still life with game, champagne, and vegetables :: chiyuma elliott

If there’s a point, it ends
with the quail’s head resting
on a bunch of radishes.
Here’s champagne: black bottle, gold foil.
Here’s a cauliflower the same dull white
as some of the breast feathers.
You’re taught not to leave things out like this.
Pathogens will creep up from the skin
in two hours. Taught: the rhythms of a body
breaking down on a table, which, if it’s wood,
should be cleaned periodically:
one part bleach to sixteen of water.
There are so many ways to arrange the dead.
This way, and you’re meant to feel hungry.

making a fist :: naomi shihab nye

    We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men.
        –Jorge Luis Borges

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

cpr or no cpr :: leo dangel

We bring Aunt Martha to the nursing home.
They weigh her, barely a hundred pounds,
and we help her lie down for a nap.
She closes her eyes, and the lines
of her frail body almost vanish
in her loose-fitting black dress.
I remember how this woman,
after her husband died,
ran the farm herself,
operating tractors and combines,
digging post holes and stretching barbed wire,
dehorning cattle and castrating pigs.
She cooked, too, and baked bread,
and fixed her daughters’ hair.
Everyone knew Martha could do anything.
Now the nurse adjusts the Venetian blinds
and, speaking softly, tells us
we’ll have to talk it over with Martha
when she wakes up and decide which box
to check on her chart—“No CPR” means
that if she ever stops breathing,
they won’t try to bring her back.
Standing near her bed, we talk in whispers,
wondering how we’ll raise this subject,
when, without opening her eyes, she speaks
in the voice she once used to direct
a crew of men shelling corn or filling silo,
“I’ll kill anyone who brings me back.”

visit to st. elizabeths :: elizabeth bishop

This is the house of Bedlam.

This is the man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is the time
of the tragic man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a wristwatch
telling the time
of the talkative man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a sailor
wearing the watch
that tells the time
of the honored man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is the roadstead all of board
reached by the sailor
wearing the watch
that tells the time
of the old, brave man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

These are the years and the walls of the ward,
the winds and clouds of the sea of board
sailed by the sailor
wearing the watch
that tells the time
of the cranky man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
over the creaking sea of board
beyond the sailor
winding his watch
that tells the time
of the cruel man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a world of books gone flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
over the creaking sea of board
of the batty sailor
that winds his watch
that tells the time
of the busy man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a boy that pats the floor
to see if the world is there, is flat,
for the widowed Jew in the newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
waltzing the length of a weaving board
by the silent sailor
that hears his watch
that ticks the time
of the tedious man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

These are the years and the walls and the door
that shut on a boy that pats the floor
to feel if the world is there and flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances joyfully down the ward
into the parting seas of board
past the staring sailor
that shakes his watch
that tells the time
of the poet, the man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is the soldier home from the war.
These are the years and the walls and the door
that shut on a boy that pats the floor
to see if the world is round or flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances carefully down the ward,
walking the plank of a coffin board
with the crazy sailor
that shows his watch
that tells the time
of the wretched man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

consider the hands that write this letter :: aracelis girmay

                  after Marina Wilson

Consider the hands
that write this letter.
The left palm pressed flat against the paper,
as it has done before, over my heart,
in peace or reverence
to the sea or some beautiful thing
I saw once, felt once: snow falling
like rice flung from the giants’ wedding,
or the strangest birds. & consider, then,
the right hand, & how it is a fist,
within which a sharpened utensil,
similar to the way I’ve held a spade,
match to the wick, the horse’s reins,
loping, the very fists
I’ve seen from the roads to Limay & Estelí.
For years, I have come to sit this way:
one hand open, one hand closed,
like a farmer who puts down seeds & gathers up
the food that comes from that farming.
Or, yes, it is like the way I’ve danced
with my left hand opened around a shoulder
& my right hand closed inside
of another hand. & how
I pray, I pray for this
to be my way: sweet
work alluded to in the body’s position
to its paper:
left hand, right hand
like an open eye, an eye closed:
one hand flat against the trapdoor,
the other hand knocking, knocking.

imaginary number :: vijay seshadri

The mountain that remains when the universe is destroyed
is not big and is not small.
Big and small are

comparative categories, and to what
could the mountain that remains when the universe is destroyed
be compared?

