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.

…meanwhile by Bill Jansen

…meanwhile

common Welsh flowers caw
from choir loft hedges

the magic dead sleep upright
on tavern tables.

the meanwhile of similarity
seems unique as ever
in the dew

the drama of young women
keeps repeating
anew anew anew.

by Bill Jansen

Editor’s Note: This poem’s nod to Poe offers an unexpected amusement for the mind.

At the Portal by Devon Balwit

At the Portal

Beach fog not yet burned away, the rocks and their creatures
share a palette of grey. It’s up to me to discern
the living in their basalt niches and name them

as best I can: barnacle, limpet, crab. I roll up my sleeves
and reach for what interests me, cupping an anemone,
cool to the touch. We are not of the same order,

the same family, yet I swear, tentacles indrawn
like breath, it waits to see what I’ll do next. It wants
to live. When I withdraw, it releases each finger

with a sigh. Some will chide me for anthropomorphizing,
swearing no crab belligerent, no chiton tenacious.
What can we do but meet at the portal of semblance,

you also from another family, another order? All
I can say in my defense is that I always return my subjects
when I’m done, much as I found them.

by Devon Balwit

Editor’s Note: The conversational tone of this poem does not detract from the ultimate conclusion—fog can both obscure and focus reality.