20TH CENTURY POETS-12

POETS ON THIS PAGE: RICHARD WRIGHT * CARL SANDBURG * THOMAS LUX * JUDITH WRIGHT * KARL SHAPIRO * LORNA DEE CERVANTES * EDWARD KAMAU BRAITHWAITE * DAVID GASCOYNE * JOHN MASEFIELD *  JOY HARJO * ANDREW MOTION * BILL KNOTT

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I HAVE SEEN BLACK HANDS

I am black and I have seen black hands, millions and millions of them— 
Out of millions of bundles of wool and flannel tiny black fingers have 
     reached restlessly and hungrily for life. 
Reached out for the black nipples at the black breasts of black 
     mothers, 
And they've held red, green, blue, yellow, orange, white, and purple 
     toys in the childish grips of possession, 
And chocolate drops, peppermint sticks, lollypops, wineballs, ice 
     cream cones, and sugared cookies in fingers sticky and gummy, 
And they've held balls and bats and gloves and marbles and jack-knives 
     and sling-shots and spinning tops in the thrill of sport and play, 
And pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters and sometimes on New 
     Year's, Easter, Lincoln's Birthday, May Day, a brand new green 
     dollar bill, 
They've held pens and rulers and maps and tablets and books in palms 
     spotted and smeared with ink, 
And they've held dice and cards and half-pint flasks and cue sticks 
     and cigars and cigarettes in the pride of new maturity . . . 

II 

I am black and I have seen black hands, millions and millions of them— 
They were tired and awkward and calloused and grimy and covered with 
     hangnails, 
And they were caught in the fast-moving belts of machines and snagged 
     and smashed and crushed, 
And they jerked up and down at the throbbing machines massing taller 
     and taller the heaps of gold in the banks of bosses, 
And they piled higher and higher the steel, iron, the lumber, wheat, 
     rye, the oats, corn, the cotton, the wool, the oil, the coal, the 
     meat, the fruit, the glass, and the stone until there was too 
     much to be used, 
And they grabbed guns and slung them on their shoulders and marched 
     and groped in trenches and fought and killed and conquered 
     nations who were customers for the goods black hands had made. 
And again black hands stacked goods higher and higher until there was 
     too much to be used, 
And then the black hands held trembling at the factory gates the 
     dreaded lay-off slip, 
And the black hands hung idle and swung empty and grew soft and got 
     weak and bony from unemployment and starvation, 
And they grew nervous and sweaty, and opened and shut in anguish and 
     doubt and hesitation and irresolution . . . 

III 

I am black and I have seen black hands, millions and millions of them— 
Reaching hesitantly out of days of slow death for the goods they had 
     made, but the bosses warned that the goods were private and did 
     not belong to them, 
And the black hands struck desperately out in defence of life and 
     there was blood, but the enraged bosses decreed that this too was
     wrong, 
And the black hands felt the cold steel bars of the prison they had 
     made, in despair tested their strength and found that they could 
     neither bend nor break them, 
And the black hands fought and scratched and held back but a thousand 
     white hands took them and tied them, 
And the black hands lifted palms in mute and futile supplication to 
     the sodden faces of mobs wild in the revelries of sadism, 
And the black hands strained and clawed and struggled in vain at the 
     noose that tightened about the black throat, 
And the black hands waved and beat fearfully at the tall flames that 
     cooked and charred the black flesh . . . 

IV 

I am black and I have seen black hands 
Raised in fists of revolt, side by side with the white fists of white 
     workers, 
And some day—and it is only this which sustains me— 
Some day there shall be millions and millions of them, 
On some red day in a burst of fists on a new horizon!

by Richard Wright, 1908–1960


GRASS

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. 
Shovel them under and let me work— 

                                          I am the grass; I cover all. 

And pile them high at Gettysburg 
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun. 
Shovel them under and let me work. 
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor: 

                                          What place is this? 
                                          Where are we now? 