Consciousness observes and is appeased.
The soul scrambles across the screes.
The soul,

like the square root of minus 1,
is an impossibility that has its uses.

looking for omar :: e. ethelbert miller

I’m in the school bathroom
washing my hands without
soap but I’m still washing my hands.

I turn the water off
and look for a paper towel
but paper towels have been gone
since the first day of school
and it’s June now.

I start to leave the bathroom
with my wet hands but then
the big boys come in talking
loud and cussing like they
rap stars or have new sneakers.

I hear the one named Pinto
talking about how someone
should get Omar after school
since he’s the only Muslim they know.

Pinto talks with an accent
like he’s new in the neighborhood too.

I don’t have to ask him
what he’s talking about
since everybody is talking
about the Towers and how they
ain’t there no more.

My momma said it’s like
a woman losing both
breasts to cancer and my daddy
was talking at the dinner table
about how senseless violence is
and Mrs. Gardner next door lost
two tall boys to drive-bys

Bullets flying into
both boys heads
making them crumble too.

Everybody around here is
filled with fear and craziness
and now Pinto and the big boys
thinking about doing something bad.

I stare at my wet hands
dripping water on my shoes
and wonder if I should run
and tell Omar or just run.

I feel like I’m trapped
in the middle of one of those
Bible stories but it ain’t
Sunday.

I hear my Momma’s voice
saying

Boy, always remember to wash
your hands but always remember
you can’t wash your hands from
everything.

untitled :: anonymous

translated by Richard Rutt

“What was love like?
                       Was it round? Was it wide?
Was it long? Was it short?
                       Could you pace it? Could you span it?”
“It was not long enough to tire me,
                       but it was enough to sever my entrails.”

night air :: c. dale young

“If God is Art, then what do we make
of Jasper Johns?” One never knows
what sort of question a patient will pose,

or how exactly one should answer.
Outside the window, snow on snow
began to answer the ground below

with nothing more than foolish questions.
We were no different. I asked again:
“Professor, have we eased the pain?”

Eventually, he’d answer me with:
“Tell me, young man, whom do you love?”
“E,” I’d say, “None of the Above,”

and laugh for lack of something more
to add. For days he had played that game,
and day after day I avoided your name

by instinct. I never told him how
we often wear each other’s clothes—
we aren’t what many presuppose.

Call it an act of omission, my love.
Tonight, while walking to the car,
I said your name to the evening star,

clearly pronouncing the syllables
to see your name dissipate
in the air, evaporate.

Only the night air carries your words
up to the dead (the ancients wrote):
I watched them rise, become remote.

the room :: stephen dunn

The room has no choice.
Everything that’s spoken in it
it absorbs. And it must put up with

the bad flirt, the overly perfumed,
the many murderers of mood—
with whoever chooses to walk in.

If there’s a crowd, one person
is certain to be concealing a sadness,
another will have abandoned a dream,

at least one will be a special agent
for his own cause. And always
there’s a functionary,

somberly listing what he does.
The room plays no favorites.
Like its windows, it does nothing

but accommodate shades
of light and dark. After everyone leaves
(its entrance, of course, is an exit),

the room will need to be imagined
by someone, perhaps some me
walking away now, who comes alive

when most removed. He’ll know
from experience how deceptive
silence can be. This is when the walls

start to breathe as if reclaiming the air,
when the withheld spills forth,
when even the chairs start to talk.

