The Raincoat

When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.

Ada Limón

Wonder Woman

Standing at the swell of the muddy Mississippi
after the urgent care doctor had just said, Well,
sometimes shit happens, I fell fast and hard
for New Orleans all over again. Pain pills swirling
in the purse along with a spell for later. It’s taken
a while for me to admit, I am in a raging battle
with my body, a spinal column thirty-five degrees
bent, vertigo that comes and goes like a DC Comics
villain nobody can kill. Invisible pain is both
a blessing and a curse. You always look so happy,
said a stranger once as I shifted to my good side
grinning. But that day, alone on the riverbank,
brass blaring from the Steamboat Natchez,
out of the corner of my eye, I saw a girl, maybe half my age,
dressed, for no apparent reason, as Wonder Woman.
She strutted by in all her strength and glory, invincible,
eternal, and when I stood to clap (because who wouldn’t have),
she bowed and posed like she knew I needed a myth—
a woman, by a river, indestructible.

Ada Limón

On the Table

I would like to make it clear that I have bought
this tablecloth with its simple repeating pattern
of dark purple blooms not named by any botanist
because it reminds me of that printed dress you had
the summer we met - a dress you have always said
I never told you I liked. Well I did, you know. I did.
I liked it a lot, whether you were inside it or not.

How did it slip so quietly out of our life?
I hate - I really hate - to think of some other bum
swinging those heavy flower-heads left to right.
I hate even more to think of it mouldering on a tip
or torn to shreds - a piece here wiping a dipstick,
a piece there tied round a crack in a lead pipe.

It's all a long time ago now, darling, a long time,
but tonight just like our first night here I am
With my head light in my hands and my glass full
staring at the big drowsy petals until they start to swim,
loving them but wishing to lift them aside, unbutton them,
tear them, even, if that's what it takes to get through
to the beautiful, moon-white, warm, wanting skin of you.

Andrew Motion

collected fragments

One day somebody in the crowd identified me. Standing behind me was a woman, with lips blue from cold, who had, of course, never heard me called by name before. Now she started out of the torpor common to us all and asked me in a whisper (everyone whispered there):'Can you describe this?'
And I said: 'I can.'
Then something like a smile passed fleetingly over what had once been her face.


No, not under an alien sky, / Not protected by alien wings, — / I was with my people then, / There, where my people, unfortunately, were.


You are a traitor, and for a green island,
Have betrayed, yes, betrayed your native
Abandoned all our songs and sacred
And the pine tree over a quiet lake.
— Green Island, trans. Jane Kenyon

Anna Akhmatova

What Resembles the Grave But Isn’t

Always falling into a hole, then saying “ok, this is not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of the hole which is not the grave, falling into a hole again, saying “ok, this is also not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of that hole, falling into another one; sometimes falling into a hole within a hole, or many holes within holes, getting out of them one after the other, then falling again, saying “this is not your grave, get out of the hole,” sometimes being pushed, saying “you can not push me into this hole, it is not my grave,” and getting out defiantly, then falling into a hole again without any pushing; sometimes falling into a set of holes whose structures are predictable, ideological, and long dug, often falling into this set of structural and impersonal holes; sometimes falling into holes with other people, with other people, saying “this is not our mass grave, get out of this hole,” all together getting out of the hole together, hands and legs and arms and human ladders of each other to get out of the hole that is not the mass grave but that will only be gotten out of together; sometimes the willful-falling into a hole which is not the grave because it is easier than not falling into a hole really, but then once in it, realizing it is not the grave, getting out of the hole eventually; sometimes falling into a hole and languishing there for days, weeks, months, years, because while not the grave very difficult, still, to climb out of and you know after this hole there’s just another and another; sometimes surveying the landscape of holes and wishing for a high quality hole final hole; sometimes thinking of who has fallen into holes which are not graves but might be better if they were; sometimes too ardently contemplating the final hole while trying to avoid the provisional ones; sometimes dutifully falling and getting out, with perfect fortitude, saying “look at the skill and spirit with which I rise from that which resembles the grave but isn’t!”

Anne Boyer


After three days of steady, inconsolable rain,
I walk through the rooms of the house
wondering which would be best to die in.

The study is an obvious choice
with its thick carpet and soothing paint,
its overstuffed chair preferable
to a doll-like tumble down the basement stairs.

