McDoc

Just another Medical Humanities Blog

Posts Tagged ‘women poets’

Poems for February 2012

Posted by mcdoc on February 9, 2012

Ann Campanella

Mid February

The day is warm and dank as early summer.
Crows scream and pitch in the woods
like the ruckus of old women fighting
for the shreds of their lives.

A sudden silence — then the hum
of a black-winged cloud oozing
through the naked sky —
the ruckus begins again.

Under the layers of winter grey,
the farm is pale and muted, the barn doors
shut tight. The only animals in sight
an earth-brown squirrel and these harbinger birds.

I am waiting for the sun to shine again,
to learn how to unfurl my heart in its warmth.
These days, neither long nor short, bright nor dark,
wet nor dry, fill me with a sadness I cannot name.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, a day of love
and chocolate. My father, born eighty-one years ago,
always bought red cardboard hearts full of truffles
for my mother, my sister and me. Now he is gone.

This morning, the doctor taps his pencil
against the screen. A six-week ultrasound.
There, that’s the heartbeat.
A tiny flutter outlined by grey.

Joseph Mills

The Husband

He comes every day to eat lunch and sit
with her in the sun room. Sometimes he reads
letters out loud from their children or friends;
sometimes he reads the paper as she sleeps.
One day the staff makes her favorite cake
to celebrate their anniversary,
and he tells how, to buy her ring, he worked
months of overtime at the factory,
so she thought he was seeing someone else.
“As if I would look at other women
when I have Pearl,” he says, shaking his head.
She begins to cry and tells him, “You’re sweet,
but I miss my husband.” He pats her hand.
“I know,” he says, “It’s all right. Try some cake.”

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Poems for November 2011

Posted by mcdoc on November 4, 2011

Linda Hogan
(1947 – )

The Way In

Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body.
Sometimes the way in is a song.
But there are three ways in the world: dangerous, wounding,
and beauty.
To enter stone, be water.
To rise through hard earth, be plant
desiring sunlight, believing in water.
To enter fire, be dry.
To enter life, be food.

Ronald Wallace
(1945 – )

Obituary

Just once, you say,
you’d like to see
an obituary in which
the deceased didn’t succumb
after “a heroic struggle” with cancer,
or heart disease, or Alzheimer’s, or
whatever it was
that finally took him down.
Just once, you say,
couldn’t the obit read:
He got sick and quit.
He gave up the ghost.
He put up no fight at all.
Rolled over. Bailed out.
Got out while the getting was good.
Excused himself from life’s feast.
You’re making a joke and
I laugh, though you can’t know
I’m considering exactly that:
no radical prostatectomy for me,
no matter what General Practitioner
and Major Oncologist may say.
I think, let that walnut-sized
pipsqueak have its way with me,
that pebble in cancer’s slingshot
that brings dim Goliath down.
So, old friend, before I go
and take all the wide world with me,
I want you to know
I picked up the tip.
I skipped the main course,
I’m here in the punch line.
Old friend, the joke’s on me.

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Poems for September 2011

Posted by mcdoc on September 6, 2011

Freya Manfred
(1944-)

Green Pear Tree in September

On a hill overlooking the Rock River
my father’s pear tree shimmers,
in perfect peace,
covered with hundreds of ripe pears
with pert tops, plump bottoms,
and long curved leaves.
Until the green-haloed tree
rose up and sang hello,
I had forgotten…
He planted it twelve years ago,
when he was seventy-three,
so that in September
he could stroll down
with the sound of the crickets
rising and falling around him,
and stand, naked to the waist,
slightly bent, sucking juice
from a ripe pear.

Lynn Ungar

Boundaries

The universe does not
revolve around you.
The stars and planets spinning
through the ballroom of space
dance with one another
quite outside of your small life.
You cannot hold gravity
or seasons; even air and water
inevitably evade your grasp.
Why not, then, let go?

You could move through time
like a shark through water,
neither restless or ceasing,
absorbed in and absorbing
the native element.
Why pretend you can do otherwise?
The world comes in at every pore,
mixes in your blood before
breath releases you into
the world again. Did you think
the fragile boundary of your skin
could build a wall?

Listen. Every molecule is humming
its particular pitch.
Of course you are a symphony.
Whose tune do you think
the planets are singing
as they dance?

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Poems for August 2011

Posted by mcdoc on August 12, 2011

John Stone
(1936 – 2008)

Whittling: The Last Class

What has been written
about whittling
is not true

most of it

It is the discovery
that keeps
the fingers moving

not idleness

but the knife looking for
the right plane
that will let the secret out

Whittling is no pastime

he says
who has been whittling
in spare minutes at the wood

of his life for forty years

Three rules he thinks
have helped
Make small cuts

In this way

you may be able to stop before
what was to be an arm
has to be something else

Always whittle away from yourself

and toward something.
For God’s sake
and your own
know when to stop

Whittling is the best example
I know of what most
may happen when

least expected

bad or good
Hurry before
angina comes like a pair of pliers

over your left shoulder

There is plenty of wood
for everyone
and you

Go ahead now

May you find
in the waiting wood
rough unspoken

what is true

or
nearly true
or

true enough.

