13 Angels Standing Guard 'round The Side Of Your Bed

a sliver mt. zion

I stood out in the open cold
To see the essence of the eclipse
Which was its perfect darkness.

I stood in the cold on the porch
And could not think of anything so perfect
As mans hope of light in the face of darkness.

Richard Eberhart

The Eclipse

Steel Mao in the center of Zheizhang university in hongzhou.

Early in the cultural revolution, Mao decided china needed to increase steel production, so peasents were ordered to stop farming and forge steel. Overnight they began cutting down trees to make charcoal to power home-made furnaces to melt ore to satisfy their quotas. The ensuing famine killed millions, leaving vast swaths of land deforested. This enormous steel Mao atop a small hill in the center of campus once commanded an unobstructed view down a long boulevard into the heart of hongzhou; today it is all but lost in a thick tangle of trees. Time moves on.

a a

I had wanted to begin
by telling you I saw another
tanager below the pond
where I had sat for half an hour
feeding on wild berries
in the little clearing near the pines
that hide the lower field
and then looked up from red berries
to the quick red bird brilliant
in the light. I have seen
more yarrow and swaying
Queen Anne's lace around the woods
as hawkweed and nightshade
wither and drop seed. A new blue flower,
sweet, yellow-stamened, ovary inferior,
has recently sprung up.
                                But I had the odd
feeling, walking to the house
to write this down, that I had left
the birds and flowers in the field,
rooted or feeding. They are not in my
head, are not now on the page.
It was very strange to me, but I think
their loss was your absence. I wanted
to be walking up with Leif, the sun
behind us skipping off the pond,
the windy maple sheltering the house,
and find you there and say
here! a new blue flower (ovary inferior)
and busy Leif and Kris with naming
in a world I love. You even have
my field guide. It's you I love.
I have believed so long
in the magic of names and poems.
I hadn't thought them bodiless
at all. Tall Buttercup. Wild Vetch.
"Often I am permitted to return
to a meadow." It all seemed real to me
last week. Words. You are the body
of my world, root and flower, the
brightness and surprise of birds.
I miss you, love. Tell Leif
you're the names of things.

Robert Hass


For who in this world can give anyone a character? Who in this world knows anything of any other heart - or of his own? I don't mean to say that one cannot form an average estimate of the way a person will behave. But one cannot be certain of the way any man will behave in every case - and until one can do that a `character' is of no use to anyone. That, for instance, was the way with Florence's maid in Paris. We used to trust that girl with blank cheques for the payment of the tradesmen. For quite a long time she was trusted by us. Then, suddenly, she stole a ring. We should not have believed her capable of it; she would not have believed herself capable of it. It was nothing in her character.

Ford Madox Ford

The Good Soldier

You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklinke as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you're anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you're with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on instead a significance that is ludicrous, so ill-equipped are we all to envision one another's interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day? The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we're alive: we're wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that - well, lucky you.

Philip Roth

American Pastoral

But then there are the other times, when everything goes perfectly. You don't think. You don't concentrate. Every move unfolds effortlessly. You take the needle. You stick the chest. You feel the needle travel -a distinct glide through the fat, a slight catch in the dense muscle, then the subtle pop through the vein wall - and you're in. At such moments, it is more than easy:
                                it is beautiful.

Atul Gawande

from Complications

I liked the bellows operated by rope.
A hand or foot pedal - I don't remember which.
But that blowing, and the blazing of the fire!
And a piece of iron in the fire, held there by tongs,
Red, softened for the anvil,
Beaten with a hammer, bent into a horseshoe,
Thrown in a bucket of water, sizzle, steam.

And horses hitched to be shod,
Tossing their manes; and in the grass by the river
Plowshares, sledge runners, harrows waiting for repair

At the entrance, my bare feet on the dirt floor,
Here, gusts of heat; at my back, white clouds.
I stare and stare. It seems I was called for this:
To glorify things just because they are.

Czeslaw Milosz

Blacksmith Shop

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice -
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations -
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do -
determined to save
the only life you could save

Mary Oliver

The Journey

I think of broken snow, but this is permanent. Two separate women on a bench-crossed at the wrists, her hands could make a smaller version of the dancer unlacing her shoes. Or maybe she's just clutching her ankle in order to communicate a small, but consistent pain. The kind that makes you look at pictures because words are not sufficient to describe it.

