B.A. Van Sise
CHILDREN OF GRASS
“Children of Grass is a timely homage to Walt Whitman and his masterpiece,
‘Leaves of Grass,’ during this, the 200th anniversary of his birth,” says
internationally renowned photographer Van Sise who is a fifth generation
relative of Walt Whitman. “Children of Grass, will, like the work of its
literary grandfather, stand as a lasting tribute to the vitality and
creativity that flourishes in our country.” This exhibit highlights some of
the most influential poets of our time who have walked in Walt’s footsteps
here at the Birthplace. Synthesizing word and image in collaboration with
the award winning poets, B.A. Van Sise offers a visually stimulating exhibit
that engages lovers of both poetry and photography. These portraits vary
from the whimsical, surreal, and challenging, to the enigmatic, joyful and sobering.
Sharon Olds, winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Seven thousand still photographs.
At moments almost thinking of her, I was
moving through the still life show while my mother
had her stroke. She was teaching someone, three
time zones away, to peel and slice
a banana, in the one correct way,
and I was with the little leeks,
near the sweated egg, near the newts quick
and the newts gone over on their backs. An orange
trailed from its shoulders the stole of its rind,
the farther from the tree the more thinged and dried,
the wasp was done with one sable guard-hair
in oil that had ground gold in it. She had
alerted me, from the start, to objects, she’d cried
out, in pain, from their shining. She held the
banana and lectured like a child professor on its
longitudes and divisible threes,
she raised her hands to her temples, and held them,
and screamed, and fell to her bedroom floor, and I
wandered, calm, among oysters, and walnuts,
mice, apricots, coins, a golden
smiling skull, even a wild flayed
hare strung up by one foot like a dancer
leaping, I strolled, ignorant
of my mother, among the tulips, beetles in their
holy stripes, she lay while I walked
blind through music. When I learned her spirit
had left her body while I was immersed
in pretty matter, I almost felt something had
served her right- what my mother had thought
when her mother had died, what I’d comforted her for thinking.
Once, in that comfort, I saw my face over her
shoulder, in a gilded mirror.
I killed a spider
Not a murderous brown recluse
Nor even a black widow
And if the truth were told this
Was only a small
Sort of papery spider
Who should have run
When I picked up the book
But she didn’t
And she scared me
And I smashed her
I don’t think
To kill something
Because I am
Gregory Pardlo, Pulitzer Prize-winner.
Sam Cooke reminds you how Ol’ Man River just keeps rolling
and you begin to wonder what makes a river tick so you go sit
on Union Street Bridge to study the unruffled Gowanus Canal
with its tempting reflections and perfect your knack for reading
water’s Om through the clockwork of the air and you think it’s like
you which is not much of a river but wise enough water to hush your
regrets for the bloated casualties of your myriad indiscretions since
the first African was made to scoop the marsh to irrigate Dutch arms
until this moment when you see you are that African and you are
the Gowanus just as you are the baby whale lost and barging so far
along the canal you are blessed now and breaking and love this
one the Daily News will name Sludgy whom you will birth still
upon your bay at Red Hook after the sewer spills a glum baptismal
across his fontanel and children will stand around and amen
the Coast Guard atop the fly-flecked carcass preaching that wisdom
bends light into the eye of the whale where if you look close children
you’ll find the water bears a flower, and the flower bears your name.
from FAMOUS POEMS ABBREVIATED
Once upon a midnight dreary,
Blue and lonesome, missed my dearie.
Would I find her? Any hope?
Quoth the raven six times, “Nope.”
The man I love hates technology, hates
that he’s forced to use it: telephones
and microfilm, air conditioning,
car radios and the occasional fax.
He wishes he lived in the old world,
sitting on a stump carving a clothespin
or a spoon. He wants to go back, slip
like lint into his great-great-grandfather’s
pocket, reborn as a pilgrim, a peasant,
a dirt farmer hoeing his uneven rows.
He walks when he can, through the hills
behind his house, his dogs panting beside him
like small steam engines. He’s delighted
by the sun’s slow and simple
descent, the complicated machinery
of his own body. I would have loved him
in any era, in any dark age; I would take him
into the twilight and unwind him, slide
my fingers through his hair and pull him
to his knees. As it is, this afternoon, late
in the twentieth century, I sit on a chair
in the kitchen with my keys in my lap, pressing
the black button on the answering machine
over and over, listening to his message,
his voice strung along the wires outside my window
where the birds balance themselves
and stare off into the trees, thinking
even in the farthest future, in the most
distant universe, I would have recognized
this voice, refracted, as it would be, like light
from some small, uncharted star.
