the burning kite :: ouyang jianghe

translated by Austin Woerner

What a thing it would be, if we all could fly.
But to rise on air does not make you a bird.

I’m sick of the hiss of champagne bubbles.
It’s spring, and everyone’s got something to puke.

The things we puke: flights of stairs,
a skyscraper soaring from the gut,

the bills blow by on the April breeze
followed by flurries of razor blades in May.

It’s true, a free life is made of words.
You can crumple it, toss it in the trash,

or fold it between the bodies of angels, attaining
a permanent address in the sky.

The postman hands you your flight of birds
persisting in the original shape of wind.

Whether they’re winging toward the scissors’ V
or printed and plastered on every wall

or bound and trussed, bamboo frames wound with wire
or sentenced to death by fire

you are, first
and always, ash.

Broken wire, a hurricane at each end.
Fire trucks scream across the earth.

But this blaze is a thing of the air.
Raise your glass higher, toss it up and away.

Few know this kind of dizzy glee:
an empty sky, a pair of burning wings.

shepherds :: sasha dugdale

Late June the ghosts of shepherds meet on the hills
And one has his crook with its musket barrel hook
One carries a Bible, and all wear the smock
And listen out for the little bells and the canister bells
Worn by the sheep and the big cattle, carried by the wind
Which shapes the hawthorn into mermaid’s hair and open book.

There are those who died on the hills, and those who died in their beds,

The haloed, who wear a flame above them, were
Asleep in their wagons, the stove door ajar
The oil lamp tipped. And scores stamp
A last ghastly dawn patrol – their crook a rifle
Cigarettes for their bible.

The hills are not high. High enough
To exist outside us, our low troubles
At the school gates the children look up
And see with a shock of memory
That the earth gathers itself
Into another world
One closer to the sky

Once peopled by shepherds,
Who inherited the high roads from kings and saints
As they passed, withy ropes about their shoulders.
Who spoke little, and wore tall hats
Bawled gently at their dogs,
Who were themselves
Creatures apart

Times when the mist comes up
And rolls like weighted grey
Down the scarp, up there
The cars see their lamps reflected back
A metre ahead, and the back of her is silent
But never like a moor, never fierce like that
She’d carry you back to your own gate
On the palm of her hand – not bury you alive.

Her spine is a landshed, and a land of itself
A land of haunches and shoulders, and glistening fields
Impossible that they weren’t in love with her
The kindness of her miles, the smalls of her back,
The blazing white of her summers.

The Bible is her book: she wrote it for her shepherds
To train them in oblivion and seasons
And the time she knows, the slowest time on earth.
She wrote it in chalk, in rabbit droppings, and lady’s smock
She wrote it in sweet marjoram and she adorned it with bells
And it has no meaning for anyone, except the shepherds
Who are gone.

the year you thought you were dying :: mindy nettifee

was a really great year.

You ate licorice on the beach in January,
swam rum sauced in the icy Pacific
wearing only blue rubber flippers
and your grandfather’s dog tags
and for the first time, it felt good to be cold,
it felt good to be so cold it hurt.

You doted on pigeons and stray cats.
You ate honey peanuts in the park
and re-watched every movie that ever made you
cry, including Steve Martin’s The Jerk.
You tattooed your entire body in Pablo Neruda
translations and cherry blossoms.

You blew all your money on comfortable shoes
and one of those mattresses made from NASA space foam.
You slept the sleep of assassins and kings—remorseless.

You bought chocolate bars from all the kids who came
to your door and stock-piled them in your broom closet.
You left them in your will to THE SECRETARIES,
every last one of them.

You volunteered at the local senior center playing bingo.
When you won you forced the whole room to take shots of
Welch’s grape juice and sing the national anthem.

And you spent time with your favorite lover.
You let him get close.
Secret suicide note, nonsense alibi close.
shampoo scent dissection close.

Close enough to memorize your tells,
hand you your ass at pillow poker,
make your defenses look like the silly decoupage
of paper angels and Victorian roses that they were.
Close enough that your laughter
punched him with mint gum puffs.
Close enough that his sighs drove circles
in the parking lots of your sighs,
close enough to measure your ribcage
in wrists, your palms in lips.

