Thursday, December 30, 2010

from "The Testament" lines 413-444 by Francois Villon

from The Testament

Puis que papes, roys, filz de roys
Et couceus en ventres de roynes
Sont ensevelis mors et frois
En autruy mains passent leurs regnes
Moy povre mercerot de Renes
Mourray je pas? Oy, se Dieu plaist
Mais que j'aye fait mes estraines,
Honneste mort ne me desplaist.

Ce monde n'est perpetuel
Quoy que pense riche pillart
Tous sommes soubz mortel coutel
Ce confort prent povre viellart
Lequel d’estre plaisant raillart
Ot le bruit lors que jeune estoit
Qu’on tendroit a fol et paillart
Se viel a raillery se mettoit.

Or luy convient-il mendier
Car a ce force le contraint
Regrette huy sa mort et hier
Tristesse son cuer si estraint
Se souvent n’estoit Dieu qu’il craint
Il feroit ung orrible fait
Et advient qu’en ce Dieu enfraint
Et que luy mesmes se desfait.

Car s’en jeunesse il fut plaisant
Ores plus riens ne dit qui plaise
Tousjours viel cinge est desplaisant
Moue ne fait qui ne desplaise
S’il se taist affin qu’il complaise
Il est tenu pour fol recreu
S’il parle on luy dit qu’il se taise
Et qu’en son prunier n’a pas creu.

      English translation by Galway Kinnell:

Since popes, kings, and kings’ sons
Conceived in wombs of queens
Lie dead and cold under the ground
And their reigns pass into other hands
I a poor packman out of Rennes
Won’t I also die? Yes, God willing
But as long as I’ve sown my wild oats
I won’t mind an honest death.

The world won’t last forever
Whatever the robber baron may think
The mortal knife hangs over us all
A thought which consoles the old-timer
Who was well known in his day
For the gaiety of his wit
Who’d be thought a dirty old man
If in old age he tried to poke fun.

Now he’s got to go begging
Necessity obliges it
Day after day he longs to die
Sadness so works on his heart
Often but for the fear of God
He’d commit a horrible act
And it may yet happen he breaks God’s law
And does away with himself.

For if he was amusing once
Now nothing he says gets a laugh
An old monkey is always unpleasant
And every face it makes is ugly
If trying to please he keeps quiet
Everybody thinks he’s senile
If he speaks they tell him “Pipe down
That plum didn’t grow on your tree.”

Source of the text - Villon, Francois.  The Poems of Francois Villon, translated with an introduction and notes by Galway Kinnell.  Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1977, pp. 52-55.

TJB: Senile pendu. A gob of spit in the face of self-slaughter, this speech uses oddly exact rhymes & long phrase-clusters to speak its peace.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Pretext" by Stephen Rodefer


Then I stand up on my hassock and say sing that.
It is not the business of POETRY to be anything.
When one day at last they come to storm your deluxe cubicle,
Only your pumice stone will remain.  The left trapezius for now
Is a little out of joint.  Little did they know you came with it.
When nature has entirely disappeared, we will find ourselves in Stuttgart.
Till then we're on the way.  The only way not to leave is to go.
The gods and scientists heap their shit on Buffalo and we're out there,
Scavenging plastic trees.  When nature has entirely disappeared,
We'll find ourselves in the steam garden.  Evening's metonym for another
Beady-eyed engineer with sexual ideas, who grew up eating animals.
Do you like the twelve tones of the western scale?  I prefer ninety.
I may work in a factory but I slide to the music of the spheres.
My job is quality control in the language lab, explaining what went
Wrong in Northampton after the Great Awakening.  So much was history.

My father is a sphinx and my mother's a nut.  I reject the glass.
But I've been shown the sheets of sentences and what he was
Really like remains more of a riddle than in the case of most humans.
So again I say rejoice, the man we're looking for
Is gone.  The past will continue, the surest way to advance,
But you still have to run to keep fear in the other side.
There is a little door at the back of the mouth fond of long names
Called the juvjula.  And pidgeon means business.  It carries
Messages.  The faces on the character parts are excellent.
In fact I'm having lunch with her next week.  Felix nupsit.
Why should it be so difficult to see the end if when it comes
It should be irrefutable.  Cabin life is incomplete.
But the waterbugs' mittens SHADOW the bright rocks below.
He has a resemblance in the upper face to the man who robbed you.
I am pleased to be here.  To my left is Philippa, who will be singing for me.

Source of the text - Rodefer, Stephen.  Call it thought: selected poems.  Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 2008.

TJB: Disjunct footsie. Although each sentence could be the first line of a different text, the many modifiers imply something precedes each one.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"a song in the front yard" by Gwendolyn Brooks

a song in the front yard

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine
How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.

Source of the text - Brooks, Gwendolyn.  The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, edited by Elizabeth Alexander.  New York: The Library of America, 2005, p. 4.

TJB: Queen Anne front. There is irony in a song yearning nurserylike for the alley but which could only have been written from the front yard.

Monday, December 27, 2010

"The Red Hat" by Rachel Hadas

The Red Hat

It started before Christmas. Now our son
officially walks to school alone.
Semi-alone, it's accurate to say:
I or his father track him on the way.
He walks up on the east side of West End,
we on the west side. Glances can extend
(and do) across the street; not eye contact.
Already ties are feelings and not fact.
Straus Park is where these parallel paths part;
he goes alone from there. The watcher's heart
stretches, elastic in its love and fear,
toward him as we see him disappear,
striding briskly. Where two weeks ago,
holding a hand, he'd dawdle, dreamy, slow,
he now is hustled forward by the pull
of something far more powerful than school.

The mornings we turn back to are no more
than forty minutes longer than before,
but they feel vastly different flimsy, strange,
wavering in the eddies of this change,
empty, unanchored, perilously light
since the red hat vanished from our sight.

Source of the text - Hadas, Rachel.  Halfway Down the Hall: New and Selected Poems.  Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1998, p. 20.

TJB: Boy-heroics. These couplets capture a child’s growth & parents’ mixed feelings, bending many active clauses to passive until a fine ending.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Whan the turf is thy tour," anonymous Middle English lyric

Whan the turf is thy tour

Whan the turf is thy tour
And thy put is thy bour,
Thy fel and thy white throte
Shullen wormes to note.
What helpeth thee than
Al the worlde wenne?

Notes [from Stevick]:

2. put = pit, i.e., grave
3. fel    skin
4. Shullen wormes to note    worms shall have for their use (or purpose)
6. worlde wenne    joys, pleasures of the world; (?) to win the world

Notes [from Stevick Glossary]:

bour    abode, chamber, dwelling-place, bower

Source of the text - One Hundred Middle English Lyrics, Revised Edition, edited by Robert D. Stevick. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994, p. 12.

TJB: Anti-dailiness. With rotting-courtly images & surprising-intricate metrics the poet predicts the obvious & asks an easy-to-dismiss question.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day, Being the Shortest Day" by John Donne

A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day.

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks.
   The sun is spent, and now his flasks
   Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
      The world’s whole sap is sunk:
The general balm th’hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring:
   For I am every dead thing,
   In whom love wrought new alchemy.
      For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness:
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
   I, by love’s limbeck, am the grave
   Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood
      Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
   Were I a man, that I were one
   I needs must know; I should prefer,
      If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
   At this time to the Goat is run
   To fetch new lust, and give it you,
      Enjoy your summer all.
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival,
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is.

Source of the text - John Donne's Poetry, edited by Donald R. Dickson.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007, pp. 115-116.

TJB: Existencelessness. Our speaker goes to such extravagant lengths to say he’s nobody sans her it seems losing her has made him purer, godlier.

Monday, December 20, 2010

from "Pythagorean Silence" by Susan Howe

from Pythagorean Silence


age of earth and us all chattering

a sentence       or character

steps out to seek for truth      fails

into a stream of ink          Sequence
trails off

must go on

waving fables and faces        War
doings of the war

manoeuvering between points

any two points          which is
what we want     (issues at stake)

bearings and so

holes in a cloud    are minutes passing
which is

view      odds of images swept rag-tag

silver and grey

seconds    forgeries engender
(are blue)       or blacker

flocks of words flying together      tense
as an order

cast off to crows

Source of the text: Pythagorean Silence by Susan Howe.  From In the American Tree, edited by Ron Silliman.  Orono, ME: The National Poetry Foundation, Inc., 1986, pp. 356-357.