And the kitchen has a certain appeal—
it seems he was boiling water for tea,
the inspector will offer, holding up the melted kettle.

Then there is the dining room,
just the place to end up facedown
at one end of its long table in a half-written letter

or the bedroom with its mix of sex and sleep,
upright against the headboard,
a book having slipped to the floor—
make it Mrs. Dolloway, which I have yet to read.

Dead on the carpet, dead on the tiles,
dead on the stone cold floor—

it’s starting to sound like a ballad
sung in a pub by a man with a coal red face.

It’s all the fault of the freezing rain
which is flicking against the windows,
but when it finally lets up
and gives way to broken clouds and a warm breeze,
when the trees stand dripping in the light,

I will quit these dark, angular rooms
and drive along a country road
into the larger rooms of the world,
so vast and speckled, so full of ink and sorrow—

a road that cuts through bare woods
and tangles of red and yellow bittersweet
these late November days.

And maybe under the fallen wayside leaves
there is hidden a nest of mice,
each one no bigger than a thumb,
a thumb with closed eyes,
a thumb with whiskers and a tail,
each one contemplating the sweetness of grass
and startling brevity of life.

Billy Collins


Now you hear what the house has to say.
Pipes clanking, water running in the dark,
the mortgaged walls shifting in discomfort,
and voices mounting in an endless drone
of small complaints like the sounds of a family
that year by year you’ve learned how to ignore.

But now you must listen to the things you own,
all that you’ve worked for these past years,
the murmur of property, of things in disrepair,
the moving parts about to come undone,
and twisting in the sheets remember all
the faces you could not bring yourself to love.

How many voices have escaped you until now,
the venting furnace, the floorboards underfoot,
the steady accusations of the clock
numbering the minutes no one will mark.
The terrible clarity this moment brings,
the useless insight, the unbroken dark.

Dana Gioia

New Year's

Let other mornings honor the miraculous.
Eternity has festivals enough.
This is the feast of our mortality,
The most mundane and human holiday.

On other days we misinterpret time,
Pretending that we live the present moment.
But can this blur, this smudgy in-between,
This tiny fissure where the future drips

Into the past, this flyspeck we call now
Be our true habitat? The present is
The leaky palm of water that we skim
From the swift, silent river slipping by.

The new year always brings us what we want
Simply by bringing us along—to see
A calendar with every day uncrossed,
A field of snow without a single footprint.

Dana Gioia

from the novel Slade House

Grief is an amputation, but hope is incurable haemophilia: you bleed and bleed and bleed

David Mitchell (no not him)

from "The Truelove"

and if you wanted
to drown you could,
but you don’t
because finally
after all this struggle
and all these years
you simply don’t want to
any more
you’ve simply had enough
of drowning
and you want to live and you
want to love

David Whyte

On Visiting the Grave of My Stillborn Little Girl

Sunday July 4th 1836

I made a vow within my soul, O Child,
When thou wert laid beside my weary heart,
With marks of death on every tender part
That, if in time a living infant smiled,
Winning my ear with gentle sounds of love
In sunshine of such joy, I still would save
A green rest for thy memory, O Dove!
And oft times visit thy small, nameless grave.
Thee have I not forgot, my firstborn, though
Whose eyes ne'er opened to my wistful gaze,
Whose sufferings stamped with pain thy little brow;
I think of thee in these far happier days,
And thou, my child, from thy bright heaven see
How well I keep my faithful vow to thee.

Elizabeth Gaskell

“Hope” is the thing with feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Emily Dickinson

After great pain, a formal feeling comes

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

Emily Dickinson

The Soul selects her own Society

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —

I've known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

Emily Dickinson

Some keep the Sabbath going to church

Some keep the Sabbath going to church —
I keep it, staying at Home —
With a Bobolink for a Chorister —
And an Orchard, for a Dome —

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —
I just wear my Wings —
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton — sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman —
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last —
I’m going, all along.

Emily Dickinson

‘Tis good — the looking back on Grief

‘Tis good — the looking back on Grief —
To re-endure a Day —
We thought the Mighty Funeral —
Of All Conceived Joy —

To recollect how Busy Grass
Did meddle — one by one —
Till all the Grief with Summer — waved
And none could see the stone.

