I’m older than my father when he turned
bright gold and left his body with its used-up liver
in the Faulkner Hospital, Jamaica Plain. I don’t
believe in the afterlife, don’t know where he is
now his flesh has finished rotting from his long
bones in the Jewish Cemetery—he could be the only
convert under those rows and rows of headstones.
Once, washing dishes in a narrow kitchen
I heard him whistling behind me. My nape froze.
Nothing like this has happened since. But this morning
we were on a plane to Virginia together. I was 17,
pregnant and scared. Abortion was waiting,
my aunt’s guest bed soaked with blood, my mother
screaming—and he was saying Kids get into trouble—
I’m getting it now: this was forgiveness.
I think if he’d lived he’d have changed and grown
but what would he have made of my flood of words
after he’d said in a low voice as the plane
descended to Richmond in clean daylight
and the stewardess walked between the rows
in her neat skirt and tucked-in blouse
Don’t ever tell this to anyone.
From My Body: New and Selected Poems by Joan Larkin. Copyright © 2007 by Joan Larkin. Used by permission of Hanging Loose Press.
The days unfold like maps. Fresh dirt in the garden, black as cake, grows warm. The roses perform a silent recital, each playing its part from memory. I wait for my father the way men wait for a train. I wait for my father the way a dancer waits for music. My mother is a curtain in the window. She calls me in to fit my shadow for a suit. I keep still as she pinches the tape around its wrist. Around her neck my mother’s pearls clink like teeth. Your shadow grows faster than you do, she says. She says that waiting is a kind of dancing. At night I dance with the stillness. My blood waits behind my chest like a man behind a locked door. My father waits in another country.
Copyright © 2014 by Ryan Teitman. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on January 9, 2014.
Bring me your pain, love. Spread it out like fine rugs, silk sashes, warm eggs, cinnamon and cloves in burlap sacks. Show me the detail, the intricate embroidery on the collar, tiny shell buttons, the hem stitched the way you were taught, pricking just a thread, almost invisible. Unclasp it like jewels, the gold still hot from your body. Empty your basket of figs. Spill your wine. That hard nugget of pain, I would suck it, cradling it on my tongue like the slick seed of pomegranate. I would lift it tenderly, as a great animal might carry a small one in the private cave of the mouth.
Reprinted from Mules of Love by Ellen Bass, with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. Copyright © 2002 by Ellen Bass. All rights reserved.
In the days when a man would hold a swarm of words inside his belly, nestled against his spleen, singing. In the days of night riders when life tongued a reed till blues & sorrow song called out of the deep night: Another man done gone. Another man done gone. In the days when one could lose oneself all up inside love that way, & then moan on the bone till the gods cried out in someone's sleep. Today, already I've seen three dark-skinned men discussing the weather with demons & angels, gazing up at the clouds & squinting down into iron grates along the fast streets of luminous encounters. I double-check my reflection in plate glass & wonder, Am I passing another Lucky Thompson or Marion Brown cornered by a blue dementia, another dark-skinned man who woke up dreaming one morning & then walked out of himself dreaming? Did this one dare to step on a crack in the sidewalk, to turn a midnight corner & never come back whole, or did he try to stare down a look that shoved a blade into his heart? I mean, I also know something about night riders & catgut. Yeah, honey, I know something about talking with ghosts.
Copyright © 2011 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Reprinted from The Chameleon Couch with the permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
A fifth of animals without backbones could be at risk of extinction, say scientists.
—BBC Nature News
Ask me if I speak for the snail and I will tell you
I speak for the snail.
speak of underneathedness
and the welcome of mosses,
of life that springs up,
little lives that pull back and wait for a moment.
I speak for the damselfly, water skeet, mollusk,
the caterpillar, the beetle, the spider, the ant.
from the time before spinelessness was frowned upon.
Ask me if I speak for the moon jelly. I will tell you
one thing today and another tomorrow
and I will be as consistent as anything alive
on this earth.
I move as the currents move, with the breezes.
What part of your nature drives you? You, in your cubicle
ought to understand me. I filter and filter and filter all day.
Ask me if I speak for the nautilus and I will be silent
as the nautilus shell on a shelf. I can be beautiful
and useless if that's all you know to ask of me.
Ask me what I know of longing and I will speak of distances
between meadows of night-blooming flowers.
I will speak
the impossible hope of the firefly.
You with the candle
burning and only one chair at your table must understand
such wordless desire.
To say it is mindless is missing the point.
Copyright © 2012 by Camille Dungy. Used with permission of the author.
They don't wade in so much as they are taken. Deep in the day, in the deep of the field, every current in the grasses whispers hurry hurry, every yellow spreads its perfume like a rumor, impelling them further on. It is the way of girls. It is the sway of their dresses in the summer trance- light, their bare calves already far-gone in green. What songs will they follow? Whatever the wood warbles, whatever storm or harm the border promises, whatever calm. Let them go. Let them go traceless through the high grass and into the willow- blur, traceless across the lean blue glint of the river, to the long dark bodies of the conifers, and over the welcoming threshold of nightfall.
From The Beginning of the Fields by Angela Shaw. Copyright © 2009 by Angela Shaw. Used by permission of Tupelo Press. All rights reserved.
A parrot of irritation sits on my shoulder, pecks at my head, ruffling his feathers in my ear. He repeats everything I say, like a child trying to irritate the parent. Too much to do today: the dracena that’s outgrown its pot, a mountain of bills to pay and nothing in the house to eat. Too many clothes need washing and the dog needs his shots. It just goes on and on, I say to myself, no one around, and catch myself saying it, a ball hit so straight to your glove you’d have to be blind not to catch it. And of course I hope it does go on and on forever, the little pain, the little pleasure, the sun a blood orange in the sky, the sky parrot blue and the day unfolding like a bird slowly spreading its wings, though I know, saying it, that it won’t.
