dragonfly :: patricia traxler

He hovers just above the glittering
current, iridescent green in morning
sun. How does he manage to stay there
at the peripheries of his own desire,
keeping that exquisite distance till
he’s certain he can have what he
needs and he takes it then with flashing
tongue (your tongue’s wet flicker
and prod, how you knew to hold back
till the pleasure was a pain I’d die for
and the taking a perfect kill) the dragonfly
stays poised at the edge to have his fill
and his eyes never close, hour after hour
he hovers at the edge until the light goes.

the enkindled spring :: d. h. lawrence

This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost.

your worship :: val vinokur

I am your pilgrim, who wanders
to stay home; your monk,
who keeps silent when you demand
confessions and theology.

You are too difficult to love
directly; you have no roof
or floor, and I am too pious
for your rain and mud.

So I keep your shrine, the best of you,
the clean, the smiling rest of you.

I am a stubborn priest, who knows
only in the dwindling oil of you,
the weeping and rebellious flame
about to die.

this practice :: ada limón

They say the first thing that goes
is the short-term memory. You forget
your keys, you forget your address,
you forget the name of the president.
I like to think it’s just a matter of practice—
we’ve had more time to practice the memory
of our favorite light, our brother’s face, the
creek that runs down the center of our town.
I want to practice. Like the Russian soldier
who had to make up a word to say how
hard he would fight, said he would fight
“fiercefully,” that’s how I will remember you,
that’s how I will practice—“fiercefully.”

dust :: susan aizenberg

When she woke in the morning, the only clean part of her pillow was the outline of her head.
                                —Timothy Egan

I think it must have come to seem to them biblical,
    those seasons of drouth, the earth itself a glistering
anvil beneath bleached and empty skies, the sun’s light,
    sharp as a blade, piercing the dried and naked stands

of honey locusts their men had set as windbreaks,
    withering their roses and pansies and the neat kitchen
gardens, bordered by mulberry hedges, they’d tended.
    No living green anywhere for the eye to rest,

they wrote their families back East, nothing thrives
    but thistle and insects, the damned rabbits.
For miles
around them, nothing but abandoned farms,
    no crops to anchor the fields, and when blow season

came, the big rollers and black dusters bearing
    their rough freight of blown topsoil to blind
the cattle and scrape the paint off the barns, the air
    so charged with static a kiss or a handshake

knocked you flat, it must have seemed a plague.
    Sky black as the inside of a dog, the men said.
Blow your nose, your hand comes away black-snotted.
    Father Coughlin on the radio blamed the Jews

and bankers, but it must have felt like God himself
    was furious, and who could fathom God? Imagine
how they had to wake to it, morning after morning,
    a meal of dust sifting through the ceiling,

coating the turned-over pots and soaking through
    the wet towels veiling every surface. How it snaked
past the door jams and window frames they’d sealed
    with newspapers and gummed tape, rags soaked

in kerosene. Imagine the blackened sheets
    and the gritty oil that filmed the water they drew
to wash them in, the layers of dust that rippled across
    their scrubbed floors, deep enough for dunes

they had to wake the eldest boy or girl each morning
    to shovel out, their mouths and noses masked
like small Jesse Jameses. And when the cattle began to die,
    and then the children, the frail sacs of their lungs

shredded and their stomachs swollen with dirt,
    some of them went sorrowing, dust mad,
through the vacant streets, but mostly, they endured.
    It’s them I think of now, the ones who endured,

how they must have rested, so briefly,
    in the evenings, writing their letters home before prayer
and bed by the dim light of oil lamps, how they
    must have stared at the unstoppable dust rising

again in the darkening air, the way they
    must have breathed it in slowly, slowly out.

mud season :: tess taylor

We unstave the winter’s tangle.
Sad tomatoes, sullen sky.

We unplay the summer’s blight.
Rotted on the vine, black fruit

swings free of strings that bound it.
In the compost, ghost melon; in the fields

grotesque extruded peppers.
We prod half-thawed mucky things.

In the sky, starlings eddying.
Tomorrow, snow again, old silence.

Today, the creaking icy puller.
Last night I woke

to wild unfrozen prattle.
Rain on the roof—a foreign liquid tongue.

for a girl i know about to be a woman :: miller williams

Because you’ll find how hard it can be
to tell which part of your body sings,
you never should dally with any young man
who does any one of the following things:

tries to beat all the yellow lights;
says, “Big deal!” or “So what?”
more than seven times a day;
ignores yellow lines in a parking lot;

carries a radar detector;
asks what you did with another date;
has more than seven bumper stickers;
drinks beer early and whiskey late;

talks on a cellular phone at lunch;
tunes to radio talk shows;
doesn’t fasten his seat belt;
knows more than God knows;

wants you to change how you do your hair;
spits in a polystyrene cup;
doesn’t use his turn signal;
wants you to change your makeup;

calls your parents their given names;
doesn’t know why you don’t smoke;
has dirt under his fingernails;
makes a threat and calls it a joke;

pushes to get you to have one more;
seems to have trouble staying awake;
says “dago” and “wop” and words like that;
swerves a car to hit a snake;
sits at a table wearing a hat;
has a boneless handshake.

