Archive for April, 2009

Just This

The miles ahead are not infinite.
Under the dimming summer night
I strain to read the stars as this fire
throws embers into the air. As each
dances, my heart leaps for you. I am left
trying to find my compass points
knowing when morning arrives I must
navigate by way of land marks
I may not be able to interpret.

Justin Evans


For You

My heart bounds up the down
escalator of the past to meet you.

My heart’s fan whirrs over-loud
when you’re around, begs to open

a window and sit on the sill.
But when you’re gone, my heart

is a bag of books I haul to the Strand:
those old novels, my counseling

manuals, and The Power of Now.
And your first wife’s cookbooks. Sorry.

When you return with handfuls
of dried cherries and ginger candy,

peach tulips under one arm, a bottle
of Pinot Noir in your backpack,

my heart flies at you like a kid shot
from a cannon into a flock of geese.

Marie-Elizabeth Mali


The deeper the dictionary
the more complex the lexicon.

Take you and me.
The sheets like pages, pulled on

and torn off in a rage!
The long-dead languages! Ah —

but the core of our love
is six thousand sheets down!

And here we are, shamming
counterpanes, when

the mattress, the box spring
coil with origins.

Todd Boss
Yellowrocket (2008)

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Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Dylan Thomas

Commentary: Yesterday afternoon, when I forgot my real estate agent was coming over to show my place to erstwhile buyers from 1-4pm, only to remember very abruptly around 12:15pm when I was waking from a desperately-needed siesta, I left my house in a fit of low blood-sugar in search of lunch. Why are both of my favorite downtown Wheaton restaurants closed on Sundays?? (RANT!) So I wound up in the college campus cafeteria, which was my good fortune, because the Schuchardts were there.

Reed Schuchardt is a professor of Communications. He has a lovely wife, Rachel, whom he asked to marry him not with a diamond, but with a coin from the 1500s with an imprint of King Edward VI on it. Remarkable! He also has seven wonderful children, five boys and two girls. The firstborn, Constance, is extraordinarily gifted, and she was reciting bits and pieces of “Fern Hill” to me while we watched the youngest, Genevieve, scuttling about in Dora-the-Explorer mode.

I loved the poem and the company it kept so much that I wanted to share the “Fern Hill” here. May we all find ourselves in “the fields of praise”!

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I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.


What can I but enumerate old themes,
First that sea-rider Oisin led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride.

And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
‘The Countess Cathleen’ was the name I gave it;
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear must her own soul destroy
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of.


Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

William Butler Yeats

Commentary: The Irish blood in my veins comes from my mother, and she’s rightly proud of it. In honor of National Poetry Month, she sent me an article about the great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats. Of the many famous lines of his poetry, “the foul rag and bone shop of the heart” was also included in the essay, so I had to go dig up the poem in which it is found, this one, “The Circus Animals’ Desertion.” For those interested, SparkNotes has a fine exposition of this poem.

I confess I particularly like this poem today because it is about searching for inspiration, looking over one’s old creative works, tracing one’s themes … and coming back to one’s own heart as the source of life’s issues in the end, recognizing what a difficult place the heart truly is.

How beautiful to read “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” meditating on “the deep heart’s core,” and then to discover in “The Circus Animals’ Desertion,” some of what is really swirling in the poet’s heart!

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Like Nerval, who walked little Thibault 
in the gardens of the Palais-Royal on a long 
blue ribbon and wrote, All things feel!
I appreciate the lobster’s tranquility. 
They don’t bark or whine, a positive 
quality in a writer’s pet. Lobsters know 
the sea’s secrets and predict the weather. 
They pilgrimage to deep water just before 
hurricanes begin to raze their coral homes. 
Tucking single-file into each other’s slipstreams, 
they help one another cover many miles in one day, 
and return the same way to feed and mate 
once the storms are done. Honor in each 
creature the spirit which moves it,
 wrote Nerval. 
We think we are masters of the earth because 
we are powerful. All I want is for us to see 
life in all things, the generous crustaceans, 
the patient stones and waters, all breathing.

Marie-Elizabeth Mali
posted at “Poetic Asides” (17 April 2009)

Commentary:  To me, this is an extraordinary poem, alive and aware and awake. I love the sensitivity to creation, the knowledge of the ocean, the realization of what pilgrimage means. Marie-Elizabeth Mali’s poetry has amazed me this month as I have read it at “Poetic Asides” and elsewhere.

Two other poems by Marie-Elizabeth Mali that I’ve really appreciated, among the many that draw me, are “Training the Wisteria” and “Screening Babies for Broken Hearts.”

“Training the Wisteria” 

Your dropped leaves clog the neighbors’ 
gutters every fall, forcing us to go next door 
and clean them out. A hateful task. 
So we cut you back hard last year, hacking 
at your cling, your overgrown need. 
Beautiful in spring, your flowers purple 
the terrace. And in summer, your leaves 
shade us from neighbors’ peeping eyes. 
But you’re too much, always wanting 
tending. I never call enough. Never visit 
enough. Don’t you see I need these 
walls unbendable by choking vines? 

