To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, November 5, 2009

David Antin: From “Words to the Wise” (2 poems, 2009)


the wave betrays the wind
thirst teaches you the value of water
if you have nothing you’ve got nothing to lose
the squash calls the melon a cucumber
a small hole can sink a big ship
the road from the peak can only lead to the valley
its easier for a lake to become a swamp than for a swamp to become a lake
you can soften steel but it takes a lot of heat
experience may be a good teacher but its not a governess
when the river overflows, the last raindrop thinks it caused the flood
the sea swallows the wise as well as the fool
hope has distinguished relatives
if you’re looking for a lasting peace try a cemetery
a man with bad luck can drown in a teaspoon of water
looking at a broken pot won’t put it together again
what good is a loaf of bread when thousands are starving
the great volga began as a little stream
don’t become a violin if you don’t want to be stroked
what you tell the volga today the volga will tell the caspian tomorrow
its not the net that counts, it’s the fish
its easier for a dog to learn to howl than for a wolf to learn to bark
most cavalry songs are sung by infantrymen
a wolf without teeth is still a wolf
anyone can die without special training


If the ground under your feet is wet, the sky is to blame.
before you buy shoes, make sure you measure your feet
if you doubt what you hear, you can’t believe what you see
it’s as difficult to recover the past as to pick up spilled water
every needle has a point
if there’s a car ahead of you in a fog, you can follow its lights, but not too closely
no matter how tall you are, your legs still touch the ground
if you’re always in a hurry, you’ll never arrive on time
a person who walks in a straight line and a person who walks in a curved line
will never arrive at the same place
you can tell it on the mountain, but whisper it in the valley
if the morning is sunny, the evening can still bring clouds
a festival for some people is a traffic problem for others
time is a hallway we never get out of, except at the end
a question may be an answer to a question as an answer maybe a question to
an answer
a system of values may be nothing more than an accountant’s dream
it’s hard to be a bystander in a storm
the country is where the food is, but the city is where the money is
the fool will not believe you because your story is too complicated,
the educated man will not believe you because your story is too simple
there is no fact as unlikely as a giraffe
when you’re caught in the rain you’ll remember you forgot your umbrella
don’t climb a tree to look for fish
when you’re climbing a mountain don’t step back
if you’re holding a tool in your hand, it’s also holding you by the hand
you can’t use paint to cover a hole in the wall
there are two sides to every wall
if you don’t drink, the price of wine doesn’t matter
if you stand on a mountain top nothing is likely to fall on your head
if you go underground you may not have enough light
until you get in the water you don’t know what it’s like to swim

September, 2009

[David Antin’s most recent book of talk-poems, i never knew what time it was, was published by the University of California Press & is still easily available. Other pieces by Antin on the present site were posted on June 19, 2008 and on May 28 and June 17, 2009. Radical Coherency, his major collection of essays, will be published by the University of Chicago Press in 2010.]


Phanero Noemikon said...

I dig Cassandra the most.

pb said...

Not proverbs, superstitions - hope you like them - they are couplets but I don't think the format holds in the comments box.


Modern superstitions

using the powersave option
leads to enhanced consciousness

leaving cubes of camphor in a cupboard
guarantees peaceful afternoon naps

a fruitbat hanging on a pay-tv cable
soothes cynicism

finding a scorpion in your bath
brings good luck

taking a bus ride under a rainbow
augurs a ghastly end

an oilstain obscuring your bumper sticker
turns any aspiration into a flop

finding an abandoned shoe in a mirrored elevator
ensures exorbitant profits

experiencing déjà vu in a library
means you are soon to meet a big galoot

a jolt of static from an escalator handrail
is favourable

eating a morsel of pecan pie from a jumbo-size fridge
encourages glad acceptance of all miseries

if you drop an egg into a red plastic bucket
you will always have available credit