Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

it’s no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn’t need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water

I wouldn’t want to be faster
or greener than now if you were with me O you
were the best of all my days

— Frank O’Hara


The Hunkering

In October the red leaves going brown heap and
over hayfield and dirt road, over garden and circular

and rise in a curl of wind dishevelled as
at recess, school just starting and summer done,

white quiet beginning in ice on the windshield, in
        hard frost
that only blue asters survive, and in the long houses
        that once

more tighten themselves for darkness and
        hunker down.

— Donald Hall


A Work of Artifice

The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
till split by lightning.
But a gardener
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
whittles back the branches
the gardener croons,
It is your nature
to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,
to have a pot to grow in.
With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch.

— Marge Piercy


The Most of It

He thought he kept the universe alone;
For all the voice in answer he could wake
Was but the mocking echo of his own
From some tree-hidden cliff across the lake.
Some morning from the boulder-broken beach
He would cry out on life, that what it wants
Is not its own love back in copy speech,
But counter-love, original response.
And nothing ever came of what he cried
Unless it was the embodiment that crashed
In the cliff’s talus on the other side,
And then in the far-distant water splashed,
But after time allowed for it to swim,
Instead of proving human when it neared
And someone else additional to him,
As a great buck it powerfully appeared,
Pushing the crumpled water up ahead,
And landed pouring like a waterfall,
And stumbled through the rocks with horny tread,
And forced the underbrush—and that was all.

— Robert Frost


Ordinance on Arrival

Welcome to you
who have managed to get here.
It’s been a terrible trip;
you should be happy you have survived it.
Statistics prove that not many do.
You would like a bath, a hot meal,
a good night’s sleep. Some of you
need medical attention.
None of this is available.
These thing have always been
in short supply; now
they are impossible to obtain.

                              This is not
a temporary situation;
it is permanent.
Our condolences on your disappointment.
It is not our responsibility
everything you have heard about this place
is false. It is not our fault
you have been deceived,
ruined your health getting here.
For reasons beyond our control
there is not vehicle out.

— Naomi Lazard


Going Blind

She sat at tea just like the others. First
I merely had a notion that this guest
Held up her cup not quite like all the rest.
And once she gave a smile. It almost hurt.

When they arose at last, with the talk and laughter,
And ambled slowly and as chance dictated
Through many rooms, their voices animated,
I saw her seek the noise and follow after,

Held in like one who in a little bit
Would have to sing where many people listened;
Her lighted eyes, which spoke of gladness, glistened
With outward luster, as a pond is lit.

She followed slowly, and it took much trying,
As though some obstacle still barred her stride;
And yet as if she on the farther side
Might not be walking any more, but flying.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated from the German by Walter Arndt


A noiseless patient spider

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever reeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres
to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile
anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

— Walt Whitman


On Turning Fifty

                    for Larry Apple on his birthday

It is not the spirit now, but the arch
of each foot that must be buttressed; to lift
is no shame to the lifter; neither church
nor state can refuse the determined drift
back toward the earth. Yet not with the lurch
of the frightened driver learning to shift
for the first time, death-grip on the clutch
as he gropes from forty into fifty.

But gently now, the way a sheet is spread
fresh from the line above the unmade bed
falling so slowly it hovers midspace
and seems angels lie round a picnic cloth.
The harried driver thinks such case is sloth;
the sated angels know it’s only grace.

— Steve Kronen


Seen fleetingly, from a train

Seen fleetingly, from a train:
a foggy evening, strands of smoke
hanging immobile over fields,
the humid blackness of earth, the sun
almost set—against its fading shield,
far away, two dots: women in dark wraps
coming back from church perhaps, perhaps
one tells something to another, some common story,
of sinful lives perhaps—her words
distinct and simple but out of them
one could create everything
again. Keep it in memory, forever:
the sun, ploughed earth, women,
love, evening, those few words
good for the beginning, keep it all—
perhaps tomorrow we will be
somewhere else, altogether.

— Bronislaw Maj

Translated from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass