the birth :: dorothea lasky

The birth isn’t about poetry
This is about screaming pain on a Sunday
Hailing a cab and head racing
To the hospital, now so close to the new apartment

I had a baby inside of me
But no one expected it to happen so fast
Or then at least they said they didn’t
Maybe they expected it to happen so fast
All along

Alone in the waiting room I shook and shook
And the blood ran down my legs
Later with the magnesium
I thought of the many permutations of the bald head
Pale, pickling fish skin, glowing with scales

When she came out, she was dark and full of hair
No blood, but born in the caul
Like the other magical realities of my past accomplishments
When she came out she cried and it sounded like me
But passed me, what I could even become, into her new reality

Now 3 weeks later, they say I am still not an erotic object
So I wander the park in the snow with my friend
We light candles and pray to the darkness
We light the park on fire and the police come and find us

When they take us to the jail, I say no, it’s not right
I am a mother after all
They say, but where is your baby
And I say, no no, my baby my baby
They say, yes yes, look at your beautiful baby

I say, I do, I do
Look, look, and listen
My baby my baby
She’s here

only the crossing counts :: c.d. wright

It’s not how we leave one’s life. How go off
the air. You never know do you. You think you’re ready
for anything; then it happens, and you’re not. You’re really
not. The genesis of an ending, nothing
but a feeling, a slow movement, the dusting
of furniture with a remnant of the revenant’s shirt.
Seeing the candles sink in their sockets; we turn
away, yet the music never quits. The fire kisses our face.
O phthsis, o lotharian dead eye, no longer
will you gaze on the baize of the billiard table. No more
shooting butter dishes out of the sky. Scattering light.
Between snatches of poetry and penitence you left
the brumal wood of men and women. Snow drove
the butterflies home. You must know
how it goes, known all along what to expect,
sooner or later … the faded cadence of anonymity.
Frankly, my dear, frankly, my dear, frankly

more and more :: margaret atwood

More and more frequently the edges
of me dissolve and I become
a wish to assimilate the world, including
you, if possible through the skin
like a cool plant’s tricks with oxygen
and live by a harmless green burning.

I would not consume
you or ever
finish, you would still be there
surrounding me, complete
as the air.

Unfortunately I don’t have leaves.
Instead I have eyes
and teeth and other non-green
things which rule out osmosis.

So be careful, I mean it,
I give you fair warning:

This kind of hunger draws
everything into its own
space; nor can we
talk it all over, have a calm
rational discussion.

There is no reason for this, only
a starved dog’s logic about bones.

self-inquiry before the job interview :: gary soto

Did you sneeze?
Yes, I rid myself of the imposter inside me.

Did you iron your shirt?
Yes, I used the steam of mother’s hate.

Did you wash your hands?
Yes, I learned my hygiene from a raccoon.

I prayed on my knees, and my knees answered with pain.
I gargled. I polished my shoes until I saw who I was.
I inflated my résumé by employing my middle name.

I walked to my interview, early,
The sun like a ring on an electric stove.
I patted my hair when I entered the wind of a revolving door.
The guard said, For a guy like you, it’s the 19th floor.

The economy was up. Flags whipped in every city plaza
In America. This I saw for myself as I rode the elevator,
Empty because everyone had a job but me.

Did you clean your ears?
Yes, I heard my fate in the drinking fountain’s idiotic drivel.

Did you slice a banana into your daily mush?
I added a pinch of salt, two raisins to sweeten my breath.

Did you remember your pen?
I remembered my fingers when the elevator opened.

I shook hands that dripped like a dirty sea.
I found a chair and desk. My name tag said my name.
Through the glass ceiling, I saw the heavy rumps of CEOs.
Outside my window, the sun was a burning stove,
All of us pushing papers
To keep it going.

