Poem of the Week, by Reiner Kunze

Friends, if you’re interested in taking a one-day creative writing workshop with me, I’m teaching two of them in Minneapolis next month. May 5: The Freedom of Form. May 6: Writing through Pivotal Points. Click this link for more information and to register. I’d love to see you there!

 

IMG_6637Long ago I wanted to write a book with an underlying theme of superheroes, but I was stuck. So I asked my son, then a teenager, this question: “What, in your opinion, is the most essential trait of a superhero?” His answer was immediate and clear: “A super villain.” 

Forces that oppose each other hold great power in their opposition. Think of our current political nightmare, which pits one force against the other as if those who don’t think like you must be your enemy. But opposition doesn’t have to mean conflict and scorn and hatred. Most oppositional forces in the world, at core, work together to create something bigger than themselves. My grandmother was an incredible cook; my grandfather was an incredible washer of dishes. My friend is a wonderful driver; her wife is a wonderful navigator. My dog needed a long walk every afternoon; I needed to get out of the house. And on and on and it goes. Poem of the Week, by Reiner Kunze.

 

Two Rowing, by Reiner Kunze, translated by Birgitt Kollmann

Two rowing
a boat
One
knowledgeable about the stars
the other
knowledgeable about the storms.
One
will lead through the stars
the other
will lead through the storms
And at the end
at the very end
the sea will be blue in memory.

 

For more information on Reiner Kunze, please click here.

For more information on renowned translator Birgitt Kollmann, please read this lovely post about her by one of her English “translatees”.

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Poem of the Week, by Jaime Manrique

Istanbul, smoking hookahFive years ago this week my older daughter and I were sitting on the porch of a cafe in Istanbul, smoking a hookah and eating mezes and pita bread. Later, we walked the streets of our neighborhood, which was on the Bosphorus. At one point the muezzins began their call to prayer, the sound of their voices wafting over the stone walls and cobblestones of that vast and sprawling city. The sun was falling below the horizon and my daughter was walking ahead of me, her tumble of dark curls falling over her navy jacket, and my heart seized up in a familiar way, the way it has seized up my entire life, when the world is too beautiful and you want to stop and freeze it but the minutes are passing and passing and passing regardless.

You can come back here, Alison, I told myself, you can come back. A familiar silent refrain, something I have told myself every time I’m traveling and the heart seize happens again. But you can’t come back. There’s only that moment, and then another moment, and every moment replaces the previous one. Tonight I think of all the skies / I have pondered and once loved, says the poet in this gorgeous poem below. The minute I read those lines I was transported back to that beautiful evening on the Bosphorus with my beautiful girl, and my heart seized up all over again. Poem of the Week, by Jaime Manrique. 

 

House
     –  Jaime Manrique, translated by Edith Grossman

It is a July night
scented with gardenias.
The moon and stars shine
hiding the essence of the night.
As darkness fell
—with its deepening onyx shadows
and the golden brilliance of the stars—
my mother put the garden, her house, the kitchen, in order.
Now, as she sleeps,
I walk in her garden
immersed in the solitude of the moment.
I have forgotten the names
of many trees and flowers
and there used to be more pines
where orange trees flower now.
Tonight I think of all the skies
I have pondered and once loved.
Tonight the shadows around
the house are kind.
The sky is a camera obscura
projecting blurred images.
In my mother’s house
the twinkling stars
pierce me with nostalgia,
and each thread in the net that surrounds this world
is a wound that will not heal.

 

 

For more information on Jaime Manrique, please check out his website.

For more information on acclaimed translator Edith Grossman, please read this interview.

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Poem of the Week, by Mary Oliver

Hey there, little guy. 28056283_10156130850921407_3444412315520744499_nIt’s been almost a week now. I washed your blankets and hung them on the line. The mats and small rugs we scattered around on the wood floors to help you with traction are stored away. The Painter put your bed in the storage room and washed your food and water bowls. Neither of us can talk about you in public, so we don’t.

