over and over stitch :: jorie graham

Late in the season the world digs in, the fat blossoms
hold still for just a moment longer.
Nothing looks satisfied,
but there is no real reason to move on much further:
this isn’t a bad place;
why not pretend

we wished for it?
The bushes have learned to live with their haunches.
The hydrangea is resigned
to its pale and inconclusive utterances.
Towards the end of the season
it is not bad

to have the body. To have experienced joy
as the mere lifting of hunger
is not to have known it
less. The tobacco leaves
don’t mind being removed
to the long racks—all uses are astounding

to the used.
There are moments in our lives which, threaded, give us heaven—
noon, for instance, or all the single victories
of gravity, or the kudzu vine,
most delicate of manias,
which has pressed its luck

this far this season.
It shines a gloating green.
Its edges darken with impatience, a kind of wind.
Nothing again will ever be this easy, lives
being snatched up like dropped stitches, the dry stalks of daylilies
marking a stillness we can’t keep.

monet refuses the operation :: lisel mueller

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolves
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

sonnet lxxv :: shakespeare

So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet-season’d showers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As ‘twixt a miser and his wealth is found;
Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure;
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then better’d that the world may see my pleasure:
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight,
And by and by clean starved for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight,
Save what is had or must from you be took.
Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.

the ballad of the harp weaver :: edna st. vincent millay

“Son,” said my mother,
When I was knee-high,
“You’ve need of clothes to cover you,
And not a rag have I.

“There’s nothing in the house
To make a boy breeches,
Nor shears to cut a cloth with
Nor thread to take stitches.

“There’s nothing in the house
But a loaf-end of rye,
And a harp with a woman’s head
Nobody will buy,”  And she began to cry.

That was in the early fall.
When came the late fall,
“Son,” she said, “the sight of you
Makes your mother’s blood crawl,–

“Little skinny shoulder-blades
Sticking through your clothes!
And where you’ll get a jacket from
God above knows.

“It’s lucky for me, lad,
Your daddy’s in the ground,
And can’t see the way I let
His son go around!”
And she made a queer sound.

That was in the late fall.
When the winter came,
I’d not a pair of breeches
Nor a shirt to my name.

I couldn’t go to school,
Or out of doors to play.
And all the other little boys
Passed our way.

“Son,” said my mother,
“Come, climb into my lap,
And I’ll chafe your little bones
While you take a nap.”

And, oh, but we were silly
For half an hour or more,
Me with my long legs
Dragging on the floor,

A-rock-rock-rocking
To a mother-goose rhyme!
Oh, but we were happy
For half an hour’s time!

But there was I, a great boy,
And what would folks say
To hear my mother singing me
To sleep all day,
In such a daft way?

Men say the winter
Was bad that year;
Fuel was scarce,
And food was dear.

A wind with a wolf’s head
Howled about our door,
And we burned up the chairs
And sat upon the floor.

All that was left us
Was a chair we couldn’t break,
And the harp with a woman’s head
Nobody would take,
For song or pity’s sake.

The night before Christmas
I cried with the cold,
I cried myself to sleep
Like a two-year-old.

And in the deep night
I felt my mother rise,
And stare down upon me
With love in her eyes.

I saw my mother sitting
On the one good chair,
A light falling on her
From I couldn’t tell where,

Looking nineteen,
And not a day older,
And the harp with a woman’s head
Leaned against her shoulder.

Her thin fingers, moving
In the thin, tall strings,
Were weav-weav-weaving
Wonderful things.

Many bright threads,
From where I couldn’t see,
Were running through the harp-strings
Rapidly,

And gold threads whistling
Through my mother’s hand.
I saw the web grow,
And the pattern expand.

She wove a child’s jacket,
And when it was done
She laid it on the floor
And wove another one.

She wove a red cloak
So regal to see,
“She’s made it for a king’s son,”
I said, “and not for me.”
But I knew it was for me.

She wove a pair of breeches
Quicker than that!
She wove a pair of boots
And a little cocked hat.

She wove a pair of mittens,
She wove a little blouse,
She wove all night
In the still, cold house.