TJB: Languagists of Avalon. Omniscient, firmly apposed, the poem claims myth & poetry are fleeting moments of order amid the human chatter-chaos.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Enter the Dragon" by John Murillo


     Los Angeles, California, 1976

For me, the movie starts with a black man
Leaping into an orbit of badges, tiny moons

Catching the sheen of his perfect black afro.
Arc kicks, karate chops, and thirty cops

On their backs. It starts with the swagger,
The cool lean into the leather front seat

Of the black and white he takes off in.
Deep hallelujahs of moviegoers drown

Out the wah wah guitar. Salt & butter
High-fives, Right on, brother! and Daddy

Glowing so bright he can light the screen
All by himself. This is how it goes down.

Friday night and my father drives us
Home from the late show, two heroes

Cadillacking across King Boulevard.
In the cars dark cab, we jab and clutch,

Jim Kelly and Bruce Lee with popcorn
Breath, and almost miss the lights flashing

In the cracked side mirror. I know what's
Under the seat, but when the uniforms

Approach from the rear quarter panel,
When the fat one leans so far into my father's

Window I can smell his long day's work,
When my father—this John Henry of a man—

Hides his hammer, doesn't buck, tucks away
His baritone, license and registration shaking as if

Showing a bathroom pass to a grade school
Principal, I learn the difference between cinema

And city, between the moviehouse cheers
Of old men and the silence that gets us home.

Source of the text - Murillo, John.  Up Jump the Boogie.  New York: Cypher Books, 2010, pp. 17-18.

TJB: The value of life not imitating art. The poet slides us smoothly: inside the movie, the theater, the ride home, & the boy-poet’s reflection.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Cursive" by Rae Armantrout


In my country,
in "Toy Story,"

sanity meant keeping
a set distance

between one's role
as a figurine
and one's "self-image."

This gap
was where the soul
was thought to live.


When he thought of suicide, he thought,

"It ends here!"


"Let's do it!"

As if a flying leap
were a form of camaraderie.

As if a cop and his
comic relief partner
faced off
against moguls.

Crossed wires released such
hope-like sparks.


This thing was called
"face of the deep,"

this intractable blank
with its restless cursive.

Source of the text - Armantrout, Rae.  Next Life.  Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2007, pp. 22-23.

TJB: There is an oddness to the flowing, joined cursive motif in this wisp-lyric which employs so many metaphors of gaps, leaps, & abysses.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

From Book II of "Hyperion" by John Keats [lines 162-243]

From Hyperion, Book II

“O speak your counsel now, for Saturn’s ear
“Is all a-hunger’d. Thou, Oceanus,
“Ponderest high and deep; and in thy face
“I see, astonied, that severe content
“Which comes of thought and musing: give us help?”

    So ended Saturn; and the God of the Sea,
Sophist and sage, from no Athenian grove,
But cogitation in his watery shades,
Arose, with locks not oozy, and began,
In murmurs, which his first-endeavouring tongue
Caught infant-like from the far-foamed sands.
“O ye, whom wrath consumes! who, passion-stung,
“Writhe at defeat, and nurse your agonies!
“Shut up your senses, stifle up your ears,
“My voice is not a bellows unto ire.
“Yet listen, ye who will, whilst I bring proof
“How ye, perforce, must be content to stoop:
“And in the proof much comfort will I give,
“If ye will take that comfort in its truth.
“We fall by course of Nature’s law, not force
“Of thunder, or of Jove. Great Saturn, thou
“Hast sifted well the atom-universe;
“But for this reason, that thou art the King,
“And only blind from sheer supremacy,
“One avenue was shaded from thine eyes,
“Through which I wandered to eternal truth.
“And first, as thou wast not the first of powers,
“So art thou not the last; it cannot be:
“Thou art not the beginning nor the end.
“From chaos and parental darkness came
“Light, the first fruits of that intestine broil,
“That sullen ferment, which for wondrous ends
“Was ripening in itself. The ripe hour came,
“And with it light, and light, engendering
“Upon its own producer, forthwith touch’d
“The whole enormous matter into life.
“Upon that very hour, our parentage,
“The Heavens and the Earth, were manifest:
“Then thou first-born, and we the giant-race,
“Found ourselves ruling new and beauteous realms.
“Now comes the pain of truth, to whom ’tis pain;
“O folly! for to bear all naked truths,
“And to envisage circumstance, all calm,
“That is the top of sovereignty. Mark well!
“As Heaven and Earth are fairer, fairer far
“Than Chaos and blank Darkness, though once chiefs;
“And as we show beyond that Heaven and Earth
“In form and shape compact and beautiful,
“In will, in action free, companionship,
“And thousand other signs of purer life;
“So on our heels a fresh perfection treads,
“A power more strong in beauty, born of us
“And fated to excel us, as we pass
“In glory that old Darkness: nor are we
“Thereby more conquer’d, than by us the rule
“Of shapeless Chaos. Say, doth the dull soil
“Quarrel with the proud forests it hath fed,
“And feedeth still, more comely than itself?
“Can it deny the chiefdom of green groves?
“Or shall the tree be envious of the dove
“Because it cooeth, and hath snowy wings
“To wander wherewithal and find its joys?
“We are such forest-trees, and our fair boughs
“Have bred forth, not pale solitary doves,
“But eagles golden-feather’d, who do tower
“Above us in their beauty, and must reign
“In right thereof; for ’tis the eternal law
“That first in beauty should be first in might:
“Yea, by that law, another race may drive
“Our conquerors to mourn as we do now.
“Have ye beheld the young God of the Seas,
“My dispossessor? Have ye seen his face?
“Have ye beheld his chariot, foam’d along
“By noble winged creatures he hath made?
“I saw him on the calmed waters scud,
“With such a glow of beauty in his eyes,
“That it enforc’d me to bid sad farewell
“To all my empire: farewell sad I took,
“And hither came, to see how dolorous fate
“Had wrought upon ye; and how I might best
“Give consolation in this woe extreme.
“Receive the truth, and let it be your balm.”

Source of the text - Keats, John. Keats's Poetry and Prose, selected and edited by Jeffrey N. Cox.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009, pp.488-489.

TJB: Cockney Miltonics. Compounding, inverting, half-sprung, this ode from the fallen sea-god lushly argues that beauty, not might, makes right.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Section II from "Ode to the West Wind" by Percy Bysshe Shelley


Thou on whose stream, ’mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like Earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine aery surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou Dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain and fire and hail will burst: O hear!

Source of the text - Shelley, Percy Bysshe.  Shelley's Poetry and Prose, Second Edition, selected and edited by Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002, p. 299.

TJB: Wind-envy. Shelley reaches metaphor’s limit: sea-storms as forestlike & crazy-hair; tonight as tomb-cap filled with the wind’s storm-dirge.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"You and I Are Disappearing" by Yusef Komunyakaa

"You and I Are Disappearing"
                          — Björn Håkansson

The cry I bring down from the hills
belongs to a girl still burning
inside my head. At daybreak
       she burns like a piece of paper.
She burns like foxfire
in a thigh-shaped valley.
A skirt of flames
dances around her
at dusk.
           We stand with our hands
hanging at our sides,
while she burns
           like a sack of dry ice.
She burns like oil on water.
She burns like a cattail torch
dipped in gasoline.
She glows like the fat tip
of a banker's cigar,
       silent as quicksilver.
A tiger under a rainbow
   at nightfall.
She burns like a shot glass of vodka.
She burns like a field of poppies
at the edge of a rain forest.
She rises like dragonsmoke
   to my nostrils.
She burns like a burning bush
driven by a godawful wind.

Source of the text - Komunyakaa, Yusef.  Dien Cai Dau.  Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1988, p. 17.

TJB: Litany-burn. Not the girl but what happens to her & how the poet remembers—turning her into all of Vietnam—burns this poem in our memory.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Foweles in the frith," anonymous Middle English lyric

Foweles in the frith

Foweles in the frith,
The fisshes in the flood,
And I mon waxe wood:
Much sorwe I walke wyth
For best of bon and blood.

Notes [from Stevick]:
1. frith   woodland, forest
3. mon   must
5 best   i.e., the best (person)

Notes [from Stevick Glossary]:
waxe(n)  (wex, wexen, waxen) - to wax, grow; become
wood - mad

Source of the text - One Hundred Middle English Lyrics, Revised Edition, edited by Robert D. Stevick.  Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994, p. 25.

