February: yes, readers, the shortest month, and in acknowledgment of or rather aligning with such I want to offer today the briefest of these editorial missives on record. Not altogether coincidentally my note this time begins with a passage from last month’s fine Featured Selection of Bill Knott’s work, most ably introduced by Tom Lux. I’m sure this is the impetus for what follows: a selection of very short poems that came to mind over the ensuing days. In fact, after discussions with our publisher, I think it’s not at all out of the question that Plume Editions will bring out a book of short poems in the not too distant future. For now, though, sit back and – relieved of yet another invitation to revisit my childhood – a few more than a baker’s dozen of short works whose authors’ names (or sometimes whole pieces) I’ve been busy jotting on scraps of paper this month, beginning with a reprise of Knott’s famous poem and wandering around from there, not forgetting to make a stop or two at the Plume archives.
“Death,’ Bill Knott, from Never Lend Your Umbrella to a Submarine and Other Poems
Going to sleep, I cross my hands on my chest.
They will place my hands like this.
It will look as though I am flying into myself.
“Watermelons” Charles Simic, from Return to a Place Lit By a Glass of Milk
On the fruit stand.
We eat the smile
And spit out the teeth.
“Point of View,” Nina Cassian, from Life Sentences
The Courtyard is filled with allegories,
the wood with fables.
The animals have vanished.
The arrogant Weltanschauung.
“Vermeer”, Wislawa Szymborska, from Here, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak
So long as that woman from the Rijksmuseum
in painted quiet and concentration
keeps pouring milk day after day
from the pitcher to the bowl
the World hasn’t earned
the world’s end
“The Last Supper” Jacques Prévert, from The Poetry of Surrealism: An Anthology translated by Michael Benedikt
They sit at table
They eat not
Nor do they touch their plates
Yet their plates stand straight up
Behind their heads.
“Signs for Travellers” Jean Follain, from Transparence of the World translated by W.S. Merwin
Travellers from the great spaces
when you see a girl
twisting in sumptuous hands
the black vastness of her hair
and when moreover
near a dark baker’s
a horse lying near death
by these signs you will know
that you have come among men.
Two, from Hsia Yü , translated by Steven Bradbury, appearing in a past issue of Plume, “After Chekhov” and “Synch” :
How clever, to leave out all the articles, thereby suggesting their story, their plight, were less a story than a portrait or a still life. Which of course it is, when you think of it, when you think of them, she with husband, he with wife.
In Roget “forgive and “forget” appear on the very same page. In fact, the one is synonymous with the other, and the two are synonyms as well of, respectively, “grace” and “neglect,” “overlook” and “disregard,” “live and let live” and, inevitably, “oblivion.”
And another from Plume, Lydia Davis’s “Lonely (Canned Ham) – one of the all-time great titles: one of those poems whose contents one can almost but not quite imagine:
Lonely (Canned Ham)
“Do you have a canned ham?”
the thin little woman
in a shop
on the day before Thanksgiving.
And one more, “Tendril,” Phillis Levin, from Plume
Light by which we read the light
Spiraling through you—
Nimble filament, by touch
Renewed, by touch commencing.
“Probablity”, Lia Pupura, from It Shouldn’t Have Been Beautiful
Most coincidences are not
miraculous but way more
common that we think –
it’s the shiver
of noticing being
central in a sequence
that makes so much
seem wild and rare –
because what if it wasn’t?
without your consent.
“Goodtime Jesus” James Tate, from Selected Poems
Jesus got up one day later than usual. He had been
dreaming so deep there was nothing left in his head. What
was it? A nightmare, dead bodies walking all around him,
eyes rolled back, skin falling off. But he wasn’t afraid of that.
It was a beautiful day. How ‘bout some coffee? Don’t mind if I
do. Take a little ride on my donkey. I love that donkey. Hell, I
“The Lion” Guillaume Apollinaire, from Selected Poems
O lion, mournful image
Of kings sadly brought down,
You are born now in cages
In Hamburg, among the Germans.
“Leopards in the Temple” Franz Kafka , from The Prose Poem, edited by Michael Benedikt
Leopards break into the temple and rink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance, and it becomes a part of the ceremony.
Don Paterson, from God’s Gift to Women
On Going to Meet a Zen Master in the Kyushu
Mountains and Not Finding Him