Poetry anthology senior English Elective / Instructor: Mrs. Garcia

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You So Woman


for Anya

when ya purple heels hit concrete

afros swing

cool jazz hot baby

strollin by cry amen
so holy

preachas stutta

thighs so righteous

pews jump up n catch the spirit n

hymns speak in tongues
so sweet

bees leave the daffodils behind

for honey you make table sugar taste sour n

Mrs. Butterworth sho can’t find a damn thing to say

when you around
lookin so good

cockroaches ask you to step on em

sos they can see heaven


and after they die n
you love ya people so much

if you was on pilgrimage

the Sahara Desert would run to the Atlantic

jus to make sure you don’t get thirsty n

camels would kiss you for choosin they back
but Africa don’t got you

we do n glad too

so girl

you jus keep on

makin the sunset procrastinate n

givin the rainbows a complex

you a silk earthquake

you a velvet hurricane

n girl you so woman

i be damn

if you don’t put a full moon to shame.

from pp. 66-67 of We Are the Young Magicians, 1993.

Base Stealer

ROBERT FRANCIS (1901-1987) He spent most of his life in Amherst, MA.

Poised between going on and back, pulled

Both ways taut like a tight-rope walker,

Fingertips pointing the opposites,

Now bouncing tiptoe like a dropped ball,

Or a kid skipping rope, come on, come on!

Running a scattering of steps sidewise,

How he teeters, skitters, tingles, teases,

Taunts them, hovers like an ecstatic bird,

He's only flirting, crowd him, crowd him,

Delicate, delicate, delicate, delicate - Now!


ROBERT FRANCIS (1901-1987)

From where I stand the sheep stand still

As stones against the stony hill.

The stones are gray

And so are they.

And both are weatherworn and round,

Leading the eye back to the ground.

Two mingled flocks—

The sheep, the rocks.

And still no sheep stirs from its place

Or lifts it Babylonian face.

Francis, Robert. “Sheep.” In Collected Poems: 1936-1976. Copyright © 1976 by Robert Francis and published by the University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst. [chapter 10]

I found it in Ted Kooser’s book, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.
Acquanited with the Night

ROBERT FROST (1874-1963) Born in San Francisco, CA, he spent much of his time in rural New England.

I have been one acquainted with the night.

I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.

I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.

I have passed by the watchman on his beat

And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet

When far away an interrupted cry

Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-by;

And further still at an unearthly height

One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.

I have been one acquainted with the night.

If You Are Reading This


If you are reading this, my love, then we

have reached “for poorer” since our wedding day.

Forgive this frugal anniversary;

unwrap these fragments, gifts I tucked away:

I gather birdsong, chirps that percolate,

the scent of dew and diesel in the air.

Although the sun unlocks the morning gate,

the moon still lingers, just to say she’s there.

The bookstore beckons addicts to her ink.

I fan through brand new titles, crisp and sweet,

inhale the tomes until so paper-drunk

the clerk ejects me back out on the street.

And then, a quest for subtler liquors brings

me to a dozen dog-eared stacks to search.

I hold their scent of reverence in my lungs

like incense burning in an ancient church.

At home, I find transcendence in the act

of making lunch. Behold this afternoon,

a jar of peanut butter, whorl intact,

a landscape yet uncharted by a spoon.

And soon, above the hammock where I sway,

the clouds are powdered wigs with woolly curls.

While edged in pink and cream, against a day

so blue, a vision of Versailles unfurls.

By night, our yard is filled with lullabies,

when thriftiness has shut off every lamp,

and silent music of the fireflies

plucks darkness softly as a golden harp.

And all these things I gathered just for you,

in case we were too poor for fine hotels

or jewels, furs, or villas with a view.

Reserve the satin sheets for jezebels.

Just cool, clean sheets against our sunburned skin,

sheets tucked so tight we have to wiggle in.

from the Spring 2010 issue of Willow Review



(for Sally Sellers)

Like a fading piece of cloth

I am a failure
No longer do I cover tables filled with food and laughter

My seams are frayed my hems falling my strength no longer able

To hold the hot and cold
I wish for those first days

When just woven I could keep water

From seeping through

Repelled stains with the tightness of my weave

Dazzled the sunlight with my


I grow old though pleased with my memories

The tasks I can no longer complete

Are balanced by the love of the tasks gone past
I offer no apology only

this plea:

When I am frayed and strained and drizzle at the end

Please someone cut a square and put me in a quilt

That I might keep some child warm
And some old person with no one else to talk to

Will hear my whispers

And cuddle


Daughters of China

TERRY GODBEY (1955- ) She was born in Bangor, Maine.

Daughters of China, dip your tongues

in cups of oolong tea

like quills into the ink of centuries.

All those hearts unburdened,

silken sorrows, poems

burned by the hundreds.

For every baby girl abandoned

at Qinglong Temple, let tears feed

a silver moonlight stream

from Xian to Nanjing to Shenyang.

Take what is yours—the crumbling earth,

jade mist of morning, providence.

Free the dragon curled inside you.

With feet unbound, step over

each stone rolled onto your path

through the peonies. Push past

any man who tries to stop you.