So close, you didn’t even notice
your heart speed up, then stop,
when he kissed you so hard,
when the New Year’s ball dropped down.

a sprig of dill :: howard nemerov

Small, fragrant, green, a stalk splits at the top
And rays out a hemisphere of twenty stems
That split in their turn and ray out twenty more
In hemispheres of twenty yellow stars
Targeted white, sprays mothered of spray
Displaying their tripled oneness all at once,
Radiant and delicate and loosely exact
As the cosmos in The Comedy, or as
The Copernican system on an orrery,
The quiet flowerworks of the mind of God
In an Age of Reason—that’s in here. Out there,
The formless furnaces in Andromeda,
Hydra, The Veil, Orion’s nightmare head.

worse :: mary jo bang

You are in the zebra crossing,
Moving into the tornado green morning,
The shabby irradiation
Of sunlight seen though the hint
Or rain about to be. Death is
A jerky reversal of forward momentum.
Back into memory. Into a cereal bowl
On a table decades ago, the color of an orange
Aspirin for a fever at age four
That produced a heat-filled forehead hallucination.
Think of a hive made of glass, all the bees,
Theoretically at least. Describable but not all at once.
That’s my mind and you
Are doing all the things you ever did all at once.
There are so many
Of you. Many more than several. Thirty-seven
Years of behavior. Nothing terrible
Has happened as yet except the uneven drone
Inside is an announcement that there will be something
Like a sting only much much worse.

crossing shoal creek :: j. t. ledbetter

The letter said you died on your tractor
crossing Shoal Creek.
There were no pictures to help the memories fading
like mists off the bottoms that last day on the farm
when I watched you milk the cows,
their sweet breath filling the dark barn as the rain
that wasn’t expected sluiced through the rain gutters.
I waited for you to speak the loud familiar words
about the weather, the failed crops—
I would have talked then, too loud, stroking the Holstein
moving against her stanchion—
but there was only the rain on the tin roof,
and the steady swish-swish of milk into the bright bucket
as I walked past you, so close we could have touched.

occupation :: sue kwock kim

The soldiers are
hard at work,
building a house.
They hammer
bodies into the earth
like nails,
they paint the walls
with blood.
Inside, the doors
are locked, shut
like eyes of stone.
and the stairs
are icy, all flights
go down.
There is no floor,
only a roof,
where ash is falling—
dark snow,
a human snow,
thickly, blackly
falling.
Come, they say.
This house will
last forever.
You shall occupy it.
And you, and you—
Come, they say.
There is room
for everyone.

wild peavines :: robert morgan

I have never understood how
the mountains when first seen by hunters
and traders and settlers were covered
with peavines. How could every cove
and clearing, old field, every
opening in the woods and even
understories of deep woods
be laced with vines and blossoms in
June? They say the flowers were so thick
the fumes were smothering. They tell
of shining fogs of bees above
the sprawling mess and every bush
and sapling tangled with tender
curls and tresses. I don’t see how
it was possible for wild peas
to take the woods in shade and deep
hollows and spread over cliffs in
hanging gardens and choke out other
flowers. It’s hard to believe the creek
banks and high ledges were that bright.
But hardest of all is to see
how such profusion, such overwhelming
lushness and lavish could vanish,
so completely disappear that
you must look through several valleys
to find a sprig or strand of wild
peavine curling on a weedstalk
like some word from a lost language
once flourishing on every tongue.

the dream of a lacquer box :: kimiko hahn

I wish I knew the contents and I wish the contents
Japanese —

like hairpins made of tortoiseshell or bone
though my braid was lopped off long ago,

like an overpowering pine incense
or a talisman from a Kyoto shrine,

like a Hello Kitty diary-lock-and-key,
Hello Kitty stickers or candies,

a netsuke in the shape of an octopus,
ticket stubs from the Bunraku —

or am I wishing for Mother? searching for Sister?
just hoping to give something Japanese to my daughters?

then again, people can read anything into dreams

and I do as well. I wish I possessed
my mother’s black lacquer box

though in my dream it was red,
though I wish my heart were content.

to his pulse :: robert b. shaw

Taut, industrious little drum
tensed in the hollow of my wrist,
beating alert beneath my thumb,
nature ordains that you persist.

Even when sleep has swaddled half
the world and me with unconcern,
taps of your jungle telegraph
attend the planet’s somber turn.

What’s it about? —The steady throb
of traffic through your narrow sluice,
a rich monotony your job
of marking time must reproduce.

On the canal around the clock
you signal with your brisk tattoo
the level reached within the lock,
the drumming the vital cargo through.

That ebb and flow that you denote
returns in circles to its source;
and I, no rebel yet to rote,
am pleased to leave it to its course,

and pleased to make your paces mine,
once more to the pump and back.
Your sudden halt will be the sign
that I have left the beaten track.

the guitar :: patrick phillips

It came with those scratches
from all their belt buckles,

palm-dark with their sweat
like the stock of a gun:

an arc of pickmarks cut
clear through the lacquer

where all the players before me
once strummed—once

thumbed these same latches
where it sleeps in green velvet.

