language lessons :: alexandra teague

The carpet in the kindergarten room
was alphabet blocks; all of us fidgeting
on bright, primary letters. On the shelf
sat that week’s inflatable sound. The “th”
was shaped like a tooth. We sang
about brushing up and down, practiced
exhaling while touching our tongues
to our teeth. Next week, a puffy U
like an upside-down umbrella; the rest
of the alphabet deflated. Some days,
we saw parents through the windows
to the hallway sky. “Look, a fat lady,”
a boy beside me giggled. Until then
I’d only known my mother as beautiful.

From Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry, Column 223

let me tell you what a poem brings :: juan felipe herrera

for Charles Fishman

Before you go further,
let me tell you what a poem brings,
first, you must know the secret, there is no poem
to speak of, it is a way to attain a life without boundaries,
yes, it is that easy, a poem, imagine me telling you this,
instead of going day by day against the razors, well,
the judgments, all the tick-tock bronze, a leather jacket
sizing you up, the fashion mall, for example, from
the outside you think you are being entertained,
when you enter, things change, you get caught by surprise,
your mouth goes sour, you get thirsty, your legs grow cold
standing still in the middle of a storm, a poem, of course,
is always open for business too, except, as you can see,
it isn’t exactly business that pulls your spirit into
the alarming waters, there you can bathe, you can play,
you can even join in on the gossip—the mist, that is,
the mist becomes central to your existence.

insomnia and the seven steps to grace :: joy harjo

At dawn the panther of the heavens peers over the edge of the world.
She hears the stars gossip with the sun, sees the moon washing her lean
darkness with water electrified by prayers. All over the world there are those
who can’t sleep, those who never awaken.

My granddaughter sleeps on the breast of her mother with milk on
her mouth. A fly contemplates the sweetness of lactose.

Her father is wrapped in the blanket of nightmares. For safety he
approaches the red hills near Thoreau. They recognize him and sing for
him.

Her mother has business in the house of chaos. She is a prophet dis-
guised as a young mother who is looking for a job. She appears at the
door of my dreams and we put the house back together.

Panther watches as human and animal souls are lifted to the heavens by
rain clouds to partake of songs of beautiful thunder.

Others are led by deer and antelope in the wistful hours to the vil-
lages of their ancestors. There they eat cornmeal cooked with berries
that stain their lips with purple while the tree of life flickers in the sun.

It’s October, though the season before dawn is always winter. On the
city streets of this desert town lit by chemical yellow travelers
search for home.

Some have been drinking and intimate with strangers. Others are
escapees from the night shift, sip lukewarm coffee, shift gears to the
other side of darkness.

One woman stops at a red light, turns over a worn tape to the last
chorus of a whispery blues. She has decided to live another day.

The stars take notice, as do the half-asleep flowers, prickly pear and
chinaberry tree who drink exhaust into their roots, into the earth.

She guns the light to home where her children are asleep and may
never know she ever left. That their fate took a turn in the land of
nightmares toward the sun may be untouchable knowledge.

It is a sweet sound.

The panther relative yawns and puts her head between her paws.
She dreams of the house of panthers and the seven steps to grace.

35/10 :: sharon olds

Brushing out our daughter’s brown
silken hair before the mirror
I see the grey gleaming on my head,
the silver-haired servant behind her. Why is it
just as we begin to go
they begin to arrive, the fold in my neck
clarifying as the fine bones of her
hips sharpen? As my skin shows
its dry pitting, she opens like a moist
precise flower on the tip of a cactus;
as my last chances to bear a child
are falling through my body, the duds among them,
her full purse of eggs, round and
firm as hard-boiled yolks, is about
to snap its clasp. I brush her tangled
fragrant hair at bedtime. It’s an old
story—the oldest we have on our planet—
the story of replacement.

