POEMS WORTH PASSING ON

 

A marvellous poem by

Stephen Dobyns (1941 -)

How To Like It

These are the first days of fall. The wind
at evening smells of roads still to be traveled,
while the sound of leaves blowing across the lawns
is like an unsettled feeling in the blood,
the desire to get in a car and just keep driving.
A man and a dog descend their front steps.
The dog says, Let's go downtown and get crazy drunk.
Let's tip over all the trash cans we can find.
This is how dogs deal with the prospect of change.
But in his sense of the season, the man is struck
by the oppressiveness of his past, how his memories
which were shifting and fluid have grown more solid
until it seems he can see remembered faces
caught up among the dark places in the trees.
The dog says, Let's pick up some girls and just
rip off their clothes. Let's dig holes everywhere.
Above his house, the man notices wisps of cloud
crossing the face of the moon. Like in a movie,
he says to himself, a movie about a person
leaving on a journey. He looks down the street
to the hills outside of town and finds the cut
where the road heads north. He thinks of driving
on that road and the dusty smell of the car
heater, which hasn't been used since last winter.
The dog says, Let's go down to the diner and sniff
people's legs. Let's stuff ourselves on burgers.
In the man's mind, the road is empty and dark.
Pine trees press down to the edge of the shoulder,
where the eyes of animals, fixed in his headlights,
shine like small cautions against the night.
Sometimes a passing truck makes his whole car shake.
The dog says, Let's go to sleep. Let's lie down
by the fire and put our tails over our noses.
But the man wants to drive all night, crossing
one state line after another, and never stop
until the sun creeps into his rearview mirror.
Then he'll pull over and rest awhile before
starting again, and at dusk he'll crest a hill
and there, filling a valley, will be the lights
of a city entirely new to him.
But the dog says, Let's just go back inside.
Let's not do anything tonight. So they
walk back up the sidewalk to the front steps.
How is it possible to want so many things
and still want nothing. The man wants to sleep
and wants to hit his head again and again
against a wall. Why is it all so difficult?
But the dog says, Let's go make a sandwich.
Let's make the tallest sandwich anyone's ever seen.
And that's what they do and that's where the man's
wife finds him, staring into the refrigerator
as if into the place where the answers are kept -
the ones telling why you get up in the morning
and how it is possible to sleep at night,
answers to what comes next and how to like it.

You can catch him  reading it (very well) on Youtube:

Poetry@Tech : Stephen Dobyns, October 27, 2011

 

 

The opening poem from Chris Andrews's Lime Green Chair (Waywiser 2012). See Blogrant for 19.02.2016

Chris Andrews (1962 - )

The Mist Lifts

The fickle insolidity of winter
in a higgledy-piggledy city full
of flimsy timber houses and brick veneer
(and stately Victoriana, to be fair)
as opposed to the monumental seasons
of Europe, solemnly inaugurated
stretching forth like imperial esplanades,
or tropical humidity forever - 
that's what we talk about over steaming cups
in low-fat sunlight. It has to be better 
than perversely looking forward to the day
when life is finally brought to a standstill
by rigorously transparent procedures.

So this is how the mist lifts in a city
that some gifted children consider the pits
while others at the cutting edge of retro
throw a pinch of wishbone ash into the mix;
it lifts like this off a mirror-still river
where, as it is everywhere, cruelty is
unmistakable as a triangle, but
midwinter's riddled with brilliant days like this.

and another:


Prop

I prop up the dog and wait for him to pee.
Three a.m. A phrase goes floating through my head:
"A still Prussian-blue night with rather weak stars."
In the dirt where summer scorched the lawn away
a puddle forms, burnt-umber summer that changed
the climate of feeling about climate change. 
Weak stars because a fullish moon is climbing
into the sky like scandalous new talent
with no intention of inspiring envy,
climbing above the autumnal pergola
shedding butter- and claret-coloured vine leaves
sprung from a stock gnarled like an arthritic leg,
rotting at the core, propped up with a fence post.

