december 31st :: richard hoffman

All my undone actions wander
naked across the calendar,

a band of skinny hunter-gatherers,
blown snow scattered here and there,

stumbling toward a future
folded in the New Year I secure

with a pushpin: January’s picture
a painting from the 17th century,

a still life: Skull and mirror,
spilled coin purse and a flower.

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our lady of the snows :: robert hass

In white,
the unpainted statue of the young girl
on the side altar
made the quality of mercy seem scrupulous and calm.

When my mother was in a hospital drying out,
or drinking at a pace that would put her there soon,
I would slip in the side door,
light an aromatic candle,
and bargain for us both.
Or else I’d stare into the day-moon of that face
and, if I concentrated, fly.

Come down! come down!
she’d call, because I was so high.

Though mostly when I think of myself
at that age, I am standing at my older brother’s closet
studying the shirts,
convinced that I could be absolutely transformed
by something I could borrow.
And the days churned by,
navigable sorrow.

from Sun Under Wood (1998)

the dogs at live oak beach, santa cruz :: alicia ostriker

As if there could be a world
Of absolute innocence
In which we forget ourselves

The owners throw sticks
And half-bald tennis balls
Toward the surf
And the happy dogs leap after them
As if catapulted—

Black dogs, tan dogs,
Tubes of glorious muscle—

Pursuing pleasure
More than obedience
They race, skid to a halt in the wet sand,
Sometimes they’ll plunge straight into
The foaming breakers

Like diving birds, letting the green turbulence
Toss them, until they snap and sink

Teeth into floating wood
Then bound back to their owners
Shining wet, with passionate speed
For nothing,
For absolutely nothing but joy.

the future :: wendell berry

For God’s sake, be done
with this jabber of “a better world.”
What blasphemy! No “futuristic”
twit or child thereof ever
in embodied light will see
a better world than this, though they
foretell inevitably a worse.
Do something! Go cut the weeds
beside the oblivious road. Pick up
the cans and bottles, old tires,
and dead predictions. No future
can be stuffed into this presence
except by being dead. The day is
clear and bright, and overhead
the sun not yet half finished
with his daily praise.

royalty:: lianne spidel

“I gave birth to a princess,” her mother
once told me, and I thought of my son pouring
his Grape-Nuts in the garage so as not to wake her,

of the moment her baby, seeing her
now a separate entity, seemed not to breathe,
refused to blink her sapphire eyes.

I remembered again last night as she
and I crossed a Florida street, the caution
light running gold streamers

over the dark sweep of her hair,
when a young man coming toward us halted
midway a moment, stunned, before moving on.

So what is this Divine Right—less
than bloodlines, or more? More than symmetry
of face or a silver necklace nestled

at a flawless throat, the nerve to send back
bad food in restaurants, more than the big,
loopy handwriting of the generous spirit?

Call it bravery, that eager readiness
in the eyes, the quality of the light shining
there. Call it blessed assurance.

Today, pony-tailed, she luxuriates in sun,
opulent in a hot pink bikini. In deference
the ocean leans away, a backdrop.

I find myself bent, studying the shore for perfect
shells to lay at her feet—cat’s paw, prickly
cockle, angel wing. Call it homage, more or less.

christmas night :: conrad hilberry

Let midnight gather up the wind
and the cry of tires on bitter snow.
Let midnight call the cold dogs home,
sleet in their fur—last one can blow

the streetlights out. If children sleep
after the day’s unfoldings, the wheel
of gifts and griefs, may their breathing
ease the strange hollowness we feel.

Let midnight draw whoever’s left
to the grate where a burnt-out log unrolls
low mutterings of smoke until
a small fire wakes in its crib of coals.