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Poem of the Week: The Art of Leaving, by Anita Skeen

 

006_05-e1508166119125.jpgAs we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Residential College in the Arts & Humanities (RCAH) at MSU, please enjoy this villanelle, written for the occasion of the first graduating class in 2011 by RCAH Professor and Center for Poetry director Anita Skeen.

 

The Art of Leaving

~ for the inaugural graduating class of the Residential College in the Arts & Humanities (RCAH) at Michigan State University, 2011

 

You came at dawn. It’s getting on toward noon.

We’ve just had time to learn your names and faces.

How can you think of leaving us so soon?

 

You made us snakes, and left us Appalachian tunes.

You wrote about extraordinary places.

You came at dawn. It can’t be much past noon.

 

Look at your watch. It’s long before the moon

will rise. Are you sure you rounded all the bases?

How can you think of leaving us so soon?

 

You chased white whales with Ahab, drew cartoons,

studied empires, lived transculturation.

You came at dawn. It’s now mid-afternoon.

 

You’ve got your rucksacks packed, like Daniel Boone,

for city sidewalks, graduate classes, distant mesas.

How can you think of leaving us so soon?

 

Unless you’d like the plenary to resume,

best grab your boots. Be sure to tie the laces.

You came at dawn. And now it’s long past noon.

Go where you need to go. But write home soon.

 

~ Anita Skeen

                                       May 7, 2011

 

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Poem Of The Week: Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong by Ocean Vuong

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Ocean, don’t be afraid.

The end of the road is so far ahead

it is already behind us.

Don’t worry.

Your father is only your father

until one of you forgets. Like how the spine

won’t remember its wings

no matter how many times our knees

kiss the pavement. Ocean,

are you listening? The most beautiful part

of your body is wherever

your mother’s shadow falls.

Here’s the house with childhood

whittled down to a single red tripwire.

Don’t worry. Just call it horizon

& you’ll never reach it.

Here’s today. Jump. I promise it’s not

a lifeboat. Here’s the man

whose arms are wide enough to gather

your leaving. & here the moment,

just after the lights go out, when you can still see

the faint torch between his legs.

How you use it again & again

to find your own hands.

You asked for a second chance

& are given a mouth to empty into.

Don’t be afraid, the gunfire

is only the sound of people

trying to live a little longer. Ocean. Ocean,

get up. The most beautiful part of your body

is where it’s headed. & remember,

loneliness is still time spent

with the world. Here’s the room with everyone in it.

Your dead friends passing

through you like wind

through a wind chime. Here’s a desk

with the gimp leg & a brick

to make it last. Yes, here’s a room

so warm & blood-close,

I swear, you will wake—& mistake these walls

for skin.

 

Published in The New Yorker, March 2015

Photo by John Menard

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Poem of the Week: House of Life by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

katherinehepburn
Photo: Katherine Hepburn in “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” by Eugene O’Neil. Hepburn plays Mary, the family matriarch, whose eldest son quotes the following poem in reference to her insanity.
House of Life: 97. A Superscription
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been;
I am also call’d No-more, Too-late, Farewell;
Unto thine ear I hold the dead-sea shell
Cast up thy Life’s foam-fretted feet between;
Unto thine eyes the glass where that is seen
Which had Life’s form and Love’s, but by my spell
Is now a shaken shadow intolerable,
Of ultimate things unutter’d the frail screen.
Mark me, how still I am! But should there dart
One moment through thy soul the soft surprise
Of that wing’d Peace which lulls the breath of sighs,—
Then shalt thou see me smile, and turn apart
Thy visage to mine ambush at thy heart
Sleepless with cold commemorative eyes.
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Poem of the Week: “The Season of Phantasmal Peace,” by Derek Walcott

The Season of Phantasmal Peace

by Derek Walcott

 

Then all the nations of birds lifted together

the huge net of the shadows of this earth

in multitudinous dialects, twittering tongues,

stitching and crossing it. They lifted up

the shadows of long pines down trackless slopes,

the shadows of glass-faced towers down evening streets,

the shadow of a frail plant on a city sill—

the net rising soundless as night, the birds’ cries soundless, until

there was no longer dusk, or season, decline, or weather,

only this passage of phantasmal light

that not the narrowest shadow dared to sever.

