Poem of the Week, by W.S. Merwin

Istanbul, D and pigeonsMy daughter and I were in Istanbul for a week, our first time in a country where the call to prayer sounded five times a day. I remember sitting by the window at sunset as the song of the muezzins rose in the air. It was beautiful and unearthly and I wanted to hold onto it so it would never end. It’s an almost panicky feeling, that wanting to hold on. Long ago, as a means of coping with it, I began to tell myself that You can always come back, Alison

In my heart, pigeons are still fluttering around my daughter on the cobblestones, and we are still wandering the shore of the Bosphorus, and we are both looking up, up, up at the dome of the Hagia Sophia. And then back, back, back I go in time, to the magical moment when she first opened her eyes. Every minute of being alive is its own first and last. You can’t go back.

 

Youth, by W.S. Merwin

Through all of youth I was looking for you
without knowing what I was looking for

or what to call you I think I did not
even know I was looking how would I

have known you when I saw you as I did
time after time when you appeared to me

as you did naked offering yourself
entirely at that moment and you let

me breathe you touch you taste you knowing
no more than I did and only when I

began to think of losing you did I
recognize you when you were already

part memory part distance remaining
mine in the ways that I learn to miss you

from what we cannot hold the stars are made

 
 
 
 
 
​For more information on WS Merwin, please ​read this.

 

Poem of the Week, by Dorianne Laux

IMG_2315The suicide of Alan Krueger last week, a man I didn’t know but whose work I admire, a man clearly beloved by so many, hit me hard. It brought me back to my early twenties, when the suicide of someone I loved both ended his life and permanently altered mine. Crying comes hard to me and does not bring relief, but it came anyway this week. At one point I found myself alone, apologizing out loud for things I wish I’d done differently.

I’m haunted by the sense that the cruelty and hatred so on display these days made things worse for Alan Krueger. It makes things worse for everyone. The only thing I can do, like the poet below, is try to subvert it with kindness.

For the Sake of Strangers, by Dorianne Laux

No matter what the grief, its weight,
we are obliged to carry it.
We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength
that pushes us through crowds.
And then the young boy gives me directions
so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open,
waits patiently for my empty body to pass through.
All day it continues, each kindness
reaching toward another – a stranger
singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees
offering their blossoms, a retarded* child
who lifts his almond eyes and smiles.
Somehow they always find me, seem even
to be waiting, determined to keep me
from myself, from the thing that calls to me
as it must have once called to them –
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.   

 

*Note that this poem was published in 1994, when this word was in common usage.

For more information on Dorianne Laux, please check out her website

 

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Poem of the Week, by Martin Espada

IMG_E2022One of the top-rated MFA programs in the country once recruited me to fly out and interview for a fiction position. A day into the interview, deep in discussion of teaching technique with the faculty and students, I subtly began to portray myself as less interested in criticism and more interested in nurturing a creative spark. This wasn’t what they wanted in a teacher and I knew it. I was in effect throwing the interview, but I wasn’t sure why. 

Years later, I do. In the midst of the enormous talent gathered in that interview room, I wanted to be back with my students. My immigrant, refugee, loan-burdened, first in their family to go to college, work two jobs and raise a family and still make it to class students. Listening as they read their work aloud, then clapping for their gargantuan effort. Seeing a poem they wrote make their classmates cry. When news broke last week of the college-admission bribery scandal, this stunning poem by Martin Espada instantly came to mind, and I thought of my students, their hands upturned and burning.

 

Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper
by Martin Espada

At sixteen, I worked after high school hours
at a printing plant
that manufactured legal pads:
Yellow paper
stacked seven feet high
and leaning
as I slipped cardboard
between the pages,
then brushed red glue
up and down the stack.
No gloves: fingertips required
for the perfection of paper,
smoothing the exact rectangle.
Sluggish by 9 PM, the hands
would slide along suddenly sharp paper,
and gather slits thinner than the crevices
of the skin, hidden.
The glue would sting,
hands oozing
till both palms burned
at the punch clock.

Ten years later, in law school,
I knew that every legal pad
was glued with the sting of hidden cuts,
that every open law book
was a pair of hands
upturned and burning.

For more information on Martin Espada, please check out his website.


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Poem of the Week, by William Stafford

IMG_2323 A few days ago at sunset the sky was unearthly. The Painter came home, grabbed his camera and tripod and headed to the beach to take a bunch of photos. My internal, unspoken take on this, having never seen him take a sunset photo before: You had a frustrating day in the studio. Nothing was working with your paintings. You feel blocked, so you’re trying something new, to change up the energy and get things moving again. 

Talk of things like a muse, or writer’s block, makes me uneasy and impatient. But I deeply understand what it means to be stuck in a rut, retreading the same ground, unable to make something that feels wild and new when wild and new is what you crave. What the Painter was trying to do by varying his routine is what I’m trying to do when, on my daily list, I add “change something up.” It’s what William Stafford meant when he talked about the sunlight bending. It’s a kind of salvation that you have to search for and find, search for and find, your entire life long. 

 

When I Met My Muse, by William Stafford

I glanced at her and took my glasses
off–they were still singing.
They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased.
Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent.
I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched.
“I am your own
way of looking at things,” she said.
“When you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation.”
And I took her hand.


For more information about William Stafford, please click here.


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Poem of the Week, by Catherine Pierce

IMG_0531We were classmates. He was a country kid, like me, and like me, he was condemned to ride the bus for miles and miles. I dreaded that bus every day of my life –it was a place of fear and intimidation and endless cruelty.

On this particular day, he sat down next to me and everyone began teasing us. They were loud and relentless. I was desperate to make them stop, make it stop, make it all stop just stop just stop, and at some point I picked up my empty lunch box and bashed it over his head. 

Did the teasing end? I don’t remember. What I do remember is how he held his hands up to protect himself. The poem below brought me back to those years of fear and that day on the bus. Kindness is in part an act of self-preservation. Had I just sat still and endured the ride I could have spared myself the lifelong memory of having hurt a kid like me, another kid who was only trying to get home. 

 

 

Poem for the Woods, by Catherine Pierce 
        

Not as I would dream them now, not with growls
and twig snaps, not with dark birds and thorned vines

I’ve invented (keening blackwing, violencia). Not late-dayblood-
sun-dappled, not refuge of men equipped

with knives and lust, not a mouth into which you might
venture and not return, no, nothing like that.

This is a poem for the woods as I knew them,
shaded and cool behind the Novaks’ house.

They seemed endless, but there was a shortcut
to Fairblue Swim Club. They held no growls,

no spikes. Only squirrels skittering, plunking acorns
down the canopy. We’d been warned of poison ivy,

but never found it. We’d been warned of rotten limbs,
but none fell. One muddy, sun-laced afternoon, we took salt

from the pantry and ventured out to where the rocks
teemed with slugs. I’d like to say our cruelty

had to do with power—human girls versus torpidity—
but really it was our curiosity, pure and unnuanced.

We wanted to see mineral against membrane.
We wanted to see something living melt. If I could,

I’d find my younger self in those woods and stop her.
I’d say, Someday you’ll carry your cruelties with you

and you’ll never be able to set them down. Keep walking now.
Keep pretending you know of nothing but kindness
.

 

 

 

 

For more information on Catherine Pierce, please check out her website.