20th Century Poets-9

POETS ON THIS PAGE: * YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA * FRANK O’HARA * GWENDOLYN BROOKS * TED HUGHES * ANDREW HUDGINS * WALTER de la MARE * WENDY COPE * JUDITH ORTIZ COFER * LEWIS MACNEICE * LAWSON FUSAO INADA * ROBINSON JEFFERS * X. J. KENNEDY

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FACING IT

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
dammit: No tears.
I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way--the stone lets me go.
I turn that way--I'm inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet's image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I'm a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman's trying to erase names:
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

by Yusef Komunyakaa

THANKS

Thanks for the tree
between me & a sniper’s bullet.
I don’t know what made the grass
sway seconds before the Viet Cong
raised his soundless rifle.
Some voice always followed,
telling me which foot
to put down first.
Thanks for deflecting the ricochet
against that anarchy of dusk.
I was back in San Francisco
wrapped up in a woman’s wild colors,
causing some dark bird’s love call
to be shattered by daylight
when my hands reached up
& pulled a branch away
from my face. Thanks
for the vague white flower
that pointed to the gleaming metal
reflecting how it is to be broken
like mist over the grass,
as we played some deadly
game for blind gods.
What made me spot the monarch
writhing on a single thread
tied to a farmer’s gate,
holding the day together
like an unfingered guitar string,
is beyond me. Maybe the hills
grew weary & leaned a little in the heat.
Again, thanks for the dud
hand grenade tossed at my feet
outside Chu Lai. I’m still
falling through its silence.
I don’t know why the intrepid
sun touched the bayonet,
but I know that something
stood among those lost trees
& moved only when I moved.

by Yusef Komunyakaa



THE DAY LADY DIED

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
                       I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

by Frank O’Hara

From Lunch Poems. City Lights Books, ©1964.

PERSONAL POEM

Now when I walk around at lunchtime
I have only two charms in my pocket
an old Roman coin Mike Kanemitsu gave me
and a bolt-head that broke off a packing case
when I was in Madrid the others never
brought me too much luck though they did
help keep me in New York against coercion
but now I'm happy for a time and interested

I walk through the luminous humidity
passing the House of Seagram with its wet
and its loungers and the construction to
the left that closed the sidewalk if
I ever get to be a construction worker
I'd like to have a silver hat please
and get to Moriarty's where I wait for
LeRoi and hear who wants to be a mover and
shaker the last five years my batting average
is .016 that's that, and LeRoi comes in
and tells me Miles Davis was clubbed 12
times last night outside birdland by a cop
a lady asks us for a nickel for a terrible
disease but we don't give her one we
don't like terrible diseases, then

we go eat some fish and some ale it's
cool but crowded we don't like Lionel Trilling
we decide, we like Don Allen we don't like
Henry James so much we like Herman Melville
we don't want to be in the poets' walk in
San Francisco even we just want to be rich
and walk on girders in our silver hats
I wonder if one person out of the 8,000,000 is
thinking of me as I shake hands with LeRoi
and buy a strap for my wristwatch and go
back to work happy at the thought possibly so

by Frank O’Hara

From Lunch Poems. City Lights Books, ©1964 by Frank O’Hara.

******************************************************************


SADIE AND MAUD

Maud went to college.
Sadie stayed at home.
Sadie scraped life
With a fine-tooth comb.

She didn’t leave a tangle in.
Her comb found every strand.
Sadie was one of the livingest chits
In all the land.

Sadie bore two babies
Under her maiden name.
Maud and Ma and Papa
Nearly died of shame.

When Sadie said her last so-long
Her girls struck out from home.
(Sadie had left as heritage
Her fine-tooth comb.)

Maud, who went to college,
Is a thin brown mouse.
She is living all alone
In this old house.

by Gwendolyn Brooks

from Selected Poems (Harper & Row, 1963). Reprinted by consent of Brooks Permissions.

