on new year’s eve :: evie shockley

      we make midnight a maquette of the year:
frostlight glinting off snow to solemnize
      the vows we offer to ourselves in near
silence: the competition shimmerwise

      of champagne and chandeliers to attract
laughter and cheers: the glow from the fireplace
      reflecting the burning intra-red pact
between beloveds: we cosset the space

      of a fey hour, anxious gods molding our
hoped-for adams with this temporal clay:
      each of us edacious for shining or
rash enough to think sacrifice will stay

      this fugacious time: while stillness suspends
vitality in balance, as passions
      struggle with passions for sway, the mind wends
towards what’s to come: a callithump of fashions,

      ersatz smiles, crowded days: a bloodless cut
that severs soul from bone: a long aching
      quiet in which we will hear nothing but
the clean crack of our promises breaking.

novel :: arthur rimbaud

translated by wallace fowlie

I

We aren’t serious when we’re seventeen.
—One fine evening, to hell with beer and lemonade,
Noisy cafés with their shining lamps!
We walk under the green linden trees of the park

The lindens smell good in the good June evenings!
At times the air is so scented that we close our eyes.
The wind laden with sounds—the town isn’t far—
Has the smell of grapevines and beer . . .

 
II

—There you can see a very small patch
Of dark blue, framed by a little branch,
Pinned up by a naughty star, that melts
In gentle quivers, small and very white . . .

Night in June! Seventeen years old! —We are overcome by it all
The sap is champagne and goes to our head . . .
We talked a lot and feel a kiss on our lips
Trembling there like a small insect . . .

 
III

Our wild heart moves through novels like Robinson Crusoe,
—When, in the light of a pale street lamp,
A girl goes by attractive and charming
Under the shadow of her father’s terrible collar . . .

And as she finds you incredibly naïve,
While clicking her little boots,
She turns abruptly and in a lively way . . .
—Then cavatinas die on your lips . . .

 
IV

You are in love. Occupied until the month of August.
You are in love. —Your sonnets make Her laugh.
All your friends go off, you are ridiculous.
—Then one evening the girl you worship deigned to write to you . . . !

—That evening, . . . —you return to the bright cafés,
You ask for beer or lemonade . . .
—We’re not serious when we are seventeen
And when we have green linden trees in the park.

altruism :: molly peacock

What if we got outside ourselves and there
really was an outside out there, not just
our insides turned inside out? What if there
really were a you beyond me, not just
the waves off my own fire, like those waves off
the backyard grill you can see the next yard through,
though not well — just enough to know that off
to the right belongs to someone else, not you.
What if, when we said I love you, there were
a you to love as there is a yard beyond
to walk past the grill and get to? To endure
the endless walk through the self, knowing through a bond
that has no basis (for ourselves are all we know)
is altruism: not giving, but coming to know
someone is there through the wavy vision
of the self’s heat, love become a decision.

after dinner :: philip levine

She’s eaten dinner talking
back to the television, she’s
had coffee and brandy, done
the dishes and drifted into
and out of sleep over a book
she found beside the couch. It’s
time for bed, but she goes
instead to the front door, unlocks
it, and steps onto the porch.
Behind her she can hear only
the silence of the house. The lights
throw her shadow down the stairs
and onto the lawn, and she walks
carefully to meet it. Now she’s
standing in the huge, whispering
arena of night, hearing her
own breath tearing out of her
like the cries of an animal.
She could keep going into
whatever the darkness brings,
she could find a presence there
her shaking hands could hold
instead of each other.

early evening algebra :: charles simic

The madwoman went marking X’s
With a piece of school chalk
On the backs of unsuspecting
Hand-holding, homebound couples.

It was winter. It was dark already.
One could not see her face
Bundled up as she was and furtive.
She went as if wind-swept, as if crow-winged.

The chalk must have been given to her by a child.
One kept looking for him in the crowd,
Expecting him to be very pale, very serious,
With a chip of black slate in his pocket.

taking down the tree :: jane kenyon

“Give me some light!” cries Hamlet’s
uncle midway through the murder
of Gonzago. “Light! Light!” cry scattering
courtesans. Here, as in Denmark,
it’s dark at four, and even the moon
shines with only half a heart.

The ornaments go down into the box:
the silver spaniel, My Darling
on its collar, from Mother’s childhood
in Illinois; the balsa jumping jack
my brother and I fought over,
pulling limb from limb. Mother
drew it together again with thread
while I watched, feeling depraved
at the age of ten.

With something more than caution
I handle them, and the lights, with their
tin star-shaped reflectors, brought along
from house to house, their pasteboard
toy suitcases increasingly flimsy.
Tick, tick, the desiccated needles drop.

