TCS: Poems – What to Eat If No Dreams Arrive

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.

“For it is my confirmed bias that the poets
remain the most ‘stunned by existence,’
the most determined to redeem the world in words. . .” 

– C.D. Wright


Eight poets this morning, one born in the 19th century but who lived well into the 20th century, and the rest born in the 20th. All have ties to America. Some are humorists, some politically or socially active, and some philosophical or mystical. A poetical potpourri if you will.


The Purple Cow

by Gelett Burgess

I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one!

The Goops

by Gelett Burgess

The meanest trick I ever knew
Was one I know you never do.
I saw a Goop once try to do it,
And there was nothing funny to it.
He pulled a chair from under me
As I was sitting down; but he
Was sent to bed, and rightly, too.
It was a horrid thing to do!

“The Purple Cow” and “The Goops” from The Burgess Nonsense Book, by Gelett Burgess – facsimile of the 1901 edition – reissued by RareBooksClub in 2012

January 30, 1866Gelett Burgess born, American artist, art critic, author, poet and humorist; editor of The Lark humor magazine (1895-1897); noted for his poem “The Purple Cow.” He later wrote a second poem declaring that he was sorry that he had written The Purple Cow.  He was a major figure in San Francisco’s literary resurgence at the turn of the 19th Century, but Gelett Burgess was born in 1866 in Boston. Burgess initially went to Boston’s MIT for his education and graduated from there in 1887. Fed up with the rather conservative nature of the Massachusetts elite, he yearned for a more eclectic existence and headed for San Francisco in 1891 where he initially worked putting his artistic skills to good use as a draftsman. Shortly after that he found himself employed by Berkley University though the job did not last long when he was suspected of being involved in the vandalism of a water fountain and asked to resign. After founding The Lark, which attracted contributors like Carolyn Wells and Maynard Dixon, he went on to write The Goops series, books of humorous poems to teach children good manners. Burgess died at age 85 in 1951 in Carmel, CA.z


A Candlelion Poem

 – for Michael (McClure)

by Richard Brautigan

Turn a candle inside out
and you have the smallest portion of a lion
standing there at the edge of the shadows.

Your Catfish Friend

by Richard Brautigan

If I were to live my life
in catfish forms
in scaffolds of skin and whiskers
at the bottom of a pond
and you were to come by
one evening
when the moon was shining
down into my dark home
and stand there at the edge
of my affection
and think, “It’s beautiful
here by this pond.  I wish
somebody loved me,”
I’d love you and be your catfish
friend and drive such lonely
thoughts from your mind
and suddenly you would be
at peace,
and ask yourself, “I wonder
if there are any catfish
in this pond?  It seems like
a perfect place for them.”

“A Candlelion Poem” and “Your Catfish Friend” from The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, © 1989 by Richard Brautigan, Houghton Mifflin

January 30, 1935Richard Brautigan born in Tacoma, Washngton, American novelist, short story writer, and poet; best known for Trout Fishing in America. His first published book was a poetry collection, The Return of the Rivers, in 1957. His first novel was A Confederate General from Big Sur (1964), followed by Trout Fishing in America in 1967.  Other works include The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western, Dreaming of Babylon: A Private Eye Novel 1942, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, and An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey, which was published posthumously in a French translation in.1994. Revenge of the Lawn is his best-known short story collection. After years of struggling with alcoholism and depression, in 1984, Richard Brautigan, age 49, was living alone in Bolinas, California, in an old house he bought with his earnings years earlier. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head sometime around the middle of September, but his body was not found until several weeks later. He once wrote, “We all have a place in history. Mine is clouds.”


Advice to a Young Prophet

by Thomas Merton

Keep away, son, these lakes are salt. These flowers
Eat insects. Here private lunatics
Yell and skip in a very dry country.

Or where some haywire monument
Some badfaced daddy of fear
Commands an unintelligent rite.

