the moment :: margaret atwood

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

the poet with his face in his hands :: mary oliver

You want to cry aloud for your
mistakes. But to tell the truth the world
doesn’t need any more of that sound.

So if you’re going to do it and can’t
stop yourself, if your pretty mouth can’t
hold it in, at least go by yourself across

the forty fields and the forty dark inclines
of rocks and water to the place where
the falls are flinging out their white sheets

like crazy, and there is a cave behind all that
jubilation and water fun and you can
stand there, under it, and roar all you

want and nothing will be disturbed; you can
drip with despair all afternoon and still,
on a green branch, its wings just lightly touched

by the passing foil of the water, the thrush,
puffing out its spotted breast, will sing
of the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything.

for the children :: gary snyder

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us,
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

the strange people :: louise erdrich

The antelope are strange people … they are beautiful to look at, and yet they are tricky. We do not trust them. They appear and disappear; they are like shadows on the plains. Because of their great beauty, young men sometimes follow the antelope and are lost forever. Even if those foolish ones find themselves and return, they are never again right in their heads.

–Pretty Shield, Medicine Woman of the Crows
transcribed and edited by Frank Linderman (1932)

All night I am the doe, breathing
his name in a frozen field,
the small mist of the word
drifting always before me.

And again he has heard it
and I have gone burning
to meet him, the jacklight
fills my eyes with blue fire;
the heart in my chest
explodes like a hot stone.

Then slung like a sack
in the back of his pickup,
I wipe the death scum
from my mouth, sit up laughing
and shriek in my speeding grave.

Safely shut in the garage,
when he sharpens his knife
and thinks to have me, like that,
I come toward him,
a lean gray witch
through the bullets that enter and dissolve.

I sit in his house
drinking coffee till dawn
and leave as frost reddens on hubcaps,
crawling back into my shadowy body.
All day, asleep in clean grasses,
I dream of the one who could really wound me.

Not with weapons, not with a kiss, not with a look.
Not even with his goodness.

If a man was never to lie to me. Never lie to me.
I swear I would never leave him.

american manhood :: robert wrigley

In the dull ache that is midnight for a boy
his age, I heard the sound of him first:
hiss of the pistol-grip hose from the garden
and the clatter a watery arc makes
coming down silver under streetlights,
on the day-warmed pavement of the road.
And though I muttered at first
to be wakened, I stand now in the window
upstairs, naked and alert, the cool breeze
sweet with the blossoms of locusts.

My wife murmurs, stirs. She is a slope of white
in the bedclothes, dunes of softness
below the light from the window
and the single blind eye of the clock.
“It’s just Travis,” I say, hoping
she’ll lapse again into sleep.

I hope she’ll sleep because he is a boy,
fourteen, soft yet himself, unwhiskered.
He believes he is the only one
awake, the only one alive in a world
of cruel nights and unbearable silence.
His parents snore, their house is dark.
He is crouched on the curb
in just his pajama bottoms, barefoot,
swirling figure eights into the air trafficked
only by insects and the fluttering, hunting bats.

Tonight he speaks a language I believe
I must have known, in the time before, those years
when a boy’s body imagines the world, the heartbeat
rhythm of water on the road, the riches
coined by streetlights, the smell of the night
that is everything at once, alterable
and contained—all that keeps him awake
long after I’ve gone back to bed.

But before sleep comes, I listen, until the noise
he makes is my own even breathing, and I remember how
the old rented guitar I learned on smelled of music,
how the young married woman across the street
robbed me of the power of speech,
and how I wandered one night the alleys
of the town I grew up in, a brick in my hand,
breaking thermometers, taillights, and windows,
and went home and laughed aloud and wept.

afraid so :: jeanne marie beaumont

Is it starting to rain?
Did the check bounce?
Are we out of coffee?
Is this going to hurt?
Could you lose your job?
Did the glass break?
Was the baggage misrouted?
Will this go on my record?
Are you missing much money?
Was anyone injured?
Is the traffic heavy?
Do I have to remove my clothes?
Will it leave a scar?
Must you go?
Will this be in the papers?
Is my time up already?
Are we seeing the understudy?
Will it affect my eyesight?
Did all the books burn?
Are you still smoking?
Is the bone broken?
Will I have to put him to sleep?
Was the car totaled?
Am I responsible for these charges?
Are you contagious?
Will we have to wait long?
Is the runway icy?
Was the gun loaded?
Could this cause side effects?
Do you know who betrayed you?
Is the wound infected?
Are we lost?
Will it get any worse?

