mild is the parting year :: walter savage landor

Mild is the parting year, and sweet
      The odour of the falling spray;
Life passes on more rudely fleet,
      And balmless is its closing day.

I wait its close, I court its gloom,
      But mourn that never must there fall
Or on my breast or on my tomb
      The tear that would have soothed it all.

friends :: andrew waterman

First kids in our road, then friends met at school.
We vied tree-climbing, running, sometimes fought.
Nick, George Stone, Rodney Baxter, Brian who taught
Me to spell queueing, the Fortey twins (‘Just two’ll
Be quite enough’)… From ropes above the Ching
We’d swing, let go, land safe on the far side.
Whooping along on bikes and trikes, we’d ride
To Loughton, Ilford, circles widening.

Where are they now? Some grandparents, some dead.
Passing in streets, there’d be no recognising.
In me they live forever bracketed:
Fairisle pullovers, Woolworths’ snake-clasp belts,
Plaster on knees. On branches cut to stilts,
Or pedalling homeward as the moon is rising.

a man may change :: marvin bell

As simply as a self-effacing bar of soap
escaping by indiscernible degrees in the wash water
is how a man may change
and still hour by hour continue in his job.
There in the mirror he appears to be on fire
but here at the office he is dust.
So long as there remains a little moisture in the stains,
he stands easily on the pavement
and moves fluidly through the corridors. If only one
cloud can be seen, it is enough to know of others,
and life stands on the brink. It rains
or it doesn’t, or it rains and it rains again.
But let it go on raining for forty days and nights
or let the sun bake the ground for as long,
and it isn’t life, just life, anymore, it’s living.
In the meantime, in the regular weather of ordinary days,
it sometimes happens that a man has changed
so slowly that he slips away
before anyone notices
and lives and dies before anyone can find out.

crush :: ada limón

Maybe my limbs are made
mostly for decoration,
like the way I feel about
persimmons. You can’t
really eat them. Or you
wouldn’t want to. If you grab
the soft skin with your fist
it somehow feels funny,
like you’ve been here
before and uncomfortable,
too, like you’d rather
squish it between your teeth
impatiently, before spitting
the soft parts back up
to linger on the tongue like
burnt sugar or guilt.
For starters, it was all
an accident, you cut
the right branch
and a sort of light
woke up underneath,
and the inedible fruit
grew dark and needy.
Think crucial hanging.
Think crayon orange.
There is one low, leaning
heart-shaped globe left
and dearest, can you
tell, I am trying
to love you less.

the conversation :: jane hirshfield

A woman moves close:
there is something she wants to say.
The currents take you one direction, her another.
All night you are aware of her presence,
aware of the conversation that did not happen.
Inside it are mountains, birds, a wide river,
a few sparse-leaved trees.
On the river, a wooden boat putters.
On its deck, a spider washes its face.
Years from now, the boat will reach a port by the sea,
and the generations of spider descendants upon it
will look out, from their nearsighted, eightfold eyes,
at something unanswered.

sonnet in the shape of a potted christmas tree :: george starbuck

*
O
fury-
bedecked!
O glitter-torn!
Let the wild wind erect
bonbonbonanzas; junipers affect
frostyfreeze turbans; iciclestuff adorn
all cuckolded creation in a madcap crown of horn!
It’s a new day; no scapegrace of a sect
tidying up the ashtrays playing Daughter-in-Law Elect;
bells! bibelots! popsicle cigars! shatter the glassware! a son born
now
now
while ox and ass and infant lie
together as poor creatures will
and tears of her exertion still
cling in the spent girl’s eye
and a great firework in the sky
drifts to the western hill.

the oxen :: thomas hardy

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

a negative of snow :: chase twichell

Ice on the puddles,
in the cups of fallen leaves.
I’d walk with Dad and a handful
of other men, the setters working
the fields, the underbrush.
It was my job to carry the birds.
I’d have them all plucked
by the time we got back to the car.
On the walk out I’d look
for puddles I’d missed
and break them.

