by Nizar Qabbani
Yesterday I thought of my love for you
I remembered suddenly
drops of honey on your lips
I licked the sugar off the walls of my memory
by Nizar Qabbani
Yesterday I thought of my love for you
I remembered suddenly
drops of honey on your lips
I licked the sugar off the walls of my memory
by Kenneth Koch
One day the Nouns were clustered in the street.
An Adjective walked by, with her dark beauty.
The Nouns were struck, moved, changed.
The next day a Verb drove up, and created the Sentence.
Each Sentence says one thing—for example, “Although it was a dark rainy day when
the Adjective walked by, I shall remember the pure and sweet expression on her face
until the day I perish from the green, effective earth.”
Or, “Will you please close the window, Andrew?”
Or, for example, “Thank you, the pink pot of flowers on the window sill has changed color
recently to a light yellow, due to the heat from the boiler factory which exists nearby.”
In the springtime the Sentences and the Nouns lay silently on the grass.
A lonely Conjunction here and there would call, “And! But!”
But the Adjective did not emerge.
As the Adjective is lost in the sentence,
So I am lost in your eyes, ears, nose, and throat—
You have enchanted me with a single kiss
Which can never be undone
Until the destruction of language.
by W.H. Auden
Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.
Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit’s carnal ecstasy.
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.
Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.
by Marge Piercy
The moon is always female and so
am I although often in this vale
of razorblades I have wished I could
put on and take off my sex like a dress
and why not? Do men always wear their sex
always? The priest, the doctor, the teacher
all tell us they come to their professions
neuter as clams and the truth is
when I work I am pure as an angel
tiger and clear is my eye and hot
my brain and silent all the whining
grunting piglets of the appetites.
For we were priests to the goddesses
to whom were fashioned the first altars
of clumsy stone on stone and leaping animal
in the wombdark caves, long before men
put on skirts and masks to scare babies.
For we were healers with herbs and poultices
with our milk and careful fingers
long before they began learning to cut up
the living by making jokes at corpses.
For we were making sounds from our throats
and lips to warn and encourage the helpless
young long before schools were built
to teach boys to obey and be bored and kill.
I wake in a strange slack empty bed
of a motel, shaking like dry leaves
the wind rips loose, and in my head
is bound a girl of twelve whose female
organs all but the numb womb are being
cut from her with a knife. Clitoridectomy,
whatever Latin name you call it, in a quarter
of the world girl children are so maimed
and I think of her and I cannot stop.
And I think of her and I cannot stop.
If you are a woman you feel the knife in the words.
If you are a man, then at age four or else
at twelve you are seized and held down
and your penis is cut off. You are left
your testicles but they are sewed to your
crotch. When your spouse buys you, you
are torn or cut open so that your precious
semen can be siphoned out, but of course
you feel nothing. But pain. But pain.
For the uses of men we have been butchered
and crippled and shut up and carved open
under the moon that swells and shines
and shrinks again into nothingness, pregnant
and then waning toward its little monthly
death. The moon is always female but the sun
is female only in lands where females
are let into the sun to run and climb.
A woman is screaming and I hear her.
A woman is bleeding and I see her
bleeding from the mouth, the womb, the breasts
in a fountain of dark blood of dismal
daily tedious sorrow quite palatable
to the taste of the mighty and taken for granted
that the bread of domesticity be baked
of our flesh, that the hearth be built
of our bones of animals kept for meat and milk,
that we open and lie under and weep.
I want to say over the names of my mothers
like the stones of a path I am climbing
rock by slippery rock into the mists.
Never even at knife point have I wanted
or been willing to be or become a man.
I want only to be myself and free.
I am waiting for the moon to rise. Here
I squat, the whole country with its steel
mills and its coal mines and its prisons
at my back and the continent tilting
up into mountains and torn by shining lakes
all behind me on this scythe of straw,
a sand bar cast on the ocean waves, and I
wait for the moon to rise red and heavy
in my eyes. Chilled, cranky, fearful
in the dark I wait and I am all the time
climbing slippery rocks in a mist while
far below the waves crash in the sea caves;
I am descending a stairway under the groaning
sea while the black waters buffet me
like rockweed to and fro.
I have swum the upper waters leaping
in dolphin’s skin for joy equally into the nec-
cessary air and the tumult of the powerful wave.
I am entering the chambers I have visited.
