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Theodore Roethke


Long live the weeds that overwhelm
My narrow vegetable realm! -
The bitter rock, the barren soil
That force the son of man to toil;
All things unholy, marked by curse,
The ugly of the universe.
The rough, the wicked, and the wild
That keep the spirit undefiled.
With these I match my little wit
And earn the right to stand or sit,
Hope, look, create, or drink and die:
These shape the creature that is I.

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The small birds swirl around;
The high cicadas chirr;
A towhee pecks the ground;
I look at the first star:
My heart held to its joy,
This whole September day.

The moon goes to the full;
The moon goes slowly down;
The wood becomes a wall.
Far things draw closer in.
A wind moves through the grass,
Then all is as it was.

What rustles in the fern?
I feel my flesh divide.
Things lost in sleep return
As if out of my side,
On feet that make no sound
Over the sodden ground.

The small shapes drowse;
I live to woo the fearful small;
What moves in grass I love—
The dead will not lie still,
And things throw light on things,
And all the stones have wings.

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I remember the crossing-tender's geranium border
That blossomed in soot; a black cat licking its paw;
The bronze wheat arranged in strict and formal order;
And the precision that for you was ultimate law;

The handkerchief tucked in the left-hand pocket
Of a man-tailored blouse; the list of shopping done;
You wound the watch in an old-fashioned locket
And pulled the green shade against the morning sun.

Now in the misery of bed-sitting room confusion,
With no hint of your presence in a jungle of masculine toys,
In the dirt and disorder I cherish one scrap of illusion:
A cheap clock ticking in ghostly cicada voice.

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I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I'd have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek.)

How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and stand;
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin:
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing did we make.)

Love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize;
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved.)

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:
I'm martyr to a motion not my own;
What's freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways.)

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I think the dead are tender. Shall we kiss? —
My lady laughs, delighting in what is.
If she but sighs, a bird puts out its tongue.
She makes space lonely with a lovely song.
She lilts a low soft language, and I hear
Down long sea-chambers of the inner ear.

We sing together; we sing mouth to mouth.
The garden is a river flowing south.
She cries out loud the soul's own secret joy;
She dances, and the ground bears her away.
She knows the speech of light, and makes it plain
A lively thing can come to life again.

I feel her presence in the common day,
In that slow dark that widens every eye.
She moves as water moves, and comes to me,
Stayed by what was, and pulled by what would be.

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My lizard, my lively writher,
May your limbs never wither,
May the eyes in your face
Survive the green ice
Of envy's mean gaze;
May you live out your life
Without hate, without grief,
And your hair ever blaze,
In the sun, in the sun,
When I am undone,
When I am no one.

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Here from the field's edge we survey
The progress of the jaded. Mile
on mile of traffic from the town
Rides by, for at the end of the day
The time of workers is their own.

They jockey for position on
The strip reserved for passing only.
The drivers from production lines
Hold to advantage dearly won.
They toy with death and traffic fines.

Acceleration is their need:
A mania keeps them on the move
Until the toughest nerves are frayed.
They are prisoners of speed
Who flee in what their hands have made.

The pavement smokes when two cars meet,
and steel rips through conflicting steel.
We shiver at the siren's blast.
One driver, pinned beneath the seat,
Escapes the machine at last.

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Now here is peace for one who knew
The secret heart of sound.
The ear so delicate and true
Is pressed to noiseless ground.

Slow swings the breeze above her head,
The grasses whitely stir;
But in this forest of the dead
No bird awakens her.

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           If the Poem (beginning "I knew a woman, lovely in her bones")
The London Times Literary Supplement
           has not appeared here, we offer you $75 for it.
           Could you wire us collect your answer?
                                Sincerely yours,
                                Alice S. Morris
                                Literary Editor,
Harper's Bazaar

Sweet Alice S. Morris, I am pleased, of course,
You take the Times Supplement, and read its verse,
And know that True Love is more than a Life-Forse
- And so like my poem called Poem.

Dan Cupid, I tell you's a braw laddie-buck;
A visit from him is a piece of pure luck,
And should he arrive, why just lean yourself back
- And recite him my poem called Poem.

O print it, my dear, do publish it, yes,
That ladies their true natures never supress,
When they come, dazely, to the pretty pass
- Of acting my poem called Poem.

My darling, my dearest, most-honest-alive,
Just send me along that sweet seventy-five;
I'll continue to think on the nature of love,
- As I dance to my poem called Poem.

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