Wednesday, January 3, 2024

"He Marries the Stuffed-Owl Exhibit at the Indiana Welcome Center" by Patricia Lockwood

He Marries the Stuffed-Owl Exhibit
at the Indiana Welcome Center

He marries her mites and the wires in her wings,
he marries her yellow glass eyes and black centers,
he marries her near-total head turn, he marries
            the curve of each of her claws, he marries
the information plaque, he marries the extinction
            of this kind of owl, he marries the owl
that she loved in life and the last thought of him
in the thick of her mind
            just one inch away from the bullet, there,
                                            he marries the moths
who make holes in the owl, who have eaten the owl
almost all away, he marries the branch of the tree
that she grips, he marries the real-looking moss
and dead leaves, he marries the smell of must
that surrounds her, he marries the strong blue
            stares of children, he marries nasty smudges
of their noses on the glass, he marries the camera
that points at the owl to make sure no one steals her,
so the camera won’t object when he breaks the glass
while reciting some vows that he wrote himself,
he screams OWL instead of I’LL and then ALWAYS
and takes hold of the owl and wrenches the owl
away from her branch
                      and he covers her in kisses and the owl
thinks, “More moths,” and at the final hungry kiss,
“That must have been the last big bite, there is no more
of me left to eat and thank God,” when he marries
the stuffing out of the owl and hoots as the owl flies out
under his arm, they elope into the darkness of Indiana,
Indiana he screams is their new life and WELCOME.
They live in a tree together now, and the children of
Welcome to Indiana say who even more than usual,
and the children of Welcome to Indiana they wonder
where they belong. Not in Indiana, they say to themselves,
the state of all-consuming love, we cannot belong in Indiana,
            as night falls and the moths appear one by one, hungry.

Source of the text – Patricia Lockwood, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals.  New York: Penguin Poets, 2014, pages 7-8.

TJB: Hoosier epithalamium. In a litany bursting with life, a funny, insane blazon, the poet describes a man marrying a stuffed owl. Far cry from Jack & Diane.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

"Funny You Should Ask" by Anne Carson


How was your trip to New York?

we stayed at R’s. He was away. Asked us to not use the sheets—quite 

he has no laundry and who likes coming home to an unclean

Instructed to bring sheets, we forgot. But try to sleep slightly

the sheets, C with his chronic cough, I my insomnia. Wandering 3 a.m. 

to kitchen I find no teapot, scald myself on the kettle. C still coughing, 
racked, almost in

tears. Chronic means no one can help. I blunder about, spilling

on the floor. Pick up a book I’d thought to read on the plane.

Madness: Chronicle of a Dwelling Life, 1806-1843,” by Giorgio

It begins with Agamben’s exegesis of Hölderlin’s critique of

understanding of the sentence “I am I.” All three have much to

about this sentence, for “I am I,” with its exhilarating syntax and

relation of subject to object, does not dispel anyone’s tears or

yet it makes a sort of refuge. Admittedly, I don’t quite know who

is and have to look up Selbstbewusstsein, but still, there is a

off of terribleness. To think. This saving thing. This useless thing.

passes, C finally sleeps, Agamben goes on struggling with Hölderlin’s 

of Fichte till dawn. My skull sways. “I am I” remains

It occurs to me I’ve spent too much of my life staring at someone else’s 

in a rebar dawn, measuring my insomnia against their

thoughts. Have I proved a worthy struggler with Agamben’s

of Hölderlin’s critique of Fichte? Not

My mind is

Then again, this book of Agamben’s was sent me by a former

whose life was changed when he read “ . . . in lovely blue . . . ”

fragment of a hymn). So (changed) was mine, years ago, I now recall. And 

what more can I ask, whoever I am, of a night on a trip to
New York?

Source of the text - The New Yorker, December 11, 2023, pages 46-47.

TJB: Answering the 1st line’s question, the poet wrestles with the same philosophical sentence—I am I—as her subject’s subject’s subject. I had to gts.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

"Compass" by Jorge Luis Borges

[Original Spanish text]


A Esther Zemborain de Torres

Todas las cosas son palabras del
Idioma en que Alguien o Algo, noche y día,
Escribe esa infinita algarabía
Que es la historia del mundo.  En su tropel

Pasan Cartago y Roma, yo, tú, él,
Mi vida que no entiendo, esta agonía
De ser enigma, azar, criptografía
Y toda la discordia de Babel.

Detrás del nombre hay lo que no se nombra;
Hoy he sentido gravitar su sombra
En esta aguja azul, lúcida y leve,

Que hacia el confín de un mar tiende su empeño,
Con algo de reloj visto en un sueño
Y algo de ave dormida que se mueve.

[English translation by Richard Wilbur]


To Esther Zemborain de Torres

All things are words of some strange tongue, in thrall
To Someone, Something, who both day and night
Proceeds in endless gibberish to write
The history of the world.  In that dark scrawl

Rome is set down, and Carthage, I, you, all,
And this my being which escapes me quite,
My anguished life that’s cryptic, recondite,
And garbled as the tongues of Babel’s fall.

