Poem of the Day: Keumgang-Gul / Diamond Cave

What a relief
you cannot live everywhere all at once.
Today, here in Diamond Cave,
there's no longer any reason to live.
Stay one or two days:
this world
& the Other are drained of difference.

Wind blows.
As a pearl is born at seabottom in agony
out of oyster flesh from within the most obscure darkness
here the wind blows from the depths.

I want to travel far & then return.
The wind blows as if I were eighty-five,
maybe eighty-seven.

Ko Un, "Keumgang-Gul / Diamond Cave," translated by Sunny Jung and Hillel Schwartz, from Abiding Places. Copyright © 2006 by Ko Un.  Reprinted by permission of Tupelo Press.

Source: Abiding Places (Tupelo Press, 2006)

Ko Un

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Poem of the Day: Equinox

Now is the time of year when bees are wild
and eccentric. They fly fast and in cramped
loop-de-loops, dive-bomb clusters of conversants
in the bright, late-September out-of-doors.
I have found their dried husks in my clothes.

They are dervishes because they are dying,
one last sting, a warm place to squeeze
a drop of venom or of honey.
After the stroke we thought would be her last
my grandmother came back, reared back and slapped

a nurse across the face. Then she stood up,
walked outside, and lay down in the snow.
Two years later there is no other way
to say, we are waiting. She is silent, light
as an empty hive, and she is breathing.

"Equinox" by Elizabeth Alexander. From Body of Life, published by Tia Chucha Press. Copyright 1996 Elizabeth Alexander. Used by permission of the author.

Source: Poetry (September 1993).

Elizabeth Alexander

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Poem of the Day: A Well-Traveled Coyote

John F. Kennedy
        New York City
            I saw him across the lobby
                 flight 161
                     St. Louis
Coyote looked in control
             fitting right into the city
                 smiling when a pretty woman passed him
                     figuring out his flight
                          making calculations from behind
                              the New York Times.
         right down to his Tony Lamas
                 I'd recognize him anywhere
                          New York
People say
you can dress 'em up
        but once a coyote
             always a coyote.

Nora Naranjo-Morse, "A Well-Traveled Coyote" from Mud Woman. Copyright © 1992 by Nora Naranjo-Morse. Reprinted by permission of University of Arizona Press.

Source: Mud Woman (University of Arizona Press, 1992)

Nora Naranjo-Morse

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Poem of the Day: Carnivorous

I was lying loose from God. Strange is it not best   
Beloved, in the New World, in this skinny life,

Intemperate with chance, my spirit quickens   
For the fall's estate. In India, the half

Hour is the hour, we were like that then—
Jammed wrong & wrong in the diurnal

Mangy chambers of our carnall
Hearts, the rose robes rustling loose as velvet

Curtains at the stage prow, passing   
Into the strange salt air of an Indian

Ocean, hoarding kindling, heading   
West with hours, later than we might

Have known, counting tins of meats & oil left,   
If they should lose or last the night.

Lucie Brock-Broido, "Carnivorous" from The Master Letters. Copyright © 1995 by Lucie Brock-Broido. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: The Master Letters (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995)

Lucie Brock-Broido

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Poem of the Day: Ode to Browsing the Web

Two spiky-haired Russian cats hit kick flips
on a vert ramp. The camera pans to another

pocket of  the room where six kids rocking holey
T-shirts etch aerosol lines on warehouse walls

in words I cannot comprehend. All of this
happening in a time no older than your last

heartbeat. I've been told the internet is
an unholy place — an endless intangible

stumbling ground of false deities
dogma and loneliness, sad as a pile of shit

in a world without flies. My loneliness exists
in every afterthought. Yesterday, I watched

a neighbor braid intricate waves of cornrows
into her son's tiny head and could have lived

in her focus-wrinkled brow for a living. Today
I think I practice the religion of  blinking too much.

Today, I know no neighbor's name and won't
know if  I like it or not. O holy streaming screen

of counterculture punks, linger my lit mind
on landing strips — through fog, rain, hail — 

without care for time or density. O world
wide web, o viral video, o god of excrement

thought. Befriend me. Be fucking infectious.
Move my eyes from one sight to the next.

Source: Poetry (October 2013).

Marcus Wicker

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Poem of the Day: Preludes

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o'clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.

And then the lighting of the lamps.

The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.
With the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.

You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed's edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.

His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o'clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

T. S. Eliot

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Poem of the Day: For I Will Consider Your Dog Molly

