Home > Uncategorized > Some Poems I Like 2/19/12

Some Poems I Like 2/19/12

I wanted to share a few poems. I have no excuse for this posting except that I think the poems I am sharing are great. Along with the habit of saving favorite quotes I have also written out poems that have struck me and stayed with me over the years. These are a few of them.

 “Apolitical Intellectuals” is by Otto Rene Castillo (1936-1967), a Guatemalan poet and revolutionary. After the coup in Guatemala in 1954, Castillo went into exile. He lived in El Salvador. In his short life he returned to Guatemala and he had to go into exile several times more. He was active in the Guatemala Workers Party and he also founded an experimental theater group. He was captured, interrogated, tortured, and murdered by the Guatemalan military.    I first saw this poem in Monthly Review many years ago and I have always remembered it.  I will not say much about Nikki Giovanni or Gary Snyder because they are both well known. I had a hard time picking among their poems. When I was in college in 1971, I saw Snyder read and do a rain dance. He came to a small seminar class. Even then he was talking about fossil fuels and global warming. He was way ahead of the curve. The last poem “Mortality” is by William Knox (1789-1825), a Scottish poet. The poem was a favorite of Abraham Lincoln’s. President Lincoln loved to read it both before and after he was in the White House.

Apolitical Intellectuals        by Otto Rene Castillo

      One day
 the apolitical
 of my country
will be interrogated
 by the simplest
 of our people

 They will be asked
  what they did
when their nation died out
 like a sweet fire
 small and alone

No one will ask them
 about their dress,
 their long siestas
  after lunch,
 no one will want to know
 about their sterile combats
   with “the idea
  of the nothing”
 no one will care about
their higher financial learning

They won’t be questioned
 on Greek mythology,
or regarding their self-disgust
when someone within them
  begins to die
 the coward’s death.

They’ll be asked nothing
 about their absurd
 born in the shadow of the total lie

   On that day
 The simple men will come

Those who had no place
 in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
  but daily delivered
 their bread and milk,
 their tortillas and eggs,
 those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and garden
  and worked for them,
  and they’ll ask:

What did you do when the poor
 suffered, when tenderness
  and life
 burned out of them

  Apolitical intellectuals
   of my sweet country
you will not be able to answer

A vulture of silence
 will eat your gut.

 Your own misery
will pick at your soul.

And you will be mute in your shame.


A Blackbird on my Knee             by Nikki Giovanni

I’m Windex without a window    Drano without the sludge
I’m wax without hardwood   Mean without a grudge
I’m a poem without rhyme    A clock without time
A rabbit on crutches    A meat-eating deer
Without you around one thing is clear

I’m horse with no kick   A bee with no sting
My hair won’t plait    My bell can’t ring
I’m guilt without filling    I take without stealing
I’m savings without interest    Stocks without bonds
My goldfish have moved to my neighbor’s ponds

       I sing to no music
       I rap to no beat
       My heart is too heavy. I need a retreat

       I’m lonely and weary    I can’t get rest
       I’m unsatisfied since I’ve had the best
       You need to come home and take care of me
       I said you need to come home and take care of me
       I’m just sitting in this vacant lot with a blackbird on my knee


Four Poems for Robin       by Gary Snyder

Siwashing it out once in Siuslaw Forest

I slept under    rhododendrum
All night     blossoms fell
Shivering on   a sheet of cardboard
Feet stuck    in my pack
Hands deep   in my pockets
Barely  able  to  sleep.
I remembered  when we were in school
Sleeping together   in a big warm bed
We were   the youngest lovers
When we broke up   we were still nineteen.
Now our   friends are married
You teach   school back east
I don’t mind    living this way
Green hills   the long blue beach
But sometimes   sleeping in the open
I think back   when I had you

A spring night in Shokoku-ji

Eight years ago this May
We walked under cherry blossoms
At night in an orchard in Oregon.
All that I wanted then
Is forgotten now, but you.
Here in the night
In a garden of the old capital
I feel the trembling ghost of Yugao
I remember your cool body
Naked under a summer cotton dress

An autumn morning in Shokoku-ji

Last night watching the Pleiades,
Breath smoking in the moonlight,
Bitter memory like vomit
Choked my throat.
I unrolled a sleeping bag
On mats on the porch
Under thick autumn stars.
In dream you appeared
(three times in nine years)
wild, cold and accusing.
I woke shamed and angry:
The pointless wars of the heart.
Almost down. Venus and Jupiter.
The first time I have
Ever seen them close.

December at Yase

You said, that October,
In the tall dry grass by the orchard
When you chose to be free,
“Again someday, maybe ten years.”

After college I saw you
One time. You were strange.
And I was obsessed with a plan.

Now ten years and more have
Gone by. I’ve always known
           where you were –
I might have gone to you
Hoping to win you back.
You still are single.

I didn’t
I thought I must make it alone. I
have done that.
Only in dream, like this dawn,
Does the grave, awed intensity
Of our young love
Return to my mind, to my flesh.

We had what the others
All crave and seek for;
We left it behind at nineteen.

I feel ancient, as though I had
Lived many lives.

And may never now know
If I am a fool
Or have done what my
     karma demands.


Mortality       by William Knox

Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-flying meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
He passes from life to the rest in the grave.

The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young and the old, the low and the high,
Shall molder to dust, and together shall lie.

The infant a mother attended and loved;
The mother that infant’s affection who proved;
The husband, that mother and infant who blessed;
Each, all, are away to their dwelling of rest.

The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
Shone beauty and pleasure – her triumphs are by;
And the memory of those who loved her and praised,
Are alike from the minds of the living erased.

The hand of the king that the sceptre hath borne
The brow of the priest that the mitre hath worn,
The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.

The peasant, whose lot was to sow and to reap,
The herdsman, who climbed with his goats up the steep,
The beggar, who wandered in search of his bread,
Have faded away like the grass that we tread.

The saint, who enjoyed the communion of Heaven,
The sinner, who dared to remain unforgiven,
The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.

So the multitude goes– like the flower or the weed
That withers away to let others succeed;
So the multitude comes — even those we behold,
To repeat every tale that has often been told.

For we are the same that our fathers have been;
We see the same sights that our fathers have seen;
We drink the same stream, we feel the same sun,
And run the same course that our fathers have run.

The thoughts we are thinking, our fathers would think;
From the death we are shrinking, our fathers would shrink;
To the life we are clinging, they also would cling –
But it speeds from us all like a bird on the wing.

They loved – but the story we cannot unfold;
They scorned – but the heart of the haughty is cold;
They grieved – but no wail from their slumber will come;
They joyed – but the tongue of their gladness is dumb.

They died – aye, they died – we things that are now,
That walk on the turf that lies over their brow,
And make in their dwellings a transient abode,
Meet the things that they met on their pilgrimage road.

Yea, hope and despondency, pleasure and pain,
Are mingled together in sunshine and rain;
And the smile and the tear, the song and the dirge,
Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.

‘Tis the wink of an eye — ’tis the draught of a breath —
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud
Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?

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