Saturday evening song

Song of Obscurity

Michael Dickel

There is in the clay you are formed from
a language we know to perform.
We cannot wake it up from the dead.
So, we play linguistic games instead.

I’m radically unfocused trying to learn
the hocus-pocus of a life I never understood.
Our ghosts grab at ankles which mostly
just rankles, and the ashes fade as they burn.
The ashes burn in the storm.

Pigeons quietly wing from open mouths—
singing their own private woes they drop
stones from their feathers on couples
in leather marked with letters
I cannot gather in.

I’m highly provoked while drinking my Coke
in the midst of a grand nightstand next to
my right hand where dreams fall into line
behind the next sign that the world will
come to an end. The words never end.

We lost our inhibitions while taking positions
behind socially-mediated lines, while fictional
friction resisting depiction pornographically
aligns the clay in your hands into lime.

The graves are purified, their atmosphere
rarified, while artists fill them in. Spectral
photographers and holy lithographers dance
to the rhythm of gin. I’ll offer you whiskey,
something quite risky, if you would gather them in.

Won’t you gather them in?

You kiss my lips before leaving the room,
brushing the cobwebs with your labial broom,
leaving me hanging like a picture on the wall.
The clay has gone dry while I kept asking, “why?”
I play a jazz chord to honor the world we build.

Your clay sculpture collapses while my guitar
relapses and my synapses explode. The door
to our room has married the floor and together
they lock us in this hole. We fall alone into this hole.

Now the words end the world and the ashes
burn birds while leather stones a couple in bed.

Won’t you gather them in?

Now the words end the world and the ashes
burn stones while birds lift the couple from bed.

Won’t you gather them in?



Bird a-fire
Digital art from online photos
©2016 Michael Dickel

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100TPC — 2016

Today’s online event for 100TPC 2016. Share your writing, art, music, videos, thoughts that relate to the themes of peace, sustainability, and social justice by posting them to our website today…

Read the rest and share your work: 100TPC — 2016

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Hiding Under Desks — Two Poems

Mike Stone and I regularly share our work with each other on social media. Often it seems, one of us will write a poem and the other will pull up a poem with a connection. As though we grew up in the same time period, similar context, with similar life events. Which I suspect is true. With pleasure, I share these two—Mike posted his recently, and I pulled mine out of my archives.

Hiding Under My Desk

Mike Stone
Raanana, September 20, 2016

I remember back in fifty-six
When we were kids in school
Being taught to hide underneath my desk
During civil defense drills
To protect us from nuclear attack
Although I wondered why they’d attack a school
But our teacher told us we had a depot in town
And that kind of made sense
Although I didn’t know what a depot was
But I had my desk and I was good at hiding
So I was all set.
We didn’t know we were preparing for Death
But what did we know of Death then
Til I saw a documentary on television
About a small mushroom cloud far away
And a few minutes later there was a huge wind
That blew down houses and the skin off people.
I heard about the Rapture from our housekeeper
Which sounded like a nuclear attack.
My uncle moved to Australia that year
Probably thought it was another planet
Safe from A-bombs
It’s a wonder I survived.


Michael Dickel
from the series, Touching the Dead

When he was four years old
his brothers told him
about bomb drills
Climb under the desk and Kiss Your Ass goodbye
He nearly wet his pants.

At five years old
he rode his first carousel
of falling off the wood steed he hung on
for dear life
with no place to hide.

By his sixth birthday
schools discontinued bomb drills—
not because
the big A would not drop.

No. Because the desk
would melt away
no place to run.

he walks down a hospital corridor
turned art gallery.
Paintings on the wall

frozen rabbits
stopped tigers
captive flowers
farm and snow scenes
lined up.

