justice, come down :: minnie bruce pratt

A huge sound waits, bound in the ice,
in the icicle roots, in the buds of snow
on fir branches, in the falling silence
of snow, glittering in the sun, brilliant
as a swarm of gnats, nothing but hovering
wings at midday. With the sun comes noise.
Tongues of ice break free, fall, shatter,
splinter, speak. If I could write the words.

Simple, like turning a page, to say Write
what happened
, but this means a return
to the cold place where I am being punished.
Alone to the stony circle where I am frozen,
the empty space, children, mother, father gone,
lover gone away. There grief still sits
and waits, grim, numb, keeping company with
anger. I can smell my anger like sulfur-
struck matches. I wanted what had happened
to be a wall to burn, a window to smash.
At my fist the pieces would sparkle and fall.
All would be changed. I would not be alone.

Instead I have told my story over and over
at parties, on the edge of meetings, my life
clenched in my fist, my eyes brittle as glass.

Ashamed, people turned their faces away
from the woman ranting, asking: Justice,
stretch out your hand. Come down, glittering,
from where you have hidden yourself away.

how to be perfect :: ron padgett

                   Everything is perfect, dear friend.
                  —KEROUAC

Get some sleep.

Don’t give advice.

Take care of your teeth and gums.

Don’t be afraid of anything beyond your control. Don’t be afraid, for
instance, that the building will collapse as you sleep, or that someone
you love will suddenly drop dead.

Eat an orange every morning.

Be friendly. It will help make you happy.

Raise your pulse rate to 120 beats per minute for 20 straight minutes
four or five times a week doing anything you enjoy.

Hope for everything. Expect nothing.

Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room
before you save the world. Then save the world.

Know that the desire to be perfect is probably the veiled expression
of another desire—to be loved, perhaps, or not to die.

Make eye contact with a tree.

Be skeptical about all opinions, but try to see some value in each of
them.

Dress in a way that pleases both you and those around you.

Do not speak quickly.

Learn something every day. (Dzien dobre!)

Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.

Don’t stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don’t
forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm’s length
and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass ball
collection.

Be loyal.

Wear comfortable shoes.

Design your activities so that they show a pleasing balance
and variety.

Be kind to old people, even when they are obnoxious. When you
become old, be kind to young people. Do not throw your cane at
them when they call you Grandpa. They are your grandchildren!

Live with an animal.

Do not spend too much time with large groups of people.

If you need help, ask for it.

Cultivate good posture until it becomes natural.

If someone murders your child, get a shotgun and blow his head off.

Plan your day so you never have to rush.

Show your appreciation to people who do things for you, even if you
have paid them, even if they do favors you don’t want.

Do not waste money you could be giving to those who need it.

Expect society to be defective. Then weep when you find that it is far
more defective than you imagined.

When you borrow something, return it in an even better condition.

As much as possible, use wooden objects instead of plastic or metal
ones.

Look at that bird over there.

After dinner, wash the dishes.

Calm down.

Visit foreign countries, except those whose inhabitants have
expressed a desire to kill you.

Don’t expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.

Meditate on the spiritual. Then go a little further, if you feel like it.
What is out (in) there?

Sing, every once in a while.

Be on time, but if you are late do not give a detailed and lengthy
excuse.

Don’t be too self-critical or too self-congratulatory.

Don’t think that progress exists. It doesn’t.

“Walk upstairs.

Do not practice cannibalism.

Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don’t do
anything to make it impossible.

Take your phone off the hook at least twice a week.

Keep your windows clean.

Extirpate all traces of personal ambitiousness.

Don’t use the word extirpate too often.

Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not possible, go
to another one.

If you feel tired, rest.

Grow something.

Do not wander through train stations muttering, “We’re all going to
die!”

Count among your true friends people of various stations of life.

Appreciate simple pleasures, such as the pleasure of chewing, the
pleasure of warm water running down your back, the pleasure of a
cool breeze, the pleasure of falling asleep.

Do not exclaim, “Isn’t technology wonderful!”

Learn how to stretch your muscles. Stretch them every day.

Don’t be depressed about growing older. It will make you feel even
older. Which is depressing.

Do one thing at a time.

If you burn your finger, put it in cold water immediately. If you bang
your finger with a hammer, hold your hand in the air for twenty
minutes. You will be surprised by the curative powers of coldness and
gravity.

