by Rikki

I stretch forward, elongating my neck, making the hairs that grow down onto my nape prickle,
my true horse-nature.

I’m hooves clopping on river rocks. My mane combed to one side, my angular muzzle huffing.

I’m strong and sturdy – muscle and a soft steel kind of strength. And yet at the
whistle of a windblown reed,

I’m gone,
scattered and spooked.

I trace the angles that connect weakly on my rawboned face. Strong lines
never broken never snapped,
just shifted and sifted easily.

I stand before others, pulled loosely together, unsettled in my people-clothes.
Loyal – love me.
Wild – but not too tightly.

I sit for sketches
sometimes hours sometimes minutes sometimes seconds sometimes months.

I look like a human,
solid to the fingertips of others pressing in – but

I’m a ghost.

I’m burned by the red clay of a canyon wall, shiny from the sun. My sweat reflects ribbons of
wet diamonds
at the bottom of a cold, fast river.

IMAGE: Self-Portrait by Pablo Picasso (1907).

by Elizabeth Jennings

You are confronted with yourself. Each year
The pouches fill, the skin is uglier.
You give it all unflinchingly. You stare
Into yourself, beyond. Your brush’s care
Runs with self-knowledge. Here

Is a humility at one with craft.
There is no arrogance. Pride is apart
From this self-scrutiny. You make light drift
The way you want. Your face is bruised and hurt
But there is still love left.

Love of the art and others. To the last
Experiment went on. You stared beyond
Your age, the times. You also plucked the past
And tempered it. Self-portraits understand,
And old age can divest,

With truthful changes, us of fear of death.
Look, a new anguish. There, the bloated nose,
The sadness and the joy. To paint’s to breathe,
And all the darknesses are dared. You chose
What each must reckon with.

IMAGE: Self-Portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn (1659).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Jennings (1926–2001) attended Oxford University from 1944 to 1947. During her degree, she attended lectures by  C.S. Lewis and was influenced by T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” and “Four Quartets.” Her first collection of poems was published in 1953 and her inclusion in Robert Conquest’s New Lines (1956), helped to establish her in the Movement, the grouping of English poets associated with Philip Larkin during the 1950s. Her literary career spanned nearly 50 years and her awards included the Somerset Maughan Prize and a CBE.

by Mary Oliver

I wish I was twenty and in love with life
and still full of beans.

Onward, old legs!
There are the long, pale dunes; on the other side
the roses are blooming and finding their labor
no adversity to the spirit.

Upward, old legs! There are the roses, and there is the sea
shining like a song, like a body
I want to touch

though I’m not twenty
and won’t be again but ah! seventy. And still
in love with life. And still
full of beans.

IMAGE: “Wild Geese,” acrylic on canvas by Blanca Botero-Fuentes, inspired by Mary Oliver’s poem of the same title. The painting was featured in the  2011 exhibit A Dialogue: Poetry-inspired painting by Blanca Botero-Fuentes, with a print catalog available at

Mary Oliver (c) Dorothy Alexander

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Oliver is a poet that New York Times described as “far and away, [America's] best-selling poet.” Her first collection of poems, No Voyage, and Other Poems, was released in 1963. Since then, she has published numerous books, including A Thousand Mornings (2012), New and Selected Poems (1992) — winner of the National Book award — and American Primitive (1983), for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.

by A.K. Ramanujan

I resemble everyone
but myself, and sometimes see
in shop windows
despite the well-known laws
of optics,
the portrait of a stranger,
date unknown,
often signed in a corner
by my father

IMAGE: “At the Central Market of Mumbai” [detail] by George Atsametakis. Prints available at


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born in Mysore, India, Attipate Krishnaswami Ramanujan (1929 –1993) was a poet, scholar,  translator, and playwright. His academic research ranged across five languages: Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit, and English. In 1999, he was posthumously awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for his Collected Poems.

by Rainer Maria Rilke

The stamina of an old long-noble race
in the eyebrows’ heavy arches. In the mild
blue eyes the solemn anguish of a child
and here and there humility — not a fool’s
but feminine: the look of one who serves.
The mouth quite ordinary large and straight
composed yet not willing to speak out
when necessary. The forehead still naive
most comfortable in shadows looking down.

This as a whole just hazily foreseen –
never in any joy of suffering
collected for a firm accomplishment;
and yet as though from far off with scattered things
a serious true work were being planned.

IMAGE: Portrait of Rainer Maria Rilke by Helmut Westoff.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926)  was an Austro-Hungarian poet and novelist. His writings include one novel, several collections of poetry, and several volumes of correspondence. He is best remembered for his Letters to a Young Poet.

by Shelley Wong

He goes to her. He goes and so does my hair
the way he likes it. It falls, feather-like, arrow-
ready at my feet. They call me a bird,
but I rust: a dropped key, forgotten
scissors. I make my own forest and coax
thorns, moths, and metal to swarm in my hairnest.
The sky is a door in a sky. I wait
for messages sent by suspended ribbons,
which are the arteries of devotion.
Here are my monkeys and bears, here is
my new face. I go deeper into the trees
when he runs to her. My mouth is full
of watermelon. Its sweetness gone out
like a veladora. I am the horse that runs.

