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Topography -- Sharon Olds

Guest poem sent in by David Grabill
(Poem #1961) Topography
 After you flew across the country we
 got in bed, laid our bodies
 delicately together, like maps laid
 face to face, East to West, my
 San Francisco against your New York, your
 Fire Island against my Sonoma, my
 New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho
 bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas
 burning against your Kansas your Kansas
 burning against my Kansas, your Eastern
 Standard Time pressing into my
 Pacific Time, my Mountain Time
 beating against your Central Time, your
 sun rising swiftly from the right my
 sun rising swiftly from the left your
 moon rising slowly from the left my
 moon rising slowly from the right until
 all four bodies of the sky
 burn above us, sealing us together,
 all our cities twin cities,
 all our states united, one
 nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
-- Sharon Olds
             (published in "The Gold )

Here's another poem on a flying theme that a friend gave me before I took a
long flight a few years back.  Sharon Olds is a master of transforming
mundane airplane flights like this and common garden slugs [Poem #1003],
into sensual feasts. This one's an outrageous mix of metaphors that kept me
smiling for a thousand miles or more on that flight, and continues to
enchant every time I reread it.

David Grabill



The Day Flies Off Without Me -- John Stammers

Guest poem sent in by Hemant Mohapatra
(Poem #1960) The Day Flies Off Without Me
 The planes bound for all points everywhere
 etch lines on my office window. From the top floor
 London recedes in all directions, and beyond:
 the world with its teeming hearts.

 I am still, you move, I am a point of reference on a map;
 I am at zero meridian as you consume the longitudes.
 The pact we made to read our farewells exactly
 at two in the afternoon with you in the air
 holds me like a heavy winter coat.

 Your unopened letter is in my pocket, beating.
-- John Stammers
I love the quiet strength of this powerful piece. It speaks volumes about an
unrequited love in a way that is neither sappy, nor reflective. It just "is"
and seems to convey "This is how it is, and that is so". Every once in a
while, a poet creates something so heartfelt that all his/her other poems
pale in comparison. This is one of those pieces. 'nuff said.



  [broken link]

Day Flight -- Jack Davis

Guest poem sent in by Cornelius O'Brien
(Poem #1959) Day Flight
 I closed my eyes as I sat in the jet
 And asked the hostess if she would let
 Me take on board a patch of sky
 And a dash of the blue-green sea.

 Far down below my country gleamed
 In thin dry rivers and blue-white lakes
 And most I longed for, there as I dreamed,
 A square of the desert, stark and red,
 To mould a pillow for a sleepy head
 And a cloak to cover me.
-- Jack Davis
Les Murray's strong poem while he was musing aboard an airliner reminded me
of another Australian poet - Jack Davis - and his lovely poem DAY FLIGHT.
You can almost hear the mighty beating heart of Australia in his lines.
Only an Aboriginal poet could have written this one.  He doesn't own the
land.  The land owns him.

Con O'Brien (Cornelius)



The International Terminal -- Les Murray

Guest poem sent in by Steve Forsythe
(Poem #1958) The International Terminal
 Some comb oil, some blow air,
 some shave trenchlines in their hair
 but the common joint thump, the heart's spondee
 kicks off in its rose-lit inner sea
 like an echo, at first, of the one above
 it on the dodgy ladder of love --
 and my mate who's driving says I never
 found one yet worth staying with forever.
 In this our poems do not align.
 Surely most are if you are, answers mine,
 and I am living proof of it,
 I gloom, missing you from the cornering outset --
 And hearts beat mostly as if they weren't there,
 Rocking horse to rocking chair,
 most audible dubbed on the tracks of movies
 or as we approach where our special groove is
 or our special fear. The autumn-vast
 parking-lot-bitumen overcast
 now switches on pumpkin-flower lights
 all over dark green garden sites
 and a wall of car-bodies, stacked by blokes,
 obscures suburban signs and smokes.
 Like coughs, cries, all such unlearned effects
 the heartbeat has no dialects
 but what this or anything may mean
 depends on what poem we're living in.
 Now a jet engine, huge child of a gun,
 shudders with haze and begins to run.
 Over Mount Fuji and the North Pole
 I'm bound for Europe in a reading role
 and a poem long ago that was coming for me
 had Fuji-san as its axle-tree.
 Cities shower and rattle over the gates
 as I enter that limbo between states
 but I think of the heart swarmed around by poems
 like an egg besieged by chromosomes
 and how out of that our world is bred
 through the back of a mirror, with clouds in its head
 --and airborne, with a bang, this five-hundred-seat
 theatre folds up its ponderous feet.
-- Les Murray
Here is another poem on a different aspect of flight - it is almost the
opposite of Walcott's poem [Poem #1957]: anticipation vs. completion, the
anxiety of departure vs. the expansive consciouness of Walcott's being in
flight, almost formal vs. free-flowing verse. It captures well all the
emotions evoked by the beginning of a long journey. The depiction of the
actual takeoff ("Now a jet engine...") brilliantly evokes the final physical
and mental rush.

Steve Forsythe



Official site:

The Dead Wingman -- Randall Jarrell

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1957) The Dead Wingman
 Seen on the sea, no sign; no sign, no sign
 In the black firs and terraces of hills
 Ragged in mist. The cone narrows, snow
 Glares from the bleak walls of a crater. No.
 Again the houses jerk like paper, turn,
 And the surf streams by: a port of toys
 Is starred with its fires and faces; but no sign.

 In the level light, over the fiery shores,
 The plane circles stubbornly: the eyes distending
 With hatred and misery and longing, stare
 Over the blackening ocean for a corpse.
 The fires are guttering; the dials fall,
 A long dry shudder climbs along his spine,
 His fingers tremble; but his hard unchanging stare
 Moves unacceptingly: I have a friend.

 The fires are grey; no star, no sign
 Winks from the breathing darkness of the carrier
 Where the pilot circles for his wingman; where,
 Gliding above the cities' shells, a stubborn eye
 Among the embers of the nations, achingly
 Tracing the circles of that worn, unchanging No -
 The lives' long war, lost war - the pilot sleeps.
-- Randall Jarrell
I was planning to send in this poem for the flight theme anyway, and a
comment on a recent post made me even more determined.

William Pritchard, in his introduction to Randall Jarrell's Selected Poems
(FSG 1990) bemoans the fact that one poem, the justly celebrated 'Death of
the Ball Turret Gunner' has eclipsed all of Jarrell's other accomplishments
as a poet. The truth is that, coming out of World War II, Jarrell wrote a
number of poems about flying in the war - poems like 'The Dead Wingman', 'A
Pilot from the Carrier', 'Losses' and 'A Front'. These are not poems about
the 'lonely impulse of delight', rather they are poems about isolation,
about the helplessness of suffering; the people in them having more in
common with the disillusioned crew of Heller's Catch 22 than with Yeats'
Airman. There is no balance. There is only death.