                                          I am the grass. 
                                          Let me work.

by Carl Sandburg,1878–1967

TO SEE SANDBURG’S “LOSERS” [CLICK HERE]



THE PEOPLE OF THE OTHER VILLAGE

hate the people of this village
and would nail our hats
to our heads for refusing in their presence to remove them
or staple our hands to our foreheads
for refusing to salute them
if we did not hurt them first: mail them packages of rats,
mix their flour at night with broken glass.
We do this, they do that.
They peel the larynx from one of our brothers’ throats.
We devein one of their sisters.
The quicksand pits they built were good.
Our amputation teams were better.
We trained some birds to steal their wheat.
They sent to us exploding ambassadors of peace.
They do this, we do that.
We canceled our sheep imports.
They no longer bought our blankets.
We mocked their greatest poet
and when that had no effect
we parodied the way they dance
which did cause pain, so they, in turn, said our God
was leprous, hairless.
We do this, they do that.
Ten thousand (10,000) years, ten thousand
(10,000) brutal, beautiful years.

by Thomas Lux, 1946 – 2017

from New and Selected Poems: 1975-1995, © 1997 by Thomas Lux. Used by the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved

“CRISS CROSS APPLE SAUCE”

                                 — for Claudia

Criss cross apple sauce
do me a favor and get lost
while you’re at it drop dead
then come back without a head
my daughter sings for me
when I ask her what she learned in school today
as we drive from her mother’s house to mine.
She knows I like some things that rhyme.
She sings another she knows I like:
Trick or treat, trick or treat
give me something good to eat
if you don’t I don’t care
I’ll put apples in your underwear ....
Apples in your underwear — I like that more
than Lautremont’s umbrella
on the operating table, I say to her
and ask her if she sees the parallel.
She says no but she prefers the apples too.
Sitting on a bench
nothing to do
along come some boys — p.u., p.u., p.u.
my daughter sings,
my daughter with her buffalo-size heart,
my daughter brilliant and kind,
my daughter singing
as we drive from her mother’s house to mine.


by Thomas Lux, 1946 – 2017




DROUGHT YEAR

That time of drought the embered air
burned to the roots of timber and grass. 
The crackling lime-scrub would not bear
and Mooni Creek was sand that year. 
The dingo's cry was strange to hear.

I heard the dingoes cry 
in the scrub on the Thirty-mile Dry.
I saw the wedgetail take his fill
perching on the seething skull. 
I saw the eel wither where he curled 
in the last blood-drop of a spent world.

I heard the bone whisper in the hide
of the big red horse that lay where he died. 
Prop that horse up, make him stand, 
hoofs turned down in the bitter sand
make him stand at the gate of the Thirty-mile Dry. 
Turn this way and you will die- 
and strange and loud was the dingoes' cry.

by Judith Wright, 1915-

FLOOD YEAR

Walking up the driftwood beach at day’s end
I saw it thrust up out of a hillock of sand -
a frail bleached clench of fingers dried by wind -
the dead child’s hand.

And they are mourning there still, thought I forget, a year of
flood, the scoured ruined land,
the herds gone down the current, the farms drowned and the
child never found.

When I was there the thick hurling waters
had gone back to the river, the farms were almost drained.
Banished half-dead cattle searched the dune; it rained;
river and sea met with wild sound.

Oh with a wild sound water flung into the air
where sea met river; all country round
no heart was quiet. I walked on the driftwood sand
and saw a pale grab crouched, and came to a stand
thinking, A child’s hand. The child’s hand.

by Judith Wright, 1915-

Includes reading of “Australia 1970”:

Australia 1970

Die, wild country, like the eaglehawk,
dangerous till the last breath's gone,
clawing and striking. Die
cursing your captor through a raging eye.

Die like the tigersnake
that hisses such pure hatred from its pain
as fills the killer's dreams
with fear like suicide's invading stain.

Suffer, wild country, like the ironwood
that gaps the dozer-blade.
I see your living soil ebb with the tree
to naked poverty.

Die like the soldier-ant
mindless and faithful to your million years.
Though we corrupt you with our torturing mind.
stay obstinate; stay blind.

For we are conquerors and self-poisoners
more than scorpion or snake
and dying of the venoms that we make
even while you die of us.

I praise the scoring drought, the flying dust,
the drying creek, the furious animal,
that they oppose us still;
that we are ruined by the thing we kill.

by Judith Wright, 1915-


The Fly

 
O hideous little bat, the size of snot,
With polyhedral eye and shabby clothes,
To populate the stinking cat you walk
The promontory of the dead man’s nose,
Climb with the fine leg of a Duncan-Phyfe
The smoking mountains of my food
And in a comic mood
In mid-air take to bed a wife.

