1. Here

    on Venus, time passes slowly because
    we are all preoccupied with love.
    The trees build up like sponges,
    the crust under us accumulates like coral,
    we begin to feel the long pressure
    the jewel feels, if the jewel feels,
    and, although this is suspicious belief,
    we welcome the illusion with that thrill
    formerly reserved for the profane.
    His hands are under her buttocks;
    her legs are bent on his shoulders;
    their extensions are the piping for
    “the best that has been thought or said.”
    The image is of a brain for all space.
    The universe, remember, is a ribbon
    where we follow back to the beginning
    and so meet that one of whom you were thinking
    when you mistook being here for being there.

    By Marvin Bell.

     
  2. 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.

     
  3. That does not keep me from having a terrible need of—shall I say the word—religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars.
    -Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother.By Anne Sexton.

     
  4. Saint Judas

    When I went out to kill myself, I caught
    A pack of hoodlums beating up a man.
    Running to spare his suffering, I forgot
    My name, my number, how my day began,
    How soldiers milled around the garden stone
    And sang amusing songs; how all that day
    Their javelins measured crowds; how I alone
    Bargained the proper coins, and slipped away.

    Banished from heaven, I found this victim beaten,
    Stripped, kneed, and left to cry. Dropping my rope
    Aside, I ran, ignored the uniforms:
    Then I remembered bread my flesh had eaten,
    The kiss that ate my flesh. Flayed without hope,
    I held the man for nothing in my arms.


    By James Wright.

     
  5. 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.

     
  6. Bloody Men

    Bloody men are like bloody buses
    You wait for about a year
    And as soon as one approaches your stop
    Two or three others appear.
    You look at them flashing their indicators,
    Offering you a ride.
    You’re trying to read the destinations,
    You haven’t much time to decide.
    If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
    Jump off, and you’ll stand there and gaze
    While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
    And the minutes, the hours, the days.

    By Wendy Cope.

     
  7. The Accompanist

    Don’t play too much, don’t play
    too loud, don’t play the melody.
    You have to anticipate her
    and to subdue yourself.
    She used to give me her smoky
    eye when I got boisterous,
    so I learned to play on tip-
    toe and to play the better half
    of what I might. I don’t like
    to complain, though I notice
    that I get around to it somehow.
    We made a living and good music,
    both, night after night, the blue
    curlicues of smoke rubbing their
    staling and wispy backs
    against the ceilings, the flat
    drinks and scarce taxis, the jazz life
    we bitch about the way Army pals
    complain about the food and then
    re-up. Some people like to say
    with smut in their voices how playing
    the way we did at our best is partly
    sexual. OK, I could tell them
    a tale or two, and I’ve heard
    the records Lester cut with Lady Day
    and all that rap, and it’s partly
    sexual but it’s mostly practice
    and music. As for partly sexual,
    I’ll take wholly sexual any day,
    but that’s a duet and we’re talking
    accompaniment. Remember “Reckless
    Blues”? Bessie Smith sings out “Daddy”
    and Louis Armstrong plays back “Daddy”
    as clear through his horn as if he’d
    spoken it. But it’s her daddy and her
    story. When you play it you become
    your part in it, one of her beautiful
    troubles, and then, however much music
    can do this, part of her consolation,
    the way pain and joy eat off each other’s
    plates, but mostly you play to drunks,
    to the night, to the way you judge
    and pardon yourself, to all that goes
    not unsung, but unrecorded.


    By William Matthews.

     
  8. 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.

     
  9. Family Garden

    Tell me again about your garden
    Tell me how you planted, in the small
    flat of mountain land, corn seed

    and bean seed, how your finger poked the soil
    then you dropped in three dark bean seeds
    for every yellow seed of corn.

    Trees and mountains collared your land,
    but the fenced garden opened freely
    to sun and warm summer rains.

    Your potato rows bulged in July. You ached
    from digging them up, your hands down in dirt,
    the cool lump of a tuber, brown-spotted,

    just recovered, a greeting, like shaking hands.
    Baskets full of bumpy brown potatoes filled
    your basement until fall, until you gave

    away what you could, throwing out the rest.
    You gave away honey from the white hive too,
    that box of bees beside the garden,

    honey stored in Mason jars, a clearest honey
    nectar from lin tree blossoms and wild flowers.
    The bright taste of honey on the tongue

    spoke of the place, if a place can be known
    by the activity of bees and a flavor in the mouth,
    if a person can be known by small acts

    such as these, such as the way you rocked
    summer evenings from a chair on the porch
    tending your inner garden, eyes closed.

     
  10. To A Reason

    A tap of your finger on the drum releases all sounds and initiates the new harmony.
    A step of yours is the conscription of the new men and their marching orders.
    You look away: the new love!
    You look back,—the new love!
    “Change our fates, shoot down the plagues, beginning with time,” the children sing to you. “Build wherever you can the substance of our fortunes and our wishes,” they beg you.
    Arriving from always, you’ll go away everywhere.


    By Arthur Rimbaud.
    Translated from French by John Ashbery.