Sunday, September 8, 2019

Agha Shahid Ali, 1949 - 2001

Agha Shahid Ali


    Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar
                         —Laurence Hope

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?

Those “Fabrics of Cashmere—” “to make Me beautiful—”
“Trinket”—to gem—“Me to adorn—How tell”—tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates—
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar—
All the archangels—their wings frozen—fell tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.

He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open—for God—the doors of Hell tonight.

In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed.
No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight.

God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day—
I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.

Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.

The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.

My rivals for your love—you’ve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee—
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.

-Agha Shahid Ali

“Tonight" from Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals by Agha Shahid Ali.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Kenneth Patchen, 1911 - 1972

Kenneth Patchen, 1957

The Deer and the Snake

The deer is humble, lovely as God made her
I watch her eyes and think of wonder owned

These strange priests enter the cathedral of woods
And seven Marys clean their hands to woo her

Foot lifted, dagger-sharp—her ears
Poised to their points like a leaf’s head

But the snake strikes, in a velvet arc
Of murderous speed—assassin beautiful

As mountain water at which a fawn drank
Stand there, forever, while poison works
While I stand counting the arms of your Cross
Thinking that many Christs could hang there, crying.

Kenneth Patchen

by Kenneth Patchen

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

W.S. Merwin, 1927 - 2019

Rain Travel

I wake in the dark and remember
it is the morning when I must start
by myself on the journey
I lie listening to the black hour
before dawn and you are
still asleep beside me while
around us the trees full of night lean
hushed in their dream that bears
us up asleep and awake then I hear
drops falling one by one into
the sightless leaves and I
do not know when they began but
all at once there is no sound but rain
and the stream below us roaring
away into the rushing darkness

W.S. Merwin

Monday, July 22, 2019

Yang Jian, 1967 - present

Yang Jian

Night Deep

At night, I’m far from being born.
Outside, the empty stillness
in frog cries is my real body.
Dew on palm leaves
drops one by one.
Bare-footed girl,
and the moon,
are like newly-awakened desires
that lure me to be born.
I fall into the accurate and endless emptiness of               the universe,
and can no longer oblige night mother’s
wish of giving birth to me.

Yang Jian

Born in Anhui Province in 1967, Yang Jian worked as a factory laborer for thirteen years. A practising Buddhist and scholar of Chinese traditional culture, he began writing poetry during the mid-’80s. Laureate of the first Yiu Li’an Poetry Award (1995), the ninth Rougang Poetry Award (2000), the first Yulong Poetry Award (2006), and the prestigious Chinese Media Literature Award (2008), his books of poetry include Dusk (2003), which was rated as one of the ten best books of the year, Old Bridge (2007), and Remorse (2009). Yang Jian also paints with ink and brush. He now lives in Ma’anshan, Anhui.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Mary Oliver, 1935 - 2019

Mary Oliver

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

-- Mary Oliver

Monday, July 1, 2019

Jalal al-Din Rumi, 1207 - 1273

Only breath

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen. Not any religion
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up
from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,
am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any
origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

Jalal al-Din Rumi 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Franz Wright, 1953-2015

Wheeling Motel

The vast waters flow past its back-yard.
You can purchase a six-pack in bars!
Tammy Wynette's on the marquee

a block down. It's twenty-five years ago:
you went to death, I to life, and
which was luckier God only knows.

There's this line in an unpublished poem of yours.
The river is like that,
a blind familiar.

The wind will die down when I say so;
the leaden and lessening light on
the current.

Then the moon will rise
like the word reconciliation,
like Walt Whitman examining the tear on a dead face.

-Franz Wright

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Sam Hamill, 1943 - 2018

"Poetry teaches us things that cannot be learned in prose, such as certain kinds of irony or the importance of the unsaid. The most important element of any poem is the part that is left unsaid. So the poetry frames the experience that lies beyond naming."

-Sam Hamill


It was a dream and you were walking through a field of hosannas
and the immense sea rocked with the blue voices of the dead
when you stretched out supine to dream lotus dreams which I 
could not read.

