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Howard Nemerov

A Life

Innocence?
In a sense.
In no sense!

Was that it?
Was that it?
Was that it?

That was it.

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Threshold

When in still air and still in summertime
A leaf has had enough of this, it seems
To make up its mind to go; fine as a sage
Its drifting in detachment down the road.


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Casting

The waters deep, the waters dark,
Reflect the seekers, hide the sought,
Whether in water or in air to drown.
Between them curls the silver spark,
Barbed, baited, waiting, of a thought--
Which in the world is upside down,
The fish hook or the question mark?

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Because You Asked About The Line Between Prose And Poetry

Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned into pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.

There came a moment that you couldn't tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.

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The Beautiful Lawn Sprinkler

What gives it power makes it change its mind
At each extreme, and lean its rising rain
Down low, first one and then the other way;
In which exchange humility and pride
Reverse, forgive, arise, and die again,
Wherefore it holds at both ends of the day
The rainbow in its scattering grains of spray.


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Kicks

The fishermen on Lake Michigan, sometimes,
For kicks, they spit two hunks of bait on hooks
At either end of a single length of line
And toss that up among the scavenging gulls,

Who go for it so fast that often two of them
Make the connection before it hits the water.
Hooked and hung up like that, they do a dance
That lasts only so long. The fishermen

Do that for kicks, on Lake Michigan, sometimes.


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A Primer of the Daily Round

A peels an apple, while B kneels to God,
C telephones to D, who has a hand
On E’s knee, F coughs, G turns up the sod
For H’s grave, I do not understand
But J is bringing one clay pigeon down
While K brings down a nightstick on L’s head,
And M takes mustard, N drives to town,
O goes to bed with P, and Q drops dead,
R lies to S, but happens to be heard
By T, who tells U not to fire V
For having to give W the word
That X is now deceiving Y with Z,
Who happens, just now to remember A
Peeling an apple somewhere far away.

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Gyroscope

This admirable gadget, when it is
Wound on a string and spun with steady force,
Maintains its balance on most any smooth
Surface, pleasantly humming as it goes.
It is whirled not on a constant course, but still
Stands in unshivering integrity
For quite some time, meaning nothing perhaps
But being something agreeable to watch,
A silver nearly silence gleaning a still-
ness out of speed, composing unity
From spin, so that its hollow spaces seem
Solids of light, until it wobbles and
Begins to whine, and then with an odd lunge
Eccentric and reckless, it skids away
And drops dead into its own skeleton.

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The Vacuum

The house is so quiet now
The vacuum cleaner sulks in the corner closet,
Its bag limp as a stopped lung, its mouth
Grinning into the floor, maybe at my
Slovenly life, my dog-dead youth.


I’ve lived this way long enough,
But when my old woman died her soul
Went into that vacuum cleaner, and I can’t bear
To see the bag swell like a belly, eating the dust
And the woolen mice, and begin to howl


Because there is old filth everywhere
She used to crawl, in the corner and under the stair.
I know now how life is cheap as dirt,
And still the hungry, angry heart
Hangs on and howls, biting at air.

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The Consent

Late in November, on a single night
Not even near to freezing, the ginkgo trees
That stand along the walk dropp all their leaves
In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind
But as though to time alone: the golden and green
Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday
Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light.

What signal from the stars? What senses took it in?
What in those wooden motives so decided
To strike their leaves, to down their leaves,
Rebellion or surrender? and if this
Can happen thus, what race shall be exempt?
What use to learn the lessons taught by time.
If a star at any time may tell us: Now.

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Howard Nemerov
Howard Nemerov