turn of a year :: joan houlihan

This is regret: or a ferret. Snuffling,
stunted, a snout full of snow.

As the end of day shuffles down
the repentant scurry and swarm—

an unstable contrition is born.
Bend down. Look into the lair.

Where newborn pieties spark and strike
I will make my peace as a low bulb

burnt into a dent of snow. A cloth to keep me
from seeping. Light crumpled over a hole.

Why does the maker keep me awake?
He must want my oddments, their glow.

the radio animals :: matthea harvey

The radio animals travel in lavender clouds. They are always chattering, they are always cold. Look directly at the buzzing blur and you’ll see twitter, hear flicker—that’s how much they ignore the roadblocks. They’re rabid with doubt. When a strong sunbeam hits the cloud, the heat in their bones lends them a temporary gravity and they sink to the ground. Their little thudding footsteps sound like “Testing, testing, 1 2 3” from a far-away galaxy. Like pitter and its petite echo, patter. On land, they scatter into gutters and alleyways, pressing their noses into open Coke cans, transmitting their secrets to the silver circle at the bottom of the can. Of course we’ve wired their confessionals and hired a translator. We know that when they call us Walkie Talkies they mean it scornfully, that they disdain our in and outboxes, our tests of true or false.

a retired farmer working as a greeter at wal-mart :: leo dangel

The store went up last year outside of town.
There was a cornfield where I’m standing now,
smiling, saying hello, and handing out ads
for plastic purses, towels, and microwaves.
The job doesn’t pay much, but neither did farming.
Pete, my old neighbor, wearing clean overalls,
comes in. I say, “Hey, you lazy fart, I see
you’re taking a day off to loaf in town.”
And Pete says, “You should talk, getting paid
for standing around in an air-conditioned store.”
While we talk about the rain last night,
the possibility of early frost, the price of hogs,
a dozen customers pass by ungreeted,
and I feel uneasy about not doing my job.

In one way, it’s like farming – spending hours
on the tractor, with lots of time to daydream.
Now, I invent secrets I’d like to tell customers.
“Every third mineral water bottle is filled
with Russian vodka. Snakes have been found
in the cups of the imported brassieres.”
But I only say, “Hello, how are you,”
and send them on their way down the aisles,
which are nothing like rows of corn.

the dandelion :: vachel lindsay

O dandelion, rich and haughty,
King of village flowers!
Each day is coronation time,
You have no humble hours.
I like to see you bring a troop
To beat the blue-grass spears,
To scorn the lawn-mower that would be
Like fate’s triumphant shears.
Your yellow heads are cut away,
It seems your reign is o’er.
By noon you raise a sea of stars
More golden than before.

spirit birds :: stanley plumly

The spirit world the negative of this one,
soft outlines of soft whites against soft darks,
someone crossing Broadway at Cathedral, walking
toward the god taking the picture, but now,
inside the camera, suddenly still. Or the spirit
world the detail through the window, manifest
if stared at long enough, the shapes of this
or that, the lights left on, the lights turned off,
the spirits under arcs of sycamores the gray-gold
mists of migratory birds and spotted leaves recognize.

Autumnal evening chill, knife-edges of the avenues,
wind kicking up newspaper off the street,
those ghost peripheral moments you catch yourself
beside yourself going down a stair or through
a door—the spirit world surprising: those birds,
for instance, bursting from the trees and turning
into shadow, then nothing, like spirit birds
called back to life from memory or a book,
those shadows in my hands I held, surprised.
I found them interspersed among the posthumous pages

of a friend, some hundreds of saved poems: dun
sparrows and a few lyrical wrens in photocopied
profile perched in air, focused on an abstract
abrupt edge. Blurred, their natural color bled,
they’d passed from one world to another: the poems,
too, sung in the twilit middle of the night, loved,
half-typed, half-written-over, flawed, images
of images. He’d kept them to forget them.
And every twenty pages, in xerox ash-and-frost,
Gray Eastern, Gold Western, ranging across borders.

the happiness :: jack hirschman

There’s a happiness, a joy
in one soul, that’s been
buried alive in everyone
and forgotten.

It isn’t your barroom joke
or tender, intimate humor
or affections of friendliness
or big, bright pun.

