The Washington Post
White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006by Donald Hall
Throughout his writing life Donald Hall has garnered numerous accolades and honors, culminating in 2006 with his appointment as poet laureate of the United States. White Apples and the Taste of Stone collects more than two hundred poems from across sixty years of Hall’s celebrated career, and includes poems recently published in The New Yorker, the American
Throughout his writing life Donald Hall has garnered numerous accolades and honors, culminating in 2006 with his appointment as poet laureate of the United States. White Apples and the Taste of Stone collects more than two hundred poems from across sixty years of Hall’s celebrated career, and includes poems recently published in The New Yorker, the American Poetry Review, and the New York Times. It is Hall’s first selected volume in fifteen years, and the first to include poems from his seminal bestseller Without. Those who have come to love Donald Hall's poetry will welcome this vital and important addition to his body of work. For the uninitiated it is a spectacular introduction to this critically acclaimed and admired poet.
The Washington Post
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Read an Excerpt
LOVE IS LIKE SOUNDS
Late snow fell this early morning of spring.
At dawn I rose from bed, restless, and looked
Out of my window, to wonder if there the snow
Fell outside your bedroom, and you watching.
I played my game of solitaire. The cards
Came out the same the third time through the deck.
The game was stuck. I threw the cards together,
And watched the snow that could not do but fall.
Love is like sounds, whose last reverberations
Hang on the leaves of strange trees, on mountains
As distant as the curving of the earth,
Where the snow hangs still in the middle of the air.
Each of us waking to the window's light
Has found the curtains changed, our pictures gone;
Our furniture has vanished in the night
And left us to an unfamiliar dawn;
Even the contours of the room are strange
And everything is change.
Waking, our minds construct of memory
What figure stretched beside us, or what voice
Shouted to pull us from our luxury —
And all the mornings leaning to our choice.
To put away — both child and murderer —
The toys we played with just a month ago,
That wisdom come, and make our progress sure,
Began our exile with our lust to grow.
(Remembering a train I tore apart
Because it knew my heart.)
We move to move, and this perversity
Betrays us into loving only loss.
We seek betrayal. When we cross the sea,
It is the distance from our past we cross.
Not only from the intellectual child
Time has removed us, but unyieldingly
Cuts down the groves in which our Indians fi led
And where the black of pines was mystery.
(I walked thestreets of where I lived and grew,
And all the streets were new.)
The room of love is always rearranged.
Someone has torn the corner of a chair
So that the past we call upon has changed,
The scene deprived by an intruding tear.
Exiled by death from people we have known,
We are reduced again by years, and try
To call them back and clothe the barren bone,
Not to admit that people ever die.
(A boy who talked and read and grew with me
Fell from a maple tree.)
But we are still alone, who love the dead,
And always miss their action's character,
Caught in the cage of living, visited
By no faint ghosts, by no gray men that were.
In years, and in the numbering of space,
Moving away from what we grew to know,
We stray like paper blown from place to place,
Impelled by every element to go.
(I think of haying on an August day,
Forking the stacks of hay.)
We can remember trees and attitudes
That foreign landscapes do not imitate;
They grow distinct within the interludes
Of memory beneath a stranger state.
The favorite toy was banished, and our act
Was banishment of the self; then growing, we
Betrayed the girls we loved, for our love lacked
Self-knowledge of its real perversity.
(I loved her, but I told her I did not,
And grew, and then forgot.)
It was mechanical, and in our age,
That cruelty should be our way of speech;
Our movement is a single pilgrimage,
Never returning; action does not teach.
In isolation from our present love
We make her up, consulting memory,
Imagining to watch her image move
On daily avenues across a sea.
(All day I saw her daydreamed figure stand
Out of the reach of hand.)
Each door and window is a spectral frame
In which her shape is for the moment found;
Each lucky scrap of paper bears her name,
And half-heard phrases imitate its sound.
Imagining, by exile kept from fact,
We build of distance mental rock and tree,
And make of memory creative act,
Persons and worlds no waking eye can see.
(From lacking her, I built her new again,
And loved the image then.)
The manufactured country is so green
The eyes of sleep are blinded by its shine;
We spend our lust in that imagined scene
But never wake to cross its borderline.
No man can knock his human fist upon
The door built by his mind, or hear the voice
He meditated come again if gone;
We live outside the country of our choice.
(I wanted X. When X moved in with me,
I could not wait to flee.)
