21
November

Poem of the Day: The Absolutely Huge and Incredible Injustice in the World

What makes us so mean?
We are meaner than gorillas,
the ones we like to blame our genetic aggression on.
It is in our nature to hide behind what Darwin said about survival,
as if survival were the most important thing on earth.
It isn't.
You know—surely it has occurred to you—
that there is no way that humankind will survive
another million years. We'll be lucky to be around
another five hundred. Why?
Because we are so mean
that we would rather kill everyone and everything on earth
than let anybody get the better of us:
"Give me liberty or give me death!"
Why didn't he just say "Grrr, let's kill each other!"?

A nosegay of pansies leans toward us in a glass of water
on a white tablecloth bright in the sunlight
at the ocean where children are frolicking,
then looking around and wondering—
about what we cannot say, for we are imagining
how we would kill the disgusting man and woman
at the next table. Tonight we could throw an electrical storm
into their bed. No more would they spit on the veranda!
Actually they aren't that bad, it's just
that I am talking mean in order to be more
like my fellow humans—it's lonely feeling like a saint,
which I do one second every five weeks,
but that one second is so intense I can't stand up
and then I figure out that it's ersatz, I can't be a saint,
I am not even a religious person, I am hardly a person at all
except when I look at you and think
that this life with you must go on forever
because it is so perfect, with all its imperfections,
like your waistline that exists a little too much,
like my hairline that doesn't exist at all!
Which means that my bald head feels good
on your soft round belly that feels good too.
If only everyone were us!

But sometimes we are everyone, we get mad
at the world and mean as all get-out,
which means we want to tell the world to get out
of this, our world. Who are all these awful people?
Why, it's your own grandma, who was so nice to you—
you mistook her for someone else. She actually was
someone else, but you had no way of knowing that,
just as you had no way of knowing that the taxi driver
saves his pennies all year
to go to Paris for Racine at the Comédie Francaise.
Now he is reciting a long speech in French from Andromache
and you arrive at the corner of This and That
and though Andromache's noble husband Hector has been killed
and his corpse has been dragged around the walls of Troy by an
      unusually mean Achilles,
although she is forced into slavery and a marriage
to save the life of her son, and then people around her
get killed, commit suicide, and go crazy, the driver is in paradise,
he has taken you back to his very mean teacher
in the unhappy school in Port-au-Prince and then
to Paris and back to the French language of the seventeenth century
and then to ancient Greece and then to the corner of This and That.
Only a mean world would have this man driving around in a city
where for no reason someone is going to fire a bullet into the back of
     his head!

It was an act of kindness
on the part of the person who placed both numbers and letters
on the dial of the phone so we could call WAverly,
ATwater, CAnareggio, BLenheim, and MAdison,
DUnbar and OCean, little worlds in themselves
we drift into as we dial, and an act of cruelty
to change everything into numbers only, not just phone numbers
that get longer and longer, but statistical analysis,
cost averaging, collateral damage, death by peanut,
inflation rates, personal identification numbers, access codes,
and the whole raving Raft of the Medusa
that drives out any thought of pleasantness
until you dial I-8OO-MATTRES and in no time get a mattress
that is complete and comfy and almost under you,
even though you didn't need one! The men
come in and say Here's the mattress where's
the bedroom? And the bedroom realizes it can't run away.
You can't say that the people who invented the bedroom were mean,
only a bedroom could say that, if it could say anything.
It's a good thing that bedrooms can't talk!
They might keep you up all night telling you things
you don't want to know. "Many years ago,
in this very room. . . ." Eeek, shut up! I mean,
please don't tell me anything, I'm sorry I shouted at you.
And the walls subside into their somewhat foreverness.
The wrecking ball will mash its grimace into the plaster and oof,
down they will come, lathe and layers of personal history,
but the ball is not mean, nor is the man who pulls the handle
that directs the ball on its pendulous course, but another man
—and now a woman strides into his office and slaps his face hard
the man whose bottom line is changing its color
wants to change it back. So good-bye, building
where we made love, laughed, wept, ate, and watched TV
all at the same time! Where our dog waited by the door,
eyes fixed on the knob, where a runaway stream came whooshing
down the hallway, where I once expanded to fill the whole room
and then deflated, just to see what it would feel like,
where on Saturday mornings my infant son stood by the bedside
and sang, quietly, "Wa-a-a-ke up" to his snoozing parents.

