category poem items A Time to Talk by Robert Frost When a friend calls to me from the road And slows his horse to a meaning walk, I don’t stand still and look around On all the hills I haven’t hoed, And shout from where I am, 'What is it?’ No, not as there is a time to talk. I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground, Blade-end up and five feet tall, And plod: I go up to the stone wall For a friendly visit. Things Shouldn't Be So Hard by Kay Ryan A life should leave deep tracks: ruts where she went out and back to get the mail or move the hose around the yard; where she used to stand before the sink, a worn-out place; beneath her hand the china knobs rubbed down to white pastilles; the switch she used to feel for in the dark almost erased. Her things should keep her marks. The passage of a life should show; it should abrade. And when life stops, a certain space— however small— should be left scarred by the grand and damaging parade. Things shouldn’t be so hard. "Things Shouldn't Be So Hard" by Kay Ryan from The Niagra River. Ars Poetica #100: I BelieveRelated Poem Content Details ELIZABETH ALEXANDER Poetry, I tell my students, is idiosyncratic. Poetry is where we are ourselves (though Sterling Brown said “Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”), digging in the clam flats for the shell that snaps, emptying the proverbial pocketbook. Poetry is what you find in the dirt in the corner, overhear on the bus, God in the details, the only way to get from here to there. Poetry (and now my voice is rising) is not all love, love, love, and I’m sorry the dog died. Poetry (here I hear myself loudest) is the human voice, and are we not of interest to each other? Elizabeth Alexander, “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe” from American Sublime. Copyright © 2005 by Elizabeth Alexander. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press. New Year Poem by May Sarton Let us step outside for a moment As the sun breaks through clouds And shines on wet new fallen snow, And breathe the new air. So much has died that had to die this year. We are dying away from things. It is a necessity—we have to do it Or we shall be buried under the magazines, The too many clothes, the too much food. We have dragged it all around Like dung beetles Who drag piles of dung Behind them on which to feed, In which to lay their eggs. Let us step outside for a moment Among ocean, clouds, a white field, Islands floating in the distance. They have always been there. But we have not been there. We are going to drive slowly And see the small poor farms, The lovely shapes of leafless trees Their shadows blue on the snow. We are going to learn the sharp edge Of perception after a day’s fast. There is nothing to fear. About this revolution… Though it will change our minds. Aggression, violence, machismo Are fading from us Like old photographs Faintly ridiculous (Did a man actually step like a goose To instill fear? Does a boy have to kill To become a man?) Already there are signs. Young people plant gardens. Fathers change their babies’ diapers And are learning to cook. Let us step outside for a moment. It is all there Only we have been slow to arrive At a way of seeing it. Unless the gentle inherit the earth There will be no earth. "New Year Poem" by May Sarton from Collected Poems. © Norton, 1993. Reprinted with permission. THE SECOND COMING By William Butler Yeats Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand; A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? The Poet's Occasional Alternative by Grace Paley I was going to write a poem I made a pie instead it took about the same amount of time of course the pie was a final draft a poem would have had some distance to go days and weeks and much crumpled paper the pie already had a talking tumbling audience among small trucks and a fire engine on the kitchen floor everybody will like this pie it will have apples and cranberries dried apricots in it many friends will say why in the world did you make only one this does not happen with poems because of unreportable sadnesses I decided to settle this morning for a re- sponsive eatership I do not want to wait a week a year a generation for the right consumer to come along "The Poet's Occasional Alternative" by Grace Paley from Begin Again. © Farrar, Straus \& Giroux, 2000. Reading to My Kids by Kevin Carey When they were little I read to them at night until my tongue got tired. They would poke me when I started to nod off after twenty pages of Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket. I read (to them) to get them to love reading but I was never sure if it was working or if it was just what I was supposed to do. But one day, my daughter (fifteen then) was finishing Of Mice and Men in the car on our way to basketball. She was at the end when I heard her say, No, in a familiar frightened voice and I knew right away where she was. “Let’s do it now,” Lennie begged, “Let’s get that place now.” “Sure, right now. I gotta. We gotta,” and she started crying, then I started crying, and I think I saw Steinbeck in the back seat nodding his head, and it felt right to me, like I’d done something right, and I thought to myself, Keep going, read it to me, please, please, I can take it. “Reading to My Kids” by Kevin Carey from Jesus Was a Homeboy. © Cavan Kerry Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission. What if you slept... by Samuel Taylor Coleridge What if you slept And what if In your sleep You dreamed And what if In your dream You went to heaven And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower And what if When you awoke You had that flower in your hand Ah, what then? "What if you slept..." by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Public