HERE AND NOW
the night I got chased out of Mexico
is a story
about the night
I got chased out of
by a posse
of Mexican taxi cabs
I was a young guy
just old enough at 21
to get a taxi license
and I was driving
on the Texas side
of the border
I picked up a fare
one of the hotels
to go to Mexico
and I said
cause it was about
and at 35 cents
for the first mile
and 10 cents a mile
it was a pretty good
of which I’d get
which never was
a hell’uv a lot
but better for a
so we headed out
and across the bridge
from where I knew
how to go two places
about which we
will speak no more
and the Central Plaza
which was close
to the Mercado
and lots of good
and that’s where
the fella I was
wanted to go
so we went there
and I dropped
him off at the plaza
and while he paid me
I noticed all
the Mexican cabbies
giving me the eye
and I noticed
when I left
some of those
and then I noticed
I had ten to fifteen
riding my back
and I said to myself
I fucked up
and the way
they were following
close and honking
it looked pretty clear
that they were
it was I did
so I took off
for the bridge
as fast as I could
trying to remember
as I flew
which of the many
one way streets
were going my way
and which were going
to either get me lost
or back to the plaza
where more trouble
was sure to be
and when I reached
I tossed my 8 cents
to the Mexican
when I got back
told me the rules -
cabs don’t cross
fares are dropped
at the bridge
where they can
and get a local
I really felt dumb
and never did that
though one time
I did pick up a guy
at the bridge
who had been in
for three days
and was beat
all to shit
and bleeding and
so I took him to a
but that’s another
This poem is by Stephen Dunn, taken from his book Loosestrife, published W.W. Norton in 1996. This was Dunn's tenthcollection of poetry and a National Book Critics Circle nominee.
Imagining Myself My Father
I drove slowly, the windows open,
letting the emptiness within meet
the brotherly emptiness without.
Deer grazed by the Parkway's edge,
solemnly enjoying their placid,
gentle lives. There were early signs
of serious fog.
Salesman with a product
I had to pump myself up to sell,
merchant of my own hope,
friend to every toolbooth man,
I named the trees I passed.
I knew the dwarf pines,
and why in such soil
the could grow only so tall.
A groundhog wobbled from the woodss.
It, too, seemed ridiculous,
and I conjured for it a wild heart,
at least a wild heart.
My dashboard was aglelam with numbers
It was the kind of morning
the dark never left.
The truly wild were curled up, asleep,
or in some high nest looking down.
There was no way they'd let us love them
I said "fine" to those who asked.
I told them about my sons, athletes both.
All day I moved among men
who claimed they needed nothing,
nothing, at least, that I had.
Maybe another time, they said,
or, Sorry, things are slow.
On the drive back
I drove fast and met the regulars
at the inn for a drink.
It seemed to me a man needed a heart
for the road, and a heart for home,
and one more for his friends.
And so many different, agile tongues.
I lived in Austin in the early-mid 60s for a while. It's another world now, nine hundred thousand, near one million, population, as compared to a quartr million when I lived there. It was a sleepy little city back in the day, it's primary businesses, state government and the University of Texas. Not so much now. I visited often on state business in the 70s and 80s. Now it's just for ocassional visits to see our son. Haven't been down town in at least 5 years.
It was a cool place in those day, unconsciously cool, unlike the uber-cool of today. A great place to live back then. I wouldn't live there know if you payed me.
The People’s Republic of Austin
I was going
to write this poem
about Austin, Texas,
back in the day,
back when the hippies
if they could swim
at Hippy Hollow
they could get together
on some other stuff, too,
like music and drugs
and a damn good time,
back when you could find
on any given Friday night
most of the most
down at Shultz’s Biergarten
on Lone Star and
against those conservative
who’d been winning elections
around the state
(thirty years later
they finally got one of their own
elected, but she didn’t drink
anymore and got her ass busted
four years later
by another ex-drunk
who went on after that
to become president)
I was writing about
back when I was young,
and then I realized
this poem was not about
it was about me getting
old and missing the good
and how everything
tastes better when
your mouth is fresh
and your teeth
are your own
and how it isn’t
Austin that’s gotten
old and conservative
Following are 2 verses by Lalla, with translations by Coleman Barks, from Naked Stone, a collection of her verses and songs published by Maypop Books in 1992 .
