Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category


Saturday, July 11th, 2009

On Monday, T and I drove back from Rhode Island to Virginia.  Rather than spending the whole day in the car, we took a small detour and stopped for a few hours at Storm King Art Center.  It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed walking around the site looking at the sculptures.  (We had the place almost to ourselves, with most guests staying on the trams that will take you around.) 

The featured installation this year is Maya Lin's Wavefield, where she has shaped the earth to make waves of grass.  Because of the heavy rains of the past month, we weren't allowed to walk over and through them, but only observe them from the outside.  I have to admit that I was underwhelmed by the effect, surrounded as we were by the swooping curve of the mountains around us.  It did make me think about the degree to which the other shapes of the park are man-made, which was interesting.

As it happens, the Corcoran's Maya Lin exhibit is closing this week, so I went after work on Thursday.  This also features her visions of landcape, with three large pieces that each mimic topographical lines in different ways.  My favorite of them was the 2×4 landscape, a gigantic hill made up of 2×4 boards cut to different heights.  It creates a pixellated effect that is odd to see in real life.  Before they disassemble it, they're letting small groups walk on it — I wish I had known about it in time to register.

Write to Marry

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

This post is part of the Write to Marry blog carnival, organized by Dana at Mombian and Mike at PageOneQ.

I’ve been listening to the podcast of the Writer’s Almanac on my way to and from work and today I heard that last Thursday was the 7th anniversary of the iPod.  It made me gape, because they’ve become such a ubiquitous part of our lives that it seems unimaginable that they didn’t exist that recently.

Five years ago, the idea that same-sex marriages would be be legally recognized in the United States would have seemed unimaginable to me, such a far off possibility that it didn’t seem like a fight that was worth taking on.  And then Massachusetts opened the doors, and San Francisco followed and I couldn’t stop looking at the pictures of all the happy couples.  And the world shifted.

There’s been some bumps in the road since then.  Four years ago, I was worrying about the referenda against same sex marriage and their impacts on the presidential election, and trying to remember that February warmth.  Two years ago, I was knocking on doors trying (unsuccessfully) to stop a hateful amendment to Virginia’s constitution.  This blog carnival is focused on stopping California’s Proposition 8 which would take away same-sex couples right to marry.

But I truly think the world has changed.  People have seen the couples lining up to marry in California and Massachusetts.  And they’ve seen that the sky hasn’t fallen down.

I’ve posted this poem before, but it seems appropriate again:

Why marry at all?

By Marge Piercy, from My Mother’s Body

Why mar what has grown up between the cracks
and flourished like a weed
that discovers itself to bear rugged
spikes of magneta blossoms in August,
ironweed sturdy and bold,
a perennial that endures winters to persist?

Why register with the state?
Why enlist in the legions of the respectable?
Why risk the whole apparatus of roles
and rules, of laws and liabilities?
Why license our bed at the foot
like our Datsun truck: will the mileage improve?

Why encumber our love with patriarchal
word stones, with the old armor
of husband and the corset stays
and the chains of wife? Marriage
meant buying a breeding womb
and sole claim to enforced sexual service.

Marriage has built boxes in which women
have burst their hearts sooner
than those walls; boxes of private
slow murder and the fading of the bloom
in the blood; boxes in which secret
bruises appear like toadstools in the morning.

But we cannot invent a language
of new grunts. We start where we find
ourselves, at this time and place.

Which is always the crossing of roads
that began beyond the earth’s curve
but whose destination we can now alter.

This is a public saying to all our friends
that we want to stay together. We want
to share our lives. We mean to pledge
ourselves through times of broken stone
and seasons of rose and ripe plum;
we have found out, we know, we want to continue.

That’s America to me

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Because I felt needed to wash my ears out (and maybe my brain) after listening to Michelle Bachmanns ranting about "anti-Americans" in Congress, let me offer another vision of America, Paul Robeson singing "The House I Live In."

(Also available at Remix America, which has some other interesting stuff.)

Here’s a link to donate to El Tinklenberg, who is running against Bachmann.

And I join with Cecily in saying: "Do you hear me? I am a pro-choice East Coast liberal elitist and I am PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN. Stop saying I’m not.

update:  My mother asked me whether my readers know who Paul Robeson was.  I said I’d ask.  Do you?

A poem for tonight

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

Summons by Robert Francis

Keep me from going to sleep too soon
Or if I go to sleep too soon
Come wake me up. Come any hour
Of night. Come whistling up the road.
Stomp on the porch. Bang on the door.
Make me get out of bed and come
And let you in and light a light.
Tell me the northern lights are on
And make me look. Or tell me clouds
Are doing something to the moon
They never did before, and show me.
See that I see. Talk to me till
I'm half as wide awake as you
And start to dress wondering why
I ever went to bed at all.
Tell me the walking is superb.
Not only tell me but persuade me.
You know I'm not too hard persuaded.

