you two? :: tom healy

We offer in evidence
our grocery list—

its crabbed scribbled
archeology of hunger

shorthand reckoning
of how we’ve settled

arguments
whether the week

augured skim milk
or vodka

cantaloupe or ice cream
little proclamations

smudged on the back
of an envelope

his marks and mine
a currency

the exchange of whim
and sustenance

an account not just
of comfort and ordinary

cravings but how
we’ve construed

the necessities
of rescue and surrender

beyond even this :: maggie anderson

Who would have thought the afterlife would
look so much like Ohio? A small town place,
thickly settled among deciduous trees.
I lived for what seemed a very short time.
Several things did not work out.
Casually almost, I became another one
of the departed, but I had never imagined
the tunnel of hot wind that pulls
the newly dead into the dry Midwest
and plants us like corn. I am
not alone, but I am restless.
There is such sorrow in these geese
flying over, trying to find a place to land
in the miles and miles of parking lots
that once were soft wetlands. They seem
as puzzled as I am about where to be.
Often they glide, in what I guess is
a consultation with each other,
getting their bearings, as I do when
I stare out my window and count up
what I see. It’s not much really:
one buckeye tree, three white frame houses,
one evergreen, five piles of yellow leaves.
This is not enough for any heaven I had
dreamed, but I am taking the long view.
There must be a backcountry of the beyond,
beyond even this and farther out,
past the dark smoky city on the shore
of Lake Erie, through the landlocked passages
to the Great Sweetwater Seas.

the oldest music :: peggy shumaker

Twice a year
creaky angles
of cranes
stalk squawk
whole meadows
grazing full

circle. Nesting
pairs fatten
one hatchling
apiece.
Wide, thrummed
wings about to spread

the oldest music
we know~
wings
drumming~
our breaths
blown

through wing bones
of long-limbed
relatives
gawky
on land,
melodies
rising.

if the moon happened once :: kay ryan

If the moon happened once,
it wouldn’t matter much,
would it?

One evening’s ticket
punched with a
round or a crescent.

You could like it
or not like it,
as you chose.

It couldn’t alter every time it rose;

it couldn’t do those
things with scarves
it does.

after an illness, walking the dog :: jane kenyon

Wet things smell stronger,
and I suppose his main regret is that
he can sniff just one at a time.
In a frenzy of delight
he runs way up the sandy road—
scored by freshets after five days
of rain. Every pebble gleams, every leaf.

When I whistle he halts abruptly
and steps in a circle,
swings his extravagant tail.
The he rolls and rubs his muzzle
in a particular place, while the drizzle
falls without cease, and Queen Anne’s lace
and Goldenrod bend low.

The top of the logging road stands open
and light. Another day, before
hunting starts, we’ll see how far it goes,
leaving word first at home.
The footing is ambiguous.

Soaked and muddy, the dog drops,
panting, and looks up with what amounts
to a grin. It’s so good to be uphill with him,
nicely winded, and looking down on the pond.

A sound commences in my left ear
like the sound of the sea in a shell;
a downward, vertiginous drag comes with it.
Time to head home. I wait
until we’re nearly out to the main road
to put him back on the leash, and he
—the designated optimist—
imagines to the end that he is free.

going there :: jack gilbert

Of course it was a disaster.
The unbearable, dearest secret
has always been a disaster.
The danger when we try to leave.
Going over and over afterward
what we should have done
instead of what we did.
But for those short times
we seemed to be alive. Misled,
misused, lied to and cheated,
certainly. Still, for that
little while, we visited
our possible life.

diminution :: howard stein

I have read volumes,
Written volumes,
Taught from volumes.
Now my words are fewer,
More long breaths between them.
I look up after committing
A single phrase to paper,
Linger a while,
Note the long shadows
On blackjack oak
In the late afternoon sun.
At times, I give up
Words altogether, listen
To the wind, watch
The winter wheat grow, savor
The taste of silence,
And give myself over
To the speech of the stars.

no children, no pets :: sue ellen thompson

I bring the cat’s body home from the vet’s
in a running-shoe box held shut
with elastic bands. Then I clean
the corners where she has eaten and
slept, scrubbing the hard bits of food
from the baseboard, dumping the litter
and blasting the pan with a hose. The plastic
dishes I hide in the basement, the pee-
soaked towel I put in the trash. I put
the catnip mouse in the box and I put
the box away, too, in a deep
dirt drawer in the earth.

When the death-energy leaves me,
I go to the room where my daughter slept
in nursery school, grammar school, high school,
I lie on her milky bedspread and think
of the day I left her at college, how nothing
could keep me from gouging the melted candle-wax
out from between her floorboards,
or taking a razor blade to the decal
that said to the firemen, “Break
this window first.” I close my eyes now
and enter a place that’s clearly
expecting me, swaddled in loss
and then losing that, too, as I move
from room to bone-white room
in the house of the rest of my life.

tenderness :: erica funkhouser

Last night the animals
beneath her window
crept out of hiding
to comb the dirt
from each other’s fur.

