there is a place beyond ambition :: mary oliver

When the flute players
couldn’t think of what to say next

they laid down their pipes,
then they lay down themselves
beside the river

and just listened.
Some of them, after a while,
jumped up
and disappeared back inside the busy town.
But the rest—
so quiet, not even thoughtful—
are still there,

still listening.

after work :: richard jones

Coming up from the subway
into the cool Manhattan evening,
I feel rough hands on my heart –
women in the market yelling
over rows of tomatoes and peppers,
old men sitting on a stoop playing cards,
cabbies cursing each other with fists
while the music of church bells
sails over the street,
and the father, angry and tired
after working all day,
embracing his little girl,
kissing her,
mi vida, mi corazon,
brushing the hair out of her eyes
so she can see.

the peace that so lovingly descends :: noelle kocot

“You” have transformed into “my loss.”
The nettles in your vanished hair
Restore the absolute truth
Of warring animals without a haven.
I know, I’m as pathetic as a railroad
Without tracks. In June, I eat
The lonesome berries from the branches.
What can I say, except the forecast
Never changes. I sleep without you,
And the letters that you sent
Are now faded into failed lessons
Of an animal that’s found a home. This.

teodoro luna’s two kisses :: alberto ríos

Mr. Teodoro Luna in his later years had taken to kissing
His wife
Not so much with his lips as with his brows.
This is not to say he put his forehead
Against her mouth–
Rather, he would lift his eyebrows, once, quickly:
Not so vigorously he might be confused with the villain
Famous in the theaters, but not so little as to be thought
A slight movement, one of accident. This way
He kissed her
Often and quietly, across tables and through doorways,
Sometimes in photographs, and so through the years themselves.
This was his passion, that only she might see. The chance
He might feel some movement on her lips
Toward laughter.

the art of being :: anne coray

The fern in the rain breathes the silver message.
Stay, lie low. Play your dark reeds
and relearn the beauty of absorption.
There is nothing beyond the rotten log
covered with leaves and needles.
Forget the light emerging with its golden wick.
Raise your face to the water-laden frond.
A thousand blossoms will fall into your arms.

the caterpillar :: robert graves

Under this loop of honeysuckle,
A creeping, coloured caterpillar,
I gnaw the fresh green hawthorn spray,
I nibble it leaf by leaf away.

Down beneath grow dandelions,
Daisies, old-man’s-looking-glasses;
Rooks flap croaking across the lane.
I eat and swallow and eat again.

Here come raindrops helter-skelter;
I munch and nibble unregarding:
Hawthorn leaves are juicy and firm.
I’ll mind my business: I’m a good worm.

When I’m old, tired, melancholy,
I’ll build a leaf-green mausoleum
Close by, here on this lovely spray,
And die and dream the ages away.

Some say worms win resurrection,
With white wings beating flitter-flutter,
But wings or a sound sleep, why should I care?
Either way I’ll miss my share.

Under this loop of honeysuckle,
A hungry, hairy caterpillar,
I crawl on my high and swinging seat,
And eat, eat, eat—as one ought to eat.

tourists :: yehuda amichai

Visits of condolence is all we get from them.
They squat at the Holocaust Memorial,
They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall
And they laugh behind heavy curtains
In their hotels.
They have their pictures taken
Together with our famous dead
At Rachel’s Tomb and Herzl’s Tomb
And on Ammunition Hill.
They weep over our sweet boys
And lust after our tough girls
And hang up their underwear
To dry quickly
In cool, blue bathrooms.

Once I sat on the steps by agate at David’s Tower,
I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists
was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. “You see
that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch
from the Roman period. Just right of his head.” “But he’s moving, he’s moving!”
I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them,
“You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it,
left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

Courtesy of MEM

altars of light :: pierre joris

If the light is the soul
then soul is what’s
all around me.

It is you,
it is around you too,
it is you.

The darkness is inside me,
the opaqueness of organs folded
upon organs–

to make light in the house of
the body–
      thus to bring the
outside in,
      the impossible job.

