the Best Thing in the World

What's the best thing in the world?
June-rose, by May-dew impearled;
Sweet south-wind, that means no rain;
Truth, not cruel to a friend;
Pleasure, not in haste to end;
Beauty, not self-decked and curled
Till its pride is over-plain;
Love, when, so, you're loved again.
What's the best thing in the world?
-- Something out of it, I think.

- Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

Revolutionary Letter #2

The value of an individual life a credo they taught us
to instill fear, and inaction, 'you only live once'
a fog in our eyes, we are
endless as the sea, not separate, we die
a million times a day, we are born
a million times, each breath life and death :
get up, put on your shoes, get
started, someone will finish

an organism, one flesh, breathing joy as the stars
breathe destiny down on us, get
going, join hands, see to business, thousands of sons
will see to it when you fall, you will grow
a thousand times in the bellies of your sisters

- Diane di Prima (1934-)

The Suicide

Not a single star will be left in the night.
The night will not be left.
I will die and, with me,
the weight of the intolerable universe.
I shall erase the pyramids, the medallions,
the continents and faces.
I shall erase the accumulated past.
I shall make dust of history, dust of dust.
Now I am looking on the final sunset.
I am hearing the last bird.
I bequeath nothingness to no one.

- Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)

Alastair Reid


A man worn down by time,
a man who does not even expect death
(the proofs of death are statistics
and everyone runs the risk
of being the first immortal),
a man who has learned to express thanks
for the days' modest alms:
sleep, routine, the taste of water,
an unsuspected etymology,
a Latin or Saxon verse,
the memory of a woman who left him
thirty years ago now
whom he can call to mind without bitterness,
a man who is aware that the present
is both future and oblivion,
a man who has betrayed
and has been betrayed,
may feel suddenly, when crossing the street,
a mysterious happiness
not coming from the side of hope
but from an ancient innocence,
from his own root or from some diffused god.

He knows better than to look at it closely,
for there are reasons more terrible than tigers
which will prove to him
that wretchedness is his duty,
but he accepts humbly
this felicity, this glimmer.
Perhaps in death when the dust
is dust, we will be forever
this undecipherable root,
from which will grow forever,
serene or horrible,
our solitary heaven or hell.

- Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)

W.S. Merwin


An abundance of sunshine,
A tincture of rain,
Rare atmosphere fine,
Make life thrill again.

- Augustin S. MacDonald (18?? - 19??)


That land full surely hastens to its end
Where public sycophants in homage bend
The populace to flatter, and repeat
the doubled echoes of its loud conceit.
Lowly their attitude but high their aim,
They creep to eminence through paths of shame,
Till fixed securely in the seats of pow'r,
The dupes they flattered they at last devour.

- Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913)

The Parting Hour

There's something in the "parting hour,"
Will chill the warmest hearts,
Yet kindred, comrades, lovers, friends,
Are fated all to part;
But this I've seen --- and many a pang
Has pressed it on my mind---
The one that goes is happier
Than those he leaves behind.

- Edward Pollock (1823-1858)


Dead on the snow
How did you come so high
Did you leave your seed child
In a mountain pool
Before you died

Evolution Basin IX 69

- Gary Snyder (1930)


I don't remember the way your face looked
when we met
because I've grown old with you.

I don't remember how we conversed
when we met
because you spoke Italian and I spoke English.

I don't remember how we loved each other
when we met
because I love you differently now

after children and fights in the kitchen before dinner
and leaving you and coming back
and loving you all over again.

I don't remember what I did to push you away
and what you did
to push me away.

I remember you walking me home
the night we met
beside the shadow of the Colosseum
and across the Tiber

and I remember azaleas
blooming electric on the Spanish Steps
where we played at love by Bernini's marble boat

and riding free on our Lambretta
through midnights and empty streets
with my arms wrapped tight around your waist

and feeling the heat of your young back
against my heart
because Rome belonged to us

and what I don't remember doesn't matter any more.
You are here sleeping beside me and my arms
are still around you, holding on.

- Nadya Giusi (2004)

Wise Words of a Writer (Robert Ardrey)

We were born of risen apes, not fallen angels.
And the apes were armed killers besides.
And so what shall we wonder at?
Our murders, massacres, missiles or our irreconcilable regiments?
Or our treaties whatever they may be worth.
Our symphonies however seldom they may be played;
our peaceful acres however frequently they may be converted into battlefields;
our dreams however rarely they maybe accomplished.
The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk,
but how magnificently he has risen!
We known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses.

