when we look up :: denise levertov

He had not looked,
pitiful man whom none

pity, whom all
must pity if they look

into their own face (given
only by glass, steel, water
barely known) all
who look up

to see-how many
faces? How many

seen in a lifetime? (Not those that flash by, but those

into which the gaze wanders
and is lost

and returns to tell
Here is a mystery,

a person, an
other, an I?

without discussion :: samuel amadon

What people said, what left the table dark.
None stayed inside the house, nor close around.
Each direction its direction bound.
Like when you leave the arcing thing to arc.
Like papers gather papers in the park.
We note the wind is what can’t hold the ground.
While hearing transfer stations fill with sound.
And let the city alter a remark
a little further from explaining what
was meant. A creak again or just a creak
right then. Like leaning forward on the cart.
A structure falls to stay its every strut.
I’d like to speak. I said I’d like to speak.
And someone sighs, they broke the silent part.

unit of measure :: sandra beasley

All can be measured by the standard of the capybara.
Everyone is lesser than or greater than the capybara.
Everything is taller or shorter than the capybara.
Everything is mistaken for a Brazilian dance craze
more or less frequently than the capybara.
Everyone eats greater or fewer watermelons
than the capybara. Everyone eats more or less bark.
Everyone barks more than or less than the capybara,
who also whistles, clicks, grunts, and emits what is known
as his alarm squeal. Everyone is more or less alarmed
than a capybara, who–because his back legs
are longer than his front legs–feels like
he is going downhill at all times.
Everyone is more or less a master of grasses
than the capybara. Or going by the scientific name,
more or less Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris
or, going by the Greek translation, more or less
water hog. Everyone is more or less
of a fish than the capybara, defined as the outermost realm
of fishdom by the 16th-century Catholic Church.
Everyone is eaten more or less often for Lent than
the capybara. Shredded, spiced, and served over plantains,
everything tastes more or less like pork
than the capybara. Before you decide that you are
greater than or lesser than a capybara, consider
that while the Brazilian capybara breeds only once a year,
the Venezuelan variety mates continuously.
Consider the last time you mated continuously.
Consider the year of your childhood when you had
exactly as many teeth as the capybara–
twenty–and all yours fell out, and all his
kept growing. Consider how his skin stretches
in only one direction. Accept that you are stretchier
than the capybara. Accept that you have foolishly
distributed your eyes, ears, and nostrils
all over your face. Accept that now you will never be able
to sleep underwater. Accept that the fish
will never gather to your capybara body offering
their soft, finned love. One of us, they say, one of us,
but they will not say it to you.

(via Poetry, via Metafilter.)

the gods are not large :: jane hirshfield

But perhaps
the heart
does not want
to be understood.
Your shadow
falls on its pond
and the small fish
hurry away.
They have
their own lives
which they love.

And if to you
it is anger,
bewilderment,
grief,
to then
it is simply life:
their mouths
open and close,
their gills,
they are fed,
they breathe.

The gods
are not large
outside us.
They are the fish
going on
with their own
concerns.

Courtesy of E.W.

be glad your nose is on your face :: jack prelutsky

Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.

Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you’d be forced to smell your feet.

Your nose would be a source of dread
were it attached atop your head,
it soon would drive you to despair,
forever tickled by your hair.

Within your ear, your nose would be
an absolute catastrophe,
for when you were obliged to sneeze,
your brain would rattle from the breeze.

Your nose, instead, through thick and thin,
remains between your eyes and chin,
not pasted on some other place–
be glad your nose is on your face!

poet as immortal bird :: ron padgett

A second ago my heart thump went
and I thought, “This would be a bad time
to have a heart attack and die, in the
middle of a poem,” then took comfort
in the idea that no one I have ever heard
of has ever died in the middle of writing
a poem, just as birds never die in mid-flight.
I think.

the piano speaks :: sandra beasley

      After Erik Satie

For an hour I forgot my fat self,
my neurotic innards, my addiction to alignment.

For an hour I forgot my fear of rain.

For an hour I was a salamander
shimmying through the kelp in search of shore,
and under his fingers the notes slid loose
from my belly in a long jellyrope of eggs
that took root in the mud. And what

would hatch, I did not know—
a lie. A waltz. An apostle of glass.

For an hour I stood on two legs
and ran. For an hour I panted and galloped.

