a voice saying something
It can’t stop saying, some murky omen
Like schoolkids asking: “Why do birds fly south?”
“what time is it when an elephant sits on the fence?”
“What’s big, red and eats rocks?”

2/ in front of st. vincent’s

A woman hugging another woman
Who was weeping blocked the sidewalk.
Nobody moved for a moment.
They were an island caught at the tide turning:
Such misery in two human bodies.
Then the wearing away of the crowd
Moving flowed over them and they”
Were pulled swiftly along down the sidewalk.

3 / joke

Faces powdered with dust and ash, there they were
In the fast food place, raucous and wild, splitting
The seams of their work clothes, weary to hysteria
As they hunched in their booth next to the buffet
Under heat lamps reflecting incarnadine
Off pastas and vegetable slag. Then the joke
Ignited, they quivered on the launch pad,
Laughter closed around them, they couldn’t
Breathe, it was as if they were staring out
From a space capsule porthole and were asking
The void an imponderable riddle
While orbiting so high up in space
That the earth was less than the least hint
Of light piercing the smoke-filled, cloudless night.
(What was the joke about? Nobody knew.)
And then they stopped laughing and stared into their plates,
Ash smearing down their faces as they chewed.

3 / spell spoken by suppliant to helios for knwledge
from the Greek Magical Papyri

Under my tongue is the mode of the Nile,
I wear the baboon hide of sacred Keph.
Dressed in God’s power, I am the god,
I am Thouth, discoverer of healing drugs,
Founder of letters. As god calls on god
I summon you to come to me, you
Under the earth; arouse yourself for me,
Great daimon, you the subterranean,
You of the primordial abyss.
Unless you tell me what I want to know,
What is in the minds of everyone, Egyptians,
Greeks, Syrians, Ethiopians, of every race
And people, unless I know what has been
And what shall be, unless I know their skills
And practices and works and lives and names
Of them and their fathers and mothers
And brothers and friends, even of those now dead,
I will pour the blood of the black-faced jackal
As an offering in a new-made jar and put it
In the fire and burn beneath it what’s left
Of the bones of all-praised Osiris,
And I will shout in the port of Busiris
The secrets of his mysteries, that his body,
Drowned, remained in the river three days
And three nights, that he, the praised one,
Was carried by the river into the sea
And surrounded by wave on wave on wave
And by mist rising off water through the air.
To keep your belly from being eaten by fish,
To keep the fish from chewing your flesh with their mouths,
To make the fish close their hungry jaws, to keep
The fatherless child from being taken
From his mother, to keep the pole of the sky
From being brought down and the twin towering
Mountains from toppling into one, to keep Anoixis
From running amok and doing just what she wants,
Not god or goddess will give oracles
Until I know through and through
Just what is in the minds of all human beings,
Egyptians, Syrians, Greeks, Ethyopians, of every race
And people, so that those who come to me.
Their eyes and mine can meet in a level gaze,
Neither one or the other higher or lower,
And whether they speak or keep silent,
I can tell them whatever has happened
And is happening and is going to happen
To them, and I can tell them their skills
And their works and their names and those of their dead,
And of every human being who comes to me
I will read them as I read a sealed letter
And tell them everything truthfully.

5 / from brooklyn bridge

Sun shines on the third bridge tower:
A garbage scow ploughs the water,
Maternal hull pushing is all out beyond
The city, pushing it all out so patiently—
All you could hear out there this flawless afternoon
Is the sound of sand pulverizing newsprint
To tatters, paper-pulp ripping crosswise
Or lengthwise, shearing off some photo
Of maybe a head or maybe an arm.
Ridiculous flimsy noble newspaper,
Leaping in wind, fluttering, collapsing,
Its columns sway and topple into babble:
All you’d see if you were out there
Is air vanishing into clearer air.

6 / from the plane

Pressed against our seats, them released to air,
From the little plane windows we peered four thousand feet
Down to the ground desert-gray and still,
Nothing seeming to be moving on that perfect afternoon,
No reminder of why it was we were all looking,
Remembering maybe the oh so flimsy
Wooden sawhorse police barricades, as the woman
In front of me twisted her head back to see
It all again, but up there there was nothing to see,
Only the reef water feel of transparency
Deepening down to a depth where everything
Goes dark and nothing moves unless it belongs
To that dark, darting in and out or undulating
Slowly or cruising unblinking, jaws open or closed.

7 / spell broken by suppliant to helios for protection
from the Greek Magical Papyri

This is the charm that will protect you, the charm
That you must wear: Onto lime wood write
With vermilion the secret name, name of
The fifty magic letters. Then say the words:
“Guard me from every daimon of the air,
On the earth and under the earth, guard me
From every angel and phantom, every
Ghostly visitation and enchantment,
Me, your suppliant.” Enclose it in a skin
Dyed purple, hang it round your neck and wear it.

