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Reading Between the Lines

In honor of World Poetry Day, we offer some work by Reed poets.

By Anna Mann | March 21, 2018

Broken Ghazal

Fix your gaze on the swinging chandelier—everything

else is broken

A subtle perfume bursts from the debris as my silence

propels—broken

This was war and all I had for armour was an heirloom

quilt of verses

As it hacked my jugular, your huntsman’s axe cried: this

gazelle’s broken

Look for my tapestries unravelling under the bed, the

unspooled story

Sweet, covered with ants: our unlived life yet (in a

nutshell) is broken

 

—Shadab Zeest Hashmi ’95

(From International English Language Quarterly, 2016. Vol. 4, No. 1.)

 

Carnot Cycle

Only sometimes does homegrown bedrock glow moneygreen.

Sometimes rock whines mommy. Sometimes rock coos baby.
Sometimes rock calls late with the mortgage. Sometimes rock
knits shoulder blades right where you can’t pluck.

Early mornings something doesn’t sit right over the sink. Sits crooked.

Slumps askew. Body doesn’t lay the way you left it. Squinting gets
you nowhere. You squat to the floor and feel around. Stop. Smell
for it. Shrug. Still some dangling something modifies you.
Smackdab midchest you feel lumpy empty. Sniff. Sniff.
Shrug.

Like those days we grab our own pickaxes and head down to the

mine. We hum worksongs. We sing hymns. We chip worry stone.
We gather moss. We lie flat. We scratch at the mineshaft. Not
toward exit but deeper to the core.

 

—Prof. Samiya Bashir [English]

(From Poetry, April 2014.)



Weather Conditions

As if it were a sampler of weather,

the sky on one side is the blue of oceans

 

with those scalloped woolly clouds children draw.  

The clouds herd together like sheep, closing in

 

and calling in the black sheep.  In the other

sky, it’s darker.  Not ominous, just flat

 

gray, while the wind flicks leaves, clouds of grackles,

branches:  the outside world a commotion

 

of movement.  It’s New England; half static,

the radio warns people to take shelter

 

in the northwestern corners of their homes.  

A mother shepherds her family to the cellar,

 

hands full of matches that wouldn’t hold

a candle to the imagined storm.  She

 

is always full of “safety first,” of fear

of sorrow.  All the children can think

 

of is The Wizard of Oz, in color.

No one in the household has any sense

 

of direction, so the four of them mill

in various corners, at random, trying

 

for luck in the face of the big blow that

never comes.  The father is curiously

 

silent.  Maybe he wants to be an anchor;

maybe he doesn’t believe in hurricanes,

 

which to the rest of them spell disaster, spell

hope, spell loss of control, spell freedom.

 

—Prof. Lisa M. Steinman [English]

 (From Absence & Presence, 2013.)

 

Axe Handles

One afternoon the last week in April

Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet

One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.

He recalls the hatchet-head

Without a handle, in the shop

And go gets it, and wants it for his own.

A broken-off axe handle behind the door

Is long enough for a hatchet,

We cut it to length and take it

With the hatchet head

And working hatchet, to the wood block.

There I begin to shape the old handle

With the hatchet, and the phrase

First learned from Ezra Pound

Rings in my ears!

"When making an axe handle

             the pattern is not far off."

And I say this to Kai

"Look: We'll shape the handle

By checking the handle

Of the axe we cut with—"

And he sees. And I hear it again:

It's in Lu Ji's Wên Fu, fourth century

A.D. "Essay on Literature"—in the

Preface: "In making the handle

Of an axe

By cutting wood with an axe

The model is indeed near at hand."

My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen

Translated that and taught it years ago

And I see: Pound was an axe,

Chen was an axe, I am an axe

And my son a handle, soon

To be shaping again, model

And tool, craft of culture,

How we go on.

—Gary Snyder ’51

(From Axe Handles, 1983.)



A Dent in a Bucket

Hammering a dent out of a bucket

     a woodpecker

              answers from the woods


—Gary Snyder ’51

(From Danger on Peaks, 2004.)

Tags: Alumni, Professors