From The Book of Ten, published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 2011 by Susan Wood. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
At night, down the hall into the bedroom we go.
In the morning we enter the kitchen.
Places, please. On like this,
without alarm. I am the talker and taker
he is the giver and the bedroom man.
We are out of order but not broken.
He says, let’s make this one short.
She says, what do you mean?
We set out and got nearer.
Along the way some loved ones died.
Whole summers ruined that way.
Take me to the door, take me in your arms.
Mother’s been dead a decade
but her voice comes back to me now and often.
Life accumulates, a series of commas,
first this, then that, then him, then here.
A clump of matter (paragraph)
and here we are: minutes, years.
Wait, I am trying to establish
something with these people.
Him, her, him. We make a little pantomime.
Family, I say, wake up. The sentences
one then another one, in a line. And then
we go on like that, for a long time.
|About this poem:
“‘Domestic’ is part of a new manuscript, The Uses of the Body, which explores themes of gender, desire, marriage, monogamy, mortality (subjects I’ve written about previously) as well as pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood (subjects I’ve been reluctant to explore in poetry for fear of risking sentimentality). Although this material may seem familiar, I feel compelled to find fresh language, form, and syntax that can capture the immense strangeness of these experiences. This poem (‘Domestic’) comes at the end of a long sequence about marriage and domestic life.”
Beneath heaven’s vault
remember always walking
through halls of cloud
down aisles of sunlight
or through high hedges
of the green rain
walk in the world
highheeled with swirl of cape
hand at the swordhilt
of your pride
Keep a tall throat
Remain aghast at life
Enter each day
as upon a stage
lighted and waiting
for your step
Crave upward as flame
have keenness in the nostril
Give your eyes
to agony or rapture
Train your hands
as birds to be
brooding or nimble
Move your body
as the horses
sweeping on slender hooves
over crag and prairie
with fleeing manes
and aloofness of their limbs
Take earth for your own large room
and the floor of the earth
carpeted with sunlight
and hung round with silver wind
for your dancing place
in memory of Reetika Vazirani (1962-2003) and Rachel Wetzsteon (1967-2009) Sewanee, Tennessee. Summer of '96, I went there for booze and poetry and rest. I danced a little dance; I talked a little shop. I forgot a recent ghost. "Invitation to a Ghost" was my favorite poem in Tennessee. And Justice taught my workshop. (God love him, he called me decadent for ending a line with an anapest.) At the dance party with Allison and the rest of the poets from Rebel's Rest, ambition was the ghost unseen, but always in attendance. And I misplaced my faith in Tennessee, upon a hill: I gave an undergrad what-for after priming him with lines of Bishop. Gossip is another word for talking shop. But Rachel, sharper than the rest, winner of things I hoped for, was above all that, like a charming host. She spoke of posterity in Tennessee. And every day felt like a dance preparing us for a bigger dance. In the bookstore, I pretended to shop with Reetika, Rachel's roommate in Tennessee, wicked-funny and stunning and rest- less. We flirted like we stood a ghost of a chance. I was twenty-four. I wonder now what it's all been for: that summer; the words; the awful dance that followed. So many ghosts. Let the muses close the horror shop. Let Rachel and Reetika rest. —Years ago, there was Tennessee.
Copyright © 2012 by Randall Mann. Used with permission of the author.
Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations. Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies like a snowflake falling on water. Below us, some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death, snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn back into the little system of his care. All night, the cities, like shimmering novas, tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.
From Flying at Night: Poems 1965-1985 by Ted Kooser, © 1980. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.
Because your generation didn’t wear perfume
but chose a scent—a signature—every day
you spritzed a powerhouse floral with top
notes of lavender and mandarin, a loud
smell one part Doris Day, that girl-next-door
who used Technicolor to find a way to laugh about
husbands screwing their secretaries over lunch,
the rest all Faye Dunaway, all high drama
extensions of nails and lashes, your hair a
a breezy fall of bangs, a stiletto entrance
that knew to walk sideways, hip first:
now watch a real lady descend the stairs.
Launched in 1968, Norell
was the 1950s tingling with the beginning
of Disco; Norell was a housewife tired of gospel,
mopping her house to Stevie Wonder instead.
You wore so much of it, tiny pockets
of your ghost lingered hours after you
were gone, and last month, I stalked
a woman wearing your scent through
the grocery so long I abandoned
my cart and went home. Fanny, tell me:
How can manufactured particles carry you
through the air? I always express what I see,
but it was no photo that
stopped and queased me to my knees.
After all these years, you were an invisible
trace, and in front of a tower of soup cans
I was a simple animal craving the deep memory
worn by a stranger oblivious of me. If I had courage,
the kind of fool I’d like to be,
I would have pressed my face to her small
shoulder, and with the sheer work of
two pink lungs, I would have breathed
I don’t want to hurt a man, but I like to hear one beg. Two people touch twice a month in ten hotels, and We call it long distance. He holds down one coast. I wander the other like any African American, Africa With its condition and America with its condition And black folk born in this nation content to carry Half of each. I shoulder my share. My man flies To touch me. Sky on our side. Sky above his world I wish to write. Which is where I go wrong. Words Are a sense of sound. I get smart. My mother shakes Her head. My grandmother sighs: He ain’t got no Sense. My grandmother is dead. She lives with me. I hear my mother shake her head over the phone. Somebody cut the cord. We have a long distance Relationship. I lost half of her to a stroke. God gives To each a body. God gives every body its pains. When pain mounts in my body, I try thinking Of my white forefathers who hurt their black bastards Quite legally. I hate to say it, but one pain can ease Another. Doctors rather I take pills. My man wants me To see a doctor. What are you when you leave your man Wanting? What am I now that I think so fondly Of airplanes? What’s my name, whose is it, while we Make love. My lover leaves me with words I wish To write. Flies from one side of a nation to the outside Of our world. I don’t want the world. I only want African sense of American sound. Him. Touching. This body. Aware of its pains. Greetings, Earthlings. My name is Slow And Stumbling. I come from planet Trouble. I am here to love you uncomfortable.
