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.

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