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

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.

daybreak :: galway kinnell

On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and, as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity, they sank down
into the mud, faded down
into it and lay still, and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.

cotard’s syndrome :: sara michas-martin

“Jeanie was well oriented for time, place and person…
as for being dead or alive, she was all at sea.”
                                                      — Paul Broks, Neuropsychologist

I was sitting in a usual chair, my lips
dry as dust
            I was aware of my tongue,
limp between my teeth

I swallowed water
felt it slosh inside my chest like a hose
dumped over a bucket of nothing

My organs sagged out of place,
the rest of me
                        on the ghost feed

In time
my mouth closed into a scar
and soon I didn’t have a face
to speak out of
                        my limbs
a halo of shadows
orbiting my voice

I sense death waiting: a driver
with a sign at the airport

I’m inside the terminal
somewhere counting backwards

            I am basically air

I flush through rooms like a draft
made by someone else

opening and closing a door

[if your complexion is a mess] :: harryette mullen

if your complexion is a mess
our elixir spells skin success
you’ll have appeal bewitch be adored
hechizando con crema dermoblanqueadora

what we sell is enlightenment
nothing less than beauty itself
since when can be seen in the dark
what shines hidden in dirt

double dutch darky
take kisses back to Africa
they dipped you in a vat
at the wacky chocolate factory

color we’ve got in spades
melanin gives perpetual shade
though rhythm’s no answer to cancer
pancakes pale and butter can get rancid

the sheep who fastened the sky to the ground :: oni buchanan

After I found out that you were a sheep,
it was always afternoon, and I stood trembling
at the pasture fence, my hands full of dandelion
and the longer grasses. How could I call you

to come near? We had no names and only
this place, this sun, the hill and its limitless sky
held together by your gentle outline as you leaned
toward tufts of grass. How beautiful you were,

so still, so close to moving. I gathered
bouquets of clover, strung violets from the fence slats.
Sometimes I whispered, but the words disappeared
before I knew what they were or what they meant.

Once I saw darkness. I remember my eyes were open
and there was nothing, only black, and my heart aching
as I felt for my face and I was still human. While I cried,
stars came and traced sheep in the sky and the voice that knew

never spoke. I fell asleep mistaking the scent of hay
for your breath. To wake once from the sleep in which
you are held, in which your name emanates without utterance
from the being that cradles you—There is no other sleep.

Now it is always afternoon. How can I call you
when we have no names? I search
for the clover and violets. There are always enough.
My shadow is always the same length and shaped

with arms and legs. Between us, the distance of field is green
and exact; the sun gleams from its cloudless height—I know
that there is enough time, that there is always enough.
Please. Come to me, remember me: undo this world.

you can have it :: philip levine

My brother comes home from work
and climbs the stairs to our room.
I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop
one by one. You can have it, he says.

The moonlight streams in the window
and his unshaven face is whitened
like the face of the moon. He will sleep
long after noon and waken to find me gone.

Thirty years will pass before I remember
that moment when suddenly I knew each man
has one brother who dies when he sleeps
and sleeps when he rises to face this life,

and that together they are only one man
sharing a heart that always labors, hands
yellowed and cracked, a mouth that gasps
for breath and asks, Am I gonna make it?

All night at the ice plant he had fed
the chute its silvery blocks, and then I
stacked cases of orange soda for the children
of Kentucky, one gray boxcar at a time

with always two more waiting. We were twenty
for such a short time and always in
the wrong clothes, crusted with dirt
and sweat. I think now we were never twenty.

In 1948 in the city of Detroit, founded
by de la Mothe Cadillac for the distant purposes
of Henry Ford, no one wakened or died,
no one walked the streets or stoked a furnace,

for there was no such year, and now
that year has fallen off all the old newspapers,
calendars, doctors’ appointments, bonds,
wedding certificates, drivers licenses.

The city slept. The snow turned to ice.
The ice to standing pools or rivers
racing in the gutters. Then bright grass rose
between the thousands of cracked squares,

and that grass died. I give you back 1948.
I give you all the years from then
to the coming one. Give me back the moon
with its frail light falling across a face.

Give me back my young brother, hard
and furious, with wide shoulders and a curse
for God and burning eyes that look upon
all creation and say, You can have it.

one life :: maria hummel

I don’t know when I stopped believing in heaven,
or if I do. Maybe I just stopped receiving heaven.

The sun rose. I climbed into the pines’ brittle
crowns. You could say I was retrieving heaven.

Not a place or a time, but blindness to everything
but one light, pulsing, pleasing: heaven.

We married in September. Everyone was still
wearing their summer shirts, sleeves of heaven.

It was white, there was a bend, and the car
spun. It was then I prayed, pleading with heaven.

When he goes limp, lie him down on the gurney,
Mom.
Oxygen mask, breathing heaven.

The hospital shines, our son flies in and out.
The snow falls hard, relieving heaven.

He loves the colors of planets. I teach him
their lifelessness: beautiful, deceiving heaven.

I don’t know who is buried beneath me
but I hear her break as I am leaving heaven.

