One of my favorite professors once compared a poem I’d written to the work of Mary Oliver; it was and continues to be the best compliment I have ever received about my writing, and I often return to it when I am feeling un-writerly.
I don’t write much poetry anymore (my intensity has waned since my college days), but I love to read it and am grateful for the light it gives to the world. I thought it might be nice to end the week with a few good poems. Enjoy!
by Tess Gallagher
A woman is reading a poem on the street
and another woman stops to listen. We stop too,
with our arms around each other. The poem
is being read and listened to out here in the open.
Behind us no one is entering or leaving the houses.
Suddenly a hug comes over me and I am giving it to you,
like a variable star shooting light off to make itself comfortable,
then subsiding. I finish but keep on holding you. A man walks up
to us and we know he has not come out of nowhere, but if he could, he would have.
He looks homeless because of how he needs.
“Can I have one of those?’ he asks you, and I feel you nod.
I am surprised, surprised you don’t tell him how it is –
that I am yours, only yours, etc., exclusive as a nose to its face.
Love – that’s what we’re talking about. Love that nabs you with “for me only” and holds on.
So I walk over to him and put my arms around him and try to
hug him like I mean it. He’s got an overcoat on so thick I can’t feel him past it.
I’m starting the hug and thinking. “How big a hug is this supposed to be?
How long shall I hold this hug?” Already we could be eternal,
His arms falling over my shoulders, my hands not meeting behind his back, he is so big!
I put my head into his chest and snuggle in. I lean into him. I lean
my blood and my wishes into him. He stands for it. This is his and he’ starting
to give it back so well I know he’s getting it. This Hug. So truly,
so tenderly, we stop having arms and I don’t know if my lover has walked away
Or what, or if the woman is still reading the poem, or the houses – what about them? – the houses.
Clearly, a little permission is a dangerous thing. But when you hug someone
you want it to be a masterpiece of connection, the way the button on his coat
will leave the imprint of a planet in my cheek when I walk away.
When I try to find some place to go back to.
An Afternoon in the Stacks
By Mary Oliver
Closing the book, I find I have left my head
inside. It is dark in here, but the chapters open
their beautiful spaces and give a rustling sound,
words adjusting themselves to their meaning.
Long passages open at successive pages. An echo,
continuous from the title onward, hums
behind me. From in here, the world looms,
a jungle redeemed by these linked sentences
carved out when an author traveled and a reader
kept the way open. When this book ends
I will pull it inside-out like a sock
and throw it back in the library. But the rumor
of it will haunt all that follows in my life.
A candleflame in Tibet leans when I move
By Anthony Abbott
The swinging Lord, that master maker
of cool chords, shifted in his empty
heaven and said, “I need me some music,”
So the sky was full of music
and he declared that it was good
And then the equally androgynous Lord
said to herself, I need some light
to fill the fragrant fingers of the night
So the waters shone with light
and she declared that it was good
And when the light and the music played
together the stars wept for the beauty of it
And the swinging, singing Lord said
I need me some people to praise
this thing that I have made
The Lord thought long and long about what
sort of people might be the purest praisers,
what sort of people might truly see the light
And he made man, with his cunning brain,
and he made the zebras and the elk
and the swift running antelope for man
to wonder at. And she made woman with her
imagining mind and her long, limber dancing
legs and her eyes that saw the color in the light
And when the man and woman had been crafted
The Lord declared that it was good
Then the man heard the light in the woman’s eyes
And the woman saw the music in the man’s mind
And the music was the silky manes of violins
And the light was like the laughter of clarinets
and the glitter of guitars. And the man and the
woman moved to the measure of the music and swayed
to the gold and amber brilliance of the light.
And they knew that the sound was neither his nor hers
nor like anything that ever was before.
And the Lord saw what they had made
And behold it was very good
2 thoughts on “Poetry Reading”
OK, but you know what’s missing, don’t you? Your poem. DUH. I think it needs to go here.
And that first poem? LOVE it. Just a sweet little story, no pretenses.
I posted a poem on my blog—first one I’ve written in ages and ages. It’s hard to get into poem mode anymore.
“Afternoon in the Stacks” was written by William Stafford (1914-1993), a former US Poet Laureate. From ‘Passwords’ / c.1991.