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.

     - 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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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.

– 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

My blog: alisonmcghee.com/blog

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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.

My Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts

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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.


– 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,

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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