Friday, December 28, 2018

"Yard Work" by Sarah Maclay

Yard Work

I’ll clear the old, putrid fruit,
the carcasses of bees where oranges have fallen
and the drying turds the dogs have dropped.
I’ll sweep away the fallen avocado leaves
grown snowy with their infestations,
snip the stems of toppled flowers, toss them.
I’ll yank the hose across the grass,
turn the rusty faucet,
let the lawn moisten
to a loose, runny black.
I’ll water the rosemary
till I can smell it on my fingers.
Time to grab the trowel.
Time to dig,
to take off the gloves,
let the handle callous the palm,
fill the fingernails
with dirt.
Time to brush the trickle from the forehead.
Time to plant the bulb,
to fill the hole with loam and water,
covering the roots.
Time to join the soil to soil
until the night is jasmine
and a thickness like a scent of lilies
rises off the bed;
until the stalks of the naked ladies fall to the ground,
twisting on their roots;
until our broken fists lie blooming.

Source of the text – Sarah Maclay, Whore.  Tampa: University of Tampa Press, 2004, p. 61.

TJB: The poet’s squat pen rests, snug as a spade in this paratactic ars poetica where poetry entails digging and planting bulbs, not blossoming.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

"Husband Sonnet One" by Lisa Jarnot

Husband Sonnet One

o calm sheep in the fields asleep

be quiet while my husband sleeps

ride bicycles or drive your jeeps

in pastures where the snow is deep

the roads that bend o pay no heed

nor wonder where the neighbor speeds

nor ponder at the road’s sad fork

just plow on forward brave and dark

like Dante in his mid-life’s wood,

a sheep’s mid-life is stout and good

like beer that ambers from a tap

or maple running wine tree sap

you sheep of silence play along

in dreams my husband sleeps among

Source of the text - Lisa Jarnot, Night Scenes.  Flood Editions, 2006.

TJB: Jeep for sale—cheap. Nodding at children’s verse, Frost’s diverging roads, & the path to hell, the poet finds quality time for married life.

"Tonight" by Agha Shahid Ali

           Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar
                                           —Laurence Hope

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?

Those “Fabrics of Cashmere—” “to make Me beautiful—”
“Trinket”—to gem—“Me to adorn—How tell”—tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates—
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar—
All the archangels—their wings frozen—fell tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.

He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open—for God—the doors of Hell tonight.

In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed.
No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight.

God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day—
I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.

Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.

The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.

My rivals for your love—you’ve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.

Source of the text - Agha Shahid Ali, Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2003, p. 82-83.

TJB: 13 quips on faith and/or love. With juxtaposition & sharp metaphors, this ghazal gently celebrates itself, with a perfect ending on Ishmael.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

"Blind Tom Plays for Confederate Troops, 1863" by Tyehimba Jess



      The slave’s hands dance free, unfettered, flying

      across ivory, feet stomping toward

      a crescendo that fills the forest pine,

      reminding the Rebs what they’re fighting for—

      black, captive labor. Tom, slick with sweat, shows

      a new trick: Back turned to his piano,

      he leans like a runner about to throw

      himself to freedom through forest bramble—

      until he spreads his hands behind him. He

      hitches fingertips to keys, hauls Dixie

      slowly out of the battered upright’s teeth

      like a work song dragged across cotton fields,

      like a plow, weighted and dirty, ringing

      with a slaver’s song at master’s bidding.

Source of the text – Tyehimba Jess, Olio.  Wave Books, 2016, p. 15.

TJB: Flow and staccato alternate in this sonnet of the surreal unforgettable narrative image of a slave playing his heart out to please the Rebs.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

King Alfred's Verse Preface to his translation of Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy

Original Anglo-Saxon text:

Verse Preface

Ðus Ælfred us        eald-spell reahte,
cyning West-sexna,        cræft meldode,
leoð-wyrhta list.        Him wæs lust micel
ðæt he ðiossum leodum        leoð spellode,
monnum myrgen,        mislice cwidas,
þy læs ælinge        ut adrife
selflicne secg,        þonne he swelces lyt
gymð for his gilpe.        Ic sceal giet sprecan,
fon on fitte,        folc-cuðne ræd
hæleðum secgean.        Hliste se þe wille.

Translation into Modern English by Susan Irvine and Malcolm R. Godden:

Verse Preface

Alfred, King of the West Saxons,
told us an old story in this manner, made known his ability,
his skill as a poet. He had a great desire
to proclaim verse to these people,
entertainment for them, varied speeches,
lest tedium should drive away
the self-regarding man, when he pays little heed
to such a matter because of his pride. I must yet speak out,
engage in poetry, tell to men
well-known advice. Let him listen who will.

