double rainbow :: ravi shankar

Speeding, without destination, after dark
torrents have poured & been returned
at home, the skies above mirror my mood,

windshield wipers knifing through sheets,
back roads slick with pooling, when a shard
of cloudlessness opens. Pulling over, cutting

the ignition, I unstitch myself from the humid
seat, still fuming, to greet a full spectrum
of color arcing past the treetops in lockstep

with its fainter inverse. Archer’s bow, hem
of the sun god’s coat, bridge between worlds,
reconciliation & pardon. They don’t last.

perseus :: robert hayden

Her sleeping head with its great gelid mass
of serpents torpidly astir
burned into the mirroring shield–
a scathing image dire
as hated truth the mind accepts at last
and festers on.
I struck. The shield flashed bare.

Yet even as I lifted up the head
and started from that place
of gazing silences and terrored stone,
I thirsted to destroy.
None could have passed me then–
no garland-bearing girl, no priest
or staring boy–and lived.

supple cord :: naomi shihab nye

My brother, in his small white bed,
held one end.
I tugged the other
to signal I was still awake.
We could have spoken,
could have sung
to one another,
we were in the same room
for five years,
but the soft cord
with its little frayed ends
connected us
in the dark,
gave comfort
even if we had been bickering
all day.
When he fell asleep first
and his end of the cord
dropped to the floor,
I missed him terribly,
though I could hear his even breath
and we had such long and separate lives
ahead.

thanksgiving :: edgar albert guest

Gettin’ together to smile an’ rejoice,
An’ eatin’ an’ laughin’ with folks of your choice;
An’ kissin’ the girls an’ declarin’ that they
Are growin’ more beautiful day after day;
Chattin’ an’ braggin’ a bit with the men,
Buildin’ the old family circle again;
Livin’ the wholesome an’ old-fashioned cheer,
Just for awhile at the end of the year.

Greetings fly fast as we crowd through the door
And under the old roof we gather once more
Just as we did when the youngsters were small;
Mother’s a little bit grayer, that’s all.
Father’s a little bit older, but still
Ready to romp an’ to laugh with a will.
Here we are back at the table again
Tellin’ our stories as women an’ men.

Bowed are our heads for a moment in prayer;
Oh, but we’re grateful an’ glad to be there.
Home from the east land an’ home from the west,
Home with the folks that are dearest an’ best.
Out of the sham of the cities afar
We’ve come for a time to be just what we are.
Here we can talk of ourselves an’ be frank,
Forgettin’ position an’ station an’ rank.

Give me the end of the year an’ its fun
When most of the plannin’ an’ toilin’ is done;
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin’ with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An’ I’ll put soul in my Thanksgivin’ prayers.

abecedarian requiring further examination of anglikan seraphym subjugation of a wild indian rezervation :: natalie diaz

Angels don’t come to the reservation.
Bats, maybe, or owls, boxy mottled things.
Coyotes, too. They all mean the same thing—
death. And death
eats angels, I guess, because I haven’t seen an angel
fly through this valley ever.
Gabriel? Never heard of him. Know a guy named Gabe though—
he came through here one powwow and stayed, typical
Indian. Sure he had wings,
jailbird that he was. He flies around in stolen cars. Wherever he stops,
kids grow like gourds from women’s bellies.
Like I said, no Indian I’ve ever heard of has ever been or seen an angel.
Maybe in a Christmas pageant or something—
Nazarene church holds one every December,
organized by Pastor John’s wife. It’s no wonder
Pastor John’s son is the angel—everyone knows angels are white.
Quit bothering with angels, I say. They’re no good for Indians.
Remember what happened last time
some white god came floating across the ocean?
Truth is, there may be angels, but if there are angels
up there, living on clouds or sitting on thrones across the sea wearing
velvet robes and golden rings, drinking whiskey from silver cups,
we’re better off if they stay rich and fat and ugly and
‘xactly where they are—in their own distant heavens.
You better hope you never see angels on the rez. If you do, they’ll be marching you off to
Zion or Oklahoma, or some other hell they’ve mapped out for us.

the boy died in my alley :: gwendolyn brooks

to Running Boy

The Boy died in my alley
without my Having Known.
Policeman said, next morning,
“Apparently died Alone.”

“You heard a shot?” Policeman said.
Shots I hear and Shots I hear.
I never see the Dead.

The Shot that killed him yes I heard
as I heard the Thousand shots before;
careening tinnily down the nights
across my years and arteries.

Policeman pounded on my door.
“Who is it?” “POLICE!” Policeman yelled.
“A Boy was dying in your alley.
A Boy is dead, and in your alley.
And have you known this Boy before?”