Moonlight makes the puddle's meniscus glisten.
The sky my black cab dripping from the car wash.
The Earth wobbling on through space, riddled with life,
from the thickening mothers of vinegar
to insomniacs anonymous who see
a future of unscheduled meetings with death,
from sap-green bamboo for Shanghai scaffolding
to an old dog running away in his dreams.
 

  

The closing poem of an impressive sequence 'How I Abandoned My Body To His Keeping'

from Kim Moore's recent collection The Art of Falling (Seren)

 

Human

 

I imagine you reading about yourself

in the safety of your car, parked for the night,

the engine silent, the motorway sings, the filth

of driving for many miles has settled right


into your skin. You've eaten the cheap

food and the cheap coffee in the roadside café,

you're ready to put the seats down and sleep

the moon away. Your hands - your hands are steady.


It doesn't feel as if ten years have passed.

I remember the bedroom window, the truck

parked and blocking all the light. I could laugh

if this thing in my chest stopped breaking. It was luck


that got me out of it. Still I want you to read these words.

I try to make you human. I pretend that I've been heard.


 

 

An Early Rob A Mackenzie

Contemporary Death

Dead, according to whose yardstick? Beneath stones
the breathless majority have their mouths stuffed

with the idea of pancake, which is heaven. A minority
face the hammer as nails in the atheist posterior.

A few are goats. No sense in requiring quick decisions,
postmodern juries are always hung. The morning DJ

intellectualises the afterlife as a teenage bedroom with free
broadband, a paradise island of phantom links.

To him everything is such a laugh, except those
who won't laugh, the intolerably alive. The dead snigger

from their frontline linoleum. The dead live as miis
in Wiis, fork holes in ready-meal films, lay chocolate eggs.

 

 

James Sutherland-Smith

from Popeye in Belgrade (2008)

To a Cello Player

 

Once I feared I might marry a woman

Like a cello with broad hips and narrow breasts.

Her contralto voice would be exactly right

For long walks through the somber glitter

Of an English beech wood in autumn

Where we'd discuss the demise of culture

And, after two or three children, divorce

Finding ourselves too alike for comfort.


Now I know that love does not run true

To the black comedy of depression

And, listening to Jacqueline du Pré

Perform Elgar's Cello Concerto,

Understand once more that instruments remain

Instruments, that means never determine ends

And that even the most finished

Composition is never complete.


She plays a lament for losses in the war

To end all wars, maybe, but strips

The piece of imperial melancholy.

Such energy transforms this male tristesse

As the great horsehair bow slams the strings

And I am hurt by the knowledge

Of how the gentle must resist

With all courtesy, all tenderness firing.


 

A charming Pantoum by Stuart Dischell

 

She Put on her Lipstick in the Dark


I really did meet a blind girl in Paris once.
It was in the garden of a museum,
Where I saw her touching the statues.
She had brown hair and an aquamarine scarf.

It was in the garden of the museum.
I told her I was a thief disguised as a guard.
She had brown hair and an aquamarine scarf.
She told me she was a student from Grenoble.

I told her I was not a thief disguised as a guard.
We had coffee at the little commissary.
She said she had time till her train to Grenoble.
We talked about our supreme belief in art.

We had coffee at the little commissary,
Then sat on a bench near the foundry.
We talked about our supreme belief in art.
She leaned her head upon my chest.

We kissed on a bench near the foundry.
I closed my eyes when no one was watching.
She leaned her head upon my chest.
The museum was closing. It was time to part.

I really did meet a blind girl in Paris once.
I never saw her again and she never saw me.
In a garden she touched the statues.
She put on her lipstick in the dark.

I close my eyes when no one is watching.
She had brown hair and an aquamarine scarf.
The museum was closing. It was time to part.
I never saw her again and she never saw me.

 

This would certainly come in my top twenty poems of all time. Among other things, it's extraordinary how unobtrusive the rhymes are:

 

Robert Browning - My Last Duchess

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
"Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say "Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much," or "Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat": such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart-how shall I say?-too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule

She rode with round the terrace-all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,-good! but thanked
Somehow-I know not how-as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech-(which I have not)-to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark"-and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
-E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!