1. ABC

    Any body can die, evidently. Few
    Go happily, irradiating joy,

    Knowledge, love. Many
    Need oblivion, painkillers,
    Quickest respite.

    Sweet time unafflicted,
    Various world:
    X=your zenith.

    By Robert Pinsky.

     
  2. Eating Together

    In the steamer is the trout
    seasoned with slivers of ginger,
    two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.
    We shall eat it with rice for lunch,
    brothers, sister, my mother who will
    taste the sweetest meat of the head,
    holding it between her fingers
    deftly, the way my father did
    weeks ago. Then he lay down
    to sleep like a snow-covered road
    winding through pines older than him,
    without any travelers, and lonely for no one.


    By Li-Young Lee.

     
  3. On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City

    The white woman across the aisle from me says ‘Look,
    look at all the history, that house
    on the hill there is over two hundred years old, ‘
    as she points out the window past me

    into what she has been taught. I have learned
    little more about American history during my few days
    back East than what I expected and far less
    of what we should all know of the tribal stories

    whose architecture is 15,000 years older
    than the corners of the house that sits
    museumed on the hill. ‘Walden Pond, ‘
    the woman on the train asks, ‘Did you see Walden Pond? ‘

    and I don’t have a cruel enough heart to break
    her own by telling her there are five Walden Ponds
    on my little reservation out West
    and at least a hundred more surrounding Spokane,

    the city I pretended to call my home. ‘Listen, ‘
    I could have told her. ‘I don’t give a shit
    about Walden. I know the Indians were living stories
    around that pond before Walden’s grandparents were born

    and before his grandparents’ grandparents were born.
    I’m tired of hearing about Don-fucking-Henley saving it, too,
    because that’s redundant. If Don Henley’s brothers and sisters
    and mothers and father hadn’t come here in the first place

    then nothing would need to be saved.’
    But I didn’t say a word to the woman about Walden
    Pond because she smiled so much and seemed delighted
    that I thought to bring her an orange juice

    back from the food car. I respect elders
    of every color. All I really did was eat
    my tasteless sandwich, drink my Diet Pepsi
    and nod my head whenever the woman pointed out

    another little piece of her country’s history
    while I, as all Indians have done
    since this war began, made plans
    for what I would do and say the next time

    somebody from the enemy thought I was one of their own.


    By Sherman Alexie.

     
  4. What Became

    What became of the dear
    strands of hair pressed
    against the perspiration
    of your lover’s brow
    after lovemaking as you gazed
    into the world of those eyes,
    now only yours?

    What became of any afternoon
    that was so vivid you forgot
    the present was up to its old
    trick of pretending
    it would be there
    always?

    What became of the one
    who believed so deeply
    in this moment he memorized
    everything in it and left
    it for you?

    By Wesley McNair.

     
  5. Orion

    Far back when I went zig-zagging
    through tamarack pastures
    you were my genius, you
    my cast-iron Viking, my helmed
    lion-heart king in prison.
    Years later now you’re young

    my fierce half-brother, staring
    down from that simplified west
    your breast open, your belt dragged down
    by an old-fashioned thing, a sword
    the last bravado you won’t give over
    though it weighs you down as you stride

    and the stars in it are dim
    and maybe have stopped burning.
    But you burn, and I know it;
    as I throw back my head to take you in
    and old transfusion happens again:
    divine astronomy is nothing to it.

    Indoors I bruise and blunder
    break faith, leave ill enough
    alone, a dead child born in the dark.
    Night cracks up over the chimney,
    pieces of time, frozen geodes
    come showering down in the grate.

    A man reaches behind my eyes
    and finds them empty
    a woman’s head turns away
    from my head in the mirror
    children are dying my death
    and eating crumbs of my life.

    Pity is not your forte.
    Calmly you ache up there
    pinned aloft in your crow’s nest,
    my speechless pirate!
    You take it all for granted
    and when I look you back

    it’s with a starlike eye
    shooting its cold and egotistical spear
    where it can do least damage.
    Breath deep! No hurt, no pardon
    out here in the cold with you
    you with your back to the wall.


    By Adrienne Rich.

     
  6. The Rider

    A boy told me
    if he roller-skated fast enough
    his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,

    the best reason I ever heard
    for trying to be a champion.

    What I wonder tonight
    pedaling hard down King William Street
    is if it translates to bicycles.

    A victory! To leave your loneliness
    panting behind you on some street corner
    while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
    pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
    no matter how slowly they fell.

    By Naomi Shihab Nye.

     
  7. Snowshoe Hare

    The fox
    is so quiet—
    he moves like a red rain—
    even when his
    shoulders tense and then
    snuggle down for an instant
    against the ground
    and the perfect
    gate of his teeth
    slams shut
    there is nothing
    you can hear
    but the cold creek moving
    over the dark pebbles
    and across the field
    and into the rest of the world—
    and even when you find
    in the morning
    the feathery
    scuffs of fur
    of the vanished
    snowshoe hare
    tangled
    on the pale spires
    of the broken flowers
    of the lost summer—
    fluttering a little
    but only
    like the lapping threads
    of the wind itself—
    there is still
    nothing that you can hear
    but the cold creek moving
    over the old pebbles
    and across the field and into
    another year.


    By Mary Oliver.

     
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    By Allen Ginsberg.

     
  9. Shoveling Snow With Buddha

    In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
    you would never see him doing such a thing,
    tossing the dry snow over a mountain
    of his bare, round shoulder,
    his hair tied in a knot,
    a model of concentration.

    Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
    for what he does, or does not do.

    Even the season is wrong for him.
    In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
    Is this not implied by his serene expression,
    that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

    But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
    one shovelful at a time.
    We toss the light powder into the clear air.
    We feel the cold mist on our faces.
    And with every heave we disappear
    and become lost to each other
    in these sudden clouds of our own making,
    these fountain-bursts of snow.

    This is so much better than a sermon in church,
    I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
    This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
    and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
    I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

    He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
    as if it were the purpose of existence,
    as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
    you could back the car down easily
    and drive off into the vanities of the world
    with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

    All morning long we work side by side,
    me with my commentary
    and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
    until the hour is nearly noon
    and the snow is piled high all around us;
    then, I hear him speak.

    After this, he asks,
    can we go inside and play cards?

    Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
    and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
    while you shuffle the deck.
    and our boots stand dripping by the door.

    Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
    and leaning for a moment on his shovel
    before he drives the thin blade again
    deep into the glittering white snow.


    By Billy Collins.

     
  10. [i am accused of tending to the past]

    i am accused of tending to the past
    as if i made it,
    as if i sculpted it
    with my own hands. i did not.
    this past was waiting for me
    when i came,
    a monstrous unnamed baby,
    and i with my mother’s itch
    took it to breast
    and named it
    History.
    she is more human now,
    learning language everyday,
    remembering faces, names and dates.
    when she is strong enough to travel
    on her own, beware, she will.

    By Lucille Clifton.