forever war :: nate pritts

In studying the anomaly
it was determined that holiday decorations
look sad out of season,
that there’s no excuse for the mistakes
of my people. Red paper hearts
on the front door into April,
a cauldron that doubles as a planter
in summer. Always the starscape
to help keep me honest, to remind me
that distance is easy to cross.
The analytic belt I’m equipped with
reminds me of an indescribable autumn
from one hundred generations ago
though even last year
I was someone else.
I was faced with a choice.
Proceed with the same core
or blow it up to restart
& maybe go further. Most of my programming
has survived into this new battle.
I can smell faint ocean
salt on the breeze & I have different
reactions for its presence or absence.
Now is the time to overcome problems.
I debate the finer points of being desperate,
of wanting things to remain
as they are, though they can’t.
I’d rather not go into details
since specifics make me queasy,
like in pictures when people put their heads
too close together. How can they stand
such forced intimacy?
I take off in search of my home planet.
My resolve is stronger than ever.

the taxi :: amy lowell

When I go away from you
The world beats dead
Like a slackened drum.
I call out for you against the jutted stars
And shout into the ridges of the wind.
Streets coming fast,
One after the other,
Wedge you away from me,
And the lamps of the city prick my eyes
So that I can no longer see your face.
Why should I leave you,
To wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night?

the aunts :: joyce sutphen

I like it when they get together
and talk in voices that sound
like apple trees and grape vines,

and some of them wear hats
and go to Arizona in the winter,
and they all like to play cards.

They will always be the ones
who say “It is time to go now,”
even as we linger at the door,

or stand by the waiting cars, they
remember someone—an uncle we
never knew—and sigh, all

of them together, like wind
in the oak trees behind the farm
where they grew up—a place

I remember—especially
the hen house and the soft
clucking that filled the sunlit yard.

poetry :: monica ferrell

There is nothing beautiful here
However I may want it. I can’t
Spin a crystal palace of this thin air,
Weave a darkness plush as molefur with my tongue
However I want. Yet I am not alone
In these alleys of vowels, which comfort me
As the single living nun of a convent
Is comforted by the walls of that catacomb
She walks at night, lit by her own moving candle.
I am not afraid of mirrors or the future
—Or even you, lovers, wandering cow-fat
And rutting in the gardens of this earthly verge
Where I too trod, a sunspot, parasol-shaded,
Kin to the trees, the bees, the color green.

a prospect of heaven makes death easy :: isaac watts

There is a land of pure delight
   Where saints immortal reign;
Infinite day excludes the night,
   And pleasures banish pain.

There everlasting spring abides,
   And never-withering flowers;
Death like a narrow sea divides
   This heavenly land from ours.

Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
   Stand dressed in living green:
So to the Jews old Canaan stood,
   While Jordan rolled between.

But timorous mortals start and shrink
   To cross this narrow sea,
And linger shivering on the brink,
   And fear to launch away.

Oh could we make our doubts remove,
   These gloomy doubts that rise,
And see the Canaan that we love,
   With unbeclouded eyes;

Could we but climb where Moses stood
   And view the landscape o’er,
Not Jordan’s stream, nor death’s cold flood,
   Should fright us from the shore.

sojourns in the parallel world :: denise levertov

We live our lives of human passions,
cruelties, dreams, concepts,
crimes and the exercise of virtue
in and beside a world devoid
of our preoccupations, free
from apprehension–though affected,
certainly, by our actions. A world
parallel to our own though overlapping.
We call it “Nature”; only reluctantly
admitting ourselves to be “Nature” too.
Whenever we lose track of our own obsessions,
our self-concerns, because we drift for a minute,
an hour even, of pure (almost pure)
response to that insouciant life:
cloud, bird, fox, the flow of light, the dancing
pilgrimage of water, vast stillness
of spellbound ephemerae on a lit windowpane,
animal voices, mineral hum, wind
conversing with rain, ocean with rock, stuttering
of fire to coal–then something tethered
in us, hobbled like a donkey on its patch
of gnawed grass and thistles, breaks free.
No one discovers
just where we’ve been, when we’re caught up again
into our own sphere (where we must
return, indeed, to evolve our destinies)
–but we have changed, a little.

