02 May 2016

Marge's Shoes BY SYLVIA ROSS


The first few years she wore them
I didn't even notice the leather's soft tan,
and the buckskin laces roughly looped.
By the time I paid attention, her feet
had already curved the shoes inward,
weather had toughened the soft leather,
and one lace had broken short.
Then I asked where she got those shoes
and she said from the Indian store
down in Mountain View.
 
Some other time, another year, I asked
the name of the Indian store
that sold handmade shoes like hers,
but she said it went out of business
and no store sold mocs with vodka
splatters and Yosemite dirt ground in
with a little tamale pie, so I couldn't
buy shoes like hers anyway.
 
Last summer, laughing and crying
together, in the campground
at Lake Mendocino, on the night
before her youngest son's wedding
while the men drank beer and talked
of politics and sports,
I told her how much I really, really liked
those old shoes of hers. So
she took them off and gave them to me.
 
Those beat-up, raggedy Kaibab moccasins
I wear are stained and worn rough
by hard years in my friend's life.
I wear them when I need her courage.

01 May 2016

Little Lion Face by May Swenson, 1913 - 1989

Little lion face
I stopped to pick
among the mass of thick
succulent blooms, the twice

streaked flanges of your silk
sunwheel relaxed in wide
dilation, I brought inside,
placed in a vase.  Milk

of your shaggy stem
sticky on my fingers, and
your barbs hooked to my hand,
sudden stings from them 

were sweet.  Now I’m bold
to touch your swollen neck,
put careful lips to slick
petals, snuff up gold

pollen in your navel cup.
Still fresh before night
I leave you, dawn’s appetite
to renew our glide and suck.

An hour ahead of sun
I come to find you.  You’re
twisted shut as a burr,
neck drooped unconscious,

an inert, limp bundle,
a furled cocoon, your
sun-streaked aureole
eclipsed and dun.

Strange feral flower asleep
with flame-ruff wilted,
all magic halted,
a drink I pour, steep

in the glass for your
undulant stem to suck.
Oh, lift your young neck,
open and expand to your

lover, hot light.
Gold corona, widen to sky.
I hold you lion in my eye
sunup until night.

30 April 2016

Thing by Rae Armantrout, 1947

We love our cat
for her self
regard is assiduous
and bland,

for she sits in the small
patch of sun on our rug
and licks her claws
from all angles

and it is far
superior
to “balanced reporting”

though, of course,
it is also
the very same thing.

29 April 2016

Song of the Shirt by Thomas Hood

With fingers weary and worn,
   With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
   Plying her needle and thread—
      Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
   And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the “Song of the Shirt.”

   “Work! work! work!
While the cock is crowing aloof!            
   And work—work—work,
Till the stars shine through the roof!
It’s O! to be a slave
   Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,
   If this is Christian work!

   “Work—work—work,
Till the brain begins to swim;
   Work—work—work,
Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
Seam, and gusset, and band,                   
   Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep,
   And sew them on in a dream!

   “O, men, with sisters dear!
   O, men, with mothers and wives!
It is not linen you’re wearing out,
   But human creatures’ lives!
      Stitch—stitch—stitch,
   In poverty, hunger and dirt,     
Sewing at once, with a double thread,
   A Shroud as well as a Shirt.

   “But why do I talk of death?
   That phantom of grisly bone,
I hardly fear his terrible shape,
   It seems so like my own—
It seems so like my own,
   Because of the fasts I keep;
Oh, God! that bread should be so dear.
   And flesh and blood so cheap!
             
   “Work—work—work!
   My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
   A crust of bread—and rags.
That shattered roof—this naked floor—
   A table—a broken chair—
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
   For sometimes falling there!

   “Work—work—work!
   From weary chime to chime,  
Work—work—work,
   As prisoners work for crime!
Band, and gusset, and seam,
   Seam, and gusset, and band,
Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumbed,
   As well as the weary hand.

   “Work—work—work,
In the dull December light,
   And work—work—work,
When the weather is warm and bright—        
While underneath the eaves
   The brooding swallows cling
As if to show me their sunny backs
   And twit me with the spring.