She sang as she worked,
And the harp-strings spoke;
Her voice never faltered,
And the thread never broke.
And when I awoke,–

There sat my mother
With the harp against her shoulder
Looking nineteen
And not a day older,

A smile about her lips,
And a light about her head,
And her hands in the harp-strings
Frozen dead.

And piled up beside her
And toppling to the skies,
Were the clothes of a king’s son,
Just my size.

hunger moon :: jane cooper

The last full moon of February
stalks the fields; barbed wire casts a shadow.
Rising slowly, a beam moved toward the west
stealthily changing position

until now, in the small hours, across the snow
it advances on my pillow
to wake me, not rudely like the sun
but with the cocked gun of silence.

I am alone in a vast room
where a vain woman once slept.
The moon, in pale buckskins, crouches
on guard beside her bed.

Slowly the light wanes, the snow will melt
and all the fences thrum in the spring breeze
but not until that sleeper, trapped
in my body, turns and turns.

the booksigning :: james tate

An ad in the newspaper said that a local author
would be signing his new book at the bookstore today.
I didn’t even know we had any local authors. I was
going to be downtown anyway, so I decided to drop in
and see what he looked like. He was short and fat
and ugly, but all kinds of beautiful women were flirting
with him and laughing at every little joke he made.
Even though I didn’t know anything about his book, I
wished I had written it. A man came up to me and said,
“I hated it when the little girl died. I just couldn’t
stop crying.” “Thank God for the duck,” I said. He
took a step back from me. “I don’t remember the duck,”
he said. “Well, then, I’m afraid you missed the whole
point of the book. The duck is absolutely central,
it’s the veritable linchpin of the whole denouement,”
I said. (I had learned that word in high school, and
now it served me well.) “But what about the little
girl?” the man asked, with a painful look of bewilder-
ment on his face. “She should have been shot a hundred
pages earlier,” I said. “I don’t think I like you,”
the man said, and walked away clutching his book.
I looked over at the author. He was signing a young
woman’s cleavage, and the other women were laughing
and pulling open their blouses to be signed. I had
never even thought of writing a novel. Now, my mind
was thrashing about. The man I had offended earlier
walked up to me and offered me a glass of wine. “If
I may ask you, sir, why were you so rude to me?” he
said. I looked up from the abyss and said, “Because
I am nothing. Because I am a speck of dust floating
in infinite darkness. Because you have feelings and
you care. Do you understand me now?” “Perfectly,”
he said. “Cheers!”

 

(via)

fast thinning throng :: rachel hadas


The two stand in the fast-thinning throng of victims,
but they speak as if they were alone.

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I’m angrily packing to fly to my dying brother.
My husband stands and watches. As a tree
might look at someone, he looks down at me.
For him each death is walled in its own courtyard.

When, on the other hand, my friend hears news
of mortal illness, empathy keeps her up.
She lies awake anticipating death
steering in her direction. And it will.

Like Sydney Carton and the little seamstress
lined up in the “fast-thinning throng of victims”
in the shadow of the guillotine,
each of us gets to claim a place, a turn.

That shadow frightens; saddens; irritates me.
My husband’s distance, my friend’s fascination
rub me in equal opposite wrong ways.
But those whom we feel freest to reproach

are the lucky ones with whom we live.
Only at them are we allowed to fume.
Rolling my little suitcase toward the front
door as my husband stands, tree-like, in the far

corner of the living room, “Do more!”
I want to snarl. “Give, help, care, love me more!”
But I am not lovable today. Should I know better?
Which of us can walk into the place

where death presides and know just what to say
and do, and say and do it, nothing more
and nothing less? No person that I know.
But poetry, that mix of memory

and measured time and what can be reprieved,
with grave decorum tells the bad news, mourns
with tact, and running out of things to say
reaches the last line, ends it, shuts the door.

suddenly :: louis simpson

The truck came at me,
I swerved
but I got a dent.

The car insurance woman
informs me that my policy
has been cancelled.

I say, “You can’t do that.”
She gives me a little smile
and goes back to her nails.

Lately have you noticed
how aggressively people drive?
A whoosh! and whatever.

Some people are suddenly
very rich, and as many
suddenly very poor.