God said just float on a black lake like a child floats on his back to stare at stars. Let go. Watch cool paper boats. But I'm afraid of black water and the way women ignore each other at restaurant counters (one sips her coffee while the other draws circles on a paper napkin). When a child throws a stone into a lake, God is pleased, and opens in rings, then fades to prompt the child to throw again.

When I hear her set her coffee back on the counter, I look at my napkin to pretend I'm occupied with my love of circles. This could be an aerial sketch of twirling ballerinas, I think - each dancer ignoring the small white pain in her ankle. Like a moon incessantly reflected in a lake. When a child floats on a paper boat, he wonders, Where do stones go after they've pleased God?

This is a hinge at the end of a lake boat, but I still don't know how to draw the fear of separation. We were alone for a long time. After many years, God said to the child, There are hundreds of wet stones in your mouth - and inside stone, the possibility of black unopened umbrellas.

Allison Benis


There are two silences. One when no word is spoken. The other when
perhaps a torrent of language is employed. The speech is speaking a
language locked beneath it.

Harold Pinter

Intro to Landscape and Silence

She dies at dawn
or perhaps it's murder
either way shadows and gauze
Preparations are made
not that they help
needles steel powders speed
for laughter and forgetting
grow tired and raw
when sun floods the city
when her thighs loose their clutch
when she turns to the sea

R. K. Pym

Tidal Forces

i run my fingers over the keyboard as if over her absence in one
smooth motion usually my fingers lift off the buttons but no no not
now they are glued as if to the ground glued in place locked to the
surface what the hell else is there while it rains outside and in here too
goddamit this rabbithutch life is not worth living save for those
when oh shit its allok the pain and memory and shame and cruel stupidity
of it all flow away leaf to the gutter while this mission floods my body
shudders with chill and want of warmth i lift my phone god dont make that
call but what else to do shes waiting im dying its raining the phone


R. K. Pym

gendering heroin

     Listen - I want to run all my life, screaming at the top of my lungs. Let
all of life be an unfettered howl. Like the crowd greeting the gladiator.
     Don't stop to think, don't interrupt the scream, exhale, release life's
rapture. Everything is blooming. Everything is flying. Everything is
screaming, choking on its screams. Laughter. Running. Let-down hair.
That is all there is to life. ...
     Today i understood the beauty of intersecting wires in the sky, and the
hazy mosaic of factory chimneys, and this rusty tin with its inside-out,
semi-detached, serrated lid. The wan grass hurries, hurries somewhere
along the dusty billows of the vacant lot. I raise my arms. The sunlight
glides across my skin. My skin is covered with multicolored sparkles.
     And I want to rise up, throw my arms open for a vast embrace, address an
ample, luminous discourse to the invisible crowds. I would start like this:
     "O rainbow-colored gods..."

V. Nabokov


     The professor wrapped his legs in a tartan lap robe, and the chaise
longue creaked as he reclined into its canvas comfort. The clean,
ochre-red deck was crowded but quiet. The boilers heaved discreetly.
     An English girl in worsted stockings, indicating the professor with
a motion of her eyebrow, addressed her brother who was standing
nearby: "Looks like Sheldon, doesn't he?"
     Sheldon was a comic actor, a bald giant with a round, flabby face.
"He's really enjoying the sea," the girl added in a sotto voice.
Whereupon, I regret to say, she drops out of my story.

V. Nabokov


Love asked me last night, with pity,
  "How could you live without me?"
"I swear," I said, "I am like a fish out of water"
  "It is your fault," she answered,
  "you are the one fleeing from Me"

Mevlana Rumi

We should not minimize our sacred endeavors in the world, where, like faint
glimmers in the dark, we have emerged for a moment from the nothingness of
unconsciousness into material existence. We must make good the demands of reason
and create a life worthy of ourselves and of the goals we only dimly percieve.