Source of the text – The Old English Boethius, with Verse Prologues and Epilogues Associated with King Alfred, edited and translated by Susan Irvine and Malcolm R. Godden. Cambridge, Mass.: Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, Harvard University Press, 2012, p. 4-5.

TJB: Selfie shtick. The poet-king speaks in third then first person, holding us spellbound with sonorous hypotactic speech, & dishing up wisdom.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"An Empty Garlic" by Jalâloddin Rumi


You miss the garden,
because you want a small fig from a random tree.
You don’t meet the beautiful woman.
You’re joking with an old crone.
It makes me want to cry how she detains you,
stinking mouthed, with a hundred talons,
putting her head over the roof edge to call down,
tasteless fig, fold over fold, empty
as dry-rotten garlic.

She has you tight by the belt,
even though there’s no flower and no milk
inside her body.
Death will open your eyes
to what her face is: leather spine
of a black lizard. No more advice.

Let yourself be silently drawn
by the stronger pull of what you really love.

Source of the text – Jalâloddin Rumi, The Essential Rumi, translations by Coleman Banks with John Moyne. San Franciso: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995, p. 50-51.

TJB: Garlic allegory. In this gastrolyric, old garlic is figured as a controlling old woman stifling a romance. Best to store in a cool dry place...

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

"Last Hill in a Vista" by Louise Bogan


Come, let us tell the weeds in ditches
How we are poor, who once had riches,
And lie out in the sparse and sodden
Pastures that the cows have trodden,
The while an autumn night seals down
The comforts of the wooden town.

Come, let us counsel some cold stranger
How we sought safety, but loved danger.
So, with stiff walls about us, we
Chose this more fragile boundary:
Hills, where light poplars, the firm oak,
Loosen into a little smoke.

Source of the text – Louise Bogan, The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968, p. 20.

TJB: The poet prefers eclogue over easy, not scrambled, in this polished miniature which might sound exotic to those not versed in country things.

Friday, November 30, 2018

"In Memory of Jane Fraser" by Geoffrey Hill


When snow like sheep lay in the fold
And winds went begging at each door,
And the far hills were blue with cold,
And a cold shroud lay on the moor,

She kept the siege. And every day
We watched her brooding over death
Like a strong bird above its prey.
The room filled with the kettle’s breath.

Damp curtains glued against the pane
Sealed time away. Her body froze
As if to freeze us all, and chain
Creation to a stunned repose.

She died before the world could stir.
In March the ice unloosed the brook
And water ruffled the sun’s hair,
And a few sprinkled leaves unshook.

Source of the text - Geoffrey Hill, For the Unfallen: Poems 1952-1958.  Dufour Editions, 1960, p. 23.

TJB: Several elegant, interlaced metaphors, spondaic & end-rhymed, run through Jane’s furious siege against death in a house surrounded by winter.

"Negative" by Wisława Symborska

Original text in Polish:


Na niebie burym
chmurka jeszcze bardziej bura
z czarną obwódką słońca.

Na lewo, czyli na prawo,
biała gałąź czereśni z czarnymi kwiatami.

Na twojej ciemnej twarzy jasne cienie.
Zasiadłeś przy stoliku
i położyłeś na nim poszarzałe ręce.

Sprawiasz wrażenie ducha,
który próbuje wywoływać żywych.

(Ponieważ jeszcze zaliczam się do nich,
powinnam mu się zjawić i wystukać:
dobranoc, czyli dzień dobry,
żegnaj, czyli witaj.
I nie skąpić mu pytań na żadną odpowiedź,
jeśli dotyczą życia,
czyli burzy przed ciszą.)

English translation by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak:


Against a grayish sky
a grayer cloud
rimmed black by the sun.

On the left, that is, the right,
a white cherry branch with black blossoms.

Light shadows on your dark face.
You’d just taken a seat at the table
and put your hands, gone pray, upon it.

You look like a ghost
who’s trying to summon up the living.

(And since I still number among them,
I should appear to him and tap:
good night, that is, good morning,
farewell, that is, hello.
And not grudge questions to any of his answers
concerning life,
that storm before the calm).

Source of the text – Wisława Symborska, Monologue of a Dog: New Poems, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak.  Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc., 2002, p. 24-25.

TJB: Photo lyrical. Cutesy but affecting, the poem shows us a photo negative where everything is inverted: life/death, question/answer, etc.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

"Sir Patrick Spens," anonymous ballad


[version A]

1  The king sits in Dumferling toune,
        Drinking the blude-reid wine:
    ‘O whar will I get guid sailor,
        To sail this schip of mine?’

