When You Return
March 18, 2009

Fallen leaves will climb back into trees.Shards of the shattered vase will riseand reassemble on the table.Plastic raincoats will refoldinto their flat envelopes. The egg,bald yolk and its transparent halo,slide back in the thin, calcium shell.Curses will pour back into mouths,letters un-write themselves, wordssiphoned up into the pen. My gray hairwill darken and become the feathersof a black swan. Bullets will snapback into their chambers, the powdertamped tight in brass casings. Borderswill disappear from maps. Rustrevert to oxygen and time.

Ancient Evenings
March 04, 2009

Sex and Sensuality in the Ancient World By Giulia Sissa Translated by George Staunton (Yale University Press, 224 pp., $38) Perhaps the most interesting finding of the two Kinsey reports on sexual behavior published in 1948 and 1953, and thus early harbingers of the mid-century revolution, was the enormous gap it revealed between accepted social and religious norms and what actually went on behind closed doors. There was much talk of hypocrisy, but this missed the point.

In the Word-Hoard
March 04, 2009

Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus HeaneyBy Dennis O'Driscoll(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 522 pp., $32)"Remote on the one hand from the banal, on the other from the eccentric, his genius was calculated to win at once the adhesion of the general public and the admiration, both sympathetic and stimulating, of the connoisseur." So writes Thomas Mann about Gustav von Aschenbach, great writer and national institution, in Death in Venice; and the description applies unexpectedly well to Seamus Heaney.

Hardy's Sky
March 04, 2009

A sky out of Thomas Hardy: bleak, cloud-broken, swollen withwind-shiver, grey-gold with touches of crucifixion and apocalypse,everything a flight, a fugue, so the small voices of these slate juncosmake music a huddle of refugees might make--bedraggled, bentunder tattered loads, feeling the weather change, the air harden,the taste of things grow harsh and crude on their forced marchtowards haggard light, towards some poor haven, this endless trekagainst weather, fires blossoming from the sky ceiling, the ferociousthump of air waves pushing them, staggering ear drums, pure dreadbursting in scatt

D.C. Confidential
March 04, 2009

The Rules of the Game By Leonard Downie Jr. (Alfred A. Knopf, 319 pp., $26.95) I have this idea for a great Washington novel. A new president takes office, having prevailed in a gruesomely divisive election. He is muddling through his first few months in office when suddenly a great national calamity strikes. He had theretofore shown few signs that he had it in him to rise to this solemn occasion, but he meets with some initial success.

Vlad the Impaler
March 04, 2009

Verses and Versions: Three Centuries of Russian Poetry Translated by Vladimir Nabokov Edited by Brian Boyd and Stanislav Shvabrin (Harcourt, 441 pp., $40) I. Vladimir Nabokov, who throughout his career cultivated his reputation as the most famous literary exile since Ovid, was recognized in his lifetime not only for his novels but also for his authority on Russian cultural and aesthetic matters. He gave packed lectures extolling Tolstoy and annihilating Dostoevsky, and published dozens of translations of Russian verse.

The City of Poetry
March 04, 2009

There are a number of shallow streams In the city, but only the one river. Only the one river, but different Poems give it different names.For some it's Lethe, river of oblivion; For others, it's Time itself, that flows Through all poems, that laps At the banks of words, slowly eroding.Some name it after a childhood Brook--a current that moved Alongside their own, As if they both emerged From the same source.Others dub it something Exotic, as if to say: you are a river I've never seen, except in imagination: You are the color of my longing, Which is deep and pure. By Gregory Orr

D Is Dying, as One Going in the Dark
February 18, 2009

A feeling of something indefinable but not right. Not comfortable. A rushing. Sometimes I have to stop And sort out time at cyberspeed.   It’s supposed to arrive “between 2 and 3 in the morning.” The very specificity of the promise makes me disbelieve. If it ever arrives, I’ll say, Good, that’s over. That little irritating suspense.   The hollowing wait. The stupid want For good news. No bad. What more can one ask for? One day more over in the prison Of childhood. The runaway fantasies.   The retreat into the open mind, That mysterious conceptual nothing. Distant fireworks.

A New Head
February 18, 2009

Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid By Simon Armitage (Knopf, 80 pp., $25) THE ENGLISH POET Simon Armitage, born in the north of England in 1963, took degrees in two fields: geography—reflected in his ecological poems—and psychology—visible in his poems of ordinary life. He worked for six years as a Probation Officer, following in his father’s footsteps, and then began to earn his living as a freelance writer. Armitage’s poems, funny and savage, reveal unlovely aspects of modern life, but they also glitter with comedy.

February 18, 2009

On the day I graduated from saltines to toast, and could manage a few laps around the bedroom with the two transparent tubes, and needles stuck into my arterial veins, my mother showed up at the door demanding I take my wig off so she could see what I looked like now that my hair had all fallen out, every eyelash curl, every inch of peach fuzz, gone, her face cocked in the way that Parkinson's had set it like a wind up toy missing a part, her pants too short, and socks lewdly unmatched, her turquoise eyes, sparkling, as she gripped the banister, sturdying herself, leaning on her avuncular cane