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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Poem of the Week, by Kevin Hart

Pete in first snow, 2011

This poem memorized itself into my body the first time I read it many years ago. Each time one of the lines drifts through my mind, like dark ice air through which we fall, all the sensations of snow settle over me. The particular, muffled quiet that only falling snow brings. The feeling of stillness and waiting. Numbness of cheeks and nose and fingers and toes after hours playing in it as a child. My dog, looking up and then around in wonder every year in the first snow. 

These days my heart aches when the poem comes to me, in a please let there still be a future with winter in it way. Please let the earth go dormant, please let that dark ice air return, please let the planet keep breathing. 


Snow, by Kevin Hart

Some days
the snow has taken me in
to know the time of snow, to live
inside a world so quiet

i​ts music
is all a shimmering. Some evenings
when quite alone
I turn off every light

and watch the snow
enjoy the dark, moving lushly
through spiky air,
finding more time

in time
than when I stretch myself
and am
my father’s father. Oh yes,

there is
a sparkling choir, there surely is,
and dark ice air
through which we fall.


​For more information on Kevin Hart, please ​click this link.



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Poem of the Week, by Danusha Lameris

img_1857At a wedding last weekend I sat near a curvy, beautiful woman with a deep voice who radiated a wild and warm confidence. She was free with opinions and didn’t care what others thought; an artist expressed admiration for a specific modern museum and she laughed outright.

She moves through the world in a way I don’t. My voice doesn’t project; I need a mic when giving a talk. A friend once described my narrow body, turned sideways, as like a piece of paper he could slip into his bookshelf. The wedding woman claims space in the world with her solid belief in herself. I claim space in the world by distilling it into stories made of all the ways it overwhelms me. Nonetheless we are alike, both of us caught inside the cathedral, singing inside the song.


Bonfire Opera, by Danusha Lameris
In those days, there was a woman in our circle
who was known, not only for her beauty,
but for taking off all her clothes and singing opera.
And sure enough, as the night wore on and the stars
emerged to stare at their reflections on the sea,
and everyone had drunk a little wine,
she began to disrobe, loose her great bosom,
and the tender belly, pale in the moonlight,
the Viking hips, and to let her torn raiment
fall to the sand as we looked up from the flames.
And then a voice lifted into the dark, high and clear
as a flock of blackbirds. And everything was very still,
the way the congregation quiets when the priest
prays over the incense, and the smoke wafts
up into the rafters. I wanted to be that free
inside the body, the doors of pleasure
opening, one after the next, an arpeggio
climbing the ladder of sky. And all the while
she was singing and wading into the water
until it rose up to her waist and then lapped
at the underside of her breasts, and the aria
drifted over us, her soprano spare and sharp
in the night air. And even though I was young,
somehow, in that moment, I heard it,
the song inside the song, and I knew then
that this was not the hymn of promise
but the body’s bright wailing against its limits.
A bird caught in a cathedral—the way it tries
to escape by throwing itself, again and again,
against the stained glass.



For more information about Danusha Lameris, please check out her website

Poem of the Week, by Darrell Bourque

IMG_E4567Last week I stood reading Vincent Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo. Back then the mail came two or three times a day, sometimes overnight from Paris to Amsterdam or wherever Vincent was living: the yellow house in France, the room in his parents’ house where he would sometimes retreat, from behind the barred window of the asylum where he committed himself.

The great love between the brothers was clear. So was Vincent’s belief that art would save him from the anxiety and despair that overwhelmed him. In the seventy days before he shot himself, he made seventy-five paintings filled with light, and sun, and the brilliant colors he loved and made his own.

Self-portraits filled one whole room of the museum. In each, his blue eyes shone out at me. They must have shone out at him, too, in the moment he painted himself. When I walked out into the Amsterdam afternoon, I thought of this poem.


      – Darrell Bourque

We’re all extensions
          of someone or another’s
                     golden light.

In the moment
          I was made
                     stars filled the sky

& some parts
          of the bodies
                     making me

were fleetingly
                     briefly luminous.

Druids see light
          in wood
                     and worship trees.

When we wave
          in recognition,
                     we disperse light,

set light in motion
                     the beloved.

We string our trees
          with lights
                     in wintertime.

We want
          to see ourselves
                     in the dark.


For more information on Darrell Bourque, please click here.



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Poem of the Week, by ee cummings

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Twenty years ago, when my grandmother died, I put two of her flowered dresses in a plastic bag and tied it up tight. That bag has sat on a closet shelf every place I’ve lived since. Sometimes I open it up and breathe deep. Her scent brings the physical sensation of her love back to me.

That particular kind of love is why I keep my children’s doors shut tight. They are grown and live in distant cities but when I open their doors and step inside, there they are again in the lingering scent of their clothes, their blankets, their essence. Unlike when they lived at home, their beds are neatly made. Making beds, that small daily antidote to chaos, soothes me.

Someday I won’t be here to make my bed anymore. And while I don’t know what I smell like, the people I love probably do.


in spite of everything, by e.e. cummings

in spite of everything
which breathes and moves, since Doom
(with white longest hands
neatening each crease)
will smooth entirely our minds

– before leaving my room
i turn, and (stooping
through the morning) kiss
this pillow, dear
where our heads lived and were.


