Category Archives: Poetry

Thinking of Frost

Thinking of Frost
By Major Jackson – 1968-

I thought by now my reverence would have waned,
matured to the tempered silence of the bookish or revealed
how blasé I’ve grown with age, but the unrestrained
joy I feel when a black skein of geese voyages like a dropped
string from God, slowly shifting and soaring, when the decayed
apples of an orchard amass beneath its trees like Eve’s
first party, when driving and the road Vanna-Whites its crops
of corn whose stalks will soon give way to a harvester’s blade
and turn the land to a man’s unruly face, makes me believe
I will never soothe the pagan in me, nor exhibit the propriety
of the polite. After a few moons, I’m loud this time of year,
unseemly as a chevron of honking. I’m fire in the leaves,
obstreperous as a New England farmer. I see fear
in the eyes of his children. They walk home from school,
as evening falls like an advancing trickle of bats, the sky
pungent as bounty in chimney smoke. I read the scowl
below the smiles of parents at my son’s soccer game, their agitation,
the figure of wind yellow leaves make of quaking aspens.

About This Poem

“Of late, I’ve been actively recording my responses to the seasons. Fall is particularly spectacular in northern New England; the countryside of Vermont hits my bones like warm bands of neon; there’s that palpable change in the air, electric and mysterious. However, in late autumn, one senses the impending, long wintry gloom overtake all reason. At some point, I began to understand Robert Frost and what critics such as Lionel Trilling and Joseph Brodsky argued, which is the darkness that hits the spirit. I think the poem is also an attempt to get out from underneath the shadow of the poet who looms in New England and to trouble the iconicity of the ‘quaintness’ of Vermont.”—Major Jackson

About This Poet

Major Jackson is the author of five books of poetry, including The Absurd Man (2020), Roll Deep (2015), Holding Company (2010), Hoops (2006) and Leaving Saturn (2002), which won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for a first book of poems. His edited volumes include: Best American Poetry 2019Renga for Obama, and Library of America’s Countee Cullen: Collected Poems. A recipient of fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, Major Jackson has been awarded a Pushcart Prize, a Whiting Writers’ Award, and has been honored by the Pew Fellowship in the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress. He has published poems and essays in American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, Orion Magazine, Paris Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Poetry London, and Zyzzva. Major Jackson lives in Nashville, Tennessee where he is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. He serves as the Poetry Editor of The Harvard Review.


When Autumn Came

When Autumn Came
By Faiz Ahmed Faiz

This is the way that autumn came to the trees:
it stripped them down to the skin,
left their ebony bodies naked.
It shook out their hearts, the yellow leaves,
scattered them over the ground.
Anyone could trample them out of shape
undisturbed by a single moan of protest.

The birds that herald dreams
were exiled from their song,
each voice torn out of its throat.
They dropped into the dust
even before the hunter strung his bow.

Oh, God of May have mercy.
Bless these withered bodies
with the passion of your resurrection;
make their dead veins flow with blood again.

Give some tree the gift of green again.
Let one bird sing.

About the Poet

Faiz Ahmed Faiz was born on February 13, 1911, in Sialkot, India, which is now part of Pakistan. Faiz’s early poems had been conventional, light-hearted treatises on love and beauty, but later, he began to expand into politics, community, and the thematic interconnectedness he felt was fundamental in both life and poetry. He received a bachelor’s degree in Arabic, followed by a two master’s degree, one in English and the other in Arabic. After graduating in 1935, Faiz began a teaching career. During his years teaching, he married Alys George, a British expatriate and convert to Islam, with whom he had two daughters. In 1942, he left teaching to join the British Indian Army, for which he received a British Empire Medal for his service during World War II. After the partition of India in 1947, Faiz resigned from the army and became the editor of The Pakistan Times, a socialist English-language newspaper.

On March 9, 1951, Faiz was arrested with a group of army officers under the Safety Act and charged with the failed coup attempt that became known as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. He was sentenced to death and spent four years in prison before being released. Two of his poetry collections, Dast-e Saba and Zindan Namah, focus on life in prison, which he considered an opportunity to see the world in a new way. While living in Pakistan after his release, Faiz was appointed to the National Council of the Arts by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government, and his poems, which had previously been translated into Russian, earned him the Lenin Peace Prize in 1963.

In 1964, Faiz settled in Karachi and was appointed principal of Abdullah Haroon College, while also working as an editor and writer for several distinguished magazines and newspapers. He worked in an honorary capacity for the Department of Information during the 1965 war between India and Pakistan and wrote stark poems of outrage over the bloodshed between Pakistan, India, and what later became Bangladesh. However, when Bhutto was overthrown by Zia Ul-Haq, Faiz was forced into exile in Beirut, Lebanon. There he edited the magazine Lotus and continued to write poems in Urdu. He remained in exile until 1982. He died in Lahore, Pakistan in 1984, shortly after receiving a nomination for the Nobel Prize.

