Poetry

POETRY: An Ulster Twilight by Seamus Heaney

June 23, 2018

The bare bulb, a scatter of nails, Shelved timber, glinting chisels: In a shed of corrugated iron Eric Dawson stoops to his plane At five o’clock on a Christmas Eve. Carpenter’s pencil next, the spoke-shave, Fretsaw, auger, rasp and awl, A rub with a rag of linseed oil. A mile away it was taking shape, The hulk of a toy battleship, As waterbuckets iced and frost Hardened the quiet on roof and post. Where is he now? There were fifteen years between us two That night I strained to hear the bells Of a sleigh of the mind and heard him pedal Into our lane, get off at the gable, Steady his Raleigh bicycle Against the whitewash, stand to make sure The house was quiet, knock at the door And hand his parcel to a peering woman: “I [...]

POETRY: Morphometry by Helen Macdonald

June 22, 2018

I have had live crows, hawks, owls, opossums, squirrels, snakes, and lizards so that my room has sometimes reminded me of Noah’s ark; but Noah had a wife in one corner of it, and in this particular our parallel does not altogether tally. (Alexander Wilson) I had an idea of this, is stacked with song & cool blood, bruised with salad herbs & oil Of petrae, callt oil of peter, salts, flats, larks. Wet feathers continue to rise in my breast Whereas your darker plumes operate a weak tacet broken in twain, se muer, to moult & speak for a hope For a moment or two for the pile of the land rocks back in a dubitable movement shiny as a climate sere As desert, it is all flush. Through a miracle of hatred an expansion of range will [...]

POETRY: The Misery Cord by Les Murray

June 20, 2018

In Memory of F. S. Murray  Misericord. The Misery Cord. It was lettered on a wall. I know that cord, how it’s tough to break however hard you haul. My cousin sharefarmed, and so got half: half dignity, half hope, half income, for his full work. To get a place of his own took his whole lifetime. Some pluck the misery chord from habit or for luck, however they feel, some to deceive, and some for the tune— but sometimes it’s real. Milking bails, flannel shirts, fried breakfasts, these were our element, and doubling on horses, and shouting Score! at a dog yelping on a hot scent— but an ambulance racing on our back road is bad news for us all: the house of community is about to lose a plank from its wall. Grief is nothing you can do, [...]

POETRY: The Joyful Mysteries—The Presentation In The Temple by John O’Donohue

June 18, 2018

The words of a secret have rivet eyes That cannot sleep to forget what they know. The restrained voice sharpens to an arrow That will reach its target through any disguise. Two old people wait in the temple shadows Where stone and air are hoarsened with prayer For some door to open in their hunger; Sometimes children laugh at her twitching nose. Worn to a thread the old man’s rope of days, Spent unravelling in this empty torment, Has wizened his silence to words of flint. When he glimpses the child, his lost voice flares. His words lodge in the young mother’s thought That a sword of sorrow will pierce her [...]

POETRY: A Dog Was Crying Tonight In Wicklow Also by Seamus Heaney

June 16, 2018

In memory of Donatus Nwoga When human beings found out about death They sent the dog to Chukwu with a message: They wanted to be let back to the house of life. They didn’t want to end up lost forever Like burnt wood disappearing into smoke Or ashes that get blown away to nothing. Instead they saw their souls in a flock at twilight Cawing and headed back to the same old roosts And the same bright airs and wing-stretchings each morning. Death would be like a night spent in the wood: At first light they’d be back in the house of life. (The dog was meant to tell all this to Chukwu.) But death and human beings took second place When he trotted off the path and started barking At another dog in broad daylight just barking Back at him from [...]

POETRY: Prayer by Carol Ann Duffy

June 15, 2018

Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer utters itself. So, a woman will lift her head from the sieve of her hands and stare at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift. Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth enters our hearts, that small familiar pain; then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth in the distant Latin chanting of a train. Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales console the lodger looking out across a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls a child’s name as though they named their loss. Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer— Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.*   *The poet is English, and these geographical markers are a well-known feature of the local shipping [...]

