the plainest kind of sad :: rebecca lilly

“Truth is absentminded,” my grandmother once said—that old granny in my head who never uttered much except adages. She was the plainest kind of sad, nostalgic for a lost world. She’s dead in her own myth—the crow shot by a farmer down the hill.

Forget the stories of elderly relatives; I’ll settle for a comfortable bed. As for absentminded truth: do inanimate things, such as stones, partake of it as much as I do? It’s the dark’s witchcraft rites: ash, embers and dusky leaf-coats, sinkholes and earthquake dust, cliffs crumbling after floods. Puff and pant, turn your eyeballs up; all you get is sand raining down an hourglass.

That’s why I left philosophy—that rather woodsy hideout with its forts and minor mountains–and headed downtrail toward a stream. Our memories: footprints of birds flying up (not trackable from earth) where our phantoms sift sand and dried mud. No moment in the hourglass remembers us.

elephant seals, año nuevo :: kim addonizio

There they lie, fasting and molting
and not moving, but for an occasional
stray flipper that idly rises
and sinks down, into the mass
of massive bodies.
This is their summer’s work,
before the bulls swim in
to bloody each other for mates.
We watch their great sides heave,
the effort it takes to stay
where they’ve arrived, amazed
they’ve managed something we can’t.
What would it be like
to live, slow and huge,
the low slopes of the dunes
marking a horizon whose limits
we weren’t compelled to challenge?
For these seals there is no
path that leads away,
no car waiting
in the wavering heat of the parking lot,
and no road takes them
to the made world: here we’re all
immensely complicated, and nothing,
my darling, is seasonal —
once you and I leave
this place, we won’t return to it.

where my body has been :: regina diperna

I lay on the cream shag carpet with my brother
and argue what a kobold is, and is not. I am nine.
Behind the oblong dresser in the basement
is a white stub of chalk with a wolf spider
crouching on it. It does not know I am about to pick it up.

When I am twenty-one, I clutch a cold ten dollar bill.
The gas attendant has a gold tooth.
Says, what are you all dressed up for, missy.
I smooth the gray wool of my bridge coat.
A bell chimes and my shoulder blades flinch.
I cannot see the snowflakes melting into my cuffs.
No eyes watch my body shuffle back to the car
across the ice, no witnesses.

Years later, a lover’s shadow traipses diagonally
across the floor of the limehouse. He’s just told me
he didn’t fall in love with me. The moon in splinters
across stack piles of buildings. I open his refrigerator,
gulp milk from a glass bottle.
There is nothing left for me to do.

My brother has been dead for nine years. A kobold:
a kind of sprite with thin, ivy-colored arms.
See, he is not here to dispute this.
This is what I think when the lover asks why I am
so quiet. My body shaped like a C at the foot of his bed.
My fingers coiled in blankets. Thick and coconut white.
I miss everything.

the chart :: rafael campo

Says fifty-four-year-old obese Hispanic
female — I wonder if they mean the one
with long black braids, Peruvian, who sells
tamales at the farmers’ market, tells
me I’m too thin, I better eat; or is
she the Dominican with too much rouge
and almond eyes at the dry cleaner’s who
must have been so beautiful in her youth;
or maybe she’s the Cuban lady drunk
on grief who I’ve seen half-asleep, alone
as if that bench were only hers, the park
her home at last; or else the Mexican
who hoards the littered papers she collects
and says they are her “documents”; if not,
it could be that Colombian drug addict
whose Spanish, even when she’s high, is perfect;
or maybe it’s the one who never says
exactly where she’s from, but who reminds
me of my grandmother, poor but refined,
lace handkerchief balled up in her plump hand,
who died too young from a condition that
some doctor, nose in her chart, overlooked.

oakland blues :: ishmael reed

Well it’s six o’clock in Oakland
and the sun is full of wine
I say, it’s six o’clock in Oakland
and the sun is red with wine
We buried you this morning, baby
in the shadow of a vine

Well, they told you of the sickness
almost eighteen months ago
Yes, they told you of the sickness
almost eighteen months ago
You went down fighting, daddy. Yes
You fought Death toe to toe