piano :: dan howell

Her wattled fingers can’t
stroke the keys with much
grace or assurance anymore,
and the tempo is always
rubato, halting, but still
that sound—notes quivering
and clear in their singularity,
filing down the hallway—
aches with pure intention, the
melody somehow prettier
as a remnant than
whatever it used to be.

outside :: michael ryan

The dead thing mashed into the street
the crows are squabbling over isn’t
her, nor are their raucous squawks
the quiet cawing from her throat
those final hours she couldn’t speak.
But the racket irks him.
It seems a cruel intrusion into grief
so mute it will never be expressed
no matter how loud or long the wailing
he might do. Nor could there be a word
that won’t debase it, no matter
how kind or who it comes from.
She knew how much he loved her.
That must be his consolation
when he must talk to buy necessities.
Every place will be a place without her.
What people will see when they see him
pushing a shopping cart or fetching mail
is just a neatly dressed polite old man.

listen and read about the process

you know :: mary jo bang

You know, don’t you, what we’re doing here?
The evening laid out like a beach ball gone airless.

We’re watching the spectators in the bleachers.
The one in the blue shirt says, “I knew,

even as a child, that my mind was adding color
to the moment.”

The one in red says, “In the dream, there was a child
batting a ball back and forth. He was chanting

that awful rhyme about time that eventually ends
with the body making a metronome motion.”

By way of demonstration, he moves mechanically
side to side while making a clicking noise.

His friends look away. They all know
how a metronome goes. You and I continue to watch

because we have nothing better to do.
We wait for the inevitable next: we know the crowd

will rise to its feet when prompted and count—
one-one-hundred, two-one-hundred,

three-one-hundred—as if history were a sound
that could pry apart an ever-widening abyss

with a sea on the bottom. And it will go on like this.
The crowd will quiet when the sea reaches us.

dream in which I meet myself :: lynn emanuel

Even the butter’s a block of sleazy light. I see that first,
as though I am a dreary guest come to a dreary supper.
On her table, its scrubbed deal trim and lonely as a cot,
is food for one, and everything we’ve ever hated: a plate of pallid
grays and whites is succotash and chops are those dark shapes glaring up at us.
Are you going to eat this? I want to ask; she’s at the stove dishing up,
wearing that apron black and stiff as burned bacon, reserved for maids and waitresses.
The dream tells us: She is still a servant. Even here.
So she has to clean our plate. It’s horrible to watch.
She pokes the bits of stuff into her mouth. The roll’s glued shut like a little box
with all that sticky butter. Is this all living gets you? The room, a gun stuck in your back?
Don’t move, It says. She’s at the bureau lining up bobby pins.
Worried and fed up I wander to the window
with its strict bang of blind. My eyes fidget and scratch.
And then I see myself: I am this dream’s dog. I want out.

strange sea :: edith södergran

translated from swedish by averill curdy

Implausible fish bloom in the depths,
mercurial flowers light up the coast;
I know red and yellow, the other colors,—

but the sea, det granna granna havet, that’s most dangerous
;                                                            to look at.
What name is there for the color that arouses
this thirst, which says,
the saga can happen, even to you—

a prayer for rain :: lisel mueller

Let it come down: these thicknesses of air
have long enough walled love away from love;
stillness has hardened until words despair
of their high leaps and kisses shut themselves
back into wishing. Crippled lovers lie
against a weather which holds out on them,
waiting, awaiting some shrill sign, some cry,
some screaming cat that smells a sacrifice
and spells them thunder. Start the mumbling lips,
syllable by monotonous syllable,
that wash away the sullen griefs of love
and drown out knowledge of an ancient war—
o, ill-willed dark, give with the sound of rain,
let love be brought to ignorance again.