Learn how to whistle at earsplitting volume.

Be calm in a crisis. The more critical the situation, the calmer you
should be.

Enjoy sex, but don’t become obsessed with it. Except for brief periods
in your adolescence, youth, middle age, and old age.

Contemplate everything’s opposite.

If you’re struck with the fear that you’ve swum out too far in the
ocean, turn around and go back to the lifeboat.

Keep your childish self alive.

Answer letters promptly. Use attractive stamps, like the one with a
tornado on it.

Cry every once in a while, but only when alone. Then appreciate
how much better you feel. Don’t be embarrassed about feeling better.

Do not inhale smoke.

Take a deep breath.

Do not smart off to a policeman.

Do not step off the curb until you can walk all the way across the
street. From the curb you can study the pedestrians who are trapped
in the middle of the crazed and roaring traffic.

Be good.

Walk down different streets.

Backwards.

Remember beauty, which exists, and truth, which does not. Notice
that the idea of truth is just as powerful as the idea of beauty.

Stay out of jail.

In later life, become a mystic.

Use Colgate toothpaste in the new Tartar Control formula.

Visit friends and acquaintances in the hospital. When you feel it is
time to leave, do so.

Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.

Do not go crazy a lot. It’s a waste of time.

Read and reread great books.

Dig a hole with a shovel.

In winter, before you go to bed, humidify your bedroom.

Know that the only perfect things are a 300 game in bowling and a
27-batter, 27-out game in baseball.

Drink plenty of water. When asked what you would like to drink,
say, “Water, please.”

Ask “Where is the loo?” but not “Where can I urinate?”

Be kind to physical objects.

Beginning at age forty, get a complete “physical” every few years
from a doctor you trust and feel comfortable with.

Don’t read the newspaper more than once a year.

Learn how to say “hello,” “thank you,” and “chopsticks”
in Mandarin.

Belch and fart, but quietly.

Be especially cordial to foreigners.

See shadow puppet plays and imagine that you are one of the
characters. Or all of them.

Take out the trash.

Love life.

Use exact change.

When there’s shooting in the street, don’t go near the window.

memory :: lawson fusao inada

Memory is an old Mexican woman
sweeping her yard with a broom.
She has grown even smaller now,
residing at that vanishing point
decades after one dies,
but at some times, given
the right conditions—
an ordinary dream, or practically
anything in particular—
she absolutely looms,
assuming the stature
she had in the neighborhood.

This was the Great Valley,
and we had swept in
to do the grooming.
We were on the move, tending
what was essentially
someone else’s garden.
Memory’s yard was all that
in miniature, in microcosm:
rivers for irrigation,
certain plants, certain trees
ascertained by season.
Without formal acknowledgment,
she was most certainly
the head of a community, American.

Memory had been there forever.
We settled in around her;
we brought the electricity
of blues and baptized gospel,
ancient adaptations of icons,
spices, teas, fireworks, trestles,
newly acquired techniques
of conflict and healing, common
concepts of collective survival. . .

Memory was there all the while.
Her house, her shed, her skin,
were all the same— weathered—
and she didn’t do anything, especially,
except hum as she moved;
Memory, in essence, was unmemorable.

Yet, ask any of us who have long since left,
who have all but forgotten that adulterated place
paved over and parceled out by the powers that be,
and what we remember, without even choosing to,
is an old woman humming, sweeping, smoothing her yard: Memory.

drinking :: anacreontea

6th century bc
translated by abraham cowley

The thirsty earth soaks up the rain,
And drinks and gapes for drink again;
The plants suck in the earth, and are
With constant drinking fresh and fair;
The sea itself (which one would think
Should have but little need of drink)
Drinks ten thousand rivers up,
So filled that they o’erflow the cup,
The busy Sun (and one would guess
By’s drunken fiery face no less)
Drinks up the sea, and when he’s done,
The Moon and Stars drink up the Sun;
They drink and dance by their own light,
They drink and revel all the night:
Nothing in Nature’s sober found,
But an eternal health goes round.
Fill up the bowl, then, fill it high,
Fill all the glasses there, for why
Should every creature drink but I,
Why, man of morals, tell me why?

