What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I
walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-
conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the
neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping
at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in
the tomatoes!—and you, García Lorca, what were you doing
down by the watermelons?
I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking
among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork
chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following
you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary
fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and
never passing the cashier.
Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in a hour.
Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the
supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add
shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue
automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what
America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you
got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear
on the black waters of Lethe?
From Collected Poems 1947–1980 by Allen Ginsberg, published by Harper & Row. Copyright © 1984 by Allen Ginsberg. Used with permission.
Even the gods misuse the unfolding blue. Even the gods misread the windflower’s nod toward sunlight as consent to consume. Still, you envy the horse that draws their chariot. Bone of their bone. The wilting mash of air alone keeps you from scaling Olympus with gifts of dead or dying things dangling from your mouth—your breath, like the sea, inching away. It is rumored gods grow where the blood of a hanged man drips. You insist on being this man. The gods abuse your grace. Still, you’d rather live among the clear, cloudless white, enjoying what is left of their ambrosia. Who should be happy this time? Who brings cake to whom? Pray the gods do not misquote your covetous pulse for chaos, the black from which they were conceived. Even the eyes of gods must adjust to light. Even gods have gods.
Copyright © 2017 by Nicole Sealey. Originally published in Ploughshares. Used with permission of the author.
When the light wakes & finds again
the music of brooms in Mexico,
when daylight pulls our hands from grief,
& hearts cleaned raw with sawdust
& saltwater flood their dazzling vessels,
when the catfish in the river
raise their eyelids towards your face,
when sweetgrass bends in waves
across battlefields where sweat
& sugar marry, when we hear our people
wearing tongues fine with plain
greeting: How You Doing, Good Morning
when I pour coffee & remember
my mother's love of buttered grits,
when the trains far away in memory
begin to turn their engines toward
a deep past of knowing,
when all I want to do is burn
my masks, when I see a woman
walking down the street holding her mind
like a leather belt, when I pluck a blues note
for my lazy shadow & cast its soul from my page,
when I see God's eyes looking up at black folks
flying between moonlight & museum,
when I see a good-looking people
who are my truest poetry,
when I pick up this pencil like a flute
& blow myself away from my death,
I listen to you again beneath the mercy
of a blue morning's grammar.
Copyright © 2016 by Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Originally published in the Southern Humanities Review, Vol. 49.3. Used with permission of the author.
Some nights she comes to act as courier,
midwife to our own skills.
Emily, come like a UFO to implant her genius in us.
Our Queen Mab, condemned to be the only woman mentioned
in the lyric omnibuses of her epoch;
easy scapegoat of men’s centuries,
she stood in for all women.
So now, of course, she comes to blow off steam
in the privacy of the green room.
All those living years she walked from yard to yard,
gardens flourished in opium poppies;
went out at night to see the owls and wed her genius.
She applied her passion like a hot iron sword.
And no one can take off her clothes, ever—she comes
and her language takes them off of us,
not piece by piece, not fumbling buttons,
but all at once in a single shot,
her tiny poems like grenades that fit in the hand.
And we here bask in the debris,
stripped down to our private parts,
the snow white of the bone, the authentic corpse in heat.
The absolute original.
From The Möbius Strip Club of Grief (Tin House Books, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Bianca Stone. Used with the permission of Tin House Books.
For poetry – I have you. One need not be a House – One need not be a Nation or a Master for that matter. Delicate and beautiful, common in rich mossy woods, in pairs, we live. We are crimson-pink, particularly in the mountains. The rough terrain is not visible to many, but somewhat green and fatigued, demilitarized! A nod from far away is hollow. True men – How shall I greet them? Nation building is kind and generous. It is common to decline it. Emily, Shall I – bloom?
Yours, Twin Flower
From The Morning News Is Exciting (Action Books, 2010). Copyright © 2010 by Don Mee Choi. Used with the permission of the author.