Cut off from earthly contact in the desolation of the air, the pilot in his
plane becomes a metaphor for the soul trapped in its body. There is no
question of anything or anyone bidding the pilot to fight because the pilot
has no real choice; the sky is his only reality, and the anguish he feels
surveying the world below him is thus an existential one. The plane, like
the war (for these are, in every sense of the word, war poems) is a
death-dealing machine, one that man is strapped into, an Ixionan wheel, a
negative womb ('A Pilot from the Carrier' opens with the line "Strapped at
the centre of the blazing wheel")

'The Dead Wingman' is my favourite of these poems - in part because of the
incredible way in which Jarrell captures the physical experience of a
circling plane ("Again the houses jerk like paper, turn, / And the surf
streams by"), in part because of the perfection with which Jarrell connects
the failing of hope to external manifestations ("The fires are guttering;
the dials fall") and in part because of the way the poem, starting so
restlessly ("Seen on the sea, no sign; no sign, no sign") ends on a note of
weary, circling resignation. This is a greasy, metallic and yet deeply
moving poem. And it takes a talent like Jarrell's to keep a poem like this




l(a -- e e cummings

Guest poem sent in by Pranesh Prakash , in yet
another take on the flight theme:
(Poem #1956) l(a





-- e e cummings

This is a poem I immediately thought of when I saw the theme "flight".  It
is about the flight of a leaf as it is falling down from a tree.  When read
together without the line-breaks, it turns out to be

  l(a leaf falls)oneliness.

It links up the falling of a lone leaf (note the emphasis on "1" (the
numeral one) in the first line, as also the "one" in l"one"liness) to the
emotion of loneliness.

The most beautiful part of this poem is the way it is structured, which to
me seems to resemble the passage of a leaf through various points of time
from the half-horizontal "l(a" of the leaf on the tree, to the side-view of
"ll" when it is in mid-air to the final full-horizontal of "iness".

If you don't see that leaf falling, perhaps instead you see a large "L" in
the shape of the poem, or perhaps a large "1" (with a line underneath: think
of 1 in "Courier" instead of in "Arial".)  The imagery that Cummings manages
to evoke by saying so little is just beautiful.  And this is actually a poem
where the reason for abrupt and seemingly random line-breaks is clear
(though with different clarity to each person) after some thought, and goes
on to be really appreciated.  The poem is all the more beautiful for the way
the words are broken up.




Here's an excellent essay on Cummings's use of typography and line breaks as
a poetic element:

And, since it appears to be a perennial misconception, an explanation of why
it is not "e. e. cummings":

The Swing -- Robert Louis Stevenson

Guest poem sent in by Dale Rosenberg
(Poem #1955) The Swing
 How do you like to go up in a swing,
   Up in the air so blue?
 Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
   Ever a child can do!

 Up in the air and over the wall,
   Till I can see so wide,
 Rivers and trees and cattle and all
   Over the countryside--

 Till I look down on the garden green,
   Down on the roof so brown--
 Up in the air I go flying again,
   Up in the air and down!
-- Robert Louis Stevenson
My first thought for the "poems about flying" theme was Randall Jarell's
devastating "Death of a Ball Turret Gunner."  I see Minstrels has already
printed it. so I went for the complete opposite in emotional impact.

"The Swing" was the first poem I learned about flying.  It just captures for
me so perfectly the lovely feeling of soaring which children have on swings.
I remember being quite small and my mother reciting it to me as she pushed
me higher and higher.  I did the same with my own kids.  So many of RLS's
poems in A Child's Garden of Verses sound so fresh and real today.  I think
that since his subject matter is often universal, the poems don't seem dated
in the way that some children's verse can.




A Child's Garden of Verses:

I Need Air -- Alan Lerner

Guest poem sent in by Zenobia Driver :
(Poem #1954) I Need Air
 I could see it wasn't worth
 Spending time with them on earth.
 There were fewer in the sky.
 I decided I would fly.
 I need air...

 Where only stars get in my hair:
 And only eagles stop and stare.
 I need air.

 Oh, the work is mad
 And I've had my share.
 I need air.
 I need air.
 I need air...

 There's not a sign of life down there.
 Just hats and grown-ups everywhere.
 I need air.

 Lots of cosy sky
 That God and I can share.
 I need air.
 I need air.
-- Alan Lerner
     (from the musical 'The Little Prince', based on the book by
      Antoine St. Exupery)

I guess this describes the pilot who is not one of the gang, a loner, who
flies to get away from it all. A nice poem to read on days when everyone
around is getting on your nerves.

  I could see it wasn't worth
  Spending time with them on earth.
  There were fewer in the sky.
  I decided I would fly.

As good a reason to fly as any!

Loved the cheekiness in the lines:
  There's not a sign of life down there.
  Just hats and grown-ups everywhere.

Yes, I feel like this quite often.


[Martin adds]

It's surprising how many flying poems and songs have their essence captured
by Yeats's immortal line "a lonely impulse of delight". Today's is no




The Little Prince [I really need to see this! - martin]:

from Midsummer -- Derek Walcott

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1953) from Midsummer
 The jet bores like a silverfish through volumes of cloud -
 clouds that will keep no record of where we have passed,
 nor the sea's mirror, nor the coral busy with its own
 culture; they aren't doors of dissolving stone,
 but pages in a damp culture that come apart.
 So a hole in their parchment opens, and suddenly, in a vast
 dereliction of sunlight, there's that island known
 to the traveller Trollope, and the fellow traveller Froude,
 for making nothing. Not even a people. The jet's shadow
 ripples over green jungles as steadily as a minnow
 through seaweed. Our sunlight is shared by Rome
 and your white paper, Joseph. Here, as everywhere else,
 it is the same age. In cities, in settlements of mud,
 light has never had epochs. Near the rusty harbor
 around Port of Spain bright suburbs fade into words -
 Maraval, Diego Martin - the highways long as regrets,
 and steeples so tiny you couldn't hear their bells,
 nor the sharp exclamation of whitewashed minarets
 from green villages. The lowering window resounds
 over pages of earth, the canefields set in stanzas.
 Skimming over an ocher swamp like a fast cloud of egrets
 are nouns that find their branches as simply as birds.
 It comes too fast, this shelving sense of home -
 canes rushing the wing, a fence; a world that still stands as
 the trundling tires keep shaking and shaking the heart.
-- Derek Walcott
When I saw that you were running a flying theme, this was the first poem I
thought of. It is a poem that evokes so perfectly, for me, the experience of
being on a flight - the familiar cycle of staring out of the window, reading
the newspaper for a bit, thinking about distance and the world, looking down
again, seeing the tiny signs of human civilisation get closer and closer as
the flight descends and we come in to land. Walcott describes all of that in
lines at once ponderous and lyrical - that air of something restlessly
inventive but also classically ode-like that he renders so effortlessly.

There are several phrases in here that are permanently inscribed in my head
("The jet's shadow / ripples over green jungles as steadily as a minnow /
through seaweed") and the last eight lines are sheer genius. I could go on
and on about the clever, clever way that Walcott weaves the metaphor of a
book together with the experience of flight, but I'm not going to. Instead,
I'm going to suggest that you read the last lines of this poem again, and
experience once more that sensation of coming closer and closer to the
earth, the acceleration you feel an illusion, your heart waiting for that
final thwack of the wheels that will tell you that you're finally back.




Nice essay on Walcott and his work:

A Newer Kingdom -- Anonymous

Guest poem sent in by Cornelius 0Brien
(Poem #1952) A Newer Kingdom
 The men who billow down the sea in ships
 Have earned these ages tributes justly high;
 But now is newly told on peoples's lips
 Of men in airy craft who seek the sky.
 Flung freely through their newer kingdom won,
 Clean wings describe the geometric arc,
 And hurtle down the starlight to the dark
 Or gambol with the spear-shafts of the sun.
 A newer kingdom and a newer race -
 They spurn with pride the lowly creed of earth,
 And glory in the boundlessness of space,
 Where worlds through aeons past have leapt to birth.
 Though mortal span is told in numbered weeks
 They brush eternity with youthful cheeks.
-- Anonymous
Notes: I found this sonnet in the published memoirs of Gordon Fox. Gordon,
uncle of my wife Rosie, was a bomber pilot in World War Two. His memoirs,
written in diary form, were published privately about a year after his death
in September, 2001. His eldest son Kennedy Fox very kindly sent us a copy.
This sonnet ("A Newer Kingdom" is my name for it) was found by Gordon in an
anthology of air force poems. Kennedy says that neither he nor his father
had any idea who wrote the poem.

