passing the orange :: leo dangel

On Halloween night
the new teacher gave a party
for the parents.
She lined up the women
on one side of the schoolroom,
the men on the other,
and they had a race,
passing an orange
under their chins along each line.
The women giggled like girls
and dropped their orange
before it got halfway,
but it was the men’s line
that we watched.
Who would have thought
that anyone could get them
to do such a thing?
Farmers in flannel shirts,
in blue overalls and striped overalls.
Stout men embracing one another.
Our fathers passing the orange,
passing the embrace – the kiss
of peace – complaining
about each other’s whiskers,
becoming a team, winning the race.

waumandee :: mark wunderlich

A man with binoculars
fixed a shape in the field
and we stopped and saw

the albino buck browsing
in the oats—white dash
on a page of green,

flick of a blade
cutting paint to canvas.
It dipped its head

and green effaced the white,
bled onto the absence that
the buck was—animal erasure.

Head up again, its sugar legs
pricked the turf, pink
antler prongs brushed at flies.

Here in a field was the imagined world
made visible—a mythical beast
filling its rumen with clover

until all at once it startled,
flagged its bright tail—
auf Wiedersehen, surrender—

and leapt away—
a white tooth
in the closing mouth of the woods.

Poetry (March 2009)

of flesh and spirit :: wang ping

I was a virgin till I was 23. Then I always had more than one lover at the same time all secret.

In China, people are given the death sentence for watching a porno video while they can get free condoms and pills at any department store provided and mandated by law.

When my mother handed me my first bra which she made for me, I screamed and ran out the door in shame. She cut the bra into pieces because it was too small for her own use.

For 800 years, women’s bound feet were the most beautiful and erotic objects for Chinese men. Tits and buns were nothing compared to a pair of three-inch “golden lotuses.” They must be crazy or their noses must have had problems. My grandma’s feet, wrapped day and night with layers of bandages, smelled like rotten fish.

The asshole in Chinese: the eye of the fart.

A 25-year-old single woman in China worries her parents. A 28-year-old single woman worries her friends and colleagues. A 30-year-old single woman worries her bosses. A 35-year-old single woman is pitied and treated as a sexual pervert.

The most powerful curse: fuck your mother, fuck your grandmother, fuck your great grandmother of eighteen generations.

One day, my father asked my mother if our young rooster was mature enough to jump, meaning to “mate.” I cut in before my mother answered: “Yes, I saw him jump onto the roof of the chicken shed.” I was ten years old.

Women call menstruation “the old ghost,” the science book calls it “the moon period,” and the refined people say “the moonlight is flooding the ditch.”

My first lover vowed to marry me in America after he had my virginity. He had two kids, and an uneducated wife, and dared not ask for a divorce from the police. He took me to see his American Chinese cousin who was staying in the Beijing Hotel and tried to persuade his cousin to sponsor him to come to America. But his cousin sponsored me instead. That’s how I am here and why he went back to his wife and is probably still cursing me.

Chinese peasants call their wives: that one in my house; Chinese intellectuals call their wives and concubines: the doll in a golden house; in the socialist system, husbands and wives call each other “my lover.”

The story my grandma never tired of telling was about a man who was punished for his greed and had to walk around with a penis hanging on his forehead.

We don’t say “fall in love,” but “talk love.”

When I left home, my father told me: never talk love before you are 25 years old. I didn’t listen. Well, my first lover was a married coward. My first marriage lasted a week. My husband slept with me once, and I never saw him again.

again a solstice :: jennifer chang

It is not good to think
of everything as a mistake. I asked
for bacon in my sandwich, and then

I asked for more. Mistake.
I told you the truth about my scar:

I did not use a knife. I lied
about what he did to my faith
in loneliness. Both mistakes.

That there is always a you. Mistake.
Faith in loneliness, my mother proclaimed,

is faith in self. My instinct, a poor polaris.
Not a mistake is the blue boredom
of a summer lake. O mud, sun, and algae!

We swim in glittering murk.
I tread, you tread. There are children

testing the deep end, shriek and stroke,
the lifeguard perilously close to diving.
I tried diving once. I dove like a brick.