Throughout his tumultuous life, Faiz continually wrote and published, becoming the best-selling modern Urdu poet in both India and Pakistan. While his work is written in fairly strict diction, his poems maintain a casual, conversational tone, creating tension between the elite and the common, somewhat in the tradition of Ghalib, the renowned 19th century Urdu poet. Faiz is especially celebrated for his poems in traditional Urdu forms, such as the ghazal, and his remarkable ability to expand the conventional thematic expectations to include political and social issues.


The Teller of Tales

The Teller of Tales
By Gabriela Mistral – 1889-1957

translated by Ursula K. Le Guin

  When I’m walking, everything
on earth gets up
and stops me and whispers to me,
and what they tell me is their story.

  And the people walking
on the road leave me their stories,
I pick them up where they fell
in cocoons of silken thread.

  Stories run through my body
or sit purring in my lap.
So many they take my breath away,
buzzing, boiling, humming.
Uncalled they come to me,
and told, they still won’t leave me.

  The ones that come down through the trees
weave and unweave themselves,
and knit me up and wind me round
until the sea drives them away.

  But the sea that’s always telling stories,
the wearier I am the more it tells me…

  The people who cut trees,
the people who break stones,
want stories before they go to sleep.

  Women looking for children
who got lost and don’t come home,
women who think they’re alive
and don’t know they’re dead,
every night they ask for stories,
and I return tale for tale.

  In the middle of the road, I stand
between rivers that won’t let me go,
and the circle keeps closing
and I’m caught in the wheel.

  The riverside people tell me
of the drowned woman sunk in grasses
and her gaze tells her story,
and I graft the tales into my open hands.

  To the thumb come stories of animals,
to the index fingers, stories of my dead.
There are so many tales of children
they swarm on my palms like ants.

  When my arms held
the one I had, the stories
all ran as a blood-gift
in my arms, all through the night.
Now, turned to the East,
I’m giving them away because I forget them.

  Old folks want them to be lies.
Children want them to be true.
All of them want to hear my own story,
which, on my living tongue, is dead.

  I’m seeking someone who remembers it
leaf by leaf, thread by thread.
I lend her my breath, I give her my legs,
so that hearing it may waken it for me.

La Contadora

Cuando camino se levantan
todas las cosas de la tierra
y me paran y cuchichean
y es su historia lo que cuentan.

Y las gentes que caminan
en la ruta me la dejan
y la recojo caída
en capullos que son de huella.

  Historias corren mi cuerpo
o en mi regazo ronronean.
Tantas son que no dan respiro,
zumban, hierven y abejean.
Sin llamada se me vienen
y contadas tampoco dejan…

  Las que bajan por los árboles
se trenzan y se destrenzan,
y me tejen y me envuelvan
hasta que el mar los ahuyenta.

  Pero el mar que cuenta siempre
más rendida, más me deja…

  Los que están mascando bosque
y los que rompen la piedra,
al dormirse quieren historias.

  Mujeres que buscan hijos
perdidos que no regresan,
y las que se creen vivas
y no saben que están muertas,
cada noche piden historias,
y yo me rindo cuenta que cuenta.

  A medio camino quedo
entre ríos que no me sueltan,
el corro se va cerrando
y me atrapa en la rueda.

  Los ribereños me cuentan
la ahogada sumida en hierbas,
y su mirada cuenta su historia,
y yo las tronco en mis palmas abiertas.

  Al pulgar llegan las de animales,
al índice las de mis muertos.
Las de niños, de ser tantas
en las palmas me hormiguean.

  Cuando tomaba así mis brazos
el que yo tuve, todas ellas
en regalo de sangre corrieron
mis brazos una noche entera.
Ahora yo, vuelta al Oriente,
se las voy dando porque no recuerdo.

  Los viejos las quieren mentidas,
los niños las quieren ciertas.
Todos quieren oír la historia mía
que en mi lengua viva está muerta.

  Busco alguna que la recuerde
hoja por hoja, herbra por hebra.
Le presto mi aliento, le doy mi marcha
por si el oírla me la despierta.

This poem is much longer than poems I usually post, but I found it very interesting. I think we are all “Teller of Tales.” We all have a story to tell. Anyone who knows me in real life will tell you that I am a shy person until I get to know you, then I can be quite a talker. I have a story or an obscure fact for most anything. I may not be able to remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I can remember that Vermont used to alternate governors according to what side of the Green Mountains they lived on. I can tell you that Alabama Governor Lurleen B. Wallace once was publicized for going turkey hunting and was called Governor Diana (the Roman goddess of the hunt) and that she weighed that turkey on the porch of my grandparents’ store. Telling that story will probably get you a whole dissertation on the governorship of Lurleen Wallace and how running for governor ultimately led to her death. It’s amazing the minutia in my head, yet when I play Trivial Pursuit, I often can’t recall those “trivial” details when I need to. 

