whoever you are holding me now in hand :: walt whitman

Whoever you are, holding me now in hand,
Without one thing, all will be useless,
I give you fair warning, before you attempt me further,
I am not what you supposed, but far different.

Who is he that would become my follower?
Who would sign himself a candidate for my affections?

The way is suspicious—the result uncertain, perhaps destructive;
You would have to give up all else—I alone would expect to be your God, sole and exclusive,
Your novitiate would even then be long and exhausting,
The whole past theory of your life, and all conformity to the lives around you, would have to be abandon’d;
Therefore release me now, before troubling yourself any further—Let go your hand from my shoulders,
Put me down, and depart on your way.

Or else, by stealth, in some wood, for trial,
Or back of a rock, in the open air,
(For in any roof’d room of a house I emerge not—nor in company,
And in libraries I lie as one dumb, a gawk, or unborn, or dead,)
But just possibly with you on a high hill—first watching lest any person, for miles around, approach unawares,
Or possibly with you sailing at sea, or on the beach of the sea, or some quiet island,
Here to put your lips upon mine I permit you,
With the comrade’s long-dwelling kiss, or the new husband’s kiss,
For I am the new husband, and I am the comrade.

Or, if you will, thrusting me beneath your clothing,
Where I may feel the throbs of your heart, or rest upon your hip,
Carry me when you go forth over land or sea;
For thus, merely touching you, is enough—is best,
And thus, touching you, would I silently sleep and be carried eternally.

But these leaves conning, you con at peril,
For these leaves, and me, you will not understand,
They will elude you at first, and still more afterward—I will certainly elude you,
Even while you should think you had unquestionably caught me, behold!
Already you see I have escaped from you.

For it is not for what I have put into it that I have written this book,
Nor is it by reading it you will acquire it,
Nor do those know me best who admire me, and vauntingly praise me,
Nor will the candidates for my love, (unless at most a very few,) prove victorious,
Nor will my poems do good only—they will do just as much evil, perhaps more;
For all is useless without that which you may guess at many times and not hit—that which I hinted at;
Therefore release me, and depart on your way.

music is time :: jill bialosky

Music is time, said the violin master.
You can’t miss the stop or you’ll miss the train.
One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four,
one, two, three, four.

She clapped her hands together
as the boy moved the bow across the strings.
One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four,
one, two, three, four,
the violin master shouted,

louder and more shrill so that her voice
traveled through the house like a metronome,
guiding him, commanding him to translate the beat,
to trust his own internal rhythm.

Good boy, she said.
See how hard you have to be on yourself?
How will your violin know who you are
unless you make it speak?

Courtesy of American Life in Poetry

coy mistress :: annie finch

Sir, I am not a bird of prey:
a Lady does not seize the day.
I trust that brief Time will unfold
our youth, before he makes us old.
How could we two write lines of rhyme
were we not fond of numbered Time
and grateful to the vast and sweet
trials his days will make us meet:
The Grave’s not just the body’s curse;
no skeleton can pen a verse!
So while this numbered World we see,
let’s sweeten Time with poetry,
and Time, in turn, may sweeten Love
and give us time our love to prove.
You’ve praised my eyes, forehead, breast:
you’ve all our lives to praise the rest.

the strawberry shrub :: edna st. vincent millay

Strawberry Shrub, old-fashioned, quaint as quinces,
Hard to find in a world where neon and noise
Have flattened the ends of the three more subtle senses ;
And blare and magenta are all that a child enjoys.

More brown than red the bloom—it is a dense colour ;
Colour of dried blood ; colour of the key of F.
Tie it in your handkerchief, Dorcas, take it to school
To smell. But no, as I said, it is browner than red; it is duller
Than history, tinnier than algebra ; and you are colour-deaf.

Purple, a little, the bloom, like musty chocolate ;
Purpler than the purple avens of the wet fields ;
But brown and red and hard and hiding its fragrance ;
More like an herb it is : it is not exuberant.
You must brief a bit : it does not exude ; it yields.

summer :: xuân quỳnh

Translated by Carolyn Forche and Nguyen Ba Chung

It’s the season of birdsong.
The sky is deep blue, sunlight is everywhere.
The soil climbs the tree; the sap tends the fruits.
Man’s footsteps break new paths.

It’s the season in which nothing can hide.
The whole world is dressed in light.
The sea aqua, the white sails full.
And bitterness turns into poetry.

It’s the season of hopes and dreams,
Of man’s ancient and innumerable cravings.
Winds turn to storms, rains into rivers and seas.
A simple glance might light the spark of love.