Andrei Sakharov

Nobel Lecture


there was an apple.

masjid-i jami: the friday mosque, in isfahan; a dry, sun-shattered day. i'd wandered the city all morning, dusty sandals following unmarked streets, tracing a sleeping bazaar, in search of peace, and silence, and solitude; just before noon, aquamarine shimmering on proud minarets beckoned me into the vast anechoic inner courtyard of masjid-i jami. the geometry was precise: four great walls, perhaps ten meters high and seventy meters long, each graced with a towering, billowing iwan, a hollowed-out half-dome lined, floor to sky, with intricate tilework that drew my eyes, and slowly my body, up, ever up. beneath them, in the courtyard, a great marble pool, its still waters reflecting the great iwans almost without defect, a show of power over the desert that must have drawn tears from the parched eyes of merchants and shepherds making their way on the silk road. i sat on the sun-bleached stone beneath the great north arch, cooling, dipped a hand into the water, wet my neck; watched the sun walk across blue golden tiles, feeling space lift me into the air carved out by arches almost as perfect as god - i sat by the pool, looking into the divine, or what some hundred architects had made of it. behind me, maybe ten meters off, sat a boy and his younger sister, in simple clothes, poor, drifting in and out of the orbit of an elderly, fragile lady, by turns playful and reserved; i had nodded to the boy as i sat at the side of his pool. he showed no response - fear? resentment? boredom? i meant nothing to this boy, in a mosque, on a scalding august day in the persian desert. i sat, eyes on god, hands on stone, mind somewhere above, silent, wandering. a man called to me from across the mosque, twice, waved arms over head - i worried for some transgression - but he called to bid me enter a sunken door, with another man and his wife, to see a gorgeous carved plaster altar, detailed with wood and gold, guarding a catacomb-like winter madrassa floored with carpets of stunning scale and beauty, where teachers and students once fled the winter chill; shafts of light poured through three meters of limestone to light the massive plastered columns, dappling the carpets in pools of limelight. the man led us out again, then back inside the walls, to wander through the thousand pillars at the back of the mosque, which war had left miraculously intact it was a secret book lying open, briefly, but teasingly, for i could barely read: the couple, newlywed egyptians, spoke soap opera arabic, our happenstance guide farsi; fleshed out with hands, and eyebrows, and body, my fragmentary arabic was enough for little more than names, and dates, and smiles and laughter. but even had i known the tongue, my voice would have let me down - the columns leapt between us, captured our voices, scattered our echoes, pulled us apart, into a silence lit through a thousand stars carved between the columns. i walked out, from starry-night darkness into the blinding light of midday god, alone, as i had entered. looking back across, into the heights of mecca implied, i felt light, and slow, and quiet. i walked slowly back, along the walls of stone and dust on the edge of the courtyard, shying from the dust and light of its center, circling around to the front of the mosque again, to present myself to the arch once more. again, the boy and his sister; this time, in the shade of the old woman, shawl spread like a parasol above them. i sat some meters in front of them, and looked over my shoulder after a bit, curious if i'd annoyed them - somehow i felt protective of their space, of a story i could only imagine and had no desire to disturb. they took no notice of me, so i went on quietly sitting on the stone, giving myself to the sheltered air above, to be lifted, sun on my skin through the cotton gauze of my shirt, god around me if ever he might be. i sat like that for a long time. then, softly, a hand on my shoulder, from behind - gently, the touch of something delicate and brave for its fear. the boy had come up behind me; he stood behind my shoulders. he looked me in the eye, arm outstretched. he gave me an apple. a green apple. then another. he looked back, to the old lady, to the apples she held like echoes in a fold of her dress; her eyes looked past us. many of iran's men died during the war. one had a son. he gave me an apple.

i don't know what god is. i don't know how to explain love. but i know the weight of an apple; i know the power of heat, rising off desert stones.

i miss you already.

a. a.

Sometime in the early thirties, Pnin, by then married too, accompanied his wife to
Berlin, where she wished to attend a congress of psychotherapists, and one night, at
a Russian restaurant on the Kurfurstendamm, he saw Mira again. They exchanged a few
words, she smiled at him in the remembered fashion, from under her dark brows, with
that bashful slyness of hers; and the contour of her prominent cheekbones, and the
elongated eyes, and the slenderness of arm and ankle were unchanged, were immortal,
and then she joined her husband who was getting his overcoat at the cloakroom, and
that was all - but the pang of tenderness remained, akin to the vibrating outline of
verses you know you know but cannot recall.

