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)
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)
In mid-November wind off the
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)