I take my $, buy a pair of very bright kicks for the game at the bottom of the hill on Tuesday w / Tone who averages 19.4 points a game, & told me about this spot, & this salesman w / gold ringed fingers fitting a $100 dollar NBA Air Avenger over the white part of me–my sock, my heel & sole, though I tell him Avengers are too flashy & buy blue & white Air Flights w / the dough I was suppose to use to pay the light bill & worse, use the change to buy an Ella Fitzgerald CD at Jerrys, then take them both in a bag past salesmen & pedestrians to the C where there is a girl I'd marry if I was Pablo Neruda & after 3, 4 blocks, I spill out humming "April in Paris" while a lady w / a 12 inch cigar calls the driver a facist cuz he won't let her smoke on the bus & skinny Derrick rolls up in a borrowed Pontiac w / room for me, my kicks & Ella on his way to see The Lost World alone & though I think the title could mean something else, I give him some skin & remember the last time I saw him I was on the B-ball court after dark w / a white girl who'd borrowed my shorts & the only other person out was Derrick throwing a Spalding at the crooked rim no one usually shoots at while I tried not to look his way & thought how we used to talk about black women & desire & how I was betraying him then creeping out after sundown with a girl in my shorts & white skin that slept around me the 5 or 6 weeks before she got tired of late night hoop lessons & hiding out in my crib there at the top of the hill Derrick drove up still talking, not about black girls, but dinosaurs which if I was listening could have been talk about loneliness, but I wasn't, even when he said, "We should go to the movies sometime," & stopped.
From Muscular Music by Terrance Hayes, published by Tia Chucha Press. Copyright © 1999 by Terrance Hayes. Reprinted by permission of Terrance Hayes. All rights reserved.
I’m afraid I can’t go anywhere without stacks of books, boxes in the trunk, a book bag over my shoulder—wherever I sit, more within reach, just to sample a stanza, line, or word, someone’s invocation to the color blue, another’s wandering of fields and grief; and some have died I can’t bear losing; in the produce aisle I hear Rilke crying out, wondering who is listening. I am! When I touch the artichoke, Neruda’s ode has guided me. I want to reach inside the glove compartment, hand the cop the poems of Simic so that—parked in an alleyway, on break—he’ll hear the voice of an insomnia, the terror of quiet sounds, how the Infinite is a dandelion carried through bomb-embattled streets. I’m not deranged, though like Thoreau I want to redefine economy so that an insight has more weight than gold. Why not, at the high school football game, read aloud a Saramago sentence with all its interruptions, feints, and secret passageways, its wanderings downfield, its ravings at the sky gone dark past the stadium lights. Proust has something more to say. A treatise on the mourning dove? Of course. Why not. So be it. Another failed peace treaty, another scandal involving high-ranking officials—who learns from Tranströmer to see the sphinx from behind? So much hollowness we’re carrying when sometimes thoughts can soar. So much space between Sappho’s words in order to make us whole. I enter the courtroom with Issa, whose grievances were many but laid aside; because of his presence I cast my vote for the spider clinging to the third-floor window; I forgive the bailiff the order he keeps. The judge, with his gavel, makes a haiku of sound. Is this my own existence, or have I found myself in others’ lives and they in mine? If I’m only myself, I ask a little help to get from who I am to something more than broken, something more than nothing less than these my only questions—oh Kafka, what is this weight upon me, enormous, flailing to touch all the corners of air?
Copyright © 2017 Jeff Hardin. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.
—For Leia and Graham
Before he is sick, he surfs the Pacific.
After he is sick, his faint body is pulled
from the water just in time to know
something is expanding. Leia goes over.
Just as friends, she says.
She sleeps in his bed, makes coffee,
tackles the wild zinnias of the Santa Barbara
hills, bends the flora to her spells.
The brain controls everything
except his nearly lifeless foot
moving to a Steely Dan cover.
All his orchids are crooked in the greenhouse
and the cats are missing. Too many coyotes,
he once said. When he was well,
everything survived. The orchids grew
erect, the coyotes were spineless, and Leia
stitched things together on her porch
exactly half a mile from the ocean.
