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I would like an unbroken stretch of drizzly

weekday afternoons, in a moulting season:

nowhere else to go but across the street for

bread, and the paper.

Later, faces, voices across a table,

or an autumn fricassee, cèpes and shallots,

sipping Gigandas as I dice and hum to

Charpentier's vespers.

No one's waiting for me across an ocean.

What I can't understand or change is distant.

War is a debate, or at worst, a headlined

nightmare. But waking

it will be there still, and one morning closer

to my implication in what I never

chose, elected, as my natal sky rains down

civilian ashes.

For Hana Amichai

Inside a domed room photos of children's faces

turn in a candlelit dark as recorded voices

recite their names, ages and nationality.

"Ah, such beautiful faces," a woman sighs.

Yes, but faces without the prestige

of the future or the tolerance of the past.

Not one asks: Why is this happening to me?

They stare at the camera as if it were a commandment:

thou shall not bear false witness...

Why would anyone want to take their photo,

remember what they no longer looked like?

There's no delusion in their eyes,

no recognition or longing, only

the flatness of hours without minutes,

hunger without appetite.

They understand they are no longer children,

that death is redundant, and mundane.

Expected, like a long-awaited guest

who arrives bearing the gift

of greater anticipation. Their eyes

are heavy--fear perhaps,

or the unforgiving weight

of knowledge.

Did they understand why they were so hated?

Wonder why they were Jews?

Did God hear their prayers and write

something in one of his glistening books?

Were they of too little consequence?

What did they think of God, finally?

Dante cannot help us.

Imagination is the first child in line.

They cannot help us.

It is wrong to ask them.

Philosophy cannot help us,

nor wisdom, or time.

Or memory.

We look at their faces and their faces look at us.

They know we are pious.

They know we grieve.

But they also know we will soon leave.

We are not their mothers and fathers,

who also could not save them.

Great Oracle,why are you staring at me,

do I baffle you, do I make you despair?

I, Americus, the American,

wrought from the dark in my mother long ago,

from the dark of ancient Europa--

Why are you staring at me now

in the dusk of our civilization--

Why are you staring at me

as if I were America itself

the new Empire

far greater than any in ancient days

with its electronic highways

carrying its corporate monoculture

around the world

And English the Latin of our day--

Great Oracle, sleeping through the centuries,

Awaken now at last

And tell us how to save us from ourselves

and how to survive our own rulers

who would make a plutocracy of our democracy

in the Great Divide

between the rich and the poor

in whom Walt Whitman heard America singing

O long-silent Sybil,

You of the winged dreams,

Speak out from your temple of light

as the serious constellations

with Greek names

still stare down on us

as a lighthouse moves its megaphone

over the sea

Speak out and shine upon us

the sea-light of Greece

the diamond light of Greece

Far-seeing Sybil, forever hidden,

Come out of your cave at last

And speak to us in the poet's voice

the voice of the fourth person singular

the voice of the inscrutable future

the voice of the people mixed

with a wild soft laughter--

And give us new dreams to dream,

Give us new myths to live by!

Spoken to the Oracle by the author at UNESCO's World Poetry Day, March 21, at Delphi

I came upon her weeping,
                              gray face gone pewter.
            She held still for me
                                        and the wet sponge

pressed gently down,
                              and closed her eyes.
            Beneath her skin the muscle rippled
                                        as a pond does

under water's pressure.
                              Rowing outward,
            past the screen that windows the view,
                                        are shadows,

field's edge, an island of trees.
                              I put it on, to know
            what the horse sees
                                        caged in the blue mesh,

in a realm of monocular vision.
                              I fasten it
            beneath the throat
                                        while she chews the grain,

lips roving in the bucket.
                              Winter flies
            beyond the cage. Cold's oncoming
                                        as the wind cries,

pressing against
                              my skin,
            whatever antennae I had
                                        lost in the generations.

Something brushed my cheek with damp--
a leaf, its little valley slick with run-off

after rain. One last drop shook loose
and struck a spider web, which shuddered

but held on to this grieving world
so a butterfly--a mourning cloak?--

could uncoil its watch-spring of a tongue
in the time it took a limousine to stretch

down the thin twig of street, almost to my door.
A long albino snake gone straight,

tied with a big white bow--O pet,
you're not mine. You belong a few doors down--

see, here comes a man in gold morning coat,
carrying pale pink roses like a lute.

He leaned inside the low dark cave
of a car to kiss someone I never saw,

who straightened his pale pink cravat.
Orpheus, would love turn back while it can?

Around the corner a nurse in white
stood at an open door, lifting her long white arm

gently to bar the way of an old woman
bundled in hat and coat, though it was August.

