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.

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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.