TCS: Reading Poetry at Night in a Plague Year

. Good Morning!



Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.


It’s that time of night, lying in bed,
thinking what you really think,
making the private world public,
that’s what the poet does.

– Allen Ginsberg


At first, my neighborhood became unnaturally quiet. No early morning cars taking workers to work or children to school, no airplanes leaving or heading for the airport, no lawns being mowed, nobody’s cell phone chatter heard as they passed by, or children riding skate boards on the sidewalk, no ice cream truck with its circling tinkling tune, no cars bringing people home from work or after school . . .

Then, just before Memorial Day, the fireworks starting going off in the evenings, somewhere on the streets to the south of us. Then they started lasting after midnight. And they’ve kept going after Memorial Day, night after night, louder and longer, dogs howling, but there are pauses that make you think it’s over for the night, but it isn’t, because just as you are dropping off to sleep, the bombardment starts up again . . .

I am an insomniac anyway, but this makes it worse, much worse.  So I read deep into the night until it finally stops and exhaustion takes over. By day, I’m now a serial yawner, my jaws clacking and popping as they struggle to open even wider.

Reading poetry has become my replacement for REM sleep.    


Firework Night

by Enid Blyton

What’s that?
Bang-Bang! Oh, Hark,
The guns are shooting in the dark!
Little guns and big ones too,
What shall I do?
Mistress, Master, hear me yelp,
I’m out-of-doors, I want your help.
Let me in-oh, LET ME IN
Before those fireworks begin
To shoot again-I can’t bear that;
My tail is down, my ears are flat,
I’m trembling here outside the door,
Oh, don’t you love me anymore?
I think I’ll die with fright
Unless you let me in to-night.
(Shall we let him in, children?)
Ah, now the door is opened wide,
I’m rushing through, I’m safe inside,
The lights are on, it’s warm and grand-
Mistress, let me lick your hand
Before I slip behind the couch.
There I’ll hide myself and crouch
In safety till the BANGS are done-
Then to my kennel I will run
And guard you safely all the night
Because you understood my fright.

“Firework Night” from The Enid Blyton Poetry Book, © 1957 by Enid Blyton – Metheun and Company

Enid Blyton (1897-1968), prolific English children’s author whose books have been among the world’s best-sellers. Since the 1930s, over 600 million copies of her books have been sold. Known for Adventures of the Wishing-Chair; The Enchanted Wood; and her many series, including the Secret Seven; the Noddy books, and the Famous Five. Her popularity has waned since her death, as accusations of racism, a blinkered world view, and blighting children’s vocabularies have risen. Racism is the most damning, stemming from The Little Black Doll, a doll named Sambo who wants to be washed all pink in the rain, and The Three Golliwogs, named Gollie, Woggie and Nigger. Many of her books were removed from library shelves. After the 1970s, new, revised editions of some of her books were reintroduced. The golliwogs are now named Wiggie, Waggie and Wollie.


Good Bones

by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

“Good Bones” from Good Bones © 2017 by Maggie Smith – Tupelo Press


by Maggie Smith

You want a door you can be
            on both sides of at once.

                       You want to be
           on both sides of here

and there, now and then,
            together and—(what

                       did we call the life
            we would wish back?

The old life? The before?)
            alone. But any open

                       space may be
            a threshold, an arch

of entering and leaving.
            Crossing a field, wading

                       through nothing
            but timothy grass,

imagine yourself passing from
            and into. Passing through

                       doorway after
            doorway after doorway.

“Threshold” was originally published in Poetry magazine, February 2020 issue, © 2000 by Maggie Smith

Maggie Smith (1977 – ), the one who is not a famous British actress, is an American poet, freelance writer, and editor who lives with her husband and two children in Bexley, Ohio. Her poetry collections include Lamp of the Body; Good Bones; The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, winner of the 2012 Dorset Prize; and Disasterology.



by Jessie Redmon Fauset

“I can remember when I was a little, young girl,
how my old mammy would sit out of doors in the
evenings and look up at the stars and groan, and
I would say, ‘Mammy, what makes you groan so?’
And she would say, ‘I am groaning to think of my
poor children; they do not know where I be and
I don’t know where they be. I look up at the stars
and they look up at the stars!’”
            —Sojourner Truth

 I think I see her sitting bowed and black,
  Stricken and seared with slavery’s mortal scars,
Reft of her children, lonely, anguished, yet
  Still looking at the stars.

Symbolic mother, we thy myriad sons,
  Pounding our stubborn hearts on Freedom’s bars,
Clutching our birthright, fight with faces set,
  Still visioning the stars!

“Oriflamme” is in the public domain

Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1961) was born in Snow Hill, New Jersey; African American author, poet, and influential literary editor (1918-1926) for the NAACP magazine The Crisis, where she worked closely with many of the most important black writers of the 1920s. She has been called the “midwife of the literary Harlem Renaissance.”


