Poem of the Week, by Gaius Valerius Catullus

Last week in the class I’m teaching we went around the room and each student recited a poem from memory. One man recited the below poem, one I had never heard before, and at first I thought he himself had written it; it was so brief and raw and real. But no, it’s a poem by Catullus, who died in Verona more than two thousand years ago at the age of 30. I drove home thinking about this poem, and then I looked up Catullus and have been reading his work, the little that we have from the one manuscript unearthed long after his death, ever since. The more things change, the more they don’t, even over thousands of years.

Poem 85
– Gaius Valerius Catullus

I hate and I love
Why do I, you ask ?
I don’t know, but it’s happening
and it hurts.

Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris?
    nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
(In the original Latin)


For more information on Catullus, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Javier Etchevarren

I read this poem the other day, my first time reading this poet. The scenes being described were so ordinary but slightly weird, like the image of a mother waiting at school with an apple pie for her grown son. I was zipping right along, happy that the family in the poem had come to this peaceful time in their lives together, the sadnesses and strain behind them, and then I came to the ending. And thought, This is one of those poems that does what poems can do.

– Javier Etchevarren, translated from the Spanish by Jesse Lee Kercheval

Mama works less
and hugs me more.
She waits for me
at the school doors
with an apple pie
(no matter that I
am 30 plus years old).

My older brother
has not lost his job.
he has quit smoking
in our bedroom.

My middle brother
has stopped breaking
his back for others
and uncorks an expensive wine.

My father
—who has quit drinking—
returns to the house
and asks forgiveness.
We forgive him.

We smile for the picture
while weeping with joy:
all my family reunited
in this poem.


For more information on Javier Etchevarren, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Ernest Hilbert

Once when my son was little I overheard him and some of his friends whispering in the doorway where they had snuck up to watch me type. “Is your mom the fastest typer in the whole world?” one of them said. “Yup,” my son said, “she is.” When it comes to typing all I want is speed, because then my fingers can outrace my thoughts and spin words out without thinking. But when it comes to cooking and quilting and gardening, slowness is what matters, physical labor that absorbs hands and muscles and lets thoughts wander free. (As I wrote that last sentence it just occurred to me that maybe speed and slowness are actually the same thing. Same coin, flip sides.) Poem of the Week, by Ernest Hilbert.

– Ernest Hilbert

A song for those who learn forgotten, slow
skills, crafts submerged long past by massed commerce,
by hard, dark, oily machines, and the din
of duplicates shipped by the millions, stowed
in cavernous depots to be dispersed
to each home, used once, and then binned.
This is for those who weave by hand, who brew
their own suds, and roll their own smokes, hammer
together shelves, print on presses, plant gardens
in vacant lots, raise beams, fire pots, the few
who challenge the swift, transient tenor
of the age, the lonely sincere wardens,
the last, noble pull of old ways restored,
valued and unwanted, admired and ignored.

For more information on Ernest Hilbert, please click here: here.

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