The point is, we all have stories to tell. One of the things I love about working in a museum is that every object has a story. Every person behind that object has a story. We may not know all the details, and some things may be impossible to know, but the stories existed at one time or another. Can you think of a story or piece of minutia that is in the back of your head that comes up at odd times? What is that story?

About the Author

Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957), pseudonym for Lucila Godoy y Alcayaga, was born in Vicuña, Chile. The daughter of a dilettante poet, she began to write poetry as a village schoolteacher after a passionate romance with a railway employee who committed suicide. She taught elementary and secondary school for many years until her poetry made her famous. She played an important role in the educational systems of Mexico and Chile, was active in cultural committees of the League of Nations, and was Chilean consul in Naples, Madrid, and Lisbon. She held honorary degrees from the Universities of Florence and Guatemala and was an honorary member of various cultural societies in Chile as well as in the United States, Spain, and Cuba. She taught Spanish literature in the United States at Columbia University, Middlebury College, Vassar College, and at the University of Puerto Rico.

The love poems in memory of the dead, Sonetos de la muerte (1914), made her known throughout Latin America, but her first great collection of poems, Desolación [Despair], was not published until 1922. In 1924 appeared Ternura [Tenderness], a volume of poetry dominated by the theme of childhood; the same theme, linked with that of maternity, plays a significant role in Tala, poems published in 1938. Her complete poetry was published in 1958.

Note: I found this poem as part of a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month on Poets.org, the website of the Academy of American Poets. National Hispanic Heritage Month (Spanish: Mes Nacional de la Herencia Hispana) is a period from September 15 to October 15 in the United States for recognizing the contributions and influence of Hispanic Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States.


Will There Be Singing

excerpts from “Will There Be Singing”

By Juliana Spahr 

During these days,
I would wake up and my head would hurt
and then I would realize that in my dream
I had said to myself that I should write some poetry.
But my dreams never explained to me why.
Or how.
How to sing in these dark times?
It is true that I have been with poetry for a long time.
Since I was a teenager.
Those loves of many years and our bodies changing together.
And yet also the deepening of this love. Despite.
That day with the breeze in the bar
And we said together, there needs to be some pleasure in the world.
And next, poetry is the what is left of life.
And we pledged, more singing.
And we referenced by saying,
In the dark times. Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.

Read the full poem on Poets.org

About the Poem

Juliana Spahr said, “I was trying to figure out what it was that I valued about poetry. I have had trouble the last few years remembering that I liked poetry because I had been for so long confusing the sociality around poetry for the poem. And I had spent the last few years writing a lot about poetry and its role in soft diplomacy and the genre seemed more and more suspect to me. So I decided to write an ars poetica, a meditation on poetry, to see if I still liked poetry or not.”

About the Poet

Juliana Spahr is the author of Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment (Harvard University Press, 2018). She teaches literature and lives in Berkeley, California.


French Leave

French Leave
By Claude McKay

No servile little fear shall daunt my will
  This morning, I have courage steeled to say
I will be lazy, conqueringly still,
  I will not lose the hours in toil this day.

The roaring world without, careless of souls,
  Shall leave me to my placid dream of rest,
My four walls shield me from its shouting ghouls,
  And all its hates have fled my quiet breast.

And I will loll here resting, wide awake,
  Dead to the world of work, the world of love,
I laze contented just for dreaming’s sake,
  With not the slightest urge to think or move.

How tired unto death, how tired I was!
  Now for a day I put my burdens by,
And like a child amidst the meadow grass
  Under the southern sun, I languid lie,

And feel the bed about me kindly deep,
  My strength ooze gently from my hollow bones,
My worried brain drift aimlessly to sleep,
  Life soften to a song of tuneful tones.

About the Poet

Festus Claudius McKay was born in Sunny Ville, Clarendon Parish, Jamaica, on September 15, 1889. Better known as Claude McKay, he moved to Harlem, New York, after publishing his first books of poetry, and established himself as a literary voice for social justice during the Harlem Renaissance. He is known for his novels, essays and poems, including “If We Must Die” and “Harlem Shadows.” He died on May 22, 1948, in Chicago, Illinois.

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A “French leave” is a departure from a location or event without informing others or without seeking approval. Examples include relatively innocuous acts such as leaving a party without bidding farewell in order to avoid disturbing or upsetting the host, or more problematic acts such as a soldier leaving their post without authorization.


Invictus

A Cadet from Texas A&M University 
(Not from my university, but another Senior Military College)

Invictus
By William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
  Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
  For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
  I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeonings of chance
  My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
  Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
  Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
  How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
  I am the captain of my soul.

