Tag Archives: Friday
Grim Town in a Steep Valley
This valley: as if a huge, dull, primordial axe
once slammed into the earth
and then withdrew—X millennia ago.
A few flat acres
ribbon either side of the river sliding sluggishly
past the clocktower, the convenience store.
If a river could look over its shoulder,
glad to be going, this one would.
In town center: a factory of clangor and stink,
of grinding and oil,
hard howls from drill bits
biting sheets of steel. All my brothers
live here, every cousin, many dozens
of sisters, my worn aunts
and numb uncles, the many many of me,
a hundred sad wives,
all of us countrymen and women
born next to each other behind the plow
in this valley, each of us
pressing to our chests a loaf of bread
and a jug of milk. . . . The river is low
this time of year and the bedstones’ blackness
marks its lack
of depth. A shopping cart
lies on its side in center stream
gathering branches, detritus, silt,
forcing the already weak current to part for it,
dividing it, but even so diminished
it’s glad to be going,
glad to be gone.
Richard Brautigan (1950)
A piece of green pepper
off the wooden salad bowl:
This is just to say
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
– William Carlos Williams
Mark but this flea, and mark in this
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou knowest that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pampered, swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more than we would do.
O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed and marriage temple is;
Though parents grudge, and you, we’re met
And cloistered in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that, self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.
Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?
Yet thou triumphest, and sayest that thou
Findest not thyself nor me the weaker now.
æTis true. Then learn how false fears be:
Just so much honor, when thou yieldest to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.
I found it and I named it, being versed
in taxonomic Latin; thus became
godfather to an insect and its first
describer – and I want no other fame.
Wide open on its pin (though fast asleep),
and safe from creeping relatives and rust,
in the secluded stronghold where we keep
type specimens it will transcend its dust.
Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrims kiss,
poems that take a thousand years to die
but ape the immortality of this
red label on a little butterfly.
– Vladimir Nabokov
“A Discovery” (December 1941); published as “On Discovering a Butterfly” in The New Yorker (15 May 1943)