How to love like water loves
when it’s impossible to even taste
all the ghostly sediments
each time you take a sip

Impossible to savor
the salt in your blood
the light and island shorelines
in each living cell

When even the plainest mouthful
tastes more of you than you of it

 

 

Sweetest of absences
that frees in wave after wave
debris of thought like the dead,
the drowned, the vanished, and yet
sails your lips
on a voyage toward another’s, plying
all luck and regret

Worship, splash, guzzle, or forget
It clears any difference
Stone washer and mountain dissolver
that will
outlive us, even the memory of
all any eyes touched

Wasp and cactus in a desert
Comet through outer space
Sleep among all the cloud-shepherds’ children

A love so perpetually current
it doesn’t care that you love
without even knowing you love
what you couldn’t survive
three days without

How to love like that: wild
dream-sparkler and meticulous architect
of every snowflake
Wise, ebullient, and generous
as the rain

Deepest of miracles
for a time
borrowing and replenishing
a self
overflowing with fate

From Mitochondrial Night (Coffee House Press, 2019). Copyright © 2019 Ed Bok Lee. Used with permission of the author and Coffee House Press. This poem originally appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review, Fall-Winter 2017.

Hatred is the new love. Rage is right. Touch
is touch. The collars of the coat, turned down,
point up. The corners of our hearts are smoothed
with rough. Our glass breaks slick, our teeth
rip soft. The mollusk of me, shell-less.
If the future once was, the past predicted
us. The street gives off rhythm. The sun
gives off dusk. When we walk, we
pour backward. When we have nothing,
it’s enough. The hunger leaves us satisfied,
the fullness leaves us wrung. The sum of all
its parts is whole, the reap of it has roots, not
took or plucked. Far apart, we move inside
our clothes: open is old, young is closed. The fangs
we used to bare are milk teeth grown from gums.
The fire we used to be scathed by numbs. We
run on the track of our consumption, done.
We’ve been ice when liquid is our natural state.
We’ve worn our husks, we’ve clenched our fists.
We scold and punish, scrape, pay a price.
We dole out in slanders what has no weight.
We pay in cringing for the moments. We open
injuries in one another. We lacerate places
that flex like knuckles, crack and grow. We are
sipping from the water’s thirst. We were lost
at first. From the finish, begun. We undergo
the pain the other knows. We are cartoon yards
where dogs dig for lost bones. Esoteric,
we are full of holes. That need to be filled.
That need to be dug. We are under-loved.
We are under-known. Give to us and we are
downcast and uplifted and sift like water
and sand like stone. We are greedy, we are
gone. We are helpless, we are prone. Drain us
or fill us and we’ll ache a vast installment.
Let us empty. Let us alone. Madness
is our happiness. Sadness is our home.

Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Militello. “Oxymoronic Love” was originally published in The Kenyon Review. Used with permission of the author.

In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
slapped the back of my head
and made me stand in the corner   
for not knowing the difference   
between persimmon and precision.   
How to choose

persimmons. This is precision.
Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.   
Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one
will be fragrant. How to eat:
put the knife away, lay down newspaper.   
Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.   
Chew the skin, suck it,
and swallow. Now, eat
the meat of the fruit,
so sweet,
all of it, to the heart.

Donna undresses, her stomach is white.   
In the yard, dewy and shivering
with crickets, we lie naked,
face-up, face-down.
I teach her Chinese.
Crickets: chiu chiu. Dew: I’ve forgotten.   
Naked:   I’ve forgotten.
Ni, wo:   you and me.
I part her legs,
remember to tell her
she is beautiful as the moon.

Other words
that got me into trouble were
fight and fright, wren and yarn.
Fight was what I did when I was frightened,   
Fright was what I felt when I was fighting.   
Wrens are small, plain birds,   
yarn is what one knits with.
Wrens are soft as yarn.
My mother made birds out of yarn.   
I loved to watch her tie the stuff;   
a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.

Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class   
and cut it up
so everyone could taste
a Chinese apple. Knowing
it wasn’t ripe or sweet, I didn’t eat
but watched the other faces.

My mother said every persimmon has a sun   
inside, something golden, glowing,   
warm as my face.

Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,   
forgotten and not yet ripe.
I took them and set both on my bedroom windowsill,   
where each morning a cardinal
sang, The sun, the sun.

Finally understanding   
he was going blind,
my father sat up all one night   
waiting for a song, a ghost.   
I gave him the persimmons,   
swelled, heavy as sadness,   
and sweet as love.

This year, in the muddy lighting
of my parents’ cellar, I rummage, looking   
for something I lost.
My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,   
black cane between his knees,
hand over hand, gripping the handle.
He’s so happy that I’ve come home.
I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.   
All gone, he answers.

Under some blankets, I find a box.
Inside the box I find three scrolls.
I sit beside him and untie
three paintings by my father:
Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.
Two cats preening.
Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.

He raises both hands to touch the cloth,   
asks, Which is this?

This is persimmons, Father.

Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,   
the strength, the tense
precision in the wrist.
I painted them hundreds of times   
eyes closed. These I painted blind.   
Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of one you love,   
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight.

Li-Young Lee, “Persimmons” from Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

Soft as a Claude painting, the yellow sky tonight—
trees in the parking lot still thick, though the air, yes,
has an edge, the honey was solid in the jar
when I opened it this morning, found a single ant
frozen in the dunes, stunned by sweetness.
Can you really die of sweetness? Hard
to say yes, though I want to, looking up at these clouds
that make my heart jump: oh joy in seeing
though I can’t touch, like the girl repeating persimmon
as the waitress in the diner tells her about a tree
at the top of the hill she used to see, how beautiful
that vivid orange fruit was all at once.
Can’t touch them, but I see them in her eyes as
she remembers persimmons. Maybe that was
my mistake: thinking every love was different, a fruit
inside its own clear mason jar—my love, her love, his,
all separate as the trees they fell from. Maybe love
is more contagion, bubbles in a bathtub slowly
swelling, all the little circles drifting, gliding
gently into each other until they burst, until
nothing’s left but foam, the sound of rushing water.

Copyright © 2018 Annie Kim. This poem originally appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Summer 2018. Used with permission of the author.

how much history is enough history     before we can agree
to flee our daycares      to wash everything away and start over
leaving laptops to be lost in the wet along with housecats and Christ’s
own mother      even a lobster climbs away from its shell a few
times a life      but every time I open my eyes I find
I am still inside myself     each epiphany dull and familiar
oh now I am barefoot       oh now I am lighting the wrong end
of a cigarette     I just want to be shaken new like a flag whipping
away its dust     want to pull out each of my teeth
and replace them with jewels     I’m told what seems like joy
is often joy     that the soul lives in the throat plinking
like a copper bell       I’ve been so young for so many years
it’s all starting to jumble together     joy jeweling copper   
its plink      a throat    sometimes I feel beautiful and near dying
like a feather on an arrow shot through a neck     other times
I feel tasked only with my own soreness      like a scab on the roof
of a mouth      my father believed in gardens      delighting
at burying each thing in its potential for growth     some years
the soil was so hard the water seeped down slower than the green
seeped up     still he’d say if you’re not happy in your own yard
you won’t be happy anywhere      I’ve never had a yard but I’ve had apartments
where water pipes burst above my head      where I’ve scrubbed
a lover’s blood from the kitchen tile       such cleaning
takes so much time you expect there to be confetti at the end    
what we’ll need in the next life      toothpaste      party hats
and animal bones      every day people charge out of this world    
squealing       good-bye human behavior!      so long acres
of germless chrome!      it seems gaudy for them to be so cavalier
with their bliss      while I’m still here lurching into my labor
hanging by my hair from the roof of a chapel      churchlight thickening
around me     or wandering into the woods to pull apart eggshells     emptying
them in the dirt      then sewing them back together to dry in the sun

Copyright © 2017 by Kaveh Akbar. From Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James Books, 2017). Used with permission of the author.

When fed into the crude, imaginary
machine we call the memory,

the brain's hard pictures
slide into the suggestive
waters of the counterfeit.

They come out glamorous and simplified,

even the violent ones,
even the ones that are snapshots of fear.

Maybe those costumed,
clung-to fragments are the first wedge

nostalgia drives into our dreaming.

Maybe our dreams are corrupted
right from the start: the weight

of apples in the blossoms overhead.

Even the two thin reddish dogs
nosing down the aisles of crippled trees,
digging in the weak shade

thrown by the first flowerers,
snuffle in the blackened leaves
for the scent of a dead year.

Childhood, first love, first loss of love--

the saying of their names
brings an ache to the teeth
like that of tears withheld.

What must happen now
is that the small funerals
celebrated in the left-behind life

for their black exotica, their high relief,

their candles and withered wreaths,
must be allowed to pass through
into the sleeping world,

there to be preserved and honored
in the fullness and color of their forms,

their past lives their coffins.

Goodbye then to all innocent surprise
at mortality's panache,
and goodbye to the children fallen

ahead of me into the slow whirlpool
I conceal within myself, my death,

into its snow-froth and the green-black
muscle of its persuasion.

The spirits of children
must look like the spirits of animals,
though in the adult human

the vacancy left by the child
probably darkens the surviving form.

The apples drop their blossom-shadows
onto the still-brown grass.
Old selves, this is partly for you,

there at the edge of the woods
like a troop of boy soldiers.

You can go on living with the blade
of nostalgia in your hearts forever,
my pale darlings. It changes nothing.

Don't you recognize me? I admit
I too am almost invisible now, almost.

Like everything else, I take on
light and color from outside myself,
but it is old light, old paint.

The first shadows are supple ones,
school of gray glimpses, insubstantial.

In children, the quality of darkness
changes inside the sleeping mouth,

and the ghost of child-grime--
that infinite smudge of no color--

blows off into the afterlife.

From Perdido by Chase Twichell. Copyright © 1991 by Chase Twichell. Published by Farrar, Straus & Girioux. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.