They’re the surviving survivors
of what happened when happiness
was buried alive, when
it no longer looked out

of today’s eyes, and doesn’t
even manifest when one
of us dies, we just walk away
from everything, alone

with what’s left of us,
going on being human beings
without being human,
without that happiness.

a fable :: louise glück

Two women with
the same claim
came to the feet of
the wise king. Two women,
but only one baby.
The king knew
someone was lying.
What he said was
Let the child be
cut in half; that way
no one will go
empty-handed. He
drew his sword.
Then, of the two
women, one
renounced her share:
this was
the sign, the lesson.
Suppose
you saw your mother
torn between two daughters:
what could you do
to save her but be
willing to destroy
yourself—she would know
who was the rightful child,
the one who couldn’t bear
to divide the mother.

dormant :: dana goodyear

We want this.
The end to sleeping, the bittersweet
arousal, the peeling back, the soft bath
in resin, the release. It can’t come quick
enough, the hot touch that breaks the crust
and lets us go. Hear it now: a crackling,
as the woods begin to sing alongside the birds.
To cry out! To be transformed, like Daphne
back into a girl. Pine—as if our very nature
demanded that we long without relief. But the cone
is like a shotgun on the wall; it must erupt.
All it takes is one dumb fuck, trigger-happy,
with a six-pack and bad aim,
to generate the spark that turns the world to flames.

The New Yorker (August 2010)

wildflower :: stanley plumly

Some—the ones with fish names—grow so north
they last a month, six weeks at most.
Some others, named for the fields they look like,
last longer, smaller.

And these, in particular, whether trout or corn lily,
onion or bellwort, just cut
this morning and standing open in tapwater in the kitchen,
will close with the sun.

It is June, wildflowers on the table.
They are fresh an hour ago, like sliced lemons,
with the whole day ahead of them.
They could be common mayflower lilies of the valley,

day lilies, or the clustering Canada, large, gold,
long-stemmed as pasture roses, belled out over the vase–
or maybe Solomon’s seal, the petals
ranged in small toy pairs

or starry, tipped at the head like weeds.
They could be anonymous as weeds.
They are, in fact, the several names of the same thing,
lilies of the field, butter-and-eggs,

toadflax almost, the way the whites and yellows juxtapose,
and have “the look of flowers that are looked at,”
rooted as they are in water, glass, and air.
I remember the summer I picked everything,

flower and wildflower, singled them out in jars
with a name attached. And when they had dried as stubborn
as paper I put them on pages and named them again.
They were all lilies, even the hyacinth,

even the great pale flower in the hand of the dead.
I picked it, kept it in the book for years
before I knew who she was,
her face lily-white, kissed and dry and cold.

to the trespasser :: david barber

A quiet akin to ruins—
another contracted hillside, another split-level
fretting the gloaming with its naked beams.

The workmen have all gone home.
The blueprints are curled in their tubes.
The tape measure coils in its shell.

And out he comes, like a storybook constable
making the rounds. There, where the staircase
stops short like a halting phrase,

there, where a swallow circles and dips
through the future picture window, he inspects
the premises, he invites himself in.

There he is now: the calculating smacks
of a palm on the joints and rails,
the faint clouds of whispered advice.

For an hour he will own the place.
His glasses will silver over as he sizes up
the quadrant earmarked for the skylight.

Back then, the houses went up in waves.
He called on them all; he slipped through walls.
Sometimes his son had to wait in the car.

So I always know where I can place him
when I want him at one with himself, at ease:
there, in the mortgaged half-light;

there, where pinches of vagrant sawdust
can collect in his cuffs and every doorframe
welcomes his sidelong blue shadow;

anywhere his dimming form can drift at will
from room to room while dinner’s going cold—
a perfect stranger, an auditioning ghost.

mysteries, yes :: mary oliver

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

the library of t-shirts :: joanne burns

in order to upgrade the community’s appreciation of poetry during the international year of cultural enrichment stage 2, members of the state’s library progress committee decided to establish a small library of t-shirts on which would be printed quality verse in vivid, bold colours and lettering. the poems would be selected on the basis of one of three qualities: is the poem poignant, perspicacious, or pithy.

given the respectably researched fact that the wearing of words on t-shirts expresses a deep psychic desire for an intimate union of word and flesh, (and bear in mind the way “logo” nudges towards “logos”) it is not surprising that this library of t-shirts has been a great success. no one seems to mind borrowing pre-worn clothing. of course the library’s washing and ironing staff maintain the t-shirts in excellent condition. even after ten borrowings the shirts look brand new. and considering the phenomenal success of andrew lloyd webber’s “cats” it is no shock revelation that t.s. eliot’s “hollow men” has proved to be the library’s most popular t-shirt so far. in fact there are now eight copies of this shirt on loan, most in metallic or fluoro colours.