By suppertime all that remains is the scent
of balsam fir. If it’s darkness
we’re having, let it be extravagant.

christmas plum-cake at paris :: helen maria williams

What crowding thoughts around me wake,
What marvels in a Christmas-cake!
Ah say, what strange enchantment dwells
Enclosed within its odorous cells?
Is there no small magician bound
Encrusted in its snowy round?
For magic surely lurks in this,
A cake that tells of vanished bliss;
A cake that conjures up to view
The early scenes, when life was new;
When memory knew no sorrows past,
And hope believed in joys that last! —
Mysterious cake, whose folds contain
Life’s calendar of bliss and pain;
That speaks of friends for ever fled,
And wakes the tears I love to shed.
Oft shall I breathe her cherished name
From whose fair hand the offering came:
For she recalls the artless smile
Of nymphs that deck my native isle;
Of beauty that we love to trace,
Allied with tender, modest grace;
Of those who, while abroad they roam,
Retain each charm that gladdens home,
And whose dear friendships can impart
A Christmas banquet for the heart!

mistletoe :: walter de la mare

Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.

Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen—and kissed me there.

christmas tree lots :: chris green

Christmas trees lined like war refugees,
a fallen army made to stand in their greens.
Cut down at the foot, on their last leg,

they pull themselves up, arms raised.
We drop them like wood;
tied, they are driven through the streets,

dragged through the door, cornered
in a room, given a single blanket,
only water to drink, surrounded by joy.

Forced to wear a gaudy gold star,
to surrender their pride,
they do their best to look alive.

ah! why, because the dazzling sun :: emily brontë

Ah! why, because the dazzling sun
Restored my earth to joy
Have you departed, every one,
And left a desert sky?

All through the night, your glorious eyes
Were gazing down in mine,
And with a full heart’s thankful sighs
I blessed that watch divine!

I was at peace, and drank your beams
As they were life to me
And revelled in my changeful dreams
Like petrel on the sea.

Thought followed thought—star followed star
Through boundless regions on,
While one sweet influence, near and far,
Thrilled through and proved us one.

Why did the morning rise to break
So great, so pure a spell,
And scorch with fire the tranquil cheek
Where your cool radiance fell?

Blood-red he rose, and arrow-straight,
His fierce beams struck my brow;
The soul of Nature sprang elate,
But mine sank sad and low!

My lids closed down—yet through their veil
I saw him blazing still;
And bathe in gold the misty dale,
And flash upon the hill.

I turned me to the pillow then
To call back Night, and see
Your worlds of solemn light, again
Throb with my heart and me!

It would not do—the pillow glowed
And glowed both roof and floor,
And birds sang loudly in the wood,
And fresh winds shook the door.

The curtains waved, the wakened flies
Were murmuring round my room,
Imprisoned there, till I should rise
And give them leave to roam.

O Stars and Dreams and Gentle Night;
O Night and Stars return!
And hide me from the hostile light
That does not warm, but burn—

That drains the blood of suffering men;
Drinks tears, instead of dew:
Let me sleep through his blinding reign,
And only wake with you!

holiday concert :: maryann corbett

Forgive us. We have dragged them into the night
in taffeta dresses, in stiff collars and ties,
with the wind damp, the sleet raking their cheeks,

to school lunchrooms fitted with makeshift stages
where we will sit under bad fluorescent lighting
on folding chairs, and they will sing and play.

We will watch the first grader with little cymbals,
bending her knees, hunched in concentration
while neighbors snicker at her ardent face.

Forgive us. We will hear the seventh-grade boy
as his voice finally loses its innocence
forever, at the unbearable solo moment

and know that now, for years, he will wince at the thought
of singing, yet will ache to sing, in silence,
silence even to the generation to come

with its night, its sleet, its hideous lunchroom chairs.

among elks :: joseph spece

Woke in the brume,
lilacs like turf stars.

The late fawn
standing in his syrups;

bucks down the swale
chewing sedge.

