Poem of the Week, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

img_3440How I first found this poem is lost to me –was it in one of my grandmother’s huge and heavy high school English anthologies?–but it stunned me. I remember laboriously copying it word by word, line by line, complete with the strange little marks I would later learn were scansion, into my diary. 

What the poem was about I couldn’t have told you when I was a child, but I knew that the poet, dead long before I was born, had reached into the future and written it for me. In the same intuitive way I understood the made-up words wanwood and leafmeal, I knew the Margaret of the poem was me. The sorrow and longing that welled up from the first sentence to the last were in me then and they are in me still. At age nine this poem explained something deep and true and achingly beautiful about the world, something I already knew in my bones, and I knew it would be the poem of my life.

 

Spring and Fall, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

to a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
with your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
it will come to such sights colder
by and by, nor spare a sigh
though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
and yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
what heart heard of, ghost guessed;
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for. 

 

 

For more information on Gerard Manley Hopkins, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Alison Luterman

WesternThe summer I turned nineteen I took the bus west to Wisconsin, to work at a mom and pop resort where the owners housed us in a firetrap and fed us leavings from the guests’ plates. After the second bout of food poisoning –through which we worked between dashes to the bathroom–my friend Polly and I quit.

Before dawn we snuck into the resort kitchen, loaded up on rolls and butter and apples, and waited, laughing, in the dark for the Greyhound, then jumped on board, still laughing.We had a layover in Chicago and we took ourselves and our duffels out to dinner at The Berghoff, spending most of the little bit we had earned that summer. The waiters flirted with us and we flirted back.

We were free, we were free, we were free. Now I know you can hold a moment of freedom in your heart your whole life long. My love affair with the west began that summer in Montana. Wide-open streets, the snow-capped Rockies, how it felt to laugh and jump naked late at night into the shockingly cold water of Flathead Lake.

 

Canoe, by Alison Luterman

When I was young, years ago, canoeing on the green
Green River, with my young first husband,

I wriggled out of my shorts, eased over the lip
of our little boat, and became eel-woman,

naked and glistening, borne along in the current.
He paddled, I floated and spun,

and let the ripples take me.
Even an hour of that kind of freedom

can last for years and years,
can become a touchstone you return to

long after the rented canoe has been returned,
and the road trip has ended, and then the marriage,

and then the husband’s brief life, and you yourself
have become someone else entirely; still

you return in your mind to the days
you could set up a tent in the dark,

and build a small fire
from birch bark and newspaper

and sit beside it, sipping tea, savoring your muscles’ sweet ache,
as one by one the uncountable stars came out.

 

For more information about Alison Luterman, please check out her website.

Poem of the Week, by Derek Walcott

IMG_0342People who say they have “no regrets” mystify me. Regrets, oh I’ve got a few. Like last night when I couldn’t get back to sleep for thinking about the times I yelled at my children when they were little. This didn’t happen much, but every time it did, my self-hatred was huge. It still is. As a mother I wanted always and only to be a comfort to my kids. But when you’re yelling, you’re not a comfort, are you?

In the dark hours before dawn, in hopes of forgiving myself by understanding myself, I tried to see myself as the little girl I used to be, the child who, like all children, had little control over her own life. No dice.

This morning I wrote notes to my children, telling them how sorry I was for having yelled. Because what else can I do? You can’t go back in time and undo things. Then my favorite line from this beautiful poem —give back your heart to itself–drifted into my head. 

 

Love After Love, by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

For more information about Derek Walcott, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Paul Hostovsky

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A beloved friend I lost touch with many years ago has been on my mind lately, so I googled him. My guess was he’d be out there somewhere, invisibly changing the world with his brilliance at math, and I was right.

In our early twenties my friend gave me a small book titled Innumeracy, about how statistics influence every aspect of our lives. One chapter detailed how every breath we take contains a minimum of three molecules of air breathed by every person who has ever been alive.

The knowledge that we will always be part of each other changed the way I think, and live, and write. Those we love and those we don’t,  those who love us and those who don’t – like it or not, we are connected forever. This beautiful poem makes me want to put my arms around the whole world and hold it tight. 

