chinese new year :: edith wyatt

Mrs. Sung has a new kitchen-god.
The old one—he who has presided over the household this twelvemonth—has returned to the Celestial Regions to make his report.
Before she burned him Mrs. Sung smeared his mouth with sugar; so that doubtless the report will be favorable.
Now she has a new god.
As she paid ten coppers for him, he is handsomely painted and should be highly efficacious.
So there is rejoicing in the house of Mrs. Sung.

what the body told :: rafael campo

Not long ago, I studied medicine.
It was terrible, what the body told.
I’d look inside another person’s mouth,
And see the desolation of the world.
I’d see his genitals and think of sin.

Because my body speaks the stranger’s language,
I’ve never understood those nods and stares.
My parents held me in their arms, and still
I think I’ve disappointed them; they care
And stare, they nod, they make their pilgrimage

To somewhere distant in my heart, they cry.
I look inside their other-person’s mouths
And see the wet interior of souls.
It’s warm and red in there—like love, with teeth.
I’ve studied medicine until I cried

All night. Through certain books, a truth unfolds.
Anatomy and physiology,
The tiny sensing organs of the tongue—
Each nameless cell contributing its needs.
It was fabulous, what the body told.

fairy-tale logic :: a. e. stallings

Fairy tales are full of impossible tasks:
Gather the chin hairs of a man-eating goat,
Or cross a sulphuric lake in a leaky boat,
Select the prince from a row of identical masks,
Tiptoe up to a dragon where it basks
And snatch its bone; count dust specks, mote by mote,
Or learn the phone directory by rote.
Always it’s impossible what someone asks—

You have to fight magic with magic. You have to believe
That you have something impossible up your sleeve,
The language of snakes, perhaps, an invisible cloak,
An army of ants at your beck, or a lethal joke,
The will to do whatever must be done:
Marry a monster. Hand over your firstborn son.

night :: carsten rené nielsen

translated by david keplinger

At night things become ever so smaller, our shoes and teeth, too, and everywhere in buildings screws turn a quarter of a revolution, but even if you press your ear against the wall, the sound is rarely heard. Always there is someone who plays the gelatin piano, someone who packs his pipe with snow, and on a radio channel from somewhere in the world, where the sun is already on its way up through the mist in the horizon: a gospel choir of hoarse, nearly inaudible women.

first born :: john grey

You want to tell everyone
that your wife’s not sick
she’s having a baby.
She may not feel great
but goddammit if she’s not healthier
than anyone in the entire hospital,
every doctor, every sad sack
fidgeting anxiously in a waiting room.
“It’s a miracle” you want to
cry out to the woman whose husband’s
downstairs having radium treatment,
the guy whose girlfriend is in a coma,
the old man whose bride of fifty years
no longer speaks his name.
You now enough that for every miracle
on this earth, there’s at least three
that are grinding their marvels in reverse,
so you keep silent.
Eventually, the nurse struts down the corridor
two steps behind her smile,
declares that “It’s a boy.”
All heads look up.
For a moment there, a tumor,
a dead brain, a blank look,
are, each in turn, a boy.

the morning after :: ellen bass

You stand at the counter, pouring boiling water
over the French roast, oily perfume rising in smoke.
And when I enter, you don’t look up.
You’re hurrying to pack your lunch, snapping
the lids on little plastic boxes while you call your mother
to tell her you’ll take her to the doctor.
I can’t see a trace of the little slice of heaven
we slipped into last night – a silk kimono
floating satin ponds and copper koi, stars falling
to the water. Didn’t we shoulder
our way through the cleft in the rock of the everyday
and tear up the grass in the pasture of pleasure?
If the soul isn’t a separate vessel
we carry from form to form
but more like Aristotle’s breath of life –
the work of the body that keeps it whole –
then last night, darling, our souls were busy.
But this morning it’s like you’re wearing a bad wig,
disguised so I won’t recognize you
or maybe so you won’t know yourself
as that animal burned down
to pure desire. I don’t know
how you do it. I want to throw myself
onto the kitchen tile and bare my throat.
I want to slick back my hair
and tap-dance up the wall. I want to do it all
all over again – dive back into that brawl,
that raw and radiant free-for-all.
But you are scribbling a shopping list
because the kids are coming for the weekend
and you’re going to make your special crab-cakes
that have ruined me for all other crab-cakes
forever.