Vladimir Nabokov


There was more of the truth of life in those spotted, spoiled apples,
and in old Shapiro, who smelled of the house and of produce,
than in all of those learned references.

Saul Bellow


I go along the street to Rooneem's Bakery and sit at one of their
little tables with a cup of coffee. Rooneem's is an Estonian bakery
where you can usually find a Mediterranean housewife in a black
dress, a child looking at the cakes, and a man talking to himself.

I sit where I can watch the street. I have a feeling X is
somewhere in the vicinity. Within a thousand miles, say, within a
hundred miles, within this city. He doesn't know my address but he
knows I am in Toronto. It would not be so difficult to find me.

At the same time I'm thinking that I have to let go. What you
have to decide, really, is whether to be crazy or not, and I haven't
the stamina, the pure, seething will, for prolonged craziness.

There is a limit to the ammount of misery and disarray you will
put up with, for love, just as there is a limit to the ammount of mess
you can stand around a house. You can't know the limit beforehand,
but you will know when you've reached it. I believe this.

Alice Munro

"Bardon Bus"

So, thought Herzog, acknowledging that his imagination
of the universe was elementary, the novae bursting and
the worlds coming into being, the invisible magnetic
spokes by means of which bodies kept one another in
orbit. Astronomers made it all sound as though the
gasses were shaken up inside a flask. Then, after many
billions of years, light-years, this childlike but far
from innocent creature, a straw hat on his head, and a
heart in his breast, part pure, part wicked, would try
to form his own shaky picture of this magnificent web.

Saul Bellow


get a large typewriter
and as the footsteps go up and down
outside your window

hit that thing
hit it hard

make it a heavyweight fight

make it the bull when he first charges in

and remember the old dogs
who fought so well:
Hemingway, Celine, Dostoevsky, Hamsun

if you think they didn't go crazy
in tiny rooms
just like you're doing now

without women
without food
without hope

then you're not ready.

drink more beer.
there's time.
and if there's not
that's all right

Charles Bukowski

how to be a great writer

At the corner he paused to watch the work
of the wrecking crew. The great metal ball
swung at the walls, passed easily through
brick, and entered the rooms, the lazy weight
browsing on kitchens and parlors. Everything
it touched wavered and burst, spilled down.
There rose a white tranquil cloud of plaster
dust. The afternoon was ending, and in the
widening area of demolition was a fire, fed
by the wreckage. Moses heard the air, softly
pulled toward the flames, felt the heat. The
workmen, heaping the bonfire with wood, threw
strips of molding like javelins. Paint and
varnish smoked like incense. The old flooring
burned gratefully--the funeral of exhausted
objects. Scaffolds walled with pink, white,
green doors quivered as the six-wheeled trucks
carried off fallen brick. The sun, now leaving
for New Jersey and the west, was surrounded
by a dazzling broth of atmospheric gases.

Saul Bellow


Dear and Beloved,

Here am I, and you at the Antipodes. O execrable facts, that keep our
lips from kissing, though our souls are one.

What can I tell you by letter? Alas! nothing that I would tell you.
The messages of the gods to each other travel not by pen and ink
and indeed your bodily presence here would not make you more real: for I
feel your fingers in my hair, and your cheek brushing mine. The air
is full of the music of your voice; my soul and body seem no longer
mine, but mingled in some strange exquisite ecstacy with yours.
I feel incomplete without you.

Ever and ever yours,

Oscar Wilde

Letter to his Wife, Constance (1883)

What is to be given,
Is spirit, yet animal,
Colored, like heaven,
Blue, yellow, beautiful.

The blood is checkered by
So many stains and wishes,
Between it and the sky
You could not choose, for riches.

Yet let me now be careful
Not to give too much
To one so shy and fearful
For like a gun is touch.

Delmore Schwartz

What Is To Be Given

Pnin slowly walked under the solemn pines. The sky was dying. He did not believe
in an autocratic God. He did believe, dimly, in a democracy of ghosts. The souls
of the dead, perhaps, formed committees, and these, in continuous session,
attended to the destinies of the quick.