variations on the word love :: margaret atwood

This is a word we use to plug
holes with. It’s the right size for those warm
blanks in speech, for those red heart-
shaped vacancies on the page that look nothing
like real hearts. Add lace
and you can sell
it. We insert it also in the one empty
space on the printed form
that comes with no instructions. There are whole
magazines with not much in them
but the word love, you can
rub it all over your body and you
can cook with it too. How do we know
it isn’t what goes on at the cool
debaucheries of slugs under damp
pieces of cardboard? As for the weed-
seedlings nosing their tough snouts up
among the lettuces, they shout it.
Love! Love! sing the soldiers, raising
their glittering knives in salute.

Then there’s the two
of us. This word
is far too short for us, it has only
four letters, too sparse
to fill those deep bare
vacuums between the stars
that press on us with their deafness.
It’s not love we don’t wish
to fall into, but that fear.
this word is not enough but it will
have to do. It’s a single
vowel in this metallic
silence, a mouth that says
O again and again in wonder
and pain, a breath, a finger
grip on a cliffside. You can
hold on or let go.

 

(via, via)

to the dead in the graveyard underneath my window :: adelaide crapsey

Written in A Moment of Exasperation

How can you lie so still? All day I watch
And never a blade of all the green sod moves
To show where restlessly you toss and turn,
And fling a desperate arm or draw up knees
Stiffened and aching from their long disuse;
I watch all night and not one ghost comes forth
To take its freedom of the midnight hour.
Oh, have you no rebellion in your bones?
The very worms must scorn you where you lie,
A pallid mouldering acquiescent folk,
Meek habitants of unresented graves.
Why are you there in your straight row on row
Where I must ever see you from my bed
That in your mere dumb presence iterate
The text so weary in my ears: “Lie still
And rest; be patient and lie still and rest.”
I’ll not be patient! I will not lie still!
There is a brown road runs between the pines,
And further on the purple woodlands lie,
And still beyond blue mountains lift and loom;
And I would walk the road and I would be
Deep in the wooded shade and I would reach
The windy mountain tops that touch the clouds.
My eyes may follow but my feet are held.
Recumbent as you others must I too
Submit? Be mimic of your movelessness
With pillow and counterpane for stone and sod?
And if the many sayings of the wise
Teach of submission I will not submit
But with a spirit all unreconciled
Flash an unquenched defiance to the stars.
Better it is to walk, to run, to dance,
Better it is to laugh and leap and sing,
To know the open skies of dawn and night,
To move untrammeled down the flaming noon,
And I will clamour it through weary days
Keeping the edge of deprivation sharp,
Nor with the pliant speaking on my lips
Of resignation, sister to defeat.
I’ll not be patient. I will not lie still.

And in ironic quietude who is
The despot of our days and lord of dust
Needs but, scarce heeding, wait to drop
Grim casual comment on rebellion’s end;
“Yes, yes . . Wilful and petulant but now
As dead and quiet as the others are.”

And this each body and ghost of you hath heard
That in your graves do therefore lie so still.

