orchestra :: nina cassian

Translated from Romanian by Dana Gioia

Climbing the scales three octaves at a time,
I search for you among the high notes where
the tender flute resides. But where are your
sweet eyelashes? Not there.

Then I descend among the sunlit brasses—
their funnels glistening like fountain tips.
I let them splash me with their streaming gold,
but I can’t find your lips.

Then daring ever deeper I explore
the depths the elemental strings command.
Their bows will not create a miracle
without your stroking hand.

The orchestra is still. The score is blank.
Cold as a slide rule the brasses, strings, and flute.
Sonorous lover, when will you return?
The orchestra is mute.

great sleeps i have known :: robin becker

Once in a cradle in Norway folded
like Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir
as a ship in full sail transported the dead to Valhalla

Once on a mountain in Taos after making love
in my thirties the decade of turquoise and silver

After your brother walked into the Atlantic
to scatter your mothers ashes his khakis soaked
to the knees his shirtsleeves blowing

At the top of the cottage in a thunderstorm
once or twice each summer covetous of my solitude

Immediately following lunch
against circadian rhythms, once
in a bunk bed in a dormitory in the White Mountains

Once in a hollow tree in Wyoming
A snow squall blew in the guide said tie up your horses

The last night in the Katmandu guest house
where I saw a bird fly from a monk’s mouth
a consolidated sleep of East and West

Once on a horsehair mattress two feet thick
I woke up singing
as in the apocryphal story of my birth
at Temple University Hospital

On the mesa with the burrowing owls
on the mesa with the prairie dogs

Willing to be lucky
I ran the perimeter road in my sleep
entrained to the cycles of light and dark
Sometimes my dead sister visited my dreams

Once on the beach in New Jersey
after the turtles deposited their eggs
before my parents grew old, nocturnal

bildungsromangst :: patrick moran

Two cups of squalor & three heaping teaspoons of overcast/oppressive village, add several cases of undiagnosed childhood consumption with a dash of petty larceny, stir over a low heat of human indifference, cool with a blast of bitter accusations & serve thick/black wedges to starving artists on the eve of the only war they will ever regret.

horses at midnight without a moon :: jack gilbert

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there’s music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise 
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing. 
Our spirit persists like a man struggling 
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.

aubade :: maria hummel

I have grown used to your second departures,
after the car is already thrumming in the driveway,
but the checkbook, the wallet perches on the back

of the couch, and you must charge in for it again,
the cold reaching through the open door, the intensity
of geese just as they sweep the earth, your arrival,

my second chance at good-bye. I used to resent it,
young enough to think we should remember all
our necessities before we left, my pockets stuffed

with lists, my handbag swinging like a heart
on a string. What is it, I would say, impatient
at your return, until I learned to find for you the item

you left behind, usually your money. That was
before the door became another kind of window,
held fast, crossed by storms like the rest of them,

whistled in the high wind. Before the house ached
around us like stretched skin, and the possibility
of children, and we were no longer alone in the world,

two people beneath a bird-shattered sky, but
accountable to hold each other, like roots and riverbank,
air and branches. Although every year we grow less

divisible, as clay and tree-knot gleaming with a steep,
worn loveliness, as leaf hush and the quiet of sky
unfolding into rain, I still can’t forget things. I always

take them when I leave, and much as I long for a second
departure, to find you standing there, handing me the one
lost glove, the mashed hat, I already know one of us

must go first, entering the singing canopy of streets,
and one of us will wait, hope for the sound of a door
opening, that love is the last remembered thing.

From the Fishouse; Courtesy of MEM

forecast :: melanie mccabe

The wind that bends the pin oak to the bedroom glass,
that pries my porch roof jagged from the torn flashing
to betray how little stands between me and rain, will be

your wind tomorrow. Moving east in gales, it’s bound
to whip up whitecaps on your Atlantic; to lash the flags
along the boardwalk till they clang, metal grommets

and snap-locks against metal poles; to tangle the kites
aloft beside the Henlopen. The bench we sat on will be
spackled in salt. Dune grasses will buckle and succumb.

That wind will have to suffice, will have to be my envoy.
If it whines against the eaves that cover your sleep, agitates
the composure of Silver Lake and the inlet, my bidding

will be done. If it whistles in window cracks as you drive
Route 1 past the Great Marsh Preserve, or cries down
Broadkill Road until you reach the end, and then draws in

a ragged breath to let it out against your ear, the dumb pulse
of your throat, there will be no need for me to break my word
or utter one. There will be nothing new that I could add.

things shouldn’t be so hard :: kay ryan

A life should leave
deep tracks:
ruts where she
went out and back
to get the mail
or move the hose
around the yard;
where she used to
stand before the sink,
a worn-out place;
beneath her hand
the china knobs
rubbed down to
white pastilles;
the switch she
used to feel for
in the dark
almost erased.
Her things should
keep her marks.
The passage
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops,
a certain space—
however small —
should be left scarred
by the grand and
damaging parade.
Things shouldn’t
be so hard.