THE RITES FOR COUSIN VIT

Carried her unprotesting out the door.
Kicked back the casket-stand. But it can't hold her,
That stuff and satin aiming to enfold her,
The lid's contrition nor the bolts before.
Oh oh. Too much. Too much. Even now, surmise,
She rises in the sunshine. There she goes,
Back to the bars she knew and the repose
In love-rooms and the things in people's eyes.
Too vital and too squeaking. Must emerge.
Even now she does the snake-hips with a hiss,
Slops the bad wine across her shantung, talks
Of pregnancy, guitars and bridgework, walks
In parks or alleys, comes haply on the verge
Of happiness, haply hysterics. Is.

by Gwendolyn Brooks

From Blacks. Copyright © 1994 by Gwendolyn Brooks.  Reprinted by permission of Estate of Gwendolyn Brooks.

************************************************

HAWK ROOSTING

I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

The convenience of the high trees!
The air's buoyancy and the sun's ray
Are of advantage to me;
And the earth's face upward for my inspection.

My feet are locked upon the rough bark.
It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather:
Now I hold Creation in my foot

Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly -
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads -

The allotment of death.
For the one path of my flight is direct
Through the bones of the living.
No arguments assert my right:

The sun is behind me.
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.

by Ted Hughes

ESTHER’S TOMCAT

Daylong this tomcat lies stretched flat
As an old rough mat, no mouth and no eyes.
Continual wars and wives are what
Have tattered his ears and battered his head.

Like a bundle of old rope and iron
Sleeps till blue dusk. Then reappear
His eyes, green as ringstones: he yawns wide red,
Fangs fine as a lady's needle and bright.

A tomcat sprang at a mounted knight,
Locked round his neck like a trap of hooks
While the knight rode fighting its clawing and bite.
After hundreds of years the stain's there

On the stone where he fell, dead of the tom:
That was at Barnborough. The tomcat still
Grallochs odd dogs on the quiet,
Will take the head clean off your simple pullet.

Is unkillable. From the dog's fury,
From gunshot fired point-blank he brings
His skin whole, and whole
From owlish moons of bekittenings

Among ashcans. He leaps and lightly
Walks upon sleep, his mind on the moon
Nightly over the round world of men
Over the roofs go his eyes and outcry.

by Ted Hughes

Hughes reads his poem “The Thought-Fox”:


****************************************************

Elegy for My Father, Who Is Not Dead

One day I'll lift the telephone
and be told my father's dead. He's ready.
In the sureness of his faith, he talks
about the world beyond this world
5 as though his reservations have
been made. I think he wants to go,
a little bit—a new desire
to travel building up, an itch
to see fresh worlds. Or older ones.
10 He thinks that when I follow him
he'll wrap me in his arms and laugh,
the way he did when I arrived
on earth. I do not think he's right.
He's ready. I am not. I can't
15 just say good-bye as cheerfully
as if he were embarking on a trip
to make my later trip go well.
I see myself on deck, convinced
his ship's gone down, while he's convinced
20 I'll see him standing on the dock
and waving, shouting, Welcome back.

 by Andrew Hudgins

In the Well

My father cinched the rope,
a noose around my waist,
and lowered me into
the darkness. I could taste

my fear. It tasted first
of dark, then earth, then rot.
I swung and struck my head
and at that moment got

another then: then blood,
which spiked my mouth with iron.
Hand over hand, my father
dropped me from then to then:

then water. Then wet fur,
which I hugged to my chest.
I shouted. Daddy hauled
the wet rope. I gagged, and pressed

my neighbor's missing dog
against me. I held its death
and rose up to my father.
Then light. Then hands. Then breath.

by Andrew Hudgins

Dead Christ

There seems no reason he should’ve died. His hands
are pierced by holes too tidy to have held,
untorn, hard muscles as they writhed on spikes.
And on the pink, scrubbed bottom of each foot
a bee-stung lip pouts daintily.
No reason he should die–and yet, and yet
Christ’s eyes are swollen with it, his mouth
hangs slack with it, his belly taut with it,
his long hair lank with it, and damp;
and underneath the clinging funeral cloth
his manhood’s huge and useless with it: Death.

