the witch has told you a story :: ana leavell haymon

You are food.
You are here for me
to eat. Fatten up,
and I will like you better.

Your brother will be first,
you must wait your turn.
Feed him yourself, you will
learn to do it. You will take him

eggs with yellow sauce, muffins
torn apart and leaking butter, fried meats
late in the morning, and always sweets
in a sticky parade from the kitchen.

His vigilance, an ice pick of   hunger
pricking his insides, will melt
in the unctuous cream fillings.
He will forget. He will thank you

for it. His little finger stuck every day
through cracks in the bars
will grow sleek and round,
his hollow face swell

like the moon. He will stop dreaming
about fear in the woods without food.
He will lean toward the maw
of   the oven as it opens

every afternoon, sighing
better and better smells.

cognitive deficit market :: joshua corey

She has forgotten what she forgot
this morning: her keys, toast in the toaster blackening
the insides of beloved skulls, little planetariums
projecting increasingly incomplete
and fanciful constellations: the Gravid
Ass, the Mesozoic Cartwheel, the Big
Goatee, the Littlest Fascist. Outside her window
a crowd gathers, seething in white confusion
like milk boiling dry in a saucepan—some
lift fingers to point this way and that
with herky-jerky certainty but
they’re standing too close for all
those flying hands so that eyeglasses and hats
fall—apologies inaudible, someone hands
a fist, the brawl overwhelms the meager traffic
of pedicabs and delivery trucks stacked high
with rotting lettuce. Meanwhile above it all
she’s setting out the tea things: ceramic cup and saucer,
little pewter spoon, pebbled iron pot, a slice
of Sara Lee. Waiting to remember
to turn the radio on, listen for the elevator, for
the lock to turn or a knock
on the door. In a little while she’ll put everything
away in the same configuration
at the bottom of a clean white sink
with its faucet dripping.
We who watch this, half-turned away already
toward sunny gardens or the oncoming semi—
being not the one dead but not exactly alive either.
The skin is a glove that wrinkles as it tightens.
The cerebellum’s the same. A game
of chess between walking sticks—I mean the insects
made up to resemble wood. I say we dissemble
from photos and repetition
our stakes in these weightless names.

ashes :: paula meehan

The tide comes in; the tide goes out again
washing the beach clear of what the storm
dumped. Where there were rocks, today there is sand;
where sand yesterday, now uncovered rocks.

So I think on where her mortal remains
might reach landfall in their transmuted forms,
a year now since I cast them from my hand
—wanting to stop the inexorable clock.

She who died by her own hand cannot know
the simple love I have for what she left
behind. I could not save her. I could not
even try. I watch the way the wind blows
life into slack sail: the stress of warp against weft
lifts the stalling craft, pushes it on out.

piano, new york :: julia kasdorf

Anywhere, like Idaho, women like our aunts
would save quarters in cups or sell pies
to buy one like this. They’d put it in a parlor
for hymns and rub it with lemon oil each week,
but here an old piano comes with the apartment,
and no one will pay movers to hoist
the beast out the window on ropes.
We think we’ve no choice but to saw into its side
that shines like the side of a horse.
We save the real ivory keys in shopping bags
and yank out the rack of purple felt mallets.
Behind it all is a harp, tall as the whole piano
and sprayed with gold. When wing nuts are loosened,
the strings twang then hang slack. We stop
for a moment, then rasp through its frame
with hacksaws and drag the thing, piece by piece,
down three flights of stairs to the street
where people walking by recognize—
just from its insides—a piano.

the scalpel :: william matthews

They’d stunned me groggy with Demoral and bland
assurances, but I could see it: a dour adolescent scythe.
100…I’d hate to meet that 99 tad when it grows to 98
up. And here’s what else I saw: my glowing corpse

amidst a huddle of apprentice docs—this is a teaching
hospital I’ve died in. Of course I can’t hear a word
they’re saying. “Let him be a lesson to you?” “What did
he do to be so black and blue?” I’m now curriculum

to them, but to the scalpel I’m the sweetest dream
that labor knows. And to myself? I’m like a dwindling
star. I watch the energy leap off me in tarry blobs
and writhing spurts of flame. How can they stand so close?

