We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” “Answer. That you are here — that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” — John Keating (Robin Williams), Dead Poets Society


10 Notable Poems



By William Stafford

Some time when the river is ice ask me

mistakes I have made. Ask me whether

what I have done is my life. Others

have come in their slow way into

my thought, and some have tried to help

or to hurt: ask me what difference

their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.

You and I can turn and look

at the silent river and wait. We know

the current is there, hidden; and there

are comings and goings from miles away

that hold the stillness exactly before us.



By Leonard Cohen

The birds they sang

at the break of day

Start again

I heard them say

Don’t dwell on what

has passed away

or what is yet to be.

Ah the wars they will

be fought again

The holy dove

She will be caught again

bought and sold

and bought again

the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

We asked for signs

the signs were sent:

the birth betrayed

the marriage spent

Yeah the widowhood

of every government —

signs for all to see.

I can’t run no more

with that lawless crowd

while the killers in high places

say their prayers out loud.

But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up

a thundercloud

and they’re going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring …

You can add up the parts

but you won’t have the sum

You can strike up the march,

there is no drum

Every heart, every heart

to love will come

but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

That’s how the light gets in.

That’s how the light gets in.



By W. H. Auden

At last the secret is out,

as it always must come in the end,

the delicious story is ripe to tell

to tell to the intimate friend;

over the tea-cups and into the square

the tongues has its desire;

still waters run deep, my dear,

there’s never smoke without fire.

Behind the corpse in the reservoir,

behind the ghost on the links,

behind the lady who dances

and the man who madly drinks,

under the look of fatigue

the attack of migraine and the sigh

there is always another story,

there is more than meets the eye.

For the clear voice suddenly singing,

high up in the convent wall,

the scent of the elder bushes,

the sporting prints in the hall,

the croquet matches in summer,

the handshake, the cough, the kiss,

there is always a wicked secret,

a private reason for this.



By Christopher Brennan

If questioning would make us wise

No eyes would ever gaze in eyes;

If all our tale were told in speech

No mouths would wander each to each.

Were spirits free from mortal mesh

And love not bound in hearts of flesh

No aching breasts would yearn to meet

And find their ecstasy complete.

For who is there that lives and knows

The secret powers by which he grows?

Were knowledge all, what were our need

To thrill and faint and sweetly bleed?.

Then seek not, sweet, the “If” and “Why”

I love you now until I die.

For I must love because I live

And life in me is what you give.



By Mark Strand

One clear night while the others slept, I climbed

the stairs to the roof of the house and under a sky

strewn with stars I gazed at the sea, at the spread of it,

the rolling crests of it raked by the wind, becoming

like bits of lace tossed in the air. I stood in the long

whispering night, waiting for something, a sign, the approach

of a distant light, and I imagined you coming closer,

the dark waves of your hair mingling with the sea,

and the dark become desire, and desire the arriving light.

The nearness, the momentary warmth of you as I stood

on that lonely height watching the slow swells of the sea

break on the shore and turn briefly into glass and disappear …

Why did I believe you would come out of nowhere? Why with all

that the world offers would you come only because I was here?



By Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies

are not starving someplace, they are starving

somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.

But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.

Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not

be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not

be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women

at the fountain are laughing together between

the suffering they have known and the awfulness

in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody

in the village is very sick. There is laughter

every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,

and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.

If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,

we lessen the importance of their deprivation.

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,

but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have

the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless

furnace of this world. To make injustice the only

measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.

If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,

we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.

We must admit there will be music despite everything.

We stand at the prow again of a small ship

anchored late at night in the tiny port

looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront

is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.

To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat

comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth

all the years of sorrow that are to come.



By C.P. Cavafy

The days of our future stand in front of us

like a row of little lit candles —

golden, warm, and lively little candles.

The days past remain behind us,

a mournful line of extinguished candles;

the ones nearest are still smoking,

cold candles, melted, and bent.

I do not want to look at them; their form saddens me,

and it saddens me to recall their first light.

I look ahead at my lit candles.

I do not want to turn back, lest I see and shudder

at how fast the dark line lengthens,

at how fast the extinguished candles multiply.



By Kay Ryan

If something

gets caught

like a bone

in the throat

it isn’t right.

We know this

with fish:

it isn’t impolite to cough.

Our life

is at risk.

But there are

so many wrong thoughts

we refuse to release


our throats

like pate geese.



By Ada Limon

Maybe my limbs are made

Mostly for decoration,

Like the way I feel about

persimmons.  You can’t

Really eat them.  Or you

wouldn’t want to.  If you grab

The soft skin with your fist

It somehow feels funny,

Like you’ve been here

Before and uncomfortable,

Too, like you’d rather

Squish it between your teeth

Impatiently, before spitting

The soft parts back up

To linger on the tongue like

burnt sugar or guilt.

For starters, it was all

An accident, you cut

The right branch

And a sort of light

Woke up underneath,

And the inedible fruit

grew dark and needy.

Think crucial hanging.

Think crayon orange.

There is one low, learning

heart-shaped globe left

And dearest, can you

Tell, I am trying

to love you less.



By Stephen Dunn

It was bring-your-own if you wanted anything

Hard, so I brought Johnnie Walker Red

Along with some resentment I’d held in

For a few weeks, which was not helped

By the sight of little nameless things

Pierced with toothpicks on the tables,

Or by talk that promised to be nothing

If not small.  But I’d consented to come,

And I knew what part of the house

Their animals would be sequestered,

Whose company I loved.  What else can I say,

Except that old retainer of slights and wrongs,

That bad boy I hadn’t quite outgrown—

I’d brought him along, too.  I was out

To cultivate a mood.  My hosts greeted me,

But did not ask about my soul, which was when

I was invited by Johnnie Walker Red

To find the right kind of glass, and pour.

I toasted the air.  I said hello to the wall,

Then walked past a group of women

Dressed to be seen, undress them

One by one, and went upstairs to where

The Rottweilers were, Rosie and Tom,

And got down with them on all fours.

They licked the face I offered them,

And I proceeded to slick back my hair

With their saliva, and before long

I felt like a wild thing, ready to mess up

The party, scarf and the hors d’ceuvres.

But the dogs said, No, don’t do that,

Calm down, after a while they open the door

And let you out, they pet your head, and everything

You might have held against them is gone,

And you’re good friends again.  Stay, they said.



