Poets Online Archive - Today


The poem "Respite" from  The Lives of the Heart by Jane Hirshfield, served as the inspiration for these poems. Her poem looks at a day in a life. Such a simple thing. What is today like for you? Where are you right at this moment? "...my life. It is, I think today, like a dusty glass vase..." says Jane Hirshfield. Given the lines that precede those words and the thoughts that follow, we have a portrait of a day and, perhaps, of a life. The carefully observed life has long been a staple of the writer. Take a respite yourself for this poem and study your life. Center your poem around a central metaphor / simile which acts as a reflector for the entire poem.
"Respite" and eight other poems by Jane Hirshfield are available online at http://www.tricycle.com/hirshfield3.html


The dowager tree is barren,
her leaves gone, yet there is still a
silent beauty and grandeur to her
struggle. She has born no children
here in the garden which now
defends itself from the city's
pollution. Her seeds were all
devoured or carried by birds to
other places where there was a
possibility of adoption and
survival. She may have many
years or maybe only a few or
maybe none at all-  there are no
promises in anyone's universe.
As if to preempt each of her future
decisions, this year has brought
drought as a specter hovering
over all her plans, and she knows
God is smiling at her plight. I,
too, am barren this year of
words and symbolism and the
trappings of successful poetry. A
drought of conversance of mythic
proportions has brought on a
peaceful though hateful silence. We
both watch the sky for some
semblance of recognition of
who we are and some small
scrap of kindness for what we
might become, given time and
another chance at fecundity.

Karen A. Kimbell

(A sister reads meaning into the last letter her brother wrote.)

"There are emptinesses
on this earth"
Outside ny window I see beyond
where I used to see only
my hundred-foot Ponderosa pines
(A mighty wind tore their majesty apart).
Now I see beyond, to what?

"There are emptinesses
in the heart and soul as well
as on the land."
All these people that I now can see
walking by, I want to cry to,
'Who are you and why?
What mighty wind has ripped us all apart?
Where do we start to understand again?
Don't you also need a friend,
as I do?'

"I am surrounded by all of life
as I have thus far lived it:"
photographs, yellowed manuscripts,
even dried, sixty-year-old rose petals
treasured in a Buddhist urn.
They are too familiar to be noted
as I sit at my machine
to try again.

I no longer use my words in vain.
The pain of non-acceptance
resolves into a letter to my sister
because she's always said that I could write.
"You have a literary voice that should be heard!"

"All endeavor should aim
at this understanding!"

Catherine M. LeGault


If I were the type to swoon I would have
at the surprise of such full out beauty.
October roses with deep layered pink
scent preceding sight.

Six or eight on a bush cascading
over the sidewalk in varying degrees of bloom.
One or two the size of a newborn's opening fist
and this takes my breath away.

I am not even sad when I realize that frost
later in the week will do its dirty work,
because the roses now held nothing back
preening and posing in nature's window.

The poems in my hand, ten or twelve,
have made me love my work today.
They have spilled over me, and I have poked
and pulled back the layers with suggestion or delight.

Each blooming right in front of me capturing my attention
with its full out trust to try a new way of looking at something,
and I have forgotten time and the urgencies of the world.
For a moment it was very still.

Still enough for me to witness the blooming at an unexpected time.
The frost and night so far away as to be inconsequential though inevitable.
But for now, these pages are filled with look-me-in-the-eye honesty
daring me to step closer and remember and I do.

Cheryl Soback


My life a fog, fluid, flowing,
silently creeping through darkness,
misty fingers grasping at moments
desperately trying to seize them,
lock them away before they escape.

Seemingly motionless, I absorb
places, people in translucency
until I burn away in sunlight,
barely noticed, a ghostly presence
faded and forgotten in passing.

My breath a mist, moist, heavy,
laboring in veiled humanity.
I inhale, longing for a taste
of cool, crisp distinction, clarity,
but choke on the density of myself.

And yet, from my liquid haze,
from the countless minutes that escape
I drift into night aimlessly
Until a single glance, a touch from you
and I become substance again.

James M. Thompson


Behind the convent is a pony.
It seems so out of place.
The retreat house where my suitcase waits
is across a grassy circle, but I walk to him
before I unpack, carrying an apple stolen
from the dining room.

He watches me quarter the apple with my penknife
from eyes that are clouded from age and its diseases.
He drops his head submissively
and I turn away from him
so that he will want to come to me.

So hesitant when he takes the first piece
that he drops the apple to the ground.
I pick it up and hold it higher,
chancing my fingertips to hold it
while the long jaw opens.

Never look a gift horse in the mouth
we might have once said. How wrong
to check the teeth on a gift given,
the teeth that tell the horse’s age,
of its care and health.

I don’t need to age you, pony,
to know something of your story.
Your eyes age you,
nostril flare and submission show
some pony-ride past better not remembered.