One blood-drop trickles toward his wrist. Somehow
the grieving women missed it when they bathed,
today, the empty corpse. Most Christs return.
But this one’s flesh. He isn’t coming back.

by Andrew Hudgins



THE LISTENERS

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,   
   Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses   
   Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,   
   Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;   
   ‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;   
   No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,   
   Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners   
   That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight   
   To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,   
   That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken   
   By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,   
   Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,   
   ’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even   
   Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,   
   That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,   
   Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house   
   From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,   
   And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,   
   When the plunging hoofs were gone.

by Walter de La Mare

NAPOLEON

‘What is the world, O soldiers?
It is I:
I, this incessant snow,
This northern sky;
Soldiers, this solitude
Through which we go
Is I.’

by Walter de La Mare

THE SCARECROW

All winter through I bow my head
beneath the driving rain;
the North Wind powders me with snow
and blows me black again;
at midnight 'neath a maze of stars
I flame with glittering rime,
and stand above the stubble, stiff
as mail at morning-prime.
But when that child called Spring, and all
his host of children come,
scattering their buds and dew upon
these acres of my home,
some rapture in my rags awakes;
I lift void eyes and scan
the sky for crows, those ravening foes,
of my strange master, Man.
I watch him striding lank behind
his clashing team, and know
soon will the wheat swish body high
where once lay a sterile snow;
soon I shall gaze across a sea
of sun-begotten grain,
which my unflinching watch hath sealed
for harvest once again.

by Walter de La Mare

***********************************************************


AFTER THE LUNCH

On Waterloo Bridge, where we said our goodbyes,
the weather conditions bring tears to my eyes.
I wipe them away with a black woolly glove
And try not to notice I've fallen in love.

On Waterloo Bridge I am trying to think:
This is nothing. You're high on the charm and the drink.
But the juke-box inside me is playing a song
That says something different. And when was it wrong?

On Waterloo Bridge with the wind in my hair
I am tempted to skip. You're a fool. I don't care.
The head does its best but the heart is the boss--
I admit it before I am halfway across.

by Wendy Cope

The Waste Land: Five Limericks

I

In April one seldom feels cheerful;
Dry stones, sun and dust make me fearful;
Clairvoyants distress me,
Commuters depress me--
Met Stetson and gave him an earful.

II

She sat on a mighty fine chair,
Sparks flew as she tidied her hair;
She asks many questions,
I make few suggestions--
Bad as Albert and Lil--what a pair!

III

The Thames runs, bones rattle, rats creep;
Tiresias fancies a peep--
A typist is laid,
A record is played--
Wei la la. After this it gets deep.

IV

A Phoenician named Phlebas forgot
About birds and his business--the lot,
Which is no surprise,
Since he'd met his demise
And been left in the ocean to rot.

V

No water. Dry rocks and dry throats,
Then thunder, a shower of quotes
From the Sanskrit and Dante.
Da. Damyata. Shantih.
I hope you'll make sense of the notes.

by Wendy Cope

********************************************************************

Quinceañera

My dolls have been put away like dead
children in a chest I will carry
with me when I marry.
I reach under my skirt to feel
a satin slip bought for this day. It is soft
as the inside of my thighs. My hair
has been nailed back with my mother’s
black hairpins to my skull. Her hands
stretched my eyes open as she twisted
braids into a tight circle at the nape
of my neck. I am to wash my own clothes
and sheets from this day on, as if
the fluids of my body were poison, as if
the little trickle of blood I believe
travels from my heart to the world were
shameful. Is not the blood of saints and
men in battle beautiful? Do Christ’s hands
not bleed into your eyes from His cross?
At night I hear myself growing and wake
to find my hands drifting of their own will
to soothe skin stretched tight
over my bones,
I am wound like the guts of a clock,
waiting for each hour to release me.