About the Poem

Latin for “unconquered,” the poem “Invictus” is a deeply descriptive and motivational work filled with vivid imagery. William Ernest Henley wrote this poem about stoicism, courage and refusing to accept defeat while enduring a severely testing time in hospital. He had contracted tuberculosis of the bone in his youth, and the lower part of one of his legs was amputated in his twenties. At one point, it was feared he might lose his other leg. He instead chose to travel to Edinburgh in August 1873 to enlist the services of the distinguished English surgeon Joseph Lister, who was able to save Henley’s remaining leg after multiple surgical interventions on the foot. While recovering in the infirmary, he was moved to write the verses that became the poem “Invictus.” The poem is most known for its themes of willpower and strength in the face of adversity. It evokes Victorian stoicism—the “stiff upper lip” of self-discipline and fortitude in adversity—much of which is drawn from the horrible fate assigned to many amputees of the day i.e., gangrene and death.

Written in 1875, but not published until thirteen years later, ‘Invictus’ was an immediately popular poem. Its uplifting and inspirational qualities saw it frequently appear in poetry anthologies, and it was often memorized and recited in schools up until the 1960s. With four stanzas and sixteen lines, each containing eight syllables, the poem has a rather uncomplicated structure. Each stanza takes considerable note of Henley’s perseverance and fearlessness throughout his early life and over twenty months under Lister’s care. In the second stanza, Henley refers to the strength that helped him through a childhood defined by his struggles with tuberculosis when he says, “I have not winced nor cried aloud.” In the fourth stanza, Henley alludes to the fact that each individual’s destiny is under the jurisdiction of themselves, not at the mercy of the obstacles they face, nor other worldly powers.

Those who have taken time to analyze “Invictus” have also taken notice of religious themes, or the lack thereof, that exists in this piece. There is agreement that much of the dark descriptions in the opening lines refer to Hell. Later, the fourth stanza of the poem alludes to a phrase from the King James Bible, which says in Matthew 7:14, “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Notice how the first verse adopts a humanist position. Reference to a higher power amid suffering is vague—whatever gods may be—while the focus is on his ‘unconquerable soul.’ The famous line ‘My head is bloody, but unbowed’ suggests a noble bravery in the face of adversity, while the even more frequently quoted final two lines affirm the power of individuals to shape their own destiny, to accept responsibility and to choose how they will go forward in life. Despite Henley’s evocative telling of perseverance and determination, worry was on his mind; in a letter to a close companion, Henley later confided, “I am afeard my marching days are over” when asked about the condition of his leg.

I chose this poem because I was thinking of the freshmen cadets (technically they are not yet cadets as that comes later in the semester after they have “earned” the honor of being a cadet) at the military college where I work. You can hear them training in the early morning hours just after dawn. The orders being yelled, the loud responses, and such that goes along with their first week here. It is a brutal week meant to introduce them to life as a cadet and the military lifestyle. It is also done to test their fortitude. In years past, it was even more brutal than it is today. All too often we see the new cadets on crutches or hobbling along from some overexerted injury. Some of the new cadets are homesick and a little lost. Some knew what to expect, while others didn’t think it would be so difficult. The perseverance is supposed to be part of the process. One of the most amazing aspects of the cadet experience, is they often come in as scrawny teenagers (some are a bit more fit, but not all), and by the end of the semester or sometimes it takes both semesters, they are at their peak fitness of their lives. The transformation is truly awe-inspiring.

On a side note, I am enjoying the students being back and seeing them around campus and the town. Last year, we barely saw them. In the Fall, students were quarantined to campus, and we were still mostly working from home. Then in the Spring, they were largely quarantined to their dorms, apart from some training, but even that was severely limited. Now, life has come back to our little town and our campus. Being a military college, you don’t always see the typical shirtless college guys throwing a Frisbee or tossing a football on the quad. Mostly the cadets are in their uniforms and the civilian students are fewer in number (and often not as fit). For one of the first times the other day, I saw a group out running, many of them shirtless. It was a sight to behold, but as the semester is beginning, they will be back in their uniforms full-time and that won’t be a sight we will often see.

About the Poet

William Ernest Henley (1849 – 1903) was an English editor, poet, and playwright. Diagnosed as a child with tuberculosis of the bone, the disease plagued him throughout his life and caused the amputation of a leg when he was not yet twenty. A big, burly man with a gregarious disposition and a keen eye for literary talent, William was well liked and much admired for his own body of work. One of his closest friends was Robert Louis Stevenson, who used William as the inspiration for his Treasure Island character, Long John Silver. This poem, in turn, has inspired thousands around the world.


Three Poems by Timothy Liu

Blind Date
By Timothy Liu

He slept with his back
towards me, a ladder
I’d learn to climb
even if it took till dawn—
we who wanted to live
past the expiration
date that was printed
on the condom wrapper
neither of us had
wanted to tear open—

Do Not Disturb
By Timothy Liu

Offshore salt lapping up against a lighthouse flashing red,
my husband next to me in a waterbed by the sea
with “Do Not Disturb” signs hung on every door—
my lover on the other side of the ocean, unable to tell
if the fog will roll out as the day’s first headlights
make their way down a coastal road as he texts me
a face I cannot touch, a mystical rose that keeps its own
scent. What good would it do to say I miss him
when saying nothing makes me miss him all the more?

