Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page


In Poetry on July 16, 2010 at 7:30 pm

What is it about poetry?  Art and film and dance and all manner of other disciplines are grand.  In their time, they all call our souls from our bodies, and play them far away on wooden flutes.  But poetry.  There’s something about poetry.

All I can think of is one morning in an airport.  A lady got on a mic and called out my departure from the foreign land, called down the axe on my foreign life.  I watched the line form.  My hands shook.  They did not wipe my eyes.  As I stood and took my place in the slow moving machine, suddenly, something shuddered awake.  It sang and spoke and leapt in the chorus of many unmet friends – Linda Hogan and Ani Difranco and Edna St. Vincent Millay.  They had come to see me off and paint their cacophonous, whispered, triumphant and timorous words upon the end.  “The end is where we start from,” one of them said, as they grabbed my hands and coaxed them and walked me onto the plane.

I’d like to share some poetry.  I’m not even sure what poetry is, but I know it’s necessary.

Travel – Edna St. Vincent Millay

The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.

[FOR THE SAKE OF A SINGLE POEM] – Rainer Maria Rilke

…Ah, poems amount to so little when you write them too early in your life.  You ought to wait and gather sense and sweetness for a whole lifetime, and a long one if possible, and then, at the very end, you might perhaps be able to write ten good lines. For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough) – they are experiences. For the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and Things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning. You must be able to think back to streets in unknown neighborhoods, to unexpected encounters, and to partings you had long seen coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still unexplained, to parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn’t pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else-); to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quiet, restrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along high overhead and went flying with all the stars, – and it is still not enough to be able to think of all that. You must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labor, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again. But you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the scattered noises. And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. For the memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves – only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

Nothing – Linda Hogan

Nothing sings in our bodies

like breath in a flute.

It dwells in the drum.

I hear it now

that slow beat

like when a voice said to the dark,

let there be light,

let there be ocean

and blue fish

born of nothing

and they were there.

I turn back to bed.

The man there is breathing.

I touch him with hands already owned by another world.

Look, they are desert,

they are rust. They have washed the dead.

They have washed the just born.

They are open.

They offer nothing.

Take it.

Take nothing from me.

There is still a little life

left inside this body,

a little wilderness here

and mercy

and it is the emptiness

we love, touch, enter in one another

and try to fill.