As for the war, don’t get me started.
We were too busy watching
the ball game to see

that the things we care about
are suddenly disappearing,
and that they always were.

against nostalgia :: bruce snider

Because the small town
you grew up in will color you
the way hair tonic
stains the barber’s hands,
you give yourself over to it,
eventually pulling it on
like a rummage-sale shirt,
the kind your gym teacher wore,
frayed and covered in parrots.
Though you’ll spend years
trying to forget the names
of streets, the face
of the neighbor woman
who stood in her flapping
house dress, canning beets,
nothing will prepare you
for the sight of cornfields,
for the heart-stabbing
sound of the school bell.
Nothing will keep it
from calling out to you
like the gravestones
across the road trumpeting
their Christian names
street lights blinking, haloed
in a green mist, your father
still taking his belt
off its nail, you second grade teacher
smoothing out her tan panty hose.
Even on your death bed–
breathing shallowly, trying
to find the right words
to say—your youth will rise
before you like a red stain
on your mother’s pale breast
until there’s nothing
left to say but
what you’ve always said,
which sounds more and more
like an apology
and won’t ever
ever be enough.

advice from a caterpillar :: amy gerstler

Chew your way into a new world.
Munch leaves. Molt. Rest. Molt
again. Self-reinvention is everything.
Spin many nests. Cultivate stinging
bristles. Don’t get sentimental
about your discarded skins. Grow
quickly. Develop a yen for nettles.
Alternate crumpling and climbing. Rely
on your antennae. Sequester poisons
in your body for use at a later date.
When threatened, emit foul odors
in self-defense. Behave cryptically
to confuse predators: change colors, spit,
or feign death. If all else fails, taste terrible.

 

(via Mark Doty)

arms :: richard tayson

I’m late for the birth-
day party, it’s one
of those cool after-

noons when the world
is clear, is made
of glass, the sky

so blue you want to
look up at the very
center of its pupil

in case you get
a glimpse of what
comes after

we leave here. I’m
thinking my lover’s
sister is thirty-two

today, but I want
to let time stand
still, let the tourists

go on waving their
America the Beautiful
flags across 49th

Street, let the three
ladies whose hair
is the color of smoke

rising and ghosts
taking leave of their
senses go on laughing,

near the fountain, may
we all not have
a care in the world. But

it’s August 23rd, I must
get on the train, yet
a tree keeps holding

my attention, its leaves
luscious from the summer
rain, there’s a canopy

beneath which the Pakistani
man I talked to last
week sells his salty

sauerkraut, lifting
the lid and letting out
steam each time he

serves it over hot
dogs, and the man
pays him then turns

toward me, his thick
muscled arm tan
in the sun, the tattoo:

BORN
FOR
WAR. The day

is gone, the people
around me gone, I am
trying not to forget

that I’m a pacifist,
trying not to pay
attention to his name-

brand shorts and sun
glasses that won’t
let you see a glint

of eye behind them,
I’m trying not to watch
him eat the hot dog in two

bites and nudge the woman
beside him who pushes
a stroller, his arm around

her waist as he pivots and
sees me staring. Yes he might
leap to the right, grab

my throat punch
me shoot me gut
me clean as a fish

taken from the black glass
of the city’s river street, but
the church bells are tolling,

people are saying
their prayers three blocks
from here in the hushed

dark. So I take a deep
breath and am no longer
here, I haven’t been

born yet, there is no state
of California, no Gold
Rush or steam

engine, electricity hasn’t
been invented, people
cross open spaces

on horses, no Middle
Passage, and I watch
the Huns kill the Visigoths

who slice the throats
of every living
Etruscan, a crowning

city is razed, the virgins
raped, one nation
fights for land

to walk on, then are
walked on until
someone carves on a cave

wall, then someone
writes on papyrus,
until we do it all

again, right up to
concentration camps, rivers
flowing with nuclear

waste. 49th Street
floods back, and the man
with the tattoo turns

away, as if he’s decided
not to crack my skull
open and drink me

today, the 965th day
of the new century. War
goes into fifth month. The church

bells stop and the ladies
get up and walk
toward Radio City

and while I don’t believe
in an eye for an eye, I have
a flash lasting no longer

than it takes for a nuclear
blast to render this city
invisible, shadow

of a human arm I’ve torn
from its socket, its left
hand gripping the air.