a couple of the more entrepreneurial of the library’s progress committee members are leading the push for diversification of the library’s poetry program, into neck to knee anti-uv swimwear, with maybe slessor, shelly and stevie smith prints for starters; and into underpants, with their multiple attractions.

while the committee feels both these garments could increase poetry’s appeal, they are worried about the practicability of adding these garments to the t-shirt poetry collection. would many members want to borrow preworn underpants, however compelling the poems’ cadences and metaphors; while the wear and tear on the swimming costume fabric via chlorine and salt water would perhaps be too great. however they are interested in marketing and selling these articles from a stall in the library’s foyer. the only committee member unenthusiastic regarding this proposal is an optometrist who has raised the issue of eye damage if the typeface of the lines of verse on the underpants were too small. a solution in the form of large print haikus is being considered.

untitled [back they sputter] :: eamon grennan

Back they sputter like the fires of love, the bees to their broken home
Which they’re putting together again for dear life, knowing nothing
Of the heart beating under their floorboards, besieged here, seeking
A life of its own. All day their brisk shadows zigzag and flicker

Along a whitewashed gable, trafficking in and out of a hair-crack
Under wooden eaves, where they make a life for themselves that knows
No let-up through hours of exploration and return, their thighs golden
With pollen, their multitudinous eyes stapled to a single purpose:

To make winter safe for their likes, stack-packing the queen’s chambers
With sweetness. Later, listen: one warm humming note, their night music.

thinking, it’s ok to discuss :: michelle taransky

This— The best tree
Is sick now, now discuss
Where to look, discuss:
The cause, and, if
Possible, discuss who
Could have prevented
The workers who are working
To prevent, and if it happens then
Prepares to discuss how bodger will
Recognize people saying “sick”
Everywhere, discuss how to handle
Discussing one sickness as if
That sickness is the other
Sickness— Ok, sickness
Ok to say ok discuss
Discuss the landscape
When it changes from woods
To sorry. To not the ideal
Tree to use as the marker
Beginning a discussion by a river
May confuse explanation with justification,
And, how to avoid, when I say I need
A new chair to work, you think:
I am using the chair as a metaphor

view from outside :: david keplinger

He didn’t want the EKG. He didn’t want
To know. But the nurse attached
Its greasy patches to his chest to read.
From which all things spray violent
And out, there is a point of singularity.
In Michelangelo’s sculpture of the heart,
For instance, the heart wears the costume
Of David’s body. In the eyes of the Judean
There is no fear of what the heart has made.
You are going into cardiac arrest, this nurse said.
That’s when he saw the thing the other way:
Something mute sat like a stone
Inside the clenching and unclenching of his heart.
He had the stone. Only it would pay attention.

I’m a fool to love you :: cornelius eady

Some folks will tell you the blues is a woman,
Some type of supernatural creature.
My mother would tell you, if she could,
About her life with my father,
A strange and sometimes cruel gentleman.
She would tell you about the choices
A young black woman faces.
Is falling in with some man
A deal with the devil
In blue terms, the tongue we use
When we don’t want nuance
To get in the way,
When we need to talk straight.
My mother chooses my father
After choosing a man
Who was, as we sing it,
Of no account.
This man made my father look good,
That’s how bad it was.
He made my father seem like an island
In the middle of a stormy sea,
He made my father look like a rock.
And is the blues the moment you realize
You exist in a stacked deck,
You look in a mirror at your young face,
The face my sister carries,
And you know it’s the only leverage
You’ve got.
Does this create a hurt that whispers
How you going to do?
Is the blues the moment
You shrug your shoulders
And agree, a girl without money
Is nothing, dust
To be pushed around by any old breeze.
Compared to this,
My father seems, briefly,
To be a fire escape.
This is the way the blues works
Its sorry wonders,
Makes trouble look like
A feather bed,
Makes the wrong man’s kisses
A healing.

there will come soft rains :: sara teasdale

(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

his heart :: caroline knox

His heart keeps him awake while he’s asleep.
He listens to his heart while he falls asleep in bed.
His artificial heart gives him insomnia.
As long as I can hear the sound, I know I’m here.

His heart keeps him alive while he’s asleep.
My heart helps me to sleep while I’m alive.
Oh, patient, this Valentine is for you.