Gathered at one end,
distorted and angry
carousel horses throw
their heads up
on white rag

The last horse shrieks,
pulls reins
from unsteady hands—
desperately gallops from its stall
from the merry-go-round

from the orange fire glow
from the quiet moments
from so much death and illness

that come right after—



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Activist Poetry—a longer view

By now, those who pay attention to poetry and in particular the poetries of witness and activist poetries, know well that they follow from a long tradition. Yet others, especially cultural and political conservatives, argue “protest” poetry or “political” poetry both do not constitute “Literature,” and that such poetry cannot help but be time-bound little more than contemporaneous commentary. I have been told that some of my poetry is “journalistic,” and that I am caught in a “fashionable” trend stemming from the mid-1950s protest poetry and that it has no literary roots beyond, possibly, the Beats. Such arguments simply are nonsense.

Carolyn Forché’s volumes Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English 1500–2001 and Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness demonstrate, with excellent examples, a long history of social and political engagement in English poetry. In fact, one might argue just the opposite of the (usually disguised political) claims that the tradition began in the middle of the 20th C—that solipsistic confessional poetry that is more autobiography than engaged in the world emerges from that time, in counter-balance to a history of poetry engaged in the outside world.

For this post, I provide two examples of poets from the first half of the 20th Century who engaged in the world.

The first, two poems come from the well-known poet William Butler Yeats: Easter, 1916, written in response to a political protest forcefully broken up by the British, who executed, some would say massacred, 16 of the protesters. The poem, written in September 1916 and published in 1928, ends with a powerful commentary on the protest, the execution-martyrdom that resulted, and, prophetically, the continuation of the Irish struggle: “A terrible beauty is born.”

Easter, 1916

William Butler Yeats

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wingèd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Yeats’ poem, “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen,” comments powerfully and bitterly on violence, war, oppression, and the loss of our own humanity in modern times. The poem, in six parts, has a history of difficult critical reception—critics had a hard time reconciling it with others of Yeats’ works. However, since the later part of the 20th Century, his poem has had a more thoughtful reading by the critics, possibly giving weight to saying he was “ahead of his time.”

Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen

William Butler Yeats

Many ingenious lovely things are gone
That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude,
protected from the circle of the moon
That pitches common things about. There stood
Amid the ornamental bronze and stone
An ancient image made of olive wood —
And gone are Phidias’ famous ivories
And all the golden grasshoppers and bees.

We too had many pretty toys when young:
A law indifferent to blame or praise,
To bribe or threat; habits that made old wrong
Melt down, as it were wax in the sun’s rays;
Public opinion ripening for so long
We thought it would outlive all future days.
O what fine thought we had because we thought
That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.

All teeth were drawn, all ancient tricks unlearned,
And a great army but a showy thing;
What matter that no cannon had been turned
Into a ploughshare? Parliament and king
Thought that unless a little powder burned
The trumpeters might burst with trumpeting
And yet it lack all glory; and perchance
The guardsmen’s drowsy chargers would not prance.

Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;
The night can sweat with terror as before
We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule,
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.

He who can read the signs nor sink unmanned
Into the half-deceit of some intoxicant
From shallow wits; who knows no work can stand,
Whether health, wealth or peace of mind were spent
On master-work of intellect or hand,
No honour leave its mighty monument,
Has but one comfort left: all triumph would
But break upon his ghostly solitude.

But is there any comfort to be found?
Man is in love and loves what vanishes,
What more is there to say? That country round
None dared admit, if Such a thought were his,
Incendiary or bigot could be found
To burn that stump on the Acropolis,
Or break in bits the famous ivories
Or traffic in the grasshoppers or bees.

When Loie Fuller’s Chinese dancers enwound
A shining web, a floating ribbon of cloth,
It seemed that a dragon of air
Had fallen among dancers, had whirled them round
Or hurried them off on its own furious path;
So the platonic Year
Whirls out new right and wrong,
Whirls in the old instead;
All men are dancers and their tread
Goes to the barbarous clangour of a gong.

Some moralist or mythological poet
Compares the solitary soul to a swan;
I am satisfied with that,
Satisfied if a troubled mirror show it,
Before that brief gleam of its life be gone,
An image of its state;
The wings half spread for flight,
The breast thrust out in pride
Whether to play, or to ride
Those winds that clamour of approaching night.

