OPW, poetry

OPW: “Beside the Point”

Today’s “Other People’s Words” is a poem about what’s really important. It’s called “Beside the Point” by Stephen Cushman.

The sky has never won a prize.
The clouds have no careers.
The rainbow doesn’t say my work,
thank goodness.

The rock in the creek’s not so productive.
The mud on the bank’s not too pragmatic.
There’s nothing useful in the noise
the wind makes in the leaves.

Buck up now, my fellow superfluity,
and let’s both be of that worthless ilk,
self-indulgent as shooting stars,
self-absorbed as sunsets.

Who cares if we’re inconsequential?
At least we can revel, two good-for-nothings,
in our irrelevance; at least come and make
no difference with me.

OPW, poetry

OPW: I Used to Be but Now I Am

On today’s “Other People’s Words,” “I Used to Be but Now I Am” by Ted Berrigan. I’m not sure I can pin down what exactly it is that I like about the poem, but I just know that I like it.

I used to be inexorable,
But now I am elusive.

I used to be the future of America,
But now I am America.

I used to be part of the problem,
But now I am the problem.

I used to be part of the solution, if not all of it,
But now I am not that person.

I used to be intense, & useful,
But now I am heavy, & boring.

I used to be sentimental about myself, & therefore ruthless,
But now I am, I think, a sympathetic person, although
              easily amused.

I used to be a believer,
But now, alas, I believe.

OPW, poetry

OPW: “The Necessary Brevity of Pleasures”

Today’s “Other People’s Words” is a poem about, well, “The Necessary Brevity of Pleasures.” It’s by Samuel Hazo.

Prolonged, they slacken into pain
  or sadness in accordance with the law
  of apples.
          One apple satisfies.
Two apples cloy.
                  Three apples
      Call it a tug-of-war between enough and more
  than enough, between sufficiency
  and greed, between the stay-at-homers
  and globe-trotting see-the-worlders.
Like lovers seeking heaven in excess,
  the hopelessly insatiable forget
  how passion sharpens appetites
  that gross indulgence numbs.
       The haves have not
  what all the have-nots have
  since much of having is the need
  to have.
           Even my dog
  knows that – and more than that.
He slumbers in a moon of sunlight,
  scratches his twitches and itches
  in measure, savors every bite
  of grub with equal gratitude
  and stays determinedly in place
  unless what’s suddenly exciting
           Viewing mere change
  as threatening, he relishes a few
  undoubtable and proven pleasures
  to enjoy each day in sequence
  and with canine moderation.
They’re there for him in waiting,
  and he never wears them out.

american society, OPW, poetry

OPW: “They’ll” by Cheryl Denise

On today’s “Other People’s Words,” a poem by Cheryl Denise about the feeling that society desires conformity above all else. And about maybe leaving it behind.


take your soul
and put it in a suit,
fit you in boxes
under labels,
make you look like the Joneses.

They’ll tell you go a little blonder,
suggest sky-blue
tinted contact lenses,
conceal that birthmark
under your chin.

They’ll urge you to have babies
get fulfilled.
They’ll say marriage is easy,
flowers from Thornhills
are all you need
to keep it together.

They’ll push you to go ahead,
borrow a few more grand,
build a dream house.
Your boys need Nikes,
your girls cheerleading,
and all you need is your job
9 to 5 in the same place.

They’ll order you never to cry
in Southern States,
and never, ever dance
in the rain.

They’ll repeat all the things
your preschool teacher said
in that squeaky too tight voice.

And when you slowly
let them go,
crack your suit,
ooze your soul
in the sun,
when you run through
the woods with your dog,
read poems to swaying cornfields,
pray in tall red oaks,
they’ll whisper
and pretend you’re crazy.

OPW, poetry, world

OPW: “To My Yugoslavian In-Laws”

On today’s “Other People’s Words,” a poem about people, places, and distance. Debra Gingrich’s “To My Yugoslavian In-Laws” is about all that we have in common, and a few of the things we don’t.

If we could speak,
I would tell you that we have
trees here too, and rivers.
I know how to hammer
a nail. Transatlantic phone calls
are expensive, even for us
with our two cars, dishwasher
and American salaries. That he
will not get lazy or forget
about the ways he needed to make money
during the war, the merchandise
exchanged in dark corners of Turkey.
He is still thankful for good health.
He passes on every kiss
you tell him to give me.
I would admit that he misses
the stone beaches of the Adriatic,
he accepts the Atlantic’s murky water
as part of the compromise. He thinks
Lancaster’s streets are too vacant
at night and there is no place
to ride a bike. Also, that I wouldn’t take
your name and will never
believe the wine in the cup
turns to blood. That he and I can’t
agree on a slipcover for the couch.
That there is no perfect place
for anyone.