I can never leave all the kindness I have felt in this apartment,
but if a big black iron wrecking ball comes flying toward me,
zoop, out I go! For there must be
kindness somewhere else in the world,
maybe even out of it, though I'm not crazy
about the emptiness of outer space. I have to live
here, with finite life and inner space and with
the horrible desire to love everything and be disappointed
the way my mother was until that moment
when she rolled her eyes toward me as best she could
and squeezed my hand when I asked, "Do you know who I am?"
then let go of life.

The other question was, Did I know who I was?

It is hard not to be appalled by existence.
The pointlessness of matter turns us into cornered animals
that otherwise are placid or indifferent,
we hiss and bare our fangs and attack.
But how many people have felt the terror of existence?
Was Genghis Khan horrified that he and everything else existed?
Was Hitler or Pol Pot?
Or any of the other charming figures of history?
Je m'en doute.
It was something else made them mean.
Something else made Napoleon think it glorious
to cover the frozen earth with a hundred thousand bloody corpses.
Something else made . . . oh, name your monster
and his penchant for destruction,
name your own period in history when a darkness swept over us
and made not existing seem like the better choice,
as if the solution to hunger were to hurl oneself
into a vat of boiling radioactive carrots!

Life is so awful!
I hope that lion tears me to pieces!

It is good that those men wearing black hoods
are going to strip off my skin and force me
to gape at my own intestines spilling down onto the floor!
Please drive spikes through not only my hands and feet
but through my eyes as well!
For this world is to be fled as soon as possible
via the purification of martyrdom.
This from the God of Christian Love.
Cupid hovers overhead, perplexed.
Long ago Zeus said he was tired
and went to bed: if you're not going to exist
it's best to be asleep.
The Christian God is like a cranky two-thousand-year-old baby
whose fatigue delivers him into an endless tantrum.
He will never grow up
because you can't grow up unless people listen to you,
and they can't listen because they are too busy being mean
or fearing the meanness of others.
How can I blame them?
I too am afraid. I can be jolted by an extremely violent movie,
but what is really scary is that someone wanted to make the film!
He is only a step away from the father
who took his eight-year-old daughter and her friend to the park
and beat and stabbed them to death. Uh-oh.
"He seemed like a normal guy," said his neighbor, Thelma,
who refused to divulge her last name to reporters.
She seemed like a normal gal, just as the reporters seemed like
      normal vampires.
In some cultures it is normal to eat bugs or people
or to smear placenta on your face at night, to buy
a car whose price would feed a village for thirty years,
to waste your life and, while you're at it, waste everyone
      else's too!
Hello, America. It is dawn,
wake up and smell yourselves.
You smell normal.
My father was not normal,
he was a criminal, a scuffler, a tough guy,
and though he did bad things
he was never mean.
He didn't like mean people, either.
Sometimes he would beat them up
or chop up their shoes!
I have never beaten anyone up,
but it might be fun to chop up some shoes.
Would you please hand me that cleaver, Thelma?

But Thelma is insulted by my request,
even though I said please, because she has the face of a cleaver
that flies through the air toward me and lodges
in my forehead. "Get it yourself,
lughead!" she spits, then twenty years later
she changes lughead to fuckhead.
I change my name to Jughead
and go into the poetry protection program
so my poems can go out and live under assumed names
in Utah and Muskogee.

Anna Chukhno looks up and sees me
through her violet Ukrainian eyes
and says Good morning most pleasantly inflected. Oh
to ride in a horse-drawn carriage with her at midnight
down the wide avenues of Kiev and erase
the ditch at Babi Yar from human history!
She looks up and asks How would you like that?
I say In twenties and she counts them out
as if the air around her were not shattered by her beauty
and my body thus divided into zones:
hands the place of metaphysics, shins the area of moo,
bones the cost of living, and so on.
Is it cruel that I cannot cover her with kisses?
No, it is beautiful that I cannot cover her with kisses,
it is better that I walk out into the sunlight
with the blessing of having spoken with an actual goddess
who gave me four hundred dollars!
And I am reassembled
as my car goes forward
into the oncoming rays of aggression
that bounce off my glasses and then
start penetrating, and soon my eyes
turn into abandoned coal mines
whose canaries explode into an evil song
that echoes exactly nowhere.