landscape, dense with trees :: ellen bryant voigt

When you move away, you see how much depends
on the pace of the days—how much
depended on the haze we waded through
each summer, visible heat, wavy and discursive
as the lazy track of the snake in the dusty road;
and on the habit in town of porches thatched in vines,
and in the country long dense promenades, the way
we sacrificed the yards to shade.
It was partly the heat that made my father
plant so many trees—two maples marking the site
for the house, two elms on either side when it was done;
mimosa by the fence, and as it failed, fast-growing chestnuts,
loblolly pines; and dogwood, redbud, ornamental crab.
On the farm, everything else he grew
something could eat, but this
would be a permanent mark of his industry,
a glade established in the open field. Or so it seemed.
Looking back at the empty house from across the hill,
I see how well the house is camouflaged, see how
that porous fence of saplings, their later
scrim of foliage, thickened around it,
and still he chinked and mortared, planting more.
Last summer, although he’d lost all tolerance for heat,
he backed the truck in at the family grave
and stood in the truckbed all afternoon, pruning
the landmark oak, repairing recent damage by a wind;
then he came home and hung a swing
in one of the horse-chestnuts for my visit.
The heat was a hand at his throat,
a fist to his weak heart. But it made a triumph
of the cooler air inside, in the bedroom,
in the maple bedstead where he slept,
in the brick house nearly swamped by leaves.

royalty :: arthur rimbaud

translated from the french by john ashbery

One fine morning, in the country of a very gentle people, a magnificent man and woman were shouting in the public square. “My friends, I want her to be queen!” “I want to be queen!” She was laughing and trembling. He spoke to their friends of revelation, of trials completed. They swooned against each other.
       In fact they were regents for a whole morning as crimson hangings were raised against the houses, and for the whole afternoon, as they moved toward groves of palm trees.

parable :: louise glück

First divesting ourselves of worldly goods, as St. Francis teaches,
in order that our souls not be distracted
by gain and loss, and in order also
that our bodies be free to move
easily at the mountain passes, we had then to discuss
whither or where we might travel, with the second question being
should we have a purpose, against which
many of us argued fiercely that such purpose
corresponded to worldly goods, meaning a limitation or constriction,
whereas others said it was by this word we were consecrated
pilgrims rather than wanderers: in our minds, the word translated as
a dream, a something-sought, so that by concentrating we might see it
glimmering among the stones, and not
pass blindly by; each
further issue we debated equally fully, the arguments going back and forth,
so that we grew, some said, less flexible and more resigned,
like soldiers in a useless war. And snow fell upon us, and wind blew,
which in time abated — where the snow had been, many flowers appeared,
and where the stars had shone, the sun rose over the tree line
so that we had shadows again; many times this happened.
Also rain, also flooding sometimes, also avalanches, in which
some of us were lost, and periodically we would seem
to have achieved an agreement; our canteens
hoisted upon our shoulders, but always that moment passed, so
(after many years) we were still at that first stage, still
preparing to begin a journey, but we were changed nevertheless;
we could see this in one another; we had changed although
we never moved, and one said, ah, behold how we have aged, traveling
from day to night only, neither forward nor sideward, and this seemed
in a strange way miraculous. And those who believed we should have a purpose
believed this was the purpose, and those who felt we must remain free
in order to encounter truth, felt it had been revealed.

night on call :: rita iovino

There are sometimes such moments of magic,
when the sky and mountains melt into the dawn
when the blue-purple horizon yields to the sun,
and the trek home
becomes a moment of epiphany.
Everything is still
and only the faint noise of sparrows
permeates the air.
The exhaustion and sweat and scrubs
become an exclamation of rebirth.
The gift of being a doctor
is magnified like dandelions blowing in the wind,
and one knows the skill of giving life,
the gift of alleviating pain;
the long night suturing becomes a dream
because now one more person
becomes whole by your latex gloves.
The sun breaks into a million bright lights
as you go home to sleep.

after making love we hear footsteps :: galway kinnell

For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on—
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.

