Friday, May 31, 2013

grades of red

Stravinsky in L.A. 
by Elizabeth Alexander

In white pleated trousers, peering through green
sunshades, looking for the way the sun is red
noise, how locusts hiss to replicate the sun.
What is the visual equivalent
of syncopation? Rows of seared palms wrinkle
in the heat waves through green glass. Sprinklers
tick, tick, tick. The Watts Towers aim to split
the sky into chroma, spires tiled with rubble
nothing less than aspiration. I’ve left
minarets for sun and syncopation,
sixty-seven shades of green which I have
counted, beginning: palm leaves, front and back,
luncheon pickle, bottle glass, etcetera.
One day I will comprehend the different
grades of red. On that day I will comprehend
these people, rhythms, jazz, Simon Rodia,
Watts, Los Angeles, aspiration.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

search for love

Search for Love
by D.H. Lawrence 

Those that go searching for love
only make manifest their own lovelessness,
and the loveless never find love,
only the loving find love,
and they never have to seek for it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

given a chance

“There isn't enough of anything as long as we live. 
But at intervals a sweetness appears and, given a chance prevails.”

— Raymond Carver

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

American pie

The sum of all known reverence I add up in you, whoever you are; The President is there in the White House for you--it is not you who are here for him; The Secretaries act in their bureaus for you--not you here for them; The Congress convenes every twelfth month for you; Laws, courts, the forming of States, the charters of cities, the going and coming of commerce and mails, are all for you.  
List close, my scholars dear! All doctrines, all politics and civilisation, exsurge from you; All sculpture and monuments, and anything inscribed anywhere, are tallied in you; The gist of histories and statistics, as far back as the records reach, is in you this hour, and myths and tales the same; If you were not breathing and walking here, where would they all be? The most renowned poems would be ashes, orations and plays would be vacuums.

— Walt Whitman

Monday, May 27, 2013


by Rainer Maria Rilke

Exposed upon the mountains of the heart. See how small over there
the last outpost of words, and higher up,
just as small, one last farmyard of feeling.
Do you recognize it? Exposed
upon the mountains of the heart. Stony ground
under the hands.

Something still blooms here, on the dumb cliff face
blooms an unconscious weed, singing.
But where is the conscious one? He who began to be conscious
now is silent, exposed upon the mountain of the heart …

(Written on the eve of World War I)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

such stuff

In William Shakespeare's Tempest, Act IV, Prospero says,

You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismay'd: be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex'd;
Bear with my weakness; my, brain is troubled:
Be not disturb'd with my infirmity:
If you be pleased, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I'll walk,
To still my beating mind.

Friday, May 24, 2013

the fly

The Fly
by Lydia Davis 
At the back of the bus,
inside the bathroom,
this very small illegal passenger,
on its way to Boston.

Lydia Davis is the 2013 winner of the Man Booker International Prize for fiction. "The Fly" is one of her short stories. I'm pretty geeked that I can post entire short stories at small!

Thursday, May 23, 2013


'I think God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability."

— Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”

― David Foster Wallace, This Is Water

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

let no wind come

Let No Wind Come
by May Sarton 
You had found words for this and called it love:
But when your cheek lay against mine like one
Leaf on another leaf, it was not love;
And when I bent to you, it was not done
For love. From deeper in the rooted mind
There came as softly as a flowering tree
A light as petals falling on the blind—
I saw life grow and fold itself in me.
And now I have a body who had none,
And now I have a heart who had before
Only a moth’s wing lying at the bone,
Only a moth’s heart beating at the core.
It is not less than love that at your kiss
I saw a flower unfold—it is not less.

Monday, May 20, 2013

valuable in themselves

But I would like to go a little further still, and honor the possibility that the stories that poems come out of are valuable in themselves, so far as they are known. Those who are living and writing at a given time are not isolated poetry dispensers more or less equivalent to soft-drink machines, awaiting the small change of critical approval. We are, figuratively at least, members of a community, joined together by our stories. We are inevitably collaborators. We are never in any simple sense the authors of our own work. The body of work we make for ourselves in our time is only remotely a matter of literary history. The work we make is the work we are living by, and not in the hope of making literary history, but in the hope of using, correcting so far as we are able, and passing on the art of human life, of human flourishing, which includes the arts of reading and writing poetry.

— Wendell Berry. "Sweetness Preserved," Imagination in Place

Sunday, May 19, 2013

flowers in the dooryards

We drove through valleys where human life had grown careless and halfhearted under the influence of the coal industry and its invariable ruination. We drove through other valleys spared so far the misfortune of coal, where the modest houses were painted and there were flowers in the dooryards and excellent vegetable gardens. 

— Wendell Berry, from "My Conversation with Gurney Norman", Imagination in Place

Saturday, May 18, 2013

19 abandon holiness

Abandon holiness, discard cleverness
and the people will benefit greatly. 
Eliminate philanthropy, put away morality
and the people will regain compassion. 

Forsake academic knowledge, relinquish propriety
and the people will lose their anxieties. 

Disavow cunning, renounce greed
and there will be no theft. 

These lessons are superficial, and could go on forever.
Even then they would still not be sufficient.
One need only rely upon this:

Manifest simplicity, like an undyed silk.
Hold to your natural state, like uncarved wood.
Cast off your ego, and curtail your desires.

— Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Friday, May 17, 2013

take the present

Ode I.11
Horace (65-8 B.C.E.)

