Monday, October 02, 2006

The Dover Bitch

A Criticism of Life: for Andrews Wanning


So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, 'Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc.'
Well now, I knew this girl. It's true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come.
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d' Amour.

Anthony Hecht

The Dover Bitch

A Criticism of Life: for Andrews Wanning


So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, 'Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc.'
Well now, I knew this girl. It's true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come.
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d' Amour.

Anthony Hecht

The Dover Bitch

A Criticism of Life: for Andrews Wanning


So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, 'Try to be true to me,
And I'll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc.'
Well now, I knew this girl. It's true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn't judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She's really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it's a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come.
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d' Amour.

Anthony Hecht

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Ballad of Ladies Lost and Found

*dedicated to Julia Alvarez*

Where are the women who, entre deux guerres
came out on college-graduation trips,
came to New York on football scholarships,
came to town meeting in a decorous pair?
Where are the expatriate salonnières,
the gym teacher, the math-department head?
Do nieces follow where their odd aunts led?
The elephants die off in Cagnes-sur-Mer.
H.D., whose "nature was bisexual,"
and plain old Margaret Fuller died as well.


Where are the single-combat champions:
the Chevalier d'Eon with curled peruke,
Big Sweet who ran with Zora in the jook,
open-handed Winifred Ellerman,
Colette, who hedged her bets and always won?
Sojourner's sojourned where she need not pack
decades of whitegirl conscience on her back.
The spirit gave up Zora; she lay down
under a weed field miles from Eatonville,
and plain old Margaret Fuller died as well.


Where's Stevie, with her pleated schoolgirl dresses,
and Rosa, with her permit to wear pants?
Who snuffed Clara's mestiza flamboyance
and bled Frida onto her canvases?
Where are the Niggerati hostesses,
the kohl-eyed ivory poets with severe
chignons, the rebels who grew out their hair,
the bulldaggers with marceled processes?
Conglomerates co-opted Sugar Hill,
and plain old Margaret Fuller died as well.


Anne Hutchinson, called witch, termagent, whore,
fell to the long knives, having tricked the noose.
Carolina María de Jesús'
tale from the slag heaps of the landless poor
ended on a straw mat on a dirt floor.
In action thirteen years after fifteen
in prison, Eleanor of Aquitaine
accomplished half of Europe and fourscore
anniversaries for good or ill,
and plain old Margaret Fuller died as well.


Has Ida B. persuaded Susan B.
to pool resources for a joint campaign?
(Two Harriets act a pageant by Lorraine,
cheered by the butch drunk on the IRT
who used to watch me watch her watching me.)
We've notes by Angelina Grimké Weld
for choral settings drawn from the Compiled
Poems of Angelina Weld Grimké.
There's no such tense as Past Conditional,
and plain old Margaret Fuller died as well.


Who was Sappho's protégée, and when did
we lose Hrotsvitha, dramaturge and nun?
What did bibulous Suzanne Valadon
think about Artemesia, who tended
to make a life-size murderess look splendid?
Where's Aphra, fond of dalliance and the pun?
Where's Jane, who didn't indulge in either one?
Whoever knows how Ende, Pintrix, ended
is not teaching Art History at Yale,
and plain old Margaret Fuller died as well.


Is Beruliah upstairs behind the curtain
debating Juana Inés de la Cruz?
Where's savante Anabella, Augusta-Goose,
Fanny, Maude, Lidian, Freda, and Caitlin,
"without whom this could never have been written"?
Louisa who wrote, scrimped, saved, sewed, and nursed,
Malinche, who's, like all translators, cursed,
Bessie, whose voice was hemp and steel and satin,
outside a segregated hospital,
and plain old Margaret Fuller died as well.


Where's Amy, who kept Ada in cigars
and love, requited, both country and courtly,
although quinquagenerian and portly?
Where's Emily? It's very still upstairs.
Where's Billie, whose strange fruit ripened in bars?
Where's the street-scavenging Little Sparrow?
Too poor, too mean, too weird, too wide, too narrow:
Marie Curie, examining her scars,
was not particularly beautiful;
and plain old Margaret Fuller died as well.


