Monday’s Verse 9/9/2019

Here’s a nice poem for a September morning.

This is a good one for folks who tend towards pre-20th century poems, who miss the

colons and "O"s of, say, Victorian poetry. Personally, I stayed for the puns.

Aria Aber (a bare air) has just published her first book of poems, which won the Prairie Schooner Prize. -ed.


Morning she comes, mother of all balms.

Only the news reporter says it wrong:

but aren’t you strung: little ping

and doesn’t memory embalm

your most-hurt city:

those yellow creeks of your rickety holm

where your mater: your salve:

left all her selves behind

so she could surrender to a lifetime

of Septembering: what she members most:

yellow grapes and celeries

and visiting her father’s glove

a balm, to be by absence so enclaved:

your mender

a follower, devoted

to what she cannot see. O air miles,

how can it be real?

How uncertain you should

be if it existed, if there are no photos left

of her playing

on her childhood lawn—

burned are all the documents, or eaten—

this ink,

like memory,

an ancient unguent,

enshrining what cannot be held

of what went missing—the dog, her hat of hay,

one brother. She was in prism,

your mother says—and that’s how you will write her,

atoning her, just in fluorite a figurine caught

to fracture   her stolen years,

   her brother,

all her once-upon-a-chimes.


Monday’s Verse 9/2/2019

Dear readers,

Eugenio Montale (1896-1981) studied to be an opera singer, fought in WWI, and when his voice teacher died in 1923, turned his attention to poetry. He entered an old tradition, weighed down by a distinctly non-modern poetic language indebted more to Dante and Gabriel D’Annunzio than to 20th century lived experience. And his approach was to turn slightly more inward, to come closer to his own life on this earth via language. Although he rejected the classification, he became associated with a mid-century school of Italian poets known as hermeticism.

In 1989, Poetry magazine ran a double-issue called "Italian Poetry Since WWII," featuring several Montale poems in translation by Jonathan Galassi. Here is "A Letter Not Written." Ever had that feeling where you’re at a place, thinking of someone, thinking, I could write it all down, but what’s the point? That seems a little bit like what the speaker is thinking through here… but of course he did write it, just not to the "you" of the poem. -ed.


Per un formicolìo d’albe, per pochi
fili su cui s’impigli
il fiocco della vita e s’incollano
in ore e in anni, oggi i delfini a coppie
capriolano coi figli? Oh ch’io non oda
nulla di te, ch’io fugga dal bagliore
dei tuoi cigli. Ben altro è sulla terra.

Sparir non so né riaffacciarmi; tarda
la fucina vermiglia
della notte, la sera si fa lunga,
la preghiera è supplizio e non ancora
tra le rocce che sorgono t’è giunta
la bottiglia dal mare. L’onda, vuota,
si rompe sulla punta, a Finisterre.


For a tingling of daybreaks, for a few
threads on which the tuft of
life is tangled and strung
on hours and years, today do paired dolphins
caper with their young? Oh let me hear
nothing of you — let me elude the flash
of your eyelashes. Earth has more than this.

I cannot vanish or reappear; late
is the vermilion forge of
night, evening lengthens,
prayer is torture and not yet among
the rising rocks has come to you
the bottle from the sea. The empty breaker
smashes on the point at Finisterre.

Monday’s Verse 8/26/2019

Dear readers,

I got to meet D.A. Powell (b. 1963) when he was teaching at Harvard, and I was slinging books at the library. I remember reading his book "Cocktails" over cocktails. Now he is a professor at the U. of San Francisco, and winning prizes all over the place. This recent poem — just published this week — spoke to me. -ed.


I want to give more of my time
to others the less I have of it,
give it away in a will and testament,
give it to the girls’ club, give it
to the friends of the urban trees.

Your life is not your own and
never was. It came to you in a box
marked fragile. It came from the
complaint department like amends
on an order you did not place with
them. Who gave me this chill life.

It came with no card. It came
without instruction. It said this
end up though I do not trust those
markings. I have worn it upside
downs. I have washed it without
separating and it did not shrink.
Take from it what you will. I will


Monday’s Verse 8/19/2019

Dear readers,

If a sonnet is a 14-line poem, then what is a 15-line poem? An imperfect sonnet, right? That’s what I think.

