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

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.

From the archives – The Miles Before Sleep by Mary Alexandra Agner

The Miles Before Sleep

inspired by the title of a Martin Willitts Jr. poem

Country singers say they go by truck wheels,
rubber tumbling, lost in Patsy Cline,
and poets, with debated metaphor, and rhyme,
get lost in snow and near forget their horse.
The rest of us walk crosswalks, train tracks, asphalt
between the lot and daycare, food store, work.
Unlike the lyrics, sneakers leave no footprint,
except on melting days we’d just as soon forget,
indeed all roads are laid with just that goal:
to go on without notice of the ones
who go on them, whose tread, tires or tired
feet the only thing which keeps the count:
miles to go before I sleep
recorded one by one in bones, in cracks,
invisible—and numberless as breath.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, May 16, 2017 — by Mary Alexandra Agner

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

In a Taxi from de Gaulle by Rick Mullin

In a Taxi from de Gaulle

This morning the plaster-white dome of Montmartre
presents to the highway a century’s grime.
It hemorrhages clouds from a cold Sacred Heart

to color the city of Ingres and Descartes
a boulevard gray. In the interest of time
this morning, the plaster-white dome of Montmartre

speaks not of its grand contribution to art,
but more of its neighborhood’s canvas of crime.
The hemorrhage of cloud from its cold Sacred Heart

calls forward the spirit of Camus and Sartre—
the pipe smoke that wanders and couplets that rhyme.
Of mourning, the plaster-white dome of Montmartre,

of man in the city and man set apart.
A neutralized palette of carbon and lime
is hemorrhaging clouds from the cold Sacred Heart

to vistas bequeathed by a third Bonaparte,
on steps of the Commune, the pilgrim, the mime.
This morning the plaster-white dome of Montmartre
bleeds into the clouds from a cold Sacred Heart.

Paris, October 3, 2010

by Rick Mullin

Editor’s Note: This villanelle escapes the usual recursive spiral of repetition with carefully chosen imagery.

Preparing to See the Shaman by Diane Elayne Dees

Preparing to See the Shaman

Should I fast and pray and drink a lot of water,
or ask for dreams? By nature, I’m a planner,
though I’ve never sought assistance in this manner.
Yet, late in life, I’m still the wounded daughter
who’s missing parts that others take for granted;
specifically, the parts that make me feel
alive and whole, a woman who is real,
and not a she-ghost, fragmented and haunted.
I wonder if the lost parts can be found,
or if they have an interest in returning.
I pray that they rejoice upon learning
I plan to keep them healthy, safe and sound.
A shaman travels light, yet fully guided—
I hope she finds the path more smooth than I did.

by Diane Elayne Dees

Twitter: @WomenWhoServe

Editor’s Note: This Australian sonnet opens with a question, and by the end, the answer isn’t at all obvious (though what dreams are?), which suits the subject of the narrative.

Émigré Summer by Rebekah Curry

Émigré Summer
(Poem Beginning with a Line from Adam Zagajewski)

The city’s towers rise like words of love.
A liquid sun drops honey. On the air,
something like lilac, blooming in a grove
that memory imagined. You were there
when maps had other colors. Here, the light
falls on you strangely; this is not the sky
you had a language for. Above, the flight
of birds you cannot name. The noble lie
of summer still surrounds you, but you keep
the knowledge of what follows: twilit snow,
the clouds where the forgotten gather sleep.
You travel in that quiet world below,
its constellations offering no chart,
with no companion but the secret heart.

by Rebekah Curry

Twitter: @rebekah_curry

Editor’s Note: This sonnet captures images as if they were treasures. The close is soft, but no less emphatic emotionally.

From the archives – Poem Only Half About Myself by J. Rod Pannek

Poem Only Half About Myself

I can smell
the melancholia in the bedsheets,
Rumpled feelings all around,
Everyone looking down at mouth.
The dog still licks her wound,
Hidden in the shadow of the desk.
There is no sense of release,
Yet we look around and hope.

“Go in fear of abstractions” of course, but what then?
I can’t expect the clock to stop as if it were my father’s heart.
The hedgerow stands with its roots unearthed,
Somewhere my mother calls and I bring my shovel.
I expect I will still rebel long after I cover them.

I expect I will still obey them.
Everything that happens to me happens to my friends.
After all that, we sit back and wonder
What the doctor will say about our liver
Or some other piece of the infernal apparatus
That wasn’t even hurting when we walked in.

The doctor still walks through the door,
Your mother’s hand, venial and soothing,
Comforts you and the tendencies of middle-age
Yet after a while she tears at your shirt
And you become her Confessor.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, April 4, 2017 — by J. Rod Pannek

photo by Christine Klocek-Lim