Poem of the Week, by Langston Hughes

I don’t usually like or want to match poems with whatever’s going on in this country of ours. Too neat and easy, too matchy-matchy. But this past week? Hello. I turned many poems over in my mind but none felt exactly right. Then, near midnight tonight, I stood in a crowded room in San Francisco and watched the tremendous storyteller and artist Ashley Bryan, 92 shining years of age, climb to a podium and lead us all in a recitation of the below poem. Is there anything that man hasn’t lived through? So here you go, my friends.

My People

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.


For more information on Langston Hughes, please click here.
For more information on Ashley Bryan, please click here.
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Poem of the Week, by William Stafford

Mom and Dad and me in DundasThis one goes out to my dad, who taught me how to make scrambled eggs, how to drive stick (kind of, anyway – after a few too many times of me stalling out the little red truck he got out of the cab so as not to yell anymore and told me I could figure it out on my own there in the cornfield, which I totally did), how to build a fire in the woodstove, how to ride a bike, how to love the open road and wheels beneath me, how not to suffer fools, how to read the funnies on Sunday morning, how to be loyal, how to be stoic, how to work hard, and how to tell a good story. Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers and father-types out there.

Father’s Voice
– William Stafford

“No need to get home early;
the car can see in the dark.”
He wanted me to be rich
the only way we could,
easy with what we had.

And always that was his gift,
given for me ever since,
easy gift, a wind
that keeps on blowing for flowers
or birds wherever I look.

World, I am your slow guest,
one of the common things
that move in the sun and have
close, reliable friends
in the earth, in the air, in the rock.

 

For more information on William Stafford, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Patricia Fargnoli

On December 4, 2010, I sent out the Patricia Fargnoli poem below. One of my writer friends, K, wrote back that it knocked her socks off. I wrote back that I agreed, and that in my ongoing efforts to become one with winter I had memorized it. I also wrote that I missed K and maybe we should collaborate on a book together.

K: A book together! My heart sings! Can it have a fox in it?
Me: I do believe we should have a fox in our book! A small orange flame streaking his way through the snow.
K: Maybe this poem should be the epigraph to our book!
Me: Yeah!

That was four and a half years ago, and we have been working on our novel –Maybe a Fox– all this time. At one point, about six months ago, K and I happened to be in the same city at the same time and we went out for drinks and dinner.

K, after one hefty margarita: You know what? This book nearly killed me.
Me, after the same hefty margarita: That makes two of us, sister.
K: If our friendship can survive the monumental struggle of writing this book together, it can survive anything.
Me: Agreed! A toast to us!

Then we ordered another round and toasted the fact that we both still love this poem, we both still love our monumental effort of a book, and we both still love each other. No small feats, any of  them.

Should the Fox Come Again to My Cabin in the Snow
– Patricia Fargnoli

Then, the winter will have fallen all in white
and the hill will be rising to the north,
the night also rising and leaving,
dawn light just coming in, the fire out.

Down the hill running will come that flame
among the dancing skeletons of the ash trees.
I will leave the door open for him.

 

For more information on Patricia Fargnoli, please click here.

 

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Poem of the Week, by Jehanne Dubrow

When I was a kid I used to make my own clothes: skirts and pants and shirts and prom dresses. I was/am not a perfectionist and didn’t care about things like cutting straight and matching stripes to stripes and thread color to fabric color (which explains why my elephant bell green and pink striped pants looked the way they did). What I loved instead of perfection was going to thrift stores and spending pennies on old dresses and shirts and cutting them up and turning them into new shirts and skirts and quilts. Making something new out of something old. I still love doing this. One of the quilts on my bed right now contains parts of a dress my grandmother used to wear, parts of an old tablecloth, and embroidered scraps from a skirt I wore to shreds in college. Making a quilt and writing a book feel the same to me. Bits and pieces of old clothes, flickers of images and ideas, put them all together over a long time and one day you wake up and you’ve made a whole new something-out-of-nothing.

Garment Industry
– Jehanne Dubrow

Q: What’s the difference between a tailor and a poet?
        A: One generation.
                                        —Yiddish joke

My mother lifts a seam ripper, its miniature
hook made for a world of tiny violence.

Not only for ripping seams, she says.

There is a thread between us: we work at a
humming machine.

We are shirtwaist and sonnet.

She splits body from sleeve, neck from yoke.

I sift through rag paper, write down the
sound of tearing fabric.

Look. Look at the dress we sew from the shreds
of other things.

 

For more information about Jehanne Dubrow, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Mark Kraushaar

A friend of mine had a husband –lost to cancer now– who saw no reason to stint on the bubbly. Any occasion, he’d pop the cork and fill the flutes. My daughters and I were in the kitchen enjoying a glass of wine the other night, and I was telling them about this guy, and right away we decided to go out to dinner, because we could, so we should. Right? Then I decided that from here on out there’ll be a celebration every day. Go for a run, celebrate! Make a loaf of bread, celebrate! Teach a class, celebrate! Call a friend, celebrate! Wake up still alive? Hell yes.