We move south
to slopes of sleeping poppy,

past the white alder,
bending heads to scent

of calx—in natural dark
a man tries his hand

at belonging. He
with greave of hide, a born

hood, lay with three
spikes in the clay, green

peak in the breeze.
He whose breathing

wrongs the still.
You stir now to mend,

to redress?
To be one of us, after all this?

november cotton flower :: jean toomer

Boll-weevil’s coming, and the winter’s cold,
Made cotton-stalks look rusty, seasons old,
And cotton, scarce as any southern snow,
Was vanishing; the branch, so pinched and slow,
Failed in its function as the autumn rake;
Drouth fighting soil had caused the soil to take
All water from the streams; dead birds were found
In wells a hundred feet below the ground—
Such was the season when the flower bloomed.
Old folks were startled, and it soon assumed
Significance. Superstition saw
Something it had never seen before:
Brown eyes that loved without a trace of fear,
Beauty so sudden for that time of year.

home :: edgar albert guest

It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home,
A heap o’ sun an’ shadder, an’ ye sometimes have t’ roam
Afore ye really ’preciate the things ye lef’ behind,
An’ hunger fer ’em somehow, with ’em allus on yer mind.
It don’t make any differunce how rich ye get t’ be,
How much yer chairs an’ tables cost, how great yer luxury;
It ain’t home t’ ye, though it be the palace of a king,
Until somehow yer soul is sort o’ wrapped round everything.

Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute;
Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ livin’ in it;
Within the walls there’s got t’ be some babies born, and then
Right there ye’ve got t’ bring ‘em up t’ women good, an’ men;
And gradjerly, as time goes on, ye find ye wouldn’t part
With anything they ever used—they’ve grown into yer heart:
The old high chairs, the playthings, too, the little shoes they wore
Ye hoard; an’ if ye could ye’d keep the thumbmarks on the door.

Ye’ve got t’ weep t’ make it home, ye’ve got t’ sit an’ sigh
An’ watch beside a loved one’s bed, an’ know that Death is nigh;
An’ in the stillness o’ the night t’ see Death’s angel come,
An’ close the eyes o’ her that smiled, an’ leave her sweet voice dumb.
Fer these are scenes that grip the heart, an’ when yer tears are dried,
Ye find the home is dearer than it was, an’ sanctified;
An’ tuggin’ at ye always are the pleasant memories
O’ her that was an’ is no more—ye can’t escape from these.

Ye’ve got t’ sing an’ dance fer years, ye’ve got t’ romp an’ play,
An’ learn t’ love the things ye have by usin’ ’em each day;
Even the roses ’round the porch must blossom year by year
Afore they ’come a part o’ ye, suggestin’ someone dear
Who used t’ love ’em long ago, an’ trained ’em jes’ t’ run
The way they do, so’s they would get the early mornin’ sun;
Ye’ve got t’ love each brick an’ stone from cellar up t’ dome:
It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home.

one art :: elizabeth bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

lucia :: ravi shankar

My hair, voluminous from sleeping in
six different positions, redolent with your scent,
helps me recall that last night was indeed real,

that it’s possible for a bedspread to spawn
a watershed in the membrane that keeps us
shut in our own skins, mute without pleasure,

that I didn’t just dream you into being.
You fit like a fig in the thick of my tongue,
give my hands their one true purpose,

find in my shoulder a groove for your head.
In a clinch, you’re clenched and I’m pinched,
we’re spooned, forked, wrenched, lynched

in a chestnut by a mob of our own making,
only to be resurrected to stage several revivals
that arise from slightest touch to thwart

deep sleep with necessities I never knew
I knew until meeting you a few days
or many distant, voluptuous lifetimes ago.

little god origami :: stefi weisburd

The number of corners in the soul can’t
compare with the universe’s dimensions folded
neatly into swans. In the soul’s
space, one word on a thousand pieces
of paper the size of cookie fortunes falls
from the heavens. At last, the oracular
answer, you cry, pawing at the scraps that twirl
like seed-pod helicopters. Alas, the window
to your soul needs a good scrubbing, so
the letters doodle into indecipherables just
like every answer that has rained
down through history, and you realize, in
your little smog of thought that death
will simply be the cessation of asking, a thousand
cranes unfolding themselves and returning to the trees.

on marriage :: khalil gibran

You were born together, and together you shall be forever more.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup, but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread, but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

the sea chews things up :: cleopatra mathis

When I woke, the waves had gone black,
turning over the macerated
curd of the ocean bottom, heaving its sludge
onto the beach. Some storm far out, I thought,
had ravaged the sea, stirred up its bed,
sent the whole mess flying to shore.
At my feet I found a grave of starfish,
broken and gnarled among the fleshy
snipes and heads. Every shade of death
covered the sand. It looked hopeless
in the pale day but for the birds,
a congress of gulls, terns, and the rarest plovers,
calm for once, satiated, a measure of
the one law: this sea will claim it all—
feed them, catch them, grind their complicated bones.

face lift :: geraldine connolly

We all want to stare
and know we shouldn’t
but we all want to
look right into this
new face that’s a little puffy,
a little roughed-up looking
above the slender, girlish body.
Even though the age lines are gone,
the old wrinkles and sags,
there’s a new smile that won’t stop,
burned into her face
like some happy acid—
a passionate transformation
but disappointed, she is disappointed.
We can see it in her eye,
frozen like some blue flower
touched by a god
so she’ll never change or wither,
but drop into the path
at his every whim,
full-blown, frozen.

