Thursday, December 23, 2021



J O A N     D I D I O N 

1934 ~ 2021



 A N T H O L O G Y  2 ___________________________________


Dream in the Summer of My Seventy-third Year

I am behind a funeral cortege on a mountain road

And decide to pass it, but it seems to go on forever

And I'm completely exposed in the oncoming lane

And the only way out is to merge into the caravan

Of mourners. It is getting dark and a thick snow

Begins to fall in a sudden flurry and then stops

Abruptly, which gives the world an expectant air,

Though, really, nothing in particular happens

After a snowfall, except for the intense stillness

In the pine forest the road is winding through.


Simply trust:

don't the petals also flutter down

just like that?


My Nightingale

My mother was a doe in another time.

Her honey-brown eyes

and her loveliness

survive from that moment.

Here she was —

half an angel and half humankind —

the center was mother.

When I asked her once what she would have wanted to be

she made this answer to me: a nightingale.

Now she is a nightingale.

Every night, night after night, I hear her

in the garden of my sleepless dream.

She is singing the Zion of her ancestors.

She is singing the hills and beech-woods

of Bukowina.

My nightingale

sings lullabies to me

night after night 

in the garden of my sleepless dream.

(translated by Eavan Boland)



Make no sound, do not speak:

   eyes, heart, mind, dreams

   are about to explore a forest.

A secret but tangible forest.

A forest humming with silence

   into which the bird to be ensnared

   has fled,

   the bird to be ensnared

   who will be made to sing

   or weep.

To whom will it make him sing,

For whom will it make him weep,

   the place in which he comes to life?

Forest. Bird.

   Bird hidden

     in your hands.


The War Works Hard

How magnificent the war is!

How eager

and efficient!

Early in the morning,

it wakes up the sirens

and dispatches ambulances

to various places,

swings corpses through the air,

rolls stretchers to the wounded,

summons rain

from the eyes of mothers,

digs into the earth

dislodging many things

from under the ruins . . .

Some are lifeless and glistening,

others are pale and still throbbing . . .

It produces the most questions

in the minds of children,

entertains the gods

by shooting fireworks and missiles

into the sky,

sows mines in the fields

and reaps punctures and blisters,

urges families to emigrate,

stands beside the clergymen

as they curse the devil

(poor devil, he remains

with one hand in the searing fire) . . .

The war continues working, day and night.

It inspires tyrants

to deliver long speeches,

awards medals to generals

and themes to poets.

It contributes to the industry

of artificial limbs,

provides food for flies,

adds pages to the history books,

achieves equality

between killer and killed,

teaches lovers to write letters,

accustoms young women to waiting,

fills the newspapers

with articles and pictures,

builds new houses

for the orphans,

invigorates the coffin makers,

gives grave diggers

a pat on the back

and paints a smile on the leader's face.

The war works with unparalleled diligence!

Yet no one gives it

a word of praise.

(translated by Elizabeth Winslow)



Listen: there was a goat's head hanging by ropes in a tree.

All night it hung there and sang. And those who heard it

Felt a hurt in their hearts and thought they were hearing

The song of a night bird. They sat up in their beds, and then

They lay back down again. In the night wind, the goat's head

Swayed back and forth, and from far off it shone faintly

The way the moonlight shone on the train track miles away

Beside which the goat's headless body lay. Some boys

Had hacked its head off. It was harder work than they had imagined.

The goat cried like a man and struggled hard. But they

Finished the job. They hung the bleeding head by the school

And then ran off into the darkness that seems to hide everything.

The head hung in the tree. The body lay by the tracks.

The head called to the body. The body to the head.

They missed each other. The missing grew large between them,

Until it pulled the heart right out of the body, until

The drawn heart flew toward the head, flew as a bird flies

Back to its cage and the familiar perch from which it trills.

Then the heart sang in the head, softly at first and then louder,

Sang long and low until the morning light came up over

The school and over the tree, and then the singing stopped....

The goat had belonged to a small girl. She named

The goat Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, named it after

The night's bush of stars, because the goat's silky hair

Was dark as well water, because it had eyes like wild fruit.

The girl lived near a high railroad track. At night

She heard the trains passing, the sweet sound of the train's horn

Pouring softly over her bed, and each morning she woke

To give the bleating goat his pail of warm milk. She sang

Him songs about girls with ropes and cooks in boats.

She brushed him with a stiff brush. She dreamed daily

That he grew bigger, and he did. She thought her dreaming

Made it so. But one night the girl didn't hear the train's horn,

And the next morning she woke to an empty yard. The goat

Was gone. Everything looked strange. It was as if a storm

Had passed through while she slept, wind and stones, rain

Stripping the branches of fruit. She knew that someone

Had stolen the goat and that he had come to harm. She called

To him. All morning and into the afternoon, she called

And called. She walked and walked. In her chest a bad feeling

Like the feeling of the stones gouging the soft undersides

Of her bare feet. Then somebody found the goat's body

By the high tracks, the flies already filling their soft bottles

At the goat's torn neck. Then somebody found the head

Hanging in a tree by the school. They hurried to take

These things away so that the girl would not see them.

They hurried to raise money to buy the girl another goat.