It’s the season of twilights.
The paper kite parts the high open sky,
The crickets stay awake in the warm night singing,
The moor hen breaks the noon’s silence.

O summer, have you gone?
O desires of youth, are you here or not?
The earth still holds the deep blue of the sea,
And the sweet fruit, the faint color of blossoms.

adam’s curse :: william butler yeats

We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.’
                                          And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know—
Although they do not talk of it at school—
That we must labour to be beautiful.’
I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.

I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

in my dreams :: stevie smith

In my dreams I am always saying goodbye and riding away,
Whither and why I know not nor do I care.
And the parting is sweet and the parting over is sweeter,
And sweetest of all is the night and the rushing air.

In my dreams they are always waving their hands and saying goodbye,
And they give me the stirrup cup and I smile as I drink,
I am glad the journey is set, I am glad I am going,
I am glad, I am glad, that my friends don’t know what I think.

holy shit :: peter pereira

It used to be more private—just the
immediate family gathered after mass,
the baptismal font at the rear
of the church tiny as a bird bath.
The priest would ladle a few teaspoons’
tepid holy water on the bundled baby’s
forehead, make a crack about the halo
being too tight as the new soul wailed.
We’d go home to pancakes and eggs.

These days it’s a big Holy-wood production—
midmass, the giant altar rolls back to reveal
a Jacuzzi tub surrounded by potted palms.
The priest hikes up his chasuble, steps
barefoot out of his black leather loafers
and wades in like a newfangled John as
organ music swells and the baby-bearing families
line up like jumbo jets ready for takeoff.

But when the godparents handed my niece’s newborn
naked to their parish priest, and he dunked her
into the Jacuzzi’s bath-warm holy water,
her little one grew so calm and blissful she
pooped—not a smelly three-days’ worth, explosive
diaper load, but enough to notice. As the godparents
scooped the turds with a handkerchief,
the savvy priest pretended he hadn’t seen,
swept through the fouled water with his palm
before the next baby in line was submerged.

After mass, my niece sat speechless,
red-faced, not knowing what to say—
or whether—as church ladies, friends, and
family members presented one by one to
the tub where the babies had been
baptized. As they knelt and bowed
and dipped their fingers in,
and blessed themselves.

Hear the reading at Poetry Foundation

silt :: alex lemon

After Charles Baxter

In the dark, I count fingers,
Watch lightning spider
Over the mountain’s toothy peaks.
All the while, the cupola grows
Cloudy with accidents—
Dark blossoms sticky and wet,
Clinging shadowy with reincarnation.
Yesterday eight and now, eleven,
Memories distilled, frayed.
The neck-breaking spiral
Of this morning’s junco
Landing on a gnarled fence,
A surgeon’s fingers tapping
His way through afternoon sleep,
Breaking a heart into ballet
Or the several postures of pain
A body makes falling unconscious
In the bathroom while violins roar
On a television straining with blue
Light. The fatigue of healing
Interrupted by the susurrus
Of an empty shower. An ear, blood-
Smeared cheek and bit lip—
A sterile, sweating tiled floor.

hug :: ron padgett

The older I get, the more I like hugging, When I was little the
people hugging me were much larger. In their grasp I was a rag
doll. In adolescence, my body was too tense to relax for a hug.
Later, after the loss of virginity—which was anything but a
loss—the extreme proximity of the other person, the smell of
hair, the warmth of the skin, the sound of breathing in the
dark—these were mysterious and delectable. This hug had
two primary components: the anticipation of sex and the plea-
sure of intimacy, which itself is a combination of trust and
affection. It was this latter combination that came to character-
ize the hugging I have experienced only in recent years, a hug-
ging that knows no distinctions of gender or age. When this
kind of hug is mutual, for a moment the world is perfect the
way it is, and the tears we shed for it are perfect too. I guess it
is an embrace.

what the living do :: marie howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss–we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

testament :: carl sandburg

I give the undertakers permission to haul my body
to the graveyard and to lay away all, the head, the
feet, the hands, all: I know there is something left
over they can not put away.

Let the nanny goats and the billy goats of the shanty
people eat the clover over my grave and if any yellow
hair or any blue smoke of flowers is good enough to grow
over me let the dirty-fisted children of the shanty
people pick these flowers.

I have had my chance to live with the people who have
too much and the people who have too little and I chose
one of the two and I have told no man why.

touch me :: stanley kunitz

Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that’s late,
it is my song that’s flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
                        and it’s done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

sabbath lie :: yehuda amichai

translated by glenda abramson and tudor parfitt

On Friday, at twilight of a summer day
While the smells of food and prayer rose from every house
And the sound of the Sabbath angels’ wings was in the air,
While still a child I started to lie to my father:
“I went to another synagogue.”