For an hour I was a maple tree,
and under the summer of his fingers
the notes seeded and winged away

in the clutch of small, elegant helicopters.

the white porch :: cathy song

I wrap the blue towel
after washing,
around the damp
weight of hair, bulky
as a sleeping cat,
and sit out on the porch.
Still dripping water,
it’ll be dry by supper,
by the time the dust
settles off your shoes,
though it’s only five
past noon. Think
of the luxury: how to use
the afternoon like the stretch
of lawn spread before me.
There’s the laundry,
sun-warm clothes at twilight,
and the mountain of beans
in my lap. Each one,
I’ll break and snap
thoughtfully in half.

But there is this slow arousal.
The small buttons
of my cotton blouse
are pulling away from my body.
I feel the strain of threads,
the swollen magnolias
heavy as a flock of birds
in the tree. Already,
the orange sponge cake
is rising in the oven.
I know you’ll say it makes
your mouth dry
and I’ll watch you
drench your slice of it
in canned peaches
and lick the plate clean.

So much hair, my mother
used to say, grabbing
the thick braided rope
in her hands while we washed
the breakfast dishes, discussing
dresses and pastries.
My mind often elsewhere
as we did the morning chores together.
Sometimes, a few strands
would catch in her gold ring.
I worked hard then,
anticipating the hour
when I would let the rope down
at night, strips of sheets,
knotted and tied,
while she slept in tight blankets.
My hair, freshly washed
like a measure of wealth,
like a bridal veil.
Crouching in the grass,
you would wait for the signal,
for the movement of curtains
before releasing yourself
from the shadow of moths.
Cloth, hair and hands,
smuggling you in.

passion for solitude :: cesare pavese

translated by geoffrey brock

I’m eating a little supper by the bright window.
The room’s already dark, the sky’s starting to turn.
Outside my door, the quiet roads lead,
after a short walk, to open fields.
I’m eating, watching the sky—who knows
how many women are eating now. My body is calm:
labor dulls all the senses, and dulls women too.

Outside, after supper, the stars will come out to touch
the wide plain of the earth. The stars are alive,
but not worth these cherries, which I’m eating alone.
I look at the sky, know that lights already are shining
among rust-red roofs, noises of people beneath them.
A gulp of my drink, and my body can taste the life
of plants and of rivers. It feels detached from things.
A small dose of silence suffices, and everything’s still,
in its true place, just like my body is still.

All things become islands before my senses,
which accept them as a matter of course: a murmur of silence.
All things in this darkness—I can know all of them,
just as I know that blood flows in my veins.
The plain is a great flowing of water through plants,
a supper of all things. Each plant, and each stone,
lives motionlessly. I hear my food feeding my veins
with each living thing that this plain provides.

The night doesn’t matter. The square patch of sky
whispers all the loud noises to me, and a small star
struggles in emptiness, far from all foods,
from all houses, alien. It isn’t enough for itself,
it needs too many companions. Here in the dark, alone,
my body is calm, it feels it’s in charge.

lunchbox love note :: kenn nesbitt

Inside my lunch
to my surprise
a perfect heart-shaped
love note lies.

The outside says,
“Will you be mine?”
and, “Will you be
my valentine?”

I take it out
and wonder who
would want to tell me
“I love you.”

Perhaps a girl
who’s much too shy
to hand it to me
eye to eye.

Or maybe it
was sweetly penned
in private by
a secret friend

Who found my lunchbox
sitting by
and slid the note in
on the sly.

Oh, I’d be thrilled
if it were Jo,
the cute one in
the second row.

Or could it be
from Jennifer?
Has she found out
I’m sweet on her?

My mind’s abuzz,
my shoulders tense.
I need no more
of this suspense.

My stomach lurching
in my throat,
I open up
my little note.

Then wham! as if
it were a bomb,
inside it reads,
“I love you—Mom.”

mirrors :: tada chimako

The mirror is always slightly taller than I
It laughs a moment after I laugh
Turning red as a boiled crab
I cut myself from the mirror with shears

*

When my lips draw close, the mirror clouds over
And I vanish behind my own sighs
Like an aristocrat hiding behind his crest
Or a gangster behind his tattoos

*

Oh traveler, go to Lacedaemon and say that in the mirror,
Graveyard of smiles, there is a single gravestone
Painted white, thick with makeup
Where the wind blows alone

the edges of time :: kay ryan

It is at the edges
that time thins.
Time which had been
dense and viscous
as amber suspending
intentions like bees
unseizes them. A
humming begins,
apparently coming
from stacks of
put-off things or
just in back. A
racket of claims now,
as time flattens. A
glittering fan of things
competing to happen,
brilliant and urgent
as fish when seas
retreat.