Does anyone ever die in California,
I wonder. Leia enshrines him with eucalyptus
and Neruda, calls us, sleeps fetal now in LA.
You want to hear a love story, someone says.
Meaning them. Meaning this thing,
not quite knowable to us, her hand
on his laughing foot, the only part still alive,
it seems, the contract of their intimacy
that is not quite love, not quite
anything we’ve seen or can name.
Copyright © 2017 Megan Fernandes. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2017.
—Is where space ends called death or infinity? Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions A mere eyelid’s distance between you and me. It took us a long time to discover the number zero. John’s brother is afraid to go outside. He claims he knows the meaning of zero. I want to kiss you. A mathematician once told me you can add infinity to infinity. There is a zero vector, which starts and ends at the same place, its force and movement impossible to record with rays or maps or words. It intersects yet runs parallel with all others. A young man I know wants me to prove the zero vector exists. I tell him I can't, but nothing in my world makes sense without it.
Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
Dusk in August—
which means nearly
nine o’clock here, deep
in the heart of central
Jersey—and the deer
step out to graze
the backyards. They tear
each yellowy red
tulip cup, munch up
and azaleas. Fifty
years of new houses
have eaten into
their woodland, leaving
only this narrow strip
of trees along the trickly
stream that zigzags
between Route 9
and Lily’s mom’s
backyard. The deer rise
from the mist, hooves
clicking on asphalt, a doe
and a buck, his antlers
like a chandelier.
Sometimes a doe and two
fawns. Or else we see
just the white flags
of their tails bobbing away
into the dark. In theory
the DNR should come
catch them, let them go
where it’s still
forest, still possible to live
as they were meant to.
But these days
there’s no money
for that. And people keep
leaving out old bread,
rice, stale cookies, or else
plant more delicious flowers.
my mother-in-law says:
Nothing can be done.
Seeing them in
the distance—that distance
we can’t close
without them shying
and turning and skittering
down Dickinson Lane
over a backyard fence—
I try to imagine
come back to tell us
their stories, any news
of the lost or what
comes next, though
if they could say
anything, they would
probably say, Go away.
Copyright © 2016 by Matthew Thorburn. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 1, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.
On the Forty-Ninth Birthday of "The Day Lady Died"
It is 3:00 in the torpid New South, three days past Bastille Day & yes this is the form you fashioned, isn't it? Exact & fast & haunted as the opening chords of "Sweet Jane" (Mott the Hoople version), which pulses from the minivan as I drive from shrink to soccer camp, shirtpocket staining my new Rx with sweat, the bank thermometer flashing 103, the day's new record. We still use Fahrenheit, Frank (if I may call you Frank). I might add that we are in deep shit, icecaps turning slush, a gallon of regular more pricey than an opera ticket, not to mention a pair of wars, one of which just killed a reservist—the husband of my son's kindergarten teacher. IED, it's called: your body parts sail for blocks. How do you explain this to a six-year-old, Frank? Gauloises & Strega & your endless namechecks seem beside the point; even the willowy & ravished junkie whisper of late Lady Day cannot console. They have confiscated our cabaret licenses & men in camouflage turn men in orange jumpsuits into whimpering fetal balls. Head slap, stress position, waterboard. Explain this to a six-year-old. Today in the shrink-office Time, an obit for your long-lived buddy Robert Rauschenberg—the trick is not to impose order but to make the most of chaos. Uh huh. The Odyssey's—yes that's the name, Odyssey Espresso—unwieldy as a subway car & I'm running yellow lights to make it on time to the Y, where Jake will stand by the potted doorway marigolds, backpack, NASA baseball cap, his new black soccer cleats in hand. Then together it's hardware store & CVS: ant killer, a/c filters, orange tabs to twist the dials of serotonin, a goofy card for Noelle's fiftieth. Also her grocery list: milk, dinner, eggs, cheap pinot noir & a cheaper (please, David) chardonnay this time. My skills at self-portratiure, we can both agree, are limited. At two a.m. most nights I wake in terror. I pray to your good spirit, Frank, that I be worthy of this life, longer than yours already by a decade & a half. & I am back in a Minnesota dorm