TJB: Crux-lyric. The speaker grows crazy because: he has sorrow despite being flesh-&-blood; or he has sorrow because he is the greatest alive.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Property" by Carla Harryman

Note: This prose poem is the first piece from a larger work by Harryman entitled Property.

Source of the text - In the American Tree, edited by Ron Silliman.  Orono, ME: The National Poetry Foundation, 1986, p. 159.

TJB: Fierce ars poetica. Is the avuncular Tolstoyan speaker a fiction? His voice, paratactic-metaphorical then big lyric-aria, is unforgettable.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Not Waving But Drowning" by Stevie Smith

Not Waving But Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Source of the text - Stevie Smith, The Collected Poems of Stevie Smith.  New York: New Directions, 1983, p. 303.

TJB: A little proto-preraphaelitic moan, comprised mostly of quotes from & about the dead man, not so much that he died as that no one listened.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Two sonnets on Spinoza by Jorge Luis Borges



[Original poem in Spanish]

Las traslúcidas manos del judío
Labran en la penumbra los cristales
Y la tarde que muere es miedo y frío.
(Las tardes a las tardes son iguales.)
Las manos y el espacio de jacinto
Que palidece en el confín del Ghetto
Casi no existen para el hombre quieto
Que está soñando un claro laberinto.
No lo turba la fama, ese reflejo
De sueños en el sueño de otro espejo,
Ni el temeroso amor de las doncellas.
Libre de la metáfora y del mito
Labra un arduo cristal: el infinito
Mapa de Aquél que es todas Sus estrellas.

[Translated into English by Willis Barnstone]

Here in the twilight the translucent hands
Of the Jew polishing the crystal glass.
The dying afternoon is cold with bands
Of fear. Each day the afternoons all pass
The same. The hands and space of hyacinth
Paling in the confines of the ghetto walls
Barely exists for the quiet man who stalls
There, dreaming up a brilliant labyrinth.
Fame doesn’t trouble him (that reflection of
Dreams in the dream of another mirror), nor love,
The timid love women. Gone the bars,
He’s free, from metaphor and myth, to sit
Polishing a stubborn lens: the infinite
Map of the One who now is all His stars.


"Baruch Spinoza"

[Original poem in Spanish]

Bruma de oro, el occidente alumbra
La ventana. El asiduo manuscrito
Aguarda, ya cargado de infinito.
Alguien construye a Dios en la penumbra.
Un hombre engendra a Dios. Es un judío
De tristes ojos y piel cetrina;
Lo lleva el tiempo como lleva el río
Una hoja en el agua que declina.
No importa. El hechicero insiste y labra
A Dios con geometría delicada;
Desde su enfermedad, desde su nada,
Sigue erigiendo a Dios con la palabra.
El más pródigo amor le fue otorgado,
El amor que no espera ser amado.

[Translated into English by Willis Barnstone]

A haze of gold, the Occident lights up
The window. Now, the assiduous manuscript
Is waiting, weighed down with the infinite.
Someone is building God in a dark cup.
A man engenders God. He is a Jew
With saddened eyes and lemon-colored skin;
Time carries him the way a leaf, dropped in
A river, is borne off by waters to
Its end. No matter. The magician moved
Carves out his God with fine geometry;
From his disease, from nothing, he's begun
To construct God, using the word. No one
Is granted such prodigious love as he:
The love that has no hope of being loved.

Source of the text - Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Poems, edited by Alexander Coleman.  New York: Penguin Books, 2000, pp. 228-229 and 382-383.

TJB: Years apart, we get Spinoza the glassgrinder & Spinoza the godbuilder, both poems framed as an invisible poet looking in on the man at work.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Brazil" by B.H. Fairchild


This is for Elton Wayne Showalter, redneck surrealist
who, drunk, one Friday night tried to hold up the local 7-Eleven
with a caulking gun, and who, when Melinda Bozell boasted
that she would never let a boy touch her "down there," said,
"Down there? You mean, like, Brazil?"
                                                                   Oh, Elton Wayne,
with your silver-toed turquoise-on-black boots and Ford Fairlane
dragging, in a ribbon of sparks, its tailpipe down Main Street
Saturday nights, you dreamed of Brazil and other verdant lands,
but the southern hemisphere remained for all those desert years
a vast mirage shimmering on the horizon of what one might call
your mind, following that one ugly night at the Snack Shack
when, drunk again, you peed on your steaming radiator
to cool it down and awoke at the hospital, groin empurpled
from electric shock and your pathetic maleness swollen
like a bruised tomato. You dumb bastard, betting a week's wages
on the trifecta at Raton, then in ecstasy tossing the winning ticket
into the air and watching it float on an ascending breeze
with the lightness and supple dip and rise of a Bach passacaglia
out over the New Mexico landscape forever and beyond: gone.
The tears came down, but the spirit rose late on Sunday night
on a stepladder knocking the middle letters from FREEMAN GLASS
to announce unlimited sexual opportunities in purple neon
for all your friends driving Kansas Avenue as we did each night
lonely and bordeom-racked and hungering for someone like you,
Elton Wayne, brilliantly at war in that flat, treeless country
against maturity, right-thinking, and indeed intelligence
in all its bland, local guises, so that reading the announcement
in the hometown paper of your late marriage to Melinda Bozell
with a brief honeymoon at the Best Western in Junction City,
I know that you have finally arrived, in Brazil, and the Kansas
that surrounds you is an endless sea of possibility, genius, love.

Source of the text - B.H. Fairchild, Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest: Poems.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003, pp. 49-50.

TJB: This poem, an epithalamion-looking-backward, composed in four big celebratory run-ons, is most at home dwelling in failures & big gestures.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"Parachutes, My Love, Could Carry Us Higher" by Barbara Guest

Parachutes, My Love, Could Carry Us Higher

I just said I didn't know
And now you are holding me
In your arms,
How kind.
Parachutes, my love, could carry us higher.
Yet around the net I am floating
Pink and pale blue fish are caught in it,
They are beautiful,
But they are not good for eating.
Parachutes, my love, could carry us higher
Than this mid-air in which we tremble,
Having exercised our arms in swimming,
Now the suspension, you say,
Is exquisite. I do not know.
There is coral below the surface,
There is sand, and berries
Like pomegranates grow.
This wide net, I am treading water
Near it, bubbles are rising and salt
Drying on my lashes, yet I am no nearer
Air than water. I am closer to you
Than land and I am in a stranger ocean
Than I wished.

Source of the text - Barbara Guest, The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, edited by Hadley Haden Guest.  Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008, p. 14.

TJB: Flotsam-verse. Air, water & love are conflated here in float-images & net-images powered by comparative terms & deepened with conjunctions.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

from "The Master" by H.D.

from "The Master"


And it was he himself, he who set me free
to prophesy,

he did not say
my disciple,"
he did not say,
each word I say is sacred,"
he did not say, "teach"
he did not say,
or seal
documents in my name,"

he was rather casual,
"we won't argue about that"
(he said)
"you are a poet."

Source of the text - H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), Selected Poems, edited by Louis L. Martz.  New York: New Directions, 1988, p. 108.

TJB: Psycho-hagiography. The poet says what she wanted Freud to say to her, conflates prophecy & poetry, & concludes he set her free, casually.

Monday, August 9, 2010

from "The Prelude" by William Wordsworth

from The Prelude, Book First [from the 1850 edition]:

    Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society. How strange that all
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused
Within my mind, should e’er have borne a part,
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself! Praise to the end!
Thanks to the means which Nature deigned to employ;
Whether her fearless visitings, or those
That came with soft alarm, like hurtless light
Opening the peaceful clouds; or she may use
Severer interventions, ministry
More palpable, as best might suit her aim.

    One summer evening (led by her) I found
A little boat tied to a willow tree
Within a rocky cove, its usual home.
Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in
Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;
Leaving behind her still, on either side,
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
Until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light. But now, like one who rows,
Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point
With an unswerving line, I fixed my view
Upon the summit of a craggy ridge,
The horizon’s utmost boundary; for above
Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
She was an elfin pinnace; lustily
I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat
Went heaving through the water like a swan;
When, from behind that craggy steep till then
The horizon’s bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct
Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,
And growing still in stature the grim shape
Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
For so it seemed, with purpose of its own
And measured motion like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the covert of the willow tree;
There in her mooring-place I left my bark,—
And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
And serious mood; but after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.

