mythology :: tina chang

In a dream city constructed
from paper, flames were lit.
My God, I am the Japanese beetle
green and shining in front
of the dark door. World,
I grieve into you small,
disinterested ear. I am quivering
inside a thousand rooms
of one cell, where I hover
and freeze, black as a speck
descending the far, blank page.

answer to a child’s question :: samuel taylor coleridge

Do you ask what the birds say? The Sparrow, the Dove,
The Linnet and Thrush say, “I love and I love!”
In the winter they’re silent—the wind is so strong;
What it says, I don’t know, but it sings a loud song.
But green leaves, and blossoms, and sunny warm weather,
And singing, and loving—all come back together.
But the Lark is so brimful of gladness and love,
The green fields below him, the blue sky above,
That he sings, and he sings; and for ever sings he—
“I love my Love, and my Love loves me!”

inscription for the ceiling of a bedroom :: dorothy parker

Daily dawns another day;
I must up, to make my way.
Though I dress and drink and eat,
Move my fingers and my feet,
Learn a little, here and there,
Weep and laugh and sweat and swear,
Hear a song, or watch a stage,
Leave some words upon a page,
Claim a foe, or hail a friend—
Bed awaits me at the end.

Though I go in pride and strength,
I’ll come back to bed at length.
Though I walk in blinded woe,
Back to bed I’m bound to go.
High my heart, or bowed my head,
All my days but lead to bed.
Up, and out, and on; and then
Ever back to bed again,
Summer, Winter, Spring, and Fall—
I’m a fool to rise at all!

via the writer’s almanac

9. :: e.e. cummings

there are so many tictoc
clocks everywhere telling people
what toctic time it is for
tictic instance five toc minutes toc
past six tic

Spring is not regulated and does
not get out of order nor do
its hands a little jerking move
over numbers slowly

                              we do not
wind it up it has no weights
springs wheels inside of
its slender self no indeed dear
nothing of the kind.

(So,when kiss Spring comes
we’ll kiss each kiss other on kiss the kiss
lips because tic clocks toc don’t make
a toctic difference
to kisskiss you and to
kiss me)

vivaldi :: stuart dybek

When I met Vivaldi it was dark,
a ragman lashed his horse’s bells,
streets tilted into slow wind tunnels,

no, it was another night, in winter,
snow as soft as opium, two winoes wassailed
down an alley through a milk truck’s ruts,

in the subways a violin was whistling
down chrome tracks, past cobalt semaphores,
rats and pennies underneath the 3rd rail . . .

Has it never been so quiet that you’ve heard
the manhole covers rumble when the El goes overhead?
Icicles growing? Could you tell the difference
between the sound of filaments in light bulbs
burning down, and a dulcimer played in a padded cell?

A meager music hovers everywhere:
at mouths of drains, echoing stairwells
where girls in muslim disappear
whispering “allegro.”

When I closed my eyes,
less than a ghost,
Vivaldi cupped a mouth harp
like a match against the wind.

landscape over zero :: bei dao

translated by david hinton and yanbing chen

it’s hawk teaching song to swim
it’s song tracing back to the first wind

we trade scraps of joy
enter family from different directions

it’s a father confirming darkness
it’s darkness leading to that lightning of the classics

a door of weeping slams shut
echoes chasing its cry

it’s a pen blossoming in lost hope
it’s a blossom resisting the inevitable route

it’s love’s gleam waking to
light up landscape over zero

old men playing basketball :: b. h. fairchild

The heavy bodies lunge, the broken language
of fake and drive, glamorous jump shot
slowed to a stutter. Their gestures, in love
again with the pure geometry of curves,

rise toward the ball, falter, and fall away.
On the boards their hands and fingertips
tremble in tense little prayers of reach
and balance. Then, the grind of bone

and socket, the caught breath, the sigh,
the grunt of the body laboring to give
birth to itself. In their toiling and grand
sweeps, I wonder, do they still make love

to their wives, kissing the undersides
of their wrists, dancing the old soft-shoe
of desire? And on the long walk home
from the VFW, do they still sing

to the drunken moon? Stands full, clock
moving, the one in army fatigues
and houseshoes says to himself, pick and roll,
and the phrase sounds musical as ever,

radio crooning songs of love after the game,
the girl leaning back in the Chevy’s front seat
as her raven hair flames in the shuddering
light of the outdoor movie, and now he drives,

gliding toward the net. A glass wand
of autumn light breaks over the backboard.
Boys rise up in old men, wings begin to sprout
at their backs. The ball turns in the darkening air.

six days on the road :: ann campanella

When I was young and searching for my life,
I climbed into the cab of a semi.
The Aussie trucker pointed with his thumb
to the compartment behind him.
Get some sleep. I don’t remember
if he was old or young.
His face was so plain
it left no impression.