Godbey, Terry. “Daughters of China.” Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry and Prose. Spring 2009. Ed. Kim Bridgford and Pete Duval. 11. Print

All you have to do is listen to the way a man

sometimes talks to his wife at a table of people

and notice how intent he is on making his point

even though her lower lip is beginning to quiver,
and you will know why the women in science

fiction movies who inhabit a planet of their own

are not pictured making a salad or reading a magazine

when the men from earth arrive in their rocket,

why they are always standing in a semicircle

with their arms folded, their bare legs set apart,

their breasts protected by hard metal disks.

When the Zombies Come


I’ll be ready. I’ve seen films and know

that when the dead stand up and brush the dust

from coats and once-bright shoes, you need a plan.

In bed, I lie awake and plot escapes:

an attic filled with guns and cans of soup;

the basement stacked with flats of bottled water,

batteries, and jerrycans of gas. And if

they come too quickly and catch us in the night,

I’ll barricade the bedroom door, wake my wife,

and scramble out the bedroom window. We’ll ride

the roof’s soft hip, the zombies’ low moans

a flood that billows and breaks against the house.
In time, of course, they’ll win. What happens then,

when all the brains are eaten? When all of us

are rooted out of cellar and bomb shelter?

When all the razor wire is down and all

the army bases overrun? What then?
I like to think they’ll mill and stare, then bend

to take up all our uniforms, our jobs

and lives—a zombie checkout boy who sacks

the bread and eggs; the zombie line ref

who shambles downfield to make the same bad calls;

and zombie teachers gurgling out declensions

for lie and lay. And at a desk, paused

with pen in hand, a zombie poet writes

a sonnet for his zombie love. He sings

of flawless gray skin, of eyes like curdled milk.

from p. 11 of The Raintown Review, Vol. #10 Issue #2, February 2012
Shakespearean Sonnet

R.S. GWYNN He’s known to his friends as Sam.

(With a first line taken from the tv listings)
A man is haunted by his father's ghost.
A boy and girl love while their families fight.
A Scottish king is murdered by his host.
Two couples get lost on a summer night.
A hunchback murders all who block his way.
A ruler's rivals plot against his life.
A fat man and a prince make rebels pay.
A noble Moor has doubts about his wife.
An English king decides to conquer France.
A duke learns that his best friend is a she.
A forest sets the scene for this romance.
An old man and his daughters disagree.
A Roman leader makes a big mistake.
A sexy queen is bitten by a snake.

If I’m not mistaken, the plays are…

Romeo and Juliet
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Richard III
Richard II
Henry IV Part I
Henry V
Twelfth Night
As You Like It
King Lear
Julius Caesar
Antony and Cleopatra

The Book of Yolek

ANTHONY HECHT (1923-2004) He was born in New York to German-Jewish parents.

As a soldier serving in World War II, he was a witness to the horrors of the Holocaust.

Wir Haben ein Gesetz,
Und nach dem Gesetz soll er sterben.*

[*We have a law, and according to the law he must die (JOHN 19:7)]

The dowsed coals fume and hiss after your meal
Of grilled brook trout, and you saunter off for a walk
Down the fern trail. It doesn't matter where to,
Just so you're weeks and worlds away from home,
And among midsummer hills have set up camp
In the deep bronze glories of declining day.

You remember, peacefully, an earlier day

In childhood, remember a quite specific meal:
A corn roast and bonfire in summer camp.
That summer you got lost on a Nature Walk;
More than you dared admit, you thought of home:
No one else knows where the mind wanders to.

The fifth of August, 1942.

It was the morning and very hot. It was the day
They came at dawn with rifles to The Home
For Jewish Children, cutting short the meal
Of bread and soup, lining them up to walk
In close formation off to a special camp.

How often you have thought about that camp,

As though in some strange way you were driven to,
And about the children, and how they were made to walk,
Yolek who had bad lungs, who wasn't a day
Over five years old, commanded to leave his meal
And shamble between armed guards to his long home.

We're approaching August again. It will drive home

The regulation torments of that camp
Yolek was sent to, his small, unfinished meal,
The electric fences, the numeral tattoo,
The quite extraordinary heat of the day
They all were forced to take that terrible walk.

Whether on a silent, solitary walk

Or among crowds, far off or safe at home,
You will remember, helplessly, that day,
And the smell of smoke, and the loudspeakers of the camp.
Wherever you are, Yolek will be there, too.
His unuttered name will interrupt your meal.

Prepare to receive him in your home some day.

Though they killed him in the camp they sent him to,
He will walk in as you're sitting down to a meal.
Hecht, Anthony. "The Book of Yolek." The Transparent Man. New York: Knopf, 1990.

In Praise of Their Divorce

And when I heard about the divorce of my friends,

I couldn't help but be proud of them,

that man and that woman setting off in different directions,

like pilgrims in a proverb

—him to buy his very own toaster oven,

her seeking a prescription for sleeping pills.

Let us keep in mind the hidden forces

which had struggled underground for years

to push their way to the surface—and that finally did,

cracking the crust, moving the plates of earth apart,

releasing the pent-up energy required

for them to rent their own apartments,

for her to join the softball league for single mothers

for him to read George the Giraffe over his speakerphone

at bedtime to the six-year-old.
The bible says, Be fruitful and multiply
but is it not also fruitful to subtract and to divide?

Because if marriage is a kind of womb,

divorce is the being born again;

alimony is the placenta one of them will eat;

loneliness is the name of the wet-nurse;

regret is the elementary school;

endurance is the graduation.

