“Identity” — W.S. Merwin

“Identity”

by

W.S. Merwin


When Hans Hofmann became a hedgehog
somewhere in a Germany that has
vanished with its forests and hedgerows
Shakespeare would have been a young actor
starting out in a country that was
only a word to Hans who had learned
from those who had painted animals
only from hearing tales about them
without ever setting eyes on them
or from corpses with the lingering
light mute and deathly still forever
held fast in the fur or the feathers
hanging or lying on a table
and he had learned from others who had
arranged the corpses of animals
as though they were still alive in full
flight or on their way but this hedgehog
was there in the same life as his own
looking around at him with his brush
of camel hair and his stretched parchment
of sheepskin as he turned to each sharp
particular quill and every black
whisker on the long live snout and those
flat clawed feet made only for trundling
and for feeling along the dark undersides
of stones and as Hans took them in he
turned into the Hans that we would see

“Imagination” — James Baldwin

“Cassette County” — David Berman

“Cassette County”

by

David Berman


This is meant to be in praise of the interval called hangover,
a sadness not co-terminous with hopelessness,
and the North American doubling cascade
that (keep going) “this diamond lake is a photo lab”
and if predicates really do propel the plot
then you might see Jerusalem in a soap bubble
or the appliance failures on Olive Street
across these great instances,
because “the complex Italians versus the basic Italians”
because what does a mirror look like (when it’s not working)
but birds singing a full tone higher in the sunshine.

I’m going to call them Honest Eyes until I know if they are,
in the interval called slam-clicker, Realm of Pacific,
because the second language wouldn’t let me learn it
because I have heard of you for a long time occasionally
because diet cards may be the recovery evergreen
and there is a new benzodiazepene called Distance,

anti-showmanship, anti-showmanship, anti-showmanship.

I suppose a broken window is not symbolic
unless symbolic means broken, which I think it sorta does,
and when the phone jangles
what’s more radical, the snow or the tires,
and what does the Bible say about metal fatigue
and why do mothers carry big scratched-up sunglasses
in their purses.

Hello to the era of going to the store to buy more ice
because we are running out.
Hello to feelings that arrive unintroduced.
Hello to the nonfunctional sprig of parsley
and the game of finding meaning in coincidence.

Because there is a second mind in the margins of the used book
because Judas Priest (source: Firestone Library)
sang a song called Stained Class,
because this world is 66% Then and 33% Now,

and if you wake up thinking “feeling is a skill now”
or “even this glass of water seems complicated now”
and a phrase from a men’s magazine (like single-district cognac)
rings and rings in your neck,
then let the consequent misunderstandings
(let the changer love the changed)
wobble on heartbreakingly nu legs
into this street-legal nonfiction,
into this good world,
this warm place
that I love with all my heart,

anti-showmanship, anti-showmanship, anti-showmanship.

“The Shirt” — Robert Pinsky

“The Shirt”

by

Robert Pinsky


The back, the yoke, the yardage. Lapped seams,
The nearly invisible stitches along the collar
Turned in a sweatshop by Koreans or Malaysians

Gossiping over tea and noodles on their break
Or talking money or politics while one fitted
This armpiece with its overseam to the band

Of cuff I button at my wrist. The presser, the cutter,
The wringer, the mangle. The needle, the union,
The treadle, the bobbin. The code. The infamous blaze

At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven.
One hundred and forty-six died in the flames
On the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes—

The witness in a building across the street
Who watched how a young man helped a girl to step
Up to the windowsill, then held her out

Away from the masonry wall and let her drop.
And then another. As if he were helping them up
To enter a streetcar, and not eternity.