It was a mistake to ask the $30 prophet
for a $20 prophecy. A mistake to believe.

I was young and broke. I swam
in a stolen reservoir then, not even a lake.
Her prophesy: from my vagrant exertion

I’ll die at 42. Our dog totters across the lake,
kicks the ripple. I tread, you tread.

What does it even mean to write a poem?
It means today
I’m correcting my mistakes.

It means I don’t want to be lonely.

the interrupted concert :: federico garcía lorca

translated by w. s. merwin

The frozen sleepy pause
of the half moon
has broken the harmony
of the deep night.

The ditches, shrouded in sedge,
protest in silence,
and the frogs, muezzins of shadow,
have fallen silent.

In the old village inn
the sad music has ceased,
and the most ancient of stars
has muted its ray.

The wind has come to rest
in dark mountain caves,
and a solitary poplar—Pythagoras
of the pure plain—
lifts its aged hand
to strike at the moon.

light :: rabindranath tagore

Light, my light, the world-filling light,
the eye-kissing light,
heart-sweetening light!

Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the center of my life;
the light strikes, my darling, the chords of my love;
the sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter passes over the earth.

The butterflies spread their sails on the sea of light.
Lilies and jasmines surge up on the crest of the waves of light.

The light is shattered into gold on every cloud, my darling,
and it scatters gems in profusion.

Mirth spreads from leaf to leaf, my darling,
and gladness without measure.
The heaven’s river has drowned its banks
and the flood of joy is abroad.

ballistics :: billy collins

When I came across the high—speed photograph
of a bullet that had just pierced a book —
the pages exploding with the velocity —
I forgot all about the marvels of photography
and began to wonder which book
the photographer had selected for the shot.
Many novels sprang to mind
including those of Raymond Chandler
where an extra bullet would hardly be noticed.
Nonfiction offered too many choices —
a history of Scottish lighthouses,
a biography of Joan of Arc and so forth.
Or it could be an anthology of medieval literature,
the bullet having just beheaded Sir Gawain
and scattered the band of assorted pilgrims.
But later, as I was drifting off to sleep,
I realized that the executed book
was a recent collection of poems written
by someone of whom I was not fond
and that the bullet must have passed through
his writing with little resistance
at twenty—eight hundred feet per second,
through the poems about his childhood
and the ones about the dreary state of the world,
and then through the author’s photograph,
through the beard, the round glasses,
and that special poet’s hat he loves to wear.

my violin :: bruce lansky

My mom brought home a violin
so I could learn to play.
She told me if I practiced hard
I’d play it well someday.

Without a single lesson,
I tried to play a song.
My fiddle squeaked, my fiddle squawked.
The notes came out all wrong.

My little brother fled the room.
Mom covered up her ears.
My puppy dog began to howl.
My sister was in tears.

My dad pulled out his wallet.
He handed me a ten.
He made me swear I’d never play
that violin again.

a little tooth :: thomas lux

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It’s all

over: she’ll learn some words, she’ll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It’s dusk. Your daughter’s tall.

sometimes the mind :: jane mead

is taken by surprise
as it speaks, are you

sure this is the right street?
for example—or just

cowpath—no more: a blurb,
a bleep, really, out of

the imagination, and then
once again everything is

perfectly still, save, perhaps,
a cow or two on the horizon,—

and the sound of cowbirds
in sudden excellence, where

formerly there were none.

october (section i) :: louise glück

Is it winter again, is it cold again,
didn’t Frank just slip on the ice,
didn’t he heal, weren’t the spring seeds planted

didn’t the night end,
didn’t the melting ice
flood the narrow gutters

wasn’t my body
rescued, wasn’t it safe

didn’t the scar form, invisible
above the injury

terror and cold,
didn’t they just end, wasn’t the back garden
harrowed and planted–

I remember how the earth felt, red and dense,
in stiff rows, weren’t the seeds planted,
didn’t vines climb the south wall

I can’t hear your voice
for the wind’s cries, whistling over the bare ground

I no longer care
what sound it makes

when was I silenced, when did it first seem
pointless to describe that sound

what it sounds like can’t change what it is–

didn’t the night end, wasn’t the earth
safe when it was planted

didn’t we plant the seeds,
weren’t we necessary to the earth,

the vines, were they harvested?

a lesson :: jeanne marie beaumont

I. Vocabulary

Soil is for planting in,
otherwise, dirt.
The donor is the third person
in the triangle.
Sty and style are not related;
neither are braid and bread
except in the bakery window
where they twist into temptation.

