reference range :: veneta masson

Your tests show
the numbers 73, 90, 119 and 2.5,
the letter A,
the color yellow,
a straight line interrupted by a repeating pattern
of steeples and languid waves,
a gray asymmetrical oval
filled with fine white tracery,
35 seconds,
100 millimeters,
II.

I’m not sure what to make of these.
With the possible exception of II,
which like all Roman numerals
is subject to misinterpretation,
I see no cause for alarm.
I admit to a preference for low numbers,
the apothecary system over the metric
(my age, perhaps, and distrust of pure logic)
and the letter W,
though most of my colleagues favor
M.

I think you can be happy with yellow
and, based on my experience,
the fact that the straight line is punctuated.
Seconds, millimeters–I marvel at their finitude,
but this oval, so intricate, so light,
might well contain a universe.
Is it normal, you ask.
Normal’s a shell game you seldom win.
Take my advice. Enjoy good health
not as your due but the blessing it is
like Spring, laughter,
death.

q :: sharon olds

Q belonged to Q.&A.,
to questions, and to foursomes, and fractions,
it belonged to the Queen, to Quakers, to quintets—
within its compound in the dictionary dwelt
the quill pig, and quince beetle,
and quetzal, and quail. Quailing was part of Q’s
quiddity—the Q quaked
and quivered, it quarrelled and quashed. No one was
quite sure where it had come from, but it had
travelled with the K, they were the two voiceless
velar Semitic consonants, they went
back to the desert, to caph and koph.
And K has done a lot better—
29 pages in Webster’s Third
to Q’s 13. And though Q has much
to be proud of, from Q.& I. detector
through quinoa, sometimes these days the letter
looks like what medical students called the
Q face—its tongue lolling out.
And sometimes when you pass a folded
newspaper you can hear from within it
a keening, from all the Q’s who are being
set in type, warboarded,
made to tell and tell of the quick and the
Iraq dead.

oaks :: kai carlson-wee

Nights like these where the road empties out
around ten, goes dead, leaves only distances.
Here to the stop sign, the telephone pole,
the streetlight pooling at the intersection.
Sometimes the drone of quiet machines
in the back-alley next to my house.
Feeling the spring air crawl through the matted-down
grass, crusty with trash melted out of the snow.
The moon takes its time with whatever it does,
disappears mostly. Tries not to draw
much attention to itself. The way
I return to the same place repeatedly,
working the insignificant details.
Naked in the dark room. Feeling around
for the sides of your breasts, the knob
of your shoulder, coiling back,
pumping your collarbone against me.
In my mind’s eye the trail of your vertebrae
descends forever. One socket holding
the next one in place. Fence line. Wavering
leaves on the stand-alone oak trees, shyly alive
in the night-wind. From the top of the hill
I see floodlights on the ball field below me,
looking like a party I just missed out on.
Something tremendous the crowd left abandoned
and wandered away from toward nothing particular,
hoping for some other miracle.

silver roses :: rachel wetzsteon

The strings, as if they knew
the lovers are about to meet, begin
to soar, and when he marches in the door
they soar some more—half ecstasy, half pain,
the musical equivalent of rain—
while children who have grown up with one stare
steal further looks across a crowded room,
as goners tend to do.

My father loved it too,
warned me at dinner that he’d be a wreck
long before the final trio came
(Ja, ja, she sighed, and gave him up forever);
he found his Sophie better late than never
and took the fifth about his silent tears
but like him I’m a softie, with a massive
gift for feeling blue.

I went with others, threw
bouquets and caution to the whirling wind,
believing that the rhapsody on stage
would waft its wonders up to our cheap seats;
but mirrors can be beautiful fierce cheats,
delusions of an over-smitten mind;
I relished trouser roles until I had
no petals left to strew.

Up, down the avenue
I wandered like a ghost, I wondered why
a miracle is always a mirage,
then plodded home and set back all the clocks,
spent hard-won funds installing strong new locks,
telling myself if violence like this
could never sound like violins, I would
to art, not life, be true.

And I am trying to
fathom the way I got from there to here,
the joy that snuck up when I’d sworn off joy:
we’ve made a sterling start, we’ve got a plan
to watch it on your satin couch downtown
and I’ll be there upon the stroke of eight,
bearing in my trembling ungloved hand
a silver rose for you.

i have learned so much :: hafiz

translated by daniel ladinsky

I
Have
Learned
So much from God
That I can no longer
Call
Myself

A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,
A Buddhist, a Jew.

The Truth has shared so much of Itself
With me

That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, an angel,
Or even pure
Soul.

