Category Archives: Poetry Month 2010

One Poem at a Time -13-


Without its title this poem is not extraordinary. With it, it’s only an entire lifetime’s record of imprisonment.

Little Girl
by Vivian Lamarque
translated from the Italian
by Cinzia Sartini Blum & Lara Trubowitz

from New European Poets

With the satin stitch
with the cross stitch
diligent she sewed her lips
she tied the knot.

Today’s “Poem a Day” poem happens also to be one (two) I love.

Tomorrow, something happy. Promise.

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One Poem at a Time -12-

I chose to understand this poem literally, although I can see other ways it can be interpreted.  To me, it’s about the loss of parents who were your world and the provider of your ideas of truth.  Life capsizes us and we are “cradlewrecked” and left sometimes to take care of the aged parents who are like the infants we once were.


“Mom was an axiom…”

Mom was an axiom.
Dad was a theorem.
I was a sleeping beauty
in the cradle of home.
The cradle has capsized.
Now the end is the means.
Cradlewrecked beauty, keep an eye
on your mother who is an infant again.




[Listen to an audio clip of Kenneth Koch reading “The Study of Happiness.”]


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One (Two) Poem(s) at a Time -11-

Poetry is both unbearably beautiful and has a sense of humor.







This Is Just To Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold







Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams
by Kenneth Koch

I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.

 We laughed at the hollyhocks together
 and then I sprayed them with lye.
 Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.

 I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the next ten years.
 The man who asked for it was shabby
 and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.

 Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
 Forgive me. I was clumsy and
 I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!



[Listen to an audio clip of Audre Lorde reading “The Black Unicorn.”]

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One Poem at a Time -10-


If ever there was a poem that spoke for itself…

But. Some labor and gestate for the better part of one year to experience this ravenous joy, while others spend entire lifetimes in pursuit; still others are able to sit at a desk, stand before a canvas, step onto a stage in bare feet and instantly… it gushes forth. It is it. And she must have lived it. How lucky was she.


“I’ve cut open my veins…” by Marina Tsvetaeva, translated by Andrey Kneller

I’ve cut open my veins: irrevocably,
Irreplaceably life is gushing.
Bring forth basins and bowls!
Any bowl will prove too small
Any basin – shallow.

Filling up and overly
Onto the earth, reeds purging.
Inconceivably, irrevocably,
Irreplaceably, verse is surging.



Joseph Brodsky happened to be Tsvetaeva’s greatest champion outside of Russia. Appropriately, listen to an audio clip of Brodsky reading “A Part of Speech [As for the stars they are always on].”


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One (Six) Poem(s) at a Time -9-

Raymond Roseliep was a Roman Catholic priest, who lived a quiet life in Iowa, undistinguished except for the large collection of Haiku he wrote throughout his life. He wrote them in styles twisting and overturning traditional conventions of the form, and his poems show a constant sense of wit, playfulness, and curiosity. Like the zen masters of old, Roseliep’s haiku capture crystalized moments of realization; meditations that are both humble and funny, but filled with a sense of timelessness and deep wisdom.



Six Haiku by Raymond Roseliep

but, child,
there is no song
in the egg you break


I whispered of death
one winter night in a voice
we both never knew


armload of child
the weight of night


autumn stillness
the cracks
of your hand


he removes his glove
to point out


I tried to bring you
that one cloud
in this cup of water

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One Poem at a Time -8-


Waiting for my babe to be born in June, this poem contains the words I need to express the inexpressible.


[Formatted version here.]

The Alien
by Greg Delanty

I’m back again scrutinizing the Milky Way
of your ultrasound, scanning the dark
matter, the nothingness, that now the heads say
is chockablock with quarks & squarks,
gravitons & gravitini, photons & photinos. Our sprout,

who art there inside the spacecraft
of your Ma, the time capsule of this printout,
hurling & whirling towards us, it’s all daft
on this earth. Our alien who art in the heavens,
our Martian, our little green man, we’re anxious

to make contact, to ask divers questions
about the heavendom you hail from, to discuss
the whole shebang of the beginning&end,
the pre–big bang untime before you forget the why
and lie of thy first place. And, our friend,

to say Welcome, that we mean no harm, we’d die
for you even, that we pray you’re not here
to subdue us, that we’d put away
our ray guns, missiles, attitude and share
our world with you, little big head, if only you stay.




[Listen to an  audio clip of Heather McHugh reading “To Go”]


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One Poem at a Time -7-


Maybe it’s the blooming flowers or the days getting brighter and longer one after another, but this poem has been on my mind lately. It speaks of venturing forth; the need to follow one’s heart becoming so great, so passionately pressing, that caution is thrown to the wind. Because to do nothing, to continue to sit safely ensconced within the garden walls is too insufferable to bear no matter what consequences lie beyond the brick and mortar.


by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

  On either side the river lie
  Long fields of barley and of rye,
  That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
  And thro’ the field the road runs by
  To many-tower’d Camelot;
  And up and down the people go,
  Gazing where the lilies blow
  Round an island there below,
  The island of Shalott. 