Once sang, as I sing, the old songs.
There’s no end, there’s no end

to this world, everlasting.
We crumble to dust in its arms.

geography :: vanessa stauffer

Our father counts seven dusky shadows
beneath the elm, but my brother points out
one more – a fawn, motionless, alert –
& leashes the setter at this feet, hopes

the dog won’t shatter the precarious
hush. We’re overlooking the Susquehanna
from the back porch of his new house,
the river hills “round as loaves of manna

dropped from Heaven,” he tells me, his laugh
startling the whitetails. The heard dissolves,
vanishing in twilight as our father curses
their quick flight & my brother thinks of

dawn, when he’d stood like The Geographer
at his window, studying his square of the earth.

family dinner :: priscilla lee

My mother the hard boned
Chinese woman 23 years
in this country
without bothering to learn
its language
buys lean pork ribs
special order
at the Hop Sang in Chinatown
and cooks dinner
for an extended family
of twenty-five during holidays.

Seated loosely around
the dining table
trying to eat quietly
I am scrubbed down
to skin and bone,
her oldest daughter—
spineless, a headless snake
a woman grandfather says
who should have her tendons
lifted out slowly
by the steel point
of a darning needle
until she writhes.

To my mother
I’m useless
but dangerous,
capable of swallowing
the family whole
into my pelvis
while I sit
waiting for the boyfriend
white and forbidden
to touch our doorbell.

film noir :: aram saroyan

He was too excited to fall asleep.
The little dog wouldn’t stop barking.
He took out his gun.
He took out his handkerchief.
He took out his notebook.
He drank his coffee and left a dime.
He walked into the room.
He took her in his arms.
She let him in and walked out of the room.
He ran down the escalator.

He left the motor running.
He waited in the rain.
He needed something to tell the police.
He went down unconscious.
The blood drained from his face.
His eyes melted into a smile.
He dialed and waited, looking around.
He took off his hat in the elevator.
He rang the doorbell and waited.
He poured the cereal and added milk.

He opened the refrigerator and looked in.
He turned the page and continued reading.
He shut the door and switched the light on.
He looked up at a plane in the sky.
He put three pennies one on top of another.
He squeezed onto the elevator.
He took out his key.
He helped her into her coat.
He crossed the room and picked up the phone.
He drove on through the heavy rain.

He whistled for a cab.
He turned the corner and bumped into her.
She gradually surrendered to his kiss.
He drove past the wrought-iron gates.
He lit a cigarette and waited.
He lied to the police.
He threw the dice and won.
He folded the newspaper and crossed his legs.
He sat down in the lobby.
He tied his shoes and stood up.

He put on his hat but didn’t get up.
He thought about her until he fell asleep.
He said “Goodbye” and hung up.
He threw the dice and lost.
He dialed and waited for her to answer.
He left some money for her.
He looked for her door number.
The police arrived late.
He walked into her building.
He let her do the explaining.

He gave up hope and begged.
He locked his car and walked.
She gave him that look of hers.
He put a finger to his lips.
He wiped his mouth and left.
He slapped her across the face hard.
He lit a cigarette in the dark.
The police wouldn’t understand.
Her little dog slept.
Her voice had an edge to it.

Her hands were wonderful when she touched him.
His mind might be playing tricks on him.
The low hills reminded him of her.
There was no way to cut his losses.
He needed a shave and a haircut.
The coffee did nothing for him.
She was somewhere else when he called.
Pain stabbed him as he reached toward the glove compartment.
He needed a little time in the desert.
He decided to head for the beach and then thought better.

He needed about $5,000.
He ran out of Luckies and crumpled the pack.
He left his hat on in the car.
Maybe he was ready to die.
He checked his wallet pocket.
All of his friends had disappeared.
He remembered her naked body.
He had almost no savings.
He was at least ten pounds overweight.
He realized he was in love with her.

auguress :: michael shewmaker

The pendulum of her clock keeps perfect time.
Impatient, propped against the windowsill,
she waits for noon, for flights departing north
from the neighboring airport. As they climb,
their steel bellies drag broad shadows across
her lawn. She fidgets as the garden dims:
her roses and the untrimmed clematis,
the hanging feeder—her entire street
darkens beneath the turbines’ hiss.
                                                   Before
and after, she often wonders where they go—
imagines conversations, attendants neat
and eager, rows of smiles as sharp as scythes—
but while their passing shadows briefly fill
her empty teacup to its brim—she knows.

the sign :: patricia traxler

It might have been a Hitchcock movie:
The Butterflies. They were in the air
everywhere, over cobbled streets, across
the highway and the railroad tracks

at Linz, kamikaze butterflies dashing
windshields, a floating wall of white aflutter
in the air like crumpled tissues; beauty
metamorphosed into pestilence. On the train

the mood endured. We settled into a cluttered light,
the car’s chatter, accelerating rhythm of the rails,
everything at once remote and intimate. Your eyes
were your father’s dark eyes. Out the window

in the fog a freight yard heaped with scrap iron,
stacked ties, refuse; the sign just a flicker
above the gate, unreadable. Opposite us, a drowsy
worker. Arbeiter. Blond, like me, blue-eyed.

