“Let Evening Come” by Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

 

Jane Kenyon, “Let Evening Come” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. (Graywolf Press, 1990)

* Special thanks to reader Will G. for recommending this poem to us. Will said in his email, “One of (Kenyon’s) poems that I particularly love is “Let Evening Come”. To me this poem harbors a deep compassion that goes beyond sentient creatures to touch all forms including rakes and barn walls. Reading her poem is like returning to a favorite painting by Rothko. Every time I read the poem, I find new things in its colors.” Beautifully put, Will, thank you again. Words for the Year will be going on hiatus January 1; I’m grateful I could share Kenyon’s piece before our break.

Number 14, Mark Rothko (1960).
Number 14, Mark Rothko (1960).

“Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down” by Chris Bursk

If I’m going to be ashes in a decade or so,
why stay up past midnight staring at the television
as if it might have a change of heart
and put a third-party candidate in office for once
or end the war, and, while it was at it, clear up my grandson’s acne?
Maybe I should just enjoy the dog’s howling next door.
All night it’s been tugging at its chain
as if the links might finally get bored with being metal and snap.

If I’m going to be incinerated — burnt to a crisp —
in roughly 3,650 days, why am I sulking
because this morning of all mornings my car tired of doing
the same thing it had done the morning before,
and because half my class chose not to show up for a lecture that
I, their professor, a year from retirement, had hoped
would change their entire outlook
on comma splices? Once I’m ashes drifting away on the water,

what will it matter that years ago I threw up on my senior-prom date,
or last week forgot my wife’s sixty-first birthday,
or this morning embarrassed my grandson in front of his friends?
How do any of us prepare for the future
when we’re so busy making a mess
of the present? Perhaps this is time’s truest revenge:
to make us aware of its passing, every minute
of every day. Approximately 5,256,000 minutes

from now — give or take a month or year or two —
my son is going to stand on a bridge
with his children and do something he never thought
he’d have to do: let his quirky,
annoying, yet lovable (I’d hoped!) father slip through his fingers.
That’s my only comfort: I will be ashes
so fine they won’t even question the rocks
they fall on, the creek that sweeps them away.

For once I’ll not embarrass anyone.
For once I’ll not have to worry
about whether I’m doing something right.
I’ll perform the one miracle of my life.

by CHRIS BURSK, via The Sun Magazine. (Read more of Chris’s work; and Learn more about Chris.)

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* Many thanks to Ruby Pipes who recommended this poem for us. ❤

“Praising Manners” by Robert Bly

We should ask God
To help us toward manners. Inner gifts
Do not find their way
To creatures without just respect.

If a man or woman flails about, he not only
Smashes his house,
He burns the whole world down.

Your depression is connected to your insolence
And your refusal to praise. If a man or woman is
On the path, and refuses to praise — that man or woman
Steals from others every day — in fact is a shoplifter!

The sun became full of light when it got hold of itself.
Angels began shining when they achieved discipline.
The sun goes out whenever the cloud of not-praising comes near.
The moment that foolish angel felt insolent, he heard the door close.

“Praising Manners” by Robert Bly, from The Winged Energy of Delight. © Harper Collins Publishers

* Many thanks to Ellen H. who recommended this poem for us. She and I both agreed that this piece is so appropriate for our times. “We need a little more civility in our national discourse,” Ellen said. Amen to that, Ellen, amen to that. Thank you again for sharing, Christy

 

“Written By Himself” by Gregory Pardlo

I was born in minutes in a roadside kitchen a skillet
whispering my name. I was born to rainwater and lye;
I was born across the river where I
was borrowed with clothespins, a harrow tooth,
broadsides sewn in my shoes. I returned, though
it please you, through no fault of my own,
pockets filled with coffee grounds and eggshells.
I was born still and superstitious; I bore an unexpected burden.
I gave birth, I gave blessing, I gave rise to suspicion.
I was born abandoned outdoors in the heat-shaped air,
air drifting like spirits and old windows.
I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry;
I was an index of first lines when I was born.
I was born waist-deep stubborn in the water crying
           ain’t I a woman and a brother I was born
to this hall of mirrors, this horror story I was
born with a prologue of references, pursued
by mosquitoes and thieves, I was born passing
off the problem of the twentieth century: I was born.
I read minds before I could read fishes and loaves;
I walked a piece of the way alone before I was born.

 

~ Gregory Pardlo, “Written By Himself” from The Best American Poetry 2010. Copyright © 2010 by Gregory Pardlo.