So do not say that they are splattered like dropped lasagna

or dead in the head-on collision of clichés

or nailed on the cross of their competing narratives.

What is taken apart is not utterly demolished.

It is like a great mysterious egg in Kansas

that has cracked and hatched two big bewildered birds.

It is two spaceships coming out of retirement,

flying away from their dead world,

the burning booster rocket of divorce

falling off behind them,
the bystanders pointing at the sky and saying, Look.

Forgiving Buckner


The world is always rolling between our legs.

It comes for us, dribbler, slow roller,

humming its goat song, easy as pie.

We spit in our gloves, bend our stiff knees,
keep it in front of us, our fathers' advice,
but we miss it every time, its physic, its science,
and it bleeds on through, blue streak, heart sore,
to the four-leaf clovers deep in right field.
The runner scores, knight in white armor,
the others out leaping, bumptious, gladhanding,
your net come up empty, Jonah again.
Even the dance of the dead won't come near you,
heart in your throat, holy of holies,
the oh of your mouth as the stone rolls away,
as if it had come from before you were born
to roll past your life to the end of the world,
till the world comes around again, gathering steam,
heading right for us again and again,
faith of our fathers, world without end.


from FIELD: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, Number 62, Spring 2000

Oberlin College Press, Oberlin, OH. Copyright 1992 by John Hodgen.

Waiting Room


This is the place where families cross their legs

And stare, sightless, at unobtrusive art.

This is the place where every minute drags

Like a dead body heaved onto a cart.

A mother clasps her hands, as if in prayer,

Then bows her head and curses quietly.

A husband thinks that if he’d just seen more

His wife would not have needed surgery.
Death breathes upon these souls who wait in need

Of angels wearing scrubs to proffer grace.

All wait alone, and none are reassured

By memories of a loved one’s pleading face.

In purgatory they await the words

Of gods who fail as often as succeed.

from The Raintown Review, Vol. #10, Issue #1 (2011?)


That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.

I, Too


I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.


I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”


They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
mistress stella speaks


you think i’m his property
’cause he paid cash
to grab me by the neck,
swing me ‘cross his knee
and stroke the living song from my hips.
you think he is master of all
my twelve tongues, spreading notes
thick as starless night, strangling spine
till my voice is a jungle of chords.
the truth is that i owned him
since the word love first blessed his lips
since hurt and flight and free
carved their way into the cotton
fused bones of his fretting hand,
since he learned how pleading men hunt
for my face in the well of their throats
till their tongues are soaked with want.
yes, each day he comes back
home from the fields,
from chain gang fury,
from the smell of sometime women
who borrow his body. he bends
his weight around me
like a wilting weed
drinking in my kiss
of fretboard across fingertip
’til he can stand up straight again,
aching from what he left behind,
rising sure as dawn.

from p. 17 of leadbelly (2005)

The Tourist from Syracuse

DONALD JUSTICE (1925-2004) Born/raised in Florida, he taught in Iowa. He was my teacher’s teacher.
One of those men who can be a car salesman

or a tourist from Syracuse or a hired assassin.

John D. MacDonald
You would not recognize me.

Mine is the face which blooms in

The dank mirrors of washrooms

As you grope for the light switch.

My eyes have the expression

Of the cold eyes of statues

Watching their pigeons return

From the feed you have scattered,

And I stand on my corner

With the same marble patience.

If I move at all, it is

At the same pace precisely

As the shade of the awning

Under which I stand waiting

And with whose blackness it seems

I am already blended.

I speak seldom, and always

In a murmur as quiet

As that of crowds which surround

The victims of accidents.

Shall I confess who I am?

My name is all names, or none.

I am the used-car salesman,

The tourist from Syracuse,

The hired assassin, waiting.

I will stand here forever

Like one who has missed his bus—

Familiar, anonymous—

On my usual corner,

The corner at which you turn

To approach that place where now

You must not hope to arrive.

The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry (p. 212-213)

Bike Ride with Older Boys

The one I didn't go on.

I was thirteen,

and they were older.
I'd met them at the public pool. I must

have given them my number. I'm sure

I'd given them my number,
knowing the girl I was. . .

It was summer. My afternoons

were made of time and vinyl.
My mother worked,
but I had a bike. They wanted

to go for a ride.

Just me and them. I said
okay fine, I'd
meet them at the Stop-n-Go
at four o'clock.
And then I didn't show.

I have been given a little gift—

something sweet
and inexpensive, something
I never worked or asked or said
thank you for, most
days not aware
of what I have been given, or what I missed—

because it's that, too, isn't it?

I never saw those boys again.
I'm not as dumb
as they think I am

but neither am I wise. Perhaps

it is the best
afternoon of my life. Two
cute and older boys
pedaling beside me—respectful, awed. When we

turn down my street, the other girls see me ...

Everything as I imagined it would be.
Or, I am in a vacant field. When I
stand up again, there are bits of glass and gravel
ground into my knees.
I will never love myself again.
Who knew then
that someday I would be

thirty-seven, wiping

crumbs off the kitchen table with a sponge, remembering
them, thinking
of this—

those boys still waiting

outside the Stop-n-Go, smoking
cigarettes, growing older.
From Dance and Disappear, 2002

Offensive Poem


Staying human gets so hard.

No one escapes the judge’s sword.