How can you cry for one ruined life, Maria,
when you could be grieving for heaven?

moment :: wislawa szymborska

translated from Polish by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

I walk on the slope of a hill gone green.
Grass, little flowers in the grass,
as in a children’s illustration.
The misty sky’s already turning blue.
A view of other hills unfolds in silence.

As if there’d never been any Cambrians, Silurians,
rocks snarling at crags,
upturned abysses,
no nights in flames
and days in clouds of darkness.

As if plains hadn’t pushed their way here
in malignant fevers,
icy shivers.

As if seas had seethed only elsewhere,
shredding the shores of the horizons.

It’s nine-thirty local time.
Everything’s in its place and in polite agreement.
In the valley a little brook cast as a little brook.
A path in the role of a path from always to ever.
Woods disguised as woods alive without end,
and above them birds in flight play birds in flight.

This moment reigns as far as the eye can reach.
One of those earthly moments
invited to linger.

chocolate :: rita dove

Velvet fruit, exquisite square
I hold up to sniff
between finger and thumb –

how you numb me
with your rich attentions!
If I don’t eat you quickly,

you’ll melt in my palm.
Pleasure seeker, if i let you
you’d liquefy everywhere.

Knotted smoke, dark punch
of earth and night and leaf,
for a taste of you

any woman would gladly
crumble to ruin.
Enough chatter: I am ready

to fall in love!

hear it

it’s like this :: stephen dobyns

for Peter Parrish

Each morning the man rises from bed because the invisible
     cord leading from his neck to someplace in the dark,
     the cord that makes him always dissatisfied,
     has been wound tighter and tighter until he wakes.

He greets his family, looking for himself in their eyes,
     but instead he sees shorter or taller men, men with
     different degrees of anger or love, the kind of men
     that people who hardly know him often mistake
     for him, leaving a movie or running to catch a bus.

He has a job that he goes to. It could be at a bank
     or a library or turning a piece of flat land
     into a ditch. All day something that refuses to
     show itself hovers at the corner of his eye,
     like a name he is trying to remember, like
     expecting a touch on the shoulder, as if someone
     were about to embrace him, a woman in a blue dress
     whom he has never met, would never meet again.
     And it seems the purpose of each day’s labor
     is simply to bring this mystery to focus. He can
     almost describe it, as if it were a figure at the edge
     of a burning field with smoke swirling around it
     like white curtains shot full of wind and light.

When he returns home, he studies the eyes of his family to see
     what person he should be that evening. He wants to say:
     All day I have been listening, all day I have felt
     I stood on the brink of something amazing.
     But he says nothing, and his family walks around him
     as if he were a stick leaning against a wall.

Late in the evening the cord around his neck draws him to bed.
     He is consoled by the coolness of sheets, pressure
     of blankets. He turns to the wall, and as water
     drains from a sink so his daily mind slips from him.
     Then sleep rises before him like a woman in a blue dress,
     and darkness puts its arms around him, embracing him.
     Be true to me, it says, each night you belong to me more,
     until at last I lift you up and wrap you within me.

on the subject of doctors :: james tate

I like to see doctors cough.
What kind of human being
would grab all your money
just when you’re down?
I’m not saying they enjoy this:
“Sorry, Mr. Rodriguez, that’s it,
no hope! You might as well
hand over your wallet.” Hell no,
they’d rather be playing golf
and swapping jokes about our feet.

Some of them smoke marijuana
and are alcoholics, and their moral
turpitude is famous: who gets to see
most sex organs in the world? Not
poets. With the hours they keep
they need drugs more than anyone.
Germ city, there’s no hope
looking down those fire-engine throats.
They’re bound to get sick themselves
sometime; and I happen to be there
myself in a high fever
taking my plastic medicine seriously
with the doctors, who are dying.

lies i’ve told my 3 year old recently :: raul gutierrez

Trees talk to each other at night.
All fish are named either Lorna or Jack.
Before your eyeballs fall out from watching too much TV, they get very loose.
Tiny bears live in drain pipes.
If you are very very quiet you can hear the clouds rub against the sky.
The moon and the sun had a fight a long time ago.
Everyone knows at least one secret language.
When nobody is looking, I can fly.
We are all held together by invisible threads.
Books get lonely too.
Sadness can be eaten.
I will always be there.

insomnia :: rynn williams

I try tearing paper into tiny, perfect squares—
they cut my fingers. Warm milk, perhaps,
stirred counter-clockwise in a cast iron pan—
but even then there’s burning at the edges,
angry foam-hiss. I’ve been told
to put trumpet flowers under my pillow,
I do: stamen up, the old crone said.
But the pollen stains, and there are bees,
I swear, in those long yellow chambers, echoing,
the way the house does, mocking, with its longevity—
each rib creaking and bending where I’m likely to break—

I try floating out along the long O of lone,
to where it flattens to loss, and just stay there
disconnecting the dots of my night sky
as one would take apart a house made of sticks,
carefully, last addition to first,
like sheep leaping backward into their pens.

i will take anyone to bed (poetically speaking of course) :: sara littlecrow-russell

I have made love with Pablo Neruda
On the heights of Machu Picchu
I flashed the tattoo on my thigh
And hitched a lowride with Luis Rodriguez
I have held Adrian Louis close
And danced a wild reservation two-step
Until beer cans and disposable diapers
Spun around us like stars.
I have surrendered to Leonel Rugama’s
Burning adolescent heat
And caressed Roque Dalton
From a luxuriance of bed sheets and red wine.