      And the only place to become
the skin
      the border, the inbetween, where
dark meets light, where I meets
      you.

      In the house of world the
many darknesses are surrounded
by light.

      To see the one, we need
the other / it cuts both ways

      light on light is blind
      dark on dark is blind

      light through dark is not

      dark through light is movement
      dark through light becomes,
is becoming,
      to move through
light is becoming,

      is all
            we can know.

planting a sequoia :: dana gioia

for TH

All afternoon my brothers and I have worked in the orchard,
Digging this hole, laying you into it, carefully packing the soil.
Rain blackened the horizon, but cold winds kept it over the Pacific,
And the sky above us stayed the dull gray
Of an old year coming to an end.

In Sicily a father plants a tree to celebrate his first son’s birth—
An olive or a fig tree-a sign that the earth has one more life to bear.
I would have done the same, proudly laying new stock into my father’s
orchard,
A green sapling rising among the twisted apple boughs,
A promise of new fruit in other autumns.

But today we kneel in the cold planting you, our native giant,
Defying the practical custom of our fathers,
Wrapping in your roots a lock of hair, a piece of an infant’s birth cord,
All that remains above earth of a first-born son,
A few stray atoms brought back to the elements.

We will give you what we can — our labor and our soil,
Water drawn from the earth when the skies fail,
Nights scented with the ocean fog, days softened by the circuit of
bees.
We plant you in the corner of the grove, bathed in western light,
A slender shoot against the sunset.

And when our family is no more, all of his unborn brothers dead,
Every niece and nephew scattered, the house torn down,
His mother’s beauty ashes in the air,
I want you to stand among strangers, all young and ephemeral to you,
Silently keeping the secret of your birth.

visitation :: eamon grennan

Last night you called me out to the December dark
to look up and see what neither of us had ever seen
before: a burnished flock of Canada geese, bent
into a flexed bow and heading south across a clear-
starred moonless sky in silence, winging it
to warmer quarters, and all lit up—like mystery,
I thought, a lit thing bearing nothing but the self
we see and savor but know no more the meaning of
than I know what in the cave of its fixed gaze
our cat is thinking. The geese were lit to the shade
of tarnished gold or dead oak leaves hanging still
in sunshine, or the color tall reeds have when
car-lights stream and splash over them in winter.
And they were—these beings moving as one—
a mystery to us: Why, we asked, their color, who
by daylight are simply black-winged shapes
quickening southwards across a sky-blue canvas?
How could they be lit from below like that, from
somewhere near where we stood on the earth
we shared with them, staring up, the earth that
for this inhabited minute or two must have been
giving off a light that made these creatures shine
for us who were there by chance, with no moonshine
to explain it? Then they’re gone, gone dark, gone on,
though in their aftermath the cold dark we stood
our ground in was for a little while neither cold
nor dark but a place of visitation, and we were in it.

I am! :: john clare

I am! yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest—that I loved the best—
Are strange—nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil’d or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

graves we filled before the fire :: gabrielle calvocoressi

in memory of TH

Some lose children in lonelier ways:
tetanus, hard falls, stubborn fevers

that soak the bedclothes five nights running.
Our two boys went out to skate, broke

through the ice like battleships, came back
to us in canvas bags: curled

fossils held fast in ancient stone,
four hands reaching. Then two

sad beds wide enough for planting
wheat or summer-squash but filled

with boys, a barren crop. Our lives
stripped clean as oxen bones.

while writing :: noelle kocot

Someone inside says, “Get busy.”
But I’ve got appointments to keep,
I have an abstemious love of equations calculated quickly
While the tepid day melts into design.

And the high cheekbones of the beautiful life
Bear the loose look of a calendar by lamplight.
I search for patterns in everything.
I am tied in knots of comprehension.

