Jack Gilbert’s “A Brief for the Defense” is a beautiful poem about happiness amidst sorrow. Read it below at The Sun–scroll toward the end of the piece for the poem, or if you have extra time (ha!) read about his life and work, too, and some of his other poems.
Today I offer what may be my favorite poem of all time, Ruth Stone’s “Train Ride.” I’ve posted this poem before, long ago, but it’s so perfect for this moment in history (and all moments) that I have to repost it. Last summer I memorized it at a tiny, lovely place I escaped to for a weekend. Read it aloud if you can, or you can listen to it at an archived Writer’s Almanac below.
Thank you for all the emails and texts about my missing poems of the day! I took a break first because I went blank and now because I am writing something longer that isn’t ready. So in the meantime I’ll post some of my favorite poems for you. Today, here’s W.S. Merwin’s “Thanks.” A friend sent me this poem in my email last week and it has been echoing in my head since then. Click the link on the first lines of the poem to read the whole thing at poets.org. Enjoy.
from “Thanks” by W.S. Merwin
This is a found “poem” from this article by Helen Ouyang. (Please read.)
unfinished Easter sonnet
the poultry processing plant worker dead
every morning more green buds
the folk singer dead
snow melting the trail to mud
the neighbor’s mother’s mother dead
the toilet paper factory worker has a fever
the dental hygienist dead
the city council closed down the river
Good Friday 2020 my sister
gives out the free lunches to hundreds
spring in time of a disaster
where the body was now only blood
Note: this poem is my attempt at a ghazal, a poem that uses a repeating end word and includes the author’s name in the last stanza. Read much more about the form here.
What comes to me is silence so I stare at clouds.
The air is filled with birdsong and the sky is dotted with clouds.
I sit outside alone and close my eyes to escape doubt.
I open them and see on the hillside the shadow of clouds.
Can I name even one of the dozens of birds on this slice of the mountain?
The robin, the magpie, the warbler are dark specks below the clouds.
As usual, I want this to last forever, the blue, the warmth.
I know it will fade to dusk and evaporate like the clouds.
Come back! cry the birds against the backdrop of the manmade fountain.
I search the changing shapes and coded messages of the clouds.
I imagine the suffering I know is happening everywhere
and send my prayers like birds up to the clouds.
If my name were a birdsong–Kim-ber-ly–what would it mean?
Above me the hawk circles and caws against the clouds.
The sun was setting and the moon was rising,
the moon was almost full and shone large over the mesa,
the sunset lengthened our shadows as we walked our regular route
talking and laughing in the warm, barely-spring air, the dog was lunging
at so many rabbits we decided to turn back just as two neighbors emerged
from their houses so we greeted them at a cautious distance and the girls kicked
a ball around in the twilight, and then a howl erupted out of the growing darkness,
and another, and another, all at once, and it was people, out on their porches
or in their yards, howling at the moon, howling into the darkness,
and we started howling too, our voices moving as breath
and sound from our healthy lungs and out into
the night air and up toward the moon.