turtle in the road :: faith shearin

It was the spring before we moved again, a list of what
we must do on the refrigerator, when my daughter
and I found a turtle in the road. He was not gentle
or shy, not properly afraid of the cars that swerved

around his mistake. I thought I might encourage him
towards safety with a stick but each time I touched
his tail he turned fiercely to show me what he thought
of my prodding. He had a raisin head, the legs of

a fat dwarf, the tail of a dinosaur. His shell was a deep
green secret he had kept his whole life. I could not tell
how old he was but his claws suggested years of
reaching. I was afraid to pick him up, afraid of the way

he snapped his jaws, but I wanted to help him return
to the woods which watched him with an ancient
detachment. I felt I understood him because I didn’t
want to move either; I was tired of going from one place

to another: the introductions, the goodbyes. I was sick
of getting ready, of unpacking, of mail sent to places
where I used to live. At last I put my stick away
and left him to decide which direction was best.

If I forced him off the road he might return later.
My daughter and I stood awhile, considering him.
He was a traveler from the time of reptiles, a creature
who wore his house like a jacket. I don’t know

if he survived his afternoon in the road; I am still
thinking of the way his eyes watched me go.
I can’t forget his terrible legs, so determined
to take him somewhere, his tail which pointed
behind him at the dark spaces between the trees.

when death comes :: mary oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

NIGHTMORNINGSKY :: peter cooley

I’d like to see the tree as it once stood
before me, childhood, the branch and leaf
a single form of transport, ecstasy
shaking my body I give to the leaves,
the leaves return, my stare all interchange.

But that was when I had a sky to name
since I had a belief in constancy
like everyone. The sky was my background,
the drama of the tree and me, one act,
then three, then five, a Shakespearean play script.
some tragic flaw in hero, heroine,
yet to be discovered.
                      But now the sky
clouds even dawn with a black mist that falls
from all things and all imaginings.

The tree in my backyard is caught in this.
When I look for the sky it is still there
but now a matter of my memory
or prophecy.
           Where is the root, bough, stem
set clearly against a morning, clearing?

smell and envy :: douglas goetsch

You nature poets think you’ve got it, hostaged
somewhere in Vermont or Oregon,
so it blooms and withers only for you,
so all you have to do is name it: primrose
—and now you’re writing poetry, and now
you ship it off to us, to smell and envy.

But we are made of newspaper and smoke
and we dunk your roses in vats of blue.
Birds don’t call, our pigeons play it close
to the vest. When the moon is full
we hear it in the sirens. The Pleiades
you could probably buy downtown. Gravity
is the receiver on the hook. Mortality
we smell on certain people as they pass.

blur :: andrew hudgins

Storms of perfume lift from honeysuckle,
lilac, clover—and drift across the threshold,
outside reclaiming inside as its home.
Warm days whirl in a bright unnumberable blur,
a cup—a grail brimmed with delirium
and humbling boredom both. I was a boy,
I thought I’d always be a boy, pell—mell,
mean, and gaily murderous one moment
as I decapitated daises with a stick,
then overcome with summer’s opium,
numb—slumberous. I thought I’d always be a boy,
each day its own millennium, each
one thousand years of daylight ending in
the night watch, summer’s pervigilium,
which I could never keep because by sunset
I was an old man. I was Methuselah,
the oldest man in the holy book. I drowsed.
I nodded, slept—and without my watching, the world,
whose permanence I doubted, returned again,
bluebell and blue jay, speedwell and cardinal
still there when the light swept back,
and so was I, which I had also doubted.
I understood with horror then with joy,
dubious and luminous joy: it simply spins.
It doesn’t need my feet to make it turn.
It doesn’t even need my eyes to watch it,
and I, though a latecomer to its surface, I’d
be leaving early. It was my duty to stay awake
and sing if I could keep my mind on singing,
not extinction, as blurred green summer, lifted
to its apex, succumbed to gravity and fell
to autumn, Ilium, and ashes. In joy
we are our own uncomprehending mourners,
and more than joy I longed for understanding
and more than understanding I longed for joy.

clock :: pierre reverdy

translated by lydia davis

    In the warm air of the ceiling the footlights of dreams are illuminated.
       The white walls have curved. The burdened chest breathes confused words. In the mirror, the wind from the south spins, 
carrying leaves and feathers. The window is blocked. The heart is 
almost extinguished among the already cold ashes of the moon — the hands are without shelter ­­­­— as all the trees lying down. In the wind from the desert the needles bend and my hour is past.

