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Saturday, April 30, 2011

I Go Unto the Altar of Night

We now reach the end of April, National Poetry Month, which we have celebrated with the U.S. poets laureate.

Next month, we shall feature the works of the remaining American Laureates and then present poems by some British Laureates. (Britain’s office of the poet laureate served as the model for the American post.)

(Barbara Sullivan Mangogna, at a poetry reading, April 17, 2011)

This month, however, ends on a sad note. A dear friend of this blog, Barbara Sullivan Mangogna, passed away peacefully, late on Palm Sunday.

Barbara was a poet who helped others hear how the spoken word can sing with rhythm and rhyme. She loved poetry of every kind, from the romantic verses of Yeats, to the reflective lines of Auden, and to the free verse of the moderns.

But it was a fondness for the Belle of Amherst, for all things Emily, that was our special connection. Barbara loved e-mailing me about the joy she felt about a phrase, a line, or a verse of Miss Dickinson’s, or when she came across a new book or a website about the poet.

When I think of Barbara’s goodness and generosity, I hear Emily’s phrasing of Christ’s words on the cross:

My Guest “Today in Paradise”
I give thee guaranty.

As a woman who had suffered the amputation of a leg due to rheumatoid arthritis, Barbara appreciated the healing power of poetry. The following poem of hers was originally printed in Blindness Isn’t Black, a beautiful collection of poems, short stories, and illustrations published by the VSA Arts of Missouri (2009), dedicated to publicizing the arts created by people with disabilities.

We published the poem on this blog on May 19 last year.

It is a fitting memorial.


here I am no longer broken

but dance
to the music of memory

flaunt my living flesh
my crutchlessness

celebrate the legs that still
carry me to morning

~ Barbara Sullivan Mangogna

Friday, April 29, 2011

Before Harvest

(Robert Fitzgerald, poet laureate, 1984-1985)


Deep and soft and far off over country
A train whistle is explaining something strange
To the cool night, so long, sweet, far away.

In your dark rooms under the elm branches,
Stir, O sleepers in the country towns,
Auburn, Divernon, Chatham, Jacksonville . . .
This is the ebb and weary hour of night.

Only a child benumbed with dreaming
Wakes and listen to the visiting rain
Lick its tongues in the leaves and pass away.

~ Robert Fitzgerald (1910-1985), American poet and translator

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Curriculum Vitae

(Anthony Hecht, poet laureate, 1982-1984)


As though it were reluctant to be day,
Morning deploys a scale
Of rarities in gray,
And winter settles down in its chain-mail,

Victorious over legions of gold and red.
The smokey souls of stones,
Blunt pencillings of lead,
Pare down the world to glintless monotones

Of graveyard weather, vapors of a fen
We reckon through our pores.
Save for the garbage men,
Our children are the first ones out of doors.

Book-bagged and padded out, at mouth and nose
They manufacture ghosts,
George Washington’s and and Poe’s,
Banquo’s, the Union and Confederate hosts’,

And are themselves the ghosts, file cabinet gray,
Of some departed us,
Signing our lives away
On ferned and parslied windows of a bus.

~ Anthony Hecht (1923-2004), American poet and essayist

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Family Reunion

(Maxine Kumin, poet laureate, 1981-1982)


The week in August you come home,
adult, professional, aloof,
we roast and carve the fatted calf
— in our case home-grown pig, the chine
garlicked and crisped, the applesauce
hand-pressed. Hand-pressed the greengage wine.

Nothing is cost-effective here.
The peas, the beets, the lettuces
hand sown, are raised to stand apart.
The electric fence ticks like the slow heart
of something we fed and bedded for a year,
then killed with kindness’s one bullet
and paid Jake Mott to do the butchering.

In winter we lure the birds with suet,
thaw lungs and kidneys for the cat.
Darlings, it’s all a circle from the ring
of wire that keeps the raccoons from the corn
to the gouged pine table that we lounge around,
distressed before any of you was born.