Copyright © 2011 by Jericho Brown. Used with permission of the author.
for Barbara There are words I've had to save myself from, like My Lord and Blessed Mother, words I said and never meant, though I admit a part of me misses the ornamental stateliness of High Mass, that smell of incense. Heaven did exist, I discovered, but was reciprocal and momentary, like lust felt at exactly the same time— two mortals, say, on a resilient bed, making a small case for themselves. You and I became the words I'd say before I'd lay me down to sleep, and again when I'd wake—wishful words, no belief in them yet. It seemed you'd been put on earth to distract me from what was doctrinal and dry. Electricity may start things, but if they're to last I've come to understand a steady, low-voltage hum of affection must be arrived at. How else to offset the occasional slide into neglect and ill temper? I learned, in time, to let heaven go its mythy way, to never again be a supplicant of any single idea. For you and me it's here and now from here on in. Nothing can save us, nor do we wish to be saved. Let night come with its austere grandeur, ancient superstitions and fears. It can do us no harm. We'll put some music on, open the curtains, let things darken as they will.
From Here and Now, published by W.W. Norton. Copyright © 2011 by Stephen Dunn. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Man-made, bejesus hot, patches of sand turned to glass.
Home of Iron Mountain and McCulloch chainsaws.
London Bridge, disassembled, shipped, reassembled.
The white sturgeon stocked, found dead, some lost,
hiding in the depths of Parker Dam. Fifty year-old
monsters, maybe twenty feet long. Lake named
for the Mojave word for blue. Havasu. Havasu.
What we called the sky on largemouth bass days,
striped bass nights, carp, catfish, crappie, razorback,
turtles, stocked, caught, restocked. I stood waist deep
in that dammed blue, and I was beautiful, a life saver
resting on my young hips, childless, oblivious
to politics, to the life carted in and dumped
into the cauldron I swam through, going under,
gliding along the cool sand like a human fish,
white bikini-ed shark flashing my blind side.
We heard a woman died, face down in the sand,
drunk on a 125 degree day. That night we slept
on dampened sheets, a hotel ice bucket on the
bedside table. We sucked the cubes round, slid
the beveled edges down our thighs and spines,
let them melt to pools in the small caves
below our sternums. While you slept beside me
I thought of that woman, her body one long
third degree burn, sweating and turning
under a largo moon, the TV on: seven dead
from Tylenol, the etched black wedge of the
Vietnam Memorial, the Commodore Computer
unveiled, the first artificial heart, just beginning
to wonder if something might be wrong.
At dusk the streetlights stand like beacons to the underworld, a girl runs toward me beaded with rain and sweat. I think husk, wheels— seeds rattle, shake loose and a candle is held to the egg's red mass she is too young to see. In Pompeii those bodies are not bodies but plaster poured into the cavity where a body once lay, no less a hand pushing back ash, no less a woman with her unborn child twisting for a pocket of air, the forge, the fire, the glimpsed blade, a door we close quickly, just as my brother said Now I know I will die, and I thought of course and not me in the same second. We kept driving, arrived at the airport and the next day our father did die— aria, the birds rising at the sound of the explosion and plums, succulent ashy, burnished. Walking down the Spanish Steps on a Sunday morning in October, no one there yet, Keats' window open, you said Ten or fifteen years from now when I am gone, come back. You touched our absence from each other, the fifteen years ahead you've always had— when in dreams I am older and you remain as you were when we first met, before devotion was returned, or was it that I let it be—our lives together suddenly recognizable as if seared pages fallen from a larger book.
From Undone, published by New Issues Press. Copyright © 2011 by Maxine Scates. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
I bathe my television in total attention I give it my corneas
I give it my eardrums I give it my longing
In return I get pictures of girls fighting and men flying
and women in big houses with tight faces blotting down tears
with tiny knuckles Sometimes my mother calls
and I don't answer Sometimes a siren sings past the window
and summer air pushes in dripping with the scent
of human sweat But what do I care I've given my skin
to the TV I've given it my tastes In return it gives me so many
different sounds to fill the silence where the secrets
of my life flash by like ad space for the coming season
The donkey. The donkey pulling the cart. The caravan of dust. The cart made of plywood, of crossbeam and junkyard tires. The donkey made of donkey. The long face. The long ears. The curled lashes. The obsidian eyes blinking in the dust. The cart rolling, cracking the knuckles of pebbles. The dust. The blanket over the cart. The hidden mortar shells. The veins of wires. The remote device. The red light. The donkey trotting. The blue sky. The rolling cart. The dust smudging the blue sky. The silent bell of the sun. The Humvee. The soldiers. The dust-colored uniforms. The boy from Montgomery, the boy from Little Falls. The donkey cart approaching. The dust. The laughter on their lips. The dust on their lips. The moment before the moment. The shockwave. The dust. The dust. The dust.
