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county fair :: mary karr

by

On the mudroad of plodding American bodies,
         my son wove like an antelope from stall
to stall and want to want. I no’ed it all: the wind-up
         killer robot and winged alien; knives
hierarchical in a glass case; the blow-up vinyl wolf
         bobbing from a pilgrim’s staff.
Lured as I was by the bar-b-que’s black smoke,
         I got in line. A hog carcass,
blistered pink on a spit, made its agonized slow roll,
         a metaphor, I thought, for anyone
ahead of me—the pasty-faced and broad. I half-longed
         for the titanium blade I’d just seen
curved like a falcon’s claw. Some truth wanted cutting
         in my neighbors’ impermanent flesh.
Or so my poisoned soul announced, as if scorn
         for the body politic
weren’t some outward form of inner scorn,
         as if I were fit judge.
Lucky my son found the bumper cars. Once I’d hoped
         only to stand tall enough
to drive my own. Now when the master switch got thrown
         and sparks skittered overhead
in a lightning web, I felt like Frankenstein or some
         newly powered monster.
Plus the floor was glossy as ice. Even rammed head-on,
         the rubber bumper bounced you off unhurt
and into other folks who didn’t mind the jolt, whose faces
         all broke smiles, in fact,
till the perfect figure-eight I’d started out to execute
         became itself an interruption. One face
after another wheeled shining at me from the dark,
         each bearing the weight of a whole self.
What pure vessels we are, I thought, once our skulls
         shut up their nasty talk.
We drove home past corn at full tassel, colossal silos,
         a windmill sentinel. Summer was starting.
My son’s body slumped like a grain sack against mine.
         My chest was all thunder.
On the purple sky in rear view, fireworks unpacked—silver
         chrysanthemum, another in fuchsia,
then plum. Each staccato boom shook the night. My son
         jerked in his sleep. I prayed hard to keep
the frail peace we hurtled through, to want no more
         than what we had. The road
rushed under us. Our lush planet heaved toward day.
         Inside my hand’s flesh,
anybody’s skeleton gripped the wheel.

the path :: emily fragos

There is so little to go on: a pale
trembling hand as I stand over you,
my finger tracing the words on the page,
a foreign language you are learning
for a journey without me. You will do
fine, I say. You will wrap your tongue
around these sounds and be understood,
be given what you desire: a loaf of bread,
change for your money, an antique doll
with violent eyes. Paintings are hanging
on walls, behind glass, waiting for you
to admire them. Their plaintive beauty
will move through you and you will walk
back to your hotel through the park
I know well. I spent years there walking
its bridle path, a gray cat in my arms,
moving toward you, blind, in another life.

in the dream :: jenny johnson

I was alone in a dyke bar we’d traversed before
or maybe it was in a way all our dives

merging together suddenly as one intergalactic composite,
one glitter-spritzed black hole,

one cue stick burnished down to a soft blue nub.
Picture an open cluster of stars

managing to forever stabilize in space
without a landlord scheming to shut the place down.

Anyways, I was searching for someone there
whom we hadn’t seen in years—in what

could have been Sisters, Babes, the Lex, the Pint,
the Palms, or the E Room? but the room

had no end and no ceiling.
Though I could see all of our friends or exes

with elbows up or fingers interlocked
on table tops zinging with boomerangs.

Maybe the tables were spinning, too. I can’t be sure.
But just as a trap that trips before

hammering a mouse is not humane
the dream changed—or the alarm

that I carry in my breast pocket in my waking life
was sounding. Because in the dream,

three people on bar stools, who were straight
or closeted? but more importantly angry

turned and the room dwindled
like a sweater full of moths eating holes

through wool. Or they were humans, sure,
but not here to love

with jawlines set to throw epithets like darts
that might stick or knick or flutter past

as erratically as they were fired.
You could say their hostility was a swirl

nebulous as gas and dust,
diffuse as the stress

a body meticulously stores.
Like how when I was shoved in grade school

on the blacktop in my boy jeans
the teacher asked me if I had a strawberry

because the wound was fresh as jam, glistening
like pulp does after the skin of a fruit is

peeled back clean with a knife.
I was in the dream as open to the elements,

yet I fired back. And I didn’t care who eyed me
like warped metal to be pounded square.

I said: Do you realize where you are?

And with one finger I called our family forth
and out of the strobe lights, they came.

another planet :: dunya mikhail

I have a special ticket
to another planet
beyond this Earth.
A comfortable world, and beautiful:
a world without much smoke,
not too hot
and not too cold.
The creatures
are gentler there,
and the governments
have no secrets.
The police are nonexistent:
there are no problems
and no fights.
And the schools
don’t exhaust their students
with too much work
for history has yet to start
and there’s no geography
and no other languages.
And even better:
the war
has left its “r” behind
and turned into love,
so the weapons sleep
beneath the dust,
and the planes pass by
without shelling the cities,
and the boats
look like smiles
on the water.
All things
are peaceful
and kind
on the other planet
beyond this Earth.
But still I hesitate
to go alone.

