I’m Explaining a Few Things by Pablo Neruda (Second Excerpt)

I love this poem. I’ve written about it before, also at a time where the scale and brutality of police violence had my head spinning. You can find the full poem in my favorite poetry anthology (which also happens to be on sale at the University of Texas Press website right now), but the words that keep running through my head today are Neruda’s final refrain:


see my dead house,
look at broken Spain :
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.

And you’ll ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!


I Love Music (for John Coltrane) by Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka wrote a lot of beautiful poems, but I Love Music (for John Coltrane) will probably always be my favorite. You can hear the poet recite over Coltrane’s music in a youtube video and you can read an excerpt of it below. You can find the complete poem and much more of Baraka’s writing in his book “Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music.”

I LOVE MUSIC (for John Coltrane)

“I want to be a force for real good.
In other words, I know that there are bad forces,
forces that bring suffering to others and misery to the world,
but I want to be the opposite
force. I want to be the force, which is truly
for good.”
–John Coltrane



Trane sd,

A force for real good, Trane. in other words. Feb ’67
By july he was dead.
By july. He said in other words
he wanted to be the opposite
but by July he was dead, but he is, offering
expression a love supreme, afroblue in me singing
it all because of him
can be
screaming beauty
can be
afroblue can be
you leave me breathless
can be


I want to talk about you

my favorite things

like sonny

can be
life itself, fire can be, heat explosion, soul explosion, brain explosion.
can be. can be. can be. aggeeewheeuheeaggeeee. aeeegeheooouaaaa
deep deep deep
expression deep, can be
capitalism dying, can be
all see, aggggeeeeoooo. aggrggrrgeeeoouuuu. full full full can be
empty too.
nightfall by water
round moon over slums
shit in a dropper
soft face under fingertips trembling
can be
can be

The Wings, by Delmira Agustini

I don’t know much about Delmira Agustini, but I encountered a few of her poems in my very favorite poetry anthology some years ago and was absolutely entranced. I wish my Spanish was better so that I could read her work in its intended language, but even in translation, poems like “The Wings” are magnificent.

THE WINGS (excerpt)

Do you remember the glory of my wings?
The golden harmony
of their rhythm, their ineffable
bright colors saturated with all the treasures
of the rainbow — but a new rainbow,
and dazzling, and divine —
so that the Future’s perfect eyes (eyes that can see all
light!) will worship…the flight.

The fiery, ravenous, singular flight
that for so long twisted the heavens,
woke up suns and meteors and storms,
shedding brilliance and fullness
onto lightning and the stars: with enough heat
and shade for all the World —
enough, even, to hatch the idea
of the “Beyond.”

One day, when I lay strangely
exhausted, on the earth,
I fell asleep in the forest’s deep carpet…
I dreamed…divine things!
I thought a smile of yours awakened me…
I did not feel my wings!…
My wings?…

I saw them melt away —  between my arms —
exactly as if they were thawing!

The Widow’s Lament in Springtime by William Carlos Williams

This is probably my favorite poem. William Carlos Williams is certainly not a minor poet and this one is included in most of his collections, but the absolute precision of its language, the intensity of its imagery, and the deep sense of loss it evokes are so powerful that I feel like it is still, somehow, under-appreciated.


Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before, but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
Thirty-five years
I lived with my husband.
The plum tree is white today
with masses of flowers.
Masses of flowers
load the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red,
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they,
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turn away forgetting.
Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.

Drowning by María Irene Fornés

Last week, I went to see an incredible evening of one-act plays at The Signature Theater. The one that really floored me, though, was Drowning by María Irene Fornés. It’s a beautiful play and everything about the production was stunning, from the performances to the sets. If you can get to Signature before June 12, it’s well worth the (very reasonable) price of admission just to hear lines like these delivered by brilliant actors:

When I met her I asked her if it felt as good to touch her as it felt to look at her.  She said, “Try it.”

(Moves his head up and from side to side rapturously)

Do you know what it is to need someone?  The feeling is much deeper than words can ever say.  Do you know what despair is?  Anguish?  What is it that makes someone a link between you and your own life?

A Perfect Stanza

Just took out Houseboat Days by John Ashbery for no particular reason, and stumbled onto the opening stanza of “Melodic Trains.” It’s so perfect I had to share it:


A little girl with scarlet enameled fingernails
Asks me what time it is–evidently that’s a toy wristwatch
She’s wearing, for fun. And it is fun to wear other
Odd things, like this briar pipe and tweed coat

The whole poem’s wonderful, as is the whole book, but that stanza just took my breath away. Sometimes I forget what an incredible poet Ashbery is.

The Loss of the Creature by Walker Percy

I’m in Patagonia. Yesterday, I attached metal spikes to my shoes and hiked to the top of the Perito Moreno Glacier. The day before, I took a boat ride on Lago Argentino and saw glaciers, icebergs, and rainbows arcing off the lake. I took lots of photographs.

I won’t print these photographs. I’ll post them to my Facebook page and possibly Instagram, and after that initial posting it’s unlikely that I’ll ever spend much time flipping through these online albums. What is the purpose of these pictures?

What, for that matter, is the purpose of sightseeing? We make more or less elaborate plans in the hopes that we’ll gain access to some sort of experience that is more transcendent or meaningful or enjoyable than our ordinary experience. From the moment we reach our destination, we evaluate the quality of our trip. Was the food authentic? Was the landscape beautiful? Was this all worth it? Given that traveling for pleasure is a privilege denied to the overwhelming majority of the world’s population, what could “worth it” even mean? Is this exclusivity a part of what makes traveling pleasurable?

In his wonderful essay “The Loss of the Creature”, Walker Percy examines the experience of sightseeing. He focuses much of his essay on the Grand Canyon– or on the experience of visiting the Grand Canyon, noting that it is “almost impossible to gaze directly at the Grand Canyon…and see it for what it is.” Percy argues that this is because the canyon is no longer available to the sightseer as a manifestation of natural beauty:

The Grand Canyon…has been appropriated by the symbolic complex which has already been formed in the sightseer’s mind…by picture postcard, geography book, tourist folders, and the words Grand Canyon.

Thanks to the weight of cultural significance and expectation, it is impossible to simply see the Grand Canyon. What’s more, Percy notes:

Seeing the canyon is made even more difficult by what the sight-seer does when the moment arrives, when sovereign knower confronts the thing to be known. Instead of looking at it, he photographs it. There is no confrontation at all. At the end of forty years of preformulation and with the Grand Canyon yawning at his feet, what does he do? He waives his right of seeing and knowing and records symbols for the next forty years…

Writing some fifty years ago, Percy was grappling with the problems of photography and experience in ways that seem incredibly prescient. How does our desire to record experience affect our capacity to experience? What purpose does this act of recording serve?

Returning to the Grand Canyon, Percy argues that the massive weight of expectation and cultural significance attached to the canyon inhibits the traveler’s ability to simply perceive the thing. Thankfully, Percy offers a variety of tactics and scenarios by which the sightseer may “recover the Grand Canyon”. My favorite is this:

[The canyon] may be recovered in a time of national disaster. The Bright Angel Lodge is converted into a rest home, a function that has nothing to do with the canyon a few yards away. A wounded man is brought in. He regains consciousness; there outside his window is the canyon.

This last example embodies everything I love about Percy’s writing: it’s playful, direct, poetic, and boundlessly humanist. Splicing Percy’s essay with my own poorly articulated thoughts does not do the thing justice, but I’ve given you a good enough taste to convince you to read his piece in its entirety. It’s well worth it.