Friday, April 30, 2010

a triad of poems by nicholas samaras

Psalm as Frustration I Can Live With

I love the fierce wind outside my window
but know I would freeze in it.
I love the fierce wind from where I view it.
I love to wake and feel the presence of the Lord within.
I feel his presence only to lose it,
lose his presence only to feel it return.
I am seriousness which falls away from seriousness.
I control and lose control. I seize and lose my grasp,
don't see and glimpse again.
I ration the irrational. I dive into ecstasy
and love the Lord as long as I can bear,
as I love the fierce wind outside my window.

The Psalm of Your Face

Lord, let your face be lined.
Lord, let your hair be gray with patience.
Holy Father, let your cheeks be silver with long growth
as you put up with me and put up with me.
Lord, let your face be a blazon of parts
in which I can name you sufficient
to be seen in your unseen presence.
Lord, let your face be lined with the knowledge
of my sins. Let your brow be uncreased in forgiveness.
Lord, let your eyes be clear of lightning
and your foggy voice unbass itself of thunder.
Lord, let your face be lined
and your massive chest be peaceful in breathing,
the falling and rising that is my slow way to you.

The Psalm of Then

Then, the Lord heard me in the wilderness of my soul.
Then, the lost place of me became clear.
Then, I recognized distraction for what it is.
Then, I was freed from the desert of diversion.
Then, I was moved to the green oasis within me.
Then, the still voice of the Lord was as the depth of water.
Then, I could cease the constant music in my head.
Then, I could move beyond myself and the noise of myself.
Then, I could hear the smallness of my own voice.
Then, the still voice of the Lord was as the depth of water.
Then, the lost place of me became clear as a cascade.
Then, I could hear the bass of my name.
Then, I heard the Lord in the wilderness of my soul.
Then, stillness and stillness and stillness sang.
Samaras, Nicholas. from IMAGE, Number 59. Seattle: Centre for Religious Humanism, 2008.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

some songs of mercy

from one of my favourite books of poetry:

This is the way we summon one another, but it is not the way we call upon the Name. We stand in rags, we beg for tears to dissolve the immovable landmarks of hatred. How beautiful our heritage, to have this way of speaking to eternity, how bountiful this solitude, surrounded, filled, and mastered by the Name, from which all things arise in splendour, depending one upon the other.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, who made you a singer in his holy house forever, who has given you a tongue like the wind, and a heart like the sea, who has journeyed you from generation to generation to this impeccable moment of sweet bewilderment. Bless the Lord who has surrounded the traffic of human interest with the majesty of his law, who has given a direction to the falling leaf, and a goal to the green shoot. tremble, my soul, before the one who creates good and evil, that a man may choose among worlds; and tremble before the furnace of light in which you are formed and to which you return, until the time when he suspends his light and withdraws into himself, and there is no world, and there is no soul anywhere. Bless the one who judges you with his strap and his mercy, who covers with a million years of dust those who say, I have not sinned. Gather me, O my soul, around your longing, and from your eternal place inform my homelessness, that I may bring you forth and husband you, and make the day a throne for your activity, and the night a tower for your watchfulness, and all my time your just dominion. Sing, my soul, to the one who moves like music, who comes down like steps of lightning, who widens space with the thought of his name, who returns like death, deep and intangible, to his own absence and his own glory. Bless the Lord, O my soul, draw down the blessing of authority, that you may invite me to uncover you, and hold you precious till I'm worn away, and we are refreshed, soul and shadow, refreshed and rested like a sundial standing in the night. Bless the Lord, O my soul, cry out toward his mercy, cry out with tears and song and every instrument, stretch yourself toward the undivided glory which he established merely as his footstool, when he created forever, and he made it-is-finished, and he signed the foundations of unity, and polished the atoms of love to shine back beams and paths and gates of return. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Bless his name forever.

My soul finds its place in the Name, and my soul finds its ease in the embrace of the Name. I struggled with shapes and with numbers, and I carved with blade and brain to make a place, but I could not find a shelter for my soul. Blessed is the Name which is the safety of the soul, the spine and the shield of the innermost man, and the health of the innermost breath. I search the words that attend your mercy. You lift me out of destruction, and you win me my soul. You gather it out of the unreal by the power of your name. Blessed is the Name that unifies demand, and changes the seeking into praise. Out of the panic, out of the useless plan, I awaken to your name, and solitude to solitude all your creatures speak, and through the inaccessible intention all things fall gracefully. Blessed in the shelter of my soul, blessed is the form of mercy, blessed is the Name.