Benign and dozy from our gluttonies,
the candles down to stubs, defenses down,
love leaking out unguarded the way
juice dribbles from the fence when grounded
by grass stalks or a forgotten hoe,
how eloquent, how beautiful you seem!

Wearing our gestures, how wise you grow,
ballooning to overfill our space,
the almost-parents of your parents now.
So briefly having you back to measure us
is harder than having let you go.

~ Maxine Kumin, born 1925, American poet and writers of novels, short stories, and essays

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What I Remember the Writers Telling Me When I Was Young

(William Meredith, poet laureate, 1978-1980)


Look hard at the world, they said —
generously, if you can
manage that, but hard. To see
the extraordinary data, you
have to distance yourself a
little, utterly. Learn the
right words for the umpteen kinds
of trouble that you’ll see,
avoiding elevated
generics like misery,
wretchedness. And find yourself
a like spectrum of exact
terms for joy, some of them
archaic, but all useful.

Sometimes when they spoke to me I
could feel their own purposes
gathering. Language, the dark-
haired woman said once, is like
water-color, it blots easily,
you’ve got to know what you’re
after, and get it on quickly.
Everything gets watered
sooner or later with tears,
she said, your own or other
people’s. The contrasts want to
run together and must not be
allowed to. They’re what you
see with. Keep your word-hoard dry.

~ William Meredith (1919-2007), American poet

Monday, April 25, 2011

Those Winter Sundays

(Robert Hayden, poet laureate, 1976-1978)


Sundays too my father got up early
And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

~ Robert Hayden (1913-1980), American poet

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Round

(Stanley Kunitz, poet laureate, 1974-1976
and 2000-2001)


Light splashed this morning
on the shell-pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue-spiked veronica
light flowed in rivulets
over the humps of the honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering,
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.

~ Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006), American poet

Saturday, April 23, 2011


(Daniel Hoffman, poet laureate, 1973-1974)


Today the sun rose, as it used to do
When its mission was to shine on you.
Since in unrelenting dark you're gone,
What now can be the purpose of the sun?

~ Daniel Hoffman, born 1923, American poet and essayist

Friday, April 22, 2011


(Josephine Jacobsen, poet laureate, 1971-1973)


Tears leave no mark on the soil
or pavement; certainly not in sand
or in any known rain forest;
never a mark on stone.
One would think that no one in Persepolis
or Ur ever wept.

You would assume that, like Alice,
we would all be swimming, buffeted
in a tide of tears.
But they disappear. Their heat goes.
Yet the globe is salt
with that savor.

The animals want no part in this.
The hare both screams and weeps
at her death, one poet says.
The stag, at death, rolls round drops
down his muzzle; but he is in
Shakespeare’s forest.

These cases are mythically rare.
No, it is the human being who persistently
weeps; in some countries openly, in others, not.
Children who, even when frightened, weep most hopefully;
women, licensed weepers.
Men, in secret, or childishly; or nobly.

Could tears not make a sea of their mass?
It could be salt and wild enough;
it could rouse storms and sink ships,
erode, erode its shores:
tears of rage, of love, of torture,
of loss. Of loss.

Must we see the future
in order to weep? Or the past?
Is that why the animals
refuse to shed tears?
But what of the present, the tears of the present?
The awful relief, like breath

after strangling? The generosity
of the verb “to shed”?
They are a classless possession
yet are not found in the museum
of even our greatest city.
Sometimes what was human, turns
into an animal, dry-eyed.

~ Josephine Jacobsen (1908-2003), Canadian-born American poet

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ask Me

(William Stafford, poet laureate, 1970-1971)


Some time when the river is ice ask me
what mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

~ William Stafford (1914-1993), American poet

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The World below the Window

(William Jay Smith, poet laureate, 1968-1970)


The geraniums I left last night on the window sill,
To the best of my knowledge now, are out there still,
And will be there as long as I think they will.