So this is what I came to, this last pyrotechnic dither.
The last imploding gleam of me winks out, reflected
by the scalpel. That’s a nice touch, I think, that mortal
flashbulb fading, first on the blade, then on the retina.

cook :: jane hirshfield

Each night you come home with five continents on your hands:
garlic, olive oil, saffron, anise, coriander, tea,
your fingernails blackened with marjoram and thyme.
Sometimes the zucchini’s flesh seems like a fish-steak,
cut into neat filets, or the salt-rubbed eggplant
yields not bitter water, but dark mystery.
You cut everything into bits.
No core, no kernel, no seed is sacred: you cut
onions for hours and do not cry,
cut them to thin transparencies, the red ones
spreading before you like fallen flowers;
you cut scallions from white to green, you cut
radishes, apples, broccoli, you cut oranges, watercress,
romaine, you cut your fingers, you cut and cut
beyond the heart of things, where
nothing remains, and you cut that too, scoring coup
on the butcherblock, leaving your mark,
when you go
your feet are as pounded as brioche dough.

poetry considered :: carl sandburg

1. Poetry is a projection across silence of cadences arranged to break that silence with definite intentions of echoes, syllables, wave lengths.

2. Poetry is an art practiced with the terribly plastic material of human language.

3. Poetry is the report of a nuance between two moments, when people say, ‘Listen!’ and ‘Did you see it?’ ‘Did you hear it? What was it?’

4. Poetry is a tracing of the trajectories of a finite sound to the infinite points of its echoes.

5. Poetry is a sequence of dots and dashes, spelling depths, crypts, cross-lights, and moon wisps.

6. Poetry is a puppet-show, where riders of skyrockets and divers of sea fathoms gossip about the sixth sense and the fourth dimension.

7. Poetry is a plan for a slit in the face of a bronze fountain goat and the path of fresh drinking water.

8. Poetry is a slipknot tightened around a time-beat of one thought, two thoughts, and a last interweaving thought there is not yet a number for.

9. Poetry is an echo asking a shadow dancer to be a partner.

10. Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly the air.

11. Poetry is a series of explanations of life, fading off into horizons too swift for explanations.

12. Poetry is a fossil rock-print of a fin and a wing, with an illegible oath between.

13. Poetry is an exhibit of one pendulum connecting with other and unseen pendulums inside and outside the one seen.

14. Poetry is a sky dark with a wild-duck migration.

15. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable.

16. Poetry is any page from a sketchbook of outlines of a doorknob with thumb-prints of dust, blood, dreams.

17. Poetry is a type-font design for an alphabet of fun, hate, love, death.

18. Poetry is the cipher key to the five mystic wishes packed in a hollow silver bullet fed to a flying fish.

19. Poetry is a theorem of a yellow-silk handkerchief knotted with riddles, sealed in a balloon tied to the tail of a kite flying in a white wind against a blue sky in spring.

20. Poetry is a dance music measuring buck-and-wing follies along with the gravest and stateliest dead-marches.

21. Poetry is a sliver of the moon lost in the belly of a golden frog.

22. Poetry is a mock of a cry at finding a million dollars and a mock of a laugh at losing it.

23. Poetry is the silence and speech between a wet struggling root of a flower and a sunlit blossom of that flower.

24. Poetry is the harnessing of the paradox of earth cradling life and then entombing it.

25. Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during a moment.

26. Poetry is a fresh morning spider-web telling a story of moonlit hours of weaving and waiting during a night.

27. Poetry is a statement of a series of equations, with numbers and symbols changing like the changes of mirrors, pools, skies, the only never-changing sign being the sign of infinity.

28. Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes.

29. Poetry is a section of river-fog and moving boat-lights, delivered between bridges and whistles, so one says, ‘Oh!’ and another, ‘How?’

30. Poetry is a kinetic arrangement of static syllables.

31. Poetry is the arithmetic of the easiest way and the primrose path, matched up with foam-flanked horses, bloody knuckles, and bones, on the hard ways to the stars.

32. Poetry is a shuffling of boxes of illusions buckled with a strap of facts.

33. Poetry is an enumeration of birds, bees, babies, butterflies, bugs, bambinos, babayagas, and bipeds, beating their way up bewildering bastions.

34. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.

35. Poetry is the establishment of a metaphorical link between white butterfly-wings and the scraps of torn-up love-letters.

36. Poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.

37. Poetry is a mystic, sensuous mathematics of fire, smoke-stacks, waffles, pansies, people, and purple sunsets.

38. Poetry is the capture of a picture, a song, or a flair, in a deliberate prism of words.

Nine Tentative (First Model) Definitions Of Poetry

1. Poetry is a projection across silence of cadences arranged to break that silence with definite intentions of echoes, syllables, wave lengths.

2. Poetry is the harnessing of the paradox of earth cradling life and then entombing it.

3. Poetry is a series of explanations of life, fading off into horizons too swift for explanations.

4. Poetry is a sky dark with a wild-duck migration.

5. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable.

6. Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes.

7. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.

8. Poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.

9. Poetry is the capture of a picture, a song, or a flair, in a deliberate prism of words.

(via, via)

 

I have a difficult time telling which version of this article/poem is definitive. From what I can tell (not having access to the primary sources), it seems like the first incarnation was an article called “Poetry Considered” in The Atlantic Monthly (vol. 131, 1923, pages 342-343). Then, the 38 “definitions” were republished in Good Morning, America (1928), perhaps as the opening poem? Years later, Sandburg selected and re-numbered 9 of the “definitions”, and published them in Harvest Poems (1960), as “Nine Tentative (First Model) Definitions Of Poetry”. Finally, people on the internet seem to have cherry-picked 10 of their own favorites, and labeled the poem “Ten Definitions Of Poetry, by Carl Sandburg”, but it doesn’t seem like those particular ones were ever selected and titled as such by the author.

red ghazal :: aimee nezhukumatathil

I’ve noticed after a few sips of tea, the tip of her tongue, thin and red
with heat, quickens when she describes her cuts and bruises—deep violets and red.

The little girl I baby-sit, hair orange and wild, sits splayed and upside down
on a couch, insists her giant book of dinosaurs is the only one she’ll ever read.

The night before I left him, I could not sleep, my eyes fixed on the freckles
of his shoulder, the glow of the clock, my chest heavy with dread.

Scientists say they’ll force a rabbit to a bird, a jellyfish with a snake, even
though the pairs clearly do not mix. Some things are not meant to be bred.

I almost forgot the weight of a man sitting beside me in bed sheets crumpled
around our waists, both of us with magazines, laughing at the thing he just read.

He was so charming—pointed out planets, ghost galaxies, an ellipsis
of ants on the wall. And when he kissed me goodnight, my neck reddened.

I’m terrible at cards. Friends huddle in for Euchre, Hearts—beg me to play
with them. When it’s obvious I can clearly win with a black card, I select a red.

I throw away my half-finished letters to him in my tiny pink wastebasket, but
my aim is no good. The floor is scattered with fire hazards, declarations unread.

auroras :: joanna klink

It began in a foyer of evenings
The evenings left traces of glass in the trees
A book and a footpath we followed
Under throat-pipes of birds

We moved through a room of leaves
Thin streams of silver buried under our eyes
A field of white clover buried under our eyes
Or a river we stopped at to watch
The wind cross it, recross it

Room into room you paused
Where once on a stoop we leaned back
Talking late into daylight
The morning trees shook off twilight
Opening and closing our eyes auroras

Beyond groves and flora we followed a road
Dotted with polished brown bottles,
Scoured furrows, a wood emptied of trees

It was enough to hollow us out
The evenings left grasses half-wild at our feet
Branches with spaces for winds

The earth changes
The way we speak to each other has changed
As for a long while we stood in a hall full of exits
Listening for a landscape beyond us

keeping track of my genius :: jack stewart

I sometimes find him in the attic,
lying on his side, contemplating
the insulation. Or just staring at

the beams, trying to get the measure
of force and distribution. He
turns up a lot in the garage.

I know he loves me. But if I look
away for an instant, he’s off,
and I worry that he won’t come back

(or when he does he’ll have no taste,
gone in for some fad I’ll have to bear,
and every move he makes a test).

But usually he’s charming,
following me to the cafe
and lying on the awning so carefully

as not to make it sag, only
casting a slight shadow on my table.
Of course I act as though I

haven’t seen a thing. He only wants,
I think, to do what can’t be done.
Why just yesterday, for instance,

I found him going through the public trash,
figuring how to fill a bottle
some angry drunk had smashed.

cabbageworm :: gabriel spera

Blind hungerer, probing mandible of glut,
she’d raze the whole damn yard if given
half the chance, seasoning the dirt
with tight green peppercorns of dung. The lush
nasturtium leaves, just yesterday offered up
like soft communion wafers dyed
the minted green of all that fills our hearts
with darkness, now recall a child’s first stab
at paper snowflakes, perfect forms debased
by graceless passage into fact. One thing is clear:
whoever promised us dominion over all
the beasts of earth has yet to clear it with
the bugs. Last fall, for instance, bowing
to snip the bounty of a summer’s worth
of providence and mulch, what did I find
but a cabbageworm like this one,
lolling in a blur of flagrant marigold,
beading the corolla with her orange-tinted
excrement, her body, too, fluorescing, green
no longer as she built into herself
the glory of the petals she consumed
as though to show how what we hunger after
can’t help but change us, stain us from within,
and that for every form and grace
there is a worm through which it passes,
given time, greedy enough to swallow
any flame, and every sun, and all
who turn their perfect hunger toward the light.

blood honey :: chana bloch

Apprehended and held without trial,
our friend was sentenced:
brain tumor, malignant.
Condemned each day to wake
and remember.