Riding and riding with your filth of hair
On gluey foot or wing, forever coy,
Hot from the compost and green sweet decay,
Sounding your buzzer like an urchin toy—
You dot all whiteness with diminutive stool,
In the tight belly of the dead
Burrow with hungry head
And inlay maggots like a jewel.

At your approach the great horse stomps and paws
Bringing the hurricane of his heavy tail;
Shod in disease you dare to kiss my hand
Which sweeps against you like an angry flail;
Still you return, return, trusting your wing
To draw you from the hunter’s reach
That learns to kill to teach

Disorder to the tinier thing.
My peace is your disaster. For your death
Children like spiders cup their pretty hands
And wives resort to chemistry of war.
In fens of sticky paper and quicksands
You glue yourself to death. Where you are stuck
You struggle hideously and beg,
You amputate your leg
Imbedded in the amber muck.

But I, a man, must swat you with my hate,
Slap you across the air and crush your flight,
Must mangle with my shoe and smear your blood,
Expose your little guts pasty and white,
Knock your head sidewise like a drunkard’s hat,
Pin your wings under like a crow’s,
Tear off your flimsy clothes
And beat you as one beats a rat.

Then like Gargantua I stride among
The corpses strewn like raisins in the dust,
The broken bodies of the narrow dead
That catch the throat with fingers of disgust.
I sweep. One gyrates like a top and falls
And stunned, stone blind, and deaf
Buzzes its frightful F
And dies between three cannibals.

by Karl Shapiro, 1913–2000

from Selected Poems (New York: Library of America, 2003). Copyright © 2003 by Estate of Karl Shapiro. Reprinted with the permission of Wieser & Elwell, Inc.

THE PIANO TUNER’S WIFE

That note comes clear, like water running clear,
Then the next higher note, and up and up
And more and more, with now and then a chord,
The highest notes like tapping a tile with a hammer,
Now and again an arpeggio, a theme
As if the keyboard spoke to the one key,
Saying, No interval is exactly true,
And the note whines slightly and then truly sings.

She sits on the sofa reading a book she has brought,
A ray of sunlight on her white hair.
She is here because he is blind. She drives.
It is almost a platitude to say
That she leads him from piano to piano.
And this continues for about an hour,
Building bridges from both sides of the void,
Coasting the chasms of the harmonies.

And in conclusion,
When there is no more audible dissent,
He plays his comprehensive keyboard song,
The loud proud paradigm,
The one work of art without content.

by Karl Shapiro, 1913–2000


FREEWAY 289

Las casitas near the gray cannery,
nestled amid wild abrazos of climbing roses
and man-high red geraniums
are gone now.The freeway conceals it
all beneath a raised scar.

But under the fake windsounds of the open lanes,
in the abandoned lots below, new grasses sprout,
wild mustard remembers, old gardens
come back stronger than they were,
trees have been left standing in their yards.
Albaricoqueros, cerezos, nogales . . .
Viejitas come here with paper bags to gather greens.
Espinaca, verdolagas, yerbabuena . . .

I scramble over the wire fence
that would have kept me out.
Once, I wanted out, wanted the rigid lanes
to take me to a place without sun,
without the smell of tomatoes burning
on swing shift in the greasy summer air.

Maybe it's here
en los campos extraños de esta ciudad
where I'll find it, that part of me
mown under
like a corpse
or a loose seed.

by Lorna Dee Cervantes

To read Lorna Dee Cervantes’ poem “Uncle’s First Rabbit” [click here]


Poet from Barbados writing in English:

NAIMA

                      for John Coltrane 

Propped against the crowded bar
he pours into the curved and silver horn
his old unhappy longing for a home

the dancers twist and turn
he leans and wishes he could burn
his memories to ashes like some old notorious emperor

of rome. but no stars blazed across the sky when he was born
no wise men found his hovel. this crowded bar
where dancers twist and turn

holds all the fame and recognition he will ever earn
on earth or heaven. he leans against the bar
and pours his old unhappy longing in the saxophone

by Edward Kamau Brathwaite, 1930-


ecce-homo

“Ecce Homo” by Titian

ECCE HOMO

Whose is this horrifying face,
This putrid flesh, discouloured, flayed,
Fed on by flies, scorched by the sun?
Whose are these hollow red-filmed eyes
And thorn-spiked head and spear-stuck side?
Behold the Man: He is Man’s Son.

