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An unexpected gift on the Times Op-Ed page last Sunday, cohabiting with bleak post election columns by Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd: Six poems marking the end of daylight saving time. The work is all by blue chip poets—James Tate, Vijay Seshadri, Louise Glück, W. S. Merwin as well as the two whose poems I have posted below, Derek Walcott and Mary Oliver. Made my day to read these.

The Green Flash

le rayon vert

And the sea’s skin heaves, saurian,
and the spikes of the agave bristle
like a tusked beast bowing to charge
tonight the full moon will soar floating
without any moral or simile
the wind will bend the longbows of the arching casuarinas
the lizard will still scuttle
and the sun will sink silently with a stake in its eye
bleeding behind the shrouding sail
of a skeletal schooner.
You can feel the earth cooling,
you can feel its myth cooling
and watch your own heart go out like the red throbbing dot
of a hospital machine, with a green flash
next to Pigeon Island.

— Derek Walcott

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends
into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing, as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?
So let us go on

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

— Mary Oliver

***
Earlier posts written here about these poets:

Vijay Seshadri
That Was All That Happened

Louise Glück
Quiet Revelations
From the Center of My Life Came a Great Fountain
Thoughts on a Moonbeam for a New Year
Evidence
Vineyard Watch
What Could Such Glory Be If Not a Heart?
The Love of Forms

W. S. Merwin
Merwin: Past and Present
The Washed Colors of the Afterlife
Walking at Night Between the Two Deserts
Dorothea Tanning: With Our Souls in Our Laps
Here are the extinct feathers, here is the rain we saw

Former US poet laureate Louise Gluck, whose poetry I have posted here many times, just won the coveted Wallace Stevens award. Well deserved.

Also awarded: An academy fellowship granted to Brigit Pegeen Kelly, a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in 2005. After reading some of her work online, I am adding Kelly to my list. Here’s a sample.

Doing Laundry on Sunday

So this is the Sabbath, the stillness
in the garden, magnolia
bells drying damp petticoats

over the porch rail, while bicycle
wheels thrum and the full-breasted tulips
open their pink blouses

for the hands that pressed them first
as bulbs into the earth.
Bread, too, cools on the sill,

and finches scatter bees
by the Shell Station where a boy
in blue denim watches oil

spread in phosphorescent scarves
over the cement. He dips
his brush into a bucket and begins

to scrub, making slow circles
and stopping to splash water on the children
who, hours before it opens,

juggle bean bags outside Gantsy’s
Ice Cream Parlor,
while they wait for color to drench their tongues,

as I wait for water to bloom
behind me—white foam, as of magnolias,
as of green and yellow

birds bathing in leaves—wait,
as always, for the day, like bread, to rise
and, with movement

imperceptible, accomplish everything.

–Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Poet Stephen Dobyns described Brigit Pegeen Kelly as “one of the very best poets now writing in the United States. In fact, there is no one who is any better. Not only are her poems brilliantly made, but they also give great pleasure. Rarely are those two qualities seen together in one poet.”

The critic Robert Buttel wrote that in Kelly’s poems, “spiritual certainty or any connection with divinity remains elusive,” but still, in dealing with nature and everyday occurrences, “she experiences uncanny, fortuitous moments that have all the revelatory impact of epiphanies.”

iris.jpg

The Wild Iris

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure sea water.

Louise Gluck

Blue/violet and green, along with orange, make up the secondary palette. These colors arrived full force in my consciousness recently and have dominated my thinking and feeling for several weeks.

There is no way of knowing (that I am aware of) which colors will ride to the surface very suddenly and then settle in, making themselves completely at home. Then one day they disappear quite suddenly and are replaced by a new gaggle of clubby colors. This seduction cycles in and out, perpetually.

This poem by Gluck speaks to a number of important themes for me right now–the power of color, seasonality, cycles, nature’s version of trust.

Moonbeam

The mist rose with a little sound. Like a thud.
Which was the heart beating. And the sun rose, briefly diluted.
And after what seemed years, it sank again
and twilight washed over the shore and deepened there.
And from out of nowhere lovers came,
people who still had bodies and hearts. Who still had
arms, legs, mouths, although by day they might be
housewives and businessmen.

The same night also produced people like ourselves.
You are like me, whether or not you admit it.
Unsatisfied, meticulous. And your hunger is not for experience
but for understanding, as though it could be had in the abstract.

Then it’s daylight again and the world goes back to normal.
The lovers smooth their hair; the moon resumes its hollow existence.
And the beach belongs again to mysterious birds
soon to appear on postage stamps.

But what of our memories, the memories of those who depend on images?
Do they count for nothing?

The mist rose, taking back proof of love.
Without which we have only the mirror, you and I.

–Louise Gluck

Ah, a bit of Gluck with which to begin a new year…

Matins

You want to know how I spend my time?
I walk the front lawn, pretending
to be weeding. You ought to know
I’m never weeding, on my knees, pulling
clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact
I’m looking for courage, for some evidence
my life will change, though
it takes forever, checking
each clump for the symbolic
leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already
the leaves turning, always the sick trees
going first, the dying turning
brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform
their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?
As empty now as at the first note.
Or was the point always
to continue without a sign?

Louise Gluck

I’m in one of those phases where language, spoken or written, feels like a sock that doesn’t fit around the heel. There are times when just digging, whether for weeds or clover, is the only gesture that feels authentic. And in that silence I can detect the slow shifting of a hibernating beast, my own, moving in its lair down deep in the earth.

okeefew.jpg
Georgia O’Keefe’s version

The Red Poppy

The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the first of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
permit yourselves
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.

Louise Gluck

fieldw.jpg