for a coming extinction :: w. s. merwin

Gray whale
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
Tell him
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

I write as though you could understand
And I could say it
One must always pretend something
Among the dying
When you have left the seas nodding on their stalks
Empty of you
Tell him that we were made
On another day

The bewilderment will diminish like an echo
Winding along your inner mountains
Unheard by us
And find its way out
Leaving behind it the future
Dead
And ours

When you will not see again
The whale calves trying the light
Consider what you will find in the black garden
And its court
The sea cows the Great Auks the gorillas
The irreplaceable hosts ranged countless
And fore-ordaining as stars
Our sacrifices

Join your word to theirs
Tell him
That it is we who are important

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a story about the body :: robert hass

The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she made amused and considered answers to his questions. One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, “I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy,” and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.” The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity–like music–withered very quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, “I’m sorry. I don’t think I could.” He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door. It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl–she must have swept them from the corners of her studio–was full of dead bees.

windy evening :: charles simic

This old world needs propping up
When it gets this cold and windy.
The cleverly painted sets,
Oh, they’re shaking badly!
They’re about to come down.

There’ll be nothing but infinite space then.
The silence supreme. Almighty silence.
Egyptian sky. Stars like torches
Of grave robbers entering the crypts of the kings.
Even the wind pausing, waiting to see.

Better grab hold of that tree, Lucille.
Its shape crazed, terror-stricken.
I’ll hold the barn.
The chickens in it uneasy.
Smart chickens, rickety world.

cutting the sun :: chitra banerjee divakaruni

         After Francesco Clemente’s Indian Miniature #16

The sun-face looms over me, gigantic-hot, smelling
of iron. Its rays striated,
rasp-red and muscled as the tongues
of iguanas. They are trying to lick away
my name. But I
am not afraid. I hold in my hands
(where did I get them)
enormous blue scissors that are
just the color of sky. I bring
the blades together, like
a song. The rays fall around me
curling a bit, like dried carrot peel. A far sound
in the air—fire
or rain? And when I’ve cut
all the way to the center of the sun
I see
flowers, flowers, flowers.

beauty is always a surprise :: j. t. ledbetter

The video was supposed to be Beautiful Kansas,
but turned out to be “The Volvulus Colon”
with diagrams of innards with names
I associated with islands or the middle names
of Presidents. No cows looking over a fence,
small tractors in their eyes, or peonies hanging
in their strings beside a ruined porch.

I can only hope the person planning an operation
takes some comfort in fields of black-eyed susans
on winds blowing up from Texas, with maybe
old photos of a thin woman standing in the yard,
watching a tornado forming over Missouri as I watch
bloody hands lift and set aside coiled tubes to show
the camera the tangled bit that must come out.
Beauty is always a surprise.

A woman’s name is on the package with my address—so
I won’t send the video back until I get my Kansas,
or a phone call asking if the woman standing on
the porch is my wife, and I’ll ask if she’s ever seen
Kansas in May. It may take awhile. I’ll watch the mails
while she waits for the phone to ring, not wanting to
presume, or say how it is alone as the leaves fall.

blue ridge :: ellen bryant voigt

Up there on the mountain road, the fireworks
blistered and subsided, for once at eye level:
spatter of light like water flicked from the fingers;
the brief emergent pattern; and after the afterimage bled
from the night sky, a delayed and muffled thud
that must have seemed enormous down below,
the sound concomitant with the arranged
threat of fire above the bleachers.
I stood as tall and straight as possible,
trying to compensate, trying not to lean in my friend’s
direction. Beside me, correcting height, he slouched
his shoulders, knees locked, one leg stuck out
to form a defensive angle with the other.
Thus we were most approximate
and most removed.
                   In the long pauses
between explosions, he’d signal conversation
by nodding vaguely toward the ragged pines.
I said my children would have loved the show.
He said we were watching youth at a great distance,
and I thought how the young
are truly boring, unvaried as they are
by the deep scar of doubt, the constant afterimage
of regret—no major tension in their bodies, no tender
hesitation, they don’t yet know
that this is so much work, scraping
from the self its multiple desires; don’t yet know
fatigue with self, the hunger for obliteration
that wakes us in the night at the dead hour
and fuels good sex.

                        Of course I didn’t say it.
I realized he watched the fireworks
with the cool attention he had turned on women
dancing in the bar, a blunt uninvested gaze
calibrating every moving part, thighs,
breasts, the muscles of abandon.
I had wanted that gaze on me.
And as the evening dwindled to its nub,
its puddle of tallow, appetite without object,
as the men peeled off to seek
the least encumbered consolation
and the women grew expansive with regard—
how have I managed so long to stand among the paired
bodies, the raw pulsing music driving
loneliness into the air like scent,
and not be seized by longing,
not give anything to be summoned
into the larger soul two souls can make?
Watching the fireworks with my friend,
so little ease between us,
I see that I have armed myself;
fire changes everything it touches.

Perhaps he has foreseen this impediment.
Perhaps when he holds himself within himself,
a sheathed angular figure at my shoulder,
he means to be protective less of him
than me, keeping his complicating rage
inside his body. And what would it solve
if he took one hand from his pocket,
risking touch, risking invitation—
if he took my hand it would not alter
this explicit sadness.
                             The evening stalls,
the fireworks grow boring at this remove.
The traffic prowling the highway at our backs,
the couples, the families scuffling on the bank
must think us strangers to each other. Or,
more likely, with the celebrated fireworks thrusting
their brilliant repeating designs above the ridge,
we simply blur into the foreground,
like the fireflies dragging among the trees
their separate, discontinuous lanterns.

curriculum vitae :: lisel mueller

1992

1) I was born in a Free City, near the North Sea.

2) In the year of my birth, money was shredded into
confetti. A loaf of bread cost a million marks. Of
course I do not remember this.

3) Parents and grandparents hovered around me. The
world I lived in had a soft voice and no claws.

4) A cornucopia filled with treats took me into a building
with bells. A wide-bosomed teacher took me in.

5) At home the bookshelves connected heaven and earth.

6) On Sundays the city child waded through pinecones
and primrose marshes, a short train ride away.

7) My country was struck by history more deadly than
earthquakes or hurricanes.

8) My father was busy eluding the monsters. My mother
told me the walls had ears. I learned the burden of secrets.

9) I moved into the too bright days, the too dark nights
of adolescence.

10) Two parents, two daughters, we followed the sun
and the moon across the ocean. My grandparents stayed
behind in darkness.

11) In the new language everyone spoke too fast. Eventually
I caught up with them.

12) When I met you, the new language became the language
of love.

13) The death of the mother hurt the daughter into poetry.
The daughter became a mother of daughters.

14) Ordinary life: the plenty and thick of it. Knots tying
threads to everywhere. The past pushed away, the future left
unimagined for the sake of the glorious, difficult, passionate
present.

15) Years and years of this.

16) The children no longer children. An old man’s pain, an
old man’s loneliness.

17) And then my father too disappeared.

18) I tried to go home again. I stood at the door to my
childhood, but it was closed to the public.

19) One day, on a crowded elevator, everyone’s face was younger
than mine.

20) So far, so good. The brilliant days and nights are
breathless in their hurry. We follow, you and I.