And though the Woe you have Today
Be larger — As the Sea
Exceeds its Unremembered Drop —
They’re Water — equally —

Emily Dickinson


Snowlight and sunlight, the lake glacial.
Too bright to open my eyes
in the dazzle and doze
of a distant January afternoon.

It’s long ago and the house naps in the plush silence
of a house asleep, like absence,
I’m dreaming on the white bear’s shoulder,
paddling the slow hours, my fingers in his fur.

His eyes are glass, each hair a needle of light.
He’s pegged by his claws to the floor like a shirt on the line.
He is a soul. He is what death is. He is transparency,
a loosening flow on the sea.

But I want him alive.
I want him fierce
with belly and breath and growl and beating heart.
I want him dangerous.

I want to follow him over the snows
between the immaculate earth and now,
between the silence and the shot that rang
over the ice at the top of the globe,

when the map of the earth was something we knew by heart,
and they had not shot the bear,
had not loosed the ice,
had not, had not . . .

Gillian Clarke


Where beech cast off her clothes
Frost has got its knives out.

This is the chemistry of ice,
The stitchwork, the embroidery,
the froth and the flummery.

Light joins in. It has a point to make
about haloes and glories,
spectra and reflection.

It reflects on its own miracle,
the first imagined day
when the dark was blown

and there was light.

Gillian Clarke

The Year’s Midnight

The flown, the fallen,
the golden ones,
the deciduous dead all gone
to ground, to dust, to sand,
borne on the shoulders of the wind.

Listen! They are whispering
now while the world talks,
and the ice melts,
and the seas rise.
Look at the trees!

Every leaf-scar is a bud expecting a future.
The earth speaks in parables.
The burning bush. The rainbow.
Promises. Promises.

Gillian Clarke


The miles-deep Greenland glacier’s lost its grip,
sliding nine miles a year towards the sea
on its own melt-water. As, forty years ago,
the slag-heap, loosened by a slip
of rain-swollen mountain stream, suddenly
gave with a roar, taking a primary school,
crushing the children. The century of waste
has burned a hole in the sky over the Pole.
Oh, science, with your tricks and alchemies,
chain the glacier with sun and wind and tide,
rebuild the gates of ice, halt melt and slide,
freeze the seas, stay the flow and the flux
for footfall of polar bear and Arctic fox.

Gillian Clarke

14 Degrees Below Zero in the Grocery Store Parking Lot

A dog and I stare at each other
from our separate cars, waiting for our people to return.
He’s a shepherd mix, big head, big ears,
like me, he’s riding shotgun.

Heat blares inside my car,
exhaust plumes from the pickup truck he’s in,
so I know he isn’t freezing but I don’t know
if he’s a he or a she, so I just think he.

He watches doors slide open and closed, open and closed.
So do I.

We look at each other, then back to the doors and I wonder
who will come back first—his owner or my friend?

I watch the doors, then the dog. I watch
two girls walk to their car, chuck frozen A-Treat soda cans
out of the dented trunk, make room for beer.

I look back to the doors, then the dog, and I see
a man in the driver’s seat—his owner has come back!
He’s won!

But I can’t see the dog.
I want to see the dog.

I want to see that he’s happy he won,
even though he didn’t know there was a contest,
even though he might not be a he,

I want to know he loves his owner, even though
I am assuming all this, I assume things, I assume, I do.

I assume he’s a he, I assume his owner loves him,
I assume my friend is coming back,
(milk, she said, just milk).

The man in the truck sits head down, cap down,
rolling a smoke, or checking his phone but
something’s not right. I watch.

I see the stripe on what I think is the man’s cap
turn into the collar on the dog,
and I realize it’s the dog in the truck, not a man in the truck,

it’s still the dog, like it’s still me, waiting,
only he moved over to the driver’s seat. If he’s a he.

I’ve confused a dog and a man. Oh god, I think,
I’m getting carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty heat vent,

but that’s when my friend gets back in the car
with milk, bread, jello, toothpaste, laundry soap.

She begins a story about some guy at the checkout counter
as she backs the car away from the dog
and the truck and the doors and I’m suddenly sad now,

that churned-up-torn-inside-the-chest-feeling sad
because we’re leaving and I wish I hadn’t won,
I wish he’d won, but he didn’t, I won,

and he might not be a he, and I keep twisting, looking
back, hoping for a glimpse of the owner,

but no one’s walking toward the dog in the truck
who could get carbon monoxide poisoning,
and there’s nothing I can do

but watch as long as I can,
because I need to know that he’s all right,
because we were the same back there,
we were the same.

