aunt bobby :: june robertson beisch

My favorite aunt was unmarried, half deaf
and lived alone in a smoke-filled room
at the Curtis Hotel in Minneapolis.
Once beautiful, she still had her vanity.

Her hip, mangled in surgery,
gave her a spasmodic gait, she flapped
down Oakland Avenue to visit us
like a tall crane who’d had a few.

I loved the sight of her, ran to
the frazzled, overpermed head, the
too-bright ruby lips, the strong perfume.
For all the appearances of inutile femininity,

she was to me, a half divinity.

The auntness of aunts, their
bemused, hat-askance objectivity.
They belong to no one and to everyone
and can offer a child another reality.

How many times she took me home
to her apartment hoping to give
my busy mother a small reprieve
handed me a pencil and drawing pad

then made me feel like Michaelangelo.
Now thinking back, I wish I had
given back just half of what she gave to me.

to my cat with an eating disorder :: alice n. persons

You were thrown out of a moving vehicle
on a dirt road
in chilly winder downeast Maine,
little fur scrap, and I hope you don’t
carry that memory with you,
but the hunger, the deep fear
that you’ll never see food again
is still there five years later
when you are huge and sleek,
a sumo Buddha of a cat.

I’ve seen you, after a big meal,
heave yourself from a sound sleep,
pad into the kitchen, launch your bulk
onto the counter, and check the food supply,
then crouch there chewing and chewing,
green eyes empty, concentrating
on your burden, your compulsion,
doggedly eating, whether you want to or not.

There are stories about Holocaust or
Depression survivors whose refrigerators
and pantries are always full, just in case,
how some of them still wake in the night
and check their abundant supplies,
run their hands over the packages,
or eat without hunger, just because they can.

Cat, I stand in the dark kitchen
stroking your broad back,
wishing I could banish the fears
of one small, common creature,
those bad dreams that awaken you,
that hollow place in your memory
which can never be filled.

the word :: tony hoagland

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between “green thread”
and “broccoli,” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”

Resting on the page, the word
is beautiful. It touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent from someplace distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing

that also needs accomplishing.
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue,

but today you get a telegram
from the heart in exile,
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

—to any one among them
who can find the time
to sit out in the sun and listen.

not even moving one step :: jane hirshfield

The rain falling too lightly to shape
an audible house, an audible tree,
blind, soaking, the old horse waits in his pasture.

He knows the field for exactly what it is:
his limitless mare, his beloved.
Even the mallards sleep in her red body maned
in thistles, hooved in the new green shallows of spring.

Slow rain streams from the fetlocks, hips, the lowered head,
while she stands in the place beside him that no one sees.

The muzzles almost touch.
How silently the heart pivots on its hinge.

the embrace :: mark doty

You weren’t well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.

I didn’t for a moment doubt you were dead.
I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You’d been out–at work maybe?–
having a good day, almost energetic.

We seemed to be moving from some old house
where we’d lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the story of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of the narrative

by your face, the physical fact of your face:
inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without a photograph, without strain?

So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of you–warm brown tea–we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.

Bless you. You came back, so I could see you
once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.

advice to myself :: louise erdrich

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

to his piano :: howard nemerov

Old friend, patient of error as of accuracy,
Ready to think the fingerings of thought,
You but a scant year older than I am
With my expectant mother expecting maybe
An infant prodigy among her stars
But getting only little me instead–

To see you standing there for six decades
Containing chopsticks, Fur Elise, and
The Art of Fugue in your burnished rosewood box,
As well as all those years of silence and
The stumbling beginnings the children made,
Who would believe the twenty tons of stress
Your gilded frame’s kept stretched out all this while?

against pleasure :: robin becker

Worry stole the kayaks and soured the milk.
Now, it’s jellyfish for the rest of the summer
and the ozone layer full of holes.
Worry beats me to the phone.
Worry beats me to the kitchen,
and all the food is sorry. Worry calcifies
my ears against music; it stoppers my nose
against barbecue. All films end badly.
Paintings taunt with their smug convictions.
In the dark, Worry wraps her long legs
around me, promises to be mine forever.