    Wisdom and Spirit of the universe!
Thou Soul, that art the Eternity of thought,
That givest to forms and images a breath
And everlasting motion, not in vain
By day or star-light thus from my first dawn
Of childhood didst thou intwine for me
The passions that build up our human soul;
Not with the mean and vulgar works of man,
But with high objects, with enduring things——
With life and nature, purifying thus
The elements of feeling and of thought,
And sanctifying, by such discipline,
Both pain and fear, until we recognise
A grandeur in the beatings of the heart.

Source of the text - William Wordsworth, The Prelude: 1799, 1805, 1850.  Edited by Jonathan Wordsworth, M.H. Abrams, and Stephen Gill.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1979, pp. 47-51.

TJB: The tale of the cliff that terrified the boy. Miltonic consonance darkens this memory-vision of the ‘grandeur in the beatings of the heart.’

Friday, August 6, 2010

"The Names of the Hare," anonymous Middle English lyric

The Names of the Hare

Translation from the Middle English by Seamus Heaney

The man the hare has met
will never be the better of it
except he lay down on the land
what he carries in his hand—
be it staff or be it bow—
and bless him with his elbow
and come out with this litany
with devotion and sincerity
to speak the praises of the hare.
Then the man will better fare.

'The hare, call him scotart,
big-fellow, bouchart,
the O'Hare, the jumper,
the rascal, the racer.

Beat-the-pad, white-face,
funk-the-ditch, shit-ass.

The wimount, the messer,
the skidaddler, the nibbler,
the ill-met, the slabber.

The quick-scut, the dew-flirt,
the grass-biter, the goibert,
the home-late, the do-the-dirt.

The starer, the wood-cat,
the purblind, the furze cat,
the skulker, the bleary-eyed,
the wall-eyed, the glance-aside
and also the hedge-springer.

The stubble-stag, the long lugs,
the stook-deer, the frisky legs,
the wild one, the skipper,
the hug-the-ground, the lurker,
the race-the-wind, the skiver,
the shag-the-hare, the hedge-squatter,
the dew-hammer, the dew-hoppper,
the sit-tight, the grass-bounder,
the jig-foot, the earth-sitter,
the light-foot, the fern-sitter,
the kail-stag, the herb-cropper.

The creep-along, the sitter-still,
the pintail, the ring-the-hill,
the sudden start,
the shake-the-heart,
the belly-white,
the lambs-in-flight.

The gobshite, the gum-sucker,
the scare-the-man, the faith-breaker,
the snuff-the-ground, the baldy skull,
(his chief name is scoundrel.)

The stag sprouting a suede horn,
the creature living in the corn,
the creature bearing all men's scorn,
the creature no one dares to name.'
When you have got all this said
then the hare's strength has been laid.
Then you might go faring forth—
east and west and south and north,
wherever you incline to go—
but only if you're skilful too.
And now, Sir Hare, good-day to you.
God guide you to a how-d'ye-do
with me: come to me dead
in either onion broth or bread.
Source of the text - The Rattle Bag, edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes.  London: Faber and Faber, 1982, pages 305-306.

TJB: Rabbit magic. Since when was the hare so fearful as to require such an outstanding, sonically potent litany of names bursting in action?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Oracle of Balaam, Numbers 23:18-24

Text of the poem in Hebrew:

English translation by Robert Alter:

"Rise, Balak, and listen,
    give ear to me, O Zippor's son!
El is no man who would fail,
    no human who would show change of heart.
Would he say and not perform
    would he speak and not fulfill it?
Look, to bless I was taken,
    and He blessed, so I will not reverse it.
He has beheld no harm in Jacob,
    and has seen no trouble in Israel.
The Lord his god is with him,
    the king's trumped blast in his midst,
El who brings them out from Egypt,
    like the wild ox's antlers for him.
For there is no divining in Jacob
    and no magic in Israel.
Now be it said to Jacob
    and to Israel what El has wrought.
Look, a people like a lion arises,
    like the king of beasts, rears up.
He will not lie down till he devours the prey,
    and blood of the slain he drinks."

Source of the text in Hebrew -  Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia.  Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1967, pp. 256-257.

Source of the English translation - Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: a translation with commentary.  New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 2004, pp. 807-808.

TJB: In fluid pronouns, this ancient oracle-poem praises Israel & its god El & refuses to contradict El although Israel permits no divination.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"A Dance" by Caroline Knox


Bouki fait gumbo,
Lapin mangé li.

Bouki Wolof for hyena;
Verbs are French: fait, mangé.

Gumbo Native American or Bangena
= Okra = filé = "dried powdered young sassafras leaves,

discovered by the Choctaw Indians,"
says Miriam Knopf in Around America:
A Cookbook for Young People.

Compair Bouki, Compair Lapin =
Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit.

"The hyena may have made the gumbo,
but it's the rabbit that ate it"—a distich of power
and viable Marxist grumbling?

Compair Aesop fait (get Greek word for "tale")
Compair LaFontaine fait fable.
God gives, but He doesn't share.

Compair Aesop fait fable.
Compair LaFontaine mangé Aesop.

Even gumbo z'herbes in a starving time, desperate cooking, meager soup.

Compair Marianne Moore traduit LaFontaine,
Compair Joel Chandler Harris fair storybook,
Choctaw Indians mangé gumbo.

Author's Note - "Bouki fait gumbo, lapin mangé li is a Creole proverb.  The Knopf book was published in 1969.  Most material in the poem comes from lectures on the American frontier by Joyce E. Chaplin (lines 1-6, 12-14, and 20).  'God gives, but He doesn't share' is a Haitian proverb cited by Paul Farmer in Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains (Random House, 2004)."

Source of the text - Knox, Caroline.  Quaker Guns.  Seattle: Wave Books, 2008, pp. 4-5 [poem] and 67 [author's note].

TJB: Driven by analogies, salted with exoticisms, this poem of sound-stew advances through thoughts & facts almost as if without a poet at all.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"After Anacreon" by Lew Welch


When I drive cab
          I am moved by strange whistles and wear a hat.

When I drive cab
          I am the hunter. My prey leaps out from where it
          hid, beguiling me with gestures.

When I drive cab
          All may command me, yet I am in command of all who do.

When I drive cab
          I am guided by voices descending from the naked air.

When I drive cab
          A revelation of movement comes to me: They wake now.
          Now they want to work or look around. Now they want
          drunkenness and heavy food. Now they contrive to love.

When I drive cab
          I bring the sailor home from the sea. In the back of
          my car he fingers the pelt of his maiden.

When I drive cab
          I watch for stragglers in the urban order of things.

When I drive cab
          I end the only lit and waitful things in miles of
          darkened houses.

Source of the text – Lew Welch, Ring of Bone: Collected Poems 1950-1971, edited by Donald Allen. San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1994, p. 21.

TJB: Anticlassical conceit. We see the poet as cabdriver, a beacon in the land of the sleeping, passengers as readers & the drive itself as poem.

Monday, August 2, 2010

"Daystar" by Rita Dove


She wanted a little room for thinking:
but she saw diapers steaming on the line,
a doll slumped behind the door.

So she lugged a chair behind the garage
to sit out the children’s naps.

Sometimes there were things to watch—
the pinched armor of a vanished cricket,
a floating maple leaf. Other days
she stared until she was assured
when she closed her eyes
she’d only see her own vivid blood.

She had an hour, at best, before Liza appeared
pouting from the top of the stairs.
And just what was mother doing
out back with the field mice? Why,

building a palace. Later
that night when Thomas rolled over and
lurched into her, she would open her eyes
and think of the place that was hers
for an hour—where
she was nothing,
pure nothing, in the middle of the day.

Source of the text - Rita Dove, Thomas and Beulah: poems.  Pittsburgh: Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1986, p.61.

TJB: Routine-lyric. In simple prosody we hear the glory & transcendence of doing-nothing, of briefly seeing things with keener, more alive eyes.

Friday, July 30, 2010

"The Circus Animals' Desertion" by William Butler Yeats


I SOUGHT a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.


What can I but enumerate old themes?
First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride?

