Poems by Others

I was originally going to post one poem a month here, but there are just too many poems out there that I want to share. Henceforth, I will add a poem whenever the mood strikes; I am shooting for a few times a week. Once the page gets to 8 or so poems, I will move them to Archives under the More tab and start over.

 

I just posted a poem a few hours ago, but I just got the news that Miller Williams has died. What a wonderful poet and a kind man. Below is one of my favorite poems of his, and one of his most famous. It plays with a form I love--the sestina--in a clever and clear way.

 

The Shrinking Lonesome Sestina

     by Miller Williams

 Somewhere in everyone's head something points toward home,
 a dashboard's floating compass, turning all the time
 to keep from turning. It doesn't matter how we come
 to be wherever we are, someplace where nothing goes
 the way it went once, where nothing holds fast
 to where it belongs, or what you've risen or fallen to.
 
 What the bubble always points to,
 whether we notice it or not, is home.
 It may be true that if you move fast
 everything fades away, that given time
 and noise enough, every memory goes
 into the blackness, and if new ones come-
 
 small, mole-like memories that come
 to live in the furry dark-they, too,
 curl up and die. But Carol goes
 to high school now. John works at home
 what days he can to spend some time
 with Sue and the kids. He drives too fast.
 
 Ellen won't eat her breakfast.
 Your sister was going to come
 but didn't have the time.
 Some mornings at one or two
 or three I want you home
 a lot, but then it goes.
 
 It all goes.
 Hold on fast
 to thoughts of home
 when they come.
 They're going to
 less with time.
 
 Time
 goes
 too
 fast.
 Come
 home.
 
 Forgive me that. One time it wasn't fast.
 A myth goes that when the years come
 then you will, too. Me, I'll still be home.
 

Today's poem (and today is Friday, January 2, 2015) is a poem I often reread. I have a personal connection to the place which is the setting of this poem. However, I have lived in a lot of places and I have traveled a great deal, so a geographic connection is not unusual for me. 

What I think makes this such a superior poem is the melding of place and theme, pop culture and real life, humor and drama. I hope you enjoy this poem as much as I do!

 

 

Getting Engaged in the Gun Room of the Lafayette Hotel

 

Kate Fox

 

Behind him, long rifles line the wall,

and the smaller weapons—the Derringers,

 

the Colt 45s, the Smiths and Wessons—are paired

with their bark-tanned holsters in shadow boxes

 

backed with scenes of the Old West. The ring box

snaps open like a shot, and suddenly it is high noon

 

at this table, where the world swiftly divides

into black hats and white, “Howdy” and “How,”

 

good and bad so far apart that not even a bullet

can bring them together. “This love ain’t big enough

 

for the two of us,” I want to say, but his mind

is on that long, long trail, that last cattle drive,

 

that moment when he will stare down

the bore of a very long rifle, and he will need

 

a faithful sidekick to step out in front of him,

to stand tall and take one square in the chest.

 

 

It is Sunday, December 28. I heard the Austrailian poet Clive James read this poem of his recently on a public radio show (thank heavens for public radio, where poetry actually sort of matters!). It's quite lovely and suitable for the weather here and the late afternoon hour.

 

Sentenced to Life

     Clive James

 

Sentenced to life, I sleep face-up as though

Ice-bound, lest I should cough the night away,
And when I walk the mile to town, I show
The right technique for wading through deep clay.
A sad man, sorrier than he can say.
 
But surely not so guilty he should die
Each day from knowing that his race is run:
My sin was to be faithless. I would lie
As if I could be true to everyone
At once, and all the damage that was done
 
Was in the name of love, or so I thought.
I might have met my death believing this,
But no, there was a lesson to be taught.
Now, not just old, but ill, with much amiss,
I see things with a whole new emphasis.
 
My daughter’s garden has a goldfish pool
With six fish, each a little finger long.
I stand and watch them following their rule
Of never touching, never going wrong:
Trajectories as perfect as plain song.
 
Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known
The name for Japanese anemones,
So pale, so frail. But now I catch the tone
Of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees
Without my seeing them. I count the bees.
 
Even my memories are clearly seen:
Whence comes the answer if I’m told I must
Be aching for my homeland. Had I been
Dulled in the brain to match my lungs of dust
There’d be no recollection I could trust.
 
Yet I, despite my guilt, despite my grief,
Watch the Pacific sunset, heaven sent,
In glowing colours and in sharp relief,
Painting the white clouds when the day is spent,
As if it were my will and testament –
 
As if my first impressions were my last,
And time had only made them more defined,
Now I am weak. The sky is overcast
Here in the English autumn, but my mind
Basks in the light I never left behind.
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I am posting a poem by a poet who is not well-known, and most who know of him only do so because of his tragic life and bizarre death. I am including links after the poem to more of his work, plus his bio. This poem will probably not change your life, but it has some beautiful passages and images.