I Need Your Body Near Me
By Timothy Liu

An ocean is nothing, there is no separation
between two lovers. And I knew just what
it took: six hours, two meals with a movie
in between, blinders over eyes, plugs in ears
as I tried to get some sleep. When I awoke,
I knew I’d crossed more than a time zone
for my body was always nearer to yours
than anyone else’s still sleeping in your bed—

About the Poet

Timothy Liu (Liu Ti Mo) was born in 1965 in San Jose, California, to parents from the Chinese mainland. He studied at Brigham Young University, the University of Houston, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

He is the author of Luminous Debris: New & Selected Legerdemain 1992-2017 (Barrow Street Books, 2018); Kingdom Come: A Fantasia (Talisman House, 2017); Don’t Go Back To Sleep (Saturnalia, 2014); Polytheogamy (Saturnalia, 2009); Bending the Mind Around the Dream’s Blown Fuse (Talisman House, 2009); For Dust Thou Art (Southern Illinois University Press, 2005); Of Thee I Sing (University of Georgia Press, 2004), selected by Publishers Weekly as a 2004 Book-of-the-Year; Hard Evidence (Talisman House, 2001); Say Goodnight (Copper Canyon Press, 1998); Burnt Offerings (Copper Canyon Press, 1995); and Vox Angelica (Alice James Books, 1992), which won the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award.

About Liu’s work, the poet Fanny Howe has said, “Timothy Liu writes out of an angry materialism, ill-fitting body, disappointment at every turn. He takes on his point of view wholeheartedly and compresses the consequences into phrases that echo and mimic each other, thereby increasing the sensation of claustrophobia and fever.”

Liu’s honors and awards include a Pushcart Prize and the Open Book Beyond Margins Award. He is also the editor of Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry, (Talisman House, 2000).

He has served as a core faculty member at Bennington College’s Writing Seminars and is currently an associate professor at William Paterson University. He lives in Manhattan.


Black Cat

Black Cat
By Rainer Maria Rilke – 1875-1926

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

About This Poem

Have you ever feared a black cat crossing your path? This is from ancient superstitions where people thought this meant bad luck. For many cultures and historical settings, black cats were actually meant for positive things. So, to try and dispel these myths about black cats, National Black Cat Appreciation Day was created to be celebrated on August 17 every year. Today, pop culture loves black cats. There’s the sarcastic Thackery Binx in Hocus Pocus, Salem, in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, and Pyewacket in the classic Bell, Book, and Candle, and we can’t forget the classic cartoon black cat, Luna in Sailor Moon. Black cats are seen as loyal companions, and this is what they were seen as for a lot of cultures in history too.

So, who’s to blame for this negative black cat spin? Superstition! But mostly because during the Middle Ages, people (mainly the Catholic Church) saw witches as shape-shifting black cats and the damage was done. From then on, black cats were seen as evil entities for years and years to follow. The Rilke poem “Black Cat” follows in this vein. The poem was originally published in Rilke’s 1923 collection Duino Elegies. Rilke began writing this collection in 1912, but it remained unfinished for a decade before being completed and published.

So why this poem today? Since 2011, cat lovers around the world have celebrated Black Cat Appreciation Day on August 17th. It is a day to celebrate and appreciate the black cats in your life. Today, I celebrate my little companion, Isabella, a beautiful, sleek black cat. Black Cat Appreciation Day was created by a man named Wayne H. Morris, in honor of his late sister, June, who passed away at age 33, a few years before the first official Black Cat Appreciation Day. This date was chosen as a memorial of June’s passing. June deeply loved her own black cat, Sinbad, who lived to be 20 years old. Sadly, Sinbad was reunited with June two months after her passing.

Black cats are often the least adopted and most overlooked cats in animal shelters, resulting in many of these wonderful animals being euthanized when they can’t find a loving home. Because they are less likely to be adopted from shelters, they need a special holiday in their honor to bring awareness to this issue, and to encourage people to adopt these amazing animals. Black cats are often misunderstood and overlooked because of their coat color and the superstitions surrounding them. Also, many shelters will not allow adoptions of black cats in October because people adopt them for Halloween and then discard them afterward. The life of a black cat in shelters can be very sad because there are several stupid and silly reasons why people looking to adopt a cat are less likely to adopt black cats.

