“Modern Times” – Nicanor Parra

These are calamitous times we’re living through
you can’t speak without committing a contradiction 
or keep quiet without complicity with the Pentagon.
Everyone knows there’s no alternative possible
all roads lead to Cuba
but the air is dirty
breathing is a futile act.
The enemy says
the country is to blame
as if countries were men.
Accursed clouds circle accursed volcanos 
accursed embarkations launch accursed expeditions
accursed trees crumble on accursed birds:
it was all polluted to begin with.

“Anthracite” – Saeed Jones

A voice mistook for stone,
jagged black fist

thrown miles through space, through
doors of dark matter.

Heard you crack open the field’s skull
where you landed.

Halo of smoke ruined the sky
and you were a body now

naked and bruised in the cratered cotton.
Could have been a meteorite

except for those strip-mined eyes, each
a point of fossilized night.

Bringing water and a blanket,
I asked, “Which of your lives is this,

third or fifth?” Your answer, blues
a breeze to soak my clothes

in tears. With my palm pressed
to your lips, hush. When they hear

you, they will want you. Beware
of how they want you;

in this town everything born black
also burns.
 

From Prelude to Bruise. Copyright © 2014 Saeed Jones.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” – Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

“Door in the Mountain” – Jean Valentine

Never ran this hard through the valley

never ate so many stars

 

I was carrying a dead deer

tied on to my neck and shoulders

 

deer legs hanging in front of me

heavy on my chest

 

People are not wanting

to let me in

 

Door in the mountain

let me in

“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?

“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.

 

“From Nowhere” – Marie Howe

I think the sea is a useless teacher, pitching and falling
no matter the weather, when our lives are rather lakes

unlocking in a constant and bewildering spring. Listen,
a day comes, when you say what all winter

I’ve been meaning to ask, and a crack booms and echoes
where ice had seemed solid, scattering ducks

and scaring us half to death. In Vermont, you dreamed
from the crown of a hill and across a ravine

you saw lights so familiar they might have been ours
shining back from the future.

And waking, you walked there, to the real place,
and when you saw only trees, come back bleak

with a foreknowledge we have both come to believe in.
But this morning, a kind day has descended, from nowhere,

and making coffee in the usual way, measuring grounds
with the wooden spoon, I remembered,

this is how things happen, cup by cup, familiar gesture
after gesture, what else can we know of safety

or of fruitfulness? We walk with mincing steps within
a thaw as slow as February, wading through currents

that surprise us with their sudden warmth. Remember,
last week you woke still whistling for a bird

that had miraculously escaped its cage, and look, today,
a swallow has come to settle behind this rented rain gutter,

gripping a twig twice his size in his beak, staggering
under its weight, so delicately, so precariously it seems

from here, holding all he knows of hope in his mouth.

Excerpt from Clearing – Wendell Berry

From History:

What we eat is resurrection
of what we have eaten.
The flesh we had is changed
beyond any words we knew
into this unity we are:
woman, man, and earth,
each other’s metaphor.
I say this while the age
achieves its ruin, rain
falling hard in the night
into the swollen river,
a rage of lies in the air.
This weather is not spent.
But we have healed together
earth and eye and hand.
That is our sacrament.

“The Mountain” – Emily Dickinson

The mountain sat upon the plain
In his eternal chair,
His observation omnifold,
His inquest everywhere.

The seasons prayed around his knees,
Like children ’round a Sire:
Grandfather of the days is he,
Of dawn the ancestor.