november for beginners :: rita dove

Snow would be the easy
way out—that softening
sky like a sigh of relief
at finally being allowed
to yield. No dice.
We stack twigs for burning
in glistening patches
but the rain won’t give.

So we wait, breeding
mood, making music
of decline. We sit down
in the smell of the past
and rise in a light
that is already leaving.
We ache in secret,

a gloomy line
or two of German.
When spring comes
we promise to act
the fool. Pour,
rain! Sail, wind,
with your cargo of zithers!

the wicked one goes to the makeup counter :: janet mcnally

You can’t argue beauty’s not an accident, the particular heft and angle
of a chromosome’s spin. A tarted spangle, bright lanyard twist, the slip
of cells weighting this boat uneven from stern to prow. We’re all

skittery as marbles on a marble floor. Beauty stays, then goes;
it fades, we say, something about years and sun, the nights we slept
in makeup and left mascara like ashes on the pillowcase. We burned

through every one of our dreams. I wasn’t always a stepmother, you know.
There were whole years when I was a girl. But now, these ladies
sell me moisturizer, stand close in their lab coats, pretending at science

in a fog of perfume. They wield a contour brush and my cheekbone pops.
The magic settles uneasy; it turns out fairy dust was always
fake. And the lipstick’s made from beetles, shells crushed vermillion.

My color is Fleshpot, they say, it’s Folie or Fixation. It’s Wilderness;
it’s Artificial Earth. They can’t quite make themselves care.
We’ll waste it, they know, whatever we’ve been given.

family stories :: dorianne laux

I had a boyfriend who told me stories about his family,
how an argument once ended when his father
seized a lit birthday cake in both hands
and hurled it out a second-story window. That,
I thought, was what a normal family was like: anger
sent out across the sill, landing like a gift
to decorate the sidewalk below. In mine
it was fists and direct hits to the solar plexus,
and nobody ever forgave anyone. But I believed
the people in his stories really loved one another,
even when they yelled and shoved their feet
through cabinet doors, or held a chair like a bottle
of cheap champagne, christening the wall,
rungs exploding from their holes.
I said it sounded harmless, the pomp and fury
of the passionate. He said it was a curse
being born Italian and Catholic and when he
looked from that window what he saw was the moment
rudely crushed. But all I could see was a gorgeous
three-layer cake gliding like a battered ship
down the sidewalk, the smoking candles broken, sunk
deep in the icing, a few still burning.

clara: in the post office :: linda hasselstrom

I keep telling you, I’m not a feminist.
I grew up an only child on a ranch,
so I drove tractors, learned to ride.
When the truck wouldn’t start, I went to town
for parts. The man behind the counter
told me I couldn’t rebuild a carburetor.
I could: every carburetor on the place. That’s
necessity, not feminism.
I learned to do the books
after my husband left me and the debts
and the children. I shoveled snow and pitched hay
when the hired man didn’t come to work.
I learned how to pull a calf
when the vet was too busy. As I thought,
the cow did most of it herself; they’ve been
birthing alone for ten thousand years. Does
that make them feminists?
It’s not
that I don’t like men; I love them – when I can.
But I’ve stopped counting on them
to change my flats or open my doors.
That’s not feminism; that’s just good sense.

burlap sack :: jane hirshfield

A person is full of sorrow
the way a burlap sack is full of stones or sand.
We say, “Hand me the sack,”
but we get the weight.
Heavier if left out in the rain.
To think that the stones or sand are the self is an error.
To think that grief is the self is an error.
Self carries grief as a pack mule carries the side bags,
being careful between the trees to leave extra room.
The mule is not the load of ropes and nails and axes.
The self is not the miner nor builder nor driver.
What would it be to take the bride
and leave behind the heavy dowry?
To let the thick ribbed mule browse in tall grasses,
its long ears waggling like the tails of two happy dogs?

