Friday, December 9, 2011

The Bluebirds

In the midst of the poplar that stands by our door,
We planted a bluebird box,
And we hoped before the summer was o'er
A transient pair to coax.

One warm summer's day the bluebirds came
and lighted on our tree,
But at first the wand'rers were not so tame
But they were afraid of me.

They seemed to come from the distant south,
Just over the Walden wood,
And they skimmed it along with open mouth
Close by where their bellows stood.

Warbling they swept round the distant cliff,
And they warbled it over the lea,
And over the blacksmith's shop in a jiff
Did they come warbling to me.

They came and sat on the box's top
Without looking into the hole,
And only from this side to that did they hop,
As 'twere a common well-pole.

Methinks I had never seen them before,
Nor indeed had they seen me,
Till I chanced to stand by our back door,
And they came to the poplar tree.

In course of time they built their nest
And reared a happy brood,
And every morn they piped their best
As they flew away to the wood.

They wore the summer hours away
To the bluebirds and to me,
And every hour was a summer's day.
So pleasantly lived we.

They were a world within themselves,
And I a world in me,
Up in the tree--the little elves--
With their callow family.

One morn the wind blowed cold and strong,
And the leaves when whirling away;
The birds prepared for their journey long
That raw and gusty day.

Boreas came blust'ring down from the north,
and ruffled their azure smocks,
So they launched them forth, though somewhat loth,
By way of old Cliff rocks.

Meanwhile the earth jogged steadily on
In her mantle of purest white,
And anon another spring was born
When winter was vanished quite.

And I wandered forth o'er the steamy earth,
And gazed at the mellow sky,
But never before from the hour of my birth
Had I wandered so thoughtfully.

For never before was the earth so still,
And never so mild was the sky,
The river, the fields, the woods, and the hill,
Seemed to have an audible sigh.

I felt that the heavens were all around,
And the earth was all below,
As when in the ears there rushes a sound
Which thrills you from top to toe.

I dreamed that I was a waking thought--
A something I hardly knew--
Not a solid place, nor an empty nought,
But a drop of morning dew.

'Twas the world and I at a game of bo-peep,
As a man would dodge his shadow,
An idea becalmed in eternity's deep--
'Tween Lima and Segraddo.

Anon a faintly warbled note
From out the azure deep,
Into my ears did gently float
As is the approach of sleep.

It thrilled but startled not my soul;
Across my mind strange mem'ries gleamed,
As often distant scenes unroll
When we have lately dreamed.

The bluebird had come from the distant South
To his box in the poplar tree,
And he opened wide his slender mouth,
On purpose to sing to me.

-- Henry D. Thoreau

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Sound of the Trees

I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch the trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.

-- Robert Frost

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Excrement Poem

It is done by us all, as God disposes, from
the least cast of worm to what must have been
in the case of the brontosaur, say, spoor
of considerable heft, something awesome.

We eat, we evacuate, survivors that we are.
I think these things each morning with shovel
and rake, drawing the risen brown buns
toward me, fresh from the horse oven, as it were,

or culling the alfalfa-green ones, expelled
in a state of ooze, through the sawdust bed
to take serviceable form, as putty does,
so as to lift out entire from the stall.

And wheeling to it, storming up the slope,
I think of the angle of repose the manure
pile assumes, how sparrows come to pick
the redelivered grain, how inky-cap

coprinus mushrooms spring up in a downpouer.
I think of what drops from us and must then
be moved to make way for the next and next.
However much we stain the world, spatter

it with our leavings, make stenches, defile
the great formal oceans with what leaks down,
trundling off today's last barrowful,
I honor shit for saying: We go on.

-- Maxine Kumin

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The jays scream and the red squirrels scold while you are clubbing and shaking the chestnut trees, for they are there on the same errand, and two of a trade never agree. I frequently see a red or gray squirrel cast down a green chestnut burr as I am going through the woods, and I used to think sometimes that they were cast to me. In fact, they are so busy about it in the midst of a chestnut season that you cannot stand long in the woods without hearing one fall....

Consider what vast work these forest planters are doing! So far as our noblest hardwood forests are concerned, the animals, especially squirrels and jays, are our greatest and almost only benefactors. It is to them that we owe this gift. It is not in vain that a squirrel lives in almost every forest tree or hollow log or wall or heap of stones.

Thus one would say that our oak forests, vast and indispensable as they are, were produced by a kind of accident, that is, by the failure of animals to reap the fruits of their labors. Yet who shall say that they have not a dim knowledge of the value of their labors?--that the squirrel when it plants an acorn, and the jay when it lets one slip from under its foot, has not sometimes a transient thought for its posterity, which at least consoles it for its loss?

But what is the character of our gratitude to these squirrels--to say nothing of the others--these planters of forests, these exported dukes of Athol of many generations, which have found out how high the oak will grow on many a mountain, how low in many a valley, and how far and wide on all our plains? Are they on our pension list? Have we in any way recognized their services? We regard them as vermin. The farmer knows only that they get his seed corn occasionally in the fields adjacent to his woodlot, and perchance encourages his boys to shoot them every May, furnishing powder and shot for this purpose, while perhaps they are planting the nobler oak-corn (acorn) in its place--while up country they have squirrel hunts on a large scale every fall and kill many thousands in a few hours, and all the neighborhood rejoices. We should be more civilized as well as humane if we recognized once in a year by some symbolical ceremony the part which the squirrel plays in the economy of Nature.

