Poem of the Week, by Alfred Noyes

This poem has been singing itself inside my head for the past few weeks. I’ve been playing a lot of cards and listening to a lot of music and typing out a lot of words, and all those things have a rhythm to them –the shuffling of the cards, the beat of the music, the way the right word against another right word can turn a sentence into a song– and this poem is all rhythm, so maybe that’s why. But every time this poem comes into my head, my grandfather also comes into my head. He was a farmer who didn’t finish high school (maybe he didn’t even go to  high school, I’m not sure), but he knew a bunch of poetry by heart, and sometimes he would pull us onto his lap and recite it to us. This is the exact kind of poem, old-school and with that gallop behind the lines, that he would have recited. My grandfather wore blue coveralls in the barn, and a sharp suit and hat when he went out, and he was tall and lean and goodlooking, and I still miss him.

 

The Highwayman

by Alfred Noyes

PART ONE

 

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
         Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

 

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
         His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

 

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

 

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
         The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

 

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
         Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

 

He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
         (O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.



​For more information on Alfred Noyes, please click here: ​



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Poem of the Week, by Jessica Greenbaum

For a Traveler
- Jessica Greenbaum

I only have a moment so let me tell you the shortest story,
about arriving at a long loved place, the house of friends in Maine,
their lawn of wildflowers, their grandfather clock and candid
portraits, their gabled attic rooms, and woodstove in the kitchen,
all accessories of the genuine summer years before, when I was
their son’s girlfriend and tied an apron behind my neck, beneath
my braids, and took from their garden the harvest for a dinner
I would make alone and serve at their big table with the gladness
of the found, and loved. The eggplant shone like polished wood,
the tomatoes smelled like their furred collars, the dozen zucchini
lined up on the counter like placid troops with the onions, their
minions, and I even remember the garlic, each clove from its airmail
envelope brought to the cutting board, ready for my instruction.
And in this very slight story, a decade later, I came by myself,
having been dropped by the airport cab, and waited for the family
to arrive home from work. I walked into the lawn, waist-high
in the swaying, purple lupines, the subject of June’s afternoon light
as I had never been addressed — a displaced young woman with
cropped hair, no place to which I wished to return, and no one
to gather me in his arms. That day the lupines received me,
and I was in love with them, because they were all I had left,
and in that same manner I have loved much of the world since then,
and who is to say there is more of a reason, or more to love?




​For more information on Jessica Greenbaum, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/jessica-greenbaum



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Poem of the Week, by Julie Marie Wade

When I Was Straight
- Julie Marie Wade

I did not love women as I do now.
I loved them with my eyes closed, my back turned.
I loved them silent, & startled, & shy.

The world was a dreamless slumber party,
sleeping bags like straitjackets spread out on
the living room floor, my face pressed into a

slender pillow.

All night I woke to rain on the strangers’ windows.
No one remembered to leave a light on in the hall.
Someone’s father seemed always to be shaving.

When I stood up, I tried to tiptoe
around the sleeping bodies, their long hair
speckled with confetti, their faces blanched by the

porch-light moon.

I never knew exactly where the bathroom was.
I tried to wake the host girl to ask her, but she was
only one adrift in that sea of bodies. I was ashamed

to say they all looked the same to me, beautiful &
untouchable as stars. It would be years before
I learned to find anyone in the sumptuous,

terrifying dark.

​For more information on Julie Marie Wade, please click here: http://www.juliemariewade.com/profile​


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Poem of the Week, by Davis McCombs

Freshwater Drum
- Davis McCombs

In certain parts of Kentucky’s cave country it is possible to drop a buoyant object in a sinkhole and then retrieve it, often hours later, when it floats up in a bluehole spring. A watermelon, for instance, after having traveled the length some underground stream, emerges chilled to a cool 54 degrees.

