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.

balance, onslaught :: khadijah queen

            after Clare Rojas

(I have a diamond house
with men. I have pierced
men and diamond shoes.
I have shoed horses and
a tilted head. I have a tilted
cart and a flowered scarf.
I have a gray dress and a
hell of a guitar. I play the
guitar and the jukebox jack-
in-the-box gutted brown
bear and canoe landscape. I
play the grayest song and a
cat’s yarn game.) I sit in the
forest with a cat and a knife.
(I see the quilted mountains
and long knitted birds. I see
the man limping across the
path of chevrons between
the trees. I sit between trees,
hanging hair and red mouth.
I mouth and sit. The buck
stands by the river. I am in
my paper mask, my wood.)

the accompanist :: william matthews

Don’t play too much, don’t play
too loud, don’t play the melody.
You have to anticipate her
and to subdue yourself.
She used to give me her smoky
eye when I got boisterous,
so I learned to play on tip-
toe and to play the better half
of what I might. I don’t like
to complain, though I notice
that I get around to it somehow.
We made a living and good music,
both, night after night, the blue
curlicues of smoke rubbing their
staling and wispy backs
against the ceilings, the flat
drinks and scarce taxis, the jazz life
we bitch about the way Army pals
complain about the food and then
re-up. Some people like to say
with smut in their voices how playing
the way we did at our best is partly
sexual. OK, I could tell them
a tale or two, and I’ve heard
the records Lester cut with Lady Day
and all that rap, and it’s partly
sexual but it’s mostly practice
and music. As for partly sexual,
I’ll take wholly sexual any day,
but that’s a duet and we’re talking
accompaniment. Remember “Reckless
Blues”? Bessie Smith sings out “Daddy”
and Louis Armstrong plays back “Daddy”
as clear through his horn as if he’d
spoken it. But it’s her daddy and her
story. When you play it you become
your part in it, one of her beautiful
troubles, and then, however much music
can do this, part of her consolation,
the way pain and joy eat off each other’s
plates, but mostly you play to drunks,
to the night, to the way you judge
and pardon yourself, to all that goes
not unsung, but unrecorded.

earth tremors felt in missouri :: mona van duyn

The quake last night was nothing personal,
you told me this morning. I think one always wonders,
unless, of course, something is visible: tremors
that take us, private and willy-nilly, are usual.

But the earth said last night that what I feel,
you feel; what secretly moves you, moves me.
One small, sensuous catastrophe
makes inklings letters, spelled in a worldly tremble.

The earth, with others on it, turns in its course
as we turn toward each other, less than ourselves, gross,
mindless, more than we were. Pebbles, we swell
to planets, nearing the universal roll,
in our conceit even comprehending the sun,
whose bright ordeal leaves cool men woebegone.

daffodils :: may swenson

Yellow telephones
in a row in the garden
are ringing,
shrill with light.

Old-fashioned spring
brings earliest models out
each April the same,
naïve and classical.

Look into the yolk-
colored mouthpieces
alert with echoes.
Say hello to time.

domestic :: deborah landau

At night, down the hall into the bedroom we go.
In the morning we enter the kitchen.
Places, please. On like this,

without alarm. I am the talker and taker
he is the giver and the bedroom man.
We are out of order but not broken.

He says, let’s make this one short.
She says, what do you mean?
We set out and got nearer.

Along the way some loved ones died.
Whole summers ruined that way.
Take me to the door, take me in your arms.

Mother’s been dead a decade
but her voice comes back to me now and often.
Life accumulates, a series of commas,

first this, then that, then him, then here.
A clump of matter (paragraph)
and here we are: minutes, years.

Wait, I am trying to establish
something with these people.
Him, her, him. We make a little pantomime.

Family, I say, wake up. The sentences
one then another one, in a line. And then
we go on like that, for a long time.

to boredom :: charles simic

I’m the child of your rainy Sundays.
I watched time crawl
Over the ceiling
Like a wounded fly.

A day would last forever,
Making pellets of bread,
Waiting for a branch
On a bare tree to move.

The silence would deepen,
The sky would darken,
As Grandmother knitted
With a ball of black yarn.

I know Heaven’s like that.
In eternity’s classrooms,
The angels sit like bored children
With their heads bowed.

acrobat :: elise paschen

The night you were conceived
we balanced underneath a tent,

amazed at the air-marveler,
who, hand-over-hand, seized the stars,

then braved the line to carry home
a big-top souvenir umbrella.

