Poem of the Week, by Denise Levertov

1) Once, a long time ago, I stood at a pay phone in southern Florida, trying desperately to make the person on the other end of the line stay on the line. As I talked, an albino frog jumped from a hiding place onto my clenched hand and stayed there like a blob of putty. 2) Another long time ago, I decided to spend the day at my toddler’s pace. It was one of the longest days of my life –no Hurry up, come on, let’s go– and one of the sweetest. 3) The other day, I started to wash dishes and saw a brown shape in the drain sink. A small lizard, motionless. We scooped him up in a tall glass and released him onto a patch of weedy grass. What these three memories have to do with this poem, I don’t really know –maybe something about each minute the last minute– but they all came into my head when I read it.

Living
– Denise Levertov

The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.

 

For more information on Denise Levertov, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Tina Kelley

Sometimes I lie in the hammock at my shack in Vermont and look up –way up– at the two white pines it’s roped between. One of those white pines is so huge that it scares my friend. She thinks it holds too much power, like a keeper of the gates, but that’s what I like about it. Trees, trees, trees and me go way back. All the mountains I’ve hiked up, where the trees get shorter and spindlier until they disappear, and there’s nothing but the sky and rock and you. Once, I beheld a gray owl on a tree limb. I tilted my head left, the better to take him in, and so did he. I tilted right, and  so did he. We stood that way for a long time, regarding each other. There could be worse things than being descended from trees.

Having Evolved From Trees
– Tina Kelley
We are hazel-eyed.
Some things we are certain of:
Sun in the forest adds extra rooms.

We hide inner twisting under our skin.
A beehive within is a blessing.
Never play with matches. Ever.

We teach: to bloom, to fruit, to peel,
to heal in a swirling burl,
to suffer pruning silently.

We remember the itch of chickadees,
blue air of twilight like a shawl,
the liquor it resembles. We taste with whole selves.

Our women are never too stocky, don’t diet.
Our day — dressing, bedding down — is a year.
At weddings we wear wrensong tatting in our hair.

We converse in the pulses of rained-on leaves.
Our god is wind. We need no heartbeat.
We worship by swaying, masts in a marina.

Our low song, too low, withers and flaps.
We sanctify the privilege of embrace,
of running, the afterlife of dance.

The sun pulls life through us,
up and flaring, a yellow scarf
from a magic tube, higher, wider.

We die with loved ones, rot in their presence,
nourish their offspring and watch
the continuance, ever, exulting.

​For more information on Tina Kelley, please click ​here.


My blog: alisonmcghee.com/blog

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Poem of the Week, by Naomi Shihab Nye

A couple of years ago I read that Naomi Shihab Nye was going to be speaking at a local school that night, free, everyone welcome to attend. I zipped over and sat right in the front row of a small room and drank in everything she said and everything she read. If my favorite foods are what people call comfort food – things like potstickers, peanut butter cookies with the crisscross fork mark on top, soups simmered in a big cast iron pot – then Naomi Shihab Nye is the poetry equivalent of comfort food, but never in an anodyne or predictable way. She is a poet who begins with a thing, a real, tangible thing (and I am a writer who loves the thingness of things) and from that thing she somehow spirals a kite of words up into the air and stitches it to feelings and experience in a fearlessly human way that makes me feel more connected to the world.

The Rider
– Naomi Shihab Nye
A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.

​For more information on , please click here​: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/naomi-shihab-nye


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Poem of the Week, by Richard Jones

Whatever brain function places memory within the context of time is lacking in me, which means that something that happened 20 years ago could have happened last year. That is why every Saturday, when I find the right poem to send out, I check my Sent files to make sure I didn’t already send it a few weeks ago. When I came to this one, which I’ve loved for twelve years because it feels like a tiny prayer of redemption, I was sure I’d sent it recently. But the only Richard Jones reference in any of my 64,428 emails was a note from my poetry-loving son in 2012, telling me about one of his professors in Chicago, a guy named Richard Jones, who was a poet whose work he thought I would like. Which goes to prove that 1) the world is small, 2) a beautiful poem transcends time, and 3) my son is so awesome.

After Work

- Richard Jones
Coming up from the subway
into the cool Manhattan evening,
I feel rough hands on my heart –
women in the market yelling
over rows of tomatoes and peppers,
old men sitting on a stoop playing cards,
cabbies cursing each other with fists
while the music of church bells
sails over the street,
and the father, angry and tired
after working all day,
embracing his little girl,
kissing her,
mi vida, mi corazon,
brushing the hair out of her eyes
so she can see.




