lay back the darkness :: edward hirsch

My father in the night shuffling from room to room
on an obscure mission through the hallway.

Help me, spirits, to penetrate his dream
and ease his restless passage.

Lay back the darkness for a salesman
who could charm everything but the shadows,

an immigrant who stands on the threshold
of a vast night

without his walker or his cane
and cannot remember what he meant to say,

though his right arm is raised, as if in prophecy,
while his left shakes uselessly in warning.

My father in the night shuffling from room to room
is no longer a father or a husband or a son,

but a boy standing on the edge of a forest
listening to the distant cry of wolves,

to wild dogs,
to primitive wingbeats shuddering in the treetops.

near field :: w. s. merwin

This is not something new or kept secret
the tilled ground unsown in late spring
the dead are not separate from the living
each has one foot in the unknown
and cannot speak for the other
the field tells none of its turned story
it lies under its low cloud like a waiting river
the dead made this out of their hunger
out of what they had been told
out of the pains and shadows
and bowels of animals
out of turning and
coming back singing
about another time

farming in a lilac shirt :: leo dangel

I opened the Sears catalog.
It was hard to decide-dress shirts
were all white the last time
I bought one, for Emma’s funeral.
I picked out a color called plum,
but when the shirt arrived,
it seemed more the color of lilacs.
Still, it was beautiful.
No one I knew had a shirt like this.

After chores on Sunday, I dressed
for church. Suddenly the shirt
seemed to be a sissy color,
and I held it up near the window.
In the sun the lilac looked more lilac,
more lovely, but could a man
wear a shirt that color? Someone
might say, “That’s quite the shirt.”
I wore the old shirt to church.

And every Saturday night I thought,
Tomorrow I’ll wear the shirt.
Such a sad terrible waste-to spend
good money on a shirt, a shirt
I even liked, and then not wear it.
I wore the shirt once, on a cold day,
and kept my coat buttoned.

In spring I began wearing the shirt
for everyday, when I was sure
no one would stop by. I wore the shirt
when I milked the cows and in the field
when I planted oats-it fit perfectly.
As I steered the John Deere,
I looked over my shoulder and saw
lilac against a blue sky
filled with white seagulls
following the tractor, and not once
did I wipe my nose on my sleeve.

sleepers :: david black

A sleeper, they used to call it—
four passes with the giant round saw
and you had a crosstie, 7 inches by 9 of white oak—
at two hundred pounds nearly twice my weight
and ready to break finger or toe—

like coffin lids, those leftover slabs,
their new-sawn faces turning gold and brown
as my own in the hot Virginia sun,
drying toward the winter and the woodsaw

and on the day of that chore
I turned over a good, thick one
looking for the balance point

and roused a three-foot copperhead,
gold and brown like the wood,
disdaining the shoe it muscled across,

each rib distinct as a needle stitching leather,
heavy on my foot as a crosstie.

a london thoroughfare. 2 a.m. :: amy lowell

They have watered the street,
It shines in the glare of lamps,
Cold, white lamps,
And lies
Like a slow-moving river,
Barred with silver and black.
Cabs go down it,
One,
And then another,
Between them I hear the shuffling of feet.
Tramps doze on the window-ledges,
Night-walkers pass along the sidewalks.
The city is squalid and sinister,
With the silver-barred street in the midst,
Slow-moving,
A river leading nowhere.

Opposite my window,
The moon cuts,
Clear and round,
Through the plum-coloured night.
She cannot light the city:
It is too bright.
It has white lamps,
And glitters coldly.

I stand in the window and watch the
     moon.
She is thin and lustreless,
But I love her.
I know the moon,
And this is an alien city.

cemetery plums :: jim tolan

One who would offer ripe fruit to the dead
as if knowing their desires, as if believing
desires still lived in them, would know
how tangible remains the memory of its juice

across the mouth and chin and sliding
along the tongue. Do not be misled.
The dead miss life more than we miss them,
their loss more than equal to our forgetting

and our grief. And a bowl of fruit offered
in their name returns to them as the memory
of a mouth rapt in joy around moist and living
flesh. Who among the dead does not long

for the sun-wet meat of smooth-skinned plums,
the bitter sweetness of each pitted heart?