Tag Archives: favorite poems

E. E. Cummings #3

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

— E. E. Cummings

From W {ViVa} (1931).

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Patricia Smith


Introduction to the poem starts at 2:45; poem starts at 3:30.

Chinese Cucumbers

it’s 3 pm on one helluva hot day and he’d been
scouring the close cluttered streets nonstop,
forgetting lunch. it’s 3 pm exactly one week
after headline screamed at him from
supermarket tabloid, CHINESE CUCUMBERS
MIRACLE CURE FOR AIDS and now right in the
middle of poking around another dusty stall,
slapping aside the maggots and fruit flies,
he realizes he doesn’t even know what the damned
things look like. and once he found them, if he
ever did, what next? did he peel them,
mash them, purée them, boil them, sauté
them, or simply rub the cold, unwashed
things across David’s spotted skin?
should he share them with David,
forcing the crisp slices into his lover’s mouth,
send pieces to their friends, pray over
them, light them like candles, offer them
as sacrifice or simply bake them up in a nice
casserole? Or maybe the cure was just in
finding them—maybe the minute one of the
tight-lipped Chinese merchants admitted
he had some of the little babies stashed in
the back, David would sit up in his hospital
bed and say hey I can breathe now. maybe
the damned things weren’t salvation, maybe
they were just like the oils, the oils, those
pungent greases it took him almost a year
to find, and when he did he warmed fat drops
in his hands and rubbed them over David’s
sunken balls, over the withered cock, up and
down the bony legs and between the toes. then
he turned the thin shell over, warmed the oil
in his hands again and massaged David’s ass
and back and waited and waited and waited
and—, but the damned oil just glistened
under the lamplight, and David kept on dying,
dying so loud you could hear it,
he could hear it, but he also heard NEW CURE
ON THE HORIZON, crystals, yes, hung from
the neck on pure golden chains, set at angles
in the sunlight, crystals, Oprah and Phil,
Nightline and Current Affair screaming it,
and he heard, he held David’s cracking head in
his lap and slipped the chain down on toothpick
neck, the lavender crystal burning with bad light,
glittering against David’s breastbone, shaking
with his breathing and not working, not working,
dammit not working, but pretty as hell and loud
as shit. I am one gorgeous chunk of glass the
crystal screamed, but what is inside this body
I cannot pull out, I cannot silence the clicking
and the wheezing or purify the rotten blood, but
have you tried the oils? made a near-dead boy
in the south end stand up in his bed and scream
HALLELUJAH! but then again he was also on the
spiritual path, repeating one thousand times a
day i am a good person, my body is pure, i will
not die, i am a good person, my body is pure, i
will not die, and as he guides David through
the words, watching them move sore and hurting
through the mouth, the oil matting his hair,
the crystal on fire at his throat, choking
on the chant i am a good person, my body is
pure, i will not die, and tomorrow wouldn’t
be nearly so hot, he’d search all damned day
if he had to, and headline screamed at him
from supermarket tabloid CHINESE CUCUMBERS
MIRACLE CURE FOR AIDS and Jesus Christ the
damn things had to be somewhere.

— Patricia Smith

From Big Towns, Big Talk (1992).

Patricia Smith worked with Kurt Heintz to create a “poetry video” for this piece in 1994. You can read about the creation and reception of this video here, and watch or download the video with one of these links:

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E. E. Cummings #2

i like my body when it is with your
body.   It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body.   i like what it does,
i like its hows.   i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which I will
again and again and again
kiss,   i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh . . . .  And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly I like the thrill

of under me you so quite new

— E. E. Cummings

From & (And) (1925).

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Billy Collins

Japan

Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again.

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It’s the one about the one-ton temple bell
with the moth sleeping on its surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it at the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

— Billy Collins

From Picnic, Lightning (1998).

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Mary Ruefle

Snow

Every time it starts to snow, I would like to have
sex. No matter if it is snowing lightly and unseri-
ously, or snowing very seriously, well on into the
night, I would like to stop whatever manifestation
of life I am engaged in and have sex, with the same
person, who also sees the snow and heeds it, who
might have to leave an office or meeting, or some ar-
duous physical task, or, conceivably, leave off having
sex with another person, and go in the snow to me,
who is already, in the snow, beginning to have sex in
my snow-mind. Someone for whom, like me, this is
an ultimatum, the snow sign, an ultimatum of joy,
though as an ultimatum beyond joy as well as sor-
row. I would like to be in the classroom — for I am
a teacher — and closing my book stand up, saying
“It is snowing and I must go have sex, good-bye,”
and walk out of the room. And starting my car, in
the beginning stages of snow, know that he is start-
ing his car, with the flakes falling on its windshield,
or, if he is at home, he is looking at the snow and
knowing I will arrive, snowy, in ten or twenty or
thirty minutes, and, if the snow has stopped off, we,
as humans, can make a decision, but not while it is
still snowing, and even half-snow would be some
thing to be obeyed. I often wonder where the birds
go in a snowstorm, for they disappear completely.
I always think of them deep inside the bushes, and
further along inside the trees and deep inside of the
forests, on branches where no snow can reach, deep-
ly recessed for the time of the snow, not oblivious
to it, but intensely accepting their incapacity, and
so enduring the snow in brave little inborn ways,
with their feathered heads bowed down for warmth.
Wings, the mark of a bird, are quite useless in snow.
When I am inside having sex while it snows I want
to be thinking about the birds too, and I want my
love to love thinking about the birds as much as I
do, for it is snowing and we are having sex under
or on top of the blankets and the birds cannot be
that far away, deep in the stillness and silence of the
snow, their breasts still have color, their hearts are
beating, they breathe in and out while it snows all
around them, though thinking about the birds is not
as fascinating as watching it snow on a cemetery, on
graves and tombstones and the vaults of the dead,
I love watching it snow on graves, how cold the
snow is, even colder the stones, and the ground is
the coldest of all, and the bones of the dead are in
the ground, but the dead are not cold, snow or no
snow, it means very little to them, nothing, it means
nothing to them, but for us, watching it snow on the
dead, watching the graveyard get covered in snow, it
is very cold, the snow on top of the graves over the
bones, it seems especially cold, and at the same time
especially peaceful, it is like snow falling gently on
sleepers, even if it falls in a hurry it seems gentle,
because the sleepers are gentle, they are not anxious,
they are sleeping through the snow and they will
be sleeping beyond the snow, and although I will
be having sex while it snows I want to remember
the quiet, cold, gentle sleepers who cannot think of
themselves as birds nestled in feathers, but who are
themselves, in part, part of the snow, which is falling
with such steadfast devotion to the ground all the
anxiety in the world seems gone, the world seems
deep in a bed as I am deep in a bed, lost in the arms
of my lover, yes, when it snows like this I feel the
whole world has joined me in isolation and silence.

— Mary Ruefle

From The Most of It (2007).

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Anne Sexton #2

Said the Poet to the Analyst

My business is words. Words are like labels,
or coins, or better, like swarming bees.
I confess I am only broken by the sources of things;
as if words were counted like dead bees in the attic,
unbuckled from their yellow eyes and their dry wings.
I must always forget how one word is able to pick
out another, to manner another, until I have got
something I might have said…
but did not.

Your business is watching my words. But I
admit nothing. I worth with my best, for instance,
when I can write my praise for a nickel machine,
that one night in Nevada: telling how the magic jackpot
came clacking three bells out, over the lucky screen.
But if you should say this is something it is not,
then I grow weak, remembering how my hands felt funny
and ridiculous and crowded with all
the believing money.

— Anne Sexton

From To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960).

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