At least I am not in Rwanda in 1994 or the Sudan in '05
or Guantanamo or Rikers, or in a ditch outside Rio,
clubbed to death and mutilated. No Cossack
bears down on me with sword raised and gleaming
at my Jewish neck and no time for me
to cry out "It is only my neck that is Jewish!
The rest is Russian Orthodox!" No smiling man tips back
his hat and says to his buddies, "Let's teach
this nigguh a lesson." I don't need a lesson, sir,
I am Ethiopian, this is my first time in your country!
But you gentlemen are joking. . . .

Prepare my cave and then kindly forget where it was.
A crust of bread will suffice and a stream nearby,
the chill of evening filtering in with the blind god
who is the chill of evening and who touches us
though we can't raise our hands to stroke his misty beard
      in which
two hundred million stars have wink and glimmer needles.

I had better go back to the bank, we have
only three hundred and eighty-five dollars left.
Those fifteen units of beauty went fast.
As does everything.
But meanness comes back right away
while kindness takes its own sweet time
and compassion is busy shimmering always a little above us and
      behind,
swooping down and transfusing us only when we don't expect it
and then only for a moment.
How can I trap it?
Allow it in and then
turn my body into steel? No.
The exit holes will still be there and besides
compassion doesn't need an exit it is an exit—
from the prison that each moment is,
and just as each moment replaces the one before it
each jolt of meanness replaces the one before it
and pretty soon you get to like those jolts,
you and millions of other dolts who like to be electrocuted
by their own feelings. The hippopotamus
sits on you with no sense of pleasure, he doesn't
even know you are there, any more than he takes notice
of the little white bird atop his head, and when
he sees you flattened against the ground
he doesn't even think Uh-oh he just trots away
with the bird still up there looking around.
Saint Augustine stole the pears from his neighbor's tree
and didn't apologize for thirty years, by which time
his neighbor was probably dead and in no mood
for apologies. Augustine's mother became a saint
and then a city in California—Santa Monica,
where everything exists so it can be driven past,
except the hippopotamus that stands on the freeway
in the early dawn and yawns into your high beams.
"Hello," he seems to grunt, "I can't be your friend
and I can't be your enemy, I am like compassion,
I go on just beyond you, no matter how many times
you crash into me and die because you never learned
to crash and live." Then he ambles away.
Could Saint Augustine have put on that much weight?
I thought compassion makes you light
or at least have light, the way it has light around it
in paintings, like the one of the screwdriver
that appeared just when the screw was coming loose
from the wing of the airplane in which Santa Monica was riding into
      heaven,
smiling as if she had just imagined how to smile
the first smile of any saint, a promise toward the perfection
of everything that is and isn't.

Ron Padgett, "The Absolutely Huge and Incredible Injustice in the World" from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2013 by Ron Padgett.  Reprinted by permission of Coffee House Press. www.coffeehousepress.org

Source: Collected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2013)

Ron Padgett

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20
November

Poem of the Day: The Thrush

When Winter's ahead,
What can you read in November
That you read in April
When Winter's dead?
 
I hear the thrush, and I see
Him alone at the end of the lane
Near the bare poplar's tip,
Singing continuously.
 
Is it more that you know
Than that, even as in April,
So in November,
Winter is gone that must go?
 
Or is all your lore
Not to call November November,
And April April,
And Winter Winter—no more?
 
But I know the months all,
And their sweet names, April,
May and June and October,
As you call and call
 
I must remember
What died into April
And consider what will be born
Of a fair November;
 
And April I love for what
It was born of, and November
For what it will die in,
What they are and what they are not,
 
While you love what is kind,
What you can sing in
And love and forget in
All that's ahead and behind.


