to martha: a new year :: audre lorde

As you search over this year
with eyes your heart has
sharpened
remember longing.

I do not know your space now
I only seek a woman whom I love
trapped there
by accident.
but places do not change
so much
as what we seek in them
and faith will serve
along the way
to somewhere else
where work begins.

Courtesy of S.T.

matters about which unfortunately I have no brilliant opinion to offer readers :: sandra santana

translated by forrest gander

With the arrival of the night
some of his words, like the intermittent
flare [Here, I detected a point
of inflection provoked by the peculiar
nature of desire.

Which came to me
even faster than imagination
since it needs not move at all,
waiting hidden always
everywhere] of a cigarette,
called my attention to a luminous
moment before it faded away.

the cats will know :: cesare pavese

translated by Geoffrey Brock

Rain will fall again
on your smooth pavement,
a light rain like
a breath or a step.
The breeze and the dawn
will flourish again
when you return,
as if beneath your step.
Between flowers and sills
the cats will know.

There will be other days,
there will be other voices.
You will smile alone.
The cats will know.
You will hear words
old and spent and useless
like costumes left over
from yesterday’s parties.

You too will make gestures.
You’ll answer with words—
face of springtime,
you too will make gestures.

The cats will know,
face of springtime;
and the light rain
and the hyacinth dawn
that wrench the heart of him
who hopes no more for you—
they are the sad smile
you smile by yourself.

There will be other days,
other voices and renewals.
Face of springtime,
we will suffer at daybreak.

creatures :: billy collins

Hamlet noticed them in the shapes of clouds,
but I saw them in the furniture of childhood,
creatures trapped under surfaces of wood,

one submerged in a polished sideboard,
one frowning from a chair-back,
another howling from my mother’s silent bureau,
locked in the grain of maple, frozen in oak.

I would see these presences, too,
in a swirling pattern of wallpaper
or in the various greens of a porcelain lamp,
each looking so melancholy, so damned,
some peering out at me as if they knew
all the secrets of a secretive boy.

Many times I would be daydreaming
on the carpet and one would appear next to me,
the oversize nose, the hollow look.

So you will understand my reaction
this morning at the beach
when you opened your hand to show me
a stone you had picked up from the shoreline.

“Do you see the face?” you asked
as the cold surf circled our bare ankles.
“There’s the eye and the line of the mouth,
like it’s grimacing, like it’s in pain.”

“Well, maybe that’s because it has a fissure
running down the length of its forehead
not to mention a kind of twisted beak,” I said,

taking the thing from you and flinging it out
over the sparkle of blue waves
so it could live out its freakish existence
on the dark bottom of the sea

and stop bothering innocent beachgoers like us,
stop ruining everyone’s summer.

ascension :: kathleen norris

     Why do you stand looking up at the skies?
                                                     Acts I:II

It wasn’t just wind, chasing
thin gunmetal clouds
across the loud sky;
it wasn’t the feeling that one might ascend
on that excited air,
rising like a trumpet note.

And it wasn’t just my sister’s water breaking,
her crying out,
the downward draw of blood and bone…

It was all of that,
the mud and new grass
pushing up through melting snow,
the lilac in bud
by my front door, bent low
by last week’s ice storm.

Now the new mother, that leaky vessel,
begins to nurse her child,
beginning the long good-bye.

the slow pacific swell :: yvor winters

Far out of sight forever stands the sea,
Bounding the land with pale tranquillity.
When a small child, I watched it from a hill
At thirty miles or more. The vision still
Lies in the eye, soft blue and far away:
The rain has washed the dust from April day;
Paint-brush and lupine lie against the ground;
The wind above the hill-top has the sound
Of distant water in unbroken sky;
Dark and precise the little steamers ply-
Firm in direction they seem not to stir.
That is illusion. The artificer
Of quiet, distance holds me in a vise
And holds the ocean steady to my eyes.