self-exam :: sharon olds

They tell you it won’t make much sense, at first,
you will have to learn the terrain. They tell you this
at thirty, and fifty, and some are late
beginners, at last lying down and walking
the old earth of the breasts—the small,
cobbled, plowed field of one,
with a listening walking, and then the other—
fingertip-stepping, divining, north
to south, east to west, sectioning
the little fallen hills, sweeping
for mines. And the matter feels primordial,
unimaginable—dense,
cystic, phthistic, each breast like the innards
of a cell, its contents shifting and changing,
streambed gravel under walking feet, it
seems almost unpicturable, not
immemorial, but nearly un-
memorizable, but one marches,
slowly, through grave or fatal danger,
or no danger, one feels around in the
two tack-room drawers, ribs and
knots like leather bridles and plaited
harnesses and bits and reins,
one runs one’s hands through the mortal tackle
in a jumble, in the dark, indoors. Outside—
night, in which these glossy ones were
ridden to a froth of starlight, bareback.

the man in the iron lung :: mark o’brien

I scream
The body electric,
This yellow, metal, pulsing cylinder
Whooshing all day, all night
In its repetitive dumb mechanical rhythm.
Rudely, it inserts itself in the map of my body,
Which my midnight mind,
Dream-drenched cartographer of terra incognita,
Draws upon the dark parchment of sleep.
I scream
In my body electric;
A dream snake bites my left leg.
Indignant, I shake the gods by their abrupt shoulders,
Demanding to know how such a vile slitherer
Could enter my serene metal shell.
The snake is punished with death,
The specialty of the gods.
Clamp-jawed still in my leg,
It must be removed;
The dream of the snake
Must be removed,
While I am restored
By Consciousness, that cruelest of gods,
In metal hard reluctance
To my limited, awkward, déclasé
Body electric,
As it whispers promises of health,
Whooshes beautiful lies of invulnerability,
Sighs sibilantly, seraphically, relentlessly:
It is me,
It is me.

teaching a child the art of confession :: david shumate

It is best not to begin with Adam and Eve. Original Sin is
baffling, even for the most sophisticated minds. Besides,
children are frightened of naked people and apples. Instead,
start with the talking snake. Children like to hear what animals
have to say. Let him hiss for a while and tell his own tale.
They’ll figure him out in the end. Describe sin simply as those
acts which cause suffering and leave it at that. Steer clear of
musty confessionals. Children associate them with outhouses.
Leave Hell out of the discussion. They’ll be able to describe it
on their own soon enough. If they feel the need to apologize
for some transgression, tell them that one of the offices of the
moon is to forgive. As for the priest, let him slumber a while
more.

poem :: matthew rohrer

You called, you’re on the train, on Sunday,
I have just taken a shower and await
you. Clouds are slipping in off the ocean,
but the room is gently lit by the green
shirt you gave me. I have been practicing
a new way to say hello and it is fantastic.
You were so sad: goodbye. I was so sad.
All the shops were closed but the sky
was high and blue. I tried to walk it off
but I must have walked in the wrong direction.

onion, fruit of grace :: julia kasdorf

Onion, fruit of grace,
you swell in the garden
hidden as the heart of God,
but you are not about religion.
Onion, frying into all those Os,
you are a perfect poet,
and you are not about that.
Onion, I love you,
you sleek, auburn beauty,
you break my heart though
I know you don’t mean
to make me cry.

Peeling your paper skin,
I cry. Chopping you,
I cry. Slicing off
your wiry roots,
I cry like a penitent
at communion, onion.
Tasting grace, layer by layer,
I eat your sweet heart
that burns like the Savior’s.
The sun crust you pull on
while you’re still underground,

I’ve peeled it.
Onion, I’m eating
God’s tears.

things keep sorting themselves. :: jane hirshfield

Does the butterfat know it is butterfat,
milk know it’s milk?
No.
Something just goes and something remains.

Like a boardinghouse table:
men on one side, women on the other.
Nobody planned it.

Plaid shirts next to one another,
talking in accents from the Midwest.

Nobody plans to be a ghost.

Later on, the young people sit in the kitchen.

