With a mirror I could see the sky…..Sheltering in Place #4


boy at window darker 2

night, boy at window, Stockton Street                                                                                    c.craig

The Room

Denise Levertov (British American 1923-1997)

With a mirror
I could see the sky.

With two mirrors or three
justly placed, I could see
the sun bowing to the evening chimneys.

Moonrise -the moon itself might appear
in a fourth mirror placed high
and close to the open window.

With enough mirrors within
and even without the room, a cantilever
supporting them, mountains
and oceans might be manifest.

I understand perfectly
that I could encounter my own eyes
too ofen -I take account
of the danger-
If the mirrors
are large enough, and arranged
with bravura, I can look
beyond my own glance.

With one mirror
how many stars could I see?

I don’t want to escape, only to see
the enactment of rites.




Denise Levertov was born in England to politically active parents.  She is quoted as saying when young she sold The Daily Worker in the working class streets of Ilford Lane.  Immigrating to the United States, she became friends with William Carlos Williams and was published by the Black Mountain School.   Levertov was taken to task for her poetic response to the Vietnam War — especially the collection To Stay Alive.  Critic Marjorie Perloff characterized that as the work of “an hysterical woman” — dismissing both the message and the messenger. Michael Bengal, from whose 2017 blog (1), I took the Perloff quote,  defends Levertov. He  argues that she was (in the words of Paul Blackburn whose friendship with Levertov broke on the rocks of her Vietnam War work)  “mining … images the war arouses in us.” (2)

With that I arrive at what I see as the question of the moment and why I chose her poem:  with what can we respond to the brutal images — I do not refer to the sick here, I refer to the politics  —  massing around us?  I wish  we knew.


(1) http://mikebegnal.blogspot.com/2017/07/on-denise-levertovs-to-stay-alive-1971.html
(2) https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/69088/craft-vs-conscience




I really love you, believe me…

Sheltering-in-place #1


Attila Jozsef, (1905 -1937) Hungarian Poet

                       I really love you,
believe me.  It is something I inherited
from my mother.
She was a good woman.  After all,
she was the one who brought me
into this world.

                    We may compare life
to a shoe, or a laundromat,
or whatever.
Nonetheless, we love it
for reasons of our own.

                     Saviours, there are
enough of them to save the world

three times a day and still nobody knows
how to light a match.  I’ll have to give up
on them.

                     It would be nice
to buy tickets for a trip to the
self.  It must be somewhere inside us.

                    Every morning I wash 
my thoughts
in cold water.
That way they come out fresh as a daisy.

                     Diamonds can sprout
good warm songs,
if you plant them under your heart.

                    Some people will stay
pedestrians no matter what they ride,

horse, car or airplane.

                    Me, I just lie around
in the morning song of larks
and still make it over the abyss.

                    Let us carefully save our
true souls
like our best suit of clothes
to keep them spotless for the days of

(translated from Hungarian: John Batki)


While sheltering-in-place, locked down, or cocooning, I have taken to reading poems with breaks to look at the growing numbers.  As of yesterday there were more than a million who are suffering or had suffered from coronavirus and the United States has a quarter of those.

I have nothing worth saying about the barbarous behavior of our government but I thought sharing poems might be a comfort.

This poem comes from Carolyn Forche’s Against Forgetting, Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness.  Forche tells us that when Attila Jozsef’s first poems were published in 1922, he was tried for blasphemy. This poem was written near the end of his life.

I will be back with more poems in this time of plague.

San Francisco, 3 April 2020