Lives of the Poets

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Robert Frost
Very nearly got lost
In a snowy wood at night.
But fortunately, it turned out all right.

William Butler Yeats
Is accounted one of the greats
So much so that poor John Keats
Now has to correct the pronunciation of everyone he meets.

Ezra Loomis Pound
Wrote verse difficult and profound
The fact that even he couldn’t figure it out
Should suffice to remove any doubt.

Wallace Stevens
Was always at sixes and sevens.
He never could decide exactly
Whether to rhyme slant, or perfectly.

Edward “e e” Estlin Cummings
Marched to the sounds of different drummings.
Without making any apologies
He ended up in some anthologies.

Ogden Nash
As a poet was brash
His lines rushed out in a lengthy and seemingly unstoppable torrent
And his rhymes were abhorrent.

Edna St. Vincent Millay
Was heard on occasion to say
That only the author of Euclid’s Elements
Had ever seen Beauty without habiliments.

Mr. Edward Lear
Was rather queer.
But of course, the word had a different meaning back then
So instead, one should simply say that he preferred men.

T.S. Eliot
Never ate anything smelly. It
Was only understated food
That ever suited his mood.

Edmund Clerihew Bentley
Died discontently
Aware that decent rhymes for Clerihew
Are, alas, very few.

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the girl in the swing having accomplished

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the girl in the swing having accomplished
prodigies of momentum
no longer needs her father
her friends too are out of alignment

she rushes and rushes
into a future
away from the present
into a future again

and ever
at the farthest edge of now
her forward rush commences again

just once when she was leaning back
so far back
she saw the departing world
quite clearly

the earth balanced perfectly atop
the tree that clung to the bird
that stood on its head
on the sky

 

then suddenly she knew the roots of the sky
were infinite
and that the rush of time itself
could not unseat it

 

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No matter what

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The tall man stood on the island
Blunt-faced, facing the wind
With his eyes as wide as a child’s eyes
And his clothes flapping about him

And the seabirds cried like ever
Just as if he were nought but a stone
And the wind rushed heedlessly by him
Till the sea rose and mothered him home

His blunt face is long since forgotten
By his people long scattered and dead
But all the same he stood there once
No matter what nobody says

 

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Why are you still here?

(after Li Bai)
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It’s spring, you say – Why are you still here?

The lichens are slowly turning
The mountain rock to new dirt,
The snowmelt is carrying the old dirt away;

Why are you still here?

I smile; my heart
Beats as slowly as the mountain’s heart.

A peach blossom, ripped from the twig
By the pummeling spring rain,
May be carried by freshet, by gully,
By stream, by river – clear to the sea, maybe;

So too me:
ripped from heaven,
Halfway to somewhere else by now.

Which is why I have no answer.

 

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But really they thought it no harm done

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All right so it was a bit of a trick
But really they thought it no harm done
To secretly scatter crackers on the lawn
Then send the baby out to frolic

Thus they taught their girl
From her nascency
She was the mistress of birds
And she grew up into the utmost complacency
Knowing they’d come at her beck
And adore her
And be harmless and not peck
And would sing for her

And no one ever thought What will become
Of her when she grows up and leaves home
When she fares into the world all alone
And her pockets mysteriously unfilled with crumbs

Would she hate the birds that kept absent
Or blame them
When the fields and branches of the trees stayed vacant
When she failed to tame them

To what would she ascribe
The usual empty sky

The poor dear the answer remains unclear
But anyhow what can be done about it now

 

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The Rower

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Departing just at dusk, having sneaked down
To the lake’s edge, led on by springtime
And your young blood’s joy in its own restlessness
And happening on a boat secreted in a secret cove,
You set oars to the locks, shoved off from shore,
Hearing the soft decisive scrape of boat’s bottom
Sliding over rough silt-buried stones,
The thunk and clunk of setting-out that made
A momentary echo in the shallow hull, but died without ado;
Then sensing the smooth surge, the self-sufficient craft
Kissing into the smooth lake, bow-waves and wake
Endlessly disappearing into black water,
Face firmly fixed toward your origin, only occasionally
Glancing furtively backward, as one guilt-ridden,
Though guilty not of a past but of a future,
You peered through gloom in hope to scry a destiny
Or glean some dim foretelling of a future track,
Yet rowed onward with reckless confidence
In destination, destiny, desire; as in a dream.

Small wonder when there reared up from your source,
The past you beat away from yet still faced,
A shadowy, vast, overlooming crag –
For you were in the mountains and
Had been for days, had come indeed
On purpose, to escape those flat,
Dull, visible days spent on the lower plain,
That future otherwise inescapable; how was it possible
That the invited and inevitable sheer presence
Shocked you? Was it that you thought
You had attained an utmost height already,
Shrugged the encumbrances of girdling earth,
And nothing loftier was left to know?
Or, so used to the unbounded vistas of your youth,
To past and future spread about you,
An endless succession of meals
Set on a table without end,
Assumed with altitude you would encounter
Just more of the same—oh, grander,
Splendid, isolating—thus more to the liking
Of your young aspiring heart and eye.

Reasons, if reasons there were or are
Add not nor subtract not one atom from this world;
So there it was, that thing, itself
And part of everything else too
Whose overwhelming distance made it seem
To follow you implacably, pacing you
Effortlessly, the borrowed boat’s clawed motion
Giving to its vicious peak a serene glide, a patience
And a presence more than natural
So that, all at once overcome, you gave up all
And turning plashed about for shore
And home, and would be haunted
After your return, then and for all your days.

Had you kept rowing – ah, what then?

 

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This is the house we all built

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This is the house we all built.

This is the woman
Who lives in the house that we built.

These are the tears that are cried at night
By the youngish woman
Who lives in the house we all of us built together.

Here is the imp that comes in the dark
To lick the tears
From the face of the girl
Who lives in the house that we all built as one.

This is the witch with a striking beard
Who conjured the imp that came at night
To trace with its tongue the tracks of the tears
That were cried by the lady
Who lives in the house we conspired to build together.

Now comes the priest with righteous mien
To chasten the witch with the wisp of beard
Who called the imp
To lick the tears
That were wept by the woman
Who lived in the house we all built.

This is the popular, vocal crowd
That cheers the unforgiving priest
Who rebuked the witch
Who summoned the imp
That licked away the stinging tears
Of the tragical woman
Who lives in the house that we built.

Here is the singer who sold the tale
Of the joking crowd
That cheered the priest
Who tormented the hag
Who raised the imp
Which sipped the tears
Of the sad old woman
Who lived in the house that we built.

And there the woman lived and lives
Who heard the impecunious singer’s tale
Anent the jocular jeering crowd
That adored the cleric
Who chastened the witch
Who summoned the very junior devil
Who caused to cry
The attentive woman
Who abides there still
In the house we all of us built together.

 

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there’s something sacred

First and Last Word

there’s always been something
sacred about a lost corner

of cracked asphalt
under the daylong sun

where absolutely nothing grows
except the sad weeds

 

just as I thought I heard
trumpets sound

though I was taught
the walls were long down

I noted the prophet
head cocked patient

sitting on the curb
beside the riven pavement

and knew there were still ramparts
and work for the trumpeters

 

from my mundane height I hear
every car on the road

every radio every satellite
how much more

does he hear sitting down there
among the holy holy weeds

 

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