on leaving the bachelorette brunch :: rachel wetzsteon

Because I gazed out the window at birds
doing backflips when the subject turned
to diamonds, because my eyes glazed over
with the slightly sleepy sheen your cake will wear,

never let it be said that I’d rather be
firing arrows at heart-shaped dartboards
or in a cave composing polyglot puns.
I crave, I long for transforming love

as surely as leaves need water and mouths seek bread.
But I also fear the colder changes
that lie in wait and threaten to turn
moons of honey to pools of molasses,

broad front porches to narrow back gardens,
and tight rings of friendship to flimsy things
that break when a gold band brightly implies
Leave early, go home, become one with the one

the world has told you to tend and treasure
above all others. You love, and that’s good;
you are loved, that’s superb; you will vanish
and reap some happy rewards. But look at the birds.

midsummer :: louise glück

On nights like this we used to swim in the quarry,
the boys making up games requiring them to tear off  the girls’ clothes
and the girls cooperating, because they had new bodies since last summer
and they wanted to exhibit them, the brave ones
leaping off the high rocks — bodies crowding the water.

The nights were humid, still. The stone was cool and wet,
marble for  graveyards, for buildings that we never saw,
buildings in cities far away.

On cloudy nights, you were blind. Those nights the rocks were dangerous,
but in another way it was all dangerous, that was what we were after.
The summer started. Then the boys and girls began to pair off
but always there were a few left at the end — sometimes they’d keep watch,
sometimes they’d pretend to go off  with each other like the rest,
but what could they do there, in the woods? No one wanted to be them.
But they’d show up anyway, as though some night their luck would change,
fate would be a different fate.

At the beginning and at the end, though, we were all together.
After the evening chores, after the smaller children were in bed,
then we were free. Nobody said anything, but we knew the nights we’d meet
and the nights we wouldn’t. Once or twice, at the end of summer,
we could see a baby was going to come out of all that kissing.

And for those two, it was terrible, as terrible as being alone.
The game was over. We’d sit on the rocks smoking cigarettes,
worrying about the ones who weren’t there.

And then finally walk home through the fields,
because there was always work the next day.
And the next day, we were kids again, sitting on the front steps in the morning,
eating a peach.  Just that, but it seemed an honor to have a mouth.
And then going to work, which meant helping out in the fields.
One boy worked for an old lady, building shelves.
The house was very old, maybe built when the mountain was built.

And then the day faded. We were dreaming, waiting for night.
Standing at the front door at twilight, watching the shadows lengthen.
And a voice in the kitchen was always complaining about the heat,
wanting the heat to break.

Then the heat broke, the night was clear.
And you thought of  the boy or girl you’d be meeting later.
And you thought of  walking into the woods and lying down,
practicing all those things you were learning in the water.
And though sometimes you couldn’t see the person you were with,
there was no substitute for that person.

The summer night glowed; in the field, fireflies were glinting.
And for those who understood such things, the stars were sending messages:
You will leave the village where you were born
and in another country you’ll become very rich, very powerful,
but always you will mourn something you left behind, even though
you can’t say what it was,
and eventually you will return to seek it.

the sound of one fork :: minnie bruce pratt

Through the window screen I can see an angle of grey roof
and the silence that spreads in the branches of the pecan tree
as the sun goes down. I am waiting for a lover. I am alone
in a solitude that vibrates like the cicada in hot midmorning,
that waits like the lobed sassafras leaf just before
its dark green turns into red, that waits
like the honeybee in the mouth of the purple lobelia.

While I wait, I can hear the random clink of one fork
against a plate. The woman next door is eating supper
alone. She is sixty, perhaps, and for many years
has eaten by herself the tomatoes, the corn
and okra that she grows in her backyard garden.
Her small metallic sound persists, as quiet almost
as the windless silence, persists like the steady
random click of a redbird cracking a few
more seeds before the sun gets too low.
She does not hurry, she does not linger.

Her younger neighbors think that she is lonely.
But I know what sufficiency she may possess.
I know what can be gathered from year to year,
gathered from what is near to hand, as I do
elderberries that bend in damp thickets by the road,
gathered and preserved, jars and jars shining
in rows of claret red, made at times with help,
a friend or a lover, but consumed long after,
long after they are gone and I sit
alone at the kitchen table.