it is tuesday :: matthew zapruder

From room to room
after you left
I wandered a while
in the hours
as instructed
I have cooked
the mushroom soup
picked up a paperback
I have read
but forgotten
had some coffee
it is quiet
I don’t know why
all afternoon
I think of you
in the traffic
the rain
peacefully falling
like some plastic beads
from the ‘70’s
when they took all the doors
off the closets
and our parents smoked
all night downstairs
and laughed too loud
we couldn’t hear
what they were
and what they knew
if you hate me
it must be
for ancient reasons

after history :: carol vanderveer hamilton

“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

The sky, fragile like old parchment
scriven and torn past repair,

floats over us. Cities, villages, vistas
of the past—faded, irradiated—

the names of wars, statues of kings,
symphonic themes forgotten.

Now only the clouds seem
familiar, like wedding guests

just arrived from a funeral, their dark coats
ironed and shiny, their white shirts

soiled with tears. Yesterday
there was this figment in the mirror.

There were these ghosts in the machine.
Today is flat, stale, and profitable.

While snow flurries over their faces,
people queue up for part-time jobs,

buy lottery tickets, kneel
outside the Stock Exchange, and dream

of some large clear place
devoid of pain. After history,

with its sieges, plagues, and massacres,
chieftains, serfs, conquistadors, and slaves,

guillotines, oubliettes, and racks,
time will float aimlessly, without referents.

The sky will be seamless again.

After history we will all drive home alone
through present darkness and impending rain

and count the seconds that cluster, dying,
on the windshield, like flies.

the vacation :: wendell berry

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.

do you love me? :: robert wrigley

She’s twelve and she’s asking the dog,
who does, but who speaks
in tongues, whose feints and gyrations
are themselves parts of speech.

They’re on the back porch
and I don’t really mean to be taking this in
but once I’ve heard I can’t stop listening. Again
and again she asks, and the good dog

sits and wiggles, leaps and licks.
Imagine never asking. Imagine why:
so sure you wouldn’t dare, or couldn’t care
less. I wonder if the dog’s guileless brown eyes

can lie, if the perfect canine lack of abstractions
might not be a bit like the picture books
she “read” as a child, before her parents’ lips
shaped the daily miracle of speech

and kisses, and the words were not lead
and weighed only air, and did not mean
so meanly. “Do you love me?” she says
and says, until the dog, sensing perhaps

its own awful speechlessness, tries to bolt,
but she holds it by the collar and will not
let go, until, having come closer,
I hear the rest of it. I hear it all.

She’s got the dog’s furry jowls in her hands,
she’s speaking precisely
into its laid back, quivering ears:
“Say it,” she hisses, “Say it to me.”

chosen by the lion :: linda gregg

I am the one chosen by the lion at sundown
and dragged back from the shining water.
Yanked back to bushes and torn open, blood
blazing at the throat and breast of me.
Taken as meat. Devoured as spirit by spirit.
The others will return quickly to drink again
peacefully, but for me now there is only faith.
Only the fact that the tall windows I lived
with were left uncovered halfway up.
And the silence of those days I lived there
which were marked by your arrivals like
stations on a long journey. You write to say
you love me and lie awake in stillness
to avoid the pain. I remember looking
at you from within at the last moment,
with faith like a gift handkerchief, delicate
and almost fragile. This is the final thing.
Purity and faith, power and blood. Is there
nothing to see? Not memory even of forgetting?
Only the body eating the body? What of faith
when it meets death, being when it is hard
to account for? The nipples you bit
and the body you possessed lie buried in you.
My faith shines as the moon in the darkness
on water, as the sky in the day. Does it hover
in the air around you? Does it come like
a flower in your groin? Or is it like before
when you were alone and about to fall asleep
saying out loud in the darkness, “Linda,”
and hearing me answer immediately, “Yes!”

my skeleton :: jane hirshfield

My skeleton,
you who once ached
with your own growing larger

are now,
each year
imperceptibly smaller,
absorbed by your own

When I danced,
you danced.
When you broke,

And so it was lying down,
climbing the tiring stairs.
Your jaws. My bread.

Someday you,
what is left of you,
will be flensed of this marriage.

