the legend :: garrett hongo

In memory of Jay Kashiwamura

In Chicago, it is snowing softly
and a man has just done his wash for the week.
He steps into the twilight of early evening,
carrying a wrinkled shopping bag
full of neatly folded clothes,
and, for a moment, enjoys
the feel of warm laundry and crinkled paper,
flannellike against his gloveless hands.
There’s a Rembrandt glow on his face,
a triangle of orange in the hollow of his cheek
as a last flash of sunset
blazes the storefronts and lit windows of the street.

He is Asian, Thai or Vietnamese,
and very skinny, dressed as one of the poor
in rumpled suit pants and a plaid mackinaw,
dingy and too large.
He negotiates the slick of ice
on the sidewalk by his car,
opens the Fairlane’s back door,
leans to place the laundry in,
and turns, for an instant,
toward the flurry of footsteps
and cries of pedestrians
as a boy–that’s all he was–
backs from the corner package store
shooting a pistol, firing it,
once, at the dumbfounded man
who falls forward,
grabbing at his chest.

A few sounds escape from his mouth,
a babbling no one understands
as people surround him
bewildered at his speech.
The noises he makes are nothing to them.
The boy has gone, lost
in the light array of foot traffic
dappling the snow with fresh prints.

Tonight, I read about Descartes’
grand courage to doubt everything
except his own miraculous existence
and I feel so distinct
from the wounded man lying on the concrete
I am ashamed

Let the night sky cover him as he dies.
Let the weaver girl cross the bridge of heaven
and take up his cold hands.

eighth sky :: michael palmer

It is scribbled along the body
Impossible even to say a word

An alphabet has been stored beneath the ground
It is a practice alphabet, work of the hand

Yet not, not marks inside a box
For example, this is a mirror box

Spinoza designed such a box
and called it the Eighth Sky

called it the Nevercadabra House
as a joke

Yet not, not so much a joke
not Notes for Electronic Harp

on a day free of sounds
(but I meant to write “clouds”)

At night these same boulevards fill with snow
Lancers and dancers pass a poisoned syringe,

as you wrote, writing of death in the snow,
Patroclus and a Pharaoh on Rue Ravignan

It is scribbled across each body
Impossible even to name a word

Look, you would say, how the sky falls
at first gently, then not at all

Two chemicals within the firefly are the cause
Twin ships, twin nemeses

preparing to metamorphose
into an alphabet in stone

St.-Benoît-sur-Loire
to Max Jacob

squirrel problem :: zachary schomburg

I watch a squirrel get run over by a car on my walk to work. She is lying dead in the street and still has an acorn in her little hands. I am amazed at how she is able to hold on to her acorn after being tumbled like that, after bouncing so high off the street. I walk over to the squirrel and see that her face is blown to bits and looks like uncased sausage spilling onto the asphalt. But that acorn is still so tight in her hands. I pick her up by her tail, take off my dress shirt and swaddle her in it, then put her in my bag. I know right where she is as I walk into work, everybody looking at me, everybody asking me about my shirtlessness. The world is as steady as if it were sewn into the skin of the universe.

after catullus :: lisa jarnot

            For Thomas

In the beginning
there was grief,
a garden in the
center of a city
lit in rose and green,
a quickening of the
air across the wing
of a plane upon the
tip of the Labrador Sea
there was gleaming
there, a torque
not finished or forestalling
there was the promise of
Paris’s perpetual pomme
pressed in gold,
there was only the hole
in the heel of a sock,
the steam of a since in a
fore-flung damp hotel
there was nothing baked
or boiled there was a stiffness,
a whiteness, a heaviness of
limbs and chips and silvered
peas, there was
this about it—a dipping
of the sun, a singular spoon,
a grid of hymns buried
under the finances of
a pickled cork, there
was finally that sense of it,
pharmacies or chemists
or high streets or the shape
of an ear of a baby asleep,
heavily there was that,
let me explain it again let it
be turned by the heave
of a hundred craven wivers
of verse, let the pendulous
balls of finest quality lead
render it into what I think
it is. Let me go back
to that garden in the
center of that city
to know I who I loved.

