Poetry Month #21: Haiku by Etheridge Knight

I admired and followed his work from my Boston years on–but never realized he wrote haiku.


By Etheridge Knight

Eastern guard tower
glints in sunset; convicts rest
like lizards on rocks.

The piano man
is stingy, at 3 A.M.
his songs drop like plum.

Morning sun slants cell.
Drunks stagger like cripple flies
On jailhouse floor.

To write a blues song
is to regiment riots
and pluck gems from graves.

A bare pecan tree
slips a pencil shadow down
a moonlit snow slope.

The falling snow flakes
Cannot blunt the hard aches nor
Match the steel stillness.

Under moon shadows
A tall boy flashes knife and
Slices star bright ice.

In the August grass
Struck by the last rays of sun
The cracked teacup screams.

Making jazz swing in
Seventeen syllables AIN’T
No square poet’s job.

Poetry Month #20: Osip Mandelstam

This was originally curated by Michaela Kahn–glad to reblog–

Osip Mandelstam, 15 January 1891 to 27 December 1938, was a Russian poet and member of the Acmeist School of poets. He was arrested and exiled by Stalin’s repressive government in the 1930’s and sent to Voronezh in Southwestern Russia. In 1938 he was again arrested and sent to be interned in a Siberian work camp. He died that year. He said, “Only in Russia is poetry respected, it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?”

This is a poem from his Voronezh notebooks in a new translation by Andrew Davies.


When the goldfinch, in his airy confection,
Suddenly gets angry, begins to quake,
His spite sets off his scholar’s robes,
Shows to advantage his cute black cap.

And he slanders the hundred bars,
Curses the sticks and perches of his prison—
And the world’s turned completely inside out,
And surely there’s a forest Salamanca
For birds so smart, so disobedient.

–December 1936.

Poetry Month #19: Gabriela Mistral

Thanks to Judy Katz-Levine


A poem by Gabriela Mistral, translated by Maria Giachetti, from “Gabriela Mistral, A Reader”, White Pine Press 1993

She has returned, she has returned.

Each morning the same yet new.

Anticipated yesterday

and forever, 
she must arrive this morning.

Empty-handed morning

that promised and cheated.

Behold another morning unfurl,

leap like the deer of the East,

awake, jubilant and new,

alive, brisk, and rich with work.

Brother, raise your head

from your chest

and receive her.

Make yourself worthy

of the one that leaps skyward,

and like a halcyon,

pushes off and rises,

a golden halcyon,

swooping down to us with songs.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!

Poetry Month #18: In Season

Always enjoy a trip to Silver City and a stroll and a bit of shopping in its funky downtown. In the used bookstore I immediately came upon a copy of HAIKU WORLD: An International Poetry Almanac by William J.Higginson. I’m in it, but had never seen a copy! It collects a thousand contemporary haiku that use season words (saijiki) –a concept that has had to expand as haiku has become an international form. Of course I purchased the volume!

One of my haiku:
Evening calm…
I echo the train whistle
For the baby’s smile

Bill Higginson identifies it as yunagi–evening calm. It’s summer, and suggests the sea.

I can remember exactly how I wrote it in my house on Kathryn Street. You could always hear the train whistle from there, even before the Rail Runner. For me, that evening calm obviously refers to the baby–and the relief that this is not a fussy colicky end of the day. We’re inland, but the desert also stills after late afternoon.

Well, that baby is grown woman and we’re going to Japan next year for an artists’ residency. She is practicing her Japanese. I’m practicing admitting the passage of time.

Poetry Month #16: Testimony – Stephen Dunn

At our smallish first night seder last Monday we had guests from at least five different religious/philosophical backgrounds. One guest brought this poem to read–it’s stayed with me and seems hauntingly appropriate for today.

Testimony – Stephen Dunn

The Lord woke me in the middle of the night,
and there stood Jesus with a huge tray,
and the tray was heaped with cookies,
and He said, Stephen, have a cookie,

and that’s when I knew for sure the Lord
is the real deal, the Man of all men,
because at that very moment
I was thinking of cookies, Vanilla Wafers

to be exact, and there were two
Vanilla Wafers in among the chocolate
chips and the lemon ices, and one
had a big S on it, and I knew it was for me,

and Jesus took it off the tray and put it
in my mouth, as if He were give me
communication, or whatever they call it.
Then He said, Have another,

and I tell you I thought a long time before I
refused, because I knew it was a test
to see if I was a Christian, which means
a man like Christ, and not a big ole hog.