Edward Thomas

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19
November

Poem of the Day: Sonnet 84: While one sere leaf, that parting Autumn yields

While one sere leaf, that parting Autumn yields,
   Trembles upon the thin, and naked spray,
   November, dragging on this sunless day,
   Lours, cold and sullen, on the watery fields;
And Nature to the waste dominion yields,
   Stripped her last robes, with gold and purple gay —
   So droops my life, of your soft beams despoiled,
   Youth, Health, and Hope, that long exulting smiled;
And the wild carols, and the bloomy hues
   Of merry Spring-time, spruce on every plain
   Her half-blown bushes, moist with sunny rain,
More pensive thoughts in my sunk heart infuse
   Than Winter's grey, and desolate domain
   Faded like my lost Youth, that no bright Spring renews.


Anna Seward

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18
November

Poem of the Day: The Flurry

When we talk about when to tell the kids,
we are so together, so concentrated.
I mutter, "I feel like a killer." "I'm
the killer"—taking my wrist—he says,
holding it. He is sitting on the couch,
the old indigo chintz around him,
rich as a night sea with jellies,
I am sitting on the floor. I look up at him,
as if within some chamber of matedness,
some dust I carry around me. Tonight,
to breathe its Magellanic field is less
painful, maybe because he is drinking
a wine grown where I was born—fog,
eucalyptus, sempervirens—and I'm
sharing the glass with him. "Don't catch
my cold," he says, "—oh that's right, you want
to catch my cold." I should not have told him that,
I tell him I will try to fall out of
love with him, but I feel I will love him
all my life. He says he loves me
as the mother of our children, and new troupes
of tears mount to the acrobat platforms
of my ducts and do their burning leaps.
Some of them jump straight sideways, and, for a
moment, I imagine a flurry
of tears like a whirra of knives thrown
at a figure, to outline it—a heart's spurt
of rage. It glitters, in my vision, I nod
to it, it is my hope.

Source: Poetry (September 2011).

Sharon Olds

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17
November

Poem of the Day: Ode to Big Trend

Pretty soon the Negroes were looking to get paid.
My partner, Big Trend, wiped his ox neck and said

He wasn't going to wait too much longer. You
Know that look your daddy gets before he whups you?

That's how Big Trend looked. There was a pink scar
Meddling his forehead. Most people assumed a bear

Like him couldn't read anything but a dollar,
But I'd watched him tour the used bookstore
In town and seen him napping so I knew he held more

Than power in those hands. They could tear
A Bible in two. Sometimes on the walk home I'd hear

Him reciting poems. But come Friday, he was the one
The fellas asked to speak to the boss. He'd go alone,

Usually, and left behind, we imagined the boss buckled
Into Trend's shadow because our money always followed.

Source: Poetry (March 2008).

Terrance Hayes

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16
November

Poem of the Day: The Second Trying

If I could only get hold of the whole of you,   
How could I ever get hold of the whole of you,   
Even more than the most beloved idols,   
More than mountains quarried whole,   
          More than mines   
          Of burning coal,   
Let's say mines of extinguished coal   
And the breath of day like a fiery furnace.   

If one could get hold of you for all the years,   
How could one get hold of you from all the years,   
How could one lengthen a single arm,   
Like a single branch of an African river,   
As one sees in a dream the Bay of Storms,   
As one sees in a dream a ship that went down,   
The way one imagines a cushion of clouds,   
Lily-clouds as the body's cushion,   
But though you will it, they will not convey you,   
Do not believe that they will convey you.   

If one could get hold of all-of-the-whole-of-you,   
If one could get hold of you like metal,   
Say like pillars of copper,   
Say like a pillar of purple copper   
(That pillar I remembered last summer)—
And the bottom of the ocean I have never seen,   
And the bottom of the ocean that I can see   
With its thousand heavy thickets of air,   
A thousand and one laden breaths.   

If one could only get hold of the-whole-of-you-now,   
How could you ever be for me what I myself am?   

Source: Poetry (April 2009).

Dahlia Ravikovitch

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14
November

Poem of the Day: At the Justice Department November 15, 1969

Brown gas-fog, white
beneath the street lamps.
Cut off on three sides, all space filled
with our bodies.
       Bodies that stumble
in brown airlessness, whitened
in light, a mildew glare,
       that stumble
hand in hand, blinded, retching.
Wanting it, wanting
to be here, the body believing it's
dying in its nausea, my head
clear in its despair, a kind of joy,
knowing this is by no means death,
is trivial, an incident, a
fragile instant.    Wanting it, wanting
          with all my hunger this anguish,
          this knowing in the body
the grim odds we're
up against, wanting it real.
Up that bank where gas
curled in the ivy, dragging each other
up, strangers, brothers
and sisters.    Nothing
will do but
to taste the bitter
taste. No life
other, apart from.