Which side is good and which is bad?

Can virtue be its own reward?
The state that bombs today, will be

The next that’s bombed relentlessly.

The colonizers’ infamy

Is damned by colonists like me.

The Maori, and the Navajo,

The Aborigine, all know

They lost their countries long ago.

But I am pure as driven snow.

I did not do the deeds that won

My comfort, luxury and fun.

I did not do what they have done.

I am above the dirt and dung.

I sign petitions and declare

The rights of people everywhere

But if they try to take my share

My blood will boil, my fangs will bare.

from p. 25 of The Raintown Review, Vol. #10 Issue #2, February 2012



 You can listen to the poet reading his poem at Poets.org.

I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone.
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that is better for your mental health if

somebody eats it with you.

That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have
breakfast with.
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary companion.
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal—porridge, as he

called it—with John Keats.

Keats said I was absolutely right to invite him: due to its glutinous

texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime, and unsual willingness

to disintegrate, oatmeal must never be eaten alone.
He said that in his opinion, however, it is perfectly OK to eat it with

an imaginary companion,

and that he himself had enjoyed memorable porridges with Edmund

Spenser and John Milton.

Even if eating oatmeal with an imaginary companion is not as
wholesome as Keats claims, still, you can learn something from it.
Yesterday morning, for instance, Keats told me about writing the
"Ode to a Nightingale."
He had a heck of a time finishing it those were his words "Oi 'ad
a 'eck of a toime," he said, more or less, speaking through his


He wrote it quickly, on scraps of paper, which he then stuck in his
but when he got home he couldn't figure out the order of the stanzas,
and he and a friend spread the papers on a table, and they made

some sense of them, but he isn't sure to this day if they got it right.

An entire stanza may have slipped into the lining of his jacket through

a hole in his pocket.

He still wonders about the occasional sense of drift between stanzas,
and the way here and there a line will go into the configuration of a

Moslem at prayer, then raise itself up and peer about, and then lay

itself down slightly off the mark, causing the poem to move

forward with God’s reckless wobble.

He said someone told him that later in life Wordsworth heard about
the scraps of paper on the table, and tried shuffling some stanzas

of his own, but only made matters worse.

I would not have known any of this but for my reluctance to eat

oatmeal alone.

When breakfast was over, John recited "To Autumn."
He recited it slowly, with much feeling, and he articulated the words
lovingly, and his odd accent sounded sweet.
He didn't offer the story of writing "To Autumn," I doubt if there is

much of one.

But he did say the sight of a just-harvested oat field got him started
on it,

and two of the lines, "For Summer has o'er-brimmed their clammy

cells" and "Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours," came

to him while eating oatmeal alone.

I can see him drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into the

glimmering furrows, muttering—and it occurs to me:

maybe there is no sublime; only the shining of the amnion's tatters.
For supper tonight I am going to have a baked potato left over from

I am aware that a leftover baked potato is damp, slippery, and

simultaneously gummy and crumbly,

and therefore I'm going to invite Patrick Kavanagh to join me.

From pp. 37-38 of When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone (1990)

Abandoned Farmhouse

TED KOOSER (1939- ) A former insurance salesman, he lives in Garland, Nebraska.
He was a big man, says the size of his shoes

on a pile of broken dishes by the house;

a tall man too, says the length of the bed

in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,

says the Bible with a broken back

on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;

but not a man for farming, say the fields

cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall

papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves

covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,

says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.

Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves

and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.

And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.

It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.

Something went wrong, says the empty house

in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields

say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars

in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.

And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard

like branches after a storm--a rubber cow,

a rusty tractor with a broken plow,

a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.

from Sure Signs: New and Selected Poems (1980)

An Empty Shotgun Shell

TED KOOSER (1939- )
It's a handsome thing

in its uniform—

all crimson and brass—

standing guard

at the gate to the field,

but something

is wrong at its heart.

It's dark in there,

so dark a whole night

could squeeze in,

could shrink back up in there

like a spider,

a black one

with smoke in its hair.

In the Alley

TED KOOSER (1939- )

In the alley behind the florist's shop,
a huge white garbage truck was parked and idling.
In a cloud of exhaust, two men in coveralls
and stocking caps, their noses dripping,
were picking through the florist's dumpster
and each had selected a fistful of roses.

As I walked past, they gave me a furtive,

conspiratorial nod, perhaps sensing
that I, too (though in my business suit and tie)
am a devotee of garbage – an aficionado
of the wilted, the shopworn, and the free—
and that I had for days been searching
beneath the heaps of worn-out, faded words
to find this brief bouquet for you.
"In the Alley" by Ted Kooser, from Valentines. © University of Nebraska Press, 2008.

A Rainy Morning

TED KOOSER (1939- )
A young woman in a wheelchair,

wearing a black nylon poncho spattered with rain,

is pushing herself through the morning.

You have seen how pianists

sometimes bend forward to strike the keys,

then lift their hands, draw back to rest,

then lean again to strike just as the chord fades.

Such is the way this woman

strikes at the wheels, then lifts her long white fingers,

letting them float, then bends again to strike

just as the chair slows, as if into a silence.