2  Up and spak an eldern knicht,
        Sat at the kings richt kne:
    ‘Sir Patrick Spence is the best sailor
        That sails upon the se.’

3  The king has written a braid letter,
        And signd it wi his hand,
    And sent it to Sir Patrick Spence,
        Was walking on the sand.

4  The first line that Sir Patrick red,
        A loud lauch lauched he;
    The next line that Sir Patrick red,
        The teir blinded his ee.

5  ‘O wha is this has don this deid,
        This ill deid don to me,
    To send me out this time o’ the yeir,
        To sail upon the se!

6  ‘Mak hast, mak haste, my mirry men all,
        Our guid schip sails the morne:’
    ‘O say na sae, my master deir,
        For I feir a deadlie storme.

7  ‘Late late yestreen I saw the new moone,
        Wi the auld moone in hir arme,
    And I feir, I feir, my deir master,
        That we will cum to harme.’

8  O our Scots nobles wer richt laith
        To weet their cork-heild schoone;
    Bot lang owre a’ the play wer playd,
        Their hats they swam aboone.

9  O lang, lang may their ladies sit,
        Wi thair fans into their hand,
    Or eir they se Sir Patrick Spence
        Cum sailing to the land.

10  O lang, lang may the ladies stand,
        Wi thair gold kems in their hair,
    Waiting for thair ain deir lords,
        For they’ll se thame na mair.

11  Haf owre, haf owre to Aberdour,
        It’s fiftie fadom deip,
    And thair lies guid Sir Patrick Spence,
        Wi the Scots lords at his feit.

Source of the text – The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Vol. II., edited by Francis James Child. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1965, p. 20-21.

TJB: Those are plurals that were his eyes. Rich in dialogue, rich in poetic doublets, this sea shanty gorgeously, musically, compresses its narrative.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

"The Universe is a House Party" by Tracy K. Smith


The universe is expanding. Look: postcards
And panties, bottles with lipstick on the rim,

Orphan socks and napkins dried into knots.
Quickly, wordlessly, all of it whisked into file 

With radio waves from a generation ago
Drifting to the edge of what doesn’t end, 

Like the air inside a balloon. Is it bright?
Will our eyes crimp shut? Is it molten, atomic,

A conflagration of suns? It sounds like the kind of party
Your neighbors forget to invite you to: bass throbbing

Through walls, and everyone thudding around drunk 
On the roof. We grind lenses to an impossible strength, 

Point them toward the future, and dream of beings 
We’ll welcome with indefatigable hospitality:

How marvelous you’ve come! We won’t flinch 
At the pinprick mouths, the nubbin limbs. We’ll rise,

Gracile, robust. Mi casa es su casa. Never more sincere. 
Seeing us, they’ll know exactly what we mean.

Of course, it’s ours. If it’s anyone’s, it’s ours. 

Source of the text – Tracy K. Smith, Life on Mars: Poems.  Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2011, p. 13.

TJB: Fermi’s paradox. If intelligent life is out there the poet imagines them as uninvited party guests & we’re the drunk chauvinist party hosts.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

"To a Steam Roller" by Marianne Moore


The illustration
is nothing to you without the application.
   You lack half wit. You crush all the particles down
      into close conformity, and then walk back and forth on them.

Sparkling chips of rock
are crushed down to the level of the parent block.
   Were not “impersonal judgment in aesthetic
      matters, a metaphysical impossibility,” you

might fairly achieve
it. As for butterflies, I can hardly conceive
   of one’s attending upon you, but to question
      the congruence of the complement is vain, if it exists.

Source of the text - Marianne Moore, Poems.  London: The Egoist Press, 1921, p. 6.

TJB: Impersonification. Like any good mother or critic, the steamroller crushes unique gravel to identical sand in this arch, half-rhymed ode.


Friday, November 16, 2018

"To Lucasta, Going to the Wars" by Richard Lovelace

           Set by Mr. John Laniere.
TO LUCASTA, Going to the Warres.


Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkinde,
    That from the Nunnerie
Of thy chaste breast, and quiet minde,
    To Warre and Armes I flie.


True; a new Mistresse now I chase,
    The first Foe in the Field;
And with a stronger Faith imbrace
    A Sword, a Horse, a Shield.


Yet this Inconstancy is such
    As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee (Deare) so much,
    Lov’d I not Honour more.

Source of the text - The Poems of Richard Lovelace: Lucasta, etc.  London: Hutchinson & Co., 1906, p. 18.