What If the Hokey Pokey Really Is What It’s All About?
– Mark Kraushaar

You put your right foot in,
            You put your right foot out … ,
            That’s what it’s all about.

            —The Hokey Pokey, Larry LaPrise, 1948

Of an evening filled with wide-set
bright stars I think of my friends, Ray, Sara,
Father Hay, and Phil and Joe.
I think of them together and I think of them alone:
Friends, what better than to put your right foot in,
and what better than to take it out again?

What better than to leave your jacket
and your drink and join
the circled strangers on the floor?
What better than to put your left foot in
and then to take it out since
who’ll explain this strange life anyway,
the problems with love, the trouble with money?
It must be what is meant, this must be what’s intended.
What better than to leave your silent trying behind
and put your right foot in once more
then shake it all about?
What better than having said too little
or too much you join the farmer with his wife
and daughter, the couple with their
squeaky walkers, the FedEx man,
the florist and the LPN?
It must be what is meant,
this must be what it’s all about:
what better than to join the high-heeled,
high-haired waitress first pausing and laughing,
then leaning to her friend the grinning busboy
who, putting his elbow in then out again,
now shakes it all about.

 

For more information on Mark Kraushaar, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Brian Turner

Been sitting here for hours trying to choose the right poem. First I chose a classic one by Wilfred Owens, in WWI, but it was unbearable. Then I chose a lesser-known one by Archibald MacLeish, mid-20th century, but that one was also unbearable. Now I’ve been reading through Brian Turner’s Iraq war poems, and they too are unbearable. Because war is unbearable. So here we are.

Here, Bullet
– Brian Turner

If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.

 

–​For more information on Brian Turner, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/240650

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Poem of the Week, by Osip Mandelstam

This one goes out to all those for whom tomorrow, for any one of many private and public reasons, is a hard or frustrating or painful day.

The Necklace
– Osip Mandelstam (1920, translated from the Russian by Christian Wiman)

Take, from my palms, for joy, for ease,
A little honey, a little sun,
That we may obey Persephone’s bees.

You can’t untie a boat unmoored.
Fur-shod shadows can’t be heard,
Nor terror, in this life, mastered.

Love, what’s left for us, and of us, is this
Living remnant, loving revenant, brief kiss
Like a bee flying completed dying hiveless

To find in the forest’s heart a home,
Night’s never-ending hum,
Thriving on meadowsweet, mint, and time.

Take, for all that is good, for all that is gone,
That it may lie rough and real against your collarbone,
This string of bees, that once turned honey into sun.



​For more information on Osip Mandelstam, please click here: ​http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/osip-mandelstam

 

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Poem of the Week, by Brian Turner

Someone once told me to think up a safe place where I could magically be transported when I needed to, when I had no reserves left to deal with whatever was going on around me. This place took about half a second to conjure itself up: a stream, flowers, grass, a sunny field beyond, and invisible me inside some kind of invisible hollow tree. Warm. I can see out but no one can see me. The sound of children playing nearby comes faintly through the invisible bark. There is nothing wrong, no tension and no anger in this place. I still go there sometimes, and the sense of it came rippling over me when I read this poem by Brian Turner.

R&R
     - Brian Turner
The curve of her hip where I’d lay my head,
that’s what I’m thinking of now, her fingers
gone slow through my hair on a blue day
ten thousand miles off in the future somewhere,
where the beer is so cold it sweats in your hand,
cool as her kissing you with crushed ice,
her tongue wet with blackberry and melon.
That’s what I’m thinking of now.
Because I’m all out of adrenaline,
all out of smoking incendiaries.
Somewhere deep in the landscape of the brain,
under the skull’s blue curving dome—
that’s where I am now, swaying
in a hammock by the water’s edge
as soldiers laugh and play volleyball
just down the beach, while others tan
and talk with the nurses who bring pills
to help them sleep. And if this is crazy,
then let this be my sanatorium,
let the doctors walk among us here
marking their charts as they will.
I have a lover with hair that falls
like autumn leaves on my skin.
Water that rolls in smooth and cool
as anesthesia. Birds that carry
all my bullets into the barrel of the sun.

​For more information on Brian Turner, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/brian-turner​
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Four Days, 1948 Miles, and a Few Photos

Rainbow, UtahOn Day One she pointed the tiny car north and drove in the middle lane through multiple construction zones, truck brakes crying all around her, billboards and fast food crowding the horizon until she angled northeast into the California desert, where northbound cars pushed 80 and she stopped to get gas and pee at a Vegas truck stop casino, smiled away the invitation of a silver-haired slots-playing man to sit on his lap, then got back in the car and drove hundreds more miles to Utah, where early in the evening she curved around a mountain to behold multiple rainbows, bright behind clumps of dark rain drifting down from the mountaintops like Spanish moss in the sky.

