Sylvia Plath: Morning Song
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.
I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.
All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.
One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square
Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.
Sarojini Naidu: In The Bazaars of Hyderabad
What do you sell, O ye merchants?
Richly your wares are displayed
Turbans of crimson and silver,
Tunics of purple brocade,
Mirrors with panels of amber,
Daggers with handles of jade.
What do you weigh, O ye vendors?
Saffron, lentil and rice.
What do you grind, O ye maidens?
Sandalwood, henna and spice.
What do you call, O ye pedlars?
Chessmen and ivory dice.
What do you make, O ye goldsmiths?
Wristlet and anklet and ring,
Bells for the feet of blue pigeons,
Frail as a dragon-fly’s wing,
Girdles of gold for the dancers,
Scabbards of gold for the king.
What do you cry, O fruitmen?
Citron, pomegranate and plum.
What do you play, O ye musicians?
Sitar, Sarangi and drum.
What do you chant, O magicians?
Spells for the aeons to come.
What do you weave, O ye flower-girls?
With tassels of azure and red?
Crowns for the brow of a bridegroom,
Chaplets to garland his bed,
Sheets of white blossoms new-gathered
To perfume the sleep of the dead.
Alfonsina Storni: Me at the Bottom of the Sea
There’s a house of glass
at the bottom of the sea.
It fronts on a street
of solid madrepore.
At five o’clock,
a fat golden fish
He brings me
a scarlet spray
of coral blossoms.
I sleep on a bed
just a bit bluer
than the sea.
winks at me
from the other side of the glass.
In the green forest
all around –
ding-dong, ding-dang –
the sea-green pearly
And over my head
in the twilight, burning,
all the bristle-points
of the sea.
Storni drowned aged 46 in 1938
Emily Dickinson: Like Rain it Sounded Till it Curved
Like rain it sounded till it curved
And then i knew twas Wind-
It walked as wet as any Wave
But swept as dry as sand-
When it had pushed itself away
To some remotest Plain
A coming as of Hosts was heard
That was indeed the Rain-
It filled the Wells, it pleased the Pools
It wobbled in the Road-
It pulled the spigot from the Hills
And let the Floods abroad-
It loosened acres, lifted sea
The sites of Centres stirred
Then like Elijah rode away
Upon a wheel of Cloud.
Sharon Olds: The Connoisseuse of Slugs
When I was a connoisseuse of slugs
I would part the ivy leaves, and look for the
naked jelly of those gold bodies,
translucent strangers glistening along the
stones, slowly, their gelatinous bodies
at my mercy. Made mostly of water, they would shrivel
to nothing if they were sprinkled with salt,
but I was not interested in that. What I liked
was to draw aside the ivy, breathe the
odor of the wall, and stand there in silence
until the slug forgot I was there
and sent its antennae up out of its
head, the glimmering umber horns
rising like telescopes, until finally the
sensitive knobs would pop out the
ends, delicate and intimate. Years later,
when I first saw a naked man,
I gasped with pleasure to see that quiet
mystery reenacted, the slow
elegant being coming out of hiding and
gleaming in the dark air, eager and so
trusting you could weep.
Joanne Monte: Sidewalk Café
An ordinary morning―
awakening to nothing but daylight
prodding through the eggshell-tinted blinds
and the warm quilts to be tossed back
in which sleepers all over the city
groan, burying themselves deeper
into the sheets of oblivion.
Downstairs, the sidewalk café beckons
with the daily choices to be made: trays
of napoleons, parfait glasses filled
with strawberry cream, and the two-sided list
of coffees that patrons pour over
in their passion: the golden warmth of hazelnut,
the richness of Colombian,
the full-bodied Java―
even that everyday flirtation with espresso
and its bittersweet aftertaste,
an attraction so innocuous it seems,
that I wonder what quirks of fate
endear us to our choices in the end―
however invariable the consequences.
Anna Akhmatova: That City that I Have Loved
That city that i have loved since i was a child
seemed to me today
in its December stillness
to be my squandered inheritance.
Everything that was handed to me spontaneously,
was so easy to give away:
the soul’s burning heat, the sounds of prayer,
and the grace of the first song-
all, all carried away in transparent smoke,
turned to ash in the depths of mirrors…
and now a noseless violinist
strikes up a tune from the irrevocable past.
With the curiosity of a foreigner
captivated by everything new
I listened to my Mother Tongue
and watch the sledges race.