  • They have long been associated with bad luck, misfortune, and witchcraft. Even in our modern times, there are still people who believe these silly superstitions. You would be surprised to learn how many people still believe that black cats bring bad luck or cause misfortune to anyone who crosses their path. Many religious people also fear them because of their association with witchcraft. These superstitions are not only silly and untrue but are also harmful to beautiful black cats who are in search of forever homes.
  • Another reason why people may be less inclined to want to adopt a black cat is that they consider dark solid coats to be “boring,” and prefer a flashier tabby, calico, or other uniquely marked cats. This is an unfair assessment, as black cats are beautiful creatures with luxurious black coats. They look like majestic miniature black panthers roaming around your home and are just as beautiful and charming as any other cat. Besides, black matches almost anything, so you will always look fashionable next to your black cat friend.
  • In our social media-obsessed world, some people also shy away from adopting black cats because they believe that they don’t show up as well in pictures. Many people today want pets that they feel they can show off on the internet. Black cats can be just as photogenic as any other cat. Just look at Isabella, she often is a great subject for pictures. With the proper lighting, background, and photography technique, your cat will look stunning on your Instagram feed!
  • Many prospective pet owners use the internet to find their new furry friends, so they are likely to overlook animals that are not photographed well. Because black cats are a bit harder to photograph than pets with lighter coat colors, they may be overlooked by prospective owners browsing online adoptable pet listings. It is important for shelters to photograph the adoptable pets in their best light to help them to find their forever homes.

Black cats are beautiful creatures that make a wonderful addition to any home. In some countries, including England, Scotland, and Japan, they are considered good luck. In Japan, it is believed that a single woman who owns a black cat will have many suitors. In England, they are commonly thought to bring good luck to anyone who crosses their path. In Scotland, it is said that a strange black cat arriving at your home will bring good fortune and prosperity.

Many cat owners (I would not be one of them) agree that their black cats are often the most affectionate and playful cats they’ve ever had. For me, Isabella is not very affectionate. She wants to be near me most of the time and sometimes wants to lay on me, but she never cuddles and hates to be held. Others claim black cats are known for their unique personalities and cuddly dispositions. Some researchers also claim that black cats are more resistant to disease. There is some research to suggest that at least two genes associated with melanism may also help them resist certain diseases.

So if you are looking to adopt a cat, consider a black cat. They need the love, and they will love you back. Isabella might not be the most affectionate, but she constantly shows her love and appreciation for me, and isn’t that what we all want from our pets, especially our cats who often seem so indifferent to their human companions. I have spent most of the pandemic working from home, and when I first started working from home, Isabella was never far away. I think she has probably gotten a little tired of me being home so much and she’s not as close by all the time these days, but I have returned to working at the museum five days a week, so she will have her alone time again. I’ve had cats in the past who show how mad they are at you for leaving them for any amount of time. Isabella has never been that way. Most of the time, she greets me at the door, and if she hears me in the stairway, and I don’t come into my apartment quick enough, she makes her impatience known. She is a wonderful little companion, and I feel so blessed to have her.

About the Poet

On December 4, 1875, Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague. His parents placed him in military school with the desire that he become an officer—a position Rilke was not inclined to hold. With the help of his uncle, who realized that Rilke was a highly gifted child, Rilke left the military academy and entered a German preparatory school. By the time he enrolled in Charles University in Prague in 1895, he knew that he would pursue a literary career: he had already published his first volume of poetry, Leben und Lieder, the previous year. At the turn of 1895-1896, Rilke published his second collection, Larenopfer (Sacrifice to the Lares). A third collection, Traumgekrönt (Dream-Crowned) followed in 1896. That same year, Rilke decided to leave the university for Munich, Germany, and later made his first trip to Italy.

In 1897, Rilke went to Russia, a trip that would prove to be a milestone in Rilke’s life, and which marked the true beginning of his early serious works. While there the young poet met Tolstoy, whose influence is seen in Das Buch vom lieben Gott und anderes (Stories of God), and Leonid Pasternak, the nine-year-old Boris’s father. At Worpswede, where Rilke lived for a time, he met and married Clara Westhoff, who had been a pupil of Rodin. In 1902 he became the friend, and for a time the secretary, of Rodin, and it was during his twelve-year Paris residence that Rilke enjoyed his greatest poetic activity. His first great work, Das Stunden Buch (The Book of Hours), appeared in 1905, followed in 1907 by Neue Gedichte (New Poems) and Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge). Rilke would continue to travel throughout his lifetime; to Italy, Spain, and Egypt among many other places, but Paris would serve as the geographic center of his life, where he first began to develop a new style of lyrical poetry, influenced by the visual arts.

When World War I broke out, Rilke was obliged to leave France and during the war, he lived in Munich. In 1919, he went to Switzerland where he spent the last years of his life. It was here that he wrote his last two works, the Duino Elegies (1923) and the Sonnets to Orpheus (1923). He died of leukemia on December 29, 1926. At the time of his death, his work was intensely admired by many leading European artists but was almost unknown to the general reading public. His reputation has grown steadily since his death, and he has come to be universally regarded as a master of verse.