the hand :: mary ruefle

The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom
who knows the answer, because the person
in question is yourself, and on that
you are the greatest living authority,
but you don’t raise your hand.
You raise the top of your desk
and take out an apple.
You look out the window.
You don’t raise your hand and there is
some essential beauty in your fingers,
which aren’t even drumming, but lie
flat and peaceful.
The teacher repeats the question.
Outside the window, on an overhanging branch,
a robin is ruffling its feathers
and spring is in the air.

san antonio :: naomi shihab nye

Tonight I lingered over your name,
the delicate assembly of vowels
a voice inside my head.
You were sleeping when I arrived.
I stood by your bed
and watched the sheets rise gently.
I knew what slant of light
would make you turn over.
It was then I felt
the highways slide out of my hands.
I remembered the old men
in the west side cafe,
dealing dominoes like magical charms.
It was then I knew,
like a woman looking backward,
I could not leave you,
or find anyone I loved more.

I am like a desert owl, an owl among ruins :: noelle kocot

The alpha You. The omega You.
My grandmother’s ghost, its girlish snafu
Basking in the waters of urgency.

But I want the coolness of snow.
I want pairs of hands that speak to me cleanly,
Sutras to resuscitate what reigns

Over warped celluloid and heirlooms I can’t touch.
There are no family photographs.
Once I was ordinary.

I rattled around with arms, with legs,
With a damp remembering that served me well.
Then, a little sleep, a little slumber,

A little folding of the hands to rest.
I asked myself, don’t you just love it?
And then, why don’t you just love it?

And then, from what grace have I fallen?
Am I Sisyphus with his mute rock
Unsettling the topsoil, dissolved now

Into brandied battle shouts and pages that breathe like people?
There are hazards here, more so than before
The Furies struck and scarved the white night sifting

The bright waterlights blinking
And grieving over a mash of ice.
Like them, I wanted only to die, moon-dark, blessed,

Poised beneath the driest arrows of my suffering,
Far from the flocks of burning, singing gulls,
Face to face with the God of my childhood.

medusa :: frieda hughes

She is the gypsy
Whose young have rooted
In the very flesh of her scalp.

Her eyes are drill-holes where
Your senses spin, and you are stone
Even as you stand before her.

She opens her lips to speak,
And have you believe.
She has more tongues to deceive

Than you can deafen your ears to.
If you could look away, the voices
From the heads of her vipers

Would be hard to argue.
If you could look away,
The pedestals of your feet might move.

If you could look away,
The song from the cathedral of her mouth
Would fall to the floor like a lie.

the octopus :: james merrill

There are many monsters that a glassen surface
Restrains. And none more sinister
Than vision asleep in the eye’s tight translucence.
Rarely it seeks now to unloose
Its diamonds. Having divined how drab a prison
The purest mortal tissue is,
Rarely it wakes. Unless, coaxed out by lusters
Extraordinary, like the octopus
From the gloom of its tank half-swimming half-drifting
Toward anything fair, a handkerchief
Or child’s face dreaming near the glass, the writher
Advances in a godlike wreath
Of its own wrath. Chilled by such fragile reeling
A hundred blows of a boot-heel
Shall not quell, the dreamer wakes and hungers.
Percussive pulses, drum or gong,
Build in his skull their loud entrancement,
Volutions of a Hindu dance.
His hands move clumsily in the first conventional
Gestures of assent.
He is willing to undergo the volition and fervor
Of many fleshlike arms, observe
These in their holiness of indirection
Destroy, adore, evolve, reject—
Till on glass rigid with his own seizure
At length the sucking jewels freeze.

the suitor :: jane kenyon

We lie back to back. Curtains
lift and fall,
like the chest of someone sleeping.
Wind moves the leaves of the box elder;
they show their light undersides,
turning all at once
like a school of fish.
Suddenly I understand that I am happy.
For months this feeling
has been coming closer, stopping
for short visits, like a timid suitor.

alone :: maya angelou

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
‘Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

what did we see today? :: robert bly

Some days we are passive, listening to the incoming waves.
On other days, we are like a light that sweeps
Out over the husky soybean fields all night.