Angular wristbone’s arthritis,
cracked harp of ribcage,
blunt of heel,
opened bowl of the skull,
twin platters of pelvis—
each of you will leave me behind,
at last serene.

What did I know of your days,
your nights,
I who held you all my life
inside my hands
and thought they were empty?

You who held me all my life
inside your hands
as a new mother holds
her own unblanketed child,
not thinking at all.

stars :: marjorie pickthall

Now in the West the slender moon lies low,
And now Orion glimmers through the trees,
Clearing the earth with even pace and slow,
And now the stately-moving Pleiades,
In that soft infinite darkness overhead
Hang jewel-wise upon a silver thread.

And all the lonelier stars that have their place,
Calm lamps within the distant southern sky,
And planet-dust upon the edge of space,
Look down upon the fretful world, and I
Look up to outer vastness unafraid
And see the stars which sang when earth was made.

coffee cup café :: linda hasselstrom

Soon as the morning chores are done,
cows milked, pigs fed, kids packed
off to school, it’s down to the café
for more coffee and some soothing

“If it don’t rain pretty soon, I’m
just gonna dry up and blow away.”
“Dry? This ain’t dry. You don’t know
how bad it can get. Why, in the Thirties
it didn’t rain any more than this for
(breathless pause) six years.”

“I heard Johnson’s lost ninety head of calves
in that spring snowstorm. They
were calving and heading for home
at the same time and they just walked
away from them.”

“Yeah and when the cows
got home, half of them died
of pneumonia.”

“I ain’t had any hay on me since that hail
last summer; wiped out my hay crop, all
my winter pasture, and then the drouth
this spring. Don’t know what I’ll do.”

“Yeah, but this is nothing yet.
Why in the Thirties the grasshoppers came
like hail and left nothing green on the ground.
They ate fenceposts, even. And the dust, why
it was deep as last winter’s snow drifts,
piled against the houses. It ain’t bad here yet,
and when it does come, there won’t be so many of us
having coffee.”

So for an hour they cheer each other, each story
worse than the last, each face longer. You’d think
they’d throw themselves under their tractors
when they leave, but they’re bouncy as a new calf,
caps tilted fiercely into the sun.

They feel better, now they know
somebody’s having a harder time
and that men like them
can take it.

a house is not a home :: terrance hayes

It was the night I embraced Ron’s wife a bit too long
because he’d refused to kiss me goodbye
that I realized the essential nature of sound.
When she slapped me across one ear,
and he punched me in the other, I recalled,
almost instantly, the purr of liquor sliding
along the neck of the bottle a few hours earlier
as the three of us took turns imitating the croon
of the recently-deceased Luther Vandross.
I decided then, even as my ears fattened,
to seek employment at the African-American
Acoustic and Audiological Accident Insurance Institute,
where probably there is a whole file devoted
to Luther Vandross. And probably it contains
the phone call he made to ask a niece
the whereabouts of his very first piano.
I already know there is a difference
between hearing and listening,
but to get the job, I bet I will have to learn
how to transcribe church fires or how to categorize
the dozen or so variations of gasping, one which
likely includes Ron and me in the eighth grade
the time a neighbor flashed her breasts at us.
That night at Ron’s house I believed he, his wife,
and Luther loved me more than anything
I could grasp. “I can’t believe you won’t kiss me,
you’re the gayest man I know!” I told him
just before shackling my arms around his wife.
“My job is all about context,” I will tell friends
when they ask. “I love it, though most days
all I do is root through noise like a termite
with a number on his back.” What will I steal?
Rain falling on a picket sign, breathy epithets-
you think I’m bullshitting. When you have no music,
everything becomes a form of music. I bet
somewhere in Mississippi there is a skull
that only a sharecropper’s daughter can make sing.
I’ll steal that sound. More than anything,
I want to work at the African-American
Acoustic and Audiological Accident Insurance Institute
so that I can record the rumors and raucous rhythms
of my people, our jangled history, the slander
in our sugar, the ardor in our anger, a subcategory
of which probably includes the sound particular to one
returning to his feet after a friend has knocked him down.


