Poem of the Week, by John Ashbery

img_5354Growing up in the age of Darwinian elementary schools –the gym teacher would choose the two best athletes to captain every team, and one by one they would pick off first the good athletes, then the midlings, then the uncoordinated, until finally there was only one child remaining, huddled against the wall– I hated gym class. Not because I was bad at sports (I’m not) but because I can’t stand cruelty. And that little ritual was fundamentally cruel.

I don’t see the point of competition unless you’re competing with yourself, trying to get better at something you value, something you love. All the years I sat on bleachers cheering on my children, it was an effort to remember that I was supposed to cheer for their team and not any random child on the field who made a great goal, who ran fast, who helped lift up another player. There were times when the other parents glared at me because in my absentmindedness/idiocy I would cheer for the opposing team.

I still don’t like team sports. What I don’t like about them is exactly what I despise in my country today, which is the idea that there are winners and losers, and winning is what matters. What is happening in my country right now is so far beyond right vs. left. What is happening right now is wrong, and on some level, every single one of us knows it. No matter how you spin it, there is no excuse –not one, ever– to torture children and their families. Democracy is crumbling and fascism is rising and the elected officials who should stop it, who should call out injustice and hold abusers accountable, are silent despite our protests. This poem starts out sweet and ends up terrifying, and boy does it feel familiar. It doesn’t end this way, but I would like it too: We are all one here, and if one of us goes the other goes too. 

 

 

How to Continue, by John Ashbery

Oh there once was a woman 
and she kept a shop 
selling trinkets to tourists 
not far from a dock 
who came to see what life could be 
far back on the island. 

And it was always a party there 
always different but very nice 
New friends to give you advice 
or fall in love with you which is nice 
and each grew so perfectly from the other 
it was a marvel of poetry 
and irony 

And in this unsafe quarter 
much was scary and dirty 
but no one seemed to mind 
very much 
the parties went on from house to house 
There were friends and lovers galore 
all around the store 
There was moonshine in winter 
and starshine in summer 
and everybody was happy to have discovered 
what they discovered 

And then one day the ship sailed away 
There were no more dreamers just sleepers 
in heavy attitudes on the dock 
moving as if they knew how 
among the trinkets and the souvenirs 
the random shops of modern furniture 
and a gale came and said 
it is time to take all of you away 
from the tops of the trees to the little houses 
on little paths so startled 

And when it became time to go 
they none of them would leave without the other 
for they said we are all one here 
and if one of us goes the other will not go 
and the wind whispered it to the stars 
the people all got up to go 
and looked back on love

 

For more information on John Ashbery, please click here.
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Poem of the Week, by Dorothea Grossman

Randoms, Calvin & HobbesMy son was two years old and we were in the backyard. It was early spring, and I was digging around in the dirt when he suddenly bent double and started laughing and pointing. Dinosaurs, he said, dinosaurs! I followed his pointing finger to the patch of ferns next to us. They were just beginning to unfurl their fronds, and the stem of each was bent and curved, and in that instant I saw what he saw: the long curved necks of T-Rexes. My laughing little boy, looking at the world in a way I’d never seen it before. I have never looked at ferns the same way since. The memory of that day almost chokes me up, and so does this small poem. 

 

The Two Times I Loved You Most in a Car, by Dorothea Grossman

It was your idea 
to park and watch the elephants 
swaying among the trees 
like royalty 
at that make-believe safari 
near Laguna.
I didn’t know anything that big 
could be so quiet.

And once, you stopped 
on a dark desert road 
to show me the stars 
climbing over each other 
riotously
like insects
like an orchestra 
thrashing its way 
through time itself 
I never saw light that way 
again. 

 

For more information on Dorothea Grossman, please click here.​

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Poem of the Week, by Lisel Mueller

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 8.43.51 AMRough, rough week. Children torn from their parents at borders, the suicides of loved people who projected happiness, the cruelty of our elected employees and the ongoing and unfathomable cowardice of their minions who stand by, watching our democracy crumble. Last night I scrolled through poem after poem, looking for one with clear eyes and a level gaze, like this one below. A poem that sees the situation for what it is and imagines it as it can be. Time for us to be the goddesses who remake this world. 

 

The End of Science Fiction
     – Lisel Mueller

This is not fantasy, this is our life.
We are the characters
who have invaded the moon,
who cannot stop their computers.
We are the gods who can unmake
the world in seven days.
Both hands are stopped at noon.
We are beginning to live forever,
in lightweight, aluminum bodies
with numbers stamped on our backs.
We dial our words like Muzak.
We hear each other through water.
The genre is dead. Invent something new.
Invent a man and a woman
naked in a garden,
invent a child that will save the world,
a man who carries his father
out of a burning city.
Invent a spool of thread
that leads a hero to safety,
invent an island on which he abandons
the woman who saved his life
with no loss of sleep over his betrayal.
Invent us as we were
before our bodies glittered
and we stopped bleeding:
invent a shepherd who kills a giant,
a girl who grows into a tree,
a woman who refuses to turn
her back on the past and is changed to salt,
a boy who steals his brother’s birthright
and becomes the head of a nation.
Invent real tears, hard love,
slow-spoken, ancient words,
difficult as a child’s
first steps across a room. 

For more information about Lisel Mueller, please click here.  

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Poem of the Week, by Leigh Hunt

Shack hammockYesterday, after heavy rains, I went for a long walk. I kept hearing opera music and I looked around to see a man grinning at me and nodding from his car, where the windows were open and the volume turned way up. I laughed and waved back at him, and the below poem leaped up into my mind. My grandmother, whose life was extraordinarily hard, used to recite it to us with an unfamiliar lilt in her voice. 

Then, late last night when I was putting together this post, I scrolled through my sent-poem files and found notes between me and two old friends from 2006, when I first sent out this poem. From Norma Fox Mazer: Yeehaw! You should send this one out at least once a year! From Phebe Hansen: Yay for love! xxoo. I loved Norma and Phebe. Both are gone now, but their smiles and laughter and bright eyes leaped up from their words on the screen into my mind, full of life, just like this poem.

 

Jenny Kissed Me
            – Leigh Hunt

Jenny kissed me when we met,
    Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
    Sweets into your list, put that in;
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
    Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
    Jenny kissed me.

For more information about Leigh Hunt, please click here.