Lalla, who lived from 1320 to 1392, was a 14th century North Indian mystic, who wandered medieval Kashmire singing her songs.
Awareness is the ocean of existence.
Let loose and you words will rage
and cause wounds like fishing spears.
But if you tend it like a fire
to discover the truth, you will find how much of that
there is in what you say. None.
What is worship? Who are this man
and this woman bringing flowers?
What kind of flowers should be bought,
and what streamwater poured over the images?
Real worship is done by the mind
(Let that be a man) and by the desire
(Let that be awoman). And let the those two
chooose what to sacrifice.
There is a liquid that can be released
from under the mask of the face,
a nectar which when it rushes down
gives discipline and strength.
Let that be your sacred pouring.
Let your worship song be silence
this is for the dumb-asses who disturb my sleep
I’m through trying to educate you
tea-party poo-poo head
over-heated, under-ventilated birther
non-economic determinist cannibal
knobby knoll two-shooter theory crackpot
Nazi feminist man-eating penis-envying witch
who thinks all me should be strung up by their balls
until they admit to the primal sin of manhood
victimhood addict at home on your farm in Kansas on 9-11
but still wanting special consideration for your trauma
you…you… you know who you are -
I’ve done with you
go shout your dumb-ass obsessions
at the wind
see if it cares
than I do
This poem is by Walter McDonald, taken from his book Night Landings. McDonald is a former Air Force pilot and is currently the Horn Professor of English at Texas Tech University. His two most recent collections ae The Flying Dutchman which won the George Elliston Prize and After the Noise of Saigon, which won the Juniper Prize. This book was published by Harper and Row in 1989.
The Digs in Escondido
Suddenly, the skull, a girl's,
the cause of death obvious
and swift, a diamond-shaped
incision through the brain.
She fell face down, bowing
under the same tornado sky
we worship. Summers, we scrape
layers of dry caliche down through
pottery and arrowheads, hoping
for people, out picks flicking
bones of buffaloes and wolves.
Carefully, we resurrect her.
What did she see, thise last few
Alone at this lake,
those first plains people
kneeled this deep in the canyon,
nowhere to turn for water.
They may have sacrificed lame sons
to keep them safe, nothing
to cover them but skins
of whatever they could kill,
bison and deer, antelope
with pronged horns, and wolves.
On land this flat,
if they wondered about gods,
when the stumbled on this canyon,
they believed: a spring-fed stream,
rabbits and quail,enough flint
for fire and arrows. On some days
the felt nothing threatening, not even
wind riffling through the feathers
of an arrow about to kill.
She is a bowl, a little skull.
We stroke and photograph,
and probe the flint of an arrow
trapped by the brain's hard dust.
some kind of pretty damn good spuds
I have a new book
in a few days…
and I’ve never done
an E-book before and never
done any kind of book
with this publisher…
I don’t know
how it’s going to turn out
but I hope it’s not bad
and if it is bad, I hope I learn
something since I have another book
in process and want to be certain
that if I do bad again, it’ll be a whole
different kind of bad than
I did this time
one of the old fellas at the coffee shop
ask me if I made
any money off my books
- he’s about eighty-something, the kind
of old-timer that’s probably been making money
one way or another since he was about five years old -
and I told him,
well hell, if I expected to make money
I’d be planting potatoes
not writing poems, because
if you consider it carefully it’s clear
there’s lots of different things
to be done with potatoes,
from French fires, to baked, to potato
pancakes, to scalloped, to a ‘gratin
and that French dish of potatoes all baked up
crispy with lots of stuff mixed in like
green onions and who knows what, not
being French, I don’t have clue…
but compare all the great things you can do
with a potato to what you can do with a poem -
limited, as far as I can see, to a bit of insight
into the true workings of the world and women
and men and trees and flowers and hills and dales
and so forth, and that’s only about once every
17,450 poems, which is pretty good if you get it
but doesn’t compare at all to a loaded baked potato
or some of the oven fries down at the German Deli -
they’s some kind of pretty damn good spuds
This poem is by Mary Swander, taken from her book, Heaven-and-Earth House, published by Alfred A Knoph in 1994.
Swander is a native Iowan and an associate professor at Iowa State University. She has a Master's Degree from the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop and has received numerous awards and grants for her work, including from the National Endowment for the Arts.