Who was the grandmother of Frankenstein?
The Vindicatrix of the Rights of Woman.
Madame de Sévigné said prayers to summon
the postman just as eloquent as mine,
though my Madame de Grignan's only nine.
But Mary Wollstonecraft had never known
that daughter, nor did Paula Modersohn.
The three-day infants blinked in the sunshine.
The mothers turned their faces to the wall;
and plain old Margaret Fuller died as well.


Tomorrow night the harvest moon will wane
that's floodlighting the silhouetted wood.
Make your own footnotes; it will do you good.
Emeritae have nothing to explain.
She wasn't very old, or really plain--
my age exactly, volumes incomplete.
"The life, the life, will it never be so sweet?"
She wrote it once; I quote it once again
midlife at midnight when the moon is full
and I can almost hear the warning bell
offshore, sounding through starlight like a stain
on waves that heaved over what she began
and truncated a woman's chronicle,
and plain old Margaret Fuller died as well.

Marilyn Hacker

Amusing Our Daughters

*after Po Chü-i,
for Robert Creeley*


We don’t lack people here on the Northern coast,
But they are people one meets, not people one cares for.
So I bundle my daughters into the car
And with my brother poets, go to visit you, brother.


Here come your guests! A swarm of strangers and children;
But the strangers write verses, the children are daughters like yours.
We bed down on mattresses, cots, roll up on the floor:
Outside, burly old fruit trees in mist and rain;
In every room, bundles asleep like larvae.


We waken and count our daughters. Otherwise, nothing happens.
You feed them sweet rolls and melon, drive them all to the zoo;
Patiently, patiently, ever the father, you answer their questions.
Later, we eat again, drink, listen to poems.
Nothing occurs, though we are aware you have three daughters
Who last year had four. But even death becomes part of our ease:
Poems, parenthood, sorrow, all we have learned
From these of tenderness, holds us together
In the center of life, entertaining daughters
By firelight, with cake and songs.


You, my brother, are a good and violent drinker,
Good at reciting short-line or long-line poems.
In time we will lose all our daughters, you and I,
Be temperate, venerable, content to stay in one place,
Sending our messages over the mountains and waters

Carolyn Kizer

Advice to a Prophet

When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
In God's name to have self-pity,

Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,
The long numbers that rocket the mind;
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,
Unable to fear what is too strange.

Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.
How should we dream of this place without us?--
The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,
A stone look on the stone's face?

Speak of the world's own change. Though we cannot conceive
Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost
How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,
How the view alters. We could believe,

If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,
The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,
The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip

On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn
As Xanthus once, its gliding trout
Stunned in a twinkling. What should we be without
The dolphin's arc, the dove's return,

These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?
Ask us, prophet, how we shall call
Our natures forth when that live tongue is all
Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken

In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean
Horse of our courage, in which beheld
The singing locust of the soul unshelled,
And all we mean or wish to mean.

Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose
Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding
Whether there shall be lofty or long standing
When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.

Richard Wilbur

Peripeteia

Of course, the familiar rustling of programs,
My hair mussed from behind by a grand gesture
Of mink. A little craning about to see
If anyone I know is in the audience,
And as the house fills up
A mild relief that no one there knows me
A certain amount of getting up and down
From the aisles to let the others in.
Then my eyes wander briefly over the cast,
Management, stand-ins, make-up man, designers,
Perfume and luquor ads, and rise prayerlike
To the false heaven of rosetted light,
The stucco lyres and emblems of high art
That promise with crude Broadway honesty,
Something less than perfection:
Two bulbs are missing and Apollo’s bored.

And then the cool, drawn-out anticipation,
Not of the play itself, but the false dusk
And equally false night when the houselights
Obey some planetary rheostat
and bring a stillness on. It is that stillness
I wait for.

