Maya Angelou: Phenomenal Woman
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Blanca Varela: Distant Yet Never So Close
distant yet never so close
we walk a sinking earth
lying down on her or simply standing
we feel the bucking of time
it’s not about fearful flames
nor ungovernable seas
on this earth mind and body
have the same ebb and flow
in the air that lacks weight
since nothing differs in memory
from what we have seen or imagined
we dream as we live
waiting without certainty or science
the only thing we suspect beyond question
the last chord in this vague music
which envelops us
explicit as a flower
persuades us with petals and signs
to swirl on our axis
stained with ink to drink imagined lips
from the oldest and most mortal wineskin
the sky would be a dark place
a space of light
in the eye that looks at itself
in the hand that closes
to clutch hold of itself
out in the immense open
when all’s said and done like the one who closes the coffin
or a letter
a ray of sunlight
will rise up like a sword to blind us
and gradually open the darkness
like an unexpectedly wounded fruit
like a door which hides nothing
and guards nothing more
Carol Ann Duffy: Prayer
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.
Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Pray for us now. Grade I piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.
Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.
Sarojini Naidu: Cradle Song
From groves of spice,
O’er fields of rice,
Athwart the lotus-stream,
I bring for you,
Aglint with dew
A little lovely dream.
Sweet, shut your eyes,
The wild fire-fiies
Dance through the fairy neem;
From the poppy-bole
For you I stole
A little lovely dream.
Dear eyes, good-night,
In golden light
The stars around you gleam;
On you I press
With soft caress
A little lovely dream.
Maria Polydouri: Dream
I gathered roses for you
wandering about the mount;
a thousand thorns in my view,
my clasping hands in hurt abound.
I longed so much for you to pass
through the icy northern wind,
holding a gift for you –alas-
tight against my bosom’s tilt.
I kept on gazing afar,
full of yearning was my heart
and my eyes streaming tears.
In my craving I failed to see
the dead of night was drawing nigh;
and I cried and cried –whatever be-
me and my roses in the night
Emily Dickinson: As Imperceptibly as Grief
As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away—
Too imperceptible, at last,
To seem like Perfidy—
A Quietness distilled,
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature, spending with herself
The Dusk drew earlier in—
The Morning foreign shone—
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest who would be gone—
And thus, without a Wing,
Or service of a Keel,
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful.
Elizabeth Bishop: At the Fishhouses
Although it is a cold evening,
down by one of the fishhouses
an old man sits netting,
his net, in the gloaming almost invisible,
a dark purple-brown,
and his shuttle worn and polished.
The air smells so strong of codfish
it makes one’s nose run and one’s eyes water.
The five fishhouses have steeply peaked roofs
and narrow, cleated gangplanks slant up
to storerooms in the gables
for the wheelbarrows to be pushed up and down on.
All is silver: the heavy surface of the sea,
swelling slowly as if considering spilling over,
is opaque, but the silver of the benches,
the lobster pots, and masts, scattered
among the wild jagged rocks,
is of an apparent translucence
like the small old buildings with an emerald moss
growing on their shoreward walls.
The big fish tubs are completely lined
with layers of beautiful herring scales
and the wheelbarrows are similarly plastered
with creamy iridescent coats of mail,
with small iridescent flies crawling on them.
Up on the little slope behind the houses,
set in the sparse bright sprinkle of grass,
is an ancient wooden capstan,
cracked, with two long bleached handles
and some melancholy stains, like dried blood,
where the ironwork has rusted.
The old man accepts a Lucky Strike.
He was a friend of my grandfather.
We talk of the decline in the population
and of codfish and herring
while he waits for a herring boat to come in.
There are sequins on his vest and on his thumb.
He has scraped the scales, the principal beauty,
from unnumbered fish with that black old knife,
the blade of which is almost worn away.
Down at the water’s edge, at the place
where they haul up the boats, up the long ramp
descending into the water, thin silver
tree trunks are laid horizontally
across the gray stones, down and down
at intervals of four or five feet.
Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
element bearable to no mortal,
to fish and to seals . . . One seal particularly
I have seen here evening after evening.
He was curious about me. He was interested in music;
like me a believer in total immersion,
so I used to sing him Baptist hymns.
I also sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
He stood up in the water and regarded me
steadily, moving his head a little.
