Disclaimer: I've quoted some poetry on this page, purely as an expression of my appreciation for the work. All of the poems are copyrighted by the authors and their publishers; please buy the poets' work if you like it, and get an extra copy as a gift for your mom.
Like a lot of guys my age, I think I started into poetry because of
Charles Bukowski, He was quite a
kid, and I'm sorry that he's actually gone. One of my favorite Bukowski
poems is "to the whore who took my poems", with its wonderful ending:
to the whore who took my poems
some say we should keep personal remorse from the
stay abstract, and there is some reason in this,
twelve poems gone and I don't keep carbons and you have
paintings too, my best ones; it's stifling:
are you trying to crush me out like the rest of them?
why didn't you take my money? they usually do
from the sleeping drunken pants sick in the corner.
next time take my left arm or a fifty
but not my poems:
I'm not Shakespeare
but sometime simply
there won't be any more, abstract or otherwise;
there'll always be money and whores and drunkards
down to the last bomb.
but as God said,
crossing his legs,
I see where I have made plenty of poets
but not so very much
From Burning In Water Drowning In Flame (Powells.com, Amazon.com, Bookshop Santa Cruz), Black Sparrow Press, Santa Rosa, 1990
My newest favorite is
Czeslaw Milosz. Just by chance, I heard some of his stuff read on
the radio, and now I've become a weepy, swooning fan. If he never wrote
anything else, I'd always love him for his poem "Conversation with Jeanne":
Conversation with Jeanne
Let us not talk philosophy, drop it, Jeanne.
So many words, so much paper, who can stand it.
I told you the truth about my distancing myself.
I've stopped worrying about my misshapen life.
It was no better and no worse than the usual human tragedies.
For over thirty years we have been waging our dispute
As we do now, on the island under the skies of the tropics.
We flee a downpour, in an instant the bright sun again,
And I grow dumb, dazzled by the emerald essence of the leaves.
We submerge in foam at the line of the surf,
We swim far, to where the horizon is a tangle of banana bush,
With little windmills of palms.
And I am under accusation: That I am not up to my oeuvre,
That I do not demand enough from myself,
As I could have learned from Karl Jaspers,
That my scorn for the opinions of this age grows slack.
I roll on a wave and look at white clouds.
You are right, Jeanne, I don't know how to care about the salvation of my soul.
Some are called, others manage as well as they can.
I accept it, what has befallen me is just.
I don't pretend to the dignity of a wise old age.
Untranslatable into words, I chose my home in what is now,
In things of this world, which exist and, for that reason, delight us:
Nakedness of women on the beach, coppery cones of their breasts,
Hibiscus, alamanda, a red lily, devouring
With my eyes, lips, tongue, the guava juice, the juice of la prune de Cythère,
Rum with ice and syrup, lianas-orchids
In a rain forest, where trees stand on the stilts of their roots.
Death, you say, mine and yours, closer and closer.
We suffered and this poor earth was not enough.
The purple-black earth of vegetable gardens
Will be here, either looked at or not.
The sea, as today, will breathe from its depths.
Growing small, I disappear in the immense, more and more free.
From Provinces (Powells.com, Amazon.com, Bookshop Santa Cruz), Ecco Press, 1991
The next is one of my all-time favorite poems, by John Berryman. It's
one of his "Dream Songs", number 171. It's the only poem I ever
bothered to memorize. It is a love poem, from a character named Henry.
Go, ill-sped book, and whisper to her or
storm out the message for her only ear
that she is beautiful.
Mention sunsets, be not silent of her eyes
and mouth and other prospects, praise her size,
say her figure is full.
Say her small figure is heavenly & full,
so as stunned Henry yatters like a fool
& maketh little sense.
Say she is soft in speech, stately in walking,
modest at gatherings, and in every thing
declare her excellence.
And forget not, when the rest is wholly done
and all of her splendors opened, one by one,
to add that she likes Henry,
for reasons unknown, and fate has bound them fast
one to another in linkages that last
and that are fair to see.
From The Dream Songs (Powells.com, Amazon.com, Bookshop Santa Cruz), Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1982
This next bit is by Rainer Maria Rilke. I'm just starting to read his
stuff, but after opening my first book of his to this poem, I'm wondering
what took me so long:
THE SPANISH TRILOGY
From this cloud, look!, which has so wildly covered
the star that just now shone there--(and from me),
from these dark clustered hills which hold the night,
the night-winds, for a while--(and from me),
from this stream in the valley which has caught
the jagged glow of the night sky--(and from me);
from me, Lord, and from all of this, to make
one single Thing; from me and the slow breathing
with which the flock, penned in the fold at dusk,
endures the great dark absence of the world--,
from me and every candle flickering
in the dimness of the many houses, Lord:
to make one Thing; from strangers, for I know
no one here, Lord, and from me, from me,
to make one Thing; from sleepers in these houses,
from old men left alone at the asylum
who cough in bed, importantly, from children
drunk with sleep upon the breasts of strangers,
from so much that is uncertain and from me,
from me alone and from what I do not know,
to make the Thing, Lord Lord Lord, the Thing
which, earthly and cosmic, like a meteor
gathers within its heaviness no more than
the sum of flight: and weighs nothing but arrival.
Translated by Stephen Mitchell
From The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (Powells.com, Amazon.com, Bookshop Santa Cruz), Vintage International, 1989
Here's the last poem on the page. This poem made the
front page of the Los Angeles Times a couple of years ago, when
the author, Wislawa Szymborska, won the Nobel prize. To this date, I've
never seen better use made of any newspaper's front page:
In Praise of Dreams
In my dreams
I paint like Vermeer van Delft.
I speak fluent Greek
and not only with the living.
I drive a car
which obeys me.
I am talented,
I write long, great poems.
I hear voices
no less than the major saints.
You would be amazed
at my virtuosity on the piano.
I float through the air as is proper,
that is, all by myself.
Falling from the roof
I can softly land on green grass.
I don't find it hard
to breathe under water.
I can't complain:
I've succeeded in discovering Atlantis.
I'm delighted that just before dying
I always manage to wake.
Right after the outbreak of war
I turn over on my favorite side.
I am but I need not
be a child of my time.
A few years ago
I saw two suns.
And the day before yesterday a penguin,
with the utmost clarity.