Thursday, January 28, 2021

Jorie Graham / Ashes



by Jorie Graham

Jorie Graham / Cenizas

Manacled to a whelm. Asked the plants to give me my small identity. No, the planets.
The arcing runners, their orbit entrails waving, and a worm on a leaf, mold, bells, a
bower—everything transitioning—unfolding—emptying into a bit more life cell by
cell in wind like this
sound of scribbling on
paper. I think
I am falling. I remember the earth. Loam sits
quietly, beneath me, waiting to make of us what it can, also smoke, waiting to
become a new place of origin, the other one phantasmal, trammeled with entry,
ever more entry—I spent a lifetime entering—the question of place hanging over me
year after year—me thinning but almost still here in spirit, far in, far back, behind,
privy to insect, bird, fish—are there nothing but victims—
that I could become glass—that after that we would become glacial
melt—moraine revealing wheatgrass, knotgrass, a prehistoric frozen mother’s
caress—or a finger
about to touch
a quiet skin, to run along its dust, a fingernail worrying the edge of
air, trawling its antic perpetually imagined
end—leaping—landing at touch. A hand. On whom. A groove traversed where a god
dies. And silken before bruised. A universe can die. That we could ever have, or be
one body. Then picked up by the long hair
and dragged down through shaft into
being. One. Now listen for the pines, the bloom, its glittering, the wild hacking of
sea, bend in each stream, eddy of bend—listen—hear all skins raveling,
unending—hear one skin clamp down upon what now is no longer
Here you are says a voice in the light, the trapped light. Be happy.

Jorie Graham, Fast, 2017

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Jorie Graham / Lull



At the forest’s edge, a fox
                                 came out.
                                 It looked at
us. Nobody coming up the hill hungry looking
                                 to take
                                 food. The fox-
trained. Nobody coming up the
                                 hill in the broad
                                 daylight with an
                                 axe for
wood, for water, for the store in the
                                 pantry. I stock
                                 the pantry. I
watch for rain. For too much
                                 rain, too
                                 fast, too
                                 little, too
long. When dryness begins I hear the woods
                                 click. Unusual.
                                 I hear the arid. Un-
                                 usual. My father
                                 is dying of
age, good, that is usual. My valley is,
                                 my touch, my sense, my law, my
                                 soil, my sensation of
                                 my first
person. Now everything is clear. Facts lick their tongue deep
                                 into my ear.
Visiting hour is up. We are curled
                                 on the hook we placed in our brain and down
                                 our throat into our
                                 hearts our inner
                                 organs we
                                 have eaten
the long fishing line of the so-called journey and taken its
                                 fine piercing into
                                 our necks backs hands it comes out our
mouths it re-enters our ears and in it goes
                                 again deep the dream
                                 of ownership
we count up everyone to make sure we are all here
                                 in it
                                 together, the only
holders, the applause lines make the
                                 tightening line
                                 gleam—the bottom line—how much
                                 did you think you
                                 could own—the first tree
we believed was a hook we got it
                                 wrong—the fox is still
                                 standing there it
                                 is staring it is
not scared—there is nothing behind it, beyond it—no value—
                                 the story of Eden:
                                 revision: we are now
breaking into the Garden. It was, for the
                                 interglacial lull,
                                 us now we
                                 have broken
                                 in—have emptied all
the limbs the streaming fabric of
                                 light milliseconds leaves the now inaudible
                                 birds whales bees—have
in these days made arrangements to get
                                 compensation—from what
                                 we know not but the court says
                                 we are to be
for our way of life being
                                 taken from us—fox says
                                 what a rough garment
                                 your brain is
you wear it all over you, fox says
                                 language is a hook you
                                 got caught,
try pulling somewhere on the strings but no
                                 they are all through you,
                                 had you only looked
down, fox says, look down to the
                                 road and keep your listening
                                 up, fox will you not
move on my heart thinks checking the larder the
                                 locks fox
says your greed is not
                                 precise enough.

Published in the print edition of the September 19, 2011, issue.

Jorie Graham teaches at Harvard. Her latest collection of poems is “Runaway.”


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman reads 'The Hill We Climb' at Biden inauguration

The Hill We Climb 

by Amanda Gorman

When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We've braved the belly of the beast
We've learned that quiet isn't always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we've weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid
If we’re to live up to our own time
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promise to glade
The hill we climb
If only we dare
It's because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy
And this effort very nearly succeeded
But while democracy can be periodically delayed
it can never be permanently defeated
In this truth
in this faith we trust
For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
This is the era of just redemption
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,
we will rise from the windswept northeast
where our forefathers first realized revolution
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,
we will rise from the sunbaked south
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it

Amanda Gorman became the youngest person to deliver a poem at a U.S. presidential inauguration, with the 22-year-old reciting her poem "The Hill We Climb" after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as president and vice president.