-- HDT, from Faith in a Seed

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fishing in the Keep of Silence

There is a hush now while the hills rise up
and God is going to sleep. He trusts the ship
of Heaven to take over and proceed beautifully
as he lies dreaming in the lap of the world.
He knows the owls will guard the sweetness
of the soul in their massive keep of silence,
looking out with eyes open or closed over
the length of Tomales Bay that the herons
conform to, whitely broad in flight, white
and slim in standing. God, who thinks about
poetry all the time, breathes happily as He
repeats to himself: there are fish in the net
lots of fish this time in the net of the heart.

-- Linda Gregg

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Song of the Old Man of the Hills

I never go to the plains beneath the hills,
Only on the hillside plant my fields.
The hatchet at my waist chops down the pines in the copse,
The gourd in my hand draws water from the homestead spring.
What do I care for the force of written words?
Let no one heed the shifts of sun and moon.
When the twisted tree at last shall be my body
Then I shall begin to live out my natural span.

-- Meng Chiao

Monday, September 26, 2011

On a Replica of the Parthenon

Why do they come? What do they seek
Who build but never read their Greek?
The classic stillness of a pool
Beleaguered in its certitude
By aimless motors that can make
Only incertainty more sure;
And where the willows crowd the pure
Expanse of clouds and blue that stood
Around the gables Athens wrought,
Shop-girls embrace a plaster thought,
And eye Poseidon's loins ungirt,
And never heed the brandished spear
Or feel the bright-eyed maiden's rage
Whose gaze the sparrows violate;
But the sky drips its spectral dirt,
And gods, like men, to soot revert.
Gone is the mild, the serene air.
The golden years are come too late.
Pursue not wisdom or virtue here,
But what blind motion what dim last
Regret of men who slew their past
Raised up this bribe against their fate.

- Donald Davidson

Friday, September 2, 2011

After Apple-Picking

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

-- Robert Frost

Thursday, August 25, 2011

View of a Pig

The pig lay on the barrow dead.
It weighed, they said, as much as three men.
Its eyes closed, pink white eyelashes.
Its trotters stuck straight out.

Such weight and thick pink bulk
Set in death seemed not just dead.
It was less than lifeless, further off.
It was like a sack of wheat.

I thumped it without feeling remorse.
One feels guilty insulting the dead,
Walking on graves. But this pig
Did not seem able to accuse.

It was too dead. Just so much
A poundage of lard and pork.
Its last dignity had entirely gone.
It was not a figure of fun.

Too dead now to pity.
To remember its life, din, stronghold
On earthly pleasure as it had been,
Seemed a false effort, and off the point.

Too deadly factual. Its weight
Oppressed me--how could it be moved?
And the trouble of cutting it up!
The gash in its throat was shocking, but not pathetic.

Once I ran at a fair in the noise
To catch a greased piglet
That was faster and nimbler than a cat,
Its squeal was the rending of metal.

Pigs must have hot blood, they feel like ovens.
Their bite is worse than a horse's--
They chop a half-moon clean out.
They eat cinders, dead cats.

Distinctions and admirations such
As this one was long finished with.
I stared at it a long time.
They were going to scald it.

Scald it and scour it like a doorstep.

-- Ted Hughes

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Music in the Age of Iron


This isn't the wind in the willows
nor that of the eucalyptus
nor even the wind that brightens sails
and moves the slow windmills.

Nor is it the wind that moves the clouds
in summer's calendar
nor the dawn's wind
rising with the birds.

Brothers, sisters
this is not the song of autumn
nor the warbling of lovers
who make love by moonlight.

This isn't the song of snow crystals
nor the alternating dance of day and night,
nor the slow rhythm of your breath
and my breath . . . listen:


It is the voice of the cities sick to death
--of steel sheets, rods and blocks--
the ubiquitous motor and the discord
of an epoch that's falling apart.

It is the trite humming that finds
an echo of change in the Apocalypse
the kingdom of speed
and the crossed signs of time.

It is the insensate noise of industry
--the factories exploited past reckoning--
traces of rot and insidious gases--
the factories, not you or I.


Uproar, friction and mist amid the machinery
--hideous shriek of this empty age--
in this bottomless barrel. It is
the international tongue of usury.

The new universal tongue:
esperanto of infamy
--wires, axes, chains--
the age of iron knows no other voice.


But the descent can't go on forever
because even noise has its limits . . . listen:
this is not the wind in the willows
nor that of the eucalyptus . . .

-- Alberto Blanco, trans. Julian Palley (dedicated to Gabriel Macotela)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Man in the Moon

He used to frighten me in the nights of childhood,
the wide adult face, enormous, stern, aloft.
I could not imagine such loneliness, such coldness.

