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The tenth arrondisement, November 13, 2015

They call it the grey area, but it is not grey, it is full of color.
It is full of color and shape and texture and movement,
full of sound, harmoniously discordant, full of everything that grows and lives.
Its bouquet is yeasty, sweet, piquant, rank, fresh, and sharp: it is everything but decadent.

When strangers come to this land and make their home here, become not strangers,
serve their neighbors the fragrant foods of their faraway birth lands,
play the music forged of the rhythms and notes of all these worlds,
they light the night sky with friendship and joy:

they create a world where the chorus of human voices join in a triumphant crescendo,
a world where these pavements bloom with blossoms never seen before:

a world that is a world.

You want that gone: you want friends to be enemies, you want blood on the pavement
blood across the tabletops of innocent restaurants
shards of destruction at the friendly game.

You want new friends to be strangers. You want rage against the innocent.
You want to shatter the new world, reduce it to the ashes of the old.

I think you may succeed, for now. But a world of color and song is better than a world of black and white
and I think it will bloom again.
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I like this one because it is so unsentimental and because flies have always creeped me out when they buzz along the window sill and then die.

I got it from here.

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died - (591)
By Emily Dickinson

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air -
Between the Heaves of Storm -

The Eyes around - had wrung them dry -
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset - when the King
Be witnessed - in the Room -

I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable - and then it was
There interposed a Fly -

With Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz -
Between the light - and me -
And then the Windows failed - and then
I could not see to see -


Apr. 17th, 2014 01:08 pm
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Words from here, though I do know them by heart. This has a lovely tune, though I like Ewan MacColl's rendition which I can't find for listening to online better than Steeleye Span's. I mean, theirs is lovely and haunting, but his is simple and heartfelt.

Just think about it, though: how harsh a shepherd's life is, that a woman would prefer to take a grueling, 24/7 job in service rather than live with one.

Sheep-Crook and Black Dog (trad)

Here's my sheep-crook and my black dog, I give it to you.
Here's my bag and my budget, I bid it adieu.
Here's my sheep-crook and my black dog, I leave them behind.
Fine laurel, fine floral, you've proved all unkind.

All to my dear Dinah these words I did say,
“Tomorrow we'll be married love, tomorrow is the days.”
“'Tis too soon dear Willy my age is too young,
One day to our wedding is one day too soon.”

“I'll go into service if the day ain't too late,
Oh, to wait on a fine lady it is my intent,
And when into service a year or two bound,
It's then we'll get married and both settle down.”

A little time after a letter was wrote,
For to see if my dear Dinah had changed her mind.
But she wrote that she'd lived such a contrary life,
She said that she'd never be a young shepherd's wife.

Here's my sheep-crook and my black dog, I give it to you.
Here's my bag and my budget, I bid it adieu.
Here's my sheep-crook and my black dog, I leave them behind.
Fine laurel, fine floral, you've proved all unkind.
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Pablo Neruda writing of a southern hemispherical summer conundrum. From here.

Ode to Tomatoes

by Pablo Neruda

The street
filled with tomatoes
light is
its juice
through the streets.
In December,
the tomato
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
into living flesh,
a cool
pop ulates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
its flag,
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
at the door,
it's time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth,
and fertile
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.
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Here I am waiting for the lunar eclipse, so I decided to look for a lunar eclipse poem. And I lucked out because I found one by Thomas Hardy. I might be the only person I know who likes Hardy, but I love his stuff. I don't believe he's as fatalistic as most people think he is. I think he knows the characters of his novels could do better and it pisses him off that they don't. This poem reminds me of a song, "From A Distance" only without the godly optimism.

I found this sonnet here.

At a Lunar Eclipse

By Thomas Hardy


Thy shadow, Earth, from Pole to Central Sea,
Now steals along upon the Moon's meek shine
In even monochrome and curving line
Of imperturbable serenity.

How shall I link such sun-cast symmetry
With the torn troubled form I know as thine,
That profile, placid as a brow divine,
With continents of moil and misery?

And can immense Mortality but throw
So small a shade, and Heaven's high human scheme
Be hemmed within the coasts yon arc implies?

Is such the stellar gauge of earthly show,
Nation at war with nation, brains that teem,
Heroes, and women fairer than the skies?
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I was looking at a Hungarian ensemble of Greek folk musicians this morning and of course I ended up with a giant playlist of the group Sebő and of course I ended up looking up the Hungarian socialist poet József Attila, whose poems are in a lot of their songs. This translation, by Vernon Watkins, is from here.


By József Attila, 1929

In my eyes grief dissolves;
I ran like a deer;
Tree-gnawing wolves
In my heart followed near.

I left my antlers
A long time ago;
Broken from my temples,
They swing on a bough.

Such I was myself:
A deer I used to be.
I shall be a wolf:
That is what troubles me.

A fine wolf I'm becoming.
Struck by magic, while
All my pack-wolves are foaming,
I stop, and try to smile.