From Hoodwinked, published by Sarabande Books. Copyright © 2011 by David Hernandez. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
I will if you do
|About this poem:|
"'Motown Philly Back Again' is a meditation on some of the myths and legends that pervade the recording industry. It includes some catachresis between Marvin Gaye and myself that helps me explore some nuances of paternity as I've experienced it within the context of black culture. The many hyperlinks embedded in the text explicate more of the associative registers of the poem, which is part of a larger series of meditations on crossings between rituals of worship/devotion, rituals of violence, and rituals of entertainment as they converge and diverge in the role of the arts in the lives of black Americans and also all Americans. That series is called 'Great Day in the Morning' and will be available as a chapbook this year."
Copyright © 2013 by Harmony Holiday. Used with permission of the author.
no dove at all, coo-rooing through the dusk
and foraging for small seeds
My mother was the clouded-over night
a moon swims through, the dark against which stars
switch themselves on, so many already dead
by now (stars switch themselves off
and are my mother, she was never
so celestial, so clearly seen)
My mother was the murderous flight of crows
stilled, black plumage gleaming
among black branches, taken
for nocturnal leaves, the difference
between two darks:
a cacophony of needs
in the bare tree silhouette,
a flight of feathers, scattering
black. She was the night
streetlights oppose (perch
for the crows, their purchase on sight),
obscure bruise across the sky
making up names for rain
My mother always falling
was never snow, no kind
of bird, pigeon or crow
From Red Clay Weather, published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 2011 by Reginald Shepherd. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2011 by Laura Kasischke. Reprinted from Space, in Chains with the permission of Copper Canyon Press.
I have not disappeared.
The boulevard is full of my steps. The sky is
full of my thinking. An archbishop
prays for my soul, even though
we only met once, and even then, he was
busy waving at a congregation.
The ticking clocks in Vermont sway
back and forth as though sweeping
up my eyes and my tattoos and my metaphors,
and what comes up are the great paragraphs
of dust, which also carry motes
of my existence. I have not disappeared.
My wife quivers inside a kiss.
My pulse was given to her many times,
in many countries. The chunks of bread we dip
in olive oil is communion with our ancestors,
who also have not disappeared. Their delicate songs
I wear on my eyelids. Their smiles have
given me freedom which is a crater
I keep falling in. When I bite into the two halves
of an orange whose cross-section resembles my lungs,
a delta of juices burst down my chin, and like magic,
makes me appear to those who think I’ve
disappeared. It’s too bad war makes people
disappear like chess pieces, and that prisons
turn prisoners into movie endings. When I fade
into the mountains on a forest trail,
I still have not disappeared, even though its green facade
turns my arms and legs into branches of oak.
It is then I belong to a southerly wind,
which by now you have mistaken as me nodding back
and forth like a Hasid in prayer or a mother who has just
lost her son to gunfire in Detroit. I have not disappeared.
In my children, I see my bulging face
pressing further into the mysteries.
In a library in Tucson, on a plane above
Buenos Aires, on a field where nearby burns
a controlled fire, I am held by a professor,
a General, and a photographer.
One burns a finely wrapped cigar, then sniffs
the scented pages of my books, scouring
for the bitter smell of control.
I hold him in my mind like a chalice.
I have not disappeared. I swish the amber
hue of lager on my tongue and ponder the drilling
rigs in the Gulf of Alaska and all the oil-painted plovers.
When we talk about limits, we disappear.
In Jasper, TX you can disappear on a strip of gravel.
I am a shrug of a life in sacred language.
Right now: termites toil over a grave.
My mind is a ravine of yesterdays.
At a glance from across the room, I wear
September on my face,
which is eternal, and does not disappear
even if you close your eyes once and for all
simultaneously like two coffins.
Copyright © 2013 by Major Jackson. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on September 11, 2013.
You are ice and fire, The touch of you burns my hands like snow. You are cold and flame. You are the crimson of amaryllis, The silver of moon-touched magnolias. When I am with you, My heart is a frozen pond Gleaming with agitated torches.
This poem is in the public domain.
Last week Mars suddenly got a lot closer.
It used to be the place we'd throw out
as impossible, utterly unreachable, so red
and foreign and sere. Not anymore.
And I'm trying to figure out why watching
the panorama makes something in the hot core
of me crumple like a swig-emptied can,
intoxicating though it may be, vibrant
with out-of-this-world color like the whole thing's
a sand painting, a dimensional mandala
some galactic monk took her sweet time pouring
freehand, blowing on it between sips of her tea,
ruffling up the most dramatic of its rumpled crests.
It's bluer than I thought, attained. Like most things
I wish we could take back.
Copyright © 2012 by Shanna Compton. Used with permission of the author.
Along Ancona's hills the shimmering heat,
A tropic tide of air with ebb and flow
Bathes all the fields of wheat until they glow
Like flashing seas of green, which toss and beat
Around the vines. The poppies lithe and fleet
Seem running, fiery torchmen, to and fro
To mark the shore.
The farmer does not know
That they are there. He walks with heavy feet,
Counting the bread and wine by autumn's gain,
But I,—I smile to think that days remain
Perhaps to me in which, though bread be sweet
No more, and red wine warm my blood in vain,
I shall be glad remembering how the fleet,
Lithe poppies ran like torchmen with the wheat.
Body my house my horse my hound what will I do when you are fallen Where will I sleep How will I ride What will I hunt Where can I go without my mount all eager and quick How will I know in thicket ahead is danger or treasure when Body my good bright dog is dead How will it be to lie in the sky without roof or door and wind for an eye With cloud for shift how will I hide?