In the half darkness we look at each other
and smile
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body—
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.

how you know :: joe mills

How do you know if it’s love? she asks,
and I think if you have to ask, it’s not,
but I know this won’t help. I want to say
you’re too young to worry about it,
as if she has questions about Medicare
or social security, but this won’t help either.
“You’ll just know” is a lie, and one truth,
“when you still want to be with them
the next morning,” would involve too
many follow-up questions. The difficulty
with love, I want to say, is sometimes
you only know afterwards that it’s arrived
or left. Love is the elephant and we
are the blind mice unable to understand
the whole. I want to say love is this
desire to help even when I know I can’t,
just as I couldn’t explain electricity, stars,
the color of the sky, baldness, tornadoes,
fingernails, coconuts, or the other things
she has asked about over the years, all
those phenomena whose daily existence
seems miraculous. Instead I shake my head.
I don’t even know how to match my socks.
Go ask your mother.
She laughs and says,
I did. Mom told me to come and ask you.

the dancer :: david tucker

Class is over, the teacher
and the pianist gone,
but one dancer
in a pale blue
leotard stays
to practice alone without music,
turning grand jetes
through the haze of late afternoon.
Her eyes are focused
on the balancing point
no one else sees
as she spins in this quiet
made of mirrors and light—
a blue rose on a nail—
then stops and lifts
her arms in an oval pause
and leans out
a little more, a little more,
there, in slow motion
upon the air.

song from a reedless flute :: sara littlecrow-russell

You are beadwork woven by a broken Indian woman
That I mend with cautious, needle-pricked fingers.
You are raw sweetness of burning chaga
Scraping my lungs and startling tears.
You are the bear claw necklace
No longer caressing
The space between my breasts.
You are cigarettes
That I quit years ago,
But sometimes smoke anyways.

You are maple syrup on snow
Melting on my tongue
Until I ache from the cold.
You are the cedar tree
Sheltering my childhood
From unwanted caresses.
You are the star blanket
Sliding off the bed on autumnal nights.
You are a stubborn braid of wiingashk
That must be relit with a dozen matches
Before it releases thin streamers of sweetness.

You are the love song
Played on a reedless flute
That only spirits hear.

yesterday :: w.s. merwin

My friend says I was not a good son
you understand
I say yes I understand

he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know

even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes

he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father

he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me

oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father’s hand the last time
he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me

oh yes I say

but if you are busy he said
I don’t want you to feel that you
have to
just because I’m here

I say nothing

he says my father
said maybe
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don’t want to keep you

I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
you know

though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do

(audio)

the magus :: c. dale young

The pearls, mere reminders.
The ocean’s rapid recoil, a signal.
The gulls appeared enormous

in that way only things from above can—
such is presentation of the sudden.
If only this were worthy of a frame,

the wooden gesture announcing
a moment past were cherished.
But it was too late for that, too late

to answer the surf’s anxious Why?
too late to decline the continuous life
he had resigned himself, turning

away from the grave, that plot
being too familiar to so many.
Of course immortality had its price:

first his staff he had taped back together,
then the sleeves of his robe
he had reclaimed from the depths, then

the magic leached nightly from his fingertips
so that now his incantation for a storm
brought only a slight breeze,

a quick sun shower that frightened
only the flowers struggling in the salt air.
Now, showing his centuries, he insists:

This is the wind out of which I bring clouds.
These are my hands that gnarled though they be
when lifted to the sky bring rain.

going home the longest way around, :: pat schneider

we tell stories, build
from fragments of our lives
maps to guide us to each other.
We make collages of the way
it might have been
had it been as we remembered,
as we think perhaps it was,
tallying in our middle age
diminishing returns.
Last night the lake was still;
all along the shoreline
bright pencil marks of light, and
children in the dark canoe pleading
“Tell us scary stories.”
Fingers trailing in the water,
I said someone I loved who died
told me in a dream
to not be lonely, told me
not to ever be afraid.
And they were silent, the children,
listening to the water
lick the sides of the canoe.
It’s what we love the most
can make us most afraid, can make us
for the first time understand
how we are rocking in a dark boat on the water,
taking the long way home.

(audio)

there is no word :: tony hoagland

There isn’t a word for walking out of the grocery store
with a gallon jug of milk in a plastic sack
that should have been bagged in double layers

—so that before you are even out the door
you feel the weight of the jug dragging
the bag down, stretching the thin

plastic handles longer and longer
and you know it’s only a matter of time until
bottom suddenly splits.

There is no single, unimpeachable word
for that vague sensation of something
moving away from you

as it exceeds its elastic capacity
—which is too bad, because that is the word
I would like to use to describe standing on the street

chatting with an old friend
as the awareness grows in me that he is
no longer a friend, but only an acquaintance,

a person with whom I never made the effort—
until this moment, when as we say goodbye
I think we share a feeling of relief,

a recognition that we have reached
the end of a pretense,
though to tell the truth

what I already am thinking about
is my gratitude for language—
how it will stretch just so much and no farther;

how there are some holes it will not cover up;
how it will move, if not inside, then
around the circumference of almost anything—

how, over the years, it has given me
back all the hours and days, all the
plodding love and faith, all the

misunderstandings and secrets
I have willingly poured into it.

sea rose :: h. d.

