“I’m afraid of death” :: kathleen ossip

I’m afraid of death
because it inflates
the definition
of what a person
is, or love, until
they become the same,
love, the beloved,
immaterial.

I’m afraid of death
because it invents
a different kind of
time, a stopped clock
that can’t be reset,
only repurchased,
an antiquity.

I’m afraid of death,
the magician who
makes vanish and who
makes odd things appear
in odd places—your
name engraves itself
on a stranger’s chest
in letters of char.

dedication :: jim natal

This is to poems that get
lost in the dark,

poems that flutter
away, white moths
just out of reach,
camoflaged against
rough plaster of
bedroom ceiling,
little bumps and
patterns of branches
cast by light from streetlamps,
neighbors’ windows,
sometimes the
moon.

In that criss-crossed and
curtained glow
you only see them
when they move.
To grab is
to crush and keep
them earthbound, snow
of bitter wing dust on
your hands and
fingers,

fine as the powder of poems
lost in time, slipped
in among old papers
tossed away, whispers
that now annoy the hair on
the back of your head like a
strand of spider web
you brushed
one high school night,
still sticky with the first
line of your
first poem, caught,
then struggling free:

“Trees and shadows of
trees…”

(via, via)

if we must die :: claude mckay

If we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

here :: ed roberson

There is nothing concrete to grasp in
looking into the morning sky

The evidence of red-eye
flights east a plane drawn line presents

is not a wheelbarrow solid enough
dependency as day and night

carry    in coming and going
You don’t see the poem

saying anything you can’t see in it
White dashes of contrails’

seemingly unmoving streak towards sunrise
disquiet the pale otherwise

unpunctuated blue of dawn
breaks it off                   Here is that silence

a thank-you note :: michael ryan

For John Skoyles

My daughter made drawings with the pens you sent,
line drawings that suggest the things they represent,
different from any drawings she — at ten — had done,
closer to real art, implying what the mind fills in.
For her mother she made a flower fragile on its stem;
for me, a lion, calm, contained, but not a handsome one.
She drew a lion for me once before, on a get-well card,
and wrote I must be brave even when it’s hard.

Such love is healing — as you know, my friend,
especially when it comes unbidden from our children
despite the flaws they see so vividly in us.
Who can love you as your child does?
Your son so ill, the brutal chemo, his looming loss
owning you now — yet you would be this generous
to think of my child. With the pens you sent
she has made I hope a healing instrument.

couple sharing a peach :: molly peacock

It’s not the first time
we’ve bitten into a peach.
But now at the same time
it splits–half for each.
Our “then” is inside its “now,”
its halved pit unfleshed–

what was refreshed.
Two happinesses unfold
from one joy, folioed.
In a hotel room
our moment lies
with its ode inside,
a red tinge,
with a hinge.

speech alone :: jean follain

translated by w. s. merwin

It happens that one pronounces
a few words just for oneself
alone on this strange earth
then the small white flower
the pebble like all those that went before
the sprig of stubble
find themselves re-united
at the foot of the gate
which one opens slowly
to enter the house of clay
while chairs, table, cupboard,
blaze in a sun of glory.

written on the banks of the arun :: charlotte smith

When latest autumn spreads her evening veil,
And the gray mists from these dim waves arise,
I love to listen to the hollow sighs
Through the half leafless wood that breathes the gale.
For at such hours the shadowy phantom pale,
Oft seems to fleet before the poet’s eyes;
Strange sounds are heard, and mournful melodies
As of night-wanderers who their woes bewail.
Here by his native stream, at such an hour,
Pity’s own Otway I methinks could meet
And hear his deep sighs swell the saddened wind!
O Melancholy, such thy magic power
That to the soul these dreams are often sweet
And soothe the pensive visionary mind.

i like my body :: e. e. cummings

i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite a new thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which I will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh…And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill
of under me you quite so new

Courtesy of C.A.

moon :: kathleen jamie

Last night, when the moon
slipped into my attic room
as an oblong of light,
I sensed she’d come to commiserate.

It was August. She traveled
with a small valise
of darkness, and the first few stars
returning to the northern sky,

and my room, it seemed,
had missed her. She pretended
an interest in the bookcase
while other objects

stirred, as in a rock pool,
with unexpected life:
strings of beads in their green bowl gleamed,
the paper-crowded desk;

the books, too, appeared inclined
to open and confess.
Being sure the moon
harbored some intention,

I waited; watched for an age
her cool gaze shift
first toward a flower sketch
pinned on the far wall

then glide down to recline
along the pinewood floor,
before I’d had enough. Moon,
I said, We’re both scarred now.

