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.