Evening Poetry, February 29

White Oaks Ascending

by Stanley Plumly

In the mind-weave,

at a thousand, ten

thousand feet, they all

lean in on one another,

snowy, hollow, still

gothic with winter.

and the few torn leaves

starved neutral back

into the spring before

this one, the one long since

gone black under the ice,

hold on, mark time–

they’ll fall eventually,

once, twice, and

turn dark green again,

slowly, in detail.

And the few songbirds,

with their clear glass eyes

and heartbreaking voices,

stationed out of sight

in the high, cold crowns–

they’ll sing true again,

and fly and fall to earth

awhile among the human.

And this is promised

too, that the wind left

trapped in the blue

alleys of the branches

will climb and clarify

in the still and risen air.

Let the stone gods

in their fountains

turn like clockwork–

they’re no less rooted

in the rain, nor their marble

less perfection of the snow–

let the clay gods circle

in the fire. The body

piecemeal falls away;

the spirit, in the privacy

of dark, sheds all its leaves.

I died, I climbed a tree, I sang.

You can find this in Poems About Trees.

Evening Poetry, February 28

“There’s a Certain Slant of Light”

by Emily Dickinson

There’s a certain Slant of light

On winter afternoons–

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly Hurt it gives us–

We can find no scar–

But internal difference

Where the Meanings are.

None may teach it anything

‘Tis the seal, Despair–

An imperial affliction

Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the Landscape listens–

Shadows hold their breath–

When it goes, ’tis like the Distance

On the look of Death.

You can find this poem in The Four Seasons: Poems.

Evening Poetry, February 27

Late February 

By Ted Kooser

The first warm day,
and by mid-afternoon
the snow is no more
than a washing
strewn over the yards,
the bedding rolled in knots
and leaking water,
the white shirts lying
under the evergreens.
Through the heaviest drifts
rise autumn’s fallen
bicycles, small carnivals
of paint and chrome,
the Octopus
and Tilt-A-Whirl
beginning to turn
in the sun. Now children,
stiffened by winter
and dressed, somehow,
like old men, mutter
and bend to the work
of building dams.
But such a spring is brief;
by five o’clock
the chill of sundown,
darkness, the blue TVs
flashing like storms
in the picture windows,
the yards gone gray,
the wet dogs barking
at nothing. Far off
across the cornfields
staked for streets and sewers,
the body of a farmer
missing since fall
will show up
in his garden tomorrow,
as unexpected
as a tulip.

You can find this poem in Sure Signs.

Evening Poetry, February 26

Ash Wednesday

BY LOUIS UNTERMEYER

(Vienna) 

I

Shut out the light or let it filter through
These frowning aisles as penitentially
As though it walked in sackcloth. Let it be
Laid at the feet of all that ever grew
Twisted and false, like this rococo shrine
Where cupids smirk from candy clouds and where
The Lord, with polished nails and perfumed hair,
Performs a parody of the divine.

The candles hiss; the organ-pedals storm;
Writhing and dark, the columns leave the earth
To find a lonelier and darker height.
The church grows dingy while the human swarm
Struggles against the impenitent body’s mirth.
Ashes to ashes. . . . Go. . . . Shut out the light.

(Hinterbrühl) 

II

And so the light runs laughing from the town,
Pulling the sun with him along the roads
That shed their muddy rivers as he goads
Each blade of grass the ice had flattened down.
At every empty bush he stops to fling
Handfuls of birds with green and yellow throats;
While even the hens, uncertain of their notes,
Stir rusty vowels in attempts to sing.

He daubs the chestnut-tips with sudden reds
And throws an olive blush on naked hills
That hoped, somehow, to keep themselves in white.
Who calls for sackcloth now? He leaps and spreads
A carnival of color, gladly spills
His blood: the resurrection—and the light.

You can find this in Burning Bush.

Evening Poetry, February 25

The Poet Dreams of the Classroom

by Mary Oliver

I dreamed

I stood up in class

and I said aloud:

Teacher,

why is algebra important?

Sit down, he said.

Then I dreamed

I stood up

and I said:

Teacher, I’m weary of turkeys

that we have to draw every fall.

May I draw a fox instead?

Sit down, he said.

Then I dreamed

I stood up once more and said:

Teacher,

my heart is falling asleep

and it wants to wake up.

It needs to be outside.

Sit down, he said.

You can find this poem in Swan: Poems and Prose Poems.

Evening Poetry, February 24

Canary

by Rita Dove

for Michael S. Harper

Billie Holiday’s burned voice
had as many shadows as lights,
a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,
the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.

(Now you’re cooking, drummer to bass,   
magic spoon, magic needle.
Take all day if you have to
with your mirror and your bracelet of song.)

Fact is, the invention of women under siege   
has been to sharpen love in the service of myth.

If you can’t be free, be a mystery.

You can find this poem in Grace Notes.

Evening Poetry, February 23

It’s our one-year wedding anniversary today! Here is the poem I read to Alan during our wedding ceremony.

Everything That Was Broken

by Mary Oliver

Everything that was broken has

forgotten its brokenness. I live

now in a sky-house, through every

window the sun. Also your presence.

Our touching, our stories. Earthy

and holy both. How can this be, but

it is. Every day has something in

it whose name is Forever.

You can find this poem in Felicity.

Evening Poetry, February 22

Harlem

by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

You can find this poem in The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes.

Evening Poetry, February 21

Awaking in New York

by Maya Angelou

Curtains forcing their will

against the wind,

children sleep,

exchanging dreams with

seraphim. The city

drags itself awake on

subway straps; and

I, an alarm, awake as a

rumor of war,

lie stretching into dawn,

unasked and unheeded.

You can find this poem in The Complete Poetry.

Evening Poetry, February 20

Afterflakes

by Robert Frost

In the thick of a teeming snowfall

I saw my shadow on snow.

I turned and looked back up at the sky,

Where we still look to ask the why

Of everything below.

If I shed such a darkness,

If the reason was in me,

That shadow of mine should show in form

Against the shapeless shadow of storm,

How swarthy I must be.

I turned and looked back upward.

The whole sky was blue;

And the thick flakes floating at a pause

Were but frost knots on an airy gauze,

With the sun shining through.

You can find this in The Four Seasons.