he said turn here :: dean young

and then Tony showed us the lake
where he had thrown some of his sadness last summer
and it had dissolved like powder
so he thought maybe the lake could take
some of the radiant, aluminum kind
he had been making lately.
And it did.
It was a perfect lake,
none of the paint had chipped off,
no bolts showing, the arms that Dante
and Virgil would have to hack through
not even breaking the surface.
Mumbling Italian to itself,
it had climbed down two wooden stairs
back to the beach now that the rains were done.
How strange to be water so close to the ocean
yet the only other water you get to talk to
comes from the sky. Maybe this is why
it seems so willing to take on
Tony’s sadness which sometimes corrodes
his friends, which is really
many different sadnesses, smaller
and smaller, surrounded by more
and more space, each a world and
at its core an engine like a bee
inside a lily, like buzzing inside
the bee. It seems like nothing
could change its color although
we couldn’t tell what color it was,
it kept changing. In the summer,
Tony says he comes down early each day
and there’s no one around so the lake
barely says a thing when he dives in
and once when his kitchen was on fire in Maine
and he was asleep, the lake came and bit his hand,
trying to drag him to safety
and some nights in New Mexico,
he can hear it howling,
searching for him in the desert
so we’re glad Tony has this lake
and we promise to come back in August
and swim with him across,
maybe even race.

in the lake region :: tomas venclova

translated by ellen hinsey

When you open the door, everything falls into place—
the little ferry by the wharf, fir trees and thujas.
An old woman, feeding ducks, seems as old as Leni
Riefenstahl. At the base of the hill, chestnut trees, not yet in full bloom,
are younger—but probably as old as her films.
All is wet and bright. A hedgehog or God-knows-whose-soul
is rummaging in last year’s leaves. Dead water and living water
fill the plain. The twins Celsius and Fahrenheit
are predicting spring weather—while a shadow obscures
the past (just like the present). The first serene weeks scour the bridges
in a peaceful corner of Europe between Wannsee and Potsdam—where
much has happened, but, probably, nothing more will.
For days we have been watching a ragged crow—in the garden,
sometimes on the roof. The ancients would have said her
stubbornness augurs something. Emerging from the wood’s
depths, she lights on one antenna crossbar
then another, her surface bright as mercury
in a thermometer’s glass. But these are fever marks
we are incapable of understanding. The beginning of agony?
The past does not enlighten us—but still, it attempts
to say something. Perhaps the crow knows more about us
and about history’s dirt than we do ourselves.
Of what does she want to remind us? Of the black photos, the black headphones
of radio operators, black signatures under documents,
of the unarmed with their frozen pupils—of the prisoner’s boot or the trunk
of the refugee? Probably not. We will remember this anyway,
though it won’t make us any wiser. The bird signifies only stoicism
and patience. If you ask for them, your request will be granted.

languages :: carl sandburg

There are no handles upon a language
Whereby men take hold of it
And mark it with signs for its remembrance.
It is a river, this language,
Once in a thousand years
Breaking a new course
Changing its way to the ocean.
It is mountain effluvia
Moving to valleys
And from nation to nation
Crossing borders and mixing.
Languages die like rivers.
Words wrapped round your tongue today
And broken to shape of thought
Between your teeth and lips speaking
Now and today
Shall be faded hieroglyphics
Ten thousand years from now.
Sing—and singing—remember
Your song dies and changes
And is not here to-morrow
Any more than the wind
Blowing ten thousand years ago.

electron face :: matt hart

It’s true that two hummingbirds singing
in exactly the same pitch
can shatter the blackest of mountains.
But it’s also true that the missiles
in those mountains can shatter
a hummingbird to pieces of hummingbird.
The end. But this curled mess of black
yarn, this series of concrete barrier
entanglements, means that we have to be ready
for no matter what, for whatever
might befall us—hummingbirds, missiles,
those drugged-out runway models. I’m telling you
man, we know each other like we know
the ghost knowing each other,
and I’m so fucking grateful
I could fly a kite about it:
this terrifying state of the seasons,
this half-baked smell of church.
I lurch forward to go backward,
awkward to go on the record. I just can’t
get over those blues at the window.
And the tiny bit of yellow, like cats’ teeth
spitting sparks. How lucky we are to have light,
how marvelous to scribble over fate.
The reason it’s good to have faith
is the reason for everything good.