It is beautifully crafted, and to my heart and mind does what all good poems
do - draws pictures with words and stirs emotions in the reader or listener.
Yeats' "An Irish Airman Foresees his Death" could be a blood relative of
this lovely sonnet. I am also reminded of Wilfred Owen, although I cannot
really say why.


Impressions of a Pilot -- Gary Claude Stoker

This week, a guest theme run by Zenobia Driver :
poems about flying.
(Poem #1951) Impressions of a Pilot
 Flight is freedom in its purest form,
 To dance with the clouds which follow a storm;
 To roll and glide, to wheel and spin,
 To feel the joy that swells within.

 To leave the earth with its troubles and fly,
 And know the warmth of a clear spring sky;
 Then back to earth at the end of the day,
 Released from the tensions which melted away.

 Should my end come while I am in flight,
 Whether brightest day or darkest night;
 Spare me no pity and shrug off the pain,
 Secure in the knowledge that I'd do it again.

 For each of us is created to die,
 And within me I know,
 I was born to fly.
-- Gary Claude Stoker
Some time ago, I was reading 'On Wings of Fire' by Dr. Abdul Kalam, and came
across a reference to a poem about Darius Greene. While trying to track down
that poem, I came across lots of other poems about flying and realized that
this was one topic that was not sufficiently represented in the poems we
read in school, college etc, or on the minstrels.

(A notable exception to this being 'An Irish Airman Foresees His Death' by
W.B.Yeats, which is reproduced and quoted everywhere, but that is not about
flying alone and it has only one reference to the 'lonely impulse of
delight' that 'drove to this tumult in the clouds'.)

So here are some poems that describe the joy of flying, the reasons for
flying, the irreverent attitude of fighter pilots and of course, the story
of Darius Greene. For those who want to read more quotes, poems etc about
flying, is one good site.

I thought I would start with a poem that describes the sensation of flying.
I loved the first paragraph - I can feel a plane rolling and spinning and
dancing with the clouds as I say the lines. Also loved the analogy of flight
as freedom.

The last paragraph was great too - wouldn't it be marvellous if you knew
exactly why you were on this earth, and you knew that you were doing exactly
that and you absolutely loved it?


[Martin adds]

As usual, contributions to the theme are welcome - send them in!

A Deep-Sworn Vow -- William Butler Yeats

Guest poem sent in by Kamalika Chowdhury
(Poem #1950) A Deep-Sworn Vow
 Others because you did not keep
 That deep-sworn vow have been friends of mine;
 Yet always when I look death in the face,
 When I clamber to the heights of sleep,
 Or when I grow excited with wine,
 Suddenly I meet your face.
-- William Butler Yeats
This poem - taken from The Wild Swans at Coole (1919) - showcases the
maturity of Yeats' later work, and his distinctive brand of genius. With a
master conjurer's dexterity, Yeats tells a story in a six simple lines that
become breathtaking when put together.

Trying to express my thoughts on this poem leaves me feeling absolutely
inadequate, but I cannot let it go without a salute. So here it is.

The call of these few compelling lines is powerful and intimate, utterly
human and almost sacred. The reader is directly drawn into a deep
relationship with the narrator, yet one that is infused with the guilt of
having broken "that deep-sworn vow". But before one can fully assimilate the
impact, one is quietly brought face-to-face with the inescapable truth of
the final line. The inherent loneliness in this poem is ignored - it does
not rave or rant, or cry out. It simply is. The two aspects of this
relationship are not meant to be reconciled.

And because its soul-searing intensity must have came from the poet's
innermost being, I like to think that he remains immortal in this poem.


The Dove -- Leonard Cohen

Guest poem sent in by Laurie Edwards
(Poem #1949) The Dove
 I saw the dove come down, the dove with the
 green twig, the childish dove out of the storm and
 flood. It came towards me in the style of the Holy Spirit
 descending. I had been sitting in a cafe for twenty-five
 years waiting for this vision. It hovered over the great
 quarrel. I surrendered to the iron laws of the moral universe which
 make a boredom out of everything desired. Do not surrender,
 said the dove. I have come to make a nest in your shoe. I
 want your step to be light.
-- Leonard Cohen
 From "Death of a Lady's Man" (1978)

I love this poem -- when I first encountered it, it provided some encouragement
to not surrender and allow everything desired to become "a boredom."

I think it's interesting that although Leonard Cohen was a poet before he was a
songwriter, some believe that he has only written song lyrics (cf Poem #624,
Gift).  It's certainly lucky, I think, that he did turn his creativity to
music, so that his gift became more widely known than it might otherwise have

I've also alway wondered about the Catholic icons and images that twine through
his lyrics/poetry (as in The Dove, above), given that Cohen is a Jewish name.
He was born in Montreal in 1934, and is now a committed Buddhist, having been
ordained as a Buddhist monk and given the (ironic?  appropriate?) name Jikan
(Silent One).

Laurie D. Edwards



Official Cohen website:

The Grammar Lesson -- Steve Kowit

(Poem #1948) The Grammar Lesson
 A noun's a thing. A verb's the thing it does.
 An adjective is what describes the noun.
 In "The can of beets is filled with purple fuzz"

 *of* and *with* are prepositions. *The's*
 an article, a *can's* a noun,
 a noun's a thing. A verb's the thing it does.

 A can *can* roll - or not. What isn't was
 or might be, *might* meaning not yet known.
 "Our can of beets *is* filled with purple fuzz"

 is present tense. While words like our and us
 are pronouns - i.e. *it* is moldy, *they* are icky brown.
 A noun's a thing; a verb's the thing it does.

 Is is a helping verb. It helps because
 *filled* isn't a full verb. *Can's* what *our* owns
 in "Our can of beets is filled with purple fuzz."

 See? There's almost nothing to it. Just
 memorize these rules...or write them down!
 A noun's a thing, a verb's the thing it does.
 The can of beets is filled with purple fuzz.
-- Steve Kowit
What always fascinates me about villanelles is the various ways poets deal
with the repetition inherent in the form. The one inescapable thing is that
this repetition *does* have to be dealt with, and that it is often a major
force in the shaping of the poem - pronouncements about form not dictating
content notwithstanding.

Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" is without doubt the
most celebrated example of the English villanelle, and with reason - it is,
to my mind, a perfect study in how to make the form work to reinforce the
content and tone, with never a hint of awkwardness or constraint. Along
other axes, humorous poets have used the structure of the villanelle to poke
fun at itself, experimentalists have seen how much they can bend the form
without it breaking, and, of course, countless poets have simply ignored the
fact that the form does and should influence the content, and repeated the
end lines mechanically and without regard to their contribution to the flow
and progress of the poem.

Today's poem caught my eye for yet another clever take on making the
repetition work for the theme - in the context of a grammar lesson,
repeating a sentence again and again with minor changes rung upon it makes
perfect sense - is, indeed, almost inevitable. I love the way Kowit makes it
seem that the villanelle form itself fell out of the requirements of the
subject, rather than the other way around.

In the grand scheme of things I'd say this poem falls somewhere between
'serious' and 'intellectual exercise' (with a dash of humour in the unexpected
image of "this can of beets is filled with purple fuzz") - not by any means an
immortal poem, but a very well crafted one, and definitely worth reading.




