Monday, September 30, 2013

Sad poems for dirty lovers

I'm having a rough day. I don't usually turn to poetry when I'm sad; I'm more of the "watch bad movies and eat candy" type. But today I feel like looking for solace in poetry, even if it's only in the "misery loves company" sense. So: here are some words from poets who seem sad and dark like me today. (I usually hate nature imagery but apparently I like nature when I'm sad? Poems with fish in them are usually melancholy.)

The people are always pilgrims. This is the worst gutter medicine
I've ever taken. I hope it's working
All primitive types gamble away their very circuitry.
But I'm not going to give myself up to anyone but the death fish.

Oh your eyes are flashing again, you terrifying bugger. Maybe I'm going to give it up to you.
You don't want me to do right; or climb the ladder to the money couple
You don't even have decipherable wishes.

- from "Living on Brackish Water" by Alice Notley

In winter my loved one retires,
a fish among fishes, and dumb.
Slave to the waters she ripples
with her fins' gentle motion within,
I stand on the bank and look down
till ice floes drive me away,
her dipping and turning hidden...

It is fog land I have seen,
It is fog heart I have eaten.

- from "Fog Land" by Ingeborg Bachmann

Although the lilac is long dead, the bees still seek its entrance.
In vain, the chilled and resurgent bees.
It's not so much the lilac they want
As subtraction of lilac,
                                            some sumptuous, idyllic door
Unlatching to them its inner and sumptuous rooms.

- from "Saturday Afternoon" by Charles Wright

Night is such a furled feminine thing
around the muscles
of horses, the nettles in their fetlocks,
it is nothing
but the night before and the night after,
only starrier,
uglier. I try to shake them from it, take
their pain away,
they're dirty, I think, I'll make them clean.
It goes cold
again as horsetails lash the air; shadows
in the heart of the field, flooding it, and I flee.
All night long
I see the violent iron frowns of horseshoes.
Someday this pasture
will be pavement. See the barbed wire?
See the weeds?
Once I had a breath I did not breathe.

- from "Slowly, Slowly, Horses" by Julianne Buchsbaum

I saw how the night came,
Came striding like the color of the heavy hemlocks.
I felt afraid.
And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.

- from "Domination of Black" by Wallace Stevens


  1. Charles Wright must use the word sumptuous more than every other living poet combined.

    1. Twice in one stanza, even! There's an Anne Carson poem called "Sumptuous Destitution"

    2. The word sumptuous reminds me of nothing so much as that Kenneth Koch line, "Something there is that doesn't hump a sump."

  2. To Lizbie Browne (by Thomas Hardy)


    Dear Lizbie Browne,
    Where are you now?
    In sun, in rain? -
    Or is your brow
    Past joy, past pain,
    Dear Lizbie Browne?


    Sweet Lizbie Browne
    How you could smile,
    How you could sing! -
    How archly wile
    In glance-giving,
    Sweet Lizbie Browne!


    And, Lizbie Browne,
    Who else had hair
    Bay-red as yours,
    Or flesh so fair
    Bred out of doors,
    Sweet Lizbie Browne?


    When, Lizbie Browne,
    You had just begun
    To be endeared
    By stealth to one,
    You disappeared
    My Lizbie Browne!


    Ay, Lizbie Browne,
    So swift your life,
    And mine so slow,
    You were a wife
    Ere I could show
    Love, Lizbie Browne.


    Still, Lizbie Browne,
    You won, they said,
    The best of men
    When you were wed . . .
    Where went you then,
    O Lizbie Browne?


    Dear Lizbie Browne,
    I should have thought,
    "Girls ripen fast,"
    And coaxed and caught
    You ere you passed,
    Dear Lizbie Browne!


    But, Lizbie Browne,
    I let you slip;
    Shaped not a sign;
    Touched never your lip
    With lip of mine,
    Lost Lizbie Browne!


    So, Lizbie Browne,
    When on a day
    Men speak of me
    As not, you'll say,
    "And who was he?" -
    Yes, Lizbie Browne!

  3. I often go to poetry when I feel sad or down. Many years ago, the poet I would go to first when I was sad, or in heartbreak, was Marge Piercy. (Her early books of poems. Breaking Camp and Hard Loving and To Be of Use.)

    Other poets whose poems have gotten me through sadness over the years include Sappho (depending on the translation), and Lorna Dee Cervantes, and Audre Lorde. Also James Moore, a poet I guess mostly known here in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area -- his first book of poems (ca. 1974) titled The New Body.

    The Sappho translations I've felt the most at home with have been those by Susy Groden and Diane Rayor.

    And there's a poem by Tomas Transtromer titled (in translation) "After Someone's Death" that I've gone to (I have the poem by memory) in the moments of my deepest grief and loss.

    1. I love Transtromer .. read some today but didn't end up including any lines.

  4. One more and then I'll stop:

    Ellis Unit One (lyrics by Steve Earle)

    I was fresh out of the service
    It was back in '82
    I raised some Cain when I come back to town
    I left to be all I could be
    Come home without a clue
    I married Dawn and had to settle down

    So I hired on at the prison
    Guess I always knew I would
    Just like my dad and both my uncles done
    I worked on every cell block now
    And things were goin' good
    But then they transferred me to Ellis Unit One

    Swing low
    Swing low
    Swing low and carry me home

    Well my daddy used to talk about them long nights at the walls
    And how they used to strap 'em in the chair
    The kids down from the college, they'd bring their beer 'n all
    And when the lights went out, a cheer rose in the air

    Well folks just got too civilized
    Old Sparky's gatherin' dust
    'Cause no one wants to touch a smokin' gun
    They got that injection now
    They don't mind as much, I guess
    They just put 'em down at Ellis Unit One

    Swing low
    Swing low
    Swing low and carry me home

    Well, I've seen 'em fight like lions, boys,
    And I've seen 'em go like lambs
    And I've helped to drag 'em when they could not stand
    And I've heard their mamas cryin' when they heard that big door slam
    And I've seen the victims' families holdin' hands

    Last night I dreamed that I woke up with straps across my chest
    And something cold and black pullin' through my lungs
    And even Jesus couldn't save me, though I know he tried his best
    But he don't live on Ellis Unit One

    Swing low
    Swing low
    Swing low and carry me home
    Swing low
    Don't let go
    Swing low and carry me home