They hurried to find the boys who had done this, to hear

Them say it was a joke, a joke, it was nothing but a joke....

But listen: here is the point. The boys thought to have

Their fun and be done with it. It was harder work than they

Had imagined, this silly sacrifice, but they finished the job,

Whistling as they washed their large hands in the dark.

What they didn't know was that the goat's head was already

Singing behind them in the tree. What they didn't know

Was that the goat's head would go on singing, just for them,

Long after the ropes were down, and that they would learn to listen,

Pail after pail, stroke after patient stroke. They would

Wake in the night thinking they heard the wind in the trees

Or a night bird, but their hearts beating harder. There

Would be a whistle, a hum, a high murmur, and, at last, a song,

The low song a lost boy sings remembering his mother's call.

Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song

Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.


a s   A short selection from "I Remember"

   I   I remember when polio was the worst thing in the world.

I r   I remember trying to convince my parents that not raking leaves was good for the grass.

I r   I remember wondering why, if Jesus could cure sick people why He didn't cure all sick people.

       I remember when twins dressed alike.

       I remember being shown to my seat with a flashlight.

       I remember always getting in trouble for giving everything away.

       I remember ping-pong ball dents.

       I remember the "fuck you" finger.

       I remember "This is the last time I'm going to tell you."

       I remember blowing straws.

       I remember thinking that "S.O.S." meant something dirty

       I remember changing my name to Bo Jainard for about one week.


       Reflections of a Mouse

       A mouse looked at an elephant;
       He wondered and he sighed:
       Is it good to be so big and strong,
       And to a stake be tied?

       I've often wished I weren't small,
W  Were strong enough to move a house,
      Or pull a row of circus carts,
      But I guess I'll stay a mouse.

       I'm small, but I've got freedom;
       That's such a precious prize
       And what is more important
       A way of life or size?                            (keep reading, big space below)






The Soul's Soundtrack

When they call him Old School

he clears his throat, squares

his shoulders, & looks straight

into their unlit eyes, saying,

"I was born by the damn river

& I've been running ever since."

An echo of Sam Cooke hangs

in bruised air, & for a minute

the silence of Fate reigns over

day & night, a tilt of the Earth

body & soul caught in a sway

going back to reed & goatskin,

back to trade winds locked

inside an "Amazing Grace"

which will never again sound

the same after Charleston,

South Carolina, & yes, words

follow the river through pine

& oak, muscadine & redbud,

& the extinct Lord God bird

found in an inventory of green

shadows longing for the scent

of woe & beatitude, taking root

in the money air of some bayou.

Now Old School can't stop

going from a sad yes to gold,

into a season's bloomy creed,

& soon he only hears Martha

& the Vandellas, their dancing

in the streets, through a before

& after. Mississippi John Hurt.

Ma Rainey, Sleepy John Estes,

Son House, Skip James, Joe

Turner, & Sweet Emma,

& he goes till what he feels

wears out his work boots

along the sidewalks, his life

a fist of coins in a coat pocket

to give to the recent homeless

up & down these city blocks.

He knows "We Shall Overcome"

& anthems of the flower children

which came after Sister Rosetta,

Big Mama Thorton, & Bo Diddley.

Now, the years add up to a sharp

pain in his left side of Broadway,

but the Five Blind Boys of Alabama

call down an evening mist to soothe.

He believes to harmonize is

to reach, to ascend, to query

ego & hold a note till there's

only a quiver of blue feathers

at dawn, & a voice goes out

to return as a litany of mock

orange & sweat, as we are sewn

into what we came crying out of,

& when Old School declares,

"You can't doo-wop a cappella

& let your tongue touch an evil

while fingering a slothful doubt

beside the Church of Coltrane,"

he has trasversed the lion's den

as Eric Dolphy plays a fluted

solo of birds in the peppertrees.


Lonesome Boy Blues

Oh nobody's a long time

Nowhere's a big pocket

To put little

Pieces of nice things that

Have never really happened

To anyone except

Those people who were lucky enough

Not to get born

Oh lonesome's a bad place

To get crowded into

With only

Yourself riding back and forth


A blind white horse

Along an empty road meeting

All your

Pals face to face

Nobody's a long time


Blues Haiku

i am you loving

my own shadow watching

this noontime butterfly


Japanese Figures

Nations die

rivers go on


go on



the day break

What is coming

is uncertainty


is sleep

If he flatters you

watch him

edited by bob arnold


Hass: Summer Snow, Harper Collins 2020

Rose Auslander: After Every War: 20th Century Women Poets, Princeton University Press 2004

Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo:  from The Negritude Poets, edited by Ellen Conroy Kennedy, Viking 1975

Dunya Mikhail: The War Works Hard, New Directions, 2005

Brigit Pegeen Kelly: Song, BOA Editions 1995

Joe Brainard: The Collected Writings, The Library of America, 2012

Ray Johnson: Ray Johnson C/O, Art Institute of Chicago / Yale 2021

Yusef Komunyakaa, Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth, Farrar, Straus Giroux 2021

Kenneth Patchen: The Collected Poems of Kenneth Patchen, New Directions 1952

Sonia Sanchez: Blues Poems, ed. Kevin Young, Everyman 2003

WS Merwin, Japanese Figures, Unicorn Press, 1971