Poem of the Week: “October,” by Louise Glück

Congratulations to Louise Glück, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature.


by Louise Glück

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Is it winter again, is it cold again,
didn't Frank just slip on the ice,
didn't he heal, weren't the spring seeds planted
didn't the night end,
didn't the melting ice
flood the narrow gutters
wasn't my body
rescued, wasn't it safe
didn't the scar form, invisible
above the injury
terror and cold,
didn't they just end, wasn't the back garden
harrowed and planted—
I remember how the earth felt, red and dense,
in stiff rows, weren't the seeds planted,
didn't vines climb the south wall
I can't hear your voice
for the wind's cries, whistling over the bare ground
I no longer care
what sound it makes
when was I silenced, when did it first seem
pointless to describe that sound
what it sounds like can't change what it is—
didn't the night end, wasn't the earth
safe when it was planted
didn't we plant the seeds,
weren't we necessary to the earth,
the vines, were they harvested?
Summer after summer has ended,
balm after violence:
it does me no good
to be good to me now;
violence has changed me.
Daybreak. The low hills shine
ochre and fire, even the fields shine.
I know what I see; sun that could be
the August sun, returning
everything that was taken away—
You hear this voice? This is my mind’s voice;
you can’t touch my body now.
It has changed once, it has hardened,
don’t ask it to respond again.
A day like a day in summer.
Exceptionally still. The long shadows of the maples
nearly mauve on the gravel paths.
And in the evening, warmth. Night like a night in summer.
It does me no good; violence has changed me.
My body has grown cold like the stripped fields;
now there is only my mind, cautious and wary,
with the sense it is being tested.
Once more, the sun rises as it rose in summer;
bounty, balm after violence.
Balm after the leaves have changed, after the fields
have been harvested and turned.
Tell me this is the future,
I won’t believe you.
Tell me I’m living,
I won’t believe you. 
Snow had fallen. I remember
music from an open window.
Come to me, said the world.
This is not to say
it spoke in exact sentences
but that I perceived beauty in this manner.
Sunrise. A film of moisture
on each living thing. Pools of cold light
formed in the gutters.
I stood
at the doorway,
ridiculous as it now seems.
What others found in art,
I found in nature. What others found
in human love, I found in nature.
Very simple. But there was no voice there.
Winter was over. In the thawed dirt,
bits of green were showing.
Come to me, said the world. I was standing
in my wool coat at a kind of bright portal—
I can finally say
long ago; it gives me considerable pleasure. Beauty
the healer, the teacher—
death cannot harm me
more than you have harmed me,
my beloved life. 
The light has changed;
middle C is tuned darker now.
And the songs of morning sound over-rehearsed.
This is the light of autumn, not the light of spring.
The light of autumn: you will not be spared.
The songs have changed; the unspeakable
has entered them.
This is the light of autumn, not the light that says
I am reborn.
Not the spring dawn: I strained, I suffered, I was delivered.
This is the present, an allegory of waste.
So much has changed. And still, you are fortunate:
the ideal burns in you like a fever.
Or not like a fever, like a second heart.
The songs have changed, but really they are still quite beautiful.
They have been concentrated in a smaller space, the space of the mind.
They are dark, now, with desolation and anguish.
And yet the notes recur. They hover oddly
in anticipation of silence.
The ear gets used to them.
The eye gets used to disappearances.
You will not be spared, nor will what you love be spared.
A wind has come and gone, taking apart the mind;
it has left in its wake a strange lucidity.
How privileged you are, to be passionately
clinging to what you love;
the forfeit of hope has not destroyed you.
Maestoso, doloroso:
This is the light of autumn; it has turned on us.
Surely it is a privilege to approach the end
still believing in something. 
It is true there is not enough beauty in the world.
It is also true that I am not competent to restore it.
Neither is there candor, and here I may be of some use.
I am
at work, though I am silent.
The bland
misery of the world
bounds us on either side, an alley
lined with trees; we are
companions here, not speaking,
each with his own thoughts;
behind the trees, iron
gates of the private houses,
the shuttered rooms
somehow deserted, abandoned,
as though it were the artist’s
duty to create
hope, but out of what? what?
the word itself
false, a device to refute
perception— At the intersection,
ornamental lights of the season.
I was young here. Riding
the subway with my small book
as though to defend myself against
the same world:
you are not alone,
the poem said,
in the dark tunnel. 
The brightness of the day becomes
the brightness of the night;
the fire becomes the mirror.
My friend the earth is bitter; I think
sunlight has failed her.
Bitter or weary, it is hard to say.
Between herself and the sun,
something has ended.
She wants, now, to be left alone;
I think we must give up
turning to her for affirmation.
Above the fields,
above the roofs of the village houses,
the brilliance that made all life possible
becomes the cold stars.
Lie still and watch:
they give nothing but ask nothing.
From within the earth’s
bitter disgrace, coldness and barrenness
my friend the moon rises:
she is beautiful tonight, but when is she not beautiful?