POETRY: October by David Brendan Hopes

June 13, 2018

It’s nuthatch on the box elder outside the window. He’s making his clown’s voice, nnink, nning, nnink, pecking to grubs, seeds, scraps. The first snow powdered down last night while he slept, and as birds have dreams there’s snow in his song now. Nighthawk heard it. He is gone. Warbler heard it. She is gone. Thrasher went. Finch went. You could hear them at night, little bells so far off you thought they were the stars ringing. I sat on an empty hill and said goodbye. The geese, like tragic actresses, keep nothing to themselves. They eat down the center of the air crying, and crying, how the white north snaps behind them, how their nests are shoveled under, how their circle is broken by fox, bullet, and cold. The [...]

POETRY: The Joyful Mysteries—The Nativity by John O’Donohue

June 11, 2018

No man reaches where the moon touches a woman. Even the moon leaves her when she opens Deeper into the ripple in her womb That encircles dark to become flesh and bone. Someone is coming ashore inside her. A face deciphers itself from water And she curves around the gathering wave, Opening to offer the life it craves. In a corner stall of pilgrim strangers, She falls and heaves, holding a tide of tears. A red wire of pain feeds through every vein Until night unweaves and the child reaches dawn. Outside each other now, she sees him first. Flesh of her flesh, her dreamt son safe on [...]

POETRY: Seeing Things by Seamus Heaney

June 9, 2018

I Inishbofin on a Sunday morning. Sunlight, turfsmoke, seagulls, boatslip, diesel. One by one we were being handed down Into a boat that slipped and shilly-shallied Scaresomely every time. We sat tight On short cross-benches, in nervous twos and threes, Obedient, newly close, nobody speaking Except the boatmen, as the gunwales sank And seemed they might ship water any minute. The sea was very calm but even so, When the engine kicked and our ferryman Swayed for balance, reaching for the tiller, I panicked at the shiftiness and heft Of the craft itself. What guaranteed us— That quick response and buoyancy and swim— Kept me in agony. All the time As we went sailing evenly across The deep, still, seeable-down-into water, It was as if I [...]

POETRY: Whole Wheat, Decaf Black, A Morbid Curiosity by David Citino

June 6, 2018

We study the paper, fingers darkening with the stinking ink of the daily news, as Dad bangs Mommy’s head against the bedroom wall, the thud like coming thunder, as baby’s shaken until the crying stops, as the sniper’s scope X’s-out another enemy of the tribe, all for ethnic cleaning, as, at the mall, boys dressed in street colors change forever the face of other boys with semi-automatic rage, as women of the village bind the girl, legs spread wide, the oyster cut from its delicate shell, so she can know holiness. It’s not that we relish the blood, as the Romans did— is it? Somewhere, someone knows a suffering too terrible for words, nearly. Thank God it’s not us. There but for fortune. Give us the [...]

POETRY: The Joyful Mysteries—The Visitation by John O’Donohue

June 4, 2018

In the morning it takes the mind a while To find the world again, lost after dream Has taken the heart to the underworld To play with the shades of lives not chosen. She awakens a stranger in her own life, Her breath loud in the room full of listening. Taken without touch, her flesh feels the grief Of belonging to what cannot be seen. Soon she can no longer bear to be alone. At dusk she takes the road into the hills. An anxious moon doubles her among the stone. A door opens, the older one’s eyes fill. Two women locked in a story of birth. Each mirrors the secret the other [...]

POETRY: A Drink Of Water by Seamus Heaney

June 2, 2018

She came every morning to draw water Like an old bat staggering up the field: The pump’s whooping cough, the bucket’s clatter And slow diminuendo as it filled, Announced her. I recall Her grey apron, the pocked white enamel Of the brimming bucket, and the treble Creak of her voice like the pump’s handle. Nights when a full moon lifted past her gable It fell back through her window and would lie Into the water set out on the table. Where I have dipped to drink again, to be Faithful to the admonishment on her cup, Remember the Giver, fading off the [...]

POETRY: Letter From Santa Cruz by Maura Eichner

May 30, 2018

I do not know the date. Calendars have no meaning here. One hundred miles north (or maybe more) from Santa Cruz our families live or try to live (and fail) farming rice. Five years ago only monkeys talked and swung in jungle trees. There is a road, but not when there is rain. It had been raining long when Marta died. Months ago, a doctor passing through told Marta that she ought to get to Santa Cruz. Some time, some time, Marta said, she would. She was busy at the well when the growth was big enough to stop the last thin breath from edging up her throat. Sunsets in the tropics go like that—gold, amber, scarlet— then the dark. That night Felipe came, sat in silence, said the child must be removed from Marta’s body otherwise Marta [...]

