poetry 9: a poem should always have birds in it

Singapore -Mary Oliver In Singapore, in the airport, A darkness was ripped from my eyes. In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open. A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl. Disgust argued in my stomach and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket. A poem should always have birds in it. Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings. Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees. A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain rising and falling. A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem. When the woman turned I could not answer her face. Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and neither could win. She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this? Everybody needs a job. Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem. But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor, which is dull enough. She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as hubcaps, with a blue rag. Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing. She does not work slowly, nor quickly, like a river. Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird. I don’t doubt for a moment that she loves her life. And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop and fly down to the river. This probably won’t happen. But maybe it will. If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it? Of course, it isn’t. Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only...

poetry 8: once I believed in you

Vespers [“Once I believed in you…”] Once I believed in you; I planted a fig tree. Here, in Vermont, country of no summer. It was a test: if the tree lived, it would mean you existed. By this logic, you do not exist. Or you exist exclusively in warmer climates, in fervent Sicily and Mexico and California, where are grown the unimaginable apricot and fragile peach. Perhaps they see your face in Sicily; here we barely see the hem of your garment. I have to discipline myself to share with John and Noah the tomato crop. If there is justice in some other world, those like myself, whom nature forces into lives of abstinence, should get the lion’s share of all things, all objects of hunger, greed being praise of you. And no one praises more intensely than I, with more painfully checked desire, or more deserves to sit at your right hand, if it exists, partaking of the perishable, the immortal fig, which does not travel. -Louise Glück A poem a day in April to celebrate National Poetry...

poetry 7: freeing the secret gods

Family Secrets -Toi Derricotte   They told my cousin Rowena not to marry Calvin―she was too young, just eighteen, & he was too dark, too too dark, as if he had been washed in what we wanted to wipe off our hands. Besides, he didn’t come from a good family. He said he was going to be a lawyer, but we didn’t quite believe. The night they eloped to the Gotham Hotel, the whole house whispered―as if we were ashamed to tell it to ourselves. My aunt and uncle rushed down to the Gotham to plead― we couldn’t imagine his hands on her! Families are conceived in many ways. The night my cousin Calvin lay down on her, that idol with its gold skin broke, & many of the gods we loved in secret were freed....

poetry 6: consider the hands that write this letter

How do we write? Not just the physicality of the act, beautiful enough – hands against paper – but more than that: holding the door to ourselves shut and knocking to get in, simultaneously. Lovely. Lovely. A poem first posted on 37days for National Poetry Month in 2007, it bears repeating. Consider the Hands that Write This Letter after Marina Wilson Consider the hands that write this letter. The left palm pressed flat against the paper, as it has done before, over my heart, in peace or reverence to the sea or some beautiful thing I saw once, felt once: snow falling like rice flung from the giants’ wedding, or the strangest birds. & consider, then, the right hand, & how it is a fist, within which a sharpened utensil, similar to the way I’ve held a spade, match to the wick, the horse’s reins, loping, the very fists I’ve seen from the roads to Limay & Estelí. For years, I have come to sit this way: one hand open, one hand closed, like a farmer who puts down seeds & gathers up the food that comes from that farming. Or, yes, it is like the way I’ve danced with my left hand opened around a shoulder & my right hand closed inside of another hand. & how I pray, I pray for this to be my way: sweet work alluded to in the body’s position to its paper: left hand, right hand like an open eye, an eye closed: one hand flat against the trapdoor, the other hand knocking, knocking. –Aracelis Girmay From Teeth by Aracelis Girmay. Copyright ©...