I don’t know if he believed me or not
But the taste of the lie was good and sweet on my tongue
And in all the houses that night
Hymns rose up along with lies
To celebrate the Sabbath.
And in all the houses that night
Sabbath angels died like flies in a lamp,
And lovers put mouth to mouth,
Blew each other up until they floated upward,
Or burst.

And since then the lie has been good and sweet on my tongue
And since then I always go to another synagogue.
And my father returned the lie when he died:
“I’ve gone to another life.”

spirit ditty of no fax-line dial tone :: bob hicok

The telephone company calls and asks what the fuss is.
Betty from the telephone company, who’s not concerned
with the particulars of my life. For instance
if I believe in the transubstantiation of Christ
or am gladdened at 7:02 in the morning to repeat
an eighth time why a man wearing a hula skirt of tools
slung low on his hips must a fifth time track mud
across my white kitchen tile to look down at a phone jack.
Up to a work order. Down at a phone jack. Up to a work order.
Over at me. Down at a phone jack. Up to a work order
before announcing the problem I have is not the problem
I have because the problem I have cannot occur
in this universe though possibly in an alternate
universe which is not the responsibility or in any way
the product, child, or subsidiary of AT&T. With practice
I’ve come to respect this moment. One man in jeans,
t-shirt and socks looking across space at a man
with probes and pliers of various inclinations, nothing
being said for five or ten seconds, perhaps I’m still
in pajamas and he has a cleft pallet or is so tall
that gigantism comes to mind but I can’t remember
what causes flesh to pile that high, five or ten seconds
of taking in and being taken in by eyes and a brain,
during which I don’t build a shot gun from what’s at hand,
oatmeal and National Geographics, or a taser from hair
caught in the drain and the million volts of frustration
popping through my body. Even though. Even though his face
is an abstract painting called Void. Even though
I’m wondering if my pajama flap is open, placing me
at a postural disadvantage. Breathe I say inside my head,
which is where I store thoughts for the winter. All
is an illusion I say by disassembling my fists, letting each
finger loose to graze. Thank you I say to kill the silence
with my mouth, meaning fuck you, meaning die
you shoulder-shrugging fusion of chipped chromosomes
and pus, meaning enough. That a portal exists in my wall
that even its makers can’t govern seems an accurate mirror
of life. Here’s the truce I offer: I’ll pay whatever’s asked
to be left alone. To receive a fax from me stand beside
your mailbox for a week. It will come in what appears
to be an envelope. While waiting for the fax reintroduce
yourself to the sky. It’s often blue and will transmit
without fail everything clouds are trying to say to you.

still :: a. r. ammons

I said I will find what is lowly
and put the roots of my identity
down there:
each day I’ll wake up
and find the lowly nearby,
a handy focus and reminder,
a ready measure of my significance,
the voice by which I would be heard,
the wills, the kinds of selfishness
I could
freely adopt as my own:

but though I have looked everywhere,
I can find nothing
to give myself to:
everything is

magnificent with existence, is in
surfeit of glory:
nothing is diminished,
nothing has been diminished for me:

I said what is more lowly than the grass:
ah, underneath,
a ground-crust of dry-burnt moss:
I looked at it closely
and said this can be my habitat: but
nestling in I
found
below the brown exterior
green mechanisms beyond the intellect
awaiting resurrection in rain: so I got up

and ran saying there is nothing lowly in the universe:
I found a beggar:
he had stumps for legs: nobody was paying
him any attention: everybody went on by:
I nestled in and found his life:
there, love shook his body like a devastation:
I said
though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly
in the universe:

I whirled though transfigurations up and down,
transfigurations of size and shape and place:

at one sudden point came still,
stood in wonder:
moss, beggar, weed, tick, pine, self, magnificent
with being!

the zoo :: ekiwah adler beléndez

My words, indifferent as a gray tortoise,
remind me of an old woman
smoking tobacco by the window.

My words are as invisible
as the old kitchen rag
I use to wipe the grease off the cages.

My words are clumsy
as a frog saturated with mud
wishing to hibernate.

My words have the deliberate solitude of lizards,
their tongues unfold like a royal carpet
straining to hear the inward music
of distant saxophones.

I come in and find abundant thick hairs,
droppings, and tangerine peels,
a familiar scent fills my nostrils.