Before it comes,
Whether we like it or not, we are a crowd,
Fourl-breathed, gum-chewing, fat with arrogance,
Passion, opinion, and appetite for blood.
But in that instant, which the mind protracts,
From dim to dark before the curtain rises,
Each of us is miraculously alone
In calm, invulnerable isolation,
Neither a neighbour nor a fellow but,
As at the beginning and end, a single soul,
With all the sweet and sour of loneliness.
I, as a connoisseur of loneliness
Savor it richly, and set it down
In an endless umber landscape, a stubble field
Under a lilac, electric, storm-flushed sky,
Where, in companionship with worthless stones,
Mica-flecked, or at best some rusty quartz,
I stood in childhood, waiting for things to mend.
A useful discipline, perhaps. One that might lead
To solitary, self-denying work
That issues in something harmless, like a poem,
Governed by laws that stand for other laws,
Both of which aim, through kindred disciplines,
At the soul’s knowledge and habiliment.
In any case, in a self-granted freedom,
The mind, lone regent of itself, prolongs
The dark and silence: mirrors itself, delights
In consciousness of consciousness alone,
Sufficient, nimble, touched with a small grace.

Then, as it must at last, the curtain rises,
The play begins. Something by Shakespeare.
Framed in the arched proscenium it seem
A dream, neither better nor worse
Than whatever I shall dream after I rise
With hat and coat, go home to bed, and dream.
If anything, more limited, more strict –
No one will fly or turn into a moose.
But acceptable, like a dream, because remote,
And there is after all, a pretty girl.
Perhaps tonight she’ll figure in the cast
I summon to my slumber and control
In vast arenas, limitless space, and time
That yield and sway in soft Einsteinian tides.
Who is she? Sylvia? Amelia Earhart?
Some creature that appears and disappears
From life, from reverie, a fugitive of dreams?
There on the stage, with awkward grace, the actors
Beautifully costumed in Renaissance brocade,
Perform their duties, even as I must mine,
Though not, as I am, always free to smile.

Something is happening. Some consternation.
Are the knives out? Is someone’s life in danger?
And can the magic cloak and book protect?
One has, of course, real confidence in Shakespeare.
And I relax in my plush seat, convinced
That prompt as dawn and genuine as a toothache
The dream will be accomplished, provisionally true
As anything else one cares to think about.
The players are aghast. Can it be the villain,
The outrageous drunks, plotting the coup d’etat,
Are slyer than we thought? Or we more innocent?
Can it be that poems lie? As in a dream,
Leaving a stunned arid gap-mouthed Ferdinand,
Father and faery pageant, she, even she,
Miraculpus Miranda, steps from the stage,
Moves up to the aisle to my seat, where she stops,
Smiles gently, seriously, and takes my hand
And leads me out of the theatre, into a night
As luminous as noon, more deeply real,
Simply because of her hand, than any dream
Shakespeare or I or anyone ever dreamed.

Anthony Hecht

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Karl Marx

In my first strike Marx met me thus:
I was holding his banner high on my shoulder.
The other day he stood listening to my speech at the gate, in the meeting. --now we alone are the heroes of history, of all the biographies too, henceforth...
He was the first to applaud, then
laughing boisterously
he put his hand on my shoulder and said:
'Are you a poet or what...
nice...very nice...
I too liked poetry
Goethe was my favorite.

Narayan Surve

Thursday, June 15, 2006

In the Cathedral

High
in the trees the wisteria is blooming, early this year,
as the
camellias have been late. And the wrens have returned,
the brace of
cardinals who nested in the camellias

last spring. By now
everything I'm ever going to tell you
is determined, a sum that can
only diminish.
A cold front's blowing in, through the sumac &
pine,

though there was no snow as I gathered
bills &
catalogues & magazines,
the dogwood a single flambeau

with a thousand tongues burning against an argent sky.
Instead a
steady click of sleet, hyaline,
disappearing as it touched grass &
leaf & wrist,

the stiff white rag of an envelope.
Even
before I opened it I knew you were dead.
Who, in the postmodern world,
discovers news this way,