O, the egrets fly over Lake Merritt
and the blackbirds roost in trees
O, the egrets fly over Lake Merritt
and the blackbirds roost in trees
Without you little papa
what O, what will become of me

O, it’s hard to come home, baby
To a house that’s still and stark
O, it’s hard to come home, baby
To a house that’s still and stark
All I hear is myself
thinking
and footsteps in the dark

the talk :: gayle danley

Pretty soon we’ll have the talk.
She’ll ask me where babies come from
And I will lie to her:
“Babies come from the chance meeting of sperm and egg
See the man deposits his sssperm which is like a pudding
into the woman’s vvagina and it travels up this tube-y thing
and only one of them gets the prize and bing! A cell becomes
a fetus becomes baby becomes you.
Go do your homework.”
She will wait for me to calm down,
her eyes patient requiring the truth
and I will tell her:
“Babies come from Friday nights melted into Saturday mornings;
the Isley Brothers and 3 or 4 glasses of white zin; miniskirts
and aching zippers; sofa cushions sweaty and 
ogodthecondombroke;
Babies come from blue lights and e.p.t. tests and the wet spot on clean sheets;
Lonely knees that bump beneath the table; love letters sealed
with a miss and $758 phone bills; eyeliner and lips to match; muscled
Thighs and a sweet, milky quarter of yes in the center of pink panties.
You came from this: a separated daddy and a desperate mama;
A ripped sonogram and hours spent on hardwood floors asking 
girlfriends:
Should I go through with this?
Grandma’s washboard and the dust tracks Grandaddy made when he
left her with five girls to maim

You came from this: Maryland rain, nights of shag carpet lovin’ and days
Just $2 short of the rent;
And one afternoon you came
I wanted your father so badly it hurt
Even took his last name and flung it behind yours like a spare tire
Whatever he gave me was never enough
It was like his love was a sieve
And my desire for him
Water
I was insane
Packed my dreams in a U-Haul and moved them to MD
Nothing better to do
30 and scared
You came from this:
Collision of longing
Tongue kissing and shame
The emptiness at the corner of GA Avenue
And the fullness of swollen ankles and readjusted dreams
You came from:
A poet and a singer
Fists and car keys
Peach cobbler and gumbo
Love
And that last dirty fight on the Beltway
You came baby
You came, here”

And she’ll say:
“Mama, babies come from peach cobbler?”
and I’ll say
yes.

burning the book :: ron koertge

The anthology of love poems I bought
for a quarter is brittle, anyway, and comes
apart when I read it.

One at a time, I throw pages on the fire
and watch smoke make its way up
and out.

I’m almost to the index when I hear
a murmuring in the street. My neighbors
are watching it snow.

I put on my blue jacket and join them.
The children stand with their mouths
open.

I can see nouns—longing, rapture, bliss
    land on every tongue, then disappear.

who understands me but me :: jimmy santiago baca

They turn the water off, so I live without water,
they build walls higher, so I live without treetops,
they paint the windows black, so I live without sunshine,
they lock my cage, so I live without going anywhere,
they take each last tear I have, I live without tears,
they take my heart and rip it open, I live without heart,
they take my life and crush it, so I live without a future,
they say I am beastly and fiendish, so I have no friends,
they stop up each hope, so I have no passage out of hell,
they give me pain, so I live with pain,
they give me hate, so I live with my hate,
they have changed me, and I am not the same man,
they give me no shower, so I live with my smell,
they separate me from my brothers, so I live without brothers,
who understands me when I say this is beautiful?
who understands me when I say I have found other freedoms?