surrounded by sheep and low ground :: linda gregg

When death comes, we take off our clothes
and gather everything we left behind:
what is dark, broken, touched with shame.
When Death demands we give an accounting,
naked we present our lives in bundles.
See how much these weigh, we tell him,
refusing to deny what we have lived.
Everything that is touched by light
loves the light. We the stubborn-as-grass,
we who reel at the taste of sap and want
our spirits cleansed, will not betray
the weeds, snake, or crippled mare.
Never leave behind what the light shone on.

sita :: jason schneiderman

Do you remember Sita? How when Hanuman came to rescue her
she refused, how she insisted that Rama come openly,
defeat her captor Ravana openly? She had no desire for stealth,
no desire for intrigue, and though Ravana could not touch her
for the curse on his flesh, she remained captive until Rama came.
Do you remember that she was tortured? That Hunaman asked her
for permission to kill the women who had tortured her? Do you
remember how she walked through fire to prove her purity,
even though everyone knew of the curse on Ravana? How the people
said the fire didn’t matter because Fire was the brother of her mother,
Earth? How Rama was as weak in the face of his people as he
had been strong in the face of Ravana? Can you imagine the eyes
of Sita when she refused another test? When she looked at Rama,
a man she loved enough to die for, a man who was a god, and knew
it was over? Can you imagine her eyes in that moment, as she asked
her mother to take her back, to swallow her back into the earth? I think
my eyes are like that now, leaving you.

we who are your closest friends :: phillip lopate

we who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting
as a group
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
frustration
discontent and
torture
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift

your analyst is
in on it
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband
and we have pledged
to disappoint you
as long as you need us

in announcing our
association
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves
but since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make
unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your
disastrous personality

then for the good of the collective

i did not know :: margaret widdemer

I did not know that I should miss you,
   So silver-soft your loving came—
There were no trumpets down the dawning,
   There were no leaping tides of flame:

Only a peace like still rain falling
   On a tired land with drought foredone,
Only a warmth like light soft lying
   On a shut place that had not sun.

I did not know that I should miss you…
   I only miss you, day and night,
Stilly, as earth would miss the rainfall;
   Always, as earth would miss the light.

a perfect mess :: mary karr

I read somewhere
that if pedestrians didn’t break traffic laws to cross
Times Square whenever and by whatever means possible,
     the whole city
would stop, it would stop.
Cars would back up to Rhode Island,
an epic gridlock not even a cat
could thread through. It’s not law but the sprawl
of our separate wills that keeps us all flowing. Today I loved
the unprecedented gall
of the piano movers, shoving a roped-up baby grand
up Ninth Avenue before a thunderstorm.
They were a grim and hefty pair, cynical
as any day laborers. They knew what was coming,
the instrument white lacquered, the sky bulging black
as a bad water balloon and in one pinprick instant
it burst. A downpour like a fire hose.
For a few heartbeats, the whole city stalled,
paused, a heart thump, then it all went staccato.
And it was my pleasure to witness a not
insignificant miracle: in one instant every black
umbrella in Hell’s Kitchen opened on cue, everyone
still moving. It was a scene from an unwritten opera,
the sails of some vast armada.
And four old ladies interrupted their own slow progress
to accompany the piano movers.
each holding what might have once been
lace parasols over the grunting men. I passed next
the crowd of pastel ballerinas huddled
under the corner awning,
in line for an open call — stork-limbed, ankles
zigzagged with ribbon, a few passing a lit cigarette
around. The city feeds on beauty, starves
for it, breeds it. Coming home after midnight,
to my deserted block with its famously high
subway-rat count, I heard a tenor exhale pure
longing down the brick canyons, the steaming moon
opened its mouth to drink from on high …

three dog night :: faith shearin

In the old days, before houses were warm,
people did not sleep alone. Not even
widows went by themselves into

the cold sheets of night. Rooms were
lit with lanterns and children were
encouraged to jump on their beds,

warming themselves, before they
crawled inside. You might sleep with
your cousin or sister, your nose

buried in the summer of their
hair. You might place a baked potato
in your blanket to help it remember

warmth. A fire would be lit but, after
awhile, it would smolder down
to the bone silence of ash. Everything

was cold: the basin where you washed
your face, the wood floor, the windows
where you watched your breath

open over the framed blur of snow.
Your hands and feet were cold
and the trees were cold: naked,

traced in ice. You might take a dog
to bed or two or three, anything to lie
down with life, feel it breathing nearby.

