No Nest

Poems to Help One's Reflection

"Tear it Down"

by Jack Gilbert 

We find out the heart only by dismantling what

the heart knows. By redefining the morning,

we find a morning that comes just after darkness.

We can break through marriage into marriage.

By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond

affection and wade mouth-deep into love.

We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.

But going back toward childhood will not help.

The village is not better than Pittsburgh.

Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.

Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound

of racoon tongues licking the inside walls

of the garbage tub is more than the stir

of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not

enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.

We should insist while there is still time. We must

eat through the wildness of her sweet body already

in our bed to reach the body within the body.

From The Great Fires: Poems 1982-1992 by Jack Gilbert

"First Weeks"

by Sharon Olds

Those first weeks, I don’t know if I knew
how to love our daughter. Her face looked crushed,
crumpled with worry-and not even
despair, but just depression, a look of
endurance. The skin of her face was finely
wrinkled, there were wisps of hair on her ears,
she looked a little like a squirrel, suspicious,
tranced. And smallish, 6.13,
wizened-she looked as if she were wincing
away from me without moving. The first
moment I had seen her, my glasses off,
in the delivery room, a blur of blood,
and blue skin, and limbs, I had known her,
upside down, and they righted her, and there
came that faint, almost sexual, wail, and her
whole body flushed rose.
When I saw her next, she was bound in cotton,
someone else had cleaned her, wiped
the inside of my body off her
and combed her hair in narrow scary
plough-lines. She was ten days early;
sleepy, the breast so engorged it stood out nearly
even with the nipple, her lips would so much as
approach it, it would hiss and spray.
In two days we took her home, she shrieked
and whimpered, like a dream of a burn victim,
and when she was quiet, she would lie there and peer, not quite
anxiously. I didn’t blame her,
she’d been born to my mother’s daughter. I would kneel
and gaze at her, and pity her.
All day I nursed her, all night I walked her,
and napped, and nursed, and walked her. And then,
one day, she looked at me, as if
she knew me. She lay along my forearm, fed, and
gazed at me as if remembering me,
as if she had known me, and liked me, and was getting
her memory back. When she smiled at me,
delicate rictus like a birth-pain coming,
I fell in love, I became human.

“the lost baby poem”

by Lucille Clifton

the time i dropped your almost body down
down to meet the waters under the city
and run one with the sewage to the sea
what did i know about waters rushing back
what did i know about drowning
or being drowned

you would have been born into winter
in the year of the disconnected gas
and no car       we would have made the thin
walk over genesee hill into the canada wind
to watch you slip like ice into strangers’ hands
you would have fallen naked as snow into winter
if you were here i could tell you these
and some other things

if i am ever less than a mountain
for your definite brothers and sisters
let the rivers pour over my head
let the sea take me for a spiller
of seas        let black men call me stranger
always        for your never named sake

From good woman: poems and a memoir, 1969-1980 by Lucille Clifton

"homage to my hips"
by Lucille Clifton

these hips are big hips 

they need space to 

move around in. 

they don't fit into little 

petty places. these hips 

are free hips. 

they don't like to be held back. 

these hips have never been enslaved,   

they go where they want to go 

they do what they want to do. 

these hips are mighty hips. 

these hips are magic hips. 

i have known them 

to put a spell on a man and 

spin him like a top!

From good woman: poems and a memoir, 1969-1980 by Lucille Clifton

by Rita Dove

I am the daughter who went out with the girls,
never checked back in and nothing marked my "last
known whereabouts," not a single glistening petal.

Horror is partial; it keeps you going. A lost
child is a fact hardening around its absence,
a knot in the breast purring Touch, and I will

come true. I was "returned," I watched her
watch as I babbled It could have been worse...
Who can tell
what penetrates? Pity is the brutal
discipline. Now I understand she can never
die, just as nothing can bring me back

I am the one who comes and goes;
I am the footfall that hovers.

From Mother Love, 1995, by Rita Dove
Dove can be heard here, reading this poem, and some of her others


by D. H. Lawrence

When we get out of the glass bottles of our own ego,
and when we escape like squirrels from turning in the cages of our personality
and get into the forest again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright
but things will happen to us
so that we don't know ourselves.

