it happens like this :: james tate

I was outside St. Cecelia’s Rectory
smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.
It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish
brown here and there. When I started to walk away,
it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered
what the laws were on this kind of thing. There’s
a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People
smiled at me and admired the goat. “It’s not my goat,”
I explained. “It’s the town’s goat. I’m just taking
my turn caring for it.” “I didn’t know we had a goat,”
one of them said. “I wonder when my turn is.” “Soon,”
I said. “Be patient. Your time is coming.” The goat
stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked
up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew
everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-
man on his beat looked us over. “That’s a mighty
fine goat you got there,” he said, stopping to admire.
“It’s the town’s goat,” I said. “His family goes back
three-hundred years with us,” I said, “from the beginning.”
The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped
and looked up at me. “Mind if I pat him?” he asked.
“Touching this goat will change your life,” I said.
“It’s your decision.” He thought real hard for a minute,
and then stood up and said, “What’s his name?” “He’s
called the Prince of Peace,” I said. “God! This town
is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there’s mystery
and wonder. And I’m just a child playing cops and robbers
forever. Please forgive me if I cry.” “We forgive you,
Officer,” I said. “And we understand why you, more than
anybody, should never touch the Prince.” The goat and
I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning
to wonder where we would spend the night.

inventing a horse :: meghan o’rourke

Inventing a horse is not easy.
One must not only think of the horse.
One must dig fence posts around him.
One must include a place where horses like to live;

or do when they live with humans like you.
Slowly, you must walk him in the cold;
feed him bran mash, apples;
accustom him to the harness;

holding in mind even when you are tired
harnesses and tack cloths and saddle oil
to keep the saddle clean as a face in the sun;
one must imagine teaching him to run

among the knuckles of tree roots,
not to be skittish at first sight of timber wolves,
and not to grow thin in the city,
where at some point you will have to live;

and one must imagine the absence of money.
Most of all though: the living weight,
the sound of his feet on the needles,
and, since he is heavy, and real,

and sometimes tired after a run
down the river with a light whip at his side,
one must imagine love
in the mind that does not know love,

an animal mind, a love that does not depend
on your image of it,
your understanding of it;
indifferent to all that it lacks:

a muzzle and two black eyes
looking the day away, a field empty
of everything but witch grass, fluent trees,
and some piles of hay.

retirement home melee at the salad bar :: david hernandez

They say it began with an elderly man
foraging through the icebergs and romaines.

They say another who prefers his salad
without a stranger’s fingerprints

and Stop. From there, they say, curses
hissed through dentures. From there, fists.

They say it was a fracas, knocked bifocals
and clattering canes, the wooden screech

of chair legs, some to break up the scuffle
and some to shuffle off on a bad knee,

or pinned hip, or pace-makered heart.
One is bitten, they say. Another wears

a cut across his forehead, blood flowing
down the canals of his wrinkles.

Next day’s the same old same old,
as they say. Back to the quiet swing

of living without velocity or fire.
Shuffleboard and Pinochle, the dull

click of knitting needles, their final
gray years going limp. Or so they say.

instructions to be left behind :: marvin bell

I’ve included this letter in the group
to be put into the cigar box—the one
with the rubber band around it you will find
sometime later. I thought you might
like to have an example of the way in which
some writing works. I may not say anything
very important or phrase things just-so,
but I think you will pay attention anyway
because it matters to you—I’m sure it does,
no one was ever more loved than I was.

What I’m saying is, your deep attention
made things matter—made art,
made science and business
raised to the power of goodness, and sport
likewise raised a level beyond.
I am not attaching to this a photograph
though no doubt you have in your mind’s eye
a clear image of me in several expressions
and at several ages all at once—which is
the great work of imagery beyond the merely
illustrative. Should I stop here for a moment?

