Poems & poem-like things

Original poetry, translations and videopoems by the authors of this blog. (See Poets and poetry for criticism, etc.)

1. Stunning

Not as in your feet look beautiful in those
calfskin pumps; not as in what a beautiful arc

he threw with that football made from pigskin
or vulcanized rubber. It’s cold in the vaults

where undocumented workers are taught
methods for rendering the animal unconscious

before the actual killing. This is the first
step, so flesh and sinew are more relaxed.

Relaxed, meaning unguarded. Or taken without
warning, by surprise. After that, the knives

and saws can go to work: cavities turned
inside out, every last bit numbered.


“…So far, it has been the workers who have borne all the consequences of the employer’s violations. ICE could have decided to audit this employer, and forced him to pay fines and correct his practices. Instead they conducted a raid that left over 160 children without a parent from one day to the next.

No charges have been filed against the company.” ~ “ICE Came for a Tennessee Town’s Immigrants. The Town Fought Back.”

view out the observation deck, London Wetlands Centre

This past Saturday, Rachel and I celebrated our recent wedding with some 75 friends and family at the London Wetlands Centre, a green oasis beside the Thames.

Samuel Pepys was here (close-up of informational placard)

Of course, as with most places in and around London, Samuel Pepys had been here (click image to enlarge).

As at the wedding itself, poetry played a prominent role, along with other creative contributions from our guests: yards and yards of home-made (mostly knitted or crocheted) bunting, music playlists, (more…)

~ after Hugo Simberg, “Sallittu” (1896)

One world is twilit, the other turned
toward a country filled with roads
and barns and men whose feet are shod
so they don’t feel how shadows
pass over the earth like a long shudder.
It is a morning’s duty to button oneself
into a coat, to wrap the throat in wool,
to save for roughened hands a small
hiding place of warmth for when the day
ends. Even death practices its own kind
of decorum— comes calling in a proper suit,
though the trousers are old and three sizes
too small. If a child could fit into a sling bag,
how much more a soul? The question isn’t who lets
such things happen. Even death was once tall
and strapping, before his bones turned brittle
on his shrinking frame. Sheaves of grain or paper;
milk from cows and linen from flax; blood from
one end of the cord to the beating heart: one’s duty
is always to bear forward. To carry to the finish.

~ after Hugo Simberg, “On the Stream of Life” (1896)

If only it were like this: a craft
filled with words and books, the tiller

almost an afterthought. Going
where the water will take you

in the way that most thoughts meander—
through leafless trees, past distant

towns, farther into the unpunctuated
countryside of your solitude.

Open your mouth, says the nurse as she sticks the tip of the thermometer under your tongue. The cold resides in regions between the heart and the hand. Everything else burns like a cake of tallow into which a piece of twine has been stuck. Do your dreams ripple like a sheet before breaking into bubbles? You watch them roll across bathroom tile like a herd of silverfish. When you touch one, it divides over and over and over into smaller versions of itself.

Up, and to Sir Ph. Warwicke’s and other places, about Tangier business, but to little purpose. Among others to my Lord Treasurer’s, there to speak with him, and waited in the lobby three long hours for to speake with him, to the trial of my utmost patience, but missed him at last, and forced to go home without it, which may teach me how I make others wait. Home to dinner and staid Mr. Hater with me, and after dinner drew up a petition for Mr. Hater to present to the Councill about his troublesome business of powder, desiring a trial that his absence may be vindicated, and so to White Hall, but it was not proper to present it to-day. Here I met with Mr. Cowling, who observed to me how he finds every body silent in the praise of my Lord Sandwich, to set up the Duke and the Prince; but that the Duke did both to the King and my Lord Chancellor write abundantly of my Lord’s courage and service. And I this day met with a letter of Captain Ferrers, wherein he tells my Lord was with his ship in all the heat of the day, and did most worthily. Met with Creed, and he and I to Westminster; and there saw my Lord Marlborough brought to be buried, several Lords of the Council carrying him, and with the herald in some state. Thence, vexed in my mind to think that I do so little in my Tangier business, and so home, and after supper to bed.

