Untitled [This is what was bequeathed us]

This is what was bequeathed us:
This earth the beloved left
And, leaving,
Left to us.

No other world
But this one:
Willows and the river
And the factory
With its black smokestacks.

No other shore, only this bank
On which the living gather.

No meaning but what we find here.
No purpose but what we make.

That, and the beloved’s clear instructions:
Turn me into song; sing me awake.

-Gregory Orr


I actually don't have much to say about this one--it just breaks my heart every time. 


Praying Drunk

Our Father, who art in heaven, I am drunk. 
Again. Red wine, for which I offer thanks. 
I ought to start with praise, but praise
comes hard to me. I stutter. Did I tell you
about the woman whom I taught, in bed, 
this prayer? It starts with praise; the simple form
keeps things in order. I hear from her sometimes. 
Do you? And after love, when I was hungry, 
I said, Make me something to eat. She yelled,
Poof! You're a casserole! --and laughed so hard
she fell out of bed. Take care of her. 

Next, confession -- the dreary part. At night,
deer drift from the dark woods and eat my garden.
They're like enormous rats on stilts except,
of course, they're beautiful. But why? What makes
them beautiful? I haven't shot one yet.
I might. When I was twelve, I'd ride my bike
out to the dump and shoot the rats. It's hard
to kill your rats, our Father. You have to use
a hollow point and hit them solidly.
A leg is not enough. The rat won't pause. 
Yeep! Yeep! it screams, and scrabbles, three-legged, back
into the trash, and I would feel a little bad
to kill something that wants to live
more savagely than I do, even if
it's just a rat. My gardent's vanishing.
Perhaps I'll merely plant more beans, though that
might mean more beautiful and hungry deer.
Who knows?
                      I'm sorry for the times I've driven
home past a black, enormous, twilight ridge.
Crested with mist, it looked like a giant wave
about to break and sweep across the valley,
and in my loneliness and fear I've thought, 
O let it come and wash the whole world clean. 
Forgive me. This is my favorite sin: despair--
whose love I celebrate with wine and prayer.

Our Father, thank you for the birds and bees,
that nature stuff. I'm grateful for good health,
food, air, some laughs, and all the other things
I'm grateful that I've never had to do
without. I have confused myself. I'm glad
there's not a rattrap large enough for deer.
While at the zoo last week, I sat and wept
when I saw one elephant insert his trunk
into another's ass, pull out a lump,
and whip it back and forth impatiently
to free the goodies hidden in the lump.
I could have let it mean most anything,
but I was stunned again at just how little
we ask for in our lives. Don't look! Don't look! 
Two young nuns tried to herd their giggling
schoolkids away. Line up, they said, Let's go
and watch the monkeys in the monkey house. 
I laughed and got a dirty look. Dear Lord,
we lurch from metaphor to metaphor,
which is--let it be so--a form of praying. 

I'm usually asleep by now--the time 
for supplication. Requests. As if I'd stayed
up late and called the radio and aksed
they play a sentimental song. Embarrassed. 
I want a lot of money and a woman.
And, also, I want vanishing cream. You know
a character like Popeye rubs it on
and disappears. Although you see right through him,
he's there. He chuckles, stumbles into things,
and smoke that's clearly visible escapes
from his invisible pipe. It makes me think,
sometimes, of you. What makes me think of me
is the poor jerk who wanders out on air
and then looks down. Below his feet, he sees
eternity, and suddenly his shoes
no longer work on nothingness, and down
he goes. As I fall past, remember me. 

-Andrew Hudgins


This is the poem that made me first fall in love with Hudgins' poetry. I love the way it makes iambic pentameter appear accidental and easy--and the way it makes its subjects seem meandering and whimsical when they're actually being woven into a single, strong rope of a poem. While it's far from epic, it is long-ish, and its length strikes me immediately as vital. I thus sort of hope that it will someday help me understand why all those other longish poems are out there. 






Six horses died in a tractor-trailer fire. 
There. That's the hard part. I wanted
to tell you straight away so we could
grieve together. So many sad things, 
that's just one on a long recent list
that loops and elongates in the chest, 
in the diaphragm, in the alveoli. What
is it they say, heart-sick or downhearted? 
I picture a heart lying down on the floor
of the torso, pulling up the blankets
over its head, thinking the pain will
go on forever (even though it won't). 
The heart is watching Lifetime movies
and wishing, and missing all the good
parts of her that she has forgotten. 
The heart is so tired of beating
herself up, she wants to stop it still, 
but also she wants the blood to return, 
wants to bring in the thrill and wind of the ride, 
the fast pull of life driving underneath her. 
What the heart wants? The heart wants
her horses back. 

-Ada Limón

This poem (first published in Guernica in 2011) gets me right in the feelings (that last line!), but it keeps me with the rich imagery. It's interesting, too--the images are so rich--and delicately woven together (it's straight-up masterful, the way she mixes the impossible metaphor of the heart with the horses) that I always remember the poem as intricately worded; but it's actually worded in a relatively straight-forward, simple way (which can be more difficult to pull off than baroque shit, so I'm not saying; I'm just saying), and I think that's part of what makes the poem effective: the tone tricks you into bonding/identifying with the heart in a mundane, conversational way, which is so much more feelings than a lot of fancy word-trickery would allow the poem to be.  



Lay your sleeping head, my love, 

Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms 'til break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful. 

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant, enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy, 
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit's carnal ecstasy. 

Certainty, fidelity, 
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen 
Raise their pedantic, boring cry: 
Every farthing of the cost, 
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost. 

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly 'round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed 
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.  

-W.H. Auden


"Lullaby" is a constant mystery to me: How the hell does it work? It's incredible, transcenfuckingdentally joy-inducing on every level; but it goes against so many principles of "good" writing that I've been taught and try to write by. Abstractions and vagueness abound, but I don't think this poem's success is merely an argument in favor of misty intangibles; I suspect that it's the combination of abstract and concrete (if non-specific) bits in combination with the truly surprising (and radically mundane!) word choices in a slightly off-kilter order that make this work (though, of course, that's not all of it). And what's up with that punctuation?! Hello, one colon per stanza and non-standard comma use. Even the meter is a mystery: is it (slightly irregular) trochaic tetrameter with most of the last syllables cut off? Is it trochaic trimeter with a hypermetrical syllable? NO ONE KNOWS. 

Hi, guys.

In the intro to Singing School, Robert Pinsky says, "'Who decides what is magnificent? Who was what is a monument? Who chooses?' . . . you do: the aspirant, the true student, the passionate reader inspired to write, chooses. No curriculum or or official canon will suffice: the examples must proceed from what thrills each person. . . . Create your own anthology by typing out the writing that inspires you." So here, I'll engage in what Pinsky calls "the double labor of deciding for yourself what thrills you and studying it." One poem per week. Or more of I get excited.