Denise Levertov, "At the Justice Department November 15, 1969" from Poems 1968-1972. Copyright © 1969 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: Poems 1968-1972 (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2002)

Denise Levertov

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13
November

Found Memories by Rick Stephen

Found Memoriesbaseballglove1

In the back of the closet
of my old room
in my parent’s house
I found my old baseball mitt
in a box, creased and torn
barely held together
by yellowed packing tape
and full of things
Mom hadn’t the heart
to toss out
once I’d left home for good

Thank goodness
for it was, to me,
a box of memories
and at the bottom
under various and sundry toys,
photos and memorabilia
there it was, pressed flat
save the well-worn ball
cradled in its webbing
I picked it up slowly
like it deserved reverence

I looked it over, turning it in my hand
looking at the leather stitching,
the marks and mars of heavy use
my name, faded,
barely visible on the wrist strap
I slid my hand inside
tighter today than it was then
I fanned my fingers opening the glove
revealing the ball, more brown than white,
scuffed and scraped,
frayed red stitches running ’round it

I flipped the ball into the air
and was rewarded
with the pleasing sound
of ball striking glove
instinctively
I buried my face in the cowhide
and the familiar smell
of leather and oil,
sweat, red dirt and grass
triggered strong memories
of a young boy

A young boy
simultaneously excited,
anxious and afraid
fidgeting, out in right field
praying the ball not come to him
but hoping that it would, waiting
for his chance to shine
and looking into the stands
for his Dad,
always there,
always cheering him on

Dad gave me this glove
it was old, used
money was tight around our house
but I didn’t mind, I understood
even at that tender age
Mom calling me for dinner
snapped me from the past
I had to pry the child’s glove
from the hand of a man
and pulling hard on the wrist strap
underneath, I saw what I’d not seen before

A name, not mine
“Billy” scrawled there, Dad’s name
mixed feelings flooded me
and I thought, why?
Why would he not tell me
this had been his glove?
Was he ashamed
he couldn’t afford a new one?
How did he not know this glove,
his glove, would be worth more to me
than all the gloves in the world?

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12
November

Poem of the Day: Air and Angels

Twice or thrice had I lov'd thee,
Before I knew thy face or name;
So in a voice, so in a shapeless flame
Angels affect us oft, and worshipp'd be;
         Still when, to where thou wert, I came,
Some lovely glorious nothing I did see.
         But since my soul, whose child love is,
Takes limbs of flesh, and else could nothing do,
         More subtle than the parent is
Love must not be, but take a body too;
         And therefore what thou wert, and who,
                I bid Love ask, and now
That it assume thy body, I allow,
And fix itself in thy lip, eye, and brow.

Whilst thus to ballast love I thought,
And so more steadily to have gone,
With wares which would sink admiration,
I saw I had love's pinnace overfraught;
         Ev'ry thy hair for love to work upon
Is much too much, some fitter must be sought;
         For, nor in nothing, nor in things
Extreme, and scatt'ring bright, can love inhere;
         Then, as an angel, face, and wings
Of air, not pure as it, yet pure, doth wear,
         So thy love may be my love's sphere;
                Just such disparity
As is 'twixt air and angels' purity,
'Twixt women's love, and men's, will ever be.


John Donne

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11
November

Poem of the Day: Work Shy

To be poor and raise skinny children.
To own nothing but skinny clothing.
Skinny food falls in between cracks.
Friends cannot visit your skinny home.
They cannot fit through the door.
Your skinny thoughts evaporate into
the day or the night that you cannot
see with your tiny eyes.

God sticks you with the smallest pins
and your blood, the red is diluted.
Imagine a tiny hole, the other side
of which is a fat world and how
lost you would feel. Of course,
I'm speaking to myself.
How lost I would feel, and how dangerous.

Reprinted from From the Ground Up, (Lone Willow Press, 2000), by permission of the author.

Source: From the Ground Up (Lone Willow Press, 2000)

Alex Phillips

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