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the white fires of venus :: denis johnson

We mourn this senseless planet of regret,
droughts, rust, rain, cadavers
that can’t tell us, but I promise
you one day the white fires
of Venus shall rage: the dead,
feeling that power, shall be lifted, and each
of us will have his resurrected one to tell him,
“Greetings. You will recover
or die. The simple cure
for everything is to destroy
all the stethoscopes that will transmit
silence occasionally. The remedy for loneliness
is in learning to admit
solitude as one admits
the bayonet: gracefully,
now that already
it pierces the heart.
Living one: you move among many
dancers and don’t know which
you are the shadow of;
you want to kiss your own face in the mirror
but do not approach,
knowing you must not touch one
like that. Living
one, while Venus flares
O set the cereal afire,
O the refrigerator harboring things
that live on into death unchanged.”

They know all about us on Andromeda,
they peek at us, they see us
in this world illumined and pasteled
phonily like a bus station,
they are with us when the streets fall down fraught
with laundromats and each of us
closes himself in his small
San Francisco without recourse.
They see you with your face of fingerprints
carrying your instructions in gloved hands
trying to touch things, and know you
for one despairing, trying to touch the curtains,
trying to get your reflection mired in alarm tape
past the window of this then that dark
closed business establishment.
The Andromedans hear your voice like distant amusement park music
converged on by ambulance sirens
and they understand everything.
They’re on your side. They forgive you.

I want to turn for a moment to those my heart loves,
who are as diamonds to the Andromedans,
who shimmer for them, lovely and useless, like diamonds:
namely, those who take their meals at soda fountains,
their expressions lodged among the drugs
and sunglasses, each gazing down too long
into the coffee as though from a ruined balcony.
O Andromedans they don’t know what to do
with themselves and so they sit there
until they go home where they lie down
until they get up, and you beyond the light years know
that if sleeping is dying, then waking
is birth, and a life
is many lives. I love them because they know how
to manipulate change
in the pockets musically, these whose faces the seasons
never give a kiss, these
who are always courteous to the faces
of presumptions, the presuming streets,
the hotels, the presumption of rain in the streets.
I’m telling you it’s cold inside the body that is not the body,
lonesome behind the face
that is certainly not the face
of the person one meant to become.

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at the moment :: joyce sutphen

Suddenly, I stopped thinking about Love,
after so many years of only that,
after thinking that nothing else mattered.

And what was I thinking of when I stopped
thinking about Love? Death, of course—what else
could take Love’s place? What else could hold such force?

I thought about how far away Death once
had seemed, how unexpected that it could
happen to someone I knew quite well,

how impossible that this should be the
normal thing, as natural as frost and
winter. I thought about the way we’d aged,

how skin fell into wrinkles, how eyes grew
dim; then (of course) my love, I thought of you.

one moment touching all the others :: jeff hardin

If only each line of a poem could be its true beginning.
If only each moment could know every other moment
and we could hold them all at once the way we wish to,
the way we keep imagining we can. I don’t care
what anyone says about the impossibility, for I step
into the same moment again and again. I’ve lived
such a blessed life
, a dying friend told me as I
leaned in close and caressed her face. I am writing
this line, this poem’s true beginning, six years later,
touching her radiant face again. Every moment is
the time I followed a yellow leaf downstream when I
was nine. To be, or not to be, Hamlet asked, and two
centuries later, Issa’s poems were born. And yet, and yet
the cancer still arrives to steal her breath, the same
breath blessing all her time. Just now a purple bird
flew up and startled me, and I said, Yes, yes, and raised
my hands. To live lightly in the body is to live deeply
in the spirit
—I say her words out loud some days,
holding them all at once, and follow a yellow leaf
through overhanging limbs and enter my grandfather’s
quiet steps along a ridge a century ago when he was young.
He is being and not being, in and out of shadows,
arriving wherever the next step takes him, here and here.
When rain begins, he just keeps walking, drenched
and smiling, emerging decades later, holy. Sometimes
an echo hints from half a life ago. A driveway puddle
trembles at the foster home I lived in when I was three.
Good Lord, son, how did you know how to get here,
the father asked when I showed up, adult, from two
towns over. In the beginning was the Word, John wrote,
for each word starts anew, each word startling the sky,
the cells, the breath. Each word, each line, is an echo,
an arrival, a blessed breath, being and not being. I don’t
care about the impossibility of anything. The dawn keeps
breaking for which I am awake. The prologue is the epilogue,
the epilogue a leaf holding everything at once. I keep
arriving where I am, born and blessed again. I lean in
close to radiance: I’ve always known how to get here.

[that] :: leslie harrison

That this is the morning in which nothing much

that the sky is still there and the water dresses

accordingly that only at night does the water rest

vanish from sight that the stars are too small too far

to register there that all our names too are writ

invisibly on water that abiding requires more hope

than I can possibly acquire that hope is not a thing

with feathers that hope is a thing with a fist a thin

crust sketched over oceans that hope is what despair

uses for bait come in hope says the water’s fine

that hope is the blood with which you write letters

that start dear sea dear ocean stop asking so fucking

much that hope is a telegram delivered by men

in pairs men in uniform a telegram that says missing

stop that says once again presumed lost stop

if the ocean had a mouth :: marie-elizabeth mali

I’d lean close, my ear
to her whisper and roar,
her tongue scattered
with stars.

She’d belt her brassy voice
over the waves’ backbeat.
No one sings better than her.

Would she ever bite
the inside of her cheek?

Would she yell at the moon
to quit tugging at her hem,
or would she whistle, drop
her blue dress and shimmy
through space to cleave
to that shimmer?

What did she mean to say
that morning she spit out
the emaciated whale
wearing a net for a corset?

All this emptying
on the sand. Eyeless
shrimp. Oiled pelicans.

Within her jaws the coral forests,
glittering fish, waves like teeth,
her hungry mortal brine.

a teacher’s lament :: kalli dakos

Don’t tell me the cat ate your math sheet,
And your spelling words went down the drain,
And you couldn’t decipher your homework,
Because it was soaked in the rain.

Don’t tell me you slaved for hours
On the project that’s due today,
And you would have had it finished
If your snake hadn’t run away.

Don’t tell me you lost your eraser,
And your worksheets and pencils, too,
And your papers are stuck together
With a great big glob of glue.

I’m tired of all your excuses;
They are really a terrible bore.
Besides, I forgot my own work,
At home in my study drawer.

interval :: marilyn hacker

Attention fraying
in late afternoon light, soon
day will be done, not

the work incumbent on it
—whatever that might have been—

Gnarls of an old text
in the other alphabet:
can I unknot them,

reweave mirror fabric of
liminal unravelings?

*

Liminal space where
exiles with dictionaries
lose themselves: barzakh,

Arabic isthmus, the span
from death to resurrection

in Farsi: limbo,
where Socrates murmurs to
unbaptized babies

in contrapuntal cognates,
they hear fardous, paradise.