I cannot fly or make something appear in my hand,
I cannot make the heavens open or the earth tremble,
I can live with myself, and I am amazed at myself, my love,
my beauty,
I am taken by my failures, astounded by my fears,
I am stubborn and childish,
in the midst of this wreckage of life they incurred,
I practice being myself,
and I have found parts of myself never dreamed of by me,
they were goaded out from under rocks in my heart
when the walls were built higher,
when the water was turned off and the windows painted black.
I followed these signs
like an old tracker and followed the tracks deep into myself,
followed the blood-spotted path,
deeper into dangerous regions, and found so many parts of myself,
who taught me water is not everything,
and gave me new eyes to see through walls,
and when they spoke, sunlight came out of their mouths,
and I was laughing at me with them,
we laughed like children and made pacts to always be loyal,
who understands me when I say this is beautiful?

mrs midas :: carol ann duffy

It was late September. I’d just poured a glass of wine, begun
to unwind, while the vegetables cooked. The kitchen
filled with the smell of itself, relaxed, its steamy breath
gently blanching the windows. So I opened one,
then with my fingers wiped the other’s glass like a brow.
He was standing under the pear tree snapping a twig.

Now the garden was long and the visibility poor, the way
the dark of the ground seems to drink the light of the sky,
but that twig in his hand was gold. And then he plucked
a pear from a branch. – we grew Fondante d’Automne –
and it sat in his palm, like a lightbulb. On.
I thought to myself, Is he putting fairy lights in the tree?

He came into the house. The doorknobs gleamed.
He drew the blinds. You know the mind; I thought of
the Field of the Cloth of Gold and of Miss Macready.
He sat in that chair like a king on a burnished throne.
The look on his face was strange, wild, vain. I said,
What in the name of God is going on? He started to laugh.

I served up the meal. For starters, corn on the cob.
Within seconds he was spitting out the teeth of the rich.
He toyed with his spoon, then mine, then with the knives, the forks.
He asked where was the wine. I poured with a shaking hand,
a fragrant, bone-dry white from Italy, then watched
as he picked up the glass, goblet, golden chalice, drank.

It was then that I started to scream. He sank to his knees.
After we’d both calmed down, I finished the wine
on my own, hearing him out. I made him sit
on the other side of the room and keep his hands to himself.
I locked the cat in the cellar. I moved the phone.
The toilet I didn’t mind. I couldn’t believe my ears:

how he’d had a wish. Look, we all have wishes; granted.
But who has wishes granted? Him. Do you know about gold?
It feeds no one; aurum, soft, untarnishable; slakes
no thirst. He tried to light a cigarette; I gazed, entranced,
as the blue flame played on its luteous stem. At least,
I said, you’ll be able to give up smoking for good.

Separate beds. in fact, I put a chair against my door,
near petrified. He was below, turning the spare room
into the tomb of Tutankhamun. You see, we were passionate then,
in those halcyon days; unwrapping each other, rapidly,
like presents, fast food. But now I feared his honeyed embrace,
the kiss that would turn my lips to a work of art.

And who, when it comes to the crunch, can live
with a heart of gold? That night, I dreamt I bore
his child, its perfect ore limbs, its little tongue
like a precious latch, its amber eyes
holding their pupils like flies. My dream milk
burned in my breasts. I woke to the streaming sun.

So he had to move out. We’d a caravan
in the wilds, in a glade of its own. I drove him up
under the cover of dark. He sat in the back.
And then I came home, the woman who married the fool
who wished for gold. At first, I visited, odd times,
parking the car a good way off, then walking.

You knew you were getting close. Golden trout
on the grass. One day, a hare hung from a larch,
a beautiful lemon mistake. And then his footprints,
glistening next to the river’s path. He was thin,
delirious; hearing, he said, the music of Pan
from the woods. Listen. That was the last straw.

What gets me now is not the idiocy or greed
but lack of thought for me. Pure selfishness. I sold
the contents of the house and came down here.
I think of him in certain lights, dawn, late afternoon,
and once a bowl of apples stopped me dead. I miss most,
even now, his hands, his warm hands on my skin, his touch.

the witness :: ted kooser

The divorce judge has asked for a witness,
and you wait at the back of the courtroom
as still as a flag on its stand, your best dress
falling in smooth, even folds that begin now
to gather the dust of white bouquets
which like a veil of lace is lifting
away from the kiss of the sunlit windows.