Are they quite beyond you,
the simple words of love? Say them.
You are not my mother;
with my mother, I waited unto death.

time and the garden :: yvor winters

The spring has darkened with activity.
The future gathers in vine, bush, and tree:
Persimmon, walnut, loquat, fig, and grape,
Degrees and kinds of color, taste, and shape.
These will advance in their due series, space
The season like a tranquil dwelling-place.
And yet excitement swells me, vein by vein:
I long to crowd the little garden, gain
Its sweetness in my hand and crush it small
And taste it in a moment, time and all!
These trees, whose slow growth measures off my years,
I would expand to greatness. No one hears,
And I am still retarded in duress!
And this is like that other restlessness
To seize the greatness not yet fairly earned,
One which the tougher poets have discerned—
Gascoigne, Ben Jonson, Greville, Raleigh, Donne,
Poets who wrote great poems, one by one,
And spaced by many years, each line an act
Through which few labor, which no men retract.
This passion is the scholar’s heritage,
The imposition of a busy age,
The passion to condense from book to book
Unbroken wisdom in a single look,
Though we know well that when this fix the head,
The mind’s immortal, but the man is dead.

epitaph :: eric pankey

Beyond the traceries of the auroras,
The fires of tattered sea foam,
The ghost-terrain of submerged icebergs;
Beyond a cinder dome’s black sands,
Beyond peninsula and archipelago,
Archipelago and far-flung islands,
You have made of exile a homeland,
Voyager, and of that chosen depth, a repose.

The eel shimmers and the dogfish darts,
A dance of crisscrosses and trespasses
Through distillate glints and nacreous silts,
And the sun, like fronds of royal palm
Wind-torn, tossed, lashes upon the wake,
But no lamplight mars or bleaches your realm,
A dark of sediment, spawn, slough, and lees,
Runoff, pitch-black, from the rivers of Psalms.

psalm :: alicia suskin ostriker

I am not lyric any more
I will not play the harp
for your pleasure

I will not make a joyful
noise to you, neither
will I lament

for I know you drink
lamentation, too,
like wine

so I dully repeat
you hurt me
I hate you

I pull my eyes away from the hills
I will not kill for you
I will never love you again

unless you ask me

the guild :: sharon olds

Every night, as my grandfather sat
in the darkened room in front of the fire,
the bourbon like fire in his hand, his eye
glittering meaninglessly in the light
from the flames, his glass eye baleful and stony,
a young man sat with him
in silence and darkness, a college boy with
white skin, unlined, a narrow
beautiful face, a broad domed
forehead, and eyes amber as the resin from
trees too young to be cut yet.
This was his son, who sat, an apprentice,
night after night, his glass of coals
next to the old man’s glass of coals,
and he drank when the old man drank, and he learned
the craft of oblivion—that young man
not yet cruel, his hair dark as the
soil that feeds the tree’s roots,
that son who would come to be in his turn
better at this than the teacher, the apprentice
who would pass his master in cruelty and oblivion,
drinking steadily by the flames in the blackness,
that young man my father.

large intestine :: anna swir

translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

Look in the mirror. Let us both look.
Here is my naked body.
Apparently you like it,
I have no reason to.
Who bound us, me and my body?
Why must I die
together with it?
I have the right to know where the borderline
between us is drawn.
Where am I, I, I myself.

Belly, am I in the belly? In the intestines?
In the hollow of the sex? In a toe?
Apparently in the brain. I do not see it.
Take my brain out of my skull. I have the right
to see myself. Don’t laugh.
That’s macabre, you say.

It’s not me who made
my body.
I wear the used rags of my family,
an alien brain, fruit of chance, hair
after my grandmother, the nose
glued together from a few dead noses.
What do I have in common with all that?
What do I have in common with you, who like
my knee, what is my knee to me?

Surely
I would have chosen a different model.

I will leave both of you here,
my knee and you.
Don’t make a wry face, I will leave you all my body
to play with.
And I will go.
There is no place for me here,
in this blind darkness waiting for
corruption.
I will run out, I will race
away from myself.
I will look for myself
running
like crazy
till my last breath.

One must hurry
before death comes. For by then
like a dog jerked by its chain
I will have to return
into this stridently suffering body.
To go through the last
most strident ceremony of the body.

Defeated by the body,
slowly annihilated because of the body

I will become kidney failure
or the gangrene of the large intestine.
And I will expire in shame.