history :: stephen dunn

It’s like this, the king marries
a commoner, and the populace cheers.
She doesn’t even know how to curtsy,
but he loves her manners in bed.
Why doesn’t the king do what his father did,
the king’s mother wonders—
those peasant girls brought in
through that secret entrance, that’s how
a kingdom works best. But marriage!
The king’s mother won’t come out
of her room, and a strange democracy
radiates throughout the land,
which causes widespread dreaming,
a general hopefulness. This is,
of course, how people get hurt,
how history gets its ziggy shape.
The king locks his wife in the tower
because she’s begun to ride
her horse far into the woods.
How unqueenly to come back
to the castle like that,
so sweaty and flushed. The only answer,
his mother decides, is stricter rules—
no whispering in the corridors,
no gaiety in the fields.
The king announces his wife is very tired
and has decided to lie down,
and issues an edict that all things yours
are once again his.
This is the kind of law
history loves, which contains
its own demise. The villagers conspire
for years, waiting for the right time,
which never arrives. There’s only
that one person, not exactly brave,
but too unhappy to be reasonable,
who crosses the moat, scales the walls.

the ecstasy :: phillip lopate

You are not me, and I am never you
except for thirty seconds in a year
when ecstasy of coming,
laughing at the same time
or being cruel to know for certain
what the other’s feeling
charge some recognition.

Not often when we talk though.
Undressing to the daily logs
of this petty boss, that compliment,
curling our lips at half-announced ambitions.

I tell you this during another night
of living next to you
without having said what was on our minds,
our bodies merely rubbing their fishy smells together.

The feelings keep piling up.
Will I ever find the time to tell you what is inside these trunks?

Maybe it’s the fault of our language
but dreams are innocent and pictorial.
Then let our dreams speak for us
side by side, leg over leg,
an electroencephalographic kiss
flashing blue movies from temple
to temple, as we lie gagged in sleep.

Sleep on while I am talking
I am just arranging the curtains
over your naked breasts.
Love doesn’t look too closely…
love looks very closely
the shock of beauty you gave me
the third rail that runs through our hospitality.
When will I follow you
over the fence to your tracks?

cutting hair :: minnie bruce pratt

She pays attention to the hair, not her fingers, and cuts herself
once or twice a day. Doesn’t notice anymore, just if the blood
starts flowing. Says, Excuse me, to the customer and walks away
for a band-aid. Same spot on the middle finger over and over,
raised like a callus. Also the nicks where she snips between
her fingers, the torn webbing. Also spider veins on her legs now,
so ugly, though she sits in a chair for half of each cut, rolls around
from side to side. At night in the winter she sleeps in white
cotton gloves, Neosporin on the cuts, vitamin E, then heavy
lotion. All night, for weeks, her white hands lie clothed like
those of a young girl going to her first party. Sleeping alone,
she opens and closes her long scissors and the hair falls under
her hands. It’s a good living, kind of like an undertaker,
the people keep coming, and the hair, shoulder length, French
twist, braids. Someone has to cut it. At the end she whisks
and talcums my neck. Only then can I bend and see my hair,
how it covers the floor, curls and clippings of brown and silver,
how it shines like a field of scythed hay beneath my feet.