In your lap, where you left them, your hands
lie fallen apart like the rinds of a fruit.
Whatever they cupped has been eaten away.
Beyond you, across a lake of light
where years have sunk and settled to the floor,
the voices drone on with the hollow sound
of boats rubbing a dock that they’re tied to.

You know what to say when they call you.

the vermeer lady :: emily fragos

The light just misses you entering the room.
It falls in the corner where nothing lives.

If it landed on your slender, stooped shoulder,
your long neck, warmed your dark hair,

your quiet face, you would cringe and the pupils
would shrink like a scream and draw you

back to the firecoals of the cave, the stale air
you breathe, the wet bread shoes of the forest. The world

just outside, its dazzling squawks of birds
upon birds: Let them come to you as echoes, as whispers,

the vocalizing of meek and clenched creatures
you have never seen, the flat-faced owl with whom,

for an instant, you merge. With inexhaustible fingers,
thrifty and nimble, slip the thread through the primitive

needle and piece together your fabric. If they come,
it is only to collect your goods and to give you

something small in return, a loaf, a beeswax candle,
perhaps, to delight you. You can see in the dark

by the pinprick in your eye. It is the point where
all thought dissolves, the purifying corridor of enigmatic

links. Light its wick in the night and see what ignites.
If you were to speak, might it not kill you?

love and work :: rachel wetzsteon

In an uncurtained room across the way
a woman in a tight dress paints her lips
a deeper red, and sizes up her hips
for signs of ounces gained since yesterday.

She has a thoughtful and a clever face,
but she is also smart enough to know
the truth: however large the brain may grow,
the lashes and the earrings must keep pace.

Although I’ve spread my books in front of me
with a majestic air of I’ll show her,
I’m much less confident than I’d prefer,
and now I’ve started pacing nervously.

I’m poring over theorems, tomes and tracts.
I’m getting ready for a heavy date
by staying up ridiculously late.
But a small voice advises, Face the facts:

go on this way and you’ll soon come to harm.
The world’s most famous scholars wander down
the most appalling alleyways in town,
a blond and busty airhead on each arm.

There is an inner motor known as lust
that makes a man of learning walk a mile
to gratify his raging senses, while
the woman he can talk to gathers dust.

A chilling vision of the years ahead
invades my thoughts, and widens like a stain:
a barren dance card and a teeming brain,
a crowded bookcase and an empty bed…

What if I compromised? I’d stay up late
to hone my elocutionary skills,
and at the crack of dawn I’d swallow pills
to calm my temper and control my weight,

but I just can’t. Romantics, so far gone
they think their lovers live for wisdom, woo
by growing wiser; when I think of you
I find the nearest lamp and turn it on.

Great gods of longing, watch me as I work
and if I sprout a martyr’s smarmy grin
please find some violent way to do me in;
I’m burning all these candles not to shirk

a night of passion, but to give that night
a richly textured backdrop when it comes.
The girl who gets up from her desk and dumbs
her discourse down has never seen the flight

of wide-eyed starlings from their shabby cage;
the fool whose love is truest is the one
who knows a lover’s work is never done.
I’ll call you when I’ve finished one more page.

any time :: w.s. merwin

How long ago the day is
when at last I look at it
with the time it has taken
to be there still in it
now in the transparent light
with the flight in the voices
the beginning in the leaves
everything I remember
and before it before me
present at the speed of light
in the distance that I am
who keep reaching out to it
seeing all the time faster
where it has never stirred from
before there is anything
the darkness thinking the light

setting the table :: matthea harvey

To cut through night you’ll need your sharpest scissors. Cut around the birch, the bump of the bird nest on its lowest limb. Then with your nail scissors, trim around the baby beaks waiting for worms fall from the sky. Snip around the lip of the mailbox and the pervert’s shoe peeking out from behind the Chevy. Before dawn, rip the silhouette from the sky and drag it inside. Frame the long black stripe and hang it in the dining room. Sleep. When you wake, redo the scene as day in doily. Now you have a lacy fence, a huge cherry blossom of a holly bush, a birch sugared with snow. Frame the white version and hang it opposite the black. Get your dinner and eat it between the two scenes. Your food will taste just right.