So here I am banging on your door to tell you to go outside right now and check out the eclipse tonight.

Spending more time with the family

Friday, February 15th, 2008

"I wanted to spend more time with my family" is the standard cliche of the day for explaining why you quit a high powered job when the real reason is that you were going to be fired if you didn’t get your behind in gear.  Occasionally, it’s actually true.

Matthew Yglesias doesn’t believe that Patti Solis Doyle really quit because of family obligations.  I agree that it would be incredibly unprofessional for her to quit at this stage of the race, and the idea that she’d do it because her six year old said he wanted Daddy is pretty ludicrous.  (Just in case it is true, here’s some unsolicited parenting advice: get over it.  Kids are good at yanking chains, and it doesn’t mean a thing.  T’s been the at-home parent since D was 4 months old, and there are times when the boys demand him and there are times when he might as well be chopped liver.)

The comment thread over there raises some interesting questions.  Is it anti-feminist for her to use this excuse?  Does it make it harder for other woman professionals with small children to be hired into positions of responsibility?  Is it an attempt to play for sympathy with working mothers?  Why go into this level of detail when no one is going to believe you anyway?


Today’s poem on The Writer’s Almanac is "Sestina for the Working Mother" by Deborah Garrison.

Sestina for the Working Mother

No time for a sestina for the working mother.
Who has so much to do, from first thing in the morning
When she has to get herself dressed and the children
Too, when they tumble in the pillow pile rather than listening
To her exhortations about brushing teeth, making ready for the day;
They clamor with "up" hugs when she struggles out the door.

Every time, as if shot from a cannon when she shuts the door.
She stomps down the street in her city boots, slipping from mother
Mode into commuter trance, trees swaying at the corner of a new day
Nearly turned, her familiar bus stop cool and welcoming in the morning.
She hears her own heart here, though no one else is listening,
And if the bus is late she hears down the block the voices of her children

Bobbing under their oversized backpacks to greet other children
At their own bus stop. They too have come flying from the door,
Brave for the journey, and everyone is talking and no one is listening
As they head off to school. The noisy children of the working mother,
Waiting with their sitter for the bus, are healthy and happy this morning.
And that’s the best way, the mother knows, for a day

To begin. The apprehension of what kind of day
It will be in the world of work, blissful without children,
Trembles in the anxious and pleasurable pulse of the morning;
It has tamped her down tight and lit her out the door
And away from what she might have been as a mother
At home, perhaps drinking coffee and listening

To NPR, what rapt and intelligent listening
She’d do at home. And volunteering, she thinks, for part of the day
At their school-she’d be a playground monitor, a PTA mother!
She’d see them straggle into the sunshine, her children
Bright in the slipstream, and she a gracious shadow at the school door;
She would not be separated from them for long by the morning.

But she has chosen her flight from them, on this and every morning.
She’s now so far away she trusts someone else is listening
To their raised voices, applying a Band-Aid, opening the door
For them when the sunshine calls them out into the day.
At certain moments, head bent at her desk, she can see her children,
And feels a quick stab. She hasn’t forgotten that she is their mother.

Every weekday morning, every working day,
She listens to her heart and the voices of her children.
Goodbye! they shout, and the door closes behind the working mother.

Thanksgiving poems

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

I’ve discovered that if you google "thanksgiving poems" you get a bunch of truly awful poetry. So here’s my attempt to rectify the matter.

May you have a Thanksgiving day full of warm thoughts and good smells.


Friday, September 14th, 2007

Tashlich is a ceremony where you symbolically cast your sins (in the form of bread crumbs) into the water so that they can be washed away. 

In looking for something to read at our informal tashlich this evening (the fish thought our sins were very tasty), I found this poem:

Tashlich, poem by Rafael Jesús González


These are the days of awe —

time of inventory

         and a new beginning

when harvest of what we sowed

         comes in.

(What have we sown

         of discord &

Two years later

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Two years ago today, like pretty much everyone else with access to a computer, I was blogging about Katrina.

Two years ago tomorrow, I was "sad and angry" about the f*cked up state of health care coverage in this country.  And the uninsurance figures have only gotten worse.  And, as I noted two years ago, having health insurance doesn’t mean that you’re not screwed anyway.  I got this video from the Edwards campaign in my inbox today — if you listen carefully, you’ll note that the woman asking the question says that she has health insurance, but still has had to borrow $50,000 to pay for her treatment.

Two years ago yesterday, I was blogging about the man who invented the word "genocide" and remembering the anniversary of the Beslan massacre.  At that time, I wrote "I suppose there’s not a date on the calendar where there hasn’t been pain and bloodshed, somewhere, somewhen."