pitahaya :: craig arnold

Teach me a fruit of  your
country I asked and so you dipped
into a shop and in your hand
held me a thick yellow pinecone

no knife between us
you put it to your teeth
sideways like a bird and bit
and peeled away the fleshy
scales or were they petals

crisp white at the core
peppered with black seeds
sweet and light like a cold cloud
like some exotic sherbet carried
hand over hand from a mountaintop
by a relay of runners straightway
to the Inca’s high table

we sat on metal chairs
still pebbled with rain the seat
of my pants damp we passed it
back and forth no matter how
carefully we could not help

spilling the juice making
our cheeks sticky our fingers
getting sticky our fingers no
not even once touching

the abdominal exam :: rafael campo

Before the glimmer of his sunken eyes,
What question could I answer with my lies?

Digesting everything, it’s all so plain
In him, his abdomen so thin the pain

Is almost visible. I probe the lump
His boyfriend noticed first, my left hand limp

Beneath the pressure of the right. With AIDS
You have to think lymphoma—swollen nodes,

A tender spleen, the liver’s jutting edge—
It strikes me suddenly I will oblige

This hunger that announces death is near,
And as I touch him, cold and cavalier,

The language of beneath the diaphragm
Has told me where it’s coming from

And where I’m going, too: soft skin to rocks,
The body reveling until it wrecks

Against the same internal, hidden shoal,
The treasures we can’t hide, our swallowed gold.

ashes of life :: edna st. vincent millay

Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike;
Eat I must, and sleep I will,—and would that night were here!
But ah!—to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike!
Would that it were day again!—with twilight near!

Love has gone and left me and I don’t know what to do;
This or that or what you will is all the same to me;
But all the things that I begin I leave before I’m through,—
There’s little use in anything as far as I can see.

Love has gone and left me,—and the neighbors knock and borrow,
And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse,—
And to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow
There’s this little street and this little house.

now it is fall :: edith södergran

Translated from Swedish by Averill Curdy

Read the translator’s notes
when all the golden birds
fly home across the blue deep water;
On shore I sit rapt in its scattering
                                             glitter;
departure rustles through the trees.
This farewell is vast and separation draws close,
but reunion, that also is certain.

My head on my arm I fall asleep easily.
On my eyes a mother’s breath,
from her mouth to my heart:
sleep, child, and dream now the sun is gone.—

night luck :: heidi mordhorst

Night is deep in a dark box
deep in a cushion of down
nestled in tissue
tied with ribbons
Night is asleep in the dark

Night wakes with curious paws
wakes in a furry fog
wrestles the tissue
nibbles the ribbons
Night is awake in the dark

Night tumbles in velvet directions
tumbles along to your bed
sniffing your wishes
wagging your worries
Night is a friend in the dark

to luck :: w. s. merwin

In the cards and at the bend in the road
we never saw you
in the womb and in the crossfire
in the numbers
whatever you had your hand in
which was everything
we were told never to put
our faith in you
to bow to you humbly after all
because in the end there was nothing
else we could do
but not to believe in you

still we might coax you with pebbles
kept warm in the hand
or coins or the relics
of vanished animals
observances rituals
not binding upon you
who make no promises
we might do such things only
not to neglect you
and risk your disfavor
oh you who are never the same
who are secret as the day when it comes
you whom we explain
as often as we can
without understanding

honey :: w. s. di piero

We four were fat with talk
under their fresh-painted pergola.
You giggled sounds like blue spruce
and hollyhocks, he told us how
he chicken-wired dirt chaos
into that terraced garden,
she announced road-stand watermelon
while the smart scout did its work.

Yellow jackets write such precise
expectations on the air.
You dummied up when one,
sensing sweet melon flesh,
alighted to sample nectar
on your lips. I watched it
wanting more, wanting in
to probe your tongue,

and you watched me as if I were
someone or somewhere else.
The day before, for no reason,
“Death that hath suck’t the honey
of her breath” looped in my ear,
and now came again
while we waited for the sting, or cry,
that didn’t come.

