But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam's twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man's legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who'll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can't bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can't count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother's,
it will always whisper, you can't have it all,
but there is this.
From Bite Every Sorrow by Barbara Ras, published by Louisiana State University Press, 1998. Copyright © 1997 by Barbara Ras. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
She pressed her lips to mind.
How many years I must have yearned
for someone’s lips against mind.
Pheromones, newly born, were floating
between us. There was hardly any air.
She kissed me again, reaching that place
that sends messages to toes and fingertips,
then all the way to something like home.
Some music was playing on its own.
Nothing like a woman who knows
to kiss the right thing at the right time,
then kisses the things she’s missed.
How had I ever settled for less?
I was thinking this is intelligence,
this is the wisest tongue
since the Oracle got into a Greek’s ear,
speaking sense. It’s the Good,
defining itself. I was out of my mind.
She was in. We married as soon as we could.
"The Kiss," from Everything Else in the World by Stephen Dunn. Copyright © 2007 by Stephen Dunn. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Between forest and field, a threshold like stepping from a cathedral into the street— the quality of air alters, an eclipse lifts, boundlessness opens, earth itself retextured into weeds where woods once were. Even planes of motion shift from vertical navigation to horizontal quiescence: there’s a standing invitation to lie back as sky’s unpredictable theater proceeds. Suspended in this ephemeral moment after leaving a forest, before entering a field, the nature of reality is revealed.
Copyright © Ravi Shankar. Used with permission of the author.
I draw a window
and a man sitting inside it.
I draw a bird in flight above the lintel.
That's my picture of thinking.
If I put a woman there instead
of the man, it's a picture of speaking.
If I draw a second bird
in the woman's lap, it’s ministering.
A third flying below her feet.
Now it's singing.
Or erase the birds
make ivy branching
around the woman's ankles, clinging
to her knees, and it becomes remembering.
You'll have to find your own
pictures, whoever you are,
whatever your need.
As for me, many small hands
issuing from a waterfall
The hours hung like fruit in night's tree
means when I close my eyes
and look inside me,
a thousand open eyes
span the moment of my waking.
Meanwhile, the clock
adding a grain to a grain
and not getting bigger,
subtracting a day from a day
and never having less, means the honey
lies awake all night
inside the honeycomb
wondering who its parents are.
And even my death isn't my death
unless it's the unfathomed brow
of a nameless face.
Even my name isn't my name
except the bees assemble
a table to grant a stranger
light and moment in a wilderness
of Who? Where?
From Book of My Nights (BOA, 2001) by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2001. Appears with permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.
There's this movie I am watching: my love's belly almost five months pregnant with cancer, more like a little rock wall piled and fitted inside her than some prenatal rounding. Over there's her face near the frying pan she's bent over, but there's no water in the pan, and so, no reflection. No pool where I might gather such a thing as a face, or sew it there on a tablet made of water. To have and to haul it away, sometimes dipping into her in the next room that waits for me. • I am old at this. I am stretching the wick again into my throat when the flame burns down. She's splashing in the tub and singing, I love him very much, though I'm old and tired and cancerous. It's spring and now she's stopping traffic, lifting one of her painted turtles across the road. Someone's honking, pumping one arm out the window, cheering her on. She falls then like there's a house on her back, hides her head in the bank grass and vomits into the ditch. • She keeps her radioactive linen, Bowl, and spoon separate. For seven days we sleep in different rooms. Over there's the toilet she's been heaving her roots into. One time I heard her through the door make a toast to it, Here's to you, toilet bowl. There's nothing poetic about this. I have one oar that hangs from our bedroom window, and I am rowing our hut in the same desperate circle. • I warm her tea then spread cream cheese over her bagel, and we lie together like two guitars, A rose like a screw in each of our mouths. There's that liquid river of story that sometimes sweeps us away from all this, into the ha ha and the tender. At night the streetlights buzz on again with the stars, and the horses in the field swat their tails like we will go on forever. • I'm at my desk herding some lost language when I notice how quiet she has been. Twice I call her name and wait after my voice has lost its legs and she does not ring back. Dude, I'm still here, she says at last then the sound of her stretching her branches, and from them the rain falling thick through our house. I'm racing to place pots and pans everywhere. Bottle her in super canning jars. For seventeen years, I've lined the shelves of our root cellar with them. One drop for each jar. I'll need them for later.
From We Bed Down Into Water by John Rybicki. Copyright © 2008 by John Rybicki. Used by permission of Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.