Overnight, a wall sprang up around him,
leaving the rest of us
outside.

Death passed over us this time.
We’re still at large. We’re free
to get out of bed, start the coffee,
open the blinds.
The first of the human freedoms.

If he’s guilty
we must be guilty; we’re all made of
the same cup of dust—

It’s a blessing, isn’t it? To be able,
days at a time,
to forget what we are.

*

These numbered days
have a concentrated sweetness
that’s pressed from us,
the dying man most of all.

Today we eat brunch at Chester’s,
poached egg on toast,
orange juice foaming in frosted glasses.

He remembers the summer he packed blood oranges,
stripped to the waist,
drinking the fresh-squeezed juice in the factory
straight from the tap.
He cups his left hand under his chin
as if to a faucet, laughing.

He is scooping sweetness from the belly of death
—honey from the lion’s carcass.

We sit with our friend
and brood on the riddle he sets before us:
What is it, this blood honey?

*

A shadow is eating the sun.
It can blind you
but he’s looking right at it,
he won’t turn away.

Already his gaze is marked
by such hard looking,
though just now he asked,
plaintive as a child,
Why won’t it go away?

Day after day breaks
and gives him
back to us
broken.

Soon the husk of his knowing
won’t know even that.

*

A man lies alone in his body in a world
he can still desire.
Another slice of pie? he asks.

As long as he’s hungry
he’s still one of us.
Oh Lord, not yet.

He drums out a jazz beat on the bedrail
with his one good hand
when the words stumble.
See? he says. I can trick the tumor.

He can still taste and see.
The world is good.

He hauls himself up in bed,
squinting his one good eye at the kingdom
through a keyhole
that keeps getting smaller
and smaller.
It is good. It is very good.

nostalgia :: billy collins

Remember the 1340s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.

The 1790s will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.

prayer in my boot :: naomi shihab nye

For the wind no one expected

For the boy who does not know the answer

For the graceful handle I found in a field
attached to nothing
pray it is universally applicable

For our tracks which disappear
the moment we leave them

For the face peering through the cafe window
as we sip our soup

For cheerful American classrooms sparkling
with crisp colored alphabets
happy cat posters
the cage of the guinea pig
the dog with division flying out of his tail
and the classrooms of our cousins
on the other side of the earth
how solemn they are
how gray or green or plain
how there is nothing dangling
nothing striped or polka-dotted or cheery
no self-portraits or visions of cupids
and in these rooms the students raise their hands
and learn the stories of the world

For library books in alphabetical order
and family businesses that failed
and the house with the boarded windows
and the gap in the middle of a sentence
and the envelope we keep mailing ourselves

For every hopeful morning given and given
and every future rough edge
and every afternoon
turning over in its sleep

 

(via, via)

cliff swallows-missouri breaks :: debra nystrom

Is it some turn of wind
that funnels them all down at once, or
is it their own voices netting
to bring them in—the roll and churr
of hundreds searing through river light
and cliff dust, each to its precise
mud nest on the face
none of our own isolate
groping, wishing need could be sent
so unerringly to solace. But
this silk-skein flashing is like heaven
brought down: not to meet ground
or water—to enter
the riven earth and disappear.

I am not yours :: sara teasdale

I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

You love me, and I find you still
A spirit beautiful and bright,
Yet I am I, who long to be
Lost as a light is lost in light.

Oh plunge me deep in love—put out
My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind.

i conquer the world with words :: nizar qabbani

translated by Diana Der Hovanessian and by Lena Jayyusi (first translator)

I conquer the world with words,
conquer the mother tongue,
verbs, nouns, syntax.
I sweep away the beginnings of things
and with a new language
that has the music of water the message of fire
I light the coming age
and stop time in your eyes
and wipe away the line
that separates time from this single moment.

I belong there :: mahmoud darwish

translated by carolyn forché and munir akash

I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.
I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell
with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.
I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,
a bird’s sustenance, and an immortal olive tree.
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to
   her mother.
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears.
To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.
I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a
   single word: Home.

dog music :: paul zimmer

Amongst dogs are listeners and singers.
My big dog sang with me so purely,
puckering her ruffled lips into an O,
beginning with small, swallowing sounds
like Coltrane musing, then rising to power
and resonance, gulping air to continue—
her passion and sense of flawless form—
singing not with me, but for the art of dogs.
We joined in many fine songs—”Stardust,”
“Naima,” “The Trout,” “My Rosary,” “Perdido.”
She was a great master and died young,
leaving me with unrelieved grief,
her talents known to only a few.