I have known this Boy before.
I have known this boy before, who ornaments my alley.
I never saw his face at all.
I never saw his futurefall.
But I have known this Boy.

I have always heard him deal with death.
I have always heard the shout, the volley.
I have closed my heart-ears late and early.
And I have killed him ever.

I joined the Wild and killed him
with knowledgeable unknowing.
I saw where he was going.
I saw him Crossed. And seeing,
I did not take him down.

He cried not only “Father!”
but “Mother!
Sister!
Brother.”
The cry climbed up the alley.
It went up to the wind.
It hung upon the heaven
for a long
stretch-strain of Moment.

The red floor of my alley
is a special speech to me.

butter :: elizabeth alexander

My mother loves butter more than I do,
more than anyone. She pulls chunks off
the stick and eats it plain, explaining
cream spun around into butter! Growing up
we ate turkey cutlets sauteed in lemon
and butter, butter and cheese on green noodles,
butter melting in small pools in the hearts
of Yorkshire puddings, butter better
than gravy staining white rice yellow,
butter glazing corn in slipping squares,
butter the lava in white volcanoes
of hominy grits, butter softening
in a white bowl to be creamed with white
sugar, butter disappearing into
whipped sweet potatoes, with pineapple,
butter melted and curdy to pour
over pancakes, butter licked off the plate
with warm Alaga syrup. When I picture
the good old days I am grinning greasy
with my brother, having watched the tiger
chase his tail and turn to butter. We are
Mumbo and Jumbo’s children despite
historical revision, despite
our parent’s efforts, glowing from the inside
out, one hundred megawatts of butter.

hear it

what’s written on the body :: peter pereira

He will not light long enough
for the interpreter to gather
the tatters of his speech.
But the longer we listen
the calmer he becomes.
He shows me the place where his daughter
has rubbed with a coin, violaceous streaks
raising a skeletal pattern on his chest.
He thinks he’s been hit by the wind.
He’s worried it will become pneumonia.
In Cambodia, he’d be given
a special tea, a prescriptive sacrifice,
the right chants to say. But I
know nothing of Chi, of Karma,
and ask him to lift the back of his shirt,
so I may listen to his breathing.
Holding the stethoscope’s bell I’m stunned
by the whirl of icons and script
tattooed across his back, their teal green color
the outline of a map which looks
like Cambodia, perhaps his village, a lake,
then a scroll of letters in a watery signature.
I ask the interpreter what it means.
It’s a spell, asking his ancestors
to protect him from evil spirits—
she is tracing the lines with her fingers—
and those who meet him for kindness.
The old man waves his arms and a staccato
of diphthongs and nasals fills the room.
He believes these words will lead his spirit
back to Cambodia after he dies.
I see
, I say, and rest my hand on his shoulder.
He takes full deep breaths and I listen,
touching down with the stethoscope
from his back to his front. He watches me
with anticipation—as if awaiting a verdict.
His lungs are clear. You’ll be fine,
I tell him. It’s not your time to die.
His shoulders relax and he folds his hands
above his head as if in blessing.
Ar-kon, he says. All better now.

shadow puppets :: greg wrenn

I’m a donkey
and you make me

heehaw.
I’m a camel you

never gave spit.
I’m a bedridden

Grandpapa reciting
a shit list,

asking the cosmos
for my teeth. I’m a quacking

bunny, a purring
greyhound nodding

at nothing in particular—as if
nothingness were my master

and could feed me—
then gazing above at a nail hole

I must pretend
is a bird and wholeheartedly

desire: now I’m
a pigeon flying up

the rough,
illuminated wall

till I disappear
into the ether, your knuckle-

cracks,
throat-clears…

Driven to self-regard
and melodrama,

I’m a fetus curling
into myself and my cartilage tiara

falls off, no one gasps.
I’m a bait shrimp

snug on a hook; a toaster oven;
a wastewater treatment

plant thousands
depend on; oh and the love child

(if forced to mate, if such zygotes
were possible) of a star-

nosed mole
and a pot-bellied pig.

I’m shadow that coughs,
spirit with

stubborn sores,
but whose

are your hands?
Turn away from the wall

and just look at them.
(I’m spittoon, you’re

spittoon, dirty
rawhide moth.)