You’re going to know soon enough
the ones who fail this little test.
Mark them off your list at once
and be very careful of all the rest.

hand shadows :: mary cornish

My father put his hands in the white light
of the lantern, and his palms became a horse
that flicked its ears and bucked; an alligator
feigning sleep along the canvas wall leapt up
and snapped its jaws in silhouette, or else
a swan would turn its perfect neck and drop
a fingered beak toward that shadowed head
to lightly preen my father’s feathered hair.
Outside our tent, skunks shuffled in the woods
beneath a star that died a little every day,
and from a nebula of light diffused
inside Orion’s sword, new stars were born.
My father’s hands became two birds, linked
by a thumb, they flew one following the other.

dream :: josephine miles

I see you displaced, condensed, within my dream,
Yet here before me in your daily shape.
And think, can my dream touch you any way
Or move you as in it you otherwise moved?

I prosper in the dream, yet may it not
Touch you in any way or make you move.
It is the splendour of the possible
Not to appear in actual shape and form.

It is the splendour of the actual
So to be still and still be satisfied,
That any else or more becomes a dream,
Displaced, condensed, as by my dreamed regard.

i could not tell :: sharon olds

I could not tell I had jumped off that bus,
that bus in motion, with my child in my arms,
because I did not know it. I believed my own story:
I had fallen, or the bus had started up
when I had one foot in the air.

I would not remember the tightening of my jaw,
the irk that I’d missed my stop, the step out
into the air, the clear child
gazing about her in the air as I plunged
to one knee on the street, scraped it, twisted it,
the bus skidding to a stop, the driver
jumping out, my daughter laughing
Do it again.

I have never done it
again, I have been very careful.
I have kept an eye on that nice young mother
who lightly leapt
off the moving vehicle
onto the stopped street, her life
in her hands, her life’s life in her hands.

the nudists are getting ready to pack :: kim dower

How do the nudists get ready to pack?
Do they pack in the nude
or do they dress to get in the mood?
What will the nudists pack
when the nudists are ready to pack?
Clothes so bare of threads only the nudists
can see them?
Clothes without zippers, buttons or hooks
so the nudists can be nude again soon?
For the nudism curious, some important facts:
Nudism takes place in every corner of the globe.
Nudists have beautiful clothes they never wear
but keep as pets: china red silk blouses,
burlap trousers, angora sweaters, knee high boots
with skinny heels they put on leashes and walk.
Nude areas are isolated from non-nude areas
so encounters with clothed people are less likely:
(hey, look at the nudists!)
Our itchy turtlenecks clinging to our throats,
we will never be free of care;
not even the weakest nudist would suffer,
what on earth should I wear?
For nudists, clothing is redundant:
the skin on their bodies is the perfect outfit.
You’ll rarely hear a nudist say,
should I pack that extra jacket?

the garden before rain :: vona groarke

The garden holds its stillness as a promise
jack-knifing as soon as it’s made

and all remaining light is held
in the keeping of one white rose.

There is evening sleeved in this afternoon
and here is rain, like children streaming

in the door, all scarves and stories
from a world elsewhere

where the loneliness of the gladiolus
in its frenzy of red

means very little, maybe as much
as a purse of blackberries

or an earnestness of leaves
with winter gaining on them.

Against which, the garden
imagines itself a meadow,

all its songs turned on their heads
by one efficient wind.

Or a room no child has slept in
or has any memory of.

Or a pane of glass
on which shadows congregate

like love talk or slight promises;
like rain.

poets eleven poem :: jack hirschman

Between the page with the heart
and the mind wrestling upon it,

and the ear which later will receive
those limbs of light as perfect harmony,

there’s a stillness whose volume speaks
worlds of words defiant of measure,

treasures of the unsayable, secrets
of the ever-beginning enchantment

and the never-ending gathering
at the lips of the kiss of the poem.

ambassador bridge :: lianne spidel

Sometimes, when I was her child, we took
the tunnel underneath the river,
or better, from the high arch of the bridge

she pointed out to me two countries.
Either way she’d stashed a pound of butter
beneath the seat or something small

in Royal Doulton in her girdle, tilting
her chin at the customs man,
calling him Officer, cheeky as hell.

