A mockingbird leans
from the walnut, bellies,
riffling white, accomplishes

his perch upon the eaves.
I witnessed this act of grace
in blind California

in the January sun
where families bicycle on Saturday
and the mother with high cheekbones

and coffee-colored iridescent
hair curses her child
in the language of Pushkin–

John, I am dull from
thinking of your pain,
this mimic world

which make us stupid
with the totem griefs
we hope will give us

power to look at trees,
at stones, one brute to another
like poems on a page.

What can I say, my friend?
There are tricks of animal grace,
poems in the mind

we survive on. It isn’t much.
You are 4,000 miles away &
this world did not invite us.

*

This comes from a tremendous little volume of poems called Field Guide, published in 1973. Hass generously participated in Poets Q & A at smartishpace.com a few years back, an “interview” well worth reading if you have the time.

The Window (Candice Ward)

October 19, 2009

I sit on the inside of this window
doing piece-work: woodcut, quilt square,
the shape of things to come.

Next door, you putter,
running water. Soon you will bring me
coffee, years before I need it.

Outside in the twilight,
a child playing some street game
calls: come closer

as the bark on the tree
darkens with evening and the last
light empties from a curve of sky.

I have been smelling coffee
all my life. Cold and so much
older when you bring me some,

I sit on the inside
of this window, close
as I can come.

*

Good poetry, they say, asks words to carry more than their typical load. This is true here as a tremendous emotional quality comes through despite the poem’s brevity. I love its spare precision. It is a poem of regret, it seems to me, with a speaker haunted by the separation she feels not only between the past and the present, but between herself and the lives circling her own (notice the three ‘characters’ are carefully separated off). She can only come so close. And yet, as the first stanza suggests, the speaker presses on doing “piece-work,” a way of binding the present to the future.

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.

I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
lines

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
for

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.

Wan Chu, my adoring husband,
has returned from another trip
selling trinkets in the provinces.
He pulls off his lavender shirt
as I lie naked in our bed,
waiting for him. He tells me
I am the only woman he’ll ever love.
He may wander from one side of China
to the other, but his heart
will always stay with me.
His face glows in the lamplight
with the sincerity of a boy
when I lower the satin sheet
to let him see my breasts.
Outside, it begins to rain
on the cherry trees
he planted with our son,
and when he enters me with a sigh,
the storm begins in earnest,
shaking our little house.
Afterwards, I stroke his back
until he falls asleep.
I’d love to stay awake all night
listening to the rain,
but I should sleep, too.
Tomorrow Wan Chu will be
a hundred miles away
and I will be awake all night
in the arms of Wang Chen,
the tailor from Ming Pao,
the tiny village down the river.

*

Richard Jones is a poet I have come to admire over the past decade. There is a patience and a simplicity to his poems that comes, I think, from a deep affection for language. I love how this poem almost lulls you to sleep before the shocking surprise at the end.