But I’m No One
for M. Maylor
Dear Anne Carson:
My friend read me the poem where your mom
said that the dead walk backwards.
You thought this myth arose from poor translation.
I can attest to your misapprehension.
My social studies teacher in grade 8, Ms. Rogers,
believed it was customary for the Chinese
Full Metal Oji-Cree
this is the transsensorium
there are indo-robo-women fighting cowboys on the frontier
& winning finally
the premodern is a foundation for the postmodern
wintermute, tessier-ashpool, armitage
theyve revived us via neuromancy
but i am the necromancer
when i tell my mother i need kin
she sends me ten
Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a...
My Papa’s Waltz
The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.
We romped until the pans
What I adore is not horses, with their modern
domestic life span of 25 years. What I adore
is a bug that lives only one day, especially if
it’s a terrible day, a day of train derailment or
chemical lake or cop admits to cover-up, a day
when no one thinks of anything else, least of all
that bug. I know how it feels, born as I’ve been...
From Titian Air Vent
A work of art is a world of signs, at least to the poet’s
nursery bookshelf sheltered behind the artist’s ear.
I recall each little motto howling its ins and outs
to those of us who might as well be on the moon
illu illu illu
A tiny artificial theater of the world. I am here to slay the
dragon in the ready-made...
For My Best Friend
We are losing the intensive care unit waiting room war
We were doing so well
So well we got sleepy
So sleepy the institution returned
In the 8th adjoined room sleeping on the 8th adjoined chair
The last five minutes just like the first
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of...
Should Lanterns Shine
Should lanterns shine, the holy face,
Caught in an octagon of unaccustomed light,
Would wither up, and any boy of love
Look twice before he fell from grace.
The features in their private dark
Are formed of flesh, but let the false day come
And from her lips the added pigments fall,
The mummy cloths expose an ancient breast....
Whereas my eyes land on the shoreline of “the arrival of Europeans in North America
opened a new chapter in the history of Native Peoples.” Because in others, I hate the act
of laughing when hurt injured or in cases of danger. That bitter hiding. My daughter picks up
new habits from friends. She’d been running, tripped, slid on knees and palms onto...
anyone lived in a pretty how town
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain
children guessed(but only a few...
Invitation to Love
Come when the nights are bright with stars
Or when the moon is mellow;
Come when the sun his golden bars
Drops on the hay-field yellow.
Come in the twilight soft and gray,
Come in the night or come in the day,
Come, O love, whene’er you may,
And you are welcome, welcome.
You are sweet, O Love, dear Love,...
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d...
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Unspeakable Acts in Cars
It’s the first day of summer and we’re so happy
To see the sun and the satchel of colours it schleps
All those dark kilometres. The sky is so blue
And the sea is blue and the small islands in the sea
Are blue also. How our sun must love blue.
We have beachgrass and bull kelp and lion’s mane
And we love them all because we love the sea...
A History of Houses Built Out of Spite
none of us know Amy personally, but she’s here & she’s singing / rising above our sodden heads bowed in something like prayer / maybe // most of us are trying to move enough to pretend she doesn’t remind us of our mothers & Sunday morning spring cleans / the sharp bleached smell of it, the shrill peak of their voices demanding something far less beautiful // we’re trying not / to...
Two Hours on the Train
During two hours on the train
I rerun the film of my life
Two minutes per year on average
Half an hour for childhood
Another half-hour for prison
Love, books, wandering
take up the rest
the hand of my companion
gradually melts into mine
and her head on my shoulder
is as light as a dove
Now I set out across a minefield,
space having taken all I owned, I’m starting over
from a point where every pebble may explode
beneath my shoe and the flowers blaze up
behind my body as I gasp for air,
although in this world I’ve never known
either flames or dragons or the fury of war
in these lands where the sky was always calm...
I threw away your letters.
Years ago, just like that.
The tight black swirls,
circles and strokes
filling fine sheets —
I would not see them again.
The last items I had left.
The dates. The phrases.
The things you said. Forfeited.
Crushed. Melted. Dissolved....
The Novel As Manuscript
An ars poetica
I remember the death, in Russia,
of postage stamps
like immense museum masterpieces
wrapped in linen, tea stained,
with hemp for strapping...
these colored stamps designed for foreign places
were even printed during famine—
so when they vanished...
Smooth Horizon of the Verb Love
an urban image from the eighties
when we hung out at Chez Madame Arthur
and at the back of the room
women wrapped their arms around
nights of ink and dawn
calendar of murmurs
vague caresses about the planet and its water
we could have...
Good Day Villanelle
You ran naked out the door.
The neighbours laughed; I chased you down.
I hardly see you anymore.
I know you’re busy.
Did I tell you when you were little how
you ran naked out the door?
You got halfway down the street
before I caught you in my arms.
I hardly see you anymore.
If Stone Dreams
We cannot know this statue, this satyr
with his head propped on a wineskin;
we cannot know if he dreams. In fact,
none can know in spite of aeons
of looking, of examining where his hip
is eaten away, eroded as if by our eyes.
