I’ll give it that

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pretty soon
pretty soon
pretty soon

now

tomorrow always comes
I’ll give it that

 

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A poem is a machine for making

sense, the way a dog
is a machine for barking.
And just so, there are side effects:
the mess that takes you by surprise
(the wondering when did that happen?)
the licking your face
when you’re trying to sleep
and unless you take precautions
always more poems.

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There you were

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There you were
helping your friends
who were not yet married
before their reception
by cutting something small
smaller,
carrots or cucumbers,
something.

You were being mindful
of the knifeness of the knife
and how strange it was
not because it cut
but because of the way
it cut

and in consequence
you were working
slowly,
holding up
everything and everyone
that depended on you.

I loved you for
your mindful sluggishness,
and how you were unconscious
of your beauty
in the beautiful moment

so now
I think sometimes
how if that beautiful moment had lasted
I might have married you
and you me
and how eventually
someone else would have had to take over
for both of us.

And I think:
how lucky
one moment
doesn’t lead to the next.

 

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Now it occurs to me

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Now it occurs to me that some day
our son who is about to be born
will wear this knit cap
that was given to me
quite some time ago
by someone I was in love with
quite some time ago
and I’ve never told you this.

There’s keeping and then again
there’s keeping it to oneself
but sometimes I think about her
and what it was like to be in love then
and how it was different
from what it’s like to be in love now

and that some day our son
who is about to be born
will wear this knit cap
and he will not know a thing
and you will not know a thing
and she will not know a thing

about it, the way the yarn
follows the yarn.

Won’t that be something?

 

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The Joiner Had a Vision of God’s Glory

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Tell how you came to drudge in my kitchen
you child of the sheltering sky.
Who were your people?
Where did you get that hair, those blue eyes?
And that we’ll all of us be worms’-meat one day—
is that why you scoff at us?

The wildflowers were abashed
when the fountain burst from frozen ground
and the ice formed complicated branches
as if to demonstrate how much remained to be done.
They have scattered to the far fields,
and now must be counted again.

The roofer practices his trade,
he grows strong off his need for others.
The reseller of goods heard the drone of the chanting,
and the night grew pale.
The conference of geologists has been disbanded:
the earth is strong enough without them.

 

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No magic, child

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There is no magic, child.
No mysterious stranger
awaiting the proper stormswept night
on which to introduce you to your destiny.
Your mother and father
are really your mother and father.
There are words for everything.
Behind every bookcase is only a wall,
and the walls are solid walls
and behind them only two by fours
plaster and pink insulation and thick wires
through which ordinary currents pulse invisibly.

There is no magic, child,
because it is entirely usual
to have been born to people
about whom you know nothing
and who have secrets they themselves will never fathom.

There is no magic, child,
because it is entirely mundane
to live side by side
with the passionate electricity
that lurks behind your bedroom walls.

There is no magic, child,
since the world is just the world
and there are words for everything
even if the ones you will someday require
may be in a language no one living speaks.

There is no magic, child,
because it is entirely ordinary
for entire peoples to spring up
and sing for a hundred years
only to vanish with their only traces
to be found in a bookcase
with a solid wall behind it
while within the wall seethes
the invisible electricity
that powers the screens and machines
that belong to the parents
who are really your parents.

There is no magic, child.
The stranger who will appear
some unexceptional day
and make truths of wishes
you never even knew you were capable of

is no more mysterious than you.

 

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I dreamed the streets of Katmandu were full of flowers

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I dreamed the streets of Katmandu
Were full of flowers
As the earth-mother mountains
Were shrugging off their glaciers
While a sea rose up somewhere
And vultures dreamed of feasts
But a young woman smiled and said
Nothing’s too much to bear
And sure enough she had sung
Her child to sleep
And the streets of Katmandu
Were full of flowers.

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No ideas but in things

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“No ideas but in things.”
William Carlos Williams

All righty then
so say I want an idea
you’re saying I need to
bust open a thing
and find an idea inside
maybe a bunch of them
twisting like worms

and then what?
What the hell
am I supposed to say
about all these busted things
and all these twisty ideas?

Because right now
the place is littered with things I’ve busted
that don’t work anymore
and won’t even stand up
and the ideas
have got into the floorboards
and the bag of sugar
and the mattress.

I tell you
if this is poetry
it’s nothing like what I was led to believe
back when they gave us
that wheelbarrow poem to read.

So tell me
sage of Paterson
tell me
old witch
old doctor
tell me what’s the big idea
mister thing?

 

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That pencil

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that pencil

was decisive as an arrow once
but soon I noticed
it was always a little short of sharp

but maybe
but who can say
anyway I persevered

and every scratch of the way
there was that pencil
unsharp ever
barely shy of blunt at times

anyway I persevered

now look at it
all chewed up like an argument
nobody won

 

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A Trick

(a translation from the Spanish of Jorge Luis Borges)

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Fifty-two cards push real life aside:
flimsy, parti-colored charms
that make us forget where we’re bound to end up in the end.
And who cares where? —we’ve stolen this time, anyway,
let’s build a house of cards,
decorate it, move in, and then play
as we were always meant to play.

Nothing beyond the table’s edges
carries any weight.
Inside, it’s a foreign land
where bluff and bid are high affairs of state:
The Ace of Spades swaggers authoritatively
like Lord Byron, capable of anything;
the nine of diamonds glitters like a pirate’s dream.

A headlong rush of lethargy
slacks conversation to a drawl:
our slow words come and go
the while chance exalts some, lays others low;
the while the players echo and re-echo all the tricks they know:
until it seems that they’re returned—or nearly so:
the crones and cronies and their bony friends
who showed us what it meant to be true Americans
with the same old songs, the same old works for idle hands.

 

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