Fairy Song

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 190th birthday.

Louisa May Alcott
American
1832 – 1888

 

The moonlight fades from flower and rose
And the stars dim one by one;
The tale is told, the song is sung,
And the Fairy feast is done.
The night-wind rocks the sleeping flowers,
And sings to them, soft and low.
The early birds erelong will wake:
‘T is time for the Elves to go.

O’er the sleeping earth we silently pass,
Unseen by mortal eye,
And send sweet dreams, as we lightly float
Through the quiet moonlit sky;–
For the stars’ soft eyes alone may see,
And the flowers alone may know,
The feasts we hold, the tales we tell;
So’t is time for the Elves to go.

From bird, and blossom, and bee,
We learn the lessons they teach;
And seek, by kindly deeds, to win
A loving friend in each.
And though unseen on earth we dwell,
Sweet voices whisper low,
And gentle hearts most joyously greet
The Elves where’er they go.

When next we meet in the Fairy dell,
May the silver moon’s soft light
Shine then on faces gay as now,
And Elfin hearts as light.
Now spread each wing, for the eastern sky
With sunlight soon shall glow.
The morning star shall light us home:
Farewell! for the Elves must go.

Recreation

We present this work in honor of the 30th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Audre Lorde
American
1934 – 1992

 

Coming together
it is easier to work
after our bodies
meet
paper and pen
neither care nor profit
whether we write or not
but as your body moves
under my hands
charged and waiting
we cut the leash
you create me against your thighs
hilly with images
moving through our word countries
my body
writes into your flesh
the poem
you make of me.

Touching you I catch midnight
as moon fires set in my throat
I love you flesh into blossom
I made you
and take you made
into me.

Morning Song

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 90th birthday.

Sylvia Plath
American
1932 – 1963

 

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

Head of the Year

We present this work in honor of Rosh Hashanah.

Marge Piercy
American
b. 1936

 

The moon is dark tonight, a new
moon for a new year. It is
hollow and hungers to be full.
It is the black zero of beginning.

Now you must void yourself
of injuries, insults, incursions.
Go with empty hands to those
you have hurt and make amends.

It is not too late. It is early
and about to grow. Now
is the time to do what you
know you must and have feared
to begin. Your face is dark
too as you turn inward to face
yourself, the hidden twin of
all you must grow to be.

Forgive the dead year. Forgive
yourself. What will be wants
to push through your fingers.
The light you seek hides
in your belly. The light you
crave longs to stream from
your eyes. You are the moon
that will wax in new goodness.

His Excellency General Washington

In honor of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, we present this work by a poet who was denied the benefits of both.

Phillis Wheatley
American
1753 – 1784

 

Celestial choir! enthron’d in realms of light,
Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write.
While freedom’s cause her anxious breast alarms,
She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms.
See mother earth her offspring’s fate bemoan,
And nations gaze at scenes before unknown!
See the bright beams of heaven’s revolving light
Involved in sorrows and the veil of night!
The Goddess comes, she moves divinely fair,
Olive and laurel binds Her golden hair:
Wherever shines this native of the skies,
Unnumber’d charms and recent graces rise.
Muse! Bow propitious while my pen relates
How pour her armies through a thousand gates,
As when Eolus heaven’s fair face deforms,
Enwrapp’d in tempest and a night of storms;
Astonish’d ocean feels the wild uproar,
The refluent surges beat the sounding shore;
Or think as leaves in Autumn’s golden reign,
Such, and so many, moves the warrior’s train.
In bright array they seek the work of war,
Where high unfurl’d the ensign waves in air.
Shall I to Washington their praise recite?
Enough thou know’st them in the fields of fight.
Thee, first in peace and honors-we demand
The grace and glory of thy martial band.
Fam’d for thy valour, for thy virtues more,
Hear every tongue thy guardian aid implore!
One century scarce perform’d its destined round,
When Gallic powers Columbia’s fury found;
And so may you, whoever dares disgrace
The land of freedom’s heaven-defended race!
Fix’d are the eyes of nations on the scales,
For in their hopes Columbia’s arm prevails.
Anon Britannia droops the pensive head,
While round increase the rising hills of dead.
Ah! Cruel blindness to Columbia’s state!
Lament thy thirst of boundless power too late.
Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,
Thy ev’ry action let the Goddess guide.
A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,
With gold unfading, Washington! Be thine.

The Romance of Patrolman Casey

We present this work in honor of the 85th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Ellis Parker Butler
American
1869 – 1937

 

There was a young patrolman who
Had large but tender feet;
They always hurt him badly when
He walked upon his beat.
(He always took them with him when
He walked upon his beat.)

His name was Patrick Casey and
A sweetheart fair had he;
Her face was full of freckles but
Her name was Kate McGee.
(It was in spite of freckles that
Her name was Kate McGee.)

‘Oh, Pat!’ she said, ‘I’ll wed you when
Promotion comes to you!’
‘I’m much-obliged,’ he answered, and
‘I’ll see what I can do.’
(I may remark he said it thus?
‘Oi’ll say phwat Oi kin do.’)

So then he bought some new shoes which
Allowed his feet more ease?
They may have been large twelves. Perhaps
Eighteens, or twenty-threes.
(That’s rather large for shoes, I think?
Eighteens or twenty-threes!)

What last they were I don’t know, but
Somehow it seems to me
I’ve heard somewhere they either were
A, B, C, D, or E.
(More likely they were five lasts wide?
A, B plus C, D, E.)

They were the stoutest cowhide that
Could be peeled off a cow.

But he was not promoted

So
Kate wed him anyhow.

(This world is crowded full of Kates
That wed them anyhow.)

Scars Don’t Tan

We present this work in honor of the 10th anniversary of the poet’s death.

M.Z. Ribalow
American
1948 – 2012

 

It takes so little for the unraveling to
commence—a careless gesture, a reassuring
phrase never quite uttered, a heedless
moment that seemed rhapsodically hopeful
but which left resonant repercussions that
altered everything. A legacy of scars:
emotional ones fade but not away,
physical ones blend but don’t tan.

The rap music you give as a birthday gift
to your nephew because it’s what he likes,
the visit you force yourself to make because
your relatives need cheering up, your friend’s
neurotic phone call that consumes the night—
the recipients are grateful, but none of it
ever washes away your secret detritus.
Expiation seems a goal, but is a way of life.

It began happening so long ago, in details too
nuanced to notice. A slight misstep sprains an
ankle that never fully heals; a dropped stitch
subtly renders imperfect the entire tapestry.
Nothing to be done now but to recover; make
The most of what remains, the best of what
May be. Though you recall the white whale,
Do not pursue him through the oceanic past.

The Blind Men and the Elephant

We present this work in honor of World Elephant Day.

John Godfrey Saxe
American
1816 – 1887

 

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ‘tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he:
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

MORAL

So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

 

We Wear the Mask

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 150th birthday.

06-27 Dunbar
Paul Laurence Dunbar
American
1872 – 1906

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Those Winter Sundays

We present this work in honor of Father’s Day.

06-19 Hayden
Robert Hayden
American
1913 – 1980

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?