For what has been lost we are to blame,
for what has been kept to be thrown
He totaled his blue truck —
slowly spun out on an icy bridge,
rammed it into a guard rail.
Climbed out unbruised.
Coal Creek. Middle of nowhere.
A passing couple brought him home.
Then three years
with letters from the Motor Vehicle Department
before he relinquished his license.
We were combatants from the start. Our dad
Bought us boxing gloves when we were ten —
Champions like Euryalus, say, or Epeius
Of wooden-horse fame: ‘I am the greatest!’
‘Nobody’s going to knock me down!’ Listen,
Peter, to the commentary — gruesome teeth-
Grinding, sweat splattering their arms and legs,
Huge fists in ox-hide...
At Thomas Merton’s Grave
We can never be with loss too long.
Behind the warped door that sticks,
the wood thrush calls to the monks,
pausing atop the stone crucifix,
singing: “I am marvelous alone!”
Thrash, thrash goes the hayfield:
rows of marrow and bone undone.
The horizon’s flashing fastens tight,
sealing the blue hills with vermillion....
creation stories are lullabies for grown-ups
they remind us of all the possible ways & means
that worlds can be born
& humans come to be
tricksters & goddesses
fire & water
the one god, or all of the gods
working as a team
We have each tried to read to him, with no success, except for James, who read him all of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes
I was there, in the first of the long-term care centres, when he finished the story,
And we all shared the narrator’s sadness about giving up his donkey,
Your father worked Drumheller while you ate and slept at home.
He travelled the badlands, squatted below rocks, read books
you never knew he read. He sat until his eyes strained to know
what the prairie insisted he must see. Once he found a hoodoo,
toppled after centuries of reaching beyond the flattened earth
we all become and remembering that,...
Coin Exhibit, British Museum.
Their misshapenness strikes the table in tiny splashes,
like still-cooling splatters of silver. Stater and shekel,
mina and obol. Persia’s bullion had a lion and bull.
Athens an owl, Messana a hare, a jar for Terone, Melos
a pomegranate. Call it museum money, written...
From Red Doc
GOODLOOKING BOY wasn’t he / yes/ blond /
yes / I do vaguely
/ you never liked
him / bit of a
rebel / so you
said / he’s the
one wore lizard
Sometimes we are led through the doorway
by a child, sometimes
by a stranger, always a matter of grace changing
the past, for if there is anything we must change
it is the past. To look back
and see another map.
Love enough to fill
a shoe, a suitcase, a bit of ink,
a painting, a child’s eyes at a chalkboard,...
My Meadow, My Twilight
Sure, there’s a spell the leaves can make, shuddering,
and in their lying suddenly still again — flat, and still,
like time itself when it seems unexpectedly more
available, more to lose therefore, more to love, or
But to look up from the leaves, remember,
is a choice also, as if up from the shame of it...
My Idea of the Circus Is My Idea of the Circus Otherwise Known As: My Mother Was a Celebrated Stunt Motorcyclist, Vietnam, 1958 to 1962
Very loud a mad frenzy The wooden
barrel she rode would have roared
(I first wrote “road”)
Left home to join the circus: 15 years old
You enter at the bottom and wind upwards
in spirals the bike climbing the sides
You enter the barrel on a Peugeot
with automatic tied down handles...
Sometimes I Find Myself Weeping at the Oddest Moment
sometimes I find myself
at the oddest moment
an unexpected voice
mon oncle André
calling Christmas Day
a Merry Christmas
and I am
that little girl
walking across the lake
with her grandfather
to check on the snares
and traps he...
Chinese Chimes: Nine Detours of the Yellow River
you are unaware of your obscure sources
but you are explicitly sure of the vast sea
as your final destination
you always frown with your brownish wrinkles
but you prefer a nonprofessional smile on your face
your only luggage of life
I dreaded those future aeons when I would not be present —
an endless succession of days I would miss, with their own
news and songs and styles of machine.
— John Updike, “On Being a Self Forever”
No, nothing much has changed.
A year later, the world is still one you’d recognize...
When I put my finger to the hole they’ve cut for a dimmer switch
in a wall of plaster stiffened with horsehair
it seems I’ve scratched a two-hundred-year-old itch
with a pink and a pink and a pinkie-pick....
Hall of Mirrors
To Kristin Lems
We miss something now
as we think about it
Let’s see: eat, sleep & dream, read
A good book, by Robert Stone...
My father bequeathed me no wide estates;
No keys and ledgers were my heritage;
Only some holy books with yahrzeit dates
Writ mournfully upon a blank front page —
Re: Happiness, in pursuit thereof
It is 2005, just before landfall.
Here I am, a labyrinth, and I am a mess.
I am located at the corner of Waterway
and Bluff. I need your help. You will find me
to the left of the graveyard, where the...