By Wislawa Szymborska

After every war

someone has to clean up.

Things won’t

straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble

to the side of the road,

so the corpse-filled wagons

can pass.

Someone has to get mired

in scum and ashes,

sofa springs,

splintered glass,

and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag in a girder

to prop up a wall,

Someone has to glaze a window,

rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,

and takes years.

All the cameras have left

for another war.

We’ll need the bridges back,

and new railway stations.

Sleeves will go ragged

from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,

still recalls the way it was.

Someone else listens

and nods with unsevered head.

But already there are those nearby

starting to mill about

who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes

sometimes someone still unearths

rusted-out arguments

and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew

what was going on here

must make way for

those who know little.

And less than little.

And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown

causes and effects,

someone must be stretched out

blade of grass in his mouth

gazing at the clouds.



By Rainer Maria Rilke

Whoever you are: in the evening step out

of your room, where you know everything;

yours is the last house before the far-off:

whoever you are.

With your eyes, which in their weariness

barely free themselves from the worn-out threshold,

you lift very slowly one black tree

and place it against the sky: slender, alone.

And you have made the world. And it is huge

and like a word which grows ripe in silence.

And as your will seizes on its meaning,

tenderly your eyes let it go. . .


Even in Kyoto,

Hearing the cuckoo’s cry,

I long for Kyoto

              —Kobayashi Issa



By Mary Oliver

I want to make poems that say right out, plainly,

what I mean, that don’t go looking for the

laces of elaboration, puffed sleeves. I want to

keep close and use often words like

heavy, heart, joy, soon, and to cherish

the question mark and her bold sister

the dash. I want to write with quiet hands. I

want to write while crossing the fields that are

fresh with daisies and everlasting and the

ordinary grass. I want to make poems while thinking of

the bread of heaven and the

cup of astonishment; let them be

songs in which nothing is neglected,

not a hope, not a promise. I want to make poems

that look into the earth and the heavens

and see the unseeable. I want them to honor

both the heart of faith, and the light of the world;

the gladness that says, without any words, everything.



By David Whyte

In monastery darkness

by the light of one flashlight

the old shrine room waits in silence

While above the door

we see the terrible figure,

fierce eyes demanding, “Will you step through?”

And the old monk leads us,

bent back nudging blackness

prayer beads in the hand that beckons.

We light the butter lamps

and bow, eyes blinking in the

pungent smoke, look up without a word,

see faces in meditation,

a hundred faces carved above,

eye lines wrinkled in the hand held light.

Such love in solid wood!

Taken from the hillsides and carved in silence

they have the vibrant stillness of those who made them.

Engulfed by the past

they have been neglected, but through

smoke and darkness they are like the flowers

we have seen growing

through the dust of eroded slopes,

then slowly opening faces turned toward the mountain.

Carved in devotion

their eyes have softened through age

and their mouths curve through delight of the carver’s hand.

If only our own faces

would allow the invisible carver’s hand

to bring the deep grain of love to the surface.

If only we knew

as the carver knew, how the flaws

in the wood led his searching chisel to the very core,

we would smile, too

and not need faces immobilized

by fear and the weight of things undone.

When we fight with our failing

we ignore the entrance to the shrine itself

and wrestle with the guardian, fierce figure on the side of good.

And as we fight

our eyes are hooded with grief

and our mouths are dry with pain.

If only we could give ourselves

to the blows of the carver’s hands,

the lines in our faces would be the trace lines of rivers

feeding the sea

where voices meet, praising the features

of the mountain and the cloud and the sky.

Our faces would fall away

until we, growing younger toward death

every day, would gather all our flaws in celebration

to merge with them perfectly,

impossibly, wedded to our essence,

full of silence from the carver’s hands.



By Mark Strand

I think of the innocent lives

Of people in novels who know they’ll die

But not that the novel will end. How different they are

From us. Here, the moon stares dumbly down,

Through scattered clouds, onto the sleeping town,

And the wind rounds up the fallen leaves,

And somebody—namely me—deep in his chair,

Riffles the pages left, knowing there’s not

Much time for the man and woman in the rented room,

For the red light over the door, for the iris

Tossing its shadow against the wall; not much time

For the soldiers under the trees that line

The river, for the wounded being hauled away

To the cities of the interior where they will stay;

The war that raged for years will come to a close,

And so will everything else, except for a presence

Hard to define, a trace, like the scent of grass

After a night of rain or the remains of a voice

That lets us know without spelling it out

Not to despair; if the end is come, it too will pass.



By Matthew Dickman

Your ankles make me want to party,

want to sit and beg and roll over

under a pair of riding boots with your ankles

hidden inside, sweating beneath the black tooled leather;

they make me wish it was my birthday

so I could blow out their candles, have them hung

over my shoulders like two bags

full of money. Your ankles are two monster-truck engines

but smaller and lighter and sexier

than a saucer with warm milk licking the outside edge;

they make me want to sing, make me

want to take them home and feed them pasta,

I want to punish them for being bad

and then hold them all night long and say I’m sorry, sugar, darling,

it will never happen again, not

in a million years. Your thighs make me quiet. Make me want to be

hurled into the air like a cannonball

and pulled down again like someone being pulled into a van.

Your thighs are two boats burned out

of redwood trees. I want to go sailing. Your thighs, the long breath of them

under the blue denim of your high-end jeans,

could starve me to death, could make me cry and cry.

Your ass is a shopping mall at Christmas,

a holy place, a hill I fell in love with once

when I was falling in love with hills.

Your ass is a string quartet,

the northern lights tucked tightly into bed

between a high-count-of-cotton sheets.

Your back is the back of a river full of fish;

I have my tackle and tackle box. You only have to say the word.

Your back, a letter I have been writing for fifteen years, a smooth stone,

a moan someone makes when his hair is pulled, your back

like a warm tongue at rest, a tongue with a tab of acid on top; your spine

is an alphabet, a ladder of celestial proportions.

When I place my fingers along it there isn’t an instrument in the world

I’d rather be playing. It’s a map of the world, a time line,

I am navigating the North and South of it.

Your armpits are beehives, they make me want

to spin wool, want to pour a glass of whiskey, your armpits dripping their honey,

their heat, their inexhaustible love-making dark.

