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?

Old Ironsides

We present this work in honor of Flag Day.

06-14 Holmes
Oliver Wendell Holmes
American
1809 – 1894

Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon’s roar; —
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.
Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o’er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor’s tread,
Or know the conquered knee; —
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!

Oh, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!

Widow’s Walk, Somewhere Inland

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

z 05-27-22
Linda Pastan
American
b. 1932

This landlocked house should grace a harbor:
its widow’s walk of grey pickets
surveys an inland sea
of grass; wind
breaks like surf against
its rough shingles.

In summer the two grown sons
tie up here for a while.
The daughter with her mermaid hair
sits on a rock: her legs
will soon be long enough
to carry her away.

Sometimes the woman
lies awake
watching the fireflies bobbing
like ship’s lights, the bats
with their strict radar
patrolling the dark.

The man will leave too,
one way or another,
sufficient as an old snail
carrying his small house
on his back.
She will remain, pacing

the widow’s walk.
At dusk she’ll pick the milky flowers
that grow by the porch stair;
she’ll place them in the window,
each polished petal a star
for someone to steer home by.

Juke Box Love Song

We present this work in honor of the 55th anniversary of the poet’s death.

05-22 Hughes
Langston Hughes
American
1902 – 1967

I could take the Harlem night
and wrap around you,
Take the neon lights and make a crown,
Take the Lenox Avenue busses,
Taxis, subways,
And for your love song tone their rumble down.
Take Harlem’s heartbeat,
Make a drumbeat,
Put it on a record, let it whirl,
And while we listen to it play,
Dance with you till day—
Dance with you, my sweet brown Harlem girl.

To Be a Jew in the Twentieth Century

We present this work in honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut.

05-06 Rukeyser
Muriel Rukeyser
American
1913 – 1980

To be a Jew in the twentieth century
Is to be offered a gift. If you refuse,
Wishing to be invisible, you choose
Death of the spirit, the stone insanity

Accepting, take full life. Full agonies:
Your evening deep in labyrinthine blood
Of those who resist, fail, and resist; and God
Reduced to a hostage among hostages.

The gift is torment. Not alone the still
Torture, isolation; or torture of the flesh.
That may come also. But the accepting wish,
The whole and fertile spirit as guarantee
For every human freedom, suffering to be free,
Daring to live for the impossible.

My Father’s Love Letters

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 75th birthday.

04-29 Komunyakaa
Yusef Komunyakaa
American
b. 1947

On Fridays he’d open a can of Jax
After coming home from the mill,
& ask me to write a letter to my mother
Who sent postcards of desert flowers
Taller than men. He would beg,
Promising to never beat her
Again. Somehow I was happy
She had gone, & sometimes wanted
To slip in a reminder, how Mary Lou
Williams’ ‘Polka Dots & Moonbeams’
Never made the swelling go down.
His carpenter’s apron always bulged
With old nails, a claw hammer
Looped at his side & extension cords
Coiled around his feet.
Words rolled from under the pressure
Of my ballpoint: Love,
Baby, Honey, Please.
We sat in the quiet brutality
Of voltage meters & pipe threaders,
Lost between sentences…
The gleam of a five-pound wedge
On the concrete floor
Pulled a sunset
Through the doorway of his toolshed.
I wondered if she laughed
& held them over a gas burner.
My father could only sign
His name, but he’d look at blueprints
& say how many bricks
Formed each wall. This man,
Who stole roses & hyacinth
For his yard, would stand there
With eyes closed & fists balled,
Laboring over a simple word, almost
Redeemed by what he tried to say.

Courage

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 100th birthday.

03-12 Kerouac
Jack Kerouac
American
1922 – 1969

Wonder if my poem title will be acceptable.
(The Absence of Courage)

I.

Courage is an interesting virtue.
The only difference between courage
and unrealistic hopefulness is success.
Courage to me means standing up against injustice,
or atleast finding the strength to do something
your character or the outside world would rather you didn’t do.
It’s that noble buck with big horns we admire and have the deepest
of respect for,
it’s that noble buck with big horns we like to shoot down and hang on our
walls.

Like the tobacco in a cigarette, the only way to draw it out
from the depths of your character is to embrace it and set it on fire.
But don’t take more than you can handle,
or you might find yourself coughing up the illogical notion,
the practicality of your subconscious triumphing.
Bite off just enough,
enough to sustain hope, but not enough to defeat the
cowardice in your soul to the point where you altogether snuff restraint
and self doubt.

II.

I have seen courage in a number of places,
in the sun for it’s miraculous overpowering of darkness every morning,
in a woman who decides to have a child despite life threatening consequences.
I’ve seen it mainly in action movies,
where it exists without the natural predators of insecurity and sensibility
found in the real world.
I’ve seen it in the insurrection of children who decide to just say yes,
I’ve seen it in the cynical gaze of withered old addicts who are trying to
say no.

Courage, it’s a wonderful thing.
It’s both a blessing and a curse.
Embrace it and harness it,
but do it in moderation,
or it might get the better of your self-doubt and sensibility.

The Old Flame

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 105th birthday.

03-01 Lowell
Robert Lowell
American
1917 – 1977

My old flame, my wife!
Remember our lists of birds?
One morning last summer, I drove
by our house in Maine. It was still
on top of its hill –

Now a red ear of Indian maize
was splashed on the door.
Old Glory with thirteen stripes
hung on a pole. The clapboard
was old-red schoolhouse red.

Inside, a new landlord,
a new wife, a new broom!
Atlantic seaboard antique shop
pewter and plunder
shone in each room.

A new frontier!
No running next door
now to phone the sheriff
for his taxi to Bath
and the State Liquor Store!

No one saw your ghostly
imaginary lover
stare through the window
and tighten
the scarf at his throat.

Health to the new people,
health to their flag, to their old
restored house on the hill!
Everything had been swept bare,
furnished, garnished and aired.

Everything’s changed for the best –
how quivering and fierce we were,
there snowbound together,
simmering like wasps
in our tent of books!

Poor ghost, old love, speak
with your old voice
of flaming insight
that kept us awake all night.
In one bed and apart,

we heard the plow
groaning up hill –
a red light, then a blue,
as it tossed off the snow
to the side of the road.