Poem of the Week, by Maggie Smith

IMG_E2925This post comes to you after a week in Japan, a country I’d never been before, where the kindness and gentleness of everyone I met almost overwhelmed me. An hour ago I watched the wondrous city of Tokyo recede in the distance below the plane I’m on, and then the sun set, and we headed into a vast stretch of darkness miles above the Pacific Ocean. The sky from inside an airplane is darker, bigger and somehow smaller at the same time. The air outside the window next to me is so thin I’d black out if I breathed it. Everyone in the world breathes the same constantly recycling air. We all inhabit the same small and huge planet. 

During my week in Japan I met hundreds of people who had read and loved my books translated from English into Japanese, a language I don’t understand. But I did understand the look in their eyes when they spoke to me, and they understood the tones of my voice when I spoke back to them. Where do I leave off and the Japanese people begin? Where does the ground leave off and the sky begin? Where does my life end and something else, something unknown, begin? This poem, like every poem by the incomparable Maggie Smith, took my breath away. 

 

Sky, by Maggie Smith 
     Why is the sky so tall and over everything?

What you draw as a blue stripe high above
a green stripe, white-interrupted, the real sky
starts at the tip of each blade of grass and goes
up, up, as far as you can see. Our house stops
at the roof, at the glitter-black overlap of shingles
where the sky presses down, bearing the weight
of space, dark and sparkling, on its back.
Think of sky not as blue, not as over,
but as the invisible surround, a soft suit
you wear close to the skin. When you walk,
the soles of your feet take turns on the ground,
but the rest of you is in the sky, enveloped in sky.
As you move through it, you make a tunnel
in the precise size and shape of your body.

 

For more information on Maggie Smith, please check out her website.

Poem of the Week, by D.R. Goodman

IMG_2137Last week I dreamed a dream so disturbing that I was afraid to google its meaning and asked the Painter to do so for me. The closest interpretation I can find says it’s about something you once dreamed of doing, he said. You want to reclaim something you’ve lost in yourself. 

The interpretation hit me hard. Thinking about it over the next few days, I kept remembering a late afternoon almost twenty years ago when I was wandering trail-less through a quiet forest. At one point I stopped and looked up and met the eyes of an owl looking back at me. This was the first time I had ever seen a living owl. I tilted my head to take it in, and the owl tilted its head the same way. Back and forth we went, observing each other. I don’t know exactly what that owl or this poem below –a poem I’ve held in my heart ever since I first read it–have to do with my terrible, galvanizing dream. But I intend to figure it out. 

 

Owls in the City Hills, by D.R. Goodman

how they hunt us,
casting their deep vowels like feathered hooks,
to pull us from shallow sleep or simple talk,
and out to the night, the stand of eucalyptus

a looming silhouette, the black above us;
we, barefoot on the littered deck, and blind,
stare wide into the dark and hear the sound
move eerily from tree to tree around us;

our backs to the spreading net of city lights
below, we’ve nothing but the trees, our eyes,
the dark, the sound, these owls we cannot see—

though once at dusk, by chance, I saw one light
and spread its wings, and tinged by copper skies,
lay silence to the city, utterly.
For more information on poet and martial arts expert D.R. Goodman, ​please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Louis Simpson

IMG_1960There was a time in my life when, if I saw a dark bird on my lawn staring at me, I worried that someone I loved was about to be hurt. Certain people around me believed in signs and superstitions and I, with porous borders, took on their fears. Living like that is exhausting, and one day, I decided to pay attention to my own radar instead.

But if you’ve gone a long time under the influence of others, it’s hard to reclaim faith in yourself. You have to relearn how to distinguish between false danger and real danger, which is sometimes invisible, like the time in my life when a place I lived in became filled with a menacing energy – I could feel it.

The choices were either move out or fight back. So I hauled the furniture outside and washed it with soap and water. Dragged the rugs out and beat them on the grass. Opened all the windows. Ran around from room to room and outside, waving my arms and yelling at the dark birds to get the hell out of there. It took an afternoon, but by sunset, the place was mine again. You have to fight the forces that want you crushed. When I read this poem below, I got goosebumps. 

 

The Hour of Feeling, by Louis Simpson

Love, now a universal birth,
        From heart to heart is stealing.
        From earth to man, from man to earth:
        —lt is the hour of feeling.
                Wordsworth

A woman speaks:
“I hear you were in San Francisco.
What did they tell you about me?”

She begins to tremble. I can hear the sound
her elbow made, rapping on wood.
It was something to see and to hear—
not like the words that pass for life,
things you read about in the papers.

People who read a deeper significance
into everything, every whisper…
who believe that a knife crossed with a fork
are a signal…by the sheer intensity
of their feeling leave an impression.

And with her, tangled in her hair,
came the atmosphere, four walls,
the avenues of the city
at twilight, the lights going on.

When I left I started to walk.
Once I stopped to look at a window
displaying ice skates and skis.
At another with Florsheim shoes…

Thanks to the emotion with which she spoke
I can see half of Manhattan,
the canyons and the avenues.

There are signs high in the air
above Times Square and the vicinity:
a sign for Schenley’s Whiskey,
for Admiral Television,
and a sign saying Milltag, whatever that means.

I can see over to Brooklyn and Jersey,
and beyond there are meadows,
and mountains and plains.

For more information on Louis Simpson, please click here.

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