“Screening Babies for Broken Hearts” 

It wasn’t so much the cigarettes 
as her womb’s frozen pleat. 

When they fished me out, love-thirsty, 
I almost turned belly-up in the acidic air. 

Back then, no tests existed for hearts 
shattered in transit. No epoxy, either. 

So I built a shelter out of teeth, crafted 
a metatarsal raft, checked the wind 

and set sail on waters of my own making, 
tattered sail raised, tacking toward you

To read more of her work, visit Marie-Elizabeth Mali’s website: www.floweringlotus.com.

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To celebrate National Poetry Month, I thought I would interview one of the poets I admire most, Robert Pinsky, who served as US Poet Laureate from 1997-2000 and has authored several books, including a brilliant collection of poetry, The Figured Wheel.

When you were serving as the US Poet Laureate, you started the “Favorite Poem” project. My favorite poem is the intricately beautiful, 14th century poem, “Pearl.” I also greatly enjoy biblical poetry like the Psalms and the Song of Solomon. What are some of your favorite poems?

*Among many: George Gascoigne’s “Gascoigne’s Woodmanship,” William Carlos
 Willliams’ “Fine Work With Pitch and Copper,” Elizabeth Bishop’s “At the
 Fishhouses,” Fulke Greville’s “Elegy for Philip Sidney,” William Butler
 Yeats’s “Adam’s Curse,” George Herbert’s “Church Monuments,” Robert Frost’s
”Directive,” Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “To Margaret,” James McMichaels’ “Four 
Good Things,” Alexander Pope’s “Epistle to Miss Blount,” John Keats’ “Ode to 
a Nightingale,” Wallace Stevens’ “Madame La Fleurie,” Emily Dickinson’s 
”Further in Summer than the Birds,” Ben Jonson’s “His Excuse for Loving.” *

I have loved reading through many of your collected poems in The Figured Wheel, including “The Childhood of Jesus” and the fantasy about Jesus and Isolt. Recently, I noticed your poem, “Shirt,” included in Bedford/St. Martin’s 250 Poems anthology, obviously an editorial favorite. Which of your own poems are particularly important to you and why?

*An impossible question for me, Jane — like many poets I tend to focus on 
the most recent. “An Explanation of America” matters to me as my most daring
 experiment and because it is addressed to my oldest daughter.*

You have lived the life of a public poet for many years. What do you believe are the roles and responsibilities of a poet in our culture today?

* As a poet, the responsibility is simply to write as well and truly as
possible. To undertake the most challenging and important subjects. To
respect the art and to hand it on, transformed if you can manage that.

As a person, the responsibilities are many and complicated, of course.*

You have also taught students to write poetry for many years, and you are currently teaching at Boston University. What do you believe young poets need to learn in order to strengthen their craft?

*The poet must read the way a cook eats, or the way a filmmaker looks at
 film, or a musician listens.*

I noticed that on your website, “Poems Out Loud: Celebrating National Poetry Month with Robert Pinsky,” there is a recording of you reading Milton’s “Methought I Saw My Late Espousèd Saint.” I teach this poem to my students every semester, and I am drawn to its references to Alcestis, since I also enjoy teaching Euripides’ play, “Alcestis.” What drew you to this poem originally, and what inspired you to include it on “Poems Out Loud”?

*All of that learning, that immense gift, all that ambition and mastery–
all concentrated on a single, poignant, human moment of personal emotion.*

National Poetry Month is a busy time for poets. I’ve been participating in Robert Lee Brewer’s “Poetic Asides” challenge to poets to write a poem-a-day this month (and it is a challenge!). “Poems Out Loud” alone is enough to keep you busy, but have you been enjoying any other poetic projects this month?

I have some reservations about the idea of marketing poetry: an art is not a
brand of soap. Poetry is fundamental, like dancing or cuisine. I have recently enjoyed reading poems by Joel Brouwer, Terrance Hayes, Jay Hopler,
Elise Partridge, Louise Glück. Also reciting to myself some of the poems I
 mentioned in response to question 1.
I don’t mean to be a wet blanket, but those personal, particular experiences
of poems mean a lot to me. Official celebrations and promotions, less.*

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me and readers of The Poetry Place! Do you have a sweet, invigorating viaticum, some words of wisdom for poets and poetry-lovers, to share in closing?

*Here’s a two-line poem that has been rattling in my head for months now, 
pleasing me and inspiring me — there was a wonderful discussion of it on Slate’s “Fray”:


*On Love, on Grief, on every human thing,
Time sprinkles Lethe’s water with his wing.