My words have escaped.
I’m too tired or too wound up
to go after them.

shahid reads his own palm :: reginald dwayne betts

I come from the cracked hands of men who used
the smoldering ends of blunts to blow shotguns,

men who arranged their lives around the mystery
of the moon breaking a street corner in half.

I come from “Swann Road” written in a child’s
slanted block letters across a playground fence,

the orange globe with black stripes in Bishop’s left
hand, untethered and rolling to the sideline,

a crowd openmouthed, waiting to see the end
of the sweetest crossover in a Virginia state pen.

I come from Friday night’s humid and musty air,
Junk Yard Band cranking in a stolen Bonneville,

a tilted bottle of Wild Irish Rose against my lips
and King Hedley’s secret written in the lines of my palm.

I come from beneath a cloud of white smoke, a lit pipe
and the way glass heats rocks into a piece of heaven,

from the weight of nothing in my palm,
a bullet in an unfired snub-nosed revolver.

And every day the small muscles in my finger threaten to pull
a trigger, slight and curved like my woman’s eyelashes.

target :: jason koo

Today I’m thinking of all the people not in love: I’m with you!
      I’d like to say, though one of the conditions
Of not being in love is that you can’t hear other people not in love.
      You can only hear beautiful people, who have
Symphonies for faces: Grace Kelly, Dominique Sanda, Emmanuelle
      Beart, ah, beautiful (can you hear the cellos
And clarinets?), but hmm, maybe not, they are beautiful but distant:
      and what we want is not only the beautiful
But the possible: for what is love but an opening of the possible?
      To be possible you must be new and nearby:
You must also look available, or the windows will inevitably close:
      oh Alexs with an “s” at the record store,
Alexs so inscrutable, with your long blonde hair and Sanda-like face
      and that Sanskrit tattoo on your wrist,
You died, you died that day I bought the new Tom Waits and said,
      “Hi, Alexs, right?” and you said, “Huh,”
Nodding your head and not looking up: Jo Ann vanquished you,
      Jo Ann of the perfect mouth and imperfect
Yoga technique, who gave me her number in the YMCA parking lot
      but halfway through our first coffee date
Revealed she was married: now I’m struggling, really struggling,
      to keep her alive. I walk around these days
And my footsteps go, Nobody, nobody. I cup possibility in my hands
      like a mouse. Oh you out there not in love,
I know how it is, when you wake up in the morning and look down
      at your body like an emigre looking back
Disgustedly at his homeland; when you peer through the blinds
      and the world is nothing but a grey side;
When you feel each day is a dart flung at a target you keep missing
      because who, or where, or what is the target?
The soul cannot live like this, the soul needs a cable, a clasp, its talons
      are itching for a peak, there’s too much space
And it’s thinning out like smoke: you step out of the furrow of the future
      onto an asphalt present. Worse, there’s
A whiff of sin about you, because not to be in love with a person
      should never stop you from being
In love with the world: and the problem is you’ve fallen out of love
      with the world. You’ve come to hear
An underlying Goddammit! in everything, and never notice the trees
      tossing their heads in the wind like conductors.

From Verse Daily

who owns the room? :: chungmi kim

The winds bustled about
frantic
for the winter carnival.

I washed my garments
by hand
for the summer to come.

I called a friend to play
the tune of autumn sonata.
She said I was only
dreaming.

On pages
I tried to contain the mysteries
of many lives I’ve cared about
and five ants crawled
making a map of Zen.

In the night
a shadow lingered
like a demon that embraced
nothing of life.

In forlorn hope
I stood
wondering
who owns the room.

sea virus :: gwyneth lewis

I knew I should never have gone below
but I did, and the fug of bilges and wood
caught me aback. The sheets of my heart
snapped taut to breaking, as a gale
stronger than longing filled the sail
inside me. To be shot of land
and its wood smoke! To feel the keel
cold in a current! To see the mast
inscribing water like a restless pen
writing a fading wake! It’s true,
I’m ruined. Not even peace will do
to keep me ashore now. Not even you.

happiness :: jane kenyon

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
                   It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

conscientious objector :: edna st. vincent millay

I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.

just for a time :: maya angelou

Oh how you used to walk
With that insouciant smile
I liked to hear you talk
And your style
Pleased me for a while.

You were my early love
New as a dawn breaking in Spring
You were the image of
Everything
That caused me to sing.

I don’t like reminiscing
Nostalgia is not my forte
I don’t spill tears
On yesterday’s years
But honesty makes me say,
You were a precious pearl
How I loved to see you shine,
You were the perfect girl.
And you were mine.
For a time.
For a time.
Just for a time.