the fall almost nobody sees :: david budbill

Everybody’s gone away.
They think there’s nothing left to see.
The garish colors’ flashy show is over.
Now those of us who stay
hunker down in sweet silence,
blessed emptiness among

red-orange shadblow
purple-red blueberry
copper-brown beech
gold tamarack, a few
remaining pale yellow
popple leaves,
sedge and fern in shades
from beige to darkening red
to brown to almost black,
and all this in front of, below,
among blue-green spruce and fir
and white pine,

all of it under gray skies,
chill air, all of us waiting
in the somber dank and rain,
waiting here in quiet, chill
waiting for the snow.

the professor :: joshua mehigan

I get there early and I find a chair.
I squeeze my plastic cup of wine. I nod.
I maladroitly eat a pretzel rod
and second an opinion I don’t share.
I think: whatever else I am, I’m there.
Afterwards, I escape across the quad
into fresh air, alone again, thank god.
Nobody cares. They’re quite right not to care.

I can’t go home. Even my family
is thoroughly contemptuous of me.
I look bad. I’m exactly how I look.
These days I never read, but no one does,
and, anyhow, I proved how smart I was.
Everything I know is from a book.

the mystery of meteors :: eleanor lerman

I am out before dawn, marching a small dog through a meager park
Boulevards angle away, newspapers fly around like blind white birds
Two days in a row I have not seen the meteors
though the radio news says they are overhead
Leonid’s brimstones are barred by clouds; I cannot read
the signs in heaven, I cannot see night rendered into fire

And yet I do believe a net of glitter is above me
You would not think I still knew these things:
I get on the train, I buy the food, I sweep, discuss,
consider gloves or boots, and in the summer,
open windows, find beads to string with pearls
You would not think that I had survived
anything but the life you see me living now

In the darkness, the dog stops and sniffs the air
She has been alone, she has known danger,
and so now she watches for it always
and I agree, with the conviction of my mistakes.
But in the second part of my life, slowly, slowly,
I begin to counsel bravery. Slowly, slowly,
I begin to feel the planets turning, and I am turning
toward the crackling shower of their sparks

These are the mysteries I could not approach when I was younger:
the boulevards, the meteors, the deep desires that split the sky
Walking down the paths of the cold park
I remember myself, the one who can wait out anything
So I caution the dog to go silently, to bear with me
the burden of knowing what spins on and on above our heads

For this is our reward:Come Armageddon, come fire or flood,
come love, not love, millennia of portents–
there is a future in which the dog and I are laughing
Born into it, the mystery, I know we will be saved

field note :: eric pankey

An arctic, oblique light—
Grave, earthward—
Roughs in a snowfield’s scoured basin,

A curved pine-flecked horizon,
As if onto a province
The door of an Advent calendar

Whispered as an aside,
Tallies and marginalia

Erased, yet readable still
In the sleet-lacquered gullies
And scored rock,

A province severed
From the present,
Marooned in the tectonic

Slippage, in the stress
Fractures of the mythic.

at the galleria shopping mall :: tony hoagland

Just past the bin of pastel baby socks and underwear,
there are some 49-dollar Chinese-made TVs;

one of them singing news about a far-off war,
one comparing the breast size of an actress from Hollywood

to the breast size of an actress from Bollywood.
And here is my niece Lucinda,

who is nine and a true daughter of Texas,
who has developed the flounce of a pedigreed blonde

and declares that her favorite sport is shopping.
Today is the day she embarks upon her journey,

swinging a credit card like a scythe
through the meadows of golden merchandise.

Today is the day she stops looking at faces,
and starts assessing the labels of purses;

So let it begin. Let her be dipped in the dazzling bounty
and raised and wrung out again and again.

And let us watch.
As the gods in olden stories

turned mortals into laurel trees and crows
               to teach them some kind of lesson,

so we were turned into Americans
to learn something about loneliness.

the magic kingdom :: kathleen graber

This morning, I found on a slip of paper tucked into a book
a list of questions I’d written down years ago to ask the doctor.
What if it has spread? Is it possible I’m crazy? I’ve just returned
from Florida, from visiting my mother’s last sister, who is eighty
& doing fine. At the airport, my flight grounded by a storm,
I bought a magazine, which fell open to a photograph
of three roseate spoonbills tossing down their elegant shadows
on a chartreuse field of fertilizer-production waste.
Two little girls emptied their Ziplocs of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish
onto the carpet & picked them up, one by one, with great delicacy,
before popping them into their mouths. Their mother, outside
smoking, kept an eye on them through the glass. After my cousin died,
my father died & then my brother. Next, my father’s older brother
& his wife. And, finally, after my mother died, I expected
to die myself. And because this happened very quickly
& because these were, really, almost all the people I knew,
I spent each day smashing dishes with one of my uncle’s hammers
& gluing them back together in new ways. It was strange work
& dangerous, even though I tried to protect myself—
wearing a quilted bathrobe & goggles & leather work gloves
& opening all the windows, even in snow, against the vapors
of the industrial adhesives. Most days now I get up late
& brew coffee & the smell rises from the old enamel pot
I’ve had to balance under the dark drip ever since the carafe
that came with the machine shattered in the dishwasher last month.

One morning I found a lump in my breast & my vision narrowed
to a small dot & I began to sweat. My legs & arms felt weak,
& my heart thrashed behind its bars. We were not written
to be safe. In the old tales, the woodcutter’s daughter’s path
takes her, each time, through the dark forest. There are new words
for all of this: a shot of panic becomes the rustle of glucocorticoid
signalling the sympathetic nervous system into a response
regulated by the sensitivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
And, as I go along, these freshly minted charms clatter together
in the tender doeskin of the throat as though the larynx
were nothing if not a sack of amulets tied with a cord & worn
around the neck. But I tell you I sat on the bathroom floor for hours,
trembling. And I can tell you this because the lump was just a lump
& some days now I don’t even dread the end although I know
it will arrive. The garage is filled with buckets of broken china.
The girls chased each other & waved their arms, casting spells,
the trim of their matching gingham dresses the electric pink
of the birds’ wings. They turned each other into princesses
& super-girls & then they pretended to change back.
Oh, no. You forgot to say forever—they took turns repeating
with dramatic dismay, melting into puddles of themselves,
their sandals & sunburned knees vanishing beneath their hems.

the pear :: jane hirshfield

November. One pear
sways on the tree past leaves, past reason.
In the nursing home, my friend has fallen.
Chased, he said, from the freckled woods
by angry Thoreau, Coleridge, and Beaumarchais.
Delusion too, it seems, can be well read.
He is courteous, well-spoken even in dread.
The old fineness in him hangs on
for dear life. “My mind now?
A small ship under the wake of a large.
They force you to walk on your heels here,
the angles matter. Four or five degrees,
and you’re lost.” Life is dear to him yet,
though he believes it his own fault he grieves,
his own fault his old friends have turned against him
like crows against an injured of their kind.
There is no kindness here, no flint of mercy.
Descend, descend,
some voice must urge, inside the pear stem.
The argument goes on, he cannot outrun it.
Dawnlight to dawnlight, I look: it is still there.