Our humanness betrays us to the cage
Within whose limits each is free to walk,
But where no one can hear our prayers or rage
And none of us can break the walls to talk.
Exiled by years, by death no dream conceals,
By worlds that must remain unvisited,
And by the wounds that growing never heals,
We are as solitary as the dead,
Wanting to king it in that perfect land
We make and understand.
And in this world whose pattern is unmade,
Phases of splintered light and shapeless sand,
We shatter through our motions and evade
Whatever hand might reach and touch our hand.
Newdigate Prize, Oxford, 1953
WE'VE COME TO EXPECT
We've come to expect earthquakes, fires, hurricanes,
and tidal waves from our whitecoated brothers
whose laboratories shed radiation
on land and landscape,
disabling cities. Foresighted citizens
outfit granite arks in Idaho's brown hills,
stocked against flood, famine, pestilence, war, and
hunger of neighbors,
with bulgur, freeze-dried Stroganoff, and Uzis.
Let's remember: Our great-grandfathers holed up
in mountains with pistols and pemmican, their
should they avoid peritonitis and gangrene,
to perform the mechanic alchemy
which liquefied landscape, dirt to nuggets, and
sluiced a state golden.
Let's remember not only the local wars
over claims but a late conflict of siblings
in aristocracy and the stock market,
Or recollect the brothers who stayed back east
laboring in the shoe factory, or their
bosses who summered hunting in Scotland and
in the Protestant Cemetery at Rome
among cats, the pyramid of Cestius,
and Keats's grave. What use are those forefathers
to our condition?
We want comfort: Shall we consult Jefferson?
Alas, he's busy conducting a call-in
show for Republican-Democrats. Franklin?
He is occupied
obliterating SIN from Webster's project.
If we approach doddering George Washington,
he only smiles at us in his foolishness.
Shall we call upon
Abraham Lincoln for succor? No: The Great
Emancipator succumbs to Grant's whiskey.
As we approach the present, passing double
Roosevelts, we do
not help ourselves — not with old Eisenhower
cursing at caddies; not with Nixon cursing.
But if we return past Jonathan Edwards,
past Cotton Mather,
to the Israelites of the Mayfl ower —
who make covenant with Jehovah's promised
wilderness and the manna of Indian
corn, who stay secure
in Adam's fall and the broken promises
of the remnant — we discover ancestors
appropriate to our lapsarian state:
Their rage sustains us
THE PAINTED BED
"Even when I danced erect
by the Nile's garden
I constructed Necropolis.
"Ten million fellaheen cells
of my body floated stones
to establish a white museum."
Grisly, foul, and terrific
is the speech of bones,
thighs and arms slackened
into desiccated sacs of flesh
hanging from an armature
where muscle was, and fat.
"I lie on the painted bed
on the journey I undertake
to repose without pain
in the palace of darkness,
my body beside your body."
You climbed Hawk's Crag, a cellphone in your baggy shorts,
and gazed into the leafing trees and famous blue water.
You telephoned, in love with the skin of the world. I heard you
puff as you started to climb down, still talking, switching
your phone from hand to hand as the stone holds required.
You sang show tunes sitting above me, clicking your fingers,
swaying your shadowy torso. We attended to each other
in a sensuous dazzle as global as suffering
until gradual gathering spilled like water over the stone dam
and we soared level across the long-lived lake.
can one flesh and consciousness adhere to another,
knowing that every adherence ends in separation? I longed
for your return, your face lit by a candle, your smile
private as a kore's under an inconstant flame — and dreamt
I stared into the fl at and black of water, afraid to drown.
It is half a year since we slept beside each other all night.
I wake hollow as a thighbone with its marrow picked out.
In falling snow, a crow pecks under the empty birdfeeder.
When the house lights go out in wind and heavy snow,
the afternoon already black, I lie frightened in darkness
on the unsheeted bed. No one comes to my door.
Old age concludes in making wills and trusts and inventories,
in knees that buckle going downstairs. Wretched in airless
solitude, I want to call you,
but if you hear my voice
you will unplug your telephone and lie awake until morning.
I remember you striding toward me, hands in jean pockets,
each step decisive, smiling as if you knew that the cool
air kept a secret, but might be cajoled into revealing it.
Copyright © 2006 by Donald Hall. Reprinted with permission by Houghton
Meet the Author
DONALD HALL, who served as poet laureate of the United States from 2006 to 2007, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a recipient of the National Medal of the Arts, awarded by the president.
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