Gorman spoke for nearly six minutes. 


Sunday, January 17, 2021

"Three Pieces on the Smoke of Autumn" By Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg


Poetry Spotlight: 'Three Pieces on the Smoke of Autumn' by Carl Sandburg

In celebration of the fall season and Thanksgiving holiday, discover Sandburg's ode to the meditative delights of an autumnal sunset in rural Illinois.

Three-time Pulitzer winner Carl Sandburg's varied career encompassed the deadlines of journalism as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News, a stint at West Point and a political turn as an assistant to the Milwaukee-based Emil Seidel, the first socialist mayor of a major city in the United States. 

While his later work veered into such disparate fields as folklore, fiction and film criticism (with the latter often practiced in the company of then-vaudevillian Groucho Marx, who joked to 1975 Criticism winner Roger Ebert that his friend "would fall asleep and I would wake him up after the movie was over and tell him what it was about"), poetry remained central to his oeuvre. 

President Lyndon Johnson eulogized him upon his death aged 89 in July 1967: "Carl Sandburg was more than the voice of America, more than the poet of its strength and genius. He was America."

Embodying an egalitarianism that resonated over decades and across genres —in 1964, 2008 Special Citation recipient Bob Dylan sought out the poet at his North Carolina home — Sandburg eschewed modernism and the cultural pessimism of by friends like 1926 Novel winner Sinclair Lewis in favor of a conversational pan-Americanism.

Well into his dotage, much of his income would be derived from stage performances, in which he combined guitar-accompanied performances of folk songs with poetry readings and social commentaries. On the page, his Pulitzer-winning biography of Abraham Lincoln and a srelated works, though erratic from a scholarly vantage, played an integral role in reifying Lincoln's legacy among future generations.

Initially honored with the 1919 Columbia University Poetry Prize (the antecedent of today's Poetry Prize) in "Corn Huskers" and with the proper 1951 Poetry Prize following its appearance in his "Complete Poems," "Three Pieces on the Smoke of Autumn" is situated in the rustic, leaf-shaded byways of the Des Plaines River (rendered by Sandburg as "Desplaines"), which extends from southern Wisconsin to the forest preserves of greater Chicago. As muskrats swim amid the early sunset, a "sheet of red ember glow on the river; the narrator reflects on his connection to the era's bohemian diaspora amid the momentous events of World War I and the Russian Revolution: "I have letters from poets and sculptors in Greenwich Village; I have letters from an ambulance man in France and an I. W. W. man in Vladivostok."

What emerges is a picture of rare quiescence in an increasingly mediated world, one that ultimately prefigures the themes of mindfulness explored by such later poets as 1975 Poetry winner Gary Snyder: "Better the blue silence and the gray west/The autumn mist on the river/And not any hate and not any love."

In an era where the autumnal currents of nature continue to offer nourishing respites from an often-frenetic world, read the full poem below. (Now in the public domain, "Corn Huskers" is available in full from from the University of Michigan's American Verse Project here.)

"Three Pieces on the Smoke of Autumn"

By Carl Sandburg

SMOKE Of autumn is on it all.
The streamers loosen and travel.
The red west is stopped with a gray haze.
They fill the ash trees, they wrap the oaks,
They make a long-tailed rider
In the pocket of the first, the earliest evening star.

Three muskrats swim west on the Desplaines River.

There is a sheet of red ember glow on the river; it is dusk; and the muskrats one by one go on patrol routes west.

Around each slippery padding rat, a fan of ripples; in the silence of dusk a faint wash of ripples, the padding of the rats going west, in a dark and shivering river gold.

(A newspaper in my pocket says the Germans pierce the Italian line; I have letters from poets and sculptors in Greenwich Village; I have letters from an ambulance man in France and an I. W. W. man in Vladivostok.)

I lean on an ash and watch the lights fall, the red ember glow, and three muskrats swim west in a fan of ripples on a sheet of river gold.

Better the blue silence and the gray west,

The autumn mist on the river,
And not any hate and not any love,
And not anything at all of the keen and the deep:
Only the peace of a dog head on a barn floor,
And the new corn shoveled in bushels
And the pumpkins brought from the corn rows,
Umber lights of the dark,
Umber lanterns of the loam dark.
Here a dog head dreams.
Not any hate, not any love.
Not anything but dreams.
Brother of dusk and umber.