Then he would disappear, then suddenly emerge
almost in the same spot, with a sort of shrug
as if it were against his better judgment.
Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
the clear gray icy water . . . Back, behind us,
the dignified tall firs begin.
Bluish, associating with their shadows,
a million Christmas trees stand
waiting for Christmas. The water seems suspended
above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones.
I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.
Lam Thi My Da: Garden Fragrance
Last night a bomb exploded on the veranda
But sounds of birds sweeten the air this morning.
I hear the fragrant trees, look in the garden
For two silent clusters of ripe guavas.
(translation from Vietnamese)
Dahlia Ravikovitch: A Mechanical Doll
And that night I was a mechanical doll
and I turned right and left, to all sides
and I fell on my face and broke to bits,
and they tried to put me together with skillful hands
And then I went back to being a correct doll
and all my manners were studied and compliant.
But by then I was a different kind of doll
like a wounded twig hanging by a tendril.
And then I went to dance at a ball,
but they left me in the company of cats and dogs
even though all my steps were measured and patterned.
And I had golden hair and I had blue eyes
and I had a dress the colour of the flowers in the garden
and I had a straw hat decorated with a cherry.
Paula Meehan: Child Burial
Your coffin looked unreal,
fancy as a wedding cake.
I chose your grave clothes with care,
your favourite stripey shirt,
your blue cotton trousers.
They smelt of woodsmoke, of October,
your own smell there too.
I chose a gansy of handspun wool,
warm and fleecy for you. It is
so cold down in the dark.
No light can reach you and teach you
the paths of wild birds,
the names of the flowers,
the fishes, the creatures.
Ignorant you must remain
of the sun and its work,
my lamb, my calf, my eaglet,
my cub, my kid, my nestling,
my suckling, my colt. I would spin
time back, take you again
within my womb, your amniotic lair,
and further spin you back
through nine waxing months
to the split seeding moment
you chose to be made flesh
word within me.
I’d cancel the love feast
the hot night of your making.
I would travel alone
to a quiet mossy place,
you would spill from me into the earth
drop by bright red drop.
Natasha Trethewey: Providence
What’s left is footage: the hours before
parties, palm trees leaning
in the wind,
fronds blown back,
a woman’s hair. Then after:
the vacant lots,
boats washed ashore, a swamp
where graves had been. I recall
how we huddled all night in our small house,
moving between rooms,
emptying pots filled with rain.
The next day, our house—
on its cinderblocks—seemed to float
beneath us, nothing I could see
tying us to the land.
In the water, our reflection
when I bent to touch it.
Tada Chimako: Along the Riverbank
I stand someplace and watch
People without weight transported
From this bank to that
Only once are they carried across
The water is clear, finely textured yet viscous
The boatman’s oar sends up no spray
Although the passengers are spirits perhaps
All spirit seems to have left them long ago
As if caught in a deep sleep
Their mouths hang slightly open
They need no water from the river of forgetfulness
Probably their memories are already long gone
The old women look like my mother
So I probably resemble them too
Standing with mouth slightly agape
A close resemblance like one dream to another
As I gaze on them, I begin to wonder
From which side of the river I watch . . .
Meanwhile, a dragonfly perched on the helm measures
The weight of the vast afternoon on its thin wings
Kay Ryan: Spiderweb
not from the
lines to the
Venus Khoury-Ghata: In the Village of the Mothers
The days remain in a bucket of water
The wells are kept for the use of the dead who splash the
walls with their silence
Tired from wringing out the damp weather
The women lean back on the air
Lean back on trapped trees
Their aching hips share the carpenter winds’ exhaustion
The women of the mothers’ village set the houses upright
that the clumsy children upended, children they pin to their
You wouldn’t put a wall outdoors in such weather
Only the roads are free to go where they please
Denise Levertov: Breathing
up to their knees in
fog. The fog
cobwebs, the grass
leaning where deer
have looked for apples.
from brook to where
the top of the hill looks
over the fog, send up
not one bird.
So absolute, it is
no other than
happiness itself, a breathing
too quiet to hear.
Gabriela Mistral: Pine Forest
Let us go now into the forest.
Trees will pass by your face,
and I will stop and offer you to them,
but they cannot bend down.
The night watches over its creatures,
except for the pine trees that never change:
the old wounded springs that spring
blessed gum, eternal afternoons.