 

An Acrobat, a Violinist, and a Chambermaid Celebrate

  by Maxwell Bodenheim (1892-1954)
 
 
Geometry of souls.
Dispute the roundness of gesturing flesh;
Angles, and oblongs, and squares
Slip with astounding precision
Into the throes of lifted elbows;
Into the searching perpendicular
Of fingers rising to more than ten;
Into the salient straightness of lips;
Into the rock-like protest of knees.
The flesh of human beings
Is a beginner's-lesson in mathematics.
The pliant stupidity of flesh
Mentions the bungling effort
Of a novice to understand
The concealed mathematics of the soul.
Men will tell you that an arm
Rising to the sky
Indicates strident emotion;
Reveals a scream of authority;
Expresses the longing of a red engine
Known as the heart;
Rises like a flag-pole
From which the mind signals.
Men will fail to tell you
That an arm rising to the sky
Takes a straight line of the soul
And strives to comprehend it;
That the arm is a solid tunnel
For a significance that shoots beyond it.
The squares, and angles, and oblongs of the soul,
The commencing lines of the soul
Are pestered by a debris of words.
Men shovel away the words:
Falteringly in youth;
Tamely and pompously in middle age;
Vigorously in old age.
Death takes the last shovel-full away:
Death is accommodating.
Nothing is wise except outline.
The content held by outline
Is a slave in the mass.
Men with few outlines in their minds
Try to give the outlines dignity
By moulding them into towers two inches high,
In which they sit in lonely, talkative importance.
Men with many outlines
Break them into more, and thus
Playing, come with quickened breath
To hints of spiritual contours.
Seek only the decoration;
Avoid the embryonic yelping
Of argument, and scan your patterns
For angles, oblongs, and squares of the soul.
I overheard this concentrated prelude
While listening to an acrobat, a violinist, and a chambermaid
Celebrate the removal of their flesh.
While playing, the violinist's upper arm
Bisected the middle of the acrobat's head
As the latter knelt to hear,
And the chambermaid
Stretched straight on the floor, with her forehead
Touching the tips of the violinist's feet.
Motion knelt to receive
The counselling touch of sound,
And vigour, in a searching line,
Reclined at the feet of sound,
Buying a liquid release.
Angles of arms and straight line of bodies
Made a decoration.
The violinist's music
Fell upon this decoration;
Erased the vague embellishment of flesh;
And came to angles, squares, and oblongs
Of the soul.
 
Read more at http://www.blackcatpoems.com/b/an_acrobat_a_violinist.html#AaMWPdpsaUKADi3O.99
 
http://www.pennilesspress.co.uk/prose/bodenheim.htm
 
http://chiseler.org/post/38071308208/maxwell-bodenheim

 

 

 

Below is a poem that has haunted me since I first read it decades ago. It is a wonderful example of a fine poet getting a point across by focusing on the specific, the individual, and the lyric, rather than writing a rant against violence. Poems are much more moving when they appear not to be.

 

The Mother Writes to the Murderer: A Letter

 

Naomi Shihab Nye

 

To you whose brain is a blunt fist

pushed deep inside your skull

whose eyes are empty bullets

whose mouth is a stone more speechless

than lost stones at the bottoms of rivers

who lives in a shrunken world where nothing blooms

and no promise is ever kept

 

To you who face I never saw but now see

everywhere the rest of my life

 

You don’t know where she hid her buttons

 

arranged in families by color or size

tissue-wrapped in an oatmeal box

how she told them goodnight sleep well

and never felt ashamed

 

You don’t know her favorite word

and I won’t tell you

 

You don’t have her drawings taped to your refrigerator

blue circuses, red farms

You don’t know she cried once in a field of cows

saying they were too beautiful to eat

 

I’m sure you never thought of that

I’m sure nothing is too beautiful for you to eat

 

You have no idea what our last words were to one another

how terribly casual

 

because I thought she was going a block away

with her brother to the store

They would be back in ten minutes

 

I was ironing her dress

while two houses away an impossible darkness

rose up around my little girl

 

What can I wish you in return?

I was thinking knives and pistols

high voltages searing off your nerves

I was wishing you could lose your own life

bit by bit finger by toe

and know what my house is like

 

how many doors I still have to open

 

Maybe worse would be for you to love something

and have it snatched up sifted out of your sight

for what reason?

a flurry of angels recalled to heaven

and then see how you sit

and move and remember

how you sleep at night

how you feel about mail my letter to you

all the letters passing through all the hands

of the people on earth

when the only one that matters

is the one you can neither receive

nor send

 

 

If you have enjoyed these poems, please find more works by these poets and buy their books! You can also click on Archives section in the More tab for more poems I like. I hope you will discover new poems and/or poets to delight and inspire you!

 

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