©2004 by Louise Glück, from October (Sarabande Books)

Poem of the Week: “Ghazal,” by Reginald Dwayne Betts

Photo by izhar khan on Pexels.com

We hope you’ll join us on September 23 as we welcome Reginald Dwayne Betts for two virtual appearances. Please visit our Events page for details.


Name a song that tells a man what to expect after prison;

Explains Occam’s razor: you’re still a suspect after prison.


Titus Kaphar painted my portrait, then dipped it in black tar.

He knows redaction is a dialect after prison.


From inside a cell, the night sky isn’t the measure—

that’s why it’s prison’s vastness your eyes reflect after prison.


My lover don’t believe in my sadness. She says whisky,

not time, is what left me wrecked after prison.


Ruth, Papermaker, take these tattered gray sweats.

Make paper of my bid: a past I won’t reject after prison.


The state murdered Kalief with a single high bail.

Always innocent. Did he fear time’s effect after prison?


Dear Warden, my time been served, let me go,

Promise that some of this I won’t recollect—after prison.


My mother has died. My father, a brother & two cousins.

There is no G-d; no reason to genuflect, after prison.


Jeremy and Forest rejected the template, said for

it to be funky, the font must redact after prison.


He came home saying righteous, coochie, & jive turkey.

All them lost years, his slang’s architect after prison.


The Printer silkscreens a world onto black paper.

With ink, Erik reveals what we neglect after prison.


My homeboy say he’s done with all that prison shit.

His wife & baby girl gave him love to protect after prison.


Them fools say you can become anything when it’s over.

Told ’em straight up, ain’t nothing to resurrect after prison.


You have come so far, Beloved, & for what, another song?

Then sing. Shahid you’re loved, not shipwrecked, after prison.


©2019 by Reginald Dwayne Betts, from Felon, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY

Poem of the Week: “Exegesis” by Leila Chatti

Congratulations to RCAH alum, Leila Chatti, on the publication of her debut collection, Deluge! For ordering details click here.


I bled. God didn’t
want to hear about it. He said unclean
and so it was. He said it is
harm, and so it was.

Want to hear about it? He said unclean.
Once a woman wanted, so he did
her harm. And so it was
first conceived: a woman suffering

because a woman wanted. So he said
cursed. And then he said blessed
the woman chose to suffer, conceived
a god, though she never knew a man.

And God knows best. If He calls a curse a blessing
then so it is. And he said she was
clean—she never knew a man. I’ve known men but never a god
that bled and lived. But I did.

Copyright © 2020 Leila Chatti. From Deluge (Copper Canyon Press, 2020) by Leila Chatti.

Poem of the Week: “What the Angels Left” by Marie Howe

What the Angels Left

At first, the scissors seemed perfectly harmless.
They lay on the kitchen table in the blue light.

Then I began to notice them all over the house,
at night in the pantry, or filling up bowls in the cellar

where there should have been apples. They appeared under rugs,
lumpy places where one would usually settle before the fire,

or suddenly shining in the sink at the bottom of soupy water.
Once, I found a pair in the garden, stuck in turned dirt

among the new bulbs, and one night, under my pillow,
I felt something like a cool long tooth and pulled them out

to lie next to me in the dark. Soon after that I began
to collect them, filling boxes, old shopping bags,

every suitcase I owned. I grew slightly uncomfortable
when company came. What if someone noticed them

when looking for forks or replacing dried dishes? I longed
to throw them out, but how could I get rid of something

that felt oddly like grace? It occurred to me finally
that I was meant to use them, and I resisted a growing compulsion

to cut my hair, although in moments of great distraction,
I thought it was my eyes they wanted, or my soft belly

—exhausted, in winter, I laid them out on the lawn.
The snow fell quite as usual, without any apparent hesitation

or discomfort. In spring, as expected, they were gone.
In their place, a slight metallic smell, and the dear muddy earth.

From The Good Thief. Copyright © 1988 by Marie Howe.

Poem of the Week: “The Gardener” by Patricia Hooper

The Gardener

Since the phlox are dying
and the daisies with their bright bodies
have shattered in the wind,

I go out among these last dancers,
cutting to the ground the withered asters,
the spent stalks of the lilies, the black rose,

and see them as they were in spring, the time
of eagerness and blossoms, knowing how
they will all sleep and return;

and sweep the dry leaves over them and see
the cold earth take them back as now
I know it is taking me

who have walked so long among them, so amazed,
so dazzled by their brightness I forgot
their distance, how of all

the chosen, all the fallen in the garden
I was different: I alone
could not come again to the world.

Copyright © 2003 Patricia Hooper. From Aristotle’s Garden (Bluestem Press, 2003) by Patricia Hooper.