  Willows whiten, aspens quiver, 
  Little breezes dusk and shiver
  Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
  By the island in the river
  Flowing down to Camelot.
  Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
  Overlook a space of flowers,
  And the silent isle imbowers
  The Lady of Shalott.

  By the margin, willow-veil’d
  Slide the heavy barges trail’d
  By slow horses; and unhail’d
  The shallop flitteth silken-sail’d
  Skimming down to Camelot:
  But who hath seen her wave her hand?
  Or at the casement seen her stand?
  Or is she known in all the land,
  The Lady of Shalott? 

  Only reapers, reaping early
  In among the bearded barley,
  Hear a song that echoes cheerly
  From the river winding clearly,
  Down to tower’d Camelot:
  And by the moon the reaper weary,
  Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
  Listening, whispers “‘Tis the fairy
  Lady of Shalott”.

  There she weaves by night and day
  A magic web with colours gay.
  She has heard a whisper say,
  A curse is on her if she stay 
  To look down to Camelot.
  She knows not what the ‘curse’ may be,
  And so she weaveth steadily,
  And little other care hath she,
  The Lady of Shalott.

  And moving thro’ a mirror clear
  That hangs before her all the year,
  Shadows of the world appear.
  There she sees the highway near
  Winding down to Camelot:
  There the river eddy whirls,
  And there the surly village-churls, 
  And the red cloaks of market girls,
  Pass onward from Shalott.

  Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
  An abbot on an ambling pad,
  Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
  Or long-hair’d page in crimson clad,
  Goes by to tower’d Camelot;

  And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue
  The knights come riding two and two:
  She hath no loyal knight and true,
  The Lady of Shalott.

  But in her web she still delights
  To weave the mirror’s magic sights,
  For often thro’ the silent nights
  A funeral, with plumes and lights,
  And music, went to Camelot: 
  Or when the moon was overhead,
  Came two young lovers lately wed;
  “I am half-sick of shadows,” said
  The Lady of Shalott.

  A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
  He rode between the barley sheaves,
  The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,
  And flamed upon the brazen greaves
  Of bold Sir Lancelot.
  A redcross knight for ever kneel’d
  To a lady in his shield,
  That sparkled on the yellow field,
  Beside remote Shalott.

  The gemmy bridle glitter’d free,
  Like to some branch of stars we see
  Hung in the golden Galaxy. 
  The bridle bells rang merrily
  As he rode down to Camelot:
  And from his blazon’d baldric slung
  A mighty silver bugle hung,
  And as he rode his armour rung,
  Beside remote Shalott.

  All in the blue unclouded weather
  Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
  The helmet and the helmet-feather
  Burn’d like one burning flame together,
  As he rode down to Camelot. 
  As often thro’ the purple night,
  Below the starry clusters bright,
  Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
  Moves over still Shalott.

  His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;
  On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;
  From underneath his helmet flow’d
  His coal-black curls as on he rode,
  As he rode down to Camelot. 
  From the bank and from the river
  He flashed into the crystal mirror,
  “Tirra lirra,” by the river 
  Sang Sir Lancelot.

  She left the web, she left the loom;
  She made three paces thro’ the room,
  She saw the water-lily bloom,
  She saw the helmet and the plume,
  She look’d down to Camelot.
  Out flew the web and floated wide;
  The mirror crack’d from side to side;
  “The curse is come upon me,” cried
  The Lady of Shalott.

  In the stormy east-wind straining,
  The pale yellow woods were waning,
  The broad stream in his banks complaining,
  Heavily the low sky raining
  Over tower’d Camelot;
  Down she came and found a boat
  Beneath a willow left afloat,
  And round about the prow she wrote
  ‘The Lady of Shalott.’ 

  And down the river’s dim expanse–
  Like some bold seër in a trance,
  Seeing all his own mischance–
  With a glassy countenance
  Did she look to Camelot.
  And at the closing of the day
  She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
  The broad stream bore her far away,
  The Lady of Shalott.

  Lying, robed in snowy white
  That loosely flew to left and right–
  The leaves upon her falling light–
  Thro’ the noises of the night
  She floated down to Camelot;
  And as the boat-head wound along
  The willowy hills and fields among,
  They heard her singing her last song,
  The Lady of Shalott. 

  Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
  Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
  Till her blood was frozen slowly,
  And her eyes were darken’d wholly, 
  Turn’d to tower’d Camelot;
  For ere she reach’d upon the tide
  The first house by the water-side,
  Singing in her song she died,
  The Lady of Shalott.