Forget the legend, tear the decent veil
That cowardice or interest devised
To make their mortal enemy a friend,
To hide the bitter truth all His wounds tell,
Lest the great scandal be no more disguised:
He is in agony till the world’s end,

And we must never sleep during that time!
He is suspended on the cross-tree now
And we are onlookers at the crime,
Callous contemporaries of the slow
Torture of God. Here is the hill
Made ghastly by His spattered blood

Whereon He hangs and suffers still:
See, the centurions wear riding-boots,
Black shirts and badges and peaked caps,
Greet one another with raised-arm salutes;
They have cold eyes, unsmiling lips;
Yet these His brothers know not what they do.

And on his either side hang dead
A labourer and a factory hand,
Or one is maybe a lynched Jew
And one a Negro or a Red,
Coolie or Ethiopian, Irishman,
Spaniard or German democrat.

Behind his lolling head the sky
Glares like a fiery cataract
Red with the murders of two thousand years
Committed in His name and by
Crusaders, Christian warriors
Defending faith and property.

Amid the plain beneath His transfixed hands,
Exuding darkness as indelible
As guilty stains, fanned by funereal
And lurid airs, besieged by drifting sands
And clefted landslides our about-to-be
Bombed and abandoned cities stand.

He who wept for Jerusalem
Now sees His prophecy extend
Across the greatest cities of the world,
A guilty panic reason cannot stem
Rising to raze them all as He foretold;
And He must watch this drama to the end.

Though often named, He is unknown
To the dark kingdoms at His feet
Where everything disparages His words,
And each man bears the common guilt alone
And goes blindfolded to his fate,
And fear and greed are sovereign lords.

The turning point of history
Must come. Yet the complacent and the proud
And who exploit and kill, may be denied,
Christ of Revolution and of Poetry,
The resurrection and the life
Wrought by your spirit’s blood.

Involved in their own sophistry
The black priest and the upright man
Faced by subversive truth shall be struck dumb,
Christ of Revolution and of Poetry,
While the rejected and condemned become
Agents of the divine.

Not from a monstrance silver-wrought
But from the tree of human pain
Redeem our sterile misery,
Christ of Revolution and of Poetry,
That man’s long journey
May not have been in vain.

by David Gascoyne, 1916-2001 [English poet]

THE UNCERTAIN BATTLE

Away the horde rode, in a storm of hail 
And steel-blue lightning. Hurtled by the wind 
Into their eardrums from behind the hill 
Came in increasing bursts the startled sound 
Of trumpets in the unseen hostile camp.-— 

Down through a raw black hole in heaven stared 
The horror-blanched moon’s eye. Across the swamp 
Five ravens flapped; and the storm disappeared 
Soon afterwards, like them, into that pit 
Of Silence which lies waiting to consume 
Even the braggart World itself at last . . . 

The candle in the hermit’s cave burned out 
At dawn, as usual.-—No one ever came 
Back down the hill, to say which side had lost.

by David Gascoyne, 1916-2001 [English poet]

SNOW IN EUROPE

Out of their slumber Europeans spun
Dense dreams: appeasements, miracle, glimpsed flash
Of a new golden era; but could not restrain
The vertical white weight that fell last night
And made their continent a blank.

Hush, says the sameness of the snow
The Ural and Jura now rejoin
The furthest Arctic's desolation. All is one;
Sheer monotone: plain, mountain; country, town:
Contours and boundaries no longer show.

The warring flags hang colourless a while;
Now midnight's icy zero feigns a truce
Between the signs and seasons, and fades out
All shots and cries. But when the great thaw comes,
How red shall be the melting snow, how loud the drums! 

                                        CHRISTMAS 1938

by David Gascoyne, 1916-2001 [English poet]

ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERWORLD

Curtains of rock
And tears of stone,
Wet leaves in a high crevice of the sky:
From side to side the draperies
Drawn back by rigid hands. 

