“Difference” – Mark Doty

 

The jellyfish
float in the bay shallows
like schools of clouds,

a dozen identical–is it right
to call them creatures,
these elaborate sacks

of nothing? All they seem
is shape, and shifting,
and though a whole troop

of undulant cousins
go about their business
within a single wave’s span,

every one does something unlike:
this one a balloon
open on both ends

but swollen to its full expanse,
this one a breathing heart,
this a pulsing flower.

This one a rolled condom,
or a plastic purse swallowing itself,
that one a Tiffany shade,

this a troubled parasol.
This submarine opera’s
all subterfuge and disguise,

its plot a fabulous tangle
of hiding and recognition:
nothing but trope,

nothing but something
forming itself into figures
then refiguring,

sheer ectoplasm
recognizable only as the stuff
of metaphor. What can words do

but link what we know
to what we don’t,
and so form a shape?

Which shrinks or swells,
configures or collapses, blooms
even as it is described

into something unlikely
marine chiffon:
a gown for Isadora?

Nothing but style.
What binds
one shape to another

also sets them apart
–but what’s lovelier
than the shapeshifting

transparence of like and as:
clear, undulant words?
We look at alien grace,

unfettered
by any determined form,
and we say: balloon, flower, 

heart, condom, opera
lampshade, parasol, ballet.
Hear how the mouth,

so full
of longing for the world,
changes its shape?

 

“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?

“A Blessing” – James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

“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.

“The Portrait” – Stanley Kunitz

My mother never forgave my father
for killing himself,
especially at such an awkward time
and in a public park,
that spring
when I was waiting to be born.
She locked his name
in her deepest cabinet
and would not let him out,
though I could hear him thumping.
When I came down from the attic
with the pastel portrait in my hand
of a long-lipped stranger
with a brave moustache
and deep brown level eyes,
she ripped it into shreds
without a single word
and slapped me hard.
In my sixty-fourth year
I can feel my cheek
still burning.

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.

“What Happened” – Forrest Hamer

To say about it one thing. No, two. It was a horror. It could not be spoken.
So first there was the problem of recovering speech.
Calling out to it, listening each other.
We looked to the assurances of nature — regular violence, regular relief.
Color splayed before us — yellows, rhythms of red.
Faces and patterns in faces. Patience.
Finally, a word, but not many.
Silence again, longing.
More words but not what happened; words we had already said.
Horror holding, a black hole. Opening a little,
then a little more, then: we could think about the horror: what happened
a kind of speech, but not yet.

“Any Case” – Wislawa Szymborska

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Closer. Farther away.
It happened, but not to you.

You survived because you were first.
You survived because you were last.
Because alone. Because the others.
Because on the left. Because on the right.
Because it was raining. Because it was sunny.
Because a shadow fell.

Luckily there was a forest.
Luckily there were no trees.
Luckily a rail, a hook, a beam, a brake,
a frame, a turn, an inch, a second.
Luckily a straw was floating on the water.

Thanks to, thus, in spite of, and yet.
What would have happened if a hand, a leg,
one step, a hair away?

So you are here? Straight from that moment still suspended?
The net’s mesh was tight, but you– through the mesh?
I can’t stop wondering at it, can’t be silent enough.
Listen,
how quickly your heart is beating in me.

– Translated from the Polish by Grazyna Drabik & Sharon Olds