Kowit on deliberately difficult poetry [long but brilliant essay]:
  [broken link]

Spring is like a perhaps hand -- e e cummings

Guest poem sent in by Michael Andrews
(Poem #1947) Spring is like a perhaps hand
 Spring is like a perhaps hand
 (which comes carefully
 out of Nowhere)arranging
 a window,into which people look(while
 people stare
 arranging and changing placing
 carefully there a strange
 thing and a known thing here)and

 changing everything carefully

 spring is like a perhaps
 Hand in a window
 (carefully to
 and from moving New and
 Old things,while
 people stare carefully
 moving a perhaps
 fraction of flower here placing
 an inch of air there)and

 without breaking anything.
-- e e cummings
We have this neighbor who loves to garden.  Her whole front yard is planted
with bulbs and other herbaceous perennials but, for the most part, the plot
is brown in winter.  But starting in late February, as I drive past her
house, I see her stooped over the earth from time to time.

This E. E. Cummings poem so reminds me of what takes place in her garden plot
as I drive by her house each day when I leave the development.  These are
delicate changes in her little plot, none dramatic, but a plant is up one
day, flowering the next without any dramatic fanfare; a bed is barren one
day but covered with small green shoots the next.  The neighbor's hand,
arranging and rearrranging the plants for the year, in small increments,
mostly unseen (she works out of her home, is not in the garden most times I
pass, but leaves evidence of her work - a peach basket here, gardening stool
there, a pile of weeds... gone the next day) is captured precisely in this

She moves new things and old in and out of garden spots.  Not all at once,
but you notice slight movements in plant blooming.  Changes are slight but
quick.  "How did that clump get there?" I ask one day.  The clump is in
blossom the next!

'a fraction of flower here placing an inch of air there) and without
breaking anything.'

Cummings captures the joy of incremental, but inexorable growth that happens
each Spring in this small poem.  I like to think my neighbor Ruth is
Spring's hand in the window...


Mike Andrews

I Fear Thy Kisses, Gentle Maiden -- Percy Bysshe Shelley

Guest poem sent in by Anagha Bhat
(Poem #1946) I Fear Thy Kisses, Gentle Maiden
 I fear thy kisses, gentle maiden;
 Thou needest not fear mine;
 My spirit is too deeply laden
 Ever to burden thine.

 I fear thy mien, thy tone, thy motion;
 Thou needest not fear mine;
 Innocent is the heart's devotion
 With which I worship thine.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley
Today, I came to ministrels looking for one of my favourit-est-est poems
ever, and was shocked to not find it there. Had to dig out my paperback
book... in this day and age... *sigh*

The reason I love this poem is that I love the knight-in-shining-armour
spirit of the poet. A perfect gentleman, and every woman's dream man! That's
on the surface... Lemme not go deeper!




Simplify Me When I'm Dead -- Keith Douglas

Guest poem sent in by Swati Chaudhary
(Poem #1945) Simplify Me When I'm Dead
 Remember me when I am dead
 Simplify me when I am dead.

 As the process of earth
 strip off the colour and the skin
 take the brown hair and the blue eye

 and leave me simpler than at birth,
 when hairless I came howling in
 as the moon came in the cold sky.

 Of my skeleton perhaps
 so stripped, a learned man may say
 "He was of such a type and intelligence," no more.

 Thus when in a year collapse
 particular memories, you may
 deduce from the long pain I bore

 the opinion I held, who was my foe
 and what I left, even my appearance
 but incidents will be no guide.

 Time's wrong way telescope will show
 a minute man the years hence
 and by distance simplified.

 Through the lens see if I seem
 substance or nothing: of the world
 deserving mention or charitable oblivion

 not by momentary spleen
 or love into decision hurled
 leisurely arrive at an opinion.

 Remember me when I am dead
 and simplify me when I am dead.
-- Keith Douglas
Here's a poem that I first read in high school and which spurred my
consequent obsession with poetry. The reason I really like Keith Douglas is
because of his rawness of emotion. It is almost as if his poems document the
very moment when a truth must have become evident to him. It is possible
that this is so because all we have are his early works -- lacking the
maturity or perhaps, the practice that comes with age, due to his untimely

swati chaudhary



Call Me by My True Names -- Thich Nhat Hanh

Guest poem sent in by Rachael Shaw
(Poem #1944) Call Me by My True Names
 Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow
 because even today I still arrive.

 Look deeply: I arrive in every second
 to be a bud on a spring branch,
 to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
 learning to sing in my new nest,
 to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
 to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

 I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
 in order to fear and to hope.
 The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
 death of all that are alive.

 I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
 and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
 to eat the mayfly.

 I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
 and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
 feeds itself on the frog.

 I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
 my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
 and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

 I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
 who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
 and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

 I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
 and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my people,
 dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

 My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
 My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

 Please call me by my true names,
 so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
 so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

 Please call me by my true names,
 so I can wake up,
 and so the door of my heart can be left open,
 the door of compassion.
-- Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk. His lifelong efforts to generate
peace moved Martin Luther King, Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize
in 1967. He is the author of over 75 books.

This poem was sent to me by a friend recently when I was becoming frustrated
with someone's judgmental approach to a client of mine that was due to be
executed. Hanh's poem is essentially about understanding. It is about not
judging one for their crime but rather seeing what got them to that point.
Working with prisoners on death row, one learns that the prisoners come from
neglect, abuse and poverty. Hanh explains that if raised under these
circumstances, one may end up like this also.

I interpret this poem as encouraging the practice of deep empathy for those we
have trouble understanding. Hahn is urging us to treat everyone kindly and look
at all living beings with eyes of compassion.

Rachael Shaw

  Information on Thich Nhat Hanh

  Publisher of Thich Nhat Hanh books

Dead Man's Chest -- Robert Louis Stevenson

(Poem #1943) Dead Man's Chest
 Fifteen men on the dead man's chest--
   Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
 Drink and the devil had done for the rest--
   Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
-- Robert Louis Stevenson
Given that "poetry included in works of fiction" is a genre that both Thomas
and I rate very highly, it is surprising that this little scrap of verse has
not been run before. Written as part of Stevenson's classic (and brilliant -
if you haven't read it yet, do so!) "Treasure Island", it has become the
canonical pirate song, with a fame and popularity that almost eclipses that
of the book itself.

Wikipedia has a bit of research on the song that is worth quoting in full:

  In the novel Treasure Island, the full song is not reported. The chorus
  is given in full.

  The book records only one other phrase from the song, near its end:
  "But one man of her crew alive, What put to sea with seventy-five."

  According to research done by Skip Henderson there is an actual
  "legend" behind the song. The legend, which was possibly devised by
  Stevenson himself, says that the rhyme tells the tale of a time when
  Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard, marooned a shipload of
  mutineers on Dead Man's Chest Island, a barren rock in Deadman's Bay
  on Peter Island near Tortola. The island has high cliffs, no trees,
  sparse vegetation and no fresh water. The men were equipped with only
  a single cutlass and a bottle of rum each. The intent was, one would
  assume, that the men would either starve or kill each other in a
  drunken brawl. A month later Teach returned to find that despite the
  blazing Caribbean sun and lack of supplies, fifteen men had survived.
  The shanty tells in part what became of the rest.

The richness and attention to detail involved in constructing an entire
iceberg to push four lines of verse to the surface are reminiscent of
Tolkien, and they give the song a similar appeal, making it both an
integral and organic part of the book and an excellent piece of verse in
its own right.



The complete text of Treasure Island:

Wikipedia entry:'s_Chest

An expansion of Stevenson's fragment:

A Daydream -- Emily Bronte

Guest poem sent in by Neha Khanna
(Poem #1942) A Daydream
 On a sunny brae alone I lay
 One summer afternoon;
 It was the marriage-time of May,
 With her young lover, June.