In this town, 1941, they burned
Chester Yoder's effigy in the square.
Stuffed with straw, it went up faster
then ditch grass on a drought day.
After so many months without rain,
all it takes is a spark,
then the fields are aflame.
After so many years without bombs,
we remember Chester again, the first
Amish here to face the draft,
Old Order, German speaker,
the man so many called traitor,
the one who clung to his belief
that no matter who or how,
killing was wrong. Even after
his job as a forest fighter,
some turned and crossed the street,
others called him "yellow" and spat.
Now we wrap the trees with ribbons
to welcome home who flew
over the cradle, and when the tree
rocked and the wind blew, flames
spread for miles in all directionss.
Let's give them a hand. Or an arm.
Or the Moustache Chester still shaves
off every morning in protest against
the old commanders in the country
his ancestors fled from freedom.
Let's let them atone for all the shame
we felt in the past, battles unwon,
hay never put up in the barn.
To bear, each year the hard ground
needs blessing, so let's sprinkle
our seeds with water, blood and oil.
Let's sit down with Chester at the table
and lower our heads for prayer, for now
when the bread breaks, so does the bough
and even Chester can never fight that fire.
I joined the U. S. Air Force in 1965, a couple of weeks after my draft notice arrived. I was assigned to the Air Force Security Service where I was a Russian linguist, trained in the language in 1966 at Indiana University. I learned enough Russian, mostly military terminology, to survive the remainder of my enlistment serving in West Germany and Pakistan. even including a promotion to Buck Sargeant before it was over. I was not very good at the language beyond the narrow confines of my job, spying on Russian air force plane to ground control and vice versa radio communications. Twenty five years later I have nothing left of the language.
my Russian lessons
I was taught
by Russian refugees
from the 1917 revolution,
the most elite
of the Czar’s guard,
humiliated by the mob,
fled, most to Algiers,
where many applied their
to the French Foreign Legion
until that enterprise, too,
most of them,
when I knew them,
living in their past, their golden age
that ended fifty years earlier,
living out their last years
teaching Russian to American
Air Force recruits who did not
understand, did not comprehend
their military ethos or of the glory
and honor of their imperial past…
they lived in the past
as their young students
lived in the day, certain -
as the young recruits were
certain their good times would
never end - that their
good time would return, that the mob
would turn, that even after so many years
the tide would rise up, the communist despots
overthrown, and they, the inheritance
of their people, would no longer be relics
at a Midwestern university, teaching
the coarse and unworthy, but
would be once again the princes
of the realm, glittering and golden as of old…
there’s nothing wrong
with enjoying memories
of the best times past, the danger
is to live with those memories,
thinking you can make them happen
again, come again just as they
used to be, unwilling to accept the grinding
turn of the wheel that is time, the grist that
turns all the best and worst of the past
to dust blowing in history’s
another fifty years now
from those days of my own youth,
I know there is some of the czarist officer
in me, too much in me,
as in the hour at night when I slip
these days and return to my own best times,
relive those times and, more than that,
extend them to a new day that could be
if memory’s dust could be made a power
beyond the force of gritty and hollow wind -
it is a dead end, that hour,
a repudiation of the real life I have made
and the world
I live it in…
better for me to look to the lesson of
Fyodor, round little white moustachioed Fyodor,
only a cadet when the end came, fleeing
to Algiers like the Colonels, but, unlike them,
putting aside dreams of the glory
that might have been his,
finding his way in music instead of war, becoming
a bandleader, playing for years, leader of an official
ship’s band, a life, with his little moustache,
on luxury liners crossing the Atlantic,
east to west, west to east, then
retiring, teaching, writing his memoirs,
paper piled two feet high
in his closet,
recording a life that always looked forward,
never looked back…
Fyodor, a champion for us who bury ourselves
in past glories, who see too little beyond
the day before last, a life that sees too much
of the sun’s setting, too little of its morning
grand old Fayda, teaching me
my most important Russian
The next piece is by Chitra Banerjee Dvakarumi, taken from her book, Black Candle, subtitled "Poems about women from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh." The book was published by CALYX Books in 1998.
