wait :: galway kinnell

Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

Wait.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.

montale :: rick barot

The shadows get to cover
the afternoon. Even birds
are folded away. A green
squash on the sill, the heart
full of seeds. The blackthorn,
berries pulped to blood

on the ground. His sleep
is one portion of shadow,
a thing cobwebbed in a corner,
something to be worked
over and over. One strand
for the kettle, the pewter-color

rain. A strand for the room,
the orchards, his father
opaque as a lover within them.
Under a tree the wadded coat.
The way back to somewhere
is only a wish until waking.

Then the darker fall, gust
of whiteness. The tree a lung
spread on the window.
All night, the lawn snowed upon
blue as a shirt. Each instant
recovered, meant to grant

clarity, though what we wanted
to see has now been forgotten.
No further, and no return.
Not even the ten plagues, what
each body has to live into.
What the pharaoh lived.

station :: maria hummel

Days you are sick, we get dressed slow,
find our hats, and ride the train.
We pass a junkyard and the bay,
then a dark tunnel, then a dark tunnel.

You lose your hat. I find it. The train
sighs open at Burlingame,
past dark tons of scrap and water.
I carry you down the black steps.

Burlingame is the size of joy:
a race past bakeries, gold rings
in open black cases. I don’t care
who sees my crooked smile

or what erases it, past the bakery,
when you tire. We ride the blades again
beside the crooked bay. You smile.
I hold you like a hole holds light.

We wear our hats and ride the knives.
They cannot fix you. They try and try.
Tunnel! Into the dark open we go.
Days you are sick, we get dressed slow.

hear the reading

casino :: joyce sutphen

My mind is shuffling its deck tonight,
slipping one card over another,
letting them all fall together at the corners;
the random hand of memory
is dealing from the bottom of the pack.

First: a bearded man emptying
the dragon kiln, then a woman
whistling, her face turned away
as she opens the oven. Next:
a big cat, six toes on each paw,
climbing up the yardpole. Last:
a pair of workhorses circling a tree
until they grind themselves to dust.

There is no one home in the world
tonight. Everyone is out of range.
The cradles are empty, the boughs
broken down. Trees go helter-skelter
and the wheel is creaking on its shaft.
Hit me, I say to the dealer. Hit me again.

anagrammer :: peter pereira

If you believe in the magic of language,
then Elvis really Lives
and Princess Diana foretold I end as car spin.

If you believe the letters themselves
contain a power within them,
then you understand
what makes outside tedious,
how desperation becomes a rope ends it.

The circular logic that allows senator to become treason,
and treason to become atoners.

That eleven plus two is twelve plus one,
and an admirer is also married.

That if you could just rearrange things the right way
you’d find your true life,
the right path, the answer to your questions:
you’d understand how the Titanic
turns into that ice tin,
and debit card becomes bad credit.

How listen is the same as silent,
and not one letter separates stained from sainted.

the bass clarinet :: jason crane

reaches down, scoops
out your intestines
causes your brow
to furrow, your eyes
to narrow then shut

lamentation, an old
fashioned word
from before these sounds
existed, before this
Frenchman was born

John William burned
his lament onto the wax
as he had inscribed it
onto the paper
black ink to red fire

miniscule things :: william matthews

There’s a crack in this glass so fine we can’t see it,
and in the blue eye of the candleflame’s needle
there’s a dark fleck, a speck of imperfection

that could contain, like a microchip, an epic
treatise on beauty, except it’s in the eye of the beheld.
And at the base of our glass there’s nothing

so big as a tiny puddle, but an ooze, a viscous
patina like liquefied tarnish. It’s like a text
so short it consists only of the author’s signature,

which has to stand, like the future, for what might
have been: a novel, let’s say, thick with ambiguous life.
Its hero forgets his goal as he nears it, so that it’s

like rain evaporating in the very sight of parched
Saharans on the desert floor. There, by chance, he meets
a thirsty and beautiful woman. What a small world!

