“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.

Gail Mazur's fifth book, Zeppo's First Wife: New & Selected Poems, won the 2006 Massachusetts Book Award in poetry. Her most recent collection of poems, Figures in a Landscape, was published n 2011. She is distinguished writer in residence in the graduate program of Emerson College.