I prick up my ears
As a roe gives her call;
Try to sleep; on my shoulders
Dark mulberry leaves fall.

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There is a blog called Working Class Poems. You might like it.

Gary Soto is from Fresno and he has written a bunch of children's and YA books as well as a pile of poems.

How Things Work

by Gary Soto

Today it's going to cost us twenty dollars
To live. Five for a softball. Four for a book,
A handful of ones for coffee and two sweet rolls,
Bus fare, rosin for your mother's violin.
We're completing our task. The tip I left
For the waitress filters down
Like rain, wetting the new roots of a child
Perhaps, a belligerent cat that won't let go
Of a balled sock until there's chicken to eat.
As far as I can tell, daughter, it works like this:
You buy bread from a grocery, a bag of apples
From a fruit stand, and what coins
are passed on help others buy pencils, glue,
Tickets to a movie in which laughter
Is thrown into their faces.
If we buy a goldfish, someone tries on a hat.
If we buy crayons, someone walks home with a broom.
A tip, a small purchase here and there,
And things just keep going. I guess.

Black Hair (Pittsburgh, 1985)
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Yeah, after writing about the Prague history book I went searching for a poem that had some connection. I decided not to try "Bohemian poem" a moment's reflection will tell you why. I'll get ot some of that this month, though.

So first thing I found is this, and I understand it completely. The fellow who wrote it, Nick Mcrae, was at the time of the posting anyway teaching literature in Slovakia.

From here. More about the poet here.


by Nick McRae

— for my father
In this city whose name you can’t pronounce —
where women pace barefoot in dry grass and rusting
bottle caps, sandals in hands, skirts trailing for days;
where old men pack grocery aisles, tens of them, alone,
palming blocks of Edam; where flower-sellers, mustached,
slick-haired, silk ties cinched tightly, flit restaurant to restaurant
like rumors, roses spilling from their arms, pockets full of coins,
while outside, street kids release firecrackers from paper shrouds;
where paraders roam squares, scarves waving,
whose chants rise even as the bottles fall to stone;
where girls in wooden fair-booths, eyes study-weary
beneath the ridiculous haberdashery of corporate America,
slice salami for bankers and tourists and the hungry poor
with soiled bills outstretched — I think of you.
You told me once you’d rather do without all that,
that you’d only ever have one home and that wasn’t it,
that you’d never call this home, said you’d never
lost anything here. Home is the place we lose things:
daylight hunched over engines and their elegies
to oil, the decades of dust; money year after year
bailing your boys out of jail in towns with names
familiar as worn flannel; sleep, teeth (one to an apple,
one to a walnut you find nestled in black leaves
behind a church); your fear of losing me every time
I return to feel your stubble against my cheek.
Here, thousands of birds on spires and antennae
raise their terrible throats to the morning
as though they’d never met. Right now
I am alone in a train car with a girl you’ll never know,
and as we idle at a border crossing, eyeing each other’s passports
for the first time, she gives me handfuls of radishes,
and I know I will lose her, lose whole days pacing alleys
in the cobbled pastels of this city I will also lose,
which will become, as I speed away from it, my home.
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So I decided to spend at least part of the month looking for poets I don't know. Sometimes I do a search for a couple of qualifiers. This time it was "Indian woman poet" becuase I don't think I know any.

When I read about Arundhathi Subramaniam in Wikipedia, I wasn't expecting to like any of her poems, becaquse I expected them to be spiritually oriented and I'm rarely (not never) interested in that sort of poem. But this one is funny and I like it.

From here.

5:46, Andheri Local

by Arundhathi Subramaniam

In the women's compartment
of a Bombay local
we seek
no personal epiphanies.
Like metal licked by relentless acetylene
we are welded—
dreams, disasters,
germs, destinies,
flesh and organza,
odours and ovaries
A thousand-limbed
million-tongued, multi spoused
Kali on wheels.

When I descend
I could choose
to dice carrots
or a lover
I postpone the latter.
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From here.

Context: possibly -- her life in opposition to the Bolsheviks and then Stalin, losing many friends to the regime. She stuck it out instead of emigrating, though, and in the end, became a beloved cultural icon for the Soviets.

Lot's Wife

by Anna Akhmatova

And the just man trailed God's shining agent,
over a black mountain, in his giant track,
while a restless voice kept harrying his woman:
"It's not too late, you can still look back

at the red towers of your native Sodom,
the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,
at the empty windows set in the tall house
where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed."
A single glance: a sudden dart of pain
stitching her eyes before she made a sound . . .
Her body flaked into transparent salt,
and her swift legs rooted to the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
too insignificant for our concern?
Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
who suffered death because she chose to turn.

