1.
Last night, a flurry of selves.

2.
I was revealing my naked face to people I trust to take care of these truths.

3.
Sometimes even I’m surprised at my deep capacity to be vulnerable. It’s terrifying.

4.
The world chafes, for all its beauty.

Detail
Eamon Grennan

I was watching a robin fly after a finch — the smaller bird
chirping with excitement, the bigger, its breast blazing, silent
in light-winged earnest chase — when, out of nowhere
over the chimneys and the shivering front gardens,
flashes a sparrowhawk headlong, a light brown burn
scorching the air from which it simply plucks
like a ripe fruit the stopped robin, whose two or three
cheeps of terminal surprise twinkle in the silence
closing over the empty street when the birds have gone
about their own business, and I began to understand
how a poem can happen: you have your eye on a small
elusive detail, pursuing its music, when a terrible truth
strikes and your heart cries out, being carried off.

This is from Still Life with Waterfall: Poems by Eamon Grennan, published by Graywolf Press, 2002.

Advertisements

1.
She’s a marvel, my love is, is how a letter ends. This is how a stranger tells me about lives unfurling, and of which I have no part of but am a witness to all the same.

2.
I think it is incredibly brave and endearing, making room for wonderment.

3.
It was difficult to get up today. It took hours. What are you if not some wounded animal, I think.

4.
But to be thankful nevertheless. To be grateful for things that arrange themselves into your life precisely because there is room.

5.
I have been, at some point, been astonished by someone’s being. I wonder now if anyone, at some point, has been amazed that I exist.

6.
But shouldn’t that have been: what a marvel that I exist!

7.
It is exactly what you think it is, I whisper to myself, birds fluttering about inside my chest.

Demand It Courageously
Julia Hartwig

    Make some room for yourself, human animal.
    Even a dog jostles about on his master’s lap to
improve his position. And when he needs space he
runs forward, without paying attention to commands
or calls.
    If you didn’t manage to receive freedom as a gift,
demand it as courageously as bread and meat.
    Make some room for yourself, human pride and
dignity.
    The Czech writer Hrabal said:
    I have as much freedom as I take.

This is from In Praise of the Unfinished by Julia Hartwig, published by Knopf, 2008.

1.
Don’t our lives unfold in proportion to our courage, I wrote to someone a few days ago, my heart in my throat, wondering why I’m writing a letter at all.

2.
Every day is an effort to be better at this. Living, I mean. Trying it on like a dress, this being human, which you must be tired of by now, my having talked about it for years and years, I mean.

3.
Why do you keep your struggles out in the open? Why do you wear your heart on your sleeve? What is to be gained in making a fool out of yourself? These are questions I’ve been asked, for which I don’t necessarily have the answers.

4.
I think I promised myself some sort of transformation. A metamorphosis of some kind. Growing into a person that I needed, perhaps. A bird learning to be better at flight.

5.
A wet sparrow, perhaps, as I stand out on the street yesterday, big, fat drops of water on my hair, my face, my shoulders, my back. What is a fool if not someone who forgets umbrellas, knowing full well it’s the season for rain. What is a fool, who laughs and shivers and runs for cover and laughs again, shoes squeaking after having stepped into a puddle.

6.
It’s November now. It’s not too late to be here again, is it?

The Meaning of Birds
Charles Smith

Of the genesis of birds we know nothing,
save the legend they are descended
from reptiles: flying, snap-jawed lizards
that have somehow taken to air. Better the story
that they were crab-apple blossoms
or such, blown along by the wind; time after time
finding themselves tossed from perhaps a seaside tree,
floated or lifted over the thin blue lazarine waves
until something in the snatch of color
began to flutter and rise. But what does it matter
anyway how they got up high
in the trees or over the rusty shoulders
of some mountain? There they are,
little figments,
animated—soaring. And if occasionally a tern washes up
greased and stiff, and sometimes a cardinal
or a mockingbird slams against the windshield
and your soul goes oh God and shivers
at the quick and unexpected end
to beauty, it is not news that we live in a world
where beauty is unexplainable
and suddenly ruined
and has its own routines. We are often far
from home in a dark town, and our griefs
are difficult to translate into a language
understood by others. We sense the downswing of time
and learn, having come of age, that the reluctant
concessions made in youth
are not sufficient to heat the cold drawn breath
of age. Perhaps temperance
was not enough, foresight or even wisdom
fallacious, not only in conception
but in the thin acts
themselves. So our lives are difficult,
and perhaps unpardonable, and the fey gauds
of youth have, as the old men told us they would,
faded. But still, it is morning again, this day.
In the flowering trees
the birds take up their indifferent, elegant cries.
Look around. Perhaps it isn’t too late
to make a fool of yourself again. Perhaps it isn’t too late
to flap your arms and cry out, to give
one more cracked rendition of your singular, aspirant song.