Louise Bogan
(1897 – 1970)

The Dragonfly

You are made of almost nothing
But of enough
To be great eyes
And diaphanous double vans;
To be ceaseless movement,
Unending hunger,
Grappling love.

Link between water and air,
Earth repels you.
Light touches you only to shift into iridescence
Upon your body and wings.

Twice-born, predator,
You split into the heat.
Swift beyond calculation or capture
You dart into the shadow
Which consumes you.

You rocket into the day.
But at last, when the wind flattens the grasses,
For you, the design and purpose stop.

And you fall
With the other husks of summer.

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Poems for July 2011

Posted by mcdoc on July 14, 2011

Charles Simic
(1938- )
Stone

Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill—
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.

Joy Harjo
(1951- )

A Map to the Next World

In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map
for those who would climb through the hole in the sky.

My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged from the killing fields,
from the bedrooms and the kitchens.

For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.

The map must be of sand and can’t be read by ordinary light.
It must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.

In the legend are instructions on the language of the land,
how it was we forgot to acknowledge the gift, as if we were not in it or of it.

Take note of the proliferation of supermarkets and malls, the altars of money.
They best describe the detour from grace.

Keep track of the errors of our forgetfulness; a fog steals our children while we sleep.

Flowers of rage spring up in the depression, the monsters are born there of nuclear anger.

Trees of ashes wave good-bye to good-bye and the map appears to disappear.

We no longer know the names of the birds here,
how to speak to them by their personal names.

Once we knew everything in this lush promise.

What I am telling you is real and is printed in a warning on the map.
Our forgetfulness stalks us, walks the earth behind us,
leaving a trail of paper diapers, needles and wasted blood.

An imperfect map will have to do little one.

The place of entry is the sea of your mother’s blood,
your father’s small death as he longs to know himself in another.

There is no exit.

The map can be interpreted through the wall of the intestine —
a spiral on the road of knowledge.

You will travel through the membrane of death,
smell cooking from the encampment where our relatives make a feast
of fresh deer meat and corn soup, in the Milky Way.

They have never left us; we abandoned them for science.

And when you take your next breath as we enter the fifth world there will be no X,
no guide book with words you can carry.

You will have to navigate by your mother’s voice, renew the song she is singing.

Fresh courage glimmers from planets.

And lights the map printed with the blood of history,
a map you will have to know by your intention, by the language of suns.

When you emerge note the tracks of the monster slayers
where they entered the cities of artificial light and killed what was killing us.

You will see red cliffs. They are the heart, contain the ladder.

A white deer will come to greet you when the last human climbs from the destruction.

Remember the hole of our shame marking the act of abandoning our tribal grounds.

We were never perfect.

Yet, the journey we make together is perfect on this earth
who was once a star and made the same mistakes as humans.

We might make them again, she said.

Crucial to finding the way is this: there is no beginning or end.

You must make your own map.

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Poems for June 2011

Posted by mcdoc on June 8, 2011

Marge Piercy
(1936 – )

The tao of touch

What magic does touch create
that we crave it so. That babies
do not thrive without it. That
the nurse who cuts tough nails
and sands calluses on the elderly
tells me sometimes men weep
as she rubs lotion on their feet.

Yet the touch of a stranger
the bumping or predatory thrust
in the subway is like a slap.
We long for the familiar, the open
palm of love, its tender fingers.
It is our hands that tamed cats
into pets, not our food.

The widow looks in the mirror
thinking, no one will ever touch
me again, never. Not hold me.
Not caress the softness of my
breasts, my inner thighs, the swell
of my belly. Do I still live
if no one knows my body?

We touch each other so many
ways, in curiosity, in anger,
to command attention, to soothe,
to quiet, to rouse, to cure.
Touch is our first language
and often, our last as the breath
ebbs and a hand closes our eyes.

Arthur Sze
(1950 – )

The Unnamable River

1.

Is it in the anthracite face of a coal miner,
crystallized in the veins and lungs of a steel
worker, pulverized in the grimy hands of a railroad engineer?
Is it in a child naming a star, coconuts washing
ashore, dormant in a volcano along the Rio Grande?

You can travel the four thousand miles of the Nile
to its source and never find it.
You can climb the five highest peaks of the Himalayas
and never recognize it.
You can gaze though the largest telescope
and never see it.

But it’s in the capillaries of your lungs.
It’s in the space as you slice open a lemon.
It’s in a corpse burning on the Ganges,
in rain splashing on banana leaves.