Hayden Saunier

Time Is

Time Is
Too Slow for those who Wait,
Too Swift for those who Fear,
Too Long for those who Grieve,
Too Short for those who Rejoice;
But for those who Love,
Time is not.

Henry van Dyke

Birds of Passage

Black shadows fall
From the lindens tall,
That lift aloft their massive wall
Against the southern sky;

And from the realms
Of the shadowy elms
A tide-like darkness overwhelms
The fields that round us lie.

But the night is fair,
And everywhere
A warm, soft vapor fills the air,
And distant sounds seem near,

And above, in the light
Of the star-lit night,
Swift birds of passage wing their flight
Through the dewy atmosphere.

I hear the beat
Of their pinions fleet,
As from the land of snow and sleet
They seek a southern lea.

I hear the cry
Of their voices high
Falling dreamily through the sky,
But their forms I cannot see.

Oh, say not so!
Those sounds that flow
In murmurs of delight and woe
Come not from wings of birds.

They are the throngs
Of the poet's songs,
Murmurs of pleasures, and pains, and wrongs,
The sound of winged words.

This is the cry
Of souls, that high
On toiling, beating pinions, fly,
Seeking a warmer clime,

From their distant flight
Through realms of light
It falls into our world of night,
With the murmuring sound of rhyme.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Chinese Foot Chart

Every part of us
alerts another part.
Press a spot in
the tender arch and
feel the scalp
twitch. We are no
match for ourselves
but our own release.
Each touch
uncatches some
remote lock. Look,
boats of mercy
embark from
our heart at the
oddest knock.

Kay Ryan

Death Poem

Do I have to bring it up again, isn’t there another subject?
Can I forget about the scrap of flattened squirrel fur
fluttering on the road, can I forget the road
and how I can’t stop driving no matter what,
not even for gas, or love, can I please not think
about my father left in some town behind me,
in his blue suit, with his folded hands,
and my grandmother moaning about her bladder
and swallowing all the pills, and the towns I’m passing now
can I try not to see them, the children squatting
by the ditches, the holes in their chests and foreheads,
the woman cradling her tumor, the dog dragging its crippled hips?
I can close my eyes and sit back if I want to,
I can lean against my friends’ shoulders
and eat as they’re eating, and drink from the bottle
being passed back and forth; I can lighten up, can’t I,
Christ, can’t I? There is another subject, in a minute
I’ll think of it. I will. And if you know it, help me.
Help me. Remind me why I’m here.

Kim Addonizio

from "Stay"

Listen: when a stranger steps into the elevator with a bouquet of white roses not meant for you, they’re meant for you...

Kim Addonizio

The Months

When the Earl King came
to steal away the child
in Goethe's poem, the father said
don't be afraid,
it's just the wind...
As if it weren't the wind
that blows away the tender
fragments of this world—
leftover leaves in the corners
of the garden, a Lenten Rose
that thought it safe
to bloom so early.

In the pastel blur
of the garden,
the cherry
and redbud
shake rain
from their delicate
shoulders, as petals
of pink
wash down the ditches
in dreamlike
rivers of color.

Mayapple, daffodil,
hyacinth, lily,
and by the front
porch steps
every billowing
shade of purple
and lavender lilac,
my mother's favorite flower,
sweet breath drifting through
the open windows:
perfume of memory-conduit
of spring.

Linda Pastan

The Ordinary Weather of Summer

In the ordinary weather of summer
with storms rumbling from west to east
like so many freight trains hauling
their cargo of heat and rain,
the dogs sprawl on the back steps, panting,
insects assemble at every window,
and we quarrel again, bombarding
each other with small grievances,
our tempers flashing on and off
in bursts of heat lightning.
In the cooler air of morning,
we drink our coffee amicably enough
and walk down to the sea
which seems to tremble with meaning
and into which we plunge again and again.
The days continue hot.
At dusk the shadows are as blue
as the lips of the children stained
with berries or with the chill
of too much swimming.
So we move another summer closer
to our last summer together—
a time as real and implacable as the sea
out of which we come walking
on wobbly legs as if for the first time,
drying ourselves with rough towels,
shaking the water out of our blinded eyes.

