Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Handful of Birthday Poems

from On Turning Ten

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
. . .

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.

—Billy Collins



More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs—all this resinous, unretractable earth.

—Jane Hirshfield


Poem in October

  It was my thirtieth year to heaven     
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood        
  And the mussel pooled and the heron                
        Priested shore           
   The morning beckon     
With water praying and call of seagull and rook     
And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall           
   Myself to set foot                
      That second        
In the still sleeping town and set forth.       
  My birthday began with the water-     
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name        
  Above the farms and the white horses                 
      And I rose            
    In a rainy autumn     
And walked abroad in shower of all my days     
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road            
    Over the border                
      And the gates        
Of the town closed as the town awoke.     
  A springful of larks in a rolling    
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling        
  Blackbirds and the sun of October                
     On the hill's shoulder,     
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly     
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened            
   To the rain wringing                
      Wind blow cold        
In the wood faraway under me.  
  Pale rain over the dwindling harbour     
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail        
  With its horns through mist and the castle                
        Brown as owls             
     But all the gardens     
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales     
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
     There could I marvel                
        My birthday        
  Away but the weather turned around.     
  It turned away from the blithe country     
And down the other air and the blue altered sky        
  Streamed again a wonder of summer                
        With apples             
     Pears and red currants     
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's     
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother             
     Through the parables                
        Of sunlight        
  And the legends of the green chapels    
  And the twice told fields of infancy     
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.        
  These were the woods the river and the sea                
        Where a boy             
     In the listening     
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy     
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.            
     And the mystery                
        Sang alive        
  Still in the water and singing birds.    
  And there could I marvel my birthday     
Away but the weather turned around. And the true        
  Joy of the long dead child sang burning                
        In the sun.             
     It was my thirtieth        
  Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon        
  Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.             
     O may my heart's truth                
        Still be sung        
  On this high hill in a year's turning.

—Dylan Thomas

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Ribbons

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