All Life Is Built From Song

James Weldon Johnson (1871 – 1938)

You are young, gifted, and Black. We must begin to tell our young, There’s a world waiting for you, Yours is the quest that’s just begun.

James Weldon Johnson

If-ing

by Langston Hughes (1901 – 1967)

If I had some small change
I’d buy me a mule,
Get on that mule and
Ride like a fool.

If I had some greenbacks
I’d buy me a Packard,
Fill it up with gas and
Drive that baby backward.

If I had a million
I’d get me a plane
And everybody in America’d
Think I was insane.

But I ain’t got a million,
Fact is, ain’t got a dime —
So just by if-ing
I have a good time!


 

Now and Then

by James Weldon Johnson

 

“All life is built from song”
   In youth’s young morn I sang;
And from a top-near hill
   The echo broke and rang.

The years with pinions swift
   To youth’s high noon made flight,
“All life is built from song”
   I sang amid the fight.

To life’s sun-setting years,
   My feet have come—Alas!
And through its hopes and fears
   Again I shall not pass.

The lusty song my youth
   With high-heart ardor sang
Is but a tinkling sound—
   A cymbal’s empty clang.

And now I sing, my Dear,
   With wisdom’s wiser heart,
“All life is built from love,
   And song is but a part.”

Love Will Endure

May Sarton (1912 – 1995)

We have to dare to be ourselves, no matter how frightening or strange that self may prove to be.

May Sarton

Poem in Autumn

by May Sarton

Now over everything the autumn light is thrown
And every line is sharp ad every leaf is clear,
Now without density or weight the airy sun
Sits in the flaming boughs, an innocent fire
That shines but does not burn nor wither.
The leaves, light-penetrated, change their essence,
Take on the gold transparence of the weather,
Are touched by death, then by light’s holy presence.

So we, first touched by death, were changed in essence,
As if grief grew transparent and turned to airy gold
And we were given days of special radiance,
Light-brimmed, light-shaken, and with love so filled
It seemed the heartbeat of the world was in our blood,
And when we stood together, love was everywhere,
And no exchange was needed, if exchange we could
The blessedness of sunlight poised on air.


Autumn Sonnets

by May Sarton

If I can let you go as trees let go
Their leaves, so casually, one by one;
If I can come to know what they do know,
That fall is the release, the consummation,
Then fear of time and the uncertain fruit
Would not distemper the great lucid skies
This strangest autumn, mellow and acute.
If I can take the dark with open eyes
And call it seasonal, not harsh or strange
(For love itself may need a time of sleep),
And, treelike, stand unmoved before the change,
Lose what I lose to keep what I can keep,
The strong root still alive under the snow,
Love will endure – if I can let you go

There’s A Bluebird In My Heart

Joyce Peseroff

Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.

Charles Bukowski

Bluebird

by Charles Bukowski (1920 – 1994)

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
you.
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
he’s
in there.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
works?
you want to blow my book sales in
Europe?
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
sad.
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
die
and we sleep together like
that
with our
secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do
you?

 


Bluebird

By Joyce Peseroff

My mother’s voice is at my throat
—”Try a scarf in the neckline”—
and on my lips: “Just a little
lipstick.” Today I’m wearing both.
 
My “mother’s voice,” pitched high, carries
reprimand and care:
“No boom on the table!” My daughter
swats me as I carry her
 
away from the dearest
activity on earth—sticks, stones, struck
as if the coffee table were a flint.
 
“Barbarian,” I croon
in heels. “What’s that?” she asks and rips
a nylon with a fingernail.
 
She cries at the turtleneck
pulled over her head. “I’ll give you something
to cry about!” I hush, succeeding for another
 
day, or an hour—another minute
late for work. Tonight I’ll choose
a lullaby: “Bluebird
at my window,” Mother sang to me,
a voice that could broom sorrow
 
through the door . . . A decal
staggered on the painted bureau,
blue wing seeking, finding no way out.

Summer In The Stomach

And pray what more can a reasonable man desire, in peaceful times, in ordinary noons, than a sufficient number of ears of green sweet corn boiled, with the addition of salt.

Henry David Thoreau

Coming Home At Twilight In Late Summer

by Jane Kenyon

We turned into the drive,
and gravel flew up from the tires
like sparks from a fire. So much
to be done—the unpacking, the mail
and papers … the grass needed mowing ….
We climbed stiffly out of the car.
The shut-off engine ticked as it cooled.

And then we noticed the pear tree,
the limbs so heavy with fruit
they nearly touched the ground.
We went out to the meadow; our steps
made black holes in the grass;
and we each took a pear,
and ate, and were grateful.