And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
The Countess Cathleen was the name I gave it;
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy,
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love
And not those things that they were emblems of.


Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

Source of the text - William Butler Yeats, Selected Poems and Four Plays, edited by M.L. Rosenthal.  New York: Scribner Paperback Poetry, 1996, pp. 212-213.

TJB: The aging poet as ringmaster, his old poems as once-fine circus animals yet what he says he’s still got sounds so much richer than all that.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Westron wind," anonymous lyric

Westron wind, when will thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ if my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again.

Source of the text - Medieval English Lyrics: A Critical Anthology, edited with an introduction and notes by R.T. Davies. London: Faber and Faber, 1963, p.291

TJB: Accentual yearn. Is the speaker a sailor in the doldrums or a winter traveler? Does it matter? Either way, why is (s)he afraid of the big rain?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

from "why" by Martha Ronk

from why

If I say I don’t believe you is this impatience
without waiting for an answer which might take days or years.
Hard to sit still to hear what in the interstices might sing.
Again that liquid bird repeating the same story
over and over in the car as you list the placements
of adjectives and verbs out of which arises what seems
to be music in the malleable and soft folding of silver
inside an afternoon parenthesis of what was it again?

Source of the text - Martha Ronk, why/why not.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003, p. 66.

TJB: Poetry as what might sing in interstices, as what seems musical in grammar, as unclassifiable. What did “you” say that “I” might not believe?

Monday, July 26, 2010

from "Squirrel in a Palm Tree" by Rachel Zucker

Source of the text - Rachel Zucker, The Bad Wife Handbook. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, p. 38.

TJB: The dry voice at the back of a woman’s mind speaks a highly empathic prophecy to the mother-mammal-inside then eases into lyric reflection.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

"My galley charged with forgetfulness" by Sir Thomas Wyatt

My galley charged with forgetfulness
Thorough sharp seas in winter nights doth pass
'Tween rock and rock; and eke mine enemy, alas,
That is my lord, steereth with cruelness;
And every oar a thought in readiness
As though that death were light in such a case.
An endless wind doth tear the sail apace
Of forced sighs and trusty fearfulness.
A rain of tears, a cloud of dark disdain
Hath done the weared cords great hinderance,
Wreathed with error and eke with ignorance.
The stars be hid that led me to this pain.
Drowned is reason that should me comfort
And I remain despairing of the port.

Source of the text - Sir Thomas Wyatt, Sir Thomas Wyatt: The Complete Poems, edited by R.A. Rebholz.  London: Penguin Books, 1997, p. 81.

TJB: Translation? I’m almost losing it, the bitch’s trying to drive me over the edge, I can’t think straight. But see how nicely he says it.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

"Johnie Armstrong," anonymous ballad

Johnie Armstrong

1  THERE dwelt a man in faire Westmerland,
        Ionnë Armestrong men did him call,
    He had nither lands nor rents coming in,
        Yet he kept eight score men in his hall.

2  He had horse and harness for them all,
        Goodly steeds were all milke-white;
    O the golden bands an about their necks,
        And their weapons, they were all alike.

3  Newes then was brought unto the king
        That there was sicke a won as hee,
    That livëd lyke a bold out-law,
        And robbëd all the north country.

4  The king he writt an a letter then,
        A letter which was large and long;
    He signëd it with his owne hand,
        And he promised to doe him no wrong.

5  When this letter came Ionnë untill,
        His heart it was as blythe as birds on the tree:
    ‘Never was I sent for before any king,
        My father, my grandfather, nor none but mee.

6  ‘And if wee goe the king before,
        I would we went most orderly;
    Every man of you shall have his scarlet cloak,
        Laced with silver laces three.

7  ‘Every won of you shall have his velvett coat,
        Laced with sillver lace so white;
    O the golden bands an about your necks,
        Black hatts, white feathers, all alyke.’

8  By the morrow morninge at ten of the clock,
        Towards Edenburough gon was hee,
    And with him all his eight score men;
        Good lord, it was a goodly sight for to see!

9  When Ionnë came befower the king,
        He fell downe on his knee;
    ‘O pardon, my soveraigne leige,’ he said,
        ‘O pardon my eight score men and mee!’

10  ‘Thou shalt have no pardon, thou traytor strong,
          For thy eight score men nor thee;
      For to-morrow morning by ten of the clock,
          Both thou and them shall hang on the gallow-tree.’

11  But Ionnë looke’d over his left shoulder,
          Good Lord, what a grevious look looked hee!
      Saying, Asking grace of a graceles face —
          Why there is none for you nor me.

12  But Ionnë had a bright sword by his side,
          And it was made of the mettle so free,
      That had not the king stept his foot aside,
          He had smitten his head from his faire boddë.

13  Saying, Fight on, my merry men all,
          And see that none of you be taine;
      For rather then men shall say we were hange’d,
          Let them report how we were slaine.

14  Then, God wott, faire Eddenburrough rose,
          And so besett poore Ionnë rounde,
      That fowerscore and tenn of Ionnës best men
          Lay gasping all upon the ground.

15  Then like a mad man Ionnë laide about,
          And like a mad man then fought hee,
      Untill a falce Scot came Ionnë behinde,
          And runn him through the faire boddee.

16  Saying, Fight on, my merry men all,
          And see that none of you be taine;
      For I will stand by and bleed but awhile,
          And then will I come and fight againe.

17  Newes then was brought to young Ionnë Armestrong,
          As he stood by his nurses knee,
      Who vowed if ere he live’d for to be a man,
          O the treacherous Scots revengd hee’d be.

Source of the text - English and Scottish Popular Ballads, edited from the collection of Francis James Child by Helen Child Sargent and George Lyman Kittredge. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1904, pp. 413-415.

TJB: Rule-of-law as thuggery-tragedy; still, this border-reiver song spends its energy on costume, headcount, time of day & transmission of news.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Cézanne" by Gertrude Stein


    The Irish lady can say, that to-day is every day. Caesar can
say that every day is to-day and they say that every day is as
they say.
    In this way we have a place to stay and he was not met
because he was settled to stay. When I said settled I meant
settled to stay. When I said settled to stay I meant settled to
stay Saturday. In this way a mouth is a mouth. In this way if
in as a mouth if in as a mouth where, if in as a mouth where
and there. Believe they have water too. Believe they have that
water too and blue when you see blue, is all blue precious
too, is all that that is precious too is all that and they meant
to absolve you. In this way Cézanne nearly did nearly in this
way Cézanne nearly did nearly did and nearly did. And was
I surprised. Was I very surprised. Was I surprised. I was sur-
prised and in that patient, are you patient when you find
bees. Bees in a garden make a specialty of honey and so does
honey. Honey and prayer. Honey and there. There where
the grass can grow nearly four times yearly.

Source of the text - Gertrude Stein, Writings 1903-1932.  New York: The Library of America, 1998, p.494.

TJB: Cubist dualistic. It has great grammar & rhythm via short vowels, repetition & many rhymes on day, blue, he & there; so how can it not mean?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Renunciation" by Kazim Ali


The books were all torn apart, sliced along the spines
Light filled all the openings that she in her silence renounced

Still: her handwriting on the papers remembered us to her
The careful matching of the papers’ edges was a road back

One night Muhummad was borne aloft by a winged horse
Taken from the Near Mosque to the Far Mosque

Each book likens itself to lichen,
stitching softly to tree trunks, to rocks

what was given into the Prophet’s ears that night:
A changing of directions—now all the scattered tribes must pray:

Wonder well foundry, well sunborn, sundered and sound here
Well you be found here, foundered and found

Source of the text - Kazim Ali, The Far Mosque.  Farmington, ME: Alice James Books, 2005.

TJB: What gets renounced here in this glimmer-lyric glancing at two narratives? Books, perhaps (akin to prophecy); love; or an older religion.