 

History of Love, by Paul Hostovsky

Because he loves the way she has
of touching him
and because she loves the way he has
of loving her
each has learned the other’s
way and the other’s touch
so when love turns
and the world turns
and the lovers turn from each other and go
to other lovers they take
they take all they know
of love and of touch
and they give it to another
and in this way love grows rich
and wise and wide among us
and in this way we are also
loving those who will come after
and those who came before
we ever came to love

 

 

For more information about Paul Hostovsky, please check out his website.

Poem of the Week, by Tess Gallagher

Shack, view straight up from the hammockYears ago I bought some raw land on a slope in Vermont. Hired someone to grade a tiny cleared patch in the woods. Drilled a well. Bought a one-room cabin kit off eBay and hired a carpenter to put it together. Spent many days and nights staring up from the porch and the hammock at the enormously tall pines pictured to the right.

The cabin was a seasonal place but even in summer it was always dark and cool. After some years I craved sunlight, so I asked a lumberjack friend if he would cut down a few of the pines. He said yes, if he could do it in the middle of winter. I don’t like to cut down trees, he said, even though he was a lumberjack. And I only do it in winter, when all the birds have left the nests.

When I read this poem I thought of him, my lumberjack friend who snowshoed alone up the unplowed dirt road to the cabin in February, towing his chainsaw and axe on a toboggan behind him, and went to work in the frozen stillness so he wouldn’t hurt the birds. 

 

Choices, by Tess Gallagher

I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountain. But when I look up,
saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don’t cut that one.
I don’t cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,   
an unseen nest
where a mountain   
would be.  

                              for Drago Štambuk

 

​For more information on Tess Gallagher, please ​click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Gregory Orr

IMG_4207Certain moments are burned into your brain and heart, moments that even as they happened you knew would haunt you forever, like the way your little boy nodded and kept nodding, that one afternoon on the couch. Looking back now, through the tunnel of time, there are passages so rough that you narrowed time down to half-hour segments in order to make it through. Had to trust that somehow the invisible ship would carry you from one invisible shore and deposit you on another. That you would find yourself again.

You do find yourself again, over and over, but you’re not the same person you were before. Each time, there has been a long season of necessary silence, and even if you look the same, you aren’t. Maybe we don’t heal so much as shift, and yield, and absorb in a way that lets us keep living with all the everythings that happen in a life.  

 

Aftermath Sonnet, by Gregory Orr

Letting my tongue sleep, 
and my heart go numb.

Sensing that speech
too soon,
after such a wound,
would only be
a different bleeding.

Even needing to leave
the page blank.
Long season
of silence—
trusting that under

its bandage of snow,
the field of me is healing.

 

For more information about Gregory Orr, please click here​.​

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For more information about Gregory Orr, please https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/gregory-orr.

 

 

Poem of the Week, by Wendy Chin-Tanner

Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 10.16.17 AMIn my 1000 Words class you could write anything you wanted –poem, essay, memoir, story, children’s book–as long as it was fewer than one thousand words. Does it sound easier to write short than long? It’s not. You have to take an image, a dream, a thought, a burning wish, and hone and pare it until there’s not an extra word.

This process of distilling words is my great love and my great challenge in everything I write. When I read the poem below –twelve short words that encompass the un-beginning of an entire life–I was spellbound.

 

 

Infertility, by Wendy Chin

You end me
like a period

ends a sentence
ends a line. 

 

For more information about Wendy Chin-Tanner, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by Gerald Stern

IMG_4897Last week I tucked myself behind a long black semi, far enough back so he could see me and my rattletrap moving truck in his big side mirrors. I do this sometimes on the highway when I’m tired or troubled or just want someone else to take over a little of the decision-making. Truckers (with a few exceptions) are the best drivers out there. They have to be. 

After a while, the trucker realized I was following him. In construction zones, he’d slow down a little once we were through, so that I could catch up to him. I was hungry and I had to pee but I didn’t want to lose my trucker, so I kept going. More than two hundred miles in, he put on his blinker for the next exit. Damn. So sad to see him go, sad, somehow, to think I’d never see him again. But he’d gotten me within fifty miles of home. I sped up at the exit ramp to say goodbye, and there he was in the window, smiling down at me, with a thumbs-up and a wave. 

