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call and response :: susanna lang


           We have forgotten how to listen.
                 — Patti Smith

Nothing is still, not light
or leaf or the sharp-edged

shadows of leaves. Never
birds, who ask and answer

and having forgotten, ask
again. I’m re-learning,

restless like the horn I heard
a man playing months ago

from the top of a child’s slide.
He marked the beat on a rail

while the freight train entered
from the south, bass solo,

and a spindle-legged girl
turned a cartwheel below.

In this meadow along the forest’s
thin edge, someone

has built a nest box for bluebirds
who can no longer find

a natural cavity—but instead
swallows find their way in,

whistling and gurgling
from their ready-made perch.


all the difficult hours and minutes :: jane hirshfield


All the difficult hours and minutes
are like salted plums in a jar.
Wrinkled, turn steeply into themselves,
they mutter something the color of  sharkfins to the glass.
Just so, calamity turns toward calmness.
First the jar holds the umeboshi, then the rice does.

november :: jun fujita


On a pale sandhill
A bare tree stands;
The death-wind
Has snatched the last few leaves.

buddies :: richard schiffman


I called you after you died to hear again your ducky voice
on the answering machine. For weeks you continued:
“This is Will at Bathrooms Restored, please leave a message
after the beep.” But I never did. What was there to say?
Even before– what was there to say? You used to call
first thing in the morning, “Hey Richard, it’s Will,”
and I’d say, “Hey Will, what’s up?” We’d chew the bull, maybe
plan to meet that evening. “Will, there’s a concert tonight,
I can get free tickets.” And you would trudge over wasted
after a day of laying tiles, then nod off during the Beethoven.
Who else could sleep through the “Ode to Joy”?
Later we’d go to an all-night cafe and you would yatter
about your nonexistent love life, and I would tell you mine.
Guy talk, unrepeatable mostly. And then, go figure,
you were dying, and I sat there with the gaunt shell of you
too stunned to speak, and you too sick to speak
(although we both knew that there was nothing left to say.)
I could only hold you, but that didn’t feel right either:
two awkward and dry-eyed male animals clutching.
Give me a break! Later, of course, the tears did come,
for me at least, when you moved upstate. I’m guessing
that you had already gone beyond the veil where tears
make sense. On my last visit, your eyes, not exactly vacant,
but impenetrable wells, so purged of wanting
and of needing that they were no longer entirely human.
Was this the enlightenment that we both pursued to India
and beyond? Or maybe just pain, which also clears the deck
magnificently. Or death. That will do it too. I’d like to ask.
But it has been years since your answering machine
stopped answering. And talk was never your thing,
Will, nor mine, when I was with you. We understood
each other without it in those days before male bonding,
when no one said the word “love,” or needed to.

heat wave :: j. p. grasser


See the particles of confederation, ionic
bonds broken, static shackles cast off.
See them shimmy their shimmer-slick
two-steps, dancing on dense air

like kerosene fumes or paint thinner
alone in the bucket. The mercury clobbers
up the tube; shirtless boys in Baltimore
break open hydrants to dance in the rain.

I wade the redundant political climes
chiming from AM 1090: They’re burning
the city down
. Just ‘cause? A city block self-
immolates. Just cause. Two Januarys back

I stared into a false fire place, gas-lit,
as though it were a mirror and I had
no shame or face. That night I heard three
gunshots reverberate down the back alley

between all the brutal, brutal buildings.
I locked the door and did not call a soul.
How did I know a man, younger than me,
lay facedown, the molecules of his last

breath breaking apart as so much vapor
held aloft? This is the way it all ends:
in slow diffusion, the last ember
winked shut, the polished ringing in the ear

after the siren has passed away
into distance, the road’s far-off chevron—
tar and asphalt’s diminishing point,
as in a charcoal sketch.

elegy :: joanna klink


I saw you fall to the ground.
I saw the oaks fall. The clouds collapsed.
I saw a wildness twist through your limbs
and fly off. The river fell, the grasses fell.
The backs of six drowned cattle
rose to the surface ice—nothing moved.
But a wind touched my ankles when the snow began.
You left that night and we stayed,
our arms braced with weight. What power
there was was over. But I switched on the light
by the porch to see if anything was falling—
and it fell, a few glints in the air,
catching sun although there was no sun,
and the long descent over hours, all night,
seemed like years, and we buried our faces
in what came to rest on the ground
or moved our feet over it, effortless,
as nothing was in our lives, or ever will be.

sponge bath :: terri kirby erickson


Draped in towels,
my grandmother sits in a hard-backed
chair, a white bowl

of soapy water on the floor.
She lifts her frail arm, then rests it,

gratefully, in her daughter’s palm.
Gliding a wet

washcloth, my mother’s hand
becomes a cloud, and every bruise, a rain-
drenched flower.