Happiness blew in my face
with a wild freshness and force,
as though an eternally dear friend
accompanied me onto the steps.
Ai: Twenty-year Marriage
You keep me waiting in a truck
with its one good wheel stuck in the ditch,
while you piss against the south side of a tree.
Hurry. I’ve got nothing on under my skirt tonight.
That still excites you, but this pickup has no windows
and the seat, one fake leather thigh,
pressed close to mine is cold.
I’m the same size, shape, make as twenty years ago,
but get inside me, start the engine;
you’ll have the strength, the will to move.
I’ll pull, you push, we’ll tear each other in half.
Come on, baby, lay me down on my back.
Pretend you don’t owe me a thing
and maybe we’ll roll out of here,
leaving the past stacked up behind us;
old newspapers nobody’s ever got to read again.
Kathleen Jamie: Skeins o Geese
Skeins o geese write a word
across the sky. A word
struck lik a gong
afore I wis born.
The sky moves like cattle, lowin.
I’m as empty as stane, as fields
ploo’d but not sown, naked
an blin as a stane. Blin
tae the word, blin
tae a’ soon but geese ca’ing.
Wire twists lik archaic script
roon a gate. The barbs
sign tae the wind as though
it was deef. The word whustles
ower high for ma senses. Awa.
No lik the past which lies
strewn aroun. Nor sudden death.
No like a lover we’ll ken
an connect wi forever.
The hem of its goin drags across the sky.
Whit dae birds write on the dusk?
A word niver spoken or read.
The skeins turn hame,
on the wind’s dumb moan, a soun,
maybe human, bereft.
Anne Sexton: Her Kind
I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.
I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.
I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.
Maria Polydouri: To a Friend
I shall come upon the night, on the way that drags me along,
I shall come and find you there alone.
With indolent movements, eventide will spin her delicate shades,
drifting past your desolate window.
In the stillness of your room you shall have me in-
books scattered around, consigned to silence deep.
And we shall sit side by side, musing over moments past,
yet long before we lose them, still are dying and last.
For the bitterness of ungrateful life, the dreariness,
for having no yearning, no craving,
for decay and silence abiding
plunged in brooding stillness
our speech and ultimate thought shall fade away.
But the night will come to rest
right at your window’s nest.
Scents and glittering stars and fair breezes shall mingle
with the grand call that Nature delivers,
with your heart that even silence itself will not shelter.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning: How do I Love Thee?
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, – I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Venus Khoury-Ghata: For Noha Al Hegelan
At that time the earth was so high up
women hung out clouds and laundry on the same line
angels gripped their skirts to keep them from following stray souls
Everything that frequented water had a soul
clay jug, gourd, basin
buckets fished out the ones stagnating in the wells’ indifference
Every moving shadow sketched a phantom
every cock-crow became an omen
the announcer of births spoke louder than the waterfall
but more softly than the wind which had taken over the indoors and the outdoors
swelling the paltry fields
pushing back the horizon of an acre as soon as the houses shrank to the size of cages
The wise man tried not to cross its path
it would break a man for you over its knee like a straw
Kay Ryan: The Light of Interiors
The light of interiors
is the admixture
of who knows how many
doors ajar, windows
unblinded or opened,
oculi set into ceilings,
wells, ports, shafts,
loose fits, leaks,
and other breaches
of surface. But, in
any case, the light,
once in, bounces
toward the interior,
glancing off glassy
enamels and polishes,
softened by the scuffed
and often-handled, muffled
in carpet and toweling,
buffeted down hallways,
by scatter and order
to an ideal and now
sourceless texture which,
when mixed with silence,
makes of a simple
table with flowers
Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen: The Greeks
To the gods we attributed a dazzling existence
Consubstantial with the sea the clouds trees and light
In them the waves’ glinting the foam’s long white frieze
The woods’ secret and soft green the wheat’s tall gold
The river’s meandering the mountain’s solemn fire
And the great dome of resonant weightless free air
Emerged as self-aware consciousness
With no loss of the first day’s marriage-and-feast oneness
Anxious to have this experience for ourselves
We humans repeated the ritual gestures that re-establish
The initial whole presence of things –
This made us attentive to all forms known by the light of day
As well as to the darkness which lives within us
And in which the ineffable shimmer travels
Maya Angelou: Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Forough Farrokhzad: The Wind will Take us
In my small night, ah
the wind has a date with the leaves of the trees
in my small night there is agony of destruction
do you hear the darkness blowing?