erosion :: janet eigner

When you wipe off the kitchen table, careful not to let the crumbs
fall to the floor, and sweep the detritus smoothly into the pan,
when you pour the dustballs with yesterday’s broccoli and rice
into the brown paper bag, where do you think it goes?
My husband knows, brushing crusts to the floor,
scattering dirt as if the broom were his windmill.
Silt sticks to the outermost moldings, but the remainder
he gathers up to feed his dazzling garden.
He plays erosion as the game he knows it is,
brushing against the dangerous strengths which plane us back,
like the Colorado River, chocolate orange, so full of itself
as it wears through the brilliant canyon rock
sweeping away the ground we would stand eternally upon.

the northeast corridor :: donald revell

The bar in the commuter station steams
like a ruin, its fourth wall open
to the crowd and the fluttering timetables.
In the farthest corner, the television
crackles a torch song and a beaded gown.
She is my favorite singer, dead when I was born.
And I have been waiting for hours for a train,
exhausted between connections to small cities,
awake only in my eyes finding shelter
in the fluttering ribbon of shadow
around the dead woman singing on the screen.
Exhaustion is a last line of defense
where time either stops dead or kills you.
It teaches you to see what your eyes see
without questions, without the politics
of living in one city, dying in another.

How badly I would like to sleep now
in the shadows beside real things or beside
things that were real once, like the beaded gown
on the television, like the debut
of a song in New York in black and white
when my parents were there. I feel sometimes
my life was used up before I was born.
My eyes sear backwards into my head
to the makeshift of what I have already seen
or heard described or dreamed about, too weary
not to envy the world its useless outlines.
Books of photographs of New York in the forties.
The dark rhombus of a window of a train
rushing past my train. The dark halo
around the body of a woman I love
from something much farther than a distance.

The world is insatiable. It takes your legs off,
it takes your arms and parades in front of you
such wonderful things, such pictures of warm houses
trellised along the sides with green so deep
it is like black air, only transparent,
of women singing, of trains of lithium
on the awakening body of a landscape
or across the backdrop of an old city
steaming and high-shouldered as the nineteen-forties.
The world exhausts everything except my eyes
because it is a long walk to the world
begun before I was born. In the far corner
the dead woman bows off stage. The television
crumples into a white dot as the last
train of the evening, my train, is announced.
I lived in one place. I want to die in another.

the coming of light :: mark strand

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

the forest of my hair :: james tolan

I’m 28 years old in the flesh
but in a mirror all I can see
is a boy after his first crew cut,
five years old and wondering
what happened to his hair,

disbelieving it would ever
grow back, as the barber
and his grandfather promised,
while he wept, silently,
trembling air through his lips,
pointing at his hair
strewn across a tiled floor.

My grandfather unwrapped
sour balls for both of us, and,
leaving his Falcon behind,
walked with me to the woods.

These woods, he said, are yours.
They were mine, but I give them
to you. I am old, and it is only right
they should now belong to you.

I have lived most of my life
in the absence of that
gentle voice, and those
woods of mine were clear-cut
years ago, but my hair,
I wear it long in honor of him.

pockets :: howard nemerov

Are generally over or around
Erogenous zones, they seem to dive
In the direction of those

Dark places, and indeed
It is their nature to be dark
Themselves, keeping a kind

Of thieves’ kitchen for the things
Sequestered from the world
For long or little while,

The keys, the handkerchiefs,
The sad and vagrant little coins
That are really only passing through.

For all they locate close to lust,
No pocket ever sees another;
There is in fact a certain sadness

To pockets, going in their lonesome ways
And snuffling up their sifting storms
Of dust, tobacco bits and lint.

A pocket with a hole in it
Drops out; from shame, is that, or pride?
What is a pocket but a hole?

the love-hat relationship :: aaron belz

I have been thinking about the love-hat relationship.
It is the relationship based on love of one another’s hats.
The problem with the love-hat relationship is that it is superficial.
You don’t necessarily even know the other person.
Also it is too dependent on whether the other person
is even wearing the favored hat. We all enjoy hats,
but they’re not something to build an entire relationship on.
My advice to young people is to like hats but not love them.
Try having like-hat relationships with one another.
See if you can find something interesting about
the personality of the person whose hat you like.

poem in your pocket :: laurel blossom

Keep it short
make it small
enough to fit
like a bit of cotton
sewn onto your heart.

Make it strong
its shape
rectangular or square
straightforward
like a handshake.

Let it hold
little things
you might discard
if you didn’t have a poem
to put them into.

Greetings, seashells,
ribbon or string, buttons,
indefinite articles,
earrings, paper clips,
small, scarcely noticeable, change.

untitled [this is what was bequeathed us] :: gregory orr

This is what was bequeathed us:
This earth the beloved left
And, leaving,
Left to us.

No other world
But this one:
Willows and the river
And the factory
With its black smokestacks.

No other shore, only this bank
On which the living gather.

No meaning but what we find here.
No purpose but what we make.

That, and the beloved’s clear instructions:
Turn me into song; sing me awake.

fuel :: naomi shihab nye

Even at this late date, sometimes I have to look up
the word “receive.” I received his deep
and interested gaze.