The first of the undecoded messages read: “Popeye sits in thunder, Unthought of. From that shoebox of an apartment, From livid curtain's hue, a tangram emerges: a country.” Meanwhile the Sea Hag was relaxing on a green couch: “How pleasant To spend one’s vacation en la casa de Popeye,” she scratched Her cleft chin's solitary hair. She remembered spinach And was going to ask Wimpy if he had bought any spinach. “M’love,” he intercepted, “the plains are decked out in thunder Today, and it shall be as you wish.” He scratched The part of his head under his hat. The apartment Seemed to grow smaller. “But what if no pleasant Inspiration plunge us now to the stars? For this is my country.” Suddenly they remembered how it was cheaper in the country. Wimpy was thoughtfully cutting open a number 2 can of spinach When the door opened and Swee’pea crept in. “How pleasant!” But Swee’pea looked morose. A note was pinned to his bib. “Thunder And tears are unavailing,” it read. “Henceforth shall Popeye’s apartment Be but remembered space, toxic or salubrious, whole or scratched.” Olive came hurtling through the window; its geraniums scratched Her long thigh. “I have news!” she gasped. “Popeye, forced as you know to flee the country One musty gusty evening, by the schemes of his wizened, duplicate father, jealous of the apartment And all that it contains, myself and spinach In particular, heaves bolts of loving thunder At his own astonished becoming, rupturing the pleasant Arpeggio of our years. No more shall pleasant Rays of the sun refresh your sense of growing old, nor the scratched Tree-trunks and mossy foliage, only immaculate darkness and thunder.” She grabbed Swee’pea. “I’m taking the brat to the country.” “But you can’t do that—he hasn’t even finished his spinach,” Urged the Sea Hag, looking fearfully around at the apartment. But Olive was already out of earshot. Now the apartment Succumbed to a strange new hush. “Actually it’s quite pleasant Here,” thought the Sea Hag. “If this is all we need fear from spinach Then I don’t mind so much. Perhaps we could invite Alice the Goon over”—she scratched One dug pensively—“but Wimpy is such a country Bumpkin, always burping like that.” Minute at first, the thunder Soon filled the apartment. It was domestic thunder, The color of spinach. Popeye chuckled and scratched His balls: it sure was pleasant to spend a day in the country.
From The Double Dream of Spring by John Ashbery. Copyright © 1970, 1969, 1968, 1967, 1966 by John Ashbery. Recording courtesy of the Woodberry Poetry Room, Harvard University. Used with permission of Georges Borchandt, Inc., Literary Agency.
I can imagine, years from now, your coming back
to this high, old, white house. "Home" I shouldn't say
because we can't predict who'll live here with a different
How tall the birches will be then. Will you look up
from the road past the ash for light in the study windows
upstairs and down? Go climb the black maple as first
in new sneakers you walked forty feet in air
and saw the life to come. Don't forget the cats.
Because you grow away from a house, no matter how much you
if the people you love are elsewhere, or if the reason is,
nostalgia, don't worry about small changes or lost names.
Sit down for a minute under the tallest birch. Look up
at the clouds reflected in the red barn's twisted window.
Lean on the wall. Hear our voices as at first
they shook the plaster, laughed, then burned in the dry air
like a wooden house. I imagine you won't forget the cats.
Permission from Other Press to reprint "He Foretells His Passing" from The Return of the Blue Cat copyright © 2005 by F. D. Reeve is gratefully acknowledged.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
From The Poems of Dylan Thomas, published by New Directions. Copyright © 1952, 1953 Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1937, 1945, 1955, 1962, 1966, 1967 the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas. Copyright © 1938, 1939, 1943, 1946, 1971 New Directions Publishing Corp. Used with permission.
If you work at a steady rate you may reach the river by nightfall and if you have the will a canoe will be waiting by the ash factory for you to take upstream to the takoyaki shack where you can eat delicious food and drink as much beer as you like until late into the night. In other words you have your whole life ahead of you and no one can tell you what to do or how to act or what to say or anything said the machine in the wall before dispensing my receipt in a tiny wadded ball.
Copyright © 2012 by Ben Mirov. Used with permission of the author.
I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it—
A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot
My face a featureless, fine
Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?—
The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.
Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me
And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.
This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.
What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand and foot—
The big strip tease.
These are my hands
I may be skin and bone,
Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.
The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut
As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call.
It's easy enough to do it in a cell.
It's easy enough to do it and stay put.
It's the theatrical
Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
That knocks me out.
There is a charge
For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart—
It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.
I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby
That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there--
A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.
Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.
23-29 October 1962
From The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath, published by Harper & Row. Copyright © 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Used with permission.
