Poem of the Week Archives


from Chronicle of the Citadel of Exile

Write, write, never stop. Tonight and all the nights to come. When I am at last face to face with myself. And must take stock. No more uniform. No longer distractedly pacing a measured area for the regulation exercise period. No more obeying wretched orders. My number still on the other side of the door. When I am done with drinking, eating, urinating, defecating. Done with talking, with calling things by their worn-out names. I light endless cigarettes whose smoke emerges from my lungs in broken chains, bitter swirls of rejection. Prison night has gobbled up the artificial light of the day. Ragged stars populate the vault of my visions.

When I stop, my voice begins to sound very peculiar. As though unknown notes were clinging to its cords, driven by strange storms from all those zones where life and death watch and spy on one another, two oddly hued wild animals, each crouched ready to spring, ready to slash and destroy the other’s essential nature.

I can live now only by wrenching myself away from myself, by wrenching away from myself my points of rupture and suture, those places where I most acutely feel splits and junctures, where I cut myself into pieces so as to return to life in unfathomable elsewheres: earth, roots, trees of intensity, granular effervescene under the sun.


Is that MY black dog

Is that MY black dog-
with telltale compost on his nose?
Blade of grass, squash of persimmon,

some leggy insect on his forehead
next to the growth? Is that MY
red truck speeding up the vineyard’s

central avenue, porta potty
bumping along behind, toilet paper
unfurling behind in celebratory loops?


Tramp in Flames

Some similes act like heat shields for re-entry
to reality: a tramp in flames on the floor.
We can say Flame on! to invoke the Human Torch
from the Fantastic Four. We can switch to art
and imagine Dali at this latitude
doing CCTV surrealism.
We could compare him to a protest monk
sat up the way he is. We could force the lock
of memory: at the crematorium
my uncle said the burning bodies rose
like Draculas from their boxes.

            But his layers
burn brightly, and the salts locked in his hems
give off the colours of a Roman candle,
and the smell is like a foot-and-mouth pyre
in the middle of the city he was born in,
and the bin bags melt and fuse him to the pavement
and a pool forms like the way he wet himself
sat on the school floor forty years before,
and then the hand goes up. The hand goes up.


The Stairwell

For Lucy McDiarmid

I have been thinking about the music for my funeral –
Liszt’s transcription of that Schumann song, for instance,
‘Dedication’ – inwardness meets the poetry of excess –
When you lead me out of your apartment to demonstrate
In the Halloween-decorated lobby the perfect acoustic
Of the stairwell, and stand among pumpkins, cobwebby
Skulls, dancing skeletons, and blow kisses at the ceiling,
Whistling Great War numbers – ‘Over There’, ‘It’s a Long,
Long Way’, ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ (the refrain) –
As though for my father who could also whistle them,
Trench memories, your eyes closed, your head tilted back,
Your cheeks filling up with air and melody and laughter.
I hold the banister. I touch your arm. Listen, Lucy,
There are songbirds circling high up in the stairwell.


Disquisition on Trees

The book that says the President is a friend of trees is a book of lies! The President should read the one about the little mouse that drove a car and got his girlfriend pregnant and they had to fly a rubberband-powered airplane over a stack of newspapers. Not a tree in sight. Not a tree in the whole book. Another book that he might pick up casually could strip the veil of illusion from his eyes: pretty women, the unpleasant foot odors of. But that is only what it appears to be about. It is a book about how to have a big piece missing from your head and live.


Lost Empire

And then there was no more Empire all of a sudden.
Its victories were air, its dominions dirt:
Burma, Canada, Egypt, Africa, India, the Sudan.
The map that had seeped its stain on a schoolboy’s shirt
like red ink on a blotter, battles, long sieges.
Dhows and feluccas, hill stations, outposts, flags
fluttering down in the dusk, their golden aegis
went out with the sun, the last gleam on a great crag,
with tiger-eyed turbaned Sikhs, pennons of the Raj
to a sobbing bugle. I see it all come about
again, the tasselled cortege, the clop of the tossing team
with funeral pom-poms, the sergeant major’s shout,
the stamp of boots, then the volley; there is no greater theme
than this chasm-deep surrendering of power
the whited eyes and robes of surrendering hordes,
red tunics, and the great names Sind, Turkistan, Cawnpore,
dust-dervishes and the Saharan silence afterwards.

A dragonfly’s biplane settles and there, on the map,
the archipelago looks as if a continent fell
and scattered into fragments; from Pointe du Cap
to Moule à Chique, bois-canot, laurier cannelles,
canoe-wood, spicy laurel, the wind-churned trees
echo the African crests; at night, the stars
are far fishermen’s fires, not glittering cities,
Genoa, Milan, London, Madrid, Paris,
but crab-hunters’ torches. This small place produces
nothing but beauty, the wind-warped trees, the breakers
on the Dennery cliffs, and the wild light that loosens
a galloping mare on the plain of Vieuxfort make us
merely receiving vessels of each day’s grace,
light simplifies us whatever our race or gifts.
I’m content as Kavanagh with his few acres;
for my heart to be torn to shreds like the sea’s lace,
to see how its wings catch colour when a gull lifts.


Dim-Lit Interior

I’m done crying into my beer about love.

My days of riding the shiny brass schoolbus are behind me as well.

The changes come slowly but suddenly.

One day the sun will burn so brightly it will turn all our seas into vast boiling vats.

Freedom comes from understanding our lack of ability to change things.

So lead me O Destiny whither is ordained by your decree.

Just please don’t force me to vacuum the stairs.

The quiet that follows the storm may be the same as the quiet before it.

Let the wind blow.

Let it blow down each tree on the bright boulevard.

The things I would most like to change are the things that make me believe change is possible.


Theatre of the Millo Seco (Botos)

I am in the little field of my mother
Her field touches
oaks of the valley
and I touch the faces of my corn

Opening corn’s faces
so that my hands touch its braille letters
The face of corn is all in braille
the corn wrote it

Fires will burn this evening
burn the dry husks of the corn
and I will learn to read
Sheep will wait by the trough
for they know corn’s feature, corn’s humility

corn’s dichten


granite too


The Poor

By Roberto Sosa, a translation

The poor are many
and so —
impossible to forget.

No doubt,
as day breaks,
they see the buildings
where they wish
they could live with their children.

can steady the coffin
of a constellation on their shoulders.
They can wreck
the air like furious birds,
blocking the sun.

But not knowing these gifts,
they enter and exit through mirrors of blood,
walking and dying slowly.

And so,
one cannot forget them.


The Hands


When we overwhelm a village,
I am told to make sure
none will ever pull a trigger.

I go in with a machete,
come out with a sack of hands.
My fathers feed me, count the pairs.

In the darkness I feel cool
palms crawl up to stroke
my head, soft hairless

hand-backs on my cheeks.
Thumbs draw down my eyelids,
fingers shush my lips.


In a terracotta jar,
a tobacco-brown plant,
tight as a mummified fist.

‘Leave it in the rain,
and see what happens.’

So we tipped it in the sink.

Amid the crockery
it unfurled and began to beg:
ever open, plaintive.

We kept it watered,
then, sick of supplication –
left it in the sun to clench.