Category Archives: poetry

Impossible Friendships

For example, with someone who no longer is,
who exists only in yellowed letters.

Or long walks beside a stream,
whose depths hold hidden

porcelain cups—and the talks about philosophy
with a timid student or the postman.

A passerby with proud eyes
whom you’ll never know.

Friendship with this world, ever more perfect
(if not for the salty smell of blood).

The old man sipping coffee
in St.-Lazare, who reminds you of someone.

Faces flashing by
in local trains—

the happy faces of travelers headed perhaps
for a splendid ball, or a beheading.

And friendship with yourself
—since after all you don’t know who you are.

TRANSLATED BY CLARE CAVANAGH
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There Are Birds Here

For Detroit

 

There are birds here,
so many birds here
is what I was trying to say
when they said those birds were metaphors
for what is trapped
between buildings
and buildings. No.
The birds are here
to root around for bread
the girl’s hands tear
and toss like confetti. No,
I don’t mean the bread is torn like cotton,
I said confetti, and no
not the confetti
a tank can make of a building.
I mean the confetti
a boy can’t stop smiling about
and no his smile isn’t much
like a skeleton at all. And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone.
I am trying to say
his neighborhood
is as tattered and feathered
as anything else,
as shadow pierced by sun
and light parted
by shadow-dance as anything else,
but they won’t stop saying
how lovely the ruins,
how ruined the lovely
children must be in that birdless city.
Jamaal May, “There Are Birds Here” from The Big Book of Exit Strategies. Copyright © 2016 by Jamaal May. Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books.
Source: The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James Books, 2016)

January Gallery

Did you say today?
Did you say tomorrow
Or the next day, or the day afterwards?
Did you say a picture at a January Gallery?
Did you say a glass eye for your mirror
For a club foot for a clump of wintry woods?
For a little lavender that stares back at you
Today and tomorrow, and days afterwards.

-Alfred Starr Hamilton

Your heart is fine feeling the widest
possible empathy for the day and its inhabitants

Thanks for looking at the wind
in the top of the eucalyptus
dancing like someone you know
well ‘I’m here I’m here I’m here!’

The wind picks up
a rush of leaves waving

wildly for your understanding
—apple, plum, bamboo
rooted and flourishing
next to your home
in the air awake

without defect

June 17, 2000

“The Perfect World” by Kahlil Gibran

God of lost souls, thou who are lost amongst the gods, hear me:

Gentle Destiny that watchest over us, mad, wandering spirits, hear me:

I dwell in the midst of a perfect race, I the most imperfect.

I, a human chaos, a nebula of confused elements, I move amongst finished worlds—peoples of complete laws and pure order, whose thoughts are assorted, whose dreams are arranged, and whose visions are enrolled and registered.

Their virtues, O God, are measured, their sins are weighed, and even the countless things that pass in the dim twilight of neither sin nor virtue are recorded and catalogued.

Here days and night are divided into seasons of conduct and governed by rules of blameless accuracy.

To eat, to drink, to sleep, to cover one’s nudity, and then to be weary in due time.

To work, to play, to sing, to dance, and then to lie still when the clock strikes the hour.

To think thus, to feel thus much, and then to cease thinking and feeling when a certain star rises above yonder horizon.

To rob a neighbour with a smile, to bestow gifts with a graceful wave of the hand, to praise prudently, to blame cautiously, to destroy a sound with a word, to burn a body with a breath, and then to wash the hands when the day’s work is done.

To love according to an established order, to entertain one’s best self in a preconceived manner, to worship the gods becomingly, to intrigue the devils artfully—and then to forget all as though memory were dead.

To fancy with a motive, to contemplate with consideration, to be happy sweetly, to suffer nobly—and then to empty the cup so that tomorrow may fill it again.

All these things, O God, are conceived with forethought, born with determination, nursed with exactness, governed by rules, directed by reason, and then slain and buried after a prescribed method. And even their silent graves that lie within the human soul are marked and numbered.

It is a perfect world, a world of consummate excellence, a world of supreme wonders, the ripest fruit in God’s garden, the master-thought of the universe.

But why should I be here, O God, I a green seed of unfulfilled passion, a mad tempest that seeketh neither east nor west, a bewildered fragment from a burnt planet?

Why am I here, O God of lost souls, thou who art lost amongst the gods?

Act II, Scene 6

Friar Laurence’s cell.

[Enter FRIAR LAURENCE and ROMEO]

  • Friar LaurenceSo smile the heavens upon this holy act,
    That after hours with sorrow chide us not!
  • RomeoAmen, amen! but come what sorrow can,
    It cannot countervail the exchange of joy
    That one short minute gives me in her sight:
    Do thou but close our hands with holy words,
    Then love-devouring death do what he dare;
    It is enough I may but call her mine.
  • Friar LaurenceThese violent delights have violent ends
    And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
    Which as they kiss consume: the sweetest honey
    Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
    And in the taste confounds the appetite:
    Therefore love moderately; long love doth so;
    Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.
    [Enter JULIET]
    Here comes the lady: O, so light a foot
    Will ne’er wear out the everlasting flint:
    A lover may bestride the gossamer
    That idles in the wanton summer air,
    And yet not fall; so light is vanity.
  • JulietGood even to my ghostly confessor.
  • JulietAs much to him, else is his thanks too much.
  • RomeoAh, Juliet, if the measure of thy joy
    Be heap’d like mine and that thy skill be more
    To blazon it, then sweeten with thy breath
    This neighbour air, and let rich music’s tongue
    Unfold the imagined happiness that both
    Receive in either by this dear encounter.
  • JulietConceit, more rich in matter than in words,
    Brags of his substance, not of ornament:
    They are but beggars that can count their worth;
    But my true love is grown to such excess
    I cannot sum up sum of half my wealth.
  • Friar LaurenceCome, come with me, and we will make short work;
    For, by your leaves, you shall not stay alone
    Till holy church incorporate two in one.

[Exeunt]

In the forest where I hid I found a dog at night. Sick, hungry and perhaps also crazy. I fell on his neck and cried like a child. It wouldn’t be a surprise if I were to say that at that moment, I was jealous of the animals. What I felt was more than jealousy. It was shame. I was ashamed for the dog that I was not a dog, but a human.

“Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.”
― Bohumil HrabalToo Loud a Solitude

You are not surprised at the force of the storm—
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.

The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees’ blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit:
now it becomes a riddle again
and you again a stranger.

Summer was like your house: you know
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.

The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.

Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

Transform? Yes, for it is our task to impress this provisional, transient earth upon ourselves so deeply, so agonizingly, and so passionately that its essence rises up again “invisibly” within us. We are the bees of the invisible. We ceaselessly gather the honey of the visible to store it in the great golden hive of the Invisible. -Rainer Maria Rilke