As punishment, my father said, the nuns
would send him and the others
out to the schoolyard with the day’s erasers.
Punishment? The pounding symphony
of padded cymbals clapped
together at arm’s length overhead
(a snow of vanished alphabets and numbers
powdering their noses
until they sneezed and laughed out loud at last)
was more than remedy, it was reward
for all the hours they’d sat
without a word (except for passing notes)
and straight (or near enough) in front of starched
black-and-white Sister Martha,
like a conductor raising high her chalk
baton, the only one who got to talk.
Whatever did she teach them?
And what became of all those other boys,
poor sinners, who had made a joyful noise?
My father likes to think,
at seventy-five, not of the white-on-black
chalkboard from whose crumbled negative
those days were never printed,
but of word-clouds where unrecorded voices
gladly forgot themselves. And that he still
can say so, though all the lessons,
most of the names, and (he doesn’t spell
this out) it must be half the boys themselves,
who grew up and dispersed
as soldiers, husbands, fathers, now are dust.
from Open Shutters. © Knopf, 2003.
As I went down the hill along the wall
There was a gate I had leaned at for the view
And had just turned from when I first saw you
As you came up the hill. We met. But all
We did that day was mingle great and small
Footprints in summer dust as if we drew
The figure of our being less than two
But more than one as yet. Your parasol
Pointed the decimal off with one deep thrust.
And all the time we talked you seemed to see
Something down there to smile at in the dust.
(Oh, it was without prejudice to me!)
Afterward I went past what you had passed
Before we met and you what I had passed.
from The Poetry of Robert Frost. © Holt Rinehart Winston, 1969.
I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice
might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.
Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of the one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe
behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner,
the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time—
now a fire-starter, now a torchbearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,
lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, onetime inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?
from Nine Horses: Poems. © Random House, 2003.
My father taught me how to eat breakfast
those mornings when it was my turn to help
him milk the cows. I loved rising up from
the darkness and coming quietly down
the stairs while the others were still sleeping.
I’d take a bowl from the cupboard, a spoon
from the drawer, and slip into the pantry
where he was already eating spoonfuls
of cornflakes covered with mashed strawberries
from our own strawberry fields forever.
Didn’t talk much—except to mention how
good the strawberries tasted or the way
those clouds hung over the hay barn roof.
Simple—that’s how we started up the day
I learn three words each day. It’s been seven months now and
perhaps I could carry on a conversation with a Sicilian child. If she
spoke slowly. In present tense. And only about pencils and dogs
and cheese. Sometimes I feel my new Italian self growing inside
me. He’s a little man who gesticulates as he speaks. He rides his
bicycle to the market to buy eggplant, anise, and porcini. Then
delivers them to his elderly mother. In the afternoon he plays
bocce with the older men. The children mimic the way he
whispers to himself. The grimaces he makes with his face. When
the moon comes out he slicks back his hair and sings beneath the
window of the woman he loves. What a sight he is. Down on one
knee. His arms outstretched. So willing to make a fool of himself.
Over and over again.
from The Floating Bridge. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008.
Woke up this morning with a terrific urge to lie in bed all day and read. Fought against it for a minute.
Then looked out the window at the rain. And gave over. Put myself entirely in the keep of this rainy morning.
Would I live my life over again? Make the same unforgivable mistakes?
Yes, given half a chance. Yes.
from The Collected Poems. © Knopf, 1996.
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water
and then into the sky of this
the one world
we all belong to
sooner or later
is a part of everything else
which thought made me feel
for a little while
quite beautiful myself.
from A Thousand Mornings. © The Penguin Press, 2012.
A Prayer among Friends
by John Daniel
Among other wonders of our lives, we are alive
with one another, we walk here
in the light of this unlikely world
that isn’t ours for long.
May we spend generously
the time we are given.
May we enact our responsibilities
as thoroughly as we enjoy
our pleasures. May we see with clarity,
may we seek a vision
that serves all beings, may we honor
the mystery surpassing our sight,
and may we hold in our hands
the gift of good work
and bear it forth whole, as we
were borne forth by a power we praise
to this one Earth, this homeland of all we love.
from Of Earth. © Lost Horse Press, 2012.