Though many moonless nights
have fallen on the grave
like a negative of snow,
Dad’s wheelchair sometimes
flashes in my mind, and I hear
the bleating down the hall,
a voice berating its god,
his worthless anodynes,
and the doctors who were
at that very moment
increasing his morphine,
having failed to note
the word alcoholic on his chart,
meaning that his damaged liver
routed the opiates straight
to his brain, his beautiful fragile brain,
which I had not yet finished loving.
My father, who still had manners,
who was a hardwood, a tough tree.
That was his first death.

dim :: jim daniels

Today my son realized someone’s smarter
than him. Not me or his mom —
he still thinks we know everything —
one of the other kids, Nathan. Making fun
of him at the computer terminal
for screwing up at the math game.
Other kids laughing at him. Second grade.
I’m never gonna be as smart as him,
he says.
           I’m never gonna be as smart
as half my students if we’re talking
IQs. He doesn’t want me to explain.
He wants me to acknowledge
that he’s dumb. He’s lying in bed
and taking his glasses off and on,
trying to get them perfectly clean
for the morning. I’m looking around
his dark room for a joke or some
decent words to lay on him. His eyes
are glassy with almost-tears. Second grade.
The world wants to call on him.
I take his hand in mine.

ode to chocolate :: barbara crooker

I hate milk chocolate, don’t want clouds
of cream diluting the dark night sky,
don’t want pralines or raisins, rubble
in this smooth plateau. I like my coffee
black, my beer from Germany, wine
from Burgundy, the darker, the better.
I like my heroes complicated and brooding,
James Dean in oiled leather, leaning
on a motorcycle. You know the color.

Oh, chocolate! From the spice bazaars
of Africa, hulled in mills, beaten,
pressed in bars. The cold slab of a cave’s
interior, when all the stars
have gone to sleep.

Chocolate strolls up to the microphone
and plays jazz at midnight, the low slow
notes of a bass clarinet. Chocolate saunters
down the runway, slouches in quaint
boutiques; its style is je ne sais quoi.
Chocolate stays up late and gambles,
likes roulette. Always bets
on the noir.

all i have to say for myself :: mindy nettifee

The last time you came to see me
there were anchors in your eyes,
hardback books in your posture.
You were the five star general of sureness,
a crisp, white tuxedo of a man.

I was fiddling with my worn coat pockets,
puffing false confidence ghosts in the cold January air.
My hands were shitty champagne flutes
brimming with cheap merlot.
I couldn’t touch you without ruining you,
so I didn’t touch you at all.

It’s when you’re on the brink of something
that you lose your balance.
When I can’t bring myself to say what I need to,
my heart plays Russian Roulette with my throat.
I swear I fired that night, but, nothing.

Someday, I’ll show you the bullet I had for you,
after time has done the wash.
I’ll take it out of the jar of missed opportunities.
We’ll hold it up to the light.
You’ll roll it around your mouth like a fallen tooth.
We’ll laugh about how small it is,
wonder how such a little thing
could have meant so much to anyone.
 
 
from Rise of the Trust Fall (2010)

pulling up beside my husband at the stoplight :: marge saiser

We are going to the same place
but we take two cars.
Sunday morning and there’s not much traffic,
so I pull up beside him at the stoplight.

There he is, in his car,
beside my car,
the profile of his face in the window,
the brown of his hair against his neck. He turns
and blows me a kiss.
I watch it float on by. . . . I ask for another.

I remember then how he wakes me on the workday mornings,
his boots across the carpet of the dark bedroom,
the scent of his face when he locates me in the covers,
kisses my eyebrow and the corner of my mouth,
tells me the weather report
and the precise time of day.

So. . . I roll down my window, whistle in my throat,
pull my glasses crooked on my face,
do my best baboon snorting,
pound the horn as if it were bread dough.
There is only the lady in the white Buick,
but he is embarrassed, glad to see the green.