These markings, transliterations though they are
from prints of fingers, and they from heart
and throat and corridors the mind guards,
are making up again in you the one me
that otherwise would not survive that manyness
daisies proclaim and the rain sings much of.
Because I love you, I can almost imagine
the eye for detail with which you remember
my face in places indoors and out and far-flung,
and you have only to look upward to see
in the plainest cloud the clearest lines
and in the flattest field your green instructions.

Shall I rest a moment in green instructions?
Writing is all and everything, when you care.
The kind of writing that grabs your lapels
and shakes you—that’s for when you don’t care
or even pay attention. This isn’t that kind.
While you are paying your close kind of attention,
I might be writing the sort of thing you think
will last—as it is happening, now, for you.
While I was here to want this, I wanted it,
and now that I am your wanting me to be myself
again, I think myself right up into being
all that you (and I too) wanted to be: You.

green shade :: henri cole

[Nara Deer Park]

With my head on his spotted back
and his head on the grass—a little bored
with the quiet motion of life
and a cluster of mosquitoes making
hot black dunes in the air—we slept
with the smell of his fur engulfing us.
It was as if my dominant functions were gazing
and dreaming in a field of semiwild deer.
It was as if I could dream what I wanted,
and what I wanted was to long for nothing—
no facts, no reasons—never to say again,
“I want to be like him,” and to lie instead
in the hollow deep grass—without esteem or riches—
gazing into the big, lacquer black eyes of a deer.

home to roost :: kay ryan

The chickens
are circling and
blotting out the
day. The sun is
bright, but the
chickens are in
the way. Yes,
the sky is dark
with chickens,
dense with them.
They turn and
then they turn
again. These
are the chickens
you let loose
one at a time
and small—
various breeds.
Now they have
come home
to roost—all
the same kind
at the same speed

shades :: r. t. smith

When Odysseus descended to the underworld
and crossed the dark river to learn the key
to his destiny, he poured the ritual milk and honey,
the wine and barley and blood to summon the dead,
but he never expected to find his mother among
the shadows who were filled with mist and sifted
with the wind which had no source. He had thought
her alive and back in Ithaca expecting his return.
He had assumed the worst ordeals were his own.
But, when he reached out, shivering as he wept,
to embrace the ghost, that wanderer found
no substance, no flesh nor blood nor bone,
and he must have felt as I did that first time home
when my mother’s mind had begun to wander
and she disremembered not only the laughter,
the lightning-struck chinaberry, the sunset
peaches and fireflies and the sharp smell
of catfish frying, but also her name and the fact
that she was sitting in her kitchen of fifty years
beside my father who stood there straining
not to wring his hands or surrender to the tears
welling around his eyes. She gathered her purse,
her hat and wrap, then said, Please drive me home
before strangers take every damned thing I own.
Her eyes glaucous with terror, she was exhausted
and desperate, almost herself, “an empty, flitting
shade,” as Homer says it, uncertain in her haze
whether she was moving toward or away
from what might be called the Great Dream.
When she sobbed and cried, Where is my son?,
I, too, felt bewildered, and not even a seer
from the land of night and frost and smoke
could tell me what words would amount
to comfort, nor which constellation to steer by,
nor where all this heart-sorrow might end.

have you ever faked an orgasm? :: molly peacock

When you get nervous, it’s so hard not to.
When you’re expected to come in something
other than your ordinary way, to
take pleasure in the new way, lost, not knowing

how to drive it back to sureness. . . where are
the thousand thousand flowers I always pass,
the violet flannel, then the sharpness?
You can’t, you can’t . . . extinguish the star

in a burst. It goes on glowing. That head
between your legs so long. Could it really
want to be there? One whimpers as though . . .
then gets mad. One could smash the other’s valiant head.

“You didn’t come, did you?” Naturally, he knows.
Although I try to lie, the truth escapes me
almost like an orgasm itself. Then the “No”
that should crack a world, but doesn’t, slips free.

