March 14, 2017

Mark Strand

ORPHEUS ALONE

It was an adventure much could be made of: a walk
On the shores of the darkest known river,
Among the hooded, shoving crowds, by steaming rocks
And rows of ruined huts half-buried in the muck;
Then to the great court with its marble yard
Whose emptiness gave him the creeps, and to sit there
In the sunken silence of the place and speak
Of what he had lost, what he still possessed of his loss,
And, then, pulling out all the stops, describing her eyes,
Her forehead where the golden light of evening spread,
The curve of her neck, the slope of her shoulders, everything
Down to her thighs and calves, letting the words come,
As if lifted from sleep, to drift upstream,
Against the water’s will, where all the condemned
And pointless labor, stunned by his voice’s cadence,
Would come to a halt, and even the crazed, disheveled
Furies, for the first rime, would weep, and the soot-filled
Air would clear just enough for her, the lost bride,
To step through the image of herself and be seen in the light.
As everyone knows, this was the first great poem,
Which was followed by days of sitting around
In the houses of friends, with his head back, his eyes
Closed, trying to will her return, but finding
Only himself, again and again, trapped
In the chill of his loss, and, finally,
Without a word, taking off to wander the hills
Outside of town, where he stayed until he had shaken
The image of love and put in its place the world
As he wished it would be, urging its shape and measure
Into speech of such newness that the world was swayed,
And trees suddenly appeared in the bare place
Where he spoke and lifted their limbs and swept
The tender grass with the gowns of their shade,
And stones, weightless for once, came and set themselves there,
And small animals lay in the miraculous fields of grain
And aisles of corn, and slept. The voice of light
Had come forth from the body of fire, and each thing
Rose from its depths and shone as it never had.
And that was the second great poem,
Which no one recalls anymore. The third and greatest
Came into the world as the world, out of the unsayable,
Invisible source of all longing to be; it came
As things come that will perish, to be seen or heard
A while, like the coating of frost or the movement
Of wind, and then no more; it came in the middle of sleep
Like a door to the infinite, and, circled by flame,
Came again at the moment of waking, and, sometimes,
Remote and small, it came as a vision with trees
By a weaving stream, brushing the bank
With their violet shade, with somebody’s limbs
Scattered among the matted, mildewed leaves nearby,
With his severed head rolling under the waves,
Breaking the shifting columns of light into a swirl
Of slivers and flecks; it came in a language
Untouched by pity, in lines, lavish and dark,
Where death is reborn and sent into the world as a gift,
So the future, with no voice of its own, nor hope
Of ever becoming more than it will be, might mourn.

from Rattle #17, Summer 2002
Tribute to Pulitzer Prize Winners

__________

For more on Mark Strand, visit his webpage.

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February 14, 2017

Mark Strand

THE END

Not everyone knows what he shall sing at the end,
Watching the pier as the ship sails away, or what it will seem like
When he’s held by the sea’s roar, motionless, there at the end,
Or what he shall hope for once it is clear that he’ll never go back.

When the time has passed to prune the rose or caress the cat,
When the sunset torching the lawn and the full moon icing it down
No longer appear, not everyone knows what he’ll discover instead.
When the weight of the past leans against nothing, and the sky

Is no more than remembered light, and the stories of cirrus
And cumulus come to a close, and all the birds are suspended in flight,
Not everyone knows what is waiting for him, or what he shall sing
When the ship he is on slips into darkness, there at the end.

from Rattle #17, Summer 2002
Tribute to Pulitzer Prize Winners

__________

For more on Mark Strand, visit his webpage.

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December 22, 2016

Mark Strand

THE NIGHT, THE PORCH

To stare at nothing is to learn by heart
What all of us will be swept into, and baring oneself
To the wind is feeling the ungraspable somewhere close by.
Trees can sway or be still. Day or night can be what they wish.
What we desire, more than a season or weather, is the comfort
Of being strangers, at least to ourselves. This is the crux
Of the matter, which is why even now we seem to be waiting
For something whose appearance would be its vanishing—
The sound, say, of a few leaves falling, or just one leaf,
Or less. There is no end to what we can learn. The book out there
Tells us as much, and was never written with us in mind.

from Rattle #17, Summer 2002
Tribute to Pulitzer Prize Winners

__________

For more on Mark Strand, visit his webpage.

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July 8, 2016

Charles Simic

THE VICES OF THE EVENING

The way the light and shadow
Go one with their tug-of-war
While the night busies itself
Behind our backs

To catch us by surprise
With a single burnt matchstick
Left in someone’s hand,
Who forgot why he lit it,

Unless it was for children
To find their way
Through weedy gardens
And narrow back alleys

from Rattle #17, Summer 2002

__________

Charles Simic: “When you read a nice poem, somebody else’s poem, you become attuned to the words on the page. The language seems so rich, so beautiful, imagination making connections. You do need the reader as a collaborator. There could be other experiences beyond that of course. There might be some thoughts, some ideas emerging out of that, but I think the most basic fundamental thing is to give the reader something pleasurable.”

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June 9, 2016

Charles Simic

MIDSUMMER

The truth is, we are nearer to heaven
Each time we lie down.
Take a look at the cat
Rolled over with its feet in the air.

A sunny morning after last night’s storm
Is one more invitation to paradise.
So we leapt out of bed
To dress quickly, only to tarry

Kissing, and fall into bed again,
Astonished to find
The ceiling over our heads,
And not the blue sky.

from Rattle #17, Summer 2002

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May 24, 2016

Charles Simic

FRIED FISH CAFE

The evening sky is red
And so is the wine I’m drinking.
I’ll stay on right here
At the end of this long pier.

O world with your traveling horrors,
Cities burning in the distance,
Coffins piled up to the sky,
Martyrs hung like butcher’s carcasses.

Whatever your secret is, sea wind,
Whisper it in my ear and only in my ear
And then let the gulls
Spread over me their ghostly wings.

from Rattle #17, Summer 2002

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February 16, 2016

Philip Levine

THE MUSIC OF TIME

The young woman sewing by the window
hums a song I don’t know; I hear only
a few bars, and when the trucks barrel down
the broken walkway between our buildings
the music is lost. Before the darkness
leaks from the shadows of the great cathedral
I think I see her at work and later hear
in the sudden silence of nightfall wordless
music rising from her room. I put aside
my papers, wash, and dress to go out.
I have a small dinner at one of the cafes
along the great avenues near the port
where the homeless sleep. Later I walk
for hours in the Barrio Chino passing
the open doors of tiny bars and caves
from which the voices of old men
bark out the stale anthems
of love’s defeat. “This is the world,”
I think, “this is what I came
in search of years ago.” Now I can go
back to my single room, I can lie
awake in the dark and rehearse
all the trivial events of the day ahead,
a day that begins when the sun clears
the dark spires of someone’s God, and I
waken in a flood of dust rising
from nowhere and from nowhere comes
the actual voice of someone else.

from Rattle #17, Summer 2002

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