calling :: james crews

If I say I see a heron lifting off
hours before dawn, I mean I see
a long, blue piece of me unraveling
from the dark, landing in the creek
to hunt a glint of fish, then taking it
writhing into the mouth silvered by
light some call the moon, but which
is merely a buffed steel cap barely
holding back the spill of summer sun.
The heron can already sense the water
warming up the way we know a word
spoken to a glass of liquid over time
will change its molecules: Call it holy
holy is what you will taste.

ants :: vicki hudspith

Ants are not fond of margarine. Like us they prefer
Butter. They do not have cholesterol problems
Because as yet they do not own TVs. For centuries
They have toiled in order that they might be able to
Take a night off and watch the Northern Lights which
Are their version of canned laughter. They hate picnics
But feel compelled by folklore to attend them
Or at a minimum do a drive by chicken leg grab. Their
Queen is a pain in the ass. They don’t love her but
Without her they would be common, so they serve her.
She is an insatiable nymphomaniac but they don’t
Hold that against her trying instead to stay busy with work.
Forgotten ancient languages have been genetically
Imprinted in them at birth and they say things they
Don’t understand. Like us they often make bad marriages.
But because of their outstanding physical prowess
And humility there is seldom cause for divorce. They
Haven’t read the great philosophers but they know them
Innately. They love the flowers of Spring and lacking
Perspective eagerly run all over them. They
Are much like us. They are nudists but because Puritanism
Has not invaded their genetic code, it does not
Affect their work ethic and each ant loves its own body.
Therefore they don’t care about go-go boots and
Sandals. Like us, Ants are driven by their hearts and pretend
That it is all in the name of duty. Ants are never impulsive.
When they laugh, the gardens of old maids tremble. Ants
Love to dance but lack a sense of rhythm so
They gave it up when Homer scorned them. Rain is their
Sensuality. It makes them feel delirious and late. Quivering
And running between rain drops to their fate.

for saundra :: nikki giovanni

i wanted to write
a poem
that rhymes
but revolution doesn’t lend
itself to be-bopping

then my neighbor
who thinks i hate
asked — do you ever write
tree poems — i like trees
so i thought
i’ll write a beautiful green tree poem
peeked from my window
to check the image
noticed that the school yard was covered
with asphalt
no green — no trees grow
in manhattan

then, well, i thought the sky
i’ll do a big blue sky poem
but all the clouds have winged
low since no-Dick was elected

so i thought again
and it occurred to me
maybe i shouldn’t write
at all
but clean my gun
and check my kerosene supply

perhaps these are not poetic
times
at all

sunday afternoon :: c. dale young

for donald justice

Beyond the strings of water
clinging to the windowpane,

there were no cranes, just rain,
a sky blurred by wet glass,

a pond corrugated by raindrops,
and, inside, the smell of naphthalene bars,

a Victrola with a broken arm,
a spotty daguerreotype, a dusty crinoline—

O mildewed, seersucker suits
draped over vacant chairs.

clouds :: denise levertov

The clouds as I see them, rising
urgently, roseate in the
mounting of somber power

surging in evening haste over
roofs and hermetic
grim walls—

                        Last night
as if death had lit a pale light
in your flesh, your flesh
was cold to my touch, or not cold
but cool, cooling, as if the last traces
of warmth were still fading in you.
My thigh burned in cold fear where
yours touched it.

But I forced to mind my vision of a sky
close and enclosed, unlike the space in which these clouds move—
a sky of gray mist it appeared—
and how looking intently at it we saw
its gray was not gray but a milky white
in which radiant traces of opal greens,
fiery blues, gleamed, faded, gleamed again,
and how only then, seeing the color in the gray,
a field sprang into sight, extending
between where we stood and the horizon,

a field of freshest deep spiring grass
starred with dandelions,
green and gold
gold and green alternating in closewoven
chords, madrigal field.

Is death’s chill that visited our bed
other than what it seemed, is it
a gray to be watched keenly?