I look upon this bliss as a stranger
I am addicted to my despair.
listen do you hear the darkness blowing?
something is passing in the night
the moon is restless and red
and over this rooftop
where crumbling is a constant fear
clouds, like a procession of mourners
seem to be waiting for the moment of rain.
and then nothing
night shudders beyond this window
and the earth winds to a halt
beyond this window
something unknown is watching you and me.
O green from head to foot
place your hands like a burning memory
in my loving hands
give your lips to the caresses
of my loving lips
like the warm perception of being
the wind will take us
the wind will take us.
Carol Ann Duffy: Warming her Pearls
Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
when I’ll brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day think of her,
resting in the Yellow room, contemplating silk
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.
She’s beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing
with tall men, puzzled by my faint persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.
I dust her shoulders with a rabbit’s foot,
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.
Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head … Undressing,
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way
she always does … And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.
Blanca Varela: The Magician’s Postscript
Morning crept in through a rip in the curtain.
There the two of them lay,
wrapping each other in their sleep.
They notched together,
nose to nap, chest to back, knees to thighs,
an asymmetrical coupling among sheets and disorder.
In her belly rested their first child
who would see the light in two months:
boy or girl?
Flip a coin.
Such certainties and others would be known in the fitting time.
Meanwhile that question mark lay curled in its liquid state,
pure potential which arched her abdomen,
waiting to burst out,
a fullness which at times cramped her breathing.
Through his drowsy awakening,
he extended a hand over that swollen vessel
and awoke with a start at the touch of her taut firmness.
Impulsively, his hand fumbled over her belly,
checked her measured breath,
recognized the features of life.
Confident she would survive, he dropped back to sleep.
Lynette Roberts: Poem from Llanybri (1944)
If you come my way that is …
Between now and then, I will offer you
A fist full of rock cress fresh from the bank
The valley tips of garlic red with dew
Cooler than shallots, a breath you can swank
In the village when you come. At noon-day
I will offer you a choice bowl of cawl
Served with a ’lover’s’ spoon and a chopped spray
Of leeks or savori fach, not used now,
In the old way you’ll understand. The din
Of children singing through the eyelet sheds
Ringing smith hoops, chasing the butt of hens;
Or I can offer you Cwmcelyn spread
With quartz stones from the wild scratchings of men:
You will have to go carefully with clogs
Or thick shoes for it’s treacherous the fen,
The East and West Marshes also have bogs.
Then I’ll do the lights, fill the lamp with oil,
Get coal from the shed, water from the well;
Pluck and draw pigeon, with crop of green foil
This your good supper from the lime-tree fell.
A sit by the hearth with blue flames rising,
No talk. Just a stare at ‘Time’ gathering
Healed thoughts, pool insight, like swan sailing
Peace and sound around the home, offering
You a night’s rest and my day’s energy.
You must come – start this pilgrimage
Can you come? – send an ode or elegy
In the old way and raise our heritage.
I will tell you the dreams of my life
On this deepest of blue nights.
In your hands my soul will tremble,
On your shoulders my cross will rest.
The summits of life are lonely,
So lonely and so cold! I locked
My yearnings inside, and all reside
In the ivory tower I raised.
Today I will reveal a great mystery;
Your soul has the power to penetrate me.
In silence are vertigos of the abyss:
I hesitate, I am sustained in you.
I die of dreams; I will drink truth,
Pure and cool, from your springs.
I know in the well of your breast
Is a fountain that vanquishes my thirst.
And I know that in our lives, this
Is the inexpressible miracle of reflection…
In the silence, my soul arrives at yours
As to a magnificent mirror.
Imagine the love I dreamed
In the glacial tomb of silence!
Larger than life, larger than dream,
A love imprisoned beneath an azure without end.
Imagine my love, love which desires
Impossible life, superhuman life,
You who know how it burdens and consumes,
Dreams of Olympus bound by human flesh.
And when met with a soul which found
A bit of azure to bathe its wings,
Like a great, golden sun, or a shore
Made of light, your soul opened:
Imagine! To embrace the Impossible!
Radiant! The lived illusion!
Blessed be God, the sun, the flower, the air,
And all of life, because you are life!
If I bought this happiness with my anguish,
Bless the weeping that stains my eyes!
