R. T. Smith

Is the scent of apple boughs smoking
in the woodstove what I will remember
of the Red Delicious I brought down, ashamed

that I could not convince its limbs to render fruit?
Too much neglect will do that, skew the sap's
passage, blacken leaves, dry the bark and heart.

I should have lopped the dead limbs early
and watched each branch with a goshawk's eye,
patching with medicinal pitch, offering water,

compost and mulch, but I was too enchanted
by pear saplings, flowers and the pasture,
too callow to believe that death's inevitable

for any living being unloved, untended.
What remains is this armload of applewood
now feeding the stove's smolder. Splendor

ripens a final time in the firebox, a scarlet
harvest headed, by dawn, to embers.
Two decades of shade and blossoms - tarts

and cider, bees dazzled by the pollen,
spare elegance in ice - but what goes is gone.
Smoke is all, through this lesson in winter

regret, I've been given to remember.
Smoke, and Red Delicious apples redder
than a passing cardinal's crest or cinders.

from Poetry, Oct-Nov, 2002


Mary Oliver

the wide field

the dark deer
went running,

five dogs

at his flanks,
at his heels,

my own two darlings
among them

lunging and buckling
with desire

as they leaped
for the throat

as they tried
and tried again

to bring him down.
At the lake

the deer

I could hear
the green wind

of his breath

but the long legs
never stopped

till he clambered
up the far shore.
The dogs
moaned and screeched

they flung themselves
on the grass

and steaming.

It took hours
but finally

in the half-drowned light
in the silence

of the summer evening
they woke

from fitful naps,
they stepped

in their old good natures
toward us

look look
into their eyes

bright as planets
under the long lashes

here is such happiness when you speak their names!
here is such unforced love!

here is such shyness such courage!
here is the shining rudimentary soul

here is hope retching, the world as it is
here is the black the red the bottomless pool.


J.R.R. Tolkien

The fat cat on the mat
may seem to dream
of nice mice that suffice
for him, or cream;
but he free, maybe,
walks in thought
unbowed, proud, where loud
roared and fought
his kin, lean and slim,
or deep in den
in the East feasted on beasts
and tender men.
The giant lion with iron
claw in paw,
and huge ruthless tooth
in gory jaw;
the pard dark-starred,
fleet upon feet,
that oft soft from aloft
leaps upon his meat
where woods loom in gloom --
far now they be,
fierce and free,
and tamed is he;
but fat cat on the mat
kept as a pet
he does not forget.

Dog in Bed

Joyce Sidman

Nose tucked under tail.
You are a warm, furred planet
centered in my bed.
All night I orbit, tangle-limbed,
in the slim space
allotted to me.
If I accidentally
bump you from sleep,
you shift, groan,
drape your chin on my hip.
Oh that languid, movie-star drape!
I can never resist it.
Digging my fingers into your fur,
I wonder:
How do you dream?
What do you adore?
Why should your black silk ears
feel like happiness?
This is how it is with love.
Once invited,
it steps in gently,
circles twice,
and takes up as much space
as you will give it.

Man and Dog

Siegfried Sassoon

Who's this—alone with stone and sky?
It's only my old dog and I—
It's only him; it's only me;
Alone with stone and grass and tree.

What share we most—we two together?
Smells, and awareness of the weather.
What is it makes us more than dust?
My trust in him; in me his trust.

Here's anyhow one decent thing
That life to man and dog can bring;
One decent thing, remultiplied
Till earth's last dog and man have died.


Billy Collins

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her doghouse
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance—
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Gandhi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

If only she did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she
would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.

Mystery Baseball

Philip Dacey

No one knows the man who throws out the season's
first ball.
His face has never appeared in the newspapers,
except in crowd scenes, blurred.
Asked his name, he mumbles something
about loneliness,
about the beginning of hard times.

Each team fields an extra, tenth man.
This is the invisible player,
assigned to no particular position.
Runners edging off base feel a tap on their shoulders,
turn, see no one.
Or a batter, the count against him, will hear whispered
in his ear vague, dark
rumors of his wife, and go down.

Vendors move through the stands
selling unmarked sacks,
never disclosing their contents,
never having been told.
People buy, hoping.