A bean plant flourishes under the rain of sweet words.
Tell what you think—I’m listening.

The story ruffled its twenty leaves.

*

Once my teacher set me on a high stool
for laughing. She thought the eyes
of my classmates would whittle me to size.
But they said otherwise.

We’d laugh too if we knew how.

I pinned my gaze out the window
on a ripe line of sky.

That’s where I was going.

tear it down :: jack gilbert

We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of raccoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within that body.

Courtesy of M.F.

it’s obvious :: greg hewett

It’s obvious
beauty is a postage stamp,
a composed self-portrait
of Frida Kahlo
wearing a simple necklace,
an image chosen by the USPS
not because it was like one she painted
for Trotsky. Of course
beauty could not include
imagery of hammer and sickle
or black monkey leering
over her shoulder or parrot
twisted under her chin.
And not the one with snakes.
Not the one of her
all butched-up, hair cropped short,
wearing one of Diego’s suits
after they split for the final time.
Not one with wheelchair, spinal-brace,
or scar down her long trunk.
Forget the one of her cloven wide open,
a jungle of history and myth, of poetry
burgeoning forth from her innermost.
Most definitely not
the one of her wearing the collar
of thorns in memory
of Jesus and Trotsky
and revolution
lost.

waking up my daughter :: greg kosmicki

I am sitting in sunlight reading
when Debbie calls to talk from some store
to ask me what size coat she should buy me.
We decide I don’t need a new coat.

It is mid-morning on a Saturday.
I go upstairs to wake my daughter
who is twenty-one years old
and who has a psychology test to study for.

I lean down to kiss her and it is then
I see for the first time in her life
how much she looks like my mother
when she was this age, the rest of life

as they say, ahead of her.

exit :: rita dove

Just when hope withers, the visa is granted.
The door opens to a street like in the movies,
clean of people, of cats; except it is your street
you are leaving. A visa has been granted,
“provisionally”-a fretful word.
The windows you have closed behind
you are turning pink, doing what they do
every dawn. Here it’s gray. The door
to the taxicab waits. This suitcase,
the saddest object in the world.
Well, the world’s open. And now through
the windshield the sky begins to blush
as you did when your mother told you
what it took to be a woman in this life.

xenia :: robin becker

Most days that summer your old dog came up,
in the searing heat, with a failing heart,
from your place, the half-mile uphill to mine―

up the steep rise, past the pastured goats, on
the buggy trail that swerves through blueberries.

As you pointed out, The Odyssey
is full of tears, everyone weeping
to find and lose and find each other again.

Spent, he struggled the last two hundred yards,
ears low, chest heaving. Hearing
the jangling of his tags I knew the gods

had chosen me to praise him for his journey,
offer food and water, a place to sleep.

errands :: rae armantrout

The old
to-and-fro

is newly cloaked
in purpose.

There’s a jumble
of hair and teeth

under the bedclothes
in the forest.

“The better to eat you with,”
it says,

and nibbles us
until we laugh.

*

An axeman
comes to help.

*

“To, to,”
birds cheep

to greet
whatever has come up.

“To, to”

in love, his grammar grew :: stephen dunn

In love, his grammar grew
rich with intensifiers, and adverbs fell
madly from the sky like pheasants
for the peasantry, and he, as sated
as they were, lolled under shade trees
until roused by moonlight
and the beautiful fraternal twins
and and but. Oh that was when
he knew he couldn’t resist
a conjunction of any kind.
One said accumulate, the other
was a doubter who loved the wind
and the mind that cleans up after it.
                                   For love
he wanted to break all the rules,
light a candle behind a sentence
named Sheila, always running on
and wishing to be stopped
by the hard button of a period.
Sometimes, in desperation, he’d look
toward a mannequin or a window dresser
with a penchant for parsing.
But mostly he wanted you, Sheila,
and the adjectives that could precede
and change you: bluesy, fly-by-night,
queen of all that is and might be.

the archaic torso of apollo :: carol light

This guy’s lost his head
but, Jesus, what radiance gleams
beneath the pectorals, and,
as the eye follows the contours south
toward genesis, well,
one could go blind smiling.

Sure, the surface is stone,
chipped here and there,
but who wouldn’t be taken
by those shoulders
and underneath, can’t you see
the blaze? A star goes nova
inside you. You can’t hide
anymore. You must
get a life.

a poem for dada day at the place april 1, 1958 :: jack spicer

I
The bartender
Has eyes the color of ripe apricots
Easy to please as a cash register he
Enjoys art and good jokes.
Squish
Goes the painting
Squirt
Goes the poem
He
We
Laugh.

II
It is not easy to remember that other people died
       besides Dylan Thomas and Charlie Parker
Died looking for beauty in the world of the
       bartender
This person, that person, this person, that person
      died looking for beauty
Even the bartender died

III
Dante blew his nose
And his nose came off in his hand
Rimbaud broke his throat
Trying to cough
Dada is not funny
It is a serious assault
On art
Because art
Can be enjoyed by the bartender.

IV
The bartender is not the United States
Or the intellectual
Or the bartender
He is every bastard that does not cry
When he reads this poem.