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.

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