Friday, June 25, 2010

"The Part of Me That's O" by Tory Dent

The Part of Me That's O

What assembles a locus for understanding cracks at the foundation,
a fountainhead of a troll's facade, against which all means of identification
flee, Haitians from their homeland, or become troll-like in appearance
as I regard my face distort accordingly, my pink hair, a shock of radioactivity,
my flattened nose desensitized to olfactory tethering, my red eyes like a rat's,
panicked and immoral.  But inside the werewolf I am the same, though smaller,
diminishing inside the bell jar of this werewolf body.
I experience the tumult of my isolation like a kicking fetus
who accelerates its growth on a trajectory of delineation,
becomes more, not less, ambiguous in gender, its limbs more
a blur of purely molecular congruency than the aestheticized flesh,
than the Giorgione cameo that wavers in lakeside twilight,
profane by virtue of what it lacks in profanity,
a purity superimposed upon a purity like a testudo
forming a bulletproof sky which ultimately fails to protect,
as art fails, to provide shelter from the mammal in us:
from the carnivorous, the banal, the rupturous, the pitiful.
There will be no birthing, but a series of swallowings
until gaunt from longing I will have settled into a state of impoverishment
normalized finally by some property of physics that adapts
the disassociated to the hemisphere: like E. coli in water, I will live.
My erotic impulses curtailed so many times that in ringlets they will lie
like sheaved hair, as fertilizer fulfilling its wishes
by fulfilling the wishes of others
for which I will not receive pleasure
for which I will not be responsible
for which I will always be rendered impotent by this surveillant privilege.

Source of the text - Tory Dent, Black Milk: Poems.  Riverdale-on-Hudson, NY, Sheep Meadow Press, 2005, p. 33.

TJB: This chant uses long phrases, fifty-cent words & tight cinematic images to utter a cry of life coming from the person within a failing body.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Hello," by Oliver De La Paz


Hello, constellation—my other face
as suburbia explodes at dawn.

Windy hello, my blown-away papers,
        sheets radiating like dandelion seeds.

Hello, silo's gleaming tin saying, breathe as I pass along the highway.
        Shiny hello.

Guard at the halfway house disappearing for an hour, hello.
        I missed the light off your sunglasses.

Hello, footfall on sand tilting the earth's axis, its darkening arch.

My blue blanket, childhood bleached in the yard—hello.

My crickets playing their hairs: tchick tchick,
        like some dying machine—hello.

Hello, hirsute walking away from the circus tent,
        your eyes flickering in the afternoon like wild butane lighters,

My curtain to a darkroom letting me see a fingernail of red light—
        I think of bathing in hotels. Hello hotels,
        sunshine, and complimentary coffee.

Perfume on a hot day. Hello Cecelia from sixth grade
        who had worn no underwear for Social Studies. . . I was at the
            desk behind you
        when you turned and froze me with your teeth.

Colder than hello, my saxophone—I don't play.

My jazz of hard liquor. My drunk, hello,
        who approaches my car saying, "You are shameless, you are
        Meanwhile, the sunlight off broken glass is everywhere.

Hello shame. Hello and thanks. My devilish . . . with her spiky heels.
        Been long.

Hello sadness, beautiful, beautiful.

Hello, hat on the bed struck by a sunbeam
        serving as a symbol as the rattle of the gravel trucks
        returns you to the world.

Hello again, Cecelia, your mouth shut
        after seeing your lover pour gasoline on his hands. Hello

Hello, my hunger, angry at yourself. Hello, yourself.

Hello to myself who has no moonlight. Moonlight spangled hello.

My God, hello. You left your wallet and your keys. Where are you
        going without them? You can’t go far. Not far at all.

Source of the text - Poetry 30: Thirtysomething American Thirtysomething Poets, edited by Dan Crocker and Gerry La Femina.  DuBois, PA: Mammoth Books, 2005.

TJB: Associative aubade. The poet starts this good-humored litany greeting specific & concrete things then moves more interior & ends in prayer.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Peter" by Marianne Moore


          Strong and slippery,
built for the midnight grass-party
confronted by four cats, he sleeps his time away—
the detached first claw on the foreleg corresponding
to the thumb, retracted to its tip; the small tuft of fronds
or katydid-legs above each eye numbering all units
in each group; the shadbones regularly set about the mouth
to droop or rise in unison like porcupine-quills.
He lets himself be flattened out by gravity,
as seaweed is tamed and weakened by the sun,
compelled when extended, to lie stationary.
Sleep is the result of his delusion that one must
do as well as one can for oneself,
sleep—epitome of what is to him the end of life.
Demonstrate on him how the lady placed a forked stick
on the innocuous neck-sides of the dangerous southern snake.
One need not try to stir him up; his prune-shaped head
and alligator-eyes are not party to the joke.
Lifted and handled, he may be dangled like an eel
or set up on the forearm like a mouse;
his eyes bisected by pupils of a pin's width,
are flickeringly exhibited, then covered up.
May be? I should have said might have been;
when he has been got the better of in a dream—
as in a fight with nature or with cats, we all know it.
Profound sleep is not with him a fixed illusion.
Springing about with froglike accuracy, with jerky cries
when taken in hand, he is himself again;
to sit caged by the rungs of a domestic chair
would be unprofitable—human. What is the good of hypocrisy?
It is permissible to choose one's employment,
to abandon the nail, or roly-poly,
when it shows signs of being no longer a pleasure,
to score the nearby magazine with a double line of strokes.
He can talk but insolently says nothing. What of it?
When one is frank, one's very presence is a compliment.
It is clear that he can see the virtue of naturalness,
that he does not regard the published fact as a surrender.
As for the disposition invariably to affront,
an animal with claws should have an opportunity to use them.
The eel-like extension of trunk into tail is not an accident.
To leap, to lengthen out, divide the air, to purloin, to pursue.
To tell the hen: fly over the fence, go in the wrong way
in your perturbation—this is life;
to do less would be nothing but dishonesty.

Source of the text - Marianne Moore, Complete Poems.  New York: Penguin Books, 1981, pp. 43-44.

TJB: Cat fancy. Each word from the master observer is as exact in both meaning & clipped consonant-sound as its eel-like subject is inscrutable.

Monday, June 21, 2010

"Feeding the Compost Heap" by Alberto Ríos


Dried teas and sweet peels, shriveling rinds and still-wet fruit—
The compost gatherings speak something to the day and whimper

In the night, alive with their odd congress, this meeting of sours,
Blackness, citrus yellows, coffee grounds, hard sticks and green

Leaves half-brown, onion skins and onion itself, apple and orange
Seeds, pear stems and cut grass, old pomegranates and carrot.

What I eat, that heap has eaten.  What I like, it gets, but less of.
It drinks rooibos and Ceylonese teas, French roast coffee—it drinks,

It tastes them, too.  But in this way, it does not understand me.
What I don't like, it receives much of, and must think the worst of me.

It chokes where I choked, but I did not finish the meal it faces now,
The meal its dinner and breakfast, its lunch for weeks, for months.

It thinks me curious in my likes, and does not understand my dislikes,
Which are its world, those bits the makers of its great, beating, old

Prunish heart, half skin, half rot, something alive, purpling at its core,
Making something, keeping something, struggling, slow with slow.

A white rabbit of vapors emerges every now and then out of the bin,
A chuff of suddenness, a quick wheeze, a long-leap sigh that lingers.

I have watched this heap as if it were a child growing.  From stiff hay,
Sprouting thick and unbendable, to spiderweb moved by my breath.

Nuanced by the slightest breeze, my walking by, by my hand,
That slight shiver every time.  From stiff hay to moving web,

Bristle to wisp, bone to chalk: I have watched it grow smaller, away
From the shapes of things, into something else—an opposite child.

It lays a warm hand on the cool brow of me, heating things up.
Making a mulch, a loam, a darkness that says, We'll start again.

Source of the text - Alberto Rios, The Dangerous Shirt.  Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2009, pp. 39-40.

TJB: Eco ode. The bemused poet uses long lines & the muted sing-song prose of lyrical realism to personify his bemused & childlike compost heap.

Friday, June 18, 2010

"Mira Is Mad with Love," attributed to Mirabai

Mira Is Mad with Love

O friends, I am mad with love, and no one sees.
My mattress is thorns, is nails:
The Beloved spreads open his bedding elsewhere.
How can I sleep? Andonment scorches my heart.
Only those who have felt the knife can measure the
     wound's deepness.
Only the jeweler knows the nature of the lost jewel.
I have lost him—
Anguish takes me from door to door, but no doctor
Mira calls her Lord: O Dark One, only you can heal
     this pain.

Source of the text - Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems.  Versions by Robert Bly and Jane Hirshfield.  Boston: Beacon Press, 2004, p. 38.  This poem was translated by Jane Hirshfield.