Once when I rounded Flattery, the sea
Hove its loose weight like sand to tangle me
Upon the washing deck, to crush the hull;
Subsiding, dragged flesh at the bone. The skull
Felt the retreating wash of dreaming hair.
Half drenched in dissolution, I lay bare.
I scarcely pulled myself erect; I came
Back slowly, slowly knew myself the same.
That was the ocean. From the ship we saw
Gray whales for miles: the long sweep of the jaw,
The blunt head plunging clean above the wave.
And one rose in a tent of sea and gave
A darkening shudder; water fell away;
The whale stood shining, and then sank in spray.

A landsman, I. The sea is but a sound.
I would be near it on a sandy mound,
And hear the steady rushing of the deep
While I lay stinging in the sand with sleep.
I have lived inland long. The land is numb.
It stands beneath the feet, and one may come
Walking securely, till the sea extends
Its limber margin, and precision ends.
By night a chaos of commingling power,
The whole Pacific hovers hour by hour.
The slow Pacific swell stirs on the sand,
Sleeping to sink away, withdrawing land,
Heaving and wrinkled in the moon, and blind;
Or gathers seaward, ebbing out of mind.

happiness :: robert hass

Because yesterday morning from the steamy window
we saw a pair of red foxes across the creek
eating the last windfall apples in the rain—
they looked up at us with their green eyes
long enough to symbolize the wakefulness of living things
and then went back to eating—
and because this morning
when she went into the gazebo with her black pen and yellow pad
to coax an inquisitive soul
from what she thinks of as the reluctance of matter,
I drove into town to drink tea in the café
and write notes in a journal—mist rose from the bay
like the luminous and indefinite aspect of intention,
and a small flock of tundra swans
for the second winter in a row was feeding on new grass
in the soaked fields; they symbolize mystery, I suppose,
they are also called whistling swans, are very white,
and their eyes are black—

and because the tea steamed in front of me,
and the notebook, turned to a new page,
was blank except for a faint blue idea of order,
I wrote: happiness! it is December, very cold,
we woke early this morning,
and lay in bed kissing,
our eyes squinched up like bats.

the mailman :: franz wright

From the third floor window
you watch the mailman’s slow progress
through the blowing snow.
As he goes from door to door

he might be searching
for a room to rent,
unsure of the address,
which he keeps stopping to check

in the outdated and now
obliterated clipping
he holds, between thickly gloved fingers,
close to his eyes

in a hunched and abruptly
simian posture
that makes you turn away,
quickly switching off the lamp.

noël :: anne porter

When snow is shaken
From the balsam trees
And they’re cut down
And brought into our houses

When clustered sparks
Of many-colored fire
Appear at night
In ordinary windows

We hear and sing
The customary carols

They bring us ragged miracles
And hay and candles
And flowering weeds of poetry
That are loved all the more
Because they are so common

But there are carols
That carry phrases
Of the haunting music
Of the other world
A music wild and dangerous
As a prophet’s message

Or the fresh truth of children
Who though they come to us
From our own bodies
Are altogether new
With their small limbs
And birdlike voices

They look at us
With their clear eyes
And ask the piercing questions
God alone can answer.

holy heathen rhapsody :: pattiann rogers

As if underwater, she floats and shimmies
slowly upward while the sun warms. She pauses
to sink again through the green and deeper
green garden leaves of this single tree,
its edifice all of Eden, heaven and earth,
slender branches bending and flowing
with the morning currents.

Summer lolls and mazes, a white-limbed
poplar, leafstalks, peel of scented bark.
Her body—seed wing or feather down, thread
slivers of silk—touches each curled lobe
and creviced branch as she passes, slides
underside, overside, along the ridges and furrows.
(Is that a tiny tongue finding the way?) Love
is this sun-holding tree of lapping leaves,
delves, canopies, a multi-tangled cover.