There’s just something about it — the sounds, the ideas, the brevity, all
coming together. It’s a good example for me of why I love the art. (Author
 is Walter Savage Landor.)*

Many thanks, Robert!

*Thanks back to you, Jane, for asking.*

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Since taking Robert Lee Brewer’s challenge on “Poetic Asides” to write a poem every day during National Poetry Month this April 2009, I’ve had the pleasure of reading many good poems on Robert’s site by poets I didn’t know before. One of them is Yoly Calderon-Horn, author of Slip Out of Weeping Shoes, which is available from Lopside Press. I found her poem, “Bluemoon,” online and include it here:


Oh yes, this was the place
I recall the red
and mustard leafy walk we took
under a brilliant October moon.

The crunch filled
the momentary awkward spaces
and still, we charmed the nightingales
to stay.

The nightingale is, of course, a symbol of inspiration to poets, and it seems those little muses are flying about our souls not only in October, but in April as well!

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The other day, I was talking to my friend Vivian, who is engaged to be married. She asked me if I would plan and play the music for the wedding ceremony, and I said yes, delighted. One of the songs she remembered wanting to include was “The Servant Song.”

The first time Vivian and I heard this song, we were at a taize service in a cathedral at night in Chicago. It was very beautiful. Vivian said then that it was the perfect wedding song.

Last night, just a day or two after this conversation with Vivian, I heard the song again, this time at the Maundy Thursday service at my church, Church of the Savior. As with many songs, the lyrics are simple poetry. The melody makes the song so lovely.

“The Servant Song”

Brother, sister let me serve you.
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant, too.

We are pilgrims on a journey.
We are brothers on the road.
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you;
Speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping.
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven,
We shall find such harmony
Born of all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony.

Brother, sister let me serve you.
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant, too.

Richard Gillard of New Zealand

To listen the Richard Gillard sing his song with a guitar accompaniment, click here: The Servant Song (on YouTube)

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“At first they seemed just errant bits of shade,
until the humming grew too loud to be denied
as the bees flew in and out, as if choreographed”
–Eleanor Rand Wilner, “The Girl with Bees in her Hair”


You’ve read the headlines, I’m sure. All the bees
are disappearing from around the United States—
what researchers call Colony Collapse Disorder.

Millions of bees are simply abandoning their hives
as if they’ve stopped taking their MAOI’s,
to discovered they don’t like themselves any more.

Leaving the queen and their developing pupae
the adults leave no trace of themselves as they search
for their lost childhood amid the scattering winds.


Researchers are puzzled. Blaming everything they can
from parasites to pesticides, they blindly offer
this small modicum of well thought out advice:

“Do not combine collapsing colonies with strong colonies.”
“If you feed your bees sugar, incorporate antibiotics.”
“Hide the abandoned hive, as to discourage coming home.”

Most important, if you see honey bees where you
have never seen them, report your sightings
to the proper authorities and try to act normal.


With the disappearance of all the honeybees, experts point
to the decline of the almond crop and global warming,
laying yet another doomsday scenario at our feet.

I believe they have forgotten the music of bees en masse,
that noise of Yeats, the solace of the world like a choir,
harmonizing with all the other beasts, great and small.

I myself will miss their dance, their swarm, men wearing them
for beards. I will not soon forget that imagined masterpiece
of Monet: Tiny specks of light against a canvass of meadow green.

Justin Evans
as a comment on Brewer’s “Poetic Asides” (4 April 2009)

Commentary: I love this poem. To read more of Justin Evans’ poetry, see utahpoet.blogspot.com.

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Would you know my name
if found out of water? I hold
my breath for hours and sing
across the spaces where I dream.
Would you believe I was ever
vulnerable? I find the part
you love most is the monster
lurking in me, that unknown
quantity hiding beneath
the surface. If I could swallow
you whole and hold you within,
would you call out my name?

Robert Lee Brewer
Poetic Asides” (4 April 2009)

Commentary: Robert is the author of “Poetic Asides,” a great poetry blog. In April, which is national poetry month, he is sponsoring the “poem- a-day” challenge: an invitation to poets to write a poem each day in response to his prompt and then post their poems as comments on his blog. I’m doing it! It certainly is inspiring, and it’s giving me drafts of poems to rework in the future. Robert is, too – setting an example every day. Today, he wrote about the whale.

I loved reading Robert’s poem. Its title character reminded me of an Old English poem called “The Whale,” which is much longer, and its structure (brief, with questions), reminded me of Old English riddles from the Exeter book. The allusion to Jonah in the belly of the whale delighted me! The poem also made me think of Herman Melville (of course), and Captain Ahab’s obsessive pursuit of the “monster”-whale known as Moby Dick, but also of Ursula K. Le Guin, who writes about the power of knowing the true name of another created being in the EARTHSEA series of fantasy novels for young adults.

So I’ve included Robert’s poem here, and I encourage you to check out “Poetic Asides“!

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