The radio animals travel in lavender clouds. They are always chattering, they are always cold. Look directly at the buzzing blur and you'll see twitter, hear flicker—that's how much they ignore the roadblocks. They're rabid with doubt. When a strong sunbeam hits the cloud, the heat in their bones lends them a temporary gravity and they sink to the ground. Their little thudding footsteps sound like "Testing, testing, 1 2 3" from a far-away galaxy. Like pitter and its petite echo, patter. On land, they scatter into gutters and alleyways, pressing their noses into open Coke cans, transmitting their secrets to the silver circle at the bottom of the can. Of course we've wired their confessionals and hired a translator. We know that when they call us Walkie Talkies they mean it scornfully, that they disdain our in and outboxes, our tests of true or false.
Copyright © 2010 by Matthea Harvey. Used with permission of the author.
We had been together so very long,
you willing to swim with me
just last month, myself merely small
in the ocean of splendor and light,
the reflections and distortions of us,
and now when I see the man from British Petroleum
lift you up dead from the plastic
bin of death,
he with a smile, you burned
and covered with red-black oil, torched
and pained, all I can think is that I loved your life,
the very air you exhaled when you rose,
old great mother, the beautiful swimmer,
the mosaic growth of shell
so detailed, no part of you
or able to be created
by any human,
How can they learn
the secret importance
of your beaten heart,
the eyes of another intelligence
than ours, maybe greater,
with claws, flippers, plastron.
Forgive us for being thrown off true,
for our trespasses,
in the eddies of the water
where we first walked.
Copyright © 2014 by Linda Hogan. From Dark. Sweet.: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2014). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
—to Sean Penn I'm writing this on a plane, Sean Penn, with my black Pilot Razor ballpoint pen. Ever since 9/11, I'm a nervous flyer. I leave my Pentium Processor in Florida so TSA can't x-ray my stanzas, penetrate my persona. Maybe this should be in iambic pentameter, rather than this mock sestina, each line ending in a Penn variant. I convinced myself the ticket to Baghdad was too expensive. I contemplated going as a human shield. I read, in open- mouthed shock, that your trip there was a $56,000 expenditure. Is that true? I watched you on Larry King Live—his suspenders and tie, your open collar. You saw the war's impending mess. My husband gambled on my penumbra of doubt. So you station yourself at a food silo in Iraq. What happens to me if you get blown up? He begged me to stay home, be his Penelope. I sit alone in coach, but last night I sat with four poets, depending on one another as readers, in a Pittsburgh café. I tried to be your pen pal in 1987, not because of your pensive bad boy looks, but because of a poem you'd penned that appeared in an issue of Frank. I still see the poet in you, Sean Penn. You probably think fans like me are your penance for your popularity, your star bulging into a pentagon filled with witchy wanna-bes and penniless poets who waddle toward your icy peninsula of glamour like so many menacing penguins. But honest, I come in peace, Sean Penn, writing on my plane ride home. I want no part of your penthouse or the snowy slopes of your Aspen. I won't stalk you like the swirling grime cloud over Pig Pen. I have no script or stupendous novel I want you to option. I even like your wife, Robin Wright Penn. I only want to keep myself busy on this flight, to tell you of four penny- loafered poets in Pennsylvania who, last night, chomping on primavera penne pasta, pondered poetry, celebrity, Iraq, the penitentiary of free speech. And how I reminded everyone that Sean Penn once wrote a poem. I peer out the window, caress my lucky pendant: Look, Sean Penn, the clouds are drawn with charcoal pencils. The sky is opening like a child's first stab at penmanship. The sun begins to ripen orange, then deepen.
From Ka-Ching! by Denise Duhamel. Copyright © 2009 by Denise Duhamel. Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.
A kind of thrill—to lie on a road
and flatten yourself,
white fur like a ball of winter,
like the March blossoms on the fruit trees,
each one folded in like
the fledgling that never made it
from the nest.
They do this when they feel threatened,
even when curious people come prod
them with sticks,
stiffening their pearly claws as a tree stiffens
its twigs for winter. What is it to be dead?
The possums know—that eternal watchfulness
by which the dead in their stately wisdom
who keep moving.
Copyright © 2017 by Sheila Black. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 7, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Bolt, thwarted vault, late brake,
gasp of impact, temblor of thud—
the beast drops on the blade of hood,
ribs rip from their roots, hearts seize,
the windshield goes dark as an eyelid
curtaining to a horizon of blood,
black glass laced with lightning—
I am hit with wheel, steel, doe
embracing me backward as speed
crushes me forward into
a bursting hug, sternums to spines,
past last words,
no extra second to follow the plan to tell
God I am sorry, no foxhole repentance,
no appeal to the fate-maker,
my sentence incomplete, a fragment, a run-on,
no scenes spun out so fast
that the brain convulses with conclusion and love—
I do not even think of you,
cough no torn word for you to live by—
I mesh corpse into carcass,
I am dead, dear,
I leave you my velocity
and there at the edge of the road
I give you my fawn.