 From her mother's heart seemed loath to part
 That queen of bridal charms,
 But her father smiled on the fairest child
 He ever held in his arms.

 The trees did wave their plumy crests,
 The glad birds carolled clear;
 And I, of all the wedding guests,
 Was only sullen there!

 There was not one, but wished to shun
 My aspect void of cheer;
 The very gray rocks, looking on,
 Asked, "What do you here?"

 And I could utter no reply;
 In sooth, I did not know
 Why I had brought a clouded eye
 To greet the general glow.

 So, resting on a heathy bank,
 I took my heart to me;
 And we together sadly sank
 Into a reverie.

 We thought, "When winter comes again,
 Where will these bright things be?
 All vanished, like a vision vain,
 An unreal mockery!

 "The birds that now so blithely sing,
 Through deserts, frozen dry,
 Poor spectres of the perished spring,
 In famished troops will fly.

 "And why should we be glad at all?
 The leaf is hardly green,
 Before a token of its fall
 Is on the surface seen!"

 Now, whether it were really so,
 I never could be sure;
 But as in fit of peevish woe,
 I stretched me on the moor,

 A thousand thousand gleaming fires
 Seemed kindling in the air;
 A thousand thousand silvery lyres
 Resounded far and near:

 Methought, the very breath I breathed
 Was full of sparks divine,
 And all my heather-couch was wreathed
 By that celestial shine!

 And, while the wide earth echoing rung
 To that strange minstrelsy
 The little glittering spirits sung,
 Or seemed to sing, to me:

 "O mortal! mortal! let them die;
 Let time and tears destroy,
 That we may overflow the sky
 With universal joy!

 "Let grief distract the sufferer's breast,
 And night obscure his way;
 They hasten him to endless rest,
 And everlasting day.

 "To thee the world is like a tomb,
 A desert's naked shore;
 To us, in unimagined bloom,
 It brightens more and more!

 "And, could we lift the veil, and give
 One brief glimpse to thine eye,
 Thou wouldst rejoice for those that live,
 BECAUSE they live to die."

 The music ceased; the noonday dream,
 Like dream of night, withdrew;
 But Fancy, still, will sometimes deem
 Her fond creation true.
-- Emily Bronte
Note: brae (n., Scots): a hillside

The most interesting bit in this poem, for me, is in these lines -

  "Now, whether it were really so,
  I never could be sure;"

I wonder, why does the poet say this when the entire "May marrying June"
sequence would appear fantastic enough to most of us? Is the section above
these lines to be taken as 'factual reporting', and the section from these
lines onwards as a 'fancy'?

  "But Fancy, still, will sometimes deem
  Her fond creation true."

Other than that, I find that the language is simple; the rhyming makes it very
hummable. The descriptions are very vivid, as if she stood there and she saw a
wedding. It is as if she is pointing towards the greens in spring and telling
you their history (like someone would point at an ancient palace and say "here
is where that king lived"). And then she turns towards you with her eyes wide
and tells you something you are never going to believe (and that someone then
turns to you and says "no one really knows - but people still hear sounds on
moonlit nights...").


The Return -- Ezra Pound

Guest poem sent in by Ray Williams
(Poem #1941) The Return
 See, they return; ah, see the tentative
 Movements, and the slow feet,
 The trouble in the pace and the uncertain

 See, they return, one, and by one,
 With fear, as half-awakened;
 As if the snow should hesitate
 And murmur in the wind,
 and turn half back;
 These were the 'Wing'd-with-Awe',

 Gods of the wingéd shoe!
 With them the silver hounds,
 sniffing the trace of air!

 Haie! Haie!
 These were the swift to harry;
 These the keen-scented;
 These were the souls of blood.

 Slow on the leash,
 pallid the leash-men!
-- Ezra Pound
Many years ago, when I was preparing for my matriculation at high school, we
had an anthology of poems to study. Several have stuck with me through my
life for one or other reason. One such is The Return by Ezra Pound. It came
to mind the other day when Rumsfeld walked off the stage after announcing
his intention to resign.

I can't remember what analysis we did of the poem, and I'm not sure that I
could give any erudite comments on the style. I simply find the rather
plain language much more telling of the emotion than in other poems about the
horror of war. Just a simple vignette of warriors returning.

Ray Williams



Did I Miss Anything -- Tom Wayman

(Poem #1940) Did I Miss Anything
                             Question frequently asked by
                             students after missing a class

 Nothing. When we realized you weren't here
 we sat with our hands folded on our desks
 in silence, for the full two hours

     Everything. I gave an exam worth
     40 per cent of the grade for this term
     and assigned some reading due today
     on which I'm about to hand out a quiz
     worth 50 per cent

 Nothing. None of the content of this course
 has value or meaning
 Take as many days off as you like:
 any activities we undertake as a class
 I assure you will not matter either to you or me
 and are without purpose

     Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
     a shaft of light descended and an angel
     or other heavenly being appeared
     and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
     to attain divine wisdom in this life and
     the hereafter
     This is the last time the class will meet
     before we disperse to bring this good news to all people on earth

 Nothing. When you are not present
 how could something significant occur?

     Everything. Contained in this classroom
     is a microcosm of human existence
     assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
     This is not the only place such an opportunity has been gathered

     but it was one place

     And you weren't here
-- Tom Wayman
Being a teacher has its rewards, yes, but it has its frustrations too, as so
perfectly summed up by this marvellous poem. For sheer, undiluted annoyance,
"did I miss anything" has to rank up there with "will this be on the test?",
and Wayman surely speaks for every teacher, everywhere, when he replies with
this dryly sarcastic, amusing and yet heartfelt monologue.

And I love the power of the ending, where the tone changes, the flow of
words slowing and sarcasm giving way to deeper emotion, as the narrator has
one, final attempt at the possibly hopeless task of explaining just what the
student *did* miss...

     This is not the only place such an opportunity has been gathered

     but it was one place

     And you weren't here



Wayman's homepage [including biography and writing philosophy]:

The Wild Swans at Coole -- William Butler Yeats

Guest poem sent in by Radhika Gowaikar
(Poem #1939) The Wild Swans at Coole
 The trees are in their autumn beauty,
 The woodland paths are dry,
 Under the October twilight the water
 Mirrors a still sky;
 Upon the brimming water among the stones
 Are nine and fifty swans.

 The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me
 Since I first made my count;
 I saw, before I had well finished,
 All suddenly mount
 And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
 Upon their clamorous wings.

 I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
 And now my heart is sore.
 All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
 The first time on this shore,
 The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
 Trod with a lighter tread.

 Unwearied still, lover by lover,
 They paddle in the cold,
 Companionable streams or climb the air;
 Their hearts have not grown old;
 Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
 Attend upon them still.

 But now they drift on the still water
 Mysterious, beautiful;
 Among what rushes will they build,
 By what lake's edge or pool
 Delight men's eyes, when I awake some day
 To find they have flown away?
-- William Butler Yeats
I am surprised that we haven't run this before. I think the line, "And
scatter wheeling in great broken rings" is what does it for me. It is as if
Yeats is part of the picture with the swans and yet remains a mere onlooker.
The line describes the image in my mind perfectly.

