Category Archives: poetry

Tournesol

The traveller who crossed the Halles at the end of summer
Was walking on her tiptoes
And across the sky despair furled its big calla lilies such beauties
And in the handbag was my dream that bottle of salt
Solely breathed by God’s godmother
Torpors spread out like steam
At Chien qui Fume
Where pro and con had just entered
The young woman could be seen only poorly and in profile
Was I dealing with the ambassadress of saltpeter
Or the white curve against the black background which we call thought
The ball of the innocents was in full swing
The lanterns caught fire slowly in the chestnut trees
The lady who cast no shadow knelt down on the Pont au Change
In Rue Gît-le-Cœur the pealing was no longer the same
Night’s promises were kept at last
The carrier pigeons the emergency kisses
Joined with the beautiful unknown one’s breast
Thrusting under the crepe of perfect meanings
A farm prospered in the midst of Paris
And its windows looked out on the Milky Way
But no one was living in it on account of the guests
The guests that one knows are more devoted than ghosts
The ones like that woman seemed to be swimming
And into love there enters a little of their substance
She takes them in
I am not the plaything of any sensory power
And yet the cricket that sang in the ashen hair
One evening near the statue of Etienne Marcel
Shot me a knowing glance
André Breton it said may pass through

André Breton, 1923
translation by John Hayes

Psychoanalysis: An Elegy

What are you thinking about?

I am thinking of an early summer.
I am thinking of wet hills in the rain
Pouring water.  Shedding it
Down empty acres of oak and manzanita
Down to the old green brush tangled in the sun,
Greasewood, sage, and spring mustard.
Or the hot wind coming down from Santa Ana
Driving the hills crazy,
A fast wind with a bit of dust in it
Bruising everything and making the seed sweet.
Or down in the city where the peach trees
Are awkward as young horses,
And there are kites caught on the wires
Up above the street lamps,
And the storm drains are all choked with dead branches.

What are you thinking?

I think that I would like to write a poem that is slow as a summer
As slow getting started
As 4th of July somewhere around the middle of the second stanza
After a lot of unusual rain
California seems long in the summer.
I would like to write a poem as long as California
And as slow as a summer.
Do you get me, Doctor?  It would have to be as slow
As the very tip of summer.
As slow as the summer seems
On a hot day drinking beer outside Riverside
Or standing in the middle of a white-hot road
Between Bakersfield and Hell
Waiting for Santa Claus.

What are you thinking now?

I’m thinking that she is very much like California.
When she is still her dress is like a roadmap.  Highways
Traveling up and down her skin
Long empty highways
With the moon chasing jackrabbits across them
On hot summer nights.
I am thinking that her body could be California
And I a rich Eastern tourist
Lost somewhere between Hell and Texas
Looking at a map of a long, wet, dancing California
That I have never seen.
Send me some penny picture-postcards, lady,
Send them.
One of each breast photographed looking
Like curious national monuments,
One of your body sweeping like a three-lane highway
Twenty-seven miles from a night’s lodging
In the world’s oldest hotel.

What are you thinking?

I am thinking of how many times this poem
Will be repeated.  How many summers
Will torture California
Until the damned maps burn
Until the mad cartographer
Falls to the ground and possesses
The sweet thick earth from which he has been hiding.

What are you thinking now?

I am thinking that a poem could go on forever.

Jack Spicer1925 – 1965

Archaic Torso Of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Rainer Maria Rilke

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

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.