Romeo’s words played back
like children’s nonsense rhymes
when this morning’s storm drained
yellow jackets to my ligustrum tree,
its spermy scent plied with sweet broom,
and lemon blossoms like those in their garden
when the wooer petted your mouth
and you smiled as if you knew
it couldn’t hurt, your eye on me,
making sure we knew
you make your charms available
but don’t give them away.

the uniform :: marvin bell

Of the sleeves, I remember their weight, like wet wool,
on my arms, and the empty ends which hung past my hands.
Of the body of the shirt, I remember the large buttons
and larger buttonholes, which made a rack of wheels
down my chest and could not be quickly unbuttoned.
Of the collar, I remember its thickness without starch,
by which it lay against my clavicle without moving.
Of my trousers, the same—heavy, bulky, slow to give
for a leg, a crowded feeling, a molasses to walk in.
Of my boots, I remember the brittle soles, of a material
that had not been made love to by any natural substance,
and the laces: ropes to make prisoners of my feet.
Of the helmet, I remember the webbed, inner liner,
a brittle plastic underwear on which wobbled
the crushing steel pot then strapped at the chin.
Of the mortar, I remember the mortar plate,
heavy enough to kill by weight, which I carried by rope.
Of the machine gun, I remember the way it fit
behind my head and across my shoulder blades
as I carried it, or, to be precise, as it rode me.
Of tactics, I remember the likelihood of shooting
the wrong man, the weight of the rifle bolt, the difficulty
of loading while prone, the shock of noise.
For earplugs, some used cigarette filters or toilet paper.
I don’t hear well now, for a man of my age,
and the doctor says my ears were damaged and asks
if I was in the Army, and of course I was but then
a wounded eardrum wasn’t much in the scheme.

on the metro :: c. k. williams

On the metro, I have to ask a young woman to move the packages beside her to make room for me;
she’s reading, her foot propped on the seat in front of her, and barely looks up as she pulls them to her.
I sit, take out my own book—Cioran, The Temptation to Exist—and notice her glancing up from hers
to take in the title of mine, and then, as Gombrowicz puts it, she “affirms herself physically,” that is,
becomes present in a way she hadn’t been before: though she hasn’t moved, she’s allowed herself
to come more sharply into focus, be more accessible to my sensual perception, so I can’t help but remark
her strong figure and very tan skin—(how literally golden young women can look at the end of summer.)
She leans back now, and as the train rocks and her arm brushes mine she doesn’t pull it away;
she seems to be allowing our surfaces to unite: the fine hairs on both our forearms, sensitive, alive,
achingly alive, bring news of someone touched, someone sensed, and thus acknowledged, known.

I understand that in no way is she offering more than this, and in truth I have no desire for more,
but it’s still enough for me to be taken by a surge, first of warmth then of something like its opposite:
a memory—a girl I’d mooned for from afar, across the table from me in the library in school now,
our feet I thought touching, touching even again, and then, with all I craved that touch to mean,
my having to realize it wasn’t her flesh my flesh for that gleaming time had pressed, but a table leg.
The young woman today removes her arm now, stands, swaying against the lurch of the slowing train,
and crossing before me brushes my knee and does that thing again, asserts her bodily being again,
(Gombrowicz again), then quickly moves to the door of the car and descends, not once looking back,
(to my relief not looking back), and I allow myself the thought that though I must be to her again
as senseless as that table of my youth, as wooden, as unfeeling, perhaps there was a moment I was not.

the lake :: sophie cabot black

Day and night, the lake dreams of sky.
A privacy as old as the mountains
And her up there, stuck among peaks. The   whole eye

Fastened on hawk, gatherings of cloud or stars,
So little trespass. An airplane once
Crossed her brow; she searched but could not find

A face. Having lived with such strict beauty
She comes to know how the sun is nothing
But itself and the path it throws; the moon

A riddled stone. If only a hand
Would tremble along her cheek, would disturb. Even the elk
Pass by, drawn to the spill of creeks below—

How she cannot help abundance, even as it leaves
Her, as it sings all the way down the mountain.

november for beginners :: rita dove

Snow would be the easy
way out—that softening
sky like a sigh of relief
at finally being allowed
to yield. No dice.
We stack twigs for burning
in glistening patches
but the rain won’t give.