Now I have a small dog who does not sing,
but listens with discernment, requiring
skill and spirit in my falsetto voice.
I sing her name and words of love
andante, con brio, vivace, adagio.
Sometimes she is so moved she turns
to place a paw across her snout,
closes her eyes, sighing like a girl
I held and danced with years ago.

But I am a pretender to dog music.
The true strains rise only from
the rich, red chambers of a canine heart,
these melodies best when the moon is up,
listeners and singers together or
apart, beyond friendship and anger,
far from any human imposter—
ballads of long nights lifting
to starlight, songs of bones, turds,
conquests, hunts, smells, rankings,
things settled long before our birth.

the elements of san joaquin :: gary soto

      for César Chávez

Field

The wind sprays pale dirt into my mouth
The small, almost invisible scars
On my hands.

The pores in my throat and elbows
Have taken in a seed of dirt of their own.

After a day in the grape fields near Rolinda
A fine silt, washed by sweat,
Has settled into the lines
On my wrists and palms.

Already I am becoming the valley,
A soil that sprouts nothing.
For any of us.

Wind

A dry wind over the valley
Peeled mountains, grain by grain,
To small slopes, loose dirt
Where red ants tunnel.

The wind strokes
The skulls and spines of cattle
To white dust, to nothing,

Covers the spiked tracks of beetles,
Of tumbleweed, of sparrows
That pecked the ground for insects.

Evenings, when I am in the yard weeding,
The wind picks up the breath of my armpits
Like dust, swirls it
Miles away

And drops it
On the ear of a rabid dog,
And I take on another life.

Wind

When you got up this morning the sun
Blazed an hour in the sky,

A lizard hid
Under the curled leaves of manzanita
And winked its dark lids.

Later, the sky grayed,
And the cold wind you breathed
Was moving under your skin and already far
From the small hives of your lungs.

Stars

At dusk the first stars appear.
Not one eager finger points toward them.
A little later the stars spread with the night
And an orange moon rises
To lead them, like a shepherd, toward dawn.

Sun

In June the sun is a bonnet of light
Coming up,
Little by little,
From behind a skyline of pine.

The pastures sway with fiddle-neck,
Tassels of foxtail.

At Piedra
A couple fish on the river’s edge,
Their shadows deep against the water.
Above, in the stubbled slopes,
Cows climb down
As the heat rises
In a mist of blond locusts,
Returning to the valley.

Rain

When autumn rains flatten sycamore leaves,
The tiny volcanos of dirt
Ants raised around their holes,
I should be out of work.

My silverware and stack of plates will go unused
Like the old, my two good slacks
Will smother under a growth of lint
And smell of the old dust
That rises
When the closet door opens or closes.

The skin of my belly will tighten like a belt
And there will be no reason for pockets.

Harvest

East of the sun’s slant, in the vineyard that never failed,
A wind crossed my face, moving the dust
And a portion of my voice a step closer to a new year.

The sky went black in the ninth hour of rolling trays,
And in the distance ropes of rain dropped to pull me
From the thick harvest that was not mine.

Fog

If you go to your window
You will notice a fog drifting in.

The sun is no stronger than a flashlight.
Not all the sweaters
Hung in closets all summer

Could soak up this mist. The fog:
A mouth nibbling everything to its origin,
Pomegranate trees, stolen bicycles,

The string of lights at a used-car lot,
A Pontiac with scorched valves.

In Fresno the fog is passing
The young thief prying a window screen,
Graying my hair that falls
And goes unfound, my fingerprints
Slowly growing a fur of dust—

One hundred years from now
There should be no reason to believe
I lived.

Daybreak

In this moment when the light starts up
In the east and rubs
The horizon until it catches fire,

We enter the fields to hoe,
Row after row, among the small flags of onion,
Waving off the dragonflies
That ladder the air.

And tears the onions raise
Do not begin in your eyes but in ours,
In the salt blown
From one blister into another;

They begin in knowing
You will never waken to bear
The hour timed to a heart beat,
The wind pressing us closer to the ground.

When the season ends,
And the onions are unplugged from their sleep,
We won’t forget what you failed to see,
And nothing will heal
Under the rain’s broken fingers.

snapshots with wide apertures shown on the road :: pimone triplett

1

This one’s on Route 80 south of Water’s End, Arizona, speeding
anywhere else when I’m tired
of reading the yellow dash-and-dash, highway’s old adage.
Sunglasses coaxed
yellows to reds, though there are none where I look
into the camera.
Behind me, a blur of roadside cactus called
“succulents,”
for the moisture they save for years.
The sky cut from indigo to blue to white until
I wished for the sunset’s truncations to stay there,
thinking, too, that the verge of its curve
could flirt me into
the absolute.