Rose, harsh rose,
marred and with stint of petals,
meagre flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,

more precious
than a wet rose
single on a stem—
you are caught in the drift.

Stunted, with small leaf,
you are flung on the sand,
you are lifted
in the crisp sand
that drives in the wind.

Can the spice-rose
drip such acrid fragrance
hardened in a leaf?

poe, e. near a raven :: mike keith

Midnights so dreary, tired and weary.
     Silently pondering volumes extolling all by-now obsolete lore.
During my rather long nap – the weirdest tap!
     An ominous vibrating sound disturbing my chamber’s antedoor.
         “This”, I whispered quietly, “I ignore”.

Perfectly, the intellect remembers: the ghostly fires, a glittering ember.
     Inflamed by lightning’s outbursts, windows cast penumbras upon this floor.
Sorrowful, as one mistreated, unhappy thoughts I heeded:
     That inimitable lesson in elegance – Lenore –
         Is delighting, exciting…nevermore.

Ominously, curtains parted (my serenity outsmarted),
     And fear overcame my being – the fear of “forevermore”.
Fearful foreboding abided, selfish sentiment confided,
     As I said, “Methinks mysterious traveler knocks afore.
         A man is visiting, of age threescore.”

Taking little time, briskly addressing something: “Sir,” (robustly)
     “Tell what source originates clamorous noise afore?
Disturbing sleep unkindly, is it you a-tapping, so slyly?
     Why, devil incarnate!–” Here completely unveiled I my antedoor–
         Just darkness, I ascertained – nothing more.

While surrounded by darkness then, I persevered to clearly comprehend.
     I perceived the weirdest dream…of everlasting “nevermores”.
Quite, quite, quick nocturnal doubts fled – such relief! – as my intellect said,
     (Desiring, imagining still) that perchance the apparition was uttering a whispered “Lenore”.
         This only, as evermore.

Silently, I reinforced, remaining anxious, quite scared, afraid,
     While intrusive tap did then come thrice – O, so stronger than sounded afore.
“Surely” (said silently) “it was the banging, clanging window lattice.”
     Glancing out, I quaked, upset by horrors hereinbefore,
         Perceiving: a “nevermore”.

Completely disturbed, I said, “Utter, please, what prevails ahead.
     Repose, relief, cessation, or but more dreary ‘nevermores’?”
The bird intruded thence – O, irritation ever since! –
     Then sat on Pallas’ pallid bust, watching me (I sat not, therefore),
         And stated “nevermores”.

Bemused by raven’s dissonance, my soul exclaimed, “I seek intelligence;
     Explain thy purpose, or soon cease intoning forlorn ‘nevermores’!”
“Nevermores”, winged corvus proclaimed – thusly was a raven named?
     Actually maintain a surname, upon Pluvious seashore?
         I heard an oppressive “nevermore”.

My sentiments extremely pained, to perceive an utterance so plain,
     Most interested, mystified, a meaning I hoped for.
“Surely,” said the raven’s watcher, “separate discourse is wiser.
     Therefore, liberation I’ll obtain, retreating heretofore –
         Eliminating all the ‘nevermores’ “.

Still, the detestable raven just remained, unmoving, on sculptured bust.
     Always saying “never” (by a red chamber’s door).
A poor, tender heartache maven – a sorrowful bird – a raven!
     O, I wished thoroughly, forthwith, that he’d fly heretofore.
         Still sitting, he recited “nevermores”.

The raven’s dirge induced alarm – “nevermore” quite wearisome.
     I meditated: “Might its utterances summarize of a calamity before?”
O, a sadness was manifest – a sorrowful cry of unrest;
     “O,” I thought sincerely, “it’s a melancholy great – furthermore,
         Removing doubt, this explains ‘nevermores’ “.

Seizing just that moment to sit – closely, carefully, advancing beside it,
     Sinking down, intrigued, where velvet cushion lay afore.
A creature, midnight-black, watched there – it studied my soul, unawares.
     Wherefore, explanations my insight entreated for.
         Silently, I pondered the “nevermores”.

