The air is close by the sea and the glow from the pink moon
drapes low over a tamarind tree.
We hold hands, walk across a road rushing with traffic
to an abandoned building site on the bay, look out across the dark marina.
Sea cows sleep by the side of a splintered dock, a cluster of them
under the shallow water,
their wide backs covered in algae like mounds of bleached coral.
Every few minutes one floats up for air,
then drifts back down to the bottom,
without fully waking.
They will do this for hours, and for a while we try to match
our breath to theirs, and with each other’s.
In the morning, sitting in the garden beneath thatch palms,
we drink black coffee from white ceramic cups.
Lizards killed by feral cats are scattered on the footpath.
I sweep them into a pile with the ones from the night before.
Waves of heat rise from the asphalt,
and we sense a transparent gray fuzz lightly covering everything
as if there were no such thing as empty space,
that even a jar void of substance holds emptiness as if it were full.
Three days before the hurricane
a woman in white is hauling milk.
The beach wails.
She is swinging her pail.
I am sleeping in a tent of car parts, quilts
when the woman passes through the heavy felt door.
If your dream were to wash over the village, she says.
We listen—seagulls resisting the shore.
Hermit crabs scuttle under tin.
The children hitch their sails in.
Later that night from the compound walls
I see her hitchhiking the stars’ tar road—
black dress, black boots, black bonnet,
a moon-faced baby in a basket.
Thus, alone, I have conceived.
A tent dweller moved to the earth’s edge,
I bathe in acidic waves.
Everyone in the village
watches at the cliff the tidal wave
breach, roll across the sky.
They are feasting on cold
fried chicken, champagne—
I have no dancing dress for the picnic.
The king dozes in his gravelly castle.
The band plays its tired refrain.
Men, drunk on loosened wind
raise their cups to mechanical dolphins
tearing through the sheet-metal sea.
In the shadow of petrels’
snowy specters, drifting monuments
crash and calve.
But I, as water under wind does,
I tear my hair,
scalp the sand—
the sun, eclipsed by dark contractions
turns its disc to night—
fish like bright coins
flip from my hand.
Waking, I find I am alone in the kingdom.
The moon lays upon me
its phosphorescent veil.
The floating world—luciferous:
bleached coral coliseum,
a mermaid’s molten gown—
she turns her widening wheels,
spills her pail of glacial milk.
I could almost swim forever
to her beat of frozen bells.
But a sheet of water
doesn’t travel with the wave.
And the morning like a tender body
slides out of silt:
I press against its damp
rough surface, an ear.
Originally published in OAR. Copyright © 2016 by Jennifer Foerster. Used with the permission of the author.
these days I speak of myself in the past tense
writing about yesterday knowing tomorrow
is no more than mist crawling toward violet mountains
I think of days when this weather meant you
were not so far away the light changing
so fast I believe I can see you turning a corner
the rain comes in smelling of pine and moss
a kind of brazen intrusion on the careful seeds of spring
I pay more attention to details these days
saving the most trivial until I sort them for trash
or recycle a luxury I’ve come to know only recently
you have never been too far from my thoughts
despite the newborn birds and their erratic songs
the way they tilt their heads as if drowsing for the sun
the way they repeat their singular songs
over and over as if wishing for a different outcome
Copyright © 2015 by Colleen J. McElroy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 29, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
The wind shrills forth
From the white cold North
Where the gates of the Storm-god are;
And ragged clouds,
Like mantling shrouds,
Engulf the last, dim star.
Through naked trees,
In low coulees,
The night-voice moans and sighs;
And sings of deep,
Warm cradled sleep,
With wind-crooned lullabies.
He stands alone
Where the storm’s weird tone
In mocking swells;
And the snow-sharp breath
Of cruel Death
The tales of its coming tells.
The frightened plaint
Of his sheep sound faint
Then the choking wall of white—
Then is heard no more,
In the deep-toned roar,
Of the blinding, pathless night.
No light nor guide,
Save a mighty tide
Of mad fear drives him on;
‘Till his cold-numbed form
Grows strangely warm;
And the strength of his limbs is gone.
Through the storm and night
A strange, soft light
O’er the sleeping shepherd gleams;
And he hears the word
Of the Shepherd Lord
Called out from the bourne of dreams.
Come, leave the strife
Of your weary life;
Come unto Me and rest
From the night and cold,
To the sheltered fold,
By the hand of love caressed.
The storm shrieks on,
But its work is done—
A soul to its God has fled;
And the wild refrain
Of the wind-swept plain,
Sings requiem for the dead.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 17, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
that winter it was so cold
I had nowhere to go but inside
my heart was a clock on the kitchen wall
and I tacked up curtains to keep
anyone from looking in on my liver
up river snow kept coming
and the aching thing ached still
husband it was yours for the taking
I clanged pots against my radiator thighs
duct-taped my mouth all the doors
if only we could lose the hour
if only we could witness a single bloom
listen if spring ever comes
I will open these windows to you
and beat this old rug of a soul clean
the house will be pristine
and I will be your wife again
Copyright © 2017 by Nicole Callihan. “dwelling” was originally published in American Poetry Review. Used with permission of the author.
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
From The Poetry of Robert Frost by Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1916, 1923, 1928, 1930, 1934, 1939, 1947, 1949, © 1969 by Holt Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Copyright 1936, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1953, 1954, © 1956, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962 by Robert Frost. Copyright © 1962, 1967, 1970 by Leslie Frost Ballantine.