Everyone I see here, I wonder. A slow silence solidified
the air; paraffin. I turned my eyes to the window like
evidence to hide, drowned them in the Danube. After
a while you found my hand and held it right next to

your ribs. The worker dozed. Your heart beat
against my knuckles as we watched the land slip by.
Blue Danube. It moved, inelectable as history, all
the way to Vienna it moved alongside our train.

adolescence :: heather altfeld

I’ll see you in spring, they always say, and then don’t.
They have gone down the lane and out into the sweet air
in search of a thicker magic. They tell you they are one
of the eighteen species of birds who have invented their own
    language
that you will never learn how to learn. You wait at the window
in a smocked dress trying to paint lilies without crumpling.
The gingerbread goes stale and the candied eyes crack.

the conditional :: ada limón

Say tomorrow doesn’t come.
Say the moon becomes an icy pit.
Say the sweet-gum tree is petrified.
Say the sun’s a foul black tire fire.
Say the owl’s eyes are pinpricks.
Say the raccoon’s a hot tar stain.
Say the shirt’s plastic ditch-litter.
Say the kitchen’s a cow’s corpse.
Say we never get to see it: bright
future, stuck like a bum star, never
coming close, never dazzling.
Say we never meet her. Never him.
Say we spend our last moments staring
at each other, hands knotted together,
clutching the dog, watching the sky burn.
Say, It doesn’t matter. Say, That would be
enough. Say you’d still want this: us alive,
right here, feeling lucky.
 
 
from Bright Dead Things (2015)

ablation :: helen mort

Inside the Northern General
they’re trying to burn away
a small piece of your heart.

I want to know which bit,
how much
and what it holds.

My questions live
between what doctors call the heart
and what we mean by it,

wide as the gap between brain and mind.
And in our lineage of bypassed hearts
we should be grateful

for the literal. I know my heart
is your heart — good for running,
not much else

and later as you sit up in your borrowed bed
I get the whole thing wrong,
call it oblation. Offering

or sacrifice. As if you’d given something up.
As if their tiny fire was ritual
and we could warm by it.

recycling :: nate marshall

it’s your 1st year of college & you should be missing
home by now but mostly you don’t. you read the
Chicago newspapers & call family on Sundays.
you pick up going to church at a place adjacent to the projects.

you’re not from the projects & the ones in Chicago seem worse
but there’s comfort in being around plainspoken folk.
the church folk feed you & also cook you food.
you take African American studies classes & sleep
through Spanish & write poems at night. you
read the newspaper. you consider pledging a fraternity.

you go to parties to watch people. you don’t miss home.
you call your ex girl a lot. you imagine her face across
the phone line. you stare at the scar
on her chin. it is shiny & smooth. you read
the newspaper. you text new girls mostly. you invite
them to play cards & bet clothes or take them to dinner

on your birthday so you don’t spend it alone
or you share their extra-long twin beds or you just text them.
it’s your 1st year of college & your nephew is tiny
& your niece is young enough to be happy & the world
is new & you are not going home for Thanksgiving.
you are in the South at a new friend’s house.

you go to church with his family & to his old high school’s
basketball game & to his malls & to his grandmother’s house.
you did not make your team past 9th grade & never went to malls
much. your grandmother had been dead for 2 years now.
you read the newspaper. his family are nice people.
you do not miss home. you go back to school. you stop talking

to your ex girl. she has a new guy. you do not miss home.
you write poems. you read the newspaper. there are still more
kids dying. your 1st year of college & you should be missing
but you’re still here. you write papers about black people
& voting & violence & families & that is the same
paper. you don’t read the newspaper. you have finals to finish.

you go to church on Sunday with your new friend & you
talk to new girls & consider pledging. you have heard
the fraternities will haze you. you have heard about beating
but you are not from the projects & you are not in Chicago.
you stop reading the newspaper. you decide to kiss a girl
& mean it. you decide to pledge a fraternity. you should

have more information about the newspaper. & the girl.
& the fraternity. you should call home more. you don’t
read the newspapers or call. you are not from the projects or
Chicago. you do not miss home. or your ex girl.
or your newspaper. there are still more kids dying. you
convince your new friend to pledge the fraternity.

he worries about the hazing, the beatings.
you tell him this is an opportunity. don’t miss it.

geology :: robert king

I know the origin of rocks, settling
out of water, hatching crystals
from fire, put under pressure
in various designs I gathered
pretty, picnic after picnic.