POETRY: The Joyful Mysteries—The Annunciation by John O’Donohue

May 29, 2018

Cast from afar before the stones were born And rain had rinsed the darkness for color, The words have waited for the hunger in her To become the silence where they could form. The day’s last light frames her by the window, A young woman with distance in her gaze, She could never imagine the surprise That is hovering over her life now. The sentence awakens like a raven, Fluttering and dark, opening her heart To nest the voice that first whispered the earth From dream into wind, stone, sky and ocean. She offers to mother the shadow’s child; Her untouched life becoming wild [...]

POETRY: The Underground by Seamus Heaney

May 26, 2018

There we were in the vaulted tunnel running, You in your going-away coat speeding ahead And me, me then like a fleet god gaining Upon you before you turned to a reed Or some new white flower japped with crimson As the coat flapped wild and button after button Sprang off and fell in a trail Between the Underground and the Albert Hall. Honeymooning, mooning around, late for the Proms, Our echoes die in that corridor and now I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons To end up in a draughty lamplit station After the trains have gone, the wet track Bared and tensed as I am, all attention For your step following and damned if I look [...]

POETRY: Science by Alison Hawthorne Deming

May 25, 2018

Then it was the future, though what’s arrived isn’t what we had in mind, all chrome and cybernetics, when we set up exhibits in the cafeteria for the judges to review what we’d made of our hypotheses. The class skeptic (he later refused to sign anyone’s yearbook, calling it a sentimental degradation of language) chloroformed mice, weighing the bodies before and after to catch the weight of the soul, wanting to prove the invisible real as a bagful of nails. A girl who knew it all made cookies from euglena, a one-celled compromise between animal and plant, she had cultured in a flask. We’re smart enough, she concluded, to survive our mistakes, showing photos of farmland, poisoned, gouged, eroded. No one believed he really had built [...]

POETRY: Litany by David Craig

May 23, 2018

Mother of Sorrow, Mother of stars and night fires, arroyos, tossed tequila bottles, the dead drunk. Mother of the streets, of the violent, weekend golfers, cut off, and a windshield smashed with bare fists; the knife, the absurdity, the day in court. Mother of amphetamines, the aging speed freak, who looks to kick around an oval track in a beat up stock car. Mother of the subways, the swaying lost. Mother of day laborers, children, early mornings, in the fields. Mother of Guatemala, of empty Ohio River steel towns where no more black soot seeps into the cracks of houses. Mother of Cleveland, of every neon bar, honky tonk. Mother of Hank Williams, late night pick-ups that end in anguish or bruises. Mother of every redneck, alone and crossed [...]

POETRY: Pentecost by Malcolm Guite

May 19, 2018

Today we feel the wind beneath our wings. Today the hidden fountain flows and plays. Today the church draws breath at last and sings. As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise. This is the feast of fire, air, and water, Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth. The earth herself awakens to her maker And is translated out of death to birth. The right words come today in their right order And every word spells freedom and release. Today the gospel crosses every border. All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace. Today the lost are found in His translation. Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every [...]

POETRY: The Country Clergy by R. S. Thomas

May 18, 2018

I see them working in old rectories By the sun’s light, by candlelight, Venerable men, their black cloth A little dusty, a little green With holy mildew. And yet their skulls, Ripening over so many prayers, Toppled into the same grave With oafs and yokels. They left no books, Memorial to their lonely thought In grey parishes; rather they wrote On men’s hearts and in the minds Of young children sublime words Too soon forgotten. God in his time Or out of time will correct [...]

POETRY: Vesper Sparrows by Deborah Digges

May 17, 2018

I love to watch them sheathe themselves mid-air, shut wings and ride the light’s poor spine to earth, to touch down in gutters, in the rainbowed urine of suicides, just outside Bellevue’s walls. From in there the ransacked cadavers are carried up the East River to Potter’s Field as if they were an inheritance, gleaned of savable parts, their diseases jarred and labeled, or incinerated, the ashes of metastasized vision professing the virus that lives beyond the flesh, in air… The first time I saw the inside of anything alive, a downed bird opened cleanly under my heel. I knelt to watch the spectral innards shine and quicken, the heart-whir magnify. And though I can’t say now what kind of bird it was, nor the [...]