And when I sit in the last heat of Sunday, afternoons
on the porch steps in the acid breath of the boxwoods,
I also know desolation. The week is over, the coming night
will not lift. I am exhausted from making each day.
My family, my children live in other states,
the women I love in other towns. I would rather be here
than with them in the old ways, but when all that’s left
of the sunset is the red reflection underneath the clouds,
when I get up and come in to fix supper,
in the darkened kitchen I am often lonely for them.

In the morning and the evening we are by ourselves,
the woman next door and I. Still, we persist.
I open the drawer to get out the silverware.
She goes to her garden to pull weeds and pick
the crookneck squash that turn yellow with late summer.
I walk down to the pond in the morning to watch
and wait for the blue heron who comes at first light
to feed on minnows that swim through her shadow in the water.
She stays until the day grows so bright
that she cannot endure it and leaves with her hunger unsatisfied.
She bows her wings and slowly lifts into flight,
grey and slate blue against a paler sky.
I know she will come back. I see the light create
a russet curve of land on the farther bank,
where the wild rice bends heavy and ripe
under the first blackbirds. I know
she will come back. I see the light curve
in the fall and rise of her wing.

the mothering blackness :: maya angelou

She came home running
    back to the mothering blackness
    deep in the smothering blackness
white tears icicle gold plains of her face
    She came home running

She came down creeping
    here to the black arms waiting
    now to the warm heart waiting
rime of alien dreams befrosts her rich brown face
    She came down creeping

She came home blameless
    black yet as Hagar’s daughter
    tall as was Sheba’s daughter
threats of northern winds die on the desert’s face
    She came home blameless

the city’s oldest known survivor of the great war :: james doyle

marches in uniform down the traffic stripe
at the center of the street, counts time
to the unseen web that has rearranged
the air around him, his left hand
stiff as a leather strap along his side,
the other saluting right through the decades
as if they weren’t there, as if everyone under ninety
were pervasive fog the morning would dispel
in its own good time, as if the high school band
all flapping thighs and cuffs behind him
were as ghostly as the tumbleweed on every road
dead-ended in the present, all the ancient infantry
shoulder right, through a skein of bone, presenting arms
across the drift, nothing but empty graves now
to round off another century,
the sweet honey of the old cadence, the streets
going by at attention, the banners glistening with dew,
the wives and children blowing kisses.

“i came upon the gnawed torso of a seal” :: melanie braverman

I came upon the gnawed torso of a seal, silver fur agleam against the sand like a coin thrown down in a losing bet. What left this bounty of meat on the beach to rot? I watched the neighbor’s small boys skirt the dead seal the way sandpipers tease themselves in the surf, dodging up and back along the body’s shore. “It’s dead,” I told their father as he ambled behind them up the beach. He called to the little boys, his voice borne toward them on the mild breeze. “Boys, come back,” he said, and they did not.

my hair :: robin behn

When I gather my long
leaf-colored hair
and make of it a stem

and twist the handle of my head
and join it back to me
with metal pins

I’m on your lap again
my hands are in the air
my view is mile upon mile

I feel you fashioning the serpent
on my head and the thick braid
of you inside me

I’m ready now to enter
a prim public place
where I am the teacher the police a saint

I turn my back
and everyone I command
sees what it can be to be commanded

fence repair :: david lee

What’s the matter with you today
sed John you and Jan fighting?
On no I said it’s not that
it’s a letter I got that’s bothering me.
Must be from the govament
or the insurance, I can understand that.
No, John, it’s not them this time
it’s from a friend.
Did he die or summin?
You aint sed a decent word all morning
I might as well be working by myself
and let you set on the nailkeg
unrolling barbwore

Oh dammit, John,
it’s just a letter that pissed me off,
I said. It’s from a writer who saw something I wrote
about coyotes killing sheep
and he wrote saying that never happens.
He sez what? sez John.
He said there’s no documented evidence
that a coyote ever killed a sheep
unless it was rabid, I said.
And he said my story was a lie
and should never have been written.
He’s a writer? sez John.
What does he write about?
Oh, he writes novels, I said.
Books about cowboys and Indians
and the California mountains.