​For more information on Richard Jones, please click here.
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Poem of the Week, by Chard deNiord

My favorite phrase in Mandarin is “Changjiang shangyou hen feiwo,” which translates to “The upper reaches of the Yangtze River valley are very rich and fertile,”a fact that has nothing to do with why I love it. If you could hear it spoken you might understand, because the way the chang rises up to meet the jiang (Chinese is a tonal language) and then swoops from the abrupt shang waaaay down to the you, the curving sonority of which is matched by the hen, the whole sentence ending with a slight curve of fei to the command of the WO! is entrancing. That whole rhythm=hypnotic thing is why I love this poem.

Anchorite* in Autumn
– Chard deNiord

She rose from bed and coughed
for an hour. Entered her niche
that was also her shower. Shaved
her legs with Ockham’s razor.
Rinsed her hair with holy
water. Opened the curtain
that was double-layered. Slipped
on her robe in the widening
gyre. Gazed in the mirror
with gorgeous terror. Took out
a cigarette and held it
like a flower. Lit it devoutly
like the wick of a pyre. Smoked
like a thurible in the grip of a friar.
Stared out the window
at the leaves on fire, fire, fire…

*If you, like me, aren’t entirely sure what anchorite means, it means “religious recluse.”

​For more info on Chard deNiord, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Dan Bellm

Many years ago I used to teach creative writing workshops at the Minnesota AIDS Project. One of the writers was a man named Kirk. His eyes were dark blue and his face, like his personality, was calm and reserved except for one day, in the midst of discussing a play, he half-rose from his chair and leaned forward and acted out a few lines from a scene. It was an instantaneous change from contained and quiet to blazing; the air around him was electrified. (I later found out that he had spent his career working in theater.) Kirk’s writing, like everything else about him, was precise, psychologically acute and unforgettable. I still remember the first piece he wrote for our class, a brief memoir about growing up, washing the dishes with his mother and aunts and female cousins after a family dinner, knowing that the kitchen, with the women, was where he was most at home. “This is where I belong.” Kirk is gone now, but I think about him often, and lines of his beautiful writing float around in my head. I’m pretty sure he would have loved this poem.

 

Twilight
– Dan Bellm

After the men had
eaten, as always, very
fast, and gone—I thought

of them that way, my
father and brother—the men—
not counting myself

as of their kind—the
time became our own, for talks,
for confidences—

I was one of her,
though I could never be, a
deserter in an

open field between
two camps. Even my high school
said on its billboard,

Give us a boy, and
get back a man
, a wager
that allowed for no

exceptions, like an
article of war. Gay child
years away from that

lonely evening of
coming out to her at last,
of telling her what

she knew already
and had waited for, I’d sit
in the kitchen with

her after clearing
the meal away, our hands all
but touching, letting

a little peace fall
around us for the evening,
coffee steaming in

two cups, and try at
ways of being grown, with her
as witness, telling

the truth as I could—
which is how, one night, that room
became a minor,

historically
unrecorded battleground
of the Vietnam

War. I think she knew
before it began how she’d
be left standing in

the middle with her
improvised white flag, mother,
peacemaker, when I

said I refused to
go; never mind how, I’d thought
her very presence,

her mysterious
calm, would neutralize any
opposing force, draft

board, father—it’s not,
we know, how that war came to
pass. For years I’d still

call her at that hour,
the work done and the darkness
coming on, even

all those years when Dad
was the one who’d come to the
phone first, and then not

speak to me. Twilight
times with her, when a secret
or what I thought was

one could fall away
beneath her patient regard,
though I would never

manage to heal her
hurts the way she tended mine—
those crossings-over

to evening when the
in-between of every kind
seemed possible, and

doubt came clear, because
she heard, and understood, and
did not turn away.


​For more information on Dan Bellm, please click here: http://www.danbellm.com/
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Poem of the Week, by Jill Bialosky

Once, maybe ten years ago, I was lugging a heavy bag of groceries home from the store. I turned the corner on my block to see a bunch of high school boys at the other end walking toward me with that easy slouchy not-in-a-hurry grace of teenagers. One of them was tall and rangy and there was something about the way he walked that I admired and I looked at him and thought, geeze, he would be just the type I would’ve had a crush on in high school, the type who never would have noticed me. As we got closer he raised his hand and said, “Hey Mom,” and I realized it was my son. Not sure why this poem makes me think of that day, that wonder and confusion and almost embarrassment, but it does.

