52 Poems: Weeks 40, 41, and 42 Dorothy Parker, Neil Gaiman, and Edgar Allan Poe

Death in all its humor, beauty, and haunting stillness...
artist: Judy Mackey

by Dorothy Parker

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

by Neil Gaiman

Jupiter and Venus hung like grapes in the evening sky,

frozen and untwinkling,
You could have reached and up and picked them.

And the trout swam.

Snow muffled the world, silenced the dog,
silenced the wind...

The man said, I can show you the trout. He was
glad of the company.
He reached into their tiny pool, rescued a dozen, one by one,
sorting and choosing,
dividing the sheep from the goats of them.

And this was the miracle of the fishes,
that they were beautiful. Even when clubbed and gutted,
insides glittering like jewels. See this? he said, the trout heart
pulsed like a ruby in his hand. The kids love this.
He put it down, and it kept beating.
The kids, they go wild for it.

He said, we feed the guts to the pigs. They're pets now,
They won't be killed. See? We saw,
huge as horses they loomed on the side of the hill.

And we walk through the world trailing trout hearts like dreams,
wondering if they imagine rivers, quiet summer days,
fat foolish flies that hover or sit for a moment too long.
We should set them free, our trout and our metaphors:

You don't have to hit me over the head with it.
This is where you get to spill your guts.
You killed in there, tonight.
He pulled her heart out. Look, you can see it there, still beating. He said,
See this? This is the bit the kids like best. This is what they come to see.

Just her heart, pulsing, on and on. It was so cold that night,
and the stars were all alone.
Just them and the moon in a luminous bruise of sky.

And this was the miracle of the fishes.

Spirits of the Dead

By Edgar Allan Poe


Thy soul shall find itself alone
’Mid dark thoughts of the gray tombstone—
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.


Be silent in that solitude,

   Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead who stood
   In life before thee are again
In death around thee—and their will
Shall overshadow thee: be still. 


The night, tho’ clear, shall frown—
And the stars shall look not down
From their high thrones in the heaven,
With light like Hope to mortals given—
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever. 


Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne’er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more—like dew-drop from the grass. 


The breeze—the breath of God—is still—
And the mist upon the hill,
Shadowy—shadowy—yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token—
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!


52 Poems: Week 39 Naomi Shihab Nye

Today, I taught about genocide, mass suicide, and the devastation of indigenous peoples. Students asked why they were taught lies and yearn to spread the truth. After a long day and night, and after reading poetry for about an hour, I needed "Kindness."

By Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Walking to School

This past Wednesday was Walk to School Day. I helped a pass out stickers and fruit roll-ups to Emerson students walking to school. The small town where I grew up is far from urban Los Angeles, but as kids passed by with their friends, I doubt their walks are all that different than the ones Robin, Bianca, and I took most days to school. Those walks were a block of time without adult supervision so we walked slowly toward Pilot Butte or away from its shadow discussing our day, our plans, our fears and dreams. On those walks my friends and I grew closer, or we tested the limits of our bonds and I imagine the same thing happens with my students as they make their way to and from school each day. Here’s an excerpt from Overdue Apologies: a Middle School Memoir, about those long-ago walks.