Earth-bound a year, you dare
gravity, sliding from the couch

to table. Mornings, on tiptoe,
stretching fingers, you grab

Saturn, Venus and the moons
raining down from the sky of ceiling.

vocation :: sandra beasley

For six months I dealt Baccarat in a casino.
For six months I played Brahms in a mall.
For six months I arranged museum dioramas;
my hands were too small for the Paleolithic
and when they reassigned me to lichens, I quit.
I type ninety-one words per minute, all of them
Help. Yes, I speak Dewey Decimal.
I speak Russian, Latin, a smattering of Tlingit.
I can balance seven dinner plates on my arm.
All I want to do is sit on a veranda while
a hard rain falls around me. I’ll file your 1099s.
I’ll make love to strangers of your choice.
I’ll do whatever you want, as long as I can do it
on that veranda. If it calls you, it’s your calling,
right? Once I asked a broker what he loved
about his job, and he said Making a killing.
Once I asked a serial killer what made him
get up in the morning, and he said The people.

shopping :: faith shearin

My husband and I stood together in the new mall
which was clean and white and full of possibility.
We were poor so we liked to walk through the stores
since this was like walking through our dreams.
In one we admired coffee makers, blue pottery
bowls, toaster ovens as big as televisions. In another,

we eased into a leather couch and imagined
cocktails in a room overlooking the sea. When we
sniffed scented candles we saw our future faces,
softly lit, over a dinner of pasta and wine. When
we touched thick bathrobes we saw midnight

swims and bathtubs so vast they might be
mistaken for lakes. My husband’s glasses hurt
his face and his shoes were full of holes.
There was a space in our living room where
a couch should have been. We longed for

fancy shower curtains, flannel sheets,
shiny silverware, expensive winter coats.
Sometimes, at night, we sat up and made lists.
We pressed our heads together and wrote
our wants all over torn notebook pages.
Nearly everyone we loved was alive and we

were in love but we liked wanting. Nothing
was ever as nice when we brought it home.
The objects in stores looked best in stores.
The stores were possible futures and, young
and poor, we went shopping. It was nice
then: we didn’t know we already had everything.

choice of diseases :: hal sirowitz

Now that I’m sick & have
all this time to contemplate
the meaning of the universe,
Father said, I understand why
I never did it before. Nothing
looks good from a prone position.
You have to walk around to appreciate
things. Once I get better I don’t
intend to get sick for a while. But
if I do I hope I get one of those diseases
you can walk around with.

dangerous astronomy :: sherman alexie

I wanted to walk outside and praise the stars,
But David, my baby son, coughed and coughed.
His comfort was more important than the stars

So I comforted and kissed him in his dark
Bedroom, but my comfort was not enough.
His mother was more important than the stars

So he cried for her breast and milk. It’s hard
For fathers to compete with mothers’ love.
In the dark, mothers illuminate like the stars!

Dull and jealous, I was the smallest part
Of the whole. I know this is stupid stuff
But I felt less important than the farthest star

As my wife fed my son in the hungry dark.
How can a father resent his son and his son’s love?
Was my comfort more important than the stars?

A selfish father, I wanted to pull apart
My comfortable wife and son. Forgive me, Rough
God, because I walked outside and praised the stars,
And thought I was more important than the stars.

what I’m looking for :: maureen n. mclane

What I’m looking for
is an unmarked door
we’ll walk through
and there: whatever
we’d wished for
beyond the door.

What I’m looking for
is a golden bowl
carefully repaired
a complete world sealed
along cracked lines.

What I’m looking for
may not be there.
What you’re looking for
may or may not
be me. I’m listening for

the return of that sound
I heard in the woods
just now, that silvery sound
that seemed to call
not only to me.

chance :: molly peacock

may favor obscure brainy aptitudes in you
and a love of the past so blind you would
venture, always securing permission,
into the back library stacks, without food
or water because you have a mission:
to find yourself, in the regulated light,
holding a volume in your hands as you
yourself might like to be held. Mostly your life
will be voices and images. Information. You
may go a long way alone, and travel much
to open a book to renew your touch.

a windmill makes a statement :: cate marvin

You think I like to stand all day, all night,
all any kind of light, to be subject only
to wind? You are right. If seasons undo
me, you are my season. And you are the light
making off with its reflection as my stainless
steel fins spin.

                        On lawns, on lawns we stand,
we windmills make a statement. We turn air,
churn air, turning always on waiting for your
season. There is no lover more lover than the air.
You care, you care as you twist my arms
round, till my songs become popsicle

and I wing out radiants of light all across
suburban lawns. You are right, the churning
is for you, for you are right, no one but you
I spin for all night, all day, restless for your

sight to pass across the lawn, tease grasses,
because I so like how you lay above me,
how I hovered beneath you, and we learned
some other way to say: There you are.

You strip the cut, splice it to strips, you mill
the wind, you scissor the air into ecstasy until
all lawns shimmer with your bluest energy.

she makes the first cut :: linda tomol pennisi

My daughter’s hands
enter their rubber gloves,
remove an instrument
from its plastic case.

I whisper from one hundred miles
away: Remember Bach’s sonata—
the way you learned to curve
your fingers to lift the beauty

from the keys? Remember me
curled inside the dark
red chair behind you?

