“A Brief History of the Passenger Pigeon” — Lynn Pedersen

“A Brief History of the Passenger Pigeon”

by

Lynn Pedersen


Not to be confused with messenger pigeons, birds sent behind enemy lines in war, but think passengers as in birds carrying suitcases, sharing a berth on a train, or traveling in bamboo cages on a ship, always migrating on a one-way to extinction. How would extinction look on a graph? A steady climb, or a plateau, then a precipitous cliff at the dawn of humans?

Nesting grounds eight hundred square miles in area. Skies swollen with darkening multitudes. Days and days of unbroken flocks passing over. Ectopistes migratorius.

And the last of the species, Martha, named for Martha Washington, dies in a cage in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Forget clemency. We are the worst kind of predator, not even deliberate in our destruction. Our killing happens à la carte, on the side (side of Dodo?).

And because the nineteenth century did not enlist a battlefield artist for extinctions, there are no official witnesses to the slaughter, just participants. If you could somehow travel back to this scene, through the would-be canvas, you would run flailing your arms toward the hardwood forests and the men with sticks and guns and boiling sulphur pots to bring birds out of the trees, as if you could deliver 50,000 individual warnings, or throw yourself prostrate on the ground, as if your one body could hold sway.

“Sand Flesh and Sky” — Clarence Major

“Sand Flesh and Sky”
by
Clarence Major

Our ropes are the roots
of our life. We fish
low in the earth,
the river beneath runs through our veins,
blue and cold in a riverbed.

When the sun comes up,
the moon moves slowly to the left.

I tie the logs and limbs together,
holding them in place.

The ocean beats them
smooth like rock.
Here my sense of time is flat.

I find in a strip of damp sand
footprints and marks of hands,
and torn pieces of flesh.

Night is a beast.
The tide moves, gushing
back and forth.

Sunlight touches our faces,
turning us, turning us, turning us
in our morning sleep.

“The Maypole” — Robert Herrick

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“November for Beginners” — Rita Dove

“November for Beginners”

by

Rita Dove


Snow would be the easy
way out—that softening
sky like a sigh of relief
at finally being allowed
to yield. No dice.
We stack twigs for burning
in glistening patches
but the rain won’t give.

So we wait, breeding
mood, making music
of decline. We sit down
in the smell of the past
and rise in a light
that is already leaving.
We ache in secret,
memorizing

a gloomy line
or two of German.
When spring comes
we promise to act
the fool. Pour,
rain! Sail, wind,
with your cargo of zithers!

“Olives” — Donald Hall

“Olives”

by

Donald Hall


“Dead people don’t like olives,”
I told my partners in eighth grade
dancing class, who never listened
as we fox-trotted, one-two, one-two.

The dead people I often consulted
nodded their skulls in unison
while I flung my black velvet cape
over my shoulders and glowered
from deep-set, burning eyes,
walking the city streets, alone at fifteen,
crazy for cheerleaders and poems.

At Hamden High football games, girls
in short pleated skirts
pranced and kicked, and I longed
for their memorable thighs.
They were friendly—poets were mascots—
but never listened when I told them
that dead people didn’t like olives.

Instead the poet, wearing his cape,
continued to prowl in solitude
intoning inscrutable stanzas
as halfbacks and tackles
made out, Friday nights after football,
on sofas in dark-walled rec rooms
with magnanimous cheerleaders.

But, decades later, when the dead
have stopped blathering
about olives, obese halfbacks wheeze
upstairs to sleep beside cheerleaders
waiting for hip replacements,
while a lascivious, doddering poet,
his burning eyes deep-set
in wrinkles, cavorts with their daughters.

It is hard not to be appalled by existence | Ron Padgett

It is hard not to be appalled by existence.
The pointlessness of matter turns us into cornered animals
that otherwise are placid or indifferent,
we hiss and bare our fangs and attack.
But how many people have felt the terror of existence?
Was Genghis Khan horrified that he and everything else existed?
Was Hitler or Pol Pot?
Or any of the other charming figures of history?
Je m’en doute.
It was something else made them mean.
Something else made Napoleon think it glorious
to cover the frozen earth with a hundred thousand bloody corpses.
Something else made . . . oh, name your monster
and his penchant for destruction,
name your own period in history when a darkness swept over us
and made not existing seem like the better choice,
as if the solution to hunger were to hurl oneself
into a vat of boiling radioactive carrots!
Life is so awful!
I hope that lion tears me to pieces!