TJB: Patronizing patriot. The poet patiently mansplains to his boo why he’d rather be out killing & maiming. Whether we hear irony is all on us.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"Unspoiled Fictions" by Jenny Xie


           “when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy you, they envy your ability
            to leave your own banality and boredom . . .”                    —Jamaica Kincaid

The ease with which a place becomes an entry:
searchlight            viewfinder            fantasy’s aperture

Smell of my lateral gazing
Reach of the outsider’s extravagant need

While I listened for the dialects
While I hunted down the night markets’ chewed lips

Authentic encounters executed           just so
Extractions of color and details in the needed size

Beauty kept simple and numbness hot
The contracts and the rot in the air are merciful

Source of the text - Jenny Xie, Eye Level: Poems.  Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2018, p. 5.

TJB: Instafragments. These ghazal-like lines capture surface details from a tourist’s perspective, carefully curated. Show us the spoiled ones!

"Gravelly Run" by A.R. Ammons

Gravelly Run

I don’t know somehow it seems sufficient
to see and hear whatever coming and going is,
losing the self to the victory
   of stones and trees,
of bending sandpit lakes, crescent
round groves of dwarf pine:

for it is not so much to know the self 
as to know it as it is known
   by galaxy and cedar cone,
as if birth had never found it
and death could never end it:

the swamp’s slow water comes 
down Gravelly Run fanning the long 
   stone-held algal
hair and narrowing roils between 
the shoulders of the highway bridge:

holly grows on the banks in the woods there, 
and the cedars’ gothic-clustered
   spires could make
green religion in winter bones:

so I look and reflect, but the air’s glass 
jail seals each thing in its entity:

no use to make any philosophies here:
   I see no
god in the holly, hear no song from
the snowbroken weeds: Hegel is not the winter 
yellow in the pines: the sunlight has never 
heard of trees: surrendered self among
   unwelcoming forms: stranger,
hoist your burdens, get on down the road.

Source of the text - A.R. Ammons, Corsons Inlet: A Book of Poems.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1965, p. 64.

TJB: Colon flow. From a late Civil War site, the poet takes sides with the poetic/natural & sends the epistemological-carpetbagger-self packing.

Monday, November 12, 2018

"The reticent volcano keeps" by Emily Dickinson

The reticent volcano keeps
His never slumbering plan;
Confided are his projects pink
To no precarious man.

If nature will not tell the tale
Jehovah told to her
Can human nature not proceed
Without a listener?

Admonished by her buckled lips
Let every prater be
The only secret neighbors keep
Is Immortality.

Source of the text - The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition, edited by Ralph W. Franklin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998, p. 631.

TJB: Magma chamber music. Praising the stoic volcano for being a secretkeeper & inverting syntax, the poet sings we too can & must keep secrets.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

from the Aeneid by Virgil, Book I, lines 441-493

from the Aeneid by Virgil, Book I, lines 441-493:

Original Latin text:

         Lucus in urbe fuit media, laetissimus umbrae,
quo primum iactati undis et turbine Poeni
effodere loco signum, quod regia Iuno
monstrarat, caput acris equi; sic nam fore bello
egregiam et facilem victu per saecula gentem.               445
hic templum Iunoni ingens Sidonia Dido
condebat, donis opulentum et numine divae,
aerea cui gradibus surgebant limina nexaeque
aere trabes, foribus cardo stridebat aënis.
hoc primum in luco nova res oblata timorem                450
leniit, hic primum Aeneas sperare salutem
ausus et adflictis melius confidere rebus.
namque sub ingenti lustrat dum singula templo,
reginam opperiens, dum, quae fortuna sit urbi,
artificumque manus inter se operumque laborem                455
miratur, videt Iliacas ex ordine pugnas
bellaque iam fama totum volgata per orbem,
Atridas Priamumque et saevum ambobus Achillem.
constitit et lacrimans, “quis iam locus,” inquit, “Achate,
quae regio in terris nostri non plena laboris?               460
en Priamus! sunt hic etiam sua praemia laudi,
sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
solve metus; feret haec aliquam tibi fama salutem.”
sic ait, atque animum pictura pascit inani,
multa gemens, largoque umectat flumine voltum.               465
namque videbat, uti bellantes Pergama circum
hac fugerent Grai, premeret Troiana iuventus,
hac Phryges, instaret curru cristatus Achilles.
nec procul hinc Rhesi niveis tentoria velis
adgnoscit lacrimans, primo quae prodita somno                470
Tydides multa vastabat caede cruentus,
ardentisque avertit equos in castra, prius quam
pabula gustassent Troiae Xanthumque bibissent.
parte alia fugiens amissis Troilus armis,
infelix puer atque impar congressus Achilli,               475
fertor equis curruque haeret resupinus inani,
loratenenstamen; huic cervixque comaequetrahuntur
per terram et versa pulvis inscribitur hasta.
interea ad templum non aequae Palladis ibant
crinibus Iliades passis peplumque ferebant,               480
suppliciter tristes et tunsae pectora palmis;
diva solo fixos oculos aversa tenebat.
ter circum Iliacos raptaverat Hectora muros
exanimumque auro corpus vendebat Achilles.
tum vero ingentem gemitum dat pectore ab imo,               485
ut spolia, ut currus, utque ipsum corpus amici
tendentemque manus Priamum conspexit inermis.
se quoque principibus permixtum adgnovit Achivis,
Eoasque acies et nigri Memnonis arma.
ducit Amazonidum lunatis agmina peltis                490
Penthesilea furens mediisque in milibus ardet,
aurea subnectens exsertae cingula mammae,
bellatrix, audetque viris concurrere virgo.