I went camping this weekend and brought John Ashbery’s collected poems and Robert Frost’s collected poems. I assumed the latter (1874-1963) would be a better companion for the creek, the leaves, the insects, the campfire smoke, the dark, and the bright moon, but I was wrong. I can’t say why, but — even though my last MV opinion on Frost was pretty affirming — I got tired quickly of rhyming couplets and poems titled "The Oven Bird" or "The Wood-pile" or "The Pasture," or "The Snow" or "The Tuft of Flowers." Pleasant enough for a weekend, but I wouldn’t wanna live there, knowhatimsayin? Ashbery, on the other hand, gave me a whole universe of the imagination to run around in.

Not all Frost’s poetry is bucolic, but the other ones that tried to "say something" I didn’t find all that compelling. So this may be our last Frost entry — a poet doesn’t have to speak to all readers, or even the same reader, all the time. Nonetheless, a tiny valedictory for the man, and I even found one that doesn’t rhyme. Not the right line-count, no end-rhyme… this is the kind of rule-breaking I like. it was first published in Harper’s Magazine, July 1920. -ed


Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs

Always wrong to the light, so never seeing

Deeper down in the well than where the water

Gives me back in a shining surface picture

Me myself in the summer heaven godlike

Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.

Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,

I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,

Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,

Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.

Water came to rebuke the too clear water.

One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple

Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,

Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?

Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

Monday’s Verse 8/12/2019

Dear readers,

I’m back in your inbox after a mostly unintentional hiatus, during which I was not making enough time myself for poetry, and also not taking the time to share poetry with friends.

That had to change this week, because I’m actually dying for company now that I have to share the news that David Berman, erstwhile Silver Jews singer/songwriter, is dead. He had just released a new album under the moniker Purple Mountains, and was preparing to tour. The news, alas, was a shock but no surprise; all his written work is testament to his depression and other emotional struggles. He’d attempted suicide before, in the early 2000s, and apparently succeeded this time, by hanging.

You could call his view of life "slanted and enchanted," to go with an album title he came up with for an affiliated band. There’s no real novelty in finding the sublime in the mundane, but for me David had A knack for doing that in contemporary terms that match any poet out there. And he was a published poet, too, having completed an MFA at UMass Amherst and publishing the well-received Actual Air in 1999. Take a look back at 5/4/2015’s MV for his "Self-Portrait at 28," which clicked with many of us.

I find a little bit of Wallace Stevens in this title, and I’ve sniffed hints of Stevens around other of his work. If your tastes run to dark-comedy-slacker indie rock, by all means check out any of the SJ records; he certainly knew his way around a 3-chord song, a one-liner, a rhyming couplet, and indelible images (feel free to share your own here — "the alleys are the footnotes of the avenues?").

Those of us close to his music are pretty crushed by this news. Although he would have had a lot more pain to live through, I feel like he still had a lot more joy to bring me. I hope you get some out of the below poem, which I think emblematizes much of what I’ve written above. No line is more David Berman than "You know what I’m talking about," in the middle. He was ironic and wry, but he always let you in on the joke if you were listening. -ed.


It’s too nice a day to read a novel set in England.

We’re within inches of the perfect distance from the sun,
the sky is blueberries and cream,
and the wind is as warm as air from a tire.
Even the headstones in the graveyard
Seem to stand up and say “Hello! My name is…”

It’s enough to be sitting here on my porch,
thinking about Kermit Roosevelt,
following the course of an ant,
or walking out into the yard with a cordless phone
to find out she is going to be there tonight

On a day like today, what looks like bad news in the distance
turns out to be something on my contact, carports and white
courtesy phones are spontaneously reappreciated
and random “okay”s ring through the backyards.

This morning I discovered the red tints in cola
when I held a glass of it up to the light
and found an expensive flashlight in the pocket of a winter coat
I was packing away for summer.

It all reminds me of that moment when you take off your sunglasses
after a long drive and realize it’s earlier
and lighter out than you had accounted for.

You know what I’m talking about,

and that’s the kind of fellowship that’s taking place in town, out in
the public spaces. You won’t overhear anyone using the words
“dramaturgy” or “state inspection" today. We’re too busy getting along.

It occurs to me that the laws are in the regions and the regions are
in the laws, and it feels good to say this, something that I’m almost
sure is true, outside under the sun.

Then to say it again, around friends, in the resonant voice of a
nineteenth-century senator, just for a lark.

There’s a shy looking fellow on the courthouse steps, holding up a
placard that says “But, I kinda liked Reagan.” His head turns slowly
as a beautiful girl walks by, holding a refrigerated bottle up against
her flushed cheek.