hailstorm :: kay ryan

Like a storm
of hornets, the
little white planets
layer and relayer
as they whip around
in their high orbits,
getting more and
more dense before
they crash against
our crust. A maelstrom
of ferocious little
fists and punches,
so hard to believe
once it’s past.

saints’ logic :: linda gregerson

Love the drill, confound the dentist.
Love the fever that carries me home.
Meat of exile. Salt of grief.
This much, indifferent

affliction might yield. But how
when the table is God’s own board
and grace must be said in company?
If hatred were honey, as even

the psalmist persuaded himself,
then Agatha might be holding
her breasts on the plate for reproach.
The plate is decidedly

ornamental, and who shall say that pity’s
not, at this remove? Her gown
would be stiff with embroidery whatever
the shape of the body beneath.

Perhaps in heaven God can’t hide
his face. So the wounded
are given these gowns to wear
and duties that teach them the leverage

of pain. Agatha listens with special
regard to the barren, the dry,
to those with tumors where milk
should be, to those who nurse

for hire. Let me swell,
let me not swell. Remember the child,
how its fingers go blind as it sucks.
Bartholomew, flayed, intervenes

for the tanners. Catherine for millers,
whose wheels are of stone. Sebastian
protects the arrowsmiths, and John
the chandlers, because he was boiled

in oil. We borrow our light
where we can, here’s begging the pardon
of tallow and wick. And if, as we’ve tried
to extract from the prospect, we’ll each

have a sign to be known by at last—
a knife, a floursack, a hammer, a pot—
the saints can stay,
the earth won’t entirely have given us up.

pluto shits on the universe :: fatimah asghar

On February 7, 1979, Pluto crossed over Neptune’s orbit and became the eighth planet from the sun for twenty years. A study in 1988 determined that Pluto’s path of orbit could never be accurately predicted. Labeled as “chaotic,” Pluto was later discredited from planet status in 2006.

Today, I broke your solar system. Oops.
My bad. Your graph said I was supposed
to make a nice little loop around the sun.

Naw.

I chaos like a motherfucker. Ain’t no one can
chart me. All the other planets, they think
I’m annoying. They think I’m an escaped
moon, running free.

Fuck your moon. Fuck your solar system.
Fuck your time. Your year? Your year ain’t
shit but a day to me. I could spend your
whole year turning the winds in my bed. Thinking
about rings and how Jupiter should just pussy
on up and marry me by now. Your day?

That’s an asswipe. A sniffle. Your whole day
is barely the start of my sunset.

My name means hell, bitch. I am hell, bitch. All the cold
you have yet to feel. Chaos like a motherfucker.
And you tried to order me. Called me ninth.
Somewhere in the mess of graphs and math and compass
you tried to make me follow rules. Rules? Fuck your
rules. Neptune, that bitch slow. And I deserve all the sun
I can get, and all the blue-gold sky I want around me.

It is February 7th, 1979 and my skin is more
copper than any sky will ever be. More metal.
Neptune is bitch-sobbing in my rearview,
and I got my running shoes on and all this sky that’s all mine.

Fuck your order. Fuck your time. I realigned the cosmos.
I chaosed all the hell you have yet to feel. Now all your kids
in the classrooms, they confused. All their clocks:
wrong. They don’t even know what the fuck to do.
They gotta memorize new songs and shit. And the other
planets, I fucked their orbits. I shook the sky. Chaos like
a motherfucker.

It is February 7th, 1979. The sky is blue-gold:
the freedom of possibility.

Today, I broke your solar system. Oops. My bad.

this Is the time of grasshoppers and all that I see is dying :: adrian c. louis

Colleen,
this is the time of grasshoppers
and all that I see is dying except
for my virulent love for you.