Domain. (buy now) Loud Music by Stephen Dobyns My stepdaughter and I circle round and round. You see, I like the music loud, the speakers throbbing, jam-packing the room with sound whether Bach or rock and roll, the volume cranked up so each bass note is like a hand smacking the gut. But my stepdaughter disagrees. She is four and likes the music decorous, pitched below her own voice-that tenuous projection of self. With music blasting, she feels she disappears, is lost within the blare, which in fact I like. But at four what she wants is self-location and uses her voice as a porpoise uses its sonar: to find herself in all this space. If she had a sort of box with a peephole and looked inside, what she’d like to see would be herself standing there in her red pants, jacket, yellow plastic lunch box: a proper subject for serious study. But me, if I raised the same box to my eye, I would wish to find the ocean on one of those days when wind and thick cloud make the water gray and restless as if some creature brooded underneath, a rocky coast with a road along the shore where someone like me was walking and has gone. Loud music does this, it wipes out the ego, leaving turbulent water and winding road, a landscape stripped of people and language— how clear the air becomes, how sharp the colors. "Loud Music" by Stephen Dobyns from Cemetery Nights. © Penguin, 1987. Reprinted with permission. My Mother Was a Brilliant Cook by Maria Mazziotti Gillan The first time my mother went out to eat was on her 25th wedding anniversary at Scordato’s in Paterson, and the second time was for her 50th anniversary at the Iron Kettle House in Wyckoff. My mother said, “I could have cooked this meal better myself.” But I knew she was happy, though she would have never admitted it. Once my mother came to Paterson from Italy in steerage, she was content to stay there. She was a brilliant cook, and didn’t need to go to restaurants. She loved her house, poor as it was, and never stayed in a motel or took a vacation or wanted to. She was content to offer platter after platter of food to her family gathered in her basement kitchen, and to watch them laughing and talking together, while she stood behind them and smiled. "My Mother Was a Brilliant Cook" by Maria Mazziotti Gillian from What Blooms in Winter. © NYQ Books, 2016. The Lamplighter by Robert Louis Stevenson My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky. It's time to take the window to see Leerie going by; For every night at teatime and before you take your seat, With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street. Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea, And my papa's a banker and as rich as he can be; But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I'm to do, O Leerie, I'll go round at night and light the lamps with you! For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door, And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more; And oh! before you hurry by with ladder and with light; O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night! No Doctors Today, Thank You by Ogden Nash They tell me that euphoria is the feeling of feeling wonderful, well, today I feel euphorian, Today I have the agility of a Greek god and the appetite of a Vic- torian. Yes, today I may even go forth without my galoshes, Today I am a swashbuckler, would anybody like me to buckle any swashes? This is my euphorian day, I will ring welkins and before anybody answers I will run away. I will tame me a caribou And bedeck it with marabou. I will pen me my memoirs. Ah youth, youth! What euphorian days them was! I wasn’t much of a hand for the boudoirs, I was generally to be found where the food was. Does anybody want any flotsam? I’ve gotsam. Does anybody want any jetsam? I can getsam. I can play chopsticks on the Wurlitzer, I can speak Portuguese like a Berlitzer. I can don or doff my shoes without tying or untying the laces be- cause I am wearing moccasins, And I practically know the difference between serums and anti- toccasins. Kind people, don’t think me purse-proud, don’t set me down as vainglorious, I’m just a little euphorious. "No Doctors Today, Thank You" by Ogden Nash from The Best of Ogden Nash. © Ivan R Dee, 2007. Human Family by Maya Angelou I note the obvious differences in the human family. Some of us are serious, some thrive on comedy. Some declare their lives are lived as true profundity, and others claim they really live the real reality. The variety of our skin tones can confuse, bemuse, delight, brown and pink and beige and purple, tan and blue and white. I've sailed upon the seven seas and stopped in every land, I've seen the wonders of the world not yet one common man. I know ten thousand women called Jane and Mary Jane, but I've not seen any two who really were the same. Mirror twins are different although their features jibe, and lovers think quite different thoughts while lying side by side. We love and lose in China, we weep on England's moors, and laugh and moan in Guinea, and thrive on Spanish shores. We seek success in Finland, are born and die in Maine. In minor ways we differ, in major we're the same. I note the obvious differences between each sort and type, but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike. We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike. We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike. You can listen to her reading this poem here: http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/maya-angelou-s-human-family/ Choice by Jo McDougall You’ve come to the oncologist’s office to talk about your options. You view the scans, forgetting to breathe. “It’s metastasized.” He frowns, pointing to where and where. He ticks