Me–I’m stepping on the gas, catching up,
wondering what I can do at 56th and Calvert.

orphan’s kaddish :: heather altfeld

a hundred years from now,
up past the dried apple valley
and the stiff granite lonely for lupine,

let there still be a lake
capling its way behind the trees
and a dusty canoe floating in the water

and someone in the canoe
who vaguely resembles you
floating away beneath what is still,

please, the heavens blinking.
Let the little green lantern you left behind
gild the darkness with its gaslight,

reminding the water (who never forgets)
how much you loved its quick lap
against your knees. And in the trees

let us hope the flicker of a lyre bird
will be singing the fragments
of the lost songs you loved most,

melodies from the days you held
in your palm like stones
and the evenings you drank

like late rain, before you fell
into the night’s unassailable heart,
entrusting the court of the wind with your name.

the solipsist :: troy jollimore

Don’t be misled:
that sea-song you hear
when the shell’s at your ear?
It’s all in your head.

That primordial tide—
the slurp and salt-slosh
of the brain’s briny wash—
is on the inside.

Truth be told, the whole place,
everything that the eye
can take in, to the sky
and beyond into space,

lives inside of your skull.
When you set your sad head
down on Procrustes’ bed,
you lay down the whole

universe. You recline
on the pillow: the cosmos
grows dim. The soft ghost
in the squishy machine,

which the world is, retires.
Someday it will expire.
Then all will go silent
and dark. For the moment,

however, the black-
ness is just temporary.
The planet you carry
will shortly swing back

from the far nether regions.
And life will continue—
but only within you.
Which raises a question

that comes up again and again,
as to why
God would make ear and eye
to face outward, not in?

articles of faith :: patricia traxler

What about these jonquil bulbs that bear and bloom
year after year beside the porch, as if the hand
that planted them decades ago were still
in the world to hail their bounty? And what
of the doe who comes from the woods to the edge
of the north field every evening, standing
calm beside the rude highway that cuts
through her heaven, as if nothing were there
but the silence of wheat. Not knowledge,
but belief. Or our voices leaping back
and forth over the wire, conjuring
presence, as if distance and time and a life
were nothing. (Think how time must prove itself
constantly through movement, inventing observable
change.) Not having, but desiring. Your palm
on my belly, fingers warm over hipbone, pulse
of your wrist twinned in the cells of my skin. Not
photograph, but memory. Consider this: the Word
made flesh. Oh, I know what love is. I once saw
the heart still beating in the carcass of a butchered hen.

sea urchin :: j. allyn rosser

When the mind fumbles, reaching feebly
back and back with its long black needles
waving like one too few or far too many
mutely clacking, poison-tipped antennae
at a wavery something in the past
it cannot now grasp,
lurching vaguely along the ocean floor,
flailing, in a near-despair so pure,
despair of ever again coming across—
no matter how it turn and toss
and turn—that perfect, pink anemone
that lit once up the waste of sea

like muted lightning brightening all

and when distracted by present demands
of now too easily stirred-up sand,
and buffeted by this bad tiding or
that conventional big fish gliding
regally by; when failing at last to find
what it almost once had, the mind,
about to give up on stealth and chance,
has half a heart to pounce
on the first pretty bit of coral
and settle for a self-inflicted epidural,
deadening desire. But never mind.
That’s not how it’s designed.

shalimar :: mary ruefle

God put his finger on my sacrum
and he lifted me, he set me
in the center of the universe,
the curious desire
of my chronically lonely life.

It was cold and dark and lonely
and I was scared.

There were no accessories.
I burst into tears over nothing.

What would Jimmy Schuyler do?
WWJSD?

And as quietly as the sound of Kleenex
being pulled from a box,
I sneezed.

And morning, that goddess,
as if she were slightly deaf,
barely lifted her head off the horizon
before laying back down.

And a rose opened her portals
and the scent ran up an elephant’s trunk,
or tried to.

Such a long way for everything to travel!

From here I look like a front moving in

An icy purple light
a poet would say belonged to a perfume stopper
belonging to his mother.
When it was her nipple.

You know, neither in the past
or in the future.

ansel adams’ aspens :: ailbhe darcy

To tiny Ansel Adams, newly arrived on this earth,
the sky must seem a miracle. I’d commit the scene
to black and white if I could, the sky bright

and bottomless, trees gnarled as the knees of elephants.
Helpless in his Biltrite pram, Ansel Adams is watching
the clouds roll in. Then the clouds would gather speed,

roll out again, and the camera pan down to Ansel Adams
the man kneeling on granite, choosing one filter
over another. It’s as though more and greater apparatus

were needed to recapture that first exposure, says
the voice-over: as though Ansel Adams were a pioneer
toiling after the spirit, not just the body, of America.