Your arms are the arms of nations, they hail me like a cab.

I am bright yellow for them.

I am always thinking about them,

resting at your side or high in the air when I’m pulling off your shirt. Your arms

of blue and ice with the blood running

through them. Close enough to your shoulders

to make them believe in God. Your shoulders

make me want to raise an arm and burn down the Capitol. They sing

to each other underneath your turquoise slope-neck blouse.

Each is a separate bowl of rice

steaming and covered in soy sauce. Your neck

is a skyscraper of erotic adult videos, a swan and a ballet

and a throaty elevator

made of light. Your neck

is a scrim of wet silk that guides the dead into the hours of Heaven.

It makes me want to die, your mouth, which is the mouth of everything

worth saying. It’s abalone and coral reef. Your mouth,

which opens like the legs of astronauts

who disconnect their safety lines and ride their stars into the billion and one

voting districts of the Milky Way.

Darling, you’re my President; I want to get this right!



By Lydia Davis

Heart weeps.

Head tries to help heart.

Head tells heart how it is, again:

You will lose the ones you love. They will all go.

But even the earth will go, someday.

Heart feels better, then.

But the words of head do not remain long in the ears of heart.

Heart is so new to this.

I want them back, says heart.

Head is all heart has.

Help, head. Help heart.



By Kay Ryan

What’s the use

of something

as unstable

and diffuse as hope–

the almost-twin

of making do

the isotope

of going on:

what isn’t in

the envelope

just before

it isn’t

the always tabled

right of the present.


i am so glad and very

by e.e. cummings

i am so glad and very

merely my fourth will cure

the laziest self of weary

the hugest sea of shore

so far your nearness reaches

a lucky fifth of you

turns people into eachs

and cowards into grow

our can’ts were born to happen

our mosts have died in more

our twentieth will open wide

a wide open door

we are so both and oneful

night cannot be so sky

sky cannot be so sunful

i am through you so i


i like my body when it is with your

by e.e. cummings

i like my body when it is with your

body.  It is so quite new a thing.

Muscles better and nerves more.

i like your body.  i like what it does,

i like its hows.  i like to feel the spine

of your body and its bones, and the trembling

-firm-smooth ness and which i will

again and again and again

kiss,  i like kissing this and that of you,

i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz

of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes

over parting flesh… And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you so quite new



By Hermann Hesse

(1929 translation)

Ever reeking from the vales of earth

Ascends to us life’s fevered surge,

Wealth’s excess, the rage of dearth,

Smoke of death-meals on the gallow’s verge;

Greed without end, spasmodic lust;

Murderers’ hands, usurers’ hands, hands of prayer;

Exhales in fœtid breath the human swarm

Whipped on by fear and lust, blood raw, blood warm,

Breathing blessedness and savage heats,

Eating itself and spewing what it eats,

Hatching war and lovely art,

Decking out with idiot craze

Bawdy houses while they blaze,

Through the childish fair-time mart

Weltering to its own decay

In the glare of pleasure’s way,

Rising for each newborn and then

Sinking for each to dust again.

But we above you evermore residing

In the ether’s star-translumined ice

Know not day nor night nor time’s dividing,

Wear nor age nor sex for our device.

All your sins and anguish self-affrighting,

Your murders and lascivious delighting

Are to us but as a show

Like the suns that circling go,

Changing not our day for night;

On your frenzied life we spy,

And refresh ourselves thereafter

With the stars in order fleeing;

Our breath is winter; in our sight

Fawns the dragon of the sky;

Cool and unchanging is our eternal being,

Cool and star-bright is our eternal laughter.



By Adam Zagajewski

In strange cities, there’s an unexpected joy,

The cool pleasure of a new regard.

The yellowing facades of tenements

The sun scales like an agile spider

Aren’t mine. The town hall,

Harbor, jail and courthouse

Weren’t built for me either.

The sea runs through the city, its salty tide

Submerging porches and basements.

In the market, pyramids of apples

Rise for the eternity of one afternoon.

Even the suffering’s not really mine:

The local madman mutters

In an alien language, the misery

Of a lonely girl in a cafe

Is like a piece of canvas in a dingy museum.

The huge flags of the trees, though,

Flutter as in the places we know,

And the same lead is sown into the hems

Of sheets, dreams, and the imagination,

Homeless, and mad.



By Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.



By C.P. Cavafy

It must have been the spirits that I drank last nights,

It must have been that I was drowsing, I’d been tired all day long.

The black wooden column vanished before me,

With the ancient head; and the dining-room door,

And the armchair, the red one; and the little settee.

In their place came a street in Marseilles.

And freed now, brazenly, my soul

Appeared there once again and moved about,

Alone with the form of a sensitive, pleasure-bent youth—

The dissolute youth: that, too, must be said.

It must have been the spirits that I drank last night,

It must have been that I was drowsing, I’d been tired all day long.

My soul was released; the poor thing, it’s

Always constrained by the weight of the years.

My soul was released and it showed me

A sympathique street in Marseilles,

With the form of the happy, dissolute youth

Who never felt ashamed, not he, certainly.



By Jane Hirshfield

It was like this:

you were happy, then you were sad,

then happy again, then not.

It went on.

You were innocent or you were guilty.

Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.

Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness—

between you, there is nothing to forgive—

but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment

he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.

It doesn’t matter what they will make of you

or your days: they will be wrong,

they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,

all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,

you slept, you awakened.

Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.



By C.P. Cafavy

Tranlated by Edmund Kelly

As you set out for Ithaka

hope the voyage is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery.

Laistrygonians and Cyclops,

angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:

you’ll never find things like that on your way

as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,

as long as a rare excitement

stirs your spirit and your body.

Laistrygonians and Cyclops,

wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them

unless you bring them along inside your soul,

unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.

May there be many a summer morning when,

with what pleasure, what joy,

you come into harbors seen for the first time;

may you stop at Phoenician trading stations

to buy fine things,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

sensual perfume of every kind—

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

and may you visit many Egyptian cities

to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you are destined for.

But do not hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years,

so you are old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you have gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her you would not have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.



By Kay Ryan

Most losses add something-

a new socket or silence,

a gap in a personal  archipelago of islands.

We have that difference

to visit-itself

a going-on of sorts.