room, eighteen, snow occluding Fourth Street, colder than today by one hundred degrees, & spellbound I page your big new phonebook-sized Collected, the "suppressed" Larry Rivers cover, where naked you stand, posing Rodin-ishly. (Where is it now? Tattered & worth a dozen tanks of premium.) & it's grace to be born & to live as variously as possible. Grace o soccer cleat, Xanax, Odyssey, grace o standin-on-the-corner -suitcase-in-my-hand, o seasons, o castles, o elegant & gracious & bedazzling Noelle, who waiteth for me to uncork Rex Goliath. Grace o box set Billie Holiday: The Final Sessions, orchid ashimmer in her lacquered hair. & Congressional hearings—Rumsfeld, Addington, Yoo: let's start the war crimes tril now. Grace o milk, dinner, eggs, o Chamber of the Felines at Lascaux, o my damaged life mask of Keats on the wall, who now, poor bloke, looks trepanned. Grace o Microsoft Word (fucked up as it is), Grace o songs of Junior Parker, Robyn Hitchcock, Grant McLennan. & wise George Oppen— did you know him, Frank?—writing thusly in his Daybook: you men may wish to write poetry. At 55, my desires are more specific.
From World Tree by David Wojahn. Copyright © 2012 by David Wojahn. Published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Some women make a pilgrimage to visit it
in the Indiana library charged to keep it safe.
I didn’t drive to it; I dreamed it, the thick braid
roped over my hands, heavier than lead.
My own hair was long for years.
Then I became obsessed with chopping it off,
and I did, clear up to my ears. If hair is beauty
then I am no longer beautiful.
Sylvia was beautiful, wasn’t she?
And like all of us, didn’t she wield her beauty
like a weapon? And then she married,
and laid it down, and when she was betrayed
and took it up again it was a word-weapon,
a poem-sword. In the dream I fasten
her braid to my own hair, at my nape.
I walk outside with it, through the world
of men, swinging it behind me like a tail.
Copyright © 2015 by Diane Seuss. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 25, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
—after Richard Brautigan's "A Candlelion Poem" What began as wildfire ends up on a candle wick. In reverse, it is contained, a lion head in a hunter's den. Big Game. Bigger than one I played with matches and twigs and glass in the shade. When I was young, there was no sun and I was afraid. Now, in grownhood, I call the ghost to my fragile table, my fleshy supper, my tiny flame. Not just any old, but THE ghost, the last one I will be, the future me, finally the sharpest knife in the drawer. The pride is proud. The crowd is loud, like garbage dumping or how a brown bag ripping sounds like a shout that tells the town the house is burning down. Drowns out some small folded breath of otherlife: O that of a lioness licking her cubs to sleep in a dream of savage gold. O that roaring, not yet and yet and not yet dead. So many fires start in my head.
Copyright © 2012 by Brenda Shaughnessy. Used with permission of the author.
In the essay “A Winter Walk,” which predated the more famous essay “Walking”
by a few years, Thoreau paid particular attention to the astonishing array of whites
from fog to snow to frost to the crystals growing outward on threads of light. The
fact that white is separately known. That it is its own wildness, entirely exterior,
like all weather you notice is a version of an open room coming through
the wind in prisms. White holds light in a suspended state, unleashing it later
across a field of snow or a sheet of water at just the right angle to make the surface
a solid, and on we go walking. Goethe’s Theory of Colors depicted each one
as an intense zone of human activity overflowing its object into feeling there is
a forest through which something white is flying through a wash of white, which is
the presence of all colors until red, for instance, is needed for a bird or green
for a world.
Copyright @ 2014 by Cole Swensen. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on July 2, 2014.
He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.
Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.
But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.
Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.
But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.
You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.
Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.
In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.
Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;
With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.
From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.