Please note that I only include poems that I personally have
transcribed from my personal library.
Many copies of most poems that circulate on the internet are riddled with textual errors.
I therefore choose not to copy them.
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One of these times very soon
I will have and hold a day
blank as a new pillowcase
or a field of fresh snow.
And then and there once again
I will lay down my head, I will
make angels in the wet snow.
I will write words words words,
as you do, and will sign my name,
naming my new poems like children,
calling them home from the dark
A calm clear morning on the York River
that we have both known and sailed together,
a calm day and cool with the first touch
of autumn abroad, with geese at dawn
flying high and south in ragged formations
over the rocky shoreline lit by a rising sun.
Hours later in my boathouse, alone,
thinking about you and your sudden death,
I listen to a grayback gull perched on a piling,
cry out sounds that surely must be
an entirely incongruous laughter.
Tide turning; days of our lives lie in fragments.
There's no plot here, no narrative to follow,
a cold familiar voice whispers in my ear. I have
no reply, though I hope for something different, better.
Think how they slip away one at a time,
out of the light of all our ambiguous loves
and into the blaze and bright of another weather.
And soon, soon enough, we shall all cross over
out of these shadowy seasons of sooner and later,
each alone as can be with pain and sorrow.
See how, splendid as geese in flight,
they now join hands to move in a dance
to a music we cannot hear, can only guess at.
And I think I can see you there among the dancers
and I suddenly guess the music is the laughter
of angels, citizens of incredible ever-after.
Something wakes me, makes me step to the window:
tide running out, the river on fire with the sunset
and gulls overhead, white wings riding the wind.
Not many now remember,
fewer and fewer remember,
most because they never knew
in the first place, being lucky
and too young, and others
because they are too few and too old
already; but, anyway, I remember
the three reasons most often advanced
in those innocent days before the War
as strong and self-evident argument
that Adolf Hitler was crazy:
First, that he was a strict vegetarian.
Second, that he did not smoke or permit
any smoking around him, being convinced
that smoking cigarettes was somehow
linked to lung cancer.
Third, because he went around saying
that the Volkswagen, laughable beetle,
was the car of the future.
Maybe God, in all his power and majesty,
can still enjoy the irony of it.
Miles later, young man, old soldier, I
stand at the bar of a gasthaus
in Leonding, a country village near Linz,
lean against the dark, smooth, polished wood,
drinking and listening to very old men
remember the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Happens that Hitler's father lived here then.
And they can remember him and his son, too,
who every evening came to this gasthaus
for a bucket of beer for his father's supper.
Would stand there patiently waiting where
you are standing now, then, pail in hand,
set off under the early stars along a lane
towards the lights of home, whistling in the dark.
Everyone who knew agrees that then and later
he was a wonderful whistler, worth listening to.
I lean back against the bar to picture
how he was then, lips puckered,
whistling tunes I do not know,
beer rich and foamy, sloshing in the pail,
smell of woodsmoke, cooking meat and cabbage.
And, invisible and implacable, always
the wide smile of God upon His creatures, one and all,
great and small, among them this little pale-faced boy,
for whom He has arranged some enormous surprises,
beyond any kind of imagining, even myself,
drunk in this place, years from home, imagining it.
Rain beading on buds of dogwood,
glistening, too, on first thrust
of daffodils and crocus
like the shine of light on bayonets;
and here he comes now, the early
courtier of light and air, big boy
strutting his colors of blue and white,
daring the sky to cast off its gray cloak,
betting the trees will raise their hands
again in green and bright surrender.
Not only the pleasures of dust,
of dry, stained pages and the out-of-date
card that proves nobody has even checked
this one out in a decade and not more
than half a dozen times in my whole lifetime.
GENE DERWOOD . . . LLOYD FRANKENBERG . . .
ALFRED HAYES . . . COMAN LEAVENWORTH . . . JOHN
THOMPSON, JR. . . .
But also all of these names and so many
more, not really forgotten, but not to be found,
either, anywhere else but here in the stacks
on shelves where Robinson's darkest inches
preserve the anonymous dignity of the unfamous.
MARYA ZATURENSKA . . . CALE YOUNG RICE . . .
H. PHELPS PUTNAM . . . WILLIAM ELLERY LEONARD . . .
ALFRED KREYMBORG . . .
And one great secret is simply this—how, taken
together, cheek-by-jowl, these people, these poets,
are often so much alike in form and substance
and more democratic in excellence and virtue
than anyone might have otherwise imagined.
MADELINE GLEASON . . . ROBERT HORAN . . .
MYRON O'HIGGINS . . . BYRON VAZAKAS . . .
Years ago in the Village at the Sam Remo
I bought poems from Maxwell Bodenheim
at fifty cents a pop. Once at the Museum
of Modern Art I watched W. H. Auden unsuccessfully
try to check a bottle of champagne like a coat.