Pitchers stay busy
getting signs.
They are everywhere.

One man rounds third base, pumping hard,
and is never seen again.
Teammates and relatives wait years at the plate,
uneasy, fearful.

An outfielder goes for a ball on the warning track.
He leaps into the air and keeps rising,
beyond himself, past
the limp flag.
Days later he is discovered,
descended, wandering dazed in centerfield.

Deep under second base lives an old man,
bearded, said to be
a hundred. All through the game,
players pull at the bills of their caps,
acknowledging him.

Ping-Pong Alfresco

Cameron Blake

I grab my paddle
and slam out the door.
My brother and I take our sides
and prepare for the match.
To see who serves,
I spin the paddle—
the paddle with electrical tape
wrapped around the handle,
the paddle covered
with scrapes and tears
from various "incidents."

I serve the ball
over the wooden net
and onto the grooved table
fashioned from
two sawhorses
and two old doors
we found behind the house,
which creates crazy ricochets
as we play.

I wait for a real
Ping-Pong table,
one with a reliable surface
and soft net,
one with official lines
and even sides,
one that's actually green.
But until then

this one's perfect.


David MacDonald

I mount my bike.
Both feet hit the pedals at once
as I launch myself forward
and shoot down the steep hill.

Lean forward.
Pedal harder.
15 MPH
Wind hits my face,
and my eyes blur.

25 MPH

Then 30.

I hit the first jump.
My wheels leave the ground behind
as I fly through the air

for two seconds

before I'm jolted
by a rough landing
back to Earth.
The excitement ends
when I stand on the brakes
and skid to a stop.


Six Minutes Twenty-Six Seconds

James Morrill

Throat scorched.
Chest burning.
Fast jogging.
Keep up, keep up-
two hundred
meters behind.

Breath fast.
Breath shallow.
I'm short distance.
I was on a roll:
beat my time
in hurdles,
beat my height
in high jump.

Last lap.
Breath fire.
Finish hard.
Last to cross
but get my time.


Once upon a Time There Was a Man

Mac Hammond

Here's a poem in the form of a fairy tale.

Once upon a time there was, there was a man
Who lived inside me wearing this cold armour,
The kind of knight of whom the ladies could be proud
And send with favours through unlikely forests
To fight infidels and other knights and ordinary dragons.
Once upon a time he galloped over deep green moats
On bridges princes had let down in friendship
And sat at board the honoured guest of kings
Talking like a man who knew the world by heart.
In every list he fought, the trumpets on the parapets,
The drums, declared his mastery, the art of arms;
His horse, the household word of every villager,
Was silver-shod and, some said, winged.
Once upon a time, expecting no adventure
In the forest everybody knows, at midnight,
He saw a mountain rise beneath the moon.
An incredible beast? With an eye of fire?
He silently dismounted, drew his famous sword
And hid behind the heavy tress and shrubs to see
If what he thought he saw was real. He fled
And the giant eye of the moon pursues him still.

from The Horse Opera and Other Poems, 1992
Ohio State University Press

The Bat

Theodore Roethke

By day the bat is cousin to the mouse.
He likes the attic of an aging house.

His fingers make a hat about his head.
His pulse beat is so slow we think him dead.

He loops in crazy figures half the night
Among the trees that face the corner light.

But when he brushes up against a screen,
We are afraid of what our eyes have seen:

For something is amiss or out of place
When mice with wings can wear a human face.

from Collected poems of Theodore Roethke
My Doubleday, 1938

The Cord

Leanne O’Sullivan

I used to lie on the floor for hours after
school with the phone cradled between
my shoulder and my ear, a plate of cold
rice to my left, my school books to my right.
Twirling the cord between my fingers
I spoke to friends who recognized the
language of our realm. Throats and lungs
swollen, we talked into the heart of the night,
toying with the idea of hair dye and suicide,
about the boys who didn’t love us,
who we loved too much, the pang
of the nights. Each sentence was
new territory, like a door someone was
rushing into, the glass shattering
with delirium, with knowledge and fear.
My Mother never complained about the phone bill,
what it cost for her daughter to disappear
behind a door, watching the cord
stretching its muscle away from her.
Perhaps she thought it was the only way
she could reach me, sending me away
to speak in the underworld.
As long as I was speaking
she could put my ear to the tenuous earth
and allow me to listen, to decipher.
And these were the elements of my Mother,
the earthed wire, the burning cable,
as if she flowed into the room with
me to somehow say, Stay where I can reach you,
the dim room, the dark earth. Speak of this
and when you feel removed from it
I will pull the cord and take you
back towards me.