I think, how useful it might be
To pierce all the hands of the earth
With an oath of pins encircling snarling planets
But talent and shallowness sewn together

Is nothing but a kerchief tied around a survivalist’s head,
And it helps to know the feet wriggling through a hole
In the universe will land for an instant
Upon the cushions of the dark,

And that after marching one doozy of a kilometer after another,
We each come upon the same poem scribbled in invisible ink
Taped to the door of a room
In which an austere justice is burning for us.

fork with two tines pushed together :: nick lantz

It’s fast and cool as running water, the way we forget
the names of friends with whom we talked and talked
the long drives up and down the coast.

I say I love and I love and I love. However, the window
will not close. However, the hawk searches
for its nest after a storm. However, the discarded
nail longs to hide its nakedness inside the tire.

Somewhere in Cleveland or Tempe, a pillow
still smells like M_____’s hair.
In a bus station, a child is staring
at L____’s rabbit tattoo. I’ve bartered everything
to keep from doing my soul’s paperwork.

Here is a partial list of artifacts:
mirror, belt, half-finished 1040 form (married, filing jointly), mateless walkie-talkie, two blonde eyelashes, set of acrylic paints with all the  red and yellow used up, buck knife, dog collar, camping tent (sleeps two), slivers of cut-up credit cards, ashtray in the shape of a naked woman, pen with teeth marks, bottom half of two-piece bathing suit, pill bottles containing unfinished courses of antibiotics, bank statements with the account number blacked out, maps of London, maps of Dubuque, sweatshirts with the mascots of colleges I didn’t attend, flash cards for Spanish verbs (querer, perder, olvidar), Canadian pocket change, fork with two tines pushed together.

Forgetfulness means to be full
of forgetting, like a glass

overflowing with cool water, though I’d always
thought of it as the empty pocket

where the hand finds
nothing: no keys, no ticket, no change.

One night, riding the train home from the city,
will I see a familiar face across from me? How many times
will I ask Is it you? before I realize
it’s my own reflection in the window?

(Via SM, via poets.org)

you are not a statue :: mark yakich

And I am not a pedestal.

We are not a handful of harmless
scratches on pale pink canvas.
Today is not the day to stop

looking for the woman
to save you. What was once
ivory is wood. What was once

whalebone is cotton.
My coif and corset are duly
fastened, and your shirttail is

tied in a diamond knot.
You may be the giver
of unappreciated nicknames

and the devoted artist
who has given my still life
life. But we can never reach

each other’s standards.
You want to condemn me
to eternity. I want to make you

no more perfect than you
used to be. We are not
together, we are not alone.

the meaning of zero: a love poem :: amy uyematsu

            —Is where space ends called death or infinity?
                  Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions

A mere eyelid’s distance between you and me.

It took us a long time to discover the number zero.

John’s brother is afraid to go outside.
He claims he knows
the meaning of zero.

I want to kiss you.

A mathematician once told me you can add infinity
to infinity.

There is a zero vector, which starts and ends
at the same place, its force
and movement impossible
to record with
rays or maps or words.
It intersects yet runs parallel
with all others.

A young man I know
wants me to prove
the zero vector exists.
I tell him I can’t,
but nothing in my world
makes sense without it.

air envelope :: catherine wagner

A skylight stippled
Wet, scatted
With translucent brown maple seedwings

I’m under that

I wrote it as if it were a poem
And my handy margin
Would profit me.

The notebook margin
Lends to me
Its frugal axis, asking
Nothing, determinist
Of route, but blandly so.

“I didn’t know.”

Push forward
The bag of skin
Scaffolded animated
And house at the same time

The hinge we turn on
Wrap around night
Becomes day, same page
We’re on it.

when I have fears :: john keats

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;–then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

Courtesy of KCK

“as we are so wonderfully done with each other” :: kenneth patchen

As we are so wonderfully done with each other
We can walk into our separate sleep
On floors of music where the milkwhite cloak of childhood lies

O my lady, my fairest dear, my sweetest, loveliest one
Your lips have splashed my dull house with the speech of flowers
My hands are hallowed where they touched over your
soft curving.