Copyright © 2016 by David Groff. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 5, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip—
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.
Copyright © 2011 by Elizabeth Bishop. Reprinted from Poems with the permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
You're seventeen and tunnel-vision drunk,
swerving your father's Fairlane wagon home
at 3:00 a.m. Two-lane road, all curves
and dips—dark woods, a stream, a patchy acre
of teazle and grass. You don't see the deer
till they turn their heads—road full of eyeballs,
small moons glowing. You crank the wheel,
stamp both feet on the brake, skid and jolt
into the ditch. Glitter and crunch of broken glass
in your lap, deer hair drifting like dust. Your chin
and shirt are soaked—one eye half-obscured
by the cocked bridge of your nose. The car
still running, its lights angled up at the trees.
You get out. The deer lies on its side.
A doe, spinning itself around
in a frantic circle, front legs scrambling,
back legs paralyzed, dead. Making a sound—
again and again this terrible bleat.
You watch for a while. It tires, lies still.
And here's what you do: pick the deer up
like a bride. Wrestle it into the back of the car—
the seat folded down. Somehow, you steer
the wagon out of the ditch and head home,
night rushing in through the broken window,
headlight dangling, side-mirror gone.
Your nose throbs, something stabs
in your side. The deer breathing behind you,
shallow and fast. A stoplight, you're almost home
and the deer scrambles to life, its long head
appears like a ghost in the rearview mirror
and bites you, its teeth clamp down on your shoulder
and maybe you scream, you struggle and flail
till the deer, exhausted, lets go and lies down.
Your father's waiting up, watching tv.
He's had a few drinks and he's angry.
Christ, he says, when you let yourself in.
It's Night of the Living Dead. You tell him
some of what happened: the dark road,
the deer you couldn't avoid. Outside, he circles
the car. Jesus, he says. A long silence.
Son of a bitch, looking in. He opens the tailgate,
drags the quivering deer out by a leg.
What can you tell him—you weren't thinking,
you'd injured your head? You wanted to fix
what you'd broken—restore the beautiful body,
color of wet straw, color of oak leaves in winter?
The deer shudders and bleats in the driveway.
Your father walks to the toolshed,
comes back lugging a concrete block.
Some things stay with you. Dumping the body
deep in the woods, like a gangster. The dent
in your nose. All your life, the trail of ruin you leave.
From The Pleasure Principle by Jon Loomis. Reprinted by permission of Oberlin College Press, Field Poetry Series, v. 11. Copyright © 2001 by Jon Loomis. All rights reserved.
The hunters drove through town doing eighty,
the bodies of wolves tied in cruciform
to the hoods of their trucks.
The Pink Lady Slippers in the woods
hung like carcasses on hooks and the lights of ranches
twinkled in the valley below. We could hear,
with a kind of clairaudience, the stars clicking their pistols.
I stood at the edge of the world, tongue screwed shut.
But words came from all four corners—
even speechless, that power was unstoppable.
A red fox, like a blood smear
in the wild lilac of my mother’s abandoned homestead,
and black-blotch shadows of hawks and ravens,
The bird-like leaps of the heart’s wonder.
From Tongue Screw (Spark Wheel Press, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Heather Derr-Smith. Used with permission of the author.
barks at whatever’s
not the world as he prefers to know it:
trash sacks, hand trucks, black hats, canes
and hoods, shovels, someone smoking a joint
beneath the Haitian Evangelicals’ overhang,
anyone—how dare they—walking a dog.
George barks, the tense white comma
of himself arced in alarm.
At home he floats
in the creaturely domestic: curled in the warm
triangle behind a sleeper’s knees,
wiggling on his back on the sofa, all jelly
and sighs, requesting/receiving a belly rub.
No worries. But outside the apartment’s
metal door, the unmanageable day assumes
its blurred and infinite disguises.
Best to bark.
No matter that he’s slightly larger
than a toaster; he proceeds as if he rules
a rectangle two blocks deep, bounded west
and east by Seventh Avenue and Union Square.
Whatever’s there is there by his consent,
and subject to the rebuke of his refusal
—though when he asserts his will
he trembles. If only he were not solely
responsible for raising outcry
at any premonition of trouble
on West 16th Street, or if, right out
on the pavement, he might lay down
the clanking armor of his bluster.
Some evening when he’s climbed the stairs
after our late walk, and rounds
the landing’s turn and turns his way
toward his steady sleep, I wish he might
be visited by a dream of the world as kind,
how any looming unknown might turn out
to hold—the April-green of an unsullied
tennis ball? Dear one, surely the future
can’t be entirely out to get us?
And if it is, barking won’t help much.
But no such luck, not yet.
He takes umbrage, this morning,
at a stone image serene in a neighbor’s garden,
and stiffens and fixes and sounds
his wild alarm: Damn you,
Buddha, get out of here, go away!
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Doty. Used with permission of the author.