Thugs hijacked all the good parking spaces.
There’s never a good time for lunch.
And why,
my mother asks, must you track
beach sand into the apartment?
No, don’t bother with books,
not reading much these days.
And who wants to walk the boardwalk anyway,
with scam artists who steal your home and savings?
Watch out for talk that sounds too good to be true.
You,
she says pointing at me,
don’t worry so much.

rain light :: w. s. merwin

All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without a question
even though the whole world is burning

don’t do that :: stephen dunn

It was bring-your-own if you wanted anything
hard, so I brought Johnnie Walker Red
along with some resentment I’d held in
for a few weeks, which was not helped
by the sight of little nameless things
pierced with toothpicks on the tables,
or by talk that promised to be nothing
if not small. But I’d consented to come,
and I knew what part of the house
their animals would be sequestered,
whose company I loved. What else can I say,

except that old retainer of slights and wrongs,
that bad boy I hadn’t quite outgrown—
I’d brought him along, too. I was out
to cultivate a mood. My hosts greeted me,
but did not ask about my soul, which was when
I was invited by Johnnie Walker Red
to find the right kind of glass, and pour.
I toasted the air. I said hello to the wall,
then walked past a group of women
dressed to be seen, undressing them
one by one, and went up the stairs to where

the Rottweilers were, Rosie and Tom,
and got down with them on all fours.
They licked the face I offered them,
and I proceeded to slick back my hair
with their saliva, and before long
I felt like a wild thing, ready to mess up
the party, scarf the hors d’oeuvres.
But the dogs said, No, don’t do that,
calm down, after a while they open the door
and let you out, they pet your head, and everything
you might have held against them is gone,
and you’re good friends again. Stay, they said.

chez jane :: frank o’hara

The white chocolate jar full of petals
swills odds and ends around in a dizzying eye
of four o’clocks now and to come. The tiger,
marvellously striped and irritable, leaps
on the table and without disturbing a hair
of the flowers’ breathless attention, pisses
into the pot, right down its delicate spout.
A whisper of steam goes up from that porcelain
urethra. “Saint-Saëns!” it seems to be whispering,
curling unerringly around the furry nuts
of the terrible puss, who is mentally flexing.
Ah be with me always, spirit of noisy
contemplation in the studio, the Garden
of Zoos, the eternally fixed afternoons!
There, while music scratches its scrofulous
stomach, the brute beast emerges and stands,
clear and careful, knowing always the exact peril
at this moment caressing his fangs with
a tongue given wholly to luxurious usages;
which only a moment before dropped aspirin
in this sunset of roses, and now throws a chair
in the air to aggravate the truly menacing.

eating together :: li-young lee

In the steamer is the trout
seasoned with slivers of ginger,
two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.
We shall eat it with rice for lunch,
brothers, sister, my mother who will
taste the sweetest meat of the head,
holding it between her fingers
deftly, the way my father did
weeks ago. Then he lay down
to sleep like a snow-covered road
winding through pines older than him,
without any travelers, and lonely for no one.

at the blue note :: pablo medina

Sometimes in the heat of the snow
you want to cry out

for pleasure or pain like a bell.
And you wind up holding each other,

listening to the in-between
despite the abyss at the edge of the table.

Hell. Mulgrew Miller plays like a big
bad spider, hands on fire, the piano

trembling like crystal,
the taste and smell of a forest under water.

The bartender made us a drink
with butterfly wings and electric wire.

Bitter cold outside, big silence,
a whale growing inside us.

ideas :: kathryn starbuck

I was the lonely one in whom
they swarmed in the millions.
I was their creature and I
was grateful. I could sleep
when I wanted.

I lived a divided
existence in sleepdreams
that lit up a silence as dreadful
as that of the moon. I have
an overly-precise recall of

those solitary years before
I opened the curtain and drew
upon a universe of want that made
me so strong I could crack
spines of books with one hand.

Poetry (March 2009)

white apples :: donald hall

when my father had been dead a week
I woke
with his voice in my ear
                        I sat up in bed

and held my breath
and stared at the pale closed door

white apples and the taste of stone

if he called again
I would put on my coat and galoshes

Hear his voice

the next poem :: dana gioia

How much better it seems now
than when it is finally done–
the unforgettable first line,
the cunning way the stanzas run.

