A Poem For New Year’s Eve

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“Red Hook: December” by George Oppen (1908-1984):

We had not expected it, the whole street
Lit with the red blue, green
And yellow of the Christmas lights
In the windows shining and blinking
Into distance down the cross streets.
The children are almost awed in the street
Putting out the trash paper
In the winking light. A man works
Patiently in his overcoat
With the little bulbs
Because the window is open
In December. The bells ring,

Ring electronically the New Year
Among the roofs
And one can be at peace
In this city on a shore
For the moment now
With wealth, the shining wealth.

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(From New Collected Poems © 1975 by George Oppen. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. Also reprinted in Christmas Poems © 2008 New Directions Publishing Corp. Photo by Sam Howzit)

A Poem From The Year

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“Tinsel” by Robin Robertson:

Tune to the frequency of the wood and you’ll hear
the deer, breathing; a muscle, tensing; the sigh
of a fieldmouse under an owl. Now

listen to yourself—that friction—the push-and-drag,
the double pulse, the drum. You can hear it, clearly.
You can hear the sound of your body, breaking down.

If you’re very quiet, you might pick up loss: or rather
the thin noise that losing makes—perdition.
If you’re absolutely silent

and still, you can hear nothing
but the sound of nothing: this voice
and its wasting, the soul’s tinsel. Listen . . . Listen . . .

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(From Sailing the Forest: Selected Poems by Robin Robertson © 2014 Robin Robertson. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Photo by Andrey Solovev)

A Poem From The Year

“After Making Love We Hear Footsteps” by Galway Kinnell (1927-2014):

For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on—
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.

In the half darkness we look at each other
and smile
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body—
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.

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(From A New Selected Poems © 2000 by Galway Kinnell. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.)

A Poem From The Year

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“Grass Fingers” by Angelina Weld Grimke:

Touch me, touch me,
Little cool grass fingers,
Elusive, delicate grass fingers.
With your shy brushings,
Touch my face—
My naked arms—
My thighs—
My feet.
Is there nothing that is kind?
You need not fear me.
Soon I shall be too far beneath you,
For you to reach me, even,
With your tiny, timorous toes.

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(From Modernist Women Poets: An Anthology © 2014 by Robert Hass and Paul Ebenkamp. Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint Press. Photo by Kitty Terwolbeck)

A Poem From The Year

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“To Be Seen” by Jericho Brown:

Forgive me for taking the tone of a preacher.
You understand, a dying man

Must have a point—not that I am
Dying exactly. My doctor tells me I’ll live

Longer than most since I see him
More than most. Of course, he cannot be trusted

Nor can any man
Who promises you life for looking his way. Promises

Come from the chosen: a lunatic,
The whitest dove—those who hear

The voice of God and other old music. I’m not
Chosen. I only have a point like anyone

Paid to bring bad news: a preacher, a soldier,
The doctor. We talk about God

Because we want to speak
In metaphors. My doctor clings to the metaphor

Of war. It’s always the virus
That attacks and the cells that fight or die

Fighting. Hell, I remember him saying the word
Siege when a rash returned. Here

I am dying while
He makes a battle of my body—anything to be seen

When all he really means is to grab me by the chin
And, like God the Father, say through clenched teeth,

Look at me when I’m talking to you.
Your healing is not in my hands, though

I touch as if to make you whole.

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(From The New Testament © 2014 by Jericho Brown. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. Photo by Andrew Malone).

A Poem For Christmas

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“Christmas Card to Grace Hartigan” by Frank O’Hara (1926-1966):

There’s no holly, but there is
the glass and granite towers
and the white stone lions
and the pale violet clouds. And
the great tree of balls in
Rockefeller Plaza is public.

Christmas is green and general
like all great works of the
imagination, swelling from minute
private sentiments in the desert,
a wreath around our intimacy
like children’s voices in a park.

For red there is our blood
which, like your smile, must be
protected from spilling into
generality by secret meanings,
the lipstick of life hidden
in a handbag against violations.

Christmas is the time of cold air
and loud parties and big expense,
but in our hearts flames flicker
answeringly, as on old-fashioned
trees. I would rather the house
burn down than our flames go out.

Please consider supporting the work of the Poetry Society of America here.

(From the Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara © by the University of California Press. Reprinted by permission of the University of California Press. Also reprinted in Christmas Poems © New Directions Publishing Corp. Photo by Flickr user Dominick)

A Poem For Sunday

by Alice Quinn

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“The Oxen” by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928):

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

(From Christmas Poems, copyright (symbol) 2008 New Directions Publishing Corporation. Image: Piero della Francesca’s unfinished painting of the Nativity Scene, via Wikimedia Commons)

A Poem For Saturday

by Alice Quinn

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“The Magi” by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939):

Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

(From Christmas Poems © 2008 New Directions Publishing Corporation. Image: James Tissot’s “The Magi Journeying,” circa 1890, via Wikimedia Commons)

A Poem For Friday

by Alice Quinn

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“A Morning” by Mark Strand (1934-2014):

I have carried it with me each day: that morning I took
my uncle’s boat from the brown water cove
and headed for Mosher Island.
Small waves splashed against the hull
and the hollow creak of oarlock and oar
rose into the woods of black pine crusted with lichen.
I moved like a dark star, drifting over the drowned
other half of the world until, by a distant prompting,
I looked over the gunwale and saw beneath the surface
a luminous room, a light-filled grave, saw for the first time
the one clear place given to us when we are alone.

The Dish looked back at Strand’s life and work after his recent death here.

(From Selected Poems by Mark Strand © 1979, 1980 by Mark Strand. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. Photo of a small boat off of Prince Edward Island, where Strand was born, by Angus MacAskill)

A Poem For Thursday

by Alice Quinn

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“The Afternoon According to Saint Matthew” by Mary Ruefle:

There’s the black truck
with orange flames
on its hood. There’s the girl
in the pink pajamas. There’s her sister
in a bumblebee suit.
They are playing with dirt.
When they find bugs
they scream
but no one hears them.
Their minds are growing though.
In the late afternoon light
they scoop the dirt into tin cans
so they can bury it
in the backyard.
I think we have a case
of two women grinding at the mill—
one will be taken and one
will be left,
but it’s way too early
to tell.

(From Trances of the Blast © 2013 by Mary Ruefle. Used by permission of Wave Books. Photo by David Poe)