Beyond the name there lies what has no name;
Today I have felt its shadow stir the aim
Of this blue needle, light and keen, whose sweep

Homes to the utmost of the sea its love,
Suggestive of a watch in dreams, or of
Some bird, perhaps, who shifts a bit in sleep.

Source of the text - Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Poems 1923-1967, edited by Norman Thomas di Giovanni. [New York]: Delacorte Press, 1972, pages 96-97.

TJB: This Italian sonnet, Neoplatonistic to the core, sees the fallenness of things, larger truth hiding beyond; & a compass as the metaphor to point us there.

"the rites for Cousin Vit" by Gwendolyn Brooks

the rites for Cousin Vit

Carried her unprotesting out the door.
Kicked back the casket-stand.  But it can't hold her,
That stuff and satin aiming to enfold her,
The lid's contrition nor the bolts before.
Oh oh.  Too much.  Too much.  Even now, surmise,
She rises in the sunshine.  There she goes,
Back to the bars she knew and the repose
In love-rooms and the things in people's eyes.
Too vital and too squeaking.  Must emerge.
Even now she does the snake-hips with a hiss,
Slops the bad wine across her shantung, talks
Of pregnancy, guitars and bridgework, walks
In parks or alleys, comes haply on the verge
Of happiness, haply hysterics.  Is.

Source of the text - Gwendolyn Brooks, Selected Poems.  New York: Harper Perennial, 2006, page 58.

TJB: Lust for life. This envelope sonnet, of a woman so vital that death can’t contain her, finds its true spirit in rhyme, alliteration, & internal rhyme.

"I have a gentil cok," anonymous Middle English lyric

I have a gentil cok,
    Croweth me day;
He doth me risen erly,
    My matins for to say.

I have a gentil cok,
    Comen he is of gret;
His comb is of red corel,
    His tayel is of jet.

I have a gentil cok
    Comen he is of kinde;
His comb is of red corel,
    His tail is of inde.

His legges ben of asor,
    So gentil and so smale;
His spores arn of silver white,
    Into the worte-wale.

His eynen arn of cristal,
    Loken all in aumber;
And every night he percheth him
    In min ladyes chaumber.

Editors' Notes:

  gentil - noble
  Comen he is of gret - He comes of a great family.
  Comen he is of kinde - He is of good lineage.
  inde - indigo
  asor - azure
  spores - spurs
  worte-wale - root of cock's spur
  eynen - eyes
  loken - set

Source of the text - Middle English Lyrics: A Norton Critical Edition, selected and edited by Maxwell S. Luria and Richard L. Hoffman.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1974, page 77.

TJB: Gentle dick energy; double-entendre as a source of poetic power. In short iambics, the poem gives us a fabulous, near-deadpan blazon of a rooster.

Monday, December 4, 2023

"Obituary" by A.K. Ramanujan


Father, when he passed on,
left dust
on a table full of papers,
left debts and daughters,
a bedwetting grandson
named by the toss
of a coin after him,

a house that leaned
slowly through our growing
years on a bent coconut
tree in the yard.
Being the burning type,
he burned properly
at the cremation

as before, easily
and at both ends,
left his eye coins
in the ashes that didn’t
look one bit different,
several spinal discs, rough,
some burned to coal, for sons

to pick gingerly
and throw as the priest
said, facing east
where three rivers met
near the railway station;
no longstanding headstone
with his full name and two dates

to hold in their parentheses
everything he didn’t quite
manage to do himself,
like his caesarian birth
in a brahmin ghetto
and his death by heart-
failure in the fruit market.

But someone told me
he got two lines
in an inside column
of a Madras newspaper
sold by the kilo
exactly four weeks later
to streethawkers

who sell it in turn
to the small groceries
where I buy salt,
and jaggery
in newspaper cones
that I usually read

for fun, and lately
in the hope of finding
these obituary lines.
And he left us
a changed mother
and more than
one annual ritual.

Source of the text – Ten Twentieth-Century Indian Poets, edited by R. Parthasarathy.  Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1976, pages 106-107.

TJB: Reused elegy. An ode to a father’s incomplete life in 3 parts: what he left behind; the handling of his remains; & his obit, as used by spice merchants.

"I never saw a Moor" by Emily Dickinson

(1) [Poem as written by the poet on a fragment of stationery]

(2) [Text from Franklin's variorum edition]

I never saw a Moor.
I never saw the Sea -
Yet know I how the Heather looks
And what a Billow be - 

I never spoke with God
Nor visited in Heaven - 
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the Checks were given - 

Source of the text - (1) Emily Dickinson Archive: An Open Access Website for the Manuscripts of Emily Dickinson,, Amherst Manuscript # A 237, page 1. (2) The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition, Volume II, edited by Ralph W. Franklin. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998, p. 756.

