Poem of the Week: A Christmas Carol, George Wither


So now is come our joyful feast,
Let every man be jolly;
Each room with ivy leaves is dressed,
And every post with holly.
Though some churls at our mirth repine,
Round your foreheads garlands twine,
Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
And let us all be merry.

Now all our neighbors’ chimnies smoke,
And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with baked meats choke,
And all their spits are turning.
Without the door let sorrow lie,
And if for cold it hap to die,
We’ll bury it in a Christmas pie,
And evermore be merry.

Now every lad is wondrous trim,
And no man minds his labor;
Our lasses have provided them
A bagpipe and a tabor.
Young men and maids, and girls and boys,
Give life to one another’s joys;
And you anon shall by their noise
Perceive that they are merry.

Rank misers now do sparing shun,
Their hall of music soundeth;
And dogs thence with whole shoulders run,
So all things aboundeth.
The country-folk themselves advance,
For crowdy-mutton’s come out of France;
And Jack shall pipe and Jill shall dance,
And all the town be merry.

Ned Swatch hath fetched his bands from pawn,
And all his best apparel;
Brisk Nell hath bought a ruff of lawn
With droppings of the barrel.
And those that hardly all the year
Had bread to eat or rags to wear,
Will have both clothes and dainty fare,
And all the day be merry.

Now poor men to the justices
With capons make their errands;
And if they hap to fail of these,
They plague them with their warrants.
But now they feed them with good cheer,
And what they want they take in beer,
For Christmas comes but once a year,
And then they shall be merry.

Good farmers in the country nurse
The poor, that else were undone;
Some landlords spend their money worse,
On lust and pride at London.
There the roisters they do play,
Drab and dice their land away,
Which may be ours another day;
And therefore let’s be merry.

The client now his suit forbears,
The prisoner’s heart is eased;
The debtor drinks away his cares,
And for the time is pleased.
Though others’ purses be more fat,
Why should we pine or grieve at that;
Hang sorrow, care will kill a cat,
And therefore let’s be merry.

Hark how the wags abroad do call
Each other forth to rambling;
Anon you’ll see them in the hall,
For nuts and apples scrambling;
Hark how the roofs with laughters sound,
Anon they’ll think the house goes round;
For they the cellar’s depths have found,
And there they will be merry.

The wenches with their wassail-bowls
About the streets are singing;
The boys are come to catch the owls,
The wild mare in is bringing.
Our kitchen boy hath broke his box,
And to the dealing of the ox
Our honest neighbors come by flocks,
And here they will be merry.

Now kings and queens poor sheep-cotes have,
And mate with everybody;
The honest now may play the knave,
And wise men play at noddy.
Some youths will now a mumming go,
Some others play at rowland-hoe,
And twenty other gameboys moe;
Because they will be merry.

Then wherefore in these merry days
Should we, I pray, be duller?
No, let us sing some roundelays
To make our mirth the fuller.
And whilst we thus inspired sing,
Let all the streets with echoes ring;
Woods, and hills, and everything
Bear witness we are merry.

A Christmas Carol


Poem of the Week: Sonnet 97, William Shakespeare

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness everywhere!
And yet this time remov’d was summer’s time,
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime,
Like widow’d wombs after their lords’ decease:
Yet this abundant issue seem’d to me
But hope of orphans and unfather’d fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And thou away, the very birds are mute;
Or if they sing, ’tis with so dull a cheer
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter’s near.

Poem of the Week: No Simple Thing, Stephen Dobyns

Not having as yet learned how to live—
indecision skittering like a dust devil
across appetite’s parking lot—the time
has come to learn how to die. First
I’ll put away my clothes, return my books
to their shelves; then I’ll raise the blinds,
to see what’s happening on the street
and which birds are forming their flocks,
since I think it will be fall with the trees
nearly bare, except for clusters of leaves
clinging to the oaks. Does it matter that
I’ve never learned to sleep on my back?
Soon I’ll have plenty of time to practice.
Like people standing in line waiting for a train,
I’ll check my watch against a clock on the wall,
touch the ticket tucked in my breast pocket.
Don’t accuse me of morbidity. Actuarial tables
have quickened their work against me. Oh,
it’s no simple thing to practice for death
and I’ve yet to reach the subject of goodbyes.
Will I have time to speak to the people I love,
to press hand or stroke a cheek? Then each
might need to make some remark, maybe even
an ironic gesture, nothing too somber as could
complicate a rational occasion. Better, I think,
to slip out across the driveway to where a car
is waiting, its motor making the softest hum.
As often occurs the cat will escort me part way
and I’ll bend to scratch his ears, as he stretches
to let me scratch his neck as well. I don’t know
what birds will be left, I don’t know if it will be
sunny or dark. Pausing, I’ll pat my pockets to see
if I’ve got my keys, and then smile at my mistake.
No time now for whatever remains undone, no
time for regrets or good thoughts, not time perhaps—
and this is hard to imagine—even to shut my eyes.
Yes, this practicing for death is no simple thing—
look at how I open my hand and once or twice
flick my wrist so a bit of fluff or loose thread
stuck to my fingers can at last float away.