I have floated through them sleeping and sleep-
walking and waking, drowning in passion
festooned with green bladderwrack of misery.
I have wandered these chambers in the rock
where the moon freezes the air and all hair
is black or silver. Now I will tell you
what I have learned lying under the moon
naked as women do: now I will tell you
the changes of the high and lower moon.
Out of necessity’s hard stones we suck
what water we can and so we have survived,
women born of women. There is knowing
with the teeth as well as knowing with
the tongue and knowing with the fingertips
as well as knowing with words and with all
the fine flickering hungers of the brain.
by John Donne
Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil’s foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy’s stinging,
Serves to advance an honest mind.
If thou be’st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return’st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
Lives a woman true and fair.
If thou find’st one, let me know,
Such a pilgrimage were sweet;
Yet do not, I would not go,
Though at next door we might meet,
Though she were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
False, ere I come, to two, or three.
by Stephen Dunn
”[…] How I wished I had a deadline
to leave the empty room,
or that the corridor outside
would show itself
to be a secret tunnel, perhaps
a winding path. Maybe I needed
a certain romance of departure
to kick in, as if I were waiting
for magic instead of courage,
or something else
I didn’t have. No doubt
you’re wondering if other people
inhabited the empty room.
Of course. What’s true emptiness
without other people? […]”
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.
I sift the snow on the mountains below,
And their great pines groan aghast;
And all the night ‘tis my pillow white,
While I sleep in the arms of the blast.
Sublime on the towers of my skiey bowers,
Lightning my pilot sits;
In a cavern under is fettered the thunder,
It struggles and howls at fits;
Over earth and ocean, with gentle motion,
This pilot is guiding me,
Lured by the love of the genii that move
In the depths of the purple sea;
Over the rills, and the crags, and the hills,
Over the lakes and the plains,
Wherever he dream, under mountain or stream,
The Spirit he loves remains;
And I all the while bask in Heaven’s blue smile,
Whilst he is dissolving in rains.
The sanguine Sunrise, with his meteor eyes,
And his burning plumes outspread,
Leaps on the back of my sailing rack,
When the morning star shines dead;
As on the jag of a mountain crag,
Which an earthquake rocks and swings,
An eagle alit one moment may sit
In the light of its golden wings.
And when Sunset may breathe, from the lit sea beneath,
Its ardours of rest and of love,
And the crimson pall of eve may fall
From the depth of Heaven above,
With wings folded I rest, on mine aëry nest,
As still as a brooding dove.
That orbèd maiden with white fire laden,
Whom mortals call the Moon,
Glides glimmering o’er my fleece-like floor,
By the midnight breezes strewn;
And wherever the beat of her unseen feet,
Which only the angels hear,
May have broken the woof of my tent’s thin roof,
The stars peep behind her and peer;
And I laugh to see them whirl and flee,
Like a swarm of golden bees,
When I widen the rent in my wind-built tent,
Till calm the rivers, lakes, and seas,
Like strips of the sky fallen through me on high,
Are each paved with the moon and these.
I bind the Sun’s throne with a burning zone,
And the Moon’s with a girdle of pearl;
The volcanoes are dim, and the stars reel and swim,
When the whirlwinds my banner unfurl.
From cape to cape, with a bridge-like shape,
Over a torrent sea,
Sunbeam-proof, I hang like a roof,
The mountains its columns be.
The triumphal arch through which I march
With hurricane, fire, and snow,
When the Powers of the air are chained to my chair,
Is the million-coloured bow;
The sphere-fire above its soft colours wove,
While the moist Earth was laughing below.
I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.
by Anna Akhmatova
But listen, I am warning you
I’m living for the very last time.
Not as a swallow, nor a maple,
Not as a reed, nor as a star,
Not as spring water,
Nor as the toll of bells…
Will I return to trouble men
Nor will I vex their dreams again
With my insatiable moans.
by Walt Whitman
When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
by Raymond Carver
So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
Ther are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.