infinite number of half-distances :: mira gonzalez

you lay on the floor of your room
you bite your fingers until they bleed
you feel something motionless at the base of your head
in the morning you can’t feel your arms
nothing to write about, not really
you take drugs alone
and stumble around your house
uncreated, unloved
you think think they want you, sometimes
they tell you that your body is proportioned well
they think you will make them better, somehow
you can feel anything for a few minutes
you identify with people who criticize you
nothing leads to improvement
at night you think about loving things only a little bit
in the morning, you read about global warming
or the economic collapse
the edges of things seem abruptly hard to define
you park your car under a tree in the dark
become startled and drive somewhere else

consider desire :: leslie ullman

When we pause at the near edge
of memory or invention and elect
not to venture further, we fail
to consider that invisible journeys, too,
leave dried mud and grass on our shoes;
that one can dream of waltzing with
a stranger, following every
subtle lead, and wake up happy

or be consoled by a fragrant loaf
mentioned briefly in a poem.
The vast bowl of the desert once held
an ocean we can borrow any time
we cup our minds around it like hands
around spinning clay. Once, I halted
on a winter street when I noticed the turquoise

stone had slipped from the center of my ring.
I reversed my steps and searched for hours,
peering downward for a bit of sky,
seeing every crevice in the dark pavement
for the first time, every sodden leaf
and twig. I fingered the empty bezel, sky
filling my mind. Luminous. Parachute of blue.

sad steps :: philip larkin

Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon’s cleanliness.

Four o’clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
There’s something laughable about this,

The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)

High and preposterous and separate—
Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,

One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain
Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare

Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can’t come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.

my california :: lee herrick

Here, an olive votive keeps the sunset lit,
the Korean twenty-somethings talk about hyphens,

graduate school and good pot. A group of four at a window
table in Carpinteria discuss the quality of wines in Napa Valley versus Lodi.

Here, in my California, the streets remember the Chicano
poet whose songs still bank off Fresno’s beer soaked gutters

and almond trees in partial blossom. Here, in my California
we fish out long noodles from the pho with such accuracy

you’d know we’d done this before. In Fresno, the bullets
tire of themselves and begin to pray five times a day.

In Fresno, we hope for less of the police state and more of a state of grace.
In my California, you can watch the sun go down

like in your California, on the ledge of the pregnant
twenty-second century, the one with a bounty of peaches and grapes,

red onions and the good salsa, wine and chapchae.
Here, in my California, paperbacks are free,

farmer’s markets are twenty four hours a day and
always packed, the trees and water have no nails in them,

the priests eat well, the homeless eat well.
Here, in my California, everywhere is Chinatown,

everywhere is K-Town, everywhere is Armeniatown,
everywhere a Little Italy. Less confederacy.

No internment in the Valley.
Better history texts for the juniors.

In my California, free sounds and free touch.
      Free questions, free answers.
Free songs from parents and poets, those hopeful bodies of light.

offerings :: howard altmann

To the night I offered a flower
and the dark sky accepted it
like earth, bedding
for light.

To the desert I offered an apple
and the dunes received it
like a mouth, speaking
for wind.

To the installation I offered a tree
and the museum planted it
like a man, viewing
his place.

To the ocean I offered a seed
and its body dissolved it
like time, composing
a life.

house of the universe :: ruby rahman

translated by carolyne wright, syed manzoorul islam, & the author

Golden-green light has made lacework patterns in the room,
this room where you stay, I stay, and someone else stays.
In the circumambient blue air, blue climbing vines
make filigree designs upon the house all day.
Like an architect with quick restraint, this structure’s centerpoint
stays fixed on slow burning light, love and grand tears.
As if the bewildered roses lit up a thousand moons’ radiance
all at once and kept the house aglow,
in the harsh mid-day, the kingfisher unfolds its turquoise-brown light
and inlays the universe of the house
with the lightning-streaked gems of sorrow.
Your hands and mine keep very busy playing the household games,
and someone else’s engrossed hands play inside all these.

Like restless fish, tempestuous love some nights
shakes the house with sobbing to the quiet, pure,
golden core of its foundations.
Then taking the hand of brilliant steam rising from a teacup,
the lover’s wounded feelings walk off towards evening
with slow steps to the sea.
In this room, twenty-eight unreasonable years have passed;
twenty-eight years could have passed
even more dreadfully without reason.

If we’re pained, or fail like the destitute,
what does it matter to the rose branch? What counter-movement
jars the circulating blood of the crimson insect living on the rose?
When a raw cry tears from the throat like a ball of fire,
have you ever gone under the foliage’s sari-end to hide that lament?—
Wearing a patient, unperturbed smile on her face
and waving her sari-end
Nature has withdrawn from distance to absolute distances.