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from here.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
by Richard Brautigan

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammels and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.
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From here.

a song in the front yard

By Gwendolyn Brooks
I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.  
A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now  
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.  
I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine
How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.  
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae  
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace  
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.
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Mike Quin was a West Coast communist who wrote for the old Western Worker and People's World newspapers. He was the guy who had to explain why, when the Soviet Union made a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, the war was the capitalists' war and we should stay out of it, and yet, not much long after, the war became the good war and we should all jump in to it. He also wrote detecive fiction (which I have enver had in my hands to read) and some canny editorials and short fiction and poetry that ranges from the simple slogan type like this to longer pieces, some of which are straight-up propaganda and some of which are just funny and some of which really stand up to time.

I'm lazy, so even though I want you to read "Ladies and Lugs" and "The Diaper Brigade, " Mike Quin's stuff isn't largely available in copy-pastable form andI don't want to type out long poems, and therefore I'm giving you this:

If All the Workers

If all the wages were one wage,
What a huge wage that would be!
And if all the factories were one factory,
What a giant factory that would be!
And if all the owners were one owner,
What a useless snob he would be!
And if all the workers were one worker,
What a great worker that would be!
And if the great worker
Let the useless snob
Close the factory
And cut his giant wage,
What a damned fool he would be!

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From here.

(no cut because it's short)

Crickets On A Strike

The foolish queen of fairyland
From her milk-white throne in a lily-bell,
Gave command to her cricket-band
To play for her when the dew-drops fell.

But the cold dew spoiled their instruments
And they play for the foolish queen no more.
Instead those sturdy malcontents
Play sharps and flats in my kitchen floor.

Vachel Lindsay was an itinerant poet, of a populist bent in the Midwestern tradition. He would come into a community and people would put him up and feed him while he wrote poems and declaimed them for the people. He's the author of the little turle song we sing in preschool and also "Factory Windows Are Always Broken."

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I always appreciate the poems other people post for Poetry Month (we should drop the "national" from these things, too, I think, because this is an international medium). I'm thinking I would like to participate this year.

Since I didn't figure this out till today, have two poems. They're just ones I thought of, not specially connected to the date or any other external trigger.

first, that thing by Bertold Brecht that makes me cry) )

I carried that poem around in my pocket for years, and it crumbled to bits.

and this one by Adrienne Rich which has maps and revolution in it )

I wonder if it's cheating if I include any of my own, later on in the month.
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Adrienne Rich has died.

Apparently her poems were removed from the web sometime, so I can't link you, but they are what poems dream of being when they grow up, when they have great dreams of beauty and truth and wisdom.
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The usual: singing a baby to sleep.  I found myself singing a song whose words are completely inappropriate to sing to other people's children, and messed around until I had something that was less inappropriate, though still kind of melancholy, maybe even morbid, I don't know.  I do this a lot now.  I also make up more cheerful songs that the children are actually meant to get into, but they're on the order of "Boom says Valerie, boom boom boom: Boom says Valerie all over the room."

The poetry of it is not really the best, but it's singable: I know because I had to sing it like ten times for that kid to sleep soundly enough to put down, and my arm went to sleep.

Tune is "Tom O'Bedlam"

The flower that blooms in april

The flower that blooms in April
so light and bright and airy
nods its head and winks its eye
by May is spent quite fairly

chours now and after every verse
still I see the hills the hills the light in the hills so early
glaring in the sun and blurring in the wind when the rain comes down severely

In June its petals wither
so pale and soft and pliant
it falls to the ground among the leaves
and disappears all silent

All thoughout the summer
the seeds grow dry and hard
In August the pods twist open
and the seeds are blown quite far

September you can see no sign
of leaf or flower or seed
while fires sweep across the hills
to clear them all of weeds

The rain comes on slowly
in the waning of the year
green leaf bursts through the soil
winter time is here

The leaf that springs in January
dares to survive the flood
by February's waning
is sheltering the bud

The bud that breaks in Mark
surviving chilly showers
revealing up til April's time
the earnest open flower

The flower that blooms in April
so bright and light and airy
nods its head and winks its eye
by May is spent quite fairly

Grief Song

Dec. 28th, 2009 11:35 am
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actually made up October 4-5, 2009, and sung to a tune somewhat reminiscent of "The Lark in the Morning," but more subdued, and with a bit of chorus thing tagged to the end of the verse.

Used rather effectively as a lullaby, actually.

The waves play hard on the cliffs of the sea
they grind them fine and drop them on the strand
the land stands firm just as long as it can
but the sand grains drain far away from me
how much I love my darling but he's gone, gone, gone
how much I love my darling and he's gone

The roots of the tree rot away one day
and it falls across my path in the wood
there is no thing, neither bad nor good
that will stand, that will stand in entropy's way
how much I love my darling but he's gone, gone, gone
how much I love my darling and he's gone

The galaxies drift, falling farther and far
my sun won't hold its chilling heart
when every atom has been drafted apart
it all grows cold from my heart to the stars
how much I love my darling but he's gone, gone, gone
how much I love my darling and he's gone

They burned him finer than the sand of the sea
I stood there and cast the ash to the ground
the wind took hold and blew it around
leaving nothing but dust to cling to me
how much I love my darling but he's gone, gone, gone
how much I love my darling and he's gone

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