I climbed into the narrow space,
closed my eyes, my body vibrating
to the hum of eighteen rolling tires.
Hours later, when I woke, the dashboard
glowed like a field of lightning bugs.
I flipped through his eight-tracks,
surprised to find familiar songs – Johnny Cash,
Willie and Waylon.
We sang Six Days on the Road,
over and over.

He taught me what it’s like to keep moving.
Towns flew by our windows,
stoplights, billboards, traffic signs
became a blur. On the open road,
miles of white line and fence
separated gravel from the grass.

reading biographies :: gary soto

Perhaps Frost was poking his secretary,
The apple core of his good-living chewed
To the bitter seed. Perhaps he buttoned up,
Disgusted with the dead lizard cupped in his palm.
And his woman? She was as large as Gilbraltar,
A chunk of cheese in each armpit.
She took a deep breath
And wiggled the goose of her tasty fanny
Into the kitchen. There, she poured pancakes
Onto a skillet as old as this country,
And Frost, a pioneer for all writers,
Picked up his beaver-thrashed pencil and proclaimed,
O Sweet Youth, etc.

                  I don’t know how to read
Biographies, the dead words of dead writers
Etched on my eyes, then gone. I read them,
And drive my car recklessly through leaves,
The cushion for my own eventual death.
Sure, I reflect, like a chip of mirror,
And then I forget them, these subjects,
These writers with lungs and straight-A penmanship.
They’re of no use. I’m not saved
By the repetitions of jealousy and all-day drinking.
Wind frisked the trees, hair fell like wheat,
And the liver, saddlebag of disease,
Bulged with inoperable knots.

I touch my own hip, then hobble home
Where a pumpkin glows in a window.
Birds shrug into their coats of dirt.
Crickets stop the violin action of their thighs.
A fire is built, and I’m lit in the living room.
I’m a democrat, I slur to the couch,
And add, Venus is a star and fly trap.
Thank God, I’ve learned nothing.

bat cave :: eleanor wilner

The cave looked much like any other
from a little distance but
as we approached, came almost
to its mouth, we saw its walls within
that slanted up into a dome
were beating like a wild black lung—
it was plastered and hung with
the pulsing bodies of bats, the organ
music of the body’s deep
interior, alive, the sacred cave
with its ten thousand gleaming eyes
near the clustered rocks
where the sea beat with the leather
wings of its own dark waves.

Below the bat-hung, throbbing walls,
an altar stood, glittering with guano,
a stucco sculpture like a Gaudi
church, berserk
Baroque, stone translated into
flux–murk and mud and the floral
extravagance of wet sand dripped
from a giant hand, giving back
blessing, excrement–return
for the first fruits offered to the gods.

We stayed outside, superior
with fear, like tourists
peering through a door, whose hanging
beads rattle in the air from
one who disappeared into the dim
interior; we thought of the caves
of Marabar, of a writer who entered
and never quite emerged–
the caves’ echoing black
emptiness a tunnel in the English
soul where he is wandering still. So
the bat cave on the Bali coast, not far
from Denpasar, holds us off, and beckons …