Terminus

Terminus
By Edith Wharton

Wonderful were the long secret nights you gave me, my Lover,
Palm to palm breast to breast in the gloom. The faint red lamp,
Flushing with magical shadows the common-place room of the inn
With its dull impersonal furniture, kindled a mystic flame
In the heart of the swinging mirror, the glass that has seen
Faces innumerous & vague of the endless travelling automata,
Whirled down the ways of the world like dust-eddies swept through a street,
Faces indifferent or weary, frowns of impatience or pain,
Smiles (if such there were ever) like your smile and mine when they met
Here, in this self-same glass, while you helped me to loosen my dress,
And the shadow-mouths melted to one, like sea-birds that meet in a wave–
Such smiles, yes, such smiles the mirror perhaps has reflected;
And the low wide bed, as rutted and worn as a high-road,
The bed with its soot-sodden chintz, the grime of its brasses,
That has borne the weight of fagged bodies, dust-stained, averted in sleep,
The hurried, the restless, the aimless–perchance it has also thrilled
With the pressure of bodies ecstatic, bodies like ours,
Seeking each other’s souls in the depths of unfathomed caresses,
And through the long windings of passion emerging again to the stars…
Yes, all this through the room, the passive & featureless room,
Must have flowed with the rise & fall of the human unceasing current;
And lying there hushed in your arms, as the waves of rapture receded,
And far down the margin of being we heard the low beat of the soul,
I was glad as I thought of those others, the nameless, the many,
Who perhaps thus had lain and loved for an hour on the brink of the world,
Secret and fast in the heart of the whirlwind of travel,
The shaking and shrieking of trains, the night-long shudder of traffic,
Thus, like us they have lain & felt, breast to breast in the dark,
The fiery rain of possession descend on their limbs while outside
The black rain of midnight pelted the roof of the station;
And thus some woman like me, waking alone before dawn,
While her lover slept, as I woke & heard the calm stir of your breathing,
Some woman has heard as I heard the farewell shriek of the trains
Crying good-bye to the city & staggering out into darkness,
And shaken at heart has thought: “So must we forth in the darkness,
Sped down the fixed rail of habit by the hand of implacable fate–
So shall we issue to life, & the rain, & the dull dark dawning;
You to the wide flare of cities, with windy garlands and shouting,
Carrying to populous places the freight of holiday throngs;
I, by waste lands, & stretches of low-skied marsh
To a harbourless wind-bitten shore, where a dull town moulders & shrinks,
And its roofs fall in, & the sluggish feet of the hours
Are printed in grass in its streets; & between the featureless houses
Languid the town-folk glide to stare at the entering train,
The train from which no one descends; till one pale evening of winter,
When it halts on the edge of the town, see, the houses have turned into grave-stones,
The streets are the grassy paths between the low roofs of the dead;
And as the train glides in ghosts stand by the doors of the carriages;
And scarcely the difference is felt–yea, such is the life I return to…”
Thus may another have thought; thus, as I turned may have turned
To the sleeping lips at her side, to drink, as I drank there, oblivion….

About the Poem

Wharton fell in love with Europe and the freedom and intellectual stimulation she found there. While seemingly a conventional Edwardian, often photographed corseted and draped in pearls, furs, and silk, Wharton was quietly rebelling against her family, country, American high society, and empty hours. She read, wrote, travelled adventurously, and collected friends. Eventually, she met a wholly unsuitable man—the elusive, bisexual, and philandering journalist Morton Fullerton. Morton has been described as “Singularly attaching… a dashing well-tailored man with large Victorian moustache and languid eyes, a bright flower in his buttonhole, and the style of a ‘masher’.” (A masher is a fashionable man in the late Victorian era, especially one who makes often unwelcome advances to women.)

After graduating, Morton was intimate with philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist George Santayana and close to American art historian Bernard Berenson. Upon moving to London, he befriended English poet, songwriter, and novelist Charles Hamilton Aidé and became the lover of British sculptor Lord Ronald Gower, who was famously implicated, along with several society figures, in the Cleveland Street Scandal, where a male brothel was raided by police. From 1906 to 1909 Morton famously had an affair with Wharton. They met in the summer of that year after being introduced by mutual friend Henry James. She undoubtedly considered him the love of her life, describing him as her “ideal intellectual partner”. However, they were never ‘officially’ together, as Wharton was already married, and Fullerton’s highly promiscuous personality prevented him from ever committing to a serious relationship.

Morton would surface, and she adored him. Then he would drop out of sight. While quite taken with her, Fullerton had a sordid and rakish, but appealing nature and moved from woman to woman, and apparently from man to man as well.  Months of stolen meetings left Wharton euphoric and yet fearful: the cost of opening herself up could be high, and she worried about the possibility of scandal and blackmail, and, no small issue, what the servants would think. After the affair ended, Wharton, who was fiercely guarded when it came to her private life, requested that Fullerton destroy every letter she had ever sent him to avoid any scandal. The affair itself, although suspected, was not confirmed until the 1980s. Fullerton had ignored Wharton’s request and had kept all her letters, which were eventually published as a book, The Letters of Edith Wharton, in 1988.