Breathe dust like you breathe wind so strong in your face little grains of dirt which pock around the cheeks peddling against a dust-storm coming down a street to the edge of town in Swift Current Saskatchewan or the air walked out into the fields across from Granny Erickson’s house with a few pails of water to catch gophers over by the glue factory downwind of...
A Stone Diary
At the beginning I noticed
the huge stones on my path
I knew instinctively
why they were there
breathing as naturally
Hidden in wonder and snow, or sudden with summer,
This land stares at the sun in a huge silence
Endlessly repeating something we cannot hear.
Not written on by history, empty as paper,...
A Glass Tube Ecstasy
For Hugo Ball
a glass tube
for my leg says Hugo Ball
my hat a cylinder
in blue & white
the night the german ostriches the sink
he pisses in
all these become his world
his dada song, begun there
holds the image
until it comes at us:
the image from its...
Two Words: A Wedding
There are things you have words for, things you do not have words for. There are words that encompass all your feelings & words that encompass none. There are feelings you have that are like things to you, picked up & placed in the pocket, worn like the cloth the pocket is attached to, like a skin you live...
The New Experience
I was ready for a new experience.
All the old ones had burned out.
They lay in little ashy heaps along the roadside
And blew in drifts across the fairgrounds and fields.
My bands of silk and miniver
Momently grew heavier;
The black gauze was beggarly thin;
The ermine muffled mouth and chin;
I could not suck the moonlight in.
Harlequin in lozenges
Of love and hate, I walked in these
Striped and ragged rigmaroles;
Along the pavement my footsoles
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings...
Sonnet LV: Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
England in 1819
An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn, — mud from a muddy spring;
Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,
But leechlike to their fainting country cling
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.
A people starved and stabbed in th’ untilled field;
Sonnet VII from ‘Sonnets Written in the Orillia Woods’
Our life is like a forest, where the sun
Glints down upon us through the throbbing leaves;
The full light rarely find us. One by one,
Deep rooted in our souls, there springeth up
Dark groves of human passion, rich in gloom,
At first no bigger than an acorn-cup.
Hope threads the tangled labyrinth, but grieves
Till all our sins...
The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter
After Li Po
While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chōkan:...
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?...
The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd
If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every Shepherd’s tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move,
To live with thee, and be thy love.
Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
When Rivers rage and Rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb,
The rest complains of cares...
A Dream Within a Dream
Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow —
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem...
Sonnet CXVI: Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Go, lovely rose!
Tell her that wastes her time and me,
That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.
Tell her that's young,
And shuns to have her graces spied,
That hadst thou sprung...
Thin are the night-skirts left behind
By daybreak hours that onward creep,
And thin, alas! the shred of sleep
That wavers with the spirit’s wind:
But in half-dreams that shift and roll
And still remember and forget,
My soul this hour has drawn your soul...
The House on the Hill
They are all gone away,
The House is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.
Through broken walls and gray
The winds blow bleak and shrill;
They are all gone away.
Nor is there one today
To speak them good or ill:...
The Men That Don’t Fit In
There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,...
Oh, Hope! thou soother sweet of human woes
Oh, Hope! thou soother sweet of human woes!
How shall I lure thee to my haunts forlorn!
For me wilt thou renew the withered rose,
And clear my painful path of pointed thorn?
Ah come, sweet nymph! in smiles and softness drest,
Like the young hours that lead the tender year
Sonnet XV: When I Consider everything that Grows
When I consider everything that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and check’d even by the selfsame sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their...
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
La Figlia che Piange
O quam te memorem virgo...
Stand on the highest pavement of the stair —
Lean on a garden urn —
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair —
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise —
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the...
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;...
If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!”
Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I...
Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in:
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kissed me.
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon’s roar; —
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more!...
Mr. Kessler, you know, was in the army,
And he drew six dollars a month as a pension,
And stood on the corner talking politics,
Or sat at home reading Grant’s Memoirs;
And I supported the family by washing,
Learning the secrets of all the people
From their curtains, counterpanes, shirts and skirts.
For things that are...
To His Coy Mistress
Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please,...
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’...
The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls
The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown
The traveller hastens toward the town,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.
Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white...
When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never...
I think I should have loved you presently
I think I should have loved you presently,
And given in earnest words I flung in jest;
And lifted honest eyes for you to see,
And caught your hand against my cheek and breast;
And all my pretty follies flung aside
That won you to me, and beneath your gaze,
Naked of reticence and shorn of pride,
Spread like a chart my little...
The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the...
On Shakespeare. 1630
What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones,
The labor of an age in pilèd stones,
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid
Under a star-ypointing pyramid?
Dear son of Memory, great heir of fame,
What need’st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thyself a live-long monument....
My Grandmother’s Love Letters
There are no stars tonight
But those of memory.
Yet how much room for memory there is
In the loose girdle of soft rain.
There is even room enough
For the letters of my mother’s mother,
That have been pressed so long
Into a corner of the roof
That they are brown and soft,...