A spasm of breeze, the tree shivers, each leaf
twisting white flash / green shadow. By will
or wind, she moves stemward toward the steady
trunk, following fissure and tangent, rests
finally folded in a woody niche. Who could
know better? Regard the celestial; the sky
is not shelter.

via American Scientist

happily planting the beans too early :: jack gilbert

I waited until the sun was going down
to plant the bean seedlings. I was
beginning on the peas when the phone rang.
It was a long conversation about what
living this way in the woods might
be doing to me. It was dark by the time
I finished. Made tuna fish sandwiches
and read the second half of a novel.
Found myself out in the April moonlight
putting the rest of the pea shoots into
the soft earth. It was after midnight.
There was a bird calling intermittently
and I could hear the stream down below.
She was probably right about me getting
strange. After all, Basho and Tolstoy
at the end were at least going somewhere.

the writer :: richard wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

song for dead children :: muriel rukeyser

We set great wreaths of brightness on the graves of the passionate
who required tribute of hot July flowers—
for you, O brittle-hearted, we bring offering
remembering how your wrists were thin and your delicate bones
not yet braced for conquering.

The sharp cries of ghost-boys are keen above the meadows,
and little girls continue graceful and wondering.
Flickering evening on the lakes recalls those young
heirs whose developing years have sunk to earth,
their strength not tested, their praise unsung.

Weave grasses for their childhood—who will never see
love or disaster or take sides against decay
balancing the choices of maturity.
Silent and coffined in silence while we pass
loud in defiance of death, the helpless lie.

 
October 1935

deer bones :: kai carlson-wee

I felt the roof of my head break and clatter
to the floor. I felt the particles dance
in the empty and electric air, turning around in circles
like plastic bags caught in a draft.
I thought the river would swallow me whole,
and the seagulls would never stop sailing away.
Now the deer bones rattle on the bare wall.
The night winds rest and clouds
advance on clouds. Days fall back
inside themselves like water.
Now the river takes its color from the weeds
and my friends are half asleep
in their anticipated lives, dreaming in the vain styles
of their age, painting their childhoods
over their eyes, walking the ribbons
of highways like crows. Now my mind
moves back to my father’s Easter sermon,
walking alone in the dark garden,
lighting the trashcans on Division Street
on fire, watching the fat police lumber
to the flames. And my thirteenth birthday,
setting off flares in the train-yard, scraping my name
on the rust-lined door. What became
of those abbreviated years? Now they slump
inside these passing days like sand.
Now your face is hard to look at
when you sleep. Your words become like putty
in my ear. Now the cold hours wake me
in the night, the oak leaves fall and linger
in the wind, the swallows leave the shadow for the bridge,
and the carp float dead in the metal grates below.

hear it

starting the subaru at five below :: stuart kestenbaum

After 6 Maine winters and 100,000 miles,
when I take it to be inspected

I search for gas stations where they
just say beep the horn and don’t ask me to

put it on the lift, exposing its soft
rusted underbelly. Inside is the record

of commuting: apple cores, a bag from
McDonald’s, crushed Dunkin’ Donuts cups,

A flashlight that doesn’t work and one
That does, gas receipts blurred beyond

recognition. Finger tips numb, nose
hair frozen, I pump the accelerator

and turn the key. The battery cranks,
the engine gives 2 or 3 low groans and

starts. My God it starts. And unlike
my family in the house, the job I’m

headed towards, the poems in my briefcase,
the dreams I had last night, there is

no question about what makes sense.
White exhaust billowing from the tail pipe,

Heater blowing, this car is going to
move me, it’s going to take me places.

the palomino stallion :: alden nowlan

Though the barn is so warm
that the oats in his manger,
the straw in his bed
seem to give off smoke —

though the wind is so cold,
the snow in the pasture
so deep he’d fall down
and freeze in an hour —

the eleven-month-old
palomino stallion
has gone almost crazy
fighting and pleading
to be let out.