IMAGE: “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” by Frida Kahlo (1940).

by David Whyte

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel abandoned.
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.

SOURCE: “Self Portrait” appears in David Whyte‘s collection Fire in the Earth (Many Rivers Press, 1992), available at

IMAGE: “Starry Night Over the Rhone” by Vincent van Gogh (1888).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Whyte grew up in Yorkshire, England. He studied Marine Zoology in Wales and trained as a naturalist in the Galapagos Islands. He has also worked as a naturalist guide, leading anthropological and natural history expeditions in various parts of the world.  The author of The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America (1994), his latest poetry collection is Pilgrim (Many Rivers Press, 2013).

by David Graham

This isn’t my real personality
standing up half casually
to talk about myself. Usually
I’m sparrow-skittery,
shy as water through
my own fingers –
just ask my mother,
if you can find her; that’s her
hunched in the back row
or two steps from the door.

Usually dew glazes my lip
when everyone’s looking,
sleet thrums my stomach,
a regular hailstorm
in my knees.

What can I give you
but dark inklings
you already know
or a twinge or two
out of history? What is
my stammering hello
but code for farewell?

Wouldn’t you rather watch
buzzards circle their roosting tree?
Without past, without regard
they swirl as black snowflakes
in one of those bubble villages
that live on coffee tables.

Shake them and they perform.
Shake me and I’m gone.

SOURCE: Poetry (August 1986).

IMAGE: “Horse Headed Papageno,” articulated paper doll by Emma Kidd (benconservato), available at


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Graham has published six collections of poetry and his writing has appeared in numerous print and online journals and anthologies. With Kate Sontag, he also co-edited an essay anthology on contemporary poetry, After Confession: Poetry as Autobiography. He has taught at North Carolina State University, Virginia Tech, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he received his Master of Fine Arts degree in Literature & Creative Writing in 1980. Married to artist Lee Shippey, Graham has taught in the English Department at Ripon College since 1987.

(After Adam Zagajewski)
by Linda Pastan

I am child to no one, mother to a few,
wife for the long haul.
On fall days I am happy
with my dying brethren, the leaves,
but in spring my head aches
from the flowery scents.
My husband fills a room with Mozart
which I turn off, embracing
the silence as if it were an empty page
waiting for me alone to fill it.
He digs in the black earth
with his bare hands. I scrub it
from the creases of his skin, longing
for the kind of perfection
that happens in books.
My house is my only heaven.
A red dog sleeps at my feet, dreaming
of the manic wings of flushed birds.
As the road shortens ahead of me
I look over my shoulder
to where it curves back
to childhood, its white line
bisecting the real and the imagined
the way the ridgepole of the spine
divides the two parts of the body, leaving
the soft belly in the center
vulnerable to anything.
As for my country, it blunders along
as well intentioned as Eve choosing
cider and windfalls, oblivious
to the famine soon to come.
I stir pots, bury my face in books, or hold
a telephone to my ear as if its cord
were the umbilicus of the world
whose voices still whisper to me
even after they have left their bodies.

SOURCE: Poetry (October 1997).

IMAGE: “Ohhh…Alright…” by Roy Lichtenstein (1964). In November 2010, “Ohhh…Alright…” sold for $42.6 million during an auction at Christie’s in New York.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Linda Pastan has published a dozen books of poetry and a number of essays. Her awards include the Dylan Thomas Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Alice Fay di Castagnola Award (Poetry Society of America), the Bess Hokin Prize (Poetry Magazine), the 1986 Maurice English Poetry Award (for A Fraction of Darkness), the Charity Randall Citation of the International Poetry Forum, and the 2003 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Two of her collections of poems were nominated for the National Book Award and one for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. From 1991–1995, she was Poet Laureate of Maryland.

by Edward Hirsch

I lived between my heart and my head,
like a married couple who can’t get along.
I lived between my left arm, which is swift
and sinister, and my right, which is righteous.
I lived between a laugh and a scowl,
and voted against myself, a two-party system.
My left leg dawdled or danced along,
my right cleaved to the straight and narrow.
My left shoulder was like a stripper on vacation,
my right stood upright as a Roman soldier.
Let’s just say that my left side was the organ
donor and leave my private parts alone,
but as for my eyes, which are two shades
of brown, well, Dionysus, meet Apollo.
Look at Eve raising her left eyebrow
while Adam puts his right foot down.
No one expected it to survive,
but divorce seemed out of the question.
I suppose my left hand and my right hand
will be clasped over my chest in the coffin
and I’ll be reconciled at last,
I’ll be whole again.

SOURCE: “Self-portrait” appears in Edward Hirsch‘s collection The Living Fire (Knopf, 2011), available at

IMAGE: “Le Bouquet Tout Fait” by René Magritte (1957).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Edward Hirsch is a poet and critic who wrote the national best seller How to Read a Poem. He has published eight books of poems, including The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems (2010), which brings together thirty-five years of work. He is president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in New York City.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,024 other followers