Once again, The Nation announces the winners of Discovery/The Nation, the Joan Leiman Jacobson Poetry Prize. Now in its twenty-seventh year, it is an annual contest for poets whose work has not been published previously in book form. The new winners are: Amy Beeder, Bryan Dietrich, Monica Ferrell and Joanna Goodman. This year's judges are Linda Gregerson, Carl Phillips and Marie Ponsot. In the competition, whose manuscripts are judged anonymously, distinguished former winners include Susan Mitchell, Katha Pollitt, Mary Jo Salter, Sherod Santos, Arthur Smith and David St. John. This year's winners will read their poems at Discovery/The Nation '01 at 8:15 pm on Monday, April 23, at The Unterberg Poetry Center, 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue (92nd Street and Lexington Avenue) in New York City.
      --Grace Schulman, poetry editor

Give to Her Your Cloak Also

I understand the necessary lie,

that pasty face he passes off for work,

the interest vested in his paper

tiger. But, frankly, three in a bed

is not what I had planned. Each night

that I slip--calling him, from some stark peak

of passion, Clark--the covers grow more

crowded, the issue, more cumulous.

To which side do I cleave, then? On which

thunderous thigh do these nails leave

no trace? Though there are times I enjoy

such naughtiness (the occasional

quick one in Perry's office, a hot kiss

on the fly), I still find it hard

to divide time between what he is

and what he's had to hide to be just

that. Don't get me wrong, Diary, I love

the both of him, but these days, when I send

him out for squeeze cheese and chips, when

he comes back, Midway Mart sack in one

hand, would-be thug in the other, I can't

help wondering.... Should I prefer this

Superman who saves a world a week,

or he who's learned to live his life

by loaning it his cheek.


'The soul is a number moving by itself'   --Aristotle, De Anima

It is not cold at the top of the stairs.

The years strike like radium drops.

There is a little door, there is a little lock,

There are many good machines whose purposes are lost.

In the plump and tidy cabinets

The red drawers are full of numbers

Irrational and fatly simpering,

While the white drawers have numbers

Imaginary and drifting,

And I am one of those.

Oh, the furnace wheezes, the charwoman sweeps,

The wood sighs and settles and the dormouse sleeps.

Don't try to look at me directly.


Rooster Shadow

It's not by chance that as this house turns to rot,

the outer rooms fill up with feathers: jackdaw

and grackle black, grit-colored slivers of sparrow

or finch that grub for crumbs on every sidewalk.

Don't be fooled by thrash or rapture:

a bird is only vitriol, a lizard's foot,

gristle and a sack of stones, diviner of nothing

but endings. If you doubt it, think of cockfights

or starlings' pulse against the rain-wet glass

each Spring returning to shock you,

a darkness like blood in the yolk. Spurious, plagiarist--

Amid thick leaves I saw the wink of black eyes

waiting in dark pines, the snow-broken greenhouse.

On my stairs is a long rooster's shadow;

nights the rafters host a storm of chatter, the breeze

of a thousand wings; though in the morning

dirty legions can rise silent from one winter's tree.



Ahead, no singular, no grief.

Silicon retina, artificial cochlea, tongue:

we are learning how best to transcribe spirit

by tracking chemical release. To cobble

soul and sense together open here,

the nerve: insert. Localized

interior. My room looks west, and north;

late day's gray veneer aroused by breeze.

Months pass, moth-filled and uncontained,

since we slipped through ovals in San Marco's

dormer cells, looking down through glass to see

back towards black mountains' robed retreat,

blue fields, hands floating out of time.

It was neither mystical nor real, but it was both.

A thin lather of rain fell last night.

I woke at four again and listened to first birdcalls swerve

along the eaves. Voices scored for feeling

and depth: tassled, metallic rows of rants

unravel meridians. Immediate, unmediated world.

The talk here's about sacrifice--

Who would give up body first, who mind.

I try not to be seen or heard, though apparently

all we want is to be found.


Risen chambers along twigs of black gum,

butternut: buttercup playing Camaldoli's

forest floor. I held one to your chin, silence

stretching light's expanse between us. Measured

rhythms, equilibriums: that the shapes might

fit; mass to rhapsodic mass, vein to leaf, leaf

to branch; error to its thought; that in the symmetry

between hand and touch we might find not just relief.

I've lost track of how I've hurt you.

Out of stone huts hermits emerge

like mist's cargo, dissolve without blundering

into air. They'll come down the mountain

in old age. We watch from outside the gate--

Smoke curls skyward--


And darkness corked by light.

In this night scene the first bridge, built

out of the first man's mouth, makes the world make

sense. One theory says God fell in love and in letting go: matter. Between death and dream breath's vanishing,

the broken parts, bring us back to each other--

erasures, secco-frescoed molecules--

malachite, ultramarine, lead tin yellow,

flaking with time, vine black triangles

where a branch once held the tree trembling in place.



Meditations on writers’ conferences, Schlesinger Jr. on America, an Auden poem.

May 15, 2014

We published some of his earliest poems as well as his great 1964 essay on Sonny Liston vs. Cassius Clay.

January 11, 2014

How do you rhyme “Obama” with “Yokahama”?

December 16, 2012

Todd Akin, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan all have me thinking of June Jordan’s great “Poem about My Rights.”

August 22, 2012

A poet passionately engaged with writing and politics, she said "art means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage."

March 28, 2012

If the great Hiroshima novel remains unwritten, a number of major poets have written brilliantly on nuclear concerns.

August 16, 2011