All night you eyed the man I wanted to be;
my jaw flexed tight. Anger slipped into
desire. Easily he would rise. Easily you would
disperse, pleasure made into light:
what you want under him,
I put on to amuse—I, your worked
supplicant. Yes, love is looking away.
My desire greened in your dismissal. Was
technicolor and twilight-made and never
turning off. The city air hung humid
above our charade. What need I could fill:
to transubstantiate, to unravel?
Copyright © 2020 Taylor Johnson. This poem originally appeared in MumberMag. Used with permission of the author.
Come and lie with me and love me,
Touch me with your hands a little,
Kiss me, as you lean above me,
With your cold sadistic kisses;
Wind your hair close, close around me,
Pain might dissipate this blankness.
Hurt me even, even wound me,
I have need of love that stings.
Come and lie with me and love me,
So that I may laugh at things.
From On a Grey Thread (Will Ransom, 1923) by Elsa Gidlow. This poem is in the public domain.
turns out there are more planets than stars more places to land than to be burned I have always been in love with last chances especially now that they really do seem like last chances the trill of it all upending what’s left of my head after we explode are you ready to ascend in the morning I will take you on the wing
Copyright © 2019 by D. A. Powell. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 28, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
I navigate the dark house by moving from the green star of the smoke detector to the blue star of the electric toothbrush. I am no different than Magellan or Marco Polo, I am guided by what burns. Some nights I step onto the back porch. The prow of it charges the blackness, while the stars above me sharpen and blur. Inside, I harbor the ache of what is no longer possible.
Copyright © 2017 Charles Rafferty. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
From Homage to Clio by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1960 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
Only one complete poem remains. The rest of it is berries left in the bramble after a visit from midday starlings. For years I couldn't understand how this redaction moved anyone to tears. She was a dampness in the matchbook. But the world is patient. Eventually the diamond travels from the mantle to the finger of the woman you love. Eventually the light from an exploded star arrives to confirm the emperor's power. It's clear now that a very old bruise can tell us how hard someone was punched. The detective solves a murder by the help of a single hair. Archeologists find a molar and build a face to fit.
Copyright © 2017 Charles Rafferty. “The Problem with Sappho” originally appeared in The Smoke of Horses (BOA Editions, 2017). Reprinted with permission by the author.
translated by Tess O’Dwyer
Memories walk around dressed as old men. But they’re not old. They’re
hypocrites and gossipers. I love gossip. But I hate memories and sorrows. I
like the he told me and I told him and we fell in love and rode off into the
sunset and lived happily ever after. I like the sun and the beach. I like
sidewalks. And soup and beets. I like men and women. And I like
mountains and seas. I like fire and water. I like trashy movies and novels. I
like tackiness and gossip. Most of all, I like to forget everything. Especially
memories. I am forgetfulness. And nothingness. I am joy, well-being, and
happiness. I am laughter, gossip, and pantomime. I am the idiot and the
prince. I am the grain of rice and the bean. I am the chickpea and the
casserole. I am the red apple. And salt and pepper. I am the shepherd of
life. I am the shepherd of memories, which I love despite everything.
Affirming is everything I love and everything I hate. Affirming. And living.
And denying. Affirming everything.
Giannina Braschi, El imperio de los sueños, 1988. Translation Tess O’Dwyer, 20201
translated by Tess O’Dwyer
Yes, it’s true. Questions don’t change the truth. But they give it motion.
They focus my truth from another angle. And you said: we’re washing the
truth. Things must be clarified.
You don’t tell the truth and eventually your jacket comes back made of
another material, and your shoes say yes and run back to you telling my
truth. Though it’s raining now, it may not be raining inside your truth like it’s
raining outside. Though silent, you may be saying what I’m thinking when
you weren’t speaking. But don’t ignore me and then start up again saying
come when you said go. Then don’t expect me to listen when you say
come. You’ll come with your words get out and the door will open. I hear
those words and the door opens. Then you’ll come and I’ll know how to tell
you: get out.
Giannina Braschi, Asalto al tiempo, 1981. Translation Tess O’Dwyer, 2020.
Socrates taught Plato and Plato taught Aristotle and Aristotle taught Alexander the Great, who founded a city that would house the most voluminous library of the ancient world — until it was burned, until forgetting came back into vogue. The great minds come down through the years like monkeys descending from high branches. Always a leopard is waiting to greet them — in the tall grass, among the magnetic berries, in the place they should have checked.
Copyright © 2017 Charles Rafferty. “Diminution” originally appeared in The Smoke of Horses (BOA Editions, 2017). Reprinted with permission by the author.
The sky tonight, so without aliens. The woods, very lacking
in witches. But the people, as usual, replete
with people. & so you, with your headset, sit
in the home office across the hall, stuck in a hell
of strangers crying, computers dying, the new
father’s dropped-in-toilet baby
photos, the old Canadian, her grandson Gregory,
all-grown-up-now Greg, who gave her this phone
but won’t call her. You call her
wonderful. You encourage her to tell you what’s wrong
with her device. You with your good-at-your-job
good-looking-ness, I bet even over the phone
it’s visible. I bet all the Canadian grandmas
want you, but hey, you’re with me. Hey, take off
that headset. Steal away from your post. Cross
the hall, you sings-the-chorus-too-soon, you
played-tennis-in-college-build, you Jeffrey, you
Jeff-ship full of stars, cauldron full of you,
come teach me a little bit
of nothing, in the dark
Copyright © 2017 Chen Chen. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Tin House, Winter 2017.
You have to be always drunk. That's all there is to it—it's the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.
But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.
And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: "It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish."
From Modern Poets of France: A Bilingual Anthology, translated and edited by Louis Simpson, published by Story Line Press, Inc. Copyright © 1997 by Louis Simpson. Reprinted by permission of the author and Story Line Press, Inc. All rights reserved.