When I began this poem,
to see myself
as a piece of history, having a past
which shapes, and informs, and thus inevitably
at first this seemed sufficient, the beginning of
The way to approach freedom
was to acknowledge necessity:—
I sensed I had to become not merely
a speaker, the “eye,” but a character ...
And you had to become a character: with a past,
with a set of internal contradictions and necessities
which if I could once define, would at least
begin to release us from each other ...
But, of course, no such knowledge is possible;—
as I touch your photographs, they stare back at me
with the dazzling, impenetrable, glitter of mere life ...
You stand smiling, at the end of the twenties,
in a suit, and hat,
cane and spats, with a collie at your feet,
happy to be handsome, dashing, elegant:—
and though I cannot connect this image
with the end of your life, with the defensive
gnarled would-be cowboy,—
you seem happy at that fact, happy
to be surprising; unknowable; unpossessable ...
You say it’s what you always understood by freedom.
I set my table with metaphor:
the curling parsley - green sign nailed to the doors
Of God's underground; salt of desert and eyes;
the roasted shank bone of a Pascal lamb,
relic of sacrifice and bleating spring.
Down the long table, past fresh shoots of a root
they have been hacking at for centuries,
you hold up the unleavened bread - a baked scroll
whose wavy lines are undecipherable.
The wise son and the wicked, the simple son
and the son who doesn't ask, are all my son
leaning tonight as it is written,
slouching his father calls it. His hair is long;
hippie hair, hassid hair, how strangely alike
they seem tonight.
First Born, a live child cried
among the bullrushes, but the only root
you know stirs between your legs, ready
to spill its seed in gentile gardens.
And if the flowers be delicate and fair,
I only mind this one night of the year
when far beyond the lights of Jersey,
Jerusalem still beckons us, in tongues.
What black-throated bird
in a warm country
to Moses now?
One exodus prefigures the next.
The glaciers fled before hot whips of air.
Waves bowed at God's gesture
for fugitive Israel to pass;
while fish, caught then behind windows
of water, remembered how their brothers once
pulled themselves painfully from the sea,
willing legs to grow
from slanted fins.
Now the blossoms pass from April’s tree,
refugee raindrops mar the glass,
borders are transitory.
And the changeling gene, still seeking
stone sanctuary, moves on.
Far from Egypt, I have sighted blood,
have heard the throaty mating of frogs.
My city knows vermin, animals loose in hallways,
boils, sickness, hail.
In the suburban gardens
seventeen-year locusts rise
from their heavy beds
in small explosions of sod.
Darkness of newsprint.
My son, my son.
Side by side through the streets at midnight,
Through the tumultuous night of London,
In the miraculous April weather.
Roaming together under the gaslight,
Day’s work over,
How the Spring calls to us, here in the city,
Calls to the heart from the heart of a lover!
Cool to the wind blows, fresh in our faces,
After the heat and the fumes and the footlights,
Where you dance and I watch your dancing.
Good it is to be here together,
Good to be roaming,
Even in London, even at midnight,
Lover-like in a lover’s gloaming.
You the dancer and I the dreamer,
Wandering lost in the night of London,
In the miraculous April weather.
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.
I overslept. I'm running late.
My mom is making such a fuss.
If I so much as hesitate
I probably will miss the bus.
I grab my socks and underwear,
and quickly pull on all my clothes.
I haven't time to comb my hair
or brush my teeth or blow my nose.
I wolf my breakfast, kiss my mom,
and barrel madly out the door.
I'm feeling anything but calm.
I've never been this late before.
I run like crazy down the street.
I check my watch. It's almost eight.
I wish I'd had some more to eat,
but, man, I simply can't be late.
I barely make it there in time.
To miss the bus would not be cool.
I wouldn't mind except that I'm
the guy who drives the kids to school!
The smoke of the roasted pumpkin drifts down the street
from jack-o-lanterns burning in the night.
A little ghost trips on his sheet and cries out.
A pint-sized pirate, an alien who lost his flashlight,
and a famous baseball player run from house to house.
Watchful parents on foot trail the trick-or-treaters.
My son's friend wanted to paint his face black
to complete his costume as Jackie Robinson.
My son's real skin would have restricted him
to the colored section just two generations ago.
My own face appears in the mask of a fake mother
to my hopped-up-on candy boy.
Yet I wear the worried look of any real mother
aware of ragged unlit pavement, tampered loot,
and the terrible whiteness of my own skin as we pass
a scarecrow hanging by his neck in a front yard.
We’re running in circles on Google Plus,
We’re passing like ships, and what’s the fuss?
I miss conversations that lasted all day,
And privacy, and building on trust.
We share this home, these kids, the WiFi,
At the end of the day we have to try;
To pour some wine, not check our Klout;
To share our stories, not tweet them out.
The connections can thrill;
The Plus 1’s gratify;
But nothing compares
To you and I.
How you read my mind;
How I know what to do--
You and I,
In our network of two.
This same shall go.
Did not the heavenly rhetoric of thine eye,
’Gainst whom the world cannot hold argument,
Persuade my heart to this false perjury?
Vows for thee broke deserve not punishment.
A woman I forswore; but I will prove,
Thou being a goddess, I forswore not thee:
My vow was earthly, thou a heavenly love;
Thy grace, being gain’d, cures all disgrace in me.
Vows are but breath, and breath a vapour is:
Then thou, fair sun, which on my earth dost shine,
Exhal’st this vapour-vow; in thee it is:
If broken, then, it is no fault of mine:
If by me broke, what fool is not so wise
To lose an oath to win a paradise!
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
I chose this poem in honor of the more than 150 NFTY high school students who will be with us this weekend. I found the poem on Poetry 180, an initiative (and wonderful website) of the Library of Congress, which encourages a poem a day for high school students. Some of what we do, we do
to make things happen,
the alarm to wake us up, the coffee to perc,
the car to start.
The rest of what we do, we do
trying to keep something from doing something,
the skin from aging, the hoe from rusting,
the truth from getting out.
With yes and no like the poles of a battery
powering our passage through the days,
we move, as we call it, forward,
wanting to be wanted,
wanting not to lose the rain forest,
wanting the water to boil,
wanting not to have cancer,
wanting to be home by dark,
wanting not to run out of gas,
as each of us wants the other
watching at the end,
as both want not to leave the other alone,
as wanting to love beyond this meat and bone,
we gaze across breakfast and pretend.