Vladimir Nabokov


the nose

the scar

why do they hurt so much?

the nerves have withered away

but her voice is hollow, and thin



the nose

the scar

R. K. Pym


Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean -
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down -
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what i have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

The Summer Day

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
      love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

Wild Geese

If to be left were to be left alone,
And lock the door and find one's self again -
Drag forth and dust Penates of one's own
That in a corner all too long have lain;
Read Brahms, read Chaucer, set the chessmen out
In classic problem, stretch the shrunken mind
Back to its stature on the rack of thought -
Loss might be said to leave its boon behind.
But fruitless conference and the interchange
With callow wits of bearded cons and pros
Enlist the neutral daylight, and derange
A will too sick to battle for repose.
Neither with you nor with myself, i spend
Loud days that have no meaning and no end.

Edna St Vincent Millay

Sonnet XLIV, from Fatal Interview

Insomnia is a chain
Insomnia is a loop
Insomnia is a vicious circle

Right now
Inside my skull
Inside the bones

My neck turns
Cartilage moves
I like the sound of my own bones

In the midst of this emergency
I think of you
And only you

In the midst of all this sleepless blood
Your pink lips
Your arms upstretched

I can't breathe without you
But this circle of ribs
Keeps working on its own

Sam Shepard

from Motel Chronicles

I owe so much
to those I don't love.

The relief as I agree
that somebody else needs them more.

The happiness that I'm not
the wolf to their sheep.

The peace I feel with them,
the freedom-
love can neither give
nor take that.

I don't wait for them,
as in window-to-door-and-back.
Almost as patient
as a sundial,
I understand
what love can't,
and forgive
as love never would.

From a rendezvous to a letter
is just a few days or weeks,
not an eternity.

Trips with them always go smoothly,
concerts are heard,
cathedrals visited,
scenery is seen.

And when seven hills and rivers
come between us,
the hills and rivers
can be found on any map.

They deserve the credit
if I live in three dimensions,
in nonlyrical and nonrhetorical space
with a genuine, shifting horizon.

They themselves don't realize
how much they hold in their empty hands.

"I don't owe them a thing,"
would be love's answer
to this open question.

Wislawa Szymborska

Thank-You Note

Yesterday's snow falling again
and already. Falling steadily
among the vowels, the tall consonants.
Alertnesses scumbling among the cabbages.
The eyebrowed jay named by a man named
for a star. Stellar's. When I say the word
the pleasure happens on my palate
and I am never the same person again.
Smoke. Granular. Pi C
slumping into the valleys.
The idea of snow.
The actual idea. On the snow-encrypted
branches: bird-skitter. Then bird.

Jon Davis


The beautiful American word, Sure
As I have come into a room, and touch
The lamp's button, and the light blooms with such
Certainty where the darkness loomed before,

As I care for what I do not know, and care
Knowing for little she might not have been,
And for how little she would be unseen,
The intercourse of lives miraculous and dear.

Where the light is, and each thing clear,
Separate from all others, standing in its place,
I drink the time and touch whatever's near,

And hope for day when the whole world has that face:
For what assures her present every year?
In dark accidents the mind's sufficient grace.

Delmore Schwartz

The Beautiful American Word, Sure

sometimes after you get your ass
kicked real good by the forces

you often wish you were a crane
standing on one leg

in the blue water

but there's
old up-bringing
you know:

you don't want to be
a crane
standing on one leg

in blue water

the distress is not


the victory

a crane can't
buy a piece of ass


hang itself at noon
in Monterey

those are some of
the things

humans can do

stand on one leg

Charles Bukowski

about cranes

"Hope" is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

And sweetest in the Gale is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm

I've heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest Sea
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb of Me.

Emily Dickenson

A woman in my class wrote that she is sick
of men wanting her body and when she reads
her poem out loud the other women all nod
and even some of the men lower their eyes

and look abashed as if ready to unscrew
their cocks and pound down their own dumb heads
with these innocent sausages of flesh, and none
would think of confessing his hunger

or admit how desire can ring like a constant
low note in the brain or grant how the sight
of a beautiful woman can make him groan
on those first spring days when the parkas

have been packed away and the bodies are staring
at the bodies and the eyes stare at the ground;
and there was a man I knew who even at ninety
swore that his desire had never diminished.

Is this simply the wish to procreate, the world
telling the cock to eat faster, while the cock
yearns for that moment when it forgets its loneliness
and the world flares up in an explosion of light?