Poem of the Week: how to get over [“be born: black…”], T’ai Freedom Ford

be born: black
as ants on a chicken bone black
as Nina Simone and Mahalia’s moan black
as rock pile smile and resilience black
as resistance and rhythm and Sonny’s blues black
as no shoes and dirt floors black
as whore and Hottentot foxtrot Lindy Hop
and Watusi pussy and pyramids black
as darkness under your eyelids black
between your legs black
as dregs of rum sugarcane summer
plums holyghost hum black
as bruised throat fieldholla wading in the shallow black
as ocean river stream creek running black
transparent translucent transatlantic slanted
shanties planted in red clay black
as funky chickens and chitlins and kinfolk sold away black
as auction block and slop and hip-hop and rock and roll
and chop shop and cop cars and parole and overseer
patrols and one drop rules and pools of blood black
as beige and good hair and sounding white and light-skindeded
and my grandmamma is Cherokee, Iroquois, Choctaw black
as pit bulls and lockjaw and rage and hoodies black
eyes and black-eyed peas peasy heads and loose tracks black
as trees and noose and hounds let loose in the night black
as fist and fight Sojourner and Nat Turner and righteousness black
as fuck and not giving a fuck mud-stuck and quicksand
quick hand hustle thigh muscle and hurdle black
as cotton and tobacco and indigo black
as wind and bad weather and feather
and tar and snap beans in mason jars black
as nigga please and hallelujah black
asses and black strap molasses and turn your black
back on audiences black
as banjo and djembe and porch and stoop and spooks
sitting by the door black
as roaches in front of company and lawn jockeys
and latchkey kids and high bids and spades and shittalk black
as cakewalk and second line and black
magic and tap dance, lapdance and alla that ass black
as jazz and juke and juju and spirit
disguised as harmonica spit black
as cast-iron skillets and grits and watermelon seeds
flitting from lips black
as tambourines hitting cornbread hips black
batons splitting lips and Martin Luther King, Jr.
boulevards and downtown beatdowns black
sit-ins and come-ups and oops upside yo’ heads
and we shall overcomes and get down on it black
get into it black let’s get it on and get it
while the getting is good black
as white hoods and backwood revivals black
as survival and Trayvon and Tyrone and Josephus
and amen and Moses and Jesus and getting over

how to get over [“be born: black…”]

Poem of the Week: Plurality, Louis MacNeice

It is patent to the eye that cannot face the sun
The smug philosophers lie who say the world is one;
World is other and other, world is here and there,
Parmenides would smother life for lack of air
Precluding birth and death; his crystal never breaks—
No movement and no breath, no progress nor mistakes,
Nothing begins or ends, no one loves or fights,
All your foes are friends and all your days are nights
And all the roads lead round and are not roads at all
And the soul is muscle-bound, the world a wooden ball.
The modern monist too castrates, negates our lives
And nothing that we do, make or become survives,
His terror of confusion freezes the flowing stream
Into mere illusion, his craving for supreme
Completeness means be chokes each orifice with tight
Plaster as he evokes a dead ideal of white
All-white Universal, refusing to allow
Division or dispersal—Eternity is now
And Now is therefore numb, a fact he does not see
Postulating a dumb static identity
Of Essence and Existence which could not fuse without
Banishing to a distance belief along with doubt,
Action along with error, growth along with gaps;
If man is a mere mirror of God, the gods collapse.
No, the formula fails that fails to make it clear
That only change prevails, that the seasons make the year,
That a thing, a beast, a man is what it is because
It is something that began and is not what it was,
Yet is itself throughout, fluttering and unfurled,
Not to be cancelled out, not to be merged in world,
Its entity a denial of all that is not it,
Its every move a trial through chaos and the Pit,
An absolute and so defiant of the One
Absolute, the row of noughts where time is done,
Where nothing goes or comes and Is is one with Ought
And all the possible sums alike resolve to nought.
World is not like that, world is full of blind
Gulfs across the flat, jags against the mind,
Swollen or diminished according to the dice,
Foaming, never finished, never the same twice.
You talk of Ultimate Value, Universal Form—
Visions, let me tell you, that ride upon the storm
And must be made and sought but cannot be maintained,
Lost as soon as caught, always to be regained,
Mainspring of our striving towards perfection, yet
Would not be worth achieving if the world were set
Fair, if error and choice did not exist, if dumb
World should find its voice for good and God become
Incarnate once for all. No, perfection means
Something but must fall unless there intervenes
Between that meaning and the matter it should fill
Time’s revolving hand that never can be still.
Which being so and life a ferment, you and I
Can only live by strife in that the living die,
And, if we use the word Eternal, stake a claim
Only to what a bird can find within the frame
Of momentary flight (the value will persist
But as event the night sweeps it away in mist).
Man is man because he might have been a beast
And is not what he was and feels himself increased,
Man is man in as much as he is not god and yet
Hankers to see and touch the pantheon and forget
The means within the end and man is truly man
In that he would transcend and flout the human span:
A species become rich by seeing things as wrong
And patching them, to which I am proud that I belong.
Man is surely mad with discontent, he is hurled
By lovely hopes or bad dreams against the world,
Raising a frail scaffold in never-ending flux,
Stubbornly when baffled fumbling the stubborn crux
And so he must continue, raiding the abyss
With aching bone and sinew, conscious of things amiss,
Conscious of guilt and vast inadequacy and the sick
Ego and the broken past and the clock that goes too quick,
Conscious of waste of labour, conscious of spite and hate,
Of dissension with his neighbour, of beggars at the gate,
But conscious also of love and the joy of things and the power
Of going beyond and above the limits of the lagging hour,
Conscious of sunlight, conscious of death’s inveigling touch,
Not completely conscious but partly—and that is much.

