Category Archives: Poems

Jynne Dilling Martin

What Breaks First
by Jynne Dilling Martin

As the iceberg shears off the submarine periscope, the noise
is less groan, more wild animal shriek. “Trust me,” said the captain

piloting toward gunfire to see what the Russians are up to these days.
The sea ice resembles a cracked white lung steadily swelling

then sinking as high tide fades away. Already birds and
barnacles and butterflies are shifting their habitats poleward,

the eelgrass and jellyfish will be fine, but the basements
of coastal cities will begin to flood, an inch at a time.

The polar bear at the zoo makes the child start to cry:
why doesn’t he move? Animals who cannot acclimate

to shifting conditions engender scientific argument
over what breaks first: the heart or the brain. In the heart

of the Arctic, underwater microphones listen for enemy traffic.
The noise made by a million barnacle larvae swimming north

is less hiss or whisper, more betrayed stare. When rations ran low,
polar explorers ate one less biscuit. When biscuits ran out,

the horses were first to be shot. In another sixty thousand years
the mouth of the Beardmore Glacier will spit out their bones.

April 23, 2015, The New York Review of Books

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Philip Larkin

This Be The Verse (2001)
by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
++They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
++And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
++By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
++And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
++It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
++And don’t have any kids yourself.

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William Butler Yeats

He Reproves the Curlew (1896)
by William Butler Yeats

O curlew, cry no more in the air,
Or only to the water in the West;
Because your crying brings to my mind
passion-dimmed eyes and long heavy hair
That was shaken out over my breast:
There is enough evil in the crying of wind.

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Ada Limón

A Name (2017)
by Ada Limón

When Eve walked among
the animals and named them—
nightingale, redshouldered hawk,
fiddler crab, fallow deer—
I wonder if she ever wanted
them to speak back, looked into
their wide wonderful eyes and
whispered, Name me, name me.

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Ray Young Bear

John Whirlwind’s Doublebeat Songs (1956)
By Ray Young Bear

Good-smelling are these flowers.
As it turned out, they were milkweeds
dance-standing
as the wind passes by,
as the wind passes by.

It is now almost daylight,
I said to the firefly.
For the last time
illuminate yourself.
For the last time.

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Galway Kinnell

Hide-and-Seek (1933)
by Galway Kinnell

Once when we were playing
hide-and-seek and it was time
to go home, the rest gave up
on the game before it was done
and forgot I was still hiding.
I remained hidden as a matter
of honor until the moon rose.

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Maggie Smith

Good Bones
by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

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