I lost my way, I forgot to call upon your name. The raw heart beat against the world, and the tears were for my lost victory. But you are here. You have always been here. The world is all forgetting, and the heart is a rage of directions, but your name unifies the heart, and the world is lifted into its place. Blessed is the one who waits in the traveller's heart for his turning.

Cohen, Leonard. Songs of Mercy. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1984.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

a crucifixion and a mysterion


You understand the colors on the hillside have faded,
we have the gray and brown and lavender of late autumn,
the apple and pear trees have lost their leaves, the mist
of November is often with us, especially in the afternoon
and toward evening, as it was today when I sat gazing
up into the orchard for a long time the way I do now,
thinking of how I died last winter and was revived.
And I tell you I saw there a cross with a man nailed
to it, silvery in the mist, and I said to him: "Are you
the Christ?" And he must have heard me, for in his
agony, twisted as he was, he nodded his head affirmatively,
up and down, once and twice. And a little way off
I saw another cross with another man nailed to it,
twisting and nodding, and then another and another,
ranks and divisions of crosses straggling like exhausted
legions upward among the misty trees, each cross
with a silvery, writhing, twisting, nodding, naked
figure nailed to it, and some of them were women.
The hill was filled with crucifixion. Should I not be
telling you this? Is it excessive? But I know something
about death now, I know how silent it is, silent, even
when the pain is shrieking and screaming. And tonight
is very silent and very dark. When I looked I saw
nothing out there, only my own reflected head nodding
a little in the window glass. It was as if the Christ
had nodded to me, all those writhing silvery images
on the hillside, and after a while I nodded back to him.

Carruth, Hayden. "Crucifixion" The Best American Poetry 1990. Toronto: Collier Macmillan Canada, Inc., 1990.

Adventures in New Testament Greek: Mysterion

What our habit has attained for us appears
a somewhat meager view of mystery.
And Latinate equivalents have fared
no better tendering the palpable
proximity of dense noetic pressure.

More familiar, glib, and gnostic bullshit
aside, the loss the body suffers when
sacrament is pared into a tiny
picture postcard of absent circumstance
starves the matter to a moot result, no?

Mysterion is of a piece, enormous
enough to span the reach of what we see
and what we don't. The problem at the heart
of metaphor is how neatly it breaks down
to this and that. Imagine one that held

entirely across the play of image
and its likenesses. Mysterion is
never elsewhere, ever looms, indivisible
and here, and compasses a journey one
assumes as it is tendered on a spoon.

Receiving it, you apprehend how near
the Holy bides. You cannot know how far.

Cairns, Scott. "Adventures in New Testament Greek: Mysterion" New & Selected Poems. Lincoln, Nebraska: Zoo Press, 2002.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

of poets and artists

Who Is a Poet

a poet is one who writes verses
and one who does not write verses

a poet is one who throws off fetters
and one who puts fetters on himself

a poet is one who believes
and one who cannot bring himself to believe

a poet is one who has told lies
and one who has been told lies

one who has been inclined to fall
and one who raises himself

a poet is one who tries to leave
and one who cannot leave

Translated from the Polish by Magnus J. Krynski and Robert A. Maguire

Rozewicz, Tadeusz. "Who Is a Poet" The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.

What Mr. Cogito Thinks About Hell

The lowest circle of hell. Contrary to popular opinion it is inhabited neither by despots nor matricides, nor even by those who go after the bodies of others. It is the refuge of artists, full of mirrors, musical instruments, and pictures. At first glance this is the most luxurious infernal department, without tar, fire, or physical tortures.
Throughout the year competitions, festivals, and concerts are held here. There is no climax in the season. The climax is permanent and almost absolute. Every few months new trends come into being and nothing, it appears, is capable of stopping the triumphant march of the avant-garde.
Beelzebub loves art. He boasts that already his choruses, his poets, and his painters are nearly superior to those of heaven. He who has better art has better government -- that's clear. Soon they will be able to measure their strength against one another at the Festival of the Two Worlds. And then we will see what remains of Dante, Fra Angelico, and Bach.
Beelzebub supports the arts. He provides his artists with calm, good board, and absolute isolation from hellish life.