- Robert Ardrey (1908-1980)


They call all experience of the senses mystic, when the experience
is considered.
So an apple becomes mystic when I taste in it
the summer and the snows, the wild welter of earth
and the insistence of the sun.

All of which things I can surely taste in a good apple.
Though some apples taste preponderantly of water, wet and sour
and some of too much sun, brackish sweet
like lagoon-water, that has been too much sunned.

If I say I taste these things in an apple, I am called mystic, which
means a liar.
The only way to eat an apple is to hog it down like a pig
and taste nothing
that is real.

But if I eat an apple, I like to eat it with all my sense awake.
Hogging it down like a pig I call the feeding of corpses.

D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)


Sitting over words
very late I have heard a kind of whispered sighing
not far
like night wind in pines or like the sea in the dark
the echo of everything that has ever
been spoken
still spinning its one syllable
between the earth and silence

W.S. Merwin (1927-)

Magic Words

In the very earliest time,
when both people and animals lived on earth,
a person could become an animal if he wanted to
and an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
and sometimes animals
and there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
and what people wanted to happen could
all you had to do was say it.
Nobody could explain this:
That's the way it was.

Eskimo/Inuit (anonymous)

The Need to Win

When an archer is shooting for nothing
He has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle
He is already nervous.
If shoots for a prize of gold
He goes blind
Or sees two targets--
He is out of his mind!

His skill has not changed. But the prize
Divides him. He cares.
He thinks more of winning
Than of shooting--
And the need to win
Drains him of power.

Chuang Tzu (300 - 400 B.C.)

A Sleepless Night

April, and the last of the plum blossoms
scatters on the black grass
before dawn. The sycamore, the lime,
the struck pine inhale
the first pale hints of sky.

An iron day,

I think, yet it will come
dazzling, the light
rise from the belly of leaves and pour
burning from the cups
of poppies.

The mockingbird squawks
from his perch, fidgets,
and settles back. The snail, awake
for good, trembles from his shell
and sets sail for China. My hand dances
in the memory of a million vanished stars.

A man has every place to lay his head.

Philip Levine (1928-)


The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.

Denise Levertov (1923-2012)


To loosen with all ten fingers held wide and limber
And lift up a patch. dark-green, the kind for lining cemetery
Thick and cushiony, like an old-fashioned doormat,
The crumbling small hollow sticks on the underside mixed with
And wintergreen berries and leaves still stuck to the top,--
That was moss-gathering.
But something always went out of me when I dug loose those
Of green, or plunged to me elbow in the spongy yellowish moss of
the marshes:
And afterwards I always felt mean, jogging back over the logging
As if I had broken the natural order of things in that swapland;
Distrubed some rhythm, old and of vast importance,
By pulling off flesh from the living planet;
As if I had commiteed, against the whole scheme of life, a

Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)

In Praise of Self-Deprecation

The buzzard has nothing to fault himself with.
Scruples are alien to the black panther.
Piranhas do not doubt the rightness of their actions.
The rattlesnake approves of himself without reservations.

The self-critical jackal does not exist.
The locust, alligator, trichina, horsefly
live as they live and are glad of it.

The killer-whale´s heart weighs one hundred kilos
but it other respects it is light.

There is nothing more animal-like
than a clear conscience
on the third planet of the Sun.

Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012)



In the night, in the wind, at the edge of the rain,
I find five irises, and call them lovely.
As if a woman, once, lay by them awhile,
then woke, rose, went, the memory of hair
lingers on their sweet tongues.

I´d like to tear these petals with my teeth.
I´d like to investigate these hairy selves,
their beauty and indifference. They hold
their breath all their lives
and open, open.


We are not lovers, not brother and sister,
though we drift hand and hand throught a hall
thrilling and burning as thought and desire
expire, and, over this dream of life,
this life of sleep, we waken dying--
violet becoming blue, growing
black, black--all that
an iris ever prays,
when it prays,
to be.

Li-Young Lee /1957/

The Author of American Ornithology Sketches a Bird, Now Extinct

(Alexander Wilson, Wilmington, N.C. 1809)

When he walked throught town, the wing-shot he´d hidden
Inside his coat began to cry like a baby,
High and plaintive and loud as the calls he`d heard
While hunting it in the woods, and goodwives stared
And scurried indoors to guard their own from harm.

