Category Archives: Poetry

the bursting-ness of the season

“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.”

~Rainer Maria Rilke

Three favorite spring poems that make me feel the ripe bursting-ness of the season, I always re-read these around Easter/Passover time, and give them as gifts, folded up in eggs. 

Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit priest, but he didn’t miss the deliciously sexual nature of the season in this poem, and I’ve always loved how contagious the joy in it is. You really must read it aloud, it’s even more luscious than chocolate bunny ears in your mouth.
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
And this one because I dare you to read it and not go skipping down the street.

[in Just-]
by e.e. cummings
in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles          far          and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and




balloonMan          whistles


While the other two poems are about the wild, sprawling, juicy nature of spring, this one is about the perfection, the hush, the quiet majesty of blooming and beginning.
[Spring is like a perhaps hand]
by e.e. cummings
from The Complete Poems : 1904-1962
Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)andchanging everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

Spring is one of the four most wonderful seasons of the year. We love it as much as Summer, Fall and Winter here at Portrait, and we invite you to celebrate it with us as we share the art and literature that encapsulate what spring means to each of us. What whispers or roars “Spring” to you?

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The Kiss

by Stephen Dunn


She pressed her lips to mind.
— a typo

How many years I must have yearned
for someone’s lips against mind.
Pheromones, newly born, were floating
between us. There was hardly any air.

She kissed me again, reaching that place
that sends messages to toes and fingertips,
then all the way to something like home.
Some music was playing on its own.

Nothing like a woman who knows
to kiss the right thing at the right time,
then kisses the things she’s missed.
How had I ever settled for less?

I was thinking this is intelligence,
this is the wisest tongue
since the Oracle got into a Greek’s ear,
speaking sense. It’s the Good,

defining itself. I was out of my mind.
She was in. We married as soon as we could.

from Everything Else in the World

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Long Distance II

by Tony Harrison

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn’t just drop in. You had to phone.
He’d put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn’t risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he’d hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she’d just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven’t both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there’s your name
and the disconnected number I still call.

from Selected Poems

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When a Woman Loves a Man

by David Lehman

When she says Margarita she means Daiquiri.
When she says quixotic she means mercurial.
And when she says, “I’ll never speak to you again,”
she means, “Put your arms around me from behind
as I stand disconsolate at the window.”

He’s supposed to know that.

When a man loves a woman he is in New York and she is in Virginia
or he is in Boston, writing, and she is in New York, reading,
or she is wearing a sweater and sunglasses in Balboa Park and he
is raking leaves in Ithaca
or he is driving to East Hampton and she is standing disconsolate
at the window overlooking the bay
where a regatta of many-colored sails is going on
while he is stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway.

When a woman loves a man it is one-ten in the morning,
she is asleep he is watching the ball scores and eating pretzels
drinking lemonade
and two hours later he wakes up and staggers into bed
where she remains asleep and very warm.

When she says tomorrow she means in three or four weeks.
When she says, “We’re talking about me now,”
he stops talking. Her best friend comes over and says,
“Did somebody die?”

When a woman loves a man, they have gone
to swim naked in the stream
on a glorious July day
with the sound of the waterfall like a chuckle
of water ruching over smooth rocks,
and there is nothing alien in the universe.

Ripe apples fall about them.
What else can they do but eat?

When he says, “Ours is a transitional era.”
“That’s very original of you,” she replies,
dry as the Martini he is sipping.

They fight all the time
It’s fun
What do I owe you?
Let’s start with an apology
Ok, I’m sorry, you dickhead.
A sign is held up saying “Laughter.”
It’s a silent picture.
“I’ve been fucked without a kiss,” she says,
“and you can quote me on that,”
which sounds great in an English accent.

One year they broke up seven times and threatened to do it
another nine times.

When a woman loves a man, she wants him to meet her at the
airport in a foreign country with a jeep.
When a man loves a woman he’s there. He doesn’t complain that
she’s two hours late
and there’s nothing in the refrigerator.

When a woman loves a man, she wants to stay awake.
She’s like a child crying
at nightfall because she didn’t want the day to end.