On Day Two she steered the car east into Zion and hiked among red bluffs rising thousands of feet above the Virgin River, where along a ridgeline she placed a rock on top of a small cairn, and from which she descended to drive for many hours throughZion cairn   unfamiliar Utah mountains, mountains that demanded silence, so she turned off the music and contemplated them, their pink and red and blue unearthliness, and how she wanted more life, another lifetime or two, please, Zion flowersto see it all, to live there, and when darkness fell she was alone and tired so she tucked the tiny car behind a semi and kept exact pace with him all the way through western Colorado until she flashed him a thank-you, turned off the highway, drank some whiskey and went to sleep.

On Day Three she went to the breakfast room of her cheap Colorado hotel and filled two styrofoam cups with watery coffee while contemplating the exact sameness of cheap hotel breakfast rooms nationwide – the waffle maker with its pre-filled cups of batter and piercing shriek, the reconstituted scrambled eggs, the miniature fridge with miniature cups of yogurt and packets oComfort Innf butter, the knob-turn containers of Raisin Bran, Cheerios and Froot Loops, the milling guests – and, while waiting her turn for the oatmeal, an older man whose lean leathery look and worn hiking boots marked him as a lifelong outdoorsman smiled at her and said, “Where you from?” and when she answered “Vermont, Minneapolis and California,” he said “Me too,” which made her laugh, but no, it was true, he grew up in Minneapolis, worked for years in Vermont on the Green Mountain Trail, and then spent the rest of his career in the forest service in southern California, all of which made her realize again, for the rest of that 630-mile day from snow-covered Rockies to sea-level Nebraska, how huge the world is and also how small.

On the last day she drove east through endless seas of greening prairie, angled north through southern Iowa, crossed the border into Minnesota, where most of the license plates were blue and white like hers, filled the tank of the tiny car for $23.15 at a truck stop where the diesel pump next to her readPoetry hut, flowers $214.89, and finally, on the far horizon, saw the skyline of Minneapolis reaching toward the sun, sparkling glass and stone, and remembered Neil Young shaking his head and saying once, at a solo show downtown at which he was surrounded by candles and smoke, “Growing up in Winnipeg, we thought of Minneapolis as the promised land,” and as she pulled up on Emerson Avenue in front of a house that looked familiar but different, the way a place looks when you’ve been gone a long time, she realized that her life itself was different now, that with children grown and work that was done on a laptop, the geography of home was no longer defined by necessity but by the whereabouts of those she most loved, which meant that she was now a tricoastal nomad, and that made her happy.

 

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Prose Poem of the Week, by Tomas Transtromer

Right now I’m on a road trip, driving from California to Minnesota. Yesterday I hiked in Zion National Park and then drove for many hours through unfamiliar Utah mountains. These were mountains that seemed to demand silence, so I turned off the music and contemplated them, listening to what they had to say to me, which was something along the lines of why don’t you live here, where you could be silent most of the time and no one would care, no one would notice, because all there are here are mountains and desert and vastness. I was 18 the first time the west drew me to itself, and I wish I had a whole other lifetime to see what life would be like in this unearthly land. This poem –that line Our life has a sister vessel which plies another route– is what the west feels like to me.

 

The Blue House, a prose poem by Tomas Transtromer, trans. Goran Malmqvist

It is night with glaring sunshine. I stand and look towards my house with its misty blue walls. As though I were recently dead and saw the house from a new angle.

It has stood for more than eighty summers. Its timber has been impregnated, four times with joy and three times with sorrow. When someone who has lived in the house dies it is repainted. The dead person paints it himself, without a brush,  from the inside.

On the other side is open terrain. Formerly a garden, now wilderness. A still surf of weed, pagodas of weed, an unfurling body of text, Upanishades of weed, a Viking fleet of weed, dragon heads, lances, an empire of weed.

Above the overgrown garden flutters the shadow of a boomerang, thrown again and again. It is related to someone who lived in the house long before my time. Almost a child. An impulse issues from him, a thought, a thought of will: “create. . .draw. ..” In order to escape his destiny in time.

The house resembles a child’s drawing. A deputizing childishness which grew forth because someone prematurely renounced the charge of being a child. Open the doors, enter! Inside unrest dwells in the ceiling and peace in the walls. Above the bed there hangs an amateur painting representing a ship with seventeen sails, rough sea and a wind which the gilded frame cannot subdue.

It is always so early in here, it is before the crossroads, before the irrevocable choices. I am grateful for this life! And yet I miss the alternatives. All sketches wish to be real.

A motor far out on the water extends the horizon of the summer night. Both joy and sorrow swell in the magnifying glass of the dew. We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route. While the sun burns behind the islands.

 

For more information on Tomas Transtromer, please click here.

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