I stayed up all night reading Sherman Alexie,
Nine months later, I gave birth to twin poems.

This lust is not heterosexual.
I devour Nikki Giovanni and Patricia Smith
Like Sao Tome chocolate.
I have been known to steal away for
An afternoon tryst with Julia de Burgos.
I wrap Nellie Wong around me like a silk robe.

Tonight, I have a date to share a steamy bath
With Linda Hogan and Joy Harjo
And it’s gonna be gooooood . . .

as is :: nicholas friedman

Just north of town, a quaint Sargasso Sea
for bric-a-brac: the barn, itself antique,
spills over with a grab-bag panoply
of outworn stock revalued as “unique.”
Typewriters tall as headstones fill the loft
where they’ve been ricked away like sacks of grain;
a coffer yawns the must of oak—gone soft—
when one man, squinting, lifts the lid to feign
intrigue. Nearby, his wife surveys the smalls:
art deco bangles bright as harpsichords,
a glut of iron trivets, Christmas balls,
Depression glass and warping Ouija boards.
One man’s junk is another’s all the same.
They don’t buy much, but that’s not why they came.

when giving is all we have :: alberto ríos

                 One river gives
                 Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

the china painters :: ted kooser

They have set aside their black tin boxes,
scratched and dented,
spattered with drops of pink and blue;
and their dried-up, rolled-up tubes
of alizarin crimson, chrome green,
zinc white, and ultramarine;
their vials half full of gold powder;
stubs of wax pencils;
frayed brushes with tooth-bitten shafts;
and have gone in fashion and with grace
into the clouds of loose, lush roses,
narcissus, pansies, columbine,
on teapots, chocolate pots,
saucers and cups, the good Haviland dishes
spread like a garden
on the white lace Sunday cloth,
as if their souls were bees
and the world had been nothing but flowers.

the violence of violins :: paul hostovsky

It was in them, they would say.
It was what they were, what they
did. It was part of them, carved
into them like an F hole, like
a clef tattooed onto a biceps.
And there was nothing you
could say or do to change that.
It was their way. It was the way
of the world, and also of the sun
exploding a million miles away,
warming your soft cheek. Face
the music, they would say. Stop
listening with your eyes closed.
See the string tightened almost
to breaking, the bow torturing it
into song. Feel the skin stretched
over the drum so tightly it makes
your heart pound. And where
did you think it all came from,
the easy melody, the high tinkling
finery? We are hurt into beauty.
And you, up in the balcony, rising
to your feet, applauding fiercely, look
down at what your own hands are doing.

the dipper :: kathleen jamie

It was winter, near freezing,
I’d walked through a forest of firs
when I saw issue out of the waterfall
a solitary bird.

It lit on a damp rock,
and, as water swept stupidly on,
wrung from its own throat
supple, undammable song.

It isn’t mine to give.
I can’t coax this bird to my hand
that knows the depth of the river
yet sings of it on land.

mammogram :: jackie fox

Last spring, as breasts were pressed
like keepsake flowers,
the ominous image emerged, nearly obscured
by swirling clouds of dense tissue.
A tiny constellation of brilliant specks,
traitorous cells made manifest as light.

This spring, the bright white globe
of augmentation curves like a moon,
clouds reduced to cirrus overhead.
Its twin cold and dark, fading scars tracing
the skin-sheathed orb unobserved.
No atmosphere left to study; no need of a lens.

a farewell to false love :: sir walter ralegh

Farewell, false love, the oracle of lies,
A mortal foe and enemy to rest,
An envious boy, from whom all cares arise,
A bastard vile, a beast with rage possessed,
A way of error, a temple full of treason,
In all effects contrary unto reason.

A poisoned serpent covered all with flowers,
Mother of sighs, and murderer of repose,
A sea of sorrows whence are drawn such showers
As moisture lend to every grief that grows;
A school of guile, a net of deep deceit,
A gilded hook that holds a poisoned bait.

A fortress foiled, which reason did defend,
A siren song, a fever of the mind,
A maze wherein affection finds no end,
A raging cloud that runs before the wind,
A substance like the shadow of the sun,
A goal of grief for which the wisest run.

A quenchless fire, a nurse of trembling fear,
A path that leads to peril and mishap,
A true retreat of sorrow and despair,
An idle boy that sleeps in pleasure’s lap,
A deep mistrust of that which certain seems,
A hope of that which reason doubtful deems.

Sith then thy trains my younger years betrayed,
And for my faith ingratitude I find;
And sith repentance hath my wrongs bewrayed,
Whose course was ever contrary to kind:
False love, desire, and beauty frail, adieu!
Dead is the root whence all these fancies grew.