But some words like river and rival
surprisingly are, and more obviously,
void and avoid.

II. Multiple Choice

The woman on the bus has a ______ around her head.
a. braid b. style c. void

The man who sells his sperm to pay for art school is a ______.
a. river b. donor c. rival

Their child was taught to ______ the oven.
a. rival b. soil c. avoid

She still liked to put her hands in the ______.
a. bread b. dirt c. river

The pigs, meanwhile, seem content in their ______.
a. style b. sty c. void

III. Conversationally Speaking

The river enriches the soil for planting.
The river is the donor of riches. The sty, however,
is full of dirt (the pigs might see this differently —
planting their feet, their snouts). The pig
is the ultimate donor of pork, which is to say
it has no rival. We avoid thinking of it this way.
We avoid the (thought of the) sty; hence the separation
from lunchmeat. We like better the smell
of bread (daily, given, whole) done up in the style
of a braid, pure product of the soil.
It is wise to avoid the void, which is nothing really
like the river, the sty, or the emptied bakery
window (its closest rival). Instead
we could relax by the river, picnic on meat
and bread, or just bread–pigtails are kin
to braids–since eating pork’s gone out of style.

afterlove :: brittany perham

A thousand ships to get here,
I sent messengers to plead with you

across an ocean

I sent desire. When nothing returned
I sent the pale-handed
harbinger of war.

You faltered.
Hope’s stiff carriers crowded
my rooms, an army
of competing clatter
and rust.

In the leftover
quiet
wind too slight to lift the hair from my neck,

I saw there was something still
for each of us to want.

Gulls dispersed, white
above the roofline, so white
I could not tell
one from the other, nor one
from the sky.

via triquarterly

delicate :: michelle y. burke

In 1916 Helen Keller and Peter Fagan were briefly, and secretly, engaged.

Strange this August morning.
Fear unfurls in your throat
like mother’s peonies–
how they open and close,
hands inside of hands.

And the heat curls your hair
into angry bees, leaves welts
at your jaw line. Your skirt,
layered like the peony, complicates
walking. Yet, you love
what is complicated:
dresses with masses of ribbon,
the hands of others at your
back,
the intricate wheels and rods
of the typewriter, keys
that fit your fingers like petals.

Your mother hates the machine–
its smells of oil and ink.
You told her once that you liked
the flowers with velvet tongues
best, left out that they leave
sex on your fingertips.
Pistil, pestle, piston.
You press your open palm,

You’ve ripped your dress again,
mother says, the words
on her lips like molting skin.
You take each in your hand
and imagine the crush
of pine cones, egg shells.

lanling hermitage :: wei ying-wu

translated by red pine

Up high to a cloister of rock walls
I pushed aside clouds and climbed
a fine hike was what I hoped for
ignoring the dangers I reached my prize
but as light on the escarpment faded
and streams branched out like the lines in my hand
and the forests held nothing but loneliness
and the pinnacles disappeared into space
a man of the Way after reaching such heights
descended alone in the stillness of night
the mountain turned dark after sunset
a hundred springs echoed across the fall sky
my lamentable burdens reappeared intact
why can’t I stay free of cares

via poetry daily

to help the monkey cross the river :: thomas lux

which he must
cross, by swimming, for fruits and nuts,
to help him
I sit with my rifle on a platform
high in a tree, same side of the river
as the hungry monkey. How does this assist
him? When he swims for it
I look first upriver: predators move faster with
the current than against it.
If a crocodile is aimed from upriver to eat the monkey
and an anaconda from downriver burns
with the same ambition, I do
the math, algebra, angles, rate-of-monkey,
croc- and snake-speed, and if, if
it looks as though the anaconda or the croc
will reach the monkey
before he attains the river’s far bank,
I raise my rifle and fire
one, two, three, even four times into the river
just behind the monkey
to hurry him up a little.
Shoot the snake, the crocodile?
They’re just doing their jobs,
but the monkey, the monkey
has little hands like a child’s,
and the smart ones, in a cage, can be taught to smile.

