Ted Kooser, former U. S. Poet Laureate, in
response to an interviewer for National Public Radio, stated that
his "project" as laureate was to establish a weekly column featuring
contemporary American poems supported by The Poetry Foundation, The
Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University
of Nebraska. This column appears in online publications (such
as Thirty-Seven Cents) as well as hard-copy newspapers. Poets
are asked to contact their local newspapers to inform them that such
a column is available free to them and to relieve the editor by
explaining that all of the poems that will appear week by week are
accessible, not obscure, poems.
|American Life in Poetry: Column 143
KOOSER, U.S. POET
Here is Arizona poet Steve Orlen's lovely tribute to the great
opera singer, Maria Callas. Most of us never saw her perform, or
even knew what she looked like, but many of us listened to her
on the radio or on our parents' record players, perhaps in a
parlor like the one in this poem.
In the House of the Voice of Maria Callas
In the house of the voice of Maria Callas
We hear the baby's cries, and the after-supper
Rattle of silverware, and three clocks ticking
To different tunes, and ripe plums
Sleeping in their chipped bowl, and traffic sounds
Dissecting the avenues outside. We hear, like water
Pouring over time itself, the pure distillate arias
Of the numerous pampered queens who have reigned,
And the working girls who have suffered
The envious knives, and the breathless brides
With their horned helmets who have fallen in love
And gone crazy or fallen in love and died
On the grand stage at their appointed moments--
Who will sing of them now? Maria Callas is dead,
Although the full lips and the slanting eyes
And flared nostrils of her voice resurrect
Dramas we are able to imagine in this parlor
On evenings like this one, adding some color,
Adding some order. Of whom it was said:
She could imagine almost anything and give voice to it.
American Life in Poetry:
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET
If one believes television commercials, insomnia, that thief of
sleep, torments humans in ever-increasing numbers. Rynn
Williams, a poet working in Brooklyn, New York, tries here to
identify its causes and find a suitable remedy.
I try tearing paper into tiny, perfect squares--
they cut my fingers. Warm milk, perhaps,
stirred counter-clockwise in a cast iron pan--
but even then there's burning at the edges,
angry foam-hiss. I've been told
to put trumpet flowers under my pillow,
I do: stamen up, the old crone said.
But the pollen stains, and there are bees,
I swear, in those long yellow chambers, echoing,
the way the house does, mocking, with its longevity--
each rib creaking and bending where I'm likely to break--
I try floating out along the long O of lone,
to where it flattens to loss, and just stay there
disconnecting the dots of my night sky
as one would take apart a house made of sticks,
carefully, last addition to first,
like sheep leaping backward into their pens.
|American Life in Poetry: Column 144|
KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
I'd guess you've heard it said that the reason we laugh when
somebody slips on a banana peel is that we're happy that it
didn't happen to us. That kind of happiness may be shameful, but
many of us have known it. In the following poem, the California
poet, Jackson Wheeler, tells us of a similar experience.
How Good Fortune Surprises Us
I was hauling freight
out of the Carolinas
up to the Cumberland Plateau
when, in Tennessee, I saw
from the freeway, at 2 am
a house ablaze.
Water from the firehoses arced
into luminescent rainbows.
The only sound, the dull roar of my truck
passing. I found myself strangely happy.
It was misfortune on that cold night
falling on someone's house,
but not mine
American Life in Poetry:
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a new name for "shell shock,"
a term once applied only to military veterans. Here the poet
Marvin Bell describes a group of these emotionally damaged
soldiers, gathered together for breakfast. I'd guess that just
about everybody who reads this column has known one or two men
Veterans of the Seventies
His army jacket bore the white rectangle
of one who has torn off his name. He sat mute
at the round table where the trip-wire veterans
ate breakfast. They were foxhole buddies
who went stateside without leaving the war.
They had the look of men who held their breath
and now their tongues. What is to say
beyond that said by the fathers who bent lower
and lower as the war went on, spines curving
toward the ground on which sons sat sandbagged
with ammo belts enough to make fine lace
of enemy flesh and blood. Now these who survived,
who got back in cargo planes emptied at the front,
lived hiddenly in the woods behind fence wires
strung through tin cans. Better an alarm
than the constant nightmare of something moving
on its belly to make your skin crawl
with the sensory memory of foxhole living.
|POEMS BY MEMBERS
EASY WAY OUT
Laurence W. Thomas
Why would death by chocolate be an awful way to go
getting there would be so decadent and tasty?
hope for such an ending to be slow
that Death be neither proud nor hasty.
might ask to die from hot and steamy passion,
expiring from a long embrace within a loverís arms.
might catch on and soon become the height of
from such a plethora of superabundant charms.
by caviar, champagne, and lobster in a bisque
far supplant some less pleasant ways to go
head-on crashes or of taking on the risk
skiing down a mountain with no snow.
death from too much cash on hand a likely end?
maintaining large estates be hard to take
the immortal price of having to defend
of eating while still having all the cake?
luck, Iíll no doubt not find an easy out
lying down amongst a bed or roses. My prayers
death by chocolate or prime rib or on a yacht
probably be answered by my falling down the
Dewell H. Byrd
Dawn scrolls back the night
invites the wee tail of a rainbowÖ
glory to these old, sleepy eyes.
The stirrings of morning
nudge nightís silence into activity
greeting the casual spring shower.
A squawk somewhere beyond
my window demands attention.
Squawk, squawk, panic.
Crows swagger with authority
on the humming power lines,
challenge a small intruder.
A pin-feathered robin hops about,
calls for its mother, ignores crows
that make false bombing runs.