To dance on the unlucky mountain,
To dance they go, and shake the sin
Out of their feet and hands,

Frenzied until the sudden night
Falls very quiet, and magic sin
Creeps, secret, back again.

Badlands echo with omens of ruin:
Seven are very satisfied, regaining possession:
(Bring a little mescaline, you’ll get along!)

There’s something in your bones,
There’s someone dirty in your critical skin,
There’s a tradition in your cruel misdirected finger
Which you must obey, and scribble in the hot sand:

“Let everybody come and attend
Where lights and airs are fixed
To teach and entertain. O watch the sandy people
Hopping in the naked bull’s-eye,

Shake the wildness out of their limbs,
Try to make peace like John in skins
Elijah in the timid air
or Anthony in tombs:

Pluck the imaginary trigger, brothers.
Shoot the devil: he’ll be back again!”

America needs these fatal friends
Of God and country, to grovel in mystical ashes,
Pretty big prophets whose words don’t burn,
Fighting the strenuous imago all day long.

Only these lunatics, (O happy chance)
Only these are sent. Only this anaemic thunder
Grumbles on the salt flats, in rainless night:

O go home, brother, go home!
The devil’s back again,
And magic Hell is swallowing flies.


for Baroness G. de Hueck

 by Thomas Merton

Across the cages of the keyless aviaries,
The lines and wires, the gallows of the broken kites,
Crucify, against the fearful light,
The ragged dresses of the little children.
Soon, in the sterile jungles of the waterpipes and ladders,
The bleeding sun, a bird of prey, will terrify the poor,
These will forget the unbelievable moon.

But in the cells of whiter buildings,
Where the glass dawn is brighter than the knives of surgeons,
Paler than alcohol or ether, shinier than money,
The white men’s wives, like Pilate’s,
Cry in the peril of their frozen dreams:

“Daylight has driven iron spikes,
Into the flesh of Jesus’ hands and feet:
Four flowers of blood have nailed Him to the walls of Harlem.”

Along the white halls of the clinics and the hospitals
Pilate evaporates with a cry:
They have cut down two hundred Judases,
Hanged by the neck in the opera houses and the museum.

Across the cages of the keyless aviaries,
The lines and wires, the gallows of the broken kites,
Crucify, against the fearful light,
The ragged dresses of the little children.

 “Advice to a Young Prophet” and “Aubade-Harlem” from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton,. © 1977  by The Trustees of the Merton Legacy Trust – New Directions Publishing

January 31, 1915Thomas Merton born in France to expat artists – an American mother and a New Zealand father. He was a notable 20th century American Roman Catholic poet, monk, and a prolific writer on spiritual and social themes. The family moved to the U.S. during WWI, where his mother died of stomach cancer in 1921, when Merton was six years old. He alternating living with his father and his grandparents before he was settled with his father, in France in 1926, and then in England in 1928.  After a year at the University of Cambridge, he earned B.A. (1938) and M.A. (1939) degrees at Columbia University, New York City. He converted to Catholicism during his time at Columbia and began exploring the idea of entering religious life. After teaching English at Columbia (1938-1939) and at St. Bonaventure University (1939-1941). He entered the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, and was ordained as a priest in 1949. Merton’s first published works were collections of poems—Thirty Poems (1944), A Man in the Divided Sea (1946), and Figures for an Apocalypse (1948). With the publication of the autobiographical Seven Storey Mountain (1948), he gained an international reputation. In the 1960s, he wrote social criticism in response to the movements for civil rights, nonviolence and pacifism, and against the nuclear arms race. He also studied Eastern philosophy, mysticism, and Buddhism. On a trip to Asia in 1968, he met several times with the Dalai Lama, but then was fatally electrocuted by a faulty wire at an international monastic convention in Thailand. He was 53 years old.


