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poems
Margaret Atwood

There are similarities
I notice: that the hills
which the eyes make flat as a wall, welded
together, open as I move
to let me through; become
endless as prairies; that the trees
grow spindly, have their roots
often in swamps; that this is a poor country;
that a cliff is not known
as rough except by hand, and is
therefore inaccessible. Mostly
that travel is not the easy going

from point to point, a dotted
line on a map, location
plotted on a square surface
but that I move surrounded by a tangle
of branches, a net of air and alternate
light and dark, at all times;
that there are no destinations
apart from this.

There are differences
of course: the lack of reliable charts;
more important, the distraction of small details:
your shoe among the brambles under the chair
where it shouldn’t be; lucent
white mushrooms and a paring knife
on the kitchen table; a sentence
crossing my path, sodden as a fallen log
I’m sure I passed yesterday

(have I been
walking in circles again?)

but mostly the danger:
many have been here, but only
some have returned safely.

A compass is useless; also
trying to take directions
from the movements of the sun,
which are erratic;
and words here are as pointless
as calling in a vacant wilderness.

Whatever I do I must
keep my head. I know
it is easier for me to lose my way
forever here, than in other landscapes

6
Charles Bukowski

Go to Tibet.
Ride a camel.
Read the Bible.
Dye your shoes blue.
Grow a Beard.
Circle the world in a paper canoe.
Subscribe to “The Saturday Evening Post.”
Chew on the left side of your mouth only.
Marry a woman with one leg and shave with a straight razor.
And carve your name in her arm.

Brush your teeth with gasoline.
Sleep all day and climb trees at night.
Be a monk and drink buckshot and beer.
Hold your head under water and play the violin.
Do a belly dance before pink candles.
Kill your dog.
Run for Mayor.
Live in a barrel.
Break your head with a hatchet.
Plant tulips in the rain.

But don’t write poetry.

15
Philip Larkin

I thought it would last my time—
The sense that, beyond the town,
There would always be fields and farms,
Where the village louts could climb
Such trees as were not cut down;
I knew there’d be false alarms

In the papers about old streets
And split level shopping, but some
Have always been left so far;
And when the old part retreats
As the bleak high-risers come
We can always escape in the car.

Things are tougher than we are, just
As earth will always respond
However we mess it about;
Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:
The tides will be clean beyond.
—But what do I feel now? Doubt?

Or age, simply? The crowd
Is young in the M1 cafe;
Their kids are screaming for more—
More houses, more parking allowed,
More caravan sites, more pay.
On the Business Page, a score

Of spectacled grins approve
Some takeover bid that entails
Five per cent profit (and ten
Per cent more in the estuaries): move
Your works to the unspoilt dales
(Grey area grants)! And when

You try to get near the sea
In summer . . .
        It seems, just now,
To be happening so very fast;
Despite all the land left free
For the first time I feel somehow
That it isn’t going to last,

That before I snuff it, the whole
Boiling will be bricked in
Except for the tourist parts—
First slum of Europe: a role
It won’t be hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.

And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There’ll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.

Most things are never meant.
This won’t be, most likely; but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.
I just think it will happen, soon.

1
Charles Bukowski

you won’t see them often
for wherever the crowd is
they
are not.
those odd ones, not
many
but from them
come
the few
good paintings
the few
good symphonies
the few
good books
and other
works.
and from the
best of the
strange ones
perhaps
nothing.
they are
their own
paintings
their own
books
their own
music
their own
work.
sometimes I think
I see
them– say
a certain old
man
sitting on a
certain bench
in a certain
way
or
a quick face
going the other
way
in a passing
automobile
or
there’s a certain motion
of the hands
of a bag—boy or a bag—
girl
while packing
supermarket
groceries.
sometimes
it is even somebody
you have been
living with
for some
time—
you will notice
a
lightning quick
glance
never seen
from them
before.
sometimes
you will only note
their
existance
suddenly
in
vivid
recall
some months
some years
after they are
gone.
I remember
such a
one—
he was about
20 years old
drunk at
10 a.m.
staring into
a cracked
New Orleans
mirror
facing dreaming
against the
walls of
the world
where
did I
go?

1
Maya Angelou

When I think about myself,
I almost laugh myself to death,
My life has been one great big joke,
A dance that’s walked
A song that’s spoke,
I laugh so hard I almost choke
When I think about myself.

Sixty years in these folks’ world
The child I works for calls me girl
I say “Yes ma’am” for working’s sake.
Too proud to bend
Too poor to break,
I laugh until my stomach ache,
When I think about myself.

My folks can make me split my side,
I laughed so hard I nearly died,
The tales they tell, sound just like lying,
They grow the fruit,
But eat the rind,
I laugh until I start to crying,
When I think about my folks.

16
W. H. Auden

Let me tell you a little story
  About Miss Edith Gee;
She lived in Clevedon Terrace
  At number 83.

