Vintage verse – Musee des Beaux Arts by W. H. Auden


Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

by W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

Painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Bargainers by Ralph Culver

Bargainers
—for Louise Glück

In the market, Saturday, the world’s commerce on the simplest terms,
terms anyone can understand. Hanks of dried chilies
like garlands of tongues, baskets of Roma tomatoes in the noon sun,
warm and firm to the touch.

A young man leans against the stone facade of the pastry shop
under the shade of a window awning.
He is trying to catch the eye of the girl selling the tomatoes
while an old couple haggles with her about the price
and when the tomatoes were picked.
The young man lights a thin cigar; it’s black and slightly bent,
as though he were setting fire to an oak twig in his mouth.

He shakes out the match and snaps it into the street in one movement,
a gesture he had seen in a film as a child and never forgotten:
some actor in a narrow tie and lapels and steel-framed sunglasses.
A doomed hero, not too bright really, although this hadn’t mattered
in the least—sheer determination and purpose, that was what counted.
The details of the story, the movie’s title—a movie as old
as the young man’s parents, maybe older—
all that’s forgotten.

As every Saturday, the girl sees the boy clearly—a blossom of flame,
the spent matchstick spinning out of the shadows and into the sunlight—
even now, as she tries to reassure the couple the tomatoes are fresh.
On the vine this morning, on the vine this morning,
she repeats. Two thick ropes of smoke begin idly paying out the boy’s nostrils,
braiding upward in the midday stillness. And then in one movement
she snaps a paper bag open and begins to fill it with tomatoes
as the old couple points: this one, this one. This one.

by Ralph Culver

Editor’s Note: This poem documents a moment in time, but it is not a static image. Instead, the narrator, the young man, the girl, the old couple buying tomatoes—they are all moving, and the poem follows them so that the reader can see into the soul of the market.

Cousin Susie changed her name to Winnipeg by Joe Cottonwood

Cousin Susie changed her name to Winnipeg

back in the crazy Sixties, full name Winnipeg Canada,
don’t ask why, just call her Winnie.
Married a Jamaican fella named Omari,
a steelworker when Bethlehem made steel
before they stole his pension.
Now he fixes cars.
Winnie raises goats in the back yard,
it’s a big yard for Baltimore but people complain.
Sells goat milk to the Greeks and Italians.
Three goats are pregnant.

Omari raised a pig from zero to 425 pounds.
That hog slept under the house, followed them around,
friendly like a dog and really smart.
Omari wanted to do the slaughter himself.
Winnie knew she’d be cleaning up
the blood and refused to allow it
which nearly caused a divorce.
Omari was so mad, he was cussing in Jamaican,
nobody knew exactly what he was saying
until he called the butcher. That’s love.
Winnie didn’t think she could eat it
but she could. That’s survival.

I like to visit. She voted Trump but
wishes she hadn’t. I mean, Canada?
Anybody want a ham sandwich?

by Joe Cottonwood

Editor’s Note: In this poem, narrative is king.

The Well by Bruce Guernsey

The Well

The mystery of water underground,
the dark stream where the dead kneel
cupping their pale hands,
splashing the stillness from their eyes.

I drop a stone in ours to hear
if there’s water for the children’s bath.
And if it’s dry, no sound—the pebble
a star, falling through the night.

Here, a rope once hung, a bucket
on its noose. Here, the cattle gathered
summer evenings at the trough,
their dull heads bowed.

No one fishes this hole, or ever did,
though in the cold, moonless pools
fins move through the dark, deep
in the ground, where spawning begins.

by Bruce Guernsey, from From Rain: Poems, 1970-2010.

Editor’s Note: The detailed imagery of this poem creates a narrative space where the reader can imagine a story that extends beyond a simple well, and a simple sound.

Offline by Charles Carr

Offline

The sound of morning
steps down a mountain,
not really a noise,
more the eyes explain
the sun walks
on water
to the other senses.
If it is Saturday
I sit in a chair that rocks
and overlooks the role
of the river,
how it holds a heron
in place by the ankles
until its long neck
forms the bones
at the end of hush
to let loose
such a wingspan
no amount of highway
is necessary
to know which direction
the day is going

by Charles Carr

Twitter: @selfrisinmojo

Editor’s Note: The imagery and personification in this poem remind the reader that poetry is an art, not simply communication.

The Body, Before by Katie Hoerth

The Body, Before

Notice the geography of freedom–
this open prairie made of flesh, the slow
swoop of the back’s small, curvature of skull,
the belly’s subtle knoll. The mirror shows
this vista of my body and I gaze,
try to commit this scene to memory
like a valley filled with bluebonnets
in April, touch this land of milk and honey
before the fall, my exile from myself.

The cold ink on my skin. The thick black mark.
He draws a border on my body, says:
This is where I’ll cut you.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .But I hear:
separate skin from skin, flesh from flesh,
bone from bone. Even with the bridge
of sutures, healing skin, the growth of vessels
carrying my blood across this border,
this scar defines the woman I am now.

by Katie Hoerth

Editor’s Note: Blank verse gives this poem a subtle rhythm that reinforces the carefully constructed lines.