The bloodshed that prompts each separate rose
to go away with wounded feelings
from the hands of trees, from Nature’s flower vases,
those wounded feelings, in ever-slowing motion in this blue room
create a golden line which appears a hard sculpture
rising in the illusions of evening.
Red light and blue air begin to play on the circumference;
the silver chisel, hammer and wedge begin to dance;
waves of rose-pink laughter fill the air of the house
with an OM sound like the rumbling of clouds.

Golden-green light sweeps the room clean,
this room where you stay, I stay and someone else stays.

after suicide [a hole is nothing] :: matt rasmussen

A hole is nothing
but what remains around it.

My brother stood
in the refrigerator light

drinking milk that poured
out of his head

through thick black curls
down his back into a puddle

growing larger around him.
My body stood between the

living room and kitchen
one foot on worn carpet

one on cold linoleum.
He couldn’t hear his name

clouding from my mouth
settling in the fluorescent air.

I wanted to put my finger
into the hole

feel the smooth channel
he escaped through

stop the milk
so he could swallow it

but my body held
as if driven into place.

The milk on the floor
reflected the light

then became it.
Floated upward and outward

filling every shadow
blowing the dark open.

these days :: matthew thorburn

The amazing thing is not
that geese can get sucked
into an Airbus engine
and cause it to conk out
or that a pilot can tell air
traffic control, “There’s only
one thing I can do,”
then take a deep breath
and do it—ditch
in the Hudson with a buck
and whine, then walk
the aisle as the plane fills
with water to make sure
everyone’s gotten out—
but that afterwards

many who weren’t hurt
in a lifelong way, only
shaken, scratched, no doubt
in shock, had nothing else
to do, finally, except take a bus
back to LaGuardia and
catch another plane home.
Amazing too how
before long people stop
talking about it, they move on
and eventually need
an extra beat to recognize

that camera-shy pilot
when he appears—retired
now, somehow smaller
now, no longer shy—
as an air travel expert
(“Sometimes carry-ons
just shouldn’t be
carried on”) on the nightly
news and connect
his name to what he did
that day, probably—
let’s face it—because
no one died.
Though most stories
don’t end

like that. In Shanxi
Province, the BBC told me
late last night when
I should’ve been asleep
instead of sitting in the dark,
twenty-four workers—
all men, they said, and some
much older than
I would’ve imagined—
were trapped
in a mile-deep mineshaft
deemed too dangerous now
for a rescue, though
apparently it was safe
enough to work in. Shovel
clang and gravel rumble
turned to echoing

silence. Eventually
the company execs
sent down a slender
silver robot with tank
treads, tiny pincer hands,
a camera for a face,
but all it found—how long
it looked, they didn’t
say—was a single miner’s
helmet, dented
and dusty, its frail light
still burning.

return :: sara michas-martin

I walk to make certain I was ever there.
To find the car I once discovered

buried in the pines. As if it were left
for the mushrooms to affix. For crows

to pull batting from its seats. Small
when I see it. Body rubbed free of paint,

roof caved like a chocolate egg left in the rain.
And the myths are gone: the witch

I thought placed it here, the silver horses
that drag cars from many roads.

Now I imagine, before trees filled in,
someone drove it just this far

and parked. Up here the water
driving against the northern shore

is just one layer of silence
spread thin inside another.

the drought :: gary soto

The clouds shouldered a path up the mountains
East of Ocampo, and then descended,
Scraping their bellies gray on the cracked shingles of slate.

They entered the valley, and passed the roads that went
Trackless, the houses blown open, their cellars creaking
And lined with the bottles that held their breath for years.

They passed the fields where the trees dried thin as hat racks
And the plow’s tooth bit the earth for what endured.
But what continued were the wind that plucked the birds spineless

And the young who left with a few seeds in each pocket,
Their belts tightened on the fifth notch of hunger—
Under the sky that deafened from listening for rain.

fox :: rita dove

She knew what
she was and so
was capable
of anything
anyone
could imagine.
She loved what
she was, there
for the taking,
imagine.