sleep :: todd davis

On the ridge above Skelp Road
bears binge on blackberries and apples,
even grapes, knocking down
the Petersens’ arbor to satisfy the sweet
hunger that consumes them. Just like us
they know the day must come when
the heart slows, when to take one
more step would mean the end of things
as they should be. Sleep is a drug;
dreams its succor. How better to drift
toward another world but with leaves
falling, their warmth draping us,
our stomachs full and fat with summer?

why i have a crush on you, ups man :: alice n. persons

you bring me all the things I order
are never in a bad mood
always have a jaunty wave as you drive away
look good in your brown shorts
we have an ideal uncomplicated relationship
you’re like a cute boyfriend with great legs
who always brings the perfect present
(why, it’s just what I’ve always wanted!)
and then is considerate enough to go away
oh, UPS Man, let’s hop in your clean brown truck and elope !
ditch your job, I’ll ditch mine
let’s hit the road for Brownsville
and tempt each other
with all the luscious brown foods —
roast beef, dark chocolate,
brownies, Guinness, homemade pumpernickel, molasses cookies
I’ll make you my mama’s bourbon pecan pie
we’ll give all the packages to kind looking strangers
live in a cozy wood cabin
with a brown dog or two
and a black and brown tabby
I’m serious, UPS Man. Let’s do it.
Where do I sign?

owl in the black oaks :: mary oliver

If a lynx, that plush fellow,
climbed down a
tree and left behind
his face, his thick neck,

and, most of all, the lamps of his eyes,
there you would have it—
the owl,
the very owl

who haunts these trees,
choosing from the swash of branches
the slight perches and ledges
of his acrobatics.

Almost every day
I spy him out
among the knots and the burls,
looking down

at his huge feet,
at the path curving through the trees,
at whatever is coming up the hill
toward him,

and, though I’m never ready—
though something unspeakably cold
always drops through my heart—
it is a moment

as lavish as is fearful—
there is such pomp
in the gown of feathers
and the lit silk of the eyes—

surely he is one of the mighty kings
of this world.
Sometimes, as I keep coming,
he simply flies away—

and sometimes the whole body
tilts forward, and the beak opens,
clean and wonderful,
like a cup of gold.

the coat :: peter everwine

After so many years,
standing with me in the same mirror,
it is almost transparent.
In the morning I rise up and enter it—
this skin frayed at the wristbones; this suitcase
of old weathers, slick with shine, sagging
with the weight of inner pockets.
At night I slide it off, and the darkness
slides into it, slips its fingers inside
and touches what the day has left—
old bills, dry webs of hair, salt,
a leaf thin and sharp as a bird’s thigh.
What do I care what the dark does,
rifling my coat like an old wife?
Throw it on a stool to beg,
dance with it the long nights,
fold it after the funeral—what do I care?
When I lie down naked to sleep
it wears my own slouch.
I breathe in. Breathe out.
In a dark corner, it fills.

the beach at sunset :: eloise klein healy

The cliff above where we stand is crumbling
and up on the Palisades
the sidewalks buckle like a broken conveyer belt.

Art Deco palm trees sway their hula skirts
in perfect unison
against a backdrop of gorgeous blue,

and for you I would try it,
though I have always forbidden myself to write
poems about the beach at sunset.

All the clichés for it sputter
like the first generation of neon,
and what attracts me anyway

are these four species of gulls we’ve identified,
their bodies turned into the wind,
and not one of them aware of their silly beauty.

I’m the one awash in pastels
and hoping to salvage the day, finally turning away
from the last light on the western shore

and the steady whoosh of waves driving in,
drumming insistently like the undeniable data
of the cancer in your breast.

We walk back to the car
and take the top down for the ride home
through the early mist.

No matter what else is happening,
this is California. You’ll have your cancer
at freeway speeds. I’ll drive and park

and drive at park. The hospital
when I arrive to visit will be catching
the last rays of the sun, glinting

like an architectural miracle realized.
I realize a miracle is what you need—
a grain of sand, a perfect world

where you live beyond the facts
of what your body has given you
as the first taste of death.

a rose tree :: fleur adcock

When we went to live at Top Lodge
my mother gave me a rose tree.