The Cowturdville Star-Times,
which usually has a typo
in every damn column,
says the grasshoppers this year
“are as big as Buicks” and
that’s not bad, but then we
get two eight-point pages
of who had dinner with whom
at the bowling alley café and
who went shopping at Target
in Rapid City and thus the high
church of Adrian the Obscure is sacked.

Even my old Dylan tapes are fading,
becoming near-comic antiques.
The grasshoppers are destroying
our yard and they’re as big as
my middle finger saluting God.
The grass is yellow. The trees
look like Agent Orange has hit
but it’s only the jaw-work of those
drab armored insects who dance
in profusion and pure destruction.

Sweet woman, dear love of my life,
when you’re not angry and sputtering
at everything and everyone, you
become so childlike, so pure.
Your voice seems to have grown
higher recently, almost a little-girl pitch.

Today, like most days, I have you
home for your two-hour reprieve
from the nursing home prison.
We’re sitting at the picnic table in
the backyard staring at the defoliation
of lilacs, brain matter, and honeysuckle.
You’re eating a Hershey Bar and
a crystal glob of snot is hanging
from your nose.
I reach over, pinch it off,
and wipe it on my jeans.
You thrust the last bite
of chocolate into my mouth
as a demented grasshopper
jumps onto your ear.
You scream. I howl
with laughter until you do too.
Happiness comes with a price.

This is the times of grasshoppers
and all that I see is dying except
for my swarming love for you.

Last night on PBS some
lesioned guy being screwed to death
by legions of viral invisibility
blurted the great cliché of regret:
I wish I could be twenty
again and know what
I know now …

My own regrets are equally foolish.
And, I wonder, how the hell
is it I’ve reached a place
where I’d give what’s left
of my allotment of sunsets
and frozen dinners
for some unholy replay
of just one hour in some nearly
forgotten time and place?

Darling,
in the baked soil of the far west,
I first saw the ant lions, those
hairy little bugs who dug funnel
traps for ants in the dry earth.
At twelve, looking over the edge
of one such funnel surrounded by
a circle of tiny stones in the sand,
I aimed a beam of white light
from my magnifying glass
and found I could re-create
a hell of my own accord.

Poverty and boredom
made me cruel early on.
The next summer while digging
postholes I found a cache of
those grotesque yellow bugs
we called Children of the Earth
so I piled matches atop them
and barbecued their ugliness.
I was at war with insects.

In my fifteenth summer I got
covered with ticks in the sagebrush
and that fall I nervously lost my cherry
in a cathouse called the Green Front
and got cursed with crabs but that’s
not what I want to sing about
at all… come on now.
This is no bug progression.
This ain’t no insect sonata.

This is only misdirection,
a sleight of hand upon the keys
and the unholy replay of just
one hour in some nearly
forgotten time and place
that I’d like to return to
will remain myth or maybe
a holy, tumescent mystery.

And let’s not call
these bloodwords
POETRY or a winter count
of desperate dreams
when reality is much simpler.

Colleen,
I swear to Christ
this is the time of grasshoppers
and all that I see is dying except
for my sparkling love for you.

words, I guess, one after another until there are no more :: bob hicok

There’s a story I’ve come to believe is mine.
A man places his coat on a train, carefully
as a passenger in a seat, the man
leaves the train, the train
leaves the station and the man
is never heard of again. All I need
is a train to make it true, a coat
I’m not so in love with as mine, with its brown
and its long and its busted left pocket,
and the skill to disappear. I have a drawing
so far of a train in a winter window
in my winter breath, a cloud
I’ve worn up and down my arms
and over my back while I run in the cold
toward the forgetful horizon, and new bones,
a different me technically every
six years. I miss

Glenn Gould, living with the chance
to constantly satisfy my desire
to not meet him, his solitude a beacon
to my solitude, as sometimes
the absence of the Goldberg Variations
in this field where my footprints go
to get away from me
is a thing to listen to as intently
as I suppose sunlight is making music
of the air it warms just before it dies
upon my skin. On the other end,

a woman picks up the coat, throws it
over her shoulder and walks
toward planting it in the garden
in the spring, beside the bowl
beside the motor beside the crown beside the whisper
she put in a hole to keep it safe
from you know what happens to whispers, to life, to see
if little coats will grow from it, for of course
the little bodies arriving constantly
to this, which by the time we can tell them
we haven’t figured it out, they’re at least warm
when they’re old enough to know, that’s
what we would have told them, had we not been so busy
not figuring it out.

soon :: chase twichell

When I say the word walk, or even spell it,
the dogs leap up with flailing tails.
Since they don’t understand the concept
of “later” or “soon,” I say it only
when I’m almost out the door.