eating poetry :: mark strand

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

not needed :: donna pucciani

The thing about growing older
is that nobody says your name
for weeks. Nothing happens
if you don’t get out of bed, don’t
take the air, don’t shop for bread
or shoes. No one will stop to ask,
“Where is so-and-so?” or observe
footprints never left in the snow,
the snow unshoveled, the class untaught.
You are home pouring coffee,
working silently at your table,
uncubicled. You notice things.
The hydrangeas are enormous. A cobweb
hangs over the lamp. You are your own
museum piece, dusting yourself,
listening for birdsong, breath and heartbeat,
standing still enough to watch motes
loiter in a sunny window, to hear
the rain falling like a silver miracle.
Continue reading

sky :: anzhelina polonskaya

translated by andrew wachtel

He broke up the sky on the square and gave it like bread crumbs to birds.
Then he cut it in pieces and threw it to the beggars,
the crazies, the blind, and their companions.
But I got an end, smashed like a cup thrown to the ground,

lying on its back like a wounded soldier,
uncomplaining, as a harem wife
hiding her gaze behind a black veil.
The plains’ bed is spread with houses, and everyone

beneath it ages like a slave chained in bondage;
save his high-cheek-boned face.
Tensing my voice I started to refuse my free portion.
But I stayed mute, the sky’s mouth was filled with lead.

a men’s choir :: lars gustafsson

The voice one has when
talking to small children
and large dogs
is not the same
as that at the barber’s
or from the lectern.
It comes from another life
from far, far away
one that maybe never existed
whereas the voice
one has
when caressing a woman’s breast
or belly
is a third voice
that comes from a third world
(green warm moist shadow under
huge ferns, marshland, and
huge birds that fly up).
And there are many, many more.
Not my own voice—
and not exactly that of anyone else.
Is there such a thing as
the voices in between?
I recall your foot
still warm with morning.
I imagine
they must be like that.
And if one could hear
all the voices at the same time
one would get the impression
of a men’s choir
defiantly executing
a breakneck series of dissonances.

father’s song :: gregory orr

Yesterday, against admonishment,
my daughter balanced on the couch back,
fell and cut her mouth.

Because I saw it happen I knew
she was not hurt, and yet
a child’s blood so red
it stops a father’s heart.

My daughter cried her tears;
I held some ice
against her lip.
That was the end of it.

Round and round: bow and kiss.
I try to teach her caution;
she tried to teach me risk.

moon gathering :: eleanor wilner

And they will gather by the well,
its dark water a mirror to catch whatever
stars slide by in the slow procession of
the skies, the tilting dome of time,
over all, a light mist like a scrim,
and here and there some clouds
that will open at the last and let
the moon shine through; it will be
at the wheel’s turning, when
three zeros stand like paw-prints
in the snow; it will be a crescent
moon. and it will shine up from
the dark water like a silver hook
without a fish–until, as we lean closer,
swimming up from the well, something
dark but glowing, animate, like live coals–
it is our own eyes staring up at us,
as the moon sets its hook;
and they, whose dim shapes are no more
than what we will become, take up
their long-handled dippers
of brass, and one by one, they catch
the moon in the cup-shaped bowls,
and they raise its floating light
to their lips, and with it, they drink back
our eyes, burning with desire to see
into the gullet of night: each one
dips and drinks, and dips, and drinks,
until there is only dark water,
until there is only dark.

aubade :: louise glück

There was one summer
that returned many times over
there was one flower unfurling
taking many forms

Crimson of the monarda, pale gold of the late roses

There was one love
There was one love, there were many nights

Smell of the mock orange tree
Corridors of jasmine and lilies
Still the wind blew

There were many winters but I closed my eyes
The cold air white with dissolved wings

There was one garden when the snow melted
Azure and white; I couldn’t tell
my solitude from love—

There was one love; he had many voices
There was one dawn; sometimes
we watched it together

I was here
I was here

There was one summer returning over and over
there was one dawn
I grew old watching

start where you are :: jaclyn friedman

They say, in writing, to start where you are.
I have no clean forks. The laundry creeps like kudzu
from the basket. Outside green buds fatten on trees

and night slips in. This is my poem. This is the white glow
of the page, the black clack of keys, three dozen dead roses drinking
nothing in a thick glass vase. A crusty yogurt cup. A spoon. Paper
everywhere: tissues and bills, a phone number
on the back of a birthday card. A magazine
I haven’t read. My notepad. An avalanche of drafts,
their proud little letters marching nowhere.