​For more information about ​ee cummings, please click here.



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Poem of the Week, by Mike White

IMG_E4417At a museum yesterday I sat and stared at this painting. It transported me to a world with a wooden school desk and a clock ticking on the wall. The hot waxy smell of melted crayons. Balloons in a summer rain sinking slowly to the ground. A miniature wooden circus in a clearing in the woods. Indistinct voices in the distance playing some kind of game.

Looking at the painting was like looking through a scrim at a dreamy, long-ago childhood I may have lived or may have imagined living. When I left the museum I thought of the below poem by Mike White, a poem I recite to myself pretty much every day.


Alley in Winter, by Mike White 

Let the work
of art be

as the fire

escape is

dazzled in ice
after the fire



For more information about poet Mike White, please click here,

For more information about painter Sam Francis, please click here.



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Poem of the Week, by Carl Dennis


Yesterday I went to the funeral of a man my age. He was a man who, within minutes of meeting him, would tell you he was a Marine –present tense, not past–a man who signed all his memos semper fi. I stood in front of the photo boards his children and wife had assembled, taking photos of photos with my cell phone.


There he was, laughing with his babies, his wife, his dog. There he was dancing with his ancient mother, wearing one of his spectacular ties. A complicated man who didn’t speak of his combat experience, a man who was always, according to one of the young Marines he had quietly mentored during and after their tours of duty, “the guy.” The guy who anticipated what would be needed, whether for a road trip or a party or a combat operation, and provided it. The guy that the other young Marines went to for private advice and free counsel. The guy who tried his best to keep everyone else safe. I hope, in his life, there were times when he himself felt safe. When I woke up this morning I thought of this poem.



– Carl Dennis

If on your grandmother’s birthday you burn a candle
to honor her memory, you might think of burning an extra
to honor the memory of someone who never met her,
a man who may have come to the town she lived in
looking for work and never found it.
Picture him taking a stroll one morning,
after a month of grief with the want ads,
to refresh himself in the park before moving on.
Suppose he notices on the gravel path the shards
of a green glass bottle that your grandmother,
then still a girl, will be destined to step on
when she wanders barefoot away from her school picnic
if he doesn’t stoop down and scoop the mess up
with the want-ad section and carry it to a trash can.
For you to burn a candle for him
you needn’t suppose the cut would be a deep one,
just deep enough to keep her at home
the night of the hay ride when she meets Helen,
who is soon to become her dearest friend,
whose brother George, thirty years later,
helps your grandfather with a loan so his shoe store
doesn’t go under in the Great Depression
and his son, your father, is able to stay in school
where his love of learning is fanned into flames,
a love he labors, later, to kindle in you.
How grateful you are for your father’s efforts
is shown by the candles you’ve burned for him.
But today, for a change, why not a candle
for the man whose name is unknown to you?
Take a moment to wonder whether he died at home
with friends and family or alone on the road,
on the look-out for no one to sit at his bedside
and hold his hand, the very hand
it’s time for you to imagine holding.

For more information on Carl Dennis, please read this bio.

Poem of the Week, by Danusha Lameris


Hundreds of miles into a long drive after a sleepless night, I pulled over to get a cup of coffee at a convenience store with exhaustingly computerized coffee machines. A leathery man watching me try to program a cup of half-decaf laughed, then showed me how to do it.

Pretty good for a guy who doesn’t own a computer, a cell phone, or a credit card, right? he said. We stood talking about how the internet has changed everything. Like this right here, he said, this conversation. Everyone walks along staring down at their phones. Can’t we talk with each other anymore? 

I’ll never see that man again. I don’t know how he voted in the last election or how he will vote next year. When I drove away I thought of this poem.


Small Kindnesses, by Danusha Lameris

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover

from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.

We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.

We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”



​For more information on Danusha Lameris, please check out her website.​



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Poem of the Week, by Justyna Bargielska

IMG_6359In second grade one of my classmates died of a common childhood disease that most of us weathered without incident. One day he was at his desk in the row next to the door, and the next day he wasn’t. In my mind I see him as he was in his Picture Day photo: dark hair parted on the side, sweater over shirt.

At seven, I thought about him every day. He and my grandfather shared the same old-fashioned first name, and it seemed strange that my grandfather could still be alive when my classmate wasn’t. I still think about that boy. When I became a mother I thought about his mother, and the silence surrounding his empty desk. When I read this poem below, I thought about him again. How we can know only the number of days we’ve already lived, not the number of days remaining.

The Great Plan B, by Justyna Bargielska
(translated from the Polish by Maria Jastrzębska)

On my ninth birthday the scoutmaster
gave me a card with the number of days
I’d already lived. It was an extraordinary number
shimmering and dancing, one of those numbers
you can’t save
in notches on a wolf’s bone
or in letters or digits, you can only
speak it onto a recordable postcard or carve it in basalt.
Do you know what our odds are? Zero.
But I’ve learnt to play for time
as it’s the body no less which is left on the battlefield.



For more information about Polish poet Justyna Bargielska, please click here.



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