From New & Selected Things Taking Place by May Swenson. Copyright © 1978 by the estate of May Swenson. Reprinted by permission of the estate of May Swenson. All rights reserved.
Red slippers in a shop-window; and outside in the street, flaws of gray, windy sleet!
Behind the polished glass the slippers hang in long threads of red, festooning from the ceiling like stalactites of blood, flooding the eyes of passers-by with dripping color, jamming their crimson reflections against the windows of cabs and tram-cars, screaming their claret and salmon into the teeth of the sleet, plopping their little round maroon lights upon the tops of umbrellas.
The row of white, sparkling shop-fronts is gashed and bleeding, it bleeds red slippers. They spout under the electric light, fluid and fluctuating, a hot rain—and freeze again to red slippers, myriadly multiplied in the mirror side of the window.
They balance upon arched insteps like springing bridges of crimson lacquer; they swing up over curved heels like whirling tanagers sucked in a wind-pocket; they flatten out, heelless, like July ponds, flared and burnished by red rockets.
Snap, snap, they are cracker sparks of scarlet in the white, monotonous block of shops.
They plunge the clangor of billions of vermilion trumpets into the crowd outside, and echo in faint rose over the pavement.
People hurry by, for these are only shoes, and in a window farther down is a big lotus bud of cardboard, whose petals open every few minutes and reveal a wax doll, with staring bead eyes and flaxen hair, lolling awkwardly in its flower chair.
One has often seen shoes, but whoever saw a cardboard lotus bud before?
The flaws of gray, windy sleet beat on the shop-window where there are only red slippers.
This poem is in the public domain.
so it came to me to carry the abandoned mattress to the attic a month dead my father waited hillside in the field surrounding his house I was glad to see him to remember when the fathers seemed generic related a class of things as uniform as trees are when you don’t know their names a stand of them across the field I want to say autumn aspens the late fathers blonde as early evening wind startles their eyes and makes of your name a sail a boat above roots that rise to stem that rise to leaf his door and cornices his felt hat and mattress empty it feels like forever above the flickering field the fathers shrinking far beneath our feet
for Lisa Fishman
Drink deep, drink deep of quietness,
And on the margins of the sea
Remember not thine old distress
Nor all the miseries to be.
Calmer than mists, and cold
As they, that fold on fold
Up the dim valley are rolled,
Learn thou to be.
The Past—it was a feverish dream,
A drunken slumber full of tears.
The Future—O what wild wings gleam,
Wheeled in the van of desperate years!
Thou lovedst the evening: dawn
Glimmers; the night is gone:—
What dangers lure thee on,
What dreams more fierce?
But meanwhile, now the east is gray,
The hour is pale, the cocks yet dumb,
Be glad before the birth of day,
Take thy brief rest ere morning come:
Here in the beautiful woods
All night the sea-mist floods,—
Thy last of solitudes,
Thy yearlong home.
I love its smallness: as though our whole town
were a picture postcard and our feelings
were on vacation: ourselves in mini-
ature, shopping at tiny sales, buying
the newspapers—small and pale and square
as sugar cubes—at the fragile, little curb.
The way the streetlight is really a table
lamp where now we sit and where real
night, (which is very tall and black and
at our backs), where for a moment
the night is forced to bend down and look
through these tiny windows, forced to come
closer and put its hand on our shoulder
and stoop over the book to read the fine print.
Copyright © 2012 by Lynn Emanuel. Used with permission of the author.
Late August morning I go out to cut
spent and faded hydrangeas—washed
greens, russets, troubled little auras
of sky as if these were the very silks
of Versailles, mottled by rain and ruin
then half-restored, after all this time…
When I come back with my handful
I realize I’ve accidentally locked the door,
and can’t get back into the house.
The dining room window’s easiest;
crawl through beauty bush and spirea,
push aside some errant maples, take down
the wood-framed screen, hoist myself up.
But how, exactly, to clamber across the sill
and the radiator down to the tile?
I try bending one leg in, but I don’t fold
readily; I push myself up so that my waist
rests against the sill, and lean forward,
place my hands on the floor and begin to slide
down into the room, which makes me think
this was what it was like to be born:
awkward, too big for the passageway…
When I give myself
to gravity there I am, inside, no harm,
the dazzling splotchy flowerheads
scattered around me on the floor.
Will leaving the world be the same
—uncertainty as to how to proceed,
some discomfort, and suddenly you’re
—where? I am so involved with this idea
I forget to unlock the door,
so when I go to fetch the mail, I’m locked out
again. Am I at home in this house,
would I prefer to be out here,
where I could be almost anyone?
This time it’s simpler: the window-frame,
the radiator, my descent. Born twice
in one day!
In their silvered jug,
these bruise-blessed flowers:
how hard I had to work to bring them
into this room. When I say spent,
I don’t mean they have no further coin.
If there are lives to come, I think
they might be a littler easier than this one.
A man in terror of impotence or infertility, not knowing the difference . . . . Adrienne Rich We live in dread of something: Need, perhaps. Tears, the air inside a woman's dress, the deep breath of non-ambition. In a valley of stone, men had to carry stones. In a sea of fertility, women could drown in the wake of conceptions. We no longer build in stone— houses of rice paper, beds of feather. Manhood is the one stone we still insist on, lifting it From abandoned quarries, carrying it on our backs even when we make love, until the woman beneath us calls passion a kind of Suffocation, surfaces for air like a young child whose head has been pushed beneath the water, a way to learn swimming. Did you come? we ask, her head bobbing above the brine that pours from us. Applause is what we want now, Her wet hands clapping in the last wind before she sinks again, before she holds us again so tight we both plunge like a cry for help into the water, Before we fall to the bottom— Stones not even the fish will pause to tell apart.