ghosts on the road :: david rivard

A bookkeeping man,
tho one sure to knock on wood,
and mostly light

at loose ends—my friend
who is superstitiously funny, & always
sarcastic—save once,

after I’d told him
about Simone’s first time
walking—a toddler,

almost alone, she’d
gripped her sweater, right hand
clutched

chest-high, reassured
then, she held on to herself
so, so took a few

quick steps—
oh, he said, you know what? Leonard
Cohen, when he was 13,

after his father’s
out-of-the-blue heart attack, he slit
one of the old man’s

ties, & slipped a
message into it, then buried it
in his backyard—

73 now, he can’t
recall what he wrote—(threadbare
heartfelt prayer perhaps,

or complaint)—
his first writing anyway.
The need to comfort

ourselves is always
strongest at the start,
they say—

do you think
that’s true? my friend asked.
I don’t, he said,

I think the need
gets stronger, he said, it
just gets stronger.

the hour and what is dead :: li-young lee

Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking
through bare rooms over my head,
opening and closing doors.
What could he be looking for in an empty house?
What could he possibly need there in heaven?
Does he remember his earth, his birthplace set to torches?
His love for me feels like spilled water
running back to its vessel.

At this hour, what is dead is restless
and what is living is burning.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

My father keeps a light on by our bed
and readies for our journey.
He mends ten holes in the knees
of five pairs of boy’s pants.
His love for me is like sewing:
various colors and too much thread,
the stitching uneven. But the needle pierces
clean through with each stroke of his hand.

At this hour, what is dead is worried
and what is living is fugitive.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

God, that old furnace, keeps talking
with his mouth of teeth,
a beard stained at feasts, and his breath
of gasoline, airplane, human ash.
His love for me feels like fire,
feels like doves, feels like river-water.

At this hour, what is dead is helpless, kind
and helpless. While the Lord lives.

Someone tell the Lord to leave me alone.
I’ve had enough of his love
that feels like burning and flight and running away.

first kiss :: april lindner

This collision of teeth, of tongues and lips,
is like feeling for the door
in a strange room, blindfolded.
He imagines he knows her
after four dates, both of them taking pains
to laugh correctly, to make eye contact.
She thinks at least this long first kiss
postpones the moment she’ll have to face
four white walls, the kitchen table,
its bowl of dried petals and nutmeg husks,
the jaunty yellow vase with one jaunty bloom,
the answering machine’s one bloodshot eye.

orbit :: esther morgan

Just because I’m no longer visible
to the naked eye

doesn’t mean
I’m not still here,

that some kind of life
isn’t viable.

Magnify, and you’ll discover
how I shadow my time

like that wobble of light
from a distant star

that proves the unknown
planet’s existence —

its year-long days,
its hypothetical water.

viewshed :: patricia clark

A twenty-inch feather with black bars. Stones I’ve picked up.
An acorn with its cap beside it like a cup.

Chunks of gypsum from a mine I explored,
a postcard of a heron—eye glittering, not bored.

Pens and pencils nestled in a metal box.
A magnifying glass for peering at flowers and rocks.

A clump of lichen, gray-blue, smelling like smoke.
One pressed leaf with a black spot—from an eighty-foot oak.

Dusty gold wing of a half-eaten moth—
so slender it wriggled in, hid under a cloth.

A three-pronged branch tip—with unopened buds.
Whatever ripe swelling, they ended up duds.

Ahead through the glass stand our woods going bare—
pine needles, dappled ground, color smearing the air.

not nothing :: kimiko hahn

A map on tissue. A mass of wire. Electricity of the highest order.
Somewhere in this live tangle, scientists discovered—

like shipmates on the suddenly-round earth—
a new catalog of synaptic proteins

presenting how memory is laid down:
At the side of the transmitting neuron

an electrical signal arrives and releases chemical packets.

What I had imagined as “nothing” are a bunch of conversing
     squirts
remaking flat into intimate.

the art of disappearing :: naomi shihab nye

When they say Don’t I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone is telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

a pair of bookends :: robert b. shaw

Two little owls, twins down to a feather,
put in hours upholding Western Civ.
Curiously, what brought them first together
holds them apart—those words by which we live.