He sez that sed John
did he? You know
most chickens I known of
is layers and most folks
I known is liars
and most of them don’t know the different
but that don’t get in the way
of their opinions.
It was a preacher
got his first call
to come to our town back home
his first sermon that everbody
showed up to hear
was how all people is good
it aint no such of a thing
as a bad person

he wasn’t in town half a year
before Travis Newberry
knocked up his daughter in the eighth grade
and he was twenty-four by then.
He’d started preaching late
after giving up on farming
and owning a grocery store
must of been too late
he run out of words after bout a year
we had to elect him to office
to give him something to do.
First thing he voted no taxes
and no pay raises to schoolteachers
so they all known he’d be a good one
mebbe governor some day
had to move him out
of the parsonage and into a house
where he had to pay rent
like real people
so they found him a place
out on the end of town
where they could be alone
with that pregnant girl
they took out of school.
It was skunks out there
a mama and four babies
and his wife and that girl
sez oh they’re purdy
let them alone we like them
so he did
by the time she had her baby
they’d killed all their chickens
the Easter ducks and the cats
it was mice and skunks
running all over that place
they couldn’t live there no more
so he run for state office

they sent that girl
off to Christian school
we never heard of her again
and tried to raise the baby boy
but couldn’t do that neither.
He got elected
to the campaign of no taxes
and close down the schools
cause he blamed it all
on Travis Newberry hanging around
the jr-high parking lot
and moved to the state capital
to live and before
they could rent that house again
they had to set out traps
for two months and rat poison
sed they got twenty-four skunks
but nobody counted the mice
it was awful
took a year for the smells
to go off and it wasn’t no hippies
back then to rent it to
they had to wait it out

so he run for Warshington office
six years later
and put the boy in the orphanage
up for adoption
he might of been a scandal
but he didn’t get elected
they made him a judge instead
after that and he’s rich
still there and being so famous
he don’t pay no rent
the state gave him a house
and a car and a maid

but that still don’t mean he known one damn thing
about people or skunks or mice
or preaching or farming or
running a grocery store.
I seen it with my own eyes
a coyote running through
a herd of sheep and killed nine lambs
just to do it
and we set up five nights
in our pickups waiting for him
until he come back
and he killed four more
before we shot him
and that’s nothing to what
Allen Dalley out to Summit lost
that one year when they say
coyotes got half his lamb crop
that’s just a bunch of bullshit
because he done one thing
don’t mean he knows nothing
about anothern
and if he doesn’t know
what he’s talking about
you tell him to just keep his mouth closed
or run for office
that’s what it’s there for
so why don’t you forget about it
and you can forget him too for now
let’s get to work
cause all this is real
not something in a book
and has to be got done for sure
not just by thinking about it
and if you don’t get that frown put in a drawer
this is gone be a long day of work

cadenza :: meena alexander

I watch your hands at the keyboard
Making music, one hand with a tiny jot,
A birthmark I think where finger bone
Joins palm, mark of the fish,
Living thing in search of a watering
Hole set in a walled garden,
Or in a field with all the fences torn:
Where I hear your father cry into the wind
That beats against stones in a small town
Where you were born; its cornfields
Skyward pointing, never sown, never
To be reaped, flagrant, immortal.

ballerina, released :: chloe honum

On stage each night I shape a single story.
It’s later, driving home, that vertigo
sets in. I lose all focus, see the roads
tangling in the wind. Rain sings on stones
that lead to my front door; its music holds
no cues for me. I light a cigarette
and lean against a tree. Clear blossoms froth
along the boughs, a daddy longlegs prowls
over the grass, its legs on eight blade tips.
The moon is spinning in a sack of mist.
How can I sleep? I dance the murders of
the Firebird, my red tutu a flame
in a cave, then fall. I cannot grasp my life.
I float. The garden shakes behind my smoke.

from the poet

i dwell in possibility :: emily dickinson

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

the shoelace :: charles bukowski

a woman, a
tire that’s flat, a
disease, a
desire: fears in front of you,
fears that hold so still
you can study them
like pieces on a
chessboard…
it’s not the large things that
send a man to the
madhouse. death he’s ready for, or
murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood…
no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies
that send a man to the
madhouse…
not the death of his love
but a shoelace that snaps
with no time left …
The dread of life
is that swarm of trivialities
that can kill quicker than cancer
and which are always there –
license plates or taxes
or expired driver’s license,
or hiring or firing,
doing it or having it done to you, or
roaches or flies or a
broken hook on a
screen, or out of gas
or too much gas,
the sink’s stopped-up, the landlord’s drunk,
the president doesn’t care and the governor’s
crazy.
light switch broken, mattress like a
porcupine;
$105 for a tune-up, carburetor and fuel pump at
sears roebuck;
and the phone bill’s up and the market’s
down
and the toilet chain is
broken,
and the light has burned out –
the hall light, the front light, the back light,
the inner light; it’s
darker than hell
and twice as
expensive.
then there’s always crabs and ingrown toenails
and people who insist they’re
your friends;
there’s always that and worse;
leaky faucet, christ and christmas;
blue salami, 9 day rains,
50 cent avocados
and purple
liverwurst.

