Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay

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I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.  Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.  I know.  But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
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Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.
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My Heart’s in the Highlands by Robert Burns

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I read this recently while hiking in the Scottish highlands at Glencoe…

1:

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

[Chorus]

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.

2:

Farewell to the mountains, high-cover’d with snow,
Farewell to the straths and green vallies below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods,
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

[Chorus]

My heart’s in the Highlands …

Thanks by W.S. Merwin

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Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions
.
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
.
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
.
with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

Tonight by Agha Shahid Ali

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 Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar
—Laurence Hope
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Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?
.
Those “Fabrics of Cashmere—” “to make Me beautiful—”
“Trinket”—to gem—“Me to adorn—How tell”—tonight?
.
I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates—
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.
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God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar—
All the archangels—their wings frozen—fell tonight.
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Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.
.
Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.
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He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open—for God—the doors of Hell tonight.
.
In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed.
No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight.
.
God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day—
I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.
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Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.
.
The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.
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My rivals for your love—you’ve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.
.
And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.

My 2017 in Reading, so far…

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2017 has been a wonderful year…for reading. These books comprise my (non poetry) assorted best of list, for now. Who knows what the fall bring? 

  • An alt history more entertaining than Inglorious Basterds: The Yid by Paul Goldberg
  • She made something beautiful out of Brexit: Autumn by Ali Smith
  • Best book about living in and loving an old house: Plant Dreaming Deep by May Sarton
  • Innovative, timely, and the likely inspiration for a dream about magic doors: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  • The Underground Railroad is not his only fantastic book: The Intuitionist and Zone One by Colson Whitehead
  • A brilliant, old fashioned Texas tale: News of the World by Paulette Jiles
  • Wildest game of tennis / world history ever: Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue
  • World fail me, but I distinctly remember the scene that made me feel buoyant: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
  • I finally read: King Lear by Shakespeare
  • Favorite I-reads (Irish and Indian): The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, City of Bohane by Kevin Barry
  • It’s never too late for anything: The All of It by Jeannette Haien, Our Souls at Night by Ken Haruf, Olive Kittredge by Elizabeth Strout
  • An intriguing discovery: Richard Beard’s first century historical fiction – Lazarus is Dead and The Apostle Killer
  • A captivating biography of place: Edinburgh by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Never explain, never apologize: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  • I’ll read anything these two write: The Accidental and Hotel World by Ali Smith; Crusoe’s Daughter and God on the Rocks by Jane Gardam
  • The character I can’t forget: The Queen of the Corner in Pedro Lemebel’s My Tender Matador
  • On my list of world events I want to understand – the Russian Revolution: October by China Miéville
  • Different kinds of funny: The Sellout by Paul Beatty, Hot Water by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Short stuff: South and West by Joan Didion, Ninety-nine Stories of God by Joy Williams
  • Novels I can’t leave off: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Seeing the Eclipse in Maine by Robert Bly

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It started about noon.  On top of Mount Batte,
We were all exclaiming.  Someone had a cardboard
And a pin, and we all cried out when the sun
Appeared in tiny form on the notebook cover.
.
It was hard to believe.  The high school teacher
We’d met called it a pinhole camera,
People in the Renaissance loved to do that.
And when the moon had passed partly through
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We saw on a rock underneath a fir tree,
Dozens of crescents—made the same way—
Thousands!  Even our straw hats produced
A few as we moved them over the bare granite.
.
We shared chocolate, and one man from Maine
Told a joke.  Suns were everywhere—at our feet

Summer Haibun by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

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To everything, there is a season of parrots. Instead of feathers, we searched the sky for meteors on our last night.  Salamanders use the stars to find their way home. Who knew they could see that far, fix the tiny beads of their eyes on distant arrangements of lights so as to return to wet and wild nests? Our heads tilt up and up and we are careful to never look at each other. You were born on a day of peaches splitting from so much rain and the slick smell of fresh tar and asphalt pushed over a cracked parking lot. You were strong enough—even as a baby—to clutch a fistful of thistle and the sun himself was proud to light up your teeth when they first swelled and pushed up from your gums. And this is how I will always remember you when we are covered up again: by the pale mica flecks on your shoulders. Some thrown there from your own smile. Some from my own teeth. There are not enough jam jars to can this summer sky at night. I want to spread those little meteors on a hunk of still-warm bread this winter. Any trace left on the knife will make a kitchen sink like that evening air

 

the cool night before
star showers: so sticky so
warm so full of light

Look for Me by Ted Kooser

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Look for me under the hood
of that old Chevrolet settled in weeds
at the end of the pasture.
.
I’m the radiator that spent its years
bolted in front of an engine
shoving me forward into the wind.
.
Whatever was in me in those days
has mostly leaked away,
but my cap’s still screwed on tight
.
and I know the names of all these
tattered moths and broken grasshoppers
the rest of you’ve forgotten.