Tulips

The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.   
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.   
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.   
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses   
And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.

They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff   
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,   
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.

My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.   
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage——
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,   
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;   
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.

I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat   
stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.   
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley   
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books   
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.   
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.

I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free——
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them   
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.   

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe   
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.   
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle : they seem to float, though they weigh me down,   
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,   
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.   
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,   
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow   
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,   
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.   
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.

Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.   
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river   
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.   
They concentrate my attention, that was happy   
Playing and resting without committing itself.

The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;   
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,   
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.

– Silvia Plath

First Memory

Long ago, I was wounded. I lived
to revenge myself
against my father, not
for what he was—
for what I was: from the beginning of time,
in childhood, I thought
that pain meant
I was not loved.
It meant I loved.

– Louise Glück

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