I can afford neither the rain :: holly iglesias

Nor the strip of light between the slats, the window itself blind with grief. Nor the bench where the last mourner lingers, the others on to the next thing, leaning into the bar, toasting the sweethearts, gone and gone, their passion and ire softening now into the earth. Nor the bluff above the Mississippi where centuries of war dead rest, where the stone stands bearing their names, the wind of romance hard against it.

in the library :: charles simic

There’s a book called
“A Dictionary of Angels.”
No one has opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.

She’s very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.

skeleton with beads :: caroline goodwin

“She was lying extended on the back, just under the surface of the old midden. Around the neck and reaching almost to the waist were three strands of small rectangular bone beads…”
       –Frederica de Laguna,
       Kachemak Bay, Alaska, 1930

I am thinking of my brothers and how

every snowstorm we lay under streetlamps

in January, Anchorage, our navy suits

striped with the reflective silver my mother

had placed down the limbs, the sky more

orange than black, and imagined our bodies

rising, the flakes becoming planets, comets,

stars as we remained there, arranged,

the steady snow ticking its needle on beads,

three muscled hearts, sinew, bone of the same

soil, constellation of cells, the eyelids

tipped open to the cold. Remained so

quietly until the sky had placed its thin

sheet right over us and we were very far.

gold leaves :: rachel wetzsteon

Someone ought to write about (I thought
and therefore do) stage three of alchemy:
not inauspicious metal turned into
a gilded page, but that same page turned back
to basics when you step outside for air
and feel a radiance that was not there
the day before, your sidewalks lined with gold.

how the mind works still to be sure :: jennifer denrow

You were the white field when you handed me a blank
sheet of paper and said you’d worked so hard
all day and this was the best field you could manage.
And when I didn’t understand, you turned it over
and showed me how the field had bled through,
and then you took out your notebook and said how each
time you attempted to make something else, it turned out
to be the same field. You worried that everyone
you knew was becoming the field and you couldn’t help
them because you were the one making them into fields
in the first place. It’s not what you meant to happen.
You handed me a box of notebooks and left. I hung the field
all over the house. Now, when people come over, they think
they’re lost and when I tell them they’re not, they say they’re
beginning to feel like the field and it’s hard because they know
they shouldn’t but they do and then they start to grow whiter
and whiter and then they disappear. With everyone turning
into fields, it’s hard to know anything. With everyone turning
into fields, it’s hard to be abstract. And since I’m mostly alone,
I just keep running my hand over the field, waiting.

in passing :: stanley plumly

On the Canadian side, we’re standing far enough away
the Falls look like photography, the roar a radio.

In the real rain, so vertical it fuses with the air,
the boat below us is starting for the caves.

Everyone on deck is dressed in black, braced for weather
and crossing against the current of the river.

They seem lost in the gorge dimensions of the place,
then, in fog, in a moment, gone.

                                                In the Chekhov story,
the lovers live in a cloud, above the sheer witness of a valley.

They call it circumstance. They look up at the open wing
of the sky, or they look down into the future.

Death is a power like any other pull of the earth.
The people in the raingear with the cameras want to see it

from the inside, from behind, from the dark looking into the light.
They want to take its picture, give it size—

how much easier to get lost in the gradations of a large
and yellow leaf drifting its good-bye down one side of the gorge.

There is almost nothing that does not signal loneliness,
then loveliness, then something connecting all we will become.

All around us the luminous passage of the air,
the flat, wet gold of the leaves. I will never love you

more than at this moment, here in October,
the new rain rising slowly from the river.

by and by :: vona groarke

Noon
shoulders
its way
through heat
like a horseman
in uniform
on a country lane
who calls
‘Stay there’
to a yellow girl
lagging
some short
way behind.

Oh, my lost
father, stay;
there’s a catch
of shadow
at your back
and this hour
will stand
to either
side of us,
like painted
gateposts.

Here’s all
the life
I would
set out for us:
a future left
like the note
on a yellow
kitchen table
reminding you
to call
for me
on the
way home.

night life :: vivian smith

Disturbed at 2 a.m. I hear a claw
scratching the window, tapping at the pane,
and then I realise, a broken branch,
and yet I can’t turn back to sleep again.