Rising to watch,
she discovered the lilacs
lit from below by ivory vinca.
The street on the other side
of the trees continued
to contain its passing cars;
tenderly her teeth
let her tongue rest
against their curving backs.

Tonight when she lies
in bed again,
she will remember
the one kind thing
her grown daughter said today
after weeks of scrutiny,

and the moment at work
just now, when a stack
of Day-Glo folders
cascaded over her desk,
thrilling the white cubicle
with their descent.

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day :: gerard manley hopkins

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.

With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.

Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves, but worse.

elegy on toy piano :: dean young

For Kenneth Koch

You don’t need a pony
to connect you to the unseeable
or an airplane to connect you to the sky.

Necessary it is to love to live
and there are many manuals
but in all important ways
one is on one’s own.

You need not cut off your hand.
No need to eat a bouquet.
Your head becomes a peach pit.
Your tongue a honeycomb.

Necessary it is to live to love,
to charge into the burning tower
then charge back out
and necessary it is to die.
Even for the trees, even for the pony
connecting you to what can’t be grasped.

The injured gazelle falls behind the
herd. One last wild enjambment.

Because of the sores in his mouth,
the great poet struggles with a dumpling.
His work has enlarged the world
but the world is about to stop including him.
He is the tower the world runs out of.

When something becomes ash,
there’s nothing you can do to turn it back.
About this, even diamonds do not lie.

hands :: robinson jeffers

Inside a cave in a narrow canyon near Tassajara
The vault of rock is painted with hands,
A multitude of hands in the twilight, a cloud of men’s palms, no more,
No other picture. There’s no one to say
Whether the brown shy quiet people who are dead intended
Religion or magic, or made their tracings
In the idleness of art; but over the division of years these careful
Signs-manual are now like a sealed message
Saying: “Look: we also were human; we had hands, not paws. All hail
You people with the cleverer hands, our supplanters
In the beautiful country; enjoy her a season, her beauty, and come down
And be supplanted; for you also are human.”

imagining starry :: marie ponsot

The place of language is the place between me

and the world of presences I have lost

—complex country, not flat. Its elements free-

float, coherent for luck to come across;

its lines curve as in a mental orrery

implicit with stars in active orbit,

only their slowness or swiftness lost to sense.

The will dissolves here. It becomes the infinite

air of imagination that stirs immense

among losses and leaves me less desolate.

Breathing it I spot a sentence or a name,

a rescuer, charted for recovery,

to speak against the daily sinking flame

& the shrinking waters of the mortal sea.

the mediocre lunch :: matt cook

The mediocre lunch can be an inspiration.
When the inspiration of the mediocre lunch fades,
Then’s when you’ve got problems.
You look out the window,
You feel sorry for the bike left out in the snow.
But the alternatives to the bike left out in the snow are unsettling,
Beginning with, the bike not left out in the snow.
You can learn as much from a mediocre lunch
As from an excellent lunch.
Out the window is a woman
Unable to remove a child’s toy from a dog’s mouth.
Then a man walks in and confuses you with George.
“George?” he says. “Sorry, I thought you were George,” he says.
“I am George,” you say, hoping to complicate matters.

it is enough to enter :: todd boss

the templar
halls of museums, for

example, or
the chambers of churches,

and admire
no more than the beauty

there, or
remember the graveness

of stone, or
whatever. You don’t

have to do any
better. You don’t have to

understand
the liturgy or know history

to feel holy
in a gallery or presbytery.

It is enough
to have come just so far.

You need
not be opened any more

than does
a door, standing ajar.

exile :: alicia suskin ostriker

The downward turning touch
the cry of time
fire falling without sound
plunge my hand in the wound

children marching and dying
all that I do is a crime
because I do not reach
their mouths silently crying

my boychild reaches with his mouth
it is easy, being a mother
his skin is tender and soft
kisses stitch us together

we love as long as we may
then come years without kisses
when he will turn away
not to waste breath

when I too will fall
embracing a pillow at night
touching the stone of exile
reaching my hand to death