A man in his own secret meditation
Is lost amid the labyrinth that he has made
In art or politics;
Some Platonist affirms that in the station
Where we should cast off body and trade
The ancient habit sticks,
And that if our works could
But vanish with our breath
That were a lucky death,
For triumph can but mar our solitude.

The swan has leaped into the desolate heaven:
That image can bring wildness, bring a rage
To end all things, to end
What my laborious life imagined, even
The half-imagined, the half-written page;
O but we dreamed to mend
Whatever mischief seemed
To afflict mankind, but now
That winds of winter blow
Learn that we were crack-pated when we dreamed.

We, who seven years ago
Talked of honour and of truth,
Shriek with pleasure if we show
The weasel’s twist, the weasel’s tooth.

Come let us mock at the great
That had such burdens on the mind
And toiled so hard and late
To leave some monument behind,
Nor thought of the levelling wind.

Come let us mock at the wise;
With all those calendars whereon
They fixed old aching eyes,
They never saw how seasons run,
And now but gape at the sun.

Come let us mock at the good
That fancied goodness might be gay,
And sick of solitude
Might proclaim a holiday:
Wind shrieked — and where are they?

Mock mockers after that
That would not lift a hand maybe
To help good, wise or great
To bar that foul storm out, for we
Traffic in mockery.

Violence upon the roads: violence of horses;
Some few have handsome riders, are garlanded
On delicate sensitive ear or tossing mane,
But wearied running round and round in their courses
All break and vanish, and evil gathers head:
Herodias’ daughters have returned again,
A sudden blast of dusty wind and after
Thunder of feet, tumult of images,
Their purpose in the labyrinth of the wind;
And should some crazy hand dare touch a daughter
All turn with amorous cries, or angry cries,
According to the wind, for all are blind.
But now wind drops, dust settles; thereupon
There lurches past, his great eyes without thought
Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks,
That insolent fiend Robert Artisson
To whom the love-lorn Lady Kyteler brought
Bronzed peacock feathers, red combs of her cocks.


For the second example, I move to a lesser-known writer. John Cornford, the great-grandson of Charles Darwin, died during the Spanish Civil War under “uncertain circumstances at Lopera, near Córdoba in 1936.” We have no idea how much he might have contributed to poetry, had he survived. However, his poems written during the Spanish Civil War did survive, and were published posthumously. Born in 1915 in Cambridge, England, he was a committed communist. “Though his life was tragically brief, he documented his experiences of the conflict through poetry, letters to family and his lover, and political and critical prose which spoke out against the fascist regime and its ideologies.”

Sandra Mendez, a niece of John Cornford who also holds the copyright to his work, created a song from his poem “To Margot Heinemann.” The YouTube below is her performing that song.

These are just two of many examples that could be drawn from the long history of English letters. Engaged poetry, poetry of witness, activist poetry, political poetry—all comprise an important aspect, perhaps the most important aspect, of what we call “Poetry.”

Select Resources and Links

Burt, Stephen. The Weasel’s Tooth: On W. B. Yeats. The Nation.
Dickel, Michael. Curator / Editor. Poet Activists: Poets Speak Out. The Woven Tale Press.
Rumens, Carol. Poem of the Week: Poem by John Cornford. The Guardian.

On this blog
Joy Harjo—Fear Poem
Michael Rothenberg and Mitko Gogov


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Sunday brunch Tuesday | Kinga Fabó

Kinga Fabó presented in three languages—her own Hungarian, English, and Galego. Enjoy.

Kinga Fabó

Dracula Orchid

We didn’t choose each other.
We were locked together.
Watching his ugly face.

He looks back: I see myself.
Who is in which end of the cable
who is it that places me at his will?

This isn’t a game between the two of us,
this tug of war.
Someone’s pulling my strings from above:

once he pulls me, next he leaves me.
Smells the blood. Nosing around me.
The heat of the body. Steaming.