2

Moving on, in Bangkok, I’m always crouching in these,
wanting to keep my head
lower than his
to show I know
he’s Mother’s father.

Asked, on going in, not to say anything
if he brought up the distant
old dealings, metallic shrillings
of long-dead women,
asked to ignore what they’d do for him,
offerings he could almost eat a meal on.

And this from the aunt who was asked to leave
the family when she was young,
“for the sake of the children,”
drawing the bad lot.
No one told me why.

That’s my foot in the foreground.
That was the daylight’s assignment
of unwavering white, the background.

These are only the circumstances. As for an end to the glare
getting the last word in,
there was none.

3

He’d set the machine on the tripod himself,
return to read the newspaper, wait for the click,
and want to keep it,
the stop-time, that is,
the pretending to read the newspaper.
Held half in the shadow fans of the palm tree,
half in a browbeat of sun.
So that the machine had to catch him quickly, the clarity,
the shot of his legs as

suddenly: brown leather sheaves holding bone.

4

Say the moment arrives
at the frame, and she who is about to enter
the picture approaches.
At the end of the road trip, she turns back
in the hopes of memorizing what’s been passed,
the colors that changed, the mirror-winks,
the real moisture, invisible, along side mirage.

His face was a once-darker shade of dust in his country.
Some days he’d set the aperture, the opening,
as wide as he could,
to ruin the picture, to let all the light in.

our valley :: philip levine

We don’t see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.

You probably think I’m nuts saying the mountains
have no word for ocean, but if you live here
you begin to believe they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you’re thrilled and terrified.

You have to remember this isn’t your land.
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside
and thought was yours. Remember the small boats
that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men
who carved a living from it only to find themselves
carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.

never give all the heart :: w. b. yeats

Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.

somewhere else :: matthew shenoda

It is here on this ridge
exposed to the orange dusk
of mountain autumn
that the story begins.

Buck wood for the stove
feel the heat of shoulder to tendon
greet the mule deer
and water the garden again.

In rhythm, with song
when the ax begins to blend with wind
carry on to warmer days
on the river’s open banks
where the fervor of healing is found in water.
Flow from one origin to another–
there is never a place where we cannot begin
where the current is ancient, the wind is young
teaching each other like the ax and the wood.

Carve a place for dignity
plant a seed and pray for rain
for sun
for understanding outside your self.

There will come a day when they say:
who do you think you are
and another day will come
for you to tell.

On that day the story will appear
but do not tell of yourself

tell the story of the staff that blossomed in the desert
or the one about your enemy’s greatest victory

tell the story of somewhere else

chariot :: stanley kunitz

for Varujan Boghosian

In this image of my friend’s studio,
where curiosity runs the shop, and you
can almost smell the nostalgic dust
settling on the junk of lost mythologies,
the artist himself stays out of view.
Yet anyone could guess
this is the magician’s place
from his collection of conical hats
and the sprawled puppets on a shelf,
the broken as well as the whole,
that have grown to resemble him,
or the other way round.
Butterflies, gameboards, and bells,
strewn jacks and alphabet blocks,
spindles, old music scores—
the litter spreads from wall to wall.
If you could dig to the bottom,
you might expect to find
a child’s plush heart,
a shing agate eye.
Here everything waits to be renewed.
That horse-age wagon wheel
proped in the corner
against an empty picture-frame,
Even in its state of disrepair,
minus three spokes,
looks poised for flight.
Tomorrow, maybe, at the crack of a whip
a flock of glittering birds will perch
on its rim, a burnished stranger
wearing an enigmatic mask
will mount its hub
and the great battered wheel
will start to spin.

victoria’s secret :: billy collins

The one in the upper-left-hand corner
is giving me a look
that says I know you are here
and I have nothing better to do
for the remainder of human time
than return your persistent but engaging stare.
She is wearing a deeply scalloped
flame-stitch halter top
with padded push-up styling
and easy side-zip tap pants.

The one on the facing page, however,
who looks at me over her bare shoulder,
cannot hide the shadow of annoyance in her brow.
You have interrupted me,
she seems to be saying,
with your coughing and your loud music.
Now please leave me alone;
let me finish whatever it was I was doing
in my organza-trimmed
whisperweight camisole with
keyhole closure and point d’esprit mesh back.

I wet my thumb and flip the page.
Here, the one who happens to be reclining
in a satin and lace merry widow
with an inset lace-up front,
decorated underwire cups and bodice
with lace ruffles along the bottom
and hook-and-eye closure in the back,
is wearing a slightly contorted expression,
her head thrust back, mouth partially open,
a confusing mixture of pain and surprise
as if she had stepped on a tack
just as I was breaking down
her bedroom door with my shoulder.