Standing there now, at the mouth
of the cave–this time we enter, feel
inside the flutter of those
many hearts, the radiant heat of pumping
veins, the stretch of wing on bone
like a benediction, and the familiar
faces of this many-headed god,
benevolent as night is
to the weary–the way at dark
the cave releases them all,
how they must lift like the foam
on a wave breaking, how many
they are as they enter
the starlit air, and scatter
in wild wide arcs
in search of fruit, the sweet bites
of mosquito …

while the great domes of our
own kind slide open, the eye
that watches, tracks the skies,
and the huge doors roll slowly back
on the hangars, the planes
push out their noses of steel,
their wings a bright alloy
of aluminum and death, they roar
down the runways, tear into
the night, their heavy bodies fueled
from sucking at the hidden
veins of earth; they leave a trail of fire
behind them as they scar
the air, filling the dreams
of children, sleeping–anywhere,
Chicago, Baghdad,–with blood,
as the bombs drop, as the world
splits open, as the mothers
reach for their own
in the night of the falling
sky, madness in
method, nature gone
into reverse …

here, nearly unperturbed,
the bats from the sacred cave
fill the night with their calls,
high-pitched, tuned to the solid world
as eyes to the spectrum of light, gnats
to the glow of a lamp–the bats
circle, the clouds wheel,
the earth turns
pulling the dome of stars
among the spinning trees, blurring
the sweet globes of fruit, shaped
exactly to desire–dizzy, we swing
back to the cave on our stiff dark
wings, the sweet juice of papaya
drying on our jaws, home
to the cave, to attach ourselves
back to the pusling dome, until,
hanging there, sated and sleepy,
we can see what was once our world
upside down as it is
and wonder whose altars
those are, white,
encrusted with shit.

Courtesy of K.W.

how to make a rainbow on a rainy day :: tom kryss

Locate, in the overcast, some thread of
involvement with backlit sheets of crayoned
manila paper vacuum sealed to the yellow
eyes of an elementary school. Open up the
floodgates to the eccentricities of leaves; find
an alcove, an unused entrance, to lean in,
noting the widening concentric circles in
standing water on pavements commissioned
by raindrops. Take the coins out of your
pocket and throw them, one at a time,
into the fountains of Trevi made by the
intersecting arcs of traffic and rainfall; permit
silver spray to have its way with your face.
Wonder at the beaded pearlescence at the
sides of warm Styrofoam. Internalize
windshield wipers and the lift of umbrellas.
Without going overboard, initiate eye
contact, return the wave.

via poetrydispatch

the late worm :: kay ryan

The worms
which had been
thick are thin
upon the ground
now that it’s gotten
later. They stick
against the path,
their pink chapped
and their inching
labored. It’s a
matter of moisture
isn’t it? Time, a
measure of wet,
shrinking, the
drier you get.

yellow beak :: stephen dobyns

A man owns a green parrot with a yellow beak
that he carries on his shoulder each day to work.
He runs a pet shop and the parrot is his trademark.

Each morning the man winds his way from his bus
through the square, four or five blocks. There goes
the parrot, people say. Then at night, he comes back.

The man himself is nondescript—a little overweight,
thinning hair of no color at all. It’s like the parrot owns
the man, not the reverse. Then one day the man dies.

He was old. It was bound to happen. At first people
feel mildly upset. The butcher thinks he has forgotten
a customer who owes him money. The baker thinks

he’s catching a cold. Soon they get it right—the parrot
is gone. Time seems out of sorts, but sets itself straight
as people forget. Then years later the fellow who ran

the diner wakes from a dream where he saw the parrot
flying along all by itself, flapping by in the morning
and cruising back home at night. Those were the years

of the man’s marriage, the start of his family, the years
when the muddle of his life began to work itself out;
and it’s as if the parrot were at the root of it all, linking

the days like pearls on a string. Foolish of course, but
do you see how it might happen? We wake at night
and recall an event that seems to define a fixed period

of time, perhaps the memory of a beat-up bike we had
as a kid, or a particular chair where we sat and laughed
with friends; a house, a book, a piece of music, even

a green parrot winding its way through city streets.
And do you see that bubble of air balanced at the tip
of its yellow beak? That’s the time in which we lived.

