A Poem A Day

Cleaning an Attic

by Brent Pallas

The day had finally come
when everything there

seemed misplaced or out of place
as an ex’s box of things. The unused

beside the irreplaceable, the easy-
to-assemble uncomplicated now

by disuse. Some hand
of randomness leaving behind

its lampshades stained
like ancient maps, its ladders

still climbing upward, and enough
old tools to restart a world.

Every drawer filled
with the other half of things.

Everything care embraced,
and held once as new,

left too ragged for another winter
to wear. Its ring of keys

dangling by a nail
for rooms left long ago. And whatever

I said I’d never forget
found, just as it seemed

completely forgot—all its letters
beginning with Dear….

Welsh Incident

by Robert Graves

'But that was nothing to what things came out
From the sea-caves of Criccieth yonder.’
'What were they? Mermaids? dragons? ghosts?'
'Nothing at all of any things like that.'
'What were they, then?'
                                      ‘All sorts of queer things,
Things never seen or heard or written about,
Very strange, un-Welsh, utterly peculiar
Things. Oh, solid enough they seemed to touch,
Had anyone dared it. Marvellous creation,
All various shapes and sizes, and no sizes,
All new, each perfectly unlike his neighbour,
Though all came moving slowly out together.’
'Describe just one of them.'
                                             ‘I am unable.’
'What were their colours?'
                                           ‘Mostly nameless colours,
Colours you’d like to see; but one was puce
Or perhaps more like crimson, but not purplish.
Some had no colour.’
                                    ‘Tell me, had they legs?’
'Not a leg or foot among them that I saw.'
'But did these things come out in any order?'
What o’clock was it? What was the day of the week?
Who else was present? How was the weather?’
'I was coming to that. It was half-past three
On Easter Tuesday last. The sun was shining.
The Harlech Silver Band played Marchog Jesu
On thrity-seven shimmering instruments
Collecting for Caernarvon’s (Fever) Hospital Fund.
The populations of Pwllheli, Criccieth,
Portmadoc, Borth, Tremadoc, Penrhyndeudraeth,
Were all assembled. Criccieth’s mayor addressed them
First in good Welsh and then in fluent English,
Twisting his fingers in his chain of office,
Welcoming the things. They came out on the sand,
Not keeping time to the band, moving seaward
Silently at a snail’s pace. But at last
The most odd, indescribable thing of all
Which hardly one man there could see for wonder
Did something recognizably a something.’
'Well, what?'
                    ‘It made a noise.’
                                                  ‘A frightening noise?’
'No, no.'
               ‘A musical noise? A noise of scuffling?’
'No, but a very loud, respectable noise—
Like groaning to oneself on Sunday morning
In Chapel, close before the second psalm.’
'What did the mayor do?'
                                           ‘I was coming to that.’

Lake Havasu

by Lisa Wells

Detectives discovered a divot in the sapling
where the killer tested his garrote,
improvised from baling wire.

He’d been casting for necks when I stepped off
the bus this morning, moist towel of Dramamine
girding my brain. I was sitting in the Travel Center

dining room, near the wall of shotguns
and plasticized bass, when a child came to offer me
the leash of her balloon. Lake Havasu Sunrise

Rotary Dance & Derby. My reflection in the Mylar
and that of the girl—were bent.
I remembered you slept at a rest stop

off the 40, in the backseat of your mother’s car,
teeth eroded to nubs by all the scavenged
citrus fruit. I’d like to say

kissing you stalled the wonder if
my mouth could stand its own endurance. I’m sorry
I mistook you for a killer. All my life

I’ve been confused. A man moves his quaking hand
inside my tights and weeps—don’t like the thing he does
but I eat the Poptart after.

Outside this window, boats stock
the reservoir with carp. Heavy rigging drags
the aqueduct for evidence.