During the affair, Wharton sturgged to find a place for the two to meet without prying eyes. Finally, in 1909, Wharton found an unlikely secret place to meet her lover, in the small moments of her life, while in transit, without servants. Their rendezvous was in an unromantic Victorian terminal hotel, which fronted a London railway station with six platforms. The Charing Cross Hotel had been a place to catch or meet a train and break a journey since Victorian times.  In dingy Room 91, something rather extraordinary happened. Forty-five-year-old Wharton became a “sensual heroine” and made passionate love for perhaps the first time. And as she lay in her lover’s arms, she felt profoundly connected to humanity, to travelers who had also loved in just this kind of place. Out of the experience, she wrote the poem “Terminus”:

…And lying there hushed in your arms, as the waves of rapture receded,
And far down the margin of being we heard the low beat of the soul,
I was glad as I thought of those others, the nameless, the many,
Who perhaps thus had lain and loved for an hour on the brink of the world,
Secret and fast in the heart of the whirlwind of travel,…

Fullerton proved faithless and Wharton, a tough-minded realist, broke off the affair. But she gained from the experience and never forgot: “I have drunk the wine of life at last,” she confided in her diary. “I have known the thing best worth knowing, I have been warmed through and through never to grow quite cold again until the end…” She thereafter wrote of love from personal experience and went on to live a brave and spirited life. She divorced, relocated to France permanently, wrote more novels, and created beautiful gardens; she entertained and proved a loyal friend. 

Her experience in Room 91 at the Charing Cross Hotel mirrors those fleeting moments many gay men have had through history, whether it was a hotel where proprietors turned a blind eye, a public restroom, or in the wooded areas of a park. Gay men often found themselves in these brief moments of passion where like Wharton, “something rather extraordinary happened.” Unlike Wharton though, gay men had the possibility of being caught and imprisoned for sodomy. While things have gotten better for most gay men, there are still closeted gay men, and some very out gay men, who still use cruising, or as many do, hook-up apps, as a means of anonymous, and sometimes not so anonymous, moments of ecstasy. While “Terminus” is about Morton and Wharton, it could, with a few changes in gender, be any number of gay male experiences throughout history. 

About Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton’s vocation was confirmed already in childhood, when her most “intense & enduring” pastime was improvising long narratives before she had even learned to read: “This devastating passion grew on me to such an extent that my parents became alarmed.” When in 1902 she showed her first novel, set in eighteenth-century Italy, to Henry James, he expressed admiration for her writing (“exquisitely studied and so brilliant & interesting from a literary point of view”) but strongly encouraged her to turn her attention to her own time and place: “There it is round you. Don’t pass it by—the immediate, the real, the ours, the yours, the novelist’s that it waits for. . . Do New York! The 1st-hand account is precious.” The immediate fruit of this advice was a masterpiece, The House of Mirth, in which Wharton cast a revealing light on the world of privilege in which she grew up, and whose dissection of the hidden social barriers and pressures among the upper classes of turn-of-the-century New York remains unsurpassed. A long series of masterful novels and stories followed, ironic, richly detailed, and capturing both the high comedy and the tragic contradictions of her world.

I personally have always enjoyed the writings of Edith Wharton. I read Ethan Frome in high school and The Age of Innocence in graduate school. Probably my favorite is her short story “Roman Fever,” which begins with the sentence, “From the table at which they had been lunching two American ladies of ripe but well-cared-for middle age moved across the lofty terrace of the Roman restaurant and, leaning on its parapet, looked first at each other, and then down on the outspread glories of the Palatine and the Forum, with the same expression of vague but benevolent approval.” Few authors have ever evoked imagery the way Wharton did. When reading Wharton’s work, I always felt like I was there in the places that she wrote. Not everyone enjoys Wharton’s writing like I do, but as Henry James said, her writing was “exquisitely studied and so brilliant & interesting.”


Taking Your Olympic Measure

Taking Your Olympic Measure
By Alberto Ríos – 1952-

—Poetry was an Olympic event from 1912-1948.

Think of the records you have held:
For one second, you were the world’s youngest person.

It was a long time ago, but still.
At this moment, you are living

In the farthest thousandth-of-a-second in the history of time.
You have beaten yesterday’s record, again.

You were perhaps the only participant,
But in the race to get from your bedroom to the bathroom,

You won.
You win so much, all the time in all things.

Your heart simply beats and beats and beats—
It does not lose, although perhaps one day.

Nevertheless, the lists of firsts for you is endless—
Doing what you have not done before,

Tasting sake and mole, smelling bergamot, hearing
Less well than you used to—

Not all records are for the scrapbook, of course—
Sometimes you are the best at being the worst.

Some records are secret—you know which ones.
Some records you’re not even aware of.

In general, however, at the end of a long day, you are—
Unlikely as it may seem—the record holder of note.

About the Poet 

Born in 1952, Alberto Ríos is the inaugural state poet laureate of Arizona and the author of many poetry collections, including  A Small Story about the Sky (Copper Canyon Press, 2015). In 1981, he received the Walt Whitman Award for his collection Whispering to Fool the Wind (Sheep Meadow Press, 1982). He served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2014 to 2020.