desks :: don bogen

Old papers, old stationery, I know, in the heavy drawers
With filigreed brass pulls that dropped and clanged when you opened them
Everything stuffed in there: letters, bills, odd wallet-sized photos
Dried-out pens nestled along the edges of the ruffled piles
Shifting textures of paper, stiff plastic, and cardboard in different weights
Address books, old calendars, an envelope full of checks, announcements from businesses

All of these clamoring in their mute voices
Print under logos, typing that showed where a finger slipped or a key caught
The loopy handwriting of my mother before she got sick
Filling the space between the light-blue lines on the folded pages
My mother, or my grandmother—which paper, which desk, where
The bright dining room or the dim one, neither much used

I can choose at will, I can pull at the tight drawers and work them open
The handles clattering, the crammed-in papers expanding a bit, as if able to breathe
I am comfortable now, my ballpoint fluent, I am reading what I see
I look up from each desk and find either small, gold-framed pictures, a ballerina under glass

And a stack of paid bills wrapped with a rubber band
Or a light brown wall where memory has neglected to set anything

Through four generations it has gone on fading, it has never been repainted
Because it’s near the archway to the living room, light barely reaches it
The other desk splits light, dispensing it among the photos and geegaws
The mountains are behind it, they loom over the shoulder of someone writing there
Who is a ghost, lost, absorbed in a task and thus fully alive
Paying no attention to her desk or the others

Listen at Slate

kindness :: naomi shihab nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

forgettery :: rachel hadas

When a voice is silenced,
the language goes on talking,
the language from however high it falls
lands on its feet, stalks gracefully away.
Nor does a recently vacated space
fail to fill. Replacements
lurk behind every bush, are never shy
about stepping forth to take up the tale again.
Everything conspires to make us oblivious
to our own obliviousness.

This train skims pleasantly enough along.
See me gazing vaguely out the window
in expectation of what I don’t remember.
Gleaming green behind its tattered promise,
a line of trees divides the visible
from something else. The view clears: no more trees,
little hills instead, fields, slice of river.
What was that flicker, that
quivering of attention
as if at something hidden?
The impulse to discover is that strong.
I could have been in search
of nothing and have found
just what I was looking for.

the tongue :: chris martin

            for Ben Estes

So taste
as day
rearranges the red
and orange flowers
from tongue to tongue
like losing the cymbal’s
clang for all its glints
we crept behind the moon
which always insists on sleeping over
barely a belly for a mouth
an hour past the movie
we were still filming
the way food fills
each curving lapse
between your teeth
or song
in sheets
against the windshield
no one believes
air is the enemy
so don’t be afraid
to breathe all this speech
someone already died to say
the moon is on the couch
so we climb onto the roof
where our bellies swell open
to slosh and go flowers
red and orange flowers
hairy and pink-stemmed
like champagne flutes
we always overuse
everything that
happens happens
wrong if not
by tongue’s might
in the little time
left before sun drives
all the workers into work
all the workers into work

art :: eric nelson

October, a woman and a boy, a tumor
overtaking his brain, draw pictures
in the waiting room.

She makes a red apple as round
as a face. Then from her hand a cloud
grows and darkens over the apple

until the crayon breaks inside
its wrapper and hangs like a snapped
neck from her bloodless fingertips.

He’s drawn two stick-figures
up to their necks in falling gold
leaves, their heads all smiles.

It’s you and daddy, he tells her.
Above them a flock of m’s
fly toward a grinning sun.

When she doesn’t answer
he says on Halloween he’d like
to be a horse with orange wings.

Staring at his picture, she says
It looks like Thanksgiving.
Where are you?

He taps the sun. I’m shining on you.
She hugs him as if trying
to press him back inside her.

I’m not crying, she whispers.
He looks over her shoulder.
I’m not crying, too.

poem :: james schuyler

This beauty that I see
—the sun going down
scours the entangled
and lightly henna
withies and the wind
whips them as it
would ship a cloud—
is passing so swiftly
into night. A moon,
full and flat, and stars
a freight train passing
passing it is the sea
and not a train. This
beauty that collects
dry leaves in pools
and pockets and goes
freezingly, just able
still to swiftly flow
it goes, it goes.

when ecstasy is inconvenient :: lorine niedecker

Feign a great calm;
all gay transport soon ends.
Chant: who knows—
flight’s end or flight’s beginning
for the resting gull?

Heart, be still.
Say there is money but it rusted;
say the time of moon is not right for escape.
It’s the color in the lower sky
too broadly suffused,
or the wind in my tie.

Know amazedly how
often one takes his madness
into his own hands
and keeps it.