The White Lilies

As a man and woman make
a garden between them like
a bed of stars, here
they linger in the summer evening
and the evening turns
cold with their terror: it
could all end, it is capable
of devastation. All, all
can be lost, through scented air
the narrow columns
uselessly rising, and beyond, 
a churning sea of poppies–

Hush, beloved. It doesn’t matter to me
how many summers I live to return:
this one summer we have entered eternity.
I felt your two hands
bury me to release its splendor.

– Louise Glück

The Vacation

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.

– Wendell Berry

The Afterlife

While you are preparing for sleep, brushing your teeth,
or riffling through a magazine in bed,
the dead of the day are setting out on their journey.

They’re moving off in all imaginable directions,
each according to his own private belief,
and this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal:
that everyone is right, as it turns out.
you go to the place you always thought you would go,
The place you kept lit in an alcove in your head.

Some are being shot into a funnel of flashing colors
into a zone of light, white as a January sun.
Others are standing naked before a forbidding judge who sits
with a golden ladder on one side, a coal chute on the other.

Some have already joined the celestial choir
and are singing as if they have been doing this forever,
while the less inventive find themselves stuck
in a big air conditioned room full of food and chorus girls.

Some are approaching the apartment of the female God,
a woman in her forties with short wiry hair
and glasses hanging from her neck by a string.
With one eye she regards the dead through a hole in her door.

There are those who are squeezing into the bodies
of animals–eagles and leopards–and one trying on
the skin of a monkey like a tight suit,
ready to begin another life in a more simple key,

while others float off into some benign vagueness,
little units of energy heading for the ultimate elsewhere.

There are even a few classicists being led to an underworld
by a mythological creature with a beard and hooves.
He will bring them to the mouth of the furious cave
guarded over by Edith Hamilton and her three-headed dog.

The rest just lie on their backs in their coffins
wishing they could return so they could learn Italian
or see the pyramids, or play some golf in a light rain.
They wish they could wake in the morning like you
and stand at a window examining the winter trees,
every branch traced with the ghost writing of snow.

(And some just smile, forever on)

– Billy Collins

On The Surface of Things

I.
In my room, the world is beyond my understanding;
But when I walk I see that it consists of three or four
hills and a cloud.

II.
From my balcony, I survey the yellow air,
Reading where I have written,
“The spring is like a belle undressing.”

III.
The gold tree is blue,
The singer has pulled his cloak over his head.
The moon is in the folds of the cloak.

– Wallace Stevens

Oranges

Cut one, the lace of acid 
rushes out, spills over your hands. 
You lick them, manners don’t come into it. 
Orange. The first word you have heard that day 

enters your mind. Everybody then 
does what he or she wants; breakfast is casual. 
Slices, quarters, halves, or the whole hand 
holding an orange ball like the morning sun 

on a day of soft wind and no clouds 
which it so often is. “Oh, I always 
want to live like this, 
flying up out of the furrows of sleep, 

fresh from water and its sheer excitement, 
felled as though by a miracle 
at this first sharp taste of the day!” 
You’re shouting, but no one is surprised. 

Here, there, everywhere on the earth 
thousands are rising and shouting with you, 
even those who are utterly silent, absorbed, 
their mouths filled with such sweetness. 

– Mary Oliver

Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong

After Frank O’Hara / After Roger Reeves

Ocean, don’t be afraid. 
The end of the road is so far ahead 
it is already behind us. 
Don’t worry. Your father is only your father 
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine 
won’t remember its wings 
no matter how many times our knees 
kiss the pavement. Ocean, 
are you listening? The most beautiful part 
of your body is wherever 
your mother’s shadow falls. 
Here’s the house with childhood 
whittled down to a single red tripwire. 
Don’t worry. Just call it horizon 
& you’ll never reach it. 
Here’s today. Jump. I promise it’s not 
a lifeboat. Here’s the man 
whose arms are wide enough to gather 
your leaving. & here the moment, 
just after the lights go out, when you can still see 
the faint torch between his legs. 
How you use it again & again 
to find your own hands. 
You asked for a second chance 
& are given a mouth to empty into. 
Don’t be afraid, the gunfire 
is only the sound of people 
trying to live a little longer. Ocean. Ocean, 
get up. The most beautiful part of your body 
is where it’s headed. & remember, 
loneliness is still time spent 
with the world. Here’s 
the room with everyone in it. 
Your dead friends passing 
through you like wind through a wind 
chime. Here’s a desk 
with the gimp leg & a brick 
to make it last. Yes, here’s a room 
so warm & blood-close, 
I swear, you will wake— 
& mistake these walls 
for skin.

– Ocean Vuong

I Don’t Want To Live a Small Life

I don’t want to live a small life. Open your eyes,
open your hands. I have just come
from the berry fields, the sun

kissing me with its golden mouth all the way
(open your hands) and the wind-winged clouds
following along thinking perhaps I might

feed them, but no I carry these heart-shapes
only to you. Look how many small
but so sweet and maybe the last gift

I will bring to anyone in this
world of hope and risk, so do
Look at me. Open your life, open your hands.

– Mary Oliver

Life While-You-Wait

Life While-You-Wait.
Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.

I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it.

I have to guess on the spot
just what this play’s all about.

Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can’t conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for happy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.

Words and impulses you can’t take back,
stars you’ll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run —
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.

If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn’t even clear my throat offstage).

You’d be wrong to think that it’s just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I’m standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
will become forever what I’ve done.

– Wisława Szymborska

Wait


Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

Wait.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.

– Galway Kinnell

For You

I don’t want to say anything about
how dark it is right now, how quiet.
Those yellow lanterns among the trees,
cars on the road beyond the forest,
I have nothing to say about them.
And there’s half a moon as well
that I don’t want to talk about,
like those slow clouds edged
with silver, or the few unassembled stars.
There’s more to all of that than this,
of course, and you would know it
better than most, better I mean
than any other, which is only
to say I had always intended
finding you here where I could
tell you exactly what I wanted to say
as if I had nothing to say
to anyone but you.

– Lawrence Raab

Untitled

I look up, you are standing
on the other side of the window

now your body
glimmers in the dark

room / you rise above me
smooth, chill, stone-

white / you smell of tunnels
you smell of too much time

I should have used leaves
and silver to prevent you

instead I summoned

you are not a bird you do not fly
you are not an animal you do not run

you are not a woman

your mouth is nothingness
where it touches me I vanish

you descend on me like age
you descend on me like earth

– Margaret Atwood

Aubade

There was one summer
that returned many times over
there was one flower unfurling
taking many forms

Crimson of the monarda, pale gold of the late roses

There was one love
There was one love, there were many nights

Smell of the mock orange tree
Corridors of jasmine and lilies
Still the wind blew

There were many winters but I closed my eyes
The cold air white with dissolved wings

There was one garden when the snow melted
Azure and white; I couldn’t tell
my solitude from love—

There was one love; he had many voices
There was one dawn; sometimes
we watched it together

I was here
I was here

There was one summer returning over and over
there was one dawn
I grew old watching

– Louise Glück