 Daylight Savings
– Jill Bialosky

There was the hour
when raging with fever
they thrashed. The hour
when they called out in fright.
The hour when they fell asleep
against our bodies, the hour
when without us they might die.
The hour before school
and the hour after.
The hour when we buttered their toast
and made them meals
from the four important food groups—
what else could we do to insure they’d get strong and grow?
There was the hour where we were the spectators
at a recital, baseball game,
when they debuted in the school play.
There was the silent hour in the car
when they were angry. The hour
when they broke curfew. The hour
when we waited for the turn of the lock
knowing they were safe and we could finally
close our eyes and sleep. The hour
when they were hurt
or betrayed and there was nothing we could do
to ease the pain.
There was the hour
when we stood by their bedsides with ginger-ale
or juice until the fever broke. The hour
when we lost our temper and the hour
we were filled with regret. The hour
when we slapped their cheeks and held
our hand in wonder.
The hour when we wished for more.
The hour when their tall and strong bodies,
their newly formed curves and angles in their faces
and Adam’s apple surprised us—
who had they become?
Hours when we waited and waited.
When we rushed home from the office
or sat in their teacher’s classroom
awaiting the report of where they stumbled
and where they excelled, the hours
when they were without us, the precious hour
we did not want to lose each year
even if it meant another hour of daylight.

 

For more information on Jill Bialosky, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by V. Penelope Pelizzon

Every week in my classes we do a ten-minute write, any one of a bunch I’ve stored away over the years, e.g,. “Think of a powerful figure from your childhood, someone you haven’t seen since. Write about that person.” So often it’s a teacher who is the powerful figure, and there are many times we sit in respectful silence as the writer reads aloud through tears, sometimes of anger but mostly of gratitude and love. What students might not know is that it works the other way, too. Sometimes, when things feel impossible, I’ve stood outside the classroom thinking I had nothing left, no way could I go through that door and teach. But in I go anyway. And all it takes is one line or one look from one student to restore me to myself. The art of writing is a sacred one, and so is the act of teaching.

 

To Certain Students
–  V. Penelope Pelizzon

On all the days I shut my door to light,
all the nights I turned my mind from sleep

while snow fell, filling the space between the trees
till dawn ran its iron needle through the east,

in order to read the scribblings of your compeers,
illiterate to what Martian sense they made

and mourning my marginalia’s failure to move them,
you were what drew me from stupor at the new day’s bell.

You with your pink hair and broken heart.
You with your knived smile. You who tried to quit

pre-law for poetry (“my parents will kill me”).
You the philosopher king. You who saw Orpheus

alone at the bar and got him to follow you home. You
green things, whose songs could move the oldest tree to tears.

 

For more information on V. Penelope Pelizzon, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by ee cummings

I’ve always loved this amazing poet, from way back when I was a kid and I thought that all the weirdness of punctuation and lower-casing must be a typesetting mistake, and now I love this poet even more, for the way his love poems can be about romance and sex and remember-me-when-I’m-gone, and how in this particular one, love is a place and yes is a world. I also love ee cummings because I believe he would have no problem with me using the word “love” four times in that last sentence. Happy Valentine’s Day, all.

 

love is a place
– ee cummings

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)
all worlds

 

For more information on ee cummings, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Jeredith Merrin

One of my sisters once said, about something she was trying to get past in her life, “If you don’t get over it, then. . . you don’t get over it. That’s your punishment.” That line has always stayed with me, because it’s true. Don’t forgive someone for something, live in bitterness. Shun love because someone hurt you, live with a stingy heart. In the end, you punish yourself. This poem, and the beautiful Rilke poem that inspired it, makes me remember what my sister said, and the sound of her voice when she said it.

 

Late Harvest
(after Rilke’s “Herbsttag”)
– Jeredith Merrin

Time, it is time.
Summer has been
long-stretched-out, full.
Go ahead, Fall:
shrink down the days
and sugar the grapes
for late-harvest wine.

Anyone still unknown
to herself will stay,
probably, that way.
Anyone unlinked by love
will be love-
left out now—waking,
mind-pacing
up and down
up and down,
restless as leaf-bits
and papers in the street.

 

For more information on Jeredith Merrin, please click here.

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