Nor does the one directly beneath her
look particularly happy to see me.
She is arching one eyebrow slightly
as if to say, so what if I am wearing nothing
but this stretch panne velvet bodysuit
with a low sweetheart neckline
featuring molded cups and adjustable straps.
Do you have a problem with that?!

The one on the far right is easier to take,
her eyes half-closed
as if she were listening to a medley
of lullabies playing faintly on a music box.
Soon she will drop off to sleep,
her head nestled in the soft crook of her arm,
and later she will wake up in her
Spandex slip dress with the high side slit,
deep scoop neckline, elastic shirring,
and concealed back zip and vent.

But opposite her,
stretched out catlike on a couch
in the warm glow of a paneled library,
is one who wears a distinctly challenging expression,
her face tipped up, exposing
her long neck, her perfectly flared nostrils.
Go ahead, her expression tells me,
take off my satin charmeuse gown
with a sheer, jacquard bodice
decorated with a touch of shimmering Lurex.
Go ahead, fling it into the fireplace.
What do I care, her eyes say, we’re all going to hell anyway.

I have other mail to open,
but I cannot help noticing her neighbor
whose eyes are downcast,
her head ever so demurely bowed to the side
as if she were the model who sat for Correggio
when he painted “The Madonna of St. Jerome,”
only, it became so ungodly hot in Parma
that afternoon, she had to remove
the traditional blue robe
and pose there in his studio
in a beautifully shaped satin teddy
with an embossed V-front,
princess seaming to mold the bodice,
and puckered knit detail.

And occupying the whole facing page
is one who displays that expression
we have come to associate with photographic beauty.
Yes, she is pouting about something,
all lower lip and cheekbone.
Perhaps her ice cream has tumbled
out of its cone onto the parquet floor.
Perhaps she has been waiting all day
for a new sofa to be delivered,
waiting all day in stretch lace hipster
with lattice edging, satin frog closures,
velvet scrollwork, cuffed ankles,
flare silhouette, and knotted shoulder straps
available in black, champagne, almond,
cinnabar, plum, bronze, mocha,
peach, ivory, caramel, blush, butter, rose, and periwinkle.
It is, of course, impossible to say,
impossible to know what she is thinking,
why her mouth is the shape of petulance.

But this is already too much.
Who has the time to linger on these delicate
lures, these once unmentionable things?
Life is rushing by like a mad, swollen river.
One minute roses are opening in the garden
and the next, snow is flying past my window.
Plus the phone is ringing.
The dog is whining at the door.
Rain is beating on the roof.
And as always there is a list of things I have to do
before the night descends, black and silky,
and the dark hours begin to hurtle by,
before the little doors of the body swing shut
and I ride to sleep, my closed eyes
still burning from all the glossy lights of day.

the same troubles with beauty you’ve always had :: michael atkinson

I still get the occasional snapshot in letters
crowded with bad news and rage and futile self-
aggrandizement, pictures of you in London or Belgium
or Corfu, depending on what man you’re with taking you where,
or small-town modeling for hair salons or Florida
clothes stores, and I can see you’re still someone whose
beauty is exercised like the bully on
the playground, to triumph in small, pointless ways,
and you’ve always been indisputably beautiful,
silencing every room you’ve ever walked into,
your lips pursed and carefully painted, your neck craned
upward in its fullest swannish arc. Apparently
you’re having the same troubles with beauty you’ve always had,
men buying you plane tickets to Europe and after
a few weeks wishing you’d leave. How many strikes
have you taken, how many semi-rapes by boyfriends
with less patience for you than for the busy bartender?
How many times have you told me one of them had spread your legs
as you’re sleeping, trying not to wake you?
How many abortions now? I remember the second,
which I drove you to, though it certainly wasn’t my child,
and, with the clinic’s appointments doubled up,
what should’ve taken hours took all day, every waiting seat
taken by the young girls and their mothers, their faces
like cliffsides, sitting silently in twos, each sinner
beside her own avenging angel. You even hushed them,
walking in like a diva to the cast party.
By never taking me to bed, you preserved me
for situations like this, the only friend you had left.
Every few hours I’d leave and call whom I was seeing then and
lie to her one of my famous white lies, told
with head held high, confident in its kindness.
Five hours later you were summoned, and I sat alone
with the two generations of women, reading
pamphlets. You stumbled coming out, and I drove you
not home, but to the empty house of your lover, a Turk
who claimed never to ejaculate and had his eye
on the 14-year-old boy next door. You sat on his cough
and cried, and I did what could be called my work or his,
I held you to my chest, to my heart. You’ve been thanking
me ever since, though the letters have trickled to maybe one
a year, and the photos you favor were taken years ago.
Unfocused that day, I remember the clinic
perhaps better than you, the thin, teary teenage girls
looking down at their laps unsure of what to fear more,
the surgery or their mothers, and hatred filling
the sometimes attractive, mothery faces
of the mothers like blood filling the nose of a drunk,
hatred for men, for children, for shame and weeping
and hatred, and as I watched all day long, each unfurled
old tissues from their sweater pockets and purses
and passed them with silent understanding to their children.

