Poems

Mortality Mansions Poems by Donald Hall
Otherwise by Jane Kenyon


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When the Young Husband
(Donald Hall)
 

When the young husband picked up his friend's pretty wife
in the taxi one block from her townhouse for their
first lunch together, in a hotel dining room
              with a room key in his pocket,

midtown traffic gridlocked and was abruptly still.
For one moment before klaxons started honking,
a prophetic voice spoke in his mind's ear despite
              his pulse's erotic thudding:

"The misery you undertake this afternoon
will accompany you to the ends of your lives.
She knew what she did when she agreed to this lunch,
              although she will not admit it;

and you've constructed your playlet a thousand times:
cocktails, an omelet, wine; the revelation
of a room key; the elevator rising as
              the penis elevates; the skin

flushed, the door fumbled at, the handbag dropped; the first
kiss with open mouths, nakedness, swoon, thrust-and-catch;
endorphins followed by endearments; a brief nap;
              another fit; restoration

of clothes, arrangements for another encounter,
the taxi back, and the furtive kiss of good-bye.
Then, by turn: tears, treachery, anger, betrayal;
              marriages and houses destroyed;

small children abandoned and inconsolable,
their foursquare estates disestablished forever;
the unreadable advocates; the wretchedness
              of passion outworn; anguished nights

sleepless in a bare room; whiskey, meth, cocaine; new
love, essayed in loneliness with miserable
strangers, that comforts nothing but skin; hours with sons
              and daughters studious always

to maintain distrust; the daily desire to die
and the daily agony of the requirement
to survive, until only the quarrel endures."
              Prophecy stopped; traffic started.

Poem Copyright © Donald Hall 2006
Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved.


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When I was Young
(Donald Hall)


When I was young and sexual
    I looked forward to a cool Olympian age
for release from my obsessions.
    Ho, ho, ho. At sixty the body's one desire

sustains my pulse, not to mention
    my groin, as much as it ever did, if not quite
so often. When I gaze at your
    bottom as you bend gardening, or at your breasts,

or at your face with its helmet
    of sensuous hair, or at your eyes proposing
the text of our next encounter,
    my attention departs from history, baseball,

food, poetry, and deathless fame.
    Let us pull back the blanket, slide off our bluejeans,
assume familiar positions,
    and celebrate lust in Mortality Mansions.

Poem Copyright © Donald Hall 2006
Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved.


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Woolworth's
(Donald Hall)


My whole life has led me here.

Daisies made out of resin,
hairnets and motor oil,
Barbie dolls, green
garden chairs,
and forty-one brands of deodorant.

Three hundred years ago
I was hedging and ditching in Devon.
I lacked freedom of worship,
and freedom to trade molasses
for rum, for slaves, for molasses.

"I will sail to Massachusetts
to build the Kingdom
of Heaven on Earth!"

The side of a hill swung open.
It was Woolworth's!

I followed this vision to Boston.
Poem Copyright © Donald Hall 2006
Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved.


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The Green Shelf
(Donald Hall)

Driving back from the market,
bags of groceries beside me,
I saw on a lawn
the body of a gray-haired man
twisted beside his power mower.

A woman twisted
her hands above him, mouth wide
with a cry.
She bent close to him, straightened,
bent again, straightened,

and an ambulance
stopped at the curb.
I drove past them slowly
while helpers
kneeled by the man.

Over the stretcher
the lawnmower continued to throb
and absently
the hand of the old woman
caressed the shuddering

handle. Back.
I put the soup cans in order
on the green shelves —
pickles, canned milk, peas,
basil, and tarragon.

Poem Copyright © Donald Hall 2006
Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved.


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Fête
(Donald Hall)

 Festival lights go on
in villages throughout
  the province, from Toe
Harbor, past the
  Elbow Lakes, to Eyelid Hill
when you touch me, there.

Poem Copyright © Donald Hall 2006
Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved.


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The Young Watch Us
(Donald Hall)

The young girls look up
as we walk past the line at the movie,
and go back to examining their fingernails.

Their boyfriends are combing their hair,
and chew gum
as if they meant to insult us.

Today we made love all day.
I look at you. You are smiling at the sidewalk,
dear wrinkled face.

Poem Copyright © Donald Hall 2006
Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved.


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Summer Kitchen
(Donald Hall)

In June's high light she stood at the sink
    With a glass of wine
And listened for the bobolink
And crushed garlic in late sunshine.

I watched her cooking, from my chair.
    She pressed her lips
Together, reached for kitchenware,
And tasted sauce from fingertips.

"It's ready now. Come on," she said.
    "You light the candle."
We ate, and talked, and went to bed,
And slept. It was a miracle.

Poem Copyright © Donald Hall 2006
Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved.


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Dying Is Simple, She Said
from Her Long Illness

(Donald Hall)

"Dying is simple," she said.
"What's worst is ... the separation."
    When she no longer spoke,
they lay alone together, touching,
    and she fixed on him
her beautiful enormous round brown eyes,
    shining, unblinking,
and passionate with love and dread.

Poem Copyright © Donald Hall 2006
Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved.


Deathwork
(Donald Hall)

Wake when dog whimpers. Prick
Finger. Inject insulin.
      Glue teeth in.
   Smoke cigarette.
      Shudder and fret.
Feed old dog. Write syllabic

On self-pity. Get Boston Globe.
Drink coffee. Eat bagel. Read
      At nervous speed.
   Smoke cigarette.
      Never forget
To measure oneself against Job.

Drag out afternoon.
Walk dog. Don't write.
Turn off light.
   Smoke cigarette
      Watching sun set.
Wait for the fucking moon.

Nuke lasagna. Pace and curse.
For solitude's support
      Drink Taylor's port.
   Smoke cigarette.
      Sleep. Sweat.
Nightmare until dog whimpers.

Poem Copyright © Donald Hall 2006
Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved.


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Freezes and Junes
(Donald Hall)

She laid bricks arranged
in V's underneath

the garden;s rage of blossom.
After her death, after

the freezes of many winters,
her bricks rise and dip

undulant by the wellhead,
in summer softened by moss,

and in deep June I see
preterite, revenant poppies

fix, waver, fix, waver, fix...

Poem Copyright © Donald Hall 2011
Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved.


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Gold
(Donald Hall)

Pale gold of the walls, gold
of the centers of daisies, yellow roses
pressing from a clear bowl. All day
we lay on the bed, my hand
stroking the deep
gold of your thighs and your back.
We slept and woke
entering the golden room together,
lay down in it breathing
quickly, then
slowly again,
caressing and dozing, your hand sleepily
touching my hair now.

We made in those days
tiny identical rooms inside our bodies
which the men who uncover our graves
will find in a thousand years,
shining and whole.

Poem Copyright © Donald Hall 2006
Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved.


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Otherwise
(Jane Kenyon)

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Jane Kenyon, "Otherwise" from Jane Kenyon: Collected Poems.
Copyright © 2005 by The Estate of Jane Kenyon.
Used by Permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.,
on behalf of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA,
www.graywolfpress.org
All rights reserved worldwide.