The retreat house was once an orphanage
and you could have taken children on a slow walk
around the circle. But no children now.
Nuns making rounds, visitors retreating
from some everyday life.

This corral has a fence on two sides only.
You could leave at any time.
But why would you?
We all wander in this two-sided enclosure-
grassy field on one side, open road on the other.

I can’t feel sorry for you
without feeling sorry for myself.
I cut the last two bruised quarters of the apple.
You never dreamed
of being a roan thoroughbred stallion,
and neither did I.

Ken Ronkowitz


The final hour's come round at last
The stations' borderlines dissolve
And whatever the stresses of the hour past
We grit our teeth and bolster our resolve -
Now the only work is clearing tables
Regardless of where they lie
The work's as hard as cleaning stables
And we rush to make this last hour fly -
The kitchen doors both swing unceasingly
I step outside to soothe my smoke-burned eyes
And see the light on Sugarloaf grow increasingly
Pink, red, orange - ethereal in the day's demise -
I cannot help but gape, admonished
At the evening's firecloud finish
And returning, make the last guest blush, astonished
When they see that light
Still in my eyes

Paul Milne


my feet are on your back as we
sit on our ends of the couch
feeling the warmth of you
by the Christmas tree light
and the sound of the saxophone
playing Silent Night on a CD
reminds me of where we are
in our lives today was one long
afternoon of taking in what was left
of summer and autumn and putting it
away hoping that we'd both still be
here in the next season to take it
out again my head is aching you are
falling asleep the song is ending there
is not enough light to write this poem
and there is isnt even any punctuation
left for us to know when to pause or

Charles Michaels

the conflict

such a long and violent war
that daily rages in my mind
still i must fight the good fight
and hold the colors high
through memories  pained windows
i stare back upon the scene
this old man with broken spirit
pondering what might have been
as pall of anger lifts
on a childhood  left behind
sadly i discover the casualty
was time
is it fear that now binds me
behind these ivy covered walls
or despair that i may never hear
tomorrow's bugle call

ray cutshaw


Fit the shaft
   in the socket
give the crank a whirl
Daddy always did it
   to get the blue Ford running.

not what I am doing
   these days of crankiness --
muscles wound tighter
than Sean's toy rocket
   ready to blast off --
hobbling through the house
   with a flaming hip
nesting on the hot pad
wondering if the old car
   will start.

Cherise Wyneken


I miss frequent walks with friends
sometimes with dogs
and sometimes a hand in mine
as we talk quietly under pines and fir branches.

That's the spice gone from my life,
running across a field like kids,
kicking a soccer ball and cooking up food that turns your face
skeptical, or silent hours together.

You can tell some college nearby that you ought to be nearby too,
that you'll bring magic to their world
like no one else could teach a group politics;
I'll write a letter of recommendation.

Months pass quickly, yet they linger
when I long for a companion to just take me
for who I am that moment, to hold me
knowing another blunder scars his original

ideal of this woman he met at dinner in spring
between storms we began to walk for miles.

Deborah Brink


When I was young there was no time to savor
Late afternoon winter sun streaming through the window.
I was distracted by life's demands.

Those moments came, not infrequently, and were lodged
In a corner of my mind to be retrieved someday
And luxuriate in their warmth.

The time has come, and I relish the moments.
I think of those other days filled with life's cares.  I am
Thankful for the gift of the present.

James T. Dette


How the hell do I know when I’m most myself
I used to think nudity nattily handled that issue
All that did was make it easier to wear egg on places other than my face
Exposure and knowledge being interdependent but hardly synonymous
I remove the mask called Public Persona to reveal what
The mask called Private Persona
Maybe If I stand like a salt pillar before a mirror and very smoothly slowly
remove the masks I’ll get to the origin of this endless supply
THEN I will be most myself
One by one until I feel the last persona
It is all Sphinx
Ready at last to see me I remove it
And there on my shoulders in the mirror is another mirror
The void clatters back and forth never really disappearing just shrinking
beyond my capability like in an old barber shop
Trying to see my smallest truest self
Too aghast to look away

Perhaps that is the real most me
The looker
The ass-scratching looker who can’t see what he knows he should
Focused on the vanishing point of my own life

A one-point perspective existence
This infinite regress
Once removed from reality
By silvered glass

Michael Z. Murphy

This looks like a poem, but it's not.
I didn't have time to write a poem,
let alone even think up a title for a poem,
and my life is not really a life
at this point.  I guess you could
say that I should get a life,
which I would if I had the freakin' time.
Dogs?  I got 'em.  All day long it's bark
bark bark every time I rustle the newspaper.
I spent all day at the mall trying to find
my sister a 24" silver chain.  I think
you can guess what happened.
Here's a metaphor: my life today
is a piece of lukewarm mushroom pizza,
and the tray I carry it on is wet,
and there aren't any napkins,
and the table next to me is filled with
two-year-old twins and their rapacious parents.

Mary DeBow



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