off the preferred treatment, the side effects, low rates of success. “It’s your choice,” he says, closing your folder, “but we need to start tomorrow.” You think of yesterday when you lived in a different universe, of a waitress, hand on her hip, asking, “Hon, you want mustard or mayo on that sandwich?” "Choice" by Jo McDougall from The Undiscovered Room. © Tavern Books, 2016. Some Glad Morning by Joyce Sutphen One day, something very old happened again. The green came back to the branches, settling like leafy birds on the highest twigs; the ground broke open as dark as coffee beans. The clouds took up their positions in the deep stadium of the sky, gloving the bright orb of the sun before they pitched it over the horizon. It was as good as ever: the air was filled with the scent of lilacs and cherry blossoms sounded their long whistle down the track. It was some glad morning. "Some Glad Morning" by Joyce Sutphen from Naming the Stars. © Holy Cow! Press, 2004. A Night in Brooklyn By D. Nurse We undid a button, turned out the light, and in that narrow bed we built the great city— water towers, cisterns, hot asphalt roofs, parks septic tanks, arterial roads, Canarsie, the intricate channels, the seacoast, underwater mountains, bluffs, islands, the next continent, using only the palms of our hands and the tips of our tongues, next we made darkness itself, by then it was time for daybreak and we closed our eyes until the sun rose and we had to take it all to pieces for there could be only one Brooklyn. Despair by Billy Collins So much gloom and doubt in our poetry- flowers wilting on the table, the self regarding itself in a watery mirror. Dead leaves cover the ground, the wind moans in the chimney, and the tendrils of the yew tree inch toward the coffin. I wonder what the ancient Chinese poets would make of all this, these shadows and empty cupboards? Today, with the sun blazing in the trees, my thoughts turn to the great tenth-century celebrator of experience, Wa-Hoo, whose delight in the smallest things could hardly be restrained, and to his joyous counterpart in the western provinces, Ye-Hah. "Despair" by Billy Collins from Ballistics. © Random House, 2008. Billy Prayer by Keetje Kuipers Perhaps as a child you had the chicken pox and your mother, to soothe you in your fever or to help you fall asleep, came into your room and read to you from some favorite book, Charlotte's Web or Little House on the Prairie, a long story that she quietly took you through until your eyes became magnets for your shuttering lids and she saw your breathing go slow. And then she read on, this time silently and to herself, not because she didn’t know the story, it seemed to her that there had never been a time when she didn’t know this story—the young girl and her benevolence, the young girl in her sod house— but because she did not yet want to leave your side though she knew there was nothing more she could do for you. And you, not asleep but simply weak, listened to her turn the pages, still feeling the lamp warm against one cheek, knowing the shape of the rocking chair’s shadow as it slid across your chest. So that now, these many years later, when you are clenched in the damp fist of a hospital bed, or signing the papers that say you won’t love him anymore, when you are bent at your son's gravesite or haunted by a war that makes you wake with the gun cocked in your hand, you would like to believe that such generosity comes from God, too, who now, when you have the strength to ask, might begin the story again, just as your mother would, from the place where you have both left off. "Prayer" by Keetje Kuipers from Beautiful in the Mouth. © BOA Editions, 2010. Grass Carl Sandburg Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. Shovel them under and let me work – I am the grass; I cover all. And pile them high at Gettysburg And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun. Shovel them under and let me work. Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor: What place is this? Where are we now? I am the grass. Let me work. RATS LIVE ON NO EVIL STAR by Anne Sexton A palindrome seen on the side of a barn in Ireland After Adam broke his rib in two and ate it for supper, after Adam, from the waist up, an old mother, had begun to question the wonder Eve was brought forth. Eve came out of that rib like an angry bird. She came forth like a bird that got loose suddenly from its cage. Out of the cage came Eve, escaping, escaping. She was clothed in her skin like the sun and her ankles were not for sale. God looked out through his tunnel and was pleased. Adam sat like a lawyer and read the book of life. Only his eyes were alive. They did the work of a blast furnace. Only later did Adam and Eve go galloping, galloping into the apple. They made the noise of the moon-chew and let the juice fall down like tears. Because of this same apple Eve gave birth to the evilest of creatures with its bellyful of dirt and its hair seven inches long. It had two eyes full of poison and routine pointed teeth. Thus Eve gave birth. In this unnatural act she gave birth to a rat. It slid from her like a pearl. It was ugly, of course, but Eve did not know that and when it died before its time she placed its tiny body on that piece of kindergarten called STAR. Now all us cursed ones falling out after with our evil mouths and our worried eyes die before our time but do not go to some heaven, some hell but are put on the RAT’S STAR which is as wide as Asia and as happy as a barbershop quartet. We are put there beside the three thieves for the lowest of us all deserve to smile in eternity like a watermelon. The Dormouse and The Doctor By AA Milne There once was a Dormouse who lived in a