or making it
as a waitress at norm’s on the split shift,
or as an emptier of
bedpans,
or as a carwash or a busboy
or a stealer of old lady’s purses
leaving them screaming on the sidewalks
with broken arms at the age of 80.

suddenly
2 red lights in your rear view mirror
and blood in your
underwear;
toothache, and $979 for a bridge
$300 for a gold
tooth,
and china and russia and america, and
long hair and short hair and no
hair, and beards and no
faces, and plenty of zigzag but no
pot, except maybe one to piss in
and the other one around your
gut.

with each broken shoelace
out of one hundred broken shoelaces,
one man, one woman, one
thing
enters a
madhouse.

so be careful
when you
bend over.

wrap :: aimee nezhukumatathil

I don’t mean when a movie ends,
as in, it’s a! Nor tortillas splitting
with the heavy wet of bean.
And I don’t mean what you do

with your lavender robe all fluff
and socks to snatch the paper
from the shrubs. Nor the promise
of a gift, the curl and furl of red ribbon

just begging to be tugged. What I mean
is waiting with my grandmama (a pause
in the Monsoon) at the Trivandrum airport
for a jeep. Her small hand wraps

again the emerald green pallu of her sari
tucked in at her hips, across her breast,
and coughs it up over her shoulder a hush
of paprika and burnt honey across my face.

wood :: reginald gibbons

for Maxine Kumin

A cylinder of maple
set in place, feet spread apart—
and the heavy maul, fat as a hammer
but honed like an axe, draws
a semicircle overhead and strikes
through the two new halves
to leave the steel head sunk
a half-inch in the block and the ash
handle rigid in the air.
A smack of the palm, gripping as it hits
the butt end, and the blade
rolls out of the cut. The half-logs
are still rocking on the flagstones.

So much less than what we have been
persuaded to dream, this necessity for wood
might have sufficed, but it is what
we have been taught to disown and forget.
Yet just such hardship is what saves.
For if the stacked cords
speak of felled trees, of countless
five-foot logs flipped end over end downhill
till the blood is wrung from your back
and snowbound warmth must seem
so far off you would rather freeze,

yet each thin tongue torn from the grain
when log-halves were sundered at one stroke
will sing in the stove.
To remind you of hands. Of how
mere touch is song in the silence
where hands live—the song of muddy bark,
the song of sawdust like cornmeal and down,
and the song of one hand over another,
two of us holding the last length of the log
in the sawbuck as inches away the chainsaw
keeps ripping through hickory.

the adult section :: dick allen

When I was 11 and the librarian finally let me in to browse alone,
showing me where the light switches were for each stack
and teaching me a few things about call numbers,
at first I walked on tiptoe, afraid
those huge stern books, i their huge stern leather bindings,
The Collected Works of Horace Walpole, for instance,
and The English Poets: Selections,
with Critical Introductions by Various Writers
and a General Introduction by Matthew Arnold
,
edited by Thomas Humphrey, M.A.,
Late Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford,
were going to tumble over onto me
and literally kill me with the weight of their knowledge,
especially The Proceedings of the New York State Geographical Society,
in its 15 gigantic volumes up to 1947,
each big enough to crush two babies with one blow,
and complete in one volume apiece The Works of Byron and Tennyson
with plentifold illustrations—books so heavy you had to deal with them
as if you were lifting a small boulder from an English brook,
walking them spread-kneed to the round mahogany reading table,
which was four times the size of any dining room table I’d ever seen,
and ten times as imposing, especially if some adult sat ghastly there.
Then you’d heave the books up under one of the six reading table lamps,
beneath which dangled straight down
tarnished bronze chaincords. I should add, for the pleasure of the image,
that whoever, long ago, had replaced the original oil lamps,
had ordered the chains much too long, so that each excess
like the coils of an Indian fakir’s rope trick….Alone,
at 11 years old, in the adult section of the Round Lake Public Library,
I first began to feel all those strange names floating around me in the semi-dark,
all those angels, will o’ the wisps, great swooping birds, doves,
ravens, raptors: Kant, Hegel, Saintsbury, Schopenhauer,
Catallus, Swedenborg, Pliny the Elder,
Cervantes, Alexis de Tocqueville, Willa Cather,
St. Augustine, Seneca, Toynbee, Charlotte Brontë,
Racine, Stendhal, Goethe, Dostoyevsky
,
and I knew what they said about old library books was true.
              They whisper,
seek wisdom, seek wisdom, seek wisdom, seek wisdom, seek wisdom,
repeated so often the words begin to ebb and flow inside you,
compelling you to read until your eyes fall out….The librarian,
a kind elderly woman who wore her glasses on a chain
as librarians did then, long before it became the fashion,
would call me out of the stacks, or away from that reading table
ten minutes before closing time, and I’d emerge
blinking under the arabesque light of the small chandelier,
to stand before the checkout desk, lugging six volumes—the limit
for children allowed in the adult section—
and “Are you sure you can handle this?” she’d murmur,
hefting a Plato’s Republic or Plays by Oliver Goldsmith,
or Lysistrata (that one I snuck past her!)
to which I’d say, “I think so, ma’am,” being at that time
under the common illusion that librarians, especially elderly ones,
had read—as part of their job—every single book in the library.
At last the stamp would go stamp stamp six times,
sometimes her wrist slightly rocking
if she’d clobbered the take out slip too lightly at first,
and I’d be out the door, walking slowly,
past the gargoyle fountain, under the huge old pines,
frightened, elated, sometimes trembling,
sure that the weight of the world had come into my arms,