 

And men could not see, looking up, what the wild geese drew,

what the ospreys trailed behind them in silvery ropes

that flashed in the icy sunlight; they could not hear

battalions of starlings waging peaceful cries,

bearing the net higher, covering this world

like the vines of an orchard, or a mother drawing

the trembling gauze over the trembling eyes

of a child fluttering to sleep;

it was the light

that you will see at evening on the side of a hill

in yellow October, and no one hearing knew

what change had brought into the raven’s cawing,

the killdeer’s screech, the ember-circling chough

such an immense, soundless, and high concern

for the fields and cities where the birds belong,

except it was their seasonal passing, Love,

made seasonless, or, from the high privilege of their birth,

something brighter than pity for the wingless ones

below them who shared dark holes in windows and in houses,

and higher they lifted the net with soundless voices

above all change, betrayals of falling suns,

and this season lasted one moment, like the pause

between dusk and darkness, between fury and peace,

but, for such as our earth is now, it lasted long.

 

 

 

 

Derek Walcott, “The Season of Phantasmal Peace” from Collected Poems: 1948-1984. Copyright © 1987 by Derek Walcott.

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Poem of the Week: “White Petals,” by Tim Dlugos

The Republic lies in the blossoms of Washington.  —Robert Bly

White petals

drop into the dark river.

Heedless of political significance,

they ride out to the sea like stars.

 

I’m the space explorer.

I travel to a planet

where there are no plants or animals.

Everyone lives in harmony.

I don’t want to go home.

 

I’m the pioneer man and the pioneer woman,

both at the same time.

I build my house with my own hands,

and it’s beautiful,

with simple, perfect lines.

 

I’m the farmer waiting for the vegetables

to grow, so I can eat.

I’m the hunter aiming at the bear.

I don’t want to shoot it, but my family needs meat.

The bear gives me a long dumb animal look.

We’ll use his skin for blankets,

his fat to light our lamps.

Our cabin will stink all night.

 

I’m the cabin boy who graduates to captain.

Shipboard sex is rough, but it suits my taste.

I’m the man on the steps of the house

where the President’s widow lives.

All night I wait for the stranger

to get out of his car

so I can flash my look of recognition.

 

I’m the cowpoke who sleeps with his horses.

I’m the man who loves dogs.

I’m the cranky President sneaking away

to swim in the Potomac.

 

I’m the black man.

I close my eyes

and it gets dark inside.

 

I feel the sun on my face.

I see the light through my eyelids.

It’s bright, intelligent

free of all cares.

 

I’m the heir of a great American family.

My success is guaranteed.

Unexpected tragedy is all that can stop me.

I’m the popular senator teaching his son to shave.

 

 

Tim Dlugos, “White Petals” from A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos. Copyright © 2011 by Tim Dlugos.  Reprinted by permission of Nightboat Books.

Source: A Fast Life: The Collected Poems of Tim Dlugos (Nightboat Books, 2011)

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Poem of the Week: “Poem with Two Endings,” by Jane Hirshfield

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Poem With Two Endings

 

Say ‘death’ and the whole room freezes –
even the couches stop moving,
even the lamps.
Like a squirrel suddenly aware it is being looked at.

Say the word continuously,
and things begin to go forward.
Your life takes on
the jerky texture of an old film strip.

Continue saying it,
hold it moment after moment inside the mouth,
it becomes another syllable.
A shopping mall swirls around the corpse of a beetle.

 

Death is voracious, it swallows all the living.
Life is voracious, it swallows all the dead.
Neither is ever satisfied, neither is ever filled,
each swallows and swallows the world.

The grip of life is as strong as the grip of death.

(but the vanished, the vanished beloved, o where?)

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Poem of the Week: “Tunnel Music” by Mark Doty

doty subway

Times Square, the shuttle’s quick chrome
flies open and the whole car floods with– what is it? Infernal industry, the tunnels
under Manhattan broken into hell at last?