 

* Many thanks to Jim B. who blogs at Poetry in Motion for suggesting this poem for us. In his note, Jim said, “I am drawn, mesmerized by the poem “Written by Himself” by Pulitzer Prize Winner Gregory Pardlo, so here I share it with you and your readers.” We are so glad you did, Jim. With thanks and gratitude, Christy

***

I found an interesting interview Gregory Pardlo did with Ching-In Chen at The Conversant.

About his poem “Written by Himself,” Pardlo shares:

I hope “Written By Himself” prepares the reader for my wrestling with selfhood more generally, too. I accept, for example, that my identity is a digest of discourses, and that my engagement with the world is mediated through these discourses. There is a voiceover in my head that asks, “What would the character appropriately cast for this situation do if I were playing that character?” This is common for the media saturated life. But even when I can tone down (to my satisfaction) the what-would-my-character-do kind of posturing in my work, I still have to shake off whatever theoretical discourse I’ve used to make that problem legible. I realized there’s no peeling the onion. The onion is egotism. Maybe trying to get beyond the ego is pointless (and egotistical). So instead of chasing romantic notions of sincerity in each poem, that is, instead of chasing my tail, I decided to look at my relationship to some of the frameworks I’ve used to shape my thinking and feeling. I decided to interrogate my relationship to books.

I’m ready to take a shot at a grand statement now: “Written By Himself” is an attempt to make apparent the discursive performance of racial identity. I want to make that performance almost burlesque in its self-consciousness. There is no singular, coherent speaker in the poem. No image in the poem comes from a firsthand experience except in the sense that my firsthand reading gleaned the images collaged in the poem. In this sense, the poem could have been “written” by anyone. Anyone fluent in African American literature could have rendered that performance of blackness. I want to push the pretense of an authentic speaking subject to such an extent that a kind of truth, a kind of sincerity, might be possible (as in, but not exactly, Camp). Through all the putting on of voices and texts, I’m hoping to cause a rupture, a chance to walk on my own in the world of language, momentarily, even if I have to imagine my way back to a pre-verbal state, a stage before I was born into narrative consciousness.

Of course, I might read the poem very differently next week.

Related: Pardlo also was the subject of a very interesting read on the Best American Poetry blog, “The Pulitzer win of Gregory Pardlo, Baltimore and what Poetry can do.” (April 28, 2015)

***

Thanks again Jim for the poem and for introducing us to Pardlo’s work.

“Warbler” by Jim Harrison

This year we have two gorgeous
yellow warblers nesting in the honeysuckle bush.
The other day I stuck my head in the bush.
The nestlings weigh one-twentieth of an ounce,
about the size of a honeybee. We stared at
each other, startled by our existence.
In a month or so, when they reach the size
of bumblebees they’ll fly to Costa Rica without a map.

“Warbler” by Jim Harrison from Dead Man’s Float. © Copper Canyon Press, 2016.

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* With a wave to kind reader Usha who, during the Spring, offered this as one of her favorite poems, shortly after Jim Harrison passed away (March 26, 2016). 

Usha’s suggestion led me to learn more about Harrison. Reading more, I learned that Linda King Harrison, his wife of 55 years, had passed away less than six months earlier (October 2, 2015) and that Mr. Harrison had “died a poet’s death, literally with a pen in his hand, while writing a new poem,” (from “Jim Harrison and the Art of Friendship” by Doug Peacock via thedailybeast.com.) And although Harrison (author of many novels as well, including Legends of the Fall) said in a 1980 interview-“I’m always having a man in desperate straits trying to help somebody else out with no apparent success,” Mr. Harrison said, “because nobody can be helped by anybody.”–he did indeed help and champion many during his life, according to Peacock:

Jim Harrison was one of the most generous men I ever knew. He lent countless thousands to dozens of less fortunate friends who needed help; he seldom if ever got paid back and that didn’t stop him. Jim would invent jobs for me when he thought I was broke. He lent money to my ex-wife that I never knew about. When traveling he kept his single good eye out for a paucity of tip, the dangerous baldness of tires, or the looming mortgage payment. He took care of working writers like Chuck Bowden and Jack Turner. That generosity extended to sharing his time with younger and beginning writers who he encouraged and sometimes mentored throughout his life. At my wife Andrea’s bookstore, Jim was always up for signing books by the box-load. One night in 2011, when Jim was sicker than shit and Linda was in the hospital with a coma, he crawled up on the stage at a benefit and read with Peter Matthiessen—Livingston, Montana’s greatest literary night.

Thank you, Usha, for the suggestion and for the gentle nudge to learn more about Harrison. Click here to read another piece by Harrison, “Bridge,” which includes the beautiful line: What beauty in this the darkest music / over which you can hear the lightest music of human / behavior, the tender connection between men and galaxies.