for the man with the erection lasting more than four hours :: john hodgen

He’s supposed to call his doctor, but for now he’s the May King with his own maypole.
He’s hallelujah. He’s glory hole. The world has more women than he can shake a stick
at. The world is his brickbat, no conscience to prick at, all of us Germans he can ich
liebe dich at. He’s Dick and Jane. He’s Citizen Kane. He’s Bob Dole.
He’s Peter the Great. He’s a tsar. He’s a clown car with an extra car.
Funiculì, Funiculà. He’s an organ donor. He works pro boner. He’s folderol.
He’s fiddlesticks. He’s the light left on at Motel 6. He’s free-for-alls.
He’s Viagra Falls. He’s bangers and mash. He’s balderdash. He’s a wanker.
He’s got his own anchor. He’s whack-a-doodle. King Canoodle. He’s a pirate, Long John
Silver, walking his own plank. He has science to thank. He’s in like Flynn. He’s Gunga Din,
holding his breath, cock of the walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He’s Icarus,
hickory dickerous, the mouse run up the clock. He’s shock and awe. He’s Arkansas.
He’s the package, the deal, the Good Housekeeping Seal. He’s Johnson & Johnson.
He’s a god now, the talk of the town. He’s got no place to go but down.

you with the crack running through you :: kim addonizio

I can seep in, I can dry clear.

And yes it would still be there.
And no I couldn’t hold you forever.

But isn’t it drafty at night,

alone in that canyon
with the wind of the mind

dragging its debris—

I wanted to put
my mouth on you

and draw out whatever toxin …

—but I understand. There are limits
to love. Here is a flower

that needs no water.
It can grown anywhere,

nourished on nothing.
And yes.

some people :: wislawa szymborska

translated by joanna trzeciak

Some people fleeing some other people.
In some country under the sun
and some clouds.

They leave behind some of their everything,
sown fields, some chickens, dogs,
mirrors in which fire now sees itself reflected.

On their backs are pitchers and bundles,
the emptier, the heavier from one day to the next.

Taking place stealthily is somebody’s stopping,
and in the commotion, somebody’s bread somebody’s snatching
and a dead child somebody’s shaking.

In front of them some still not the right way,
nor the bridge that should be
over a river strangely rosy.
Around them, some gunfire, at times closer, at times farther off,
and, above, a plane circling somewhat.

Some invisibility would come in handy,
some grayish stoniness,
or even better, non-being
for a little or a long while.

Something else is yet to happen, only where and what?
Someone will head toward them, only when and who,
in how many shapes and with what intentions?
Given a choice,
maybe he will choose not to be the enemy and
leave them with some kind of life.

the crane dance :: yannis ritsos

translated by david harsent

The clew paying out through his fingers, a deftness
that would bring him back to her, its softness the softness
of skin, as if drawn from herself directly, the faint
labial smell, guiding him up and out, as some dampness
on the air might lead a stone-blind man to the light.

Asterios dead for sure, his crumpled horn, his muzzle
thick with blood, so at Delos they stopped,
Theseus and the young Athenians, and stepped
up to the “altar of horns” to dance a puzzle-
dance, its moves unreadable except to those who’d walked
the blank meanders of the labyrinth.
And this was midday: a fierce sun, the blaze
of their nakedness, the glitter of repetitions, a dazzle
rising off the sea, the scents of pine and hyacinth. . .

Well, things change: new passions, new threats, new fears.
New consequences, too. Nowadays, we don’t think much
about Theseus, the Minotaur, Ariadne on the beach
at Naxos, staring out at the coming years.
But people still dance that dance: just common folk,
those criss-cross steps that no one had to teach,
at weddings and wakes, in bars or parks,
as if hope and heart could meet, as if they might
even now, somehow, dance themselves out of the dark.

some kiss we want :: rumi

translated by coleman barks

There is some kiss we want with
our whole lives, the touch of

spirit on the body. Seawater
begs the pearl to break its shell.

And the lily, how passionately
it needs some wild darling! At

night, I open the window and ask
the moon to come and press its

face against mine. Breathe into
me
. Close the language-door and

open the love-window. The moon
won’t use the door, only the window.

please advise stop [I was dragging a ladder slowly over stones stop] :: rusty morrison

 

I was dragging a ladder slowly over stones stop
it was only from out of my thoughts that I could climb stop
not from the room please

my father’s dying offered an indelicate washing of my
perception stop
the way the centers of some syllables scrub away all other
sound stop
his corpse merely preparing to speak its new name at the
speed of nightfalling please

each loss grows from a previously unremarkable vestigial organ
stop
will I act now as if with a new limb stop
a phantom limb of the familial please advise

sudek: tree :: george szirtes

The visionary moment comes
just as it is raining , just as bombs
are falling,  just as atoms

burst like a sneeze in a city park
and enter the dark
as if  it were the waiting ark.