TJB: Ecstatic static. Mira’s sensual-ascetic love for Krishna bursts from her song in crisp sensual images. How can her God/Beloved be absent?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Hymn of Zeus," lines 160-182 from Agamemnon by Aeschylus

"Hymn of Zeus," lines 160-182 from Agamemnon
[spoken by Chorus of old men]

Original Greek text:

Text translated by Richmond Lattimore:

Zeus: whatever he may be, if this name
pleases him in invocation,
thus I call upon him.
I have pondered everything
yet I cannot find a way,
only Zeus, to cast this dead weight of ignorance
finally from out my brain.

He who in time long ago was great,
throbbing with gigantic strength,
shall be as if he never were, unspoken.
He who followed him has found
his master, and is gone.
Cry aloud without fear the victory of Zeus,
you will not have failed the truth:

Zeus, who guided men to think,
who has laid it down that wisdom
comes alone through suffering.
Still there drips in sleep against the heart
grief of memory; against
our pleasure we are temperate
From the gods who sit in grandeur
grace comes somehow violent.

Source of the text in Greek - Aeschylus, The Agememnon of Aeschylus: A Revised Text and a Translation, by William W. Goodwin.  Boston: Ginn & Company, 1906, pp.13-15.

Source of the translated text - Aeschylus I: Oresteia, Translated and with an Introduction by Richmond Lattimore.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1953, pp. 39-40.

TJB: RFK’s favorite. Zeus is praised (incomparable, victorious & insistent on us suffering) best by the drips-sleep-heart-memory image sequence.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"If I Were a Bird" by Lorine Niedecker

If I Were a Bird

I’d be a dainty contained cool
Greek figurette
on a morning shore —

I’d flitter and feed and delouse myself
close to Williams’ house
and his kind eyes

I’d be a never-museumed tinted glass
breakable from the shelves of Marianne Moore.

On Stevens’ fictive sibilant hibiscus flower
I’d poise myself, a cuckoo, flamingo-pink.

I’d plunge the depths with Zukofsky
and all that means — stirred earth,
cut sky, organ-sounding, resounding
anew, anew.

I’d prick the sand in cunning, lean,
Cummings irony, a little drunk dead sober.
Man, that walk down the beach!

I’d sit on a quiet fence
and sing a quiet thing: sincere, sincere.
And that would be Reznikoff.

Source of the text - Lorine Niedecker, Collected Works.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002, pp. 130-131.

TJB: The aviary of influence. Images of 7 poets as if each of their poetries was a bird, each stanza parroting the style of the subject poet.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"On the Birth of Good & Evil During the Long Winter of '28" by Philip Levine

OF '28

When the streetcar stalled on Joy Road,
the conductor finished his coffee, puffed
into his overcoat, and went to phone in.
The Hungarian punch press operator wakened
alone, 7000 miles from home, pulled down
his orange cap and set out. If he saw
the winter birds scuffling in the cinders,
if he felt this was the dawn of a new day,
he didn't let on. Where the sidewalks
were unshovelled, he stamped on, raising
his galoshes a little higher with each step.
I came as close as I dared and could hear
only the little gasps as the cold entered
the stained refectory of the breath.
I could see by the way the blue tears squeezed
from the dark of the eyes, by the way
his moustache first dampened and then froze,
that as he turned down Dexter Boulevard,
he considered the hosts of the dead,
and nearest among them, his mother-in-law,
who darkened his table for twenty-seven years
and bruised his wakings. He considered how
before she went off in the winter of '27
she had knitted this cap, knitted so slowly
that Christmas came and went, and now he could
forgive her at last for the twin wool lappets
that closed perfectly on a tiny metal snap
beneath the chin and for making all of it orange.

Source of the text - Phillip Levine, New Selected Poems.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004, p. 127.

TJB: Most mothers-in-law deserve a lyric like this, a heightened winter-cap narrative in which the speaker observes what can hardly be observed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

"About His Person" by Simon Armitage

About His Person

Five pounds fifty in change, exactly,
library card on its date of expiry.

A postcard, stamped,
unwritten, but franked,

a pocket-size diary slashed with a pencil
from March twenty-fourth to the first of April.

A brace of keys for a mortise lock,
an analogue watch, self-winding, stopped.

A final demand
in his own hand,

a rolled-up note of explanation
planted there like a spray carnation

but beheaded, in his fist.
A shopping list.

A giveaway photograph stashed in his wallet,
a keepsake banked in the heart of a locket.

No gold or silver,
but crowning one finger

a ring of white unweathered skin.
That was everything.

Source of the text – Simon Armitage, Kid. London: Faber and Faber, 1992, p.85.

TJB: Detective-lyric. The consonant-heavy rhythm & West Yorkshire slang charge this character-sketch-accomplished-by-observing-objects with life.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

from "Beowulf," lines 3137-3182

Original Anglo-Saxon text:

Text as translated in modern English by Seamus Heaney:

The Geat people built a pyre for Beowulf,
stacked and decked it until it stood four-square,
hung with helmets, heavy war-shields
and shining armour, just as he had ordered.
Then his warriors laid him in the middle of it,
mourning a lord far-famed and beloved.
On a height they kindled the hugest of all
funeral fires; fumes of woodsmoke
billowed darkly up, the blaze roared
and drowned out their weeping, wind died down
and flames wrought havoc in the hot bone-house,
burning it to the core. They were desconsolate
and wailed aloud for their lord's decease.
A Geat woman too sang out in grief;
with hair bound up, she unburdened herself
of her worst fears, a wild litany
of nightmare and lament: her nation invaded,
enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles,
slavery and abasement. Heaven swallowed the smoke.

Then the Geat people began to construct
a mound on a headland, high and imposing,
a marker that sailors could see from far away,
and in ten days they had done the work.
It was their hero's memorial; what remained from the fire
they housed inside it, behind a wall
as worthy of him as their workmanship could make it.
And they buried torques in the barrow, and jewels
and a trove of such things as trespassing men
had once dared to drag from the hoard.
They let the ground keep that ancestral treasure,
gold under gravel, gone to earth,
as useless to men now as it ever was.
Then twelve warriors rode around the tomb,
chieftain's sons, champions in battle,
all of them distraught, chanting in dirges,
mourning his loss as a man and a king.
They extolled his heroic nature and exploits
and gave thanks for his greatness; which was the proper thing,
for a man should praise a prince whom he holds dear
and cherish his memory when that moment comes
when he has to be convoyed from his bodily home.
So the Geat people, his hearth companions,
sorrowed for the lord who had been laid low.
They said that of all the kings upon the earth
he was the man most gracious and fair-minded,
kindest to his people and keenest to win fame.

Source of the text - Seamus Heaney, Beowulf: A New Verse Translation.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000, pp.210-213.

TJB: How to bury a hero. Epic of a people who did things the right way: burning, moundraising, mourning, poetry: all formal as well-wrought urns.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"Infinite Bliss" by Sharon Olds

Infinite Bliss

When I first saw snow cover the air
with its delicate hoofprints, I said I would never
live where it did not snow, and when
the first man tore his way into me,
and tore up the passageway,
and came to the small room, and pulled the
curtain aside that I might enter, I knew I could
never live apart from them
again, the strange race with their massive
bloodied hooves. Today we lay in our
small bedroom, dark gold with
reflected snow, and while the flakes climbed
delicately down the sky, you
came into me, pressing aside
the curtain, revealing the small room,
dark gold with reflected snow,
where we lay, and where you entered me and
pressed the curtain aside, revealing
the small room, dark gold with
reflected snow, where we lay.

Source of the text - Sharon Olds, Strike Sparks: Selected Poems 1980-2002. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004, p. 7.

TJB: Horses, snow & sex: this lyric uses boldfaced metaphors & enacts a telescopic regression by repeating its terms room, curtain, gold, & snow.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

from "Wild Peaches" by Elinor Wylie

from Wild Peaches


When the world turns completely upside down
You say we'll emigrate to the Eastern Shore
Aboard a river-boat from Baltimore;
We'll live among wild peach trees, miles from town.
You'll wear a coonskin cap, and I a gown
Homespun, dyed butternut's dark gold colour.
Lost, like your lotus-eating ancestor,
We'll swim in milk and honey till we drown.

The winter will be short, the summer long,
The autumn amber-hued, sunny and hot,
Tasting of cider and of scuppernong;
All seasons sweet, but autumn best of all.
The squirrels in their silver fur will fall
Like falling leaves, like fruit, before your shot.