Why have men been taught to feel ashamed
of their desire, as if each were a criminal
out on parole, a desperado with a long record
of muggings, rapes, such conduct as excludes

each one from all but the worst company,
and never to be trusted, no never to be trusted?
Why must men pretend to be indifferent as if each
were a happy eunuch engaged in spiritual thoughts?

But it's the glances that I like, the quick ones,
the unguarded ones, like a hand snatching a pie
from a window ledge and the feet pounding away;
eyes fastening on a leg, a breast, the curve

of a buttock, as the pulse takes an extra thunk
and the cock, that toothless worm, stirs in its sleep,
and fat possibility swaggers into the world
like a big spender entering a bar. And sometimes

the woman glances back. Oh, to disappear
in a tangle of fabric and flesh as the cock
sniffs out its little cave, and the body hungers
for closure, for the completion of the circle,

as if each of us were born only half a body
and we spend our lives searching for the rest.
What good does it do to deny desire, to chain
the cock to the leg and scrawl a black X

across its bald head, to hold out a hand
for each passing woman to slap? Better
to be bad and unrepentant, better to celebrate
each difference, not to be cruel or gluttonous

or overbearing, but full of hope and self-forgiving.
The flesh yearns to converse with other flesh.
Each pore loves to linger over its particular story.
Let these seconds not be full of self-recrimination

and apology. What is desire but the wish for some
relief from the self, the prisoner let out
into a small square of sunlight with a single
red flower and a bird crossing the sky, to lean back

against the bricks with the legs outstretched,
to feel the sun warming the brow, before returning
to one's mortal cage, steel doors slamming
in the cell block, steel bolts sliding shut?

Stephen Dobyns


I had a boyfriend who told me
stories about his family, how an argument
could end up with his father grabbing
a lit birthday cake in both hands
and hurling it out a second-story window. That,
I thought, was what a normal family was like: anger
sent out across the sill, landing like a gift
to decorate the sidewalk below.
In my family it was fists, and direct hits
to the solar plexus, and nobody
ever forgave anyone, but in his stories
I could believe people really loved each other,
even when they yelled
and shoved their feet through cabinet doors,
or held a chair like a bottle of champagne
and broke it against the wall, rungs
exploding from their holes.
I said it was harmless, the fury
of the passionate -- elaborate and dramatic.
He said it was the curse
of being born Italian and Catholic,
and that when he looked out that window
all he saw was something rudely crushed.
But what I saw was a gorgeous
three-layer cake fallen open like a flower
on the sidewalk, the candles broken,
or sunk deep in the icing, but every one of them
still burning, refusing
to let anything put them out.

Dorianne Laux

Family Stories

Life Is Beautiful
and remote, and useful,
if only to itself. Take the fly, angel
of the ordinary house, laying its bright
eggs on the trash, pressing each jewel out
delicately along a crust of buttered toast.
Bagged, the whole mess travels to the nearest
dump where other flies have gathered, singing
over stained newsprint and reeking
fruit. Rapt on air they execute an intricate
ballet above the clashing pirouettes
of heavy machinery. They hum with life.
While inside rumpled sacks pure white
maggots writhe and spiral from a rip,
a tear-shaped hole that drools and drips
a living froth onto the buried earth.
The warm days pass, gulls scree and pitch,
rats manage the crevices, feral cats abandon
their litters for a morsel of torn fur, stranded
dogs roam open fields, sniff the fragrant edges,
a tossed lacework of bones and shredded flesh.
And the maggots tumble at the center, ripening,
husks membrane-thin, embryos darkening
and shifting within, wings curled and wet,
the open air pungent and ready to receive them
in their fecund iridescence. And so, of our homely hosts,
a bag of jewels is born again into the world. Come, lost
children of the sun-drenched kitchen, your parents
soundly sleep along the windowsill, content,
wings at rest, nestled in against the warm glass.
Everywhere the good life oozes from the useless
waste we make when we create -- our streets teem
with human young, rafts of pigeons streaming
over the squirrel-burdened trees. If there is
a purpose, maybe there are too many of us
to see it, though we can, from a distance,
hear the dull thrum of generation's industry,
feel its fleshly wheel churn the fire inside us, pushing
the world forward toward its ragged edge, rushing
like a swollen river into multitude and rank disorder.
Such abundance. We are gorged, engorging, and gorgeous.