Now she grows slight within my arms,
asking, “What day is this? Am I
in Florida? When am I going home?”

and to the puzzled salesman at the door,
“No, we don’t live here. We’re Canadians
down for the winter.” It is May.

The grocery money hidden in her pillow slip
or under the rug, she plans escape,
packing her suitcase, then forgetting why.

Somehow the tunnel has reclaimed her,
muffling her voice like whispery echoes
of tires in that deep cylinder

where we dare not sound the horn
for fear collapse would seal us helpless
as water climbed the windows of our car.

If I could find our way back to the bridge,
geography and time might then come clear
and she could show me here and there,

then and now, while two flags thud
against the sky, and on the river far below
small boats skip and wobble in the sun.

anything can happen :: seamus heaney

Anything can happen. You know how Jupiter
Will mostly wait for clouds to gather head
Before he hurls the lightning? Well, just now
He galloped his thunder cart and his horses

Across a clear blue sky. It shook the earth
And the clogged underearth, the River Styx,
The winding streams, the Atlantic shore itself.
Anything can happen, the tallest towers

Be overturned, those in high places daunted,
Those overlooked regarded. Stropped-beak Fortune
Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one,
Setting it down bleeding on the next.

Ground gives. The heaven’s weight
Lifts up off Atlas like a kettle-lid.
Capstones shift, nothing resettles right.
Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away.

the moss garden :: c. dale young

Somewhere outside Kyoto’s line, she said,
they stumbled across the famous garden of moss,
the smallish sign so plain it could have been
overlooked. No temple, only moss.
So they entered the walkway with little expectation,
the silence creeping in, much like expectation.

Instead of leading them to the garden directly,
two monks had led them to a different task,
requested they copy three hundred characters,
the ink and paper set down for the task.
And this, too, was a practiced form of prayer,
left behind for those who had forgotten prayer.

The monks left brushes, ink, and bowls of water.
They asked the seekers to write, to pray. But prayer,
any prayer, wasn’t easy. The brush and ink,
the doubting hand, made not for simple prayer.
And even as I write this, I do not want to pray.
This story changes nothing; I do not want to pray.

poetry failure :: mark halliday

For example, I wrote my first poem in 1976 about being in the Vermont house
after my mother’s death; she died the year before;
she loved that house. My father said he kept having moments
of thinking she must have just stepped outside for a minute
to weed the garden or to walk just a little way
along Prospect Street, for a few minutes only and now
almost now she’d be coming back, we’d hear the screen door,
Bev would be back and saying something casual about—

about the cats, Daphne and Chloe, or about Mrs. Yamokofsky next door
or about the pear tree, “or a colored stone she found.”
That was the phrase that ended my poem in 1976:
“or a colored stone she found.” The phrase rang slightly false
but I wanted it—the “ound” and “one” sounds sounded profound
and in 1976 “stone” was still a word guaranteed poetic.
But did my mother ever pick up colorful stones?
Wasn’t that more something I did fifteen years earlier?
In the poem I was trying to turn my ironic mother into
an ideal figure certified sweet like a child.

But what could I make her say? Something very sly and wry?
The poetry would be in her voice, the way of her voice being
hers—voice of my mother—whether the words were about
the cats or Mrs. Yamokofsky or potatoes to peel for mashing.
Not your mother. My mother. Poetry of her
saying in her Bev way “those potatoes” or “Mrs. Yamokovsky”
or “Daphne’s gone down by the Black River
but if we feed Chloe I’m sure she’ll be back.”
And my father and Kimbo and me just going “Yeah” or “In a minute”
because this was all just life.

moments :: mary oliver

There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money away, all of it.

Your heart is beating, isn’t it?
You’re not in chains, are you?

There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own.