From Sympathetic Magic, published by Water Mark Press in 1980. Copyright © 1980 by Michael Blumenthal. Used by permission of the author.
(Ruth Stone, June 8, 1915 - November 19, 2011) And suddenly, it's today, it's this morning they are putting Ruth into the earth, her breasts going down, under the hill, like the moon and sun going down together. O I know, it's not Ruth—what was Ruth went out, slowly, but this was her form, beautiful and powerful as the old, gorgeous goddesses who were terrible, too, not telling a lie for anyone—and she'd been left here so long, among mortals, by her mate—who could not, one hour, bear to go on being human. And I've gone a little crazy myself with her going, which seems to go against logic, the way she has always been there, with her wonder, and her generousness, her breasts like two voluptuous external hearts. I am so glad she kept them, all her life, and she got to be buried in them— she 96, and they maybe 82, each, which is 164 years of pleasure and longing. And think of all the poets who have suckled at her riskiness, her risque, her body politic, her outlaw grace! What she came into this world with, with a mew and cry, she gave us. In her red sweater and her red hair and her raw melodious Virginia crackle, she emptied herself fully out into her songs and our song-making, we would not have made our songs without her. O dear one, what is this? You are not a child, though you dwindled, you have not retraced your path, but continued to move straight forward to where we will follow you, radiant mother. Red Rover, cross over.
Give me, again, the fairy tale grotto
with the portico-vaulting overhead.
Let me walk beneath the canted columns
of Gaudí’s rookery, spiral
along his crenelated Jerusalem
of broken tiles, crazy shields.
Yes, it’s hot as hell and full
of tourists at the double helix,
but the anarchists now occupy
the Food Court, and the arcadian dream
for the working class includes this shady
colonnade cut into the mountainside.
I’ve postponed my allegiance to
the tiny house movement, to the 450
square feet of simple, American maple
infrastructure and the roomy
mind suspended like a hammock
between joists. Serpents and castle
keeps shimmer, and a mosaic invitation
to the Confectionery gets me a free
café con leche on the La Rambla,
where honeycombed apartments bend
on chiseled stone and host
floating, wrought-iron balconies.
I think I’ll move into Gaudí’s dream
of recycled mesh, walk barefoot
on his flagstone tiles
inscribed with seaweed
and sacred graffiti
from pagan tombs.
O, Barcelona of chamfered corners!
And chimneys of cowled
warriors! From Gaudí’s Book
of Revelations, I invite the goblet
and the stone Mobius strip
to a tapas of grilled prawns and squid.
Gaudí’s book of Revelations.
We live in secret cities And we travel unmapped roads. We speak words between us that we recognize But which cannot be looked up. They are our words. They come from very far inside our mouths. You and I, we are the secret citizens of the city Inside us, and inside us There go all the cars we have driven And seen, there are all the people We know and have known, there Are all the places that are But which used to be as well. This is where They went. They did not disappear. We each take a piece Through the eye and through the ear. It's loud inside us, in there, and when we speak In the outside world We have to hope that some of that sound Does not come out, that an arm Not reach out In place of the tongue.
Copyright © 1998 by Alberto Rios. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
You weren’t well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.
I didn’t for a moment doubt you were dead.
I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You’d been out—at work maybe?—
having a good day, almost energetic.
We seemed to be moving from some old house
where we’d lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the story of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of the narrative
by your face, the physical fact of your face:
inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without a photograph, without strain?
So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of —warm brown tea—we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.
Bless you. You came back, so I could see you
once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.
From Sweet Machine, published by HarperCollins. Copyright © 1998 by Mark Doty. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Little cramped words scrawling all over the paper
Like draggled fly's legs,
What can you tell of the flaring moon
Through the oak leaves?
Or of my uncertain window and the bare floor
Spattered with moonlight?
Your silly quirks and twists have nothing in them
Of blossoming hawthorns,
And this paper is dull, crisp, smooth, virgin of loveliness
Beneath my hand.
I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against
The want of you;
Of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it.
And I scald alone, here, under the fire
Of the great moon.
For weeks, I breathe his body in the sheet and pillow. I lift a blanket to my face. There’s bitter incense paired with something sweet, like sandalwood left sitting in the heat or cardamom rubbed on a piece of lace. For weeks, I breathe his body. In the sheet I smell anise, the musk that we secrete with longing, leather and moss. I find a trace of bitter incense paired with something sweet. Am I imagining the wet scent of peat and cedar, oud, impossible to erase? For weeks, I breathe his body in the sheet— crushed pepper—although perhaps discreet, difficult for someone else to place. There’s bitter incense paired with something sweet. With each deployment I become an aesthete of smoke and oak. Patchouli fills the space for weeks. I breathe his body in the sheet until he starts to fade, made incomplete, a bottle almost empty in its case. There’s bitter incense paired with something sweet. And then he’s gone. Not even the conceit of him remains, not the resinous base. For weeks, I breathed his body in the sheet. He was bitter incense paired with something sweet.
Now come the purple garments, now the white; Now move the vagrant beds among the disinfected halls; Now stretch the opaque hose between the antiseptic rooms: I waken: and she looks at me. Now droops the freshly propped-up pillow like a ghost, And like a ghost she sets it right for me. Now lie the intravenous tubules by the door, And all the body's ills stare openly at me. Now drifts the slim physician on, and leaves His clipboard hanging like a thought in front of me. Now folds the young nurse all her aprons up, And slips her lovely bosom in a waiting car: And so desire folds itself as well, and slips Into my arms, and then is lost in me.
