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 Czeslaw Milosz

IMG_3585Last night I wandered around a downtown park filled with strange, beautiful, confounding, mesmerizing art: dancers, sculptors, glass blowers, painters, musicians, weavers, poets, mask makers. It was nightfall in the city. Skyscrapers glowed around the periphery of the park, light rail trains glided by, and storm clouds gathered and dispersed overhead. At one point I sat on the base of a sculpture and took it all in, the voices and laughter and absorption on the faces of the crowd.

Somehow there was a stillness to the whole scene, and a stillness in me too. No one around me was familiar, but my heart ached because I wanted to give something to them all. A conversation with a friend last week came back to me, in which she said she craved connection above all, and how there was both pain and relief in accepting that it didn’t have to come from romance. This morning I woke up and remembered this poem, by the incomparable Milosz.

 

Love, by Czeslaw Milosz

Love means to look at yourself
the way one looks at distant things
for you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
without knowing it, from various ills–
a bird and a tree say to him: Friend.

Then he wants to use himself and things
so that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn’t always understand.

For more information about Czeslaw Milosz, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Richard Jones

IMG_6359Old men who hold their wives’ handbags for them as they put on their coats. Young fathers who hold their toddlers’ hands as they cross the street. The girl who jumps up to open the door for the woman using the walker. The cafe manager who keeps a water bowl outside, filled with cool water, for passing dogs. The man with the truck who goes up and down the rural road, plowing out his elderly neighbors. Everyone waving goodbye, tears in their eyes, as the ones they love disappear into the airport, like in the movie Love Actually*. The movie Love Actually. A note left in a poetry box, thanking the “poem attendant” for “all the good poems.” A carful of grinning men chattering in Spanish, pulling over to the side of a snowy road and pushing the young woman’s car out of the ditch. The world is full of sweetness. When I need to remind myself of that, which is often, in these days of bewildering cruelty and greed by our elected employees, this is one of the poems I recite to myself. 

 

After Work, by Richard Jones

Coming up from the subway
into the cool Manhattan evening,
I feel rough hands on my heart –
women in the market yelling
over rows of tomatoes and peppers,
old men sitting on a stoop playing cards,
cabbies cursing each other with fists
while the music of church bells
sails over the street,
and the father, angry and tired
after working all day,
embracing his little girl,
kissing her,
mi vida, mi corazon,
brushing the hair out of her eyes
so she can see.

 

For more information on Richard Jones, please click here.

*I love Love Actually except for how mean they are to Aurelia’s sister. And I fast-forward past Sarah and Karl’s scenes because they are too painful. 


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Poem of the Week, by Alden Nowlan

Digital story, cartwheelI’m going through my entire house, cleaning and sorting and organizing and paring. Most things I can jettison, but the things I can’t ever seem to throw away are cards and notes and notebooks and little scraps of paper with lists jotted onto them. The other day I found one that I had written a long time ago, titled Things I Love. Among them: that one small cup of coffee with heavy cream at dawn, the way the little white solar lights look when they flicker on at dusk, the raspberries that ripen for three weeks each summer, the sound of my best friend’s voice on the phone, time with my parents, time with my children, time with my friends, time with my sweetheart, doing nothing but being. It’s a big fat life and it’s filled with love and today’s my birthday so I’m celebrating, beginning with this beautiful poem by the wondrous Alden Nowlan. Enjoy.

Great Things Have Happened, by Alden Nowlan

We were talking about the great things
that have happened in our lifetimes;
and I said, “Oh, I suppose the moon landing
was the greatest thing that has happened
in my time.” But, of course, we were all lying.
The truth is the moon landing didn’t mean
one-tenth as much to me as one night in 1963
when we lived in a three-room flat in what once had been
the mansion of some Victorian merchant prince
(our kitchen had been a clothes closet, I’m sure),
on a street where by now nobody lived
who could afford to live anywhere else.
That night, the three of us, Claudine, Johnnie and me,
woke up at half-past four in the morning
and ate cinnamon toast together.

“Is that all?” I hear somebody ask.
Oh, but we were silly with sleepiness
and, under our windows, the street-cleaners
were working their machines and conversing in Italian, and
everything was strange without being threatening,
even the tea-kettle whistled differently
than in the daytime: it was like the feeling
you get sometimes in a country you’ve never visited
before, when the bread doesn’t taste quite the same,
the butter is a small adventure, and they put
paprika on the table instead of pepper,
except that there was nobody in this country
except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder
of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love.

 

For more information on Alden Nowlan, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Billy Collins

Istanbul, Turkish coffeeWhen it comes time to leave this world? That one perfect cup of coffee in the morning. The snap of the cards being shuffled for another game of rummy late at night at a bar. The red shirt I always wore on Saturday nights at the Alibi. The look on my toddler’s face that day he bent over laughing at the ferns unfurling in the back yard because to him they looked like dragons. The scarred brown heft of the chunk of wood I bought at a garage sale and use as a cutting board. These are the things that come to mind, when I think about what I’ll most miss.

Why are so many poets afraid to write about ordinariness? Stitch that abstraction back down to earth, I sometimes tell my students. Give us a shoelace or a candy wrapper or a torn birthday card to hang our hearts on.

Poem of the Week, by one of my favorite poets, a man who has never been afraid to write about the enchantment of ordinary things.

Aimless Love
     – Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.
In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.
This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.
The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.
No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.
No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then
for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.
But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.
After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,
so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

 

For more information about Billy Collins, please click here.

 

 

Poem of the Week, by Gaius Valerius Catullus

Last week in the class I’m teaching we went around the room and each student recited a poem from memory. One man recited the below poem, one I had never heard before, and at first I thought he himself had written it; it was so brief and raw and real. But no, it’s a poem by Catullus, who died in Verona more than two thousand years ago at the age of 30. I drove home thinking about this poem, and then I looked up Catullus and have been reading his work, the little that we have from the one manuscript unearthed long after his death, ever since. The more things change, the more they don’t, even over thousands of years.

Poem 85
– Gaius Valerius Catullus

I hate and I love
Why do I, you ask ?
I don’t know, but it’s happening
and it hurts.

Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris?
    nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
(In the original Latin)

 

For more information on Catullus, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by ee cummings

I’ve always loved this amazing poet, from way back when I was a kid and I thought that all the weirdness of punctuation and lower-casing must be a typesetting mistake, and now I love this poet even more, for the way his love poems can be about romance and sex and remember-me-when-I’m-gone, and how in this particular one, love is a place and yes is a world. I also love ee cummings because I believe he would have no problem with me using the word “love” four times in that last sentence. Happy Valentine’s Day, all.

 

love is a place
– ee cummings

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)
all worlds

 

For more information on ee cummings, please click here.