If they could, the trees would lift you
and carry you from valley to valley,
and you would pass from arm to arm,
a child running
from father to father.
Lucille Clifton: Homage to my Hips
these hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top
Elena Schvarts: Remembrance of Strange Hospitality
Once i had a taste
Of a girlfriend’s milk,
My sister’s milk -
Not to quench my thirst
But satisfy my soul.
into a cup she squeezed
Milk from her left breast.
And in that simple vessel
It gently frothed, rejoiced.
There was something birdlike in its odour,
Whiffs of sheep and wolf, and something older
Than the Milky Way, it was somehow warm and dense.
A daughter in the wilderness,
Once let her aged father drink
From her breasts and thus became
His mother. By this act of grace
Her whiteness drove away the dark,
A cradle substituted for a tomb.
From the duct next to your heart
You offered me a drink-
I’m not a vampire, am i? – Horror.
It frothed and tinkled, warm
And sweet, soft, everlasting,
Crowding time back in a corner.
Frances Horovitz: Rain- Birdoswald
I stand under a leafless tree
more still, in this mouse-pattering
thrum of rain,
than cattle shifting in the field.
It is more dark than light.
A Chinese painter’s brush of deepening grey
moves in a subtle tide.
The beasts are darker islands now.
Wet-stained and silvered by the rain
they suffer night,
marooned as still as stone or tree.
We sense each other’s quiet.
Almost, death could come
as is this dusk and rain,
and I should be no more
myself, than raindrops
glimmering in last light
on black ash buds
or night beasts in a winter field.
Anne Bradstreet: To my Dear and Loving Husband
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompetence.
Thy love is such I can no way repay.
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persever
That when we live no more, we may live ever.
Forough Farrokhzad: Another Birth
My whole being is a dark chant
which will carry you
to the dawn of eternal growths and blossoming
in this chant I sighed you sighed
in this chant
I grafted you to the tree to the water to the fire.
Life is perhaps
a long street through which a woman holding
a basket passes every day
Life is perhaps
a rope with which a man hangs himself from a branch
life is perhaps a child returning home from school.
Life is perhaps lighting up a cigarette
in the narcotic repose between two love-makings
or the absent gaze of a passer-by
who takes off his hat to another passer-by
with a meaningless smile and a good morning .
Life is perhaps that enclosed moment
when my gaze destroys itself in the pupil of your eyes
and it is in the feeling
which I will put into the Moon’s impression
and the Night’s perception.
In a room as big as loneliness
which is as big as love
looks at the simple pretexts of its happiness
at the beautiful decay of flowers in the vase
at the sapling you planted in our garden
and the song of canaries
which sing to the size of a window.
this is my lot
this is my lot
my lot is
a sky which is taken away at the drop of a curtain
my lot is going down a flight of disused stairs
a regain something amid putrefaction and nostalgia
my lot is a sad promenade in the garden of memories
and dying in the grief of a voice which tells me
I will plant my hands in the garden
I will grow I know I know I know
and swallows will lay eggs
in the hollow of my ink-stained hands.
I shall wear
a pair of twin cherries as ear-rings
and I shall put dahlia petals on my finger-nails
there is an alley
where the boys who were in love with me
still loiter with the same unkempt hair
thin necks and bony legs
and think of the innocent smiles of a little girl
who was blown away by the wind one night.
There is an alley
which my heart has stolen
from the streets of my childhood.
The journey of a form along the line of time
inseminating the line of time with the form
a form conscious of an image
coming back from a feast in a mirror
And it is in this way
that someone dies
and someone lives on.
No fisherman shall ever find a pearl in a small brook
which empties into a pool.
I know a sad little fairy
who lives in an ocean
and ever so softly
plays her heart into a magic flute
a sad little fairy
who dies with one kiss each night
and is reborn with one kiss each dawn.
Joanne Monte: Eight-Fifteen
(a.m.) the city
was split by lightning,
stripped down to bone, and tortured,
its flesh lashed by flames…
I was beggared,
wearing the rags of loose skin,
hanging like pockets lined with blood.
I could not see
the earth’s incinerator,
its volcanic madness, blinded by hair,
burnt darker than matchsticks
and dusted with soot,
but I could feel
the meltdown in my fingers
like soft beeswax, clasping each other
as though desperate lovers—
lovers in torment,
gnarled in the arms of war.