Slowly, not to wake you, I get up,
thinking of food, perhaps a quiet read.
A cockroach runs across the kitchen floor,
its lacquered shell as quick and dry as seed.

Outside the chalice lily lifts its cup
in adoration to the mirrored moon,
full of purpose as it trembles there,
collecting drops of moisture on its spoon.

Noises of the night, it’s all alive,
birds shifting in the steady trees,
slugs and snails eating fallen flowers,
a moth freighted with fragilities.

Nocturnal life, the other side of things,
proceeding whether we observe or not,
like rows and rows of brown coastal ants
transporting food from here to another spot.

after ritsos :: malena morling

You know that moment in the summer dusk
when the sunbathers have all gone home to mix drinks
and you are alone on the beach

when the waves begin to nibble
on the abandoned sand castles—
And further out, over the erupted face

of the water stained almost pink
there are a few clouds that hold
entire rooms inside of them—rooms where no one lives—

in the hair
of the light that soon will go
grey and then black. It is the moment

when even the man who mops the floor
in the execution room of the prison
stops to look up into the silence

that grows like smoke or the dusk itself.
And your mind becomes almost visible
and you know there is nothing

that is not mysterious. And that no moment
is less important than this moment.
And that imprisonment is not possible.

via the writer’s almanac

mirrors at 4 a.m. :: charles simic

You must come to them sideways
In rooms webbed in shadow,
Sneak a view of their emptiness
Without them catching
A glimpse of you in return.

The secret is,
Even the empty bed is a burden to them,
A pretense.
They are more themselves keeping
The company of a blank wall,
The company of time and eternity

Which, begging your pardon,
Cast no image
As they admire themselves in the mirror,
While you stand to the side
Pulling a hanky out
To wipe your brow surreptitiously.

useful advice :: catherine tufariello

You’re 37? Don’t you think that maybe
It’s time you settled down and had a baby?
No wine? Does this mean happy news? I knew it!
Hey, are you sure you two know how to do it?
All Dennis has to do is look at me
And I’m knocked up. Some things aren’t meant to be.
It’s sad, but try to see this as God’s will.
I’ve heard that sometimes when you take the Pill—
A friend of mine got pregnant when she stopped
Working so hard. Why don’t you two adopt?
You’ll have one of your own then, like my niece.
At work I heard about this herb from Greece—
My sister swears by dong quai. Want to try it?
Forget the high-tech stuff. Just change your diet.
It’s true! Too much caffeine can make you sterile.
Yoga is good for that. My cousin Carol—
They have these ceremonies in Peru—
You mind my asking, is it him or you?
Have you tried acupuncture? Meditation?
It’s in your head. Relax! Take a vacation
And have some fun. You think too much. Stop trying.
Did I say something wrong? Why are you crying?

a story :: philip levine

Everyone loves a story. Let’s begin with a house.
We can fill it with careful rooms and fill the rooms
with things—tables, chairs, cupboards, drawers
closed to hide tiny beds where children once slept
or big drawers that yawn open to reveal
precisely folded garments washed half to death,
unsoiled, stale, and waiting to be worn out.
There must be a kitchen, and the kitchen
must have a stove, perhaps a big iron one
with a fat black pipe that vanishes into the ceiling
to reach the sky and exhale its smells and collusions.
This was the center of whatever family life
was here, this and the sink gone yellow
around the drain where the water, dirty or pure,
ran off with no explanation, somehow like the point
of this, the story we promised and may yet deliver.
Make no mistake, a family was here. You see
the path worn into the linoleum where the wood,
gray and certainly pine, shows through.
Father stood there in the middle of his life
to call to the heavens he imagined above the roof
must surely be listening. When no one answered
you can see where his heel came down again
and again, even though he’d been taught
never to demand. Not that life was especially cruel;
they had well water they pumped at first,
a stove that gave heat, a mother who stood
at the sink at all hours and gazed longingly
to where the woods once held the voices
of small bears—themselves a family—and the songs
of birds long fled once the deep woods surrendered
one tree at a time after the workmen arrived
with jugs of hot coffee. The worn spot on the sill
is where Mother rested her head when no one saw,
those two stained ridges were handholds
she relied on; they never let her down.
Where is she now? You think you have a right
to know everything? The children tiny enough
to inhabit cupboards, large enough to have rooms
of their own and to abandon them, the father
with his right hand raised against the sky?
If those questions are too personal, then tell us,
where are the woods? They had to have been
because the continent was clothed in trees.
We all read that in school and knew it to be true.
Yet all we see are houses, rows and rows
of houses as far as sight, and where sight vanishes
into nothing, into the new world no one has seen,
there has to be more than dust, wind-borne particles
of burning earth, the earth we lost, and nothing else.