the alpaca :: gabriela mistral

       She is harnessed for a long journey; on her back she carries an entire store of wool.
       She walks without rest, and sees with eyes full of strangeness. The wool merchant has forgotten to come to get her, and she is ready.
       In this world, nothing comes better equipped than the alpaca; ones is more burdened with rags than the next. Her sky-high softness is such that if a newborn is placed on her back, he will not feel a bone of the animal.
       The weather is very hot. Today, large scissors that will cut and cut represent mercy for the alpaca.
       When something is lost in the park, to whom do we look but this ever-prepared beast which seems to secretly carry all things?
       And when children think about the objects they have lost—dolls, teddy bears, flying rats, trees with seven voices (they can be hidden in only one place)—they remember the alpaca, their infinitely prepared companion.
       But look at those eyes, those astonished eyes without knowledge; they only ask why she has been harnessed for such a long trip and why no one comes to relieve her.
       The high plateau is to blame for this tragedy—the mother alpaca incessantly stares at it. The mountain was also casting off burdens, and so its summit became clear, and filled the eyes of the mother alpaca.
       She was taken down from the plateau and situated near a nonsensical horizon, and when she turns her neck, she continues looking for the older alpaca, for the one who sheds a pack on high, and returns to the sun’s radiance.
       “What have you and I done to our Andean cordillera?” I ask the alpaca.

brief eden :: lois beebe hayna

For part of one strange year we lived
in a small house at the edge of a wood.
No neighbors, which suited us. Nobody
to ask questions. Except
for the one big question we went on
asking ourselves.
                         That spring
myriads of birds stopped over
briefly. Birds we’d never seen before, drawn
to our leafy quiet and our brook and because,
as we later learned, the place lay beneath
a flyway. Flocks appeared overnight—birds
brilliant or dull, with sharp beaks
or crossed bills, birds small
and enormous, all of them pausing
to gorge at the feeder, to rest their wings,
and disappear. Each flock seemed surer than we
of a destination. By the time we’d watched them
wing north in spring, then make
an anxious autumn return,
we too had pulled it together and we too moved
into what seemed to be our lives.

blood :: naomi shihab nye

“A true Arab knows how to catch a fly in his hands,”
my father would say. And he’d prove it,
cupping the buzzer instantly
while the host with the swatter stared.

In the spring our palms peeled like snakes.
True Arabs believed watermelon could heal fifty ways.
I changed these to fit the occasion.

Years before, a girl knocked,
wanted to see the Arab.
I said we didn’t have one.
After that, my father told me who he was,
“Shihab”—”shooting star”—
a good name, borrowed from the sky.
Once I said, “When we die, we give it back?”
He said that’s what a true Arab would say.

Today the headlines clot in my blood.
A little Palestinian dangles a toy truck on the front page.
Homeless fig, this tragedy with a terrible root
is too big for us. What flag can we wave?
I wave the flag of stone and seed,
table mat stitched in blue.

I call my father, we talk around the news.
It is too much for him,
neither of his two languages can reach it.
I drive into the country to find sheep, cows,
to plead with the air:
Who calls anyone civilized?
Where can the crying heart graze?
What does a true Arab do now?

storm ending :: jean toomer

Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,
Great, hollow, bell-like flowers,
Rumbling in the wind,
Stretching clappers to strike our ears . . [.]
Full-lipped flowers
Bitten by the sun
Bleeding rain
Dripping rain like golden honey—
And the sweet earth flying from the thunder.

how I am :: jason shinder

When I talk to my friends I pretend I am standing on the wings

of a flying plane. I cannot be trusted to tell them how I am.
Or if I am falling to earth weighing less

than a dozen roses. Sometimes I dream they have broken up

with their lovers and are carrying food to my house.
When I open the mailbox I hear their voices

like the long upward-winding curve of a train whistle

passing through the tall grasses and ferns
after the train has passed. I never get ahead of their shadows.

I embrace them in front of moving cars. I keep them away

from my miseries because to say I am miserable is to say I am like them.

riding into california :: shirley lim

If you come to a land with no ancestors
to bless you, you have to be your own
ancestor. The veterans in the mobile home
park don’t want to be there. It isn’t easy.
Oil rigs litter the land like giant frozen birds.
Ghosts welcome us to a new life, and
an immigrant without home ghosts
cannot believe the land is real. So you’re
grateful for familiarity, and Bruce Lee
becomes your hero. Coming into Fullerton,
everyone waiting at the station is white.
The good thing about being Chinese on Amtrak
is no one sits next to you. The bad thing is
you sit alone all the way to Irvine.

79 :: joachim du bellay

I do not write of love: I am no lover.
I do not write of beauty: I have no woman.
I do not write of gentleness but the human
rudeness I see. And my pleasures are all over,
so I do not try to write of pleasure, but only
misery. Favors? No, I am on my own.
I do not write of riches: I have none.
Or of life at court, when I’m far from it and lonely.