we manage most when we manage small :: linda gregg

What things are steadfast? Not the birds.
Not the bride and groom who hurry
in their brevity to reach one another.
The stars do not blow away as we do.
The heavenly things ignite and freeze.
But not as my hair falls before you.
Fragile and momentary, we continue.
Fearing madness in all things huge
and their requiring. Managing as thin light
on water. Managing only greetings
and farewells. We love a little, as the mice
huddle, as the goat leans against my hand.
As the lovers quickening, riding time.
Making safety in the moment. This touching
home goes far. This fishing in the air.

mars being red :: marvin bell

Being red is the color of a white sun where it lingers
on an arm. Color of time lost in sparks, of space lost
inside dance. Red of walks by the railroad in the flush
of youth, while our steps released the squeaks
of shoots reaching for the light. Scarlet of sin, crimson
of fresh blood, ruby and garnet of the jewel bed,
early sunshine, vestiges of the late sun as it turns
green and disappears. Be calm. Do not give in
to the rabid red throat of age. In a red world, imprint
the valentine and blush of romance for the dark.
It has come. You will not be this quick-to-redden
forever. You will be green again, again and again.

after tagging the dust your body is made of :: jen tynes

      After tagging the dust your body is made of

      sheets flash ceremoniously on the line, in

      the rain, I am a bone and I take a bone’s

      pleasure around the ball joint, shading

      inside the names. When I pass your body in

      the hallway the illumination gives us three

      minutes of standing adjacent to the fetish

      dying. Electricity changes, there is no body

      to acknowledge through touch, I fling forward

      past my desires into the formal living room

      with its collection of bells and its collection

      of jaw bones. The sparkling line runs across

      my statement of purpose. To endanger all

      sense, I lay the body out of its own range

      of prediction. Token animal, what you know

      is circling the house, waiting for the first person

      or its shadow to appear. Without looking

      forward to sinking through the body, I am

      still mostly lover position. Place the bone

      in the window spider plant and beacon.

vocabulary :: jason schneiderman

I used to love words,
but not looking them up.

Now I love both,
the knowing,

and the looking up,
the absurdity

of discovering that “boreal”
has been meaning

“northern” all this time
or that “estrus”

is a much better word
for the times when

I would most likely
have said, “in heat.”

When I was translating,
the dictionary

was my enemy,
the repository of knowledge

that I seemed incapable
of retaining. The foreign word

for “inflatable” simply
would not stay in my head,

though the English word “deictic,”
after just one encounter,

has stuck with me for a year.
I once lost “desiccated”

for a decade, first encountered
in an unkind portrayal

of Ronald Reagan, and then
finally returned to me

in an article about cheese.
I fell in love with my husband,

not when he told me
what the word “apercus” means,

but when I looked it up,
and he was right.

There’s even a word
for when you use a word

not to mean its meaning,
but as a word itself,

and I’d tell you what it was
if I could remember it.

My friend reads the dictionary
for its perspective on culture,

laughs when I say that
reference books are not really

books, but proleptic databases.
My third grade teacher

used to joke that if we were bored
we could copy pages out of the dictionary,

but when I did, also as a joke,
she was horrified rather than amused.

Discovery is always tinged
with sorrow, the knowledge

that you have been living
without something,

so we try to make learning
the province of the young,

who have less time to regret
having lived in ignorance.

My students are lost
in dictionaries,

unable to figure out why
“categorize” means

“to put into categories”
or why the fifth definition

of “standard” is the one
that will make the sentence

in question make sense.
I wonder how anyone

can live without knowing
the word “wonder.”

A famous author
once said in an interview,

that he ended his novel
with an obscure word

he was sure his reader
would not know

because he liked the idea
of the reader looking it up.

He wanted the reader,
upon closing his book, to open

another, that second book
being a dictionary,

and however much I may have loved
that author, after reading

that story
(and this may surprise you)

I loved him less.

mosquitoes :: alison hawthorne deming

First came the scouts who felt our sweat in the air
and understood our need to make a sacrifice.

We were so large and burdened with all we had carried,
our blood too rich for our own good. They understood

that we could give what they needed and never miss it.
Then came the throng encircling our heads like acoustic haloes

droning with the me-me-me of appetite. We understood
their pleasure to find such hairless beasts so easy to open and drink.

