Ed Trafton turns from the shimmering water
of Shoshone Lake to the first of fifteen tourist coaches,
pulls the black silk neckerchief up the bridge of his nose,
plants himself in the road and says, “Please step out
and come this way.” Black is so hot. “Drop your valuables
on the blanket.” Maybe the neckerchief isn’t necessary.
“Kindly take a standing seat and witness the convention.”

“A rather elegant man,” one woman confessed. “Steady
and calm, with a lovely sense of humor and a smile
that made his watery blue eyes sparkle. The kind of man
who might make a good president.” “Watery blue eyes?”
Ed wonders, his reflection in the mirror. “City councilman
or senator but president?” “Polite,” the woman added.

An elderly lady dropped her purse, which exploded
scattering bills, coins, a comb, and playing cards
over the dusty earth. The horses stamped their feet
and switched their tails to drive away the flies.
Someone coughed. Trafton bent over to gather up
the fallen valuables, the last card—jack of hearts.
“There madam, you keep these,” he said.
“You look as if you need them more than I do.”

“Gallant,“ the first woman went on. She laughed
and the air freshened, invisible birds began to sing.

As each coin or watch or earring hit the earth,
dust rose around the lodgepole and limber pines,
covered the water. Seeking clarity, coaches start
ten minutes apart—Old Faithful to West Thumb,
the horseshoe bend where they stop for the view.
But they can’t see what’s to come, coach after coach,
the blanket disappearing under the mound of treasure,
Mr. Trafton lightly touching each horse to send it on its way.

A young woman asked for a photo—“by the blanket.”
Other travelers pulled out their Brownies and lined up
beside the beguiling highwayman, the click of shutters
louder than the cicadas chirring in the dry grass,
pine resin rising with the heat, men fanning their faces
with hats or the news of the day—AUSTRIA-HUNGARY
DECLARES WAR ON SERBIA. Could be a joke—he was
so friendly and the water, lapping at the shore,
made that chuckling sound that says nothing
will change. It can’t be real silk, Trafton thinks,
tugging at his face, wouldn’t be so scratchy, people
milling around, the sun rising, the hills falling away,
the geysers and mudpots, and Shoshone Lake
coated in dust, still blue below the point.

Copyright © 2016 by David Romtvedt. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Man shaped out of mud
And made to speak and love—
Let's stick in him a little whisperer,

A bucket with two holes.
Let's give him the Great Deceiver,
A blood-stone.

A church with a vaulted ceiling
Where the White and Blue Niles meet.
A dog who cries after dark.

Everyone has a heart,
Even the people who don't.
It floats up like a beached whale in the autopsy.

The heart has no sense of humor.
It offers itself piteously like a pair of handcuffs,
And is so clumsy that we turn away.

The past 
Is a quarryful of marble statues
With heads and genitals erased,

But the heart is a muscle made of sharkbone and mutters,
Resting place softened with hay
Where all the cows come home, finally.

Copyright © 2012 by Monica Ferrell. Used with permission of the author.

A few feet away in fuchsia,
wings are inferred.
She signs the air with herself
so fast the whole benediction
is visible, then gone,

& when I look around she sits
resting on the line among plastic
metaphor, or just a sense of humor?

Air's ampersands, seahorses
of the aether, Thomas Morton believed
they live on bees, & Loranzo Newcomb,
thinking to taste their nurture, went about
inhaling the essence of trumpetvines.

This one's an ounce emphasizing
the grossness of chickadees,
hinting at the design of the Concorde
that used to boom out over the Atlantic
each morning around 8:30,

& so quick she has few
effective enemies. If extremes
truly contain their opposites,
she & I have at least
that in common, along with
a life among the trees.

Copyright © 2005 by Brendan Galvin. From Habitat. Reprinted with permission of Louisiana State University Press.

