commentary, fun!

swapping thinkers

I was reading this lovely piece written by Claudia Gonson of the Magnetic Fields about the seminal books, authors, performers, and so on who have influenced her throughout her life, and thought – how wonderful would it be to write/swap these with your friends and family and teachers?  To read about the thinkers who helped them think.

And while I haven’t started mine yet, I thought I’d share two poems that have stuck with me, and yet I’ve never shared up here before.  The first is  “Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight” by Galway Kinnell, and the second, “Fern Hill” by Dylan Thomas.  I’d be curious to hear what you think of them.


“Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight”
by Galway Kinnell


You scream, waking from a nightmare.

When I sleepwalk
into your room, and pick you up,
and hold you up in the moonlight, you cling to me
as if clinging could save us. I think
you think
I will never die, I think I exude
to you the permanence of smoke or stars,
even as
my broken arms heal themselves around you.


I have heard you tell
the sun, don’t go down, I have stood by
as you told the flower, don’t grow old,
don’t die. Little Maud,

I would blow the flame out of your silver cup,
I would suck the rot from your fingernail,
I would brush your sprouting hair of the dying light,
I would scrape the rust off your ivory bones,
I would help death escape through the little ribs of your body,
I would alchemize the ashes of your cradle back into wood,
I would let nothing of you go, ever,

until washerwomen
feel the clothes fall asleep in their hands,
and hens scratch their spell across hatchet blades,
and rats walk away from the cultures of the plague,
and iron twists weapons toward the true north,
and grease refuses to slide in the machinery of progress,
and men feel as free on earth as fleas on the bodies of men,
and lovers no longer whisper to the presence beside them in the
dark, O corpse-to-be …

And yet perhaps this is the reason you cry,
this the nightmare you wake screaming from:
being forever
in the pre-trembling of a house that falls.


In a restaurant once, everyone
quietly eating, you clambered up
on my lap: to all
the mouthfuls rising toward
all the mouths, at the top of your voice
you cried
your one word, caca! caca! caca!
and each spoonful
stopped, a moment, in midair, in its withering

you cling because
I, like you, only sooner
than you, will go down
the path of vanished alphabets,
the roadlessness
to the other side of the darkness,

your arms
like the shoes left behind,
like the adjectives in the halting speech
of old men,
which once could call up the lost nouns.


And you yourself,
some impossible Tuesday
in the year Two Thousand and Nine, will walk out
among the black stones
of the field, in the rain,

and the stones saying
over their one word, ci-gît, ci-gît, ci-gît,

and the raindrops
hitting you on the fontanel
over and over, and you standing there
unable to let them in.


If one day it happens
you find yourself with someone you love
in a café at one end
of the Pont Mirabeau, at the zinc bar
where white wine stands in upward opening glasses,

and if you commit then, as we did, the error
of thinking,
one day all this will only be memory,

as you stand
at this end of the bridge which arcs,
from love, you think, into enduring love,
learn to reach deeper
into the sorrows
to come – to touch
the almost imaginary bones
under the face, to hear under the laughter
the wind crying across the black stones. Kiss
the mouth
which tells you, here,
here is the world
. This mouth. This laughter. These temple bones.

The still undanced cadence of vanishing.


In the light the moon
sends back, I can see in your eyes

the hand that waved once
in my father’s eyes, a tiny kite
wobbling far up in the twilight of his last look:

and the angel
of all mortal things lets go the string.


Back you go, into your crib.

The last blackbird lights up his gold wings: farewell.
Your eyes close inside your head,
in sleep. Already
in your dreams the hours begin to sing.

Little sleep’s-head sprouting hair in the moonlight,
when I come back
we will go out together,
we will walk out together among
the ten thousand things,
each scratched too late with such knowledge, the wages
of dying is love

from The Book of Nightmares by Galway Kinnell


“Fern Hill”
by Dylan Thomas

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.


One thought on “swapping thinkers

  1. becca says:

    ooh love these. love your blog & love you! i think this is a great idea. here are my two favorite poems of the last month or so — they’re defining this part of my life for me!

    Scheherazade by Richard Siken

    Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake
    and dress them in warm clothes again.
    How it was late, and no one could sleep, the horses running
    until they forget that they are horses.
    It’s not like a tree where the roots have to end somewhere,
    it’s more like a song on a policeman’s radio,
    how we rolled up the carpet so we could dance, and the days
    were bright red, and every time we kissed there was another apple
    to slice into pieces.
    Look at the light through the windowpane. That means it’s noon, that means
    we’re inconsolable.
    Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.
    These, our bodies, possessed by light.
    Tell me we’ll never get used to it.

    (And this one — oh god I read it daily these days!)

    Meditations in an Emergency by Frank O’Hara

    Am I to become profligate as if I were a blonde? Or religious
    as if I were French?

    Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous
    (and how the same names keep recurring on that interminable
    list!), but one of these days there’ll be nothing left with
    which to venture forth.

    Why should I share you? Why don’t you get rid of someone else
    for a change?

    I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love.

    Even trees understand me! Good heavens, I lie under them, too,
    don’t I? I’m just like a pile of leaves.

    However, I have never clogged myself with the praises of
    pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of
    perverted acts in pastures. No. One need never leave the
    confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes–I can’t
    even enjoy a blade of grass unless i know there’s a subway
    handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not
    totally _regret_ life. It is more important to affirm the
    least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is and
    even they continue to pass. Do they know what they’re missing?
    Uh huh.

    My eyes are vague blue, like the sky, and change all the time;
    they are indiscriminate but fleeting, entirely specific and
    disloyal, so that no one trusts me. I am always looking away.
    Or again at something after it has given me up. It makes me
    restless and that makes me unhappy, but I cannot keep them
    still. If only i had grey, green, black, brown, yellow eyes; I
    would stay at home and do something. It’s not that I’m
    curious. On the contrary, I am bored but it’s my duty to be
    attentive, I am needed by things as the sky must be above the
    earth. And lately, so great has _their_ anxiety become, I can
    spare myself little sleep.

    Now there is only one man I like to kiss when he is unshaven.
    Heterosexuality! you are inexorably approaching. (How best
    discourage her?)

    St. Serapion, I wrap myself in the robes of your whiteness
    which is like midnight in Dostoevsky. How I am to become a
    legend, my dear? I’ve tried love, but that holds you in the
    bosom of another and I’m always springing forth from it like
    the lotus–the ecstasy of always bursting forth! (but one must
    not be distracted by it!) or like a hyacinth, “to keep the
    filth of life away,” yes, even in the heart, where the filth is
    pumped in and slanders and pollutes and determines. I will my
    will, though I may become famous for a mysterious vacancy in
    that department, that greenhouse.

    Destroy yourself, if you don’t know!

    It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so. I
    admire you, beloved, for the trap you’ve set. It’s like a
    final chapter no one reads because the plot is over.

    “Fanny Brown is run away–scampered off with a Cornet of Horse;
    I do love that little Minx, & hope She may be happy, tho’ She
    has vexed me by this exploit a little too.–Poor silly
    Cecchina! or F:B: as we used to call her.–I wish She had a
    good Whipping and 10,000 pounds.”–Mrs. Thrale

    I’ve got to get out of here. I choose a piece of shawl and my
    dirtiest suntans. I’ll be back, I’ll re-emerge, defeated, from
    the valley; you don’t want me to go where you go, so I go where
    you don’t want me to. It’s only afternoon, there’s a lot
    ahead. There won’t be any mail downstairs. Turning, I spit in
    the lock and the knob turns.

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