Once there was a boy; and once, the sun a tarnished silver plate
between the polebean vines, he led her under barbed wire
and down a ditch to a tar-black smear that gave back nothing
but their own hearts pumping. This is a song of gravel dust
and fescue, of balance won, and a metal culvert’s stagnant slubs.
This is a music of the heart’s solidity. He showed her how
to thump the rind, their faces shadowed on its lightning stripes.
He showed her how a shirt, untucked, can make a basket
for lugging a burden down a red clay wash. Sixty years, the sun
still askew above the hill, and now she carries only the song,
but the boy is inside it, and the melon, too, and when she follows
its sequence of familiar notes along that weedless rut
she finds two bicycles propped at the head of a path angling
down mud and hoof prints to a knob of water blossoming
and blossoming, she finds the white perch drumming its tendons
by the undercut silt bank, finds the stream’s clear discharge,
how it nudged the river’s muddle, and they waited, the cold interior
of that music she would not yet hum nor carry, coming numbly
among facets. She follows the song where it leads: past
the striped and oblate orb that wavered into focus there
below the ledge, over the black seeds in a half-moon on the sand,
and to the grave in which, come that winter, the boy would lie.

​For more information on​
​ Davis McCombs, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/davis-mccombs​


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Poem of the Week, by Suzanne Cleary

Anyways
- Suzanne Cleary (for David)

Anyone born anywhere near
my home town says it this way,
with an s on the end:
“The lake is cold but I swim in it anyways,”
“Kielbasa gives me heartburn but I eat it anyways,”
“(She/he) treats me bad, but I love (her/him) anyways.”
Even after we have left that place
and long settled elsewhere, this
is how we say it, plural.
I never once, not once, thought twice about it
until my husband, a man from far away,
leaned toward me, one day during our courtship,
his grey-green eyes, which always sparkle,
doubly sparkling over our candle-lit meal.
“Anyway,” he said. And when he saw
that I didn’t understand, he repeated the word:
“Anyway. Way, not ways.”
Corner of napkin to corner of lip, he waited.
I kept him waiting. I knew he was right,
but I kept him waiting anyways,
in league, still, with me and mine:
Slovaks homesick for the Old Country their whole lives
who dug gardens anyways,
and deep, hard-water wells.
I looked into his eyes, their smoky constellations,
and then I told him. It is anyways, plural,
because the word must be large enough
to hold all of our reasons. Anyways is our way
of saying there is more than one reason,
and there is that which is beyond reason,
that which cannot be said.
A man dies and his widow keeps his shirts.
They are big but she wears them anyways.
The shoemaker loses his life savings in the Great Depression
but gets out of bed, every day, anyways.
We are shy, my people, not given to storytelling.
We end our stories too soon, trailing off “Anyways….”
The carpenter sighs, “I didn’t need that finger anyways.”
The beauty school student sighs, “It’ll grow back anyways.”
Our faith is weak, but we go to church anyways.
The priest at St. Cyril’s says God loves us. We hear what isn’t said.
This is what he must know about me, this man, my love.
My people live in the third rainiest city in the country,
but we pack our picnic baskets as the sky darkens.
We fall in love knowing it may not last, but we fall.
This is how we know home:
someone who will look into our eyes
and say what could ruin everything, but say it,
regardless.

 

For more information on Suzanne Cleary, please click here: http://www.suzanneclearypoet.com/

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Poem of the Week, by William Stafford

When I Met My Muse, by William Stafford
I glanced at her and took my glasses
off–they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. “I am your own
way of looking at things,” she said. “When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand.

​For more information on William Stafford, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/william-e-stafford​


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Poem of the Week, by Dorianne Laux

Needle and Thread
- Dorianne Laux

It was the sixties, and embroidery was back in,
and if you had jeans torn at the knee, an old
denim jacket, a plain white shirt or a cloth
handbag, I might ask you what you liked
then spend hours alone in my room
with your favorite colors, woven threads
luxurious as a young girl’s hair, practicing
the chain stitch, cross stitch, running stitch,
satin stitch across your ripped skirt until
flowers and suns unfurled, a blustery field
of violet iris, a blind yellow meadow or a deep ravine
that scrolled down your back or pants seam,
red ferns blushing your blouse above
a clavicle, daisy chains circling your cuffs.
I’d return your garment on a day you had almost
forgotten about it, baggy T-shirt, ragged shorts,
laid across my arms so the crewel work
shimmered, patchwork of hearts, patina
of wings, like the riven marble draped
beneath Christ’s Pieta, folds catching the light,
offering it up as a sacrifice, asking nothing in return,
though you bowed your head over it and touched it
with your whorled fingertips, the veined leaf
or cresting wave, frothed, feathered, spiders’ webs
and fleur-de-lis, peace signs and scepters and stars,
then looked up into my face like an alien being, you
who I hardly knew.

