If you’re going to have a national poetry month, at some point you have to celebrate the poets. I will confess: I have no idea how they do what they do. It’s magical and mystical and I leave poetry to the fortunate people who have that gift.

Suzanne Paola is one of my very best friends, but I would read her poetry even if I didn’t know her, and I am in awe of her creative non-fiction (you’ll note that Body Toxic came out under her penname. It’s one of those books that will stay with you forever).

Suz has also got an almost frightening memory when it comes to the written word; quote her some Shakespeare and out will pop line and verse. And she loves the Terminator movies. Really, what more could you ask for in a friend?

So I asked her if she could come up with a favorite poem. She came up with more than one, and I’m giving you this one — but first you get one of hers.

One more thing: Suz is on the board of the Slum Doctor Programme, a non-profit with an important mission: to lift the burden of despair for people impacted by AIDS in Africa by providing hope, medicine, food, education and dignity.

This first poem is Suzanne’s:


As if the heart darkened out of its fever,
the bunched heads bow and keep burning–
All spring I watch their pilgrimage of the flesh,
nubs hard as the breasts of girls, first green, then red, then black.
Like monks, they filter out every shade of desire.

As a child I thought each cloud might lift me–
How I loved possibility then!
On my back
at night, in summer, watching the sky open up,
the dog star drag its prodigious light through the heat
at the hunter’s heels . . .
My song
was anything can happen anything anything
and past sense I sang it: each night, my voice
beat darkness from the bed; each morning, the same day,
the same world, came around again, and in it
I got older and older–

Now I look down and love the small,
the rooted, all things learning what they cannot be–
Each branch that ladders, thorn by thorn, to the sun,
the ache of time pressed to one point
black and true as the eye of a dog.

And one of her favorites, by Sylvia Plath. I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of Plath’s, but I like this one. Maybe because it’s one of her early ones.

Point Shirley

From Water-Tower Hill to the brick prison
The shingle booms, bickering under
The sea’s collapse.
Snowcakes break and welter. This year
The gritted wave leaps
The seawall and drops onto a bier
Of quahog chips,
Leaving a salty mash of ice to whiten

In my grandmother’s sand yard. She is dead,
Whose laundry snapped and froze here, who
Kept house against
What the sluttish, rutted sea could do.
Squall waves once danced
Ship timbers in through the cellar window;
A thresh-tailed, lanced
Shark littered in the geranium bed —

Such collusion of mulish elements
She wore her broom straws to the nub.
Twenty years out
Of her hand, the house still hugs in each drab
Stucco socket
The purple egg-stones: from Great Head’s knob
To the filled-in Gut
The sea in its cold gizzard ground those rounds.

Nobody wintering now behind
The planked-up windows where she set
Her wheat loaves
And apple cakes to cool. What is it
Survives, grieves
So, battered, obstinate spit
Of gravel? The waves’
Spewed relics clicker masses in the wind,

Grey waves the stub-necked eiders ride.
A labor of love, and that labor lost.
Steadily the sea
Eats at Point Shirley. She died blessed,
And I come by
Bones, only bones, pawed and tossed,
A dog-faced sea.
The sun sinks under Boston, bloody red.

I would get from these dry-papped stones
The milk your love instilled in them.
The black ducks dive.
And though your graciousness might stream,
And I contrive,
Grandmother, stones are nothing of home
To that spumiest dove.
Against both bar and tower the black sea runs.

I Go Back to May 1937 – Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds is a very big name, poetry-wise. I’ve read quite a bit of her work, and the earlier stuff works better for me than the later. This is pretty much perfect, as I see it.

I Go Back to May 1937

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks,
the wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips aglow in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don’t do it—she’s the wrong woman,
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you have not heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips, like chips of flint, as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

Pablo Neruda

I put up a little poetry and everybody disappears. But I am not discouraged. I will celebrate poetry month with or without youse.

Maybe this one will get you in the mood. My strong suggestion: read it out loud. By a master: Pablo Neruda


And it was at that age…Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating planations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesmal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
I felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke free on the open sky.

poetry month: Milne

And the last one for today.

First I’ve got to come clean: I never have been much of a Winnie the Pooh fan. Even before Disney got hold of that dopey bear, the stories didn’t make much of an impression on me.

But A.A. Milne also wrote poetry for children, and that I can’t get enough of. I read many of his poems to the Girlchild when she was little and she could recite along with me on her favorites.

This poem (you MUST read it outloud to get the full effect) is my all time favorite of his.

The King’s Breakfast

The King asked
The Queen, and
The Queen asked
The Dairymaid:
“Could we have some butter for
The Royal slice of bread?”
The Queen asked the Dairymaid,
The Dairymaid
Said, “Certainly,
I’ll go and tell the cow
Before she goes to bed.”

The Dairymaid
She curtsied,
And went and told the Alderney:
“Don’t forget the butter for
The Royal slice of bread.”

The Alderney said sleepily:
“You’d better tell
His Majesty
That many people nowadays
Like marmalade

The Dairymaid
Said “Fancy!”
And went to
Her Majesty.
She curtsied to the Queen, and
She turned a little red:
“Excuse me,
Your Majesty,
For taking of
The liberty,
But marmalade is tasty, if
It’s very

The Queen said
And went to his Majesty:
“Talking of the butter for
The royal slice of bread,
Many people
Think that
Is nicer.
Would you like to try a little

The King said,
And then he said,
“Oh, deary me!”
The King sobbed, “Oh, deary me!”
And went back to bed.
He whimpered,
“Could call me
A fussy man;
I only want
A little bit
Of butter for
My bread!”

The Queen said,
“There, there!”
And went to
The Dairymaid.
The Dairymaid
Said, “There, there!”
And went to the shed.
The cow said,
“There, there!
I didn’t really
Mean it;
Here’s milk for his porringer
And butter for his bread.”

The queen took the butter
And brought it to
His Majesty.
The King said
“Butter, eh?”
And bounced out of bed.
“Nobody,” he said,
As he kissed her
“Nobody,” he said,
As he slid down
The banisters,
My darling,
Could call me
A fussy man –
I do like a little bit of butter to my bread!”