The rhymes soft-spoken and suggestive
are barely audible at first,
an appetite not yet acknowledged
like the inkling of a thirst.
While gradually the form appears
as each line is coaxed aloud–
the architecture of a room
seen from the middle of a crowd.
The music that of common speech
but slanted so that each detail
sounds unexpected as a sharp
inserted in a simple scale.
No jumble box of imagery
dumped glumly in the reader’s lap
or elegantly packaged junk
the unsuspecting must unwrap.
But words that could direct a friend
precisely to an unknown place,
those few unshakeable details
that no confusion can erase.
And the real subject left unspoken
but unmistakable to those
who don’t expect a jungle parrot
in the black and white of prose.
How much better it seems now
than when it is finally written.
How hungrily one waits to feel
the bright lure seized, the old hook bitten.

road trip :: kurt brown

The new road runs along the old road. I can see it
still imprinted on the earth, not twenty feet away
as I drive west past silos and farmsteads, fruit stands and hogs.
Once in Kansas, I stood in a field and watched
the stars on the horizon revolve around my ankles.
People are always moving, even those standing still
because the world keeps changing around them, changing them.
When will the cities meet? When will they spread until
there is a single city—avenue to avenue, coast to coast?
What we call “the country” is an undeveloped area
by the side of the road. There is no “country,” there is no “road.”
It’s one big National Park, no longer the wilderness it was.
But the old world exists under the present world
the way an original painting exists under a newer one.
The animals know: their ancient, invisible trails cross
and re-cross our own like scars that have healed long ago.
Their country is not our country but another place altogether.
Anything of importance there comes out of the sky.
In Amarillo the wind tries to erase everything, even the future.
It swoops down to scrape the desert clean as a scapula.
Here among bones and bleached arroyos the sun leans
through my window at dawn to let me know
I’m not going anywhere. There’s no more anywhere to go.

love for this book :: pablo neruda

translated by clark zlotchew and dennis maloney

In these lonely regions I have been powerful
in the same way as a cheerful tool
or like untrammeled grass which lets loose its seed
or like a dog rolling around in the dew.
Matilde, time will pass wearing out and burning
another skin, other fingernails, other eyes, and then
the algae that lashed our wild rocks,
the waves that unceasingly construct their own whiteness,
all will be firm without us,
all will be ready for the new days,
which will not know our destiny.

What do we leave here but the lost cry
of the seabird, in the sand of winter, in the gusts of wind
that cut our faces and kept us
erect in the light of purity,
as in the heart of an illustrious star?

What do we leave, living like a nest
of surly birds, alive, among the thickets
or static, perched on the frigid cliffs?
So then, if living was nothing more than anticipating
the earth, this soil and its harshness,
deliver me, my love, from not doing my duty, and help me
return to my place beneath the hungry earth.

We asked the ocean for its rose,
its open star, its bitter contact,
and to the overburdened, to the fellow human being, to the wounded
we gave the freedom gathered in the wind.
It’s late now. Perhaps
it was only a long day the color of honey and blue,
perhaps only a night, like the eyelid
of a grave look that encompassed
the measure of the sea that surrounded us,
and in this territory we found only a kiss,
only ungraspable love that will remain here
wandering among the sea foam and roots.

lingua franca :: peter pereira

The only time I ever heard my fathe
r speak his native Cantonese was on vacation
when we’d stop at a Chinese Wok or Chop
Suey restaurant. He’d yammer at the waitress
until she brought out the owner, stunned
my father, who didn’t look Asian, spoke
perfect Chinese. He’d finagle us a
Happy Family Meal, or something else
not on the menu. Then try to teach us kids
to use chopsticks—stabbing his Mongolian Beef
and prying it apart, picking up a single
grain of rice and holding it to the light.

My father would tell us how he and his brothers
had three words for everything: Chinese,
Portuguese, and English, choosing what
best captured the thing they meant to say,
the resulting pidgin a dialect all their own.
But talking that way produced a subtle yet
permanent crisscrossing of his language wires,
causing him endless embarrassment as an adult
in America: saying dis and dat to customers
at his store, asking us to sweep the ground
or weed the floor, telling Mother to close,
not turn off, the kitchen lights.

