Happiness is a changing thing. One of the first statements on happiness I remember as a child came from watching reruns of the TV show Taxi. At one point, the Danny DeVito character, a cantankerous individual, surprises a love interest with the line: "Happiness is hard to come by in this life, and you have given me more than my share." Eight-year-old me tucked that one away, mulling it over now and then throughout life afterwards.
The phrasing alone makes the argument. The...
When the staff of the North American Review sent an email asking me to compose a contributor’s blog post, I thought: What could I possibly say about a poem from eight years ago?
I wrote “The Shelf Life of Robot Food” when I was working as a barista in what was then one of a handful of coffee shops in Birmingham, Alabama. After work, my friends and I split time between a handful of bars and restaurants—or, more often, one another’s porches. The city was small enough back then that you...
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
I am like the violin no one plays. In the attic
the wood grain’s varnish and veneer
lie with the other mistakes: the batik
banner, the beetle-eaten head of the mounted deer,
the stained cashmere sweater, and the odd love letter
not set on fire. Once you cradled the hourglass
figure, tucked-in your chin and fingered the strings and frets.
The embossed pebbled leather case with brass
hinges is lost; once you carried it back and...
WAKE: WORLD, ARRIVED
Reality, divided into light and matter.
A moment travels from the universe’s birth.
A massless noun converts into light, then reverses.
This, the moment when the universe begins
to shine. Mother’s voice whispering by the crib,
brushing with my first series of particulars.
A probability turns true, tips and flashes
slicing the light into particles it daringly
hails through. Father, teaching me to...
The poem “Outside Yet Another Window” was written at the beginning of 1984 when I worked for the BBC Monitoring Service in Reading as a Russian monitor listening in to Soviet radio broadcasts. I’d left the Soviet Union in 1971 at the age of twenty one; my monitoring work brought back many memories, images and words from my childhood and youth, with the immediacy of all my senses, alert, bared, vulnerable.
Born in Estonia, brought up in Latvia and educated in Moscow, in all of which...
When the bats tore from our attic through the dilute dusk,
we on the lawn watched them satisfy their summons,
the adults explaining natural radar, a human deafness
we would grow to accept. They rode like the sheets
on our pulleyed laundry line, parallel to the meadow,
lofted by a ditch of wind or my expectation
they drop down to us. This radar, we were told,
was like love, sponsoring naked, eggshelled wills
as they advance into...
I began “Ullage” one morning—almost all of my poems are written between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m.—in a darkened room, in a 250-page notebook I bought (one of several) at a paper store in Florence called Tassotti (sadly no longer there), a company founded by Giorgio Tassotti in Bassano del Grappa (Northern Italy) in 1957, having taken over the business from a firm called Remondini (flourished from 1657 to 1861). I had charged myself each morning to write, and if a poem appeared on the page at the...