Linda Pastan

In November

Outside the house the wind is howling
and the trees are creaking horribly.
This is an old story
with its old beginning,
as I lay me down to sleep.
But when I wake up, sunlight
has taken over the room.
You have already made the coffee
and the radio brings us music
from a confident age. In the paper
bad news is set in distant places.
Whatever was bound to happen
in my story did not happen.
But I know there are rules that cannot be broken.
Perhaps a name was changed.
A small mistake. Perhaps
a woman I do not know
is facing the day with the heavy heart
that, by all rights, should have been mine.

Lisel Mueller

The Spaces Between

(for Leslie McGuire)

The boy is ten and today it is his birthday.
Behind him on the lawn
his mother and his little sister
unfurl a rainbow crayoned big and bright
on a roll of old wallpaper.
His father, big-eyed, mock-solemn, pantomimes ceremony
as he lights the ten candles on the cake.
Inside her living-room
his grandmother puts her open palm to the window.
Out in the garden, her grandson
reaches up, mirrors her, stretching fingers
and they smile and smile as if they touched
warm flesh not cold glass.

More than forty thousand years ago
men or women splayed their fingers thus
and put their hands to bare rock, they
chewed ochre, red-ochre, gritted charcoal and blew,
blew with projectile effort that really took it out of them,
their living breath. Raw gouts of pigment
spattered the living stencil
that was each’s own living hand
and made their mark.
The space of absence
was the clean, stark picture of their presence
and it pleased them.
We do not know why they did it
and maybe they did not either but
they knew they must.
It was the cold cave wall
and they knew they were up against it.

The birthday boy is juggling.
He has been spending time in the lockdown learning
but though he still can’t keep it up for long
his grandmother dumb-shows most extravagant applause.
She toasts them all in tea
from her Best Granny in the World mug, winking
and licking her lips ecstatically as they cut the cake,
miming hunger, miming prayer
for her hunger to be sated.
The slim girl dances and her grandmother claps
and claps again, blinking tears.
Another matched high-five at her window.

Neither the blown candles or the blown kisses
will leave any permanent mark
– unless love does? —
on them on this the only afternoon
they will be all alive together on just this day the boy is ten.

Liz Lochhead

Good Bones

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Maggie Smith


The first cold morning, the little pumpkins lined up at the corner market, and
the girl walks along Hudson Street to school and doesn’t look back.

The old sorrow blows in with the scent of wood smoke
as I walk up the five flights to our apartment and lean hard against

the broken dishwasher so it will run. Then it comes to me: Yes I’ll die,
so will everyone, so has everyone. It’s what we have in common.

And for a moment, the sorrow ceased, and I saw that it hadn’t been sorrow
after all, but loneliness, and for a few moments, it was gone.

Marie Howe


They came, those infants, aged but three and one,
and claimed and colonised our house … our lives.
Johnny wanted everything at once –
the world explained in instant clear replies
to his endlessly recurring “whys”?
He said, at 6 a.m. I cannot read but only look,
so, Granny, please wake up and read this book,
and Grandpa, play this game again, again, again, again.

Hugo, a wordless conqueror, briskly crawled
like a small tank, remorselessly from room to hall
to stairs, till with contented smiles
he homed in where the fragile things were
stashed away, and maximum potential lay
for havoc.

Now they have gone. We wander round
the exhausted house, bereft. It’s quiet,
undisturbed, and sadly so are we.
But everywhere we see
a scattering of toys – a plastic hammer here,

some soldiers there – and over all
a tide of vivid grandparental joys
plus, underneath the cot,
One striped, enchanting mini ankle-sock.

Morar Lucas


she tells them she is going home
this is your home they say
it’s been your home for fifty years

and she knows they are lying

where’s the canal bridge
curving over the lock gates

my tall brick house
with a gate in the wall
that leads to my garden

where is the pear tree
the pear tree I’m climbing

hanging upside down
on all those high branches

the dens I’m making
under the rhubarb digging up
worms to fill my red bucket

where is my nightie
warmed on the fireguard
my cosy pink bed

and the cuddles
the cuddles and kisses
the whispered night night
where is my mother she shouts.

Pauline Prior-Pitt


I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel,
not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Philip Larkin

Home is so Sad

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

Phillip Larkin


Well, we’re older now. Nothing new
there. We died and yet didn’t know
from that very first I do how we’d follow
the years toward who will bury who?