Poem of the Week: “A Small Needful Fact” by Ross Gay

A Small Needful Fact

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

Copyright © 2015 by Ross Gay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

Poem of the Week: “My Wisdom” by Naomi Shihab Nye

My Wisdom

When people have a lot
they want more

When people have nothing
they will happily share it


Some people say
never getting your way
builds character
By now our character must be
deep and wide as a continent
Africa, Australia
giant cascade of stars
spilling over our huge night


Where did the power go?
Did it enjoy its break?
Is power exhausted?
What is real power?
Who really has power?
Did the generator break?
Do we imagine silence
more powerful because
it might contain everything?
Quiet always lives
inside noise.
But does it get much done?


Silence waits
for truth to break it


Calendars can weep too
They want us to have better days


Welcome to every minute
Feel lucky you’re still in it


No bird builds a wall


Sky purse


Won’t give up
our hopes
                for anything!


Not your fault
You didn’t make the world


How dare this go on and on?
cried the person who believed in praying
God willing      God willing      God willing
There were others who prayed
      to ruins & stumps


Open palms
      hold more


Refuse to give
          too much power

Annoying person?
Person who told me to stay home
and do what other girls do?
If you disappeared
I still might miss you


Babies want to help us
They laugh
for no reason


Pay close attention to
a drop of water
on the kitchen table


You cannot say one word about religion
and exclude Ahmad

Naomi  Shihab Nye, “My Wisdom” from The Tiny Journalist.  Copyright © 2019 by Naomi  Shihab Nye.

Poem of the Week: "a woman's place" by Denice Frohman

a woman’s place

i heard a woman becomes herself
the first time she speaks
without permission

then, every word out of her mouth
a riot

say, beautiful
& point to the map of your body
say, brave
& wear your skin like a gown or a suit
say, hero
& cast yourself in the lead role


when a girl pronounces her own name
there is glory

when a woman tells her own story
she lives forever

all the women i know are perennials—
marigolds, daffodils
soft things that refuse to die

i don’t come from anything tamed or willing
i come from soil flossed with barbed wire

meaning, abuela would cuss you out
with the same breath       she kissed

you with       her blood
a wild river

my mother         doesn’t rely on instruction manuals
or men                 nor does she equate the two

can fix anything
if you get out of her way

says the best technology
is her own two hands


but once, i dreamed    i had no teeth
just a mouth                                to hold
other people’s                              things

if this poem is the only things that survives

tell them i grew a new tongue
tell them i built me a throne

tell them when we discovered life on another planet
it was a woman
& she built a bridge, not a border

got god & named gravity
after herself.

Copyright © 2018 by Denice Frohman, “a woman’s place,” from Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism, (OR Books, 2018).

Poem of the Week: “Bird” by Dorianne Laux

Assistant to the Director, Estee Schlenner, chose this week’s poem. “I always turn to Dorianne Laux’s work when I need some comfort, and I feel like we could all use a little comforting right now. I love the way she ties in nature to her poetry, and how this poem leaves you thinking about gratitude in your own life. I hope you all are staying safe and healthy.”


For days now a red-breasted bird
has been trying to break in.
She tests a low branch, violet blossoms
swaying beside her, leaps into the air and flies
straight at my window, beak and breast
held back, claws raking the pane.
Maybe she longs for the tree she sees
reflected in the glass, but I’m only guessing.
I watch until she gives up and swoops off.
I wait for her return, the familiar
click, swoosh, thump of her. I sip cold coffee
and scan the room, trying to see it new,
through the eyes of a bird. Nothing has changed.
Books piled in a corner, coats hooked
over chair backs, paper plates, a cup
half-filled with sour milk.
The children are in school. The man is at work.
I’m alone with dead roses in a jam jar.
What do I have that she could want enough
to risk such failure, again and again?

Poem copyright ©1990 by Dorianne Laux, “Bird,” from Awake, (Carnegie Mellon Univ. Press, 1990).

Poem of the Week: “Waking After the Surgery,” by Leila Chatti

We couldn’t have been more tickled to see this poem from RCAH alumna Leila Chatti’s new book “Deluge” in Friday’s New York Times (and selected by friend of the Center for Poetry Naomi Shihab Nye). Be sure to save the evening of Tuesday, April 21 for a reading here with Leila celebrating the release of this stunning collection.

Waking After the Surgery

By Leila Chatti



And just like that, I was whole again


seam like a drawing of an eyelid closed,

gauze resting atop it like a bed


of snow laid quietly in the night

while I was somewhere or something


else, not quite dead, but nearly, freer

my self unlatched for a while as if it were


a dog I had simply released from its leash

or a balloon slipped loose from my grip


in a room with a low ceiling, my life

bouncing back within reach, my life


bounding toward me when called.