[the bird’s-eye view] :: ben lerner

The bird’s-eye view abstracted from the bird. Cover me, says the soldier on the screen, I’m going in. We have the sense of being convinced, but of what? And by whom? The public is a hypothetical hole, a realm of pure disappearance, from which celestial matter explodes. I believe I can speak for everyone, begins the president, when I say famous last words.

exuberance :: dolores hayden

Exuberance sips bootleg gin from a garter flask
with a ruby monogram “E.”

She wears a red dress one size too small,
eyes wide, she flirts with everyone, dares

Lincoln Beachey to fly until he runs out of gas,
rides a dead engine all the way down.

She watches Ormer Locklear climb
out of the cockpit two hundred feet up,

tap dance on his upper wing
as the houses of  honest families

with their square-fenced yards
slide below his shuffle. An oval pond

winks in the sun, like a zero.
Exuberance challenges pilots

to master the Falling Leaf, perfect the Tailspin,
ignore the Graveyard Spiral, the Doom Loop.

These aviators predict every American will fly.
Exuberance believes Everybody Ought

to Be Rich,  John J. Raskob explains why
in the Ladies Home Journal. She gets stock tips

from her manicurist, call loans from her broker,
buys Radio, Seaboard Utilities, Sears,

orders shares in investment trusts — why not? — 
chain stores keep multiplying, cars, trucks,

planes, houses. This nation is all about growth,
growth and leverage, look at the skyscrapers shooting up,

men rivet steel, floor after floor, high-speed elevators
spring through the cores, planes soar over them all.

Sherman Fairchild has made a million
selling aerial photographs of real estate.

Exuberance travels constantly, owns land
in Miami, Miami Beach, Coral Gables, Palm Beach,

she trades “binders” on lots five times over,
befriends Mr. Charles Ponzi from Boston

who is raking in a bundle near Jacksonville.
Prices for sand and palms are sure to rise.

But how do we know when irrational exuberance
has unduly escalated asset values?

Wall Street has been wing walking,
call it barnstormer capitalism,

soon the bankers and the brokers will steal
the aviators’ lexicon, claim their own tail risks,

graveyard spirals, doomsday cycles,
wonder how everything blue-sky stayed up so long.

Exuberance buys more stock on margin,
volume runs high, the ticker tape

can’t keep up, higher, higher, higher,
Black Thursday, not a parachute in sight.

to my brother miguel in memoriam :: césar vallejo

Brother, today I sit on the brick bench outside the house,
where you make a bottomless emptiness.
I remember we used to play at this hour of the day, and mama
would calm us: “There now, boys…”
Now I go hide
as before, from all these evening
prayers, and I hope that you will not find me.
In the parlor, the entrance hall, the corridors.
Later, you hide, and I do not find you.
I remember we made each other cry,
brother, in that game.

Miguel, you hid yourself
one night in August, nearly at daybreak,
but instead of laughing when you hid, you were sad.
And your other heart of those dead afternoons
is tired of looking and not finding you. And now
shadows fall on the soul.

life study :: april lindner

The screen, as if to view me were forbidden.
The robe, rubbed thin by bodies it has hidden.

The plywood platform costumed in a sheet
adorned with bottles and a sheaf of wheat.

The half-lit room, its easels in two rows,
each with a stranger waiting for the pose.

My hands like dead weight dangling at each side.
Though I might wish for one, no place to hide.

My hope: to be a shape in air, a gesture,
to meet nobody’s eyes while the professor

moves me into place. His studied hand
which tugs my arm and shows me how to stand.

The spotlight flooding half my flesh with heat.
My other side in shadow. My cold feet.

And at the break, their sketches on display,
each with a different angle to convey,

sum up the profile, belly, hips and thighs
of somebody I barely recognize.

some extensions on the sovereignty of science :: alberto ríos

for my father

When the thought came to him it was so simple he shook his head.
People are always looking for kidneys when their kidneys go bad.

But why wait? Why not look when you’re healthy?
If two good kidneys do the trick, wouldn’t three do the job even better?

Three kidneys. Maybe two livers. You know. Two hearts, of course.
Instead of repairing damage, why not think ahead?