“i used to love the run-up to a storm” :: melanie braverman

I used to love the run-up to a storm, watching from the porch as the grown-ups hurried to bring things in, my mother rummaging through drawers for a flashlight, cursing: nothing was where it was supposed to be in our house. It can’t be so, but the only people I ever remember huddled in the basement were my mother and me, suspended in that eerie half-light like bats. We’ve just spent a week like this, my mother perched in a chair above the water keeping watch for the next bad thing. We were happy so sometimes she’d let the vigil rest, the sentry of her shoulders easing to a more receptive pose, a quarter moon, until something called her back to the watch, mother first no longer but this white, foremost light. You can read by it. You can see.

the iceberg theory :: gerald locklin

all the food critics hate iceberg lettuce.
you’d think romaine was descended from
orpheus’s laurel wreath,
you’d think raw spinach had all the nutritional 
benefits attributed to it by popeye,
not to mention aesthetic subtleties worthy of
veriaine and debussy.
they’ll even salivate over chopped red cabbage
just to disparage poor old mr. iceberg lettuce.

I guess the problem is
it’s just too common for them.
It doesn’t matter that it tastes good,
has a satisfying crunchy texture,
holds its freshness
and has crevices for the dressing,
whereas the darker, leafier varieties
are often bitter, gritty, and flat.
It just isn’t different enough and
it’s too goddamn american.

of course a critic has to criticize;
a critic has to have something to say
perhaps that’s why literary critics
purport to find interesting
so much contemporary poetry
that just bores the shit out of me.

at any rate, I really enjoy a salad
with plenty of chunky iceberg lettuce,
the more the merrier,
drenched in an Italian or roquefort dressing.
and the poems I enjoy are those I don’t have
to pretend that I’m enjoying.

games :: nancy reddy

When we were children we wanted to be orphans.
The snow came early and halved the treeline.
Branches still flush with leaves heaved with ice and snow
and split at the waist. The sky was then a curtain
lifted on an empty stage. We crawled in the snow
to the back of the yard — past the clothesline taut with ice,
past the barn where cows stomped their feet in frosted mud.
In the farthest corner of the yard, under the tree
whose bark was ridged so deep we pressed our fingers through
and felt the tree’s black heart, we made of snow and fallen limbs
a cave, nestled in to wait for evening. Each branch
was encased in ice, slender tubes we slipped off and held
to the pale evening light. We shivered in our snowsuits,
whispering the story of our parents’ death. We imagined
the tragic news, our photogenic weeping, tire tracks
on the gravel drive covered again in snow. But no.
We did not wish. We knew our small thoughts had power,
as when the winter before, after he told me
your father’s gone and won’t come back and waited,
thin-lipped, to see me cry, I wished my grandfather dead
and within the year we’d buried him. The days
were slow and edgeless, so we imagined them
torn. This was no game. When the darkness came
and our mother called us over and over, we did not move.

orphaned old :: marie ponsot

I feel less lucky since my parents died.
Father first, then mother, have left me
out in a downpour
roofless in cold wind
no umbrella no hood no hat no warm
native place, nothing
between me and eyeless sky.

In the gritty prevailing wind
I think of times I’ve carelessly lost things:
      that white-gold ring when I was eight,
      a classmate named Mercedes Williams,
      my passport in Gibraltar,
      my maiden name.

slanting light :: arthur sze

Slanting light casts onto a stucco wall
the shadows of upwardly zigzagging plum branches.

I can see the thinning of branches to the very twig.
I have to sift what you say, what she thinks,

what he believes is genetic strength, what
they agree is inevitable. I have to sift this

quirky and lashing stillness of form to see myself,
even as I see laid out on a table for Death

an assortment of pomegranates and gourds.
And what if Death eats a few pomegranate seeds?

Does it insure a few years of pungent spring?
I see one gourd, yellow from midsection to top

and zucchini-green lower down, but
already the big orange gourd is gnawed black.