(Source: randomhouse.ca)

Written in the Cottage Where Burns Was Born

by John Keats

This mortal body of a thousand days
Now fills, O Burns, a space in thine own room,
Where thou didst dream alone on budded bays,
Happy and thoughtless of thy day of doom!
My pulse is warm with thine old barley-bree,
My head is light with pledging a great soul,
My eyes are wandering, and I cannot see,
Fancy is dead and drunken at its goal;
Yet can I stamp my foot upon thy floor,
Yet can I ope thy window-sash to find
The meadow thou hast tramped o’er and o’er,—
Yet can I think of thee till thought is blind,—
Yet can I gulp a bumper to thy name,—
O smile among the shades, for this is fame!

Persephone the Wanderer

by Louise Glück

In the second version, Persephone
is dead. She dies, her mother grieves –
problems of sexuality need not
trouble us here.

Compulsively, in grief, Demeter
circles the earth. We don’t expect to know
what Persephone is doing.
She is dead, the dead are mysteries.

We have here
a mother and a cipher: this is
accurate to the experience
of the mother as

she looks into the infant’s face. She thinks:
I remember when you didn’t exist. The infant
is puzzled: later, the child’s opinion is
she has always existed, just as

her mother had always existed
in her present form. Her mother
is like a figure at a bus stop,
an audience for the bus’s arrival. Before that,
she was the bus, a temporary
home or convenience. Persephone, protected,
stares out of the window of the chariot.

What does she see? A morning
in early spring, in April. Now

her whole life is beginning – unfortunately,
it’s going to be
a short life. She’s going to know, really,
only two adults: death and her mother.
But two is
twice what her mother has:
her mother has

one child, a daughter.
As a god, she could have had
a thousand children.

We begin to see here
the deep violence of the earth

whose hostility suggests
she has no wish
to continue as a source of life.

And why is this hypothesis
never discussed? Because
it is not in the story; it only
creates the story.

In grief, after the daughter dies,
the mother wanders the earth.
She is preparing her case;
like a politician
she remembers everything and admits
nothing.

For example, her daughter’s
birth was unbearable, her beauty
was unbearable: she remembers this.
She remembers Persephone’s
innocence, her tenderness –

What is she planning, seeking her daughter?
She is issuing
a warning whose implicit message is:
what are you doing outside my body?

You ask yourself:
why is the mother’s body safe?

The answer is
this is the wrong question, since

the daughter’s body
doesn’t exist, except
as a branch of the the mother’s body
that needs to be
reattached any any cost.

When a god grieves it meas
destroying others (as in war)
while at the same time petitioning
to reverse agreements (as in war also):

if Zeus will get her back,
winter will end.

Winter will end, spring will return.
The small pestering breezes
that I so loved, the idiot yellow flowers –

Spring will return, a dream
based on a falsehood:
that the dead return.

Persephone
was used to death. Now over and over
her mother hauls her out again –

You must ask yourself:
are the flowers real? If

Persephone “returns” there will be
one of two reasons:

either she was not dead or
she is being used
to support a fiction –

I think I can remember
being dead. Many times, in winter,
I approached Zeus. Tell me, I would ask him,
how can I endure the earth?

And he would say,
in a short time you will be here again.
And in the time between

you will forget everything:
those fields of ice will be
the meadows of Elysium.

Persephone the Wanderer

by Louise Glück

In the first version, Persephone
is taken from her mother
and the goddess of the earth
punishes the earth—this is
consistent with what we know of human behavior,

that human beings take profound satisfaction
in doing harm, particularly
unconscious harm:

we may call this
negative creation.

Persephone’s initial
sojourn in hell continues to be
pawed over by scholars who dispute
the sensations of the virgin:

did she cooperate in her rape,
or was she drugged, violated against her will,
as happens so often now to modern girls.

As is well known, the return of the beloved
does not correct
the loss of the beloved: Persephone

returns home
stained with red juice like
a character in Hawthorne—

I am not certain I will
keep this word: is earth
“home” to Persephone? Is she at home, conceivably,
in the bed of the god? Is she
at home nowhere? Is she
a born wanderer, in other words
an existential
replica of her own mother, less
hamstrung by ideas of causality?

You are allowed to like
no one, you know. The characters
are not people.
They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict.