Translated from the Polish by John Carpenter and Bogdana Carpenter

Herbert, Zbigniew. "What Mr. Cogito Thinks About Hell" The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.

Monday, April 26, 2010

a poem by malka heifetz tussman

Love the Ruins

With one letter of your many names
you broke in --
and now you live
your own hot life in me.

With one sound of your many names
you pierced yourself in me --
and now you feed
on my heart's blood.

you will shatter me
from within.

Then gather up the splinters,
and love the ruins,
my God.

Tussman, Malka Heifetz. "Love the Ruins" Voices Within The Ark: The Modern Jewish Poets. New York: Avon Books, 1980.

a poem by avraham ben-yitzhak

Blessed Are Those Who Sow and Do Not Reap

Blessed are those who sow and do not reap
Because they wander far.

Blessed are those who give themselves freely, the splendor
Of whose youth had added to daylight
Though they flung off their glory where roads part.

Blessed are those whose pride crosses the borders of their souls
And becomes a white humility
After the rainbow's rising in the cloud.

Blessed are those who know what their heart cries out in deserts
And on whose lips silence flowers.

Blessed are they, for they will be taken into the heart of the world
Wrapped in a cloak of unremembrance,
Forever remaining without speech.

Ben-Yitzhak, Avraham. "Blessed Are Those Who Sow and Do Not Reap" Voices Within The Ark: The Modern Jewish Poets. New York: Avon Books, 1980.

a poem by yehuda amichai

Of Three or Four in a Room

Of three or four in a room
there is always one who stands beside the window.
He must see evil sprouting among the thorns
and fires on the hill.
And how men who went out of their houses whole
are given back in the evening like small change.

Of three or four in a room
there is always one who stands beside the window.
His dark hair over his thoughts.
Behind him, words.
And in front of him voices wandering without a knapsack,
hearts without supplies, prophecies without water,
and large stones which have been returned
and remain sealed, like letters which have no
address and no one to receive them.

Amichai, Yehuda. "Of Three or Four in a Room" Voices Within The Ark: The Modern Jewish Poets. New York: Avon Books, 1980.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

a poem by gad hollander

Fugato (Coda)

I made a song and placed it far, near God,
a doublewind, a song of love;
I made it out of breath, it gasped for touch.
I made it in the empty mind, a thought
of smoke, of limb and skull, of memory;
I placed it far, a poem for the pure one.

I taught my song the algebra of praise,
it sang the praise of God, it sang in a space
confined to song, far, near God.
A doublewind, a song of love,
children pranced according to its rhythm,
and all the summers heard it, the summers of smoke.

I made it in my mind, and the empty sky
soon filled, and the far places heard it;
it gasped for God, I made it out of breath.
A song, a thought, a memory of song;
I made it once, and twice, and always.

I made a song and placed it far;
it sang the praise of God, in a space confined
to breath it sang. I made my song
in the empty mind, God claimed it as his own;
the song of love,
the doublewind.

Hollander, Gad. "Fugato (Coda)" Voices Within the Ark: The Modern Jewish Poets. New York: Avon Books,1980.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

a poem by mani lieb


Let shrieking steel and gray stone be set
For green grass; the clash of hammer and tongs
And the rush of wheels - birdsong;
Grating of saws - the summer cricket; the pious poet -

The merchant. And as in earliest and early days
The grass will shoot its stalk through the rock
In rhythm with the cricket; and over the clanging shock
Of steel - the bird's song will range far and away.

So too the poet: pious, from market noises,
From business bustling and the wheels' clatter
He will move apart with parchment, ink and feather

To the holiness of the word, which in its commonness
Is strong - to stitch prayers for the world: to knit
The heart to God, to unbind the sorrow on silent lips.

Lieb, Mani. "Psalmodist" Voices Within the Ark: The Modern Jewish Poets. New York: Avon Books, 1980.