Love has
Befriended Hafiz so completely
It has turned to ash
And freed
Me

Of every concept and image
My mind has ever known.

via CC

artless :: brenda shaughnessy

is my heart. A stranger
berry there never was,
tartless.
Gone sour in the sun,
in the sunroom or moonroof,
roofless.
No poetry. Plain. No
fresh, special recipe
to bless.
All I’ve ever made
with these hands
and life, less
substance, more rind.
Mostly rim and trim,
meatless
but making much smoke
in the old smokehouse,
no less.
Fatted from the day,
overripe and even
toxic at eve. Nonetheless,
in the end, if you must
know, if I must bend,
waistless,
to that excruciation.
No marvel, no harvest
left me speechless,
yet I find myself
somehow with heart,
aloneless.
With heart,
fighting fire with fire,
flightless.
That loud hub of us,
meat stub of us, beating us
senseless.
Spectacular in its way,
its way of not seeing,
congealing dayless
but in everydayness.
In that hopeful haunting,
(a lesser
way of saying
in darkness) there is
silencelessness
for the pressing question.
Heart, what art you?
War, star, part? Or less:
playing a part, staying apart
from the one who loves,
loveless.

flux :: afaa michael weaver

I am a city of bones
deep inside my marrow,
a song in electric chords,
decrescendo to mute, rise
to white noise, half silences
in a blank harmony as all
comes to nothing, my eyes
the central fire of my soul,
yellow, orange, red—gone
in an instant and then back
when I am, for a glimpse,
as precise as a bird’s breath,
when I am perfect, undone
by hope when hope will not
listen, the moon wasting
to where I need not worry
that bones turn to ash,
a brittle staccato in dust.

survive me :: natalie shapero

It wasn’t for love of having
children that I had a child.
Rather, I simply didn’t know how a person
could cross, fully shoeless, a bed of coals
and not burn, and I needed
someone to pass this to.
I needed my obtuseness to survive me.
But I never accounted for our thwarting era.
Every day, the paper
runs a remembrance
of a child, the notice struggling to sing the few
years lived: He never sketched the Earth without
its hatch of latitudes. She did
not like to try new foods.

the bleating of copper :: amjad nasser

translated by khaled mattawa

Fathers
told us about raids
and deaths avenged,
but they never told us about martyrs.
The bells of the flock
were everything;
the bleating of copper
that never ceased its ringing.
And the rivers and oases
that slipped from under
the hooves of their horses at night!
Night and horses—
is this what history is all about?

the pond at dusk :: jane kenyon

A fly wounds the water but the wound
soon heals. Swallows tilt and twitter
overhead, dropping now and then toward
the outward-radiating evidence of food.

The green haze on the trees changes
into leaves, and what looks like smoke
floating over the neighbor’s barn
is only apple blossoms.

But sometimes what looks like disaster
is disaster: the day comes at last,
and the men struggle with the casket
just clearing the pews.

cake :: mark kraushaar

She’s in the first booth left of the planters.
She’s been waiting an hour now.
She’s been waiting at the Watertown Family Buffet
with her little girl who’s dreamed up
some kind of a costume:
giant glasses, backwards cap, taffeta gown
which is clearly for him, for Al who’s
just now arriving, finally, and now
he’s seen them, and now
he’s walking over, and now
he’s standing there, standing there,
husband and father, or boyfriend and father,
or boyfriend and father figure, except
he’s way too late,
he’s too late times two and the party’s over
thank-you, and, no, they’re not having,
not the grin, not the story, not the hug.

The woman gets up, and then, face baggy with patience,
she nods to the girl who scoots out too,
and they exit together.
So over the chips and spilt dip,
over the drained Pepsi and big white cake
with “AL” in caps and quotes
he watches them go,
looks out at the parking lot,
opens his book.
Here’s the waitress with her pad and pen.
And what in hell is he reading?

the school where i studied :: yehuda amichai

translated by chana bloch and chana kronfeld

I passed by the school where I studied as a boy
and said in my heart: here I learned certain things
and didn’t learn others. All my life I have loved in vain
the things I didn’t learn. I am filled with knowledge,
I know all about the flowering of the tree of knowledge,
the shape of its leaves, the function of its root system, its pests and parasites.
I’m an expert on the botany of good and evil,
I’m still studying it, I’ll go on studying till the day I die.
I stood near the school building and looked in. This is the room
where we sat and learned. The windows of a classroom always open
to the future, but in our innocence we thought it was only landscape
we were seeing from the window.
The schoolyard was narrow, paved with large stones.
I remember the brief tumult of the two of us
near the rickety steps, the tumult
that was the beginning of a first great love.
Now it outlives us, as if in a museum,
like everything else in Jerusalem.

reading milosz :: adam zagajewski

I read your poetry once more,
poems written by a rich man, knowing all,
and by a beggar, homeless,
an emigrant, alone.

