A Lark (Norton cento #3)
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
the bird lies warm against the wall,
pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
like a cliff swinging or a sail
dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
Do not turn away.
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
a low, impassioned question and its low reply:
what a small song: what slow clouds: what dark water:
(so tiny, so intolerably vast).
The sea is not a question of power
until the Dancer comes, in a short short dress
like a body wholly body, fluttering,
conspiring with him how to load and bless,
believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving.
There’s something laughable about this.
Like vibrations of a bell
upon the burning lava of a song,
the stone’s in the midst of all.
A small bird flew before me. He was careful.
We should not do wrong.
from The Sonnets 2 Orpheus
“Voller Apfel, Birne…”
Crankshaft, cough syrup, debit card, app,
Ponzi scheme, Lipitor, Levitra, açaí…
Strange fruit. And still there’s no word
to describe the way she… and then…
Do you call it language during the act?
Is it still an apple when it’s in your mouth?
What about hers? (Did you know fried rattlesnake
jumps in the pan? What’s the word for that?)
The audience gathers for the silent film,
but it’s just someone reading an audio book
in ASL. (“Oh hydrogen jukebox…”)
Reconstituted by Google, Sappho’s poems
all turn out to contain the word “???????????.”
Do you remember her kisses? Were they bittersweet?
from A Poetic History: Of
Of haired feathers, the mind
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
Of insidious intent
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…
Of withered leaves about your feet
Of faint stale smells of beer
Of which your soul was constituted;
Of Magnus Martyr hold
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonored, unpropitiated
Of what was believed in as the most reliable—
Of recorded history, the backward half-look
Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret,
Of spheres of existence is actual,
Of that which is only moved
Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
Of my stout blood against my staggering brain,
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
Of the greatness, rareness, muchness,
Of the fewness, muchness, rareness,
Of birds that croak at you the Triple will?
Of her nakedly worn magnificence
Of yet another summer loathe to go
Of rimless floods, unfettered leewardings,
Of swimmers their lost morning eyes:
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Of heaven to their election in the vast breath,
Of a thousand acres where these memories grow
Of the sky, the sudden call: you know the rage,
Of those desires that should be yours tomorrow,
Of those who fall
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Note: The text for this poem consists of every line beginning with “of” from poems written between 1917-1968 (Marianne Moore to Allen Tate) in The Norton Anthology of Poetry (Shorter 4th Ed., ed. Ferguson, Salter, and Stallworthy, 1997). The poem thus represents a “found poetic history” of the English language and its literature. All authors are thanked for their contributions.
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Kent Leatham is a poet, translator, editor, and critic. His work has appeared in dozens of journals such as Fence, Zoland, Poetry Quarterly, Poets & Artists, InTranslation, Ezra, and The Battered Suitcase. Kent serves as a poetry editor for Black Lawrence Press, and lives in central California.