So expertly she plays the chords

of this difficult music she has mastered,

her wet face beautiful in its concentration,

while the wind turns the pages of rain.
from p. 15 of Delights and Shadows


TED KOOSER (1939- )
It bridges the busy street, building to building,

like an enormous cocoon, spun out

between one nowhere and the next, and in it

tight knots of teenaged boys in leather skins

press out against its walls, working their

mandibles, breathing the stream of air,

their faces tight and impatient and sore,

each waiting for his stiff black shell to split

and his beautiful wings to unfold.
from p. 32 of Weather Central
From Ted Kooser’s Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison, 2000

In the autumn of 1998, during my recovery form surgery and radiation from cancer, I began taking a two-mile walk each morning. I’d been told by my radiation oncologist to stay out of the sun for a year because of skin sensitivity, so I exercised before dawn, hiking the isolated country roads near where I live, sometimes with my wife but most often alone.

During the previous summer, depressed by my illness, preoccupied by the routines of my treatment, and feeling miserably sorry for myself, I’d all by given up on reading and writing. Then, as autumn began to fade and winter came on, my health began to improve. One morning in November, following my walk, I surprised myself by trying my hand at a poem. Soon I was writing every day.

Several years before, my friend Jim Harrison and I had carried on a correspondence in haiku. As a variation on this, I began pasting my morning poems on postcard and sending them to Jim, whose generosity, patience and good humor are here acknowledged. What follows is a selection of one hundred of those postcards.

november 14
In the low forties and clear.
My wife and I walk to cold road

in silence, asking for thirty more years.

There’s a pink and blue sunrise

with an accent of read:

A hunter’s cap burns like a coal

in the yellow-gray eye of the woods.

november 17

Cloudy to the west, clear in the east.
Older this morning, the moon

Hid most of her face

Behind a round gray mirror.
In a half-hour’s walk, I saw

six shooting stars. Celestial notes,

I thought, struck from the high end

of the keyboard.

november 18
Cloudy, dark and windy.
Walking by flashlight

at six in the morning,

my circle of light on the gravel

swinging side to side,

coyote, raccoon field mouse, sparrow,

each watching from darkness

this man with the moon on a leash.

november 28

Chilly and clear.
There was a time

when my long gray cashmere topcoat

was cigarette smoke,

and my snappy felt homburg

was alcohol,

and the paisley silk scarf at my neck,

with its fringed end

tossed carelessly over my shoulder,

was laughter rich with irony.

Look at me now.

december 1
Sunny and cold.
The long, December shadows

of bare trees

run far away from the woods.
At sunrise, they cross

and, though softened and torn

by stones and weeds,

strike out into the trees

on the opposite side,

leaving dark trails through the frost.

december 3
Clear and cool.
I have been sitting here resting

after my morning stroll, and the sun

in its soft yellow work gloves

has come in through the window

and is feeling around on the opposite wall,

looking for me, having seen me

cheerfully walking along the road

just as it rose, having followed me home

to see what I have to be happy about.

december 13

Clear and at the freezing point.
just as a dancer, turning and turning,

may fill the dusty light with the soft swirl

of her flying skirts, our weeping willow—

now old and broken, creaking in the breeze—

turns slowly, slowly in the winter sun,

sweeping the rusty roof of the barn

with the pale blue lacework of her shadow.

december 26

Clear and cold.
A little snap at one side of the room,

and an answering snap at the other:

Stiff from the cold and idleness, the old house

is cracking its knuckles. Then the great yawn

of the furnace. Even the lampshade is drowsy,

its belly full of a warm yellow light.

Out under the moon, though, there is at least

one wish against this winter sleep: A road

leads into the new year, deliberate as a bride

in her sparkling white dress of new snow.

Good Morning Blues

LEAD BELLY (1888-1949) born Huddie Ledbetter

Good mornin’ blues, blues how do you do?
Good mornin’ blues, blues how do you do?
I'm doin’ all right, good mornin,’ how are you?

I couldn't sleep last night, I was turning from side to side

Oh Lord, I was turning from side to side
I wasn't sad, I was just dissatisfied.

I couldn't sleep last night, you know the blues walking 'round my bed,

Oh Lord, the blues walking 'round my bed
I went to eat my breakfast, the blues was in my bread.

Good mornin’ blues, blues how do you do?

Good mornin’ blues, blues how do you do?
I'm doin’ all right, good mornin,’ how are you?
Broken English


You can watch her reciting this on YouTube. (4 min.)

Today a baffled lady observed the shell where my soul dwells

And announced that I’m “articulate”
Which means that, when it comes to enunciation and diction

I don’t even think of it

Cause I’m “articulate”

So when my professor asks a question

And my answer is tainted with a connotation of urbanized suggestion

There’s no misdirected intention

Pay attention

Cause I’m “articulate”

So when my father asks, “Wha’ kinda ting is dis?”

My “articulate” answer never goes amiss

I say “father, this is the impending problem at hand”

And when I’m on the block I switch it up just because I can

So when my boy says, “What’s good with you son?”

I just say, “I jus’ fall out wit dem people but I done!”
And sometimes in class

I might pause the intellectual sounding flow to ask

Yo! Why dese books neva be about my peoples”

Yes, I have decided to treat all three of my languages as equals

Because I’m “articulate”
But who controls articulation?