A cathedral of sky arched overhead. I wanted to know
whether your eyes were closed. I wanted your dream or song or prayer,
o I wanted, and the sin grew brighter and the breeze fairer
that immaculate day

unfolding like a poem, like a song I half-remember and ask,
Did we sing it once a long time ago, did we sing it together, 
was it our hymnal, our beautiful tragic chorus, our anthem, 
the day like a new white canvas 
and here I add marine blue, and there cobalt blue, and a cloud in
and the light is transparent yellow, and the brush makes a sound
like wind over sand, but there are no whitecaps, no sailboats,
only canvas and paint and the body’s dance.

No kite. No gull. No things. Everything goes.
No dream, no dreamer. No certainty, no doubt.
Only the infinitely blossoming hosannas of the emptiness within,
echoing the emptiness without. 


Saturday, June 15, 2019

Czesław Miłosz, 1911 - 2004

Czesław Miłosz
"The voice of passion is better than the voice of reason. The passionless cannot change history."

-Czesław Miłosz

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle                flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.
-- Czeslaw Milosz

Thursday, June 13, 2019

a poem by Jim Harrison

-Jim Harrison

Back in the blue chair in front of the green studio
another year has passed, or so they say, but calendars lie.
They’re a kind of cosmic business machine like
their cousin clocks but break down at inoppormne times.
Fifty years ago I learned to jump off the calendar
but I kept getting drawn back on for reasons
of greed and my imperishable stupidity.
Of late I’ve escaped those fatal squares
with their razor-sharp numbers for longer and longer.
I had to become the moving water I already am,
falling back into the human shape in order
not to frighten my children, grandchildren, dogs and friends.
Our old cat doesn’t care. He laps the water where my face used to be.

[from IN SEARCH OF SMALL GODS, Copper Canyon Press, 2010, $16, pb.]

Two Poems by Yu Xiuhua

Two Poems by Yu Xiuhua
translated by Ming Di

Crossing Half of China to Sleep with You 

To sleep with you or to be slept, what’s the difference if there’s any?
Two bodies collide – the force, the flower pushed open by
   the force,
the virtual spring in the flowering – nothing more than this
and this we mistake as life restarting. In half of China
things are happening: volcanoes
erupting, rivers running dry,
political prisoners and displaced workers abandoned,
elk deer and red-crowned cranes shot.
I cross the hail of bullets to sleep with you.
I press many nights into one morning to sleep with you.
I run across many of me and many of me run into one to sleep
    with you.
Yet I can be misled by butterflies of course
and mistake praise as spring,
a village like Hengdian as home. But all these,
all of these are absolutely indispensable
reasons that I sleep with you.

On the Threshing Floor, I Chase Chickens Away

And I see sparrows fly over. They look around
as if it’s inappropriate to stop for just any grain of rice.
They have clear eyes, with light from inside.
Starlings also fly over, in flocks, bewildered.
They flutter and make a sound that seems to flash.
When they’re gone, the sky gets lower, in dark blue.
In this village deep in the central plain
the sky is always low, forcing us to look at its blue,
the way our ancestors make us look inside ourselves,
narrow and empty, so we look out again
at the full September –
we’re comforted by its insignificance but hurt by its smallness.
Living our life this way, we feel secure.
So much rice. Where does it come from?
So much gold color. Where does it come from?
Year after year I’ve been blessed, and then deserted.
When happiness and sadness come in the same color code,
    I’m happy
to be forgotten. But who am I separated from?
I don’t know. I stay close to my own hours.

Translations from the Chinese

Yu Xiuhua became well known in 2014 with her online poem “Crossing Half of China to Sleep with You.” In 2015 her debut book sold fifteen thousand copies in one day. The New York Times named her one of the eleven most courageous women around the world in 2017.

Agha Shahid Ali, 1949 - 2001

Agha Shahid Ali Tonight       Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar                          —Laurence Hope Where are you now? ...