Poems appear in alphabetical order, author's surname.
John Ashbery - The Painter (Some Trees, 1956, from Collected Poems 1956-1987, pp. 27-8)
Sitting between the sea and the buildings He enjoyed painting the sea’s portrait. But just as children imagine a prayer Is merely silence, he expected his subject To rush up the sand, and, seizing a brush, Plaster its own portrait on the canvas. So there was never any paint on his canvas Until the people who lived in the buildings Put him to work: “Try using the brush As a means to an end. Select, for a portrait, Something less angry and large, and more subject To a painter’s moods, or, perhaps, to a prayer.” How could he explain to them his prayer That nature, not art, might usurp the canvas? He chose his wife for a new subject, Making her vast, like ruined buildings, As if, forgetting itself, the portrait Had expressed itself without a brush. Slightly encouraged, he dipped his brush In the sea, murmuring a heartfelt prayer: “My soul, when I paint this next portrait Let it be you who wrecks the canvas.” The news spread like wildfire through the buildings: He had gone back to the sea for his subject. Imagine a painter crucified by his subject! Too exhausted even to lift his brush, He provoked some artists leaning from the buildings To malicious mirth: “We haven’t a prayer Now, of putting ourselves on canvas, Or getting the sea to sit for a portrait!” Others declared it a self-portrait. Finally all indications of a subject Began to fade, leaving the canvas Perfectly white. He put down the brush. At once a howl, that was also a prayer, Arose from the overcrowded buildings. They tossed him, the portrait, from the tallest of the buildings; And the sea devoured the canvas and the brush As though his subject had decided to remain a prayer.
Jorie Graham - Prayer (Never, 2002)
Over a dock railing, I watch the minnows, thousands, swirl themselves, each a minuscule muscle, but also, without the way to create current, making of their unison (turning, re- infolding, entering and exiting their own unison in unison) making of themselves a visual current, one that cannot freight or sway by minutest fractions the water’s downdrafts and upswirls, the dockside cycles of finally-arriving boat-wakes, there where they hit deeper resistance, water that seems to burst into itself (it has those layers), a real current though mostly invisible sending into the visible (minnows) arrowing motion that forces change— this is freedom. This is the force of faith. Nobody gets what they want. Never again are you the same. The longing is to be pure. What you get is to be changed. More and more by each glistening minute, through which infinity threads itself, also oblivion, of course, the aftershocks of something at sea. Here, hands full of sand, letting it sift through in the wind, I look in and say take this, this is what I have saved, take this, hurry. And if I listen now? Listen, I was not saying anything. It was only something I did. I could not choose words. I am free to go. I cannot of course come back. Not to this. Never. It is a ghost posed on my lips. Here: never.