misery and splendor :: robert hass

Summoned by conscious recollection, she
would be smiling, they might be in a kitchen talking,
before or after dinner. But they are in this other room,
the window has many small panes, and they are on a couch
embracing. He holds her as tightly
as he can, she buries herself in his body.
Morning, maybe it is evening, light
is flowing through the room. Outside,
the day is slowly succeeded by night,
succeeded by day. The process wobbles wildly
and accelerates: weeks, months, years. The light in the room
does not change, so it is plain what is happening.
They are trying to become one creature,
and something will not have it. They are tender
with each other, afraid
their brief, sharp cries will reconcile them to the moment
when they fall away again. So they rub against each other,
their mouths dry, then wet, then dry.
They feel themselves at the center of a powerful
and baffled will. They feel
they are an almost animal,
washed up on the shore of a world—
or huddled against the gate of a garden—
to which they can’t admit they can never be admitted.

strip show :: zach savich

Lightning-torn bark lured on the lower limbs, a sym-
bol of how a bole bares itself in time. I’ve tried

to wear my sheddings so gracefully
that finches will not flush at the foul capillary sheen my

systolic nerve acts out its barn-raisings slash burnings by.
Have a heart. Mine murmurs yes and no and yet now.

forgotten fountain :: w. s. merwin

Water dripping year after year
from the green mossed crevice in the east cliff
through my absences and through winter
through the shadows after midday
as they deepened to nightfall
the clear drops arriving through the stone
with no color of their own as they
appear one by one on the threshold
of the world in its full color
and each one pauses for a moment
before starting on its way down
to itself as it has been doing
ever since the cliff rose
from the seafloor and then the bees found it
the badgers the foxes the birds
until the day came with voices
from the village to clear the slope
singing as the tools rose and fell
turning the stiff yellow soil to plant
vineyards and peaches and I stood
by the clear source once listening
to their last singing together
with the mattocks keeping time and I
thought of Édouard and the village
as it had been when he was young
and his name was called with the others
to the colors as they put it
in the language of elsewhere and of
what it felt like in those last days
to be leaving for Verdun with no words
in a moment with no color of its own

forbidden city :: gail mazur

Asleep until noon, I’m dreaming
we’ve been granted another year.

You’re here with me, healthy.
Then, half-awake, the half-truth—

this is our last day. Life’s leaking
away again, and this time, we know it.

Dear body, I hold you, pleading,
Don’t leave! but I understand you

can’t say anything. Who are we?
Are we fictional? We don’t look

like our pictures, don’t look like
anyone I know. Daylight

flicks through a bamboo grove,
we approach the Forbidden City,

looking together for the Hall
of Fulfilling Original Wishes.

Time is the treasure, you tell me,
and the past is its hiding place.

I instruct our fictional children,
The past is the treasure, time

is its hiding place. If we told him
how much we love him, how much

we miss him, he could stay.
But now you’ve taken me back

to Luoyang, to the Garden of Solitary Joy,
over a thousand years old—

I wake, I hold your hand, you let me go.

Listen at Slate

flying :: sarah arvio

One said to me tonight or was it day
or was it the passage between the two,
“It’s hard to remember, crossing time zones,

the structure of the hours you left behind.
Are they sleeping or are they eating sweets,
and are they wanting me to phone them now?”

“In the face of technological fact,
even the most seasoned traveler feels
the baffled sense that nowhere else exists.”

“It’s the moving resistance of the air
as you hurtle too fast against the hours
that stuns the cells and tissues of the brain.”

“The dry cabin air, the cramped rows of seats,
the steward passing pillows, pouring drinks,
and the sudden ridges of turbulence. . .”

“Oh yes, the crossing is always a trial,
despite precautions: drink water, don’t smoke,
and take measured doses of midday sun,

whether an ordinary business flight
or a prayer at a pleasure altar. . .
for moments or hours the earth out of sight,

the white cumuli dreaming there below,
warm fronts and cold fronts streaming through the sky,
the mesmerizing rose-and-purple glow.”

So did you leave your home à contrecoeur?
Did you leave a life? Did you leave a love?
Are you out here looking for another?

Some want so much to cross, to go away,
somewhere anywhere & begin again,
others can’t endure the separation. . .