Why not soup up the car? Why not be a touring eight-cylinder classic,
Or one of those old, sixteen-cylinder, half-mile-long Duesenbergs?


The hardest work of the last quarter of the twentieth century is to find
An edge in the middle. When something explodes, for example,

Nobody is confused about what to do—you look toward it.
Loud is a magnet. But the laws of magnetism are more complex.

One might just as well try this: When something explodes,
Turn exactly opposite from it and see what there is to see.

The loud will take care of itself, and everyone will be able to say
What happened in that direction. But who is looking

The other way? Nature, that magician and author of loud sounds,
Zookeeper and cook, electrician and provocateur—

Maybe these events are Nature’s sleight of hand, and the real
Thing that’s happening is in the other hand,

Or behind or above or below or inside us.

On a trip to Bloomington, Indiana, I was being driven there
From Indianapolis and my friend pointed out some hills along the way,

Saying that these hills were made as a result of the farthest reach of
The Ice Age glacier. I had been waiting for this moment

Ever since fifth grade. I could hardly contain myself,
Though I’m sure I just said uh-huh in the conversation.

I took a small and delicious breath. So, I said, slowly,
That’s the terminal moraine, huh? There, I’d said it,

The phrase I had saved up since the moment I found it
In that fifth-grade reader: terminal moraine.

I had never said it aloud. What’s a little scary, of course,
Is that I was more excited about remembering

Than about the hills themselves. But if it was scary, it was sweet
In the mouth, too. In a larger picture, one way or another,

The Ice Age glacier was still a force to be reckoned with.

The reason you can’t lose weight later on in life is simple enough.
It’s because of how so many people you know have died,

And that you carry a little of each of them with you.

The smallest muscle in the human body is in the ear.
It is also the only muscle that does not have blood vessels;

It has fluid instead. The reason for this is clear:
The ear is so sensitive that the body, if it heard its own pulse,

Would be devastated by the amplification of its own sound.
In this knowledge I sense a great metaphor,

But I do not want to be hasty in trying to capture or describe it.
Words are our weakest hold on the world.

sitting with others :: rodney jones

hear him read it

The front seats filled last. Laggards, buffoons,
and kiss-ups falling in beside local politicos,
the about to be honored, and the hard of hearing.

No help from the middle, blenders and criminals.
And the back rows: restless, intelligent, unable to commit.
My place was always left-center, a little to the rear.

The shy sat with me, fearful of discovery.
Behind me the dead man’s illegitimate children
and the bride’s and groom’s former lovers.

There, when lights were lowered, hands
plunged under skirts or deftly unzipped flies,
and, lights up again, rose and pattered in applause.

Ahead, the bored practiced impeccable signatures.
But was it a movie or a singing? I remember
the whole crowd uplifted, but not the event

or the word that brought us together as one—
One, I say now, when I had felt myself many,
speaking and listening: that was the contradiction.

paris syndrome :: victoria kennefick

The Eiffel Tower erected itself in my head,
we couldn’t find the lifts, climbed the stairs.

Of course there were fireworks.

We stared at each other, rare exhibits in the Louvre —
you licked my Mona Lisa smile right off.

Of course we were both in imaginary Chanel.

We drank warm cider and ate pancakes, yours flambéed.
I got drunk, my tights laddered on both legs.

Of course we experienced tachycardia at the Moulin Rouge.

Our hotel, a boxed macaron on a navy boulevard —
we spun around in the dark outside, rain-dizzy.

Of course we slept at the Ritz.

Our little room tucked into the corner, a pink
pocket you slipped into that night.

Of course our fingers hunted for change.

In the mirrored elevator I couldn’t meet your eye, I
crushed you into the laminated sample menu and died.