Levitating at Last

by Janice Silverman Rebibo

Sometimes I think about swallowing swords and instead
decide to become a fire eater. This morning’s Herald
has a picture of the lady from Methuen who spied
Jesus on the bottom of her iron. My photo with
flaming mouth belongs beside hers with the flat of her iron
facing the camera, only to me it looks more like the
Mona Lisa. It’s all a question of cultural orientation
they say. Once my boss in Israel gave us ironing boards
for Passover. Although I knew I’d had an iron when I moved
to that country years before, God only know where it went.

Sparrows or Starlings (A Love Poem)

by Janice Silverman Rebibo

House invaders, they will take you over,
inhabit your spaces like a lover in your pores
even the day after the doormen whistled him down
a taxi to the nearby airport. No huge public embrace
before you watched the taxi head for the corner
and you headed for the crosswalk, for the station
right across the street. Charles Street. He had
nuzzled you on the sidewalk and was nervous
that the cabs were not responding to the
whistles, mechanical and strictly human lips
and fingers. And he is in your fingers now, and
hands, while you watch, chin in hand, the sparrows
or starlings through the window to the right of your cherry table
as they flit from the rain soaked wall down to the emerald grass.

“Levitating at Last” and “Sparrows or Starlings” from My Beautiful Ballooning Heart, © 2013 by Janice Rebibo – Coolidge Corner Publishing

January 31, 1950Janice Silverman Rebibo born in the U.S., Israeli poet, short story writer and translator who began writing in Hebrew while studying the language in college, and later immigrated to Israel.



by Langston Hughes

The days of bondage—
And remembering—
Do not stand still.
Go to the highest hill
And look down upon the town
Where you are yet a slave.
Look down upon any town in Carolina
Or any town in Maine, for that matter,
Or Africa, your homeland—
And you will see what I mean for you to see—
The white hand:
The thieving hand.
The white face:
The lying face.
The white power:
The unscrupulous power
That makes of you
The hungry wretched thing you are today.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

by Langston Hughes

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

“Remember” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes – Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage

February 1, 1902Langston Hughes was born on the 37th anniversary of the day Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Hughes became an American poet, novelist, short story writer, non-fiction writer, and playwright. In 1924, he was working in Washington D.C. where he met and impressed the poet Vachel Lindsay, who was popular for his dramatic readings of his own work, and included three Hughes poems at his next reading, rather pompously declaring he had “discovered an American Negro genius.” Hughes’s first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published in 1926.  In the 1930s, his first novel, Not Without Laughter, won the Harmon gold medal for literature. Hughes spent most of the rest of his life in Harlem, becoming  a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Though most of the honors and awards he received during his life were either for his novels or for his body of work, he is best remembered now for his poetry. He published 17 collections of his poems during his life, and his Collected Poems were published posthumously.


The Correspondence-School Instructor
 Says Goodbye to His Poetry Students

 by Galway Kinnell

Goodbye, lady in Bangor, who sent me
snapshots of yourself, after definitely hinting
you were beautiful; goodbye,
Miami Beach urologist, who enclosed plain
brown envelopes for the return of your very
“Clinical Sonnets”; goodbye, manufacturer
of brassieres on the Coast, whose eclogues
give the fullest treatment in literature yet
to the sagging breast motif; goodbye, you in San Quentin,
who wrote, “Being German my hero is Hitler,”
instead of “Sincerely yours,” at the end of long,
neat-scripted letters extolling the Pre-Raphaelites:

I swear to you, it was just my way
of cheering myself up, as I licked
the stamped, self-addressed envelopes,
the game I had of trying to guess
which one of you, this time,
had poisoned his glue. I did care.
I did read each poem entire.
I did say everything I thought
in the mildest words I knew. And now,
in this poem, or chopped prose, no better,
I realize, than those troubled lines
I kept sending back to you,
I have to say I am relieved it is over:
at the end I could feel only pity
for that urge toward more life
your poems kept smothering in words, the smell
of which, days later, tingled in your nostrils
as new, God-given impulses
to write.

you who are, for me, the postmarks again
of imaginary towns—Xenia, Burnt Cabins, Hornell—
their solitude given away in poems, only their loneliness kept.