One night, the skyline as I left New York
was a garden of neon flowerbursts–
the celebration of a history.

small talk :: eleanor lerman

It is a mild day in the suburbs
Windy, a little gray. If there is
sunlight, it enters through the
kitchen window and spreads
itself, thin as a napkin, beside
the coffee cup, pie on a plate

What am I describing?
I am describing a dream
in which nobody has died

These are our mothers:
your mother and mine
It is an empty day; everyone
else is gone. Our mothers
are sitting in red chairs
that look like metal hearts
and they are smoking
Your mother is wearing
sandals and a skirt. My
mother is thinking about
dinner. The bread, the meat

Later, there will be
no reason to remember
this, so remember it
now: a safe day. Time
passes into dim history.

And we are their babies
sleeping in the folds of
the wind. Whatever our
chances, these are the
women. Such small talk
before life begins

language acquisition :: marie ponsot

Burn, or speak your mind. For the oak to untruss
its passion it must explode as fire or leaves.

The delicious tongue we speak with speaks us.
A liquor of sweetness where its root cleaves
ripens fluent, as it runs for the desirous
reason, the touching sense. The infant says “I”
like earthquake and wavers as place takes voice.
Earth steadies smiling around her, in reply
to her self-finding pronoun, her focal choice.
We wait: while sun sucks earth juices up from wry
root-runs tangled under dark, while the girl
no longer vegetal, steps into view:
a moving speaker, an “I” the air whirls
toward the green exuberance of “You.”

monologue for an onion :: suji kwock kim

I don’t mean to make you cry.
I mean nothing, but this has not kept you
From peeling away my body, layer by layer,

The tears clouding your eyes as the table fills
With husks, cut flesh, all the debris of pursuit.
Poor deluded human: you seek my heart.

Hunt all you want. Beneath each skin of mine
Lies another skin: I am pure onion–pure union
Of outside and in, surface and secret core.

Look at you, chopping and weeping. Idiot.
Is this the way you go through life, your mind
A stopless knife, driven by your fantasy of truth,

Of lasting union–slashing away skin after skin
From things, ruin and tears your only signs
Of progress? Enough is enough.

You must not grieve that the world is glimpsed
Through veils. How else can it be seen?
How will you rip away the veil of the eye, the veil

That you are, you who want to grasp the heart
Of things, hungry to know where meaning
Lies. Taste what you hold in your hands: onion-juice,

Yellow peels, my stinging shreds. You are the one
In pieces. Whatever you meant to love, in meaning to
You changed yourself: you are not who you are,

Your soul cut moment to moment by a blade
Of fresh desire, the ground sown with abandoned skins.
And at your inmost circle, what? A core that is

Not one. Poor fool, you are divided at the heart,
Lost in its maze of chambers, blood, and love,
A heart that will one day beat you to death.

everything is beautiful from a distance, and so are you :: michael blumenthal

The young clarinetist, playing Mendelssohn’s Sinfonia #10 in B-minor
in back of the orchestra may be exceedingly beautiful, it’s hard to know
from here, just as I, to her, may be gorgeous myself and the day, in

retrospect, divine, as all the past loves of my life have been, and that boring
evening in County Derry as well, oh yes, they are all beautiful, now, when
I look back upon them, as, no doubt, my life will seem from some calm

and beautiful distance, some rapturous perspective, but here in the here
and now let me say that it’s midafternoon, my lover is on her way over,
it’s been a long chilly day in Budapest, what I thought was a herniated disc

is not, after all, a herniated disc, Mozart’s 250th is behind us, as is the 60th
anniversary of Bartók’s death, and it is only James Taylor on the stereo—
sweet, sentimental James—and I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks

of my taste or emotional proclivities, I only know it’s Thursday and in
an hour I’ll be making love, and, looking up at me from the pillow,
my lover may or may not consider me beautiful, or even desirable,

but the deed will be already done, the evening before us, there
are roasted red peppers and goat cheese in the refrigerator, I’ll be
as far from death as a man can be, oh can you imagine that?

i’m going to have to fire the dream master :: richard kenney

Who fabricates our dreams? Well, we must, or
Anyway some part of us. The myster-
y’s the utter
Ambush of it: how, in night’s apparent theater,
Our fingers clench the velvet armrests, our eyes
Widen with suspense … How could we surprise
Ourselves? And so,
We posit the cloaked figure of the Dream Master. Mine’s got to go.