Mark Doty, National Book Award winner and chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
When I’m down on my knees pulling up wild mustard
by the roots before it sets seed, hauling the old ferns
further into the shade, I’m talking to the anvil of darkness:
break-table, slab no blow could dent
rung with the making, and out of that chop and rot
comes the fresh surf of the lupines.
When the shovel slips into white root-flesh,
into the meat coursing with cool water,
when I’m grubbing on my knees, what is the hammer?
Dusky skin of the tuber, naked worms
who write on the soil every letter,
my companion blind, all day we go digging,
harrowing, rooting deep. Spade-plunge
and trowel, sweet turned-down gas flame
slow-charring carbon, out of which sprouts
the wild unsayable.
Beauty’s the least of it:
you get ready,
like Deborah, who used to garden in the dark,
hauling out candles and a tall glass of what she said was tea,
and digging and reading and studying in the dirt.
She’d bring a dictionary. If study is prayer, she said, I’m praying.
If you’ve already gone down to the anvil, if you’ve rested your face
on that adamant, maybe you’re already changed.
Robert Pinsky, three time U.S. Poet Laureate.
I drowned in the fire of having you, I burned
in the river of not having you, we lived
together for hours in a house of a thousand rooms
and we were parted for a thousand years.
Ten minutes ago we raised our children who cover
the earth and have forgotten that we existed
It was not maya, it was not a ladder to perfection,
it was this cold sunlight falling on this warm earth.
When I turned, you went to Hell. When your ship
fled the battle I followed you and lost the world
without regret but with stormy recriminations.
Someday far down that corridor of horror the future
someone who buys this picture of you for the frame
at a stall in a dwindled city will study your face
and decide to harbor it for a little while longer
from the waters of anonymity, the acids of breath.
Dana Gioia, poet laureate of California and former head of the National Endowment for the Arts.
BECOMING A REDWOOD
Stand in a field long enough, and the sounds
start up again. The crickets, the invisible
toad who claims that change is possible,
And all the other life too small to name.
First one, then another, until innumerable
they merge into the single voice of a summer hill.
Yes, it’s hard to stand still, hour after hour,
fixed as a fencepost, hearing the steers
snort in the dark pasture, smelling the manure.
And paralyzed by the mystery of how a stone
can bear to be a stone, the pain
the grass endures breaking through the earth’s crust.
Unimaginable the redwoods on the far hill,
rooted for centuries, the living wood grown tall
and thickened with a hundred thousand days of light.
The old windmill creaks in perfect time
to the wind shaking the miles of pasture grass,
and the last farmhouse light goes off.
Something moves nearby. Coyotes hunt
these hills and packs of feral dogs.
But standing here at night accepts all that.
You are your own pale shadow in the quarter moon,
moving more slowly than the crippled stars,
part of the moonlight as the moonlight falls,
Part of the grass that answers the wind,
part of the midnight’s watchfulness that knows
there is no silence but when danger comes.
Luis Alberto Ambroggio.
Veo en tu cuerpo
el universo de una historia,
la geografía tallada
de muchas conquistas y derrotas;
en la gloria de tus ojos,
las arrugas con su siembra,
las sonrisas y lágrimas,
veo el horizonte cotidiano
del amor y de las pérdidas,
la dulzura amarga del éxito,
la dolorosa esperanza del fracaso.
Veo en tu cuerpo
-que camina la naturaleza,
la ciudad, la montaña,
el campo de la vida-
el paso de la muerte
y el aliento de tu pupila,
hombre y mujer, joven y viejo,
esencia de multitudes,
gris anónimo y con el grito
de un nombre cierto.
Te veo en un cuerpo que abarca
simultáneo tiempo y eternidad,
al amanecer, al crepúsculo, sol, lunas llenas
y sus extensiones de luz, oscuridad
en una sangre inquieta y suave,
corazon liquido sin fronteras.
Veo en tu cuerpo
la raza y la ausencia de razas
exhalando sin indulgencia
la blasfemia de la discriminación
y su bienaventurada condena.