Cool, unlying life will rush in,
and passion will make our bodies taut with power,
we shall stamp our feet with new power
and old things will fall down,
we shall laugh, and institutions will curl up like burnt paper.

From The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence, 1994

"Baby Picture"

by Anne Sexton

It's in the heart of the grape
where that smile lies.
It's in the good-bye-bow in the hair
where that smile lies.
It's in the clerical collar of the dress
where that smile lies.
What smile? 
The smile of my seventh year, 

caught here in the painted photograph.

It's peeling now, age has got it, 
a kind of cancer of the background
and also in the assorted features.
It's like a rotten flag
or a vegetable from the refrigerator, 
pocked with mold.


I am aging without sound, 
into darkness, darkness.

who are you? 

I open the vein
and my blood rings like roller skates.


I open the mouth
and my teeth are an angry army.
I open the eyes
and they go sick like dogs
with what they have seen.
I open the hair
and it falls apart like dust balls.

I open the dress


and I see a child bent on a toilet seat.
I crouch there, sitting dumbly
pushing the enemas out like ice cream, 
letting the whole brown world
turn into sweets.

who are you? 

Merely a kid keeping alive.

"The friend"

by Marge Piercy

We sat across the table. 
he said, cut off your hands. 
they are always poking at things. 
they might touch me. 
I said yes. 

Food grew cold on the table. 
he said, burn your body. 
it is not clean and smells like sex. 
it rubs my mind sore. 
I said yes. 

I love you, I said. 
That's very nice, he said 
I like to be loved, 
that makes me happy. 
Have you cut off your hands yet? 

From Circles on the Water: Selected Poems of Marge Piercy, 1967

"To Luck"

By W.S Merwin

In the cards and at the bend in the road 

we never saw you 

in the womb and in the crossfire 

in the numbers 

whatever you had your hand in 

which was everything 

we were told never to put 

our faith in you 

to bow to you humbly after all 

because in the end there was nothing 

else we could do 

but not to believe in you 


still we might coax you with pebbles 

kept warm in the hand 

or coins or the relics 

of vanished animals 

observances rituals 

not binding upon you 

who make no promises 

we might do such things only 

not to neglect you 

and risk your disfavor 

oh you who are never the same 

who are secret as the day when it comes 

you whom we explain 

as often as we can 

without understanding

"Love After Love"

by Derek Walcott

The time will come 
when, with elation 
you will greet yourself arriving 
at your own door, in your own mirror 
and each will smile at the other's welcome, 

and say, sit here. Eat. 
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart 
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you 

all your life, whom you ignored 
for another, who knows you by heart. 
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, 

the photographs, the desperate notes, 
peel your own image from the mirror. 
Sit. Feast on your life.

"The Art Of Drowning" 

by Billy Collins

I wonder how it all got started, this business
about seeing your life flash before your eyes
while you drown, as if panic, or the act of submergence,
could startle time into such compression, crushing
decades in the vice of your desperate, final seconds.

After falling off a steamship or being swept away
in a rush of floodwaters, wouldn't you hope
for a more leisurely review, an invisible hand
turning the pages of an album of photographs-
you up on a pony or blowing out candles in a conic hat.

How about a short animated film, a slide presentation?
Your life expressed in an essay, or in one model photograph?
Wouldn't any form be better than this sudden flash?
Your whole existence going off in your face
in an eyebrow-singeing explosion of biography-
nothing like the three large volumes you envisioned.

Survivors would have us believe in a brilliance
here, some bolt of truth forking across the water,
an ultimate Light before all the lights go out,
dawning on you with all its megalithic tonnage.
But if something does flash before your eyes
as you go under, it will probably be a fish,

a quick blur of curved silver darting away,
having nothing to do with your life or your death.
The tide will take you, or the lake will accept it all
as you sink toward the weedy disarray of the bottom,
leaving behind what you have already forgotten,
the surface, now overrun with the high travel of clouds.