TJB: Billow-talk; epistemology in quatrains.  As a proof that God exists, this is wanting; as a verse-assertion of faith, well, fine. What is a billow?

from "Writing is an Aid to Memory" by Lyn Hejinian


apple is shot nod
                         ness seen know it around saying
                                     think for a hundred years
   but and perhaps utter errors direct the point to a meadow
                                 rank fissure up on the pit
arts are several branches of life
                     little more science is brought where great
                         need is required
                           out becomes a bridge of that name
                in the painting is a great improvement
   bit ink up on the human race
and return if the foot goes back
              in the trunks of trees behoove a living thing
                                       wedge war common saw
           hard by that length of time the great demand is
                                    very dear
ashes in water
                                 that might be a slip of architecture
                                 think was reduced to an improper size
   blocks to interest who can visit
                                         variations on ideas are now full
           from a point of increasing
at only as to four or we who nine
a little grace familiar with simple limbs and the sudden

Source of the text - Lyn Hejinian, Writing is an Aid to Memory.  Berkeley, CA: The Figures, 1978.

TJB:  High strung—composed at phrase-level, stripped of connective tissue, metaphors mixed, shot through with unresolved tension, & a tree-meadow motif.

Monday, November 20, 2023

From "The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World" by Galway Kinnell

The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ 
into the New World

                  Was diese kleine Gasse doch für ein Reich an sich war . . .


pcheek pcheek pcheek pcheek pcheek
They cry. The motherbirds thieve the air
To appease them. A tug on the East River
Blasts the bass-note of its passage, lifted
From the infra-bass of the sea. A broom
Swishes over the sidewalk like feet through leaves.
Valerio’s pushcart Ice Coal Kerosene
Moves       clack
On a broken wheelrim. Ringing in its chains
The New Star Laundry horse comes down the street
Like a roofleak whucking into a pail.
At the redlight, where a horn blares,
The Golden Harvest Bakery brakes on its gears,
Squeaks, and seethes in place. A propane-
gassed bus makes its way with big, airy sighs.

Across the street a woman throws open
Her window.
She sets, terribly softly,
Two potted plants on the windowledge
                        tic              tic
And bangs shut her window.

A man leaves a doorway tic toc tic toc tic toc tic hurrah toc splat
        on Avenue C tic etc and turns the corner.
Banking the same corner
A pigeon coasts 5th Street in shadows,
Looks for altitude, surmounts the rims of buildings,
And turns white.
The babybirds pipe down. It is day.

Source of the text – Galway Kinnell, The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ Into the New World: Poems 1953-1964.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002, pages 67-68.

TJB: Street sonics. In Section I of a long poem, the poet sets the stage with a series of meticulously described/enacted sounds heard on Avenue C.

"Left-Wife Goose" by Sharon Olds

Left-Wife Goose

Hoddley, Poddley, Puddles and Fogs,
Cats are to Marry the Poodle Dogs;
Cats in Blue Jackets and Dogs in Red Hats,
What Will Become of the Mice and Rats?
       Had a trust fund, had a thief in,
       Had a husband, could not keep him.
Fiddle-Dee-Dee, Fiddle-Dee-Dee,
The Fly Has Left the Humble-Bee.
They Went to the Court, and Unmarried Was She:
The Fly Has Left the Humble-Bee.
       Had a sow twin, had a reap twin,
       Had a husband, could not keep him.
In Marble Halls as White as Milk,
Lined with a Skin as Soft as Silk,
Within a Fountain Crystal-Clear,
A Golden Apple Doth Appear.
No Doors There Are to This Stronghold
Yet Robbers Break In and Steal the Gold.
       Had an egg cow, had a cream hen,
       Had a husband, could not keep him.
Formed Long Ago, Yet Made Today,
Employed While Others Sleep;
What Few Would Like to Give Away,
Nor Any Wish to Keep.
       Had a nap man, had a neap man,
       Had a flood man, could not keep him.
Ickle, Ockle, Blue Bockle,
Fishes in the Sea.
If You Want a Left Wife,
Please Choose Me.
       Had a safe of 4X sheepskin,
       Had a brook brother, could not keep him.
Inter, Mitzy, Titzy, Tool,
Ira, Dura, Dominee,
Oker, Poker, Dominocker,
Out Goes Me.
       Had a lamb, slung in keepskin,
       Had some ewe-milk, in it seethed him.
There Was an Old Woman Called Nothing-at-All,
Who Lived in a Dwelling Exceedingly Small;
A Man Stretched His Mouth to the Utmost Extent,
And Down at One Gulp House and Old Woman Went.
       Had a rich pen, had a cheap pen,
       Had a husband, could not keep him.
Put him in this nursery shell,
And here you keep him very well.

Source of the text – Sharon Olds, Stag’s Leap.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012, pages 34-35.

TJB: With the diction, doggerel, nonce-words, & rhythm of nursery rhyme, this poem enacts failed attempts to make sense of transience—life, marriage.

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