Courtesy of CC

butterfly with parachute :: stephen burt

A real one wouldn’t need one,
but the one Nathan draws surely does:
four oblongs the size and color of popsicles,
green apple, toasted coconut and grape,
flanked, two per side, by billowing valentine hearts,
in a frame of Scotch tape.
Alive, it could stay off the floor,
for a few unaerodynamic minutes;
thrown as a paper airplane, for one or two more.

Very sensibly, therefore,
our son gave it something, not to keep it apart
from the ground forever, but rather to make safe its descent.
When we ask that imagination discover the limits
of the real
world only slowly,
maybe this is what we meant.

afterlife :: bruce snider

I wake to leafless vines and muddy fields,
patches of standing water. His pocketknife

waits in my dresser drawer, still able to gut fish.
I pick up his green shirt, put it on for the fourth day

in a row. Outside, the rusty nail he hammered
catches me, leaves its stain on everything.

The temperature drops, the whole shore
filling with him: his dented chew can, waders,

the cattails kinked, bowing their distress.
At the pier, I use his old pliers to ready the line:

fatheads, darters, a blood worm jig. Today, the lake’s
one truth is hardness. When the trout bite,

I pull the serviceable things glistening into air.

my grandmother’s love letters :: hart crane

There are no stars tonight
But those of memory.
Yet how much room for memory there is
In the loose girdle of soft rain.

There is even room enough
For the letters of my mother’s mother,
Elizabeth,
That have been pressed so long
Into a corner of the roof
That they are brown and soft,
And liable to melt as snow.

Over the greatness of such space
Steps must be gentle.
It is all hung by an invisible white hair.
It trembles as birch limbs webbing the air.

And I ask myself:

“Are your fingers long enough to play
Old keys that are but echoes:
Is the silence strong enough
To carry back the music to its source
And back to you again
As though to her?”

Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand
Through much of what she would not understand;
And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof
With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.

gospel :: philip levine

The new grass rising in the hills,
the cows loitering in the morning chill,
a dozen or more old browns hidden
in the shadows of the cottonwoods
beside the streambed. I go higher
to where the road gives up and there’s
only a faint path strewn with lupine
between the mountain oaks. I don’t
ask myself what I’m looking for.
I didn’t come for answers
to a place like this, I came to walk
on the earth, still cold, still silent.
Still ungiving, I’ve said to myself,
although it greets me with last year’s
dead thistles and this year’s
hard spines, early blooming
wild onions, the curling remains
of spider’s cloth. What did I bring
to the dance? In my back pocket
a crushed letter from a woman
I’ve never met bearing bad news
I can do nothing about. So I wander
these woods half sightless while
a west wind picks up in the trees
clustered above. The pines make
a music like no other, rising and
falling like a distant surf at night
that calms the darkness before
first light. “Soughing” we call it, from
Old English, no less. How weightless
words are when nothing will do.

catalina eddies :: diana garcía

Dusk to dawn, sleek skunks enjoy
avocados in my yard. I give wide berth.
Before the first jogger leaves her prints
on pavement, tough raccoons appear.
They pretend they don’t hear my keys click
but they peek to make sure it’s me.
Foxes play hide-and-seek,
sometimes on our lawn, other times
across the street, but never after seven;
and brazen squirrels eye me
from the center of the street,
dare me to approach.

Will this be a day for Catalina eddies,
clouds stacked, catching like magnets
in a liquid air swirl?
Or will it blow a fierce Santa Ana,
days of fires in the hills,
smoldering chaparral,
winds so fierce birds do low-crawls?
I cast a spell for Santa Anas
the shallow coast a censer
mixed with black sage, Torrey Pine,
Engelmann oak—precious oils
to fumigate the San Diego skies,
the annual burning pulse.

atmosphere :: a. v. christie

The canals of Mars
beseech various oxides, vast
dust storms
of a dulled red,
a daytime warmth
that only reaches so far.

Let’s call these fissures canals
so we’ll think of Venice
looking through our telescope
as Mars comes this close

in this our anniversary year
with its thin atmosphere
and, to be probed,
its extreme cold.

anxieties :: donna masini

It’s like ants
and more ants.

West, east
their little axes

hack and tease.
Your sins. Your back taxes.

This is your Etna,
your senate

of dread, at the axis
of reason, your taxi

to hell. You see
your past tense—

and next? A nest
of jittery ties.

You’re ill at ease,
at sea,

almost in-
sane. You’ve eaten

your saints.
You pray to your sins.

Even sex
is no exit.