It is good to be weary from that brilliant work
It is being God to feel your breathing under me

A waterglass on the bureau fills with morning . . .
Don’t let anyone in to wake us.

Courtesy of MEM

witness :: liz waldner

I saw that a star had broken its rope
in the stables of heaven—

This homeless one will find her home
in the foothills of a green century.

Who sleeps beside still waters, wakes.
The terrestrial hands of the heaven clock

comb out the comet’s tangled mane
and twelve strands float free.

In the absence of light and gravity,
slowly as dust, or the continents’ drift,

sinuous, they twine a text,
one letter to an eon:

I am the dawn horse.
Ride me.

anecdote of the jar :: wallace stevens

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

at a window :: carl sandburg

Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The world its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!

But leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love.

hawk :: molly fisk

They have ridden in the wagon all this first day, the memory
of last night on the hotel’s white sheets like birdsong in the air
around them. He glances at her face from time to time, half-hidden
under the straw bonnet, trying to understand how a girl he’s known
all his life could have turned into this woman, quiet on the seat
beside him or sometimes humming a little tune, looking so unremarkable
in her gingham dress covered with travel dust, sometimes
asking a question about the house he’s built her, what kind of porch,
how far is the spring and has he planted any trees yet, for fruit
or shade? He answers. He watches her hands folded in her lap
and notices her boot’s brown toe peeking out from under the skirt,
sometimes tapping as she hums. The shadow of her lashes
against her cheek. In his mind, the white waves of her skin
are breaking over him, her hair is loose across his face. He can’t
stop the wagon and take her into his arms. They have too far to go.
Then she turns to watch a hawk soaring above them and leans
into his shoulder, the straw hat grazing his jaw. Without speaking
he reaches his arm around her waist. She doesn’t start; her hand
covers his; the hawk dives into the grass just behind the creaking wagon,
and comes up with a wriggling snake. Her body tenses a little
and softens against him. Glad that snake didn’t spook the mules,
he says. Remember the ones in Potter’s Creek, swimming
with their heads full out of the water? I do, she says, and smiles.
I remember more than that, you boys splashing like drowning
oxen and the mosquitos biting so bad. It is afternoon. They will drive
until the darkness overtakes them and stop for the night.

free time :: catherine tufariello

Their shrieks careening dizzily between
Delight and outrage, the students in the yard
Are playing hard,
Though they have little room and nothing green
In their asphalt pen. Nothing but fences, bricks,
And at regulation height, a pair of hoops
From which gray loops
Vestigially descend. With graceful flicks
And swoops they pass, block, feint and argue fouls,
And all the while the staccato, meaty thwack—
Now quick, now slack—
Thrums on, a backbeat to their cheers and howls.

Three stories up, on her habitual perch,
A black-and-white cat observes the scene,
Brushing the screen
With her whiskers, as intent on scan and search
As though the swirl below were birds or fish.
In the cacophony, it seems she hears
The singing spheres,
Each ear a separately tuning radar dish.

I join her at the window, and together
We watch the game until the tardy bell,
Whose clanging knell
Recalls them, some still wrangling over whether
The last shot counted. In the sudden peace,
A handyman, belt slung with rules and hammers,
Appears and clambers
Onto the gym roof. While a scrawl of geese
Ripples on windy gray in ragged flight,
He gathers up the balls that got away
And spent the day
Aimlessly free—red, orange, purple, white—

And punts them, in bright arcs, back into play.

messiah (christmas portions) :: mark doty

A little heat caught
in gleaming rags,
in shrouds of veil,
   torn and sun-shot swaddlings:

   over the Methodist roof,
two clouds propose a Zion
of their own, blazing
   (colors of tarnish on copper)

   against the steely close
of a coastal afternoon, December,
while under the steeple
   the Choral Society

   prepares to perform
Messiah, pouring, in their best
blacks and whites, onto the raked stage.
   Not steep, really,

   but from here,
the first pew, they’re a looming
cloudbank of familiar angels:
   that neighbor who

   fights operatically
with her girlfriend, for one,
and the friendly bearded clerk
   from the post office

   —tenor trapped
in the body of a baritone? Altos
from the A&P, soprano
   from the T-shirt shop:

   today they’re all poise,
costume and purpose
conveying the right note
   of distance and formality.