Of course it was only la petite mort.

damages :: ruby rahman

translated by carolyne wright, syed manzoorul islam, & the author

There are some sorrows, some damages, for which
           there is no compensation;
you are that irreparable loss of mine.
Where you cast your glance
light of the conjoining stars dances
           along the great longitude;
the courage to dream blooms in the blood
and the difficult habit of staying alive,
nurtured from the moment of birth,
crumbles like conch-shell dust.
You are that inconsolable sorrow of mine
that tears apart this neat and tidy day-to-day existence.

Someday this present time
will slip out of my grasp
like a fisherman missing on the high seas.
The still lighthouse’s flickering beam of light
will tremble only on the vast deep,
dark waters of the sea—a wounded wind;
and there will go on lying my boundless time—
my destiny!

There are some sorrows, some calamities—
that can never, from any quarter, be compensated for.

piano :: patrick phillips

Touched by your goodness, I am like
that grand piano we found one night on Willoughby
that someone had smashed and somehow
heaved through an open window.

And you might think by this I mean I’m broken
or abandoned, or unloved. Truth is, I don’t
know exactly what I am, any more
than the wreckage in the alley knows
it’s a piano, filling with trash and yellow leaves.

Maybe I’m all that’s left of what I was.
But touching me, I know, you are the good
breeze blowing across its rusted strings.

What would you call that feeling when the wood,
even with its cracked harp, starts to sing?

bon courage :: amy gerstler

Why are the woods so alluring? A forest appears
to a young girl one morning as she combs
the dreams out of   her hair. The trees rustle
and whisper, shimmer and hiss. The forest
opens and closes, a door loose on its hinges,
banging in a strong wind. Everything in the dim
kitchen: the basin, the jug, the skillet, the churn,
snickers scornfully. In this way a maiden
is driven toward the dangers of a forest,
but the forest is our subject, not this young girl.

She’s glad to lie down with trees towering all around.
A certain euphoria sets in. She feels molecular,
bedeviled, senses someone gently pulling her hair,
tingles with kisses she won’t receive for years.
Three felled trees, a sort of chorus, narrate
her thoughts, or rather channel theirs through her,
or rather subject her to their peculiar verbal
restlessness …    our deepening need for non-being intones
the largest and most decayed tree, mid-sentence.
I’m not one of you squeaks the shattered sapling,

blackened by lightning. Their words become metallic
spangles shivering the air. Will I forget the way home?
the third blurts. Why do I feel like I’m hiding in a giant’s nostril?
the oldest prone pine wants to know. Are we being   freed
from matter?
the sapling asks. Insects are well-intentioned,
offers the third tree, by way of consolation. Will it grow
impossible to think a thought through to its end?
gasps the sapling,
adding in a panicky voice, I’m becoming spongy! The girl
feels her hands attach to some distant body. She rises
to leave, relieved these trees are not talking about her.

twenty-two :: abigail deutsch

       Moissac, France

I walked to the baker’s
and thought about the bread.
And at the corner store
the butter. Four kinds of butter!
I bought them in order
of saltiness. I studied slang
in secret. I said little.
And my students were
so beautiful
I couldn’t teach a thing.
Instead I made them sing.

Twenty-two. Nothing to do.
New York had vanished,
Connecticut, too.
My students grew hair
and got haircuts, grew hair
and got haircuts, and sang.
I’d lie in bed and masturbate
and wonder why I’d come,
and come and come again
and then rise for some bread and a run.

Does the village persist? It must.
Right now, someone hums “Nowhere Man”
and thinks of that shy teacher from — 
Manhattan? New Orleans? Bel Air?
And she brushes her lengthening hair.

things we dreamt we died for :: marvin bell

Flags of all sorts.
The literary life.
Each time we dreamt we’d done
the gentlemanly thing,
covering our causes
in closets full of bones
to remove ourselves forever
from dearest possibilities,
the old weapons re-injured us,
the old armies conscripted us,
and we gave in to getting even,
a little less like us
if a lot less like others.
Many, thus, gained fame
in the way of great plunderers,
retiring to the university
to cultivate grand plunder-gardens
in the service of literature,
the young and no more wars.
Their continuing tributes
make them our greatest saviors,
whose many fortunes are followed
by the many who have not one.

notes on how to love a boy :: lauren berry

My mother left handwritten notes
on her sweet gum trees to warn boys
who cut through our backyard.