I held the phone to your ear at the end so that the girls you adored could tell you what a good boy you were, that they had always and would always love you, and that you could go now. The Painter and I had our arms around you when you died, and we wrapped you up and carried you out to the van together when it was over, crying so hard we could barely see.  

Remember that day at the humane society so long ago? It was late, near closing time. We had been searching for weeks. We walked down the single aisle –it was a decrepit humane society, not one of the bigger and better-funded ones– and you were in the last cage. They had just admitted you that day. You looked up at us and slid your paw under the latched gate. You were not even a year old, a puppy in a Harley collar, and the family who surrendered you had written on the intake form that you were a “poor fit” for them. 

PeteyTheir loss, right? You were a perfect fit for us, even though, full disclosure, you did drive us all a little crazy back in the day, when your hearing was perfect and your eyesight was perfect and you were wild with energy and too smart for your (our) own good. You barked at the mailman every single day, you had to be put in tennis ball detox time and time again, you shook that little green rug back and forth so violently I used to worry that you’d jostle your brain. And let us not forget your undying hatred of tiny white fluffy dogs. 

At some point in the day you would sneak up on my perfectly made bed –this is back when you could still jump–and pull the quilt down and take a nap in the exact middle. Maybe you thought I wouldn’t notice. Remember how you jumped up onto the counter, a trick you learned from the cat, and gobbled down half that birthday pound cake before I came tearing into the kitchen like a banshee? Remember how those two guys in the car followed us that one day laughing and laughing because Miss, did you know that you and your dog have the exact same walk? Remember that other day when you and I practically ran around Isles and Bde Mka Ska because I was convinced that someone was tailing us, and then sure enough, that nice African guy came panting up to us at the end and said, Lady! Why you got to walk your dog so fast! I try to keep up for my exercise but my God lady I cannot! Remember how you would jump and scream –literally scream, not bark or yelp–when someone you loved walked through the door? You did that the very first time you met the Painter. It was a love affair between the two of you.

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In the first few years when my babies were at their dad’s and I couldn’t sleep in the absence of their presence, I would wake you up and clip on the leash and out into the darkness we would go, tromping around the lakes, miles in the moonlight and street lights. It was the middle of the night but you never complained. You never whined. You never held back, wanting to stay home. You forged on, steady at my side as far as I took you, and I was not afraid because you were with me.

In fact, you always wanted to be with me. If I was sitting with my legs crossed, you draped your head over my ankle. If I was lying on the couch, you were curled up next to my feet. The last couple of years you would stand at the bottom of the stairs looking up at me, trying to gauge if I was going to stay up there a while instead of zipping back down, before making the slow clamber, one step at a time, up to be with me. Even at the end, when you must have been in bad pain, you still tried to get up so you could be close to us. So you could push your nose into our palms, lean your head against our legs, curl yourself into a black comma beneath the table as we ate. 

IMG_9295The day after you died, the girl to the right, the one who never, ever remembers her dreams, told me she’d had a dream so vivid it woke her up and she’d gone out to sit at her kitchen table to think about it. I was in a big city and I had to rescue a little dog and I was panicked and searching the city everywhere for him and finally found him. And he was in a little park playing with a bunch of other dogs, and he was so happy, and I realized I didn’t have to help him, so I left him with the other dogs. Do you think maybe it was Petey, sending us a  message?

The last thing you ate was your pain pill, hidden in a glob of peanut butter that you licked off my fingers. There’s a half-full box of treats sitting on top of the fridge, and a half-full bag of food next to it. There’s a stack of neatly folded bandanas, all colors, on the shelf. Your blue collar and the sheriff address badge that we bought so long ago are on the couch. I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t know what to do with all this sorrow.


Pete. Petey-boy. Sweet Pete. You were the dog of my children’s childhoods, and now they are grown and you are gone. You were the dog of my life, Petey. Rest easy sweet boy.