Guttural churr and whistle and grind
of the engines that spin the poles?
Enormous racket, ungodly. What it is
is percussion: nine black guys

with nine lovely, previously unimagined
constructions of metal ripped and mauled,
welded and oiled: scoured chemical drums,
torched rims, unnameable disks of chrome.

Artifacts of wreck? The end of industry?
A century’s failures reworked, bent,
hammered out, struck till their shimmying
tumbles and ricochets from tile walls:

anything dinged, busted or dumped
can be beaten till it sings.
A kind of ghostly joy in it,
though this music’s almost unrecognizable,

so utterly of the coming world it is.

 

copyright 1994, from Atlantis, HarperCollins, 1995

 

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Poem of the Week: “HENRY CLAY, 1851” by Cindy Hunter Morgan

Cassat, knittingImage: Mary Cassat, “Old Woman Knitting”

 

Join us this week as we celebrate the release of Harborless, with a reading by Cindy Hunter Morgan. Wednesday, 7 p.m., RCAH Theater, Snyder Hall.

 

 

HENRY CLAY, 1951

Lake Erie

 

Baled wool washed ashore for weeks.

At first, the appearance of each bundle

was sobering and macabre,

but after a few days, one woman

began to look forward to the surprise

and the wealth

of what drifted her way.

She ripped the jute bags

and pulled out the stuffing—wet, still

scented with grease and mystery.

She dried the wool, carded it, spun it,

wound it into skeins,

and made scarves and sweaters.

Sixteen men died when the ship sunk.

At least something would come

of the cargo they carried—

mittens for the children of friends,

caps for five nephews.

Sometimes, she wondered why

bales floated and men didn’t,

and what buoyancy meant

for her own life,

dry as it was.

 

 

Cindy Hunter Morgan, from Harborless (2017), Wayne State University Press.

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Poem of the Week: Not Forgotten, by Toi Derricotte

We hope you’ll join us this week for a workshop with Toi Derricotte at 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 12, and a reading at 7 p.m. the same day. Visit here for details.

 

antsBY TOI DERRICOTTE

 

I love the way the black ants use their dead.

They carry them off like warriors on their steel

backs. They spend hours struggling, lifting,

dragging (it is not grisly as it would be for us,

to carry them back to be eaten),

so that every part will be of service. I think of

my husband at his father’s grave—

the grass had closed

over the headstone, and the name had disappeared. He took out

his pocket knife and cut the grass away, he swept it

with his handkerchief to make it clear. “Is this the way

we’ll be forgotten?” And he bent down over the grave and wept.

 

 

Toi Derricotte, “Not Forgotten” from Tender. Copyright © 1997 by Toi Derricotte. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, www.upress.pitt.edu. Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

 

 

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Poem of the Week: The Future is an Animal, by Tina Chang

BW Spider Web

 

The Future is an Animal

 

In every kind of dream I am a black wolf

careening through a web. I am the spider

who eats the wolf and inhabits the wolf’s body.

In another dream I marry the wolf and then

am very lonely. I seek my name and they name me

Lucky Dragon. I would love to tell you that all

of this has a certain ending but the most frightening

stories are the ones with no ending at all.

The path goes on and on. The road keeps forking,

splitting like an endless atom, splitting

like a lip, and the globe is on fire. As many

times as the book is read, the pages continue

to grow, multiply. They said, In the beginning,

and that was the moral of the original and most

important story. The story of man. One story.

I laid my head down and my head was heavy.

Hair sprouted through the skin, hair black

and bending toward night grass. I was becoming

the wolf again, my own teeth breaking

into my mouth for the first time, a kind of beauty

to be swallowed in interior bite and fever.

My mind a miraculous ember until I am the beast.

I run from the story that is faster than me,

the words shatter and pant to outchase me.

The story catches my heels when I turn

to love its hungry face, when I am willing

to be eaten to understand my fate.

 

Join us this week as we welcome Tina Chang to MSU. See event page for details.