What did we see today? Horses at the end
Of their tethering ropes, the wing of affection going over,
Flying bulls glimpsed passing the moon disc.

Rather than arguing about whether Giordano Bruno
Was right or not, it might be better to fall silent
And lose ourselves in the curved energy.

We know how many men live alone in their twenties,
And how many women are married to the wrong person,
And how many father and sons are strangers to each
other.

It’s all right if we keep forgetting the way home.
It’s all right if we don’t remember when we were born.
It’s all right if we write the same poem over and over.

Robert, I don’t know why you talk so confidently
About yourself in this way. There are a lot of shady
Characters in this town, and you are one of them.

via the writer’s almanac

miracle ice cream :: adrienne rich

Miracle’s truck comes down the little avenue,
Scott Joplin ragtime strewn behind it like pearls,
and, yes, you can feel happy
with one piece of your heart.

Take what’s still given: in a room’s rich shadow
a woman’s breasts swinging lightly as she bends.
Early now the pearl of dusk dissolves.
Late, you sit weighing the evening news,
fast-food miracles, ghostly revolutions,
the rest of your heart.

before :: carl adamshick

I always thought death would be like traveling
in a car, moving through the desert,
the earth a little darker than sky at the horizon,
that your life would settle like the end of a day
and you would think of everyone you ever met,
that you would be the invisible passenger,
quiet in the car, moving through the night,
forever, with the beautiful thought of home.

shedding skin :: harryette mullen

Pulling out of the old scarred skin
(old rough thing I don’t need now
I strip off
slip out of
leave behind)

I slough off deadscales
flick skinflakes to the ground

Shedding toughness
peeling layers down
to vulnerable stuff

And I’m blinking off old eyelids
for a new way of seeing

By the rock I rub against
I’m going to be tender again

the cookie thief :: valerie cox

A woman was waiting at the airport one night,
With several long hours before her flight.
She hunted for a book in the airport shop,
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.

She was engrossed in her book, but happened to see,
That the man beside her, as bold as could be,
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag between,
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene

She read, munched cookies, and watched the clock,
As the gustly “cookie thief” diminished her stock
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
Thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I’d blacken his eye!”

With each cookie she took, he took one too.
When only one was left, she wondered what he’d do.
with a smile on his face and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.

He offered her half, and he ate the other.
She snatched it from him and thought, “Oh brother,
This guy has some nerve, and he’s also so rude,
Why, he didn’t even show any gratitude!”

She had never known when she had been so galled,
And sighed with relief when her flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed for the gate,
Refusing to look at the “thieving ingrate”.

She boarded the plane and sank in her seat,
Then sought her book, which was almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise.
There were her bag of cookies in front of her eyes!

“If mine are here,” she moaned with despair.
“Then the others were his and he tried to share!”
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief!

in a cafe :: gary johnson

When Love is lost, the laughter’s good and
gone,
The sun sinks down, the heavy fog rolls in,
Nothing is left to say and you know that no
good
Will ever come of this,
Life will never again be miraculous.
Tall dark woman in the café, I see
How the tears glitter in your blue eyes.
You drink black coffee for bravery
And weep onto the front page of the Times.
I had a love once too who now is gone, is
gone, she’s gone. The waves roll along
The coast, the sweet summer rain blows in.
     If I knew you, I’d sit by your side and
sing:
     This world is not our home, we’re only
passing through.

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone :: rainer maria rilke

translated by annemarie s. kidder

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
      enough
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
      enough
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother’s face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

good morning, dear students :: kenn nesbitt

“Good morning, dear students,” the principal said.
“Please put down your pencils and go back to bed.
Today we will spend the day playing outside,
then take the whole school on a carnival ride.

“We’ll learn to eat candy while watching TV,
then listen to records and swing from a tree.
We’ll also be learning to draw on the walls,
to scream in the classrooms and run in the halls.

“So bring in your skateboard, your scooter, your bike.
It’s time to be different and do what you like.
The teachers are going to give you a rest.
You don’t have to study. There won’t be a test.

“And if you’d prefer, for a bit of a change,
feel free to go wild and act really strange.
Go put on a clown suit and dye your hair green,
and copy your face on the Xerox machine.

“Tomorrow it’s back to the regular grind.
Today, just go crazy. We really don’t mind.
So tear up your homework. We’ll give you an A.
Oh wait. I’m just kidding. It’s April Fools’ Day.”