Friday, April 23, 2010

a poem by robert hass


Somerset Maugham said a professional was someone who could do his best work when he didn't particularly feel like it. There was a picture of him in the paper, a face lined deeply and morally like Auden's, an old embittered tortoise, the corners of the mouth turned down resolutely to express the idea that everything in life is small change. And what he said when he died: I'm all through, the clever young men don't write essays about me. In the fleshly world, the red tulip in the garden sunlight is almost touched by shadow and begins to close up. Someone asked me yesterday: are deer monogamous? I thought of something I had read. When deer in the British Isles were forced to live in the open because of heavy foresting, it stunted them. The red deer who lived in the Scottish highlands a thousand years ago were a third larger than the present animal. This morning, walking into the village to pick up the car, I thought of a roof where I have slept in the summer in New York, pigeons in the early morning sailing up Fifth Avenue and silence in which you imagine the empty canyons the light hasn't reached yet. I was standing on the high street in Shelford, outside the fussy little tea shop, and I thought a poem with the quick, lice-ridden pigeons in it might end: this is a dawn song in Manhattan. I hurried home to write it and, as I passed the churchyard, school was letting out. Luke was walking towards me smiling. He thought I had come to meet him. That was when I remembered the car, when he was walking toward me through the spring flowers and the eighteenth-century gravestones, his arms full of school drawings he hoped not to drop in the mud.

Hass, Robert. "Churchyard" Human Wishes. Ecco Press, 1989.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

a poem by robert hilles


A boy made an appointment with God and waited for him in a church. After a few hours he knew that God wasn't coming and he learned for the first time that a god must never reveal himself even to the faithful. At first, the boy was hurt by this and stopped reading his Bible and stopped going to church. He began to have strange dreams at night of walking through the bush with a pack of wolves. In his one hand he carried the tail of a deer and in the other a rifle. Even though he walked on two feet and carried a rifle he knew that he was a wolf and that the leader of the pack was his father. In a clearing they found a vast lake and on the far shore stood an enormous moose. As he aimed his rifle his father spoke in his wolf voice saying: "You cannot shoot that moose because he is all that is left of a once powerful God. Instead you must climb onto his back and whisper into his ear the cries your mother made when you were born. Then he will recognize that you are his grandson." The boy did not listen to his father and shot the moose instead in an instant the lake was filled with blood. The wolves all fled and he was left to drown in the blood. Sometimes he wakes before he pulls the trigger other times he wakes as he tries to swim in all that blood. Each time he wakes he knows that God is trying to tell him something with that dream but he is too simple to really understand. Instead he goes back to church knowing that later a different dream will come.

Hilles, Robert. "Dream" Cantos From a Small Room. Don Mills, Ontario: Wolsac and Wynn Publishers, Inc., 1993.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

another poem by stephanie bolster

Many Have Written Poems About Blackberries

But few have gotten at the multiplicity of them, how each berry
composes itself of many notes, spherical,
swollen, fragile as a world. A blackberry is the colour of a painful
bruise on the upper arm, some internal organ
as yet unnamed. It is shaped to fit
the tip of the tongue, to be a thimble, a dunce cap
for a small mouse. Sometimes it is home to a secret green worm
seeking safety and the power of surprise. Sometimes it plunks
into a river and takes on water.
Fishes nibble it.

The bushes themselves ramble like a grandmother's sentences,
giving birth to their own sharpness. Picking the berries
must be a tactful conversation
of gloved hands. Otherwise your fingers will bleed
the berries' purple tongue; otherwise thorns
will pierce your own blank skin. Best to be on the safe side,
the outside of the bush. Inside might lurk
nests of yellowjackets; rabid bats; other,
larger hands on the same search.

The flavour is its own reward, like kissing the whole world
at once, rivers, willows, bugs and all, until your swollen
lips tingle. It's like waking up
to discover the language you used to speak
is gibberish, and you have never really
loved. But this does not matter because you have
married this fruit, mellifluous, brutal, and ripe.

Bolster, Stephanie. "Many Have Written Poems About Blackberries" Two Bowls of Milk. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1999.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

a poem by stephanie bolster

(from a book of poems about the relationship(s) between Alice Pleasance Liddell Hargreaves, Charles Lutwidge Dawson, Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland)

Portrait of Alice, Annotated

Who was it strung these footnotes
from her toes and scribbled
italics on her wrists, indicating perhaps
that only slim-wristed girls
were allowed to enter Wonderland?

They wound her with measuring tape,
noted the resulting data on her skin, figures
for chest and waist identical. To her mouth
was taped a parchment proclamation
detailing origins of those words she spoke

as if they were as intimately hers
as earlobes. But the evidence proved
those words had a long history of their own,
belonged to themselves and would
outlive her. Whatever she had said

to end up in this predicament
was not her fault, she was exempt, thus safe.
What could be done to her now? Even her breasts
were claimed before they'd risen; some said
he'd placed his nitrate-ridden hands there.