Because the English language is a multifaceted oration

Subject to indefinite transformation

Now you may think that it is ignorant to speak broken English

But I’m here to tell you that even “articulate” Americans sound foolish to the British
So when my Professor comes on the block and says, “Hello”

I stop him and say “Noooo…

You’re being inarticulate…the proper way is to say ‘what’s good’”

Now you may think that’s too hood, that’s not cool

But I’m here to tell you that even our language has rules

So when Mommy mocks me and says “ya’ll-be-madd-going-to-the-store”

I say “Mommy, that sentence is not following the law

Never does the ‘madd’ go before a present participle

That’s simply the principle of broken English”

If I had the vocal capacity I would sing this from every mountaintop,

From every suburbia, and every hood

‘Cause the only God of language is the one recorded in the Genesis

Of this world saying “it is good”

So I may not always come before you with excellency of speech

But do not judge me by my language and assume

That I’m too ignorant to teach

‘Cause I speak three tongues

One for each:

Home, school, and friends

I’m a tri-lingual orator

Sometimes I’m consistent with my language now

Then switch it up so I don’t bore later

Sometimes I fight back two tongues

While I use the other one in the classroom

And when I mistakenly mix them up

It feels retarded like…I’m cooking in the bathroom
I know that I had to borrow your language because mine was stolen

But you can’t expect me to speak your history wholly while mines is broken

These words are spoken

By someone who is simply fed up with the Eurocentric ideas of this season

And the reason I speak a composite version of your language

Is because mines was raped away along with my history

I speak broken English so the profusing* gashes can remind us

That our current state is not a mystery

I’m so tired of the negative images that are driving our people mad

So unless you’ve seen it rob a bank stop calling my hair bad

I’m so sick of this nonsensical racial disparity

So don’t call it good unless your hair is known for donating to charity

As much as has been raped away from my people

How can you expect me to treat their imprint on your language

As anything less than equal
Let there be no confusion

Let there be no hesitation

This is not a promotion of ignorance

This is a linguistic celebration

That’s why I put ‘tri-lingual’ on my last job application

I can help to diversify your consumer market is all I wanted them to know

And when they call me for the interview I’ll be more than happy to show that

I can say:

“What’s good”


And of course…“Hello”

Because I’m “articulate”

* Profusing is not a word. The word may have originally been profuse, protruding, or perfusing, but may have been typed incorrectly when this poem was given to me.

Note: Here the poet uses the term “retarded” as slang, but even so, we at THS do not advocate the use of the word in a pejorative sense. We must respect people who have intellectual disabilities.

The Caricaturist
AUSTIN MacRAE (1979— )

I ain’t no Leonardo, but I know

there’s always something darker down below
the surface. Just because I leave it out
don’t mean that I don’t feel it lurking: doubt,
anger, sadness, every shade of loss
that you can dream of takes a seat across
from me and looks me squarely in the face.
The trick is knowing where to leave some space
for light to shine. You got to find a spark
that catches, flickers, gobbles up the dark
around the eyes, the worry lines that run
across the brow—the rest’s old-fashioned fun.

There’s things you can’t leave out that make you slip.

This shy girl had a mole above her lip.
I made her smile, drew her out of her shell,
and then I fell—plumb silly, but I fell
in love with it, and it was like the mole
was her—her spark, my ticket to her soul.
I drew it extra-large and she got red,
so I whipped her up a pretty rose instead.
That night we rocked my van with Sabbath blaring
to the stars, and afterwards, staring
straight into her eyes, I kissed it good.
Maybe she saw herself the way she should,
not so serious. Maybe art can clear
the eyes, or am I whistling Dixie here?

Well, there you are. You like it? Good. It’s free.

A little gift for listening to me.

In every crowd there’s folks whose light has died.

I crack a joke to light a spark inside,
but nothing will ignite. It’s then I know
the session just ain’t working. When I show
them to themselves, they mutter something hot
and leave. It don’t end up like that a lot,
thank god, but even once a month’s a failure.
For years I’ve hung the rejects in my trailer.
You never know when eyes’ll start to burn.
I try to keep the faith that they’ll return,
but some nights all I feel is black around
me, snuffed-out eyes of folks who never found
the light inside. There’s times I turn away
or I’d get snuffed out, too. Some nights I lay
in bed and get all swallowed up by night,
so I get up and try to draw the light
inside my mirror, the flaws I can’t erase,
but for the life of me, I’ve lost my face.

From The Raintown Review, 2011

The White House

CLAUDE McKAY (1889-1948)

Your door is shut against my tightened face,

And I am sharp as steel with discontent;

But I possess the courage and the grace

To bear my anger proudly and unbent.

The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet,

A chafing savage, down the decent street;

And passion rends my vitals as I pass,

Where boldly shines your shuttered door of glass.

Oh, I must search for wisdom every hour,

Deep in my wrathful bosom sore and raw,

And find in it the superhuman power

To hold me to the letter of your law!

Oh, I must keep my heart inviolate

Against the potent poison of your hate.

Fire Safety

JOSHUA MEHIGAN (1969— ) He lives in New York City.

Aluminum tank

indifferent in its place

behind a glass door

in the passageway,

like a tea urn

in a museum case;


that dumbly spend each day

waiting for gas or smoke

or hands or heat,

positioned like beige land mines


sanguine on walls,

or posted on the street

like dwarf grandfather clocks

spray painted red;

little gray hydrant

in its warlike stance;

old fire escape,

all-weather paint job peeling,

a shelf for threadbare rugs

and yellowing plants;

sprinkler heads,

blooming from the public ceiling;

all sitting

supernaturally still,

waiting for us to cry out.