Light another candle
and bray.

bird at the window :: sophie cabot black

Beyond is a brightness
I am not equal to

Yet what I see
Turns into what I want,

And to bring nothing but this body
To pass through

The one thing between
Myself and what I crave,

Almost done, the world a ruin
Of leaves, winter at the throat,

My song over and over until
So familiar I can do

What I am about to do
While you who rise from the table

And walk from room to room
Will remember only the sound

Of what cast herself through
All that glass, instead of the song

That was sung until finally
You would ask to know more.

pinwheel :: arthur sze

Firecrackers pop in bursts of white light and smoke;
a cymbal crash reverberates in air: mortality’s

the incubator of dreams. Steaming green beans,
or screwing a wrought-iron hook into a post,

I do not expunge the past but ignite the fuse
to a whistling pinwheel. A girl sways under

a lion’s head, while others undulate behind
in an s. Casting back eight years, we entwine:

a tulip sunlight flares along our shoulders.
At Pergamon, we cross a forecourt—in the center

stands a column bearing an Aesculapian snake,
the space we meander through called the incubator

of dreams. We did not foresee sponges dangling
inside a spice shop or the repeating pattern

of swastikas along walls that have led here.
Though it is Year of the Rooster, I pin there

to here: a line of dumplings, noodles, rice cakes
disappears; reverberating hail on the roof suddenly stops.

how the winters once were :: lars gustafsson

That cold green streak
that was morning
had nothing in common
with us.

And the proud plumes of chimney smoke
rose straight up.
To some god who liked
such vertical movements.

And the scrunching underfoot!
Oh that indescribable scrunching:

no one could approach unheard
that was for sure.

And the suspicion that life
perhaps really was meaningless

and not just in Schopenhauer
and the other daring old guys.

But here, too
under the sky’s white plumes of smoke.

the night migrations :: louise glück

This is the moment when you see again
the red berries of the mountain ash
and in the dark sky
the birds’ night migrations.

It grieves me to think
the dead won’t see them–
these things we depend on,
they disappear.

What will the soul do for solace then?
I tell myself maybe it won’t need
these pleasures anymore;
maybe just not being is simply enough,
hard as that is to imagine.

hangzhou, lake of the poets :: marie ponsot

MORNING

Reading the bones, wetting a fingertip
to trace archaic characters, I feel
a breeze of silence flow up past my wrist,
icy. Can I speak here? The bones say I must.
As the first light strikes across the lake, magpies
scream, and the cast bones say the work must come true,
it’s been true all along, we are what we do
out on our digs. Dictor and looker, all eyes,
with spade and a jeweler’s loupe I sift mud & dust
for bone, for shellcast. Spy, archeologist
of freshness, I expect sight-made-sound to reveal
fear cold at the throat of change, and loosen its grip
so that mind, riding the bloodwarm stream, wells up
as the speech that bears it and is telling.

EVENING

Magpies scream. Though the tongues of birds
say Now and warn forward, free of a live past,
we seek back and forth for change, the ghostly sparkling
of our watertable under everywhere.
If I don’t speak to tap & ease it out,
I go dry & dumb & will die wicked.
On the lake of the poets a stone lamp flickers.
It casts eight moons dancing, casting doubt
on the moon that rides above the winter air.
Ice thaws in a poet’s throat; the springing
truth is fresh. It wakes taste. The taste lasts.
Language floods the mud; mind makes a cast of words;
it precipitates, mercurial, like T’ang discourse
riding the tidal constant of its source.

honey :: connie wanek

Luxury itself, thick as a Persian carpet,
honey fills the jar
with the concentrated sweetness
of countless thefts,
the blossoms bereft, the hive destitute.

Though my debts are heavy
honey would pay them all.
Honey heals, honey mends.
A spoon takes more than it can hold
without reproach. A knife plunges deep,
but does no injury.

Honey moves with intense deliberation.
Between one drop and the next
forty lean years pass in a distant desert.
What one generation labored for
another receives,
and yet another gives thanks.

numbers :: mary cornish

I like the generosity of numbers.
The way, for example,
they are willing to count
anything or anyone:
two pickles, one door to the room,
eight dancers dressed as swans.

I like the domesticity of addition—
add two cups of milk and stir
the sense of plenty: six plums
on the ground, three more
falling from the tree.

And multiplication’s school
of fish times fish,
whose silver bodies breed
beneath the shadow
of a boat.

Even subtraction is never loss,
just addition somewhere else:
five sparrows take away two,
the two in someone else’s
garden now.

There’s an amplitude to long division,
as it opens Chinese take-out
box by paper box,
inside every folded cookie
a new fortune.

And I never fail to be surprised
by the gift of an odd remainder,
footloose at the end:
forty-seven divided by eleven equals four,
with three remaining.