We understood their female ardor to breed and how little
they had to go on considering the protein required to make

their million-fold eggs. Vibrant, available, and hot,
we gave our flesh in selfless service to their future.

via American Scientist

mid february :: ann campanella

The day is warm and dank as early summer.
Crows scream and pitch in the woods
like the ruckus of old women fighting
for the shreds of their lives.

A sudden silence — then the hum
of a black-winged cloud oozing
through the naked sky —
the ruckus begins again.

Under the layers of winter grey,
the farm is pale and muted, the barn doors
shut tight. The only animals in sight
an earth-brown squirrel and these harbinger birds.

I am waiting for the sun to shine again,
to learn how to unfurl my heart in its warmth.
These days, neither long nor short, bright nor dark,
wet nor dry, fill me with a sadness I cannot name.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, a day of love
and chocolate. My father, born eighty-one years ago,
always bought red cardboard hearts full of truffles
for my mother, my sister and me. Now he is gone.

This morning, the doctor taps his pencil
against the screen. A six-week ultrasound.
There, that’s the heartbeat.
A tiny flutter outlined by grey.

via the writer’s almanac

adjectives of order :: alexandra teague

That summer, she had a student who was obsessed
with the order of adjectives. A soldier in the South
Vietnamese army, he had been taken prisoner when

Saigon fell. He wanted to know why the order
could not be altered. The sweltering city streets shook
with rockets and helicopters. The city sweltering

streets. On the dusty brown field of the chalkboard,
she wrote: The mother took warm homemade bread
from the oven.
City is essential to streets as homemade

is essential to bread. He copied this down, but
he wanted to know if his brothers were lost before
older, if he worked security at a twenty-story modern

downtown bank or downtown twenty-story modern.
When he first arrived, he did not know enough English
to order a sandwich. He asked her to explain each part

of Lovely big rectangular old red English Catholic
leather Bible.
Evaluation before size. Age before color.
Nationality before religion. Time before length. Adding

and, one could determine if two adjectives were equal.
After Saigon fell, he had survived nine long years
of torture. Nine and long. He knew no other way to say this.

a true poem :: lloyd schwartz

I’m working on a poem that’s so true, I can’t show it to anyone.

I could never show it to anyone.

Because it says exactly what I think, and what I think scares me.

Sometimes it pleases me.

Usually it brings misery.

And this poem says exactly what I think.

What I think of myself, what I think of my friends, what I think about my lover.

Exactly.

Parts of it might please them, some of it might scare them.

Some of it might bring misery.

And I don’t want to hurt them, I don’t want to hurt them.

I don’t want to hurt anybody.

I want everyone to love me.

Still, I keep working on it.

Why?

Why do I keep working on it?

Nobody will ever see it.

Nobody will ever see it.

I keep working on it even though I can never show it to anybody.

I keep working on it even though someone might get hurt.

soda crackers :: raymond carver

You soda crackers! I remember
when I arrived here in the rain,
whipped out and alone.
How we shared the aloneness
and quiet of this house.
And the doubt that held me
from fingers to toes
as I took you out
of your cellophane wrapping
and ate you, meditatively,
at the kitchen table
that first night with cheese,
and mushroom soup. Now,
a month later to the day,
an important part of us
is still here. I’m fine.
And you—I’m proud of you, too.
You’re even getting remarked
on in print! Every soda cracker
should be so lucky.
We’ve done all right for
ourselves. Listen to me.
I never thought
I could go on like this
about soda crackers.
But I tell you
the clear sunshiny
days are here, at last.

fleshly answers :: rachel hadas

Doomed beauties, my companions, my familiars,
your long arms braceleted with snakes of danger,

a questions twines in all the undergrowth.
How can we tell the living from the dead?

Puvis de Chavanne’s tall pearly figures
dressed as sturdy Spartans at the chase

turn out to be pale paper dolls in space.
And how can we be sure that we’re alive?

Our bodies, aging, changing, slow and stiffen.
On flesh if not yet quite inert increasingly opaque,

bite or bruise or blemish pose the questions
Where have you been? What have you been doing?

