Lorine Niedecker: selected poems

These works, selected by Jenny Penberthy, are featured on the Electronic Poetry Center courtesy of University of California Press.


My coat threadbare
over and down Capital Hill
fashions mornings after.

In this Eternal Category's
land of rigmarole
see thru the laughter.



Mr. Van Ess bought 14 washcloths?
Fourteen washrags, Ed Van Ess?
Must be going to give em
to the church, I guess.

He drinks, you know. The day we moved
he came into the kitchen stewed,
mixed things up for my sister Grace--
put the spices in the wrong place.



My man says the wind blows from the south,
we go out fishing, he has no luck, I catch a dozen, that burns him up,
I face the east and the wind's in my mouth, but my man has to have it in the south.



Black Hawk held: In reason
land cannot be sold,
only things to be carried away,
and I am old.

Young Lincoln's general moved,
pawpaw in bloom,
and to this day, Black Hawk,
reason has small room.



The clothesline post is set
yet no totem-carvings distinguish the Niedecker tribe
from the rest; every seventh day they wash:
worship sun; fear rain, their neighbors' eyes;
raise their hands from ground to sky,
and hang or fall by the whiteness of their all.



Grampa's got his old age pension,
$15 a month,
his own food and place.

But here he comes,
fiddle and spitbox ...

Tho't I'd stop with you a little,
you kin have all I got.


There's a better shine
on the pendulum
than is on my hair
and many times

. . . .

I've seen it there.


What bird would light
in a moving tree
the tree I carry
for privacy?

Down in the grass
the question's inept;
sora's eyes . . .
stillness steps.


In the great snowfall before the bomb
colored yule tree lights
windows, the only glow for contemplation
along this road

I worked the print shop
right down among em
the folk from whom all poetry flows
and dreadfully much else.

I was Blondie
I carried my bundles of hog feeder price lists
down by Larry the Lug,
I'd never get anywhere
because I'd never had suction,
pull, you know, favor, drag,
well-oiled protection.

I heard their rehashed radio barbs--
more barbarous among hirelings
as higher-ups grow more corrupt.
But what vitality! The women hold jobs--
clean house, cook, raise children, bowl
and go to church.

What would they say if they knew
I sit for two months on six lines
of poetry?


What horror to awake at night
and in the dimness see the light.
Time is white mosquitoes bite
I've spent my life on nothing.
The thought that stings. How are you, Nothing,
sitting around with Something's wife.
Buzz and burn is all I learn
I've spend my life on nothing.
I'm pillowed and padded, pale and puffing
lifting household stuffing--
carpets, dishes benches, fishes
I've spent my life in nothing.


Sorrow moves in wide waves,
  it passes, lets us be.
It uses us, we use it,
  it's blind while we see.
Consciousness is illimitable,
  too good to forsake
tho what we feel be misery
  and we know will break.


Jesse James and his brother Frank
  raided, robbed and rode away.
Said Frank to the rising Teddy R: You're my type, you're okay.
Once on his way to a Shakespeare play
  Frank was almost caught.
The gunnin Jameses and the writn Jameses-
  two were taught and all were sought.
No killers were Frank and Jesse James,
  they was drove to it. Their folks was proud.
Let no one imagine they were bad as kids-
  brought up gentle in a bushwack crowd.
 . . . 
May you have lumps in your mashed potatoes
  Henry and Wm. cried
to those who stood up to them in argu-
  ment and their words haven't died.
Don't melt too much into the universe
  but be as solid and dense and fixed
as you can. This what Henry and Wm.
  said in the evening after 6:00.




Along the river
       wild sunflowers
over my head
       the dead
who gave me life
       give me this
our relative the air
our rich friend


February almost March bites the cold.
Take down a book, wind pours in. Frozen--
the Garden of Eden--its oil, if freed, could warm
the world for 20 years and nevermind the storm.

Winter's after me--she's out
with sheets so white it hurts the eyes. Nightgown,
pillow slip blow thru my bare catalpa trees,
no objects here.

In February almost March a snow-blanket
is good manure, a tight-bound wet
to move toward May: give me lupines and a care
for her growing air.


Old man who seined
to educate his daughter sees red Mars rise: What lies behind it?
Cold water business
now starred in Fishes
of dipnet shape
         to ache
thru his arms.


clean-smelling house
sweet cedar pink
        flesh tint
I love you


My friend tree
I sawed you down
but I must attend
an older friend
the sun


In Leonardo's light
we questioned

the sun does not love
My hat

the weight falls

I am at rest
You too

hold a doctorate
in Warmth


The wild and wavy event
now chintz at the window

was revolution . . .

to Miss Abigail Smith:
You have faults

You hang your head down
like a bulrush

you read, you write, you think
but I drink Madeira

to you
and you cross your Leggs

while sitting.

How are the children?
If in danger run to the woods.

Evergreen o evergreen
how faithful are your branches


My life is hung up
in the flood
   a wave-blurred
Don't fall in love
with this face--
   it no longer exists
               in water
                       we cannot fish


                   Poet's Work
  advised me:
        Learn a trade
I learned
  to sit at desk
        and condense
No layoff
  from this


Consider at the outset:
to be thin for thought
or thick cream blossomy

Many things are better
flavored with bacon

Sweet Life, My love:
didn't you ever try
this delicacy--the marrow
in the bone?

And don't be afraid
to pour wine over cabbage




In the transcendence
of convalescence
the translation
of Bashô
I lay down
     with brilliance
I saw a star whistle
     across the sky
before dropping off


I knew a clean man
but he was not for me.
Now I sew green aprons
over covered seats. He

wades the muddy water fishing,
falls in, dries his last pay-check
in the sun, smooths it out
in Leaves of Grass. He's
the one for me.


  stood there
        all body
  blown off
showed up
  is the head
        of spring
Birch, sumac
        the blast


Who was Mary Shelley?
What was her name
before she married?

She eloped with this Shelley
she rode a donkey
till the donkey had to be carried.

Mary was Frankenstein's creator
his yellow eye
before her husband was to drown

Created the monster nights
after Byron, Shelley
talked the candle down.

Who was Mary Shelley?
She read Greek, Italian
She bore a child

Who died
and yet another child
who died.


You see here
the influence
of inference

Moon on rippled

'Except as
and unless'


Cleaned all surfaces
and behind all solids
and righted leaning things

Considered then, becurtained
the metaphysics
of flight from housecleanings


                  My Life by Water
My life
  by water--
  first frog
    or board
out on the cold
to wild green
  arts and letters
  my lettuce
    One boat
  pointed toward
    my shore
thru birdstart
of the soft
  and serious--


We are what the seas
have made us

longingly immense

the very veery
on the fence


High class human
got no illumine

how a ten cent plant
winds aslant

around a post
Man, history's host

to trembles
in the tendrils

I'm a fool
can't take it cool


Sewing a dress

The need
these closed-in days

to move before you
and color-elated

in a favorable wind


        on their heads
Thoughts on things
  fold unfold
        above the river beds


the alliance--
ships and plants
The take-for-granted bloom
of our roadsides
     Queen Anne's Lace
     Black Eyed Susans
                rode the sea
'Specimens graciously passed
 between warring fleets'
And when an old boat rots ashore
itself once living plant
                it sprouts


          Thomas Jefferson Inside
Winter when no flower
The Congress away from home
Love is the great good use
one person makes of another
(Daughter Polly of the strawberry
Frogs sing--then of a sudden
all their lights go out
The country moves toward violets
              and aconites



Tell em to take my bare walls down
my cement abutments
their parties thereof
and clause of claws

Leave me the land
Scratch out: the land

May prose and property both die out
and leave me peace