She didn’t have to pay for it—
it was growing there already,

tall and old, by the gravel drive
where we used to ride our scooters.

No one else was allowed to pick
the huge pale blooms that smelt like jam.

It was mine all through that summer.
In October we moved again.

But even never seeing it
couldn’t stop it from being mine:

one of those eternal presents.
At the new house I had a duck.

to poems :: arseny tarkovsky

translated from russian by philip metres & dimitri psurtsev

My poems: fledglings, heirs,
Plaintiffs and executors,
The silent ones, the loud,
The humble and the proud.

As soon as the shovel of time
Threw me onto the potter’s wheel—
Myself without kith or kin—
I grew beneath the hand, a miracle.

Something stretched out my long neck
And hollowed round my soul
And marked on my back
Legends of flowers and leaves.

I stoked the birch in the fire
As Daniel commanded
And blessed my red temper
Until I spoke as a prophet.

I had long been the earth—
Arid, ochre, forlorn since birth—
But you fell on my chest by chance
From beaks of birds, from eyes of grass.

read the translator’s notes

goddess of maple at evening :: chard deniord

She breathed a chill that slowed the sap
inside the phloem, stood perfectly still
inside the dark, then walked to a field
where the distance crooned in a small
blue voice how close it is, how the gravity
of sky pulls you up like steam from the arch.
She sang along until the silence soloed
in a northern wind, then headed back
to the sugar stand and drank from a maple
to thin her blood with the spirit of sap.
To quicken its pace to the speed of sound
then hear it boom inside her heart.
To quicken her mind to the speed of light
with another suck from the flooded tap.

homecoming :: don thompson

Out in the hills east of town,
a wind no one remembers
has come home tonight
to find nothing changed.

One generation of grass
is like another, and if
the stones have lost anything,
it’s imperceptible.

This wind has run errands
for all sorts of weather,
shuffled the paperwork of autumn,
and spun out of control

with the profligate dust.
It has suffered humid fevers
and lived to choke on sand;
it has learned to flay clouds.

All of this in my lifetime
while I’ve been blown
from joy to grief and back,
from paycheck to paycheck,

knowing some of the ills
grass is heir to,
as well as its green pleasures,
and the slow osmosis of love.

Tonight I lie here and listen
to the wind howl its name,
insisting that I admire
its raw nerve, its wanderlust.

But I’m too tired and need
a dark, deeper place to go.
I sink my fingers into sleep
like roots, and I hold on.

autumn :: amy lowell

They brought me a quilled, yellow dahlia,
Opulent, flaunting.
Round gold
Flung out of a pale green stalk.
Round, ripe gold
Of maturity,
Meticulously frilled and flaming,
A fire-ball of proclamation:
Fecundity decked in staring yellow
For all the world to see.
They brought a quilled, yellow dahlia,
To me who am barren
Shall I send it to you,
You who have taken with you
All I once possessed?

rime riche :: monica ferrell

You need me like ice needs the mountain
On which it breeds. Like print needs the page.
You move in me like the tongue in a mouth,
Like wind in the leaves of summer trees,
Gust-fists, hollow except for movement and desire
Which is movement. You taste me the way the claws
Of a pigeon taste that window-ledge on which it sits,
The way water tastes rust in the pipes it shuttles through
Beneath a city, unfolding and luminous with industry.
Before you were born, the table of elements
Was lacking, and I as a noble gas floated
Free of attachment. Before you were born,
The sun and the moon were paper-thin plates
Some machinist at his desk merely clicked into place.

old photographs :: gabeba baderoon

On my desk is a photograph of you
taken by the woman who loved you then.

In some photos her shadow falls
in the foreground. In this one,
her body is not that far from yours.

Did you hold your head that way
because she loved it?

She is not invisible, not
my enemy,
nor even the past.
I think
I love the things she loved.

Of all your old photographs, I wanted
this one for its becoming. I think
you were starting
to turn your head a little,
your eyes looking slightly to the side.

Was this the beginning of leaving?