I do not write of health, for I’m often ill.
I cannot write of France from a Roman hill.
Or honor? I see so little of that about.
I cannot write of friendship but only pretence.
I will not write of virtue, here in its absence.
Or knowledge or faith, in ignorance and doubt.

the concert :: lisel mueller

In memory of Dimitri Mitropoulos

The harpist believes there is music
in the skeletons of fish

The French horn player believes
in enormous golden snails

The piano believes in nothing
and grins from ear to ear

Strings are scratching their bellies
openly, enjoying it

Flutes and oboes complain
in dialects of the same tongue

Drumsticks rattle a calfskin
from the sleep of another life

because the supernatural crow
on the podium flaps his wings

and death is no excuse

the innocents :: chase twichell

The watcher guarded the innocent one,
that was their relationship.
When the innocent one was in danger

had angered the mother or father
maybe, walked out on some thin ice

on purpose (for the sharp defining edges
of it) and suddenly needed a rescue,
the watcher would be the rescuer.

That allowed the innocent one to grow up
reckless: she was always stabbing herself

in the heart to see what each new kind of love
felt like. Then her savior the watcher
would heal her wound by explaining everything.

We’re a very solid couple, the two of us.
We’ve grown up into a fine double person

sutra :: marilyn krysl

Looking back now, I see
I was dispassionate too often,
dismissing the robin as common,
and now can’t remember what
robin song sounds like. I hoarded
my days, as though to keep them
safe from depletion, and meantime
I kept busy being lonely. This
took up the bulk of my time,
and I did not speak to strangers
because they might be boring,
and there were those I feared

would ask me for money. I was
clumsy around the confident,
and the well bred, standing on
their parapets, enthralled me,
but when one approached, I
fled. I also feared the street’s
down and outs, anxious lest
they look at me closely, and
afraid I would see their misery.

I feared my father who feared
me and did not touch me,
which made me more afraid.
My mother feared him too,
and as I grew to be like him,
she became afraid of me also.
I kept busy avoiding dangers
of many colors, fleeing from
those with whom I had much

in common. Now afternoon,
one chair in the garden. Late
low light, the lilies still open,
sky beyond them preparing
to close for the night. I’d
made money, but had I kissed

a single lily? On the chair’s
arm my empty cup. Its curved
lip struck, bright in late light.
I watch that last light going,
leaving behind its brief burning
which will come to nothing.

The lilies still open, waiting.

Let me be that last sliver of light.
Let me be that last gleaming sliver of silver,
there for an instant on the lily’s petal,

light speaking in tongues, tongues of flame.

the sand speaks :: sandra beasley

I’m fluid and omnivorous, casual in
my eternity. I’ll knock up your oysters.
I’ll eat your diamonds. I’m a mutt, no
one thing at all, just the size that counts

and if you’re animal small enough, come;
if you’re vegetable small enough, come;
if you’re mineral small enough, come.
Mothers, brush me from the hands

of your children. Lovers, shake me
from the cuffs of your pants. Draw
a line, make it my mouth: I’ll name
your country. I’m a Yes man at heart.

Let’s play Hide and Go Drown. Let’s play
Pearls for His Eyes. When the men fall
I like the way their arms touch, their legs
touch. There are always more men, men

who bring bags big enough to hold
each other. A man who kneels down
with a smaller bag, cups and pours, cups
and pours, as if I could prove anything.

alcove :: john ashbery

Is it possible that spring could be
once more approaching? We forget each time
what a mindless business it is, porous like sleep,
adrift on the horizon, refusing to take sides, “mugwump
of the final hour,” lest an agenda—horrors!—be imputed to it,
and the whole point of its being spring collapse
like a hole dug in sand. It’s breathy, though,
you have to say that for it.

And should further seasons coagulate
into years, like spilled, dried paint, why,
who’s to say we weren’t provident? We indeed
looked out for others as though they mattered, and they,
catching the spirit, came home with us, spent the night
in an alcove from which their breathing could be heard clearly.
But it’s not over yet. Terrible incidents happen
daily. That’s how we get around obstacles.

around us :: marvin bell

We need some pines to assuage the darkness
when it blankets the mind,
we need a silvery stream that banks as smoothly
as a plane’s wing, and a worn bed of
needles to pad the rumble that fills the mind,
and a blur or two of a wild thing
that sees and is not seen. We need these things
between appointments, after work,
and, if we keep them, then someone someday,
lying down after a walk
and supper, with the fire hole wet down,
the whole night sky set at a particular
time, without numbers or hours, will cause
a little sound of thanks–a zipper or a snap–
to close round the moment and the thought
of whatever good we did.

vacation :: rita dove

I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their cooing and bickering
or the heeled bachelorette trying
to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s
exhausted mother waiting to be called up early
while the athlete, one monstrous hand
asleep on his duffel bag, listens,
perched like a seal trained for the plunge.
Even the lone executive
who has wandered this far into summer
with his lasered itinerary, briefcase
knocking his knees—even he
has worked for the pleasure of bearing
no more than a scrap of himself
into this hall. He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late,
they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning
—a little hope, a little whimsy
before the loudspeaker blurts
and we leap up to become
Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17.