Tuesday, August 31, 2010
I have not loved the world, nor the world me;
I have not flatter'd its rank breath, nor bow'd
To its idolatries a patient knee, --
Nor coin'd my cheek to smiles, -- nor cried aloud
In worship of an echo; in the crowd
They could not deem me one of such; I stood
Among them, but not of them; in a shroud
Of thoughts which were not their thoughts, and still could,
Had I not filed my mind, which thus itself subdued.
I have not loved the world, nor the world me, --
But let us part fair foes; I do believe,
Though I have found them not, that there may be
Words which are things, -- hopes which will not deceive,
And virtues which are merciful, nor weave
Snares for the failing: I would also deem
O'er others' griefs that some sincerely grieve;
That two, or one, are almost what they seem, --
That goodness is no name, and happiness no dream.
--George Gordon, Lord Byron
Friday, August 27, 2010
It must be troubling for the god who loves you
To ponder how much happier you’d be today
Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.
It must be painful for him to watch you on Friday evenings
Driving home from the office, content with your week—
Three fine houses sold to deserving families—
Knowing as he does exactly what would have happened
Had you gone to your second choice for college,
Knowing the roommate you’d have been allotted
Whose ardent opinions on painting and music
Would have kindled in you a lifelong passion.
A life thirty points above the life you’re living
On any scale of satisfaction. And every point
A thorn in the side of the god who loves you.
You don’t want that, a large-souled man like you
Who tries to withhold from your wife the day’s disappointments
So she can save her empathy for the children.
And would you want this god to compare your wife
With the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus?
It hurts you to think of him ranking the conversation
You’d have enjoyed over there higher in insight
Than the conversation you’re used to.
And think how this loving god would feel
Knowing that the man next in line for your wife
Would have pleased her more than you ever will
Even on your best days, when you really try.
Can you sleep at night believing a god like that
Is pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives
You’re spared by ignorance? The difference between what is
And what could have been will remain alive for him
Even after you cease existing, after you catch a chill
Running out in the snow for the morning paper,
Losing eleven years that the god who loves you
Will feel compelled to imagine scene by scene
Unless you come to the rescue by imagining him
No wiser than you are, no god at all, only a friend
No closer than the actual friend you made at college,
The one you haven’t written in months. Sit down tonight
And write him about the life you can talk about
With a claim to authority, the life you’ve witnessed,
Which for all you know is the life you’ve chosen.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Mothers of America
let your kids go to the movies
get them out of the house so they won't
know what you're up to
it's true that fresh air is good for the body
but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by
and when you grow old as grow old you
they won't hate you
they won't criticize you they won't know
they'll be in some glamorous
they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or
they may even be grateful to you
for their first sexual experience
which only cost you a quarter
and didn't upset the peaceful
they will know where candy bars come
and gratuitous bags of popcorn
as gratuitous as leaving the movie before
with a pleasant stranger whose apartment
is in the Heaven on
near the Williamsburg Bridge
oh mothers you will have made
so happy because if nobody does pick
them up in the movies
they won't know the difference
and if somebody does it'll be
and they'll have been truly entertained
instead of hanging around the yard
or up in their room hating you
prematurely since you won't have done
anything horribly mean
except keeping them from life's darker joys
it's unforgivable the latter
so don't blame me if you won't take this
and the family breaks up
and your children grow old and blind in
front of a TV set
movies you wouldn't let them see when
they were young
Note: column width limitations prevent me from showing what is probably the poet's preferred version with white space intact. To read the poem in that format, click here for "Ave Maria" at FrankOHara.org.
Friday, August 20, 2010
I recall someone once admitting
that all he remembered of Anna Karenina
was something about a picnic basket,
and now, after consuming a book
devoted to the subject of Barcelona—
its people, its history, its complex architecture—
all I remember is the mention
of an albino gorilla, the inhabitant of a park
where the Citadel of the Bourbons once stood.
The sheer paleness of him looms over
all the notable names and dates
as the evening strollers stop before him
and point to show their children.
These locals called him Snowflake,
and here he has been mentioned again in print
in the hope of keeping his pallid flame alive
and helping him, despite his name, to endure
in this poem, where he has found another cage.
I had no interest in the capital of Catalonia—
its people, its history, its complex architecture—
no, you were the reason
I kept my light on late into the night,
turning all those pages, searching for you everywhere.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
The architect wanted to build a stairway
and suspend it with silver, almost invisible
guy wires in a high-ceilinged room,
a stairway you couldn't ascend or descend
except in your dreams. But first--
because wild things are not easily seen
if what's around them is wild--
he'd make sure the house that housed it
was practical, built two-by-four by
two-by-four, slat by slat, without ornament.