waterwings :: cathy song

The mornings are his,
blue and white
like the tablecloth at breakfast.
He’s happy in the house,
a sweep of the spoon
brings the birds under his chair.
He sings and the dishes disappear.

Or holding a crayon like a candle,
he draws a circle.
It is his hundredth dragonfly.
Calling for more paper,
this one is red-winged
and like the others,
he wills it to fly, simply
by the unformed curve of his signature.

Waterwings he calls them,
the floats I strap to his arms.
I wear an apron of concern,
sweep the morning of birds.
To the water he returns,
plunging where it’s cold,
moving and squealing into sunlight.
The water from here seems flecked with gold.

I watch the circles
his small body makes
fan and ripple,
disperse like an echo
into the sum of water, light and air.
His imprint on the water
has but a brief lifespan,
the flicker of a dragonfly’s delicate wing.

This is sadness, I tell myself,
the morning he chooses to leave his wings behind,
because he will not remember
that he and beauty were aligned,
skimming across the water, nearly airborne,
on his first solo flight.
I’ll write “how he could not
contain his delight.”
At the other end,
in another time frame,
he waits for me—
having already outdistanced this body,
the one that slipped from me like a fish,
floating, free of itself.

the fountain of blood :: charles baudelaire

translated by rachel hadas

A fountain’s pulsing sobs—like this my blood
Measures its flowing, so it sometimes seems.
I hear a gentle murmur as it streams;
Where the wound lies I’ve never understood.

Like water meadows, boulevards are flooded.
Cobblestones, crisscrossed by scarlet rills,
Are islands; creatures come and drink their fill.
Nothing in nature now remains unblooded.

I used to hope that wine could bring me ease,
Could lull asleep my deeply gnawing mind.
I was a fool: the senses clear with wine.

I looked to Love to cure my old disease.
Love led me to a thicket of IVs
Where bristling needles thirsted for each vein.

onset :: kim addonizio

Watching that frenzy of insects above the bush of white flowers,
bush I see everywhere on hill after hill, all I can think of
is how terrifying spring is, in its tireless, mindless replications.
Everywhere emergence: seed case, chrysalis, uterus, endless manufacturing.
And the wrapped stacks of Styrofoam cups in the grocery, lately
I can’t stand them, the shelves of canned beans and soups, freezers
of identical dinners; then the snowflake-diamond-snowflake of the rug
beneath my chair, rows of books turning their backs,
even my two feet, how they mirror each other oppresses me,
the way they fit so perfectly together, how I can nestle one big toe into the other
like little continents that have drifted; my God the unity of everything,
my hands and eyes, yours; doesn’t that frighten you sometimes, remembering
the pleasure of nakedness in fresh sheets, all the lovers there before you,
beside you, crowding you out? And the scouring griefs,
don’t look at them all or they’ll kill you, you can barely encompass your own;
I’m saying I know all about you, whoever you are, it’s spring
and it’s starting again, the longing that begins, and begins, and begins.