And will be there as long as I think that I
Can throw the window open on the sky,
A touch of geranium pink in the tail of my eye;

As long as I think I see, past leaves green-growing,
Barges moving down a river, water flowing,
Fulfillment in the thought of thought outgoing,

Fulfillment in the sight of sight replying,
Of sound in the sound of small birds southward flying,
In life life-giving, and in death undying.

~ William Jay Smith, born 1918, American poet

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Heaven of Animals

(James Dickey, poet laureate, 1966-1968, with Burt
Reynolds on the set of Deliverance, the movie based
on his best-selling novel)


Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.

~ James Dickey (1923-1997), American poet and novelist

Monday, April 18, 2011


(Stephen Spender, poet laureate, 1965-1966,
the only non-U.S. citizen chosen for the office)


The word bites like a fish.
Shall I throw it back free
Arrowing to that sea
Where thoughts lash tail and fin?
Or shall I pull it in
To rhyme upon a dish?

~ Stephen Spender (1909-1995), British poet, translator, editor, and writer of essays and memoirs

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Preface to an Unwritten Text

(Reed Whittemore, poet laureate, 1964-1965
and 1984-1985)


Words of thanks and caution: to the many
Teachers, students, authors, friends, and loves
Whose words and writings made me, and who led me
From the errors that my work disproves;

And to the academic centers of complexity,
Without whose constant services my premises,
For better or for worse, were never scholarly;
And to my mother and my father and my nemesis,

I am grateful.
But all these I disjoin
From all that here is hateful.
The text that does not follow is my own.

~ Reed Whittemore, born 1919, American poet, biographer, and literary critic

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Makers

(Howard Nemerov, poet laureate, 1963-1964 and 1988-1990)


Who can remember back to the first poets,
The greatest ones, greater even than Orpheus?
No one has remembered that far back
Or now considers, among the artifacts,
And bones and cantilevered inference
The past is made of, those first and greatest poets,
So lofty and disdainful of renown
They left us not a name to know them by.

They were the ones that in whatever tongue
Worded the world, that were the first to say
Star, water, stone, that said the visible
And made it bring invisibles to view
In wind and time and change, and in the mind
Itself that minded the hitherto idiot world
And spoke the speechless world and sang the towers
Of the city into the astonished sky.

They were the first great listeners, attuned
To interval, relationship, and scale,
The first to say above, beneath, beyond,
Conjurors with love, death, sleep, with bread and wine,
Who having uttered vanished from the world
Leaving no memory but the marvelous
Magical elements, the breathing shapes
And stops of breath we build our Babels of.

~ Howard Nemerov (1920-1999), American poet

Friday, April 15, 2011


(Louis Untermeyer, poet laureate, 1961-1963)


Why are the things that have no death
The ones with neither sight nor breath!
Eternity is thrust upon
A bit of earth, a senseless stone.
A grain of dust, a casual clod
Receives the greatest gift of God.
A pebble in the roadway lies —
It never dies.

The grass our fathers cut away
Is growing on their graves today;
The tiniest brooks that scarcely flow
Eternally will come and go.
There is no kind of death to kill
The sands that lie so meek and still. . . .
But Man is great and strong and wise —
And so he dies.

~ Louis Untermeyer (1885-1997), American writer, translator, and poet, and compiler of poetry anthologies

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Gnat on My Paper

(Richard Eberhart, poet laureate, 1959-1961)


He has two antennae,
They search back and forth,
Left and right, up and down.

He has four feet,
He is exploring what I write now.

This is a living being,
Is this a living poem?

His life is a quarter of an inch.
I could crack him any moment now.

Now I see he has two more feet,
Almost too delicate to examine.

He is still sitting on this paper,
An inch away from An.

Does he know who I am,
Does he know the importance of man?

He does not know or sense me,
His antennae are still sensing.

I wonder if he knows it is June,
The world in its sensual height?

How absurd to think
That he never thought of Plato.

He is satisfied to sit on this paper,
For some reason he has not flown away.

Small creature, gnat on my paper,
Too slight to be given a thought,

I salute you as the evanescent,
I play with you in my depth.

What, still there? Still evanescent?
You are my truth, that vanishes.