Copyright © 2011 by Michael Blumenthal. Used with permission of the author.
The soul of swift-soled Achilles hearing me Praise his son, silvered, and then was gone, His long strides causing him to blend, light-bent, Into the shining, maize meadow cloudbank Shadowed by that one solitary tree It takes sixteen years for light, let alone A soul, to cross. The other dead, who thrived Though they had died, rejoiced at seeing me And sang, one by one, to me; and I in Turn said back to one after the other That the song that soul sang was a blessing And that I had never heard anything Like it; which was true, but also, I must Admit, they bored me to tears, tears that their Surprisingly still finite knowledge took As tears of pure joy from hearing them sing. Only Ajax Telamoniades Kept away, arms crossed, refusing to speak, Dim-starred and disappearing into his rage. All because of a simple spar of words, A mere speech, and winning Achilles’ armor. Athena above and those men at the ships Decided that, not me, although it’s true He never stood chance. But by custom Should have been given the matchless metal. How I wish I hadn’t won that contest. How the ground closed over his head for it. What a fool I can be. Ajax. Who knew No equal in action but for the one Man who surpassed him, just-fled Achilles, So capable of happiness despite All that happened because he washed up here, Heaven: this implausible place for us. Strange that Ajax is also in Heaven Despite ending his legendary life. In the end he’s won, but he doesn’t seem To understand that he’s won. Poor Ajax. Like always, I thought I had winning words And so I said to him with unreturned gaze: “Son of great Telamon, mighty Ajax, War tower, shake free of your anger. No one else is to blame but Zeus, and look, He is no longer here, friend. Paradise Has found you and given you an eternal Roof under the one tree of High Heaven. Zeus treated us so terribly, and you, Whom he should have loved like his strongest son, You worst of all. But that is history Now. Come, my strong brother, lord and deserved Winner of all Achilles wore and was, Come, be with us here; let me hear the light Of Heaven in your voice; and let me know, Because I love you, how you (of all men!) Ended up in the keen of this endless berm.” But Ajax, gift-eyed, said nothing to me And took his seat under the rowan tree.
A boy told me if he roller-skated fast enough his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him, the best reason I ever heard for trying to be a champion. What I wonder tonight pedaling hard down King William Street is if it translates to bicycles. A victory! To leave your loneliness panting behind you on some street corner while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas, pink petals that have never felt loneliness, no matter how slowly they fell.
Naomi Shihab Nye, "The Rider" from Fuel. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
Away from leaf touch, from twig. Away from the markings and evidence of others. Beyond the shale night filling with rain. Beyond the sleepy origin of sadness. Back, back into the ingrown room. The place where everything loved is placed, assembled for memory. The delicate hold and tender rearrangement of what is missing, like certain words, a color reflected off water a few years back. Apricots and what burns. It has obtained what it is. Sweet with a stone. Sweet with the concession of a few statements, a few lives it will touch without bruising.
First published in American Poet. Copyright © 2010 by Carl Adamshick. From Curses and Wishes (Louisiana State University Press, 2011). Used by permission of the author.
who visits me in a hospital Like a fleet with bellying sails, Like the great bulk of a sea-cliff with the staccato bark of waves about it, Like the tart tang of the sea breeze Are you; Filling the little room where I lie straitly on a white island between pain and pain.
This poem is in the public domain.
Still are there wonders of the dark and day:
The muted shrilling of shy things at night,
So small beneath the stars and moon;
The peace, dream-frail, but perfect while the light
Lies softly on the leaves at noon.
These are, and these will be
But she who loved them well has gone away.
Each dawn, while yet the east is veiléd grey,
The birds about her window wake and sing;
And far away, each day, some lark
I know is singing where the grasses swing;
Some robin calls and calls at dark.
These are, and these will be
But she who loved them well has gone away.
The wild flowers that she loved down green ways stray;
Her roses lift their wistful buds at dawn,
But not for eyes that loved them best;
Only her little pansies are all gone,
Some lying softly on her breast.
And flowers will bud and be
But she who loved them well has gone away.
Where has she gone? And who is there to say?
But this we know: her gentle spirit moves
And is where beauty never wanes,
Perchance by other streams, mid other groves;
And to us there, ah! she remains
A lovely memory
She came, she loved, and then she went away.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 24, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
One never knows
how one comes to be
most ways to naked
in front of one’s pal’s
big sister who has, simply
by telling me to,
gotten me to shed
all but the scantest
flap of fabric
and twirl before her
like a rotisserie
chicken as she
and offers thoughtful critique
of my just
which is not
what with my damp trunks
my damp crotch
and proportion and grace
are words the definition
of which I don’t yet know
nor did I ask the
the mini-skirted scientist
and now shoeless
on my mom’s couch
though it may have been
while chucking papers
I heard through the Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock
pulsing my walkman
snared in the downspout’s
mouth and without
lowering the volume
or missing a verse
I crinkled the rusted aluminum
trap enough that with
a little wriggle
it was free
and did not
wobble to some
powerline but sat on my hand
and looked at me
for at least
one verse of “It Takes Two”
sort of bobbing
and cooing once or twice
before flopping off
but that seems very long ago
as I pirouette
my hairless and shivering
warble of acne and pudge
burning a hole
in the rug as big sis tosses off
Greek and Latin words
like pectorals and
standing to show me
what she means
with her hands on my love
handles and now
I can see myself
trying to add some gaudy flourish
to this memory
to make of it
which is why I linger
hoping to mis-recall
make of me
someone I wasn’t
make of this
experience the beginning
of a new life
kicked open blaring
trombones a full
beard Isaac Hayes singing in the background
and me thundering forth
on the wild steed
of emergent manhood
but I think this child was not
obscuring, as he was, his breasts
by tucking his hands
into his armpits
and having never even made love
yet was not
really a candidate for much
besides the chill
of a minor shame
that he would forget for 15 years
one of what would prove
to be many
stitched together like a quilt
with all its just legible
patterning which could be a thing
heavy and warm
to be buried in
or instead might be held up
to the light
where we see the threads
so human and frail
so beautiful and sad and small
from this remove.
