Poems for April 21: Daniel Wolff, Reginald Gibbons, Jack Hirschman and the Natural World


by Daniel Wolff

Daniel Wolff

An eighty-foot white pine

— having toppled over in the black night –

lies flat now. And I can stand

where clouds once caught.

This horizontal will soon be normal.

Branches will brown and blend with the earth.

But for now, it’s new: fresh with air

that only crows have crossed.

From here, I should be able to see

me: tiny, peering up.

And can’t, of course. Why pretend?

It’s not new; it’s fallen.

[Daniel Wolff’s new book, How Lincoln Learned to Read: Twelve Great Americans and the Educations that Made Them, was an editor’s choice at the Chicago Tribune, received a starred review from Kirkus calling it “a riveting, original examination of education inside and outside the classroom,” and was hailed by The Christian Science Monitor as “a terrific book… rich and thought-provoking.” His other work includes 4th of July/Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land, Grammy nominated liner notes for The Complete Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers cd, and producer credits on the forthcoming Jonathan Demme documentary about New Orleans, Right to Return. He continues to write poetry and essays on education, some of which can be found on his Red Room blog and on the Holler If blog. Lew Rosenbaum’s review of How Lincoln Learned to Read can be found here.  Search on the Labor & Arts site for Daniel Wolff to find some of his other essays.]


The Affect of Elms by Reginald Gibbons

Across the narrow street from the old hotel that now
houses human damage temporarily —
deranged, debilitated, but up and around in their odd
postures, taking their meds, or maybe trading them —

is the little park, once a neighboring mansion’s side yard,
where beautiful huge old elm trees, long in that place,
stand in a close group over the mown green lawn
watered and well kept by the city, their shapes expressive:

the affect of elms is the struggle upward and survival,
of strength — despite past grief (the bowed languorous arches)
and torment (limbs in the last stopped attitude of writhing) —

while under them wander the deformed and tentative
persons, accompanied by voices, counting their footsteps,
exhaling the very breath the trees breathe in.

from maybe it was so by Reginald Gibbons


by Reginald Gibbons

Beyond the suburbs, armed
bulldozers crush the libraries
of wildflowers, religions of
the butterflies are suppressed,
hamburgers force their way
even into the forests that
never before had been
cut, there they impose
administrative districts of
the bewildered star fields
of bright trillium that
constellate the ground…
But farther in, farther for
a little while yet,
the sister saplings still do
not tell their myth, they whisper
warnings to each other, blue-
feathered heads abruptly
look up from their reading
of acorns, tall leafed
beings breathe out
benevolence and each grass
stem no different from
innumerable others happens
to move in the soft sweet
air in such a way as
to be fully itself, singular,
it sways gracefully,
alone now, alone, unafraid,
the center of the world.

from Valparaiso Review © by Reginald Gibbons

[Reginald Gibbons, from the Poetry Foundation web site: Born and raised in Houston, Reginald Gibbons earned his BA in Spanish and Portuguese from Princeton University, and both his MA in English and creative writing and his PhD in comparative literature from Stanford University.

[Gibbons is “the author of more than half a dozen collections of poetry, including Sparrow: New and Selected Poems (1997), winner of the Balcones Poetry Prize, and Creatures of a Day (2008), finalist for the National Book Award. In a 2008 interview, Gibbons describes Creatures of a Day as “a book about chance encounters, the testing of one’s sense of the world that is produced by encounters with other people,” a depiction that speaks to one of Gibbons’s major concerns, that of poetry’s role in the lives of others. Over the course of his career, Gibbons has focused increasingly on social and political injustice, and the power and responsibility that writers have to engage their society and effect change. . . . ” read more  by clicking here.  He lives and writes in Evanston, IL., is a founding Board member of the literary organization, the Guild Complex.]


The Happiness by Jack Hirschman
There’s a happiness, a joy
in the soul, that’s been

This retrospective is the City Lights Pocket Poets Series, No. 55

buried alive in everyone
and forgotten.

It isn’t your barroom joke
or tender, intimate humor
or affections of friendliness
or a big, bright pun.

They’re the surviving survivors
of what happened when happiness
was buried alive, when
it no longer looked out

of today’s eyes, and doesn’t
even manifest when one
of us dies, we just walk away
from everything, alone

with what’s left of us,
going on being human beings
without being human,
without that happiness.

from Front Lines: Selected Poems by Jack Hirschman, who will open the Chicago Labor & Arts Festival Monday, May 3, at 7:30 pm, with a public reading at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum, along with Kevin Coval and poets from Louder Than A Bomb; and again Tuesday, May 4 at Mess Hall in conjunction with the Next Objectivist poetry group facilitated by Matthias Regan.


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