Alan Lightman (November 28, 1948 -)
Excerpt From Song of Two Worlds
So much I’ve lost,
I have nothing
Except a fierce hunger
To fathom this world.
Naked, I knock on the door,
Wearing only my questions.
One thousand questions, and each gives
An answer, which then forms a question.
The questions and answers will meld with each other
Like colors of light,
Like the light rays that once crossed the space
Of the cosmos
And rest now in the small warmth of a hand.
I knock on the doors of the universe,
Asking: What makes the swirl
Of Ghazali love songs?
And the parallel singing of loss?
And the choice to live life alone?
I surrender my calipers, rules, and clocks,
Microscopes, diodes, transistors,
Glass flasks. For how can I measure
The stroke of a passion? Or dissect a grief
With the digits of pi?
Thus, I stand naked, with nothing
Except a fierce hunger to fathom this world,
To embark on this road
Without length without breadth.
Derek Walcott (January 23, 1930 – March 17, 2017)
The time will come
when with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, Sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your Self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Listen to “Love After Love” read by Jong Hwi Yoo here.
Marie Howe (1950 -)
Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity we once were?…For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. Remember?…before we came to believe humans were so important before this awful loneliness.
Anne Sexton (November 9, 1928 – October 4, 1974)
There is joy
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.
So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.
The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
Listen to Caroline Kinsolving read “Welcome Morning” by Anne Sexton here.
Billy Collins (March 22, 1941 -)
This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.
In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.
This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.
The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.
No lust, no slam of the door—
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.
No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor—
just a twinge every now and then
for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.
But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.
After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,
so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.
Marge Piercy (March 31, 1936 -)
Almost always with cats, the end
comes creeping over the two of you—
she stops eating, his back legs
no longer support him, she leans
to your hand and purrs but cannot
rise—sometimes a whimper of pain
although they are stoic. They see
death clearly though hooded eyes.
Then there is the long weepy
trip to the vet, the carrier no
longer necessary, the last time
in your lap. The injection is quick.
Simply they stop breathing
in your arms. You bring them
home to bury in the flower garden,
planting a bush over a deep grave.
That is how I would like to cease,
held in a lover’s arms and quickly
fading to black like an old-fashioned
movie embrace. I hate the white
silent scream of hospitals, the whine
of pain like air-conditioning’s hum.
I want to click the off switch.
And if I can no longer choose
I want someone who loves me
there, not a doctor with forty patients
and his morality to keep me sort
of, kind of alive or sort of undead.
Why are we more rational and kinder
to our pets than to ourselves or our
parents? Death is not the worst
thing; denying it can be.
Arthur Rimbaud (October 20, 1854 – November 10, 1891)
I went off with my hands in my torn coat pockets;
My overcoat too was becoming ideal;
I travelled beneath the sky, Muse! and I was your vassal;
Oh dear me! what marvelous loves I dreamed of!
My only pair of breeches had a big whole in them.
– Stargazing Tom Thumb, I sowed rhymes along my way.
My tavern was at the Sign of the Great Bear.
– My stars in the sky rustled softly.
And I listened to them, sitting on the road-sides
On those pleasant September evenings while I felt drops
Of dew on my forehead like vigorous wine;
And while, rhyming among the fantastical shadows,
I plucked like the strings of a lyre the elastics
Of my tattered boots, one foot close to my heart!
Listen to Claire Trevien read My Bohemian Life by Arthur Rimbaud in French and English here.