Susquehanna

Those many dark nights in our wedding house.
Hundreds of them—like fireflies—
above the quiet road till dawn,
and still I can’t remember even
one of the naked trips he made downstairs
to bring me back a glass of water:
aged, sagging, fly-footed one.
Then the dog would sneak into our room
and groan and settle his bones down
on the wood floor, heavily.

I knew we were all going to die
but not then, and not right away;
because in those days
there were more days to come.
I thought I could not
run out of them.

— Liz Rosenberg 

end

Gas

Wouldn’t it be nice, I think, when the blue-haired lady in the doctor’s
          waiting room bends over the magazine table
and farts, just a little, and violently blushes, wouldn’t it be nice if intesti-
          nal gas came embodied in visible clouds
so she could see that her really quite inoffensive pop had only barely
          grazed my face before it drifted away?

Besides, for this to have happened now is a nice coincidence because not
          an hour ago, while we were on our walk,
my dog was startled by a backfire and jumped straight up like a horse
          bucking and that brought back to me
the stable I worked on weekends when I was twelve and a splendid
          piebald stallion who whenever he was mounted

would buck just like that, though more hugely, of course, enormous,
          gleaming, resplendent, and the woman,
her face abashedly buried in her Elle now, reminded me I’d forgotten
          that not the least part of my awe
consisted of the fact that with every jump he took the horse would pow-
          erfully fart, fwap, fwap, fwap, 

something never mentioned in the dozens of books about horses and
          their riders I devoured in those days.
All that savage grandeur, the steely glinting hooves, the eruptions driven
          from the creature’s mightly innards:
breath stopped, heart stopped, nostrils madly flared, I didn’t know if I
          wanted to break him or be him.

— C.K. Williams 

end

A Primer of the Daily Round

A peels an apple, while B kneels to God,
C telephones to D, who has a hand
On E’s knee, F coughs, G turns up the sod
For H’s grave, I do not understand
But J is bringing one clay pigeon down
While K brings down a nightstick on L’s head,
And M takes mustard, N drives into town,
O goes to bed with P, and Q drops dead,
R lies to S, but happens to be heard
By T, who tells U not to fire V
For having to give W the word
That X is now deceiving Y with Z,
     Who happens just now to remember A
     Peeling an apple somewhere far away.

— Howard Nemerov 

end

Morning Person

God, best at making in the morning, tossed
stars and planets, singing and dancing, rolled
Saturn’s rings spinning and humming, twirled the earth
so hard it coughed and spat the moon up, brilliant
bubble floating around it for good, stretched holy
hands till birds in nervous sparks flew forth from
them and beasts—lizards, big and little, apes,
lions, elephants, dogs and cats cavorting,
tumbling over themselves, dizzy with joy when
God made us in the morning too, both man
and woman, leaving Adam no time for
sleep so nimbly was Eve bouncing out of
his side till as night came everything and
everybody, growing tired, declined, sat
down in one soft descended Hallelujah.

— Vassar Miller 

end

Venetian Air

Row gently here, my gondolier, so softly wake the tide,
That not an ear on earth may hear,  but hers to whom we glide.
Had Heaven but tongues to speak, as well as starry eyes to see,
Oh! think what tales ‘twould have to tell of wandering youths like me!

Now rest thee here, my gondolier, hush hush, for up I go,
To climb yon light balcony’s height, while thou keep’st watch below.
Ah! did we take for Heaven above but half such pains as we
Take day and night for woman’s love, what angels we should be!

— Thomas Moore 

end

Those Who Love

Those who love the most,
Do not talk of their love,
Francesca, Guinevere,
Deirdre, Iseult, Heloise,
In the fragrant gardens of heaven
Are silent, or speak if at all
Of fragile, inconsequent things.

And a woman I used to know
Who loved one man from her youth,
Against the strength of the fates
Fighting in somber pride,
Never spoke of this thing,
But hearing his name by chance,
A light would pass over her face.

— Sara Teasdale 

end

Tantrum

A child’s cry out in the street, not of pain or fear,
rather one of those vividly inarticulate
yet perfectly expressive trumpet thumps of indignation:
something wished for has been denied,
something wanted now delayed.

So useful it would be to carry that preemptive howl
always with you; all the functions it performs,
its equivalents in words are so unwieldy,
take up so much emotive time,
entail such muffling, qualifying, attenuation.

And in our cries out to the cosmos, our exasperation
with imperfection, our theodicies, betrayed ideals:
to keep that rocky core of rage within one’s rage
with which to blame, confront, accuse, bewail
all that needs retaliation for our absurdly thwarted wants.

— C.K. Williams 

end

Last Things

In a tray of dried fixative in a photographer friend’s darkroom,
I found a curled-up photo of his son the instant after his death,
his glasses still on, a drop of blood caught at his mouth.

Recently, my friend put a book together to commemorate his son;
near the end, there’s a picture taken the day before the son died;
the caption says: “This is the last photo of Alex.”

I’m sure my friend doesn’t know I’ve seen the other picture.
Is telling about it a violation of confidence?
Before I show this to anyone else, I’ll have to ask his permission.

If you’re reading it, you’ll know my friend pardoned me,
that he found whatever small truth his story might embody
was worth the anguish of remembering that reflexive moment

when after fifty years of bringing reality into himself through a lens,
his camera doubtlessly came to his eye as though by itself,
and his finger, surely also of its own accord, convulsed the shutter.

— C.K. Williams 

end

Prayer for a Marriage

For Kathleen

When we are old one night and the moon
arcs over the house like an antique
China saucer and the teacup sun

follows somewhere far behind
I hope the stars deepen to a shine
so bright you could read by it

if you liked and the sadnesses
we will have known go away
for awhile—in this hour or two

before sleep—and that we kiss
standing in the kitchen not fighting
gravity so much as embodying

its sweet force, and I hope we kiss
like we do today knowing so much
good is said in this primitive tongue

from the wild first surprising ones
to the lower dizzy ten thousand
infinitely slower ones—and I hope

while we stand there in the kitchen
making tea and kissing, the whistle
of the teapot wakes the neighbors.

— Steve Scafidi 

end

Who’s Who

A shilling life will give you all the facts: 
How Father beat him, how he ran away, 
What were the struggles of his youth, what acts 
Made him the greatest figure of his day; 
Of how he fought, fished, hunted, worked all night, 
Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea:
Some of the last researchers even write 
Love made him weep his pints like you and me. 

With all his honours on, he sighed for one 
Who, say astonished critics, lived at home; 
Did little jobs about the house with skill 
And nothing else; could whistle; would sit still 
Or potter round the garden; answered some 
Of his long marvellous letters but kept none.

– W.H. Auden

end