Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Four Poems

 When prepping for a poetry unit in an English 102 class, certain poems always halt me in my tracks.  Here are four of my favorites.

Oranges, by Gary Soto

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted -
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickel in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickel from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all

A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

Snapping Beans, by Lisa Parker
I snapped beans into the silver bowl
that sat on the splintering slats
of the porchswing between my grandma and me.
I was home for the weekend,
from school, from the North,
Grandma hummed “What A Friend We Have in Jesus”
as the sun rose, pushing its pink spikes
through the slant of cornstalks,
through the fly-eyed mesh of the screen.
We didn’t speak until the sun overcame
the feathered tips of the cornfield
and Grandma stopped humming. I could feel
the soft gray of her stare
against the side of my face
when she asked, How’s school a-goin’?

I wanted to tell her about my classes,
the revelations by book and lecture,
as real as any shout of faith
and potent as a swig of strychnine.
She reached the leather of her hand
over the bowl and cupped
my quivering chin; the slick smooth of her palm
held my face the way she held tomatoes
under the spigot, careful not to drop them,
and I wanted to tell her
about the nights I cried into the familiar
heartsick panels of the quilt she made me,
wishing myself home on the evening star.
I wanted to tell her
the evening star was a planet,
that my friends wore noserings and wrote poetry
about sex, about alcoholism, about Buddha.
I wanted to tell her how my stomach burned
acidic holes at the thought of speaking in class,
speaking in an accent, speaking out of turn,
how I was tearing, splitting myself apart
with the slow-simmering guilt of being happy
despite it all.
I said, School’s fine.

We snapped beans into the silver bowl between us
and when a hickory leaf, still summer green,
skidded onto the porchfront,
Grandma said,
It’s funny how things blow loose like that.

First Thanksgiving, by Sharon Olds

     When she comes back, from college, I will see
     the skin of her upper arms, cool,
     matte, glossy. She will hug me, my old
     soupy chest against her breasts,
     I will smell her hair! She will sleep in this apartment,
     her sleep like an untamed, good object,
     like a soul in a body. She came into my life the
     second great arrival, after him, fresh
     from the other world—which lay, from within him,
     within me. Those nights, I fed her to sleep,
     week after week, the moon rising,
     and setting, and waxing—whirling, over the months,
     in a slow blur, around our planet.
     Now she doesn’t need love like that, she has
     had it. She will walk in glowing, we will talk,
     and then, when she’s fast asleep, I’ll exult
     to have her in that room again,
     behind that door! As a child, I caught
     bees, by the wings, and held them, some seconds,
     looked into their wild faces,
     listened to them sing, then tossed them back
     into the air—I remember the moment the
     arc of my toss swerved, and they entered
     the corrected curve of their departure.

Directly, by R. T. Smith

"I'll get it directly," she'd say, meaning

soon, meaning, when I can, meaning, not

yet, be patient, the world don't turn upon

your every need and whim
. Or "the dogs

will be back home directly, I reckon," 

"the preacher will be finished," "your daddy

will see to you," "supper will be laid out"--

all "directly," which never meant the straight

line between two surveyor's points

an arrow's flight, but rather, by the curve,

the indirect, the arc of life and breath

and she was right, and when she passed 

or was passing, I could not say which,

in a patchwork quilt, the makeshift room,

the sweet hymn notes sung neighborly

across the hall, she whispered, "Learn to tell

what needs doing quick as a bluesnake

and what will take the slow way, full

of care and mulling, be fair in every

dealing with beasts and people and all

else alive, and surely, my dear, He will

come for you in His good time, the way

He comes for all of us, directly."

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