A third before he dropped her put her arms
Around his neck and kissed him. Then he held
Her into space, and dropped her. Almost at once

He stepped to the sill himself, his jacket flared
And fluttered up from his shirt as he came down,
Air filling up the legs of his gray trousers—

Like Hart Crane’s Bedlamite, “shrill shirt ballooning.”
Wonderful how the pattern matches perfectly
Across the placket and over the twin bar-tacked

Corners of both pockets, like a strict rhyme
Or a major chord. Prints, plaids, checks,
Houndstooth, Tattersall, Madras. The clan tartans

Invented by mill-owners inspired by the hoax of Ossian,
To control their savage Scottish workers, tamed
By a fabricated heraldry: MacGregor,

Bailey, MacMartin. The kilt, devised for workers
To wear among the dusty clattering looms.
Weavers, carders, spinners. The loader,

The docker, the navvy. The planter, the picker, the sorter
Sweating at her machine in a litter of cotton
As slaves in calico headrags sweated in fields:

George Herbert, your descendant is a Black
Lady in South Carolina, her name is Irma
And she inspected my shirt. Its color and fit

And feel and its clean smell have satisfied
Both her and me. We have culled its cost and quality
Down to the buttons of simulated bone,

The buttonholes, the sizing, the facing, the characters
Printed in black on neckband and tail. The shape,
The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.

Goblin Market — Primrose Harley

Goblin Market, by Primrose Harley (1908-1978)


“Goblin Market”

by

Christina Rossetti


Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy:
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy.”

Continue reading “Goblin Market — Primrose Harley”

Summer’s Almost Gone — William Trowbridge

“Summer’s Almost Gone”
by
William Trowbridge

The squirrels are spreading the rumor: no more monkey business.
The Dow Jones hops up, then down, then back up, trying for attention,
           up against dog days.
The Capitol dome rattles like a witch doctor’s gourd. “More Republicans,”
           warn the talking drums.
The networks labor underground to stockpile T, A, and blood capsules
           for Sweeps Week, when all hell won’t be enough to save some.
Pedestrians slip into light coats of pollen and mold spores.
The Enquirer reports the sighting of Satan’s image over Chicago during
           the heat emergency. His words were, “For the hottest deals in town,
           see Sal at Mutto’s Chevrolet on East Wacker.”
The old elms shrug: “You think this is hot: we could tell you about hot.”
Walmart and Kmart burgeon into crooked towers of back-to-school
           candy. They’re heaven-bound, via the moon. Greeters offer
           themselves to the lowest common denominator. There’s a Blue-
           Light on moon caps.
Representatives from Tire City have announced they intend a hostile
           takeover and cleansing of their former territory, now known as
           Carpet City. Furniture City will not intervene.
The NFL’s negotiating for rights to the Baptist Church.
The carnies have packed up the Tilt-A-Whirl and Ferris wheel, leaving us
           up to our ass in free parking.
Everyone under 30 dreams of shoplifting some Air Jordans for school.
Everyone over 30 dreams of going to prison for shoplifting.
The hypochondriacs wake up noticing little dark spots in front of their
           eyes, think they could be in the middle of something serious.
“Winterize now,” say the prime-time commercials. “Spend, spend, spend!”
           cry the cicadas and katydids over the scorched, moonlit lawns.

A dream you can’t shake: See above | David Berman

From The Minus Times #29, as republished in The Minus Times Collected. 

“Classic Water” — David Berman

“Classic Water”

by

David Berman


I remember Kitty saying we shared a deep longing for
the consolation prize, laughing as we rinsed the stagecoach.

I remember the night we camped out
           and I heard her whisper
“think of me as a place” from her sleeping bag
           with the centaur print.

I remember being in her father’s basement workshop
when we picked up an unknown man sobbing
over the shortwave radio

and the night we got so high we convinced ourselves
that the road was a hologram projected by the headlight beams.

I remember how she would always get everyone to vote
on what we should do next and the time she said
“all water is classic water” and shyly turned her face away.

At volleyball games her parents sat in the bleachers
like ambassadors from Indiana in all their midwestern schmaltz.

She was destroyed when they were busted for operating
a private judicial system within U.S. borders.

 

Sometimes I’m awakened in the middle of the night
by the clatter of a room service cart and I think back on Kitty.