Three parts: just as the soul is divided,
ego, superego, id. Likewise

the three levels of the known world,
a kind of diagram that separates
heaven from earth from hell.

You must ask yourself:
where is it snowing?

White of forgetfulness,
of desecration—

It is snowing on earth; the cold wind says

Persephone is having sex in hell.
Unlike the rest of us, she doesn’t know
what winter is, only that
she is what causes it.

She is lying in the bed of Hades.
What is in her mind?
Is she afraid? Has something
blotted out the idea
of mind?

She does know the earth
is run by mothers, this much
is certain. She also knows
she is not what is called
a girl any longer. Regarding
incarceration, she believes

she has been a prisoner since she has been a daughter.

The terrible reunions in store for her
will take up the rest of her life.
When the passion for expiation
is chronic, fierce, you do not choose
the way you live. You do not live;
you are not allowed to die.

You drift between earth and death
which seem, finally,
strangely alike. Scholars tell us

that there is no point in knowing what you want
when the forces contending over you
could kill you.

White of forgetfulness,
white of safety—

They say
there is a rift in the human soul
which was not constructed to belong
entirely to life. Earth

asks us to deny this rift, a threat
disguised as suggestion—
as we have seen
in the tale of Persephone
which should be read

as an argument between the mother and the lover—
the daughter is just meat.

When death confronts her, she has never seen
the meadow without the daisies.
Suddenly she is no longer
singing her maidenly songs
about her mother’s
beauty and fecundity. Where
the rift is, the break is.

Song of the earth,
song of the mythic vision of eternal life—

My soul
shattered with the strain
of trying to belong to earth—

What will you do,
when it is your turn in the field with the god?

Celibacy at Twenty

by Sharon Olds

After I broke up with someone,
or someone with me, days would go by,
nights, weeks, soon it would be months since I had
touched anyone. i would move as little
as possible, the air seemed to press on my skin, my
breasts like something broken open, un-
capped and not covered, the buds floated in the
center at the front, if I turned a corner too
fast I would almost come. Swollen,
walking like someone carrying something
filled to the brim, the lip of the liquid
rocking, taut, at the edge, at the top—
and at times, in the shower, no matter how quickly
I washed I’d be over the top in seconds,
and then the loneliness, which had felt enormous,
would be begin to grow, easily, rapidly,
triple, sextuple, dodecatuple,
the palm fronds and camellia buds bent
double under a campus sky of iron.
Later, when the next first kiss would come,
it would shock me, the size and power of happiness,
and yet it was familiar—lips aching and
pulling, hands and feet going numb, I’d be
trying not to moan, streaming slowly
across the arc of the sky— it was always
a return, the face in the dashlight closer
and closer, like the approaching earth,
until it is all you can see. Each time,
I wanted to be coming home
to stay. But every time I went
from months of hunger to those first kisses,
soon there were the last kisses, and I
felt I stood outside of life, held
back— but no one was holding me, I was
waiting, very near the human,
my violence uncommitted, I was
saving it. Once I stripped and
entered the pit I did not want ever to come up out of it.

O, Gather Me the Rose

by William Ernest Henley

O, gather me the rose, the rose,
   While yet in flower we find it,
For summer smiles, but summer goes,
   And winter waits behind it!

For with the dream foregone, foregone,
   The deed forborne for ever,
The worm, regret, will canker on,
   And time will turn him never.

So well it were to love, my love,
   And cheat of any laughter
The death beneath us and above,
    The dark before and after.

The myrtle and the rose, the rose,
   The sunshine and the swallow,
The dream that comes, the wish that goes,
    The memories that follow!

Advice to a Girl

by Sara Teasdale

No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed;
Lay that on your heart,
My young angry dear;
This truth, this hard and precious stone,
Lay it on your hot cheek,
Let it hide your tear.
Hold it like a crystal
When you are alone
And gaze in the depths of the icy stone.
Long, look long and you will be blessed:
No one worth possessing
Can be quite possessed.

In Memory of W.B. Yeats

by W.H. Auden

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
The snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

II

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

III

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice.

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress.

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.