Do for your neck what you do for your face. Face your neck whatever the case. Pace yourself for 35-55, a quick and bumpy ride, gone in a sneeze. Avoid petroleum; replace with olive oil. Check bitterness at the door; be happy! Do for yourself what you do for others, the money guru says to sisters. Embrace a stash and a place, Virginia wrote, 80 years ago. Don't be dopey or sleepy, and don't buy all that's offered. Wake up! Do for your future what you should have done for your past. Don't be bashful: it's one thing to have a neck, another to stick it out. Go ahead and eat fruit fallen to the ground; be wary of apples in other hands. Know the party's over when the hostess yawns, her jaw like folds of lace. Brace yourself for 55-85, a long and grumpy slide. Help, Doc! Imagine lots of green and see it when your eyes are closed. Don't see red, as in done for, as in broke, as in give up the chase. Do for your head what you do for your face. Avoid asking questions of mirrors. To check your own sad countenance each day is a disgrace. If you hang on, cash can help. Despite it, the Iron Lady's now just a trace of the woman who said, There's no such thing as society! It's our duty to look after ourselves. A head of state. Debased.
Copyright © 2012 by Natasha Sajé. Used with permission of the author.
My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way—the stone lets me go.
I turn that way—I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.
From Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa. Copyright © 1988 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved.
I am fighting furiously with animals and bottles In a short time perhaps ten hours have passed one after another The beautiful swimmer who was afraid of coral wakes this morning Coral crowned with holly knocks on her door Ah! coal again always coal I conjure you coal tutelary genius of dreams and my solitude let me let me speak again of the beautiful swimmer who was afraid of coral No longer tyrannize this seductive subject of my dreams The beautiful swimmer was reposing in a bed of lace and birds The clothes on a chair at the foot of the bed were illuminated by gleams the last gleams of coal The one that had come from the depths of the sky and earth and sea was proud of its coral beak and great wings of crape All night long it had followed divergent funerals toward suburban cemeteries It had been to embassy balls marked white satin gowns with its imprint a fern leaf It had risen terribly before ships and the ships had not returned Now crouched in the chimney it was watching for the waking of foam and singing of kettles Its resounding step had disturbed the silence of nights in streets with sonorous pavements Sonorous coal coal master of dreams coal Ah tell me where is that beautiful swimmer the swimmer who was afraid of coral? But the swimmer herself has gone back to sleep And I remain face to face with the fire and shall remain through the night interrogating the coal with wings of darkness that persists in projecting on my monotonous road the shadow of its smoke and the terrible reflections of its embers Sonorous coal coal pitiless coal
Identité des images
Je me bats avec fureur contre des animaux et des bouteilles Depuis peu de temps peut-être dix heures sont passées l'une après l'autre La belle nageuse qui avait peur du corail ce matin s'éveille Le corail couronné de houx frappe à sa porte Ah! encore le charbon toujours le charbon Je t'en conjure charbon génie tutélaire du rêve et da ma solitude laisse-moi laisse-moi parler encore de la belle nageuse qui avait peur du corail Ne tyrannise plus ce séduisant sujet de mes rêves La belle nageuse reposait dans un lit de dentelles et d'oiseaux Les vêtements sur une chaise au pied du lit étaient illuminés par les lueurs les dernières lueurs du charbon Celui-ci venu des profondeurs du ciel de la terre et de la mer était fier de son bec de corail et de ses grandes ailes de crêpe Il avait toute la nuit suivi des enterrements divergents vers des cimetières suburbains Il avait assisté à des bals dans les ambassades marqué de son empreinte une feuille de fougère des robes de satin blanc It s'était dressé terrible à l'avant des navires et les navires n'étaient pas revenus Maintenant tapi dans la cheminée il guettait le réveil de l'écume et le chant des bouilloires Son pas retentissant avait troublé le silence des nuits dans les rues aux pavés sonores Charbon sonore charbon maître du rêve charbon Ah dis-moi où est-elle cette belle nageuse cette nageuse qui avait peur du corail? Mais la nageuse elle-même s'est rendormie Et je reste face à face avec le feu et je resterai la nuit durant à interroger le charbon aux ailes de ténèbres qui persiste à projeter sur mon chemin monotone l'ombre de ses fumées et le reflet terrible de ses braises Charbon sonore charbon impitoyable charbon.
Translation from Modern Poets of France: A Bilingual Anthology, edited and translated by Louis Simpson, published by Story Line Press, 1997. Copyright © 1997 by Louis Simpson. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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for Line McKie The light, tarred skin of the currach rides and receives the current, rolls and responds to the harsh sea swell. Inside the wooden ribs a slithering frenzy; a sheen of black-barred silver- green and flailing mackerel: the iridescent hoop of a gasping sea trout. As a fish gleams most fiercely before it dies, so the scales of the sea-hag shine with a hectic putrescent glitter: luminous, bleached— white water— that light in the narrows before a storm breaks.
Copyright © 2005 by John Montague. From Drunken Sailor. Reprinted with permission of Wake Forest University Press.