“Disentangle, nefarious bird! Disengage – I am disturbed!”
     Intently its eye burned, raising the cry within my core.
“That delectable Lenore – whose velvet pillow this was, heretofore,
     Departed thence, unsettling my consciousness therefore.
         She’s returning – that maiden – aye, nevermore.”

Since, to me, that thought was madness, I renounced continuing sadness.
     Continuing on, I soundly, adamantly forswore:
“Wretch,” (addressing blackbird only) “fly swiftly – emancipate me!”
     “Respite, respite, detestable raven – and discharge me, I implore!”
         A ghostly answer of: “nevermore”.

” ‘Tis a prophet? Wraith? Strange devil? Or the ultimate evil?”
     “Answer, tempter-sent creature!”, I inquired, like before.
“Forlorn, though firmly undaunted, with ‘nevermores’ quite indoctrinated,
     Is everything depressing, generating great sorrow evermore?
         I am subdued!”, I then swore.

In answer, the raven turned – relentless distress it spurned.
     “Comfort, surcease, quiet, silence!” – pleaded I for.
“Will my (abusive raven!) sorrows persist unabated?
     Nevermore Lenore respondeth?”, adamantly I encored.
         The appeal was ignored.

“O, satanic inferno’s denizen — go!”, I said boldly, standing then.
     “Take henceforth loathsome “nevermores” – O, to an ugly Plutonian shore!
Let nary one expression, O bird, remain still here, replacing mirth.
     Promptly leave and retreat!”, I resolutely swore.
         Blackbird’s riposte: “nevermore”.

So he sitteth, observing always, perching ominously on these doorways.
     Squatting on the stony bust so untroubled, O therefore.
Suffering stark raven’s conversings, so I am condemned, subserving,
     To a nightmare cursed, containing miseries galore.
         Thus henceforth, I’ll rise (from a darkness, a grave) — nevermore!

                     — Original: E. Poe
                     — Redone by measuring circles

rabbits and fire :: alberto ríos

Everything’s been said
But one last thing about the desert,
And it’s awful: During brush fires in the Sonoran desert,
Brush fires that happen before the monsoon and in the great,
Deep, wide, and smothering heat of the hottest months,
The longest months,
The hypnotic, immeasurable lulls of August and July—
During these summer fires, jackrabbits—
Jackrabbits and everything else
That lives in the brush of the rolling hills,
But jackrabbits especially—
Jackrabbits can get caught in the flames,
No matter how fast and big and strong and sleek they are.
And when they’re caught,
Cornered in and against the thick
Trunks and thin spines of the cactus,
When they can’t back up any more,
When they can’t move, the flame—
It touches them,
And their fur catches fire.
Of course, they run away from the flame,
Finding movement even when there is none to be found,
Jumping big and high over the wave of fire, or backing
Even harder through the impenetrable
Tangle of hardened saguaro
And prickly pear and cholla and barrel,
But whichever way they find,
What happens is what happens: They catch fire
And then bring the fire with them when they run.
They don’t know they’re on fire at first,
Running so fast as to make the fire
Shoot like rocket engines and smoke behind them,
But then the rabbits tire
And the fire catches up,
Stuck onto them like the needles of the cactus,
Which at first must be what they think they feel on their skins.
They’ve felt this before, every rabbit.
But this time the feeling keeps on.
And of course, they ignite the brush and dried weeds
All over again, making more fire, all around them.
I’m sorry for the rabbits.
And I’m sorry for us
To know this.

poem to some of my recent poems :: james tate

My beloved little billiard balls,
my polite mongrels, edible patriotic plums,
you owe your beauty to your mother, who
resembled a cyclindrical corned beef
with all the trimmings, may God rest
her forsaken soul, for it is all of us
she forsook; and I shall never forget
her sputtering embers, and then the little mound.
Yes, my little rum runners, she had defective
tear ducts and could weep only iced tea.
She had petticoats beneath her eyelids.
And in her last years she found ball bearings
in her beehive puddings, she swore allegiance
to Abyssinia. What should I have done?
I played the piano and scrambled eggs.
I had to navigate carefully around her brain’s
avalanche lest even a decent finale be forfeited.
And her beauty still evermore. You see,
as she was dying, I led each of you to her side,
one by one she scorched you with her radiance.
And she is ever with us in our acetylene leisure.
But you are beautiful, and I, a slave to a heap of cinders.

on a diet :: william matthews

       Eat all you want
      but don’t swallow it.