Now I put down this paper,
He has flown into the infinite.
He could not say it.

~ Richard Eberhart (1904-2005), American poet

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Freedom of the Moon

(Robert Frost, poet laureate, 1958-1959)


I’ve tried the new moon tilted in the air
Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster
As you might try a jewel in your hair.
I’ve tried it fine with little breadth of luster,
Alone, or in one ornament combining
With one first-water star almost as shining.

I put it shining anywhere I please.
By walking slowly on some evening later
I’ve pulled it from a crate of crooked trees,
And brought it over glossy water, greater,
And dropped it in, and seen the image wallow,
The color run, all sorts of wonder follow.

~ Robert Frost (1874-1963), American poet

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Sick Child

(Randall Jarrell, poet laureate, 1956-1958;
there was a gap of several years in the


The postman comes when I am still in bed.
“Postman, what do you have for me today?”
I say to him. (But really I'm in bed.)
Then he says — what shall I have him say?

“This letter says that you are president
Of — this word here; it’s a republic.”
Tell them I can’t answer right away.
“It’s your duty.” No, I’d rather just be sick.

Then he tells me there are letters saying everything
That I can think of that I want for them to say.
I say, “Well, thank you very much. Good-bye.”
He is ashamed, and turns and walks away.

If I can think of it, it isn’t what I want.
I want . . . I want a ship from some near star
To land in the yard, and beings to come out
And think to me: “So this is where you are!

Come.” Except that they won’t do,
I thought of them. . . . And yet somewhere there must be
Something that’s different from everything.
All that I’ve never thought of — think of me!

~ Randall Jarrell (1914-1965), American poet, essayist, and novelist

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Locust Tree in Flower

(William Carlos Williams, twice appointed poet laureate,
in 1948 and 1952, but served neither time because of
a series of strokes)







~ William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), American poet and practicing physician

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Habeas Corpus Blues

(Conrad Aiken, poet laureate, 1950-1952)


In the cathedral the acolytes are praying,
in the tavern the teamsters are drinking booze,
in his attic at dusk the poet is playing,
the poet is playing the Habeas Corpus* Blues.

The poet prefers the black keys to the white,
he weaves himself a shroud of simple harmonics;
across the street a house burns, in its light
he skeins more skillfully his bland ironics.

All down the block the windows bloom with faces,
the paired eyes glisten in the turning glare;
and the engines throb, and up a ladder races
an angel with a helmet on his hair.

He cracks the window in with a golden axe,
crawls through the smoke and disappears forever;
the roof whams in, and the whole city shakes;
the faces at the windows say ah! and never!

And then the hour. And near and far are striking
the belfry clocks; and from the harbor mourn
the tugboat whistles, much to the poet’s liking,
smoke-rings of bronze to the fevered heavens borne.

The hydrants are turned off, the hose rewound,
the dirty engines are no longer drumming;
the angel’s golden helmet has been found,
the fire is out, the insurance man is coming.

And in the cathedral the acolytes are praying,
and in the tavern the teamsters are drinking booze,
and in his attic the poet is still playing,
the poet is playing the Habeas Corpus Blues.

~ Conrad Aiken (1889-1973), American poet

* habeas corpus – the opening words, in Latin, of the writ ordering those detaining a person in custody to produce or “have the body” of the accused before a court; the purpose is to prevent wrongful imprisonment or indefinite time in prison without a trial

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Letter to N.Y.

(Elizabeth Bishop, poet laureate, 1949-1950)


For Louise Crane

In your next letter I wish you’d say
where you are going and what you are doing;
how are the plays, and after the plays
what other pleasures you’re pursuing:

taking cabs in the middle of the night,
driving as if to save your soul
where the road goes round and round the park
and the meter glares like a moral owl,

and the trees look so queer and green
standing alone in big black caves
and suddenly you’re in a different place
where everything seems to happen in waves,

and most of the jokes you just can’t catch,
like dirty words rubbed off a slate,
and the songs are loud but somehow dim
and it gets so terribly late,

and coming out of the brownstone house
to the gray sidewalk, the watered street,
one side of the buildings rises with the sun
like a glistening field of wheat.