But tonight as I drive home over these hilly roads
I see him sinking behind stands of trees
and rising again to show his familiar face.

And when he comes into full view over open fields
he looks like a young man who has fallen in love
with the dark earth,

a pale bachelor, well-groomed and full of melancholy,
his round mouth open
as if he had just broken into song.

- Billy Collins

Monday, July 4, 2011

To the Oracle at Delphi

Great Oracle, why are you staring at me,
do I baffle you, do I make you despair?
I, Americus, the American,
wrought from the dark in my mother long ago,
from the dark of ancient Europa --
Why are you staring at me now
in the dusk of our civilization --
Why are you staring at me
as if I were America itself
the new Empire
vaster than any in ancient days
with its electronic highways
carrying its corporate monoculture
around the world
and English the Latin of our days --

Great Oracle, sleeping through the centuries,
Awaken now at last
And tell us how to save us from ourselves
and how to survive our own rulers
who would make a plutocracy of our democracy
in the Great Divide
between the rich and the poor
in whom Walt Whitman heard America singing

O long-silent Sybil,
you of the winged dreams
Speak out from your temple of light
as the serious constellations
with Greek names
still stare down on us
as a lighthouse moves its megaphone
over the sea
Speak out and shine upon us
the sea-light of Greece
the diamond light of Greece

Far-seeing Sybil, forever hidden,
Come out of your cave at last
And speak to us in the poet's voice
the voice of the fourth person singular
the voice of the inscrutable future
the voice of the people mixed
with a wild soft laughter --
And give us new dreams to dream,
Give us new myths to live by!

-- Lawrence Ferlinghetti

(Read at Delphi, Greece, on March 21, 2001
at the UNESCO World Poetry Day)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Cicada Invasion

They don't live long
but you'd never know it --
the cicada's cry.

A cicada shell,
it sang itself
utterly away.

-- Basho

Sunday, April 3, 2011


The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.

-- Denise Levertov

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Grain of Sound

A banjo maker in the mountains
when looking out for wood to carve
an instrument, will walk among
the trees and knock on trunks. He'll hit
the bark and listen for a note.
A hickory makes the brightest sound,
the poplar has a mellow ease.
But only straightest grain will keep
the purity of tone, the sought-
for depth that makes the licks sparkle.
A banjo has a shining shiver.
Its twangs will glitter like the light
on splashing water, even though
its face is just a drum of hide
of cow, or cat, or even skunk.
The hide will magnify the note,
the sad of honest pain, the chill
blood-song, lament, confession, haunt,
as tree will sing again from root
and vein and sap and twig in wind
and cat will moan as hand plucks nerve,
picks bone and skin and gut and pricks
the heart as blood will answer blood
and love begins to knock against the grain.

-- Robert Morgan

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

In a station of the metro,
the apparition of these faces in the crowd;
petals on a wet, black bough.

-- Ezra Pound

Monday, February 28, 2011

Freedom has its forms. However personalized, individuated or dadaesque may be the attack upon prevailing instituions, a liberatory revolution always poses the question of what social forms will replace existing ones. At one point or another, a revolutionary people must deal with how it will manage the land and the factories from which it acquires the means of life. It must deal with the manner in which it will arrive at decisions that will affect the community as a whole. Thus if revolutionary thought is to be taken seriously it must speak directly to the problems and forms of social management.

What social forms will replace existing ones depends on what relations free people decide to establish between themselves. Every personal relationship has a social dimension; every social relationship has a deeply personal side to it. Ordinarily, these two aspects and their relationship to each other are mystified and difficult to see clearly. The institutions created by hierarchical society, especially the state institutions, produce the illusion that social relations exist in a universe of their own, in specialized political or bureaucratic compartments. In reality, there exists no strictly "impersonal" political or social dimension; all the social institutions of the past and present depend on the relations between people in daily life, especially in those aspects of daily life that are necessary for survival--the production and distribution of the means of life, the rearing of the young, the maintenance and reproduction of life. The liberation of man--not in some vague "historical," moral, or philosophical sense, but in the intimate details of day-to-day life--is a profoundly social act and raises the problem of social forms as modes of relations between individuals.

-- Murray Bookchin

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

There's the world in daylight. If it was
completely dark you wouldnt see it but it would
still be there. If you close your eyes you really see
what it's like: mysterious particle-swarming
emptiness. On the moon big mosquitos of straw
know this in the kindness of their hearts. Truly
speaking, unrecognizably sweet it all is.

-- Jack Kerouac

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of the few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

-- Wallace Stevens

Thursday, January 6, 2011


I see now I see
now I cannot see

earth is a blizzard in my eyes

I hear now

the rustle of the snow

the angels listening above me

thistles bright with sleet

waiting for the time
to reach me
up to the pillared
sun, the final city

or living towers

unrisen yet
whose dormant stones lie folding
their holy fire around me

(but the land shifts with frost
and those who have become the stone
voices of the land
shift also and say

god is not
the voice in the whirlwind

god is the whirlwind

at the last
judgement we will all be trees

-- Margaret Atwood