february 29 :: jane hirshfield

An extra day—

Like the painting’s fifth cow,
who looks out directly,
straight toward you,
from inside her black and white spots.

An extra day—

Accidental, surely:
the made calendar stumbling over the real
as a drunk trips over a threshold
too low to see.

An extra day—

With a second cup of black coffee.
A friendly but businesslike phone call.
A mailed-back package.
Some extra work, but not too much—
just one day’s worth, exactly.

An extra day—

Not unlike the space
between a door and its frame
when one room is lit and another is not,
and one changes into the other
as a woman exchanges a scarf.

An extra day—

Extraordinarily like any other.
And still
there is some generosity to it,
like a letter re-readable after its writer has died.

the lonely death :: adelaide crapsey

In the cold I will rise, I will bathe
In waters of ice; myself
Will shiver, and shrive myself,
Alone in the dawn, and anoint
Forehead and feet and hands;
I will shutter the windows from light,
I will place in their sockets the four
Tall candles and set them a-flame
In the grey of the dawn; and myself
Will lay myself straight in my bed,
And draw the sheet under my chin.

miss rosie :: lucille clifton

when i watch you
wrapped up like garbage
sitting, surrounded by the smell
of too old potato peels
or
when i watch you
in your old man’s shoes
with the little toe cut out
sitting, waiting for your mind
like next week’s grocery
i say
when i watch you
you wet brown bag of a woman
who used to be the best looking gal in georgia
used to be called the Georgia Rose
i stand up
through your destruction
i stand up

the pet :: cate marvin

I rode him through the village, smiling.
He tossed his tasseled mane in distress.
The villagers took his gesture as vanity,
and made no attempt to rein him back.
Camped at night by stream and fire,

he seemed to think stories were in order.
The ghoulish tales twisting out his mouth
no longer frightened me. On leaving,
I’d taken on a certain complacency. Later,
he’d characterize my silence as merely

mean. But what is mean about a mouth
that, having no stories, claims it can provide
no flower for the ear, no wine for the wind?
I tried: I told the tale of him, which he
(the version being mine) was not much

interested in. But all of us, the fattening
moon, the yewey trees, the sharp-toothed
stars who combed their glowing backs against
the sky like cats: we laughed. And now
that I had left, where would I take him?

He was vehicle and, as such, responsibility.
He was deadening, tiresome, and necessary.
I made ourselves a home and kept him gently
as a pet. Visitors often wonder aloud,
How do you manage to keep such a creature

inside? The floors are stained with his keep.
I tell them my heart is huge and its doors
are small. Once I took him in he grew. Now
I cannot remove him without killing him,
which, frankly, I have never wanted to do.

enough music :: dorianne laux

Sometimes, when we’re on a long drive,
and we’ve talked enough and listened
to enough music and stopped twice,
once to eat, once to see the view,
we fall into this rhythm of silence.
It swings back and forth between us
like a rope over a lake.
Maybe it’s what we don’t say
that saves us.

mighty pawns :: major jackson

If I told you Earl, the toughest kid
on my block in North Philadelphia,
bow-legged and ominous, could beat
any man or woman in ten moves playing white,
or that he traveled to Yugoslavia to frustrate the bearded
masters at the Belgrade Chess Association,
you’d think I was given to hyperbole,
and if, at dinnertime, I took you
into the faint light of his Section 8 home
reeking of onions, liver, and gravy,
his six little brothers fighting on a broken love-seat
for room in front of a cracked flat-screen,
one whose diaper sags it’s a wonder
it hasn’t fallen to his ankles,
the walls behind doors exposing the sheetrock
the perfect O of a handle, and the slats
of stairs missing where Baby-boy gets stuck
trying to ascend to a dominion foreign to you and me
with its loud timbales and drums blasting down
from the closed room of his cousin whose mother
stands on a corner on the other side of town
all times of day and night, except when her relief
check arrives at the beginning of the month,
you’d get a better picture of Earl’s ferocity
after-school on the board in Mr. Sherman’s class,
but not necessarily when he stands near you
at a downtown bus-stop in a jacket a size too
small, hunching his shoulders around his ears,
as you imagine the checkered squares of his poverty
and anger, and pray he does not turn his precise gaze
too long in your direction for fear he blames
you and proceeds to take your Queen.

blue dementia :: yusef komunyakaa

In the days when a man
would hold a swarm of words
inside his belly, nestled
against his spleen, singing.

In the days of night riders
when life tongued a reed
till blues & sorrow song
called out of the deep night:
Another man done gone.
Another man done gone.

In the days when one could lose oneself
all up inside love that way,
& then moan on the bone
till the gods cried out in someone’s sleep.

Today,
already I’ve seen three dark-skinned men
discussing the weather with demons
& angels, gazing up at the clouds
& squinting down into iron grates
along the fast streets of luminous encounters.

I double-check my reflection in plate glass
& wonder, Am I passing another
Lucky Thompson or Marion Brown
cornered by a blue dementia,
another dark-skinned man
who woke up dreaming one morning
& then walked out of himself
dreaming? Did this one dare
to step on a crack in the sidewalk,
to turn a midnight corner & never come back
whole, or did he try to stare down a look
that shoved a blade into his heart?
I mean, I also know something
about night riders & catgut. Yeah,
honey, I know something about talking with ghosts.