   “O! but to breathe the breath
Of the cowslip and primrose sweet—
   With the sky above my head,
And the grass beneath my feet;
For only one short hour
   To feel as I used to feel,           
Before I knew the woes of want
   And the walk that costs a meal!

   “O! but for one short hour!
   A respite however brief!
No blessed leisure for Love or hope,
   But only time for grief!
A little weeping would ease my heart,
   But in their briny bed
My tears must stop, for every drop
   Hinders needle and thread!”

With fingers weary and worn,
   With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
   Plying her needle and thread—
      Stitch! stitch! stitch!
   In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,—
Would that its tone could reach the Rich!—

   She sang this “Song of the Shirt!”

28 April 2016

Habit by Hazel Hall


Last night when my work was done,
And my estranged hands
Were becoming mutually interested
In such forgotten things as pulses,
I looked out of a window
Into a glittering night sky.

And instantly
I began to feather-stitch a ring around the moon.

27 April 2016

The Red Sweater by Joseph O. Legaspi


slides down into my body, soft
lambs wool, what everybody
in school is wearing, and for me
to have it my mother worked twenty
hours at the fast-food joint.
The sweater fits like a lover,
sleeves snug, thin on the waist.
As I run my fingers through the knit,
I see my mother over the hot oil in the fryers
dipping a strainer full of stringed potatoes.
In a twenty hour period my mother waits
on hundreds of customers: she pushes
each order under ninety seconds, slaps
the refried beans she mashed during prep time,
the lull before rush hours, onto steamed tortillas,
the room’s pressing heat melting her make-up.
Every clean strand of weave becomes a question.
How many burritos can one make in a continuous day?
How many pounds of onions, lettuce and tomatoes
pass through the slicer? How do her wrists
sustain the scraping, lifting and flipping
of meat patties?           And twenty
hours are merely links
in the chain of days startlingly similar,
that begin in the blue morning with my mother
putting on her polyester uniform, which,
even when it’s newly-washed, smells
of mashed beans and cooked ground beef.

26 April 2016

A Sister on the Tracks BY DONALD HALL


Between pond and sheepbarn, by maples and watery birches, 
Rebecca paces a double line of rust 
in a sandy trench, striding on black 
creosoted eight-by-eights. 
                                       In nineteen-forty-three, 
wartrains skidded tanks, 
airframes, dynamos, searchlights, and troops 
to Montreal. She counted cars 
from the stopped hayrack at the endless crossing: 
ninety-nine, one hundred; and her grandfather Ben’s 
voice shaking with rage and oratory told 
how the mighty Boston and Maine 
kept the Statehouse in its pocket. 
                                                   Today Rebecca walks 
a line that vanishes, in solitude 
bypassed by wars and commerce. She remembers the story 
of the bunting’d day her great-great-great- 
grandmother watched the first train roll and smoke 
from Potter Place to Gale 
with fireworks, cider, and speeches. Then the long rail 
drove west, buzzing and humming; the hive of rolling stock 
extended a thousand-car’d perspective 
from Ohio to Oregon, where men who left stone farms 
rode rails toward gold. 
                                  On this blue day she walks 
under a high jet’s glint of swooped aluminum pulling 
its feathery contrail westward. She sees ahead 
how the jet dies into junk, and highway wastes 
like railroad. Beside her the old creation retires, 
hayrack sunk like a rowboat 
under its fields of hay. She closes her eyes 
to glimpse the vertical track that rises 
from the underworld of graves, 
soul’s ascension connecting dead to unborn, rails 
that hum with a hymn of continual vanishing 
where tracks cross. 
                            For she opens her eyes to read 
on a solitary gravestone next to the rails 
the familiar names of Ruth and Matthew Bott, born 
in a Norfolk parish, who ventured 
the immigrant’s passionate Exodus westward to labor 
on their own land. Here love builds 
its mortal house, where today’s wind carries 
a double scent of heaven and cut hay.