When I bend back to gaze at the satellite convulsions, I
am an aqueduct for twilit rain. Quite literally I stand

in the littoral zone: a lens--no an aqueous humor, my
feet on the land below the high-water mark, my hand

a glazed waver: hello light-purple lights, hello red spots,
you've beaten the stars out tonight but you're struggling with the

atmosphere, ain't ye? Over centuries the river became not
a river: Lethe's end crept together--self-scavenging sea

snake--& the middle filled with water--morphology dubbed it
a lake & now the moon swims in it & the moon orbits it &

the moon tidally tugs on it. The moon is a satellite in a fit
of paroxysm. One minute past, I emptied an aluminum can

of dull opiate to the drains to wash down my antipsychotics
& then Lethe-wards slunk I. There must be this wire shaking

loose in my mind, an unattended firehouse, a spasmodic
filament attempting to cool the baby planet but lacerating

precious gray matter. Thought leaves no vacancy for memory--
I forget & forget the rules, the thirst an auger, rain only whetting

it, I bend & lap some lake up, tongue it, suck the silty mammary
right where a light from the firmament meets it. I keep forgetting

the rules, a Ptolemaniac with stars & suns circling me; I keep
missing my cues, can't arrange the particles moments are made of--

and it's all good!--because when I bend seriously back & peep
at the satellite convulsions I am a sluiceway for night rain. If I love

at least I love aptly, terminally, like a man who loves his dinner until
he's done with it, then settles to the couch to easy pixilated dreams

(bounced off, yes, satellites, & beamed into a pale dish). And still,
even unfettered by history or hope, the world does not seem

shocking--simply something to fly a canvas balloon around, to 
dig a hole in. To climb into. To allow to fill with water, perhaps

it is raining, perhaps you dig below the watertable; it gushes through
the dirt; your bath is drawn & in it are drawn (sputniks & stars) maps

& charts with which to constellate your body. Connect the dots.
A little ladle with four handles--a tiny light strobes in the cup, in hot

convulsions of distance, bleats of temporal ignorance, synapse of morse
but no code, blood but no pulse, the stream but no mouth or source.

From Radio, Radio by Ben Doyle, published by Louisiana State University Press. Copyright © 2000 by Ben Doyle. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

There are more women than 
men in the nursing home and
more men than old doctors.

Staff doctors visit once a 
month. The few old men do 
very little but sleep. Two 

or three of them occasionally
gather outside in clear
weather for a smoke, which

is allowed them. I suppose
those in charge feel that
it can make no difference

now, and it brings the old
men a little pleasure. I
sit and chat with them

sometimes. Perhaps "chat"
is a bit too lively a word
to describe what passes for

conversation during these
puffing sessions. A lot
of low grunting goes on.

There is one old man who
is afflicted with bone
cancer and who says, in

high good humor, that his 
guarantees have run out.
He was a travelling salesman

in women's wear, and still
remembers how much he loved
women. Many of the women

have become little girls
again. They carry dolls
about with them, mostly

rag-dolls, I suppose so
they can't injure themselves
when they squeeze them.

To see these toothless,
balding old ladies, frail
as twigs, clutching these dolls,

is heartbreaking. Oh, to love
something! It's still there.
It has been in them since

they were little and had dirty 
knees and bows in their hair.
Some recognize me now, and,

when I give them a wave,
they wave back. It's a 
wonderful feeling to make

contact, but it is difficult
to tell how much they know.
The care-givers are kind and

efficient. They are mostly
young, and apparently try
to imbue the old with some of

their zest for life, but 
of course the old know all
that already--or knew and have

forgotten it. I wonder, 
can the young reverse their
situations with the old

and see themselves looking up
at such fresh faces from the
vantage of bed or wheelchair

or walker? I am too young
to join the old here in the
nursing home, this metaphor

(or is it the tenor of a
metaphor?) for the last days,
but I am too old

to feel the buoyancy of the 
young; so, at least for the
context of the nursing home,

I have arrived at yet another
awkward age. After visiting
my mother, who is only partly

present, I go out and sit
with the old men and have a
smoke. We hope for clear days.

From The Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 76, No. Three, 2000. Copyright © 2000 by E. M. Schorb. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What's funny about this place
is us regulars coming in with our different
accoutrements, mine usually the little void
of space I call honey, days
I can barely get through I'm laughing so hard,
see? In the back a woman squeezes oranges,
someone presses the fresh white bread
into communion wafers or party favors.
In the window the chickens rotate blissfully,
questioning nothing—
Sometimes I flirt with the cashier, just improvising,
the way birds land all in a hurry on the streetlamp across the street,
which stays warm even on cold nights.
Guillaume says humor is sadness
and he's awfully pretty.
What do they put in this coffee? Men?
No wonder I get a little high. Remember
when we didn't have sex on the ferris wheel,
oh that was a blast,
high, high above the Tuileries!

Copyright © 2013 by Catherine Barnett. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 7, 2013.