yellow stars and ice :: susan stewart

I am as far as the deepest sky between clouds
and you are as far as the deepest root and wound,
and I am as far as a train at evening,
as far as a whistle you can’t hear or remember.
You are as far as an unimagined animal
who, frightened by everything, never appears.
I am as far as cicadas and locusts
and you are as far as the cleanest arrow
that has sewn the wind to the light on
the birch trees. I am as far as the sleep of rivers
that stains the deepest sky between clouds,
you are as far as invention, and I am as far as memory.

You are as far as a red-marbled stream
where children cut their feet on the stones
and cry out. And I am as far as their happy
mothers, bleaching new linen on the grass
and singing, “You are as far as another life,
as far as another life are you.”
And I am as far as an infinite alphabet
made from yellow stars and ice,
and you are as far as the nails of the dead man,
as far as a sailor can see at midnight
when he’s drunk and the moon is an empty cup,
and I am as far as invention and you are as far as memory.

I am as far as the corners of a room where no one
has ever spoken, as far as the four lost corners
of the earth. And you are as far as the voices
of the dumb, as the broken limbs of saints
and soldiers, as the scarlet wing of the suicidal
blackbird, I am farther and farther away from you.
And you are as far as a horse without a rider
can run in six years, two months and five days.
I am as far as that rider, who rubs his eyes with
his blistered hands, who watches a ghost don his
jacket and boots and now stands naked in the road.
As far as the space between word and word,
as the heavy sleep of the perfectly loved
and the sirens of wars no one living can remember,
as far as this room, where no words have been spoken,
you are as far as invention, and I am as far as memory.

under and over :: shailja patel

You ask me: What goes under a sari? What does a woman wear over her saris to match their splendour?

When I turned twenty-one, I was a student in England. At York, in the North. My sister Shruti was a medical student in Bristol, down in the South. Six hours away by coach.

We were both poor. Converted pounds to shillings in our heads. Worked the lowest paying jobs on campus because as overseas students, we weren’t legally allowed to work at anything else.

I had a job interview in London a month after my twenty-first birthday. Shruti took the coach from Bristol to see me. We met up at King’s Cross Station. We went to a nearby hotel for tea.

The waiters looked at us disdainfully. Two Pakis. In heavy, ugly coats. Cheap trousers. Thick sneakers for trudging through winter streets.

We thought they were going to say, Sorry ladies. We only do teas for hotel guests. But they let us in. Grudgingly.

Shruti gave me my twenty-first birthday present. A pure wool scarlet cape that hung down to my knees. Sleeves like wings. A wide soft collar that wrapped around my neck. It was magnificent. It was grander, more luxurious, than anything I’d ever worn before. It came from Harrods. The House of Fraser. It cost fifty pounds.

Fifty pounds?

Fifty pounds was twenty-five hours of scraping dishes, loading washers in the college kitchens. A month’s salary for an office worker in Nairobi.

Fifty pounds worth of scarlet wool was my sister saying to me: I see you. I believe in you. You shine.

I wore that coat to every job interview after that. I’ve worn it over my saris even when it didn’t match. I stroked it at two in the morning while studying for professional exams. Lonely, desperate, terrified I wouldn’t make it.