The poet was born in Calcutta and has moved around the world, living in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and two children at the time the book was published. She has a Ph.D. in English from the University of California at Berkeley and an M.A. from Wright State University in Ohio.
The poem ends with an explanatory footnote: "The worship of the Living Goddess continues even today in Kathmandu, Nepal. The "goddesses" are discarded at puberty. Feared and avoided, they live out their lives as outcasts."
The Living Goddess Speaks
He had been there always, the old man
hovering at the edges of my childhood.
His shaven head, his white priest's robe.
Between games of tag and doll weddings
he darted. dry, lizard-leathery.
Following my sister home from the bazaar
I could feel his eyes on me.
My fifth birthday, he came into the house, spoke
to grandfather. I was brought in, examined:
forehead, palms, the soles of my feet.
Yes, I had the thirty-two auspicious signs. I must
be taken to the temple, must become
Kumari, the new Living Goddess. A great honor.
I clung to mother. They pried my fingers loose.
Gently, the Living Goddess must not be harmed.
Like mist they haze past,
the nights alone in the ivory bed,
the noises. The days on the temple throne,
the high, chill, silver seat, the gold-worked silks.
The jewels pulling at my throat.
Garlands, incense, mightmare toll
of bells. Dying babies thrust at my feet.
The lame, the blind, themad.
I saw, touched them all. Knew names
of all diseases, though often not
the meaning. Early I learned
the Living Goddess does not ask, or weep.
One day they brought my sister. In her stiff
bride-silks she touch her forehead
to my feet for blessing.
A burning shuddered through me. I could
say nothing. The Living Goddess does not speak.
Seven years. Any day now my blood's dark flow
will bring release. They do not tell me, but
I know, already they have found my successor.
What life for me beyond these walls,
these iron doors? Even my attendant women,
bringing bath water or eveninglamps,
shrink from my gaze. The final clang
of the gates behind me, who will I find
to part the lips that have leaned not to speak?
Who can kiss shut the eyes that cannot weep?
Or lower his weight between the open legs
of a once Living Goddess?
Evenings at my window, up on tiptoe,
pressed against the bars, I hear bazaar women
selling candy, shiny red and green,
jewel bright. Below, the brown canal
where temple offerings are thrown.
Dying jasmines from my coronet, crushed
hibiscus from my throat, my feeet.
They swirl by slow, then fast, faster,
into the vortex of a river
dark, rushing, somewhere beyond my sight.
best damn chili in Texas
Something or Other
was the name of the place
on the edge of downtown
in San Angelo
best damn chili
the devil’s own
pork and beef
and three kinds of
hot enough to defoliate
your nose hairs
and grease enough
to coat your guts
from inflow to the
before you hit the bars
and a bowl after
and you’re be so damn
at reveille your eyebrows
stand and salute
when old General Pushcart
come by on the back of his jeep
I used to know a lot
about this sort of
The next piece is by Lester Paldy, Distinguished Service Professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook where he taught beginning in 1967. During those years he also served on the the US arms control delegations in Geneva and at the UN.
The book, Wildflowers at Babi Yar, was published by Night Heron Press in 1994.
Kiev, June 6, 1993
The twelve year old girl
with deep gray eyes
and hair the amber
of ripening wheat
stands at the bus stop
holding the bunch of iris
at her waist.
She is too young
for sadness, unlike us,
and cannot know
that later there will be
time for that
and chance enough.
People crowd the benches
for the late morning mass,
at the monastery chapel,
their voices filling the space
and flowing around
the ornate columns.
Children buy ice cream
from vendors on the tree-lined street
near the war memorial.
On the afghanistan wall,
names in Cyrillic script
loom over a nodding babushka
who stares at one
as if wishing
she could make it vanish.
The Old Woman
At a Bessarbskaja market
a babushka weighs
strawberries in a rusty balance,
wraps them in newspaper,
with hands like burnished leather
and gives them to me.
The fruit stains the paper
deep red in my grasp.
Her old and wrinkled hands
were more gentle
A man and a woman
walk arm in arm
along the crowded street.
He holds flowers and speaks
to her with quiet intensity,
oblivious to the barefoot woman
and two small children
standing by the curb
who seem to wait for a ride
to a place
where none of us
will ever go.
Late Sunday Afternoon
Trees arch over
where crowds walk
among the pasteled buildings.