A Plagued Journey

by Maya Angelou

There is no warning rattle at the door
nor heavy feet to stomp the foyer boards.   
Safe in the dark prison, I know that   
light slides over
the fingered work of a toothless   
woman in Pakistan.
Happy prints of
an invisible time are illumined. 
My mouth agape
rejects the solid air and
lungs hold. The invader takes   
direction and
seeps through the plaster walls.   
It is at my chamber, entering   
the keyhole, pushing
through the padding of the door.   
I cannot scream. A bone
of fear clogs my throat.
It is upon me. It is
sunrise, with Hope
its arrogant rider.
My mind, formerly quiescent
in its snug encasement, is strained
to look upon their rapturous visages,   
to let them enter even into me.   
I am forced
outside myself to
mount the light and ride joined with Hope.

Through all the bright hours
I cling to expectation, until
darkness comes to reclaim me
as its own. Hope fades, day is gone
into its irredeemable place
and I am thrown back into the familiar   
bonds of disconsolation.
Gloom crawls around
lapping lasciviously
between my toes, at my ankles,
and it sucks the strands of my 
hair. It forgives my heady
fling with Hope. I am
joined again into its
greedy arms.

“A Plagued Journey” from Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? – © 1983 by Maya Angelou – Random House 

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis Missouri. She was an American poet, memoirist and civil rights activist.  She published three books of essays, several books of poetry, and also wrote plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. Her best-known work remains the first of her seven memoirs, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She is also noted for “On the Pulse of Morning,” the poem she recited at the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama. Angelou was honored in 2011 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


Drinking Alone in the Moonlight

by Li Po

Amongst the flowers I
am alone with my pot of wine
drinking by myself; then lifting
my cup I asked the moon
to drink with me, its reflection
and mine in the wine cup, just
the three of us; then I sigh
for the moon cannot drink,
and my shadow goes emptily along
with me never saying a word;
with no other friends here, I can
but use these two for company;

in the time of happiness, I
too must be happy with all
around me; I sit and sing
and it is as if the moon
accompanies me; then if I
dance, it is my shadow that
dances along with me; while
still not drunk, I am glad
to make the moon and my shadow
into friends, but then when
I have drunk too much, we
all part; yet these are
friends I can always count on
these who have no emotion
whatsoever; I hope that one day
we three will meet again,
deep in the Milky Way.

Drinking Alone in the Moonlight is in the public domain

Li Po (701-762) was born in what is now Suyab, Kyrgyzstan. He was one of the most acclaimed poets of his time, and still renowned as one of China’s greatest poets. A thousand of his elegant poems have survived the centuries in various archives. He and his friend Du Fu (712-770) brought traditional poetic forms to new heights during the Golden Age of Chinese poetry in the mid-Tang dynasty.



(I lived in the first century of world wars)

by Muriel Rukeyser

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

“Poem” from The Speed of Darkness, © 1968 by Muriel Rukeyser – Vintage Books

Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980), American poet, social justice and feminist activist; best known for her poems with feminist, social justice and Judaic themes. In 1968, she signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. She died at age 66, in February, 1980, from a stroke.


Peace Walk

by William E. Stafford

We wondered what our walk should mean,
taking that un-march quietly;
the sun stared at our signs— “Thou shalt not kill.”

Men by a tavern said, “Those foreigners . . .”
to a woman with a fur, who turned away—
like an elevator going down, their look at us.

Along a curb, their signs lined across,
a picket line stopped and stared
the whole width of the street, at ours: “Unfair.”

Above our heads the sound truck blared—
by the park, under the autumn trees—
it said that love could fill the atmosphere:

Occur, slow the other fallout, unseen,
on islands everywhere—fallout, falling
unheard. We held our poster up to shade our eyes.

At the end we just walked away;
no one was there to tell us where to leave the signs.

 “Peace Walk” from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems, © 1994 by William Stafford – Graywolf Press 

William Stafford (1914 – 1993) was a prolific poet who was born in Kansas, and wrote many poems about the Midwest and Western America; during WWII, he was a conscientious objector. His book Traveling Through the Dark won the 1970 National Book Award for Poetry, and he won the Robert Frost Medal in 1993.


A New National Anthem

by Ada Limón

The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always, there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps,
the truth is, every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we blindly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung
by even the ageless woods, the short-grass plains,
the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left
unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,
that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,
that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving
into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit
in an endless cave, the song that says my bones
are your bones, and your bones are my bones,
and isn’t that enough?

Ada Limón, “A New National Anthem” from The Carrying, © 2018 by Ada Limón – Milkweed Editions

Ada Limón (1976 – ) is the author of Lucky Wreck (2006); This Big Fake World: A Story in Verse (2006); Sharks in the Rivers (2010); and Bright Dead Things (2015), which was a finalist for the National Book Award. The Carrying (2018) won the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. She splits her time between Lexington, Kentucky, and her home town, Sonoma, California.

The Second Coming 

 by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

“The Second Coming” from The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats – Scribner Revised Edition 1996

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), is admired as one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century. He is a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival (also ironically called the Celtic Twilight), and a co-founder of the Irish National Theatre Society and the Abbey Theatre with Lady Augusta Gregory.


About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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