      —Archie Moore

The ruth of soups and balm of sauces
I renounce equally. What Rorschach saw
in ink I find in the buttery frizzle
in the sauté pan, and I leave it behind,
and the sweet peat-smoke tang of bananas,
and cream in clots, and chocolate. I give
away the satisfactions of food and take
desire for food: I’ll be travelling light

to the heaven of revisions. Why be
adipose: an expense, etc.,
in a waste, etc.? Something like
the body of the poet’s work, with its
pale shadows, begins to pare and replace
the poet’s body, and isn’t it time?

mother puts on my lipstick :: matthew siegel

standing behind me, dragging the lipstick
across my lips as if they were her own.
Her free hand steadies my face. It is the red of her nails
I want on my mouth, the nails so lacquered
they catch the flash of my camera and hold it.
Mother puts on my lipstick and I stare
into the mirror, my lower lip glowing
beneath her hands. Her hands which are all of her,
and which hold me this way, as she wants me.

the shipfitter’s wife :: dorianne laux

I loved him most
when he came home from work,
his fingers still curled from fitting pipe,
his denim shirt ringed with sweat
and smelling of salt, the drying weeds
of the ocean. I’d go to where he sat
on the edge of the bed, his forehead
anointed with grease, his cracked hands
jammed between his thighs, and unlace
the steel-toed boots, stroke his ankles
and calves, the pads and bones of his feet.
Then I’d open his clothes and take
the whole day inside me — the ship’s
gray sides, the miles of copper pipe,
the voice of the foreman clanging
off the hull’s silver ribs. Spark of lead
kissing metal. The clamp, the winch,
the white fire of the torch, the whistle,
and the long drive home.

imagine the angels of bread :: martín espada

This is the year that squatters evict landlords,
gazing like admirals from the rail
of the roof deck
or levitating hands in praise
of steam in the shower;
this is the year
that shawled refugees deport judges
who stare at the floor
and their swollen feet
as files are stamped
with their destination;
this is the year that police revolvers,
stove-hot, blister the fingers
of raging cops,
and nightsticks splinter
in their palms;
this is the year
that darkskinned men
lynched a century ago
return to sip coffee quietly
with the apologizing descendants
of their executioners.

This is the year that those
who swim the border’s undertow
and shiver in boxcars
are greeted with trumpets and drums
at the first railroad crossing
on the other side;
this is the year that the hands
pulling tomatoes from the vine
uproot the deed to the earth that sprouts the vine,
the hands canning tomatoes
are named in the will
that owns the bedlam of the cannery;
this is the year that the eyes
stinging from the poison that purifies toilets
awaken at last to the sight
of a rooster-loud hillside,
pilgrimage of immigrant birth;
this is the year that cockroaches
become extinct, that no doctor
finds a roach embedded
in the ear of an infant;
this is the year that the food stamps
of adolescent mothers
are auctioned like gold doubloons,
and no coin is given to buy machetes
for the next bouquet of severed heads
in coffee plantation country.

If the abolition of slave-manacles
began as a vision of hands without manacles,
then this is the year;
if the shutdown of extermination camps
began as imagination of a land
without barbed wire or the crematorium,
then this is the year;
if every rebellion begins with the idea
that conquerors on horseback
are not many-legged gods, that they too drown
if plunged in the river,
then this is the year.

So may every humiliated mouth,
teeth like desecrated headstones,
fill with the angels of bread.
 
 
 
(Listen.)

history lesson :: natasha tretheway

I am four in this photograph, standing
on a wide strip of Mississippi beach,
my hands on the flowered hips

of a bright bikini. My toes dig in,
curl around wet sand. The sun cuts
the rippling Gulf in flashes with each

tidal rush. Minnows dart at my feet
glinting like switchblades. I am alone
except for my grandmother, other side

of the camera, telling me how to pose.
It is 1970, two years after they opened
the rest of this beach to us,

forty years since the photograph
where she stood on a narrow plot
of sand marked colored, smiling,

her hands on the flowered hips
of a cotton meal-sack dress.