(via, via)

whethering :: a. e. stallings

The rain is haunted;
I had forgotten.
My children are two hours abed
And yet I rise
Hearing behind the typing of the rain,

Its abacus and digits,
A voice calling me again,
Softer, clearer.
The kids lie buried under duvets, sound
Asleep. It isn’t them I hear, it’s

Something formless that fidgets
Beyond the window’s benighted mirror,
Where a negative develops, where reflection
Holds up a glass of spirits.
White noise

Rain is a kind of recollection.
Much has been shed,
Hissing indignantly into the ground.
It is the listening

Haunted by these fingertaps and sighs
Behind the beaded-curtain glistening,
As though by choices that we didn’t make and never wanted,
As though by the dead and misbegotten.

akechi’s wife :: bashō

translated by franz wright

On one occasion Yūgen of Ise Province was offering to share, for a night or two, the comforts of his home with me when a distant, 
bemused expression came over his face as though at the recollection of a joke told him earlier that day; then, to a degree I would not have thought possible in one whose normal manner was so formal, that studiedly dour professorial expression gave way for an instant to one that positively beamed, illuminated from within by the sound of a beloved voice. So worn out, not even sure I was on the right road, 
I forgot myself awhile watching in weary amazement as his wife came and went, the two of them giving the impression of having long perfected some grave and complex dance known only to them, one of accord and the affection of two people moving hand-in-hand in the same direction, both possessed by desire while knowing themselves to be the source of that desire. But I am so tired, I heard my own voice say, one of them, that startlingly cruel, intrusive voice I hate, darkening everything, how sick I am of listening to it, and of having to go on! But after some time had passed once again I forgot all about it as I sat there, the witness of this marvel that brought peace to my heart or, perhaps, a hidden joy of my own, one I had so long considered extinct. When Yūgen fell on hard times and was dragged down into the most humiliating poverty, his wife made up her mind one day to have her long beautiful hair cut short so that she could sell it and he could afford to invite all their friends to an evening of laughter and drinking, renga competitions, and the conversation of those who have known one another for a long time, the kind look and humorous word that make it seem possible to live again. I think of her sometimes.

                 Moon, come down and
                 come alone. I have to tell you all
                 about Akechi’s wife.

little exercise :: elizabeth bishop

for Thomas Edwards Wanning

Think of the storm roaming the sky uneasily
like a dog looking for a place to sleep in,
listen to it growling.

Think how they must look now, the mangrove keys
lying out there unresponsive to the lightning
in dark, coarse-fibred families,

where occasionally a heron may undo his head,
shake up his feathers, make an uncertain comment
when the surrounding water shines.

Think of the boulevard and the little palm trees
all stuck in rows, suddenly revealed
as fistfuls of limp fish-skeletons.

It is raining there. The boulevard
and its broken sidewalks with weeds in every crack
are relieved to be wet, the sea to be freshened.

Now the storm goes away again in a series
of small, badly lit battle-scenes,
each in “Another part of the field.”

Think of someone sleeping in the bottom of a row-boat
tied to a mangrove root or the pile of a bridge;
think of him as uninjured, barely disturbed.

echo & elixer 2 :: khaled mattawa

Cairo’s taxi drivers speak to me in English.
I answer, and they say your Arabic is good.
How long have you been with us? All my life
I tell them, but I’m never believed.
They speak to me in Farsi, speak to me in Greek,
and I answer with mountains of gold and silver,
ghost ships sailing the weed-choked seas.
And when they speak to me in Spanish,
I say Moriscos and Alhambra.
I say Jews rescued by Ottoman boats.
And when the speak to me in Portuguese,
all my life I tell them, coffee, cocoa,
Indians and poisoned spears.
I say Afonsso king of Bikongo writing
Manuel to free his enslaved sons.
And Cairo’s taxi drivers tell me
your Arabic is surprisingly good.
Then they speak to me in Italian,
and I tell them how I lay swaddled
a month’s walk from here. I tell them
camps in the desert, barbed wire, wives
and daughters dying, camels frothing disease,
the sand stretching an endless pool.
And they say so good so good.
How long have you been with us?
All my life, but I’m never believed.
Then they speak to me in French,
and I answer Jamila, Leopold, Stanley,
baskets of severed hands and feet.
I say the horror, battles of Algiers.
And they speak to me in English
and I say Lucknow, Arbenz. I say indigo,
Hiroshima, continents soaked in tea.
I play the drum beat of stamps. I invoke
Mrs. Cummings, U.S. consul in Athens,
I say Ishi, Custer, Wounded Knee.
And Cairo’s taxi drivers tell me
your Arabic is unbelievably good.
Tell the truth now, tell the truth,
how long have you been with us?
I say my first name is little lion,
my last name is broken branch.
I sing “Happiness uncontainable”
and “field greening in March”
until I’m sad and tired of truth,
and as usual I’m never believed.
Then they lead me through congestion,
gritty air, narrow streets crowded with
Pepsi and Daewoo and the sunken faces
of the poor. And when we arrive, Cairo’s
taxi drivers and I speak all the languages
of the world, and we argue and argue about
corruption, disillusionment, the missed chances,
the wicked binds, the cataclysmic fares.

