the imagined :: stephen dunn

If the imagined woman makes the real woman
seem bare-boned, hardly existent, lacking in
gracefulness and intellect and pulchritude,
and if you come to realize the imagined woman
can only satisfy your imagination, whereas
the real woman with all her limitations
can often make you feel good, how, in spite
of knowing this, does the imagined woman
keep getting into your bedroom, and joining you
at dinner, why is it that you always bring her along
on vacations when the real woman is shopping,
or figuring the best way to the museum?

                                    And if the real woman

has an imagined man, as she must, someone
probably with her at this very moment, in fact
doing and saying everything she’s ever wanted,
would you want to know that he slips in
to her life every day from a secret doorway
she’s made for him, that he’s present even when
you’re eating your omelette at breakfast,
or do you prefer how she goes about the house
as she does, as if there were just the two of you?
Isn’t her silence, finally, loving? And yours
not entirely self-serving? Hasn’t the time come,

               once again, not to talk about it?

thoughts from the poet via The New Yorker

insult :: michael ryan

Before you went out I asked you
in no uncertain terms to button
the next button up your shirt
that showed your naked breast
from the right angle when you twisted
and bent, an angle admittedly rarely
reproduced in real-world space
and then what would need to be in place
is the mythical irresistible male
whose lust could flare furiously
(like mine) and push you ecstatically
beyond where you sexually go
with me. Obviously I don’t know
what would be possible for you
with another body than mine,
but I love you and yours so dearly
the thought’s too much for me
despite your saying your love for me
makes the idea preposterous
from the get-go. I’m sorry
I spoke harshly. My jealousy
is a jealous companion.
It wants me alone.

via the new yorker

anyone can write a poem :: bradley paul

I am arguing with an idiot online.
He says anybody can write a poem.
I say some people are afraid to speak.
I say some people are ashamed to speak.
If they said the pronoun “I”
they would find themselves floating
in the black Atlantic
and a woman would swim by, completely
dry, in a rose chiffon shirt,
until the ashamed person says her name
and the woman becomes wet and drowns
and her face turns to flayed ragged pulp,
white in the black water.
He says that he’d still write
even if someone cut off both his hands.
As if it were the hands that make a poem,
I say. I say what if someone cut out
whatever brain or gut or loin or heart
that lets you say hey, over here, listen,
I have something to tell you all,
I’m different.
As an example I mention my mother
who loved that I write poems
and am such a wonderful genius.
And then I delete the comment
because my mother wanted no part of this or any
argument, because “Who am I
to say whatever?”
Once on a grade school form
I entered her job as hairwasher.
She saw the form and was embarrassed and mad.
“You should have put receptionist.”
But she didn’t change it.
The last word she ever said was No.
And now here she is in my poem,
so proud of her idiot son,
who presumes to speak for a woman
who wants to tell him to shut up, but can’t.

last :: maxine scates

At dusk the streetlights
stand like beacons to the underworld,
a girl runs toward me beaded with rain
and sweat. I think husk, wheels
seeds rattle, shake loose and a candle
is held to the egg’s red mass she is
too young to see. In Pompeii those bodies
are not bodies but plaster poured
into the cavity where a body once lay,
no less a hand pushing back ash,
no less a woman with her unborn child
twisting for a pocket of air,
the forge, the fire, the glimpsed blade,
a door we close quickly, just as my brother
said Now I know I will die, and I thought
of course and not me in the same second.
We kept driving, arrived at the airport
and the next day our father did die—
aria, the birds rising at the sound
of the explosion and plums, succulent
ashy, burnished. Walking down the Spanish
Steps on a Sunday morning in October,
no one there yet, Keats’ window open,
you said Ten or fifteen years from now
when I am gone, come back
. You touched
our absence from each other,
the fifteen years ahead you’ve always had—
when in dreams I am older and you
remain as you were when we first met,
before devotion was returned,
or was it that I let it be—our lives together
suddenly recognizable as if seared pages
fallen from a larger book.

mountain elegy :: tom wayman

Dave Bostock

Late on the day of his death,
high in the alpine
above the trees, I crossed a field
more stone than earth
and found what I had climbed for.
Where ice and the cold
pummel the hard ground,
where frost and the relentless glacial wind
tear at whatever tries to live,
the moss campion
adheres to bits of soil
lichens have generated over eons
from rock. The campion, too,
has infinite patience:
a decade passes
before it will flower.
After a quarter-century
it spreads no wider
than the outstretched fingers of a hand.
But the flower digs in, buffeted by the nightly chill,
by solar rays, by hail, the Spring melt,
smothered for much of the year beneath snow.
Air trapped in its leaves
and clusters, however,
forms a minute protected place
out of the wind and
warmed by sun.
Here, other plants are born
and nurtured.

His laughter
was such an enclosure
in the roaring life below.
One time I’d been working welding
on a logging show in the Charlottes
I had a couple of grand saved
so decided to quit. This was when
if you had any kind of trade, any kind of ticket
you were in demand.
It was no big deal to change jobs.
On Friday
I picked up my pay, and made a point
of finding the boss
and telling him exactly, in detail,
what I thought of him
and where he could put
the whole outfit. Then I was on the plane
for Rupert, with some of the other guys.
We’d already had plenty to drink
before we even got on board.

