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.