And he came carrying the shattered lyre,
And wearing the blue robes of a king,
And looking through eyes like holes torn in a screen;
And the distant sea was faintly heard,
From time to time, in the suddenly rising wind,
Like a broken song. 

Out of his sleep, from time to time,
From between half open lips,
Escaped the bewildered words which try to tell
The tale of his bright night
And his wing-shadowed day
The soaring flights of thought beneath the sun
Above the islands of the seas
And all the deserts, all the pastures, all the plains
Of the distracting foreign land. 

He sleeps with the broken lyre between his hands,
And round his slumber are drawn back
The rigid draperies, the tears and wet leaves,
Cold curtains of rock concealing the bottomless sky.

David Gascoyne, 1916-2001 [English poet]


Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

by John Masefield

And now, as a song:

Twilight

  Twilight it is, and the far woods are dim, and the rooks
      cry and call.
  Down in the valley the lamps, and the mist, and a star over all,
  There by the rick, where they thresh, is the drone at an end,
  Twilight it is, and I travel the road with my friend.

  I think of the friends who are dead, who were dear long ago 
      in the past,
  Beautiful friends who are dead, though I know that death cannot 
      last;
  Friends with the beautiful eyes that the dust has defiled,
  Beautiful souls who were gentle when I was a child.

by John Masefield



Native American poet named American Poet Laureate in 2019:

EAGLE POEM

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

by Joy Harjo

from In Mad Love and War. Copyright © 1990 by Joy Harjo. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.

GRACE

for Darlene Wind and James Welch


I think of Wind and her wild ways the year we had nothing to lose and 
lost it anyway in the cursed country of the fox. We still talk about 
that winter, how the cold froze imaginary buffalo on the stuffed 
horizon of snowbanks. The haunting voices of the starved and mutilated 
broke fences, crashed our thermostat dreams, and we couldn’t stand it 
one more time. So once again we lost a winter in stubborn memory, 
walked through cheap apartment walls, skated through fields of ghosts 
into a town that never wanted us, in the epic search for grace.

Like Coyote, like Rabbit, we could not contain our terror and clowned 
our way through a season of false midnights. We had to swallow that 
town with laughter, so it would go down easy as honey. And one morning 
as the sun struggled to break ice, and our dreams had found us with 
coffee and pancakes in a truck stop along Highway 80, we found grace.

   
I could say grace was a woman with time on her hands, or a white 
buffalo escaped from memory. But in that dingy light it was a promise 
of balance. We once again understood the talk of animals, and spring 
was lean and hungry with the hope of children and corn.

   
I would like to say, with grace, we picked ourselves up and walked 
into the spring thaw. We didn’t; the next season was worse. You went 
home to Leech Lake to work with the tribe and I went south. And, Wind, 
I am still crazy. I know there is something larger than the memory of 
a dispossessed people. We have seen it.

by Joy Harjo

from In Mad Love and War, copyright 1990 by Joy Harjo and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.



Former English Poet Laureate Andrew Motion writes about Anne Frank’s “home” in Amsterdam:

Anne Frank Huis

Even now, after twice her lifetime of grief
and anger in the very place, whoever comes
to climb these narrow stairs, discovers how
the bookcase slides aside, then walks through
shadow into sunlit room, can never help

but break her secrecy again. Just listening
is a kind of guilt: the Westerkirk repeats
itself outside, as if all time worked round
towards her fear, and made each stroke
die down on guarded streets. Imagine it—

four years of whispering, and loneliness,
and plotting, day by day, the Allied line
in Europe with a yellow chalk. What hope
she had for ordinary love and interest
survives her here, displayed above the bed

as pictures of her family; some actors;
fashions chosen by Princess Elizabeth.
And those who stoop to see them find
not only patience missing its reward,
but one enduring wish for chances

like my own: to leave as simply
as I do, and walk at ease
up dusty tree-lined avenues, or watch
a silent barge come clear of bridges
settling their reflections in the blue canal.

by Andrew Motion, 1952-

from Coming In To Land: Selected Poems 1975—2015.  Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Motion.  Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc..