POETRY: How To Prepare For The Second Coming by Abigail Carroll

May 16, 2018

Start by recalling the absolute goodness of rain and repent for every grumble you have ever made about the weather (this will take approximately forever.) Next, you will want to commit a theft: with deft lock-picking and a shrewd hand, steal back the hours you fed to the hungry god of work, then squander them on hydrangeas, Wordsworth, voluntary sidewalk repair. Teach a child to lace a shoe (your child or another’s—any four-year old will do), and while you’re at it, set the alarm for three, and fumble through the dark to the pond to guard the salamanders as they cross the road. If, having accomplished these tasks, you wish to go on, sit at your desk and carefully design a few radical acts of grace, by which I mean murder (of a sort): [...]

POETRY: Threshold by R. S. Thomas

May 11, 2018

I emerge from the mind’s cave into the worse darkness outside, where things pass and the Lord is in none of them. I have heard the still, small voice and it was that of the bacteria demolishing my cosmos. I have lingered too long on this threshold, but where can I go? To look back is to lose the soul I was leading upwards towards the light. To look forward? Ah, what balance is needed at the edges of such an abyss. I am alone on the surface of a turning planet. What to do but, like Michelangelo’s Adam, put my hand out into unknown space, hoping for the reciprocating [...]

POETRY: Ascension by Kathleen Norris

May 10, 2018

Why do you stand looking up at the skies? (Acts 1:11) It wasn’t just wind, chasing thin gunmetal clouds across the loud sky; it wasn’t the feeling that one might ascend on that excited air, rising like a trumpet note. And it wasn’t just my sister’s water breaking, her crying out, the downward draw of blood and bone…. It was all of that, the mud and new grass pushing up through melting snow, the lilac in bud by my front door, bent low by last week’s ice storm. Now the new mother, that leaky vessel, begins to nurse her child, beginning the long [...]

POETRY: Easter Hymn by A. E. Housman

May 9, 2018

If in that Syrian garden, ages slain, You sleep, and know not you are dead in vain, Nor even in dreams behold how dark and bright Ascends in smoke and fire by day and night The hate you died to quench and could but fan, Sleep well and see no morning, son of man. But if, the grave rent and the stone rolled by, At the right hand of majesty on high You sit, and sitting so remember yet Your tears, your agony and bloody sweat, Your cross and passion and the life you gave, Bow hither out of Heaven and see and [...]

POETRY: Nuclear by R. S. Thomas

May 6, 2018

It’s not that he can’t speak; who created languages but God? Nor that he won’t; to say that is to imply malice. It is just that he doesn’t, or does so at times when we are not listening, in ways we have yet to recognize as [...]

POETRY: Past And Future by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

May 2, 2018

My future will not copy fair my past On any leaf but Heaven’s. Be fully done Supernal Will! I would not fain be one Who, satisfying thirst and breaking fast, Upon the fullness of the heart at last Says no grace after meat. My wine has run Indeed out of my cup, and there is none To gather up the bread of my repast Scattered and trampled; yet I find some good In earth’s green herbs, and streams that bubble up Clear from the darkling ground,—content until I sit with angels before better food:— Dear Christ! when thy new vintage fills my cup, This hand shall shake no more, nor that wine [...]

POETRY: A Night Visitor by Brother Paul Quenon

April 25, 2018

A grey cloud cover hides the moon blanketing light as night grows lonely. My ears are stifled by the crush of my own thoughts ’til silence says: Hush. These ears are windows Opening on quiet night where my soul can breathe. If I could reach out to touch this fragile silence she would shy away. She offers presence, not familiarity, to my calloused hand. Close as my own breath, though my mind be far away, precious as a prayer. Rare is the moment when, with nothing on my mind, I hear her passage, subtle as a [...]

POETRY: The Good Portion by Paul J. Willis

April 20, 2018

Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:42) Is it waking to this calm morning after a night of dry winds? Is it scrambled eggs, the ones with cheese, or the hot glaze of a cinnamon roll? Is it the way you laugh over breakfast, that generous gift, your laughter? Is it rinsing the plates and pans in the sink? Or leaving them in a cockeyed stack, these things of use, these things of beauty that will not be taken [...]