I have no idea why the one survives the killing nights.
I have to sift what you said, what I felt,

what you hoped, what I knew. I have to sift
death as the stark light sifts the branches of the plum.

mockingbird :: judith harris

I can hear him,
now, even in darkness,
a trickster under the moon,
bristling his feathers,
sounding as merry
as a man whistling in a straw hat,
or a squeaky gate
to the playground, left ajar
or the jingling of a star,
having wandered too far
from the pasture.

on the seashore :: rabindranath tagore

On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.
The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous. On the
   seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.
They build their houses with sand, and they play with empty shells. With withered
   leaves they weave their boats and smilingly float them on the vast deep. Children
   have their play on the seashore of worlds.
They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets. Pearl-fishers dive for
   pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them
   again. They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.
The sea surges up with laughter, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach. Death-
   dealing waves sing meaningless ballads to the children, even like a mother while
   rocking her baby’s cradle. The sea plays with children, and pale gleams the smile of
   the sea-beach.
On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. Tempest roams in the pathless
   sky, ships are wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play.
   On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children.

poetry in time of war :: rosalind brackenbury

I want to forget their names, the generals,
advisors, puppet rulers,
the puffed-up and the brought-low,

I want not to know them,
not hear their plans, their excuses,
the President and the President’s men,
the Pope with his white smoke for voodoo,

the suits, ties, teeth, insignia,
the guns, the names of trucks and weapons.

I want to forget them all,
to be washed of them,
to begin again: where no one knows who anyone is,
or what he believes.

To give my attention to:
frangipani leaves uncurling,
the smell of jasmine,
one person helping another across a street;

to the seeds,
to the beginnings; to one clear word for which
there is no disguise and no alternative.

the present writer :: conor o’callaghan

answers questions vaguely, as if from distance,
cares less for the dribs and drabs of his libido;
gets more droll, lachrymose, implicit with age;

has backed from the room, the turntable moving
and a refill pad lying open at the page
with ‘swansong’ and ‘glockenspiel’ written on it;

makes collect calls from payphones, lost for words;
has been known to sleep in the rear seat
on the hard shoulder, the hazards ticking;

is given to sudden floods of hope; still dreams
of swimming pools, in sepia; can take or leave
a life in shadow; will whoop out of the blue

and surface on the landing, fork and spoon in hand,
adrift of what the done thing was; doodles butterflies
on the envelopes of unread letters; travels happiest

towards daylight and fancies pigeons; gets a kick
inhabiting the third person, as if talking across himself
or forever clapping his own exits from the wings.

definitely :: mary jo bang

What is desire
But the hard wire argument given
To the mind’s unstoppable mouth.

Inside the braincase, it’s I
Want that fills every blank. And then the hand
Reaches for the pleasure

The plastic snake offers. Someone says, Yes,
It will all be fine in some future soon.
Definitely. I’ve conjured a body

In the chair before me. Be yourself, I tell it.
Here memory makes you
Unchangeable: that shirt, those summer pants.

That beautiful face.
That tragic beautiful mind.
That mind’s ravenous mouth

That told you, This isn’t poison
At all but just what the machine needs. And then,
The mouth closes on its hunger.

The heart stops.

poem for leigh hunt :: prageeta sharma

I find ways to keep a sense of peace
but it is not always easy; for example,
I can’t keep my questions tempered:
What kind of sun expounds its rays
upon the hills but then mutes
like an ordinary bulb, small
and self-contained?
Moreover, what moon filters
the blistering whiteness of
snow so that it can only be seen
by the fiscally immune, enamored by the dully-noted?
Let me amble with Keats
and his wandering expression
and try to figure out if the poem keeps
me encased in the rapture for which
my dim external life won’t account.

the darker sooner :: catherine wing

Then came the darker sooner,
came the later lower.
We were no longer a sweeter-here
happily-ever-after. We were after ever.
We were farther and further.
More was the word we used for harder.
Lost was our standard-bearer.
Our gods were fallen faster,
and fallen larger.
The day was duller, duller
was disaster. Our charge was error.
Instead of leader we had louder,
instead of lover, never. And over this river
broke the winter’s black weather.