Sorry to be late with your Monday poetry vitamin! I was trying yesterday to find a poem by Larry Levis to publish here, but most of his poems are very long and I couldn’t find one I really loved. So here is an old favorite by Naomi Shihab Nye that you may know. You can hear some of her other poems at the
above link. She says it is her most anthologized poem.
Making a Fist
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach a melon split wide inside my skin.
“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”
Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.
Naomi Shihab Nye
This week, I decided that the two young Polish roosters had to go. I really can’t have three roosters. Cloud, my Americana rooster is a gentleman and protects his hens. I didn’t feel good about sending him to the stewpot, so the young ones had to go. I waited till evening, then boxed them up to take to my friend who eats them. (I would have no problem killing and eating my chickens except that plucking a chicken is hard, smelly work. My friend’s husband, apparently doesn’t mind.)
But as I put them in the box, I couldn’t help but notice their gorgeous, glossy feathers and entrancing topknots. Especially Dorie One, as my grandson named the now certainly rooster, whose head was laced with gold and red feathers. Continue reading
Denise Levertov’s son went to my high school–he was a year younger than I, and I remember Denise Levertov coming to speak at some event–a graduation? a festival? and being impressed by her air of brooding inaccessibility. This seems to me how she looked then. That’s when I first read O Taste and See, still one of my favorites of her books. It was a revelation to me. I had been reading Hart Crane, Wordsworth, Yeats–poems with a strong sense of rhyme and meter. Levertov’s spare, intense poems were something completely new.
She has said of the line break that it should read as “half a comma.” I love how this poem opens, seems to detour, and resolves. And this may be the only poem I know that includes vomiting and diarrhea and still remains a poem:
At Delphi I prayed
that he maintain me
in the flame of the poem Continue reading
I am lucky to have read three excellent books in a row, Monsieur Monde Vanishes, by Georges Simenon in a new translation by Jean Stewart, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein), and The Other Language, a book of stories by Francesca Marciano.
The stories in the The Other Language are sharply observed vignettes from Italy, Africa, Paris, New York. Almost all have a middle-aged female protagonist. Here are a few lines from “The Presence of Men,” about a very gentle yoga-teacher’s reaction to a husband’s affair:
“Lara stood up from the kitchen table, where they were eating a spinach and beluga lentil salad, and hurled the plate across the room. She saw the crumbled feta scatter in slow motion, then land on his shirt like snowflakes.
She detected a flash of terror in his eyes and knew that at last she’d gained some power over him. She immediately furthered the opportunity and slapped him in the face. Continue reading
I know I’ve been neglecting posts about the urban farm. This time of year is really demanding–I’ve been spending a good part of each day with the garden and chickens. The silkies have grown into puffballs, the Polish hens have both turned out to be roosters, the plants are yielding lots of produce and everything needs to be pruned, harvested, trimmed, readied for fall planting.
Here are the Silkies:
The Polish roosters, some produce.
and the various garden areas.
Chinese Foot Chart
Every part of us
alerts another part.
Press a spot in
the tender arch and
feel the scalp
twitch. We are no
match for ourselves
but our own release.
remote lock. Look,
boats of mercy
our heart at the
Thanks to Simone who showed me this poem:
Not Waving but Drowning
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
Making the coffee this morning, Larry picked up my new Dean Young book and said, “You know, reading a poem takes just about the right amount of time to brew a cup of coffee.” I responded that our daughter recently told me that People Magazine is designed so that the articles are can be read “in the time it takes the average person to take a dump” so that Larry’s remark was a sort of corollary.
He came back a few minutes later, coffee in hand and said, “With that logic, doctors’ offices should have copies of Foreign Affairs Quarterly.”
So starts another day back in foggy Berkeley.
Today, we’re leaving for camping, so I’m posting Monday’s poem early. This is from a book called The Mansion of Happiness, by Robin Ekiss. There are many intriguing poems in the book, but here’s one I particularly like:
A Brief History of Happiness
In the beginning, there was nothing–
xxxx or rather,
nowhere else to start.
This weekend I was lucky to work with two brilliant poets, and in our conversation I referred to this poem by Marie Howe. I couldn’t remember the title, and I had just lent my copy of What the Living Do to another poet friend (I’ve posted the title poem before). But today I was visiting yet another poet friend for a civilized latte and scone moment, and she lent me her copy, so I can print this wonderful poem here:
For Three Days
For three days now I’ve been trying to think of another word for gratitude
because my brother could have died and didn’t,
because for a week we stood in the intensive care unit trying not to imagine
how it would be then, afterwards.
My youngest brother, Andy, said: This is so weird. I don’t know if I’ll be
talking with John today, or buying a pair of pants for his funeral. Continue reading