And the universe will expire with me,
reduced as it is
to a kidney failure
and the gangrene of the large intestine.

falling : the code :: li-young lee

1.
Through the night
the apples
outside my window
one by one let go
their branches and
drop to the lawn.
I can’t see, but hear
the stem-snap, the plummet
through leaves, then
the final thump against the ground.

Sometimes two
at once, or one
right after another.
During long moments of silence
I wait
and wonder about the bruised bodies,
the terror of diving through air, and
think I’ll go tomorrow
to find the newly fallen, but they
all look alike lying there
dewsoaked, disappearing before me.

2.
I lie beneath my window listening
to the sound of apples dropping in

the yard, a syncopated code I long to know,
which continues even as I sleep, and dream I know

the meaning of what I hear, each dull
thud of unseen apple-

body, the earth
falling to earth

once and forever, over
and over.

salvations :: kay ryan

Like hope
it springs
eternal,
existing in
discrete but
spherical
units, a
mist of total
but encapsulated
salvational
events. If
any two of
these bubbles
bang against
each other no
walls collapse
or double to
a larger chamber
unlike the halls
of soap.

dog in bed :: joyce sidman

Nose tucked under tail,
you are a warm, furred planet
centered in my bed.
All night I orbit, tangle-limbed,
in slim space
allotted to me.

If I accidentally
bump you from sleep,
you shift, groan,
drape your chin on my hip.

O, that languid, movie-star drape!
I can never resist it.
Digging my fingers into your fur,
kneading,
    I wonder:
How do you dream?
What do you adore?
Why should your black silk ears
feel like happiness?

This is how it is with love.
Once invited,
it steps in gently,
circles twice,
and takes up as much space
as you will give it.

compendium of lost objects :: nicole cooley

Not the butterfly wing, the semiprecious stones,
            the shard of mirror,

not the cabinet of curiosities built with secret drawers
            to reveal and conceal its contents,

but the batture, the rope swing, the rusted barge
            sunk at the water’s edge

or the park’s Live Oaks you walked through
            with the forbidden man

or the pink-shuttered house on the streetcar line
            where you were married

or the green shock of land off I-10, road leading
            you away from home.

Not any of this
but a cot at the Superdome sunk in a dumpster

and lace valances from a Lakeview kitchen where water
            rose six feet high inside

and a refrigerator wrapped in duct tape lying
            in the dirt of a once-yard
and a Blue Roof and a house marked 0 and a

kitchen clock stopped at the time the hurricane hit.

Because, look, none of this fits
in a dark wood cabinet for safekeeping.

This is an installation
                        for dismantling
                                    —never seen again.

carnal :: meg kearney

I suppose squirrels have their hungers, too,
like the one I saw today with the ass end of a mouse
jutting from its mouth. I was in the park;
I’d followed the stare of a dog, marveled
as the dog seemed to marvel that the squirrel
didn’t gag on the head, gulped so far down
that squirrel’s throat nearly all that was visible
was the grey mouse rump, its tail a string
too short to be saved. The dog and I couldn’t
stop gawking. The squirrel looked stunned himself —
the way my ex, The Big Game Hunter, looked
when I told him I was now a vegetarian.
We’d run into each other at a street fair
in Poughkeepsie. The hotdog he was eating
froze in his hand, pointed like a stubby finger,
accused me of everything I’d thought
I’d wanted, and what I’d killed to get it.

daily :: naomi shihab nye

These shriveled seeds we plant,
corn kernel, dried bean,
poke into loosened soil,
cover over with measured fingertips

These T-shirts we fold into
perfect white squares

These tortillas we slice and fry to crisp strips
This rich egg scrambled in a gray clay bowl

This bed whose covers I straighten
smoothing edges till blue quilt fits brown blanket
and nothing hangs out

This envelope I address
so the name balances like a cloud
in the center of sky

This page I type and retype
This table I dust till the scarred wood shines
This bundle of clothes I wash and hang and wash again
like flags we share, a country so close
no one needs to name it

The days are nouns: touch them
The hands are churches that worship the world

midnight in the alzheimer’s suite :: floyd skloot

Lost in the midnight stillness, my mother
rises to dress and begin another
chilly day. She crosses the moonlit floor.
There is too much silence beyond the door,
and a lack of good cheer, so she breaks
into song. But the coiling lyric snakes
back on itself and tangles in her throat.
She stops long enough to see a cloud float
along the hall, but somehow the cloud speaks
in the voice of the night nurse. Someone peeks
from a doorway. Now someone starts to moan,
someone else coughs and my mother’s stray song
returns for a moment: oh you belong
to me!
If the audience would quiet
down, she would remember. Opening night,
that’s what this must be, and the curtain parts,
and the spotlight is on, the music starts,
but there is too much movement, too much noise,
yet she cannot stop, must maintain her poise,
smile and keep on singing. Then it must be
over because the night nurse is there, she
embraces my mother and leads her back
offstage, whispering, bringing down the dark
again. Tired, but pleased with her last set,
my mother lies down for a well-earned rest.