When a man loves a woman, he watches her sleep, thinking:
as midnight to the moon is sleep to the beloved.
A thousand fireflies wink at him.
The frogs sound like the string section
of the orchestra warming up.
The stars dangle down like earrings the shape of grapes.

from Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art


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Discussing smuggling with customs officers

Instances of Wasted Ingenuity
by Dara Wier
from Hat on a Pond

Falling off a triangle.
Putting two fighting fish in one bowl.
Talking yourself into a headcold.
Falling off a rectangle.
Putting insects in ice cubes.
Talking yourself out of doorways.
Falling off a parallelogram.
Talking into a microphone.
Falling off a footstool.
Putting earplugs in acorns.
Looking into a teacup for trouble.
Talking yourself out of breathing.
Taking a nap on a drum set.
Eating a peach with an air filter.
Wearing a dress made of hand grenades.
Talking a mudslide back up a mountain.
Lighting a camp fire in a taxi stand.
Launching a boat on a horse trail.
Hiking in an elevator.
Falling into an envelope.
Discussing smuggling with customs officers.
Taking a cat to a dog show.
Falling in love with a toothache,
Questioning your thumbprint.
Looking for milk in a gas tank.
Kissing hydraulic acid.
Blindfolding a parking meter.
Falling over a water tower.
Reasoning with a baby.
Chances are the poem began in her mind with (at least the thought of) the last line. And look at what became of it. Each line could well be the first line of another poem.  And it makes you think, doesn’t it, of hundreds of other instances — maybe you haven’t tried to kiss hydraulic acid but surely you’ve thought of using the metaphysical powers of your mind to prepare the night’s dinner or punched hard enough a wall to make a pain somewhere else go away, or fallen out of bed as you sprawled out on the wrong side, thinking, “now I’ll be comfortable.”

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-I invent a thing to love-

The Horse Leech’s Daughter, by Joshua Bell

The Horse Leech’s Daughter is a closed system. Samuel Beckett

From a coffin hinge you’ve made yourself
a wedding ring, and I hear you can’t get to sleep these days

without perfuming your bathroom mirror
on the spot where the reflection of your white neck

rises each morning, like an intestine,
as if even your glassed-up jugular could pump

the required lavender heat to send the stable hands
running to you with your daddy’s leather

satchel, packed with the good daughter’s cure.
Don’t you think I saw the pair of coveralls

in your closet, above the fingerprint kit,
below the formaldehyde jar, beside your ether-

soaked rags, the day I left? And here, I am king
of all I survey-a teapot, the ocean down the street,

and one hundred oblong egg-casings spacing
the beach: the water’s insectile come-ons, bereft of hope and slime.

This is my first chapter on home forensics,
and this is my new girlfriend, Sea-Bass.

Look at her dress, so rough and slippery.
And look, my time has come, my name on the next superfetatory convulsion

of the earth, on into a fresh, libertine nexus,
a crease in one of god’s little footprints,

but there are so many names mouldering
in the bone-yard, without bodies to inhabit.

Like the peg-legged dog of an old crypt-raider
I will fetch you a new name like a bone

from the dirt, when your time comes,
and I will fetch you your slippers and your pipe, when the time comes.

Some days I watch the ocean down the street,
and it’s like with a tongue that the water cuts

the sand into ribbed shelves, and it’s like with love
that the tongue drools on the taut, brown stomach

of the beach, and it’s like the tide that I invent
a thing to love, then cover it with water.


I hope we have reached a point in our relationship where a poem like this won’t frighten you, but give you momentary peace.

Josh Bell’s book of poetry is called No Planets Strike. I hope you get to read it one day.

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Don’t worry about adultery (he sleeps in a different room)


Cherry Blossom Storm
A mother is a mother still,
The holiest thing alive.
Coleridge, “The Three Graves”



“Draping my body in the usual sterile manner,

they placed me in a supine position and adequate

general anesthesia was obtained. Then a collar incision

was made at the base of my neck and the strap muscles

incised, the dissection continuing sharply over

both my lobes as inferior vessels and veins

were isolated, litigated, and divided, the cut surfaces

like a cherry blossom storm, except for a small amount

of beefy red identified at the pole. Awakening later,

I heard a voice muttering: Don’t worry about adultery

(he sleeps in a different room). Don’t go down after

midnight. Don’t take tranquillizers. Don’t love. Don’t hate.

Sometimes, the paralysis of a soul awakens it. Sometimes,

awful things have their own kind of beauty.”


I don’t know. It woke me up. And made me want to curl up at the same time. It’s such a rare thing, a poem that makes you want to live and die all at once.