Can’t take it anymore. This distillate is too raw for me.
The beast wins out of beauty.
The scale goes off balance.

Two derelict puppets. Deteriorated.
Event in the greenhouse: behold.
The heart’s been stubbed.

(Translated by Gabor G. Gyukics)


A Drakula-orchidea

Mi nem választottuk egymást.
Bennünket összezártak.
Bámulom a rusnya képét.

Visszanéz: látom magam.
Ki van a drót melyik végén,
s ki az, aki oda-vissza rak?

Ez nem csupán kettőnk között játszma,
ez a meghúz-elereszt.
Valaki föntről is rángat:

hol meghúz, hol elereszt.
Vért szimatol. Szaglászik utánam.
Tüzel a test. Gőzölög.

Nem bírom már. Nyers nekem a párlat.
Szépségből győz a szörnyeteg.
Megbillen a súly.

Két gazdátlan báb. Elfajul.
Esemény az üvegházban: ím.
S átdöfve a szív.


Kinga Fabó


You are free, said the stranger.
Before I arrived there.
Costume. I had a costume on though.
I was curious: what his reaction might be?

He closed his other eyes.
I’ll send an ego instead of you.
Getting softer, I feel it, he feels it too. Hardly moves. He chokes himself inside me.
Now I must live with another dead man.

It’s not even hopeless.
Not vicious.
Serves the absence.
Delivers the unnecessary.

(Translated by Gabor G. Gyukics)



Szabad vagy, mondta idegen.
Még mielőtt odaértem.
Jelmez. Jelmez volt pedig rajtam.
Kíváncsi voltam: erre mit tesz?

Behunyta a másik szemét.
Egy ént küldött maga helyett.
Puhul, már érzem, ő is. Alig mocorog. Belém fojtja magát.
Egy újabb halottal kell élnem.

Még csak nem is reménytelen.
Nem rosszindulatú.
Szolgálja a hiányt.
Szállítja a fölösleget.



És livre, dixo o desconhecido.
Antes de eu chegar ali.
Disfarce. No entanto eu levava posto um disfarce.
Tinha curiosidade: qual poderia ser a sua reaçom?

Fechou os seus outros olhos.
Enviarei um ego em vez de ti.
Ao amolecermos, vou-no sentindo, tamém el o sente. Quase nom se move. El afoga dentro de mim.
Agora hei de viver com mais um cadáver.

É algo que nem sequer chega a ser desesperado.
Nem vicioso.
Serve a ausência.
Entrega o desnecessário.

(Translated into Galego by Suso Moinhos)


Kinga Fabó

Blow Wind, Blow

You sit me down. Make my bed. For me. For you.
For her. The way she swings around. Sways. Bows.
Let’s say: I’ll tell you. Let’s say: You’ll listen.

My dearest!
You congregant!
How should I use you?
I’m sitting right here and murmur.
I am sweet, you are sweet.

It was beautiful. Congregated. Used.
I should have done something to him.
There were many other
things. Things? Many?
It was winter, Hard. Un-
There was a woman. A man. Insignificant.

(Translated by Gabor G. Gyukics)

Szél fúj. Fújdogál

Leültetsz. Megágyazol. Nekem. Neked.
Neki. Ahogy átlendül. Hajlik. Hajlong.
Mondjuk: elmondom. Mondjuk: meghallgatod.

Te tömörítő!
Hogyan használjalak?
Itt ülök és duruzsolok.
Édes vagyok, édes vagy.

Gyönyörű volt. Tömör. Használt.
Valamit csinálnom kellett volna vele.
És még volt sok
minden. Minden?
Tél volt. Kemény. Fel-
Nő volt. Férfi. Kis-semmilyen.

Kinga Fabó’s bio (below) ends with this: “In everything she’s done, Fabó has always been between the verges, on the verge, and in the extreme.” I begin with it, in discussing her work. She and I have been published in at least one anthology together (The Significant Anthology). However, we mostly know each other through the virtual world of Facebook. Our friendship began with a discussion of one of her poems, where I commented about just that sense of the poem, of being between, liminal. As I recall, the sea and its waves splashed through the poem.