I had no choice, I knew that I was dying.
We are trying to survive. We are standing on the shoulders
of the makers of the heart while we lie on our back in bed.
They walk with their hearts on their sleeves and their noses to the grindstone.
He listens to his heart while he falls asleep at night.

Oh, Valentine, this contraption is for you,
device of the sacred, the sacred heart.
It feels heavy to me–it makes a constant whir
which keeps me awake when I’m trying to get to sleep.
It has no heartbeat, only this constant whir.

the kindergarten concert :: robert pottle

The kindergarten concert was an interesting show.
Peter walked onto the stage and yelled, “I have to go!”
Katie was embarrassed, but she had nowhere to hide.
She raised her dress to hide her face. Her mother almost died.
Keith removed his tie and said, “It’s ugly, Dad. I hate it!”
David picked his nose on stage. What’s worse is that he ate it.
They sang their song, and Wyatt burped. Then he did a dance.
Michael fell while spinning ’round. Peter wet his pants.
The music teacher at the end said, “There, I’m glad that’s done.”
The kindergarten bowed and said, “Let’s sing another one!”

still another day: I :: pablo neruda

translated by william o’daly

Today is that day, the day that carried
a desperate light that since has died.
Don’t let the squatters know:
let’s keep it all between us,
day, between your bell
and my secret.

Today is dead winter in the forgotten land
that comes to visit me, with a cross on the map
and a volcano in the snow, to return to me,
to return again the water
fallen on the roof of my childhood.
Today when the sun began with its shafts
to tell the story, so clear, so old,
the slanting rain fell like a sword,
the rain my hard heart welcomes.

You, my love, still asleep in August,
my queen, my woman, my vastness, my geography
kiss of mud, the carbon-coated zither,
you, vestment of my persistent song,
today you are reborn again and with the sky’s
black water confuse me and compel me:
I must renew my bones in your kingdom,
I must still uncloud my earthly duties.

sojourn in the whale :: marianne moore

Trying to open locked doors with a sword, threading
      the points of needles, planting shade trees
      upside down; swallowed by the opaqueness of one whom the seas
love better than they love you, Ireland—

you have lived and lived on every kind of shortage.
      You have been compelled by hags to spin
      gold thread from straw and have heard men say:
“There is a feminine temperament in direct contrast to ours,

which makes her do these things. Circumscribed by a
      heritage of blindness and native
      incompetence, she will become wise and will be forced to give in.
Compelled by experience, she will turn back;

water seeks its own level”;
      and you have smiled. “Water in motion is far
      from level.” You have seen it, when obstacles happened to bar
the path, rise automatically.

following a stream :: david wagoner

Don’t do it, the guidebook says,
if you’re lost. Then it goes on
        to talk about something else,
        taking the easy way out,
which of course is what water does
as a matter of course always
        taking whatever turn
        the earth has told it to
while and since it was born,
including flowing over
        the edge of a waterfall
        or simply disappearing
underground for a long dark time
before it reappears
        as a spring so far away
        from where you thought you were
and where you think you are
it might never occur
        to you to imagine where
        that could be as you go downhill.

The New Yorker (April 2010)

“ice plant” :: rae gouirand

All the transparence of the old
world: grown green & zeroed by saline

so glowing: for winter we are
common as breath & tough as air lost

in space: felt at edge as edge: so
filled we cannot: but become the frost

become the lines we become: at
the coast succulent: the bluff on an empty

day: a day a day spread: so spread
there is nothing beyond but more line &

the air to feel it: mass the same
as space: the same as freezing as zero as red

tips sparkling: too bright a belief
holds the ground and watches dispassionate

as we show: & take the cold spread
in cold sand: we are neon when we come

cold morning :: eamon grennan

Through an accidental crack in the curtain
I can see the eight o’clock light change from
charcoal to a faint gassy blue, inventing things

in the morning that has a thick skin of ice on it
as the water tank has, so nothing flows, all is bone,
telling its tale of how hard the night had to be

for any heart caught out in it, just flesh and blood
no match for the mindless chill that’s settled in,
a great stone bird, its wings stretched stiff

from the tip of Letter Hill to the cobbled bay, its gaze
glacial, its hook-and-scrabble claws fast clamped
on every window, its petrifying breath a cage

in which all the warmth we were is shivering.

work, sometimes :: mary oliver

I was sad all day, and why not. There I was, books piled
on both sides of the table, paper stacked up, words
falling off my tongue.

The robins had been a long time singing, and now it
was beginning to rain.