Soon there will be no words for my slow
meanders in the woods in search of chanterelles,
while they run miles of scent trails,
nostrils flared, circling back to keep me in their ken.
No whistle even deaf old Nan can hear.
Just ash, scant handful of the world’s one body.
Soon—still in the future, for now.

lines written in the days of growing darkness :: mary oliver

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends
into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing, as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?
So let us go on

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

story from bear country :: leslie marmon silko

You will know
when you walk
in bear country.
By the silence
flowing swiftly between juniper trees
by the sundown colors of sandrock
all around you.

You may smell damp earth
scratched away
from yucca roots.
You may hear snorts and growls
slow and massive sounds
from caves
in the cliffs high above you.

It is difficult to explain
how they call you.
All but a few who went to them
left behind families
        grandparents
        and sons
        a good life.

The problem is
you will never want to return.
Their beauty will overcome your memory
like winter sun
melting ice shadows from snow.
And you will remain with them
locked forever inside yourself
        your eyes will see you
        dark shaggy thick.

We can send bear priests
loping after you
their medicine bags
bouncing against their chests.
Naked legs painted black
bear claw necklaces
rattling against
their capse of blue spruce.

They will follow your trail
into the narrow canyon
through the blue-gray mountain sage
to the clearing
where you stopped to look back
and saw only bear tracks
behind you.

When they call
faint memories
will writhe around your heart
and startle you with their distance.
But the others will listen
because bear priests sing
beautiful songs.
They must
if they are ever to call you back.

They will try to bring you
step by step
back to the place you stopped
and found only bear prints in the sand
where your feet had been.

Whose voice is this?
You may wonder
hearing this story when
after all
you are alone
hiking in these canyons and hills
while your wife and sons are waiting
back at the car for you.

But you have been listening to me
for some time now
from the very beginning in fact
and you are alone in this canyon of stillness
not even cedar birds flutter.
See, the sun is going down now
the sandrock is washed in its colors.

Don’t be afraid
        we love you
        we’ve been calling you
all this time.
Go ahead
turn around
see the shape
of your footprints
in the sand.

beginners :: denise levertov

Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla

“From too much love of living,
Hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere to the sea—“

But we have only begun
To love the earth.

We have only begun
To imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope?
—so much is in bud.

How can desire fail?
—we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision

how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.

Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?

Not yet, not yet—
there is too much broken
that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

fourth of july :: john brehm b.

Freedom is a rocket,
isn’t it, bursting
orgasmically over
parkloads of hot
dog devouring
human beings
or into the cities
of our enemies
without whom we
would surely
kill ourselves
though they are
ourselves and
America I see now
is the soldier
who said I saw
something
burning on my
chest and tried
to brush it off with
my right hand
but my arm
wasn’t there—
America is no
other than this
moment, the
burning ribcage,
the hand gone
that might have
put it out, the skies
afire with our history.

every job has a first day :: rebecca gayle howell

Slade was pulling minnows out of the dry river
the day we met. Puddles, more or less, was what
was left. But what could live wanted to and tried,
treading narrow circles, a glide of brittle fins.
He wore those rubber boots, though the sun was
an anvil, and very little wet; he smiled, I remember
that, his nickel smile right at me, his fingers
letting fall the small fish muscles into a bag filled
with yellow tap. I didn’t ask his name, or what
it was he thought he was doing, but we talked,
I listened as he taught me to relax the hand just enough.
They can smell, he said, the oils our pores release
when we tense to catch. You have to believe it,
he said. You don’t mean any harm.