— Wheat, not oats, dear. I’m afraid
if it’s wheat it’s none of your sowing,
nevertheless I’d like to know
what you are doing and where you are going.

~ Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), American poet

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Mysterious Thing

(Léonie Adams, poet laureate, 1948-1949)


What plummet, seas, to sound you —
All the long reaches spun out silver-white,
Turn you and cast drowned riches?
Or how again, O velvet night,
When the sky, stooping with its glittering load,
About the elf-locks of the curious grass
Scatters its sparklings, will you part almost
Upon the quintessential host?

Or how the figment spirit, sleeping,
Can it render body, ghost,
In its dream unseat the heavy monarch,
Conjure to the bleak wild coast
Its sunk, its deep delight,
Its night and mist divide, recall how flitting
Above the pallid thing,
Joy has an azure wing?

~ Léonie Adams (1899-1988), American poet and editor

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Old Flame

(Robert Lowell, poet laureate, 1947-1948)


My old flame, my wife!
Remember our list of birds?
One morning last summer, I drove
by our house in Maine. It was still
on top of its hill —

Now a red ear of Indian maize
was splashed on the door.
Old Glory with thirteen stripes
hung on a pole. The clapboard
was old-red schoolhouse red.

Inside, a new landlord,
a new wife, a new broom!
Atlantic seaboard antique shop
pewter and plunder
shone in each room.

A new frontier!
No running next door
now to phone the sheriff
for his taxi to Bath
and the State Liquor Store!

No one saw your ghostly
imaginary lover
stare through the window
and tighten
the scarf at his throat.

Health to the new people,
health to their flag, to their old
restored house on the hill!
Everything had been swept bare,
furnished, garnished and aired.

Everything’s changed for the best —
how quivering and fierce we were,
there snowbound together,
simmering like wasps
in our tent of books!

Poor ghost, old love, speak
with your old voice
of flaming insight
that kept us awake all night.
In one bed and apart,

we heard the plow
groaning up hill —
a red light, then a blue,
as it tossed off the snow
to the side of the road.

~ Robert Lowell (1917-1977), American poet

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Manhole Covers

(Karl Shapiro, poet laureate, 1946-1947)


The beauty of manhole covers — what of that?
Like medals struck by a great savage khan,
Like Mayan calendar stones, unliftable, indecipherable,
Not like the old electrum, chased and scored,
Mottoed and sculptured to a turn,
But notched and whelked and pocked and smashed
With the great company names
(Gentle Bethlehem, smiling United States).
This rustproof artifact of my street,
Long after roads are melted away will lie
Sidewise in the grave of the iron-old world,
Bitten at the edges,
Strong with its cryptic American,
Its dated beauty.

~ Karl Shapiro (1913-2000), American poet

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Roman Fountain

(Louise Bogan, poet laureate,


Up from the bronze, I saw
Water without a flaw,
Rush to rest in air,
Reach to its rest, and fall.

Bronze of the blackest shade,
An element man-made,
Shaping upright the bare
Clear gouts of water in air.

O, as with arm and hammer,
Still it is good to strive
To beat out the image whole,
To echo the shout and stammer
When full-gushed waters, alive,
Strike on the fountain’s bowl
After the air of summer.

~ Louise Bogan (1897-1970), American poet, critic, and translator

Monday, April 4, 2011

Evening Hawk

(Robert Penn Warren, poet laureate, 1944-1945 and


From plane of light to plane, wings dipping through
Geometries and orchids that the sunset builds,
Out of the peak’s black angularity of shadow, riding
The last tumultuous avalanche of
Light above pines and the guttural gorge,
The hawk comes.

His wing
Scythes down another day, his motion
Is that of the honed steel-edge, we hear
The crashless fall of stalks of Time.

The head of each stalk is heavy with the gold of our error.