And I know about love, a little,
igneous lust, the slow affections
of the sedimentary, the pressure
on earth out of sight to rise up
into material, something solid
you can hold, a whole mountain,
for example, or a loose collection
of pebbles you forgot you were keeping.

lamb’s discussion :: laura romeyn

Harvested for shearing aren’t we all with our cargo to offer,
taken from us sometimes by force, sometimes willingly.

I think of the morning I was outside the farm on top of the hill
when a lamb appeared beside me. She was mostly cream in color

with a smear of what looked like women’s gloss smoothed
throughout her nude where the fleece used to fasten,

and as she started to follow along beside me, her whole family
on the other side of the fence wondered what we were up to.

It dawned on me then that animals never take time off,
since grinding the green or dozing beside the fence are feats

which strike humans as relaxing, and perhaps it’s permitting
the shave that is something like taking time off for them—

welcoming the expected, bearing the blade for a moment
and then freedom, the way an accountant finally lays down

the phone, or a girl in the grocery takes off her apron,
washes her hands, and redoes her lips in the washroom mirror.

a person protests to fate :: jane hirshfield

A person protests to fate:

“The things you have caused
me most to want
are those that furthest elude me.”

Fate nods.
Fate is sympathetic.

To tie the shoes, button a shirt,
are triumphs
for only the very young,
the very old.

During the long middle:

conjugating a rivet
mastering tango
training the cat to stay off the table
preserving a single moment longer than this one
continuing to wake whatever has happened the day before

and the penmanships love practices inside the body.

eating fruit in california :: shirley lim

That hard green pear, one of a dozen
Snagged in the red mesh sack, now has
A pale blotch on one cheek.
Tenderly I shave it off, pare
Down to clean flesh and juice.
Eat it. Soon the others will be thrown
Into the trash, too ripe, too many.
Like the onions, round as coconuts,
Grown pungent legs; tubers hairy
And spotty; and slim yellow bananas,
Blown brown-soggy overnight.

Papayas were dollars a pound,
But why buy one, why two? How many
Would be too many? I teeter
On a decision, reach for the answer.
So it goes. Cruciferous cabbages
Are not eternal, although eternal plenty’s
Promised here. What is as lovely
As lemons heaped in a bowl, sunlight
Imprinted on skin? A miracle of loaves
And lemons at my hand turns daily.
Still, I do not know how to shop
For two, for one, cannot learn the lesson
Of plenty. Is beauty one or bounty?
Will these fruits, shades of gold and glop,
On the plate, stay ideal and sound?

solstice :: floyd skloot

The fat pink
grapefruit half you left
for me this last
morning of my first
full year of illness

with its sections knifed
free from the bitter
membrane and the peel
thick as hope

reminded me
in its sweetness
of time held still
within

a taste of summer
this winter

a seed of health
however small
somewhere in my weakening
center

that you touch.

how music is supposed to be :: carol ciavonne

writing is not how music is supposed to be
a house where the trees are all bent one way
on one side the tower
on the other a string of railroad cars.

             the bridge is violet
             the county line infinity
             the grand canal vanishes



a certain kind of quality of being is possible






When I went to Germany I visited Beethoven’s house and bought
a postcard reproduction of part of a score. I bought it because I
believed I could see individual notes scratched out. I thought
Beethoven had made a mistake, that he had begun something and
changed his mind. . . . this gave me great hope.

the birthday of the world :: marge piercy

On the birthday of the world
I begin to contemplate
what I have done and left
undone, but this year
not so much rebuilding
of my perennially damaged
psyche, shoring up eroding
friendships, digging out
stumps of old resentments
that refuse to rot on their own.
No, this year I want to call
myself to task for what
I have done and not done
for peace. How much have
I dared in opposition?
How much have I put
on the line for freedom?
For mine and others?
As these freedoms are pared,
sliced and diced, where
have I spoken out? Who
have I tried to move? In
this holy season, I stand
self-convicted of sloth
in a time when lies choke
the mind and rhetoric
bends reason to slithering
choking pythons. Here
I stand before the gates
opening, the fire dazzling
my eyes, and as I approach
what judges me, I judge
myself. Give me weapons
of minute destruction. Let
my words turn into sparks.