Centered on a black marble pedestal
each of them roosts upon his open book.
Never a hoot escapes their vesperal
calm as they brood, easy to overlook,

in a dull sheen of bronze and verdigris
guarding the upright, sober, classic row.
However distantly derived from trees,
such gathered leaves are all the leaves they know,

and would know better were they to explore
the sum of them, and not alone the ones
pinned open by their claws the while they pore.
Those folios they scan are blank and bronze,

empty reflections of their staring eyes.
I’d say they earn their space by weight and age
rather than endless hankering to be wise.
Wisdom is knowing when to turn the page.

two nudes :: mary jo bang

hear her read it

I was working in a bookstore and as an antidote to the twin torment of exhaustion and boredom, one day I went with a friend on a walking tour. We made it as far as Berlin and there I met the man I would move with to a boarding house, then to furnished rooms in the flat of a civil servant, and from there one morning in January to the Registry to be married. Afterward we moved to a studio apartment and two years later to the school where boys returning from the war would remove their collars and sew them back on with red thread to demonstrate the end of their allegiance to the cruel and fastidious past. Everyone wanted to be launched into a place from which you could look back and ask whether the red was also meant to enact spilled blood. You could say so, but only if you want to insist that history’s minutia is best read as allegory. The fact is, history didn’t exist then. Each day was a twenty-four hour stand-still on a bridge from which we discretely looked into the distance, hoping to catch sight of the future. It’s near where you’re standing now. One day we were lying in the sun dressed in nothing but our skin when a camera came by and devoured us.

rain on tin :: rodney jones

hear him read it

If I ever get over the bodies of women, I am going to think of the rain,
of waiting under the eaves of an old house
at that moment
when it takes a form like fog.
It makes the mountain vanish.
Then the smell of rain, which is the smell of the earth a plow turns up,
only condensed and refined.
Almost fifty years since thunder rolled
and the nerves woke like secret agents under the skin.
Brazil is where I wanted to live.
The border is not far from here.
Lonely and grateful would be my way to end,
and something for the pain please,
a little purity to sand the rough edges,
a slow downpour from the Dark Ages,
a drizzle from the Pleistocene.
As I dream of the rain’s long body,
I will eliminate from mind all the qualities that rain deletes
and then I will be primed to study rain’s power,
the first drops lightly hallowing,
but now and again a great gallop of the horse of rain
or an explosion of orange-green light.
A simple radiance, it requires no discipline.
Before I knew women, I knew the lonely pleasures of rain.
The mist and then the clearing.
I will listen where the lightning thrills the rooster up a willow,
and my whole life flowing
until I have no choice, only the rain,
and I step into it.

sea chanty :: suzanne lummis

    San Francisco

What winds around your feet
is the shade of tarnished
armor, cold. A cramp
shoots up your bones, drives
you out, like tacks. Out
there, the bulky mass sounds
along its floor. Over
your head, deep, cold. If
you wade out your heart
might crack, you
think. Its smell is salt,
feral, both cold and hot.
You let it burn you white,
sole of foot, of palm, your
heart will snap. It goes like
this: we love the sea, it
doesn’t love us back.

after baby after baby :: rachel zucker

When we made love you had
the dense body of a Doberman
and the square head of a Rottweiler.

With my eyes closed I saw:
a light green plate with seared scallops
and a perfect fillet of salmon on a cedar plank.

Now I am safe in the deep V of a weekday
wanting to tell you how the world
is full of street signs and strollers
and pregnant women in spandex.

The bed and desk both want me.
The windows, the view, the idea of Paris.

With my minutes, I chip away at the idiom,
an unmarked pebble in a fast current. Later,
on my way to the store, a boy with a basketball
yells, You scared? to someone else, and the things
on the list to buy come home with me.
And the baby. And your body.

muse :: meena alexander

I was young when you came to me.
Each thing rings its turn,
you sang in my ear, a slip of a thing
dressed like a convent girl–
white socks, shoes,
dark blue pinafore, white blouse.

A pencil box in hand: girl, book, tree–
those were the words you gave me.
Girl was penne, hair drawn back,
gleaming on the scalp,
the self in a mirror in a rosewood room
the sky at monsoon time, pearl slits

In cloud cover, a jagged music pours:
gash of sense, raw covenant
clasped still in a gold bound book,
pusthakam pages parted,
ink rubbed with mist,
a bird might have dreamt its shadow there

spreading fire in a tree maram.
You murmured the word, sliding it on your tongue,
trying to get how a girl could turn
into a molten thing and not burn.
Centuries later worn out from travel
I rest under a tree.