Wasp Nets. Do Not Enter.
With Scotch tape and spelling error, my mother
told the bad boys of the neighborhood not

to come near me. This was after I,
indolent in a rusted lawn chair, did nothing

when a blond boy flailed, screamed,
swelled down the steps of our pool
with lady-wasps swarming his arms.

Mother’s phone calls were followed
by the red yawns of ambulance lights,
followed by the air-conditioned waiting
and the hospital bills she now owed the boy’s father.

Mother cried over her practiced signature,
struggled to understand her handwriting, the fine
print. Those next few days I did not dare

the backyard, but every chance I got I flitted
into the pool and hid myself
under water. Under wasp wings.

I wanted stingers instead of leg hair.
Instead of legs. I put my mouth to the screen door
and listened for hives. The wasp world

was one that loved boys
as wrong as I did. Why was it that our mission
was to make men less beautiful?

Red. Wrecked. Those insects rushed to his eyelids
without fear. Of all the women
in the world, I find my sisters here.

i ask my grandmother if we can make lahmajoun :: gregory djanikian

Sure, she says, why not,
we buy the ground lamb from the market
we buy parsley, fresh tomatoes, garlic
we cut, press, dice, mix

make the yeasty dough
the night before, kneading it
until our knuckles feel the hardness
of river beds or rocks in the desert

we tell Tante Lola to come
with her rolling pins we tell
Zaven and Maroush, Hagop and Arpiné
to bring their baking sheets

we sprinkle the flour on the kitchen table
and it is snowing on Ararat
we sprinkle the flour and the memory
of winter is in our eyes

we roll the dough out
into small circles
pale moons over
every empty village

Kevork is standing on a chair
and singing
O my Armenian girl
my spirit longs to be nearer

Nevrig is warming the oven
and a dry desert breeze
is skimming over the rooftops
toward the sea

we are spreading the lahma
on the ajoun with our fingers
whispering into it the histories
of those who have none

we are baking them
under the heat of the sun
the dough crispening
so thin and delicate

you would swear
it is valuable parchment
we are taking out
and rolling up in our hands

and eating and tasting again
everything that has already
been written
into the body.

leaving :: tarfia faizullah

Mornings I lie next to your sleeping
body, the amputated light grown long

as my father’s old stethoscope hung
over a bent nail, half-expecting

to see, as I did then, vestiges
of that time when I begged

Father not to pack the infected tug
of flesh inside my shoulder with bandages.

I learned how bones can betray and sag,
then freeze into the shape of something

like an arm. He never could forgive
himself for falling asleep while driving,

and so I left him, arm healed, to his grief.
He did not beg me to stay, and the dogged

persistence of his hammer pounding
nails into the boards over my door rings

fresh regret into me as I tell you I’m leaving,
that my arm need not lift across you any longer.

babel / aubade :: lo kwa mei-en

After the aftermath of that hard-spent spring how will I break
thee is the question. Pin down in the dark and halt. All the horses

strained to the flickering ropes in the trees and restrained. Or lay
crack the gardens oh freak violet were we. The horses rode after me

after. The bats were a miracle with legs I saw to say how could you.
And even though the new world got brave out of doors I shut &

all the aftermath is all I want. (Twice.) All night you take a bride
chest in thy swanny clutch I want in: wanting out is why we change

the lock on each other but I want to door. Do I wed the key word
‘want’ for nothing but to find thee on the other side? I wake wanting

more than I did before. And I do. Thy heroic thy horses be damned.
Thy hurt. A kingdom for my gully· my crossroad for a truly hard

up king· my good hilt stacked to do my saying for me. Tower
kicked is the mathy after so you lay finger to my violent fruits

rolling in a hot hay. Hey after the hallelujah I cut clean in half and
you check thy pulse with a reason. The legend screws us like we came

together in a loving tongue so I unscrewed it torched it. Don’t wait
for what comes next. Tell it fast so my borders lit. All the horses

rang out in arson. The stable was a carousel it played thy name
run for its life out the burning door, out the last unbearable

and troubled light.

