Two Poems

 by Arsenio Orteza (April 2018)

Gathering Moss

Both Feet not too Firmly Planted, Alex Kanevsky, 2014
      I’m a check waiting to bounce, a basket holding all of my eggs, a nest feathered with
               the moltings of birds worth only one in the bush.  I am the waste made by haste,
                               a lender, a borrower, the looker of gift horses in the mouth; the illness,
                                           poverty, and folly of those who went to bed late and rose even
                                                           later.  My twain have met, and neither had a mother
                                                                       who told him, “If you can’t say anything nice,
                                                                                be worth your weight in the gold that is
                                                                                    silence.”  I bloom, but not where I’m
                                                                                                  planted. I only brighten the
                                                                                                               corner where I live
                                                                                                                           after I paint

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Wallace Stevens' Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Two Men Sitting With a Table, Honore Daumier, 19th c.

Among Stevens’ many moving poems,
The one that moves the most
is the one about a blackbird.
It’s in thirteen brief parts,
Like a sonnet cycle
In haiku-cycle’s clothing.
The Beatles’ “Blackbird” is
a fourteenth way of looking at a blackbird.
Though segmented, Stevens’ “Blackbird”
is really one poem.
Hell, Stevens’s Collected Poems
is really one poem.
I do not know whether to divide
The poem into its thirteen parts
And give one to each of my
Thirteen lady friends
Or just buy them chocolate.
Numerals number the lachrymose pages
On which the poem appears.
Aramaic, they should be easy
To distinguish from
The Roman numerals numbering
The poem’s thirteen sections.
Should be, but ain’t.
O voluptuous women of Walmart,
Why do you read the tabloids?
Do you not see that reading Stevens
Would make you much more beguiling
To any man worth inveigling?
I know Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall” by heart,
sprung rhythms and all;
One day, I will memorize
Stevens’ blackbird poem too
If it kills me.
When I misplaced my copy of Harmonium,
I almost took a sharpened knife
To one of my two wrists.
At the very thought of reading it
Or even hearing it read,
I forgive the hags whose hagiographies
Most incense my senses.
She escaped the gendarmes
With a blackbird’s élan. 
Twice, they did double-takes
To make sure
They weren’t seeing Stevens’ poetry
In motion.
I read “The blackbird must be flying.”
I know Stevens’ poem must be ending.
I spent a week with you one night.
We were partying,
And we were going to party some more.
A smoldering cigarette made a hole
In “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”


Arsenio Orteza teaches secondary-school English in China and writes about music for WORLD Magazine. He has also written for the Village Voice, Blender, and the Wittenburg Door. From 1985 to 1987, he studied with David Wagoner and Heather McHugh at the University of Washington in Seattle. His poems have appeared in Exquisite Corpse and Poetry Northwest.