let birds :: linda gregg

Eight deer on the slope
in the summer morning mist.
The night sky blue.
Me like a mare let out to pasture.
The Tao does not console me.
I was given the Way
in the milk of childhood.
Breathing it waking and sleeping.
But now there is no amazing smell
of sperm on my thighs,
no spreading it on my stomach
to show pleasure.
I will never give up longing.
I will let my hair stay long.
The rain proclaims these trees,
the trees tell of the sun.
Let birds, let birds.
Let leaf be passion.
Let jaw, let teeth, let tongue be
between us. Let joy.
Let entering. Let rage and calm join.
Let quail come.
Let winter impress you. Let spring.
Allow the ocean to wake in you.
Let the mare in the field
in the summer morning mist
make you whinny. Make you come
to the fence and whinny. Let birds.

after love :: sara teasdale

There is no magic any more,
      We meet as other people do,
You work no miracle for me
      Nor I for you.

You were the wind and I the sea—
      There is no splendor any more,
I have grown listless as the pool
      Beside the shore.

But though the pool is safe from storm
      And from the tide has found surcease,
It grows more bitter than the sea,
      For all its peace.

cruel, cruel summer :: d. a. powell

either the postagestamp-bright inflorescence of wild mustard
or the drab tassel of prairie smoke, waving its dirty garments

either the low breeze through the cracked window
or houseflies and drawn blinds to spare us the calid sun

one day commands the next to lie down, to scatter: we’re done
with allegiance, devotion, the malicious idea of what’s eternal

picture the terrain sunk, return of the inland sea, your spectacle
your metaphor, the scope of this twiggy dominion pulled under

crest and crest, wave and cloud, the thunder blast and burst of swells
this is the sum of us: brief sneezeweed, brief yellow blaze put out

so little, your departure, one plunk upon the earth’s surface,
one drop to bind the dust, a little mud, a field of mud

the swale gradually submerged, gradually forgotten
and that is all that is to be borne of your empirical trope:

first, a congregated light, the brilliance of a meadowland in bloom
and then the image must fail, as we must fail, as we

graceless creatures that we are, unmake and befoul our beds
don’t tell me deluge. don’t tell me heat, too damned much heat

believing in iron :: yusef komunyakaa

The hills my brothers & I created
Never balanced, & it took years
To discover how the world worked.
We could look at a tree of blackbirds
& tell you how many were there,
But with the scrap dealer
Our math was always off.
Weeks of lifting & grunting
Never added up to much,
But we couldn’t stop
Believing in iron.
Abandoned trucks & cars
Were held to the ground
By thick, nostalgic fingers of vines
Strong as a dozen sharecroppers.
We’d return with our wheelbarrow
Groaning under a new load,
Yet tiger lilies lived better
In their languid, August domain.
Among paper & Coke bottles
Foundry smoke erased sunsets,
& we couldn’t believe iron
Left men bent so close to the earth
As if the ore under their breath
Weighed down the gray sky.
Sometimes I dreamt how our hills
Washed into a sea of metal,
How it all became an anchor
For a warship or bomber
Out over trees with blooms
Too red to look at.

my life’s calling :: deborah digges

My life’s calling, setting fires.
Here in a hearth so huge
I can stand inside and shove
the wood around with my
bare hands while church bells
deal the hours down through
the chimney. No more
woodcutter, creel for the fire
or architect, the five staves
pitched like rifles over stone.
But to be mistro-elemental.
The flute of clay playing
my breath that riles the flames,
the fire risen to such dreaming
sung once from landlords’ attics.
Sung once the broken lyres,
seasoned and green.
Even the few things I might save,
my mother’s letters,
locks of my children’s hair
here handed over like the keys
to a foreclosure, my robes
remanded, and furniture
dragged out into the yard,
my bedsheets hoisted up the pine,
whereby the house sets sail.
And I am standing on a cliff
above the sea, a paper light,
a lantern. No longer mine
to count the wrecks.
Who rode the ships in ringing,
marrying rock the waters
storm to break the door,
looked through the fire, beheld
a clearing there. This is what
you are. What you’ve come to.