Soon enough, they’ll be the ones
to stumble Excuse me and quickly withdraw.
But they don’t know that.
No one can ever know that.

I should now :: czeslaw milosz

I should now be wiser than I was.
Yet I don’t know whether I am wiser.

Memory composes a story of shames and amazements.

The shames I closed inside myself, but the amazements,
at a sun-streak on a wall, at the trill of an oriole, a face,
an iris, a volume of poems, a person, endure and return in brightness.

Such moments lift me above my lameness.

You, with whom I fell in love, approach, and forgive me
my trespasses because I was dazzled by your beauty.

You were not perfect, but just that arch of eyebrow,
that tilt of the head, that voice, reticent and seductive,
could only belong to a perfect creature.

I swore to love you eternally, but later on
my resolution wavered.

My fabric is woven of flickering glimpses,
it wouldn’t have been large enough to wrap a monument.

I was left with many unwritten odes in honor
of men and women.

Their incomparable bravery, devotion,
self-sacrifice passed away with them, and nobody knows of it.
Nobody knows for all eternity.

When I think of this, I need an immortal Witness
so that he alones knows and remembers.

sonnetesque :: lynn emanuel

I love its smallness: as though our whole town
were a picture postcard and our feelings
were on vacation: ourselves in mini-
ature, shopping at tiny sales, buying
the newspapers–small and pale and square
as sugar cubes–at the fragile, little curb.
The way the streetlight is really a table
lamp where now we sit and where real
night, (which is very tall and black and
at our backs), where for a moment
the night is forced to bend down and look
through these tiny windows, forced to come
closer and put its hand on our shoulder
and stoop over the book to read the fine print.

self-employed :: david ignatow

For Harvey Shapiro

I stand and listen, head bowed,
to my inner complaint.
Persons passing by think
I am searching for a lost coin.
You’re fired, I yell inside
after an especially bad episode.
I’m letting you go without notice
or terminal pay. You just lost
another chance to make good.
But then I watch myself standing at the exit,
depressed and about to leave,
and wave myself back in wearily,
for who else could I get in my place
to do the job in dark, airless conditions?

(via The Writer’s Almanac)

what work is :: philip levine

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.

(via Poetry Foundation, with audio!)

lending out books :: hal sirowitz

You’re always giving, my therapist said.
You have to learn how to take. Whenever
you meet a woman, the first thing you do
is lend her your books. You think she’ll
have to see you again in order to return them.
But what happens is, she doesn’t have the time
to read them, & she’s afraid if she sees you again
you’ll expect her to talk about them, & will
want to lend her even more. So she
cancels the date. You end up losing
a lot of books. You should borrow hers.

incident on the road to the capital :: dara wier

A wolf had grown tired of his character and sought
to find a means to transform himself into something
more vicious, more deadly. While his coat was slick,
thick and well-colored, for he was an excellent hunter,
he yearned for something to do that had nothing to do
with survival or instinct. He no longer killed because
he needed to or could. All that was useless, too practical,
too obvious. He wanted to kill for some other purpose.
For all of his successfully completed kills, his perfect
record of stealth and elusion, he felt nothing. When he
ran into me the other day on his journey to consult the
oracle of escalated suffering we shared a table in the
shade of a parasol tree in whose branches were preening
half a dozen or so birds with gaudy chromatic feathers.
A few of these fell onto the dome of his forehead but he
was too engrossed in his story to brush them away. He
didn’t look like a very serious wolf. I think he was
missing a real opportunity.

simulacra :: ching-in chen

It’s not that the rains have rolled back
up to the ceiling. It’s not that the frost has stopped
flirting with the dunegrass. My mother’s eyes
are glass: she writes me what she sees there.

Duck waddling highway, sideways
raccoon pus, mutant
sunflower with a yen for fertilizer.

She has no time for wordshit.
Her older sister tells me my mother
doesn’t understand much of poetry. Why
am I resistant?