And we will.

From Poetry (November 2010)
Ode to the Sea

PABLO NERUDA (1904-1973) Chilean poet.

 Actor Ralph Fiennes reads this beautifully on YouTube.
Here surrounding the island,
There’s sea.
But what sea?
It’s always overflowing.
Says yes,
Then no,
Then no again,
And no,
Says yes
In blue
In sea spray
Says no
And no again.
It can’t be still.
It stammers
My name is sea.

It slaps the rocks

And when they aren’t convinced,
Strokes them
And soaks them
And smothers them with kisses.

With seven green tongues

Of seven green dogs
Or seven green tigers
Or seven green seas,
Beating its chest,
Stammering its name,

Oh Sea,
This is your name.

Oh comrade ocean,
Don’t waste time
Or water
Getting so upset
Help us instead.
We are meager fishermen,
Men from the shore
Who are hungry and cold
And you’re our foe.
Don’t beat so hard,
Don’t shout so loud,
Open your green coffers,
Place gifts of silver in our hands.
Give us this day our daily fish.


SHARON OLDS (1942- )
When I was a girl, I knew I was a man

because they might send me to Alcatraz

and only men went to Alcatraz.

Every time we drove to the city I'd

see it there, white as a white

shark in the shark-rich Bay, the bars like

milk-white ribs. I knew I had pushed my

parents too far, my inner badness had

spread like ink and taken me over, I could

not control my terrible thoughts,

terrible looks, and they had often said

that they would send me there-maybe the very next

time I spilled my milk, Ala

Cazam, the iron doors would slam, I'd be

there where I belonged, a girl-faced man in the

prison no one had escaped from. I did not

fear the other prisoners,

I knew who they were, men like me who had

spilled their milk one time too many,

not been able to curb their thoughts—

what I feared was the horror of the circles: circle of

sky around the earth, circle of

land around the Bay, circle of

water around the island, circle of

sharks around the shore, circle of

outer walls, inner walls,

iron girders, steel bars,

circle of my cell around me, and there at the

center, the glass of milk and the guard's

eyes upon me as I reached out for it.

from p. 45 of Strike Sparks

I Go Back to May 1937

SHARON OLDS (1942- )

This poem is featured in the opening scenes of the film Into the Wild (2007).
I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don't do it--she's the wrong woman,
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

from The Gold Cell, and also p. 44 of Strike Sparks

Indictment of the Senior Officers

SHARON OLDS (1942- )


In the hallway above the pit of the stairwell

my sister and I would meet at night,
eyes and hair dark, bodies
like twins in the dark. We did not talk of
the two who had brought us there, like generals,
for their own reasons. We sat, buddies
in wartime, her living body the proof of
my living body, our backs to the vast
shell hole of the stairs, down which
we would have to go, knowing nothing
but what we had learned there,

so that now

when I think of my sister, the holes of the needles
in her hips and in the creases of her elbows,
and the marks from the latest husband’s beatings,
and the scars of the operations, I feel the
rage of a soldier standing over the body of
someone sent to the front lines
without training
or a weapon.


from Satan Says, 1980

My Son the Man

SHARON OLDS (1942- )

Suddenly his shoulders get a lot wider,

the way Houdini would expand his body

while people were putting him in chains. It seems

no time since I would help him to put on his sleeper,

guide his calves into the gold interior,

zip him up and toss him up and

catch his weight. I cannot imagine him

no longer a child, and I know I must get ready,

get over my fear of men now my son

is going to be one. This was not

what I had in mind when he pressed up through me like a

sealed trunk through the ice of the Hudson,

snapped the padlock, unsnaked the chains,

and appeared in my arms. Now he looks at me

the way Houdini studied a box

to learn the way out, then smiled and let himself be manacled.

from The Wellspring, 1996

1936, Upstate New York



In rural America, or the country

as we called it, we rented a room

for the summer in the Schmidt's farmhouse

with flowered curtains at the shiny windows

and spotless, tilting wooden floors.

And the smell of cow drifted through

our room like sweet smoke,

and every morning I helped

to gather eggs, pale as seashells

from their nests in the barn.

At night through the walls


the muffled sounds of German

came from a staticky radio,

and each noon the tin mailbox waited

to be filled--a hungry mouth,

its red flag upright in stiff salute.

I drank milk straight from the pail,

my top lip mustached in creamy white,

and when my mother saw the swastika

on an envelope on the kitchen table,

she packed up fast, and we returned

to the steamy city.





I place one word slowly

in front of the other,
like learning to walk again
after an illness.
But the blank page
with its hospital corners
tempts me.
I want to lie down
in its whiteness
and let myself drift
all the way back
to silence.

from pp. 8 and 75 of Carnival Evening




They seemed to all take off

at once: Aunt Grace
whose kidneys closed shop;
Cousin Rose who fed sugar
to diabetes;
my grandmother’s friend
who postponed going so long
we thought she’d stay.

It was like the summer years ago

when they all set out on trains
and ships, wearing hats with veils
and the proper gloves,
because everybody was going
someplace that year,
and they didn’t want
to be left behind.



