Some Truth about the World You Didn’t Know Enough to Know About: A Tribute to David Ferry

I begin with some lines and passages, and a few complete poems, from David Ferry’s spellbinding book Bewilderment.

Where will we go when they send us away from here?
…………………………(“In Memory of Anne Ferry”)

Whatever it is I think I probably know.
However whatever it is I keep from knowing.
No, it is not whatever I think I know.
Maybe I’ll never know whatever it is.
…………………………(“One Two Three Four Five”)

What am I doing inside this old man’s body?

Where is it that she I loved has gone to?

The Cave

Described by Plato, now it’s much the same,
this underworld we’re comfortable in.
Our fetters fit us like a second skin.
Enchanted by the caperings onscreen
and never by the hidden source of light,
the fire behind us or the naked sun,
we know each shadow perfectly by name.
Our children don’t remember other ways.
We think we do; it’s only been a year.
We think so, but the past’s abstract and far,
ungraspable and tiny as a star
glimpsed from a distance of unnumbered days.

Blue and Green


Dream weave: green cloth cascading from her shoulders
and pooling at her feet creates a zone
of ceremony, safety, and renewal.

We found ourselves on a park bench at noon.
The day was blue. Low sun
gilded the river, angled through the trees.

Too soon for green. And yet
Even the idea of vaccinations

(closer; still out of reach)
was pulling us away
from that one hour, one January day

toward a future still too dim to see.
Something had to be
blocking the faint gleam

The Pen That Fits Their Need: Six Poets

Peter Everwine, Pulling the Invisible But Heavy Cart: Last Poems (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2019, 106 pp., $18)

Yusef Komunyakaa, Night Animals (Sarabande Books, 2020, 32 pp., $15)

N.C. Germanacos, Ora et Labora (Paideia Institute for Humanistic Study, 2019)

Eduardo C. Corral, Guillotine (Graywolf, 2020, 72 pp., $15.99)

Maryann Corbett, In Code (Able Muse Press, 2020, 92 pp., $19.95)

Etel Adnan, Shifting the Silence (Night Boat Books, 2020, 88 pp., $15.95)

Teaching the Tigers

Arms folded, wearing tiger masks,
students sit. Questions? No one asks.

Loss and grief, exile, return:
how much of it can they take in?

The Iliad: to go to war.
The Odyssey: and come back home.

Epic’s relentless forward motion,
lyric’s gossamer attention,

adventure parsed as allegory,
the iterations of the story,

and then to choose the right translation
for a fearful generation.

May poetry keep finding ways
of piercing the miasmal haze

and reclaiming a clear space
behind each young and guarded face

and washing through the walls that hide
whatever’s bubbling inside.

Same Screen

The summer they produced The Bald Soprano
at the Bread Loaf School of English,
I was a faculty brat.
A line from that play has remained a favorite:
A stone caught fire.
Today that line came true.
It rang in my ears as soon as I saw
the cathedral in flames.

A cathedral in flames?
Hard to believe even when it’s seen.
How much do we believe these days
of images that reach us on a screen?
Most images do reach us on a screen.
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen,
Hart Crane wrote. Aristotle understood
that poetry’s less unlikely than history.
Poetry, which encompasses everything
that might have happened or that still might happen,
can be prophetic. History looks back.

Riders, Parthenon Frieze

These riders have almost no space,
caracoling from A to B,
wrist shoulder elbow hoof and knee,
the horses rearing back in place,

almost no space but endless time,
sheltered from weather, nervously
grouped in close proximity,
their cluster here a kind of home.

Where are they going? You can see
light strike the faces; they move on
out of the shadows toward dawn.
Or is that radiance sun on stone?

All of them pointed the same way,
a muscled chest, a close-clipped mane,
a mantle flung over an arm,
quivering, eager, barely reined

Translated Objects

When my son Jonathan moved from our West End Avenue apartment to Brooklyn, he took a surprising amount of furniture with him – heavy, dark brown furniture mostly, from his late father’s side of the family.  Furniture I’d failed for years to notice I no longer needed. But once the dresser, table, chair and whatever else had been loaded into a van and taken away, on a rainy December night in 2014, the West End Avenue apartment where I now lived with my new love began to breathe.  Corners of rooms, newly empty, stretched themselves, plumped themselves out with air.

Cento on the Beach

The people along the sand,
somnambulists along the promenade,
all turn and look one way.
La mer, la mer, toujours recommencée:
I have seen it over and over,
the same sea, the same.
The sun beats lightning on the waves,
the waves fold thunder on the sand,
the wetter ground like glass
reflects a standing gull.
And then blue heaven spread
its crystalline pendentives on the sea.

Threshold and Mirror: The Biography

For Langdon Hammer and James Merrill

If merely to read the massive biography
of a poet is arduous, then to write
it beggars the imagination. To stand
both close and far, to look forward and back,
to measure experience through the mirror
of pages, poems, letters….Poised at the threshold

of such a life, a chronicle features several thresholds
including the biographer’s,
who sometimes peers into the cloudy mirror
of his own past and writes
in a crabbed cipher like Leonardo’s. Back-
ward slanting letters stand