But there are other losses

so far beyond report

that they leave holes

in holes only

like the ends of the

long and lonely lives

of castaways

thought dead but not.



By Derek Walcott

The time will come

when, with elation,

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror,

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.


Le Dernier Poème

The Last Poem

By Robert Besnos

I have dreamed of you so much,

Walked so much, talked so much,

Loved so much your shadow,

That there is nothing left for me of you.

I am left to be no more

than a shadow among shadows,

One hundred times

more shadow than shadow,

The shadow that will come again and again

to your sundrenched life.



By T.S. Eliot

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse

A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,

Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.

Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo

Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,

Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

LET us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherised upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question …

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes

Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,

Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,

Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,

Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,

And seeing that it was a soft October night,

Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time

For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,

Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

There will be time to murder and create,

And time for all the works and days of hands

That lift and drop a question on your plate;

Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And for a hundred visions and revisions,

Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

Time to turn back and descend the stair,

With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—

[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]

My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,

My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—

[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]

Do I dare

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:—

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then how should I begin

To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—

Arms that are braceleted and white and bare

[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]

It is perfume from a dress

That makes me so digress?

Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

And should I then presume?

And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes

Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…

I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!

Smoothed by long fingers,

Asleep … tired … or it malingers,

Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,

Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,

Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,

I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,

After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,

Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,

Would it have been worth while,

To have bitten off the matter with a smile,

To have squeezed the universe into a ball

To roll it toward some overwhelming question,

To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—

If one, settling a pillow by her head,

Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.

That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,

Would it have been worth while,

After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,

After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—

And this, and so much more?—

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:

Would it have been worth while

If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,

And turning toward the window, should say:

“That is not it at all,

That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old …

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.



By Jonathan Wells

With one he wrote a number so beautiful

it lasted forever in the legends of numbers. With another

he described the martyrs’ feet as they marched

past the weeping stones and cypresses, watched

by their fathers. He used one as a silver wand to lift

a trout from its spawning bed to more fruitful waters

and set it back down, its mouth facing upstream.

He wrote Time has no other river but this one in us,

no other use but this turn in us from mountain lakes

of late desires to confusions passed through

with every gate open. Let’s not say he didn’t take us

with him in the long current of his letters, his calligraphy

and craft, moving from port to port, his hand stopping

near his heart, the hand that smudged and graced the page,

asking, asking, his fingers a beggar’s lucent black,

for the word that gave each of us away.



By Mark Strand

A white room and a party going on

and I was standing with some friends

under a large gilt-framed mirror

that tilted slightly forward

over the fireplace.

We were drinking whiskey

and some of us, feeling no pain,

were trying to decide

what precise shade of yellow

the setting sun turned our drinks.

I closed my eyes briefly,

then looked up into the mirror:

a woman in a green dress leaned

against the far wall.

She seemed distracted,

the fingers of one hand

fidgeted with her necklace,

and she was staring into the mirror,

not at me, but past me, into a space

that might be filled by someone

yet to arrive, who at that moment

could be starting the journey

which would lead eventually to her.

Then, suddenly, my friends

said it was time to move on.

This was years ago,

and though I have forgotten

where we went and who we all were,

I still recall that moment of looking up

and seeing the woman stare past me

into a place I could only imagine,

and each time it is with a pang,

as if just then I were stepping

from the depths of the mirror

into that white room, breathless and eager,

only to discover too late

that she is not there.



By Mark Strand

The son enters the mother’s room

and stands by the bed where the mother lies.

The son believes that she wants to tell him

what he longs to hear—that he is her boy,

always her boy. The son leans down to kiss

the mother’s lips, but her lips are cold.

The burial of feelings has begun. The son

touches the mother’s hands one last time,

then turns and sees the moon’s full face.

An ashen light falls across the floor.

If the moon could speak, what would it say?

If the moon could speak, it would say nothing



By W.S. Merwin

An airport is nowhere

which is not something

generally noticed

yet some unnamed person in the past

deliberately planned it

to be there

and you have spent time there


and are spending time there again

for something you have done

which you do not entirely remember

like the souls of Purgatory

you sit there in the smell

of what passes for food

breathing what is called air

while the timepieces measure

their agreement

you believe in it

while you are there

because you are there

and sometimes you may even feel happy

to be that far on your way

to somewhere



By Michael Ryan

Because he left her she must make him

someone she doesn’t love, rescripting as

deception their hand-clasped walks at dusk

when she felt his was the hand of God

linking her to him because she was

so blessed to be given this love

this late in life. It must have been lies:

each touching word, all thoughtfulness,

his shows of pleasure putting her first,

his endearing sex talk that first

amused her then go to her

(his hot moist breath the poison in her ear)

as he learned with seemingly selfless patience

how to move inside her as no one ever had before.

How can she change memories like these?

He must have been lying

because the man who did these things

could not leave her with no warning or reason.

But she knows he wasn’t,

she is stuck. No one can help her.

No one can enter the sacred circle they made together

she now wears as a necklace of fire.

How can she obliterate the person he is?

What is she to do? She has to live.



By August Kleinzahler

He looks eerily young,

what’s left of him,

purged, somehow, back into boyhood.

It is difficult not to watch

the movie on TV at the foot of his bed,

40″ color screen,

a jailhouse dolly psychodrama:

truncheons and dirty shower scenes.

I recognize one of the actresses,

now a famous lesbian,

clearly an early B-movie role.

The black nurse says “Oh dear”

during the beatings.

– TV in this town is crap , he says.

His voice is very faint.

He leans toward me,

sliding further and further,

until the nurse has to straighten him out,

scolding him gently.

He reaches out for my hand.

The sudden intimacy rattles me.

He is telling a story.

Two, actually,

and at some point they blend together.

There are rivers and trains,

Oxford and a town near Hamburg.

Also, the night train to Milan

and a lovely Italian breakfast.

The river in Oxford-

he can’t remember the name;

but the birds and fritillaria in bloom …

He remembers the purple flowers

and a plate of gingerbread cookies

set out at one of the colleges.

He gasps to remember those cookies.

How surprised he must have been

by the largesse,

and hungry, too.

– He’s drifting in and out:

I can hear the nurse

on the phone from the other room.

He has been remembering Europe for me.

Exhausted, he lies quiet for a time.

– There’s nothing better than a good pee ,

he says and begins to fade.

He seems very close to death.

