“The Wizard in Words” — Marianne Moore

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“Civics” — David Berman

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From Actual Air (Open City, 1999).

“A Letter from Isaac Asimov to His Wife Janet, Written on His Deathbed” — David Berman

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From Actual Air (Open City, 1999)

“Reapers” — Jean Toomer

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“Serenade for a Wealthy Widow” — David Berman

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From Actual Air (Open City, 1999)

“Imagining Defeat” — David Berman

From Actual Air (Open City, 1999)

“Heat” — Denis Johnson

“Heat”

by

Denis Johnson


Here in the electric dusk your naked lover
tips the glass high and the ice cubes fall against her teeth.
It’s beautiful Susan, her hair sticky with gin,
Our Lady of Wet Glass-Rings on the Album Cover,
streaming with hatred in the heat
as the record falls and the snake-band chords begin
to break like terrible news from the Rolling Stones,
and such a last light—full of spheres and zones.

August,
you’re just an erotic hallucination,
just so much feverishly produced kazoo music,
are you serious?—this large oven impersonating night,
this exhaustion mutilated to resemble passion,
the bogus moon of tenderness and magic
you hold out to each prisoner like a cup of light?

“Herman Melville” — Jorge Luis Borges

“Herman Melville”

by

Jorge Luis Borges


 

He was always surrounded by the sea of his elders,

The Saxons, who named the ocean

The Whale-Road, thereby uniting

The two immense things, the whale

And the seas it endlessly ploughs.

The sea was always his. By the time his eyes

First took in the great waters of the high seas

He had already longed for and possessed it

On that other ocean, which is Writing,

And in the outline of the archetypes.

A man, he gave himself to the earth’s oceans

And to the exhausting days at sea

And he came to know the harpoon reddened

By Leviathan and he rippled sand

And the smells of nights and mornings

And chance on the horizon waiting in ambush

And the happiness of being brave

And the pleasure, at last, of spying Ithaca.

The ocean’s conqueror, he strode the solid

Earth out of which mountains grow

And on which he charts an imprecise course

As with a sleeping compass, motionless in time.

In the inherited shadows of the gardens

Melville moves through New England evenings,

But the sea possesses him. It is the shame

Of the Pequod’s mutilated captain,

The unreadable ocean with its furious squalls

And the abomination of the whiteness.

It is the great book. It is blue Proteus.

(English translation by Stephen Kessler)

“Evening Song” — Jean Toomer

“Evening Song”

by

Jean Toomer


Full moon rising on the waters of my heart,
Lakes and moon and fires,
Cloine tires,
Holding her lips apart.

Promises of slumber leaving shore to charm the moon,
Miracle made vesper-keeps,
Cloine sleeps,
And I’ll be sleeping soon.

Cloine, curled like the sleepy waters where the
moon-waves start,
Radiant, resplendently she gleams,
Cloine dreams,
Lips pressed against my heart.

“The Song of the Demented Priest” — John Berryman

“The Song of the Demented Priest”

by

John Berryman


I put those things there.—See them burn.
The emerald the azure and the gold
Hiss and crack, the blues & greens of the world
As if I were tired. Someone interferes
Everywhere with me. The clouds, the clouds are torn
In ways I do not understand or love.

Licking my long lips, I looked upon God
And he flamed and he was friendlier
Than you were, and he was small. Showing me
Serpents and thin flowers; these were cold.
Dominion waved & glittered like the flare
From ice under a small sun. I wonder.

Afterward the violent and formal dancers
Came out, shaking their pithless heads.
I would instruct them but I cannot now,—
Because of the elements. They rise and move,
I nod a dance and they dance in the rain
In my red coat. I am the king of the dead.

“Baseball and Classicism” — Tom Clark

“Baseball and Classicism”

by

Tom Clark


Every day I peruse the box scores for hours
Sometimes I wonder why I do it
Since I am not going to take a test on it
And no one is going to give me money

The pleasure’s something like that of codes
Of deciphering an ancient alphabet say
So as brightly to picturize Eurydice
In the Elysian Fields on her perfect day

The day she went 5 for 5 against Vic Raschi

“4th of July” — William Carlos Williams

“4th of July”

by

William Carlos Williams


I

The ship moves
but its smoke
moves with the wind
faster than the ship

— thick coils of it
through leafy trees
pressing
upon the river

II

The heat makes
this place of the woods
a room
in which two robins pain

crying
distractedly
over the plight of
their unhappy young

III

During the explosions
at dawn, the celebrations
I could hear
a native cuckoo

in the distance
as at dusk, before
I’d heard
a night hawk calling

“Haymaking” — William Carlos Williams

“Haymaking”

by

William Carlos Williams


The living quality of
the man’s mind
stands out

and its covert assertions
for art, art, art!
painting

that the Renaissance
tried to absorb
but

it remained a wheat field
over which the
wind played

men with scythes tumbling
the wheat in
rows

the gleaners already busy
it was his own—
magpies

the patient horses no one
could take that
from him

 

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Haymaking (July), 
1565 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1569)

 

“A Postcard from the Volcano” — Wallace Stevens

“A Postcard from the Volcano”

by

Wallace Stevens


Children picking up our bones
Will never know that these were once
As quick as foxes on the hill;

And that in autumn, when the grapes
Made sharp air sharper by their smell
These had a being, breathing frost;

And least will guess that with our bones
We left much more, left what still is
The look of things, left what we felt

At what we saw. The spring clouds blow
Above the shuttered mansion-house,
Beyond our gate and the windy sky

Cries out a literate despair.
We knew for long the mansion’s look
And what we said of it became

A part of what it is … Children,
Still weaving budded aureoles,
Will speak our speech and never know,

Will say of the mansion that it seems
As if he that lived there left behind
A spirit storming in blank walls,

A dirty house in a gutted world,
A tatter of shadows peaked to white,
Smeared with the gold of the opulent sun.

“Tree and Sky” — William Carlos Williams

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“Poem Beginning with a Line of Wittgenstein” — Donald Hall

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I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough (Walt Whitman)

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From Leaves of Grass, illustrated by Rockwell Kent.