Leucon, no one’s allowed to know his fate,
Not you, not me: don’t ask, don’t hunt for answers
In tea leaves or palms. Be patient with whatever comes.
This could be our last winter, it could be many
More, pounding the Tuscan Sea on these rocks:
Do what you must, be wise, cut your vines
And forget about hope. Time goes running, even
As we talk. Take the present, the future’s no one’s affair.

[translated by Burton Raffel]

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

— Izumi Shikibu (Japan, 974?-1034?)

[translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani]

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

prayer after eating

Prayer After Eating 
by Wendell Berry  
I have taken in the light
that quickened eye and leaf.
May my brain be bright with praise
of what I eat, in the brief blaze
of motion and of thought.
May I be worthy of my meat.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

shall be well

All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one. 

— T.S. Eliot, last four lines of Four Quartets

Monday, May 13, 2013

wandering the earth

"Kazantzakis says that when he was young he had a canary and a globe. When he freed the canary, it would perch on the globe and sing. All his life, wandering the earth, he felt as though he had a canary on top of his mind, singing." 

— Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Koan-like Questions of a Mother to her Unborn Child

Koan-like Questions of a Mother to her Unborn Child
by Ruth Mowry 
Is there something quieter than sleep?
     My whispers circle you like jasmine vine, the way
     my arms want to, when my palm will cup your head,
     my thumb in the shallow petal of your temple.

Where is the pocket in the nightshirt of early morning?
     You didn’t notice just now that I turned over in bed, rolling
     first onto my right side, then onto my left.
     Leaves everywhere on blue-white cotton.

What shape are you?
     In my teardrop body you sleep, sucking your thumb —
     puzzle piece in the circle of your mouth.
     Paisley baby, paisley thumb,
     paisley me, paisley breast. Lace.

What is grace?
     I pull myself up, like a camel, into a sitting position,
     lean left, push off, grunt, rise, stand, and low into the sway
     of this me, your cradle, creaking at my hips.

Do you remember it, that hymn from the old church
through the window as we slowly climbed the stair?

     Holding the bedpost, carved like an altar,
     my eyes closed, up from the organ
     in my chest the music — unnamed song
     through the vibrating reed of my watery throat.
     Stained glass moon. Bosphorus.

Can you see me in the dark?
     My hand rests on the olive of your shoulder,
     or is that a heel? Hush, keep sleeping, don’t worry
     about positions. You are touching everything
     in any case.
     Mountain magnolia blossom.

Friday, May 10, 2013


“You have power over your mind - not outside events. 
Realize this, and you will find strength.” 

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Thursday, May 9, 2013


by Gary Snyder

Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks,
                placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
               in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall
               riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way,
               straying of planets,
These poems, people,
               lost ponies with
Dragging saddles---
               and rocky sure-foot trails.
Game of Go.
               ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
               a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
               with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
               all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

almost without surface

Almost Without Surface
by Kay Ryan 
Sometimes before
going to sleep a person
senses the give
behind the last given, 
almost physically,
like the strain
of plush against
a skin. 
The person imagines
a fig or peach,
perhaps a woman or
a deep constellation:
some fathomless
But we are each
that, while we live,
however much
we resist: almost
without surface, barely
but crazy
as clouds compounding
each other, refusing
to rain.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

whereof the gift is small

Whereof the Gift is Small
by Maxine W. Kumin

          Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

And short the season, first rubythroat
in the fading lilacs, alyssum in bloom,
a honeybee bumbling in the bleeding heart
on my gelding’s grave while beetles swarm
him underground. Wet feet, wet cuffs,
little flecks of buttercup on my sneaker toes,
bluets, violets crowding out the tufts
of rich new grass the horses nose
and nibble like sleepwalkers held fast—
brittle beauty—might this be the last?

This poem references, and uses language from 
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey's sonnet,
"The Frailty and Hurtfulness of Beauty" (here).
Read more about it from Maxine Kumin here.

Monday, May 6, 2013


“When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

Sunday, May 5, 2013

to live now

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

― Howard Zinn

Saturday, May 4, 2013

the soul

The Soul
by Katie Ford 
It disappeared.
It reappeared
as chimney smoke
that burnt through carcasses
of swallows stilled,
and that it portrayed no will
was why I followed that smoke
with this pair of eyes. 
It was that it didn’t need
or require my belief
that I leant upon it
as a tired worker
a gate.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Widow's Lament in Springtime

The Widow's Lament in Springtime
by William Carlos Williams

Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before, but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
Thirty-five years
I lived with my husband.
The plum tree is white today
with masses of flowers.
Masses of flowers
load the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red,
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they,
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turn away forgetting.
Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


by Mary Oliver

And here is the serpent again,
dragging himself out from his nest of darkness,
his cave under the black rocks,
his winter-death.
He slides over the pine needles.
He loops around the bunches of rising grass,
looking for the sun.

Well, who doesn’t want the sun after the long winter?
I step aside,
he feels the air with his soft tongue,
around the bones of his body he moves like oil,

downhill he goes
toward the black mirrors of the pond.
Last night it was still so cold
I woke and went out to stand in the yard,
and there was no moon.

So I just stood there, inside the jaw of nothing.
An owl cried in the distance,
I thought of Jesus, how he
crouched in the dark for two nights,
then floated back above the horizon.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

love calls us

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World
by Richard Wilbur

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
                  Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

   Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

   Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
                                        The soul shrinks

   From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every bless├Ęd day,
And cries,
             “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

   Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,
   “Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
                     keeping their difficult balance.”