The Names

by Billy Collins

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name --
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner --
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening -- weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds --
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.

Lines Composed Over Three Thousand Miles From Tintern Abbey

I was here before, a long time ago,

and now I am here again
is an observation that occurs in poetry
as frequently as rain occurs in life.
The fellow may be gazing
over an English landscape,
hillsides dotted with sheep,
a row of tall trees topping the downs,
or he could be moping through the shadows
of a dark Bavarian forest,
a wedge of cheese and a volume of fairy tales
tucked into his rucksack.
But the feeling is always the same.
It was better the first time.
This time it is not nearly as good.
I’m not feeling as chipper as I did back then.
Something is always missing—
swans, a glint on the surface of a lake,
some minor but essential touch.
Or the quality of things has diminished.
The sky was a deeper, more dimensional blue,
clouds were more cathedral-like,
and water rushed over rock
with greater effervescence.
From our chairs we have watched
the poor author in his waistcoat
as he recalls the dizzying icebergs of childhood
and mills around in a field of weeds.
We have heard the poets long dead
declaim their dying
from a promontory, a riverbank,
next to a haycock, within a copse.
We have listened to their dismay,
the kind that issues from poems
the way water issues forth from hoses,
the way the match always gives its little speech on fire.
And when we put down the book at last,
lean back, close our eyes,
stinging with print,
and slip in the bookmark of sleep,
we will be schooled enough to know
that when we wake up
a little before dinner
things will not be nearly as good as they once were.
Something will be missing
from this long, coffin-shaped room,
the walls and windows now
only two different shades of gray,
the glossy gardenia drooping
in its chipped terra-cotta pot.
And on the floor, shoes, socks,
the browning core of an apple.
Nothing will be as it was
a few hours ago, back in the glorious past
before our naps, back in that Golden Age
that drew to a close sometime shortly after lunch.
Billy Collins (1998, Hollander)

There But for the Grace

Wislawa Szymborska

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened sooner. Later.
Nearer. Farther.
It happened not to you.

You survived because you were the first.
You survived because you were the last.
Because you were alone. Because of people.
Because you turned left. Because you turned right.
Because rain fell. Because a shadow fell.
Because sunny weather prevailed.

Luckily, there was a wood.
Luckily there were no trees.
Luckily there was a rail, a hook, a beam, a brake,
a frame, a bend, a millimeter, a second.
Luckily a straw was floating on the surface.

Thanks to, because, and yet, in spite of.
What would have happened had not a hand, a foot,
by a step, a hairsbreadth
by sheer coincidence.

So you’re here? Straight from a moment still ajar?
The net had one eyehole, and you got through it?
There’s no end to my wonder, my silence.
how fast your heart beats in me.

Translated from Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

The Detroit State Poems: Marking

Tom Wayman

I begin each essay with a calm mind--
a fresh start.
But as I consider what they have written
I get angry: the most cursory of rereadings
would have caught this sentence fragment,
and here is a misused semicolon
after we spent more than an hour on that in class
and where I talked to this student individually
for another thirty minutes about this persistent mistake.
And instead of the simple structure of the expository paper
which we have also gone over and over
and which can be so helpful a model, a technique, a guide,
here again is a jumbled series of random observations:
trite, contradictory, obviously hurried
and spelled wrong.

My red pencil becomes enraged.
It stalks through the words,
precise, bitter, vindictive,
acting as if it is pleased to discover error
and pounce on it, hacking and destroying and rearranging,
furiously rooting out sloppiness and weakness
as though upholding some stern moral precept
against another, softer age.

But the hand gripping the pencil
begins to tremble with remorse.
It feels it has led the students on
to try to expresss themselves
and then betrayed them:
attacking what they have exposed
of their ideas and emotions.
What use is righteousness, the hand wishes to ask the pencil,
without charity?

I read the name at the top
and think of the young person whose effort this is.
Now all I see on the paper
is a face, crestfallen when I hand back what they attempted.
Eyes look up at me
apprehensively, as at a judge.
We both know my weighing of their skill
will be taken to be an assessment of themselves.

It is as though I have been asked to mark
not essays but their faces,
not sentences but who they are.
I raise my pencil, but my hand still shakes.
I want to show them what in normal English usage
is considered incorrect.
But I can not assign a grade to their eyes.

From: Did I Miss Anything? Selected Poems 1973-1993. Madeira Park, B.C. : Harbour Pub., c1993.