Perhaps that’s why he always loved
the dumbest puns: tricking us into saying
MacHine instead of machine; demonstrating
how assume made an ass of u and me;
boasting of an insurance policy so good
it covered one not merely from birth to death,
but from the erection to the resurrection.
Perhaps that’s why he never wanted to teach us
any Chinese or Portuguese—he was an American
now, and we were his American children. Faraway
Hong Kong just a dot on the globe
spinning on my older brother’s desk.

[it’s been two thousand years now] :: marie-claire bancquart

translated by maxianne berger

It’s been two thousand years now that, with a wounded leg,
the god’s amazing loves have dragged along.

He has aged. Soon
he won’t be noticed except from way up in a plane
in the markings of wheat
that yield the trace
of an ancient sanctuary.

He solicits a language of caresses,
open pasture, available bodies,

and the words refuse, and this elsewhere is already in his death
except for a slender purple flower under the sun.

He can still act the god all around,
evening’s worn heart.

He guesses the flower will slip
fragile
from one century to the next with its prayer.

miss congeniality :: maxine chernoff

Even as an embryo, she made room for “the other guy.” Slick and
bloody, she emerged quietly: Why spoil the doctor’s best moment?
When Dad ran over her tricycle, she smiled, and when Mom drowned
her kittens, she curtsied, a Swiss statuette. Her teachers liked the way
she sat at her desk, composed as yesterday’s news. In high school she
decorated her locker with heart-shaped doilies and only went so far, a
cartoon kiss at the door. She read the classics, The Glamorous Dolly
Madison, and dreamed of marrying the boy in the choir whose voice
never changed. Wedding photos reveal a waterfall where her face
should be. Her husband admired how she bound her feet to buff the
linoleum. When she got old, she remembered to say pardon to the
children she no longer recognized, smiling sons and daughters who sat
at her bedside watching her fade to a wink.

illustrated guide to familiar american trees :: charlie smith

I don’t get it about the natural world.
Like, greenery,
without people in it, is supposed to do what?

City sunlight, I say, how can you beat it—
the walk to the pool after work, shine
caught in the shopkeeper’s visor, bursts.

I see myself moving around New York,
snapping my fingers, eating fries.

My ex-wife’s out in California.

I wish she was over on Bank Street,
up on the second floor,
and I was on the way there
to call to her from the sidewalk.

There’s a cypress on that block, two honey
locusts and an oak. I love those trees
like my own brothers.

in late august :: peter campion

In a culvert by the airport
under crumbling slag
wine colored water seeps
to this pool the two does
drink from: each sipping as
the other keeps look out.
The skyline is a blur
of  barcode and microchip.
Even at home we hold
the narrowest purchase.
No arcs of tracer fire.
No caravans of fleeing
families. Only this
suspicion ripples
through our circles of lamp glow
(as you sweep the faint sweat
from your forehead and flip
another page in your novel)
this sense that all we own
is the invisible
web of our words and touches
silence and fabulation
all make believe and real
as the two does out
scavenging through rose hips
and shattered drywall:
their presence in the space
around them liveliest
just before they vanish.

end of summer :: stanley kunitz

An agitation of the air,
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.

I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones,
Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me
The song of my marrow-bones.

Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.

Already the iron door of the north
Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.

wedding gifts :: adrienne su

Everywhere, a reason for caution:
crystal bowls, white teacups, porcelain.

Objects, which used to tumble in
on their way to the junk heap,
now possessed origins.

I had no idea what to do with a dog
that didn’t come from the pound,

and now, as if suddenly old,
found frailties in places I never knew existed.
Casseroles leapt, glasses imploded—

I wept each time. I knew from poetry
that no one conquers entropy,

but I also knew from poetry
everyone has to try. Rescued, the animal
loses all anonymity

in a syllable, and the hero’s nobility
dissolves into family.

Marriage is the same, with dishes and rings.
Vows or no vows, you embrace your own death,
journeying to which, you only get clumsier, and things,

which you thought mere material,
become irreplaceable.

read your fate :: charles simic

A world’s disappearing.
Little street,
You were too narrow,
Too much in the shade already.

You had only one dog,
One lone child.
You hid your biggest mirror,
Your undressed lovers.

Someone carted them off
In an open truck.
They were still naked, travelling
On their sofa

Over a darkening plain,
Some unknown Kansas or Nebraska
With a storm brewing.
The woman opening a red umbrella

In the truck. The boy
And the dog running after them,
As if after a rooster
With its head chopped off.