“Realism” — Tom Clark

“Realism”

by

Tom Clark


The smashed weirdness of the raving cadenzas of God
Takes over all of a sudden
In our time. It speaks through the voices of talk show moderators.

It tells us in a ringing anthem, like heavenly hosts uplifted,
That the rhapsody of the pastoral is out to lunch.
We can take it from there.

We can take it to Easy Street.
But when things get tough on Easy Street
What then? Is it time for realism?

And who are these guys on the bus
Who glide in golden hats past us
On their way to Kansas City?

“Anecdote of the Prince of Peacocks” — Wallace Stevens

“Anecdote of the Prince of Peacocks”
by
Wallace Stevens

In the moonlight
I met Berserk,
In the moonlight
On the bushy plain.
Oh, sharp he was
As the sleepless!
And, “Why are you red
In this milky blue?”
I said.
“Why sun-colored,
As if awake
In the midst of sleep?”
“You that wander,”
So he said,
“On the bushy plain,
Forget so soon.
But I set my traps
In the midst of dreams.”
I knew from this
That the blue ground
Was full of blocks
And blocking steel.
I knew the dread
Of the bushy plain,
And the beauty
Of the moonlight
Falling there,
Falling
As sleep falls
In the innocent air.

“The War in Apartment 1812” — David Berman

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From Actual Air (Open City, 1999)

“A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts” — Wallace Stevens

“A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts”

by

Wallace Stevens


The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur—

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten in the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light,
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full

And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,

You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,

You are humped higher and higher, black as stone—
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.

“Beehive” — Jean Toomer

“Beehive”

by

Jean Toomer


Within this black hive to-night
There swarm a million bees;
Bees passing in and out the moon,
Bees escaping out the moon,
Bees returning through the moon,
Silver bees intently buzzing,
Silver honey dripping from the swarm of bees
Earth is a waxen cell of the world comb,
And I, a drone,
Lying on my back,
Lipping honey,
Getting drunk with that silver honey,
Wish that I might fly out past the moon
And curl forever in some far-off farmyard flower.

“Time Does Not Bring Relief; You All Have Lied” — Edna St. Vincent Millay

“Time Does Not Bring Relief; You All Have Lied”

by

Edna St. Vincent Millay


Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,—so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

“Axe Handles” — Gary Snyder

“Axe Handles”
by
Gary Snyder

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
                 the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with—”
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wên Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature”-—in the
Preface: “In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.”
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

“Dialog Outside the Lakeside Grocery” — Ishmael Reed

“Dialog Outside the Lakeside Grocery”

by

Ishmael Reed


The grocery had provided him with
boxes of rotten lettuce
He was loading them onto a
yellow pick-up truck
He was a frail white man and
wore a plaid woolen shirt and
frayed dungarees
I was sitting in a gray chevrolet
rent-a-dent
“I have eight adult geese and
twenty-six ducks,” he said
and i said
“I’ll bet you have a big management
problem,” and he said
“They’re no trouble at all. My
wife raised two of them in the house.
When she goes near their pen
the geese waddle towards her
and nibble the lettuce out of her
hand”
“I’d never think of killing them”
he said
“They keep me out of the bars”

 

“American Heartbreak” — Langston Hughes

american heartbreak

“Pigheaded Poet” — William Carlos Williams

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“September, 1918” — Amy Lowell

“September, 1918”

by

Amy Lowell


This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight;
The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves;
The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves,
And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.
Under a tree in the park,
Two little boys, lying flat on their faces,
Were carefully gathering red berries
To put in a pasteboard box.
Some day there will be no war,
Then I shall take out this afternoon
And turn it in my fingers,
And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,
And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves.
To-day I can only gather it
And put it into my lunch-box,
For I have time for nothing
But the endeavour to balance myself
Upon a broken world.