What is the poem that you recite to yourself when you’re waiting for test results in a doctor’s waiting room?
by Emily Brontë (1818-1848)
No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven’s glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.
O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life–that in me has rest,
As I–undying Life–have power in Thee!
Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as wither’d weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,
To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine Infinity;
So surely anchor’d on
The steadfast rock of immortality.
With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.
Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou were left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.
There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou–Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.
What is the poem you’d give to someone living in your town 100 years from now?
By Adele Kenny
The past is a foreign country,
they do things differently there.
– L. P. Hartley
All it takes is something familiar: the shape of a
hand or a stranger’s eyes in the sudden light of
a theater when the movie ends. Then, something
deep in memory’s birthwood calls me back.
The past is my first language, a speakable grace.
On summer nights in East Rahway, our fathers
sat on front porches in worn t-shirts, their
calloused hands wrapped around beer cans as
the last stars took their places like nail-heads
on a dark and holy board. Inside, our mothers
sang as they washed the dinner dishes, and we
went to sleep with the easy grace of children.
All of our grandmothers spoke with accents,
rolled their stockings down to their ankles like
nylon UFOs, and people shouted at them when
they spoke, enunciating carefully, as if our
grandmothers weren’t only foreign but deaf.
Different from the beginning, we were the city’s
middle children, never as tough as the kids from
the projects, and only half as cool as the kids who
lived behind the high school on the other side
of town. Cut off from the rest of Rahway, we
lived between Route 1 and Linden Airport, in
a place where sleep was rubbed out of night to
the sound of trucks stumbling over potholes
and propjets taking off on runway number three.
Safe in our own society, we lived a little religion
of unlikely saints whose blood offerings were
elbows and knees that scraped like autumn
leaves on the sidewalks. In East Rahway, hardly
anyone died or went away. Those were the days
before we knew what dead meant. But when
Mr. Malone, who lived in the corner house,
did it, the bagpipes wailed and skirled for
three days in his living room, a hundred octaves
higher than all the blades of grass we ever
held between our thumbs and blew against –
a different kind of party. There were no soccer
games, no little league, no one drove us anywhere.
We walked to the corner store and hiked down
Lower Road to Merck’s Creek, the mosquitoed
water stained even then by chemicals we couldn’t
name; but, oh, the bright and oily rings that spread
above the stones we skipped like shivering circles
of mercury. There were forests then, across the
street, and deep. We were wood nymphs and
Druids, foreign legionnaires led by my cousin
Eddie. Soldiers of whatever fortune was, we
followed into the hymned and scrawling weeds –
the underbrush belled by our footsteps, trees
tuned to prodigal birds. We were Arthur and
Guinevere, Merlin, Morgan, all the knights, and
one Rapunzel who lost her hair in a bubble gum
accident. We did things differently then, believed
in summer’s synonymous sun, December’s
piebald light, white-maned and glistening, the
moon above us, cloud-ribbed in semi-silhouette.
The past falls like water from winter boots.
Merck’s Creek, darker, dirtier with new pollution,
moves more slowly. The streets, once so wide
and willing, are smaller. And the forest is gone,
the initials we carved lost with fallen trees,
the green spirits laid to rest beneath a block of
factories. But, still, if you cross Route 1 on
a night overworked with summer stars, and
stand on the corner of Scott and Barnett, you
will find our fathers there. Kents and Winstons
burn, beer cans shine in the baritone heat. Our
mothers and grandmothers sing, ghostly soloists,
eggshell voices – reedy, thin. And we are there,
lips pressed smugly on chocolate cigarettes; our
pockets ring with Pez candies. Listen! A child’s
voice calls Excalibur into the night, those old bones
still in the road – skull and neck, a few vertebrae
that we tossed like dice to tell our future.
(From What Matters, Welcome Rain Publishers, 2011)
What is the poem you’d give to an alien?
Theories of Time and Space
by Natasha Trethewey
Read the full poem at poets.org