The idea of returning to a place time after time and contrasting the changes
in oneself with the (apparent) constancy of the surroundings is not exactly
novel. But this poem does it justice. Perhaps the popularity of the idea
stems the fact that we are all practitioners of it, though not always



1. Coole Park and Gardens are understandably pround of their connection to

2. I am also reminded of this poem/song
Men reminiscing by the water.

Oh! Ever Thus, From Childhood's Hour -- Thomas Moore

(Poem #1938) Oh! Ever Thus, From Childhood's Hour
 Oh! ever thus, from childhood's hour,
   I've seen my fondest hopes decay;
 I never lov'd a tree or flower,
   But 'twas the first to fade away.
 I never nurs'd a dear gazelle,
   To glad me with its soft black eye,
 But when it came to know me well,
   And love me, it was sure to die!
-- Thomas Moore
   (from 'Lalla Rookh, An Oriental Romance')

There is about "old" poetry - particularly that of the Romantic and Georgian
periods - a quality that I find sadly absent in more modern verse: the
underlying sense that rhymed and metrical verse is a *natural* medium in
which to express one's thoughts and writings. Today's excerpt is a wonderful
example of this sort of unselfconsciousness - the verse flows easily and
naturally, but the primary focus is the dialogue between Moore and the
reader, and at no point do we stop and feel that what he has to say is in
any way constrained by the requirements of the form.

While "Lalla Rookh" itself has faded into relative obscurity, the above
quoted lines - particularly the second quatrain - have remained both
well-known and popular. (In particular, no fan of Wodehouse can fail to be
familiar with the "dear gazelle"!). And though it is a verse that has
inevitably attracted its share of parodies, this is more due to its
distinctiveness than to any inherent mockability. (That said, some of the
parodies are truly delightful, such as Tom Hood Jr.'s

  I never nursed a dear gazelle,
     To glad me with its dappled hide,
  But when it came to know me well,
     It fell upon the buttered side.

or Henry Leigh's

  My rich and aged Uncle John
    Has known me long and loves me well
  But still persists in living on -
    I would he were a young gazelle.

I've remarked, about some of Moore's other works, that their salient feature
is their musicality; today's piece does exhibit the same wonderful sense of
the sound and flow of the words, but it is more of a background quality.
Also, the fact that this is not a standalone poem but part of an extended
epic lends it a very different character (and indeed, by choosing to excerpt
such a small piece, I have inevitably sacrificed some of that character). To
convey some idea of the tradeoff involved, for instance has a longer
excerpt that loses some of the distinctive beauty of the shorter piece, but
gives far more of the flavour of its setting.




Full text of "Lalla Rookh"

A bit about Lalla Rookh:
  [broken link]

Mimi on the Beach -- Jane Siberry

Guest poem submitted by J. Goard:
(Poem #1937) Mimi on the Beach
 I scan the horizon for you, Mimi,
 I scan for the both of us...
 I scan the horizon for you, Mimi,
 I stand and scan on the strand of sand,
 Stand and scan on the strand of sand...

 But first I'm sitting over here.
 See that gaggle of guys and girls?
 A typical day at the beach,
 Well, typical 'til I make my speech.

 There is a girl out on the sea,
 Floating on a pink surfboard,
 With a picnic lunch and parasol,
 Sitting there like a typical girl.

 Well, this is not a locker room,
 And that's a surfboard, not a yacht;
 The arrangement's not... quite... there...

 One girl laughs at skinny guys;
 someone else points out a queer.
 They're all jocks, both guys and girls:
 Press a button, take your cue.

 And see the girl with perfect teeth?
 She picks up lonely guys in bars,
 Then takes off when they've bought her drinks.
 "Don't you have money?" I ask - "Of course I do!"

 This is not a locker room, here,
 And that's a surfboard, not a yacht;
 The arrangement's not... quite... there...

 But the day was faultless in beauty,
 Pitched on tropical scenery
 Stretched from white sand up to the open sky
 Down to the shining sea again and then back  to me...
 And Mimi on the beach
 Mimi on the beach
 Mimi on the beach...
 Mimi on the beach
 Mimi on the beach
 Mimi and me...

 I'm still sitting over here.
 One guy just got up and brayed.
 They wag their words - they're all in heat -
 I can ignore it; just don't steam up the view.

 Mimi's still out on the sea,
 Floating on a pink surfboard;
 She's checking out her arms and legs
 In case her casing's getting burnt.

 This is not a locker room, here,
 And that's a surfboard, not a yacht;
 The arrangement's not... quite... quite... there...

 But the day was faultless in beauty,
 Pitched on tropical scenery
 Stretched from white sand up to the open sky
 Down to the shining sea again and then back to me...

 And Mimi on the beach
 Mimi on the beach
 Mimi on the beach...
 Mimi on the beach
 Mimi on the beach
 Mimi and me...

 You don't know me but I've been watching you all day,
 And I've come to the edge of the water now to have my say.
 The picnic lunch is off.  Throw your parasol away.
 Put your belly to the board, Mimi, and paddle out to sea,
 Then turn the board around, Mimi, until you're facing me,
 Then you wait for the waves to start building,
 For the valleys to deepen
 And the mountains to increase in height,
 And when the right time comes, Mimi,
 You grab the edges of the board with your hands,
 Lift yourself up and stand there
 And see as far as you can see...
 Stand up, Mimi.
 Stand up!

 I scan the horizon for you, Mimi,
 I scan for the both of us...
 I scan the horizon for you, Mimi,
 I stand and scan on the strand of sand,
 Stand and scan on the strand of sand...

 The great leveller is coming,
 And he's not going to stop to take your pulse,
 And he's not going to ask you why you're the way you are,
 And I think that's the worst part:
 You never get a chance to explain yourself.
 And he's going to take those mountains
 And shove them into the valleys
 Until there's nothing left except a vast expanse...
 And you'll float there, Mimi,
 On the flat Sargasso Sea of your soul...
 And if they pull you away from your bleaching pink surfboard
 And stretch you across the wind,
 You'll make no sound,
 Wet leaves on a dry map,
 The great leveller, or the great escape?

 But the day was faultless in beauty,
 Pitched on tropical scenery
 Stretched from white sand up to the open sky
 Down to the shining sea again and then back to me...

 And Mimi on the beach
 Mimi on the beach
 Mimi on the beach...
 Mimi on the beach
 Mimi on the beach
 Mimi and me...

 There's a girl out on the sea,
 Floating on a pink surfboard.
 A parasol floats nearby.
 The arrangement's not... quite... quite... there.
-- Jane Siberry
Jane Siberry (now, apparently, named "Issa") is probably the most
bizarre lyricist I've ever encountered, spinning dramatic monologues
that would seem too profoundly insane to be believable if she didn't
sell them so well with off-kilter rhythms and her quirky voice.  "Mimi
on the Beach" was her big indie hit from the early nineties, but I never
really registered its lyrics until recently.  I love this portrait of a
bitter wallflower -- or is it a homicidal stalker? -- fixated on the
singular importance of "Mimi and me", or, if you will, "me, me, and me".
"The great leveller is coming", indeed, but is it the inevitability of
death or aging, or the flatness of a "real world" outside of surfing, or
"me coming to kill you"?  (There is a sequel from a later album called
"Mimi Speaks", but I dislike its overly blunt attempt at resolution.)
However you hear it, it's a truly weird, cool song close to the heart of
"new wave".


Untitled -- Michael Leunig

Guest poem sent in by Prachi Gupta
(Poem #1936) Untitled
 When the heart
 Is cut or cracked or broken
 Do not clutch it
 Let the wound lie open
 Let the wind
 From the good old sea blow in
 To bathe the wound with salt

 Let a stray dog lick it
 Let a bird lean in the hole and sing
 A simple song like a tiny bell
 And let it ring
 Let it go.  Let it out.
 Let it all unravel.
 Let it free and it can be
 A path on which to travel.
-- Michael Leunig
This is a poem without a title, by the Australian writer, poet, cartoonist,
philosopher, Michael Leunig. I first discovered Leunig about 10 years ago
when a cousin gifted me one of his books, I have followed his work ever
since and have always found it endearing and enchanting. Like this poem
here, he talks of simple things around us, within us and talks of them in an
amazingly simple and human way; and reading his work mostly opens a tiny
window somewhere in the heart.