For it was the first day of Rosh Ha'shanah, New Year's Day, day of remembrance, of ancient sacrifices and averted calamities.
For I started the day by eating an apple dipped in honey, as ritual required.
For I went to the local synagogue to listen to the ram's horn blown.
For I asked Our Father, Our King, to save us for his sake if not for ours, for the sake of his abundant mercies, for the sake of his right hand, for the sake of those who went through fire and water for the sanctification of his name.
For despite the use of a microphone and other gross violations of ceremony, I gave myself up gladly to the synagogue's sensual insatiable vast womb.
For what right have I to feel offended?
For I communed with my dead father, and a conspicuous tear rolled down my right cheek, and there was loud crying inside me.
For I understood how that tear could become an orb.
For the Hebrew melodies comforted me.
For I lost my voice.
For I met a friend who asked "is this a day of high seriousness" and when I said yes he said "it has taken your voice away."
For he was right, for I felt the strong lashes of the wind lashing me by the throat.
For I thought there shall come a day that the watchmen upon the hills of Ephraim shall cry, Arise and let us go up to Zion unto the Lord our God.
For the virgin shall rejoice in the dance, and the young and old in each other's arms, and their soul shall be as a watered garden, and neither shall they learn war any more.
For God shall lower the price of bread and corn and wine and oil, he shall let our cry come up to him.
For it is customary on the first day of Rosh Ha'shanah to cast a stone into the depths of the sea, to weep and pray to weep no more.
For the stone represents all the sins of the people.
For I asked you and Molly to accompany me to Cascadilla Creek, there being no ocean nearby.
For we talked about the Psalms of David along the way, and the story of Hannah, mother of Samuel, who sought the most robust bard to remedy her barrenness.
For Isaac said "I see the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the offering?"
For as soon as I saw the stone, white flat oblong and heavy, I knew that it had summoned me.
For I heard the voice locked inside that stone, for I pictured a dry wilderness in which, with a wave of my staff, I could command sweet waters to flow forth from that stone.
For I cast the stone into the stream and watched it sink to the bottom where dozens of smaller stones, all of them black, gathered around it.
For the waterfall performed the function of the chorus.
For after the moment of solemnity dissolved, you playfully tossed Molly into the stream.
For you tossed her three times, and three times she swam back for her life.
For she shook the water off her body, refreshed.
For you removed the leash from her neck and let her roam freely.
For she darted off into the brush and speared a small gray moving thing in the neck.
For this was the work of an instant.
For we looked and behold! the small gray thing was a rat.
For Molly had killed the rat with a single efficient bite, in conformance with Jewish law.
For I took the rat and cast him into the stream, and both of us congratulated Molly.
For now she resumed her noble gait.
For she does not lie awake in the dark and weep for her sins, and whine about her condition, and discuss her duty to God.
For I'd as lief pray with your dog Molly as with any man.
For she knows that God is her savior.

David Lehman, "For I Will Consider Your Dog Molly" from Operation Memory, published by Princeton University Press.  Copyright © 1990 by David Lehman.  Reprinted by permission of Writers' Representatives, Inc..

Source: Operation Memory (Princeton University Press, 1990)

David Lehman

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Poem of the Day: George Moses Horton, Myself

I feel myself in need
   Of the inspiring strains of ancient lore,
My heart to lift, my empty mind to feed,
   And all the world explore.

I know that I am old
   And never can recover what is past,
But for the future may some light unfold
   And soar from ages blast.

I feel resolved to try,
   My wish to prove, my calling to pursue,
Or mount up from the earth into the sky,
   To show what Heaven can do.

My genius from a boy,
   Has fluttered like a bird within my heart;
But could not thus confined her powers employ,
   Impatient to depart.

She like a restless bird,
   Would spread her wing, her power to be unfurl’d,
And let her songs be loudly heard,
   And dart from world to world.

Source: African-American Poetry of the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology (University of Illinois Press, 1992)

George Moses Horton

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Poem of the Day: The Meaning of the Shovel

This was the dictator's land
before the revolution.
Now the dictator is exiled to necropolis,
his army brooding in camps on the border,
and the congregation of the landless
stipples the earth with a thousand shacks,
every weatherbeaten carpenter
planting a fistful of nails.

Here I dig latrines. I dig because last week
I saw a funeral in the streets of Managua,
the coffin swaddled in a red and black flag,
hoisted by a procession so silent
that even their feet seemed
to leave no sound on the gravel.
He was eighteen, with the border patrol,
when a sharpshooter from the dictator's army
took aim at the back of his head.

I dig because yesterday
I saw four walls of photographs:
the faces of volunteers
in high school uniforms
who taught campesinos to read,
bringing an alphabet
sandwiched in notebooks
to places where the mist never rises
from the trees. All dead,
by malaria or the greedy river
or the dictator's army
swarming the illiterate villages
like a sky full of corn-plundering birds.

I dig because today, in this barrio
without plumbing, I saw a woman
wearing a yellow dress
climb into a barrel of water
to wash herself and the dress
at the same time,
her cupped hands spilling.

I dig because today I stopped digging
to drink an orange soda. In a country
with no glass, the boy kept the treasured bottle
and poured the liquid into a plastic bag
full of ice, then poked a hole with a straw.

I dig because today my shovel
struck a clay bowl centuries old,
the art of ancient fingers
moist with this same earth,
perfect but for one crack in the lip.

I dig because I have hauled garbage
and pumped gas and cut paper
and sold encyclopedias door to door.
I dig, digging until the passport
in my back pocket saturates with dirt,
because here I work for nothing
and for everything.

Martin Espada, "The Meaning of the Shovel" from Imagine the Angels of Bread. Copyright © 1996 by Martin Espada. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Imagine the Angels of Bread (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1996)

Martín Espada

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Poem of the Day: To the Light of September

When you are already here
you appear to be only
a name that tells of you
whether you are present or not

and for now it seems as though
you are still summer
still the high familiar
endless summer
yet with a glint
of bronze in the chill mornings
and the late yellow petals
of the mullein fluttering
on the stalks that lean
over their broken
shadows across the cracked ground

but they all know
that you have come
the seed heads of the sage
the whispering birds
with nowhere to hide you
to keep you for later

who fly with them

you who are neither
before nor after
you who arrive
with blue plums
that have fallen through the night

perfect in the dew

Source: Poetry (September 2003).

W. S. Merwin

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