Perhaps you have to know you are about to die
to hunger for it. Perhaps you have to go
alone in the jungle armed with a spear
to truly see it. Perhaps you have to
have pneumonia to sense its crush.

But it’s also in the scissor hands of a clock.
It’s in the precessing motion of a top
when a torque makes the axis of rotation describe a cone:
and the cone spinning on a point gathers
past, present, future.

2.

In a crude theory of perception, the apple you
see is supposed to be a copy of the actual apple,
but who can step out of his body to compare the two?
Who can step out of his life and feel
the Milky Way flow out of his hands?

An unpicked apple dies on a branch:
that is all we know of it.
It turns black and hard, a corpse on the Ganges.
Then go ahead and map out three thousand mile of the Yantze;
walk each inch, feel its surge and
flow as you feel the surge and flow in your own body.

And the spinning cone of a precessing top
is a form of existence that gathers and spins death and life into one.
It is in the duration of words, but beyond words –
river river river, river river.
The coal miner may not know he has it.
The steel worker may not know he has it.
The railroad engineer may not know he has it.
But it is there. It is in the smell
of an avocado blossom, and in the true passion of a kiss.

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Poems for May 2011

Posted by mcdoc on May 1, 2011

James Wright
(1927 – 1980)

A Blessing

Just off the Highway to Rochester, Minnesota
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Julia Kasdorf
(1962 – )

What I Learned From My Mother

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy as though I understood loss, even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease pain.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this,
To every house you enter, you offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your touch.

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Poems for January 2011

Posted by mcdoc on January 2, 2011

Kim Addonizio
(1954 – )

New Year’s Day

The rain this morning falls
on the last of the snow

and will wash it away. I can smell
the grass again, and the torn leaves

being eased down into the mud.
The few loves I’ve been allowed

to keep are still sleeping
on the West Coast. Here in Virginia

I walk across the fields with only
a few young cows for company.

Big-boned and shy,
they are like girls I remember

from junior high, who never
spoke, who kept their heads

lowered and their arms crossed against
their new breasts. Those girls

are nearly forty now. Like me,
they must sometimes stand

at a window late at night, looking out
on a silent backyard, at one

rusting lawn chair and the sheer walls
of other people’s houses.

They must lie down some afternoons
and cry hard for whoever used

to make them happiest,
and wonder how their lives

have carried them
this far without ever once

explaining anything. I don’t know
why I’m walking out here

with my coat darkening
and my boots sinking in, coming up

with a mild sucking sound
I like to hear. I don’t care

where those girls are now.
Whatever they’ve made of it

they can have. Today I want
to resolve nothing.

I only want to walk
a little longer in the cold

blessing of the rain,
and lift my face to it.

Sharon Olds
(1942 – )

His Stillness

The doctor said to my father, “You asked me
to tell you when nothing more could be done.
That’s what I’m telling you now.” My father
sat quite still, as he always did,
especially not moving his eyes. I had thought
he would rave if he understood he would die,
wave his arms and cry out. He sat up,
thin, and clean, in his clean gown,
like a holy man. The doctor said,
“There are things we can do which might give you time,
but we cannot cure you.” My father said,
“Thank you.” And he sat, motionless, alone,
with the dignity of a foreign leader.
I sat beside him. This was my father.
He had known he was mortal. I had feared they would have to
tie him down. I had not remembered
he had always held still and kept quiet to bear things,
the liquor a way to keep still. I had not
known him. My father had dignity. At the
end of his life his life began
to wake in me.

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Poems for December 2010

Posted by mcdoc on December 1, 2010

Paul Zimmer
(1934 – )

Lester Tells of Wanda and the Big Snow

Some years back I worked a strip mine
Out near Tylersburg. One day it starts
To snow and by two we got three feet.
I says to the foreman, “I’m going home.”
He says, ”Ain’t you stayin’ till five?”
I says, “I got to see to my cows,”
Not telling how Wanda was there at the house.
By the time I make it home at four
Another foot is down and it don’t quit
Until it lays another. Wanda and me
For three whole days seen no one else.
We tunneled the drifts and slid
Right over the barbed wire, laughing
At how our heartbeats melted the snow.
After a time the food was gone and I thought
I’d butcher a cow, but then it cleared
And the moon come up as sweet as an apple.
Next morning the ploughs got through. It made us sad.
It don’t snow like that no more. Too bad.

Mary Oliver
(1935 – )

White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —

as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

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Poems for November 2010

Posted by mcdoc on November 1, 2010

William Butler Yeats
(1865 – 1939)

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Anne Sexton
(1929 – 1974)

Courage

It is in the small things we see it.
The child’s first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

Later,
if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

Later,
if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

Later,
when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you’ll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you’ll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.

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