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Absence, Opera, Beans, Dreams
A selection of verses from new collections.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

In the Junk Store

A small, straw basket

Full of medals

From good old wars

No one recalls.

I flipped one over

To feel the pin

That once pierced

The hero's swelling chest.

Charles Simic from "That Little Something" (Harcourt, $23)

Many

I needed to talk to my sister

talk to her on the telephone I mean

just as I used to every morning

in the evening too whenever the

grandchildren said a sentence that

clasped both our hearts.

I called her phone rang four times

you can imagine my breath stopped then

there was a terrible telephonic noise

a voice said this number is no

longer in use how wonderful I

thought I can

call again they have not yet assigned

her number to another person despite

two years of absence due to death

Grace Paley (excerpt) from "Fidelity" (Farrar Straus Giroux, $20)

Opera Night at Caffe Taci

No curtains here, no chandelier to raise;

She takes the low stage and begins to peal

Long airs of anguish, to distracted praise

From the gourmands of opera and the meal.

She wears the helium shoulderpads of dresses

Sold in a suburban bridal shop,

Rigid in velvet, while the waitresses

Lounge at their ease in cottons from the Gap;

Whatever third-rate coach she studied with

Could not undo the mannerism that

Half-shuts her eyes and splays her lipsticked mouth,

The cartoon mincing of a marionette.

It's all just as it should be. For the crowd,

The sensual pampering and dignified

Consumption; in return she is allowed

To sing, gauche and ignored, beatified.

Adam Kirsch from "Invasions" (Ivan R. Dee, paperback, $14.95)

Pre-War

In mid-November wind off the

Mountain

An American flag, left behind by the previous owners,

Stutters on the pole.

Fall loosens its grip:

Dead seed and leaf skitter across the grass,

Smoke ghosts up the chimney.

I hear the mid-morning news

As I watch the mid-morning sun

Wash from the needles of the pines,

Our first dust of snow.

The weather tests the weak spots in the sill,

Stoops our stride, thickens our shirts,

Has come to nest.

Cornelius Eady from "Hardheaded Weather" (Putnam, $25.95)

Far Away

She ran faster than tears

ran straight ahead

no boundary was in front of her

no one chased her

no one was racing against her

luminous space waited

to take her in its embrace

Julia Hartwig translated from the Polish by John and Bogdana Carpenter from "In Praise of the Unfinished" (Knopf, $25)

Self-Portrait

I wish I was twenty and in love with life

and still full of beans.

Onward, old legs!

There are the long, pale dunes; on the other side

the roses are blooming and finding their labor

no adversity to the spirit.

Upward, old legs! There are the roses, and there is the sea

shining like a song, like a body

I want to touch

though I'm not twenty

and won't be again but ah! seventy. And still

in love with life. And still

full of beans.

Mary Oliver from "Red Bird" (Beacon, $23)

To Hold

So we're dust. In the meantime, my wife and I

make the bed. Holding opposite edges of the sheet,

we raise it, billowing, then pull it tight,

measuring by eye as it falls into alignment

between us. We tug, fold, tuck. And if I'm lucky,

she'll remember a recent dream and tell me.

One day we'll lie down and not get up.

One day, all we guard will be surrendered.

Until then, we'll go on learning to recognize

what we love, and what it takes

to tend what isn't for our having.

So often, fear has led me

to abandon what I know I must relinquish

in time. But for the moment,

I'll listen to her dream,

and she to mine, our mutual hearing calling

more and more detail into the light

of a joint and fragile keeping.

Li-Young Lee fro m "Behind My Eyes" (Norton, $24.95)

Executive Shoeshine

It may go on snowing forever,

but meanwhile, how he's basking

in the sun of his own multitasking!

He's perched erect on his throne

looking down on the airport food court,

as the silver snail of a cell phone

earpiece hooked to his ear

hangs on his every word.

No way to cut him short

until the runways are cleared

and they've finished out there de-icing

the right wing, then the left wing

of all those planes before his.

Could he strike us a deal with the weather?

The man hunched below him polishes

one wingtip, then the other.

Mary Jo Salter from "A Phone Call to the Future" (Knopf, $26.95)

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