Somewhere tonight hearts break, young men
shoot metal at each other in the red desert. A hand
touches a new face for the first time. Babies
slide into the world like sirens.

This is my poem. From my desk Wonder Woman stares flatly,
armless and plastic on her Pez dispenser. She wants truth, offers candy.

Learn more about Jaclyn Friedman

the uses of poetry :: harvey shapiro

This was a day when I did nothing,
aside from reading the newspaper,
taking both breakfast and lunch by myself
in the kitchen, dozing after lunch
until the middle of the afternoon. Then
I read one poem by Zbigniew Herbert
in which he thanked God for the many beautiful
things in this world, in a voice so absurdly
truthful, the entire wrecked day was redeemed.

apologies

Sorry for the dearth of poems these past two weeks! S.L. diligently posted them while I was away, but I didn’t give her the appropriate access and China’s Great Firewall prevented me from doing so from afar. I’m going to approve all of the posts now, so please take the time to enjoy her excellent selection in its fullness. Suggestions and contributions are always welcome.

scumble :: rae armantrout

What if I were turned on by seemingly innocent words such as “scumble,” “pinky,”
or extrapolate?”

What if I maneuvered conversation in the hope that others would pronounce these
words?

Perhaps the excitement would come from the way the other person touched them
lightly and carelessly with his tongue.

What if “of” were such a hot button?

“Scumble of bushes.”

What if there were a hidden pleasure
in calling one thing
by another’s name?

Enjoy the audio at poets.org

sonnet :: billy collins

All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now,
and after this one just a dozen
to launch a little ship on love’s storm-tossed seas,
then only ten more left like rows of beans.
How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan
and insist the iambic bongos must be played
and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines,
one for every station of the cross.
But hang on here while we make the turn
into the final six where all will be resolved,
where longing and heartache will find an end,
where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen,
take off those crazy medieval tights,
blow out the lights, and come at last to bed.

how to change a frog into a prince :: anna denise

Start with the underwear. Sit him down.
Hopping on one leg may stir unpleasant memories.
If he gets his tights on, even backwards, praise him.
Fingers, formerly webbed, struggle over buttons.
Arms and legs, lengthened out of proportion, wait,
as you do, for the rest of him to catch up.
This body, so recently reformed, reclaimed,
still carries the marks of its time as a frog. Be gentle.
Avoid the words awkward and gawky.
Do not use tadpole as a term of endearment.
His body, like his clothing, may seem one size too big.
Relax. There’s time enough for crowns. He’ll grow into it.

break :: dorianne laux

We put the puzzle together piece
by piece, loving how one curved
notch fits so sweetly with another.
A yellow smudge becomes
the brush of a broom, and two blue arms
fill in the last of the sky.
We patch together porch swings and autumn
trees, matching gold to gold. We hold
the eyes of deer in our palms, a pair
of brown shoes. We do this as the child
circles her room, impatient
with her blossoming, tired
of the neat house, the made bed,
the good food. We let her brood
as we shuffle through the pieces,
setting each one into place with a satisfied
tap, our backs turned for a few hours
to a world that is crumbling, a sky
that is falling, the pieces
we are required to return to.

kitchenette building :: gwendolyn brooks

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”

But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?