Every morning in the house on Jones Road we execute a carefully choreographed dance. Dad starts a fire in the woodstove, and Mom turns on the heater to take the chill off the rooms upstairs. Dad showers and leaves for work before the rest of us race through the shower. Mom makes breakfast and packs lunches. We scarf down pancakes, waffles, or cold cereal. Chet and Laura eat first, and then Mitch and me. We move near one another, through the kitchen, and around the breakfast table. It's a silent dance except for Morning Edition playing on the radio. We brush teeth, and then Chet and Laura rush out to the old Datsun 210 and drive to Mountain View. Mitch and I walk up to Pilot Butte, but not together.
Mornings in Bend are always cold. Even when the sky is clear, the sun's rays can't penetrate the cold of the high desert. In fall, yellow, brown, and red leaves litter the ground and the first snow paints the Cascades a gleaming white. Soon ice will form a slick crust along the roads. Every morning, I leave the quiet chaos of home and wait along the side of Jones Road to walk to school with Robin Crank.
Robin lives across the street with her new-age-mom, step-dad, and two sisters. Her mom buys organic chips and natural sodas. A couple summers ago Robin and I played makeovers with her Fresh 'N Fancy makeup kit, and when I came home wearing pink blush and blue eye shadow Laura said I looked like a clown. Robin has a tetherball pole in her backyard and an indoor pool where we play Marco Polo and Sharks and Minnows. Robin's older sister, Heather, is nothing like Laura. Heather wears thick black eyeliner and lipstick. She's into music and film. Laura never wears make-up, and she's into sports. Robin and I have way more in common than our older sisters, but since we went to different elementary schools we've never become close.
Once I start Pilot Butte though, I see another side of Robin. At school she is popular. She's tall and has an asymmetrical haircut streaked from the summer sun. She wears braces and so many cool clothes that she can go three or four weeks without repeating an outfit. Her best friend is Bianca Weston. Bianca and Robin went to Juniper Elementary together. Bianca is skinny with straight light brown hair. She lives in a huge house on Revere. Bianca has great clothes too and she doesn't repeat outfits forever. Kim Mitchell is their other friend. She went to Buckingham, and she's tiny (even shorter than me). She has shoulder length, wavy blonde hair, and she's a spaz.
I don't know how everyone knows in the first week of school, but already Robin, Bianca, and Kim are popular. Maybe it's the clothes and jewelry that only kids with money can afford, or where their dads work, or the size of their houses. I don't know exactly what it is, but the differences between the popular girls and the rest of us are clear.
Popular girls have Polo shirts, Guess jeans, Swatch watches, Trapper Keepers, rubber jelly bracelets, and Lip Smackers. Popular girls have a different attitude. They smile and laugh as they walk through the sixth grade hall. At lunch, they sit with the cool boys and ignore the rest of us. They are in the best class with teachers who are young and cool.
Not-so-popular girls have Levis, hand-me down t-shirts, bare arms, plain blue three ring binders, and chapped lips. We walk nervously through the halls to our lockers. We grab brown bag lunches and sit with girls from lame teachers' classes.
Still, Robin waits for me every morning for the walk to school. Even though my family isn't rich, even though I don't wear exactly the right things or carry the right supplies, I think maybe, just maybe, I could be popular too.

As Robin and I walk down Jones Road, we leave behind the girls we are with our families and head toward the girls we are on our own. Clouds of breath appear and disappear before us as we talk about school, teachers, and mutual friends. Half way down the hill on Revere we stop at the two-story house with a circular driveway and a broad front porch.
Bianca's mom answers the door in her bathrobe. "Morning girls," she says sleepily as she lets us into the warm entry hall. The Weston's house always looks and smells clean. "Bink! Your friends are here," Mrs. Weston yells up the stairway. "Hurry up!" Then Mrs. Weston turns to us.
"Cute sweater, Robin."
Robin and I look around the entry hall and wait.
"Sorry, guys," Bianca yells. "I'm almost ready."
"Your nails look nice," Mrs. Weston says holding my cold palm in her warm hand. She studies my fingers and the pale pink polish. "Where did you get them done?"
I've never had a manicure. "I did them myself," I say quietly, worried that doing your own nails isn't very cool.
"I wish I had the patience to do mine," Mrs. Weston says examining her French manicure and the red polish on her toes.
My mom files but never paints her nails.
Bianca rushes down the stairs, a messenger bag flung over her navy pea coat. Mrs. Weston looks her daughter up and down. "Your shoes don't match, Bink."
"Mom, they're fine. We're going to be late."  
Sometimes Bianca makes it out the door, sometimes she sprints back upstairs to change. I walk with Robin and Bianca, the two most popular girls, up the path by the irrigation ditch toward school. We take our time, walk slowly, and I start to understand: If I want to be popular I have to be patient. It's totally not cool to want to be cool. I have to watch for a pattern and figure out what it takes to be popular.