The poems she’s shared here on my blog provide that same sense, of being on the verge of connecting and understanding that connections really do not connect us. The sense of the orchid as a lover, of a lover as a strangled ego, and the emptiness of a winter love affair all also convey something more—of our inability to understand the world, of our constantly standing on the edge, between what we feel and what we can articulate, what we sense and what is—on the verge.

I find her poems haunting, the themes philosophical (perhaps epistemological, or is that my projection?), the words spare but beautiful. It is a pleasure to (try) to read them here in Hungarian, one in Galego (Galician), a language I only vaguely had heard of before. The pleasure of the sounds, the pleasure of the poems, the pleasure of sensing the thinking and feeling person behind the poems—these all spark in me a desire to respond, to write, and, paradoxically, to listen quietly on the verge…

Fabó-TwitterKinga Fabó is a Hungarian poet (linguist, essayist). Her latest book, a bilingual Indonesian-English poetry collection RACUN/POISON was published in 2015 in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Fabó’s poetry has been published in various international lit mags including Osiris, Taos Journal of International Poetry (Mexico), Basho International Haiku Forum (India), Sastra Digital (Indonesia), MeArteka (Albania), ATUNIS (Albania), Eastern World (Uzbekistan), Knot Magazine, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Screech Owl, The Original Van Gogh’s Ear, Numéro Cinq as well as in anthologies like Beletra Almanako, The Significant Anthology, Resonance, Women in War, The Colours of Refuge, Poetry in Action, Poetry Against Racism, World Poetry Yearbook 2015, etc.

Some of her poems are often anthologized (e.g., Isadora Duncan Dancing). Others have been picked up at random from here and there and happened to be translated into Persian, Albanian, Tamil or Galego. One of her poems, The Ears, has among others six different Indonesian translations by six different authors.

She has also written on Sylvia Plath. In everything she’s done, Fabó has always been between the verges, on the verge, and in the extreme.

Kinga Fabó on Twitter
Kinga Fabó on FaceBook
Kinga Fabó’s Author’s Page
Download Racun / Poison for free from this Hungarian online library
The English translations of these poems originally appeared in Numéro Cinq

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coffee brews Wednesday

Michael Dickel

As he wrote Musée des Beaux Arts

Auden danced with Isherwood. He asked about a young man
who had caught their attention long ago in Berlin.
Brecht approved of their love; Gypsy Rose Lee kissed
their cheeks when she visited them on Fire Island.
Auden loved his suffering, embraced it in his bed
each night and held it close, making love with it
before he dreamt of flying toward the sun,
the smell of molten wax, the splash of water.
Just as the blue waves engulfed him
he glimpsed the amazing flashes of color—
yellow, red, orange, blue, green, purple—
of reef fish darting toward a bit of shelter,
smooth dark caves amid the sharp coral reef.


Pieter Brueghel, the Elder, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
Oil-tempera, 29 inches x 44 inches. Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels.


W. H. Auden, 1907–1973

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.


William Carlos Williams, 1883–1963

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning


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Sunday brunch Tuesday

Michael Dickel


I’ll take your hyper-inflated
phallus, ego-distended balloon,
id-fueled hot-air engine
that fills super-ego daydreams
to dizzying-heights of power—
and throw your craven, carved
wind on the fire of this year’s
revolution. Such a useless
log, poorly fit for fuel, and
barely at that, must burn
to ash before this dawn

comes, must rise in smoke
signals to call poets and
painters from themselves.
Then you can raise your
indistinguishable flags,
try to wave the smoke
from your eyes. We
will not be deceived—
we know who feeds
this all-consuming blaze.
And we will have

already come for you.
As you crawl out of your
wrecked ship of state,
we come for you.
As your cracked currency
drops from you, we come
for you. As you fall,
we come for you.
We come, not as you
imagine. With arms open,
we welcome you back to humanity.



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