You always wanted to go
beyond poetry, above it, soaring,
but also lower, to where our region
begins, modest and timid.

Sometimes your tone
transforms us for a moment,
we believe—truly—
that every day is sacred,

that poetry—how to put it? —
makes life rounder,
fuller, prouder, unashamed
of perfect formulation.

But evening arrives,
I lay my book aside,
and the city’s ordinary din resumes—
somebody coughs, someone cries and curses.

encounter :: czeslaw milosz

translated by czeslaw milosz and lillian vallee

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

                         Wilno, 1936

in memoriam :: leo dangel

In the early afternoon my mother
was doing the dishes. I climbed
onto the kitchen table, I suppose
to play, and fell asleep there.
I was drowsy and awake, though,
as she lifted me up, carried me
on her arms into the living room,
and placed me on the davenport,
but I pretended to be asleep
the whole time, enjoying the luxury—
I was too big for such a privilege
and just old enough to form
my only memory of her carrying me.
She’s still moving me to a softer place.

my shadow :: robert louis stevenson

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.

He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an errant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

the heavy bear who goes with me :: delmore schwartz

     “the withness of the body”

The heavy bear who goes with me,
A manifold honey to smear his face,
Clumsy and lumbering here and there,
The central ton of every place,
The hungry beating brutish one
In love with candy, anger, and sleep,
Crazy factotum, dishevelling all,
Climbs the building, kicks the football,
Boxes his brother in the hate-ridden city.

Breathing at my side, that heavy animal,
That heavy bear who sleeps with me,
Howls in his sleep for a world of sugar,
A sweetness intimate as the water’s clasp,
Howls in his sleep because the tight-rope
Trembles and shows the darkness beneath.
—The strutting show-off is terrified,
Dressed in his dress-suit, bulging his pants,
Trembles to think that his quivering meat
Must finally wince to nothing at all.

That inescapable animal walks with me,
Has followed me since the black womb held,
Moves where I move, distorting my gesture,
A caricature, a swollen shadow,
A stupid clown of the spirit’s motive,
Perplexes and affronts with his own darkness,
The secret life of belly and bone,
Opaque, too near, my private, yet unknown,
Stretches to embrace the very dear
With whom I would walk without him near,
Touches her grossly, although a word
Would bare my heart and make me clear,
Stumbles, flounders, and strives to be fed
Dragging me with him in his mouthing care,
Amid the hundred million of his kind,
The scrimmage of appetite everywhere.

poem for salt :: leroy v. quintana

The biggest snowstorm to hit Denver in twenty years.
What is the world to do, freed from the shackles
of the eight hours needed to earn its daily salary?

Only on a day such as this does salt overshadow gold.
Salt, with its lips of blue fire, common as gossip,
ordinary as sin. Like true love and gasoline,
missed only when they run out. Salt spilling
from a blue container a young girl is holding,
along with an umbrella, on the label of a blue
container of salt that the woman across the street,
under her umbrella is pouring behind her left rear wheel
to no avail this discontented, unbuttoned December
       morning.

doubled mirrors :: kenneth rexroth

It is the dark of the moon.
Late at night, the end of summer,
The autumn constellations
Glow in the arid heaven.
The air smells of cattle, hay,
And dust. In the old orchard
The pears are ripe. The trees
Have sprouted from old rootstocks
And the fruit is inedible.
As I pass them I hear something
Rustling and grunting and turn
My light into the branches.
Two raccoons with acrid pear
Juice and saliva drooling
From their mouths stare back at me,
Their eyes deep sponges of light.
They know me and do not run
Away. Coming up the road
Through the black oak shadows, I
See ahead of me, glinting
Everywhere from the dusty
Gravel, tiny points of cold
Blue light, like the sparkle of
Iron snow. I suspect what it is,
And kneel to see. Under each
Pebble and oak leaf is a
Spider, her eyes shining at
Me with my reflected light
Across immeasurable distance.

sharp glass :: minnie bruce pratt

Shattered glass in the street at Maryland and 10th:
smashed sand glittering on a beach of black asphalt.

You can think of it so: or as bits of broken kaleidoscope,
or as crystals spilled from the white throat of a geode.

You can use metaphor to move the glass as far as possible
from the raised hands that threw the bottle

for their own reasons of amusement, or despair, or the desire
to make a cymbal crash in the ears of midnight sleepers.

Or you can use words like your needle, the probe curious
in tough heels, your bare feet having walked in risky places.