LOSSES

General Petraeus, when the death-count of American troops
in Iraq was close to 3,800, said ‘The truth is you never do get
used to losses. There is a kind of bad news vessel with holes,

and sometimes it drains, then it fills up, then it empties again’—
leaving, in this particular case, the residue of a long story
involving one soldier who, in the course of his street patrol,

tweaked the antenna on the TV in a bar hoping for baseball,
but found instead the snowy picture of men in a circle talking,
all apparently angry and perhaps Jihadists. They turned out to be

reciting poetry. ‘My life’, said the interpreter, ‘is like a bag of 
      flour
thrown through wind into empty thorn bushes’. Then ‘No, no’, he said,
correcting himself. ‘Like dust in the wind. Like a hopeless man.’

by Andrew Motion, 1952-

from Coming In To Land: Selected Poems 1975—2015.  Copyright © 2017 by Andrew Motion.  Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc..


THE CLOSET

                   (...after my Mother’s death)

Here not long enough after the hospital happened   
I find her closet lying empty and stop my play   
And go in and crane up at three blackwire hangers   
Which quiver, airy, released. They appear to enjoy

Their new distance, cognizance born of the absence   
Of anything else. The closet has been cleaned out   
Full-flush as surgeries where the hangers could be   
Amiable scalpels though they just as well would be

Themselves, in basements, glovelessly scraping uteri   
But, here, pure, transfigured heavenward, they’re
Birds, whose wingspans expand by excluding me. Their   
Range is enlarged by loss. They’d leave buzzards

Measly as moths: and the hatshelf is even higher!—
As the sky over a prairie, an undotted desert where   
Nothing can swoop sudden, crumple in secret. I’ve fled   
At ambush, tag, age: six, must I face this, can

I have my hide-and-seek hole back now please, the   
Clothes, the thicket of shoes, where is it? Only   
The hangers are at home here. Come heir to this   
Rare element, fluent, their skeletal grace sings

Of the ease with which they let go the dress, slip,   
Housecoat or blouse, so absolvingly. Free, they fly
Trim, triangular, augurs leapt ahead from some geometric   
God who soars stripped (of flesh, it is said): catnip

To a brat placated by model airplane kits kids
My size lack motorskills for, I wind up glue-scabbed,   
Pawing goo-goo fingernails, glaze skins fun to peer in as
Frost-i-glass doors ... But the closet has no windows,

Opaque or sheer: I must shut my eyes, shrink within   
To peep into this wall. Soliciting sleep I’ll dream   
Mother spilled and cold, unpillowed, the operating-
Table cracked to goad delivery: its stirrups slack,

Its forceps closed: by it I’ll see mobs of obstetrical   
Personnel kneel proud, congratulatory, cooing
And oohing and hold the dead infant up to the dead   
Woman’s face as if for approval, the prompted

Beholding, tears, a zoomshot kiss. White-masked   
Doctors and nurses patting each other on the back,   
Which is how in the Old West a hangman, if
He was good, could gauge the heft of his intended ...

Awake, the hangers are sharper, knife-’n’-slice, I jump   
Helplessly to catch them to twist them clear,   
Mis-shape them whole, sail them across the small air   
Space of the closet. I shall find room enough here

By excluding myself; by excluding myself, I’ll grow.

by Bill Knott, 1940-2014

from Becos, published by Random House.  Copyright 1983 by Bill Knott.  Reprinted by permission of the author.

Hair Poem

Hair is heaven’s water flowing eerily over us
Often a woman drifts off down her long hair and is lost

by Bill Knott, 1940-2014

BURIAL SCENE

On this shoveled open edge
On this lip of all our dreads

Earth seems most at balance
With its contending elements

The sun the cloud the wind the soil
All four exert an equal pull

So when the coffin enters
It presents no dissenters

Dressed in empty suitclothes
All mourners are scarecrows

Too far apart each one stands
Thus when they reach out hands

They can barely brush their
Limp glovetips against each other

by Bill Knott, 1940-2014

NAOMI POEM (THE STARFISH ONE)

Each evening the sea casts starfish up on the beach,—
scattering, stranding them. They die at dawn, leaving
black hungers in the sun.
                           We slept there that summer, we
fucked in their radiant evolutions up to our body. Ringed
by starfish gasping for their element,
                                       we joined to create
ours. All night they inhaled the sweat from our thrusting
limbs, and lived.
                   Often she cried out: Your hand!—It was
a starfish, caressing her with my low fire.

by Bill Knott, 1940-2014