Source of the text in Latin – Virgil, vol. I, with an English translation by H. Rushton Fairclough.  London: William Heinemann, 1916, p. 270-274.

English translation by Robert Fitzgerald:

He looked up at the roofs, for he had entered,
Swathed in cloud—strange to relate—among them,
Mingling with men, yet visible to none.
In mid-town stood a grove that cast sweet shade
Where the Phoenicians, shaken by wind and sea,
Had first dug up that symbol Juno showed them,
A proud warhorse's head: this meant for Carthage
Prowess in war and ease of life through ages.
Here being built by the Sidonian queen
Was a great temple planned in Juno's honor,
Rich in offerings and the godhead there.
Steps led up to a sill of bronze, with brazen
Lintel, and bronze doors on groaning pins.
Here in this grove new things that met his eyes
Calmed Aeneas' fear for the first time.
Here for the first time he took heart to hope
For safety, and to trust his destiny more
Even in affliction. It was while he walked
From one to another wall of the great temple
And waited for the queen, staring amazed
At Carthaginian promise, at the handiwork
Of artificers and the toil they spent upon it:
He found before his eyes the Trojan battles
In the old war, now known throughout the world
The great Atridae, Priam, and Achilles,
Fierce in his rage at both sides. Here Aeneas
Halted, and tears came.
                                      “What spot on earth,”
He said, “what region of the earth, Achatës,
Is not full of the story of our sorrow?
Look, here is Priam. Even so far away
Great valor has due honor; they weep here
For how the world goes, and our life that passes
Touches their hearts. Throw off your fear. This fame
Insures some kind of refuge.”
                                                He broke off
To feast his eyes and mind on a mere image,
Sighing often, cheeks grown wet with tears,
To see again how, fighting around Troy,
The Greeks broke here, and ran before the Trojans,
And there the Phrygians ran, as plumed Achilles
Harried them in his warcar. Nearby, then,
He recognized the snowy canvas tents
Of Rhesus, and more tears came: these, betrayed
In first sleep, Diomedes devastated,
Swording many, till he reeked with blood,
Then turned the mettlesome horses toward the beachhead
Before they tasted Trojan grass or drank
At Xanthus ford.
                                    And on another panel
Troilus, without his armor, luckless boy,
No match for his antagonist, Achilles,
Appeared pulled onward by his team: he clung
To his warcar, though fallen backward, hanging
On to the reins still, head dragged on the ground,
His javelin scribbling S’s in the dust.
Meanwhile to hostile Pallas’ shrine
The Trojan women walked with hair unbound,
Bearing the robe of offering, in sorrow,
Entreating her, beating their breasts. But she,
Her face averted, would not raise her eyes.
And there was Hector, dragged around Troy walls
Three times, and there for gold Achilles sold him,
Bloodless and lifeless. Now indeed Aeneas
Heaved a mighty sigh from deep within him,
Seeing the spoils, the chariot, and the corpse
Of his great friend, and Priam, all unarmed,
Stretching his hands out.
                                        He himself he saw
In combat with the first of the Achaeans,
And saw the ranks of Dawn, black Memnon’s arms;
Then, leading the battalion of Amazons
With half-moon shields, he saw Penthesilëa
Fiery amid her host, buckling a golden
Girdle beneath her bare and arrogant breast,
A girl who dared fight men, a warrior queen.

Source of the English translation: Virgil, The Aeneid, translated by Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Vintage Books, 1983, p. 19-21.

TJB: Visuality Virgilianae. Invisible, Aeneas views wall-art & sees his story & the story of Troy, with focus on the Trojan emotions, not actions.

About Me