Wiping my glasses and leaning westward,
clearing my mind of the day’s mist and leaning
into myself to see
the colors of truth

I watch the clouds as I see them
in pomp advancing, pursuing
the fallen sun.

splits :: connie wanek

The world of my youth was divided
into girls who could and girls who couldn’t
slide casually to the floor,
one leg aft and one leg fore, while their faces
retained a sprightly cheer.
All summer, all year
they stretched the critical tendons,
descending in increments
the way the willful enter a frigid lake,
their arms folded across their chests,
their backs burning in the sun
as their legs numb.
Yet the splits seemed less a skill
than a gift of birth: Churchillian pluck
combined with a stroke of luck
like a pretty face with a strong chin.
One felt that even as babies
some girls were predispositioned.

stink eye :: cathy song

Somebody been giving you Stink Eye?
Let me tell you about Stink Eye.
Stink Eye no mean nothing
when you owe somebody money.
Pay up, girl. No be in debt.
But Stink Eye means something
when you owe somebody nothing.
Remember when Connie Mamazuka, the girl with the mustache,
grabbed your lipstick in the PE locker room
and smeared it all over her big fat lips?
Wasn’t ’cause she like your lipstick.
Was ’cause you was one cute skinny chick.
She was giving you Stink Eye all along
and you never even know it.
Now you know it
and now you watch for it.
You was always catching Stink Eye,
always crying to your mother about somebody
icing you out.
When Stink Eye is cold, it is fucking freezing,
it can make you shiver and cry,
“But Mommy, Mommy, what did I do?”
Took you long time to know
you never do nothing
but you was good at something,
something Stink Eye like try steal
not ’cause Stink Eye going use it.
Stink Eye just no like
you use it
’cause if you use it
only going make Stink Eye feel
more ugly, feel more stupid.
Easy for spot
Stink Eye coming from one mousy thing.
More tricky for spot
Stink Eye coming from some of the friendliest faces.
And you the dumb one, left dazed and hurt.
“But she seemed so sympathetic.”
Yeah, right.
Stink Eye sideswipes into you
out of nowhere
where somebody been thinking
evil thoughts about you,
wishing bad luck to blow bad breath upon you,
knock you down,
forget your words,
drop your tools,
make you sputter and drool.
Under the bed,
in Stink Eye’s room,
get one picture of you
stabbed like one pin cushion
with so many needles, stabbed
like one cactus, stabbed like one porcupine.
Stink Eye even dreams about you.
Careful of that coat you wear,
the one you blossom in, feel loved in,
the one that keeps you warm.
Stink Eye like snatch it right off you
’cause Stink Eye just no can stand to see
you look so cool.
Stink Eye wants a piece of you.
So choose to be naive, girl, or wake up
’cause Stink Eye been waiting to sit on your chest,
pounce on your flesh,
squeeze the living air right out of you,
watch you flatten like one used-up tube of toothpaste.
Suck up your goodies,
Glutton-of-Stink-Eye,
ready to gorge on your talents,
feast on your fears.
So girl, run fast, spell good, write well, add up, think quick,
talk sharp, walk pretty, jump high, throw hard, sing sweet,
leap far.
Now you know it
and now you watch for it
’cause Stink Eye gets bigger and meaner and stronger
as you get better and smarter and stronger.
Scary thing about Stink Eye,
Stink Eye always looking for more—
as much as you willing to give.

summer downpour on campus :: juliana gray

When clouds turn heavy, rich
and mottled as an oyster bed,

when the temperature drops so fast
that fog conjures itself inside the cars,
as if the parking lots were filled
with row upon row of lovers,

when my umbrella veils my face
and threatens to reverse itself
at every gust of wind, and rain
lashes my legs and the hem of my skirt,

but I am walking to meet a man
who’ll buy me coffee and kiss my fingers—

what can be more beautiful, then,
than these boys sprinting through the storm,
laughing, shouldering the rain aside,
running to their dorms, perhaps to class,
carrying, like torches, their useless shoes?

that map of bone and opened valves :: ilya kaminsky

That was the summer we damned only the earth.
That was the summer strange helicopters circled.
We examined each other’s ears, we spoke with our hands in the air—
It is the air. Something in the air wants us too much.
On the second day
helicopters circle and our legs run
in the fever-milk of their own separate silences.
A sound we do not hear lifts the birds off the water where a woman
takes iron and fire in her mouth.
Her husband is trying to make
sense of her face, that map of bone and opened valves.
The earth is still.
The tower guards eat sandwiches.
On the third day
the soldiers examine ears
of bartenders, of accountants, of soldiers, you wouldn’t know
the wicked things silence does to soldiers.
They tear Pasha’s wife from her bed like a door off a bus.
On the sixth day, we damn only the earth.
My soul runs on two naked feet to hear Vasenka.
I no longer have words to complain
my God and I see nothing in the sky and stare up and
clearly I do not know why I am alive.
And we enter the city that used to be ours
past the theaters and gardens past wooden staircases and wrought
              iron gates
in the morning that puts ringing in our ears.
Be courageous, we say
but no one is courageous
As a sound we do not hear lifts the birds off the water.