Source of the text - Elinor Wylie, Nets to Catch the Wind.  New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1921, p. 12.

TJB: Edenist malarkey; paradise as a New England childhood. If it’s as great as the seductive lush-sentiment sounds, do we need to hunt squirrel?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Verse 14 from "Tao Te Ching" by Lao Tzu


Look, and it can't be seen.
Listen, and it can't be heard.
Reach, and it can't be grasped.

Above, it isn't bright.
Below, it isn't dark.
Seamless, unnamable,
it returns to the realm of nothing.
Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.

Approach it and there is no beginning;
follow it and there is no end.
You can't know it, but you can be it,
at ease in your own life.
Just realize where you come from:
this is the essence of wisdom.

Source of the text - Tao Te Ching: A New English Version, with Foreward and Notes, by Stephen Mitchell.  New York: Harper Perennial, 1988, p. 14.

TJB: Dualistic undefinable ‘it.’ Be it poem or not, these wisdom-verses built of opposed pairs permit higher truth but not knowledge thereof.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Above Pate Valley" by Gary Snyder

Above Pate Valley

We finished clearing the last
Section of trail by noon,
High on the ridge-side
Two thousand feet above the creek
Reached the pass, went on
Beyond the white pine groves,
Granite shoulders, to a small
Green meadow watered by the snow,
Edged with Aspen — sun
Straight high and blazing
But the air was cool.
Ate a cold fried trout in the
Trembling shadows. I spied
A glitter, and found a flake
Black volcanic glass — obsidian —
By a flower. Hands and knees
Pushing the Bear grass, thousands
Of arrowhead leavings over a
Hundred yards. Not one good
Head, just razor flakes
On a hill snowed all but summer.
A land of fat summer deer,
They came to camp. On their
Own trails. I followed my own
Trail here. Picked up the cold-drill,
Pick, singlejack and sack
Of dynamite.
Ten thousand years.

Source of the text - Gary Snyder, Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems.  Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press, 2009.

TJB: This wilderness lyric, thick-detailed, skitters between paratactic fragments for narrative immediacy & plays with the pronouns We, I & They.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"Lullaby" by Joan Murray


Sleep, little architect. It is your mother's wish
That you should lave your eyes and hang them up in dreams.
Into the lowest sea swims the great sperm fish.
If I should rock you, the whole world would rock within my arms.

Your father is a greater architect than even you.
His structure falls between high Venus and far Mars.
He rubs the magic of the old and then peers through
The blueprint where lies the night, the plan the stars.

You will place mountains too, when you are grown.
The grass will not be so insignificant, the stone so dead.
You will spiral up the mansions we have sown.
Drop your lids, little architect. Admit the bats of wisdom into your head.

Source of the text - Joan Murray, Poems 1917-1942.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975.

TJB: Babymaking music. Laconic-alexandrine, simple-seeming in syntax, & soft in vowel sounds, still, this song measures its conceit vs Genesis.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"The Locust," anonymous lyric

The Locust

What is a locust?
Its head, a grain of corn; its neck, the hinge of a knife;
Its horns, a bit of thread; its chest is smooth and burnished;
Its body is like a knife-handle;
Its hock, a saw; its spittle, ink;
Its underwings, clothing for the dead.
On the ground—it is laying eggs;
In flight—it is like the clouds.
Approaching the ground, it is rain glittering in the sun;
Lighting on a plant, it becomes a pair of scissors;
Walking, it becomes a razor;
Desolation walks with it.

Translated from the Malagasy [from Madagascar] by A. Marre and Willard R. Trask
Source of the text - Voices from Twentieth Century Africa: Griots and Towncriers, selected with an introduction by Chinweizu.  London: Faber and Faber, 1988.

TJB: Precious-vicious. This figure-chant describes, in the first half the features of & in the second half the actions of, a single locust.

Friday, May 28, 2010

"Rain Delay: Toledo Mud Hens, July 8, 1994" by Martin Espada

Rain Delay: Toledo Mud Hens, July 8, 1994

Despite the rumors of rain,
the crowd spreads across the grandstand,
a hand-sewn quilt, red and yellow shirts,
blue caps.  The ballgame is the county fair
in a season of drought, the carnival
in a town of boarded factories,
so they sing the anthem as if ready
for the next foreign war.
Billboards in the outfield
sell lumber, crayons, newspapers,
oldies radio, three kinds of beer.

The ballplayers waiting for the pitch:
the catcher coiled beneath the umpire's alert leaning;
the infielders stalking with poised hands;
then the pitcher, a weathervane spinning in wind;
clear echo of the wood, a ground ball,
throw, applause.  The first baseman
shouts advice in Spanish to the pitcher,
and the pitcher nods.

The grandstand celebrates
with the team mascot
prancing pantomime in a duck suit,
a lightning bug called Louie
cheerleading for the electric company.
Men in Caterpillar tractor hats
rise from seats to yell at Louie
about their electric bills.

Ballpark lit in the iron-clouded storm,
a ghost dirigible floating overhead
and a hundred moons misting in the grey air.
A train howls in the cornfields.
When the water strikes down,
white uniforms retreat from the diamond,
but in the stands
farm boys with dripping hair
holler their hosannas to the rain.

Source of the text - Martin Espada, Imagine the Angels of Bread.  New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996.

TJB: This declarative lyric from baseball’s shabby beauty, from the ballpark & city I grew up in, concerns itself with surroundings not essence.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"The Mower to the Glowworms" by Andrew Marvell

The Mower to the Glowworms

Ye living lamps, by whose dear light
The nightingale does sit so late,
And studying all the summer-night,
Her matchless songs does meditate;

Ye country comets, that portend
No war, nor princes funeral,
Shining unto no higher end
Than to presage the grass's fall;

Ye glowworms, whose officious flame
To wandering mowers shows the way,
That in the night have lost their aim,
And after foolish fires do stray;

Your courteous lights in vain you waste,
Since Juliana here is come,
For she my mind hath so displaced
That I shall never find my home.

Source of the text - Andrew Marvell, Andrew Marvell: The Complete Poems, edited by Elizabeth Story Donno.  New York: Penguin Books, 1972, p. 109.

TJB: Love-distracted mower cautions glowworms against light-waste. More powerful illumination apparently not contemplated. Why do mowers wander?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

fragment from "The Distaff" by Erinna

fragment from "The Distaff" by Erinna

Text of fragment in Greek:

English translation of fragment by Daniel Haberman:

. . . Deep into the wave you raced,
Leaping from white horses,
Whirling the night on running feet.
But loudly I shouted, "Dearest,
You're mine!" Then you, the Tortoise,
Skipping, ran to the rutted garth
Of the great court. These things I
Lament and sorrow, sad Baucis.
These are for me, O Maiden,
Warm trails back through my heart:
Joy, once filled, smoulders in ash;
Young, in rooms without a care,
We held our miming dolls—girls
In the pretense of young brides
(And the toward-dawn-mother
Lotted wool to tending women,
Calling Baucis to salt the meat);
O, what trembling when we were small
And fear was brought by MORMO—
Huge of ear up on her head,
With four feet walking, always
Changing from face to other.
But mounted in the bed of
Your husband, dearest Baucis,
You forgot things heard from mother,
While still the littler child.
Fast Aphrodite set your
Forgetful heart. So I lament,
Neglecting though your obsequies:
Unprofaned, my feet may not leave
And my naked hair's not loosed abroad,
No lighted eye may disgrace your corpse
And in this house, O my Baucis,
Purpling shame grips me about.
Wretched Erinna! Nineteen,
I moan with a blush to grieve. . . .
Old women voice the mortal bloom. . . .
One cries out the lamenting flame. . . .
Hymen! . . . O Hymenaeus! . . .
While the night whirls unvoiced
Darkness is on my eyes . . .

Source of the Greek text - H. Lloyd-Jones and P. Parsons, Supplementum Hellenisticum. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1983. Fragment 401, pp. 187-189.

Source of the translated text - Daniel Haberman, translator, from The Norton Book of Classical Literature, edited by Bernard Knox. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993, pp. 572-573.

TJB; With conventional-gorgeous personified metaphors, Erinna laments that Baucis: forgot childhood, married, & died; & laments her own loss too.

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