All the ulcers of the past laugh
At the sun rising from red lips!
Ah you will know, My Love,
We will travel far across the flowery night;
There what is human frightens, there you can hear it,
See it, feel it, life without end.
We go further into night, we go
Where in me not an echo reverberates,
Like a nocturnal flower in the shade,
I will open sweetly for you
Claribel Alegria: The Rivers
The terrain in my country
the gullies go dry
in the summertime
and are stained with red
in the winter.
The Sumpul is boiling with corpses
a mother said
are all boiling with the dead.
The rivers no longer sing
they sweep their dead along
under the tepid moon
under the dark
they cradle their dead
those who are fleeing
those who pass by
they grow irate
bubbling and seething
dawn draws near
almost within reach
the rivers are coffins
cradling their dead
between their wide banks
the dead sail down
and the sea receives them
and they revive.
Amy Lowell: A Lady
You are beautiful and faded
Like an old opera tune
Played upon a harpsichord;
Or like the sun-flooded silks
Of an eighteenth-century boudoir.
In your eyes
Smoulder the fallen roses of out-lived minutes,
And the perfume of your soul
Is vague and suffusing,
With the pungence of sealed spice-jars.
Your half-tones delight me,
And I grow mad with gazing
At your blent colours.
My vigour is a new-minted penny,
Which I cast at your feet.
Gather it up from the dust,
That its sparkle may amuse you.
Christine Lavant: Since today, but forever
Since today, but forever
I know: This earth is really warm -
the burning I return to the nettle
and to the hedgehog its spines.
Since today all things are my patron saints
and the whole world is a wicker cradle
wherein a gust of wind rocks us together
and ties our breaths.
Moniza Alvi: I Would Like to be a Dot in a Painting by Miro
I would like to be a dot in a painting by Miro.
Barely distinguishable from other dots,
it’s true, but quite uniquely placed.
And from my dark centre
I’d survey the beauty of the linescape
and wonder — would it be worthwhile
to roll myself towards the lemon stripe,
Centrally poised, and push my curves
against its edge, to give myself
a little attention?
But it’s fine where I am.
I’ll never make out what’s going on
around me, and that’s the joy of it.
The fact that I’m not a perfect circle
makes me more interesting in this world.
People will stare forever —
Even the most unemotional get excited.
So here I am, on the edge of animation,
a dream, a dance, a fantastic construction,
A child’s adventure.
And nothing in this tawny sky
can get too close, or move too far away.
Gillian Clarke: Overheard in County Sligo
I married a man from County Roscommon
and I live in the back of beyond
with a field of cows and a yard of hens
and six white geese on the pond.
At my door’s a square of yellow corn
caught up by its corners and shaken,
and the road runs down through the open gate
and freedom’s there for the taking.
I had thought to work on the Abbey stage
or have my name in a book,
to see my thought on the printed page,
or still the crowd with a look.
But I turn to fold the breakfast cloth
and to polish the lustre and brass,
to order and dust the tumbled rooms
and find my face in the glass.
I ought to feel I’m a happy woman
for I lie in the lap of the land,
but I married the man from County Roscommon
and I live at the back of beyond.
Banira Giri: From the Lake, Love
Far somewhere far, stunning Manasarovar
on the far side of a mountain range
beneath a gift of blue sky rippling splashing
it’s said that “Sarovar” ever waiting
towards the road looks out
there are those who are drawn to her
enamored of her; others experience her
and there are those enchanted by her.
The old ones say—time before time, who knows when—once—
from the untold vastness of the Himalayas
a woman without compare
became enchanted with Sarovar’s unrivaled beauty
and immersed herself, emerging
her gentle comely youth turned at once to gold and then
and there a gaggle of young men grabbed her, tore her to pieces
and shared her among themselves. Some go so
far as to say
that among them a handsome and youthful hunter
lovingly stole away with her heart
and in a moment and with gestures that would not be seen
pressed it against his own warm heart.
On full moon nights
in the dreamlike shimmerings of Sarovar
those two hearts transformed into white swans
murmuring their love talk.
They say—they are waiting for the wedding procession,
the wedding band, the ritual implements
for the ceremony, the hand-woven leaves for the wedding feast,
colored rice grains for the procession
and those leading the procession
and most of all, from the lake-born language, in that
diamond clear voice, for love.
Wendy Cope: Strugnell’s Haiku
The moon is up, rooks settle,
The pubs are open.