And the innkeeper and the goodmen in the tavern
Asked him whether his child was sick, then laughed.
Slapped knees, and laughed as he unswaddled his prize,
His pride and burden: an ivory-billed woodpecker
As big as a crow, still wailing and sqealing.

Upstairs, when he let it go in his workroom,
It fell silent at last. He told at dinner
How devoted masters of birds drawn from the life
Must gather their flocks around them with a rifle
And make them live forever inside books.

Later, he found his bedspread covered with plaster
And the bird clinging beside a hole in the wall
Clear through to already-splintered weatherboards
And the sky beyond. While he tied one of its legs
To a table leg, it started wailing again.

And went on wailing as if toward cypress groves
While the artist drew and tinted on fine vellum
Its red cockade, gray claws, and sepia eyes
From which a white edge flowed to the lame wing
Like light flying and ended there in blackness.

He drew and studied for days, eating and dreaming
Fitfully through the dancing and loud drumming
Of an ivory bill that refused pecans and beetles,
Chestnuts and sweet-sour fruit of magnolias,
Riddling his table, slashing his fingers, wailing.

He watched it die, he said, with great regret.

David Wagoner (1926-)


God is older than the sun and moon
and the eye cannot behold him
nor voice describe him.

But a naked man, a stranger, leaned on the gate
with his cloak over his arm, waiting to be asked in.
So I called him: Come in, if you will!-
He came in slowly, and sat down by the hearth.
I said to him: And what is your name?-
He looked at me without answer, but such a loveliness
entered me, I smiled to myself, saying: He is God!
So he said: Hermes!

God is older than the sun and moon
and the eye cannot behold him
nor the voice describe him:
and still, this is the God Hermes, sitting by my hearth.

D.H. Lawrence (1883-1930)


The tree of knowledge was the tree of reason.
That´s why the taste of it
drove us from Eden. That fruit
was meant to be dried and milled to a fine powder
for use a pinch at a time, a condiment.
God had probably planned to tell us later
about this new pleasure.

We stuffed our mouths full of it,

gorged on but and if and how and again
but, knowing no better.
It´s toxic in large quantities; fumes
swirled in our heads and around us
to form a dense cloud that hardened to steel,
a wall between us and God, Who was Paradise.
Not that God is unreasonable - but reason
in such excess was tyranny
and locked us into its own limits, a polished cell
reflecting our own faces. God lives
on the other side of that mirror,
but through the slit where the barrier doesn´t
quite touch ground, manages still
to squeeze in - as filtered light,
splinters of fire, a strain of music heard
then lost, then heard again.

Denise Levertov - (1923- 1997)

Obligations of the Poet

Never consider yourself
a privileged intellectual, a book-filled head repeating
the same conversation,
a withered doleful thinker.

You were born to thresh stars
and discover in the trees the laughter of the crowd,
you were born brandishing the future,
seeing through eyes, hands, feet, breast, mouth,
foreteller of things to come
augur of days the sun
is unaware it will rise on,
you were conceived on moonlit nights
when wolves howled and crazed fireflies raced,
your eyes were open when your head first entered the world
and your skin was softer and thinner
than that of those born with eyes closed,
you were favored by joy and sadness,
child of sea and storm,
created to seek treasures in swamps and deserts.
Your legacy was unbounded love,
confidence, unaffected simplicity,
the shadow of chilamate trees,
the trill of black mockingbirds.

Now the depths of the earth
give forth electricity to charge your song,
poems spill from sweaty faces
and eager hands holding primers and pencils;
now you have only to sing of what surrounds you,
the soft pitch
of the fervent voices
of the multitude.

- Giaconda Belli (1948-)

When We Return

When we return to our ancient land
that we never knew
and we talk of all those things
that never happened

We will walk holding children by the hand
who have never existed

We´ll listen to their voices and live
that life that we spoke of so often
and have never lived.

- Daisy Zamora (1950 -)

A Flower

There is a flower in my cell.
I found it alone in a corner
as if being punished.
It burst the hard floor
of cement and stone.
It broke the taboo
of being born in a cell.
I saw no bird come in
to deposit the seed.
No one made a furrow
to sprout it in,
not a raindrop
to make it bloom.
So it was born,
alone, in a favorable corner,
aided by no one.

With it, already the cell
isn't a cell.
It's now a garden,
a garden of one solitary rose,
my incarcerated rose:
a political prisoner.

- Carlos Jose Guadamuz