   Silence in the hall,
anticipatory, as if we’re all
about to open a gift we’re not sure
   we’ll like;

   how could they
compete with sunset’s burnished
oratorio? Thoughts which vanish,
   when the violins begin.

   Who’d have thought
they’d be so good? Every valley,
proclaims the solo tenor,
   (a sleek blonde

   I’ve seen somewhere before
—the liquor store?) shall be exalted,
and in his handsome mouth the word
   is lifted and opened

   into more syllables
than we could count, central ah
dilated in a baroque melisma,
   liquefied; the pour

   of voice seems
to make the unplaned landscape
the text predicts the Lord
   will heighten and tame.

   This music
demonstrates what it claims:
glory shall be revealed. If art’s
   acceptable evidence,

   mustn’t what lies
behind the world be at least
as beautiful as the human voice?
   The tenors lack confidence,

   and the soloists,
half of them anyway, don’t
have the strength to found
   the mighty kingdoms

   these passages propose
—but the chorus, all together,
equals my burning clouds,
   and seems itself to burn,

   commingled powers
deeded to a larger, centering claim.
These aren’t anyone we know;
   choiring dissolves

   familiarity in an up-
pouring rush which will not
rest, will not, for a moment,
   be still.

   Aren’t we enlarged
by the scale of what we’re able
to desire? Everything,
   the choir insists,

   might flame;
inside these wrappings
burns another, brighter life,
   quickened, now,

   by song: hear how
it cascades, in overlapping,
lapidary waves of praise? Still time.
   Still time to change.
 

watch via his blog

the sun has long been set :: william wordsworth

The sun has long been set,
      The stars are out by twos and threes,
The little birds are piping yet
      Among the bushes and trees;
There’s a cuckoo, and one or two thrushes,
And a far-off wind that rushes,
And a sound of water that gushes,
And the cuckoo’s sovereign cry
Fills all the hollow of the sky.
      Who would “go parading”
In London, “and masquerading,”
On such a night of June
With that beautiful soft half-moon,
And all these innocent blisses?
On such a night as this is!

common measures :: anne coray

If you listen long to the waves
you will learn to measure distance,
broad strum of wind from the valley,
short pluck and pick from the lake’s edge.

Those mornings when a wing of light
glides up above the bay we watch.
We talk: nothing much. Last night was cool.
The lake is calm. We’ve berries still to harvest.

Dinner: potatoes, grouse, and lettuce and dill
from the garden. Preparing it, I ask,
“Is meaning synonymous with worth?” “Some questions,”
says my husband, “sure make a slow salad.”

September twenty-fourth. The swans and geese are leaving.
Which ones fly first? Are they nervous or wiser?
To the north, a joining of snow
to mountains more luminous than a church.

Port Alsworth: one hundred resident Baptists.
We’re thirteen miles away, and staying. In summer,
dust from the airstrip toils upward and stalls;
a pterodactylic signature of souls.

History’s full of false holds, like this lake
dubbed over, named for Clark. He only passed through once,
with a reporter. Qizhjeh Vena,
the Dena’ina called it. “Many peoples gather.”

We live on sacred ground. Brown Carlson, long gone,
buried his first wife on this plot, and up the hill
a circle of stones for my brother Paul.
O curse us spirits, if we so close, not visit.

Mountain cloud, solo drummer. We can’t beat joy out.
It comes sometimes in the form of color:
rose on scarp and peak just west of Copper,
backdrop rhythm of sky, blue-violet.

Soon it will snow, and rosehips outliving the last
glow of summer won’t survive the storms. Memory,
dried stem, works hard to remember them, like breath,
urging the late night coals to a color almost translucent.