The stairway would be an invitation
to anyone who felt invited by it,
and depending on your reaction he'd know
if friendship were possible.
The house he'd claim as his, but the stairway
would be designed to be ownerless,
tilted against any suggestion of a theology,
disappointing to those looking for politics.
Of course the architect knew
that over the years he'd have to build
other things the way others desired,
knew that to live in this world was to trade
a few industrious hours for one beautiful one.
Yet every night when he got home
he could imagine, as he walked in the door,
his stairway going nowhere, not for sale,
and maybe some you to whom nothing
about it need be explained, waiting,
the wine decanted, the night about to unfold.
Friday, August 13, 2010
The night is only a sort of carbon paper,
Blueblack, with the much-poked periods of stars
Letting in the light, peephole after peephole ---
A bonewhite light, like death, behind all things.
Under the eyes of the stars and the moon's rictus
He suffers his desert pillow, sleeplessness
Stretching its fine, irritating sand in all directions.
Over and over the old, granular movie
Exposes embarrassments--the mizzling days
Of childhood and adolescence, sticky with dreams,
Parental faces on tall stalks, alternately stern and tearful,
A garden of buggy rose that made him cry.
His forehead is bumpy as a sack of rocks.
Memories jostle each other for face-room like obsolete film stars.
He is immune to pills: red, purple, blue ---
How they lit the tedium of the protracted evening!
Those sugary planets whose influence won for him
A life baptized in no-life for a while,
And the sweet, drugged waking of a forgetful baby.
Now the pills are worn-out and silly, like classical gods.
Their poppy-sleepy colors do him no good.
His head is a little interior of grey mirrors.
Each gesture flees immediately down an alley
Of diminishing perspectives, and its significance
Drains like water out the hole at the far end.
He lives without privacy in a lidless room,
The bald slots of his eyes stiffened wide-open
On the incessant heat-lightning flicker of situations.
Nightlong, in the granite yard, invisible cats
Have been howling like women, or damaged instruments.
Already he can feel daylight, his white disease,
Creeping up with her hatful of trivial repetitions.
The city is a map of cheerful twitters now,
And everywhere people, eyes mica-silver and blank,
Are riding to work in rows, as if recently brainwashed.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Another evening we sprawled about discussing
Appearances. And it was the consensus
That while uncommon physical good looks
Continued to launch one, as before, in life
(Among its vaporous eddies and false claims),
Still, as one of us said into his beard,
"Without your intellectual and spiritual
Values, man, you are sunk." No one but squared
The shoulders of their own unlovliness.
Long-suffering Charles, having cooked and served the meal,
Now brought out little tumblers finely etched
He filled with amber liquor and then passed.
"Say," said the same young man, "in Paris, France,
They do it this way"--bounding to his feet
And touching a lit match to our host's full glass.
A blue flame, gentle, beautiful, came, went
Above the surface. In a hush that fell
We heard the vessel crack. The contents drained
As who should step down from a crystal coach.
Steward of spirits, Charles's glistening hand
All at once gloved itself in eeriness.
The moment passed. He made two quick sweeps and
Was flesh again. "It couldn't matter less,"
He said, but with a shocked, unconscious glance
Into the mirror. Finding nothing changed,
He filled a fresh glass and sank down among us.
Friday, August 06, 2010
would have nothing whatsoever
to do with, you know — those interlopers.
It would have, I suppose,
a cold mountain stream in it,
a rock shifting in the current,
the too-loud splash of a trout.
It would have loose bark
ticking in the wind
& a saw-whet owl’s discrete
requests for clarification —
that kind of persistence.
It would have the hush
when the crickets suddenly stop
& your pulse makes such a racket
you’re sure it will give you away,
you whose knees
are incapable of bending,
whose feet grip as much of the ground
as they can still lay claim to.
It would cry, that poem,
possibly for joy.
It would hiss.
Tuesday, August 03, 2010
More lithe I am, and living,
than he who also hunts by night.
We whisper the fields where titmice quiver;
we sip black water from the kills.
I leap the grass blades, the air unsheathed,
moon the shape of my eye. He's quick
for a little bat, but I feast first:
mortality coils in my haunches.
I eat and bare my belly in bloodroot
to tease the lean eagles who desire me.
And still, the bat is suckling his corpse.
I would rip off his wings and roll his soul
immortally between my paws,
but he alone lets me in before dawn
to climb the castle drapes. Later,
I rapture in sunlight while he sleeps
in his box—which I have only once
misused. I love my warm body thrumming.
I love my delicious short life.
—Anna George Meek