Perhaps in a moment, perhaps a week.

Then awakes.

Every patch of story, no matter how fuddled,

resolves into a drollery.

He will perish, I imagine,

en route to a drollery.

Although his poems,

little kinetic snapshots of trees and light,

so denuded of personality

and delicately made

that irony of any sort

would stand out

like a pile of steaming cow flop

on a parquet floor.

We are in a great metropolis

that rises heroically from the American prairie:

a baronial home,

the finest of neighborhoods,

its broad streets nearly empty

on a Saturday afternoon,

here and there a redbud in bloom.

Even in health,

a man so modest and soft-spoken

as to be invisible

among others, in a room of almost any size.

It was, I think, a kind of hardship.

– Have you met what’s-his-name yet?

he asks.

You know who I mean,

the big shot.

-Yes , I tell him, I have.

-You know that poem of his?

Everyone knows that poem

where he’s sitting indoors by the fire

and it’s snowing outside

and he suddenly feels a snowflake

on his wrist?

He pauses and begins to nod off.

I remember now the name of the river

he was after, the Cherwell,

with its naked dons, The Parson’s Pleasure.

There’s a fiercesome catfight

on the TV, with blondie catching hell

from the chicana.

He comes round again and turns to me,

leaning close,

– Well, of course , he says,

taking my hand,

his eyes narrowing with malice and delight:

– That’s not going to be just any old snowflake,

now, is it?


On a branch

floating downriver

a cricket, singing.

              —Kobayashi Issa



By Mark Strand

I showed up at a party of Hollywood stars

Who milled about, quoted their memoirs, and drank.

The prettiest one stepped out of her dress, fell

To her knees and said that only her husband had glimpsed

The shadowy flower of her pudendum, and he was a prince.

A slip of sunlight rode the swell of her breasts

Into the blinding links of her necklace, and crashed.

Out on the lawn, The Platters were singing TWILIGHT TIME.

“Heavenly shades of night are falling…” This was a dream.

Later, I went to the window and gazed at a bull, huge and pink,

In a field of snow. Moonlight poured down his back, and the damp

Of his breath spread until he was wreathed in a silver steam.

When he lifted his head, he loosed a bellow that broke and rolled

Like thunder in the rooms below. This, too, was a dream.



By Edward Lear


The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea

 In a beautiful pea-green boat,

They took some honey, and plenty of money,

 Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above,

 And sang to a small guitar,

“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,

  What a beautiful Pussy you are,

       You are,

       You are!

What a beautiful Pussy you are!”


Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!

 How charmingly sweet you sing!

O let us be married! too long we have tarried:

 But what shall we do for a ring?”

They sailed away, for a year and a day,

 To the land where the Bong-Tree grows

And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood

 With a ring at the end of his nose,

           His nose,

           His nose,

 With a ring at the end of his nose.


“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling

 Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”

So they took it away, and were married next day

 By the Turkey who lives on the hill.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,

 Which they ate with a runcible spoon;

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,

 They danced by the light of the moon,

           The moon,

           The moon,

They danced by the light of the moon.



By Mark Strand

It was an adventure much could be made of: a walk

On the shores of the darkest known river,

Among the hooded, shoving crowds, by steaming rocks

And rows of ruined huts half buried in the muck;

Then to the great court with its marble yard

Whose emptiness gave him the creeps, and to sit there

In the sunken silence of the place and speak

Of what he had lost, what he still possessed of his loss,

And, then, pulling out all the stops, describing her eyes,

Her forehead where the golden light of evening spread,

The curve of her neck, the slope of her shoulders, everything

Down to her thighs and calves, letting the words come,

As if lifted from sleep, to drift upstream,

Against the water’s will, where all the condemned

And pointless labor, stunned by his voice’s cadence,

Would come to a halt, and even the crazed, disheveled

Furies, for the first time, would weep, and the soot-filled

Air would clear just enough for her, the lost bride,

To step through the image of herself and be seen in the light.

As everyone knows, this was the first great poem,

Which was followed by days of sitting around

In the houses of friends, with his head back, his eyes

Closed, trying to will her return, but finding

Only himself, again and again, trapped

In the chill of his loss, and, finally,

Without a word, taking off to wander the hills

Outside of town, where he stayed until he had shaken

The image of love and put in its place the world

As he wished it would be, urging its shape and measure

Into speech of such newness that the world was swayed,

And trees suddenly appeared in the bare place

Where he spoke and lifted their limbs and swept

The tender grass with the gowns of their shade,

And stones, weightless for once, came and set themselves there,

And small animals lay in the miraculous fields of grain

And aisles of corn, and slept. The voice of light

Had come forth from the body of fire, and each thing

Rose from its depths and shone as it never had.

And that was the second great poem,

Which no one recalls anymore. The third and greatest

Came into the world as the world, out of the unsayable,

Invisible source of all longing to be; it came

As things come that will perish, to be seen or heard

Awhile, like the coating of frost or the movement

Of wind, and then no more; it came in the middle of sleep

Like a door to the infinite, and, circled by flame,

Came again at the moment of waking, and, sometimes,

Remote and small, it came as a vision with trees

By a weaving stream, brushing the bank

With their violet shade, with somebody’s limbs

Scattered among the matted, mildewed leaves nearby,

With his severed head rolling under the waves,

Breaking the shifting columns of light into a swirl

Of slivers and flecks; it came in a language

Untouched by pity, in lines, lavish and dark,

Where death is reborn and sent into the world as a gift,

So the future, with no voice of its own, nor hope

Of ever becoming more than it will be, might mourn.



By Kilian McDonnell

(“I will walk the way of perfection.” Psalm 101:2)

I have had it with perfection.

I have packed my bags,

I am out of here.


As certain as rain

will make you wet,

perfection will do you


It droppeth not as dew

upon the summer grass

to give liberty and green


Perfection straineth out

the quality of mercy,

withers rapture at its


Before the battle is half begun,

cold probity thinks

it can’t be won, concedes the


I’ve handed in my notice,

given back my keys,

signed my severance check, I


Hints I could have taken:

Even the perfect chiseled form of

Michelangelo’s radiant David


the Venus de Milo

has no arms,

the Liberty Bell is




By Allen Grossman

When the corpse revived at the funeral,

The outraged mourners killed it; and the soul

Of the revenant passed into the body

Of the poet because it had more to say.

