I am the sluice of dead scrolls and songs,
I am the tongue of what exists,
Whose secrets are whispered and not heard.
Listen to me, listen to what’s the nothing I have to say.
—Charles Wright, from “23” in Littlefoot: A Poem (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007)
Each time I’m asked to tell about myself, I find myself starting the same way: “My name is Kelsey and I’m nineteen..”
but what I’d really like to say is:
“My name means island of the ships but once
I found a translation that said I’m a burning shipwreck-
not a burning ship but a ship that has caught fire
after the wreckage and well, I’d say that’s more fitting.”
I’ve learned that people don’t have time for about me’s.
They need two things: a name and an indication you’re someone special.
The doctors, they want facts not details.
“I broke my leg when I was three, it’s a funny story actually-“
The right or the left?
The teachers, they want interests, hobbies.
You’re sad, yes, but what do you like to do?
The adults are a spew of questions.
What school do you go to? What classes are you taking?
What do you plan on becoming? Got a boyfriend?
People my own age are the worst.
“I’m planning on an English degree with a concentration in creative writing.”
Yeah, aren’t we all. So how many times have you, you know,
I’m pulled apart, my interests travelling highway 2
my goals at a stop light at traffic hour,
my medical history on a billboard for the world to see.
But what about me?
Where’s the chance to say,
“I hang on to fistfuls of poetry like loose change in my pockets,
and I keep waiting for the day that the world turns upside down
so I can swim with the stars.
I’m not afraid of darkness, it’s a loneliness I can empathize with it.
It’s the blackholes like cigarette burns inside of me that get troublesome.
I walk through graveyards and read the dashes between years,
each a story I’ll never know but sometimes
I create my own.”
No wonder none of us know who we are anymore.
I built a timely room beside the river,
The slope beneath descending to the water.
Some mornings it is vibrant with the glance
Of sunlight brightened on the little waves
The wind drives shoreward, stirring leaves and branches
Over the roof also. It is a room
Of pictures and of memories of some
Who are no more in time, and of the absent
And of the present the unresting thoughts.
It is a room as timely as the body,
As frail, to shelter love’s eternal work,
Always unfinished, here at water’s edge,
The work of beauty, faith, and gratitude
Eternally alive in time. Around
The walls the trees like waves, like men,
Come up, come up, expend themselves, and die.
The water shines back the unending sky.
—Wendell Berry, from section V of “Sabbaths 2004” in Given: Poems (CounterPoint, 2006)
There are those fortunate hours when the world consents to be made into a poem.”
In the daylight we know
what’s gone is gone,
but at night it’s different.
Nothing gets finished,
not dying, not mourning;
the dead repeat themselves, like clumsy drunks
lurching sideways through the doors
we open them in sleep;
these slurred guests, never entirely welcome,
even those we have loved the most,
especially those we have loved the most,
returning from where we shoved them
away too quickly:
from the ground, from the water,
they clutch at us, they clutch at us,
we won’t let go.
from “Two Dreams, 2” in Eating Fire: Selected Poetry, 1965-1995
(Virago, 1998) (via apoetreflects
I take the word and move
through it, as if it were
only a human form,
its lines delight me and I sail
in each resonance of language:
I utter and I am
and across the boundary of words,
without speaking, I approach silence.
—Pablo Neruda, from “The Word,” in Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon: Selected Poems, translated from the Spanish by Stephen Mitchell (HarperFlamingo, 1998)
… The world
Is the language we cannot utter.
Is it a language we can even hear?
Years pass, and at night you may dream-wake
To that old altitude, breath thinning again to glory,
While the heart, like a trout,
Long ago, did the world try to say?
—Robert Penn Warren, from “Language Barrier” in Being Here: Poetry 1977-1980 (Random House, 1980)
The memories leap out of the eyes
like colors out of the cage of a light
that now admits only white.
They go to peck the cheeks
of certain things that wander lost through the world
and they return through the eyes again
to the forest of softness and other sides.
But there is one of them, a memory or tattoo,
that refuses to go back in through the eyes
and keeps circling like a mute exodus,
an eye itself, drifting toward nowhere,
a memory that has wiped out the past.
Won’t the night, or maybe something deeper,
come and make another body for it, another secret forest
of miniature signals,
where without time the mirage of its loss
may be a still place between loving hands?
—Roberto Juarroz, “Poem 9” from Second Vertical Poetry (1963) in Vertical Poetry, translated from the Spanish by W. S. Merwin (North Point Press, 1988)
In the long winter nights, a farmer’s dreams are narrow.
Over and over, he enters the furrow.
Robert Hass, “Iowa, January” from Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005 (Ecco, 2007)
(via A Poet Reflects)
All night you waited for morning, all morning
for afternoon, all afternoon for night;
and still the longing sings.
Oh, paper bird with folded wings.
—Ruth Stone, closing lines to “At Eighty-three She Lives Alone” from In the Next Galaxy (Copper Canyon Press, 2002)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.