by Carol Diehl
all women were bigger and stronger than you
And thought they were smarter
women were the ones who started wars
too many of your friends had been raped by women wielding giant dildos
and no K-Y Jelly
the state trooper
who pulled you over on the New Jersey Turnpike
was a woman
and carried a gun
the ability to menstruate
was the prerequisite for most high-paying jobs
your attractiveness to women depended
on the size of your penis
every time women saw you
they’d hoot and make jerking motions with their hands
women were always making jokes
about how ugly penises are
and how bad sperm tastes
you had to explain what’s wrong with your car
to big sweaty women with greasy hands
who stared at your crotch
In a garage where you are surrounded
by posters of naked men with hard-ons
men’s magazines featured cover photos
of 14-year-old boys
tucked into the front of their jeans
and articles like:
“How to tell if your wife is unfaithful”
“What your doctor won’t tell you about your prostate”
“The truth about impotence”
the doctor who examined your prostate
was a woman
and called you “Honey”
You had to inhale your boss’s stale cigar breath
as she insisted that sleeping with her
was part of the job
You couldn’t get away because
the company dress code required
you wear shoes
designed to keep you from running
And what if
after all that
women still wanted you
to love them.
by Edgar Allen Poe
Thou wert my dream
All a long summer night—
Be now my theme!
By this clear stream,
Of thee will I write;
Meantime from afar
Bathe me in light!
Thy world has not the dross of ours,
Yet all the beauty—all the flowers
That list our love, or deck our bowers
In dreamy gardens, where do lie
Dreamy maidens all the day,
While the silver winds of Circassy
On violet couches fade away.
Little—oh! little dwells in thee
Like unto what on earth we see:
Beauty’s eye is here the bluest
In the falsest and untruest—
On the sweetest air dost float
The most sad and solemn note—
If with thee be broken hearts,
Joy so peacefully departs,
That its echo still doth dwell,
Like the murmur in the shell.
Thou! thy truest type of grief
Is the gently falling leaf—
Thou! thy framing is so holy
Sorrow is not melancholy
by Ron Slate
I predict, like the one who was sucked to sea
and returned in an Arabian container ship,
all small worlds will be dashed and drowned.
I witnessed this deliverance on a silent television,
my fingers disquieted a bowl of almonds,
a librarian called to say Constantinople is on hold.
The entire surface trembled, an oscillation
like a bell. When the seismologist said the Eurasian plate
“delivered a blow to our planet,” his words
were almost enough to renew our belief
in the earth’s roundness, the tidal sugars and salts
of our bodies, the atonement of death-camp clerks.
When I was a child, I discovered my depravity
among the other boys—but we were sanguine all the same,
with the fortitude to face what we’d found.
So now, led to abandon the world
for word of the world’s moments,
one must be cautious and deliberate.
I had a dream—high-water marks on the side
of my house, the aftermath of a deluge
rising from a spring in the cellar.
I didn’t realize the floodwaters would recede
with the violence of their rising, fishing boats
torn from moorings, dome of the mosque collapsed.
You who savor the scent of the linden
live in a small world, and I also speak
from a cramped provisional space.
On the stacked ship they videotaped
as they passed, then circled back to pluck
a single man from floating debris—
I witnessed this alone on a glowing screen,
I couldn’t lift an almond to my mouth,
I was a fallow field ruined by brackish flood,
but I would choose the wave over the wind,
I would swamp your world with wreckage,
I would hold fast to you, and you would be saved.
by Julianne Buchsbaum
I thought my brother would be among the monks
leftover in this world. With the shiny pallor
of a just-painted still life, he was good at keeping
quiet, warding off the sallies of someone strong.
It was mortifying, the mementos of his own
ascesis piled in little heaps inside his room, relics
of the kind of body that can go a long time
without sleep or food. He told me it was love
that made the world go round. Our mother
was a nun to him in her spotless cotton shirts.
She never cooked. Sometimes I am numb
to the world’s noise. And when we went
to temple, people sat in the pews like they were
at the movies, it made no difference to them.
My body was there, but my mind was elsewhere,
wandering through wealds where lives where virginal
and wild, wondering about the bodies of ancient
queens and where they were buried, maybe on beaches
where I wrote my name, improvident, and hoped
to be seen. If not now, in some other, quieter time.
Have you ever loved so much the truth of your own
death came home to you? In Manchester, 1833,
half of the children born to spinners died. The pelvic
bones of girls who worked in the mills could not make room
for the new life coming through. Children given
dirty rags to suck were dying from disease.
It’s possible to die from not being touched, no one
knew that then, and the monks were not to be disturbed
in their dark adorations, their ancient formulas
for making something potent go away, be quiet, good.
Sometimes I sing when I’ve light,
but not in the dark; I dare not sing then.