From Waiting for My Clothes, 2004
Bloodaxe Books

The Distances

Henry Rago

This house, pitched now
The dark wide stretch
Of plains and ocean
To these hills over
The night-filled river,
Billows with night,
Swells with the rooms
Of sleeping children, pulls
Slowly from this bed,
Slowly returns, pulls and holds,
Is held where we
Lock all distances!

Ah, how the distances
Spiral from that
Rooms, roof
Spun to the huge
Midnight, and into
The rings and rings of stars.

from A Sky of Late Summer, 1963
The Macmillan Company

The Blue Bowl

Jane Kenyon

This is a poem that addresses the difficult subject of burying a pet.

Like primitives we buried the cat
with his bowl. Bare-handed
we scraped sand and gravel
back into the hole.

They fell with a hiss
and thud on his side,
on his long red fur, the white feathers
between his toes, and his
long, not to say aquiline, nose.

We stood and brushed each other off.
There are sorrows keener than these.

Silent the rest of the day, we worked,
ate, stared, and slept. It stormed
all night; now it clears, and a robin
burbles from a dripping bush
like the neighbor who means well
but always says the wrong thing.

from Otherwise: New & Selected Poems, 1996
Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, copyright 1996 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon.

The Summer I Was Sixteen

Geraldine Connolly

Photo Credit

The turquoise pool rose up to meet us,
its slide a silver afterthought down which
we plunged, screaming, into a mirage of bubbles.
We did not exist beyond the gaze of a boy.

Shaking water off our limbs, we lifted
up from ladder rungs across the fern-cool
lip of rim. Afternoon. Oiled and sated,
we sunbathed, rose and paraded the concrete,

danced to the low beat of "Duke of Earl".
Past cherry colas, hot-dogs, Dreamsicles,
we came to the counter where bees staggered
into root beer cups and drowned. We gobbled

cotton candy torches, sweet as furtive kisses,
shared on benches beneath summer shadows.
Cherry. Elm. Sycamore. We spread our chenille
blankets across grass, pressed radios to our ears,

mouthing the old words, then loosened
thin bikini straps and rubbed baby oil with iodine
across sunburned shoulders, tossing a glance
through the chain link at an improbable world.

from Province of Fire, 1998
Iris Press, Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Strange Fruit

Abel Meeropol - sung by the incomparable Billie Holladay

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Bandaids and Five Dollar Bills

Sharon M. Draper

My students wrote essays for homework this week.
The usual stuff for grade ten.
I asked them to write how they'd change the world
If the changing was left up to them.

His name was Rick Johnson;he was surly and shy.
A student who's always ignored.
He'd slouch in his seat with a Malcolm X cap.
Half-sleep, making sure he looked bored.

His essay was late - just before I went home.
It was wrinkled and scribbled and thin.
I thought to reject it...(Why do teachers do that?)
But I thanked him for turning it in.

"You can't cure the world," his essay began,
"Of the millions of evils and ills,
But to clean up my world so I could survive,
I'd cut bandaids and five dollar bills.

"Now bandaids are beige - says right on the box
'Skin tone' is the color inside.
Whose skin tone? Not mine! Been lookin' for years
For someone with that color hide.

"Cause bandaids show up, looking pasty and pale,
It's hard to pretend they're not there,
When the old man has beat me and I gotta get stitches,
Them bandaids don't cover or care.

"And now, you may ask, why would anyone want
To get rid of five dollar bills?
Cause for just that much cash, a dude's mama can buy
A crack rock, or whiskey, or pills.

"She smokes it or drinks it, and screams at her kids,
Then passes out cold on the floor.
By morn she remembers no pain, just the void,
And her kids wish the world had a door.

"So my magical dream not out of reach,
Like curing cancer or AIDS, or huge ills,
All I ask from my life is a little respect,
And no bandaids or five dollar bills.