This morning I was listening to NPR on the radio, and Cokie Roberts was talking about New Orleans.  She said that the areas that haven’t been rebuilt are strangely beautiful, because the ground there is so fertile that marsh grasses have sprung up already where there used to be buildings.  It made me think of the Carl Sandburg poem, Grass.



Pile the
bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work–
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work


Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

by Allen Ginsberg

America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.

America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.

I can’t stand my own mind.

America when will we end the human war?

Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb

I don’t feel good don’t bother me.

I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.

America when will you be angelic?

When will you take off your clothes?

When will you look at yourself through the grave?

When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?

America why are your libraries full of tears?

America when will you send your eggs to India?

I’m sick of your insane demands.

When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?

America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.

Your machinery is too much for me.

You made me want to be a saint.

There must be some other way to settle this argument.

Burroughs is in Tangiers I don’t think he’ll come back it’s sinister.

Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?

I’m trying to come to the point.

I refuse to give up my obsession.

America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.

America the plum blossoms are falling.

I haven’t read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for


America I feel sentimental about the

America I used to be a communist when I was a kid and I’m not sorry.

I smoke marijuana every chance I get.

I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.

When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.

My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble.

You should have seen me reading Marx.

My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.

I won’t say the Lord’s Prayer.

I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.

America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over

   from Russia.

I’m addressing you.

Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?

I’m obsessed by Time Magazine.

I read it every week.

Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.

I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.

It’s always telling me about responsibility.  Businessmen are serious.  Movie

   producers are serious.  Everybody’s serious but me.

It occurs to me that I am America.

I am talking to myself again.

Asia is rising against me.

I haven’t got a chinaman’s chance.

I’d better consider my national resources.

My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals

   an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles and hour and

   twentyfivethousand mental institutions.

I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underpriviliged who live in

   my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.

I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.

My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I’m a Catholic.

America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?

I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his

   automobiles more so they’re all different sexes

America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe

America free Tom Mooney

America save the Spanish Loyalists

America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die

America I am the Scottsboro boys.

America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they

   sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the

   speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the

   workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party

   was in 1935 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother

   Bloor made me cry I once saw Israel Amter plain.  Everybody must have

   been a spy.

America you don’t really want to go to war.

America it’s them bad Russians.

Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen.  And them Russians.

The Russia wants to eat us alive.  The Russia’s power mad.  She wants to take

   our cars from out our garages.

Her wants to grab Chicago.  Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest.  her wants our

   auto plants in Siberia.  Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.

That no good.  Ugh.  Him makes Indians learn read.  Him need big black niggers.

   Hah.  Her make us all work sixteen hours a day.  Help.

America this is quite serious.

America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.

America is this correct?

I’d better get right down to the job.

It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts

   factories, I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.

America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.

This seems like an appropriate poem for the Fourth of July in the mood I’m in right now.

You can also listen to a recording of Ginsberg reading an early version of this poem.  (Check out the rest of the site as well — it’s got both modern and historical readings, including some for children.)

When I was in high school, I had a chance to hear Ginsberg reading his poetry.  He read this one very differently than he does on this recording — softly, and as if he thought the whole thing was a bit of a joke.  And of course, we were sitting there listening very seriously.  Here he reads it with lots of energy, and the crowd cracks up with almost every line.


Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

At the library tonight, I noticed on the new book shelf a new translation of C. P. Cavafy’s poetry (by Aliki Barnstone).  The only Cavafy poem I’ve read is Ithaka, so I brought the volume home.

I read Ithaka when I was 15 or 16.  The trip leader for my summer program gave it to me at the end of the trip, and I was incredibly flattered.  (I don’t remember her name.  The only person whose name I can remember from the trip is the really annoying girl who always wanted to be my buddy, probably because I was one of the only people in the group who wasn’t overtly mean to her.)  So the poem is inextricably linked for me to that summer.


As you set out on the journey to Ithaka,
wish that the way be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge.
Don’t be afraid of Laistrygonians, the Cyclops.
angry Poseidon, you’ll never find them on your way
if your thought stays exalted, if a rare
emotion touches your spirit and body.
You won’t meet the Laistrygonians
and the Cyclops and wild Poseidon
if you don’t bear them along in your soul,
if your soul doesn’t raise them before you.

Wish that the way be long.
May there be many summer mornings
when with such pleasure, such joy
you enter ports seen for the first time;
may you stop in Phoenician emporia
to buy fine merchandise,
mother-of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and every kind of sensual perfume,
buy abundand sensual perfumes, as many as you can.
Travel to many Egyptian cities
to learn and learn from their scholars.

Always keep Ithaka in your mind.
Arriving there is your destination.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts many years,
andy you moor on the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained along the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the beautiful journey.
Without her you would not have set out on your way.
She has no more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka did not betray you.
With all your wisdom, all your experience,
you understand by now what Ithakas mean.

–C.P. Cavafy, translated by Aliki Barnstone

(No book review this week — I’m in the middle of several different things.)