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Max Reif Male, 67, United States (12/31/2005 8:25:00 AM)

(NY TIMES POETRY PAGE, December 31,2005)
Op-Ed Contributors

Published: December 31,2005

The Beautiful Quickness of a Street Boy

Yusef Komunyakaa

Where did he come from, this boy
pressing his face against the window
of the car on that January afternoon
in Burdwan? One of the three coins
slips from my outstretched fingers
& falls somewhere in the small car,
& I contort my body to retrieve
this touch of alloyed copper.
Then, I look up at the boy
pointing to the roses on the dashboard.
Afternoon light falls between us.
I hand him a rose, & he walks away
with his nose pushed into the bloom,
smiling to himself. In no time,
the boy is facing a young man
waiting on the platform.
They exchange a few words.
The man shoves a hand into his pocket
& gives the boy a coin,
& he dances away, leaving the man
holding the flower behind his back.
Our car fills with awe & laughter,
& someone says, There’s a woman
somewhere. That street boy,
as if he sprung out of me,
out of another time,
is still pleading with everything
he knows: his dusty clothes & eyes lit
by Shiva, his half smile & black hair
alive with lice, & his wounded song,
as a bearded monkey paces
the train station’s roof-spine.

Yusef Komunyakaa is the author of “Taboo: Book One of the Wishbone Trilogy.”

A Little Moonlight
Carl Phillips

Given inconstancy, the resistless
affair that has been my body (as if
there were no place to go from anywhere except
deeper, into those spaces the hand makes by
tugging the flesh, where it is part-able,
more open, or as if I believed, utterly, what
legend says about violation — how it leads
to prophecy, the god enters the body, the mouth
cracks open, and a mad fluttering, which
is the future, fills the cave, which is
desire, luck and hazard, hazard and luck) ,

I should perhaps regret more. But it’s grown
so late: see how dark, outside?

Suspecting, even then,
that the best way to avoid being
broken by flaw would be to shape my life
around it — flaw coming slowly
to define the self, as shells make of the glass
that holds them a little kingdom
of sea — I followed him, and have only once
looked back. Oh, I contain him

as the lion’s chest contains the arrow
that death displaces, effect always mattering
more than cause: pull the arrow free —
brandish it. By now it must weigh
almost nothing...

I agree, to hope for a thing is to believe in it,
or at least to want to. When does belief
become expectation? Like committing
a crime, confessing to it, and thinking
confession might equal apology, mistaking
apology for to wipe clean away,
you turn your face to me. — What?

Trees in a wind. Their mixed
invitation of leaves flourishing as if unstoppable,
as if foliage were the greater part of it, the part
I could love best, or should learn to say I do
more often. Tell me why, when what I loved
from the start was how eventually each leaf must go.

Carl Phillips is the author of the forthcoming “Riding Westward.”

In a Loaning
Seamus Heaney

Spoken for in autumn, recovered speech
Having its way again, I gave a cry:
“Not beechen green, but these shin-deep coffers
Of copper-fired leaves, these beech boles grey.”

Seamus Heaney, winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in literature, is the author of the forthcoming “District and Circle.”

Brigit Pegeen Kelly

It was not a scorpion I asked for, I asked for a fish, but
maybe God misheard my request, maybe God thought
I said not “some sort of fish, ” but a “scorpion fish, ” a
request he would surely have granted, being a goodly
God, but then he forgot the “fish” attached to the
“scorpion” (because God, too, forgets, everything
forgets) : so instead of an edible fish, any small fish,
sweet or sour, or even the grotesque buffoonery of the
striped scorpion fish, crowned with spines and
followed by many tails, a veritable sideshow of a fish;
instead of these, I was given an insect, a peculiar
prehistoric creature, part lobster, part spider, part
bell-ringer, part son of a fallen star, something like a
disfigured armored dog, not a thing you can eat, or
even take on a meaningful walk, so ugly is it, so stiffly
does it step, as if on ice, freezing again and again in
mid-air like a listening ear, and then scuttling
backwards or leaping madly forward, its deadly tail
doing a St. Vitus jig. God gave me a scorpion, a
venomous creature, to be sure, a bug with the bite of
Cleopatra’s asp, but not, as I soon found out, despite
the dark gossip, a lover of violence or a hater of men.
In truth, it is shy, the scorpion, a creature with eight
eyes and almost no sight, who shuns the daylight, and
is driven mad by fire, who favors the lonely spot, and
feeds on nothing much, and only throws out its poison
barb when backed against a wall — a thing like me,
but not the thing I asked for, a thing, by accident or
design, I am now attached to. And so I draw the
curtains, and so I lay out strange dishes, and so I step
softly, and so I do not speak, and only twice, in many
years, have I been stung, both times because,
unthinking, I let in the terrible light. And sometimes
now, when I watch the scorpion sleep, I see how fine he
is, how rare, this creature called Lung Book or Mortal
Book because of his strange organs of breath. His
lungs are holes in his body, which open and close. And
inside the holes are stiffened membranes, arranged
like the pages of a book — imagine that! And when the
holes open, the pages rise up and unfold, and the blood
that circles through them touches the air, and by this
bath of air the blood is made pure... He is a house of
books, my shy scorpion, carrying in his belly all the
perishable manuscripts — a little mirror of the library
at Alexandria, which burned.

Brigit Pegeen Kelly is the author, most recently, of “Orchard.”

The Waterclock and the Hourglass
Brad Leithauser

An old pair of parents, it appears,
In an old museum case... He unites
Form and function, plainly; she’s a thing
Of fancy and flourish, and is — for all her years —
Exceptionally pretty.

He springs from Cathay, land of whispering
Bamboo and gently rain-wrung skies;
She’s of Venice, a flowing city
From whose brisk ovens
Glowing loaves of glass rise.

A mixed marriage, then, but by all lights
A happy one (differences reconciled —
They’ve learned to take things day by day) ,
Save that their only, problem child
Keeps running away.

Brad Leithauser is the author of “Darlington’s Fall, ” a novel in verse.

Sarah Arvio

I was what mattered in the end. Or if
I didn’t matter then nothing mattered,
and if I mattered, well then all things did.

O miracles and molecules, dust, rust.
It was always a matter of matter.
It might be meat or else it might be love

(if I was meat, if I was fit to eat) .
What had never been matter would never
matter: you might say this was a moot point.

Clay and dust, ash and mud and mist and rust,
blood-orange sunsets and turning maples,
apples and cherries, sticks and trash and dust,

rumpled papers blowing across a street
(dead letters sent to him that lives away) .
There was life, there was loss, there was no such

thing as loss — there was nothing that wasn’t
both life and loss. No, it had to be said,
in questions of matter, nothing was lost.

It might be a matter of carnal love.
This was textual and material,
and for once the facts-of-the-matter were

both heartfelt and matter-of-fact. (Oh,
matter of course was always the mother.)
These were the facts of life, this was my life,

and there I was, right at the heart of it,
my own heart — at the heart-of-the-matter.
And did I matter now or in the end?

O mother, maintainer and measurer,
mud and fruit of the heart, meat of the heart,
the question might be asked, what was the end.

Sarah Arvio is the author of the forthcoming “Sono.”

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  • Rookie Lori Boulard (1/2/2006 9:41:00 PM) Post reply
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    Thank you, Max, thank you for providing something actually worth reading before I give up and turn in for the night. You know of my recent frustrations; I ventured into this forum for the first time tonight in an act of desperation, and look who I found! Now I can get some sleep!

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