Just a few of the poems I encountered today either in conversation or e-mailing them to friends.
I memorized "The Mouth of the Hudson" a few years ago, and I've still got most of it. That fourth line, "Westinghouse Electric cable drum," jostles to the front of my mind unexpectedly every so often, I think because of the accented rhythms. Love it. There are other lines there too and really the poem should be read aloud over and over. But it's these lines, "Chemical air / sweeps in from New Jersey, / and smells of coffee." I once heard Derek Walcott read this poem and talk about Lowell's pronunciation of the word "coffee." It's too bad this isn't radio or you could here me doing Walcott doing Lowell. But I say those lines to myself almost every morning brewing coffee.
On memorizing poems: what was the last poem you memorized? One I'd like to memorize is this Heaney. Actually, there's lots of Heaney to memorize, not just "Blackberry-pickikng." "St. Kevin & the Blackbird" comes to mind. "The Rain Stick."
Finally, I ran into someone in a hallway this afternoon who'd written a wonderful poem set in a laundromat, and so this Dorianne Laux poem came to mind.
[10 minutes later] Well, I don't have "The Laundromat," if that's indeed its title. Anyone know what book it's in? Could it be that rare first book? I remember the phrase "animal kindness" and folding underwear and a kind of raw sexuality, but damn it, I can't find it. Anyone have that poem? Instead, I'll post another Dorianne poem and post the laundromat one as soon as I can track it down. [Update] I think it's in Awake. Anyone? Yes?
The Mouth of the Hudson
A single man stands like a bird-watcher,
and scuffles the pepper and salt snow
from a discarded, gray
Westinghouse Electric cable drum.
He cannot discover America by counting
the chains of condemned freight-trains
from thirty states. They jolt and jar
and junk in the siding below him.
He has trouble with his balance.
His eyes drop,
and he drifts with the wild ice
ticking seaward down the Hudson,
like the blank sides of a jig-saw puzzle.
The ice ticks seaward like a clock.
A negro toasts
wheat-seeds over the coke-fumes
of a punctured barrel.
sweeps in from New Jersey,
and smells of coffee.
Across the river,
ledges of suburban factories tan
in the sulphur-yellow sun
of the unforgivable landscape.
from For the Union Dead
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.
from Death of a Naturalist
For the Sake of Strangers
No matter what the grief, its weight,
we are obliged to carry it.
We rise and gather moments, the dull strength
that pushes us through crowds.
And then the young boy gives me directions
so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open,
waits patiently for my empty body to pass through.
All day it continues, each kindness
reaching toward another- a stranger
singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees
offering their blossoms, a retarded child
who lifts his almond eyes and smiles.
Somehow they always find me, seem even
to be waiting, determined to keep me
from myself, from the thing that calls to me
as it must have once called to them –
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.
from What We Carry