My sister’s leg, scaled by a manic cat
nearly three years ago, still is scored and punctured.

Last September I picked blackberries
bare-armed; here are the scratches ten weeks later.

We are passing through the world.
This is some of what is does to us.

gift :: czeslaw milosz

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early. I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over the honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw blue sea and sails.

i was sleeping where the black oaks move :: louise erdrich

We watched from the house
as the river grew, helpless
and terrible in its unfamiliar body.
Wrestling everything into it,
the water wrapped around trees
until their life-hold was broken.
They went down, one by one,
and the river dragged off their covering.

Nests of the herons, roots washed to bones,
snags of soaked bark on the shoreline:
a whole forest pulled through the teeth
of the spillway. Trees surfacing
singly, where the river poured off
into arteries for fields below the reservation.

When at last it was over, the long removal,
they had all become the same dry wood.
We walked among them, the branches
whitening in the raw sun.
Above us drifted herons,
alone, hoarse-voiced, broken,
settling their beaks among the hollows.
Grandpa said, These are the ghosts of the tree people
moving among us, unable to take their rest.

Sometimes now, we dream our way back to the heron dance.
Their long wings are bending the air
into circles through which they fall.
They rise again in shifting wheels.
How long must we live in the broken figures
their necks make, narrowing the sky.

eyes only :: linda pastan

Dear lost sharer
of silences,
I would send a letter
the way the tree sends messages
in leaves,
or the sky in exclamations
of pure cloud.

Therefore I write
in this blue
ink, color
of secret veins
and arteries.
It is morning here.
Already the postman walks

the innocent streets,
dangerous as Aeolus
with his bag of winds,
or Hermes, the messenger,
god of sleep and dreams
who traces my image
upon this stamp.

In public buildings
letters are weighed
and sorted like meat;
in railway stations
huge sacks of mail
are hidden like robbers’ booty
behind freight-car doors.

And in another city
the conjurer
will hold a fan of letters
before your outstretched hand—
“Pick any card. . . ”
You must tear the envelope
as you would tear bread.

Only then dark rivers
of ink will thaw
and flow
under all the bridges
we have failed
to build
between us.

adagio :: cathy song

She lifts her hands
like seagulls above the keys,
the stubborn teeth of notes
she must sink and rise into,
giving herself to music.
Music met most days with resistance,
small fingers confined to a drill of steps.
Every good boy does fine.
All cows eat grass.

This is going nowhere,
I can hear her sigh.
I know.
I’ve been there.
I can see where I jumped
into air, mid-flight
up those stairs, places
where I played hooky,
shot pool, smoked a cigarette.
Passages where Mrs. Dorothy B. Chang scribbled
Adagio! Slow down!, underscored Control!
Another week without a gold star
to stick in the margins
like a pin on my father’s lapel.

Silence, a sleeve I wanted to pull myself through
my head, spun wire, a beehive,
reeling from the racket swarm of black notes,
undecipherable
as the algebra I was plagued with that year.

I want to play like you
says my daughter: Fast and Furious.
Already I can hear it.
Heart and Soul, Chopsticks, and Liberace.
Her schoolbag a heap on the floor,
her hairbow a limp corsage.
She wants to give herself to music
if the giving can be as uncomplicated
as the wanting will let her have it.

What do I want?
Someone to sing to me in the hour before supper?
Long hours I sang for my father.
The collapsed chords,
green and sour,
chilled a quiet room.
My father thumbed the pages of the newspaper.
My mother stirred the soup, and waited.

The late afternoon light,
in the still life of memory, burnished gold
the pitcher of water, the simple
plates set on the table, the unblemished apple.
I take the apple out of the moment
as if to place it in my daughter’s hand,
good girl, good little girl.

One day after years of lessons
the treble clef trellised like a grapevine
along the musical wire,
the notes ripening into sound
pure and sweet and round—
my father put aside his reading
and shifting in his chair
he closed his eyes and listened.