Look! Look! he is climbing the last light
Who knows neither Time nor error, and under
Whose eye, unforgiving, the world, unforgiven, swings
Into shadow.

Long now,
The last thrush is still, the last bat
Now cruises in his sharp hieroglyphics. His wisdom
Is ancient, too, and immense. The star
Is steady, like Plato, over the mountain.

If there were no wind we might, we think, hear
The earth grind on its axis, or history
Drip in darkness like a leaking pipe in the cellar.

~ Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989), American poet and novelist

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Trout Map

(Allen Tate, poet laureate, 1943-1944)


The Management Area of Cherokee
National Forest, interested in fish,
Has mapped Tellico and Bald Rivers
And North River, with the tributaries
Brookshire Branch and Sugar Cove Creek:
A fishy map for facile fishery.

Now consider it: drawn in two
Colors, blue and red-blue for the hue
Of Europe (Tennessee water is green),
Red lines by blue streams to warn
The fancy-fishmen from protected fish;
Black borders hold the Area in a cracked dish.

Other black lines, the dots and dashes, wire
The fisher’s will through classic laurel
Over boar tracks to creamy pot-holes lying
Under Bald falls that thump the buying
Trout: we sold Professor, Brown Hackles, Worms.
Tom Bagley and I were dotted and dashed wills.

Up Green Cove gap from Preacher Millsaps’ cabin
We walked an hour confident of victory,
Went to the west on a trail that led us
To Bald River — here map and scene were one
In scene-identity. Eight trout is the story
In three miles. We came to a rock-bridge

On which the road went left around a hill,
The river, right, tumbled into a cove;
But the map dashed the road along the stream
And we dotted man’s fishiest enthymeme
With jellied feet upon deductive love
Of what eyes see not, that nourishes the will:

We were fishers, weren’t we? And tried to fish
The egoed belly's dry cartograph —
Which made the government fish lie down and laugh.
Tommy and I listened, we heard them shake
Mountains and cove because the map was fake.
After eighteen miles our feet were clownish;

Then darkness took us into wheezing straits
Where coarse Magellan idling with his fates
Ran with the gulls for map around the Horn,
Or wheresoever the mind with tidy scorn
Revisits the world to hear an eagle scream
Vertigo! Mapless, the mountains were a dream.

~ Allen Tate (1899-1979), American poet and essayist

Saturday, April 2, 2011


(Joseph Auslander, poet laureate, 1937-1941)


I will not make a sonnet from
Each little private martyrdom;
Nor out of love left dead with time
Construe a stanza or a rhyme.

We do not suffer to afford
The searched for and the subtle word.
There is too much that may not be
At the caprice of prosody.

~ Joseph Auslander (1897-1965), American poet, translator, and novelist

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Word with You

(Bright Objects Hypnotize the Mind,
the poster for the celebration of this
year's National Poetry Month, by
Stephen Doyle, found at

We begin this month’s festivities with the source of the line quoted in the poster above.


Look out! there’s that damned ape again
sit silently until he goes,
or else forgets the things he knows
(whatever they are) about us, then
we can begin to talk again.

Have you tried playing with your ring?
Sometimes that calms them down, I find.
(Bright objects hypnotize the mind.)
Get his attention on anything —
anything will do — there, try your ring.

The glitter pleases him. You see
he squints his eyes; his lip hangs loose.
You were saying? — Oh Lord, what’s the use,
for now the parrot’s after me
and the monkeys are awake. You see

how hard it is, you understand
this nervous strain in which we live —
Why just one luscious adjective
infuriates the whole damned band
and they’re squabbling for it. I understand

some people manage better. How?
They treat the creatures without feeling.
— Throw books to stop the monkeys’ squealing,
slap the ape and make him bow,
are firm, keep order, — but I don’t know how.

Quick! there’s the cockatoo! he heard!
(He can’t bear any form of wit.)
— Please watch out that you don’t get bit;
there’s not a thing escapes that bird.
Be silent, — now the ape has overheard.

~ Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), American poet laureate 1949-1950