I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other.
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.
Muriel Rukeyser, The Collected Poems. NY: McGraw-Hill
Book Co., 1978
Watching the Jet Planes Dive
We must go back and find a trail on the ground
back of the forest and mountain on the slow land;
we must begin to circle on the intricate sod.
By such wild beginnings without help we may find
the small trail on through the buffalo-bean vines.
We must go back with noses and the palms of our hands,
and climb over the map in far places, everywhere,
and lie down whenever there is doubt and sleep there.
If roads are unconnected we must make a path,
no matter how far it is, or how lowly we arrive.
We must find something forgotten by everyone alive,
and make some fabulous gesture when the sun goes down
as they do by custom in little Mexico towns
where they crawl for some ritual up a rocky steep.
The jet planes dive; we must travel on our knees.
copyright 1960, 1998 by the Estate of William Stafford. Reprinted
from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems with the permission
of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, MN
The trembling finger of a woman
Goes down the list of casualties
On the evening of the first snow.
The house is cold and the list is long.
All our names are included.
Charles Simic, Hotel Insomnia,
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992
from "North American Time"
I am thinking this in a country
where words are stolen out of mouths
as bread is stolen out of mouths
where poets don't go to jail
for being poets, but for being
dark-skinned, female, poor.
I am writing this in a time
when anything we write
can be used against those we love
where the context is never given
though we try to explain, over and over
For the sake of poetry at least
I need to know these things
Sometimes, gliding at night
in a plane over New York City
I have felt like some messenger
called to enter, called to engage
this field of light and darkness.
A grandiose idea, born of flying.
But underneath the grandiose idea
is the thought that what I must engage
after the plane has raged onto the tarmac
after climbing my old stairs, sitting down
at my old window
is meant to break my heart
and reduce me to silence.
In North America time stumbles on
without moving, only releasing
a certain North American pain.
Julia de Burgos wrote:
That my grandfather was a slave
is my grief: had he been a master
that would have been my shame.
A poet's words, hung over a door
in North America, in the year
The almost-full moon rises
timelessly speaking of change
out of the Bronx, the Harlem River
the drowned towns of the Quabbin
the pilfered burial mounds
the toxic swamps, the testing-grounds
and I start to speak again
Reprinted from Your Native Land, Your Life with permission
of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Photograph of the Girl
The girl sits on the hard ground,
the dry pan of Russia, in the drought
of 1921, stunned,
eyes closed, mouth open,
raw hot wind blowing
sand in her face. Hunger and puberty are
taking her together. She leans on a sack,
layers of clothes fluttering in the heat,
the new radius of her arm curved.
She cannot be not beautiful, but she is
starving. Each day she grows thinner, and her bones
grow longer, porous. The caption says
she is going to starve to death that winter
with millions of others. Deep in her body
the ovaries let out her first eggs,
golden as drops of grain.
From The Dead and the Living , ©1987 by Sharon
Olds. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random
When the towers fell
Shall these from eternity
inherit the earth,
all debts amortised?
Gravity was ungracious,
a lateral blow
abetted, made an end.
They fell like Lucifer,
star of morning, our star
attraction, our access.
Nonetheless, a conundrum;
Did God approve, did they prosper us?
The towers fell, money
amortised in pockets
emptied, once for all.
Why did they fall, what law
violated? Did Mammon
mortise the money
that raised them high, Mammon
anchoring the towers in cloud,
of gated heaven and God?
'Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great...
they see the smoke
arise as she burns...'
We made pilgrimage there.
Confusion of tongues.
Some cried vengeance.
Others paced slow, pondering
--this or that of humans
drawn forth, dismembered--
a last day; Babylon
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