What are we sure of? Happiness isn’t a town on a map,
or an early arrival, or a job well done, but good work
ongoing. Which is not likely to be the trifling around
with a poem.

Then it began raining hard, and the flowers in the yard
were full of lively fragrance.

You have had days like this, no doubt. And wasn’t it
wonderful, finally, to leave the room? Ah, what a
moment!

As for myself, I swung the door open. And there was
the wordless, singing world. And I ran for my life.

ravens hiding in a shoe :: robert bly

There is something men and women living in houses
Don’t understand. The old alchemists standing
Near their stoves hinted at it a thousand times.

Ravens at night hide in an old woman’s shoe.
A four-year-old speaks some ancient language.
We have lived our own death a thousand times.

Each sentence we speak to friends means the opposite
As well. Each time we say, “I trust in God,” it means
God has already abandoned us a thousand times.

Mothers again and again have knelt in church
In wartime asking God to protect their sons,
And their prayers were refused a thousand times.

The baby loon follows the mother’s sleek
Body for months. By the end of summer, she
Has dipped her head into Rainy Lake a thousand times.

Robert, you’ve wasted so much of your life
Sitting indoors to write poems. Would you
Do that again? I would, a thousand times.

the wind’s measure :: peter munro

The length of the wind runs from mid-May to murder.
The length of the wind runs from January through joy.
The wind runs as long as the right hand’s first finger
points to the sun after thunder.
The wind gallops prayerward
like a horse held in the palm of a rock,
no taller than a knee bent for the sake of singing.
The wind weighs more than the fossilized horse and stretches from fingernail to
      praise.
The length of the wind runs from mid-May to mercy, January through justice.
Unto the broken, dwelling in a broken, promised land, the wind drops a hammer
and some are warmed and some are chilled and some laugh and some die.
Silently through the nuclear physicist, the wind wicks
loud as paper-scraps trailing in the wind’s wake,
igniting an empiricist, fragrant through tallow.
The wind strikes the wind like rice in a paddy.
The wind scatters petals like blossoms of napalm.
The wind snaps the backs of malnourished conquistadors bowed down to gold.
It is the wind who estimates poverty in moments by the method of moments,
who assesses want in units of amass.
It is the wind who shakes America by the ovaries,
runs the length of revolution, all the calories in a dollar.
The length of the wind runts from mid-March to hunger.
The length of the wind grunts from Saturday through sorrow.
The wind flutters nothing but orgasms and afterplay.
The wind numbers seminarians more numinous than semen.
The wind is a mote on the wind.
The wind is the dust that measures time in footsteps.
The wind is the word in the throat of the dust.
The length of the wind runs from midwife to marvel.
The wind ribbons out within mid-May and mourning and dust
is the voice the wind whickers glory, the wind whickers grief.

electricity :: geoffrey nutter

Children picking through the rocks
beside the river on a spring day.
What are they looking for? Old green
net tangled on broken pilings; a couple
embracing on the tumbledown esplanade.
Some fishermen drinking beer from tall brown bottles.
Broken shells, tire treads, rusted aluminum pull-tabs—
downriver, near the sun, the great echoes
and the embers of the bridge; and upriver,
far away, the echoing spools and dynamos
of the dam, its forces crackling outward
like the giant snow crab’s jointed legs,
like a web in sunlight, a net, a chorus
of embers, like a plan the river is planning,
abstract, afire and electric, glowing
in the levitating rubric, invisible,
visible to children, undiscovered:
Brace yourselves—electricity
is coming to us.

i can’t become a buddhist :: adrienne su

because I grew up vaguely Methodist
and most of the Buddhists
I know are men who turned Buddhist

after finding the religion
in a prepubescent
girl serving prawns and chicken

in coconut milk, steamed sticky rice,
papayas, and a massage for the price
of a subway token. Because they drive

cars bearing FREE TIBET bumper stickers
but would let their neighbors wither
and starve. Because they slither

up and down the supermarket aisles
waiting for the chance to ask girls
like me Where are you really from? while

stocking up on mung beans and swelling
with the memory of that excellent
backrub in the hands of a thirteen-

year-old goddess who’s probably dying
or dead or working for Nike at a dime
a sneaker. Because their renouncing

is pointed, because all they ever wanted
was to be different and Buddhism planted
the seed of a new Me in a stunted

self-image. Because they insist on roaming
the city in off-white robes, deflecting
the sun’s hot gaze, saffron being

too conspicuous and white being too damned
unprofound and likely to be sandwiched
between red and blue in a crowd of Americans.