She imagined
nothing.
She loved
nothing more
than what she had,
which was enough
for her,
which was more
than any man
could handle.

the applicant :: sylvia plath

First, are you our sort of a person?
Do you wear
A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch,
A brace or a hook,
Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch,

Stitches to show something’s missing? No, no? Then
How can we give you a thing?
Stop crying.
Open your hand.
Empty? Empty. Here is a hand

To fill it and willing
To bring teacups and roll away headaches
And do whatever you tell it.
Will you marry it?
It is guaranteed

To thumb shut your eyes at the end
And dissolve of sorrow.
We make new stock from the salt.
I notice you are stark naked.
How about this suit——

Black and stiff, but not a bad fit.
Will you marry it?
It is waterproof, shatterproof, proof
Against fire and bombs through the roof.
Believe me, they’ll bury you in it.

Now your head, excuse me, is empty.
I have the ticket for that.
Come here, sweetie, out of the closet.
Well, what do you think of that?
Naked as paper to start

But in twenty-five years she’ll be silver,
In fifty, gold.
A living doll, everywhere you look.
It can sew, it can cook,
It can talk, talk, talk.

It works, there is nothing wrong with it.
You have a hole, it’s a poultice.
You have an eye, it’s an image.
My boy, it’s your last resort.
Will you marry it, marry it, marry it.

prose poem (“the morning coffee.”) :: ron padgett

The morning coffee. I’m not sure why I drink it. Maybe it’s the ritual
of the cup, the spoon, the hot water, the milk, and the little heap of
brown grit, the way they come together to form a nail I can hang the
day on. It’s something to do between being asleep and being awake.
Surely there’s something better to do, though, than to drink a cup of
instant coffee. Such as meditate? About what? About having a cup of
coffee. A cup of coffee whose first drink is too hot and whose last drink
is too cool, but whose many in-between drinks are, like Baby Bear’s por-
ridge, just right. Papa Bear looks disgruntled. He removes his spectacles
and swivels his eyes onto the cup that sits before Baby Bear, and then,
after a discrete cough, reaches over and picks it up. Baby Bear doesn’t
understand this disruption of the morning routine. Papa Bear brings
the cup close to his face and peers at it intently. The cup shatters in his
paw, explodes actually, sending fragments and brown liquid all over the
room. In a way it’s good that Mama Bear isn’t there. Better that she rest
in her grave beyond the garden, unaware of what has happened to the
world.

bruise :: michael ondaatje

In the medieval darkness of the Holland Tunnel
with luminous green paint, on whitewashed walls
of the Madrid zoo, in his thick-fingered handwriting
onto dust at the dry Casablanca aquarium
                    “When last I held you in my arms,
                    my love, the West African Black
                    Rhinoceros was still magnificent
                    and still alive. . .”
What have you been doing to Paul Vermeersch?
He has searched for you encyclopedically
in Albacete, in Zagora, in those cities
whose names have changed,
till the maps he relies on wear out.
In what disguise did you leave him?
So he will not recognize
your gait anymore,
or your stare out from a diorama.
Hunt and Torment. Call but no Response.
In the end words of love reveal
just yourself. Not why
or the wished-for thing. Only the Spanish
consider his plea, only the drivers
deep in a tunnel into New York
nod wisely, agree with him.
But it is the black rhino whose loss they mourn,
not the person he held once in his arms.
When it is over, it is over,
they say in the passing dark.
There are no longer great nostrils
to scent out the source of torment.
It is a generation since our love,
to justify anger, had a horn, a tusk.

lost things :: paul vermeersch

There are many ways to understand the word
lost, my love. When you were born, the last
Pyrenean ibex, a tawny female named Celia,
had not yet lived to see the view from Torla
overlooking Monte Perdido, but her great-
grandsire stood on the cliffs of Ordesa,
positioned on hoof-tips dainty as dimes,
and he shook his impregnable skull, a coffer
of brass and nobility crowned with bayonets,
as though in defiance of all who dwelt
in the highlands from Catalonia to Aquataine.
Their kind is vanished now. Forever lost. Perdido.

And when you dressed in a Girl Guide’s
uniform of Persian blue on Tuesday nights,
my love, in the long-lost basement of Grace
United Church, to play indoor baseball
and make believe that faerie magic
could make you rich or important or happy,
pods of baiji dolphins still swam in a river
you’d never heard of and would not think about
until years later, when together we would learn
from the evening news that the baiji
were lost, at last, from the Yangtze,
and in their place there came a universal emptiness.