Dorianne Laux

Life Is Beautiful

You are the hero of this poem,
the one who leans into the night
and shoulders the stars, smoking
a cigarette you've sworn is your last
before reeling the children into bed.

Or you're the last worker on the line,
lifting labeled crates onto the dock,
brown arms bare to the elbow,
your shirt smelling of seaweed and soap.

You're the oldest daughter
of an exhausted mother, an inconsolable
father, sister to the stones thrown down
on your path. You're the brother
who warms his own brother's bottle,
whose arm falls asleep along the rail of his crib.

We've stood next to you in the checkout line,
watched you flip through tabloids or stare
at the TV Guide as if it were the moon,
your cart full of cereal, toothpaste, shampoo,
day-old bread, bags of gassed fruit,
frozen pizzas on sale for 2.99.

In the car you might slide in a tape, listen
to Van Morrison sing Oh, the water.
You stop at the light and hum along, alone.

When you slam the trunk in the driveway,
spilling the groceries, dropping your keys,
you're someone's love, their one brave hope;
and if they don't run to greet you or help
with the load, they can hear you,
they know you've come home.

Dorianne Laux

Oh, The Water

Look at me. I'm standing on a deck
in the middle of Oregon. There are
friends inside the house. It's not my

house, you don't know them.
They're drinking and singing
and playing guitars. You love

this song, remember, "Ophelia",
Boards on the windows, mail
by the door. I'm whispering

so they won't think I'm crazy.
They don't know me that well.
Where are you now? I feel stupid.

I'm talking to trees, to leaves
swarming on the black air, stars
blinking in and out of heart-

shaped shadows, to the moon, half-
lit and barren, stuck like an axe
between the branches. What are you

now? Air? Mist? Dust? Light?
What? Give me something. I have
to know where to send my voice.

A direction. An object. My love, it needs
a place to rest. Say anything. I'm listening.
I'm ready to believe. Even lies, I don't care.

Say burning bush. Say stone. They've
stopped singing now and I really should go.
So tell me, quickly. It's April. I'm

on Spring Street. That's my gray car
in the driveway. They're laughing
and dancing. Someone's bound

to show up soon. I'm waving.
Give me a sign if you can see me.
I'm the only one here on my knees.

Dorianne Laux

Trying to Raise the Dead

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In a rainy autumn
And walked abroad in shower of all my days
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill's shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sunlight
And the legends of the green chapels

And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and the sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Sang alive
Still in the water and singing birds.

And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart's truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year's turning.

Dylan Thomas

Poem In October

My soul dried up.
Like a soul cast into a fire, but not completely,
not to annihilation. Parched,
it continued. Brittle,
not from solitude but from mistrust,
the aftermath of violence.
Spirit, invited to leave the body,
to stand exposed a moment, --
trembling, as before
your presentation to the divine --
spirit lured out of solitude
by the promise of grace,
how will you ever again believe
the love of another being?
My soul withered and shrank.
The body became for it too large a garment.
And when hope was returned to me
it was another hope entirely.

Louise Gluck

The Garment

Conventions of the time
held them together.
It was a period
(very long) in which
the heart once given freely
was required, a formal gesture,
to forfeit liberty: a consecration
at once moving and hopelessly doomed.
As to ourselves:
fortunately we diverged
from these requirements,
as I reminded myself
when my life shattered.
So that what we had for so long
was, more or less,
voluntary, alive.
And only long afterward
did I begin to think otherwise.
We are all human --
we protect ourselves
as well as we can
even to the point of denying
clarity, the point
of self-deception. As in
the consecration to which I alluded.
And yet, within this deception,
true happiness occurred.
So that I believe I would
repeat these errors exactly.
Nor does it seem to me
crucial to know
whether or not such happiness
is built on illusion:
it has its own reality.
And, in either case, it will end.

Louise Gluck

Earthly Love

allan adams Center for Theoretical Physics Massachusetts Institute of Technology 77 Mass Ave, NE25-4099 Cambridge, MA 02139-4307 www.mit.edu/~awa/ o 617.253.6268 f 617.253.8674 awa(at)mit.edu