Some of my favorite poetry, vol. iii
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.
The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.
The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.
Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.
She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.
This Is Just To Say
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade
Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,
how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark
After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s
voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—
something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted
Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,
and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.
The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.
And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,
and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person
add up to something.
Maybe I overdid it
when I called my father an enemy of humanity.
That might have been a little strongly put,
a slight overexaggeration,
an immoderate description of the person
who at the moment, two thousand miles away,
holding the telephone receiver six inches from his ear,
must have regretted paying for my therapy.
What I meant was that my father
was an enemy of my humanity
and what I meant behind that
was that my father was split
into two people, one of them
living deep inside of me
like a bad king, or an incurable disease-
blighting my crops,
striking down my herds,
poisoning my wells – the other
standing in another time zone,
in a kitchen in Wyoming,
with bad knees and white hair sprouting from his ears.
I don’t want to scream forever,
I don’t want to live without proportion
like some kind of infection from the past,
so I have to remember the second father,
the one whose TV dinner is getting cold
while he holds the phone in his left hand
and stares blankly out the window
where just now the sun is going down
and the last fingertips of sunlight
are withdrawing from the hills
they once touched like a child.
Shame: An Aria
You think you’ve grown up in various ways
and then the elevator door opens and you’re standing inside
reaming out your nose—something about the dry air
in the mountains—and find yourself facing two spruce elderly couples
dressed like improbable wildflowers in their primary color
definitely on vacation sports outfits, a wormy color of one of the body’s
shameful and congealed lubricants gleaming on your fingertip
under the fluorescent lights, and there really isn’t too much to say
as you descend the remaining two flights with them in silence,
all five of you staring straight ahead in this commodious
aluminum group coffin toward the ground floor. You are,
of course, trying to think of something witty to say. Your hand
is, of course, in your pocket discreetly transferring the offending article
into its accumulation of lint. One man clears his throat
and you admit to yourself that there are kinds of people—if not
people in particular—you hate, that these are they,
and that your mind is nevertheless, is nevertheless working
like a demented cicada drying its wings after rain to find some way
to save yourself in your craven, small child’s large ego’s idea
of their eyes. You even crank it up a notch, getting more highminded
and lugubrious in the seconds it takes for the almost silent
gears and oiled hydraulic or pneumatic plungers and cables
of the machine to set you down. “Nosepicking,” you imagine explaining
to the upturned, reverential faces, “is in a way the ground floor
of being. The body’s fluids and solids, its various despised disjecta,
toenail parings left absently on the bedside table that your lover
the next night notices there, shit streaks in underwear or little, faint,
odorous peeblossoms of the palest polleny color, the stiffened
small droplets in the sheets of the body’s shuddering latenight loneness
and selflove, russets of menstrual blood, toejam, earwax,
phlegm, the little dead militias of white corpuscles
we call pus, what are they after all but the twins of the juices
of mortal glory: sap, wine, breast milk, sperm, and blood. The most intimate hygienes,
those deepest tribal rules that teach a child
trying to struggle up out of the fear of loss of love
from anger, hatred, fear, they get taught to us, don’t they,
as boundaries, terrible thresholds, what can be said (or thought, or done)
inside the house but not out, what can be said (or thought, or done)
only by oneself, which must therefore best not be done at all,
so that the core of the self, we learn early, is where shame lives
and where we also learn doubleness, a certain practical cunning,
and what a theater is, and the ability to lie—“
the elevator has opened and closed, the silverhaired columbines
of the mountain are murmuring over breakfast menus in the room full of bright plastics
somewhere, and you, grown up in various ways, are at the typewriter,
thinking of all the slimes and jellies of decay, thinking
that the zombie passages, ghoul corridors, radiant death’s-head
entries to that realm of terror claim us in the sick, middle-of-the-night
sessions of self-hatred and remorse, in the day’s most hidden,
watchful self, the man not farting in the line at the bank,
no trace of discomfort on his mild, neighbor-loving face, the woman
calculating the distance to the next person she can borrow a tampon from
while she smiles attentively into this new man’s explanation
of his theory about deforestation, claims us also, by seepage, in our lies,
small malices, razor knicks on the skin of others of our meannesses,
deprivations, rage, and what to do but face that way
and praise the kingdom of the dead, praise the power which we have all kinds
of phrases to elide the fact that none of us can worm our way out of—
“that no man can evade,” “which all must kneel to in the end”—
praise it by calling it time, say it is master of the seasons,
mistress of the moment of the hunting hawk’s sudden sheen of grape-brown
gleaming in the morning sun, the characteristic slow gesture,
two fingers across the cheekbone deliberately, of the love dreamily
oiling her skin, in this moment, no other, before she turns to you
the face she wants you to see and the rest
that she hopes, when she can’t keep it hidden, you can somehow love
and which, if you could love yourself, you would.
Langston Hughes, published 1925
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Besides, They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.