There are many ways to understand the word
lost, but it does not help to imagine a secret
place where lost things go. When last
I held you in my arms, my love, the West
African black rhinoceros was still magnificent
and still alive, but now the gentleness of your breath
on my bare neck is as lost as the dusty, confident
snort of that once breath-taking beast. Great strength
is no protection, and neither is love. We are born,
and our births are lost. We can’t go back to them.
Each embrace ends with an ending. When we become,
what we once thought we’d be is lost. We keep becoming.

a poet to his baby son :: james weldon johnson

Tiny bit of humanity,
Blessed with your mother’s face,
And cursed with your father’s mind.

I say cursed with your father’s mind,
Because you can lie so long and so quietly on your back,
Playing with the dimpled big toe of your left foot,
And looking away,
Through the ceiling of the room, and beyond.
Can it be that already you are thinking of being a poet?

Why don’t you kick and howl,
And make the neighbors talk about
“That damned baby next door,”
And make up your mind forthwith
To grow up and be a banker
Or a politician or some other sort of go-getter
Or—?—whatever you decide upon,
Rid yourself of these incipient thoughts
About being a poet.

For poets no longer are makers of songs,
Chanters of the gold and purple harvest,
Sayers of the glories of earth and sky,
Of the sweet pain of love
And the keen joy of living;
No longer dreamers of the essential dreams,
And interpreters of the eternal truth,
Through the eternal beauty.
Poets these days are unfortunate fellows.
Baffled in trying to say old things in a new way
Or new things in an old language,
They talk abracadabra
In an unknown tongue,
Each one fashioning for himself
A wordy world of shadow problems,
And as a self-imagined Atlas,
Struggling under it with puny legs and arms,
Groaning out incoherent complaints at his load.

My son, this is no time nor place for a poet;
Grow up and join the big, busy crowd
That scrambles for what it thinks it wants
Out of this old world which is—as it is—
And, probably, always will be.

Take the advice of a father who knows:
You cannot begin too young
Not to be a poet.

giving a manicure :: minnie bruce pratt

The woman across from me looks so familiar,
but when I turn, her look glances off. At the last
subway stop we rise. I know her, she gives manicures
at Vogue Nails. She has held my hands between hers
several times. She bows and smiles. There the women
wear white smocks like technicians, and plastic tags
with their Christian names. Susan. No, not Susan,
whose hair is cropped short, who is short and stocky.
This older lady does my hands while classical music,
often Mozart, plays. People passing by outside are
doubled in the wall mirror. Two of everyone walk
forward, backward, vanish at the edge of the shop.
Susan does pedicures, pumice on my heels as I sit
on the stainless-steel throne. She bends over, she
kneads my feet in the water like laundry. She pounds
my calves with her fists and her cupped palms slap
a working beat, p’ansori style. She talks to the others
without turning her head, a call in a language shouted
hoarse across fields where a swallow flew and flew
across the ocean, and then fetched back to Korea
a magic gourd seed, back to the farmer’s empty house
where the seed flew from its beak to sprout a green vine.
When the farmer’s wife cut open the ripe fruit, out spilled
seeds of gold. Choi Don Mee writes that some girls
in that country crush petals on their nails, at each tip
red flowers unfold. Yi Yon-ju writes that some women
there, as here, dream of blades, knives, a bowl of blood.

a letter in october :: ted kooser

Dawn comes later and later now,
and I, who only a month ago
could sit with coffee every morning
watching the light walk down the hill
to the edge of the pond and place
a doe there, shyly drinking,

then see the light step out upon
the water, sowing reflections
to either side—a garden
of trees that grew as if by magic—
now see no more than my face,
mirrored by darkness, pale and odd,

startled by time. While I slept,
night in its thick winter jacket
bridled the doe with a twist
of wet leaves and led her away,
then brought its black horse with harness
that creaked like a cricket, and turned

the water garden under. I woke,
and at the waiting window found
the curtains open to my open face;
beyond me, darkness. And I,
who only wished to keep looking out,
must now keep looking in.

one september afternoon :: leo dangel

Home from town
the two of them sit
looking over what they have bought
spread out on the kitchen table
like gifts to themselves.
She holds a card of buttons
against the new dress material
and asks if they match.
The hay is dry enough to rake,
but he watches her
empty the grocery bag.
He reads the label
on a grape jelly glass
and tries on
the new straw hat again.