She’d a slight squint in her left eye,
  Her lips they were thin and small,
She had narrow sloping shoulders
  And she had no bust at all.

She’d a velvet hat with trimmings,
  And a dark grey serge costume;
She lived in Clevedon Terrace
  In a small bed-sitting room.

She’d a purple mac for wet days,
  A green umbrella too to take,
She’d a bicycle with shopping basket
  And a harsh back-pedal break.

The Church of Saint Aloysius
  Was not so very far;
She did a lot of knitting,
  Knitting for the Church Bazaar.

Miss Gee looked up at the starlight
  And said, ‘Does anyone care
That I live on Clevedon Terrace
  On one hundred pounds a year?’

She dreamed a dream one evening
  That she was the Queen of France
And the Vicar of Saint Aloysius
  Asked Her Majesty to dance.

But a storm blew down the palace,
  She was biking through a field of corn,
And a bull with the face of the Vicar
  Was charging with lowered horn.

She could feel his hot breath behind her,
  He was going to overtake;
And the bicycle went slower and slower
  Because of that back-pedal break.

Summer made the trees a picture,
  Winter made them a wreck;
She bicycled to the evening service
  With her clothes buttoned up to her neck.

She passed by the loving couples,
  She turned her head away;
She passed by the loving couples,
  And they didn’t ask her to stay.

Miss Gee sat in the side-aisle,
  She heard the organ play;
And the choir sang so sweetly
  At the ending of the day,

Miss Gee knelt down in the side-aisle,
  She knelt down on her knees;
‘Lead me not into temptation
  But make me a good girl, please.’

The days and nights went by her
  Like waves round a Cornish wreck;
She bicycled down to the doctor
  With her clothes buttoned up to her neck.

She bicycled down to the doctor,
And rang the surgery bell;
'O, doctor, I’ve a pain inside me,
  And I don’t feel very well.'

Doctor Thomas looked her over,
  And then he looked some more;
Walked over to his wash-basin,
Said,'Why didn’t you come before?'

Doctor Thomas sat over his dinner,
  Though his wife was waiting to ring,
Rolling his bread into pellets;
  Said, 'Cancer’s a funny thing.

'Nobody knows what the cause is,
  Though some pretend they do;
It’s like some hidden assassin
  Waiting to strike at you.

'Childless women get it.
  And men when they retire;
It’s as if there had to be some outlet
  For their foiled creative fire.'

His wife she rang for the servent,
  Said, 'Dont be so morbid, dear’;
He said: 'I saw Miss Gee this evening
  And she’s a goner, I fear.'

They took Miss Gee to the hospital,
  She lay there a total wreck,
Lay in the ward for women
  With her bedclothes right up to her neck.

They lay her on the table,
  The students began to laugh;
And Mr. Rose the surgeon
  He cut Miss Gee in half.

Mr. Rose he turned to his students,
  Said, ‘Gentlemen if you please,
We seldom see a sarcoma
  As far advanced as this.’

They took her off the table,
  They wheeled away Miss Gee
Down to another department
  Where they study Anatomy.

They hung her from the ceiling
  Yes, they hung up Miss Gee;
And a couple of Oxford Groupers
  Carefully dissected her knee.

4
Philip Larkin

To step over the low wall that divides
Road from concrete walk above the shore
Brings sharply back something known long before—
The miniature gaiety of seasides.
Everything crowds under the low horizon:
Steep beach, blue water, towels, red bathing caps,
The small hushed waves’ repeated fresh collapse
Up the warm yellow sand, and further off
A white steamer stuck in the afternoon—

Still going on, all of it, still going on!
To lie, eat, sleep in hearing of the surf
(Ears to transistors, that sound tame enough
Under the sky), or gently up and down
Lead the uncertain children, frilled in white
And grasping at enormous air, or wheel
The rigid old along for them to feel
A final summer, plainly still occurs
As half an annual pleasure, half a rite,

As when, happy at being on my own,
I searched the sand for Famous Cricketers,
Or, farther back, my parents, listeners
To the same seaside quack, first became known.
Strange to it now, I watch the cloudless scene:
The same clear water over smoothed pebbles,
The distant bathers’ weak protesting trebles
Down at its edge, and then the cheap cigars,
The chocolate-papers, tea-leaves, and, between

The rocks, the rusting soup-tins, till the first
Few families start the trek back to the cars.
The white steamer has gone. Like breathed-on glass
The sunlight has turned milky. If the worst
Of flawless weather is our falling short,
It may be that through habit these do best,
Coming to the water clumsily undressed
Yearly; teaching their children by a sort
Of clowning; helping the old, too, as they ought.