Eres todo, toda, en uno,
el mundo asombroso del Yo,
unido y disperso,
en la misma invitación:
conjuro de opuestos
que te definen,
como de definen a mí,
y a cada uno de los otros
existendo en mí y fuera de mí,
en la incesante alma compartida
de la calle abarrotada y sola.
with my wife
sitting on the bed,
I turn from her
so she won’t see
Marilyn Hacker, winner of the National Book Award for poetry.
from ‘CANCER WINTER‘
I woke up, and the surgeon said, ‘You’re cured.’
Strapped to the gurney, in the cotton gown
and pants I was wearing when they slid me down
onto the table, made new straps secure
while I stared at the hydra-headed O.R.
lamp, I took in the tall, confident, brown-
skinned man, and the ache I couldn’t quite call pain
from where my right breast wasn’t anymore
to my armpit. A not-yet-talking head,
I bit dry my lips. What else could he have said?
And then my love was there in a hospital coat;
then my old love, still young and very scared.
Then I, alone, graphed clock hands’ asymptote
to noon, when I would be wheeled back upstairs.
Jane Hirshfield, chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim, and first female graduate of Princeton University.
THE WOODPECKER KEEPS RETURNING
The woodpecker keeps returning
to drill the house wall.
Put a pie plate over one place, he chooses another.
There is nothing good to eat there:
he has found in the house
a resonant billboard to post his intentions,
his voluble strength as provider.
But where is the female he drums for? Where?
I ask this, who am myself the ruined siding,
the handsome red-capped bird, the missing mate.
Terrance Hayes, poetry editor of the New York Times.
MUSIC TO INTERROGATE BY
I will have to admit I was one of them. I believed the holes
would be erased. Our leader knew this floating up a mountain
on the backs of soldiers. I wanted only to be free, a cup of water,
if not rain. But the war spread to the edges of the state, narrow
closets opened in the field, the petals were white as cuffs.
What I had was the same as power, a dampness in the thread
of an old jacket. There was something sad and unforgiving
about our leader’s accent, his short yellow tongue like a pencil
with no eraser. When they ask or wonder without asking
what I did when I saw the slick and shameful, the naked men
hanging an inch from the ground, when they ask what I did
when I heard of the prisoners, when I heard of the wars against
ideas, when they exiled strangers, what will I say? That’s why
God et cetera? Who said you need not arm your children,
nor send them off to war? Who cares about the past worn
smooth by error and friction? The water of damage lay charged
in my mouth, bleeding its oil. I walked the back roads
of my property with one shoe untied and the other in my hand.
Vijay Seshadri, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
On a day like any other day,
like “yesterday or centuries before,”
in a town with the one remembered street,
shaded by the buckeye and the sycamore–
the street long and true as a theorem,
the day like yesterday or the day before,
the street you walked down centuries before–
the story the same as the others flooding in
from the cardinal points is
turning to take a good look at you.
Every creature, intelligent or not, has disappeared–
the humans, phosphorescent,
the duplicating pets, the guppies and spaniels,
the Woolworth’s turtle that cost forty-nine cents
(with the soiled price tag half-peeled on its shell)–
but, from the look of things, it only just happened.
The wheels of the upside-down tricycle are spinning.
The swings are empty but swinging.
And the shadow is still there, and there
is the object that made it,
riding the proximate atmosphere,
oblong and illustrious above
the dispeopled bedroom community,
venting the memories of those it took,
their corrosive human element.
This is what you have to walk through to escape,
transparent but alive as coal dust.
This is what you have to hack through,
bamboo-tough and thickly clustered.
The myths are somewhere else, but here are the meanings,
and you have to breathe them in
until they burn your throat
and peck at your brain with their intoxicated teeth.
This is you as seen by them, from the corner of an eye
(was that the way you were always seen?).
This is you when the President died
(the day is brilliant and cold).
This is you poking a ground wasps’ nest.
This is you at the doorway, unobserved,
while your aunts and uncles keen over the body.
This is your first river, your first planetarium, your first popsicle.
The cold and brilliant day in six-color prints–
but the people on the screen are black and white.
Your friend’s mother is saying,
Hush, children! Don’t you understand history is being made?
You do, and you still do. Made and made again.
This is you as seen by them, and them as seen by you,
and you as seen by you, in five dimensions,
in seven, in three again, then two,
then reduced to a dimensionless point
in a universe where the only constant is the speed of light.
This is you at the speed of light.