He sat down at the piano no one could play

Called Messiah, or The Regulator of the World,

Which had stood for fifty years, to my knowledge,

Beneath a painting of a red-haired woman

In a loose gown with one bared breast, and played

A posthumous work of the composer S—

About the impotence of God (I believe)

Who has no power not to create everything.

It was the Autumn of the year and wet,

When the music started. The musician was

Skilful but the Messiah was out of tune

And bent the time and the tone. For a long hour

The poet played The Regulator of the World

As the spirit prompted, and entered upon

The pathways of His power – while the mourners

Stood with slow blood on their hands

Astonished by the weird processional

And the undertaker figured his bill.

– We have in mind an unplayed instrument

Which stands apart in a memorial air

Where the room darkens toward its inmost wall

And a lady hangs in her autumnal hair

At evening of the November rains; and winds

Sublime out of the North, and North by West,

Are sowing from the death-sack of the seed

The burden of her cloudy hip. Behold,

I send the demon I know to relieve your need,

An imperfect player at the perfect instrument

Who takes in hand The Regulator of the World

To keep the splendor from destroying us.

Lady! The last virtuoso of the composer S—

Darkens your parlor with the music of the Law.

When I was green and blossomed in the Spring

I was mute wood. Now I am dead I sing.



By John Woods

I will present you

parts of my self slowly

if you are patient and tender

I will open drawers that mostly stay closed

and bring out places and people and things sounds and smells,

loves and frustrations, hope and sadnesses,

bits and pieces of three decades of life

that have been grabbed off in chunks

and found lying in my hands that have eaten

their way into my memory,

carved their way into

my heart,

— altogether you or I will never see them

they are me,

if you regard them lightly,

deny that they are important

or worse, judge them

I will quietly, slowly,

begin to wrap them up,

in small pieces of velvet, like worn silver and gold jewelry,

tuck them away

in a small wooden chest of drawers

and close.



for Kellie Jones, born 16 May 1959

By Amiri Baraka

Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way

The ground opens up and envelopes me

Each time I go out to walk the dog.

Or the broad edged silly music the wind

Makes when I run for a bus…

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars,

And each night I get the same number.

And when they will not come to be counted,

I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night, I tiptoed up

To my daughter’s room and heard her

Talking to someone, and when I opened

The door, there was no one there…

Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands.



By Frank O’Hara

Now when I walk around at lunchtime

I have only two charms in my pocket

an old Roman coin Mike Kanemitsu gave me

and a bolt-head that broke off a packing case

when I was in Madrid the others never

brought me too much luck though they did

help keep me in New York against coercion

but now I’m happy for a time and interested

I walk through the luminous humidity

passing the House of Seagram with its wet

and its loungers and the construction to

the left that closed the sidewalk if

I ever get to be a construction worker

I’d like to have a silver hat please

and get to Moriarty’s where I wait for

LeRoi and hear who wants to be a mover and

shaker the last five years my batting average

is .016 that’s that, and LeRoi comes in

and tells me Miles Davis was clubbed 12

times last night outside BIRDLAND by a cop

a lady asks us for a nickel for a terrible

disease but we don’t give her one we

don’t like terrible diseases, then

we go eat some fish and some ale it’s

cool but crowded we don’t like Lionel Trilling

we decide, we like Don Allen we don’t like

Henry James so much we like Herman Melville

we don’t want to be in the poets’ walk in

San Francisco even we just want to be rich

and walk on girders in our silver hats

I wonder if one person out of the 8,000,000 is

thinking of me as I shake hands with LeRoi

and buy a strap for my wristwatch and go

back to work happy at the thought possibly so.



By Hayden Caruth

How many guys are sitting at their kitchen tables

right now, one-thirty in the morning, this same

time, eating a piece of pie? – that’s what I

wondered. A big piece of pie, because I’d just

finished reading Ray’s last book. Not good pie,

not like my mother or my wife could’ve

made, but an ordinary pie I’d just bought, being

alone, at the Tops Market two hours ago. And how

many had water in their eyes? Because of Ray’s

book and especially those last poems written

after he knew: the one about the doctor telling

him, the one where he and Tess go down to

Reno to get married before it happens and shoot

some craps on the dark baize tables, the one

called “After-Glow” about the little light in the

sky after the sun sets. I can just hear him,

if he were still here and this were somebody

else’s book, saying, “Jesus,” saying, “This

is the saddest son of a bitch of a book I’ve

read in a long time,” saying, “A real long time.”

And the thing is, he knew we’d be saying this

about his book, he could just hear us saying it,

and in some part of him he was glad! He

really was. What crazies we writers are

our heads full of language like buckets of minnows

standing in the moonlight on a dock. Ray

was a good writer, a wonderful writer, and his

poems are good, most of them and they made me

cry, there at my kitchen table with my head down,

me, a sixty-seven-year-old galoot, an old fool

because all old men are fools, they have to be,

shoveling big jagged chunks of that ordinary pie

into my mouth, and the water falling from my eyes

onto the pie, the plate, my hand, little speckles

shining in the light, brightening the colors, and I

ate that goddamn pie, and it tasted good to me.



By Jane Hirshfield


Stay, I said

to the cut flowers.

They bowed

their heads lower.


Stay, I said to the spider,

who fled.


Stay, leaf.

It reddened,

embarrassed for me and itself.


Stay, I said to my body.

It sat as a dog does,

obedient for a moment,

soon starting to tremble.


Stay, to the earth

of riverine valley meadows,

of fossiled escarpments,

of limestone and sandstone.

It looked back

with a changing expression, in silence.


Stay, I said to my loves.

Each answered,




By Matthew Dickman

People pray to a vengeful

god because they seek revenge.

They chose a god who hates

what they hate

but also made the sea

and the sequoia.

I’m walking my infant

son through a stand of rhododendron

trees. It feels like we are walking

through a cloud of jellyfish

made of pink and purple paper

petals falling

to the ground.

These jellyfish are the fish of spring.

He is making sounds

like a mouse, small but all out

of his body. Inside,

his organs are so new

that they are both organs

and the beginning of organs.

When he cries for his mother

to nurse him

he sounds like a rooster.

He is not

just hungry

but hunger itself.