I didn’t. I failed my final exams. I lost my job and work permit. I burned all my boats. I went to America.

We migrants lie to those we love about our success. About our happiness. We tell them how wonderful things are, even when we’re failing. We cannot bear to fall short of their hopes for us. To stab them with the realization that their dreams will not come true. We carry the visions of whole peoples right against our skin. We push ourselves to the breaking point to manifest them.

What we wear under our saris is unachievable perfectionism. Pride so fierce it threatens to incinerate us. We don’t start anything we will not finish. We don’t stop until we’re done.

When I arrived in America, my eldest aunt said to me:

The first thing you say when a man approaches you is I have Family. Everywhere. All Around. Then he won’t think you’re unprotected. Try to take advantage of you.

I have been unprotected. I have been naked and exposed. I have been clothed and armoured. I know what I carry in my suitcase. I carry my history. I carry my family. Over my saris, I wear my sisters.

From Migritude (2010)

stirred up by rain :: chase twichell

I fired up the mower
although it was about to rain–
a chill late September afternoon,
wild flowers re-seeding themselves
in the blue smoke of the gas-oil mix.

To be attached to things is illusion,
yet I’m attached to things.
Cold, clouds, wind, color–the sky
is what the brush-cutter wants to cut,
but again the sky is spared.

One of two things can happen:
either the noisy machine dissolves in the dusk
and the dusk takes refuge in the steady rain,
or the meadow wakes shorn of its flowers.
Believing is different than understanding.

the sun underfoot among the sundews :: amy clampitt

An ingenuity too astonishing
to be quite fortuitous is
this bog full of sundews, sphagnum-
lines and shaped like a teacup.
                              A step
down and you’re into it; a
wilderness swallows you up:
ankle-, then knee-, then midriff-
to-shoulder-deep in wetfooted
understory, an overhead
spruce-tamarack horizon hinting
you’ll never get out of here.
                              But the sun
among the sundews, down there,
is so bright, an underfoot
webwork of carnivorous rubies,
a star-swarm thick as the gnats
they’re set to catch, delectable
double-faced cockleburs, each
hair-tip a sticky mirror
afire with sunlight, a million
of them and again a million,
each mirror a trap set to
unhand believing,
                  that either
a First Cause said once, “Let there
be sundews,” and there were, or they’ve
made their way here unaided
other than by that backhand, round-
about refusal to assume responsibility
known as Natural Selection.
                              But the sun
underfoot is so dazzling
down there among the sundews,
there is so much light
in that cup that, looking,
you start to fall upward.

autotomy :: wislawa szymborska

In danger, the holothurian cuts itself in two.
It abandons one self to a hungry world
and with the other self it flees.

It violently divides into doom and salvation,
retribution and reward, what has been and what will be.

An abyss appears in the middle of its body
between what instantly become two foreign shores.

Life on one shore, death on the other.
Here hope and there despair.

If there are scales, the pans don’t move.
If there is justice, this is it.

To die just as required, without excess.
To grow back just what’s needed from what’s left.

We, too, can divide ourselves, it’s true.
But only into flesh and a broken whisper.
Into flesh and poetry.

The throat on one side, laughter on the other,
quiet, quickly dying out.

Here the heavy heart, there non omnis moriar
just three little words, like a flight’s three feathers.

The abyss doesn’t divide us.
The abyss surrounds us.

In memoriam Halina Poświatowska

beware of beast :: scott emmons

I want a chupacabra.
It would be the coolest pet!
Though admittedly they’re ugly,
They’re low-maintenance, I’ll bet!
It would feed on unsuspecting goats
Or now and then a cow,
So I’d never have to spend a buck
On Chupacabra Chow!
It would mostly stay in hiding
When it wasn’t busy biting
And would often go a year or more
Without a single sighting.
It could keep those politician types
From blithely dropping by.
You can keep your dogs and kitties.
I’m a chupacabra guy!

from the daily rhyme via ellie on planet x