 

Waving Good-Bye, by Gerald Stern

I wanted to know what it was like before we
had voices and before we had bare fingers and before we
had minds to move us through our actions
and tears to help us over our feelings,
so I drove my daughter through the snow to meet her friend
and filled her car with suitcases and hugged her
as an animal would, pressing my forehead against her,
walking in circles, moaning, touching her cheek,
and turned my head after them as an animal would,
watching helplessly as they drove over the ruts,
her smiling face and her small hand just visible
over the giant pillows and coat hangers
as they made their turn into the empty highway.

 

 

 

For more information on Gerald Stern, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by James Baldwin

IMG_4907Last week, late at night, the fire alarm in my cheap motel began to shriek. Doors opened up and down the hall and men began to emerge: huge men, small men, men in their underwear, one on crutches, one pushing a walker, one carrying a case of beer, one sweating as if just out of a sauna. This is the strangest assortment of men I’ve ever seen, I murmured to myself. One of the men leered or smiled, hard to tell.

Next morning in the breakfast room I sat tapping on my laptop while the hallway men shuffled in one by one. The leer/smile man sat next to me. I could tell he wanted to talk but I pretended to be too absorbed in my work to look up. This did not stop him.

“Hey! I like your pink hair! How’s it goin’?” 

It was early. There were six hundred miles ahead of me. I didn’t want to talk. But then the last lines of this poem by James Baldwin came to me and I closed my laptop and turned to him and smiled. Had a long conversation about the fire alarm, the slim pickings at the breakfast buffet, his favorite smoking rituals back when everybody smoked, hard to believe it now, right? 

He was a lonely man. He just wanted to talk. Sometimes it feels like most people are lonely, and most people just want to talk. 

 

For Nothing Is Fixed, by James Baldwin

For nothing is fixed,
forever, forever, forever,
it is not fixed;
the earth is always shifting,
the light is always changing,
the sea does not cease to grind down rock.
Generations do not cease to be born,
and we are responsible to them
because we are the only witnesses they have.
The sea rises, the light fails,
lovers cling to each other,
and children cling to us.
The moment we cease to hold each other,
the moment we break faith with one another,
the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.

 

If you’d like to read more about James Baldwin, this is an interesting profile.

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Poem of the Week, by Lisel Mueller

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It must be awful to watch TV next to me, the way I constantly put my hands over my ears, or murmur about the specifics of someone’s voice, or the strange way news anchors inflect their syllables, or oh no oh no there’s that song again, where’s the remote so I can mute it. I am the woman you see in crowds stuffing bits of wadded-up tissue into her ears. Sound is visible to me, literally – words and music and ambient noise have shape and color and texture – and it overwhelms me.

A couple of years ago when the Painter said “Here, try these,” and put his noise-canceling headphones over my ears, the relief was so great I almost cried. The world is so full of noise. Hard to imagine what it would feel like if it were more intense than it already is for intense me. What if we could hear our own cells growing? Our consciousness expanding? The earth breathing?

 

What the Dog Perhaps Hears, by Lisel Mueller

If an inaudible whistle
blown between our lips
can send him home to us,
then silence is perhaps
the sound of spiders breathing
and roots mining the earth;
it may be asparagus heaving,
headfirst, into the light
and the long brown sound
of cracked cups, when it happens.
We would like to ask the dog
if there is a continuous whir
because the child in the house
keeps growing, if the snake
really stretches full length
without a click and the sun
breaks through clouds without
a decibel of effort,
whether in autumn, when the trees
dry up their wells, there isn’t a shudder
too high for us to hear.

What is it like up there
above the shut-off level
of our simple ears?
For us there was no birth cry,
the newborn bird is suddenly here,
the egg broken, the nest alive,
and we heard nothing when the world changed.

 

For more information on Lisel Mueller, please read her bio at the Poetry Foundation.

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