So we wait, breeding
mood, making music
of decline. We sit down
in the smell of the past
and rise in a light
that is already leaving.
We ache in secret,
memorizing

a gloomy line
or two of German.
When spring comes
we promise to act
the fool. Pour,
rain! Sail, wind,
with your cargo of zithers!

 
November 1981

the first night :: billy collins

            The worst thing about death must be
             the first night.
                      —Juan Ramón Jiménez

Before I opened you, Jiménez,
it never occurred to me that day and night
would continue to circle each other in the ring of death,

but now you have me wondering
if there will also be a sun and a moon
and will the dead gather to watch them rise and set

then repair, each soul alone,
to some ghastly equivalent of a bed.
Or will the first night be the only night,

a darkness for which we have no other name?
How feeble our vocabulary in the face of death,
How impossible to write it down.

This is where language will stop,
the horse we have ridden all our lives
rearing up at the edge of a dizzying cliff.

The word that was in the beginning
and the word that was made flesh—
those and all the other words will cease.

Even now, reading you on this trellised porch,
how can I describe a sun that will shine after death?
But it is enough to frighten me

into paying more attention to the world’s day-moon,
to sunlight bright on water
or fragmented in a grove of trees,

and to look more closely here at these small leaves,
these sentinel thorns,
whose employment it is to guard the rose.

Courtesy of A.L.

in november :: lisel mueller

Outside the house the wind is howling
and the trees are creaking horribly.
This is an old story
with its old beginning,
as I lay me down to sleep.
But when I wake up, sunlight
has taken over the room.
You have already made the coffee
and the radio brings us music
from a confident age. In the paper
bad news is set in distant places.
Whatever was bound to happen
in my story did not happen.
But I know there are rules that cannot be broken.
Perhaps a name was changed.
A small mistake. Perhaps
a woman I do not know
is facing the day with the heavy heart
that, by all rights, should have been mine.

“sing the song of the moment…” :: rabindranath tagore

VII

Sing the song of the moment in careless carols, in the transient light of the day;
Sing of the fleeting smiles that vanish and never look back;
Sing of the flowers that bloom and fade without regret.
Weave not in memory’s thread the days that would glide into nights.
To the guests that must go bid God-speed, and wipe away all traces of their steps.
Let the moments end in moments with their cargo of fugitive songs.

With both hands snap the fetters you made with your own heart chords;
Take to your breast with a smile what is easy and simple and near.
Today is the festival of phantoms that know not when they die.
Let your laughter flush in meaningless mirth like twinkles of light on the ripples;
Let your life lightly dance on the verge of Time like a dew on the tip of a leaf.
Strike in the chords of your harp the fitful murmurs of moments.

cat in an empty apartment :: wislawa szymborska

translated from Polish by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

Die—you can’t do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
in an empty apartment?
Climb the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here
but nothing is the same.
Nothing’s been moved
but there’s more space.
And at nighttime no lamps are lit.

Footsteps on the staircase,
but they’re new ones.
The hand that puts fish on the saucer
has changed, too.

Something doesn’t start
at its usual time.
Something doesn’t happen
as it should.
Someone was always, always here,
then suddenly disappeared
and stubbornly stays disappeared.

Every closet’s been examined.
Every shelf has been explored.
Excavations under the carpet turned up nothing.
A commandment was even broken:
papers scattered everywhere.
What remains to be done.
Just sleep and wait.

Just wait till he turns up,
just let him show his face.
Will he ever get a lesson
on what not to do to a cat.
Sidle toward him
as if unwilling
and ever so slow
on visibly offended paws,
and no leaps or squeals at least to start.