 

 
 
I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life, by Mary Oliver
 

Love, love, love, says Percy.
And hurry as fast as you can
along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.

Then, go to sleep.
Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
Then, trust.

 

 

For more information on Mary Oliver, please click here.​

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Poem of the Week, by Ada Limon

IMG_6537

The way the dark-to-light green concentric curves of artichokes, halved, look on the wooden cutting board. The way the round radishes, sliced thin, fan out on top of the slices of blood oranges in the white serving dish. The way baking powder biscuits can be a love letter if you cut them out with a heart-shaped cutter. The way the tightly-closed daffodils, $3/bunch at the grocery store, open in a few hours when set in a glass full of water. The way the hummingbirds dart in and out of the birds-of-paradise bush just outside the window. The way my little girl used to lean her head against my hands as I braided her hair. These and a thousand other little things, and only the little things, are what I’ll miss, if missing is possible in the beyond. Poem of the Week, by the magnificent Ada Limon.

 

The Last Thing, by Ada Limon

First there was the blue wing
of a scraggly loud jay tucked
into the shrubs. Then, the bluish
black moth drunkenly tripping
from blade to blade. Then,
the quiet that came roaring
in like the RJ Corman over
Broadway near the RV shop.
These are the last three things
that happened. Not in the universe,
but here, in the basin of my mind,
where I’m always making a list
for you, recording the day’s minor
urchins: silvery dust mote, pistachio
shell, the dog eating a sugar
snap pea. It’s going to rain soon,
close clouds bloated above us,
the air like a net about to release
all the caught fishes, a storm
siren in the distance. I know
you don’t always understand,
but let me point to the first
wet drops landing on the stones,
the noise like fingers drumming
the skin. I can’t help it. I will
never get over making everything
such a big deal.

 

​For more information about Ada Limon, please click here.​

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Poem of the Week, by David Kirby

Me and ArthurOnce, a long time ago, I went to a jumprope exhibition in the gym of a middle school. There were teams of tandem jumpers, rope dancers, and synchronized twirling. The students had practiced for many weeks prior to the exhibition. This was back in the days of big VHS camcorders, and I had one on my shoulder so I could record the coolest moments. At the very end of the competition, the gym floor cleared and a single jump roper entered the room from a side door. One of his legs was twisted up behind his head –it looked effortless, he was that flexible and agile–and he did so many tricks so fast and so well, jump-roping the whole time, that I kept the camcorder trained on him. The crowd burst into a roar.

Then I realized that the jump-roper was my son. Holy shit! That’s my son! I said, and that got recorded too. 

It’s weird, when your kids grow up. Of course you expect it, and it’s wonderful, but still there are moments when you can’t believe it – like, wait, what? When did this happen? How did it happen? This bittersweet poem, which I loved the first moment I read it, makes me feel like crying the same way I feel like crying when I watch that long ago videotape. Holy shit, that’s my son. 

 

Taking It Home to Jerome, by David Kirby

In Baton Rouge, there was a DJ on the soul station who was
always urging his listeners to “take it on home to Jerome.”

No one knew who Jerome was. And nobody cared. So it
didn’t matter. I was, what, ten, twelve? I didn’t have anything

to take home to anyone. Parents and teachers told us that all
we needed to do in this world were three things: be happy,

do good, and find work that fulfills you. But I also wanted
to learn that trick where you grab your left ankle in your

right hand and then jump through with your other leg.
Everything else was to come, everything about love:

the sadness of it, knowing it can’t last, that all lives must end,
all hearts are broken. Sometimes when I’m writing a poem,

I feel as though I’m operating that crusher that turns
a full-size car into a metal cube the size of a suitcase.

At other times, I’m just a secretary: the world has so much
to say, and I’m writing it down. This great tenderness.

 
 
​For more information on David Kirby, please click here.​