Those summer evenings by the government lake,
talking about the paradox of multiple Santas
or how it felt to have your heart broken.

I still get a hollow feeling on Labor Day when the summer ends

and I remember how I would always refer to her boyfriends
as what’s-his-face, which was wrong of me and I’d like
to apologize to those guys right now, wherever they are:

No one deserves to be called what’s-his-face.

“Peach” — D.H. Lawrence

“Peach”

by

D.H. Lawrence


Would you like to throw a stone at me?
Here, take all that’s left of my peach.

Blood-red, deep:
Heaven knows how it came to pass.
Somebody’s pound of flesh rendered up.

Wrinkled with secrets
And hard with the intention to keep them.

Why, from silvery peach-bloom,
From that shallow-silvery wine-glass on a short stem
This rolling, dropping, heavy globule?

I am thinking, of course, of the peach before I ate it.

Why so velvety, why so voluptuous heavy?
Why hanging with such inordinate weight?
Why so indented?

Why the groove?
Why the lovely, bivalve roundnesses?
Why the ripple down the sphere?
Why the suggestion of incision?

Why was not my peach round and finished like a billiard ball?
It would have been if man had made it.
Though I’ve eaten it now.

But it wasn’t round and finished like a billiard ball;
And because I say so, you would like to throw something at me.

Here, you can have my peach stone.

“Hymn from a Watermelon Pavilion” — Wallace Stevens

“Hymn from a Watermelon Pavilion”
by
Wallace Stevens

You dweller in the dark cabin,
To whom the watermelon is always purple,
Whose garden is wind and moon,
Of the two dreams, night and day,
What lover, what dreamer, would choose
The one obscured by sleep?
Here is the plantain by your door
And the best cock of red feather
That crew before the clocks.
A feme may come, leaf-green,
Whose coming may give revel
Beyond revelries of sleep,
Yes, and the blackbird spread its tail,
So that the sun may speckle,
While it creaks hail.
You dweller in the dark cabin,
Rise, since rising will not waken,
And hail, cry hail, cry hail.

“Victory” — Denis Johnson

“Victory”

by

Denis Johnson


the woman whose face has just finished breaking
with a joy so infinite

and heavy that it might be grief has won
a car on a giveaway show, for her family,

for an expanse of souls that washes from a million
picture tubes onto the blank reaches

of the air. meanwhile, the screams are packing
the air to a hardness: in the studio

the audience will no longer move, will be caught
slowly, like ancient, staring mammals, figuring

out the double-cross within the terrible progress
of a glacier. here, i am suddenly towering

with loneliness, repeating to this woman’s
only face, this time, again, i have not won.

“A Little Called Pauline” — Gertrude Stein

“A Little Called Pauline”

by

Gertrude Stein


A little called anything shows shudders.

Come and say what prints all day. A whole few watermelon. There is no pope.

No cut in pennies and little dressing and choose wide soles and little spats really little spices.

A little lace makes boils. This is not true.

Gracious of gracious and a stamp a blue green white bow a blue green lean, lean on the top.

If it is absurd then it is leadish and nearly set in where there is a tight head.

A peaceful life to arise her, noon and moon and moon. A letter a cold sleeve a blanket a shaving house and nearly the best and regular window.

Nearer in fairy sea, nearer and farther, show white has lime in sight, show a stitch of ten. Count, count more so that thicker and thicker is leaning.

I hope she has her cow. Bidding a wedding, widening received treading, little leading mention nothing.

Cough out cough out in the leather and really feather it is not for.

Please could, please could, jam it not plus more sit in when.