Three boys beyond their mother’s call,
two Italians off to the sea,
one sock that isn’t anywhere you look.

the lowering :: may swenson

The flag is folded
lengthwise, and lengthwise again,
folding toward the open edge,
so that the union of stars on the blue
field remains outward in full view;
a triangular folding is then begun
at the striped end,
by bringing the corner of the folded edge
to the open edge;
the outer point, turned inward along the open edge,
forms the next triangular fold:
the folding continued so, until the end is reached,
the final corner tucked between
the folds of the blue union,
the form of the folded flag is found to resemble that
of a 3-cornered pouch, or thick cocked hat.

Take this flag, John Glenn, instead of a friend;
instead of a brother, Edward Kennedy, take this flag;
instead of a father, Joe Kennedy, take this flag;
this flag instead of a husband, Ethel Kennedy, take this flag;
this 9-times-folded red-white-striped, star-spotted-blue flag,
tucked and pocketed neatly,
Nation, instead of a leader, take this folded flag.
Robert Kennedy, coffin without coverlet,
beside this hole in the grass,
beside your brother, John Kennedy,
in the grass,
take, instead of a country,
this folded flag;
Robert Kennedy, take this
hole in the grass.

NOTES: Arlington Cemetery
June 8, 1968

fear :: raymond carver

Fear of seeing a police car pull into the drive.
Fear of falling asleep at night.
Fear of not falling asleep.
Fear of the past rising up.
Fear of the present taking flight.
Fear of the telephone that rings in the dead of night.
Fear of electrical storms.
Fear of the cleaning woman who has a spot on her cheek!
Fear of dogs I’ve been told won’t bite.
Fear of anxiety!
Fear of having to identify the body of a dead friend.
Fear of running out of money.
Fear of having too much, though people will not believe this.
Fear of psychological profiles.
Fear of being late and fear of arriving before anyone else.
Fear of my children’s handwriting on envelopes.
Fear they’ll die before I do, and I’ll feel guilty.
Fear of having to live with my mother in her old age, and mine.
Fear of confusion.
Fear this day will end on an unhappy note.
Fear of waking up to find you gone.
Fear of not loving and fear of not loving enough.
Fear that what I love will prove lethal to those I love.
Fear of death.
Fear of living too long.
Fear of death.
           I’ve said that.

greek torso :: ronald wilson

We mount the fragment on
a steel rod, call it torso
of a man, as if carved that way,
in a modern, close-cropped
style. The stumps of arms and legs,
the neck, dismiss their old
attachments: This is all you need,
the vitals, all you can trust.

The figure’s first and gravest
injury, the sloughing of skin-
colored paint, we cannot gauge,
and only guess what look, what gesture
head and limbs spirited away.
Stripped, the gentle contrapposto
hangs like a question above
the stub of a penis, echoes
our own phantom ache
of wholeness.

gautier d’agoty’s ecorchés :: leslie adrienne miller

         Anatomie des parties de la génération, Paris, 1773

What have they done to deserve this beauty?
Did they, like Marsyas, invite some knife—
wielding god with petty transgressions,
the crime of a few tunes on Athena’s lost flute?

Or were they simply too poor for deep
graves, locked gates, and good husbands
to watch over the mounds of new soil
tossed toward them and their hunted unborn?

Whoever they were, they’re still with us,
posing demurely in suits of blood
and muscle, the bruised shadows
of what skin they do have, purpling like

crushed petunias as they spread their legs
and raise their meaty arms to show
dissected breasts, unfinished infants, sundry
viscera on the ground about their feet

as if this were Thanksgiving and they
cornucopias stuffed with squash and fruit.
And who delivered their sentences?
Surely not the muses who, at least,

let them keep rococo faces. In 1773
the womb and the brain were the last outposts
of the body to be mapped. D’Agoty bought
the rights to Le Blon’s technique of printing

mezzotints and gave these ladies homes
in scientific texts, but anatomists believed
D’Agoty’s prints too gorgeous to be accurate.
Perhaps that’s why they open other wounds

so easily in us. All so like the single rabbit
I downed at twenty with a borrowed rifle,
and then was obligated to see skinned,
first scoring the length of the spine,

then peeling the fur in one steaming piece,
while the perverse uncle who clearly desired
to touch me, instead held up a dripping pelt
in one hand, and in the other, a flayed carcass

still wrapped in its bundle of muscle like a gift.

kauai :: rachel jamison webster

We’ve come back to the site of her
conception. She calls it why

and cries all night,
sleepless, wild.

It seems the way is always
floating and the goal—

to live so the ghosts we were
don’t trail us and echo.

I think we are inside a flower,
under a pollen of stars vast as scattered sand.

The air pulses with perfume,
flowers calling to flowers and the ferrying air.

But my eyes are thin and elsewhere.
I am thinking, maybe

even coming into the soul
is a difficult birth, squeezed by the body’s vise.