After Making Love We Hear Footsteps

by Galway Kinnell

For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on—
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.

In the half darkness we look at each other
and smile
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body—
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.

“The Correspondence-School Instructor Says Goodbye to His Poetry Students” and
 “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps” from Three Books – © 2002 by Galway Kinnle – Houghton Mifflin Company

February 1, 1927Galway Kinnell was born in Rhode Island; American poet whose 1982 collection, Selected Poems, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and split the 1983 National Book Award for Poetry with Charles Wright’s Country Music: Selected Early Poems. Kinnell graduated from Princeton University in 1948 alongside friend and fellow poet W. S. Merwin, then earned his master of arts degree from the University of Rochester. Kinnell traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East, and went to Paris on a Fulbright Fellowship. Upon returning to the U.S., he joined CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and worked on voter registration and workplace integration in  Hammond, Louisiana. This effort got him arrested. In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. His experiences inspired his book-long poem The Book of Nightmares.  He was poet laureate of the state of Vermont (1989-1993), and a Chancellor of the American Academy of Poets. He died of leukemia at age 87 in 2014.

My Cat

by Judith Viorst

My cat isn’t stuck up,
Even though
He’s the handsomest cat in
the world,
And smart,
And brave,
And climbs the highest trees.
My cat will sit on your lap and
let you pet him.
He won’t mind.
He thinks human beings are
Almost as good
As he is.

Since Hanna Moved Away

by Judith Viorst

The tires on my bike are flat.
The sky is grouchy gray.
At least it sure feels like that
Since Hanna moved away.

Chocolate ice cream tastes like prunes.
December’s come to stay.
They’ve taken back the Mays and Junes
Since Hanna moved away.

Flowers smell like halibut.
Velvet feels like hay.
Every handsome dog’s a mutt
Since Hanna moved away.

Nothing’s fun to laugh about.
Nothing’s fun to play.
They call me, but I won’t come out
Since Hanna moved away.

“My Cat” “Since Hanna Moved Away” from If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries: Poems for Children and Their Parents © 1984 by Judith Viorst – Atheneum Books for Young Readers

February 2, 1931Judith Viorst is the author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, which has sold some four million copies; the Lulu books, and Necessary Losses. She is also notable for her series of poetry books related to aging which began with When Did I Stop Being 20 and Other Injustices. Her most recent books of poetry include What Are You Glad About?; What Are You Mad About?; and Nearing Ninety, and Other Comedies of Late Life.

In Custody

by Kawita Kandpal

What to eat
if no dreams arrive,

sharp like the seams of a Kashmiri wind.
You return to the country that is no longer—

Make haste, my love, I am redrawing the scale
of escape, this ledger of sounds shall reach. Please go

to the end of this sentence and retrieve our season
from the men who stole sweetness from your mouth.


by Kawita Kandpal

This country of ghosts has come
unmoored from my tongue

taking with it the last ink of twilight
and Rumi’s ghazals of paired nightingales,

their perfumed wings unfolding
in the white space.

This country of ghosts has come
unmoored from my tongue

taking with it the river
in the rock, casting it across couplets, leaving

concentric circles in the Mughal miniature’s
watercolored garden above our bed.

This country of ghosts has come
unmoored from my tongue

taking with it five quills of the nightingale
shrouded in the gold-leafed margin

of banyan trees among other night birds
rendered flightless, some falling into Persian blue
some surrendering to the rock.

“In Custody” and “Kashmir” from Folding a River, © 2007 by Kawita Kandpal – Marick Press

February 6,1972Kawita Kandpal, poet born in northern India, she earned am MFA from Bowling Green State University, and lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she works as a business analyst. Her poems have appeared in TriQuarterly and Puerto del Sol.  She published the poetry collection Folding a River in 2007.



Cat Sleeping – carianoff

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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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