25 April 2016

Catawba Cotton Mill, 1908 by David Wojahn, 1953


Propping his tripod, Hine remembers
     Childhood snowfall in Wisconsin,
            Flakes careening in prairie wind,
A red sleigh skimming a frozen lake,
     Curlicued breath-mist of two dappled drays.
            But this is a blizzard of cotton dust
From the looms & thirty thousand spindles,
     Gauze-air, whirlwind of innumerable floaters.
            The thermometer reads one hundred & three.
& for these seven ten-year-olds, childhood
     Is six ten-hour shifts & on the seventh day
            They rest, heads nodding over hymnbooks,
The drone of temperance & hellfire.
     But this is din, not drone, the spindles’
            Manic prayer wheels, the doffers
& the “little piecers,” skittering on hand & knee
     Beneath the clatter of the looms,
            Patrolling for clumps of cotton waste.
This is weaver’s cough and “mattress maker’s fever,”
     The mad percussive shivaree & glossolalia.
            But then, for this moment, it ceases.
The foremen have gathered their doffers
     & stilled the looms & spindles—
            Six boys, a lone girl. The foreman
Adjusts his derby, pointing them toward
     the cyclop-eye: Hine’s 5 x 7. They are ordered
            To look solemn, as if they could look
otherwise. Pulled slide, the flash pan
     Dusted with power, the sizzle as the room
            Erupts in light. Where the punctum?
Where the studium? To end your life
     At twenty-five or thirty. Missing fingers,
            Mangled hands, to walk somnambulant
To a sullen dormitory bunk, picking
     Cotton shavings from your hair,
          Mattress ticking spat onto a rude pine floor.
But Hine has set his flashpan in its case,
     Broken down his tripod. Fiat Lux.
            Hine gathers his work & faintly smiles
Adjusting his bowler & making a fist, as if
     To attest that in this foul rag & sweatshop,
            In this charnel house of ceaseless
Motion, his lens might render
     One fugitive instant of dignity. Light
            Is required, wrote Hine, light in floods.

24 April 2016

It’s all I have to bring today (26) by Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886


It’s all I have to bring today—
This, and my heart beside—
This, and my heart, and all the fields—
And all the meadows wide—
Be sure you count—should I forget
Some one the sum could tell—
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

23 April 2016

There’s a certain Slant of light (258) by Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons – 
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes – 

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us – 
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are – 

None may teach it – Any – 
‘Tis the Seal Despair – 
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air – 

When it comes, the Landscape listens – 
Shadows – hold their breath – 
When it goes, ‘tis like the Distance
On the look of Death – 

22 April 2016

Death BY JOE BRAINARD

Prince, 1958-2016
Death is a funny thing. Most people are afraid of it, and yet
they don't even know what it is.

           Perhaps we can clear this up.

           What is death?

           Death is it. That's it. Finished. "Finito." Over and out. No
more.

           Death is many different things to many different people. I 
think it is safe to say, however, that most people don't like it.

            Why?

            Because they are afraid of it.

            Why are they afraid of it?

            Because they don't understand it.

           I think that the best way to try to understand death is to 
think about it a lot. Try to come to terms with it. Try to really
understand it. Give it a chance!

           Sometimes it helps if we try to visualize things.

           Try to visualize, for example, someone sneaking up behind 
your back and hitting you over the head with a giant hammer.

           Some people prefer to think of death as a more spiritual
thing. Where the soul somehow separates itself from the mess
and goes on living forever somewhere else. Heaven and hell being 
the most traditional choices.

           Death has a very black reputation but, actually, to die is a 
perfectly normal thing to do.

           And it's so wholesome: being a very important part of 
nature's big picture. Trees die, don't they? And flowers?

           I think it's always nice to know that you are not alone. Even
in death.

           Let's think about ants for a minute. Millions of ants die 
every day, and do we care? No. And I'm sure that ants feel the 
same way about us.

           But suppose—just suppose—that we didn't have to die. 
That wouldn't be so great either. If a 90-year-old man can hardly
stand up, can you imagine what it would be like to be 500 years 
old?

           Another comforting thought about death is that 80 years or 
so after you die nobody who knew you will still be alive to miss 
you.

           And after you're dead, you won't even know it.