He is the thing

he cries for. Sunlight is turning

the rhododendrons

into balls of pink light if light

were liquid

and something else,


that’s what the pink is doing,

splashing all over us,

lucky without god,

animals under the bright pink

idea of earth.



By W. S. Merwin

Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle

Everything I do is stitched with its color.



By Maxim Gorky, 1901

(Sometimes referred to as the “battle anthem of the Russian revolution”)

Over the gray plain of the sea the wind gathers storm-clouds. Between the clouds and the sea proudly soars the stormy petrel, as a streak of black lightning.

Now the waves on wingtip touching, now as an arrow soaring to the clouds, he screams, and — the clouds hear joy in the bird’s proud cry.

In that cry — the lust of the storm! The power of anger, flame of passion and certainty in victory hear the clouds in that cry.

The seagulls groan before the storm, — groan, toss over the sea and are ready to dive their terror to its depths.

And the loons also whimper, — the loons cannot attain joy of life’s struggle: thunder of lightning-bolts frightens them.

The stupid penguin cowardly hides blubber in the rocks … only the proud stormy petrel soars bold and free over the grey sea froth!

Ever darker and lower clouds drop to the sea, waves singing and rending the heights to meet the thunder.

Thunder rumbles. In pounding anger moan the waves, fighting the wind. See the wind grab waves in a lockhold, and in wild fury, throw them on the rocks, smashing emerald masses to drops and mist.

The stormy petrel soars with a scream, a streak of black lightning, as an arrow pierces the clouds, on wing-tip slicing the wave froth.

See him hover, like a demon — proud, black demon of the storm — he laughs, and cries … he laughs atop the clouds, he cries with joy!

In the froth of anger — clever demon, — he has long heard weariness, he knows that the clouds won’t cut the sun — no, the sun will triumph!

The wind roars … Thunder rumbles …

As a blue flame burn clouds over the sea’s abyss. The sea catches arrows of lightning and snuffs them in her depths. As snakes of fire howling in the deep vanish those reflections.

— The storm! Soon will break the storm!

The bold stormy petrel proudly flies between the lightning and the frothing anger of the sea; now screams the prophet of victory:

— Let the storm burst forth in all fury!



By Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?



By Rumi

In the early morning hour,

just before dawn, lover and beloved awake

and take a drink of water.

She asks, Do you love me or yourself more?

Really, tell me the absolute truth.

He says, There is nothing left of me.

I am like a ruby held up to the sunrise.

Is it still a stone, or a world

made of redness? It has no resistance

to sunlight. The ruby and the sunrise are one.

Be courageous and discipline yourself.

Work. Keep digging your well.

Don’t think about getting off from work.

Submit to a daily practice.

Your loyalty to that is a ring on the door.

Keep knocking, and the joy inside

will eventually open a window

and look out to see who’s there.



By Billy Collins

Not long after we had sat down to dinner

at a long table in a restaurant in Chicago

and were deeply engrossed in the heavy menus,

one of us–a bearded man with a colorful tie–

asked if any one of us had ever considered

applying the paradoxes of Zeno to the martyrdom of St. Sebastian.

The differences between these two figures

were much more striking than the differences

between the Cornish hen and the trout amandine

I was wavering between, so I looked up and closed my menu.

If, the man with the tie continued,

an object moving through space

will never reach its destination because it is always

limited to cutting the distance to its goal in half,

then it turns out that St. Sebastian did not die

from the wounds inflicted by the arrows.

No, the cause of death was fright at the spectacle of their endless approach.

St. Sebastian, according to Zeno, would have died of a heart attack.

I think Ill have the trout, I told the waiter,

for it was now my turn to order,

but all through the elegant dinner

I kept thinking of the arrows forever nearing

the pale, quivering flesh of St. Sebastian

a fleet of them perpetually halving the tiny distances

to his body, tied to a post with rope,

even after the archers had packed it in and gone home.

And I thought of the bullet never reaching

the wife of William Burroughs, an apple trembling on her head,

the tossed acid never getting to the face of that girl,

and the Oldsmobile never knocking my, dog into a ditch.

The theories of Zeno floated above the table

like thought balloons from the fifth century before Christ,

yet my fork continued to arrive at my mouth

delivering morsels of asparagus and crusted fish,

and after we all talked and ate and lifted our glasses,

we left the restaurant and said goodbye on the street

then walked our separate ways in the world where things do arrive,

where people get where they are going–

where the train pulls into the station in a cloud of vapor,

where geese land with a splash to the surface of the lake,

and the one you love crosses the room and arrives in your arms–

and, yes, where sharp arrows will pierce a torso,

splattering the groin and the bare feet of the saint,

that popular subject of European religious painting.

One hagiographer compared him to a hedgehog bristling with quills.



By Timothy Donnelly

A little goes a long way when it comes to reality

    and the question of whether we can know it directly

rather than just through the gauze of our experience

    (not that it makes that much of a difference

when you’re right in the thick of it, as when performing

    a bank heist, or competitive mummery among

family and friends, in which case your trust that

    the world is as it appears is more or less inviolate

if unself-reflecting, the way a honeybee trusts nectar

    inhabits the petunia, or that her venom sac or

gland or whatever it is will continue pumping its venom

    long after the stinger anchors in the forearm

of the intruder—often merely an innocent passerby—

    having ripped off the hindmost furze of her body

evisceratingly, which is to say, along with much of her

    abdomen and digestive tract, plus whatever

else happens to come with, a kind of surrendering

    as means of attack, which reads tragically wrong-

headed in retrospect, although it does lend a vividness

    to the question of to whom the bee’s business

end belongs now—the one from whose person it

    juts or her whose torn foreparts lie on the granite

pavement lifelessly from having implanted it there).

    But when appetizers alone can fill you up, why bother

gambling on the main course, it will only distract

    you from what you have come to rely on as fact

relies on its verifiability—in silence and so totally

    you could almost weep for it, the way they do in Italy

at the end of an opera, an era, or even the idea of

    anything familiar dying: a tradition; a truth; an olive

tree fallen to fungus whose narrow leaves made with

    wind a conversation we had found to be rejuvenative

to listen to, whose fruit and oil expressed therefrom

    we couldn’t get enough of, whose shade could reform,

and whose earliest ancestor Athena’s constant hand

    did unveil in Attica as the greatest gift to humankind.