I am here to wait

which may teach me how
I make others wait

present in absence
as a body brought to be buried

several carrying it
in some little bed

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 14 June 1665.

“We look before and after,
and pine for what is not…”
~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

Drawing maps for the hill
station, really they were modeling

the wilderness after their own cities
in the west: Burnham in his prairies,

his stockyards and early prototypes
of sky-scrapers. Aspiring to the colonies

birds build high in trees: their rookeries,
extravagance of space opening for light

over the middle court. On one side, plots
for residences. And on the other, buildings

of state. Lagoons, a greenway, promenades
for The White Citysemi-utopia in which

visitors were meant to be shielded from poverty
and crime.
In their records you won’t find

a list of indigenous names, families moved
along with livestock deeper into the nameless

periphery of rice terraces, lemon groves,
and more than a hundred species of fern.

~ after “El Flautista” (“The Flutist”), Remedios Varo; 1955

A cardinal touches down on a Japanese maple
but can’t tell us where they’ve taken

all the children. We take turns watching,
we take turns playing songs for the mothers:

their grief, our grief, might merge
to form a thing that could unseal a stone

from the mountain. Only there is no one
walking out into the light as if resurrected.

That copper-tinged wind, that citadel
whose once beautiful blueprint is breaking.

The light, too, is breaking; or in the throes
of change. My face is the inside of a shell up-

turned to the moon. A rune, a coelacanth.
Night-blooming cereus stranded in time.

Up and to the office, where all the morning doing business. At noon with Sir G. Carteret to my Lord Mayor’s to dinner, where much company in a little room, and though a good, yet no extraordinary table. His name, Sir John Lawrence, whose father, a very ordinary old man, sat there at table, but it seems a very rich man. Here were at table three Sir Richard Brownes, viz.: he of the Councill, a clerk, and the Alderman, and his son; and there was a little grandson also Richard, who will hereafter be Sir Richard Browne. The Alderman did here openly tell in boasting how he had, only upon suspicion of disturbances, if there had been any bad newes from sea, clapped up several persons that he was afeard of; and that he had several times done the like and would do, and take no bail where he saw it unsafe for the King. But by and by he said that he was now sued in the Exchequer by a man for false imprisonment, that he had, upon the same score, imprisoned while he was Mayor four years ago, and asked advice upon it. I told him I believed there was none, and told my story of Field, at which he was troubled, and said that it was then unsafe for any man to serve the King, and, I believed, knows not what to do therein; but that Sir Richard Browne, of the Councill, advised him to speak with my Lord Chancellor about it.
My Lord Mayor very respectfull to me; and so I after dinner away and found Sir J. Minnes ready with his coach and four horses at our office gate, for him and me to go out of towne to meet the Duke of Yorke coming from Harwich to-night, and so as far as Ilford, and there ‘light. By and by comes to us Sir John Shaw and Mr. Neale, that married the rich widow Gold, upon the same errand. After eating a dish of creame, we took coach again, hearing nothing of the Duke, and away home, a most pleasant evening and road. And so to my office, where, after my letters wrote, to supper and to bed. All our discourse in our way was Sir J. Minnes’s telling me passages of the late King’s and his father’s, which I was mightily pleased to hear for information, though the pride of some persons and vice of most was but a sad story to tell how that brought the whole kingdom and King to ruine.

much company in a little room
an old man sat boasting
how he had been in prison

and there was a field
with four horses
and the light of evening

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 13 June 1665.

Skies the color of old aluminum
in the morning, when you can go

into the river and scoop shoals of tiny
fish in your hands— their ink dot

eyes and inch-long translucent bodies
weaving clouds under the rocks. Pale

drifts, smallest and ghostly, over-
lapping: so hard to tell one body apart

from another. And I don’t know anymore
sometimes if I am mother or daughter

or wife or teacher or friend; if I am scale
or chain or raw; if a thin line of smoke

coils me into submission before something
I cannot name scalds me and swallows me whole.


In response to Via Negativa: Sartoriology.