We wonder. But not well! not for a minute!
Since Number Five is out of the bathroom now,
We think of lukewarm water, hope to get in it.

night in day :: joseph stroud

The night never wants to end, to give itself over
to light. So it traps itself in things: obsidian, crows.
Even on summer solstice, the day of light’s great
triumph, where fields of sunflowers guzzle in the sun–
we break open the watermelon and spit out
black seeds, bits of night glistening on the grass.

a new poet :: linda pastan

Finding a new poet
is like finding a new wildflower
out in the woods. You don’t see

its name in the flower books, and
nobody you tell believes
in its odd color or the way

its leaves grow in splayed rows
down the whole length of the page. In fact
the very page smells of spilled

red wine and the mustiness of the sea
on a foggy day–the odor of truth
and of lying.

And the words are so familiar,
so strangely new, words
you almost wrote yourself, if only

in your dreams there had been a pencil
or a pen or even a paintbrush,
if only there had been a flower.

museum :: wislawa szymborska

Here are plates with no appetite.
And wedding rings, but the requited love
has been gone now for some three hundred years.

Here’s a fan–where is the maiden’s blush?
Here are swords–where is the ire?
Nor will the lute sound at the twilight hour.

Since eternity was out of stock,
ten thousand aging things have been amassed instead.
The moss-grown guard in golden slumber
props his mustache on Exhibit Number…

Eight. Metals, clay and feathers celebrate
their silent triumphs over dates.
Only some Egyptian flapper’s silly hairpin giggles.

The crown has outlasted the head.
The hand has lost out to the glove.
The right shoe has defeated the foot.

As for me, I am still alive, you see.
The battle with my dress still rages on.
It struggles, foolish thing, so stubbornly!
Determined to keep living when I’m gone!

mapping the genome :: michael symmons roberts

Geneticist as driver, down the gene
codes in, let’s say, a topless coupe
and you keep expecting bends,

real tyre-testers on tight
mountain passes, but instead it’s dead
straight, highway as runway,

helix unraveled as vista,
as vanishing point. Keep your foot
down. This is a finite desert.

You move too fast to read it,
the order of the rocks, the cacti,
roadside weeds, a blur to you.

Every hour or so, you pass a shack
which passes for a motel here:
tiny faded rooms with TVs on

for company, the owner pacing out
his empty parking lot. And after
each motel you hit a sandstorm

thick as fog, but agony.
Somewhere out there are remnants
of our evolution, genes for how

to fly south, sense a storm,
hunt at night, how to harden
your flesh into hide or scales.

These are the miles of dead code.
Every desert has them.
You are on a mission to discover

why the human heart still slows
when divers break the surface,
why mermaids still swim in our dreams.

when you have forgotten sunday: the love story :: gwendolyn brooks

–And when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes on a Wednesday and a Saturday,
And most especially when you have forgotten Sunday–
When you have forgotten Sunday halves in bed,
Or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping afternoon
Looking off down the long street
To nowhere,
Hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation
And nothing-I-have-to-do and I’m-happy-why?
And if-Monday-never-had-to-come–
When you have forgotten that, I say,
And how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell,
And how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone rang;
And how we finally went in to Sunday dinner,
That is to say, went across the front room floor to the ink-spotted table in the southwest corner
To Sunday dinner, which was always chicken and noodles
or chicken and rice
And salad and rye bread and tea
And chocolate chip cookies–
I say, when you have forgotten that,
When you have forgotten my little presentiment
That the war would be over before they got to you;
And how we finally undressed and whipped out the light and flowed into bed,
And lay loose-limbed for a moment in the week-end
Bright bedclothes,
Then gently folded into each other–
When you have, I say, forgotten all that,
Then you may tell,
Then I may believe
You have forgotten me well.