 


Self-Portrait as a Bear

by Donald Hall

Here is a fat animal, a bear
that is partly a dodo.
Ridiculous wings hang at his shoulders
as if they were collarbones
while he plods in the bad brickyards
at the edge of the city, smiling
and eating flowers. He eats them
because he loves them
because they are beautiful
because they love him.
It is eating flowers which makes him so fat.
He carries his huge stomach
over the gutters of damp leaves
in the parking lots in October,
but inside that paunch
he knows there are fields of lupine
and meadows of mustard and poppy.
He encloses sunshine.
Winds bend the flowers
in combers across the valley,
birds hang on the stiff wind,
at night there are showers, and the sun
lifts through a haze every morning
of the summer in the stomach

Springing Naked To The Light

Sir, say no more.
Within me ’t is as if
The green and climbing eyesight of a cat
Crawled near my mind’s poor birds.

 

Live Blindly And Upon The Hour

By Trumbull Stickney
 
Live blindly and upon the hour. The Lord,
Who was the Future, died full long ago.
Knowledge which is the Past is folly. Go,
Poor child, and be not to thyself abhorred.
Around thine earth sun-wingèd winds do blow
And planets roll; a meteor draws his sword;
The rainbow breaks his seven-coloured chord
And the long strips of river-silver flow:
Awake! Give thyself to the lovely hours.
Drinking their lips, catch thou the dream in flight
About their fragile hairs’ aërial gold.
Thou art divine, thou livest,—as of old
Apollo springing naked to the light,
And all his island shivered into flowers.
 
 

I Used To Think

 
by Trumbull Stickney
 
I used to think
The mind essential in the body, even
As stood the body essential in the mind:
Two inseparable things, by nature equal
And similar, and in creation’s song
Halving the total scale: it is not so.
Unlike and cross like driftwood sticks they come
Churned in the giddy trough: a chunk of pine,
A slab of rosewood: mangled each on each
With knocks and friction, or in deadly pain
Sheathing each other’s splinters: till at last
Without all stuff or shape they ’re jetted up
Where in the bluish moisture rot whate’er
Was vomited in horror from the sea.

Where The Simple Heart is Bowed

Léonie Adams (1899 – 1988)

An envy of that one consummate part
Swept me, who mock. Whether I laugh or weep,
Some inner silences are at my heart.

Léonie Adams

Country of the Proud

By Léonie Adams
 
A fall over rock,
Metal answering to water,
Is the seal of this spot;
A land trodden by music
And the tune forgot.
 
Of a region savage,
The territory that was broken,
Silver gushed free;
And earth holy, earth meek shall receive it
In humility.
 
This, not dwelt in, this haunted,
The country of the proud,
Is curdling to stone,
And careless of the feet of the waters
As they glance from it down.
 
 

Send Forth The High Falcon

by Léonie Adams
 
Send forth the high falcon flying after the mind   
Till it come toppling down from its cold cloud:   
The beak of the falcon to pierce it till it fall
Where the simple heart is bowed.
O in wild innocence it rides
The rare ungovernable element,
But once it sways to terror and descent,
The marches of the wind are its abyss,
No wind staying it upward of the breast—
Let mind be proud for this,
And ignorant from what fabulous cause it dropt,
Or with how learned a gesture the unschooled heart   
Shall lull both terror and innocence to rest

I Have Made It This Far

Anne Sexton

In a dream you are never eighty.

Anne Sexton

The Starry Night

By Anne Sexton 

That does not keep me from having a terrible need of—shall I say the word—religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars.Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.   
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.
 
It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons   
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.   
Oh starry starry night! This is how   
I want to die:
 
into that rushing beast of the night,   
sucked up by that great dragon, to split   
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.


Letter Written on a Ferry While Crossing Long Island Sound

(An Excerpt)

By Anne Sexton (1928 – 1974)
 
I am surprised to see
that the ocean is still going on.   
Now I am going back
and I have ripped my hand
from your hand as I said I would   
and I have made it this far
as I said I would
and I am on the top deck now   
holding my wallet, my cigarettes   
and my car keys
at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday
in August of 1960.
 
Dearest,
although everything has happened,
nothing has happened.   
The sea is very old.
The sea is the face of Mary,
without miracles or rage
or unusual hope,
grown rough and wrinkled
with incurable age.
 
Still,
I have eyes.
These are my eyes:
the orange letters that spell   
ORIENT on the life preserver   
that hangs by my knees;
the cement lifeboat that wears   
its dirty canvas coat;
the faded sign that sits on its shelf   
saying KEEP OFF.
Oh, all right, I say,
I’ll save myself.

Some Calculus Takes Centuries To Read

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.