You come to me
a bird shedding gold feathers,
each one a quill scraping my tympanum.
You set a book to my ribs.
Night after night I unclasp it
at the mirror’s edge

alphabets flicker and soar.
Write in the light
of all the languages
you know the earth contains
,
you murmur in my ear.
This is pure transport.

full flight :: bob hicok

I’m in a plane that will not be flown into a building.
It’s a SAAB 340, seats 40, has two engines with propellers
is why I think of beanies, those hats that would spin
a young head into the clouds. The plane is red and loud
inside like it must be loud in the heart, red like fire
and fire engines and the woman two seats up and to the right
resembles one of the widows I saw on TV after the Towers
came down. It’s her hair that I recognize, the fecundity of it
and the color and its obedience to an ideal, the shape
it was asked several hours ago to hold and has held, a kind
of wave that begins at the forehead and repeats with slight
variations all the way to the tips, as if she were water
and a pebble had been continuously dropped into the mouth
of her existence. We are eighteen thousand feet over America.
People are typing at their laps, blowing across the fog of coffee,
sleeping with their heads on the windows, on the pattern
of green fields and brown fields, streams and gas stations
and swimming pools, blue dots of aquamarine that suggest
we’ve domesticated the mirage. We had to kill someone,
I believe, when the metal bones burned and the top
fell through the bottom and a cloud made of dust and memos
and skin muscled across Manhattan. I remember feeling
I could finally touch a rifle, that some murders
are an illumination of ethics, that they act as a word,
a motion the brain requires for which there is
no syllable, no breath. The moment the planes had stopped,
when we were afraid of the sky, there was a pause
when we could have been perfectly American,
could have spent infinity dollars and thrown a million
bodies at finding the few, lasering our revenge
into a kind of love, the blood-hunger kept exact
and more convincing for its precision, an expression
of our belief that proximity is never the measure of guilt.
We’ve lived in the sky again for some years and today
on my lap these pictures from Iraq, naked bodies
stacked into a pyramid of ha-ha and the articles
about broomsticks up the ass and the limbs of children
turned into stubble, we are punch-drunk and getting even
with the sand, with the map, with oil, with ourselves
I think listening to the guys behind me. There’s a problem
in Alpena with an inventory control system, some switches
are being counted twice, switches for what I don’t know—
switches of humor, of faith—but the men are musical
in their jargon, both likely born in New Delhi
and probably Americans now, which is what the flesh
of this country has been, a grafted pulse, an inventory
of the world, and just as the idea of embrace
moves chemically into my blood, and I’m warmed
as if I’ve just taken a drink, a voice announces
we’ve begun our descent, and then I sense the falling.

anxiety attack at 27,000 feet :: nicholas samaras

What is that red throbbing over the sound of engines?
Why is a distant war still being talked about in the media?
I can’t see my home or Iraq or the Middle East
outside this bowed rectangle of blue altitude.
Who brought these children here?
How will this raven-haired girl grow into her life?
There is no way I can die with this room full of Bostonians.
Why is the serrated coast of New York approaching so rapidly?
How many of these faces will separate before the plane lands?
We go blind in this whiteness as my stomach descends
and, somewhere far in the back, I can hear an animal wailing.
Why am I wearing this black suit of my comfortable life?
Into what country will we even touch down? What if we splinter
and explode upon landing, the moment of our most hope and relief?
How will my body feel enjoined to metal, shrouded in upholstery?
I wish everyone peace, as we slam into the earth of our making.
But what is that red throbbing and these murmurs building?
What are all these stern looks of kindness and concern
as hands hold my hands and place the mask over my breathing face?

if, given :: oliver de la paz

If given a horse, a palomino, I’d ride
the high dunes to meet you at sunrise.