Ah, you exist.

refresh. refresh. refresh. :: noah eli gordon

I’d give you another day dizzy
in its bracket for the reluctant circumference
of a sad sad satellite’s antiquated orbital stoppage.
You can’t jump with a lead foot, can’t
anthropomorphize insect anticipation, can’t
pixelate postcard nostalgia, can’t
trace a boy’s tiny hand and call him
king of anything that crosses your path, your past,
your iconographic reluctance to let go the toehold
of ordinary New York lasting so long at night, so
lusty in traffic & another orphan absently
kicking the underside of an orange plastic chair.
Poems shouldn’t make you wait for them to finish.
Like love, they should finish making you wait.

microcosmos :: wislawa szymborska

translated from Polish by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

When we first started looking through microscopes
a cold fear blew and it’s still blowing.
Life hitherto had been frantic enough
in all its shapes and dimensions.
Which is why it created small-scale creatures,
assorted tiny worms and flies,
but at least the naked human eye
could see them.

But then suddenly beneath the glass,
foreign to a fault
and so petite,
that what they occupy in space
can only charitably be called a spot.

The glass doesn’t even touch them,
they double and triple unobstructed,
with room to spare, willy-nilly.

To say they’re many isn’t saying much.
The stronger the microscope
the more exactly, avidly they’re multiplied.

They don’t even have decent innards.
They don’t know gender, childhood, age.
They may not even know they are—or aren’t.
Still they decide our life and death.

Some freeze in momentary stasis,
although we don’t know what their moment is.
Since they’re so minuscule themselves,
their duration may be
pulverized accordingly.

A windborne speck of dust is a meteor
from deepest space,
a fingerprint is a farflung labyrinth
where they may gather
for their mute parades,
their blind iliads and upanishads.

I’ve wanted to write about them for a long while,
but it’s a tricky subject,
always put off for later
and perhaps worthy of a better poet,
even more stunned by the world than I.
But time is short. I write.

dream of the huntress :: robin robertson

It is always the same:
she is standing over me

in the forest clearing,
a dab of blood on her cheek

from a rabbit or a deer.
I am aware of nothing

but my mutinous flesh,
and the traps of desire

sent to test it—
her bare arms, bare

shoulders, her loosened hair,
the hard, high breasts,

and under a belt
of knives and fish-lures,

her undressed wound.
Every night the same:

the slashed fetlock,
the buckling under;

I wake in her body
broken, like a gun.

in that other fantasy where we live forever :: wanda coleman

we were never caught

we partied the southwest, smoked it from L.A. to El Dorado
worked odd jobs between delusions of escape
drunk on the admonitions of parents, parsons & professors
driving faster than the road or law allowed.
our high-pitched laughter was young, heartless & disrespected
authority. we could be heard for miles in the night

the Grand Canyon of a new manhood.
womanhood discovered
like the first sighting of Mount Wilson

we rebelled against the southwestern wind

we got so naturally ripped, we sprouted wings,
crashed parties on the moon, and howled at the earth

we lived off love. It was all we had to eat

when you split you took all the wisdom
and left me the worry

books :: gerald stern

How you loved to read in the snow and when your
face turned to water from the internal heat
combined with the heavy crystals or maybe it was
reversus you went half-blind and your eyelashes
turned to ice the time you walked through swirls
with dirty tears not far from the rat-filled river
or really a mile away—or two—in what
you came to call the Aristotle room
in a small hole outside the Carnegie library.

on the beach at night :: walt whitman

On the beach at night,
Stands a child with her father,
Watching the east, the autumn sky.

Up through the darkness,
While ravening clouds, the burial clouds, in black masses spreading,
Lower sullen and fast athwart and down the sky,
Amid a transparent clear belt of ether yet left in the east,
Ascends large and calm the lord-star Jupiter,
And nigh at hand, only a very little above,
Swim the delicate sisters the Pleiades.

From the beach the child holding the hand of her father,
Those burial-clouds that lower victorious soon to devour all,
Watching, silently weeps.

Weep not, child,
Weep not, my darling,
With these kisses let me remove your tears,
The ravening clouds shall not long be victorious,
They shall not long possess the sky, they devour the stars only in apparition,
Jupiter shall emerge, be patient, watch again another night, the Pleiades shall emerge,
They are immortal, all those stars both silvery and golden shall shine out again,
The great stars and the little ones shall shine out again, they endure,
The vast immortal suns and the long-enduring pensive moons shall again shine.

Then dearest child mournest thou only for Jupiter?
Considerest thou alone the burial of the stars?