Poem of the Week: Testify, Douglas Manuel

I swear on the melody of trumpet vines,
ants feasting through animal crackers, Burt’s Bees,
Tyler Perry movies, my daddy’s .38 slug, footie-socks
inside high-top Jordans, disidentification, drag
queens, blond dreadlocks, headstones
salt-and-peppering the grass, vanilla wafers
in banana pudding, Zeus-swan chasing,
blunt-guts, sharp thumbnails, keloid scars,
cash-only bars, R&B songs, on what the pot
called the kettle. I put that on my mama’s good
hair, on playing solitaire with a phantom
limb, the white woman I go home to,
my auntie’s face when she says: You know
he always loved them pink toes. I put that on
everything, on the signifiers I gobble up,
candlesticks blown out by whistling lips.
I put that on dervishing records scratched
on down-beats, empty beehives,
fresh-fade head-slaps, hand claps, bamboo shoots,
liminality, mestizos, the purple-black crook
of my arm, split sternums, on You can’t save
him now. I put that on skinny jeans, get rich
quick schemes—Gotta get that C.R.E.A.M. Know what
I mean?—freckled black faces, leafless trees
throwing up gang signs, phlegm hocked
onto streets. I swear I catch more stones
than catfish. I lose more collard greens than sleep. I think
nothing is here but us darkies, high yellows, red bones,
cocoa butters. Someone, no, everyone has jungle fever.
Don’t touch my forehead. Blond
as moonshine, mute trombone choking.
I put that on Instagram. Post me to the endless chain
of signifiers. Strawberry gashes on kneecaps, Let me
get some dap, Newports, Kool’s, and folding
chairs instead of barstools, that white drool
caked on your face. Mommy please wipe away
the veil. I thought I was passing into the eye
of the streetlamp. I swear. I promise on frondless
palm trees, long pinkie nails, sixteen years, serve eight,
and Miss Addie’s red beans and rice, Ol’ Dirty Bastard
and the brother on the Cream of Wheat box. It don’t mean
a thing if it don’t buckle your knees. Open your hands.
I’ll give you a song, give you the Holy Ghost
from a preacher’s greasy palm—When he hit me, I didn’t
fall, felt eyes jabbing me, tagging me. Oh no he didn’t!
give you the om from the small of her back.
I put that on double consciousness, multiple jeopardy,
and performativity. Please make sure my fetters
and manacles are tight. Yea baby, I like bottomless
bullet chambers. I swear on the creation of Uncle Tom—
some white woman’s gospel. She got blue eyes? I love
me some—on Josiah Henson, the real Uncle Tom, on us still
believing in Uncle Tom. Lord, have mercy!
Put that on the black man standing on my shoulders holding
his balls. Put that on the black man I am—I am not—on
the black man I wish I was.

Poem of the Week: Creation Myth, Iliana Rocha

  I was born drunk & paisley, vestige
                       from the womb. My face laughed into itself—
eyes sank into earlobe & nostrils warped into seahorse.
          I was vanilla bean & Mexican vanilla & amniotic
                       dessert, & my mother did everything she could not to devour me.
          I became comino & ajo & hibiscus—
all good for grinding. Mocajete, fist, & knuckle decomposing mass
                       & matter, baby & mother. When she tried to stillbear me it hurt
      until she cried diamonds while my father was swapping spit
                       with the agave.