To be clear: the problem’s not
In the theater itself, albeit shabby, old, ornate,
A nighthawk’s haunt, a lonely man’s demesne.
Nor in the mothy, slow unrolling screen.
Nor in the projection equipment—a little flickery, as to
That; still, the problem’s with the Dream Master.
Ask Carl Jung, spooning schlag in the Schnitzel Platz.
The problem? The problem? The problem’s with the plots.
Not naked, late. Not naked, late, at the lectern, hearing
One’s name announced: Electrical Engineering
Colloquium—again!—the keynote speaker.

Not naked anywhere obliquer
Than doing taxes after a day of doing taxes;
Likewise dishes, any dully punishing repetitive praxis
Requiring finer motor skills and better
Eyesight than one possesses, like disassembling a carburetor
By dying flashlight, or like—Oh, never mind.
These lines
Are beginning to seem
A little too much like one of those damned, idiotic dreams
From which, dear audience, you may take
The Master’s word, you are now requested to awake.

Listen at Slate

the starry night :: anne sexton

That does not keep me from having a terrible need of—shall I say the word—religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars. Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother.

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.

It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:

into that rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.

my grandmother washes her feet in the sink of the bathroom at sears :: mohja kahf

My grandmother puts her feet in the sink
         of the bathroom at Sears
to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer,
wudu,
because she has to pray in the store or miss
the mandatory prayer time for Muslims
She does it with great poise, balancing
herself with one plump matronly arm
against the automated hot-air hand dryer,
after having removed her support knee-highs
and laid them aside, folded in thirds,
and given me her purse and her packages to hold
so she can accomplish this august ritual
and get back to the ritual of shopping for housewares

Respectable Sears matrons shake their heads and frown
as they notice what my grandmother is doing,
an affront to American porcelain,
a contamination of American Standards
by something foreign and unhygienic
requiring civic action and possible use of disinfectant spray
They fluster about and flutter their hands and I can see
a clash of civilizations brewing in the Sears bathroom

My grandmother, though she speaks no English,
catches their meaning and her look in the mirror says,
I have washed my feet over Iznik tile in Istanbul
with water from the world’s ancient irrigation systems
I have washed my feet in the bathhouses of Damascus
over painted bowls imported from China
among the best families of Aleppo
And if you Americans knew anything
about civilization and cleanliness,
you’d make wider washbins, anyway

My grandmother knows one culture—the right one,

as do these matrons of the Middle West. For them,
my grandmother might as well have been squatting
in the mud over a rusty tin in vaguely tropical squalor,
Mexican or Middle Eastern, it doesn’t matter which,
when she lifts her well-groomed foot and puts it over the edge.
“You can’t do that,” one of the women protests,
turning to me, “Tell her she can’t do that.”
“We wash our feet five times a day,”
my grandmother declares hotly in Arabic.
“My feet are cleaner than their sink.
Worried about their sink, are they? I
should worry about my feet!”
My grandmother nudges me, “Go on, tell them.”

Standing between the door and the mirror, I can see
at multiple angles, my grandmother and the other shoppers,
all of them decent and goodhearted women, diligent
in cleanliness, grooming, and decorum
Even now my grandmother, not to be rushed,
is delicately drying her pumps with tissues from her purse
For my grandmother always wears well-turned pumps
that match her purse, I think in case someone
from one of the best families of Aleppo
should run into her—here, in front of the Kenmore display

I smile at the midwestern women
as if my grandmother has just said something lovely about them
and shrug at my grandmother as if they
had just apologized through me
No one is fooled, but I

hold the door open for everyone
and we all emerge on the sales floor
and lose ourselves in the great common ground
of housewares on markdown.