To tiny Ansel Adams, newly arrived on this earth,
the sky must seem a matter of fact. It’s the mind
beneath he wants to grasp, stowed in its smart black

enclosure. I’d have his pram gather speed and transform,
a cartoon robot against the heavens, wheels spinning,
into Ansel Adams’ camera. Now the bright black sky

is Ansel Adams and Ansel Adams the filter;
light renders each tree a bouquet of paper;
the Great Depression gathers like so much weather.

To tiny Ansel Adams, newly arrived on this earth,
the sky is what it is, taut with its isness.
Some time before dawn, the section framed

by interior blackens and brightens and each tree out there
glows with itself, with the certainty of all Ansel Adams’
aspens. No one is watching but this one bewildered

immigrant, toiling after sleep, saturated in monochrome.
Sometimes it’s all you’ll find in the wilderness: Ansel
Adams, tiny in his pram, composing the day just gone.

freedom of speech :: lucie brock-broido

If my own voice falters, tell them hubris was my way of adoring you.
The hollow of the hulk of you, so feverish in life, cut open,

Reveals ten thousand rags of music in your thoracic cavity.
The hands are received bagged and examination reveals no injury.

Winter then, the body is cold to the touch, unplunderable,
                            Kept in its drawer of old-world harrowing.

Teeth in fair repair. Will you be buried where; nowhere.

Your mouth a globe of gauze and glossolalia.
And opening, most delft of blue,
                                                        Your heart was a mess—

A mob of hoofprints where the skittish colts first learned to stand,
Catching on to their agility, a shock of freedom, wild-maned.

The eyes have hazel irides and the conjunctivae are pale,

With hemorrhaging. One lung, smaller, congested with rose smoke.
The other, filled with a swarm of massive sentimentia.

                                                        I adore you more. I know
The wingspan of your voice, whole gorgeous flock of harriers,

Cannot be taken down. You would like it now, this snow, this hour.
                            Your visitation here tonight not altogether unexpected.

The night-laborers, immigrants all, assemble here, aching for to speaking,
                                                                          Longing for to work.

starlings in winter :: mary oliver

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

early in the morning :: li-young lee

While the long grain is softening
in the water, gurgling
over a low stove flame, before
the salted Winter Vegetable is sliced
for breakfast, before the birds,
my mother glides an ivory comb
through her hair, heavy
and black as calligrapher’s ink.

She sits at the foot of the bed.
My father watches, listens for
the music of comb
against hair.

My mother combs,
pulls her hair back
tight, rolls it
around two fingers, pins it
in a bun to the back of her head.
For half a hundred years she has done this.
My father likes to see it like this.
He says it is kempt.

But I know
it is because of the way
my mother’s hair falls
when he pulls the pins out.
Easily, like the curtains
when they untie them in the evening.

midsummer :: william bronk

A green world, a scene of green, deep
with light blues, the greens made deep
by those blues. One thinks how
in certain pictures, envied landscapes are seen
(through a window, maybe) far behind the serene
sitter’s face, the serene pose, as though
in some impossible mirror, face to back,
human serenity gazed at a green world
which gazed at this face.
                                        And see now,
here is that place, those greens
are here, deep with those blues. The air
we breathe is freshly sweet, and warm, as though
with berries. We are here. We are here.
Set this down too, as much
as if an atrocity had happened and been seen.
The earth is beautiful beyond all change.

buddha in glory :: rainer maria rilke

Center of all centers, core of cores,
almost self-enclosed and growing sweet—
all this universe, to the furthest stars
and beyond them, is your flesh, your fruit.