She smiles at me and I allow myself to imagine her walking into
town to buy lotion at a brick pharmacy.
When she gets home she’ll apply it with great lingering care before
moving into her parlor to play 78 records and drink gin-and-tonics
beside her homemade altar to James Madison.

In a town of this size, it’s certainly possible that I’ll be invited over
one night.

In fact I’ll bet you something.

Somewhere in the future I am remembering today. I’ll bet you
I’m remembering how I walked into the park at five thirty,
my favorite time of day, and how I found two cold pitchers
of just poured beer, sitting there on the bench.

I am remembering how my friend Chip showed up
with a catcher’s mask hanging from his belt and how I said

great to see you, sit down, have a beer, how are you,
and how he turned to me with the sunset reflecting off his contacts
and said, wonderful, how are you.


Monday’s Verse 4/1/2019

Dear readers,

back after a brief, unintentional hiatus; I hope you were reading poems anyway the whole time. A special April Fool’s shout-out to founding member Jim Breen, who celebrated a birthday over the weekend. He knows that April, far from being the cruellest month, is National Poetry Month, and should be celebrated by re-acquainting ourselves with all the American masters like Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979).

I looked for a poem incorporating something about Jim, and this is what I found. See if you can spot the somewhat comical buried treasure. Bishop, of course, is a fantastic rhymer, and that skill is on display in "Santos." I also like that she seems to carry on an internal, but audible, conversation with herself as she speaks the lines, as in that set-off, rhetorical question in line 3. I’m assuming, but don’t know, that Santos is a Greek island. Well, happy poetic voyages, and have a great week! -ed.


Here is a coast; here is a harbor;

here, after a meager diet of horizon, is some scenery;

impractically shaped and—who knows?—self-pitying mountains,

sad and harsh beneath their frivolous greenery,

with a little church on top of one. And warehouses,

some of them painted a feeble pink, or blue,

and some tall, uncertain palms. Oh, tourist,

is this how this country is going to answer you

and your immodest demands for a different world,

and a better life, and complete comprehension

of both at last, and immediately,

after eighteen days of suspension?

Finish your breakfast. The tender is coming,

a strange and ancient craft, flying a strange and brillant rag.

So that’s the flag. I never saw it before.

I somehow never thought of there being a flag,

but of course there was, all along. And coins, I presume,

and paper money; they remain to be seen.

And gingerly now we climb down the ladder backward,

myself and a fellow passenger named Miss Breen,

descending into the midst of twenty-six freighters

waiting to be loaded with green coffee beans.

Please, boy, do be more careful with that boat hook!

Watch out! Oh! It has caught Miss Breen’s

skirt! There! Miss Breen is about seventy,

a retired police lieutenant, six feet tall,

with beautiful bright blue eyes and a kind expression.

Her home, when she is at home, is in Glens Fall

s, New York. There. We are settled.

The customs officials will speak English, we hope,

and leave us our bourbon and cigarettes.

Ports are necessities, like postage stamps, or soap,

but they seldom seem to care what impression they make,

or, like this, only attempt, since it does not matter,

the unassertive colors of soap, or postage stamps—

wasting away like the former, slipping the way the latter

do when we mail the letteres we wrote on the boat,

either because the glue here is very inferior

or because of the heat. We leave Santos at once;

we are driving to the interior.


Monday’s Verse 3/4/2019

Hi everybody!

Briefly, James Merrill is a favorite and someone who’s been featured on MV many, many times before. I came across his name again, yesterday, because it was his birthday! 93 years ago, although he’s no longer with us (1926-1995).

Or is he? As we’ve discussed before, he was a ouija board nut, big fan of Yeats’ mystical poems/projects, and conducted many seances and automatic writing sessions. He definitely believed in spooks, and if spooks existed for him, why wouldn’t he be a spook for others? I mean, among spook believers, among which I am not.

I mention that because I think it’s what he’s getting at here in this short, recondite poem. The storm, the reeling candle, the ghostly passage… I couldn’t find a March poem from him, but April’s not too far away now, is it? -ed.


The panes flash, tremble with your ghostly passage
Through them, an x-ray sheerness billowing, and I have risen
But cannot speak, remembering only that one was meant
To rise and not to speak. Young storm, this house is yours.
Let our eye darken, your rain come, the candle reeling
Deep in what still reflects control itself and me.
Daybreak’s great gray rust-veined irises humble and proud
Along your path will have laid their foreheads in the dust.