“Late at Night”

A weekly poem, read by the author.
March 12 2013 8:04 AM

“Late at Night”

A long exposure shows stars behind a tree during the annual Perseid meteor shower near the southern town of Mitzpe Ramon, Israel August 13, 2012.

Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Gail Mazur read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

                      —after Su Dongpo’s “Reading Meng Jiao”

Reading awful poems late at night,
each word scratchy as a hog’s bristles,
my eyes ache and blur in the dimming light.

I don’t find one good line, one image,
one single flower piercing the mud—
only ponderous “ideas,” heavy

as boulders clogging a clear stream.
Or worse, it’s like eating bony little fish—
or boiled crabs, and breaking out in hives!

Nothing I hear or see tonight
is comfort or anodyne, nothing
to lose myself in for part of an hour …

Our lives passed like a morning mist,
or a flame whose candle’s burned away.
Why strain listening for beautiful music

in the witless peeps of an insect,
when I can just put the book aside
and study your last woodcut—blue night,

rain pelting the riddling moonlight
on a blue-black bay—more wondrous
than words on a page. Better for me.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The Supreme Court, Throughout Its History, Has Been a Massive Disappointment

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 12:04 PM John Hodgman on Why He Wore a Blue Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful, a new book argues.
  Business
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
  Life
Education
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 2:38 PM Scientists Use Electrical Impulses to Help Paralyzed Rats Walk Again
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.