If there were no horse, only shoes and sand, I’d start
with the left foot and with the right,

I’d drag a path for you to follow.
The yellow storms would not pursue because

the law between us is holy. If there was water
and no desert, I’d sail for each celestial cluster

perched in the spiritus nebulae—
the planetary bodies, blemishes

of your skin. And if there were no compass,
I’d steer by shadow. I’d light a kerosene soaked arrow

and fire into the sky. I’d watch the parabola of flame
defy the worldly dark in the tongue of what must be

the end of paradise. And if there were no paradise,
then I’d be the horse. I’d bolt

as though the stables were on fire and you,
you would hold the bridle . . . you would ride.

summer job :: michael chitwood

At the end of the work day
you could tell exactly how far you had gotten
and how much farther there was to go.
Of course, it was just a ditch for a pipeline
to carry the reeking slop
that a neighborhood of toilets
would slosh together to be drained away
but it was clean, the trench,
the slick walls the backhoe bucket cut
and the precise grade of the bottom.
My job was to sight the transit.
I gave a thumbs up or thumbs down
or the OK sign if the pitch was right
so that some future day shit would flow
just as it should, down hill,
but you knew where you stood,
what you had done in a day,
and what more there was to do
and every meaningful thing I had said
I had said without a word.

exposure :: robin robertson

Rain, you said, is silence turned up high.
It has been raining now for days.
Even when it stops
there is still the sound
of rainwater, labouring
to find some way into the ground.

We lie in grim embrace: these
two halves trying to be whole, straining
for this break in the static,
in the white noise
that was rain falling
all day and all through the sheeted night.

Silence is rain with the sound turned down,
and I stare out now on a clear view
of something left out on the line:
a life, snagged there—
drenched, shrunken,
unrecognisably mine.

by the sea :: maura stanton

The spears on the plain of Troy
Glittered like things that hadn’t been invented—

Holiday tinsel, bristling antennas,
A cabinet of needles at the flu clinic—

And the sea was closer, only two miles away,
Gleaming like a strip of blue gel toothpaste.

That’s when a grasshopper, the size of a stapler,
Or perhaps a computer mouse, or a brick

Of cheddar cheese in your refrigerator,
Jumped from a crack outside the walled citadel,

Scaring a mother as she pressed the tip
Of a fibula through the cloth of her son’s tunic.

The fibula looked like a big, crude safety pin—
There are lots in museums, including hers,

For she dropped it into dry grass, and later on
Warriors trampled it into the clay clods

Of her fertile land, their shrieks and thrusts
As they stabbed her boy, dragged her by the hair,

Untelevised, but still remembered
By those who listened and then repeated

And repeated the same stories over and over
In hoarse voices, on clay tablets, in type, in pixels.

super orphan :: fatimah asghar

Today, I donned my cape like a birth
certificate & jumped, arms wide into the sky.

I know—once there was a man.
Or maybe a woman.

Let’s try again: once, there was a family.
What came first?

What to do then, when the only history
you have is collage?

Woke up, parents still
dead. Outside, the leaves yawn,

re-christen themselves as spring.

Lets try again. Once there was a village
on a pale day, unaware of the greatness

at its gate.

Today, I woke:
Batman, a king over Gotham.

The city sinning at my feet
begging to be saved.

The same dream again:
police running after my faceless
family with guns

my uncle leaps into a tulip
filled field, arms turning to wings
as bullets greet him.

Today, I woke, slop-lipped
and drunk, cards in my hand,

Joker in my chest. Today I woke
angry at the world for its hurt

wanting to make more like me.

Are all refugees superheroes?

Do all survivors carry villain inside them?

Today, I donned my cape like a birth
certificate & jumped, arms wide into the sky.

How else to say I am here?

to frighten a storm :: gladys cardiff

O now you come in rut,
in rank and black desire,
to beat the brush, to lash
the wind with your long hair.
Ha! I am afraid,
exceedingly afraid.
But see? her path goes there,
along the swaying tops
of trees, up to the hills.
Too long she is alone.
Bypass our fields, and mount
your ravages of fire
and rain on higher trails.
You shall have her lying down
upon the smoking mountains.

to the desert :: benjamin alire sáenz

I came to you one rainless August night.
You taught me how to live without the rain.
You are thirst and thirst is all I know.
You are sand, wind, sun, and burning sky,
The hottest blue. You blow a breeze and brand
Your breath into my mouth. You reach—then bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new
.
You wrap your name tight around my ribs
And keep me warm. I was born for you.
Above, below, by you, by you surrounded.
I wake to you at dawn. Never break your
Knot. Reach, rise, blow, Sálvame, mi dios,
Trágame, mi tierra. Salva, traga
, Break me,
I am bread. I will be the water for your thirst.