  Under tower and balcony,
  By garden-wall and gallery,
  A gleaming shape she floated by,
  Dead-pale between the houses high,
  Silent into Camelot.
  Out upon the wharfs they came,
  Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
  And round the prow they read her name,
  ‘The Lady of Shalott’ 

  Who is this? and what is here?
  And in the lighted palace near
  Died the sound of royal cheer;
  And they cross’d themselves for fear,
  All the knights at Camelot:
  But Lancelot mused a little space;
  He said, “She has a lovely face;
  God in his mercy lend her grace,
  The Lady of Shalott”.



“The new-born love for something, for some one in the wide world from which she has been so long excluded, takes her out of the region of shadows into that of realities,” is what Tennyson had to say about this. Is this explanation of the allegory satisfactory to you or would you put forth an entirely different one? It isn’t always the case that the poet knows his poem best and it isn’t always the case that the poet speaks honestly in explanation of his own poem.  What do you think?


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One Poem at a Time -6-

I’ve always loved the fierce masculine candor of Bukowski.  Loved his hilarious and profane stories. Even at his most revolting there is this underlying sense of fairness; an empathetic, drinks-on-the-house salute to the bums of the world. He is an insanely gifted poet. In turns a misogynist and hopeless romantic.
This poem is for all those who’ve read a little bit of Bukowski, thought they had him pegged and stopped reading too soon:  they think he’s the ultimate he-man-woman-hater.  But no he-man-woman-hater could have written this poem.


quiet clean girls in gingham dresses…

all I’ve ever known are whores, ex-prostitutes,
madwomen. I see men with quiet,
gentle women — I see them in the supermarkets,
I see them walking down the streets together,
I see them in their apartments: people at
peace, living together. I know that their
peace is only partial, but there is
peace, often hours and days of peace.

all I’ve ever known are pill freaks, alcoholics,
whores, ex-prostitutes, madwomen.

when one leaves
another arrives
worse then her predecessor.

I see so many men with quiet clean girls in
gingham dresses
girls with faces that are not wolverine or

“don’t ever bring a whore around,” I tell my
few friends, “I’ll fall in love with her.”

“you couldn’t stand a good woman, Bukowski.”

I need a good woman.  I need a good woman
more than I need this typewriter, more than
I need my automobile, more than I need
Mozart; I need a good woman so badly that I
can taste her in the air, I can feel her
at my fingertips, I can see sidewalks built
for her feet to walk upon,
I can see pillows for her head,
I can feel my waiting laughter,
I can see her petting a cat,
I can see her sleeping,
I can see her slippers on the floor.

I know that she exists
but where is she upon this earth
as the whores keep finding me?

[Listen to an audio clip of Robert Hass reading “The Apple Trees at Olema.”]


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One Poem at a Time -5-

I don’t ask very much of poetry. I simply want it to feel like I wrote it myself, but be far wiser, far truer, far simpler, far more artful than I could make it. This one qualifies.
Black Valentine
I run the comb through his lush hair,
letting it think into my wrist
the way the wrist whispers to the cards
with punctuation and savvy in a game of solitaire.
So much not to be said the scissors
are saying in the hasp and sheer
of the morning. Eleven years I’ve cut
his hair and even now, this last time, we hide
fear to save pleasure
as bulwark. My dearest—the hair says as it brushes my
thighs—my only—on the way to the floor. If the hair
is a soul-sign, the soul obeys our gravity, piles up
in animal mounds and worships the feet. We’re
silent so peace rays over us like Bernice’s hair
shaken out across the heavens. If there were gods
we are to believe they animated her shorn locks
with more darkness than light, and harm
was put by after the Syrian campaign, and
harm was put by as you tipped the cards
from the table like a child bored
with losing. I spread my hair like a tent over us
to make safety wear its twin heads, one to face death,
the other blasted so piteously by love
you throw the lantern of the moment against
the wall and take me in with our old joke, the one
that marks my northern skies, “Hey, babe,” you say
like a man who knows how to live on earth. “Hey,”
with your arm around my hips, “what you doing
after work?” Silly to ask now if the hair
she put on the altar, imagining her power over
his passage, was dead or living.

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One Poem at a Time -4-

This poem is not gentle. I always feel a bit bruised on reading it.  But the language is so delicious, so cosmically expansive that for me it’s like a fiery Szechuan dish spiced to the point of pain but whose flavor is so sumptuous I am seduced to return to it again and again.


The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower                                                                                                                                                    by Dylan Thomas

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.




[Listen to Charles Wright read his “When You’re Lost in Juarez in the Rain and It’s Easter Time Too”]


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