i won’t come :: kabir

translated from the hindi by arvind krishna mehrotra

I won’t come
I won’t go
I won’t live
I won’t die

I’ll keep uttering
The name
And lose myself
In it

I’m bowl
And I’m platter
I’m man
And I’m woman

I’m grapefruit
And I’m sweet lime
I’m Hindu
And I’m Muslim

I’m fish
And I’m net
I’m fisherman
And I’m time

I’m nothing
Says Kabir
I’m not among the living
Or the dead

the strangers who find me in the woods :: rigoberto gonzález

after Thomas James

The strangers in the woods must mimic squirrels and crackle
with the undergrowth. They must not flinch at the cruelty
of breaking golden leaves with their feet, or of interring stones.
And like any of these deciduous trees in autumn they must be

stingy with shadow and move deceptively across the sludge.
I listen to these strangers stirring with the evenings. I invent paths
for them to the soft edge of the lake. Each descent is as graceful
as a sinking ship, but less tragic somehow because these strangers

don’t possess a lung. I cannot hear them breathe, yet the air
is all whispers, all sighs—the same ethereal muscle that rubs
the color off the foliage. I lost my way out of the woods on the night
every bird went south or numb. A plump rat snatched the moon

and dragged it by the white rope of its tail. The strangers were
a cloak of silhouettes flattening against a trunk like bark.
I must have disappeared among them because the mouth I touched
was not my own and was cruelly closing in on someone’s rib. I carried

such a bite on me, an arc of green and yellow on my side from the man
who said he loved me. In that darkness I knew as much about him
as I did of the amputee swimming his way up the hill with his
only arm. So this is the home of the unturned stone where

the fugitive keeps his kiss! Archeologists will discover a paradise
in the place no touch died of neglect. Is it any wonder all things
forgotten or abandoned find their way here? The winter is back, so too
the bloated body of a book I tossed over the bridge last week.

And there on the bench, is my old smoking habit, a cigarette
glowing on my mouth like a beacon. I’m patient, waiting for the fugitive
to claim me as his own. I’m as wise as any stranger here, alone but with
the knowledge that the grief of separation is always brief.

postlude :: adrian matejka

Music, all its squawks
& squeaks. Heart-beat
music, misery music:
I once believed nothing
was more singular
for a human than to turn
twists of the belly
into song. I have to make
an adjustment. I have
to revise: man’s invention
is romance & without that,
he has jack. I apologize
for the oversight, but
as I sit, cave of flesh
where I once had a heart,
sounds seem less important.
Only half as harmonious
as before, sounds lapsed
in the vocal fold. But I can
still see shapes. More often
than not, I remember
the names of things.

consider the demise of everything :: marsha janson

What if the 5:30 train shaking the trees at the edge of the woodlot—
What if the yellow flowers blooming in the swamp—
What if I can’t find what I’m looking for?
Then thank you. Thank you water and pen, bell and candle.
Thank you rope, your coarse length lowers me
Into the mineshaft. Cobalt and copper and diamond.
Thanks for the hammer. And the canary.
The bird is grateful for the opportunity to sing,
Its yellow feathers fluffed at the neck.
Its song a bituminous flame, like a match
Struck deep in a cavern. Is that water ahead?
Is that a ladder? Thank you for the cross-hatched
Sky and the days I was able to
Lie down under it with the man I loved.
What if it’s summer and the clouds are gondolas?
What if I’m led beside still waters and cannot rest?
My head on his chest, looking up at the sky
While he combs the bangs off my forehead.
The sky is a handpainted clock.
Sometimes sun, sometimes moon.
The cross-hatching is accomplished by the terminal
Ends of branches. It’s the library lawn.
It’s the town square of a small southwestern city.
Two old men playing checkers in the gradual dark.
Speaking Spanish across the courtyard: rampido rampido.
Who will translate? We are done with traveling.
We are hot and the last time we bathed was two states ago,
A creek just after sunrise. We are so thirsty.
And nothing is better than this water, this canteen.
This drinking.

the squall :: leonora speyer

It swoops gray-winged across the obliterated hills,
And the startled lake seems to run before it:
From the wood comes a clamor of leaves,
Tugging at the twigs,
Pouring from the branches,
And suddenly the birds are silent.

Thunder crumples the sky,
Lightning tears at it.

And now the rain—
The rain, thudding, implacable;
The wind, revelling in the confusion of great pines!

And a silver sifting of light,
A coolness:
A sense of summer anger passing,
Of summer gentleness creeping nearer—
Penitent, tearful,
Forgiven.