we have not long to love :: tennessee williams

We have not long to love.
Light does not stay.
The tender things are those
we fold away.
Coarse fabrics are the ones
for common wear.
In silence I have watched you
comb your hair.
Intimate the silence,
dim and warm.
I could but did not, reach
to touch your arm.
I could, but do not, break
that which is still.
(Almost the faintest whisper
would be shrill.)
So moments pass as though
they wished to stay.
We have not long to love.
A night. A day….

after david hammons :: claudia rankine

In the darkened moment a body gifted with the blue light of a flashlight
enters with levity, with or without assumptions, doubts, with desire,
the beating heart, disappointment, with desires—

Stand where you are.

You begin to move around in search of the steps it will take before you
are thrown back into your own body, back into your own need to be found.

Destinations are lost. You raise yourself. No one else is seeking.

You exhaust yourself looking into the blue light. All day blue burrows
the atmosphere. What doesn’t belong with you won’t be seen.

You could build a world out of need or you could hold everything
back and see. You could hold everything back. You hold back the black.

You hold everything black. You hold this body’s lack. You hold yourself
back until nothing’s left but the dissolving blues of metaphor.

kitchen fable :: eleanor ross taylor

The fork lived with the knife
    and found it hard — for years
took nicks and scratches,
    not to mention cuts.

She who took tedium by the ears:
    nonforthcoming pickles,
defiant stretched-out lettuce,
    sauce-gooed particles.

He who came down whack.
His conversation, even, edged.

Lying beside him in the drawer
    she formed a crazy patina.
The seasons stacked — 
    melons, succeeded by cured pork.

He dulled; he was a dull knife,
while she was, after all, a fork.

emergency haying :: hayden carruth

Coming home with the last load I ride standing
on the wagon tongue, behind the tractor
in hot exhaust, lank with sweat,

my arms strung
awkwardly along the hayrack, cruciform.
Almost 500 bales we’ve put up

this afternoon, Marshall and I.
And of course I think of another who hung
like this on another cross. My hands are torn

by baling twine, not nails, and my side is pierced
by my ulcer, not a lance. The acid in my throat
is only hayseed. Yet exhaustion and the way

my body hangs from twisted shoulders, suspended
on two points of pain in the rising
monoxide, recall that greater suffering.

Well, I change grip and the image
fades. It’s been an unlucky summer. Heavy rains
brought on the grass tremendously, a monster crop,

but wet, always wet. Haying was long delayed.
Now is our last chance to bring in
the winter’s feed, and Marshall needs help.

We mow, rake, bale, and draw the bales
to the barn, these late, half-green,
improperly cured bales; some weigh 150 pounds

or more, yet must be lugged by the twine
across the field, tossed on the load, and then
at the barn unloaded on the conveyor

and distributed in the loft. I help—
I, the desk-servant, word-worker—
and hold up my end pretty well too; but God,

the close of day, how I fall down then. My hands
are sore, they flinch when I light my pipe.
I think of those who have done slave labor,

less able and less well prepared than I.
Rose Marie in the rye fields of Saxony,
her father in the camps of Moldavia

and the Crimea, all clerks and housekeepers
herded to the gaunt fields of torture. Hands
too bloodied cannot bear

even the touch of air, even
the touch of love. I have a friend
whose grandmother cut cane with a machete

and cut and cut, until one day
she snicked her hand off and took it
and threw it grandly at the sky. Now

in September our New England mountains
under a clear sky for which we’re thankful at last
begin to glow, maples, beeches, birches

in their first color. I look
beyond our famous hayfields to our famous hills,
to the notch where the sunset is beginning,

then in the other direction, eastward,
where a full new-risen moon like a pale
medallion hangs in a lavender cloud

beyond the barn. My eyes
sting with sweat and loveliness. And who
is the Christ now, who

if not I? It must be so. My strength
is legion. And I stand up high
on the wagon tongue in my whole bones to say

woe to you, watch out
you sons of bitches who would drive men and women
to the fields where they can only die.