8 / roll of film: photographer missing

Vines of smoke through latticework of steel
Weave the air into a garden of smoke.
And in the garden people came and went,
People of smoke and people of flesh, the air dressed
In ash. What the pictures couldn’t say
Was spoken by the smoke: A common language
In a tongue of smoke that murmured in every ear
Something about what it was they’d been forced
To endure: Words spoken in duress,
Inconsolable words, words spoken under the earth
That rooted in smoke and breathed in the smoke
And put forth shoots that twined through the steel,
Words plunged through the roof of the garages’
Voids, I-beams twisted; the eye that saw all this
Tells and tells again one part of the story
Of that day of wandering through the fatal garden,
The camera’s eye open and acutely
Recording in the foul-smelling air.

9 / lamentation on ur
from a Sumerian spell, 2000 BC

Like molten bronze and iron shed blood
          pools. Our country’s dead
melt into the earth
          as grease melts in the sun, men whose
helmets now lie scattered, men annihilated
by the double-bladed axe. Heavy, beyond
          help, they lie still as a gazelle
exhausted in a trap,
          muzzle in the dust. In home
after home, empty doorways frame the absence
of mothers and fathers who vanished
          in the flames remorselessly
spreading claiming even
          frightened children who lay quiet
in their mother’s arms, now borne into
oblivion, like swimmers swept out to sea
          by the surging current.
May the great barred gate
          of blackest night again swing shut
on silent hinges. Destroyed in its turn,
may this disaster too be torn out of mind.

Poetry Wednesday – Muriel Rukeyser

[Murmurs from the earth of this land]
by Muriel Rukeyser

Murmurs from the earth of this land, from the caves and craters,
       from the bowl of darkness. Down watercourses of our
       dragon childhood, where we ran barefoot.
We stand as growing women and men. Murmurs come down
        where water has not run for sixty years.
Murmurs from the tulip tree and the catalpa, from the ax of
        the stars, from the house on fire, ringing of glass; from
        the abandoned iron-black mill.
Stars with voices crying like mountain lions over forgotten
        colors.
Blue directions and a horizon, milky around the cities where the
        murmurs are deep enough to penetrate deep rock.
Trapping the lightning-bird, trapping the red central roots.
You know the murmurs. They come from your own throat.
You are the bridges to the city and the blazing food-plant green;
The sun of plants speaks in your voice, and the infinite shells of
        accretions
A beach of dream before the smoking mirror.
You are close to that surf, and the leaves heated by noon, and
        the star-ax, the miner’s glitter walls. The crests of the sea
Are the same strength you wake with, the darkness is the eyes
        of children forming for a blaze of sight and soon, soon,
Everywhere, you own silence, who drink from the crater, the
        nebula, one another, the changes of the soul.
________________________________________________
This poem just feels so rich. None of the imagery in this poem is commonplace. Every line has something strange about it, something that on the first read might not strike you as odd, but upon a closer look, really stands out as being out of the ordinary. “A beach of dream,” or “our/dragon childhood” and “The sun of plants speaks in your voice.” I love the new meaning this poem gives to different words, using them in a way that is unusual, but still retaining the meaning.

 


Poetry Wednesday – Michael McClure

Mexico Seen From the Moving Car
by Michael McClure

THERE ARE HILLS LIKE SHARKFINS
                                  and clods of mud.
The mind drifts through
in the shape of a museum,
in the guise of a museum
dreaming dead friends:
Jim, Tom, Emmet, Bill.
—Like billboards their huge faces droop
and stretch on the walls,
on the walls of the cliffs out there,
where trees with white trunks
          makes plumes on rock ridges.
My mind is fingers holding a pen.
Trees with white trunks
             make plumes on rock ridges.
Rivers of sand are memories.
Memories make movies
             on the dust of the desert.
Hawks with pale bellies
             perch on the cactus,
their bodies are portholes
             to other dimensions.
This might go on forever.
I am a snake and a tiptoe feather
at opposite ends of the scales
as they balance themselves
against each other.
This might go on forever.
 _____________________________________________
I go back and forth on adding commentary to my Poetry Wednesday posts. After all, shouldn’t I just let the poem speak for itself? And as much as I like to read poetry and I like to speak about poetry in the abstract sense, when I am facing a poem and expected to discuss, sometimes I am at a loss for words.
I read a lot of poems for Poetry Wednesday. Rather, I read a lot of first lines of poems. Much like judging a book by its cover, I’m a relentless judger of poems by their first lines. But how could you could you read this first line and not read the rest of the poem? I couldn’t. I was rewarded, because the rest of the imagery is as unique and rewarding. This poem is at once about Mexico and the scenery and about the “dreaming dead friends,” an almost painfully sad alliteration, that, tragically, might go on forever.

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