Friday, February 22, 2013

Poems about Cities: Playlist for February 22, 2013


Monet Refuses the Operation

By Lisel Mueller b. 1924 

Doctor, you say there are no haloes

around the streetlights in Paris

and what I see is an aberration

caused by old age, an affliction.

I tell you it has taken me all my life

to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,

to soften and blur and finally banish

the edges you regret I don’t see,

to learn that the line I called the horizon

does not exist and sky and water,

so long apart, are the same state of being.

Fifty-four years before I could see

Rouen cathedral is built

of parallel shafts of sun,

and now you want to restore

my youthful errors: fixed

notions of top and bottom,

the illusion of three-dimensional space,

wisteria separate

from the bridge it covers.

What can I say to convince you

the Houses of Parliament dissolve

night after night to become

the fluid dream of the Thames?

I will not return to a universe

of objects that don’t know each other,

as if islands were not the lost children

of one great continent.  The world

is flux, and light becomes what it touches,

becomes water, lilies on water,

above and below water,

becomes lilac and mauve and yellow

and white and cerulean lamps,

small fists passing sunlight

so quickly to one another

that it would take long, streaming hair

inside my brush to catch it.

To paint the speed of light!

Our weighted shapes, these verticals,

burn to mix with air

and change our bones, skin, clothes

to gases.  Doctor,

if only you could see

how heaven pulls earth into its arms

and how infinitely the heart expands

to claim this world, blue vapor without end.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Jeux D'eau by Maurice Ravel
 
 
 

London Snow

By Robert Bridges 1844–1930 

When men were all asleep the snow came flying,

In large white flakes falling on the city brown,

Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,

      Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;

Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs failing;

Lazily and incessantly floating down and down:

      Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing;

Hiding difference, making unevenness even,

Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.

      All night it fell, and when full inches seven

It lay in the depth of its uncompacted lightness,

The clouds blew off from a high and frosty heaven;

      And all woke earlier for the unaccustomed brightness

Of the winter dawning, the strange unheavenly glare:

The eye marvelled—marvelled at the dazzling whiteness;

      The ear hearkened to the stillness of the solemn air;

No sound of wheel rumbling nor of foot falling,

And the busy morning cries came thin and spare.

      Then boys I heard, as they went to school, calling,

They gathered up the crystal manna to freeze

Their tongues with tasting, their hands with snowballing;

      Or rioted in a drift, plunging up to the knees;

Or peering up from under the white-mossed wonder,

‘O look at the trees!’ they cried, ‘O look at the trees!’

      With lessened load a few carts creak and blunder,

Following along the white deserted way,

A country company long dispersed asunder:

      When now already the sun, in pale display

Standing by Paul’s high dome, spread forth below

His sparkling beams, and awoke the stir of the day.

      For now doors open, and war is waged with the snow;

And trains of sombre men, past tale of number,

Tread long brown paths, as toward their toil they go:

      But even for them awhile no cares encumber

Their minds diverted; the daily word is unspoken,

The daily thoughts of labour and sorrow slumber

At the sight of the beauty that greets them, for the charm they have broken.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Serenade for Strings in E Minor, Op. 20 by Edward Elgar
 
 

The Day Lady Died

By Frank O'Hara 1926–1966

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday

three days after Bastille day, yes

it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine

because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton  

at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner

and I don’t know the people who will feed me  

 

I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun  

and have a hamburger and a malted and buy

an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets  

in Ghana are doing these days

                                           I go on to the bank

and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)  

doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life  

and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine  

for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do  

think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or  

Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres

of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine

after practically going to sleep with quandariness 

 

and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE

Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and  

then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue  

and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and  

casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton

of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it 

 

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of

leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT

while she whispered a song along the keyboard

to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing
 
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: I'll Be Seeing You by Sammy Fain  

 

Excerpt from “Watermark” by Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

The eye in this city acquires an autonomy similar to that of a tear. The only difference is that it doesn't sever itself from the body but subordinates it totally. After a while – on the third or fourth day here – the body starts to regard itself as merely the eye's carrier, as a kind of submarine to its now dilating, now squinting periscope. Of course, for all its targets, its explosions are invariably self-inflicted: it's your own heart, or else your mind, that sinks; the eye pops up to the surface. This of course owes to the local topography, to the streets – narrow, meandering like eels – that finally bring you to a flounder of a campo with a cathedral in the middle of it, barnacled with saints and flaunting its Medusa-like cupolas. No matter what you set out for as you leave the house here, you are bound to get lost in these long, coiling lanes and passageways that beguile you to see them through, to follow them to their elusive end, which usually hits water, so that you can't even call it a cul-de-sac. On the map this city looks like two grilled fish sharing a plate, or perhaps like two nearly overlapping lobster claws (Pasternak compared it to a swollen croissant); but it has no north, south, east, or west; the only direction it has is sideways. It surrounds you like frozen seaweed, and the more you dart and dash about trying to get your bearings, the more you get lost. The yellow arrow signs at intersections are not much help either, for they, too, curve. In fact, they don't so much help you as kelp you. And in the fluently flapping hand of the native whom you stop to ask for directions, the eye, oblivious to his sputtering A destra, a sinistra, dritto, dritto, readily discerns a fish.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Venetian Lute Music

 

Dawn in New York by Claude McKay (1889-1948)

The Dawn! The Dawn! The crimson-tinted, comes
Out of the low still skies, over the hills,
Manhattan's roofs and spires and cheerless domes!
The Dawn! My spirit to its spirit thrills.
Almost the mighty city is asleep,
No pushing crowd, no tramping, tramping feet.
But here and there a few cars groaning creep
Along, above, and underneath the street,
Bearing their strangely-ghostly burdens by,
The women and the men of garish nights,
Their eyes wine-weakened and their clothes awry,
Grotesques beneath the strong electric lights.
The shadows wane. The Dawn comes to New York.
And I go darkly-rebel to my work.
 
 
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Magic Hour by Kenji Bunch


 

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