OPW, poetry

OPW: “Jabberwocky”

It’s easy to become a tad too concerned with looking intelligent and serious and forget to have fun. So today on “Other People’s Words,” a heroic journey told using some utter nonsense, Lewis Carrol’s famous “Jabberwocky.”

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

OPW, poetry

OPW: “The Book of A”

Today on “Other People’s Words,” Wesley McNair’s “The Book of A.” The poem reminds me of all the pack rats I’ve known, as well as the important truth that, sometimes, hoping is enough.

Raised during the Depression, my stepfather
responded to the economic opportunity
of the 1950s by buying more
and more cheap, secondhand things
meant to transform his life.
I got this for a hundred bucks,
he said, patting the tractor that listed
to one side, or the dump truck that started
with a roar and wouldn’t dump.
Spreading their parts out on his tarp.
he’d make the strange whistle
he said he learned from the birds
for a whole morning
before the silence set in.
Who knows where he picked up
the complete A–Z encyclopedias
embossed in gold and published
in 1921? They were going to take these
to the dump, he said. Night after night
he sat up, determined to understand
everything under the sun
worth knowing, and falling asleep
over the book of A. Meanwhile, as the weeks,
then the months passed, the moon
went on rising over the junk machines
in the tall grass of the only
world my stepfather ever knew,
and nobody wrote to classify
his odd, beautiful whistle, formed
somehow, in the back of his throat
when a new thing seemed just about to happen
and no words he could say expressed his hope.

OPW, poetry

OPW: “The Mower” by Phillip Larkin

Today’s “Other People’s Words” is short but sweet. It’s a poem by Phillip Larkin about cutting the grass and discovering the sanctity of life.

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

OPW, poetry

OPW: “Acceptance Speech”

This poem, “Acceptance Speech” by Lynn Powell, reminded me of all the great and hard work that can go into the most mundane events. Because of that, I thought it absolutely fit to share here on “Other People’s Words.”

The radio’s replaying last night’s winners
and the gratitude of the glamorous,
everyone thanking everybody for making everything
so possible, until I want to shush
the faucet, dry my hands, join in right here
at the cluttered podium of the sink, and thank

my mother for teaching me the true meaning of okra,
my children for putting back the growl in hunger,
my husband, primo uomo of dinner, for not
begrudging me this starring role—

without all of them, I know this soup
would not be here tonight.

And let me just add that I could not
have made it without the marrow bone, that blood—
brother to the broth, and the tomatoes
who opened up their hearts, and the self-effacing limas,
the blonde sorority of corn, the cayenne
and oregano who dashed in
in the nick of time.

Special thanks, as always, to the salt—
you know who you are—and to the knife,
who revealed the ripe beneath the rind,
the clean truth underneath the dirty peel.

—I hope I’ve not forgotten anyone—
oh, yes, to the celery and the parsnip,
those bit players only there to swell the scene,
let me just say: sometimes I know exactly how you feel.

But not tonight, not when it’s all
coming to something and the heat is on and
I’m basking in another round
of blue applause.

OPW, poetry

OPW: The Poets’ Annual Indigence Report

“The Poets’ Annual Indigence Report” is among the most confounding William Stafford poems that I have ever found. I am honestly unable to understand or explain exactly what it is supposed to mean, but I’m still awed by the beauty of the phrases.

The most salient meaning I have found (thank you Google) that it is about intellectualism in the 1950s. I can find possible allusions to this in the poem, but I don’t think that’s an adequate explanation. If you think you can explain it, or want to try, please let me know.

Tonight beyond the determined moon,
aloft with nothing left that is voluntary
for delight, everything uttering hydrogen,
your thinkers are mincing along through a hail of contingencies,

While we all–floating though we are, lonesome though we are,
lost in hydrogen–we live by seems things:
when things just are, then something else
will be doing the living.

Doing is not enough; being is not enough;
knowing is far from enough. So we clump around, putting
feet on the dazzle floor, awaiting the real schedule
by celebrating the dazzle schedule.

And, whatever is happening, we are here;
a lurch or a god has brought us together.
We do our jobs–listening in fear
in endless, friendless, Jesus-may-happen fashion.

Our shadows ride over the grass, your shadows, ours: –
Rich men, wise men, be our contemporaries.