“As the Human Village Prepares for Its Fate” — Tom Clark

“Edward Hopper’s New York Movie” — Joseph Stanton

“Edward Hopper’s New York Movie

by

Joseph Stanton


We can have our pick of seats.
Though the movie’s already moving,
the theater’s almost an empty shell.
All we can see on our side
of the room is one man and one woman—
as neat, respectable, and distinct
as the empty chairs that come
between them. But distinctions do not surprise,
fresh as we are from sullen street and subway
where lonelinesses crowded
about us like unquiet memories
that may have loved us once or known our love.
Here we are an accidental
fellowship, sheltering from the city’s
obscure bereavements to face a screened,
imaginary living,
as if it were a destination
we were moving toward. Leaning to our right
and suspended before us
is a bored, smartly uniformed usherette.
Staring beyond her lighted corner, she finds
a reverie that moves through
and beyond the shine of the silver screening.
But we can see what she will never see—
that she’s the star of Hopper’s scene.
For the artist she’s a play of light,
and a play of light is all about her.
Whether the future she is
dreaming is the future she will have
we have no way of knowing. Whatever
it will prove to be
it has already been. The usherette
Hopper saw might now be seventy,
hunched before a Hitachi
in an old home or a home for the old.
She might be dreaming now a New York movie,
Fred Astaire dancing and kissing
Ginger Rogers, who high kicks across New York
City skylines, raising possibilities
that time has served to lower.
We are watching the usherette, and the subtle
shadows her boredom makes across her not-quite-
impassive face beneath
the three red-shaded lamps and beside
the stairs that lead, somehow, to dark streets
that go on and on and on.
But we are no safer here than she.
Despite the semblance of luxury—
gilt edges, red plush,
and patterned carpet—this is no palace,
and we do not reign here, except in dreams.
This picture tells us much
about various textures of lighted air,
but at the center Hopper has placed
a slab of darkness and an empty chair.


“Personal Poem” — Frank O’Hara

“Personal Poem”

by

Frank O’Hara


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

“Kong Looks Back on His Tryout with the Bears” — William Trowbridge

“Kong Looks Back on His Tryout with the Bears”

by

William Trowbridge


If it had worked out, I’d be on a train to Green Bay,
not crawling up this building with the Air Corps
on my ass. And if it weren’t for love, I’d drop
this shrieking little bimbo sixty stories
and let them take me back to the exhibit,
let them teach me to mambo and do imitations.
They tried me on the offensive line, told me
to take out the right cornerback for Nagurski.
Eager to please, I wadded up the whole secondary,
then stomped the line, then the bench and locker room,
then the east end of town, to the river.
But they were not pleased: they said I had to
learn my position, become a team player.
The great father Bear himself said that,
so I tried hard to know the right numbers
and how the arrows slanted toward the little o’s.
But the o’s and the wet grass and the grunts
drowned out the count, and the tight little cheers
drew my arrow straight into the stands,
and the wives tasted like flowers and raw fish.
So I was put on waivers right after camp,
and here I am, panty-sniffer, about to die a clown,
who once opened a hole you could drive Nebraska through.

“Banneker” — Rita Dove

“Banneker”

by

Rita Dove


What did he do except lie
under a pear tree, wrapped in
a great cloak, and meditate
on the heavenly bodies?
Venerable, the good people of Baltimore
whispered, shocked and more than
a little afraid. After all it was said
he took to strong drink.
Why else would he stay out
under the stars all night
and why hadn’t he married?

But who would want him! Neither
Ethiopian nor English, neither
lucky nor crazy, a capacious bird
humming as he penned in his mind
another enflamed letter
to President Jefferson—he imagined
the reply, polite and rhetorical.
Those who had been to Philadelphia
reported the statue
of Benjamin Franklin
before the library

his very size and likeness.
A wife? No, thank you.
At dawn he milked
the cows, then went inside
and put on a pot to stew
while he slept. The clock
he whittled as a boy
still ran. Neighbors
woke him up
with warm bread and quilts.
At nightfall he took out

his rifle—a white-maned
figure stalking the darkened
breast of the Union—and
shot at the stars, and by chance
one went out. Had he killed?
I assure thee, my dear Sir!
Lowering his eyes to fields
sweet with the rot of spring, he could see
a government’s domed city
rising from the morass and spreading
in a spiral of lights….