I hope everyone enjoys this!



Wikipedia entry:

Leunig's official site:

The Armful -- Robert Frost

Guest poem sent in by Pavithra Sankaran

Something Genevieve Aquino said about packing and putting things away [1]
reminded me of this quiet gem by Robert Frost:
(Poem #1935) The Armful
 For every parcel I stoop down to seize
 I lose some other off my arms and knees,
 And the whole pile is slipping, bottles, buns
 Extremes too hard to comprehend at once,
 Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
 With all I have to hold with hand and mind
 And heart, if need be, I will do my best
 To keep their building balanced at my breast.
 I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
 Then sit down in the middle of them all.
 I had to drop the armful in the road
 And try to stack them in a better load.
-- Robert Frost
A graceful, calm poem about clumsy, inadequate but all too human attempts
at gathering and keeping everything that matters. As I grow older and watch
others a generation older than me fade into their sunset years, I realise
unhappily that neither the human mind nor heart really have all the space
we imagine (and hope) they do. But if there is indeed a way of stacking
memory and other love-tinsel in "better load", would that I learn it one

Pavithra Sankaran

[1] see the comments to poem #1935:

Against Entropy -- John M Ford

Guest poem sent in by Zeynep Dilli
(Poem #1934) Against Entropy
 The worm drives helically through the wood
 And does not know the dust left in the bore
 Once made the table integral and good;
 And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
 Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
 A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
 The names of lovers, light of other days
 Perhaps you will not miss them. That's the joke.
 The universe winds down. That's how it's made.
 But memory is everything to lose;
 Although some of the colors have to fade,
 Do not believe you'll get the chance to choose.
 Regret, by definition, comes too late;
 Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.
-- John M Ford
As sad it is to become aware of the main mass of the body of someone's work
after his death, that pattern is repeated again and again, and here's
another such case.  John Mike Ford, whom I knew mostly through his comments
on the weblog _Making Light_ and two other of his poems, "Troy: The Movie"
and "110 Stories", passed away last night---the morning of September 25th.
Those who had read more of him made the rest of us realize what we missed.
Much more can be found starting at this weblog entry:

As for this particular poem, two things first caught my eye: The
English-sonnet rhyming scheme, and the last line taken together with the
title.  "Against Entropy: Say what you mean.  Bear witness.  Iterate."  In
the era when mass-scale language manipulation is an art form (even in the
way Orwell had foreseen), that reduction of Ford's call has its own urgency.

But the poem's point doesn't need to be taken at the level of politics to be
taken seriously; it's something one needs to remember in day-to-day life.
We'll forget things, and not only things we want to forget.  Things will
change.  I can't say it better than the third quartuplet of the sonnet, so I
won't try; but for things we really, truly care about and we really, truly
would like to keep in heart or mind or in physical reality, we should be
insistent about keeping it---write, tell, note, make it clear.  On a very
personal level, maybe the best argument for keeping a journal that I've

The language of the poem is driving, and on a meta-level, demonstrates its
own point as clearly and starkly as possible.  As the lines progress,
there's a shift from even the simplest of metaphors and illustrative
examples to outright "Say[ing] what [it] mean[s]." On that note, I've
babbled on too much already.

-- Zeynep Dilli


Wikipedia entry:

Where Lesbians Come From -- Jan Sellers

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1933) Where Lesbians Come From
 It is true that lesbians do not have families;
 we have pretend family relationships.
 We do not have mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters;
 our sons and daughters do not count at all,
 having no families within which to rear them.
 And our lovers - there's nothing in that
 but something mocking truth;
 for you know it's true
 that lesbians do not have families, like you...

 We emerge, instead, complete from some dark shell,
 beds and beds of us (like oysters,
 what else would I mean?)
 sea-born on stormy nights
 with the wind in a certain quarter.
 We rise and wiggle, all slippery and secret,
 curling and stretching and glad to be alive,
 untangling our hair from the wind and salt and seaweed.
 We steal clothes from washing lines,
 and once it's daylight, almost pass for human.

 Glowing into warmth in the sun or a hard north wind
 we lick the salt from our lips,
 for now. And smile.
 We live for a while, in the light,
 despite your brutal laws
 and your wish that we were not here;
 we return to our beds by moonlight
 to nurture and foster the sweet salt shells
 that give birth to our lesbian futures.
 And there we plot, in our dark sea beds,
 the seduction of your daughters.
-- Jan Sellers
A marvellous poem. The mocking tone is done just right - funny enough to
make you laugh at the absurdity of it, indignant enough to make you realise
that it's not perhaps quite that absurd. The truth pushed just far enough to
make it satire. The poem works because underlying its ridiculous narration
is a deep sense of alienation, of feeling unwanted and other in a world
where choosing to live out your sexual preferences makes you sub-human. Plus
there's the deeply erotic oyster / salt imagery, of course.

I know practically nothing about Jan Sellers. The Virago New Poets (Virago
Press, 1993, edited by Melanie Silgardo and Janet Book) from which this poem
is taken describes her as a "part-time adult education worker, full-time
lesbian and intermittent performance poet".


Breakfast -- Jacques Prevert

Guest poem sent in by Firdaus Janoos
(Poem #1932) Breakfast
 He poured the coffee
 Into the cup
 He poured the milk
 Into the cup of coffee
 He added the sugar
 To the coffee and milk
 He stirred it
 With a teaspoon
 He drank the coffee
 And put back the cup
  Without speaking to me
 He lit a cigarette
 He blew some rings
 With the smoke
 He flicked the ashes
 Into the ashtray
  Without speaking to me
  Without looking at me
 He got up
 He put his hat
 On his head
 He put on
 His raincoat
 Because it was raining
 He went out
 Into the rain
  Without a word
  Without looking at me
 And I
  I took my head
  In my hands
  And I wept
-- Jacques Prevert
   (translated by Alastair Campbell)

Jacques Prévert is one of France's most well-known poets, and I was
surprised to see him so well represented on minstrels ;)

The thing I love about him is his remarkable obervation of and sympathy for
people and everyday life. He evokes deep emotions with suprising simplicity
and grace. The poem "Breakfast" published in Paroles, Prévert's first
collection of poetry which appeared late in 1945, is typical of his lucid
and poignant style.


[Martin adds]

As an aside, I'd like to thank reader Ian Barnett (of the Parole
Translations and Literary Agency) for drumming into me the importance of
finding out about and acknowledging the translators of non-English poems we
run. I don't always succeed, I'll admit, but I do always make the effort.
Quoting Ian's spot-on rant about this all-too-common omission:

  This lacuna annexes foreign poets to the English language in a most
  unwholesome, if reflexive, nay, automatic way. It does the invisible
  profession of the literary translator no favours either. And strictly
  it is illegal not to acknowledge provenance -- a law which, for the
  authorship of the translator, is also strangely invisible.



Wikipedia entry:

A collection of Prévert's poems, translated by Campbell:

Bonsai -- Edith Tiempo

Guest poem sent in by Genevieve Aquino
(Poem #1931) Bonsai
 All that I love
 I fold over once
 And once again
 And keep in a box
 Or a slit in a hollow post
 Or in my shoe.