to my heart at the close of day :: kenneth koch

At dusk light you come to bat
As George Trakl might put it. How are you doing
Aside from that, aside from the fact
That you are at bat? What balls are you going to hit
Into the outfield, what runs will you score,
And do you think you ever will, eventually,
Bat one out of the park? That would be a thrill
To you and your contemporaries! Your mighty posture
Takes its stand in my chest and swing swing swing
You warm up, then you take a great step
Forward as the ball comes smashing toward you, home
Plate. And suddenly it is evening.

faith :: tim seibles

Picture a city
and the survivors: from their
windows, some scream. Others
walk the aftermath: blood
and still more blood coming
from the mouth of a girl.
This is the same movie
playing all over
the world: starring everybody
who ends up where the action
is: lights, cameras, close-ups—that
used to be somebody’s leg.
Let’s stop talking
about God. Try to shut-up
about heaven: some of our friends
who should be alive are no longer alive.
Moment by moment death moves
and memory doesn’t remember,
not for long: even today—even
having said
this, even knowing that
someone is stealing
our lives—I still
had lunch.
Tell the truth. If you can.
Does it matter who they were,
the bodies in the rubble: could it matter
that the girl was conceived by two people
buried in each other’s arms, believing
completely in the world between them?
The commanders are ready. The killers
are everywhere. Almost all of them
believe in God. But somebody should
hold a note for the Earth,
a few words for whatever being
human could mean
beneath the forgotten sky:
some day one night,
when the city lights go out for good,
you won’t believe how many stars

let me tell you :: miller williams

how to do it from the beginning.
First notice everything:
The stain on the wallpaper
of the vacant house,
the mothball smell of a
Greyhound toilet.
Miss nothing. Memorize it.
You cannot twist the fact you do not know.

The blond girl you saw in the bar.
Put a scar on her breast.
Say she left home to get away from her father.
Invent whatever will support your line.
Leave out the rest.

Use metaphors: the mayor is a pig
is a metaphor
which is not to suggest
it is not a fact.
Which is irrelevant.
Nothing is less important
than a fact.

Be suspicious of any word you learned
and were proud of learning.
It will go bad.
It will fall off the page.

When your father lies
in the last light
and your mother cries for him,
listen to the sound of her crying.
When your father dies
take notes
somewhere inside.

If there is a heaven
he will forgive you
if the line you found was a good line.

It does not have to be worth the dying.

fifth grade autobiography :: rita dove

I was four in this photograph fishing
with my grandparents at a lake in Michigan.
My brother squats in poison ivy.
His Davy Crockett cap
sits squared on his head so the raccoon tail
flounces down the back of his sailor suit.

My grandfather sits to the far right
in a folding chair,
and I know his left hand is on
the tobacco in his pants pocket
because I used to wrap it for him
every Christmas. Grandmother’s hips
bulge from the brush, she’s leaning
into the ice chest, sun through the trees
printing her dress with soft
luminous paws.

I am staring jealously at my brother;
the day before he rode his first horse, alone.
I was strapped in a basket
behind my grandfather.
He smelled of lemons. He’s died—

but I remember his hands.

lunaria :: katha pollitt

Now that I am
all done with spring
rampant in purple
and ragged leaves

and summer too
its great green moons
rising through
the breathless air
pale dusted like
the Luna’s wings
I’d like to meet
October’s chill

like the silver moonplant
that bears toward winter
its dark seeds

a paper lantern
lit within
and shining in
the fallen leaves.

sweetness :: stephen dunn

Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
   one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
   has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
   for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
   to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
   that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet ….

Tonight a friend called to say his lover
   was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low

and guttural, he repeated what he needed
   to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief

until we were speaking only in tones.
   Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
   then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road
   it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.

Courtesy of A.S.