Poetry

“Cattails” – Nikky Finney

One woman drives across five states just to see her. The woman being driven to has no idea anyone’s headed her way. The driving woman crosses three bridges & seven lakes just to get to her door. She stops along the highway, wades into the soggy ground, cuts down coral-eyed cattails, carries them to her car as if they might be sherbet orange, long-stemmed, Confederate roses, sheared for Sherman himself. For two days she drives toward the woman in Kentucky, sleeping in rest areas with her seat lowered all the way back, doors locked. When she reaches the state line it’s misting. The tired pedal-to-the-metal woman finally calls ahead. I’m here, she says. Who’s this? The woman being driven to, who has never checked her oil, asks. The driving woman reminds her of the recent writing workshop where they shared love for all things out-of-doors and lyrical. Come, have lunch with me, the driving woman invites. They eat spinach salads with different kinds of dressing. They talk about driving, the third thing they both love and how fast clouds can change from state line to state line. The didn’t-know-she-was-coming woman stares at she who has just arrived. She tries to read the mighty spinach leaves in her bowl, privately marveling at the driving woman’s muscled spontaneity. She can hardly believe this almost stranger has made it across five states just to have lunch with her. She wonders where this mad driving woman will sleep tonight. She is of two driving minds. One convertible. One hardtop. The driving woman shows her pictures of her children. Beautiful, the other does not say. Before long words run out of petrol. The woman who is home, but without pictures of her own, announces she must go. The driving woman frets & flames, May I walk you to your car? They walk. The driver changes two lanes in third gear, fast. The trunk opens. The Mario Andretti look-alike fills the other woman’s arms with sable-sheared cattails. Five feet high & badly in need of sunlight & proudly stolen from across five states. The woman with no children of her own pulls their twenty pounds in close, resting them over her Peter-Panning heart. Her lungs empty out, then fill, then fill again with the surge of birth & surprise. For two years, until their velvet bodies begin (and end) to fall to pieces, every time the driven-to woman passes the bouquet of them, there, in the vase by the front door, she is reminded of what falling in love, without permission, smells like. Each time she reaches for her keys, she recalls what you must be willing to turn into for love: spiny oyster mushroom, damson, salt marsh, cedar, creosote, new bud of pomegranate, Aegean sage blue sea, fig, blueberry, marigold, leaf fall, fogs eye, dusty miller, thief-of-the-night.

Standard
Poetry

“Van Gogh’s Bed” – Jane Flanders

is orange,
like Cinderella’s coach, like
the sun when he looked it
straight in the eye.

is narrow, he sleeps alone,
tossing between two pillows,
while it carried him
bumpily to the ball.

is clumsy,
but friendly. A peasant
built the frame; and old wife beat
the mattress till it rose like meringue.

is empty,
morning light pours in
like wine, melody, fragrance,
the memory of happiness.

Standard
Poetry

“Those Winter Sundays” – Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Standard
Poetry

“Walker” – Antonio Machado

Walker, your footsteps
are the road, and nothing more.

Walker, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.

Walking you make the road,
and turning to look behind
you see the path you never
again will step upon.

Walker, there is no road,
only foam trails on the sea.

Standard
Poetry

“The Waves” – Virginia Woolf

Beneath my eyes opens—a book; I see to the bottom;

the heart—I see to the depths. I know what loves are

trembling into fire; how jealousy shoots its green flashes

hither and thither; how intricately love crosses love;

love makes knots; love brutally tears them apart.

I have been knotted; I have been torn apart.

 

Standard
Poetry

“River” – Shuntaro Tanikawa

Mother,
Why is the river laughing?

Why, because the sun is tickling the river.

Mother,
Why is the river singing?

Because the skylark praised the river’s voice.

Mother,
Why is the river cold?

It remembers being once loved by the snow.

Mother,
How old is the river?

It’s the same age as the forever young springtime.

Mother,
Why does the river never rest?

Well, you see it’s because the mother sea
is waiting for the river to come home.

Translated from the Japanese by Harold Wright.

 

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