Some ride crowded trolleys
to Independence square
and sit by the fountain
among the booksellers,
where they talk as if words
might hold the transient day
and delay the coolness
of the coming night.
At dusk the gold domes
of Andreskaya church
catch the last of the sunlight
and lamps burn in barges
on the Dneiper glistening far below.
Houselights glow on hillsides
and cirrus veil the first star
in the westrern sky.
If the weather holds
the Pleiades will shine on
Another Austin piece, this one from about 15 years ago.
Austin, 6th Street, 1 a.m.
a good crowd out
from the University
to keep the bars
and the bands
I came down
to listen to one
featuring my son
on bass and trombone
their first set
but it’s awful
for an old
so I’m heading
to my hotel
to hit the sack
as I walk back
to my car
when 6th street
was a good place
to get VD
or stabbed in the back
and not much else
it’s all changed
and let’s face it
some weird looking
the actual street
and this late
with the tourists
gone to bed
and the state
people and the
in town for meetings
gone to their rooms
to drink it’s a quiet
and young -
the only people
I see my age
who took a
made it back
it’s a trip
for me too
but they always
that’s been my
The next piece is by Boris Pasternak from his book of selected poems.
Pasternak is best known for his masterpiece, Doctor Zhivago, for which, along with multiple volumns of poetry, he won the Nobel Prize. Born in Moscow in 1890, he died in 1960, spending much of his life, and especially after his Nobel Prize, in trouble with the Communisht State.
Put your breast under kisses, as under a tap!
For summer will not always bubble up,
An we cannot pump out the accordion's roar
Night after night round the dusty floor.
I've heard tell of old age. Terrible prophecies!
No breaker will throw up its hands to the stars.
They say things you can't believe. No face in the grass,
No heart in the ponds, no God in the trees.
Stir up your sould then! Make it all foam today.
Where are your eyes? This is the world's high noon.
Up there, thoughts cluster in a fleecy spray
Of cloud, heat, and woodpeckers, pine-needle and cone.
At this point the tramlines of town break off.
Beyond, it is Sunday. Breaking off branches,
The glade runs for cover, slipping on grass.
Scattering noons and trinity and country walks -
The world is always like this, the wood believes.
So the thicket devised it. so the clearing was told,
So it pours from the clouds - on us in our shirt-sleeves
what if I’m my evil twin
there’s a kind of
we are all twined
in the world, the good
in us and the bad
of our potential
separated into two
beings who live
to each other
if this is true,
it is in our nature
we must be the
but I’m thinking
maybe that’s wrong,
what if I’m the evil
twin who for years
has been fucking up
all the good done
through some other
guy’s good deeds,
undermining his life
by being the him
he doesn’t want
anyone to see
as Jimmy Durante
the possibilities is
This piece is by Cynthia Zarin, from her book The Swordfish Tooth, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1989.
This was Zarin's debut book. The poet was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island. Educated at Harvard and Columbia, she was working as a staff writer at The New Yorker when the book was published. Although it was a first book, she had appeard often in magazines and periodicals.
Heads smaller than my fist, pin teeeth,
the frightened chipmunk clutchng the porch screen
frightens me - quick movements not my own
jarring a rainy, eerie afternoon, in a week
of enforced solitude, as though my heart leapt out.
Time incoate, meaningless. Two birds,
trapped all night inside the porch, arch and din
against the grid. A day equals
a black year - motor of the blood a drill gone mad.
At dawn we found them, wooed them out.
And then, last night, a mole: visitant friar
a the garbage can. Alone, I stamp my foot,
but bold in company, one guest terrified, become
a benign protector of dim habits, arthly
or unearthly scrounging in or out.
Next, I have two poems from 2005, fairly early in my poem-a-day routine. The poems were written on successive days. I think of them as the step-sisters.
Both poems were included in my first book, Seven Beats a Second, from 2007.
eyes of Sister Jude
like tempered blades
that cut clean through
tat weigh and judge
and stand alert for betrayal
at every turn
dark eyes, deep,
softeed once by love
and melted by passion,
by a long night's weeping
but only once,
and it was long ago
the dreams of Mary Quemada
her long hair flowing
like a dark tide gathering
across her satin pillow,
she dreams of times past
and places she loved long ago
year to dream with her