I had crawled
from among the dying,
the children curled like fetuses
in their mother’s wombs, the unborn;
crawled from under the black rain
of suffering, the ill-smell of survival;
a disfigured hope
seen clutching the red-and-white hibiscus
from my mother’s kimono
that became part of my flesh.
(note: the bomb dropped 8:15 a.m on Hiroshima)
Patti Smith: Burning Roses
Father i am burning roses
father only God shall know
what the secret heart discloses
the ancient dances with the doe
Father i have sorely wounded
father i shall wound no more
i have waltzed among the thorns
where roses burn upon the floor
Daughter may you turn in laughter
a candle dreams a candle draws
the heart that burns
shall burn thereafter
may you turn as roses fall
Gillian Clarke: Cold Knap Lake
We once watched a crowd
pull a drowned child from the lake.
Blue lipped and dressed in water’s long green silk
she lay for dead.
Then kneeling on the earth,
a heroine, her red head bowed,
her wartime cotton frock soaked,
my mother gave a stranger’s child her breath.
The crowd stood silent,
drawn by the dread of it.
The child breathed, bleating
and rosy in my mother’s hands.
My father took her home to a poor house
and watched her thrashed for almost drowning.
Was I there?
Or is that troubled surface something else
shadowy under the dipped fingers of willows
where satiny mud blooms in cloudiness
after the treading, heavy webs of swans
as their wings beat and whistle on the air?
All lost things lie under closing water
in that lake with the poor man’s daughter.
Christina Rossetti: Remember
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
Annette von Droste-Hülshoff: In the Grass
Lying in the Grass
Sweet repose, sweet rapture in the grass,
Herbs’ aroma wafting all around,
Deep tide, deep, deep drunken tide,
When blows the cloud across sky’s blue,
When upon the tiredly floating head
Sweet laughter flutters down,
Dear voice whispers and trickles
Like lime blossom on to a grave.
When in the inmost heart the dead then
Each corpse stretches and stirs,
Quietly, quietly draws breath,
Moves closed eyelids
Dead love, dead delight, dead time,
All the treasures, turned to ruins,
Touch each other with shy tinkling
Like little bells, played upon by the wind.
Hour, more fleeting than the kiss
Of a sunbeam on the mourning lake,
Than the song of the migrating bird,
Rippling down to me from the heights,
Than the scintillating flash of the beetle
When it hurries through the sun’s path,
Than the passing pressure of a hand,
Which lingers for the last time.
And yet, Heaven, grant me always just
This one thing only: for the song
Of each free bird up in the blue
A soul, that flies up with it;
Just for every scanty beam
My colourfully scintillating hem,
To every warm hand my embrace
And for every blessing my dream.
Sylvia Plath: Conversation among the Ruins
Through portico of my elegant house you stalk
With your wild furies, disturbing garlands of fruit
And the fabulous lutes and peacocks, rending the net
Of all decorum which holds the whirlwind back.
Now, rich order of walls is fallen; rooks croak
Above the appalling ruin; in bleak light
Of your stormy eye, magic takes flight
Like a daunted witch, quitting castle when real days break.
Fractured pillars frame prospects of rock;
While you stand heroic in coat and tie, I sit
Composed in Grecian tunic and psyche-knot,
Rooted to your black look, the play turned tragic:
Which such blight wrought on our bankrupt estate,
What ceremony of words can patch the havoc?
Parveen Shakir: A Message
It’s the same weather.
The rain’s laughter
rings in the trees, echoes.
Their green branches
wear golden flowers
and smile thinking of someone.
The breeze is a scarf, again the light-pink.
The path to the garden that knows us
is looking for us.
The moment of moon-rise
is waiting for us.
Idra Novey: On Bafflement
We drew a prison in the sand and it wouldn’t go away.
Not even beneath the foam of the biggest waves.
The torn leg of a starfish clung to the door.
A piece of seaweed clung to the bars over the windows.
The tide came in higher and we thought, So much for the prison.
Somebody asked why did we draw that thing,
And were we growing old watching it this way.
We felt compelled to make love in the sand a few feet off.
Then we drew another one, just to see if we’d make love again.
Sheenagh Pugh: Sometimes
Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail.
Sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
A people sometimes will step back from war,
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.
Sometimes our best intentions do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen; may it happen for you.