Now you feel how nothing clings to you;
your vast shell reaches into endless space,
and there the rich, thick fluids rise and flow.
Illuminated in your infinite peace,

a billion stars go spinning through the night,
blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that
will be, when all the stars are dead.

what it looks like to us and the words we use :: ada limón

All these great barns out here in the outskirts,
black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.

the chimney :: patrick phillips

Inside the chimney my father built
with stones we hauled from Six Mile Creek,
above the flue, beneath the soot,
is a penny I watched him press into the mortar

before he hefted another slab of shale,
another fractured gypsum brick,
so after the pitched roof falls,
after the shingles and cherry rafters crack

and burn in someone else’s fire,
until the chimney stands marooned
in the clearing in the woods, and later falls,
smooth stones sliding down the hill,

when someone, a young man walking to the creek mouth,
stops at the glint from a rock, mica, or quartz,
and finds a coin so black and thin
he can barely read the year—

then, my father said, someone will think of him,
long ago pulling the penny from his pocket
and pressing it against the drying chimney,
leaving his long thumbprint swirling.

weaponry :: kim addonizio

I used an arrow to kill the spider.
I used a steamroller to flatten the worm.

For the ants I called in an air strike.
Bee that found its way in through the screen:

blowtorch.
The mammals were easier—

a bucket of water for submerging the cat,
a poisoned word thrown to the dog.

For love, only a kitchen match. That
and a stove leaking gas

and waiting until the dinner
was good and burned.

mama :: emtithal mahmoud

I was walking down the street when a man stopped me and said,
Hey yo sistah, you from the motherland?
Because my skin is a shade too deep not to have come from foreign soil
Because this garment on my head screams Africa
Because my body is a beacon calling everybody to come flock to the motherland
I said, I’m Sudanese, why?
He says, ‘cause you got a little bit of flavor in you,
I’m just admiring what your mama gave you

Let me tell you something about my mama
She can reduce a man to tattered flesh without so much as blinking
Her words fester beneath your skin and the whole time,
You won’t be able to stop cradling her eyes.
My mama is a woman, flawless and formidable in the same step.
Woman walks into a warzone and has warriors cowering at her feet
My mama carries all of us in her body,
on her face, in her blood and
Blood is no good once you let it loose
So she always holds us close.

When I was 7, she cradled bullets in the billows of her robes.
That same night, she taught me how to get gunpowder out of cotton with a bar of soap.
Years later when the soldiers held her at gunpoint and asked her who she was
She said, I am a daughter of Adam, I am a woman, who the hell are you?
The last time we went home, we watched our village burn,
Soldiers pouring blood from civilian skulls
As if they too could turn water into wine.
They stole the ground beneath our feet.

The woman who raised me
turned and said, don’t be scared
I’m your mother, I’m here, I won’t let them through.
My mama gave me conviction.
Women like her
Inherit tired eyes,
Bruised wrists and titanium plated spines.
The daughters of widows wearing the wings of amputees
Carry countries between their shoulder blades.

I’m not saying dating is a first world problem, but these trifling moterfuckers seem to be.
The kind who’ll quote Rumi, but not know what he sacrificed for war.
Who’ll fawn over Lupita, but turn their racial filters on.
Who’ll take their politics with a latte when I take mine with tear gas.
Every guy I meet wants to be my introduction to the dark side,
Wants me to open up this obsidian skin and let them read every tearful page,
Because what survivor hasn’t had her struggle made spectacle?
Don’t talk about the motherland unless you know that being from Africa
means waking up an afterthought in this country.
Don’t talk about my flavor unless you know that
My flavor is insurrection, it is rebellion, resistance
my flavor is mutiny
It is burden, it is grit and it is compromise
And you don’t know compromise until you’ve rebuilt your home for the third time
Without bricks, without mortar, without any other option

I turned to the man and said,
My mother and I can’t walk the streets alone back home any more.
Back home, there are no streets to walk any more.

via CC

for the chipmunk in my yard :: robert gibb

I think he knows I’m alive, having come down
The three steps of the back porch
And given me a good once over. All afternoon
He’s been moving back and forth,
Gathering odd bits of walnut shells and twigs,
While all about him the great fields tumble
To the blades of the thresher. He’s lucky
To be where he is, wild with all that happens.
He’s lucky he’s not one of the shadows
Living in the blond heart of the wheat.
This autumn when trees bolt, dark with the fires
Of starlight, he’ll curl among their roots,
Wanting nothing but the slow burn of matter
On which he fastens like a small, brown flame.