I was well towards the end
Of middle-age before I
Realized I loved saying

Disgusting things but didn't
Really myself much enjoy hearing
Them. They

Go to the heart of life,
I realize (I think
Everyone recognizes this),

Since almost everyone
Can agree: Life, so
Generally disgusting.

But no one really
Wants to hear
That much about

The disgusting (except,
Perhaps, those who have frozen
Significant portions

Of their senses of humor
In the fifth grade, as I have).
Those of us who love

Verbally bringing up
The disgusting

Are usually prevented
From ever holding
Truly executive positions

In any organized
Situation, but there are,
Looking around I've noticed,

Plenty of us
Placed somewhere
In middle-management.

We are the ones
Managing things
"On the ground,"

As they say, the ground
Which is also where,
I can't help but bring it

Up, most beasts of the field
Their ghastly deposits.

From The Executive Director of the Fallen World by Liam Rector, published by the University of Chicago Press. Copyright © 2006 by Liam Rector. Reprinted by permission of the University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved.

     for Jane

is to be one to the one
closest to you
who shares the air
& other elements
right there    next to you

two bodies wrapped in darkness
among millions of other bodies
wrapped in darkness & smoke
war bloodshed & chaos
   voices rising out of the dirt

one to the one    without whom one
wouldn't be one
   who saves one when lost
in regions of the past
raging at bygone constellations
     pursued by a swarm of angst gnats
   who saves by her sight & sound & touch
to notice
     that gravity's strong on this planet
    there's a half-ton of apples in that tree
notice   cricket jumping on cedar branch
   feline humor   magpie elegance

in sum
     this world
born not so long ago
with maybe not that far to go
     still roaming
   the contradictory corridors
of a universe or two
wind turns pages   then shuts book
he looks up   she looks up from piano keys

     hold that frame

From Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Existence, by Anselm Hollo, published by Coffee House Press. Copyright © 2001 Anselm Hollo. Reprinted by permission of Coffee House Press. All rights reserved.

The night attendant, a B.U. sophomore,
rouses from the mare's-nest of his drowsy head
propped on The Meaning of Meaning.
He catwalks down our corridor.
Azure day
makes my agonized blue window bleaker.
Crows maunder on the petrified fairway.
Absence! My heart grows tense
as though a harpoon were sparring for the kill.
(This is the house for the "mentally ill.")

What use is my sense of humor?
I grin at Stanley, now sunk in his sixties,
once a Harvard all-American fullback,
(if such were possible!)
still hoarding the build of a boy in his twenties,
as he soaks, a ramrod
with a muscle of a seal
in his long tub,
vaguely urinous from the Victorian plumbing.
A kingly granite profile in a crimson gold-cap,
worn all day, all night, 
he thinks only of his figure,
of slimming on sherbet and ginger ale--
more cut off from words than a seal.
This is the way day breaks in Bowditch Hall at McLean's;
the hooded night lights bring out "Bobbie,"
Porcellian '29,
a replica of Louis XVI
without the wig--
redolent and roly-poly as a sperm whale,
as he swashbuckles about in his birthday suit
and horses at chairs.

These victorious figures of bravado ossified young.

In between the limits of day,
hours and hours go by under the crew haircuts
and slightly too little nonsensical bachelor twinkle
of the Roman Catholic attendants.
(There are no Mayflower
screwballs in the Catholic Church.)

After a hearty New England breakfast,
I weigh two hundred pounds
this morning.  Cock of the walk,
I strut in my turtle-necked French sailor's jersey
before the metal shaving mirrors,
and see the shaky future grow familiar
in the pinched, indigenous faces
of these thoroughbred mental cases,
twice my age and half my weight.
We are all old-timers,
each of us holds a locked razor.

From Selected Poems by Robert Lowell, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1976, 1977 by Robert Lowell. Used by permission.

There's a happiness, a joy 
in one soul, that's been 
buried alive in everyone 
and forgotten.

It isn't your barroom joke 
or tender, intimate humor 
or affections of friendliness 
or big, bright pun.

They're the surviving survivors 
of what happened when happiness 
was buried alive, when 
it no longer looked out

of today's eyes, and doesn't 
even manifest when one 
of us dies, we just walk away 
from everything, alone

with what's left of us, 
going on being human beings 
without being human, 
without that happiness.

Reprinted from Front Lines by permission of City Lights Books. Copyright © 2002 by Jack Hirschman. All rights reserved.