by Judith Ortiz Cofer

ESPERANZA

My name mocks me
for I was born at the cost
of my mother’s life,
earning my father’s hatred
with my first breath.
All my life
I have scoured a house soiled
with the thick soot of his resentment.
It has left its mark on the walls,
in his eyes, and on me.
All of it I have tried to wipe away.
In my hands I hold a broom,
in my heart—
ashes, ashes.

by Judith Ortiz Cofer

**********************************************************


BAGPIPE MUSIC

It’s no go the merrygoround, it’s no go the rickshaw,
All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.
Their knickers are made of crêpe-de-chine, their shoes are made of 
      python,
Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with heads of 
      bison.

John MacDonald found a corpse, put it under the sofa,
Waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker,
Sold its eyes for souvenirs, sold its blood for whisky,
Kept its bones for dumb-bells to use when he was fifty.

It’s no go the Yogi-Man, it’s no go Blavatsky,
All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.

Annie MacDougall went to milk, caught her foot in the heather,
Woke to hear a dance record playing of Old Vienna.
It’s no go your maidenheads, it’s no go your culture,
All we want is a Dunlop tyre and the devil mend the puncture.

The Laird o’Phelps spent Hogmanay declaring he was sober,
Counted his feet to prove the fact and found he had one foot over.
Mrs Carmichael had her fifth, looked at the job with repulsion,
Said to the midwife ‘Take it away; I’m through with
      over-production’.

It’s no go the gossip column, it’s no go the Ceilidh,
All we want is a mother’s help and a sugar-stick for the baby.

Willie Murray cut his thumb, couldn’t count the damage,
Took the hide of an Ayrshire cow and used it for a bandage.
His brother caught three hundred cran when the seas were lavish,
Threw the bleeders back in the sea and went upon the parish.

It’s no go the Herring Board, it’s no go the Bible,
All we want is a packet of fags when our hands are idle.

It’s no go the picture palace, it’s no go the stadium,
It’s no go the country cot with a pot of pink geraniums,
It’s no go the Government grants, it’s no go the elections,
Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension.

It’s no go my honey love, it’s no go my poppet;
Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.
The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won’t hold up the weather.

by Louis MacNeice

© Louis Macneice. Reproduced with permission of David Higham Associates

The poem above is about the London Blitz , when the city was bombed for 57 successive nights from September 1940, destroying more than a million houses. It was written in 1941.

Agag was the title of the king of the Amalekites and it means “flame”. The reference to Agag may be more complicated than that.

Louis MacNeice was an Irishman.

**********************************************

HEALING GILA

for The People

The people don't mention it much.
It goes without saying,
it stays without saying—

that concentration camp
on their reservation.

And they avoid that massive site
as they avoid contamination—

that massive void
punctuated by crusted nails,

punctured pipes, crumbled
failings of foundations . . .

What else is there to say?

This was a lush land once,
graced by a gifted people
gifted with the wisdom
of rivers, seasons, irrigation.

The waters went flowing
through a network of canals
in the delicate workings
of balances and health . . .

What else is there to say?

Then came the nation.
Then came the death.

Then came the desert.
Then came the camp.

But the desert is not deserted.
It goes without saying,
it stays without saying—

wind, spirits, tumbleweeds, pain.

by Lawson Fusao Inada

from Drawing the Line (Coffee House Press, 1997) . Copyright © 1997 by Lawson Fusao Inada.  Reprinted by permission of Coffee House Press.

The Grand Silos of the Sacramento

From a distance, at night, they seem to be
industries—all lit up but not on the map;
or, in this scientific age, they could be
installations for launching rocket ships—
so solid, and with such security, are they. . .
Ah, but up close, by the light of day,
we see, not “pads” but actual paddies—
for these are simply silos in ricefields,
structures to hold the harvested grain.
Still, they're the tallest things around,
and, by night or day, you'd have to say
they're ample for what they do: storage.
And, if you amble around from your car,
you can lean up against one in the sun,
feeling warmth on your cheek as you spread
out your arms, holding on to the whole world
around you, to the shores of other lands
where the laborers launched their lives
to arrive and plant and harvest this grain
of history—as you hold and look, look
up, up, up, and whisper: “Grandfather!”

by Lawson Fusao Inada

from Drawing the Line (Coffee House Press, c1997) Reprinted by permission of Coffee House Press.