taken for granted :: marie-elizabeth mali

Hands leave behind more than prints—
the knitting and the ripping, empty
grape stems in a red bowl, a bruise.
When I said engine I meant death.
Grace invites us into itself so consistently,
we can refuse it. Stars uncover their eyes
in the dark. Lightning always seeks
the ground. Morning will find us
still breathing. I never understood
the impulse to carve initials into a tree,
plant my footprint in wet concrete.
Forgetfulness is ecstasy’s cousin.
I’d be lost without the horizon.
Nothing royal about a queen-sized bed.
Twists and turns are the most direct.
Maybe careen is my normal. I need
a mirror to see my face, and even then
it’s on backwards. I’m not you. I’m like
you. I’m nothing but you. Some lotuses
only bloom in moonlight. Sound needs
silence to make sense. When I eat grapes,
I eat the sun. Inside the bruise, my song.

story in another language :: william jolliff

The musty scent of old pages
lingers along lower shelves—
religion, history, and at last
romance. One thick one
flakes cheap gilt and hides
in a language I do not read.
But the plates are finely etched:
first there are cattle that stand
like lingering gods on a prairie
I do not recognize, beside
a river I cannot name.
Next is a train that pulls
along the platform in some
non-essential town.
The people waiting stare
through the coaches’ windows,
but no one waves.

Finally there is a cabin that
could be West Virginia.
A thin woman stands on the step,
embraced by an anxious man
with a valise and a mustache
that curls beneath his lower lip.
He is D. H. Lawrence-drunk
with the press of her breast.
But, still in his embrace,
she looks over his shoulder
at all that will not let her
leave—chrysanthemums
along the stone wall, a child’s
carriage in the dooryard,
that shining something more
that hovers above the evergreens,
promising to fall in showers of gold.

wild poppies :: marion mccready

And how do you survive? Your long throat,
your red-rag-to-a-bull head?

You rise heavy in the night, stars drinking
from your poppy neck.

Your henna silks serenade me
under the breadth of the Pyrenees.

You move like an opera,
open like sea anemones.

You are earth’s first blood.
How the birds love you,

I envy your lipstick dress.
You are urgent as airmail, animal red,

Ash Wednesday crosses tattooed on your head.
Your butterfly breath

releases your scents, your secrets,
bees blackening your mouth

as your dirty red laundry
all hangs out.

romantics :: lisel mueller

       Johannes Brahms and
               Clara Schumann 

The modern biographers worry
“how far it went,” their tender friendship.
They wonder just what it means
when he writes he thinks of her constantly,
his guardian angel, beloved friend.
The modern biographers ask
the rude, irrelevant question
of our age, as if the event
of two bodies meshing together
establishes the degree of love,
forgetting how softly Eros walked
in the nineteenth-century, how a hand
held overlong or a gaze anchored
in someone’s eyes could unseat a heart,
and nuances of address not known
in our egalitarian language
could make the redolent air
tremble and shimmer with the heat
of possibility. Each time I hear
the Intermezzi, sad
and lavish in their tenderness,
I imagine the two of them
sitting in a garden
among late-blooming roses
and dark cascades of leaves,
letting the landscape speak for them,
leaving us nothing to overhear.

first efforts :: gregory djanikian

Always good to pick up so-and-so’s first book
full of those wonderfully
inconsequential poems about napkin rings
and the meaning of animal husbandry.

And what about that immense
celebratory “Ode to Coffee,” the spoon
in its cup rising like a mast of insight
from the dark unconscious
.

Isn’t it comforting to know
that the malarial cloud
of bad writing can linger anywhere?

Oh never mind the later work,
those brilliant, difficult volumes
that have elbowed their way
onto the narrow shelf of preëminence—

it’s these first, trembling efforts
I’m after, fledglings in the palm,
larval stirrings which have yet
to test the steepness of flight.

And when the reading lamp
beacons our way like a star
from the deep socket of night
,
I’m happy for having such a phrase
taking its turn in the vernacular of art,
awful as it is, especially
since it’s not mine.

But it could have been.
And isn’t it, after all, a sense of generosity
that makes one person try and fail
while the other looks on thickly from the wings,
wordless and too much himself?

So in my large chair I read
poem after struggling poem,
the heavy turn of each page
not quite metamorphosing into something
unthinkably feathery or muscular,

but giving me a notion of it,
a slight wind against my cheek,
an odor of something wild
ready to be unleashed from its constraints

like a hawk above, circling,
about to break deeply toward the pasture,
or a horse, suddenly untethered,
eyeing a long expanse of land.