The camera’s already been here.

rush hour :: c. k. williams

Someone has folded a coat under the boy’s head, someone else, an Arab
           businessman in not very good French,
is explaining to the girl, who seems to have discovered, like this, in the
           crowded Métro,
her lover is epileptic, that something must be done to keep the boy from
           swallowing his tongue:
he works a billfold between the rigidly clenched teeth as the kneeling
           girl silently looks on,
her expression of just-contained terror transfiguring her, generalizing her
           almost to the mythic,
the very image of our wonder at what can befall the most ordinary afternoon
           of early love.
The spasms quiet, the boy, his left ear scarlet from rubbing the wool,
           comes to, looks up at the girl,
and she, as the rest of us begin to move away, hesitates, then lays her
           cheek lightly on his brow.

what the plants say :: tom hennen

Tree, give up your secret. How can you be so satisfied? Why
don’t you need to change location, look for a better job, find
prettier scenery, or even want to get away from people?

Grass, you don’t care where you turn up. You appear running
wild in the oat field, out of a crack in a city street. You are
the first word in the vocabulary of the earth. How is it that you
are able to grow so near the lake without falling in? How can
you be so alert for the early frost, bend in the slightest breeze,
and yet be so hard to break that you are still there, quiet, green,
among the ruins of others?

Weed, it is you with your bad reputation that I love the most.
Teach me not to care what anyone has to say about me. Help me
to be in the world for no purpose at all except for the joy of
sunlight and rain. Keep me close to the edge where every wild
thing begins.

semi-literate :: joyce sutphen

Once I had no sense of the alphabet’s
Song, of its long train that wound along
The top of the chalkboard in the schoolroom.
I was anxious about little pairs of letters
That seemed to hold hands and go off into
The woods together: c and d; e and…
F(that’s right!); h and I (hi!); j and k.
And then there was the caterpillar of
l-m-n-o-p. What could that be?
I was sure it meant something, something
Important, but I’ve never met one yet.
Q-r-s was curious, that was certain,
T-u-v I liked because it reminded
Me of a little cabin by a lake
Where waves crashed on rocks all night. W.
Was that only one letter? One piece
Of the alphabet? Or did it come apart
To make another u and v? X, oh
Yes—that one made sense, but Y didn’t
Sound the way it looked, and when you asked
“Why?” that wasn’t it, but z was something
I could love: a little striped horse, gazing
Out the window, longing to go home.

the invitations overheard :: stephen dobyns

At the edge of a golf course, a man watches
geese land on a pond, the bottom of which
is spotted with white golf balls. It is October
and the geese pause in their long flight.

Honking and flapping at one another, they seem
to discuss their travels and the man thinks
how the world must look when viewed from above:
villages and cornfields, the autumn trees.

The man wonders how his own house must look
seen from the sky: the grass he has cut
a thousand times, the border of white flowers,
the house where he walks from room to room,

his children gone, his wife with her own life.
Although he knows the geese’s honkings are only
crude warnings and greetings, the man also
imagines they tell the histories of the people

they travel over, their loneliness, the lives
of those who can’t change their places, who
each year grow more isolated and desperate.
Is this what quickens his breathing when at night

the distant honking seems mixed with the light
of distant stars? Follow us, follow us, they call,
as if life could be made better by departure,
or if he were still young enough to think it so.

the penitent :: edna st. vincent millay

I had a little Sorrow,
      Born of a little Sin,
I found a room all damp with gloom
       And shut us all within;
And, “Little Sorrow, weep,” said I,
“And, Little Sin, pray God to die,
And I upon the floor will lie
       And think how bad I’ve been!”

Alas for pious planning —
       It mattered not a whit!
As far as gloom went in that room,
       The lamp might have been lit!
My Little Sorrow would not weep,
My Little Sin would go to sleep —
To save my soul I could not keep
       My graceless mind on it!

So up I got in anger,
       And took a book I had,
And put a ribbon on my hair
       To please a passing lad.
And, “One thing there’s no getting by —
I’ve been a wicked girl,” said I;
“But if I can’t be sorry, why,
       I might as well be glad!”

I, 17 :: rainer maria rilke

From Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

She who reconciles the ill-matched threads
of her life, and weaves them gratefully
into a single cloth—
it’s she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration
where the one guest is you.
In the softness of evening
it’s you she receives.
You are the partner of her loneliness,
the unspeaking center of her monologues.
With each disclosure you encompass more
and she stretches beyond what limits her,
to hold you.

Courtesy of E.S.