prayer :: nathan parker

our Father I do love to walk
down to the shore at dawn
while the ground is cold
and there sprinkle my cells
to smashed ocean radios
I dream that I was born
with no tongue and that
I can neither ask nor
answer nor understand
questions about where
I come from that the waves
are my clapping sisters
so many dark swallowed
ships my deleted thoughts
cannon and coin pulp
my new body and that any
one of a million canyons
trembling with the psalms
of stones is my easily
remembered mother who
easily remembers me

elegy for a dead labrador :: lars gustafsson

Here there may be, in the midst of summer,
a few days when suddenly it’s fall.
Thrushes sing on a sharper note.
The rocks stand determined out in the water.
They know something. They’ve always known it.
We know it too, and we don’t like it.
On the way home, in the boat, on just such evenings
you would stand stock-still in the bow, collected,
scouting the scents coming across the water.
You read the evening, the faint streak of smoke
from a garden, a pancake frying
half a mile away, a badger
standing somewhere in the same twilight
sniffing the same way. Our friendship
was of course a compromise; we lived
together in two different worlds: mine,
mostly letters, a text passing through life,
yours, mostly smells. You had knowledge
I would have given much to have possessed:
the ability to let a feeling—eagerness, hate, or love—
run like a wave throughout your body
from nose to tip of tail, the inability
ever to accept the moon as fact.
At the full moon you always complained loudly against it.
You were a better Gnostic than I am. And consequently
you lived continually in paradise.
You had a habit of catching butterflies on the leap,
and munching them, which some people thought disgusting.
I always liked it. Why
couldn’t I learn from you? And doors.
In front of closed doors you lay down and slept
sure that sooner or later the one would come
who’d open up the door. You were right.
I was wrong. Now I ask myself, now this
long mute friendship is forever finished,
if possibly there was anything I could do
which impressed you. Your firm conviction
that I called up the thunderstorms
doesn’t count. That was a mistake. I think
my certain faith that the ball existed,
even when hidden behind the couch,
somehow gave you an inkling of my world.
In my world most things were hidden
behind something else. I called you “dog,”
I really wonder whether you perceived me
as a larger, noisier “dog”
or as something different, forever unknown,
which is what it is, existing in that attribute
it exists in, a whistle
through the nocturnal park one has got used to
returning to without actually knowing
what it is one is returning to. About you,
and who you were, I knew no more.
One might say, from this more objective
standpoint, we were two organisms. Two
of those places where the universe makes a knot
in itself, short-lived, complex structures
of proteins that have to complicate themselves
more and more in order to survive, until everything
breaks and turns simple once again, the knot
dissolved, the riddle gone. You were a question
asked of another question, nothing more,
and neither had the answer to the other.

afternoons :: jorge h. aigla

Those afternoons, the Saturdays of my tender childhood
in Mexico City
were just lovely.
It was the time when fathers
were one on one with their sons,
and took them to see friends, have an ice,
talk in the park, or to intriguing stores
from their youth.
I remember going to a store
that sold mountain climbing equipment:
my father knew “The Goat,”
one of the climbers of the great Popocatepetl,
and he would show us boots, ropes, and hammers,
and photographs of the Valley of Mexico and of snow.
Another place in my fantasy was a corner
in the old section of the city,
where they sold model airplanes
with gasoline engines;
I would watch the wealthy kids buy
and we in our dreams would fly.
Another place was the small shop of the Japanese man, Osawa,
who sold shells, butterflies, spiders, beetles,
and other vermin and dried creepers;
for a few pesos one could well
enlarge a modest collection.
A labyrinth in the basement of a mansion
led one to the abode of the Old Catalán
who sold stamps and postal seals;
he had in his possession the first stamp of Juárez,
and promised never to sell it,
though perhaps, he might give it to me some day.
In a garage Don Leopoldo sold supplies for engineers:
slide rules with many rows, squares,
fine pens, india ink, complicated compasses,
and with all this my father’s friend
traced a world for me.
Those crammed afternoons, already abandoned,
shadowed by death,
undone by a fast and coarse world,
taught me what it is to fill out
the alertness of time.

*****

Tardes

Esas tardes, los sábados de mi tierna niñez
en la Ciudad de México
fueron simplemente hermosas.
Era el tiempo en que los padres
estaban uno a uno con sus hijos,
y los llevaban a ver a amigos, a tomar un helado,
a platicar al parque, o a tiendas interesantes
desde que eran chiquitos.
Me acuerdo ir a una tienda
que vendía equipo de alpinista:
mi padre conocía a “El Cabrito”,
un escalador del gran Popocatépetl,
y él nos enseñaba botas, sogas y martillos,
y fotografías del Valle de México y de la nieve.
Otro lugar de mis ensueños era una esquina
en una parte antigua de la ciudad,
donde vendían modelos de aviones
con motorcitos de gasolina;
yo veía a los niños ricos comprar,
y nosotros volábamos en nuestros sueños.
Otro lugar era la tiendita del japonés Osawa,
que vendía conchas, mariposas, arañas, escarabajos
y otras alimañas y sabandijas disecadas;
por un par de pesos uno podía
aumentar una modesta colección.
Un laberinto en el sótano de una mansión
lo llevaba a uno al recinto de El Viejo Catalán
que vendía timbres y sellos postales;
tenía en su posesión la primera estampa de Juárez,
y prometió que nunca la vendería,
aunque tal vez me la regalaría algún día.
En un garaje Don Leopoldo vendía cosas de ingeniero:
reglas de cálculo con muchas filas, escuadras,
plumas finas, tinta china, compases complicados,
y con todo ello el amigo de mi padre
me trazó un mundo.
Esas tardes repletas, ya abandonadas,
ensombradas por la muerte,
deshechas por un mundo rápido y grosero,
me enseñaron lo que es llenar
el tiempo alerta.