HELEN ADAM . . . EBBE BORREGAARD . . .
ADAM DRINAN . . . MURRAY NOSS . . . ELDER OLSON . . .
But what of all the unfamous others, ourselves
I mean, still alive and on fire and in love
with the taste of words and the making of poems?
Who will come here afterwards to blow the dust away
and disturb the peace and oblivion we have earned?
FRED CHAPPELL . . . KELLY CHERRY . . . R. H. W.
DILLARD . . . BRENDAN GALVIN . . . GEORGE GARRETT . . .
DAVID SLAVITT . . . HENRY TAYLOR . . .
Rufus don't rouse. Randy isn't.
Dr. ("Just call me Dick") Richard
says he feels like a flag
on an utterly breezeless day.
Come quickly, cunts and cuties,
and help the old bishop stand tall,
bareheaded and proud
in eternal benediction.
When our Prince is true and good,
he is the dog who guards the flock;
but when he's false he turns into
the wolf who takes us for his food.
(after a Latin epigram by Sir Thomas More)
Your clear hands call my name.
They dance in the dark light of the fire
With the odor and oakwood and roses
And death. Dead of winter.
What became of the starving birds?
They fell into a waste of snow.
So it is with words.
They flash like sudden angels, go
Away like ghosts. So with the trees
And us, too, made of morning breeze.
(after Salvatore Quasimodo)
Arriving completely unannounced
indeed honestly uninvited,
in dreams of course
but also in a stab
and shock like the sting
of irrepressible memory,
my own dead and wounded
rise up from dark places
to strike me deaf and dumb
as any stone. O fathers
and mothers moving in twilight
stay and be still
as you were and are
in (always) fading memory
pray be smiling, kindly wait,
be easy on us living and scarred
kinfolks who came to love and grief
too little and too late.
Came then in the dark
Out of the dark a dark
Man without name or number
a brute fact
a bad dream
labor of love and death
Came then made of dirt
and water at the water's edge
a man thing hairy as a hedge
a brutal dream
the bitter fact
breaker of bones and hearts
All alone trickster and thief
liar and lover I came
seeking to find myself
and met instead
this being made
wholly of flame and air
How we rolled and wrestled
then in the water and dirt
and breathed together
all night long
by the black fire
of a burning bush
Came then when first light
dazzled and blinded the shore
my crippled self now newly named
and never again to be
the broken being
that I had been before.
Riding the Crescent for the first time
since 1966, letting it happen all over again
between Tuscaloosa and Charlottesville,
the old South running directly outside the window,
hugging the tracks, tarpaper shacks and trailers,
a rusty Chevrolet pickup on concrete blocks, a black
boy on a three-speed bike making wild wheelies
in the parking lot of the Mt. Hebron Baptist Church,
piles of the corpses of dead machines
and one whole field of abandoned refrigerators
white as tombstones. Back here kudzu rules the world.
Those singing trains of Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe
are long gone now with all their huffing and puffing
(and my child-self with a cinder in his weepy eye).
We can't any longer look up at the slow curve
and see our steam engine dragging us behind it.
O dark green curtains, upper and lower, of Pullman cars
and a lazy look out the window at the stereotypical
man straddling a mule, himself barefooted
in bib overalls, a straw hat, patiently waiting
for our train to pass by his life and times.
We have all seen him there or remember it that way.
Likewise the white impeccable tablecloth and napkins,
the heavy silverware of the dining car
whose elegant dark waiters roll with the rolling train,
carrying their trays (as Wilbur put it) "tipfingered."
This new train is asking for at least a casual line,
if not exactly for "longer-lined capacious forms."
And I hereby solemnly promise that the solemn name
of Heidegger will not appear in person in poem or train,
Heidegger or Kierkegaard, either, who was never once,
whatever else, on the Crescent from Tuscaloosa
up through blue mountains to Charlottesville
or woke up on a sleeping porch in central Florida
to listen to freight trains whistle and pass by
like carloads of mythical sirens and Rhinemaidens,
calling his name, promising almost everything.
What has happened, my friends, is this:
we are saying the same things over and over again
because we have to, because there is no other choice.
We are singing the old songs, whistling the same tunes,
each like a small boy in the dark, in a graveyard,
maybe, whistling to reassure the rotten dead
that he, of course, is careless, indifferent, fearless.
We are saying the same things in exactly the same tone of voice
because we have to, because there is no other choice,
except, perhaps, that purity of absolute silence
to which our noisy music does aspire,
with which our music will be well rewarded
all in due time. Meanwhile, my friends, we must
say again and over again the same few things
(wise or foolish no matter, beauty of bounden duty)
without which the world goes wild and the silent dead
rise up to rattle us daft with their dancing bones
because they have to, because there is no other choice.
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