Deanna Tingley

dear mom, its time we get things straight
because you’ve pushed me to the point,
that I just cant tolerate
you murdered my compassion and turned it into hate
don’t say your sorry now
its way to fucking late

for years and years iv suffered, in privacy, for you
I didn’t want to add to the things your going through
I didn’t want to trash you, or drag you through the dirt
and all iv gotten in return is heaps and heaps of hurt

Now I’m growing up, and my heart has changed
I can clearly see your morals are deranged
your either fucking evil, or mentally insane
it dosent make a difference
all we share is our last name
27 years of lying to my face
the manipulation
I can no longer take

SO here it is your fake - ur phony, your a flop
u only came around cuz I’m the last chance that you got
u left me here to decay, don’t think that I forgot
disguise yourself as a decent person
but we all know that your not

Do you remember drinking?
every fucking day?
puking in your sleep?
passing out in our hallway?

We shared a bed, remember?
we were poor as fuck,
and when we did have money,
first things first! you bought a brand new truck.
you’ve always been the same,
you’ve  never have a fuck
u had a kid and quit your job
as if the fridge would fill from luck

you say you had no choice in leaving.
you couldn’t make ends meet.
but lets be brutal, lets be honest.
you were sick of raising me
& all YOUR bad decisions is what led to your defeat
don’t sit here and act like life had really had you beat
it was just easier without a kid to feed

So I shouldn’t be surprised
your still an evil bitch
u think your fucking sneaky and have everyone convinced
and you can parade around, and tell the story your own way
but heres some good advice: make sure I’m far away
because I guarantee it to you, ill put your ass to shame
cuz I refuse to let you downplay, not even 1 mistake
because you don’t deserve forgiveness
if you never really changed

Maya Angelou

We wear the mask that grins and lies.
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes.
This debt we pay to human guile
With torn and bleeding hearts…
We smile and mouth the myriad subtleties.
Why should the world think otherwise
In counting all our tears and sighs.
Nay let them only see us while
We wear the mask.

We smile but oh my God
Our tears to thee from tortured souls arise
And we sing Oh Baby doll, now we sing…
The clay is vile beneath our feet
And long the mile
But let the world think otherwise.
We wear the mask.

When I think about myself
I almost laugh myself to death.
My life has been one great big joke!
A dance that’s walked a song that’s spoke.
I laugh so hard HA! HA! I almos’ choke
When I think about myself.

Seventy years in these folks’ world
The child I works for calls me girl
I say “HA! HA! HA! Yes ma’am!”
For workin’s sake
I’m too proud to bend and
Too poor to break
So…I laugh! Until my stomach ache
When I think about myself.
My folks can make me split my side
I laugh so hard, HA! HA! I nearly died
The tales they tell sound just like lying
They grow the fruit but eat the rind.
Hmm huh! I laugh uhuh huh huh…
Until I start to cry when I think about myself
And my folks and the children.

My fathers sit on benches,
Their flesh count every plank,
The slats leave dents of darkness
Deep in their withered flank.
And they gnarled like broken candles,
All waxed and burned profound.
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

There in those pleated faces
I see the auction block
The chains and slavery’s coffles
The whip and lash and stock.

My fathers speak in voices
That shred my fact and sound
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

They laugh to conceal their crying,
They shuffle through their dreams
They stepped ’n fetched a country
And wrote the blues in screams.
I understand their meaning,
It could an did derive
From living on the edge of death
They kept my race alive
By wearing the mask! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

6
Donald Hall

My son, my executioner,
       I take you in my arms,
Quiet and small and just astir
And whom my body warms.

Sweet death, small son, our instrument
      Of immortality,
Your cries and hunger document
Our bodily decay.

We twenty-five and twenty-two
      Who seemed to live forever
Observe enduring life in you
And start to die together.

2
Mary Oliver

I’d seen
their hoofprints in the deep
needles and knew
they ended the long night

under the pines, walking
like two mute
and beautiful women toward
the deeper woods, so I

got up in the dark and
went there. They came
slowly down the hill
and looked at me sitting under

the blue trees, shyly
they stepped
closer and stared
from under their thick lashes and even

nibbled some damp
tassels of weeds. This
is not a poem about a dream,
though it could be.

This is a poem about the world
that is ours, or could be.
Finally
one of them—I swear it!—

would have come to my arms.
But the other
stamped sharp hoof in the
pine needles like

the tap of sanity,
and they went off together through
the trees. When I woke
I was alone,

I was thinking:
so this is how you swim inward,
so this is how you flow outward,
so this is how you pray.

2
C. S. Lewis

Master, they say that when I seem
To be in speech with you,
Since you make no replies, it’s all a dream
—One talker aping two.

They are half right, but not as they
Imagine; rather, I
Seek in myself the things I meant to say,
And lo! the wells are dry.

Then, seeing me empty, you forsake
The Listener’s role, and through
My dead lips breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.

And thus you neither need reply
Nor can; thus, while we seem
Two talking, thou art One forever, and I
No dreamer, but thy dream.