*************************************************************

CARMEL POINT

The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses—
How beautiful when we first beheld it,
Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rockheads—
Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff.—As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.

by Robinson Jeffers, 1887 – 1962

From The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Three Volumes (edited by Tim Hunt). Stanford University Press. Copyright 1995.

Shine, Perishing Republic

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily 
   thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, 
   and the mass hardens,
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the 
   fruit rots to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and 
   decadence; and home to the mother.
You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be 
   it stubbornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains:
   shine, perishing republic.

But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the 
   thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet 
   there are left the mountains.
And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever 
   servant, insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught – they 
   say – God, when he walked on earth.

by Robinson Jeffers, 1887 – 1962

From The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Three Volumes (edited by Tim Hunt). Stanford University Press. Copyright 1995.

***************************************************************

For Allen Ginsberg

Ginsberg, Ginsberg, burning bright,   
Taunter of the ultra right,   
What blink of the Buddha’s eye   
Chose the day for you to die?

Queer pied piper, howling wild,
Mantra-minded flower child,   
Queen of Maytime, misrule’s lord   
Bawling, Drop out! All aboard!

Finger-cymbaled, chanting Om,
Foe of fascist, bane of bomb,
Proper poets’ thorn-in-side,
Turner of a whole time’s tide,

Who can fill your sloppy shoes?
What a catch for Death. We lose
Glee and sweetness, freaky light,
Ginsberg, Ginsberg, burning bright.

by X. J. Kennedy

“For Allen Ginsberg” from The Lords of Misrule: Poems 1922-2001. © 2002 X.J. Kennedy. Reproduced with permission of The John Hopkins University Press.

In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus One Day

In a prominent bar in Secaucus one day
Rose a lady in skunk with a topheavy sway,
Raised a knobby red finger–all turned from their beer–
While with eyes bright as snowcrust she sang high and clear:

‘Now who of you'd think from an eyeload of me
That I once was a lady as proud as could be?
Oh I'd never sit down by a tumbledown drunk
If it wasn't, my dears, for the high cost of junk.

‘All the gents used to swear that the white of my calf
Beat the down of the swan by a length and a half.
In the kerchief of linen I caught to my nose
Ah, there never fell snot, but a little gold rose.

‘I had seven gold teeth and a toothpick of gold,
My Virginia cheroot was a leaf of it rolled
And I'd light it each time with a thousand in cash–
Why the bums used to fight if I flicked them an ash.

‘Once the toast of the Biltmore, the belle of the Taft,
I would drink bottle beer at the Drake, never draught,
And dine at the Astor on Salisbury steak
With a clean tablecloth for each bite I did take.

‘In a car like the Roxy I'd roll to the track,
A steel-guitar trio, a bar in the back,
And the wheels made no noise, they turned ever so fast,
Still it took you ten minutes to see me go past.

‘When the horses bowed down to me that I might choose,
I bet on them all, for I hated to lose.
Now I'm saddled each night for my butter and eggs
And the broken threads race down the backs of my legs.

‘Let you hold in mind, girls, that your beauty must pass
Like a lovely white clover that rusts with its grass.
Keep your bottoms off barstools and marry you young
Or be left–an old barrel with many a bung.

‘For when time takes you out for a spin in his car
You'll be hard-pressed to stop him from going too far
And be left by the roadside, for all your good deeds,
Two toadstools for tits and a face full of weeds.'

All the house raised a cheer, but the man at the bar
Made a phone call and up pulled a red patrol car
And she blew us a kiss as they copped her away
From that prominent bar in Secaucus, N.J.

by X.J. Kennedy

from In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected
Poems 1955-2007, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

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