You open your hand and blow
the dust. You pick and throw
the stone. You make the round  O

of  your mouth perfect as light
and the tree bends and stands upright
in the stolid night.

the garden by moonlight :: amy lowell

A black cat among roses,
Phlox, lilac-misted under a first-quarter moon,
The sweet smells of heliotrope and night-scented stock.
The garden is very still,
It is dazed with moonlight,
Contented with perfume,
Dreaming the opium dreams of its folded poppies.
Firefly lights open and vanish
High as the tip buds of the golden glow
Low as the sweet alyssum flowers at my feet.
Moon-shimmer on leaves and trellises,
Moon-spikes shafting through the snow ball bush.
Only the little faces of the ladies’ delight are alert and staring,
Only the cat, padding between the roses,
Shakes a branch and breaks the chequered pattern
As water is broken by the falling of a leaf.
Then you come,
And you are quiet like the garden,
And white like the alyssum flowers,
And beautiful as the silent sparks of the fireflies.
Ah, Beloved, do you see those orange lilies?
They knew my mother,
But who belonging to me will they know
When I am gone.

the round :: stanley kunitz

Light splashed this morning
on the shell-pink anemones
swaying on their tall stems;
down blue-spiked veronica
light flowed in rivulets
over the humps of the honeybees;
this morning I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
in their second flowering,
my late bloomers
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.

So I have shut the doors of my house,
so I have trudged downstairs to my cell,
so I am sitting in semi-dark
hunched over my desk
with nothing for a view
to tempt me
but a bloated compost heap,
steamy old stinkpile,
under my window;
and I pick my notebook up
and I start to read aloud
the still-wet words I scribbled
on the blotted page:
“Light splashed…”

I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.

missed time :: anonymous

My notebook has remained blank for months
thanks to the light you shower
around me. I have no use
for my pen, which lies
languorously without grief.

Nothing is better than to live
a storyless life that needs
no writing for meaning—
when I am gone, let others say
they lost a happy man,
though no one can tell how happy I was.

litany :: billy collins

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine…
—Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.

You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and—somehow—the wine.

Hear a 3-year-old’s recitation

Courtesy of AY

to the new year :: w. s. merwin

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come wih our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

the victor dog :: james merrill

for Elisabeth Bishop

Bix to Buxtehude to Boulez.
The little white dog on the Victor label
Listens long and hard as he is able.
It’s all in a day’s work, whatever plays.

From judgment, it would seem, he has refrained.
He even listens earnestly to Bloch,
Then builds a church upon our acid rock.
He’s man’s—no—he’s the Leiermann’s best friend,

Or would be if hearing and listening were the same.
Does he hear? I fancy he rather smells
Those lemon-gold arpeggios in Ravel’s
“Les jets d’eau du palais de ceux qui s’aiment.”

He ponders the Schumann Concerto’s tall willow hit
By lightning, and stays put. When he surmises
Through one of Bach’s eternal boxwood mazes
The oboe pungent as a bitch in heat,

Or when the calypso decants its raw bay rum
Or the moon in Wozzeck reddens ripe for murder,
He doesn’t sneeze or howl; just listens harder.
Adamant needles bear down on him from

Whirling of outer space, too black, too near—
But he was taught as a puppy not to flinch,
Much less to imitate his bête noire Blanche
Who barked, fat foolish creature, at King Lear.

Still others fought in the road’s filth over Jezebel,
Slavered on hearths of horned and pelted barons.
His forebears lacked, to say the least, forbearance.
Can nature change in him? Nothing’s impossible.

The last chord fades. The night is cold and fine.
His master’s voice rasps through the grooves’ bare groves.
Obediently, in silence like the grave’s
He sleeps there on the still-warm gramophone

Only to dream he is at the première of a Handel
Opera long thought lost—Il Cane Minore.
Its allegorical subject is his story!
A little dog revolving round a spindle

Gives rise to harmonies beyond belief,
A cast of stars . . . Is there in Victor’s heart
No honey for the vanquished? Art is art.
The life it asks of us is a dog’s life.