So tell me again, when our lives are done,
that we’ll be together. It’s okay
if you lie to me. That’s a price I’ll pay
for our marriage to continue after we’re gone.

Say it, please. Say how it will always be
when we meet again. After everything
we made together is torn apart, nothing
left of us but this paper wish. Tell me.

Robert Cording

Counting the Beats

You, love, and I,
(He whispers) you and I,
And if no more than only you and I
What care you or I?

Counting the beats,
Counting the slow heart beats,
The bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,
Wakeful they lie.

Cloudless day,
Night, and a cloudless day,
Yet the huge storm will burst upon their heads one day
From a bitter sky.

Where shall we be,
(She whispers) where shall we be,
When death strikes home, O where then shall we be
Who were you and I?

Not there but here,
(He whispers) only here,
As we are, here, together, now and here,
Always you and I.

Counting the beats,
Counting the slow heart beats,
The bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,
Wakeful they lie.

Robert Graves

If at the Year's End

If tonight someone walked up the black lane
and came to the window looking for an answer,
perhaps how to get up the hill or down the hill,
thinking how quiet the little house was,
and looked in as people do, fumbling for the knocker,
they would see you and me, and you too, and you...
seated within about the table
the faces lit but the lips still, listening
as if all knew somehow, someone would come
to the door at night seeking the way up or the way down.
A question common in the daylight of things
that finds itself translated as each word falls
into another language, the tongue of stillness.
And might in part be answered, not by the courtesies
of wayfaring only, but what is made by the breaking
of bread together, the wine poured, the opening look
and the peaceful hands.

The winter night thickening
in a silent lane that points up or down

And the traveller at the door, the new year imminent
(as every moment is) and the bells poised overhead
ready to roll and tumble out in their thunderous voices
a salutation greater than all understanding of it.

Roy Ashwell


Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children's faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit's still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.

Sarah Teasdale

Winter Solstice

I will not write about the fairy lights garlanding the tree,
how steadily red blends to sapphire, emerald, gold,
how strong the bulbs must be to throw their hearts
upon the café wall, how children try to catch them.
I will not say there is tinsel draped over the branches
like seaweed over pebbles, nor list the many-coloured cloths
as ivory, turquoise, lavender, mint; I will not speak
of glazed pastries on the counter, how they shine so much
they could be varnished, there for the hell-of-it, for the sheer
beauty of their glistening berries. I’ll turn away from buses
heaving down the rush-hour road, ignore how in all this rain
the headlamps could be tumbling garnets, polished amber,
as if a picture-book box of pirate treasure had spilt
its pearls and precious stones across a tarmacked page.

I will not describe how willingly sunset yields to sea,
I will not delight in words to name its colours: indigo, cerise
crimson, ruby. I will not try to capture your smile
across the table, how it slips like warm charcoal
into the fabric of my heart. I will not suggest I light a candle
as the year prepares to wane, that you hold a second wick to mine
then another and another, that together we whisper a prayer
for each fierce flame. I will not talk about the light
that is everywhere, how far you have to travel for night
to be completely black, and even then there are stars.
I will not question why flames burn more brightly
before sputtering out, or how when we know we’re dying
we can be so fully alive. I will not say these things because this
is a poem about darkness. I am writing about the darkness.

Tess Jolly

Long Distance II

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn't just drop in. You had to phone.
He'd put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn't risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he'd hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she'd just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven't both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there's your name
and the disconnected number I still call.

Tony Harrison

The Orange

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave--
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park
This is peace and contentment. It's new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all my jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I'm glad I exist.

Wendy Cope

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: somewhere in sands of the desert
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
Reel 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?

William Butler Yeats

The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I'd rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

William Wordsworth

Life While-You-Wait

Life While-You-Wait.
Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.

I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it.

I have to guess on the spot
just what this play’s all about.

Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can’t conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for happy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.

Words and impulses you can’t take back,
stars you’ll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run —
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.

If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn’t even clear my throat offstage).

You’d be wrong to think that it’s just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I’m standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
will become forever what I’ve done.

Wisława Szymborska

from "To Paula in Late Spring"

and the ancient defenses against the dead
will be done with and left to the dead at last

W S Merwin