My bent legs like pincers
or the vegetable petals of some tropical flower.

Even my mind gripped by the folds
of the flesh, how the cells keep twinning

themselves out toward complexity.
The tulip trees of the valley

spread their bone canopies into slick green leaves
and fire flowers deep as cups.

Their cups fill with rain, rain
drinks the leaves drinking rain.

I can’t begin to explain.
How on this porous peak of stone in the sea

our daughter came into me.
Little flick of a fish I could not see.

I was just learning to be human
and upright among all that life.

And what was real was stranger
than night with its dust of unnamed suns.

It was the beyond in us. And she was.

the magic trick :: nicholas friedman

Half clown, half Keebler elf, he works a throng
of meth heads and young mothers who peruse
the storefronts, tugging surly kids along.
The pant legs bunch around his wing-tipped shoes.

When a couple walks up to his TV tray,
he hands them each a tattered business card.
Who wants to see a magic trick today?
He grins and cuts a deck: His hands are scarred,

but seldom shake. The two confer, agree,
and fidget as the magician fans an arc
of cherubs laced with flips of filigree.
The man inspects them for a crease or mark,

but they look clean. I’ve watched him do this trick
for weeks now, each time to polite surprise:
He hams it up; he lays the charm on thick.
(As always, haughty jacks materialize.)

The woman smiles and nods in mild content.
Another trick: He pulls a wrinkled bill
from his lapel and folds the president,
explaining how a wise investment will

turn one buck into ten—et cetera.
He taps twice on the bill, a modest “one,”
unfolds it square by square, and then voila!
the bust of Alexander Hamilton.

They clap as the magician takes a bow.
He’s greasy, but he’s on the up-and-up,
and magic tricks are good enough for now.
The woman floats a dollar to his cup.

tiger balm :: ej koh

Yellow pears, basketfuls, relate to distance
between the you and the me—mu.

Startling up as you walk goosefooted
through my door. I am heavy.

I feel the continent under me. I am 99
percent hydrocarbon.

Through me, the cosmos can look at itself.
Come to the sink. Let me wash your feet.

Why do you call me embalmer
when my job is time mechanic?

Come with me. I know which home takes the turning,
which mind washes in hot water.

I am the shelter you need—
needle-threaded with the truth of dark wood.

my mother goes to vote :: judith harris

We walked five blocks
to the elementary school,
my mother’s high heels
crunching through playground gravel.
We entered through a side door.

Down the long corridor,
decorated with Halloween masks,
health department safety posters—
we followed the arrows
to the third grade classroom.

My mother stepped alone
into the booth, pulling the curtain behind her.
I could see only the backs of her
calves in crinkled nylons.

A partial vanishing, then reappearing
pocketbook crooked on her elbow,
our mayor’s button pinned to her lapel.
Even then I could see—to choose
is to follow what has already
been decided.

We marched back out
finding a new way back down streets
named for flowers
and accomplished men.
I said their names out loud, as we found

our way home, to the cramped house,
the devoted porch light left on,
the customary meatloaf.
I remember, in the classroom converted
into a voting place—
there were two mothers, conversing,
squeezed into the children’s desk chairs.

mittelschmerz near menopause :: stefi weisburd

The moon wishes in my ear
then the astral shearing

along the body’s guy-wires.
I lumber through the day’s

dregs accruing in the pelvic
pit. I want to drown

in bed, birth the damn cabbages
with their hot breath. I want to haul

muscle off bone like taffy. Peacocks
strut in the gut. Journey,

be done with me. Can’t you pass
without dragging your spurs

through the scenery? Awe
grows by the river, but it’s a

bitter flower. Such heavy
machinery for a mere nit,

a pinpoint of gel spit from
this month’s anemone.

Two weeks later: an opera.
Love’s sad fortune drains

down my legs, staining
the white tile in wild roses.

rain :: peter everwine

Toward evening, as the light failed
and the pear tree at my window darkened,
I put down my book and stood at the open door,
the first raindrops gusting in the eaves,
a smell of wet clay in the wind.
Sixty years ago, lying beside my father,
half asleep, on a bed of pine boughs as rain
drummed against our tent, I heard
for the first time a loon’s sudden wail
drifting across that remote lake—
a loneliness like no other,
though what I heard as inconsolable
may have been only the sound of something
untamed and nameless
singing itself to the wilderness around it
and to us until we slept. And thinking of my father
and of good companions gone
into oblivion, I heard the steady sound of rain
and the soft lapping of water, and did not know
whether it was grief or joy or something other
that surged against my heart
and held me listening there so long and late.