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Published: Sun Apr 15 1990
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.

Our building floated heavily through the cold
On shifts of steam the raging coal-fed furnace
Forced from the boiler’s hull. In showers of spark
The trolleys flashed careening under our cornice.
My mother Mary Beamish who came from Cork
Held me to see the snowfall out the window —
Windhold she sometimes said, as if in Irish
It held wind out, or showed us that wind was old.
Wind-hole in Anglo-Saxon: faces like brick,
They worshiped Eastre’s rabbit, and mistletoe
That was Thor’s jissom where thunder struck the oak.
We took their language in our mouth and chewed
(Some of the consonants drove us nearly crazy
Because we were Chinese — or was that just the food
My father brought from our restaurant downstairs?)
In the fells, by the falls, the Old Ghetto or New Jersey,
Little Havana or Little Russia — I forget,
Because the baby wasn’t me, the way
These words are not. Whoever she was teaching to talk,
Snow she said, Snow, and you opened your small brown fist
And closed it and opened again to hold the reflection
Of torches and faces inside the window glass
And through it, a cold black sheen of shapes and fires
Shaking, kitchen lights, flakes that crissed and crossed
Other lights in lush diagonals, the snowcharmed traffic
Surging and pausing — red, green, white, the motion
Of motes and torches that at her word you reached
Out for, where you were, it was you, that bright confusion.

See what's inside AGNI 29 and 30

Robert Pinsky, the author of the new memoir Jersey Breaks: Becoming an American Poet (W.W. Norton, 2022), served as poet laureate of the United States from 1997 to 2000. During his tenure he created the Favorite Poem Project to document, promote, and celebrate poetry’s place in American culture. In addition to three anthologies co-edited by Pinsky, Americans’ Favorite PoemsPoems to Read, and An Invitation to Poetry, the project has produced fifty short documentaries showcasing Americans reading and speaking about poems they love.

He has published nine collections of his own poetry, most recently At the Foundling Hospital (2016) and Selected Poems (2011), both from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and received both the Lenore Marshall Award and the Ambassador Book Award of the English Speaking Union. His other awards include the Shelley Memorial Award, the William Carlos Williams Prize, the PEN/Voelcker Award, the Korean Manhae Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, as well as the Howard Morton Landon Translation Prize for his bestselling verse translation of The Inferno of Dante. Among his other prose works are The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide and Thousands of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmares of the American Small TownPoemjazz, his CD with pianist Laurence Hobgood, is available from Circumstantial Productions.

Pinsky directs the graduate writing program at Boston University and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and AGNI’s Advisory Board. (updated 4/2022)

Pinsky’s collections Poetry and the World and The Want Bone were reviewed in AGNI 36 by Peter Sacks. His translation of The Inferno was reviewed in AGNI 41 by Alfred Corn. Pinsky’s collection The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems was reviewed in AGNI 44 by Thom Gunn.

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