On Monday I woke up
in the Rupert Hotel.
I had no idea
how I had spent the weekend
but I discovered I was absolutely broke.
Every cent of my two thousand dollars was gone.
I phoned to the camp I just left
and asked if I could have my job back.
“Sure, Dave,” the boss said.
“Report as soon as you get in.”
“Uh, Mr. Johnson?” I had to say.
“Could you advance me the money
for the plane? I don’t have
quite enough to cover the fare.”
“Okay,” he said. That’s how it was at the time:
tear a strip off ’em on Friday
and grovel on Monday
and they’d rehire you.
It was special. Try that today, though,
and see how far you get.

I camped that night
just above treeline, by a cluster of dwarf firs,
a krumholz, formed on the barren
by a single plant
whose roots tunnel upslope
and emerge, or whose branches
pushed down by snow
take root. Such gatherings, too,
create within themselves
an eddy of more hospitable weather
in the high, harsh air.
These conifer islands are also how trees advance,
pushing toward the summit: forerunners
marking and clearing a path
others will follow in relative certainty
and ease.

I had a job with a pile driving crew
–metal piles. The company was Ontario-based
and I think this was the first time
they had hired union labor.
Anyway, one of their foreman
was forever showing up to order you to do
some task you’d already begun.
I’d have finished a weld
and was packing up my gear to move
to the next spot, when the foreman would come by
and say: “Dave, I want you to pack your equipment
and haul it over there for the next weld.”
For a time this guy only seemed silly
but one morning–I don’t know, it was a bad day
or something–he really started to bother me.
When for the nine-hundredth time
the foreman ordered me to start
what I already was in the middle of,
I lost it. I began to whine, real loud:
“Aww, you’re always telling me
to do that. I don’t wanna. Why do I
have to go down in that hole
and weld? How come you don’t tell
anybody else to do it?”
The foreman’s face went white.
He didn’t know what to say.
He backed off, but others on the crew had heard
and a few minutes later I heard a whine
from over by the crane:
“I don’t wanna do that. You’re always
saying I have to. How come I
have to be the one to do it?”
After this, there was no stopping the guys.
All over the site, whenever the foreman
tried to tell anybody anything
you’d hear this incredible whining:
“Awww. I don’t wanna.” Afterwards, we called it
a whine-in. The foreman
only lasted a couple more days
then he was gone.

The heat of my fire
slashes at my face
when I bend to lever
a log further into the flames.
The song of his life–his work,
his music, his joy–
brought him a cancer that spread
through his body, shrunken
beyond remedy, and then the pneumonia
he chose
to let kill him.
From the peaks around me in the dark,
wind and sun and the earth’s turning
bring the snowpack
to the valleys we dwell in
–whether as water
or cold air
we breathe, and then we don’t breathe,
leaving behind
our laughter or rage,
our unfinished stories
whispered toward the stars.


the promise :: jane hirshfield

Stay, I said
to the cut flowers.
They bowed
their heads lower.

Stay, I said to the spider,
who fled.

Stay, leaf.
It reddened,
embarrassed for me and itself.

Stay, I said to my body.
It sat as a dog does,
obedient for a moment,
soon starting to tremble.

Stay, to the earth
of riverine valley meadows,
of fossiled escarpments,
of limestone and sandstone.
It looked back
with a changing expression, in silence.

Stay, I said to my loves.
Each answered,

retriever :: faith shearin

My father, in middle age, falls in love with a dog.
He who kicked dogs in anger when I was a child,
who liked his comb always on the same shelf,
who drank martinis to make his mind quiet.

He who worked and worked—his shirts
wrapped in plastic, his heart ironed
like a collar. He who—like so many men—
loved his children but thought the money

he made for them was more important
than the rough tweed of his presence.
The love of my father’s later years is
a Golden Retriever—more red

than yellow—a nervous dog who knows
his work clothes from his casual ones,
can read his creased face, who waits for
him at the front door—her paws crossed

like a child’s arms. She doesn’t berate him
for being late, doesn’t need new shoes
or college. There is no pressure to raise her
right, which is why she chews the furniture,

pees on rugs, barks at strangers who
cross the lawn. She is his responsible soul
broken free. She is the children he couldn’t
come home to made young again.

She is like my mother but never angry,
always devoted. He cooks for his dog—
my father who raised us in restaurants—
and takes her on business trips like

a wife. Sometimes, sitting beside her
in the hair-filled fan he drives to make
her more comfortable, my father’s dog
turns her head to one side as if

thinking and, in this pose, more than
one of us has mistaken her for a person.
We would be jealous if she didn’t make
him so happy—he who never took

more than one trip on his expensive
sailboat, whose Mercedes was wrecked
by a valet. My mother saw him behind
the counter of a now-fallen fast food

restaurant when she was nineteen.
They kissed beside a river where fish
no longer swim. My father who was
always serious has fallen in love with

a dog. What can I do but be happy for him?