The critics overwrote each other
till all their words were tattooed black
upon her. Have mercy, she cried as they came
with the thousand-volumed weight of archives,
but those words were not hers either.

Bolster, Stephanie. "Portrait of Alice, Annotated" The Alice Poems. Montreal: Vehicule Press, 1998.

Monday, April 19, 2010

a poem by robert bringhurst

Kol Nidre*

Forgive me my promises. Those I have kept
and those I have broken. Forgive me
my pledges, my vows and the rest
of my boasts and concessions.

Raking my father's bones out of the long furnace, I knew
that what is is what links us. The ground
we all walk on, air we all breathe;
the rocks and trees that look down on us in all their candour -

all that remains of all that surrounded us when we were sane -
and the eyes; the hands; the silence; reciting the names
of what is in the world; divining the names
of what isn't; the wounds we inflict

to relay and mirror the wounds we receive;
and the knots we cannot undo
between father and son, daughter and mother,
mother and father, the one

God and all his believers:
the marriage made without vows
between those who have pleased
and hurt one another that deeply.

Bringhurst, Robert. "Kol Nidre" The Calling: Selected Poems 1970-1995. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1995.

* n. Judaism
  1. An opening prayer recited on the eve of Yom Kippur, retroactively or preemptively declaring the annulment of all personal vows made to God in the previous or following year.
  2. The melody to which such a prayer is chanted.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

one more day by czeslaw milosz

One More Day

Comprehension of good and evil is given in the running of the blood.
In a child's nestling close to its mother, she is security and warmth,
In night fears when we are small, in dread of the beast's fangs and in the terror of dark rooms,
In youthful infatuations where childhood delight find completion.

And should we discredit the idea for its modest origins?
Or should we say plainly that good is on the side of the living
And evil on the side of a doom that lurks to devour us?
Yes, good is an ally of being and the mirror of evil is nothing,
Good is brightness, evil darkness, good high, evil low,
According to the nature of our bodies, of our language.

The same could be said of beauty. It should not exist.
There is not only no reason for it, but an argument against.
Yet undoubtedly it is, and is different from ugliness.

The voices of birds outside the window when they greet the morning
And iridescent stripes of light blazing on the floor,
Or the horizon with a wavy line where the peach-colored sky and the dark-blue mountain meet.
Or the architecture of a tree, the slimness of a column crowned with green.

All that, hasn't it been invoked for centuries
As mystery which, in one instant, will be suddenly revealed?
And the old artist thinks that all his life he has only trained his hand.
One more day and he will enter the core as one enters a flower.

And though the good is weak, beauty is very strong.
Nonbeing sprawls, everywhere it turns into ash whole expanses of being,
It masquerades in shapes and colors that imitate existence
And no one would know it, if they did not know that it was ugly.

And when people cease to believe that there is good and evil
Only beauty will call to them and save them
So that they will still know how to say: this is true and that is false.

Milosz, Czeslaw. "One More Day" New and Collected Poems 1931-2001. New York" HarperCollins Publishers, Inc, 2001.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

of politics, & art - a poem by norman dubie

Of Politics, & Art

Here, on the farthest point of the peninsula
The winter storm
Off the Atlantic shook the schoolhouse.
Mrs. Whitimore, dying
Of tuberculosis, said it would be after dark
Before the snowplow and bus would reach us.

She read to us from Melville.

How in an almost calamitous moment
Of sea hunting
Some men in an open boat suddenly found themselves
At the still and protected center
Of a great herd of whales
Where all the females floated on their sides
While their young nursed there. The cold frightened whalers
Just stared into what they allowed
Was the ecstatic lapidary pond of a nursing cow's
One visible eyeball.
And they were at peace with themselves.

Today I listened to a woman say
That Melville might
Be taught in the next decade. Another woman asked, "And why not?"
The first responded, "Because there are
No women in his one novel."

And Mrs. Whitimore was now reading from the Psalms.
Coughing into her handkerchief. Snow above the windows.
There was a blue light on her face, breasts and arms.
Sometimes a whole civilization can be dying
Peacefully in one young woman, in a small heated room
With thirty children
Rapt, confident and listening to the pure
God rendering voice of a storm.

Dubie, Norman. "Of Politics, & Art" The Best American Poetry 1990. Don Mills: Collier Macmillan Canada, Inc., 1990.