marginalia :: deborah warren

Finding an old book on a basement shelf–
gray, spine bent–and reading it again,
I met my former, unfamiliar, self,
some of her notes and scrawls so alien

that, though I tried, I couldn’t get (behind
this gloss or that) back to the time she wrote
to guess what experiences she had in mind,
the living context of some scribbled note;

or see the girl beneath the purple ink
who chose this phrase or that to underline,
the mood, the boy, that lay behind her thinking–
but they were thoughts I recognized as mine;

and though there were words I couldn’t even read,
blobs and cross-outs; and though not a jot
remained of her old existence–I agreed
with the young annotator’s every thought:

A clever girl. So what would she see fit
to comment on–and what would she have to say
about the years that she and I have written
since–before we put the book away?

the sun :: mary oliver

Have you ever seen
anything
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or is the rumpled sea,
and is gone—
and how it slides again

out of blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance—
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love—
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
empty-handed—
or have you too
turned from this world—

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

i would like to describe :: zbigniew herbertld li

I would like to describe the simplest emotion
joy or sadness
but not as others do
reaching for shafts of rain or sun

I would like to describe a light
which is being born in me
but I know it does not resemble
any star
for it is not so bright
not so pure
and is uncertain

I would like to describe courage
without dragging behind me a dusty lion
and also anxiety
without shaking a glass full of water

to put it another way
I would give all metaphors
in return for one word
drawn out of my breast like a rib
for one word
contained within the boundaries
of my skin

but apparently this is not possible

and just to say – I love
I run around like mad
picking up handfuls of birds
and my tenderness
which after all is not made of water
asks the water for a face
and anger
different from fire
borrows from it
a loquacious tongue

so is blurred
so is blurred
in me
that white-haired gentlemen
separated once and for all
and said
this is the subject
and this is the object

we fall asleep
with one hand under our head
and with the other in a mound of planets

our feet abandon us
and taste the earth
with their tiny roots
which next morning
we tear out painfully

cataract op :: edward field

It felt so adult, at 83, going by myself to the hospital,
getting on the bus like others (all the young) headed for work
through the morning Manhattan streets
carrying umbrellas and newspapers, disappearing into subways,
lining up at carts for a (careless, cholesterol-rich) paper bag breakfast.

When the bus pulled up at the stop,
I got out and walked in, calm,
like I remember in the war flying into combat
with maybe a touch of nerves, but no great anxiety,
more like excitement.

Then it all went efficiently, the procedures of pre-op,
as I was passed from station to station, each technician doing his job,
like once the squadrons of silver bombers
in wing to wing formation roared through the crystal sky,
each of the crew busy, me at my desk with my instruments
calculating our course and noting in the log
wind drift and speed and altitude,
courteously calling “navigator to crew … ,”
to read out our position and estimated time of arrival.

Our goal of the misson that day was the Ruhr,
a land of mines and furnaces, with a cataract of thick black smoke
rising from the factories cranking out anti-aircraft guns
like the ones lobbing up the deadly black bursts at us.

Now I was being wheeled into the hall outside the operating room
where I joined a line of gurneys waiting their turn at the laser,
as the squadrons in stately procession wheeled
in a wide circle around the city, lined up for the bombing run,
as the flak peppered the air thickly under us.

Finally, the moment, my moment—
and I was moved into the operating room under a spotlight,
my eye taped open, but my mind alert
as the surgeon went to work, the oh-so-delicate work, with his instruments …

and the earlier moment—our squadron’s turn.
We headed in tight formation right into the midst
of the bursting antiaircraft shells,
the bomb bay doors opening with a grinding whine.
Our wings were rocking perilously close to the neighboring planes,
while the pilot fought to keep the heaving plane on course

over the bulls eye of the target below,
and I too was busy, shards of flak rattling off the aluminum walls around me,
my hand jiggling as I recorded in my log
the burning buildings, planes going down, the exact time of…
bombs away—

now to get out of here!

It was over so fast. The nurse was already taping up my eye
and I was wheeled back into the corridor feeling happy,
as on that day of the mission, we turned on a wing
and wheeled west toward home
with the late sun lighting up the heavenly landscape of clouds,
brighter than I had ever seen it before.