 All that I love?
 Why, yes, but for the moment --
 And for all time, both.
 Something that folds and keeps easy,
 Son's note or Dad's one gaudy tie,
 A roto picture of a queen,
 A blue Indian shawl, even
 A money bill.

 It's utter sublimination,
 A feat, this heart's control
 Moment to moment
 To scale all love down
 To a cupped hand's size,

 Till seashells are broken pieces
 From God's own bright teeth,
 And life and love are real
 Things you can run and
 Breathless hand over
 To the merest child.
-- Edith Tiempo

Being from a small archipelago with such a bounty of poets writing in
English, I have always wanted to share Philippine poetry with Minstrels.
But I never summoned the courage until now, when Poem #1927 (Lowell Parker's
"The Bee Box"), reminded me again of this poem and the beautiful but simple
images of love and the human experience "scaled down" into this classic
example of Philippine Poetry in English.

I was packing up my things a week ago in preparation for moving to another
country and the rote action of putting things away reminded me of the
imagery in this poem. "All that I love/ I fold over once/ And once again".
Now that I am far from home, I feel that sharing this with others will make
me a little less homesick.

It is a universal human trait to gather all the important memories and
attempt to condense these metaphysical things into tangible bits and pieces
that one can carry around. Thus, no matter where a person might be, one can
always be reminded of home and the things they love.



Edith Tiempo is a Philippine National Artist for Literature.

A collection of Tiempo's poems:
 [broken link]

The Dover Bitch -- Anthony Hecht

Guest poem sent in by Nisha Susan
(Poem #1930) The Dover Bitch
 So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
 With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
 And he said to her, 'Try to be true to me,
 And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
 All over, etc., etc.'
 Well now, I knew this girl. It's true she had read
 Sophocles in a fairly good translation
 And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
 But all the time he was talking she had in mind
 The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
 On the back of her neck. She told me later on
 That after a while she got to looking out
 At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
 Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
 And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
 And then she got really angry. To have been brought
 All the way down from London , and then be addressed
 As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
 Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
 Anyway, she watched him pace the room
 And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
 And then she said one or two unprintable things.
 But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
 She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
 And she always treats me right. We have a drink
 And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
 Before I see her again, but there she is,
 Running to fat, but dependable as they come.
 And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d' Amour.
-- Anthony Hecht
Having recently discovered Anthony Hecht I am alternating between postures
of extreme surprise at others who have not read him and indignation at those
who have and not told me that he exists.

This particular poem is such a satisfying parody with its wide-eyed Holden
Caulfield taunts at Mathew Arnold and mock-earnestness. Hecht has also
written hilarious imitations of Horace's odes as if Horace was a
lotus-eating New Yorker who wrote for Vogue. Hecht's poems do that tricky
dance of being full of literary, even classical allusion and yet being very
accessible and fun. Perepateia for instance is a poem for anyone who likes
to go to the theatre. And the toothsome beauty of the poem is evident even
when one has no clue who ... is.

For the critics of course Anthony Hecht is an important poet because he
wrote about the Holocaust and war.



We've run Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach":

A well-written obit:

Biographical details

September Twelfth, 2001 -- X J Kennedy

Guest poem sent in by a contributor who wishes to remain anonymous
(Poem #1929) September Twelfth, 2001
 Two caught on film who hurtle
 from the eighty-second floor,
 choosing between a fireball
 and to jump holding hands,

 aren't us. I wake beside you,
 stretch, scratch, taste the air,
 the incredible joy of coffee
 and the morning light.

 Alive we open eyelids
 on our pitiful share of time,
 we bubbles rising and bursting
 in a boiling pot.
-- X J Kennedy
Kennedy's poem is featured in a volume, "Good Poems for Hard Times"
selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor. Without being trite,
dramatic, verbose or clever, the twelve lines (and especially the
"aren't us" capture the essence of being spared, and the thoughts
that spin through the mind each time another image of disaster is
broadcast on a billion TV screens: What did they feel? It wasn't
me! What would I have felt? Why am I still here? More coffee?


Academy of American Poets page on X. J. Kennedy:

Wikipedia entry:

The Workbox -- Thomas Hardy

Guest poem sent in by Jennifer McWhorter
(Poem #1928) The Workbox
 See, here's the workbox, little wife,
   That I made of polished oak.'
 He was a joiner, of village life;
   She came of borough folk.

 He holds the present up to her
   As with a smile she nears
 And answers to the profferer,
   ''Twill last all my sewing years!'

 'I warrant it will. And longer too.
   'Tis a scantling that I got
 Off poor John Wayward's coffin, who
   Died of they knew not what.

 'The shingled pattern that seems to cease
   Against your box's rim
 Continues right on in the piece
   That's underground with him.

 'And while I worked it made me think
   Of timber's varied doom;
 One inch where people eat and drink,
   The next inch in a tomb.

 'But why do you look so white, my dear,
   And turn aside your face?
 You knew not that good lad, I fear,
   Though he came from your native place?'

 'How could I know that good young man,
   Though he came from my native town,
 When he must have left there earlier than
   I was a woman grown?'

 'Ah, no. I should have understood!
   It shocked you that I gave
 To you one end of a piece of wood
   Whose other is in a grave?'

 'Don't, dear, despise my intellect,
   Mere accidental things
 Of that sort never have effect
   On my imaginings.'

 Yet still her lips were limp and wan,
   Her face still held aside,
 As if she had known not only John,
   But known of what he died.
-- Thomas Hardy
My closest friend turned me on to this poem about 13 years ago and it has
haunted me ever since. When I first read it, I saw only a surface tale of a
woodworker/coffin maker who made a box for his wife from a leftover bit from
his work. But on a second read I saw a woman whose husband had killed her
lover and who was now giving her a very unmistakable message: "I'm not
fooled, and this is all you have of him now. You might be next."

It's pretty powerful story telling.




Wikipedia on Hardy:

Christ in the Universe -- Alice Meynell

Guest poem sent in by Dr. Roger Thurling
(Poem #1927) Christ in the Universe
 With this ambiguous earth
 His dealings have been told us. These abide:
 The signal to a maid, the human birth,
 The lesson, and the young Man crucified.
 But not a star of all
 The innumerable host of stars has heard
 How He administered this terrestrial ball.
 Our race have kept their Lord¿s entrusted Word.
 Of His earth-visiting feet
 None knows the secret, cherished, perilous,
 The terrible, shamefast, frightened, whispered, sweet
 Heart-shattering secret of His way with us.
 No planet knows that this
 Our wayside planet, carrying land and wave,
 Love and life multiplied, and pain and bliss,
 Bears, as chief treasure, one forsaken grave.
 Nor, in our little day,
 May His devices with the heavens be guessed,
 His pilgrimage to thread the Milky Way
 Or His bestowals there be manifest.
 But in the eternities,
 Doubtless we shall compare together, hear
 A million alien Gospels, in what guise
 He trod the Pleiades, the Lyre, the Bear.
 O, be prepared, my soul!
 To read the inconceivable, to scan
 The million forms of God those stars unroll
 When, in our turn, we show to them a Man.
-- Alice Meynell
As a convinced atheist of many years I had often wondered how Christians
reconciled their belief in an all-knowing all-powerful universe-wide God,
with what they believed to be its (his?) interest in, and manifestation in
our parochial little planet, with all its peculiarities of biology and
geography - almost all of them unlikely to be repeated anywhere else in the

Alice Meynell tackled this problem head-on, walking over it as though it
didn't exist.



  Alice Meynell (1847 - 1922), English writer, editor, critic, and
  suffragist, now remembered mainly as a poet.