You can work to the surface the irritant, pain, the glass
sliver to blink in the light, sharp as a question.

the book of hand shadows :: marianne boruch

An eagle and a squirrel. A bull and a sage.
All take two hands, even the sheep
whose mouth is a lever for nothing, neither
grass nor complaint. The black swan’s
mostly one long arm, bent
at the elbow but there’s always feathers
to fool with. Front leaf: a boy
with a candle, leaning curious while
an old man makes
a Shakespeare. The small pointed beard
is a giveaway.
                    I always wanted to, especially
because of the candle part. How the eye is finally
a finger bent to make an emptiness. Or that
a thing thrown up there
is worlds bigger than how it starts. So I liked
the ceiling better than the wall, looking up
where stars roamed and moon sometimes
hovered, were the roof lost,
were we lucky
and forgot ourselves.

living room altar :: catherine barnett

Except for the shirt pulled from the ocean,
except for her hands, which keep folding the shirt,
except for her body, which once held their bodies,

my sister wants everything back now–

If there were a god who could out of empty shells
carried by waves to shore
make amends–

If the ocean saved in a jar
could keep from turning to salt–

She’s hearing things:

bird calling to bird,
cat outside the door,
thorn of the blackberry against the trellis.

selecting a reader :: ted kooser

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
“For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned.” And she will.

a nude by edward hopper :: lisel mueller

        for Margaret Gaul

The light
drains me of what I might be,
a man’s dream
of heat and softness;
or a painter’s
—breasts cozy pigeons,
arms gently curved
by a temperate noon.

I am
blue veins, a scar,
a patch of lavender cells,
used thighs and shoulders;
my calves
are as scant as my cheeks,
my hips won’t plump
small, shimmering pillows:

but this body
is home, my childhood
is buried here, my sleep
rises and sets inside,
desire
crested and wore itself then
between these bones—
I live here.

sea poppies :: h. d.

Amber husk
fluted with gold,
fruit on the sand
marked with a rich grain,

treasure
spilled near the shrub-pines
to bleach on the boulders:

your stalk has caught root
among wet pebbles
and drift flung by the sea
and grated shells
and split conch-shells.

Beautiful, wide-spread,
fire upon leaf,
what meadow yields
so fragrant a leaf
as your bright leaf?

america :: claude mckay

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

change in the grove of chickadees :: lesle lewis

Happy for nothing, we could be with no dinner to cook.

Absence is gigantic in our heads and houses.

We’re old and it’s bold to say so standing at the kitchen counter with the flashing red things.

The clock says midnight and we say yes.

When we go out, time always pays.

We spike our heads with copper ions and picnic with the breast explorers.

We’re riding the earth.

Non-motion is impossible.

good-bye, and keep cold :: robert frost

This saying good-bye on the edge of the dark
And cold to an orchard so young in the bark
Reminds me of all that can happen to harm
An orchard away at the end of the farm
All winter, cut off by a hill from the house.
I don’t want it girdled by rabbit and mouse,
I don’t want it dreamily nibbled for browse
By deer, and I don’t want it budded by grouse.
(If certain it wouldn’t be idle to call
I’d summon grouse, rabbit, and deer to the wall
And warn them away with a stick for a gun.)
I don’t want it stirred by the heat of the sun.
(We made it secure against being, I hope,
By setting it out on a northerly slope.)
No orchard’s the worse for the wintriest storm;
But one thing about it, it mustn’t get warm.
“How often already you’ve had to be told,
Keep cold, young orchard. Good-bye and keep cold.
Dread fifty above more than fifty below.”
I have to be gone for a season or so.
My business awhile is with different trees,
Less carefully nourished, less fruitful than these,
And such as is done to their wood with an axe—
Maples and birches and tamaracks.
I wish I could promise to lie in the night
And think of an orchard’s arboreal plight
When slowly (and nobody comes with a light)
Its heart sinks lower under the sod.
But something has to be left to God.

heat :: jane hirshfield

My mare, when she was in heat,
would travel the fenceline for hours,
wearing the impatience
in her feet into the ground.

Not a stallion for miles, I’d assure her,
give it up.

She’d widen her nostrils,
sieve the wind for news, be moving again,
her underbelly darkening with sweat,
then stop at the gate a moment, wait
to see what I might do.
Oh, I knew
how it was for her, easily
recognized myself in that wide lust:
came to stand in the pasture
just to see it played.
Offered a hand, a bucket of grain—
a minute’s distraction from passion
the most I gave.

Then she’d return to what burned her:
the fence, the fence,
so hoping I might see, might let her free.
I’d envy her then,
to be so restlessly sure
of heat, and need, and what it takes
to feed the wanting that we are—

only a gap to open
the width of a mare,
the rest would take care of itself.
Surely, surely I knew that,
who had the power of bucket
and bridle—
she would beseech me, sidle up,
be gone, as life is short.
But desire, desire is long.

hear Jane read this