Tag Archives: poetry

Monteraponi

Where will the tide of ancient oaks spend itself?
Swell upon swell it runs towards the horizon,
the rasp of a thousand cicadas a second tide
in the almost night air. Three stars are out.

In the middle distance, the lights of a village
hover between waking and sleep;
beyond, in that glow between earth and sky
faint inklings of Siena or Florence.


To an old dog

Tide of birdsong washing over the pillow,
morning light zebrastriping the wall.

I surface to bubbles of drowsy excitement
drifting from under the bed.

The old dog is dreamhunting again.
Fug of ancient canine wafts up

like a comfortable, friendly embrace.
The world is at peace.


Operating instructions

Assemble all the implements.
Then lock the door and set to work
when night falls.

It takes the darkness
for the thing inside to stir, and hours
of tender teasing out before it shows its shape.

Then deftly, cautiously, you set it in a vice:
compress, condense, and purify;
decide what must be smooth and what left rough.

At last you chase its silver surface; polish round
and round until it gleams with hope
and sparkles with despair.

Now get up from the table
with its paperful of fragile words.
Unlock the door. Admit the day.


On Washington Crossing the Delaware

Not today, though,
in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
not today he isn’t.

The entrance to the room
is barricaded with plywood permitting
only a partial glimpse

of the General: upstanding, unfazed
by the turbulent ice floes,
unwavering gaze fixed on, well,

plywood. The impeccable turnout,
in democratically dun-coloured mantle
(lined with scarlet),

thrown in dramatic folds
over shoulders bearing the weight
of a nascent nation –

all for nothing today. He shall not
reach the far shore, shall not
trounce the Hessian mercenaries;

and this great nation shall never,
now, be birthed – and not
just this room, no, the entire museum,

Fifth Avenue, all of Manhattan
declared closed
for the duration; New York roped off,

the Empire State Building un-built,
stone by stone, steel girders
dismantled, the Brooklyn Bridge

melted down and Brooklyn cut loose
to drift out to sea.
By and by the prairie schooners

will return from the West (California
now only a word
whispered in feverish dreams

and no more), and from a non-place
not called Washington,
in a porticoed, pillared white house

that never was, a last tweet proclaims
the fading usurper’s futile fury –
then silence. Peace.

Washington Crossing the Delaware


Ellis Island

Sofia, age 23, from Siberia:
processed in Ellis Island, 1921;
destination Gackle, North Dakota.

You have to wonder.

Gackle, North Dakota:
founded in 1904;
located at 46°37′38″N, 99°8′36″W:

not even the middle of nowhere.

Population (1920): 424.
Population (1950): 606.
Population (2016): 291:

not exactly Boomtown ND.

Things to do in Gackle ND:
ˮGackle is home
to the Gackle Public Libraryˮ –

that is about the extent of it.

They must be doing
an awful lot of reading
up there in Gackle, ND.

And you have to wonder:

Did she find her home there?
Was it worth the loss of loved ones,
the heartbreak of exile, the long journey

all the way from Siberia – to Gackle, ND.


John Brown in the Met

The Old Testament beard blows
in the gale of a mighty shout;
the hair on his head raised
by the sheer force of fury; eyes
rolling under the promontory
of a frowning brow; brawny arms
outstretched in righteousness
burst the confines of the canvas –

This John Brown is anything but
a-mouldering in the grave.

This giant is girded with pistol
and sword; this prophet’s rage
raises tornados; this patriarch
dwarfs all who come near –
the settler unaware of the storm
bearing down on his wagon;
the cowering negro looking up
to the saviour that towers above him.

John Brown in the Met

This John Brown is a soldier
in the Army of the Lord indeed,

and that his soul goes marching on,
of this the artist allows no doubt.
But that is not the question.
The question is whether
the voice of the black man
for whom this storm was raised
can be heard over the giant’s shouting –
if he can ever make himself understood

over the endless deafening chorus of
Glory, glory, hallelujah, Glory, glory hallelujah …

 


November Recipe

Take a pinch of autumn wood
a tablespoon of dew
an ounce of silver birchtree bark
a spiderweb or two.

Add the taste of morning mist
a crystal cloud of moss
the sodden smell of fallen leaves
one sadness, half a loss.

Blend with a rustling underfoot
a blackbird’s yellow bill
the browns of pinecones on the ground
the distant grey of hills.

Warm with that ray of sinking sun
stir with the twilight breeze –
and drink before the thrush’s song
fades from the winter trees.