When a child’s skin is translucent, people think
he could be anything. I am learning even now
that this is not the case. Even when a page
is blank, certain things can and can’t be said.
My father was safe in his hospital lab, studying cells
gone awry in bodies and how to kill them off.
My brother taught me young that there are rules that are
heretical. Over the beaches of the Queen of Carthage
the sky must have been like a face with its features
rubbed out. If I keep my head down long enough
I’ll be there, in my longstanding withdrawal from
the present moment. And like the remnants
of an ancient still life, the stars still look at us,
safe in their monadic, monastic, inscrutable rites.
by Anne Michaels
“The face of the city changes more quickly, alas! than the mortal heart.”
So much of the city
is our bodies. Places in us
old light still slants through to.
Places that no longer exist but are full of feeling,
like phantom limbs.
Even the city carries ruins in its heart.
Longs to be touched in places
only it remembers.
Through the yellow hooves
of the ginkgo, parchment light;
in that apartment where I first
touched your shoulders under your sweater,
that October afternoon you left keys
in the fridge, milk on the table.
The yard - our moonlight motel -
where we slept summer’s hottest nights,
on grass so cold it felt wet.
Behind us, freight trains crossed the city,
a steel banner, a noisy wall.
Now the hollow diad !
floats behind glass
in office towers also haunted
by our voices.
Few buildings, few lives
are built so well
even their ruins are beautiful.
But we loved the abandoned distillery:
stone floors cracking under empty vats,
wooden floors half rotted into dirt;
stairs leading nowhere; high rooms
run through with swords of dusty light.
A place the rain still loved, its silver paint
on rusted things that had stopped moving it seemed, for us.
Closed rooms open only to weather,
pungent with soot and molasses,
scent-stung. A place
where everything too big to take apart
had been left behind.
by Nicole Blackman
One day I’ll give birth to a tiny baby girl
and when she’s born she’ll scream and I’ll make sure
she never stops.
I will kiss her before I lay her down
and will tell her a story so she knows
how it is and how it must be for her to survive.
I’ll tell her about the power of water
the seduction of paper
the promise of gasoline
and the hope of blood.
I’ll teach her to shave her eyebrows and
mark her skin.
I’ll teach her that her body is
her greatest work of art.
I’ll tell her to light things on fire
and keep them burning.
I’ll teach her that the fire will not consume her,
that she must take it and use it.
I’ll tell her to be tri-sexual, to try anything
to sleep with, fight with, pray with anyone,
just as long as she feels something.
I’ll help her do her best work when it rains.
I’ll tell her to reinvent herself every 28 days.
I’ll teach her to develop all her selves,
the courageous ones,
the smart ones,
the dreaming ones
the fast ones.
I’ll teach her that she has an army inside her
that can save her life.
I’ll tell her to say Fuck like other people say The
and when people are shocked
to ask them why they so fear a small quartet
I’ll make sure she always carries a pen
so she can take down the evidence.
If she has no paper, I’ll teach her to
write everything down on her tongue
write it on her thighs.
I’ll help her to see that she will not find God
or salvation in a dark brick building
built by dead men.
I’ll explain to her that it’s better to regret the things
she has done than the things she hasn’t.
I’ll teach her to write her manifestos
on cocktail napkins.
I’ll say she should make men lick her enterprise.
I’ll teach her to talk hard.
I’ll tell her that her skin is the
most beautiful dress she will ever wear.
I’ll tell her that people must earn the right
to use her nickname,
that forced intimacy is an ugly thing.
I’ll make her understand that she is worth more
with her clothes on.
I’ll tell her that when the words finally flow too fast
and she has no use for a pen
that she must quit her job
run out of the house in her bathrobe,
leaving the door open.
I’ll teach her to follow the words.
I’ll tell her to stand up
and head for the door
after she makes love.
When he asks her to
stay she’ll say
she’s got to
I’ll tell her that when she first bleeds
when she is a woman,
to go up to the roof at midnight,
reach her hands up to the sky and scream.
I’ll teach her to be whole, to be holy,
to be so much that she doesn’t even
need me anymore.
I’ll tell her to go quickly and never come back.
I will make her stronger than me.
I’ll say to her never forget what they did to you
and never let them know you remember.
Never forget what they did to you
and never let them know you remember.
by Langston Hughes
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!