​For more information on Dorianne Laux, please click here: http://doriannelaux.com/​


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Haiku, 1 July

Yellow will make me
stand out, he thought. Still, though: “No.”
Blue Man Group reject.

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Poem of the Week, by Suzanne Cleary

Pascal’s Wager
- Suzanne Cleary

Pascal’s Wager is the kind of thing
you would discuss with a beer in your hand,
but then there was always a beer

in one of your hands, or passing from one to the other,
that summer we talked on your porch,
those rainy upstate nights, hot pavement steaming

as it cooled, the steam like fog close over a river,
beginning to lift toward invisibility.
I remember the wager like this: if we believe in God,

there is at least a chance we will see Heaven,
whereas, if we do not believe, we forfeit our place
in paradise. Pascal wrote there is no harm

in believing. If it turns out there is no God,
we’ve lost, he said, nothing, and if we do not believe,
and it turns out we are right, we have gained nothing,

Pascal not the kind of person, evidently,
to take satisfaction in having been right,
damned but right. I knew you drank. I saw the bottles.

I sat in your kitchen and I saw them, beside the stove.
You set your beer down to take a pot from the cupboard,
to pour rice into boiling water. You set it down again

to briefly admire, then chop, carrots and ginger,
to rinse red grapes, place them in a bowl,
all the while the two of us talking, a feast of ideas

and easy silence, as the small kitchen filled
with the smells of earth and, for all we knew,
for all we know, Heaven. When I think of you,

years later, it is usually because there is something
I want to tell you, or there is something I wonder about,
and I am alone in my wonder. I have thought

memory both Heaven and Hell. I wonder
if it is the same for you. Pascal’s theology,
as I understand it, examines doubt

because he believes faith commodious beyond reason,
as is God, who has made earth our home,
and lets us mistake it for Heaven.




​For more information on Suzanne Cleary, please click here: http://www.suzanneclearypoet.com/index.htm



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Poem of the Week, by Barbara Hamby

How to Pray
- Barbara Hamby

Falling down on your knees is the easy part, like drinking
a glass of cold water on a hot day, the parched straw
of your throat flooded, your knees hitting the ground,
a prizefighter in the final rounds. You’re bloody,
your bones like iron ties, hands trembling in the dust. What
do you do with your hands? Clasp them together
as if you’re keeping your heart between your palms,
like their namesakes in the desert oasis,
because that’s what you’re looking for now, a place
where you can rest. It has been a dry ride for months,
sand filling your mouth, crusting your half-blind eyes,
and you need to speak to someone—though who
you don’t really know. Pardon is on your mind. Perhaps
you could talk to your mother. You are fifteen
and think her life is over. You don’t say it, but you think it,
and she’s ten years younger than you are now,
her hair still dark. How do you thank her for waking up
each morning and taking on a day that would kill you
and not just one but thousands? How do you thank her
for the way she tossed words around and made them
spin and laugh and do cartwheels on the lawn?
And your father, he’s the one who loved poetry,
bought the book that opened your world to you
like someone cutting into a birthday cake the gods
have baked just for her. Do you talk to him about not caring
and teaching you that same cool touch?
And King James, how do you thank him for all the words
his scribes took from Wycliff and Tyndall, and Keats
for his odes, and Neruda for his. But this wasn’t meant to be a prayer
of thanksgiving but a scourge with a hair shirt and whips
and bowls of gruel. But is it blood the gods need,
or should your offering be all you have—words
and too many of them to count on the fingers pressed to your lips,
or maybe not enough and never the right ones.

–​For more information about ​​Barbara Hamby, please click here: http://www.barbarahamby.com/biography/​

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