W. B. Yeats

The Artist

by Erin Redfern

The discovery of lapis lazuli in the dental calculus of an 11th-century religious woman is without precedent in the European medieval archaeological record and marks the earliest direct evidence for the use of this rare and expensive pigment by a religious woman in Germany.*

She kisses the bristles to a fine tip,
dips her brush in cerulean dust. Brings her skill
to bear on the letter, its lobe soon gravid

with blue. Blue pigment nestles in her teeth.
Some calculus takes centuries to read.
One historian guessed she was there to clean

the room. Or was she there to kiss the book?
Scrub, smooch––aren’t these the things that women do?
Let’s ask her:  are you Woman, or Master?

If woman, votary of ink, with which
I net the numinous. If master, the same.

Bowed to the body of the word, she prays
bowl, serif, ligature, head
until she, too, is illuminated.

 


Lapis Lazuli

By W. B. Yeats 

(for Harry Clifton)

I have heard that hysterical women say
They are sick of the palette and fiddle-bow,
Of poets that are always gay,
For everybody knows or else should know
That if nothing drastic is done
Aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out,
Pitch like King Billy bomb-balls in
Until the town lie beaten flat.
 
All perform their tragic play,
There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,
That’s Ophelia, that Cordelia;
Yet they, should the last scene be there,
The great stage curtain about to drop,
If worthy their prominent part in the play,
Do not break up their lines to weep.
They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay;
Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.
All men have aimed at, found and lost;
Black out; Heaven blazing into the head:
Tragedy wrought to its uttermost.
Though Hamlet rambles and Lear rages,
And all the drop scenes drop at once
Upon a hundred thousand stages,
It cannot grow by an inch or an ounce.
 
On their own feet they came, or on shipboard,
Camel-back, horse-back, ass-back, mule-back,
Old civilisations put to the sword.
Then they and their wisdom went to rack:
No handiwork of Callimachus
Who handled marble as if it were bronze,
Made draperies that seemed to rise
When sea-wind swept the corner, stands;
His long lamp chimney shaped like the stem
Of a slender palm, stood but a day;
All things fall and are built again
And those that build them again are gay.
 
Two Chinamen, behind them a third,
Are carved in Lapis Lazuli,
Over them flies a long-legged bird
A symbol of longevity;
The third, doubtless a serving-man,
Carries a musical instrument.
 
Every discolouration of the stone,
Every accidental crack or dent
Seems a water-course or an avalanche,
Or lofty slope where it still snows
Though doubtless plum or cherry-branch
Sweetens the little half-way house
Those Chinamen climb towards, and I
Delight to imagine them seated there;
There, on the mountain and the sky,
On all the tragic scene they stare.
One asks for mournful melodies;
Accomplished fingers begin to play.
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.
 

You Think I Don’t Know

Denise Levertov (1923 -1997)

There comes a time when only anger is love.

Denise Levertov

Talking To Grief

by Denise Levertov

Ah, Grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.
I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.
You think I don’t know you’ve been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your name,
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider
my house your own
and me your person
and yourself
my own dog.


The Gift

by Denise Levertov

Just when you seem to yourself
nothing but a flimsy web
of questions, you are given
the questions of others to hold
in the emptiness of your hands,
songbird eggs that can still hatch
if you keep them warm,
butterflies opening and closing themselves
in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure
their scintillant fur, their dust.
You are given the questions of others
as if they were answers
to all you ask. Yes, perhaps
this gift is your answer

Ready For A Change

William Stafford (1914 – 1993)

Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule – and both commonly succeed, and are right.

H. L. Mencken

 

At the Bomb Testing Site

By William Stafford
 
At noon in the desert a panting lizard
waited for history, its elbows tense,
watching the curve of a particular road
as if something might happen.
 
It was looking at something farther off
than people could see, an important scene
acted in stone for little selves
at the flute end of consequences.
 
There was just a continent without much on it
under a sky that never cared less.
Ready for a change, the elbows waited.
The hands gripped hard on the desert.
 

Ways of Rebelling

By Nathalie Handal 
 

Who needs to be at peace in the world? It helps to be between wars, to die a  few  times  each day to understand your father’s sky, as you take it apart piece  by  piece  and can’t feel  anything,  can’t  feel the tree growing under your feet, the eyes poking night only to find another night to compare it to. Whoever   heard   of   turning   pain  into   hummingbirds   or   red  birds— haven’t  we  grown?  What  does  it mean to be older?  Maybe a house with- out  doors  can  still  survive  a storm. Maybe I can’t find the proper way to rebel  or  damn it,  I can’t leave.  I want to,  but you grow inside of me. And as  I  watch   you, before  I  know  it,  I’m  too  heavy,  too full  of  you  to  move. Maybe  that’s what they meant when they said you shouldn’t love a country too much.