"This is a wide book and a deep one, alive with marvelous composition and outcry. And yet, for all its zest of expression, it is real life and real feeling that is most honored...These poems, fierce and billowing, are such a gift."
Mary Oliver, judge's citation, the T.S. Eliot Prize
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Blessing for the Liver
The heart with its lies
Is a lesser thing, neither
Dangerous nor kind,
The serpent, the lonely.
And the brain is where
The world once grew
From the smallest tree in the orchard,
The apple my great-grandfather
Carves with a razor for eternity,
Twirling it in his hands
To eat, delectable
Fruit we are too much of.
But cut the liver from my body intact,
Which faced all my poisons.
No wonder it’s the bearer
Of the soul, stone at the end of my life.
A Clock Face Without Hands
Nights I watch the insect
Hover at the bed
Cleaning its appendages
Weightless huge wringing its hands
Lord you are in that way
Above me too
Beginning so dark and far
Like the sound of dogs
Shaking their chain-link fences
Tapered in barbed wire
Where crows perch orderly
In cliques and in the window
Across the footpath
A red light goes out
The women who fan
Their skirts before the stove,
They live in another century,
Where, along the river,
The columns of blackbirds
Don't mind that we walk through them.
When the pig is cut from neck to belly,
The river freezes.
The slabs are cooked.
Smoke fills the kitchen. Nothing changes,
January comes with police and hard bread.
With January passes a hundred years.
I have never met the man
Who sleeps next door.
Thin wall of his one-plus-one, lived in
By himself. I hear the middle
Of the workweek click
Of his bed lamp. Me reading
Miss Emily aloud in the bath,
Already wide awake,
The pages rustling as I turn them.
I think the man hears something, too,
("This is the hour of lead")
While the rest of the hall
And all ten floors
Turn over in their sleep.
It's time, his huffing says,
To get up from
This bed that creaks,
Put on the heavy clothes.
On Vicolo San Lorenzo I See My Family Name
A little waterfront not on the map.
The small blue boats with tires for life rafts
Float along the dock,
Where fishermen gather mornings.
A salamander skitters up an oar
And steals inside a tiny crack
Between my eyelashes.
Moored beneath the statue of Mary,
covered with lichens and gulls.
I want to think I'm someone else
But I'm always right here in my body,
My America. Here in my palm,
Too small to be a fisherman's,
An aquamarine wave no higher than an inch
Has come a long way
To rend itself.
Curse us if we cursed
The fish man hauling
Blue tarps at market
Some oceanic Friday
Evening and the harbor
Full wind, insignificant
As a handkerchief
And as far, except for its smell,
Which is, or is that
His hands? Love his hands.
The other skin
On his skin, memorizable,
Like a good joke
And as vulgar,
Its eyes, little wells of salt
That stare, even as he raises
His knife, at other times,
To cut them out.
San Calogero Healing Springs
Under a canopy of ivy the Christ,
With real iron hammered in his
Feet and hands, hangs on the bow
Of his marble spine,
Where the grotto opens
For visitors. But I think
It is for no one that the old nun
Sweeps the mildewed world
Of this courtyard with her black
Straw broom, that fans away
Like leaves, and does little good,
And does so anyway,
As the pile of lemons
Gathered behind her
Remains standing in its light.
The Distance Between Zero and One
In April the carnival came.
The ice in the factory lot,
the carnival rides huffing black stripes of smoke...
Pig slaughter music.
My great love stirring the blood with her hands.
Others cleaning the long blue
Intestines in snowdrifts
Filled with tiny stones.
Days the crowds emerge at three pm
In September performers come out with their stands—
The doves unfold like paper
In a street magician’s hands—
And the new money is good for bread
And the old money for salt, yeast, sugar
The old money in one pocket, the new in the other
One the table is our dictionary: a long time for Nika to say
You are tender and me back: You are tender
The bath, the white tub, Turkish coffee on a white chair
For a long while
I’ve been to fast to talk, I should take my time
With words, the words are precious
An hour for the coffee on the fire