Have I told you
how what your hands were doing
moved the delicate bones

inside my ears? Tell me,
when you learn, how those tiny bones
are capable of such a miracle,

how their movement reached far
into my heart’s tight chambers;

how today my mind’s eye
finds you, though you have entered
another city, where your hands

tremble a bit as you cut
into the cadaver’s back,
as they trembled at recitals

when you were small,
till they found their way inside
the music, and the music gathered

all around them, and waited
for the touching.

islands :: yusef komunyakaa

An island is one great eye
    gazing out, a beckoning lighthouse,
searchlight, a wishbone compass,
    or counterweight to the stars.
When it comes to outlook & point
    of view, a figure stands on a rocky ledge
peering out toward an archipelago
    of glass on the mainland, a seagull’s
wings touching the tip of a high wave,
    out to where the brain may stumble.

But when a mind climbs down
    from its high craggy lookout
we know it is truly a stubborn thing,
    & has to leaf through pages of dust
& light, through pre-memory & folklore,
    remembering fires roared down there
till they pushed up through the seafloor
    & plumes of ash covered the dead
shaken awake worlds away, & silence
    filled up with centuries of waiting.

Sea urchin, turtle, & crab
    came with earthly know-how,
& one bird arrived with a sprig in its beak,
    before everything clouded with cries,
a millennium of small deaths now topsoil
    & seasons of blossoms in a single seed.
Light edged along salt-crusted stones,
    across a cataract of blue water,
& lost sailors’ parrots spoke of sirens,
    the last words of men buried at sea.

Someone could stand here
    contemplating the future, leafing
through torn pages of St. Augustine
    or the prophecies by fishermen,
translating spore & folly down to taproot.
    The dreamy-eyed boy still in the man,
the girl in the woman, a sunny forecast
    behind today, but tomorrow’s beyond
words. To behold a body of water
    is to know pig iron & mother wit.

Whoever this figure is,
    he will soon return to dancing
through the aroma of dagger’s log,
    ginger lily, & bougainvillea,
between chants & strings struck
    till gourds rally the healing air,
& till the church-steeple birds
    fly sweet darkness home.
Whoever this friend or lover is,
    he intones redemptive harmonies.

To lie down in remembrance
    is to know each of us is a prodigal
son or daughter, looking out beyond land
    & sky, the chemical & metaphysical
beyond falling & turning waterwheels
    in the colossal brain of damnable gods,
a Eureka held up to the sun’s blinding eye,
    born to gaze into fire. After conquering
frontiers, the mind comes back to rest,
    stretching out over the white sand.

green market, ny :: julia kasdorf

The first day of false spring, I hit the street,
buoyant, my coat open. I could keep walking
and leave that job without cleaning my desk.
At Union Square the country people slouch
by crates of last fall’s potatoes.
An Amish lady tends her table of pies.
I ask where her farm is. “Upstate,” she says,
“but we moved from P.A. where the land is better,
and the growing season’s longer by a month.”
I ask where in P.A. “Towns you wouldn’t know,
around Mifflinburg, around Belleville.”
And I tell her I was born there.
“Now who would your grandparents be?”
“Thomas and Vesta Peachey.”
“Well, I was a Peachey,” she says,
and she grins like she sees the whole farm
on my face. “What a place your folks had,
down Locust Grove. Do you know my father,
the Harness shop on the Front Mountain Road?”
I do. And then we can’t think what to say
that Valley so far from the traffic on Broadway.
I choose a pie while she eyes my short hair
then looks square on my face. She knows
I know better than to pay six dollars for this.
“Do you live in the city?” she asks, “do you like it?”
I say no. And that was no lie, Emma Peachey.
I don’t like New York, but sometimes these streets
hold me as hard as we’re held by rich earth.
I have not forgotten that Bible verse:
Whoever puts his hand to the plow and looks back
is not fit for the kingdom of God.

the initiation :: alicia ostriker

I was still a kid
interning at Bellevue
It was a young red-headed woman
looked like my sister
When the lines went flat
I fell apart
Went to the head surgeon
a fatherly man
Boy, he said, you got to fill a graveyard
before you know this business
and you just did
row one, plot one.

automatic teller machine :: ben mirov

If you work at a steady rate
you may reach the river by nightfall
and if you have the will

a canoe will be waiting
by the ash factory
for you to take upstream

to the takoyaki shack
where you can eat delicious food
and drink as much beer as you like

until late into the night.
In other words you have
your whole life ahead of you

and no one can tell you
what to do or how to act
or what to say or anything

said the machine in the wall
before dispensing my receipt
in a tiny wadded ball.

crocus :: alfred kreymborg

When trees have lost remembrance of the leaves
that spring bequeaths to summer, autumn weaves
and loosens mournfully — this dirge, to whom
does it belong — who treads the hidden loom?

When peaks are overwhelmed with snow and ice,
and clouds with crepe bedeck and shroud the skies —
nor any sun or moon or star, it seems,
can wedge a path of light through such black dreams —

All motion cold, and dead all traces thereof:
What sudden shock below, or spark above,
starts torrents raging down till rivers surge —
that aid the first small crocus to emerge?

The earth will turn and spin and fairly soar,
that couldn’t move a tortoise-foot before —
and planets permeate the atmosphere
till misery depart and mystery clear! —

And yet, so insignificant a hearse? —
who gave it the endurance so to brave
such elements? — shove winter down a grave? —
and then lead on again the universe?