when all around us the matte black
mouths
of sleek equipment offer to deliver information
instantly?
Perhaps only those of us who live a share

of our lives in a
trance--the hidden portion,
sheer & cadent, floating up into a
frozen sky.
And mine, just one of a seraglio of voices, keening,

stone tiles cold beneath my feet, the choir empty.
I'll not
wear out the garden with the grief
I bring to it daily: the trees, the
weave of sorrel & smalt

in which I spot a pair of eggs, the
miniature gardenias
bruised where they're touched. I've audited the
books
& discovered I've consumed more than I've preserved,

all those hours carelessly tossed, loose dark change,
in the
bottom of a bag. Bequeathed nothing by you,
I must again begin saving
or live less dearly.

Aleda Shirley

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Absent Traveller

From The Absent Traveller, Prakrit verse by the Satavahana king Hala, (tr: AK Mehrotra)

The way he stared,
I kept covering myself,
Not that I wanted him
To look elsewhere.

***

Distance destroys love
So does the lack of it:

Gossip destroys love,
and sometimes

It takes nothing
To destroy love.

***

Ignorant of how it ends
The bride, having come,
Looks up as if to say
'Go on'.

***
Strange are time's ways
That young man given to poetry
Recites catechisms
And we to our husbands return.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Where Will the Next One Come From

The next one will come from the air
It will be an overripe pumpkin
It will be the missing shoe

The next one will climb down
From the tree
When I’m asleep

The next one I will have to sow
For the next one I will have
To walk in the rain

The next one I shall not write
It will rise like bread
It will be the curse coming home

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Beauty of The Husband

II. BUT A DEDICATION IS ONLY FELICITOUS IF PERFORMED BEFORE WITNESSES--IT IS AN ESSENTIALLY PUBLIC SURRENDER LIKE THAT OF STANDARDS OF BATTLE

You know I was married years ago and when he left my husband took my notebooks.
Wirebound notebooks.
You know that cool sly verb write. He liked writing, disliked having to start
each thought himself.
Used my starts to various ends, for example in a pocket I found a letter he'd begun
(to his mistress at that time)
containing a phrase I had copied from Homer: 'entropalizomenh is how Homer says
Andromache went
after she parted from Hektor--"often turning to look back"
she went
down from Troy's tower and through stone streets to her loyal husband's
house and there
with her women raised a lament for a living man in his own halls.
Loyal to nothing
my husband. So why did I love him from early girlhood to late middle age
and the divorce decree came in the mail?
Beauty. No great secret. Not ashamed to say I loved him for his beauty.
As I would again
if he came near. Beauty convinces. You know beauty makes sex possible.
Beauty makes sex sex.
You if anyone grasp this--hush, let's pass

to natural situations.
Other species, which are not poisonous, often have colorations and patterns
similar to poisonous species.
This imitation of a poisonous by a nonpoisonous species is called mimicry.
My husband was no mimic.
You will mention of course the war games. I complained to you often enough
when they were here all night
with the boards spread out and rugs and little lamps and cigarettes like Napoleon's
tent I suppose,
who could sleep? All in all my husband was a man who knew more
about the Battle of Borodino
than he did about his own wife's body, much more! Tensions poured up the walls
and along the ceiling,
sometimes they played Friday night till Monday morning straight through, he
and his pale wrathful friends.
They sweated badly. They ate meats of the countries in play.
Jealousy
formed no small part of my relationship to the Battle of Borodino.

I hate it.
Do you.
Why play all night.
The time is real.
It's a game.
It's a real game.
Is that a quote.
Come here.
No.
I need to touch you.
No.
Yes.

That night we made love "the real way" which we had not yet attempted
although married six months.
Big mystery. No one knew where to put their leg and to this day I'm not sure
we got it right.
He seemed happy. You're like Venice he said beautifully.
Early next day
I wrote a short talk ("On Defloration") which he stole and had published
in a small quarterly magazine.
Overall this was a characteristic interaction between us.
Or should I say ideal.
Neither of us had ever seen Venice

Anne Carson