A feral cat slinks along the gutter,
tail twitching. The three crows
turn on the bigger prey.
Mother robin escorts her baby to flight.
Our Heavenly Father takes delight
In prayers from a heart contrite.
His joy in prayers of thankfulness
Extends our days and nights to bless.
For whether times are good or bad,
He wants to make our Spirit glad.
Yet, when a crisis rears its head,
Our Lord is with us--as He said.
So now, Dear Lord, I come to you
To ask that you will see me through
This problem that rends me apart,
And place Your peace within my heart.
Let not this new emergency
Become a stumbling block to me.
But rather, as my lifeís purveyor,
Prepare me for emergency prayers.
JUST PASSING THROUGH BELGRADE
fields, the planes touch down
at Belgradeís airport, far from town.
Theyíve cut the crap: no waste of time.
You donít speak Serb? Weíd pantomime,
but we speak English, donít you frown.
We rolled our bags of sturdy
nobody stopped us, no patdown.
We had a rendezvous sublime
in Slavic fields.
Too soon departure time
we queued with students college-bound.
They took possessions of lifetime,
we checked our bags with some Serb wine.
They stamped our passports, no shakedown
in Slavic fields.
ON PREPARING A POEM FOR MY
For twenty-seven happy years I taught
the kiddos music, fine arts, gifted ed.
Retiring gave me time to write. Tonight
my householdís off to Open House
Iíll cloak myself in quietness, unplug
the telephone, turn off the TVís blare.
Iíll stare awhile to settle down, and then
begin. Iíd rather write than go to school.
I sent my representative. My feet
atop the coffee table. CD plays
the organ-ed "Sheep May Safely Graze" by Bach
a favorite. Serene, I sit, devise
iambic lines, ten syllables per line.
This time alone rejuvenates my soul
like nothing else. It brings me joy and
the feeling of accomplishment. A word
a phrase, Iím on my way. And all I have
to do, says Hemingway, is string some words
together into one true sentence. There
Iíve reached my goal. "Hooray," I say, and smile.
CIRQUE DU NOIR
In somber light of his
old clown in his blankets
is swallowed by shadows in
Thick silence weighs his
crouches low on his chest-wall
is a heavy cold harbinger of
Harsh illness now etches his
on thin face that the
grease-paint formerly drew
cute caricature of fun, through happier years
In deep dreams he hears
plays the skit . . . does a
unaware that his viewers cry
The sun peeks through
My soul sings.
Driving sleet and rain
Bundled in wool
My soul shivers.
A golden orb
Orange highlights on
Like long fingers
Reach across the dry lawn
My soul worships.
Some are cloudy
Some are sunny
All demonstrate the power
Of our loving Creator.
"This is the day that the Lord
I will rejoice and be glad in it."
(and Long Brown Stockings)
I detest these stockings;
they're coarse, brown and ugly.
I hate the garters worseó
elastic circles cut off
but fail to halt the laddering
on my skinny legs.
If only . . . I picture myself
in warm jeans and no teasing
from Tommy Rogers.
I put the garters to better use,
roll the repulsive stockings
down around my ankles.
Tommy taunts, "Who gave
you jointed toothpicks for legs?"
I lost it.
Now, Tommy has a black eye
and my nose is in the corner.
tall on the wings of a prayer,
are planted on a solid rock.
nestled in the cleft of His mighty hand,
foundation built from the beginning of time.
rock for eagles to rest,
I learn my
lessons in a refinerís fire.
sword in His good word,
ready against the dragons when they come.
tall on a sure foundation,
are shod with Gospel peace.
I now wear
His salvation armor,
against all fears on the wings of prayer.
They land in a swish,
braking against still waters
and waking peaceful darkness
The web-footed geese
thunder among the the crispness
a waking call
for apartment dwellers who snore
toward shorelines to their south.
Honking summons distant geese
who fly for miles
in search of scattered corn
strewn along the bank.
I only want to hear tomorrow
in their voices
and promises of sun.
JARS ON THE SILL
Diane Auser Stefan
Catching the sun,
Old jars of blue,
A cobalt row
Line the windowsill
Turning light into
Blue, so blue,
Like ocean depths
Under almost midnight
Each jar a blue
THE WRITER'S PREDICAMENT
A poet once told in his glory
a lurid, degenerate story.
Narrator and he
were equal, thought we,
and stoned him to dust at the quarry.
Super Bowl Sunday,
another winter weekend
and she has warm fantasies
of the non-sporting sort.
She longs to migrate
and her opening play
is a plane lifting off
en route to a warm beach.
Her offensive line
reserves a waterfront house
supplies the pantry and
stocks up on fresh produce.
Sunscreen, bottled water
bright fluffy towels
paperback books, new i-Pod
complete her defensive plan.
She celebrates game victory
with friendly tropical toasts
as she strolls Florida's
apricot sunset sands.
HALLELUJAH . . . AMEN!
the troubled lands
He walked toward us,
open arms embraced us,
flowing Blood chastised our hearts,
our shame was put on Him alone.
All sins dived deep into the ocean
then God's eternal GLORY was reclaimed.
AUTUMN IN CAMEO
young like a puppy,
curled-up against her proud mother
who gives licks
with closed eyes and contented paws
when snowdrifts swiftly declare
Member from Jefferson City, Missouri
The deacon's dog
hear the evening bells
the robins rest
nature's little tells
the bells appeal,
"Day may not return"
The canine kneels
at Master's feet
bells will never learn
Hereís to those who make us laugh
whatever their intentions!
whatever their dimensions,
lengthen our days, stave off night
whatever their inventions.
Hereís to those who make us laugh!
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