Something there is,
(With my lips soothing thee, adding I whisper,
I give thee the first suggestion, the problem and indirection,)
Something there is more immortal even than the stars,
(Many the burials, many the days and nights, passing away,)
Something that shall endure longer even than lustrous Jupiter
Longer than sun or any revolving satellite,
Or the radiant sisters the Pleiades.

confessions of a recycled shopping bag :: john yau

I used to be a plastic bottle

I used to be scads of masticated wattle

I used to be epic spittle, aka septic piddle

I used to be a pleasant colleague

I used to be a radiant ingredient

I used to be a purple polyethylene pony

I used to be a phony upload project

I used to be a stony blue inhalant

I used to be a family-size turquoise bottle

I used to be a domesticated pink bubble

I used to be a pleasant red colleague

I used to be a beaming cobalt emollient

I used to be a convenient chartreuse antidepressant

a story :: li-young lee

Sad is the man who is asked for a story
and can’t come up with one.

His five-year-old son waits in his lap.
Not the same story, Baba. A new one.
The man rubs his chin, scratches his ear.

In a room full of books in a world
of stories, he can recall
not one, and soon, he thinks, the boy
will give up on his father.

Already the man lives far ahead, he sees
the day this boy will go. Don’t go!
Hear the alligator story! The angel story once more!
You love the spider story. You laugh at the spider.
Let me tell it!

But the boy is packing his shirts,
he is looking for his keys. Are you a god,
the man screams, that I sit mute before you?
Am I a god that I should never disappoint?

But the boy is here. Please, Baba, a story?
It is an emotional rather than logical equation,
an earthly rather than heavenly one,
which posits that a boy’s supplications
and a father’s love add up to silence.

asking for directions :: linda gregg

We could have been mistaken for a married couple
riding on the train from Manhattan to Chicago
that last time we were together. I remember
looking out the window and praising the beauty
of the ordinary: the in-between places, the world
with its back turned to us, the small neglected
stations of our history. I slept across your
chest and stomach without asking permission
because they were the last hours. There was
a smell to the sheepskin lining of your new
Chinese vest that I didn’t recognize. I felt
it deliberately. I woke early and asked you
to come with me for coffee. You said, sleep more,
and I said we only had one hour and you came.
We didn’t say much after that. In the station,
you took your things and handed me the vest,
then left as we had planned. So you would have
ten minutes to meet your family and leave.
I stood by the seat dazed by exhaustion
and the absoluteness of the end, so still I was
aware of myself breathing. I put on the vest
and my coat, got my bag and, turning, saw you
through the dirty window standing outside looking
up at me. We looked at each other without any
expression at all. Invisible, unnoticed, still.
That moment is what I will tell of as proof
that you loved me permanently. After that I was
a woman alone carrying her bag, asking a worker
which direction to walk to find a taxi.

lost in translation :: gabriel gomez

The kinship with those humans
who speak directly to me
is webbed to the ceiling.
An economy of satellites, a cosmos,
where revision we think
comes without the benefit
of our witness. A peculiar time
when stars with modest faces
sleep in enormity and mirror
death like a child’s infirmity that
despite socio-economics
is still an illness,
definitive as fading paint
grossing a distant
understanding from a stain
pooled from its center
resonant of some terrific
nucleus making sense
of its own words
with the strangest electricity.

alone for a week :: jane kenyon

I washed a load of clothes
and hung them out to dry.
Then I went up to town
and busied myself all day.
The sleeve of your best shirt
rose ceremonious
when I drove in; our night-
clothes twined and untwined in
a little gust of wind.

For me it was getting late;
for you, where you were, not.
The harvest moon was full
but sparse clouds made its light
not quite reliable.
The bed on your side seemed
as wide and flat as Kansas;
your pillow plump, cool,
and allegorical. . . .

the ride :: naomi shihab nye

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,
the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.
What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.
A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.

good year :: john poch

January. I pluck it,
this feather flapping in the high mesquite
only head-high, caught by the down,
iridescent, turkey. Another
feather hugging the ditch
along the fence line and another…
A coyote somewhere naps
happy, grinning like the feather
evolved from a leaf. What luck.

Clouds lift above the field
as if to swallow my eye
into hunger. Good hunger.
The greatest eye must
behold me like an ember
dropped into a finch nest,
and I smoke at the mouth
like a gun dreaming in a safe
of a war it can win by virtue
of its praise. I have lost
the killer phrase I concocted
on my country walk
with the feather in my pocket.
I cock it.