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A little hope for this Sunday morn’


by Walt Whitman




(From a talk I had lately with a German spiritualist)



Nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost,
No birth, identity, form—no object of the world.
Nor life, nor force, nor any visible thing;
Appearance must not foil, nor shifted sphere confuse thy brain.
Ample are time and space—ample the fields of Nature.
The body, sluggish, aged, cold—the embers left from earlier fires,
The light in the eye grown dim, shall duly flame again;
The sun now low in the west rises for mornings and for noons continual;
To frozen clods ever the spring’s invisible law returns,
With grass and flowers and summer fruits and corn.

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he’s damned if the goat will pay


Encounter in the Local Pub
from the February 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

As he looked up from his glass, its quickly melting ice,
into the bisected glowing demonic eyes of the goat,
he sensed that something fundamental had shifted,
or was done. As if, after a life of enchantment, he
had awakened, like Bottom, wearing the ears of an ass,
and the only light was a lanthorn, an ersatz moon.
It was not that the calendar hadn’t numbered the days
with an orbital accuracy, its calculations
exact, but like a man who wants to hang a hammock
in his yard, to let its bright net cradle him, but only
has one tree, so hewild and aware of itknew
he had lost the order he required, and with it, rest
his thoughts only a sagging bundle of loose ends,
and the heart, a naked animal in search of a pelt,
that once fell for every Large Meaning it could
wrap itself in, as organs are packed in ice for transit
from one ending to the next, an afterlife of partsand
the whole? Exorbitant claimnot less than all,
and oddly spelled; its ear rhyme is its opposite,
the great hole in the heart of things. The goat,
he noticed, had a rank smell, feral. Unnerved,
he looks away, watches the last of his ice
as it melts, the way some godlike eye might see
the mighty glaciers in a slow dissolve back into sea.
He notes how incommensurate the simile, a last
attempt to dignify his shaking gaze, and reaches
for the bill; he’s damned if the goat will pay.

Unlike Francis Bacon, we no longer believe in the little patterns we make of the chaos of history.
—Overheard remark

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I Give You the Bigger Questions and Take Some Minor Joy-Filled Nonsense for Myself

Ever the stickler for zooming in until it’s fuzzy, rather than seeing the bigger picture, (sometimes to the point of just plain empty absurdity, I will admit,) I nevertheless couldn’t help but think of all the Found Poetry I have enjoyed consuming and creating over the years. It is the basest form of re-mixing I can think of at the moment, and although I’m always happier to leave the monumental questions of ethics, culture and policy to people who have the patience and passion for dedicating their lives to these, I will add that at its core, this issue of Lessig’s, to which he has dedicated himself, happens to be a process which I like to call turning into a human. All the things we know, think, say, do were at one time known, thought, said and done by those we observed– we consumed these things– and these things were churned over in our little brains and, effectively, re-created, thus turning us into humans who know, think, say and do things we first had to consume, re-mix and finally create outwardly. It’s a ceaseless cycle, of course, wherein Jesus may die the first time, fly up before the bus hits him the next and so on, but that’s really the jist of how we got to be who we are and continue evolving. This discussion of his and like-minded individuals’ is simply a more evolved and sophisticated extension of this concept. And another thing: isn’t it amazing how everything goes back to biology? I mean everything.

But I digress. Found Poetry. It’s a lot of fun. And also you can’t create it without consuming someone else’s creation first, then tearing it apart to create something new. Legally. Why? Because the courts don’t really care about poetry anymore and that’s just fine with me. (Okay, maybe there’s another reason, too, and that reason may or may not be that you almost never can identify the original source of the words which form the Found Poem, because they’re just words and these words can be found anywhere. So, really, the act of writing Found Poetry is nothing more than an exercise for the writer and its joy is primarily found in the process of searching and finding to fit something predetermined or allowing the words to take you in new directions. The courts certainly couldn’t care less about that.)

It’s really a super way to spend half an hour of your day, right in between creating a video montage of babies taken from TV commercials debating the merits of Proposition 19 and posting a YouTube video of yourself clucking your tongue to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Open a newspaper, a magazine, a book, an insurance brochure, your car manual, instructions for assembling the crib… open anything with words in it that other people combined to make their own sentences. And then start borrowing. And make sentences of your own.

Try not to feel like a criminal. Do not corrode. Do not become corrupted.




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