blackberry picking :: seamus heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

Watch him read it aloud in that lovely Irish brogue

the apple tree :: wendell berry

In the essential prose
of things, the apple tree
stands up, emphatic
among the accidents
of the afternoon, solvent,
not to be denied.
The grass has been cut
down, carefully
to leave the orange
poppies still in bloom;
the tree stands up
in the odor of the grass
drying. The forked
trunk and branches are
also a kind of necessary
prose—shingled with leaves,
pigment and song
imposed on the blunt
ligaments of fact, a foliage
of small birds among them.
The tree lifts itself up
in the garden, the
clutter of its green
leaves halving the light,
stating the unalterable
congruity and form
of its casual growth;
the crimson finches appear
and disappear, singing
among the design.

the sea is history :: derek walcott

Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that grey vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.

First, there was the heaving oil,
heavy as chaos;
then, like a light at the end of a tunnel,

the lantern of a caravel,
and that was Genesis.
Then there were the packed cries,
the shit, the moaning:

Exodus.
Bone soldered by coral to bone,
mosaics
mantled by the benediction of the shark’s shadow,

that was the Ark of the Covenant.
Then came from the plucked wires
of sunlight on the sea floor

the plangent harps of the Babylonian bondage,
as the white cowries clustered like manacles
on the drowned women,

and those were the ivory bracelets
of the Song of Solomon,
but the ocean kept turning blank pages

looking for History.
Then came the men with eyes heavy as anchors
who sank without tombs,

brigands who barbecued cattle,
leaving their charred ribs like palm leaves on the shore,
then the foaming, rabid maw

of the tidal wave swallowing Port Royal,
and that was Jonah,
but where is your Renaissance?

Sir, it is locked in them sea-sands
out there past the reef’s moiling shelf,
where the men-o’-war floated down;

strop on these goggles, I’ll guide you there myself.
It’s all subtle and submarine,
through colonnades of coral,

past the gothic windows of sea-fans
to where the crusty grouper, onyx-eyed,
blinks, weighted by its jewels, like a bald queen;

and these groined caves with barnacles
pitted like stone
are our cathedrals,

and the furnace before the hurricanes:
Gomorrah. Bones ground by windmills
into marl and cornmeal,

and that was Lamentations—
that was just Lamentations,
it was not History;

then came, like scum on the river’s drying lip,
the brown reeds of villages
mantling and congealing into towns,

and at evening, the midges’ choirs,
and above them, the spires
lancing the side of God

as His son set, and that was the New Testament.

Then came the white sisters clapping
to the waves’ progress,
and that was Emancipation—

jubilation, O jubilation—
vanishing swiftly
as the sea’s lace dries in the sun,

but that was not History,
that was only faith,
and then each rock broke into its own nation;

then came the synod of flies,
then came the secretarial heron,
then came the bullfrog bellowing for a vote,

fireflies with bright ideas
and bats like jetting ambassadors
and the mantis, like khaki police,

and the furred caterpillars of judges
examining each case closely,
and then in the dark ears of ferns

and in the salt chuckle of rocks
with their sea pools, there was the sound
like a rumour without any echo

of History, really beginning.

writing :: howard nemerov

The cursive crawl, the squared-off characters
these by themselves delight, even without
a meaning, in a foreign language, in
Chinese, for instance, or when skaters curve
all day across the lake, scoring their white
records in ice. Being intelligible,
these winding ways with their audacities
and delicate hesitations, they become
miraculous, so intimately, out there
at the pen’s point or brush’s tip, do world
and spirit wed. The small bones of the wrist
balance against great skeletons of stars
exactly; the blind bat surveys his way
by echo alone. Still, the point of style
is character. The universe induces
a different tremor in every hand, from the
check-forger’s to that of the Emperor
Hui Tsung, who called his own calligraphy
the ‘Slender Gold.’ A nervous man
writes nervously of a nervous world, and so on.

Miraculous. It is as though the world
were a great writing. Having said so much,
let us allow there is more to the world
than writing: continental faults are not
bare convoluted fissures in the brain.
Not only must the skaters soon go home;
also the hard inscription of their skates
is scored across the open water, which long
remembers nothing, neither wind nor wake.