Thank you my life long afternoon
late in this spring that has no age
my window above the river
for the woman you led me to
when it was time at last the words
coming to me out of mid-air
that carried me through the clear day
and come even now to find me
for old friends and echoes of them
those mistakes only I could make
homesickness that guides the plovers
from somewhere they had loved before
they knew they loved it to somewhere
they had loved before they saw it
thank you good body hand and eye
and the places and moments known
only to me revisiting
once more complete just as they are
and the morning stars I have seen
and the dogs who are guiding me
From Collected Poems 1996–2011 by W.S. Merwin. Copyright © 2013 by W. S. Merwin. Reprinted by permission of The Library of America.
Finally, morning. This loneliness
feels more ordinary in the light, more like my face
in the mirror. My daughter in the ER again.
Something she ate? Some freshener
someone spritzed in the air?
They’re trying to kill me, she says,
as though it’s a joke. Lucretius
got me through the night. He told me the world goes on
making and unmaking. Maybe it’s wrong
to think of better and worse.
There’s no one who can carry my fear
for a child who walks out the door
not knowing what will stop her breath.
The rain they say is coming
sails now over the Pacific in purplish nimbus clouds.
But it isn’t enough. Last year I watched
elephants encircle their young, shuffling
their massive legs without hurry, flaring
their great dusty ears. Once they drank
from the snowmelt of Kilimanjaro.
Now the mountain is bald. Lucretius knows
we’re just atoms combining and recombining:
star dust, flesh, grass. All night
I plastered my body to Janet,
breathing when she breathed. But her skin,
warm as it is, does, after all, keep me out.
How tenuous it all is.
My daughter’s coming home next week.
She’ll bring the pink plaid suitcase we bought at Ross.
When she points it out to the escort
pushing her wheelchair, it will be easy
to spot on the carousel. I just want to touch her.
The pony and the deer are trapped by tanks,
and the lady with the guitar is sad beyond words.
Hurtling across the sky, a missile has mistaken
a vehicle for a helicopter, exploding in a ball
of white flame. Upside-down birds—red specks
of knotted wool—glow above the sideways trees.
Hidden among plants, a barefooted boy waits—
like the divine coroner—aiming his rifle at something,
enjoying the attentions of a gray doggy, or maybe
there’s a bullet already in his head.
Lincoln, leaving Springfield, 1861,
boards a train with a salute: but it is weak.
To correct it, he slides his hand away
from his face as if waving, as if brushing
the snows of childhood from his eyes.
The train is coming east. In the window
Lincoln watches his face. You’ll grow old
the moment you arrive, he says to this face.
But you will never reach great age. The train
speeds like the cortical pressure wave
in the left lateral sinus, say, a bullet
in the skull. Then he will have his salute.
Then they will love him. Then eternity will slow, fall
like snow. Then the treaty with huge silence
which he, his face exhausted, must sign.
On the Mexico side in the 1950s and 60s,
There were movie houses everywhere
And for the longest time people could smoke
As they pleased in the comfort of the theaters.
The smoke rose and the movie told itself
On the screen and in the air both,
The projection caught a little
In the wavering mist of the cigarettes.
In this way, every story was two stories
And every character lived near its ghost.
Looking up we knew what would happen next
Before it did, as if it the movie were dreaming
Itself, and we were part of it, part of the plot
Itself, and not just the audience.
And in that dream the actors’ faces bent
A little, hard to make out exactly in the smoke,
So that María Félix and Pedro Armendáriz
Looked a little like my aunt and one of my uncles—
And so they were, and so were we all in the movies,
Which is how I remember it: Popcorn in hand,
Smoke in the air, gum on the floor—
Those Saturday nights, we ourselves
Were the story and the stuff and the stars.
We ourselves were alive in the dance of the dream.
of this train,
to Mystic against
the egret so
still, the colors
of my train
might be rolling
out a scroll
painting: my heart-
beat down its side
in liquid characters:
no tenses, no
on paper from
the inner bark
and that essential
with jade white
in ancient poems—
every other element
implicit in the
of calm and motion,
assuring as my
train moves on
and marsh gives way
and idle factories
that my sixteen
egrets still remain:
each a crescent
an emerald sky,
its body motionless
on one lithe leg,
Copyright © 2012 by Jacqueline Osherow. Used with permission of the author.
I think I detect cracked leather.
I’m pretty sure I smell the cherries
from a Shirley Temple my father bought me
in 1959, in a bar in Orlando, Florida,
and the chlorine from my mother’s bathing cap.
And last winter’s kisses, like salt on black ice,
like the moon slung away from the earth.
When Li Po drank wine, the moon dove
in the river, and he staggered after.
Probably he tasted laughter.
When my friend Susan drinks
she cries because she’s Irish
and childless. I’d like to taste,
one more time, the rain that arrived
one afternoon and fell just short
of where I stood, so I leaned my face in,
alive in both worlds at once,
knowing it would end and not caring.
Copyright © 2013 by Kim Addonizio. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 3, 2013.