bed Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red), And all the day long he’d a wonderful view Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue). A Doctor came hurrying round, and he said: “Tut-tut, I am sorry to find you in bed. Just say ‘Ninety-nine’ while I look at your chest…. Don’t you find that chrysanthemums answer the best?” The Dormouse looked round at the view and replied (When he’d said “Ninety-nine”) that he’d tried and he’d tried, And much the most answering things that he knew Were geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue). The Doctor stood frowning and shaking his head, And he took up his shiny silk hat as he said: “What the patient requires is a change,” and he went To see some chrysanthemum people in Kent. The Dormouse lay there, and he gazed at the view Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue), And he knew there was nothing he wanted instead Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red). The Doctor came back and, to show what he meant, He had brought some chrysanthemum cuttings from Kent. “Now these,” he remarked, “give a much better view Than geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue).” They took out their spades and they dug up the bed Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red), And they planted chrysanthemums (yellow and white). “And now,” said the Doctor, “we’ll soon have you right.” The Dormouse looked out, and he said with a sigh: “I suppose all these people know better than I. It was silly, perhaps, but I did like the view Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue).” The Doctor came round and examined his chest, And ordered him Nourishment, Tonics, and Rest. “How very effective,” he said, as he shook The thermometer, “all these chrysanthemums look!” The Dormouse turned over to shut out the sight Of the endless chrysanthemums (yellow and white). “How lovely,” he thought, “to be back in a bed Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red.)” The Doctor said, “Tut! It’s another attack!” And ordered him Milk and Massage-of-the-back, And Freedom-from-worry and Drives-in-a-car, And murmured, “How sweet your chrysanthemums are!” The Dormouse lay there with his paws to his eyes, And imagined himself such a pleasant surprise: “I’ll pretend the chrysanthemums turn to a bed Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)!” The Doctor next morning was rubbing his hands, And saying, “There’s nobody quite understands These cases as I do! The cure has begun! How fresh the chrysanthemums look in the sun!” The Dormouse lay happy, his eyes were so tight He could see no chrysanthemums, yellow or white. And all that he felt at the back of his head Were delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red). And that is the reason (Aunt Emily said) If a Dormouse gets in a chrysanthemum bed, You will find (so Aunt Emily says) that he lies Fast asleep on his front with his paws to his eyes. AA Milne, Now We Are Six I Have Thoughts that Are Fed by the Sun by William Wordsworth I have thoughts that are fed by the sun: The things which I see Are welcome to me, Welcome every one – I do not wish to lie Dead, dead, Dead, without any company. Here alone on my bed With thoughts that are fed by the sun, And hopes that are welcome every one, Happy am I. Oh life there is about thee A deep delicious peace; I would not be without thee, Stay, oh stay! Yet be thou ever as now – Sweetness and breath, with the quiet of death – Be but thou ever as now, Peace, peace, peace. Nancy Drew by Ron Koertge Merely pretty, she made up for it with vim. And she got to say things like, “But, gosh, what if these plans should fall into the wrong hands?” And it was pretty clear she didn’t mean plans for a party or a trip to the museum, but something involving espionage and a Nazi or two. In fact, the handsome exchange student turns out to be a Fascist sympathizer. When he snatches Nancy along with some blueprints, she knows he has something more sinister in mind than kissing her with his mouth open. Locked in the pantry of an abandoned farm house, Nancy makes a radio out of a shoelace and a muffin. Pretty soon the police show up, and everything’s hunky dory. Nancy accepts their thanks, but she’s subdued. It’s not like her to fall for a cad. Even as she plans a short vacation to sort out her emotions she knows there will be a suspicious waiter, a woman in a green off the shoulder dress, and her very jittery husband. Very well. But no more handsome boys like the last one: the part in his hair that was sheer propulsion, that way he had of lifting his eyes to hers over the custard, those feelings that made her not want to be brave confident and daring, polite, sensitive and caring. "Nancy Drew" by Ron Koertge from Fever. © Red Hen Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. Kooser called from Nebraska to say he'd found… by Jim Harrison Kooser called from Nebraska to say he’d found a large cinder on a long walk along abandoned country railroad tracks, a remnant of steam trains, the cinder similar to those our fathers shoveled from coal furnaces in the early winter mornings before stoking the fire. In your dark bedroom you’d hear the scrape of the shovel and the thump when cinders were dropped in metal washtubs. Now the trains are all diesel and in Livingston at night I hear them pass, Burlington \& Northern, the horn an immense bassoon warning the drunks at crossings. Some complain but I love this night music, imagining that some of the railroad cars are from my youth when I stood in a pasture and thrilled to my favorite, "Route of the Phoebe Snow." To be excited by a cinder is to be excited about life. "Kooser called from Nebraska to say he'd found..." by Jim Harrison from Livingston Suite. © Limberlost Press, 2005