By Samuel Beckett

Dear incomprehension,

it’s thanks to you I’ll be myself, in the end.

I, of whom I know nothing,

I know my eyes are open, because of the tears that pour from them unceasingly.

What makes me weep so? >From time to time. There is nothing saddening here…

All this business of a labour to accomplish, before I can end, of words to say, a truth to recover, in order to say it, before I can end, of an imposed task, once known, long neglected, finally forgotten, to perform, before I can be done with speaking, done with listening, I invented it all, in the hope it would console me, help me to go on, allow me to think of myself as somewhere on a road, moving, between a beginning and an end, gaining ground, losing ground, getting lost, but somehow in the long run making headway.

Perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am,

I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on,

I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

To go on means going from here, means finding me, losing me, vanishing and beginning again, a stranger first, then little by little the same as always, in another place, where I shall say I have always been, of which I shall know nothing, being incapable of seeing, moving, thinking, speaking, but of which little by little, in spite of these handicaps, I shall begin to know something, just enough for it to turn out to be the same place as always, the same which seems made for me and does not want me, which I seem to want and do not want, take your choice, which spews me out or swallows me up, I’ll never know, which is perhaps merely the inside of my distant skull where once I wandered, now am fixed, lost for tininess, or straining against the walls, with my head, my hands, my feet, my back, and ever murmuring my old stories, my old story,  

as if it were the first time.



By Margaret Atwood

I would like to watch you sleeping,

which may not happen.

I would like to watch you,

sleeping. I would like to sleep

with you, to enter

your sleep as its smooth dark wave

slides over my head

and walk with you through that lucent

wavering forest of bluegreen leaves

with its watery sun & three moons

towards the cave where you must descend,

towards your worst fear

I would like to give you the silver

branch, the small white flower, the one

word that will protect you

from the grief at the center

of your dream, from the grief

at the center. I would like to follow

you up the long stairway

again & become

the boat that would row you back

carefully, a flame

in two cupped hands

to where your body lies

beside me, and you enter

it as easily as breathing in

I would like to be the air

that inhabits you for a moment

only. I would like to be that unnoticed

& that necessary.



By Philip Larkin

If I were called in

To construct a religion

I should make use of water.

Going to church

Would entail a fording

To dry, different clothes;

My liturgy would employ

Images of sousing,

A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east

A glass of water

Where any-angled light

Would congregate endlessly.



By Hafiz

There is a Beautiful Creature

Living in a hole you have dug.

So at night

I set fruit and grains

And little pots of wine and milk

Beside your soft earthen mounds,

And I often sing.

But still, my dear,

You do not come out.

I have fallen in love with Someone

Who hides inside you.

We should talk about this problem—


I will never leave you alone.



By Mary Oliver

What is there beyond knowing that keeps

calling to me? I can’t

turn in any direction

but it’s there. I don’t mean

the leaves’ grip and shine or even the thrush’s

silk song, but the far-off

fires, for example,

of the stars, heaven’s slowly turning

theater of light, or the wind

playful with its breath;

or time that’s always rushing forward,

or standing still

in the same—what shall I say—


What I know

I could put into a pack

as if it were bread and cheese, and carry it

on one shoulder,

important and honorable, but so small!

While everything else continues, unexplained

and unexplainable.  How wonderful it is

to follow a thought quietly

to its logical end.

I have done this a few times.

But mostly I just stand in the dark field,

in the middle of the world, breathing

in and out. Life so far doesn’t have any other name

but breath and light, wind and rain.

If there’s a temple, I haven’t found it yet.

I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass

and the weeds.


What Do Women Want?

By Kim Addonizio

I want a red dress.

I want it flimsy and cheap,

I want it too tight, I want to wear it

until someone tears it off me.

I want it sleeveless and backless,

this dress, so no one has to guess

what’s underneath. I want to walk down

the street past Thrifty’s and the hardware store

with all those keys glittering in the window,

past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old

donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers

slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,

hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.

I want to walk like I’m the only

woman on earth and I can have my pick.

I want that red dress bad.

I want it to confirm

your worst fears about me,

to show you how little I care about you

or anything except what

I want. When I find it, I’ll pull that garment

from its hanger like I’m choosing a body

to carry me into this world, through

the birth-cries and the love-cries too,

and I’ll wear it like bones, like skin,

it’ll be the goddamned

dress they bury me in.



By Hafiz

Admit something:

Everyone you see, you say to them,

“Love Me.”

Of course you do not do this out loud;

Otherwise, someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this,

This great pull in us

To connect.

Why not become the one

Who lives with a full moon in each eye

That is always saying,

With that sweet moon


What every other eye in this world

is dying to




By Julie Price Pinkert

This one is better for a car as old as yours, he says.

It won’t glob up, he says. And spring is almost here,

so of course you need a thicker oil.

And I say, So with this good oil my car will run better

and it’ll be washed and waxed every time I get in it?

Yes, he says. And you’ll never have to put another drop of gas in it.

And when I start the car, a big bag of money will appear in the back seat?

Yes, he says. And cash will shoot out your exhaust pipe

and people will be glad when they see you coming.

And will I look rested? Like I’ve gotten plenty of sleep every night?

That goes without saying, he says.

And when I roll over in bed and look at the man

who says he loves me, will I finally believe he loves me?

You, he says, won’t be able to believe anything else. Your heart

will soak up the goodness and you will smile and beam and sigh

like a pig in mud.

And what about my parents? I ask. Will this oil keep them from dying?

They’re very old.

Let’s call them and tell them the happy news, he says.



By Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

              love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountain and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.



By Mary Oliver

This is what love is:

The dry rose bush the gardener, in his pruning, missed

Suddenly bursts into bloom.

A madness of delight; an obsession.

A holy gift, certainly,

But often, alas, improbable.

Why couldn’t Romeo have settled for someone else?

Why couldn’t Tristan and Isolde have refused

The shining cup

Which would have left peaceful the whole kingdom?

Wild sings the bird of the heart in the forests

Of our lives.

Over and over Faust, standing in the garden, doesn’t know

Anything that’s going to happen, he only sees

The face of Marguerite, which is irresistible.

And wild, wild sings the bird.


A world of dew,

And within every drewdrop

A world of struggle

              —Kobayashi Issa