This is from Indistinguishable from the Darkness by Charlie Smith, published by W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.

Good night, Derek Walcott, sir. Thank you for your poems. Rest easy now.

Endings
Derek Walcott

Things do not explode,
they fail, they fade,

as sunlight fades from the flesh,
as the foam drains quick in the sand,

even love’s lightning flash
has no thunderous end,

it dies with the sound
of flowers fading like the flesh

from sweating pumice stone,
everything shapes this

till we are left
with the silence that surrounds Beethoven’s head.

This is from Collected Poems 1948-1984 by Derek Walcott, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986.

Dear T.,

1.
Dear self: today you turn thirty-one. Do you feel that? Do you feel your bones adjusting to the weight around your body, to the soul you carry? And have you found out what it meant, to want to be here?

2.
Another year older. I’m not very sure we’re wiser for it, but we definitely have made some choices, haven’t we. Yes we did. Perhaps that’s the thing—to continue making decisions that spur your life inch by inch towards some direction. It doesn’t even have to mean forward or backward, because didn’t we say we’ll try to live spherically, in many directions? Didn’t we say: moving without leaving, and didn’t we do exactly that this past year?

3.
Where are we going, self? Where will our feet take us, where will our mind lead us, where will our body agree to go? What are we willing to embrace this year? And do you feel that, the apprehension that murmurs in your chest like a fluttering bird, the uncertainty that makes you weak in the knees? And will you go anyway?

4.
Have you forgiven yourself for it, the fuck-ups, the constant undoing and redoing? Have you accepted that you will always lose something, and when that happens, the question to ask is: and what have I gained?

5.
Last year you said: Be good, forgive, exist. The year before that: I think maybe it’s time to be found. The year before that: You’re not alone. The year before that: It takes courage to live.

Do you hear it, all the echoes of your past selves trying to tell you that you are loved? The unknown yawns before us, and yes, maybe we’ll fuck it up. And maybe we won’t.

6.
Happy birthday, old fool.

Encounter
Czeslaw Milosz
Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Lillian Vallee

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

This is from The Collected Poems of Czeslaw Milosz, published by Ecco Press, 1988.

1.
Listen: haven’t you always been alone, and haven’t you always been okay with that? Because it is what it is: people are together alone, or are they alone together?

2.
But listen: poetry offers you a space to be, and a space to be here, and maybe right now that’s what matters.

3.
Listen: these poems are where everything started — the creation of your languaged self! And how astonishing. How right. How true.

Autobiographia Literaria
Frank O’Hara

When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
all alone.

I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
flew away.

If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out “I am
an orphan.”

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!
Imagine!

This is from The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara, edited by Donald Allen, published by Vintage Books, 1974.

My dear friend,

1.
I found myself saying every now and then: “What a terrible year.” I repeat it often, and loudly, as if I couldn’t say it enough. What a terrible year this has been, and now there are only a few more hours left until it is over. I am gripped with suspended relief, if that makes sense somehow. I am anxiously waiting for the worst of it all to seize me in the last few moments but also crossing all my fingers and toes that I have passed through the last of it.

2.
Truth be told there have been some good things, too, and haven’t I talked about that? It’s just—there had been tremendous and awful things in our lives, and we have suffered huge losses. It became impossible to see the light sometimes. The emptiness was a weight we carried with us.

3.
What is holy, I ask myself. Questions visit me nightly before bed. What is here and what is yours and will I make it. Questions upon questions, trying to sift through the day to find the blessing from the rubble.

I am alive, I answer back. I am living and I am choosing to live and I am working on being alive. My life is here and this is the life I have and a thousand yeses.

4.
Sometimes I no longer know if I’m making up answers as I go farther along in life, but it’s the best I can do. Isn’t that what any one of us ever really does?

5.
When I said in your presence, “What a terrible year,” I hope you can forgive me. Because we are alive, you see, and your life has meaning and your presence in mine surpasses the embrace of the deep dark. You have had joys, too, and you are loved. Our love for one another is what kept the world going, truly—and I am saying it because it’s my one anchor this year while I struggle not to drown: you are loved.

6.
Listen: the year is ending. Let us be done with it. Tomorrow we begin again.

The Round
Stanley Kunitz

Light splashed this morning
on the shell-pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue-spiked veronica
light flowed in rivulets
over the humps of the honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering,
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.

So I have shut the doors of my house,
so I have trudged downstairs to my cell,
so I am sitting in semi-dark
hunched over my desk
with nothing for a view
to tempt me
but a bloated compost heap,
steamy old stinkpile,
under my window;
and I pick my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
the still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
“Light splashed . . .”

I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.

This is from Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected by Stanley Kunitz, published by W.W. Norton, 1995.