Some Poems I Like 2/19/12
I wanted to share a few poems. I have no excuse for this posting except that I think the poems I am sharing are great. Along with the habit of saving favorite quotes I have also written out poems that have struck me and stayed with me over the years. These are a few of them.
“Apolitical Intellectuals” is by Otto Rene Castillo (1936-1967), a Guatemalan poet and revolutionary. After the coup in Guatemala in 1954, Castillo went into exile. He lived in El Salvador. In his short life he returned to Guatemala and he had to go into exile several times more. He was active in the Guatemala Workers Party and he also founded an experimental theater group. He was captured, interrogated, tortured, and murdered by the Guatemalan military. I first saw this poem in Monthly Review many years ago and I have always remembered it. I will not say much about Nikki Giovanni or Gary Snyder because they are both well known. I had a hard time picking among their poems. When I was in college in 1971, I saw Snyder read and do a rain dance. He came to a small seminar class. Even then he was talking about fossil fuels and global warming. He was way ahead of the curve. The last poem “Mortality” is by William Knox (1789-1825), a Scottish poet. The poem was a favorite of Abraham Lincoln’s. President Lincoln loved to read it both before and after he was in the White House.
Apolitical Intellectuals by Otto Rene Castillo
of my country
will be interrogated
by the simplest
of our people
They will be asked
what they did
when their nation died out
like a sweet fire
small and alone
No one will ask them
about their dress,
their long siestas
no one will want to know
about their sterile combats
with “the idea
of the nothing”
no one will care about
their higher financial learning
They won’t be questioned
on Greek mythology,
or regarding their self-disgust
when someone within them
begins to die
the coward’s death.
They’ll be asked nothing
about their absurd
born in the shadow of the total lie
On that day
The simple men will come
Those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
but daily delivered
their bread and milk,
their tortillas and eggs,
those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and garden
and worked for them,
and they’ll ask:
What did you do when the poor
suffered, when tenderness
burned out of them
of my sweet country
you will not be able to answer
A vulture of silence
will eat your gut.
Your own misery
will pick at your soul.
And you will be mute in your shame.
A Blackbird on my Knee by Nikki Giovanni
I’m Windex without a window Drano without the sludge
I’m wax without hardwood Mean without a grudge
I’m a poem without rhyme A clock without time
A rabbit on crutches A meat-eating deer
Without you around one thing is clear
I’m horse with no kick A bee with no sting
My hair won’t plait My bell can’t ring
I’m guilt without filling I take without stealing
I’m savings without interest Stocks without bonds
My goldfish have moved to my neighbor’s ponds
I sing to no music
I rap to no beat
My heart is too heavy. I need a retreat
I’m lonely and weary I can’t get rest
I’m unsatisfied since I’ve had the best
You need to come home and take care of me
I said you need to come home and take care of me
I’m just sitting in this vacant lot with a blackbird on my knee
Four Poems for Robin by Gary Snyder
Siwashing it out once in Siuslaw Forest
I slept under rhododendrum
All night blossoms fell
Shivering on a sheet of cardboard
Feet stuck in my pack
Hands deep in my pockets
Barely able to sleep.
I remembered when we were in school
Sleeping together in a big warm bed
We were the youngest lovers
When we broke up we were still nineteen.
Now our friends are married
You teach school back east
I don’t mind living this way
Green hills the long blue beach
But sometimes sleeping in the open
I think back when I had you
A spring night in Shokoku-ji
Eight years ago this May
We walked under cherry blossoms
At night in an orchard in Oregon.
All that I wanted then
Is forgotten now, but you.
Here in the night
In a garden of the old capital
I feel the trembling ghost of Yugao
I remember your cool body
Naked under a summer cotton dress
An autumn morning in Shokoku-ji
Last night watching the Pleiades,
Breath smoking in the moonlight,
Bitter memory like vomit
Choked my throat.
I unrolled a sleeping bag
On mats on the porch
Under thick autumn stars.
In dream you appeared
(three times in nine years)
wild, cold and accusing.
I woke shamed and angry:
The pointless wars of the heart.
Almost down. Venus and Jupiter.
The first time I have
Ever seen them close.
December at Yase
You said, that October,
In the tall dry grass by the orchard
When you chose to be free,
“Again someday, maybe ten years.”
After college I saw you
One time. You were strange.
And I was obsessed with a plan.
Now ten years and more have
Gone by. I’ve always known
where you were –
I might have gone to you
Hoping to win you back.
You still are single.
I thought I must make it alone. I
have done that.
Only in dream, like this dawn,
Does the grave, awed intensity
Of our young love
Return to my mind, to my flesh.
We had what the others
All crave and seek for;
We left it behind at nineteen.
I feel ancient, as though I had
Lived many lives.
And may never now know
If I am a fool
Or have done what my
Mortality by William Knox
Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-flying meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passes from life to the rest in the grave.
The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young and the old, the low and the high,
Shall molder to dust, and together shall lie.
The infant a mother attended and loved;
The mother that infant’s affection who proved;
The husband, that mother and infant who blessed;
Each, all, are away to their dwelling of rest.
The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
Shone beauty and pleasure – her triumphs are by;
And the memory of those who loved her and praised,
Are alike from the minds of the living erased.
The hand of the king that the sceptre hath borne
The brow of the priest that the mitre hath worn,
The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.
The peasant, whose lot was to sow and to reap,
The herdsman, who climbed with his goats up the steep,
The beggar, who wandered in search of his bread,
Have faded away like the grass that we tread.
The saint, who enjoyed the communion of Heaven,
The sinner, who dared to remain unforgiven,
The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.
So the multitude goes– like the flower or the weed
That withers away to let others succeed;
So the multitude comes — even those we behold,
To repeat every tale that has often been told.
For we are the same that our fathers have been;
We see the same sights that our fathers have seen;
We drink the same stream, we feel the same sun,
And run the same course that our fathers have run.
The thoughts we are thinking, our fathers would think;
From the death we are shrinking, our fathers would shrink;
To the life we are clinging, they also would cling –
But it speeds from us all like a bird on the wing.
They loved – but the story we cannot unfold;
They scorned – but the heart of the haughty is cold;
They grieved – but no wail from their slumber will come;
They joyed – but the tongue of their gladness is dumb.
They died – aye, they died – we things that are now,
That walk on the turf that lies over their brow,
And make in their dwellings a transient abode,
Meet the things that they met on their pilgrimage road.
Yea, hope and despondency, pleasure and pain,
Are mingled together in sunshine and rain;
And the smile and the tear, the song and the dirge,
Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.
‘Tis the wink of an eye — ’tis the draught of a breath —
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud
Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?