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Donald Hall

Literature Discussion Group

Thursday, September 23

6:30 - 8:30 pm

Teaism (at Penn Quarter), subterranean level

400 8th Street NW (8th & D Streets)


-- nearest metro stations: Archives/Navy Memorial (yellow and greem lines) - half a block away; Federal Triange (orange and blue lines) - about three blocks away, Metro Center - five blocks

Have a look/listen at these links:
A Sister on the Tracks

Between pond and sheepbarn, by maples and watery birches,  
Rebecca paces a double line of rust
in a sandy trench, striding on black
creosoted eight-by-eights.
                                       In nineteen-forty-three,
wartrains skidded tanks,
airframes, dynamos, searchlights, and troops
to Montreal. She counted cars
from the stopped hayrack at the endless crossing:  
ninety-nine, one hundred; and her grandfather Ben’s  
voice shaking with rage and oratory told
how the mighty Boston and Maine
kept the Statehouse in its pocket.
                                                   Today Rebecca walks  
a line that vanishes, in solitude
bypassed by wars and commerce. She remembers the story  
of the bunting’d day her great-great-great-
grandmother watched the first train roll and smoke  
from Potter Place to Gale
with fireworks, cider, and speeches. Then the long rail  
drove west, buzzing and humming; the hive of rolling stock  
extended a thousand-car’d perspective
from Ohio to Oregon, where men who left stone farms  
rode rails toward gold.
                                  On this blue day she walks  
under a high jet’s glint of swooped aluminum pulling  
its feathery contrail westward. She sees ahead  
how the jet dies into junk, and highway wastes  
like railroad. Beside her the old creation retires,  
hayrack sunk like a rowboat
under its fields of hay. She closes her eyes
to glimpse the vertical track that rises
from the underworld of graves,
soul’s ascension connecting dead to unborn, rails  
that hum with a hymn of continual vanishing  
where tracks cross.
                            For she opens her eyes to read  
on a solitary gravestone next to the rails
the familiar names of Ruth and Matthew Bott, born  
in a Norfolk parish, who ventured
the immigrant’s passionate Exodus westward to labor  
on their own land. Here love builds
its mortal house, where today’s wind carries  
a double scent of heaven and cut hay.



To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.


White Apples


when my father had been dead a week
I woke
with his voice in my ear
                         I sat up in bed

and held my breath
and stared at the pale closed door

white apples and the taste of stone

if he called again
I would put on my coat and galoshes



The Master


Where the poet stops, the poem
begins. The poem asks only
that the poet gets out of the way.

The poem empties itself
in order to fill itself up.

The poem is nearest the poet
when the poet laments
that it has vanished forever.

When the poet disappears
the poem becomes visible.

What may the poem choose,
best for the poet?
I will choose that the poet
not choose for himself.


The Things


When I walk in my house I see pictures,

bought long ago, framed and hanging

—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore—

that I’ve cherished and stared at for years,

yet my eyes keep returning to the masters

of the trivial: a white stone perfectly round,

tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell,

a broken great-grandmother’s rocker,

a dead dog’s toy—valueless, unforgettable

detritus that my children will throw away

as I did my mother’s souvenirs of trips

with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens,

and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.




Nymph and Shepherd


She died a dozen times before I died,

And kept on dying, nymph of fatality.

I could not die but once although I tried.


I envied her. She whooped, she laughed, she cried

As she contrived each fresh mortality,

Numberless lethal times before I died.


I plunged, I plugged, I twisted, and I sighed

While she achieved death’s Paradise routinely.

I lagged however zealously I tried.


She writhed, she bucked, she rested, and, astride,

She posted, cantering on top of me

At least a hundred miles until I died.


I’d never blame you if you thought I lied

About her deadly prodigality.

She died a dozen times before I died

Who could not die so frequently. I tried.


The Perfect Life


Unicorns envy their cousin

horses a smooth forehead.

Horses weep for lack of horns.


Hills cherish the ambition

to turn into partial

differential equations,


which want to be poems, or dogs,

or the Pacific Ocean,

or whiskey, or a gold ring.


The man wearing the noose

envies another who fondles

a pistol in a motel room.