In the retreating tide

of light,

among bulrushes

and eelgrass

my small son teacher

my stuttering hands

the language of sailor's knots


I tell him how

each Jewish bride

was given a knotted chaos

of yarn

and told to order it

into a perfect sphere,

to prove she'd be a patient wife.


Patient, impatient son

I've unknotted shoestrings,

kitestrings, tangled hair.

But standing at high windows

enclosed in the domestic rustle

of birds and leaves

I've dreamed of knotting

bedsheets together

to flee by.


from p. 185 and p. 74 of Carnival Evening

The Fortune Teller


In Dublin I walked George’s Street Arcade

past sheer blue scarves and bins of glistening olives,

lank feather boas, vinyl records, cheese,

fat wrinkled paperbacks, and piles of boots,

until I found the fortune-teller’s stall.

She coughed and said she’d closed up shop, was done

for good. You wonder about love, I’m sure,

she added, nodding. All you college girls….

Okay, come here. One more. And curtsying,

she shook her blackened, plastic crystal ball

as if it were a jug of orange juice

and gestured to a metal folding chair.

Sit, she purred, her accent cloudy, thick.

Her hot breath smelled of beer and cinnamon,

and when she took my palm in hers and rubbed,

her hands were cool, as gnarled as winter driftwood.

She said that I would love a man from Rome

or Canada or Boston. Maybe France.

She sighed. The deck of Tarot cards was sticky,

darkly stained, and warped. She stared at me,

not shuffling anything, her small mouth loose,

then drew two airy circles near her breastbone,

said, They had to cut off both of them,

but it’s still here—it’s everywhere, the cancer.

And then she swept the cards onto the ground.

She said I might find love, or I might not,

and asked for twenty euro. I have scars,

you don’t believe? I offered her a bill

and turned to leave. But, quick, grabbing my hand,

she pulled it up beneath her flannel shirt.

My fingers swept along her toothpick ribs,

against the puckered fret of each long ridge—

the two closed eyes carved hard upon her chest.

I closed my eyes and saw into the future.

From The Raintown Review, 2011



 You can listen to him read this at PoetryFoundation.org.
If you believe in the magic of language,

then Elvis really Lives

and Princess Diana foretold I end as car spin.
If you believe the letters themselves

contain a power within them,

then you understand

what makes outside tedious,

how desperation becomes a rope ends it.
The circular logic that allows senator to become treason,

and treason to become atoners.

That eleven plus two is twelve plus one,

and an admirer is also married.

That if you could just rearrange things the right way

you’d find your true life,

the right path, the answer to your questions:

you’d understand how the Titanic

turns into that ice tin,

and debit card becomes bad credit.

How listen is the same as silent,

and not one letter separates stained from sainted.

Peter Pereira, "Anagrammer" from What's Written on the Body (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). www.coppercanyonpress.org. Source: Poetry (September 2003).

Samurai Song

ROBERT PINSKY (1940- ) He was born in Long Branch, NJ.
 You can hear him read this on YouTube.
When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined.

When I had no eyes I listened.

When I had no ears I thought.
When I had no thought I waited.

When I had no father I made

Care my father. When I had
No mother I embraced order.

When I had no friend I made

Quiet my friend. When I had no
Enemy I opposed my body.

When I had no temple I made

My voice my temple. I have
No priest, my tongue is my choir.

When I have no means fortune

Is my means. When I have
Nothing, death will be my fortune.

Need is my tactic, detachment

Is my strategy. When I had
No lover I courted my sleep.

From p. 136 in The Best American Poetry (2000)

Lady Lazarus

SYLVIA PLATH (1932-1963 suicide) She was born in Jamaica Plain, MA.

Just FYI: In the Bible (John 11:1-45), Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

I have done it again.

One year in every ten

I manage it—

A sort of walking miracle, my skin

Bright as a Nazi lampshade,

My right foot
A paperweight,

My face featureless, fine

Jew linen.
Peel off the napkin

O my enemy.

Do I terrify?—
The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?

The sour breath

Will vanish in a day.
Soon, soon the flesh

The grave cave ate will be

At home on me
And I a smiling woman.

I am only thirty.

And like the cat I have nine times to die.
This is Number Three.

What a trash

To annihilate each decade.
What a million filaments.

The peanut-crunching crowd

Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand and foot—

The big strip tease.

Gentlemen, ladies
These are my hands

My knees.

I may be skin and bone,
Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.

The first time it happened I was ten.

It was an accident.
The second time I meant

To last it out and not come back at all.

I rocked shut
As a seashell.

They had to call and call

And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Is an art, like everything else.

I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.

I do it so it feels real.

I guess you could say I've a call.
It's easy enough to do it in a cell.

It's easy enough to do it and stay put.

It's the theatrical
Comeback in broad day

To the same place, the same face, the same brute

Amused shout:
'A miracle!'

That knocks me out.

There is a charge
For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge

For the hearing of my heart—

It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge

For a word or a touch

Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.

So, so, Herr Doktor.

So, Herr Enemy.
I am your opus,

I am your valuable,

The pure gold baby
That melts to a shriek.

I turn and burn.

Do not think I underestimate your great concern.
Ash, ash—

You poke and stir.

Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—
A cake of soap,

A wedding ring,

A gold filling.
Herr god, Herr Lucifer


Out of the ash

I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air. 23-29 October 1962. From The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath, Harper & Row.

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