Poem of the Week, by Robert Hayden

My father and I were in the car last month, driving back from the diner where we go early each morning I’m home visiting my parents. (Say the word “home” to yourself – what’s the image that comes instantly into your mind?) I asked him if he thought tIMG_3873here was anything beyond this world, and that my grandmother –his mother– had told me near the end of her life that she believed in a heaven where my grandfather, and her parents, and her sister and her friends would all be waiting for her when she got there. My father laughed and said he didn’t know about that, but that he did believe there was some kind of force in the universe, beyond his power to grasp. When I was a child my father was a force in my universe. He was a giant man with giant physical strength, the kind of man who would pour Clorox on a bleeding wound to disinfect it and avoid a doctor visit. This poem, by Robert Hayden, always comes to mind on Father’s Day. I first read it as a child and didn’t understand it. But I do now.

Those Winter Sundays 
     – Robert Hayden
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
For more information on Robert Hayden, please click here.

 

 

Poem of the Week, by Billy Collins

Istanbul, Turkish coffeeWhen it comes time to leave this world? That one perfect cup of coffee in the morning. The snap of the cards being shuffled for another game of rummy late at night at a bar. The red shirt I always wore on Saturday nights at the Alibi. The look on my toddler’s face that day he bent over laughing at the ferns unfurling in the back yard because to him they looked like dragons. The scarred brown heft of the chunk of wood I bought at a garage sale and use as a cutting board. These are the things that come to mind, when I think about what I’ll most miss.

Why are so many poets afraid to write about ordinariness? Stitch that abstraction back down to earth, I sometimes tell my students. Give us a shoelace or a candy wrapper or a torn birthday card to hang our hearts on.

Poem of the Week, by one of my favorite poets, a man who has never been afraid to write about the enchantment of ordinary things.

Aimless Love
     – Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.
In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.
This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.
The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.
No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.
No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then
for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.
But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.
After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,
so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

 

For more information about Billy Collins, please click here.

 

 

Poem of the Week, by Kenneth Rexroth

12992796_10153436069706921_222675689_n-2“Live every day like it’s your last because someday you’re going to be right.”

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky, my name not yours. My religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

“Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Vietcong ever called me nigger.”

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night to the news that Muhammad Ali had died. He was a hero to me, as he was to so many others. Not because he was a boxer (I’m not a fan of boxing; Ali suffered from Parkinson’s for over thirty years) but because he was only and ever himself; he stood up for what he believed in and he never backed down. Ali was tough as hell, and so is this poem.

The Bad Old Days
     – Kenneth Rexroth

The summer of nineteen eighteen
I read The Jungle and The
Research Magnificent. That fall
my father died and my aunt
took me to Chicago to live.
The first thing I did was to take
a streetcar to the stockyards.
In the winter afternoon,
gritty and fetid, I walked
through the filthy snow, through the
squalid streets, looking shyly
into the people’s faces,
those who were home in the daytime.
Debauched and exhausted faces,
starved and looted brains, faces
like the faces in the senile
and insane wards of charity
hospitals. Predatory
faces of little children.
Then as the soiled twilight darkened,
under the green gas lamps, and the
sputtering purple arc lamps,
the faces of the men coming
home from work, some still alive with
the last pulse of hope or courage,
some sly and bitter, some smart and
silly, most of them already
broken and empty, no life,
only blinding tiredness, worse
than any tired animal.
The sour smells of a thousand
suppers of fried potatoes and
fried cabbage bled into the street.
I was giddy and sick, and out
of my misery I felt rising
a terrible anger and out
of the anger, an absolute vow.
Today the evil is clean
and prosperous, but it is
everywhere, you don’t have to
take a streetcar to find it,
and it is the same evil.
And the misery, and the
anger, and the vow are the same.

 

For more information on Kenneth Rexroth, please click here.
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