This is my pastoral: that used-car lot
where someone read Song of Myself over the loudspeaker
all afternoon, to customers who walked among the cars
mostly absent to what they heard,
except for the one or two who looked up
into the air, as though they recognized the reckless phrases
hovering there with the colored streamers,
their faces suddenly loose with a dreamy attention.
This is also my pastoral: once a week,
in the apartment above, the prayer group that would chant
for a sustained hour. I never saw them,
I didn’t know the words they sang, but I could feel
my breath running heavy or light
as the hour’s abstract narrative unfolded, rising and falling
like cicadas, sometimes changing in abrupt
turns of speed, as though a new cantor had taken the lead.
And this, too, is my pastoral: reading in my car
in the supermarket parking lot, reading the Spicer poem
where he wants to write a poem as long
as California. It was cold in the car, then it was too dark.
Why had I been so forlorn, when there was so much
just beyond, leaning into life? Even the cart
humped on a concrete island, the left-behind grapefruit
in the basket like a lost green sun.
And this is my pastoral: reading again and again
the paragraph in the novel by DeLillo where the family eats
the takeout fried chicken in their car,
not talking, trading the parts of the meal among themselves
in a primal choreography, a softly single consciousness,
while outside, everything stumbled apart,
the grim world pastoralizing their heavy coats,
the car’s windows, their breath and hands, the grease.
If, by pastoral, we mean a kind of peace,
this is my pastoral: walking up Grand Avenue, down Sixth
Avenue, up Charing Cross Road, down Canal,
then up Valencia, all the way back to Agua Dulce Street,
the street of my childhood, terrifying with roaring trucks
and stray dogs, but whose cold sweetness
flowed night and day from the artesian well at the corner,
where the poor got their water. And this is
also my pastoral: in 1502, when Albrecht Dürer painted
the young hare, he painted into its eye
the window of his studio. The hare is the color
of a winter meadow, brown and gold, each strand of fur
like a slip of grass holding an exact amount
of the season’s voltage. And the window within the eye,
which you don’t see until you see, is white as a winter sky,
though you know it is joy that is held there.
Copyright © 2017 Rick Barot. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2017.
I’ve got two hands and an urge
to yank out your teeth,
my lover said, dropping the dress
she made from my shirt
to the floor, to see the landscape
a mouth of holes might look like.
Maybe jagged potholes on a rainslick
street, she said, climbing over
the bed. Maybe, she winked, a prairie
dog town in West Texas after a flood.
Copyright © 2017 Curtis Bauer. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2017.
You bob & spit & bite
at my breast. You are my private
colony of sharp stones. I burn
your umbilical cord to ash.
Come, meet the spirits. Before
your birth I thought you an eyeball
bruised purple. I have no crib
to leave you in, but a maizena cardboard box
& a blanket of my thick dark hair.
I have done many things to feed your body—
things. Things for the price of what I
can endure in thirty minutes before
breaking. I know I can’t keep you,
but even stillborn I used the blood
I gave you to wash my legs clean.
Copyright © 2017 Natalie Scenters-Zapico. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2017.
Your look makes me want to jump off the roof
of the modern art museum. How am I supposed
to tell you about my life? Yesterday I saw a turtle
eat a dandelion flower up close. I cannot say what
this might mean to you. It was on my phone,
which is where I’ve been living lately. I can’t expect
you to understand. I cry openly and you stare at me
with big wet cow-eyes. I tell you what the abyss is like.
I heard breathing. It was my own. I wasn’t terrified.
Loneliness binds me to myself but I use my phone
as a wedge, use it to keep myself from touching who
I am. Nobody wants to grow up, not even children.
They just want to be taller because they hate being
looked down upon. What is it we see when we turn
and look back? Salt? Pepper? I’ll take both. No more
questions. All I want is to sit in this field with you,
little cow, this field I built in my mind. I pet you, make
little noises. You try to move away but I hold on to you,
I throw my arms around your neck. You drop
your dark head, continue chewing what you chew.
Copyright © 2017 Matthew Siegel. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2017.
my parents used the term from money it meant a lineage
but I envisioned a woman emerging naked and fully formed
from sierras of unmarked bills there was no derision
in the term but an understanding that she was not like us
she had not worked a day in her life she had never worn mittens
with holes in them her house had central heat instead of a wood stove
she knew how to shuck an oyster always knew which fork
was appropriate there was a lot we knew that she could not
but it was understood that these were Pandora kinds of knowledge
I asked if it was better to not have money then have it but they said
it was more elegant to come from money the nouveau riche
they said suffered from the one great affliction a lack of manners
I said it doesn’t seem like the bad kind of suffering they said
you’re too young to know what shame is but you know I said
they argued behind the closed bedroom door once about a prostitute
I envisioned the prostitute naked on sheets
of crisp hundred dollar bills I understood even then that money
and sex were cousins though the order of the transaction confused me
the art of the deal how to get what you want
withhold whatever has value my father kept secret
that he was starting another family we could have
with a little detective work sleuthed it out rule number one
follow the money people will do terrible things to get it
my half brother was born no— he was practically minted
Copyright © 2017 Ross White. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2017.
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
Copyright © 1966 by Robert Hayden, from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher. Used by permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.