What Work Is

My friend Melissa Meyer asked me to share this poem by Philip Levine.

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is–if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.

–Philip Levine

From Gwen Lowenheim

Gwen Lowenheim asked me to post this excerpt of a poem by Wallace Stevens that she read in a paper by Stephen Nachmanovitch. There’s some wisdom here.

On the Road Home

by Wallace Stevens

It was when I said,

“There is no such thing as the truth,”

That the grapes seemed fatter.

The fox ran out of his hole…

It was at that time, that the silence was largest

And longest, the night was roundest,

The fragrance of the autumn warmest,

Closest and strongest.


A Tamped Down Life

Here’s a poem by my friend Caroline Donnola:

I don’t want to live a tamped down life

Suffocating inside the lines

Breathing only from time to time

A coming together of must and should.


A formal, deadly,


Mixture of numbness

And reserve

Where emotions are pre-ordained

In priestly strands

That sit upright, and sometimes walk

But cannot stand.


How to break free

I do not know

But we can still mark time

If we improvise the notes

If we jam, not knowing the score.

There is jazz to be gained

There is painting to be waged

There is color

Glorious color

To be drunk

And new kinds of feelings to be played.



I know most people call you Vincent.

May I call you Edna?


Please don’t think me rude, a prude,


You assert – in beautiful verse —

Iambic and rhyming —

That those who have left

Cannot take away the love you had with them.

We cannot live any other way.


You burn the candle at both ends

And fight to keep the flame alive.


Much has happened since you wrote.

If we’re not wiser, we are, perhaps, more modest.



Does a comet go down in flames

Or does it continue in the cycle of life and death

For all time?

There is grace in living and dying.

In loving, giving

And letting go.


August 2017

(On reading the great American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay)


Long Afternoons

by Adam Zagajewski

Those were the long afternoons when poetry left me.
The river flowed patiently, nudging lazy boats to sea
Long afternoons, the coast of ivory
Shadows lounged in the streets, haughty manikins in shopfronts
stared at me with bold and hostile eyes.

Professors left their school with vacant faces
as if the Illiad had finally done them in.
Evening papers brought disturbing news,
but nothing happened, no one hurried.
There was no one in the windows, you weren’t there;
even nuns seemed ashamed of their lives.

Those were the long afternoons when poetry vanished
and I was left with the city’s opaque demon,
like a poor traveler stranded outside the Gare du Nord
with his bulging suitcase wrapped in twine
and September’s black rain falling.

Oh, tell me how to cure myself of irony, the gaze
that sees but doesn’t penetrate; tell me how to cure myself
of silence.

Known & Alone

People like my poems because they are so open.

At least that’s what they say.

I gladly give that

And welcome the embrace.


In a world where touching isn’t easy,

Where distance is the norm,

Can words caress?


August 2017