afterwards :: jorie graham

I am beneath the tree. To the right the river is melting the young sun.
And translucence itself, bare, bony, feeding and growing on the manifest,
frets in the small puddles of snowmelt sidewalks and frozen lawns hold up
                                                                    full of sky.
From this eternity, where we do not resemble ourselves, where
                          resemblance is finally
                          beside (as the river is) the point,
and attention can no longer change the outcome of the gaze,
the ear too is finally sated, starlings starting up ladderings of chatter,
                          all at once all to the left,
                          invisible in the pruned-back
hawthorn, heard and heard again, and yet again
            differently heard, but silting
the head with inwardness and making always a
                 dispersing but still
coalescing opening in the listener who
         cannot look at them exactly,
since they are invisible inside the greens–though screeching-full in
                       syncopations of yellowest,
                       fine-thought, finespun
rivering of almost-knowables. “Gold” is too dark. “Featherwork”
                       too thick. When two
appear in flight, straight to the child-sized pond of
                           melted snow,
and thrash, dunk, rise, shake, rethrashing, reconfiguring through
reshufflings and resettlings the whole body of integrated
they shatter open the blue-and-tree-tip filled-up gaze of
                                the lawn’s two pools,??
breaking and ruffling all the crisp true sky we had seen living
                                down in that tasseled
earth. How shall we say this happened? Something inaudible
has ceased. Has gone back round to an other side
of which this side’s access was [is] this bodywidth of
                                                                still sky?
deep in just-greening soil? We left the party without a word.
We did not change, but time changed us. It should be,
it seems, one or the other of us who is supposed to say–lest
there be nothing–here we are. It was supposed to become familiar
(this earth). It was to become “ours”. Lest there be nothing.
Lest we reach down to touch our own reflection here.
Shouldn’t depth come to sight and let it in, in the end, as the form
the farewell takes: representation: dead men:
lean forward and look in: the raggedness of where the openings
are: precision of the limbs upthrusting down to hell:
the gleaming in: so blue: and that it has a bottom: even a few clouds                                                                       if you keep
attending: and something that’s an edge-of: and mind-cracks: and how the
                                                                            poem is
about that: that distant life: I carry it inside me but
can plant it into soil: so that it becomes impossible
to say that anything swayed
from in to out : then back to “is this mine, or yours?”: the mind
seeks danger out: it reaches in, would touch: where the subject
                                                                 is emptying,
                                                                 war is:
morality play: preface: what there is to be thought: love:
begin with the world: let it be small enough.

difference :: mark doty

The jellyfish
float in the bay shallows
like schools of clouds,

a dozen identical — is it right
to call them creatures,
these elaborate sacks

of nothing? All they seem
is shape, and shifting,
and though a whole troop

of undulant cousins
go about their business
within a single wave’s span,

every one does something unlike:
this one a balloon
open on both ends

but swollen to its full expanse,
this one a breathing heart,
this a pulsing flower.

This one a rolled condom,
or a plastic purse swallowing itself,
that one a Tiffany shade,

this a troubled parasol.
This submarine opera’s
all subterfuge and disguise,

its plot a fabulous tangle
of hiding and recognition:
nothing but trope,

nothing but something
forming itself into figures
then refiguring,

sheer ectoplasm
recognizable only as the stuff
of metaphor. What can words do

but link what we know
to what we don’t,
and so form a shape?

Which shrinks or swells,
configures or collapses, blooms
even as it is described

into some unlikely
marine chiffon:
a gown for Isadora?

Nothing but style.
What binds
one shape to another

also sets them apart
— but what’s lovelier
than the shapeshifting

transparence of like and as:
clear, undulant words?
We look at alien grace,

by any determined form,
and we say: balloon, flower,

heart, condom, opera,
lampshade, parasol, ballet.
Hear how the mouth,

so full
of longing for the world,
changes its shape?

to helen about her hair :: robinson jeffers

Your hair is long and wonderful;
It is dark, with golden
Lights in the length of it.

Long, lovely, liquid, glorious
Is your hair, and lustrous,
Scented with summertime.

Beware when you are combing it,
In the nights and mornings,
Shaking its splendor out.

I bid you comb it carefully,
For my soul is caught there,
Wound in the web of it.

i felt a funeral, in my brain :: emily dickinson

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My Mind was going numb –

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here –

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –

snake oil, snake bite :: dilruba ahmed

They staunched the wound with a stone.
They drew blue venom from his blood
        until there was none.
When his veins ran true his face remained
lifeless and all the mothers of the village
wept and pounded their chests until the sky
        had little choice
but to grant their supplications. God made
        the boy breathe again.

God breathes life into us, it is said,
only once. But this case was an exception.
God drew back in a giant gust and blew life into the boy
and like a stranded fish, he shuddered, oceanless.

It was true: the boy lived.
He lived for a very long time. The toxins
were an oil slick: contaminated, cleaned.
But just as soon as the women
kissed redness back into his cheeks
the boy began to die again.
He continued to die for the rest of his life.
The dying took place slowly, sweetly.
The dying took a very long time.
(Poetry, November 2013)

cut lilies :: noah warren

More than a hundred dollars of them.

It was pure folly. I had to find more glass things to stuff them

Now a white and purple cloud is breathing in each corner

of the room I love. Now a mass of flowers spills down my
       dining table—

each fresh-faced, extending its delicately veined leaves

into the crush. Didn’t I watch

children shuffle strictly in line, cradle

candles that dribbled hot white on their fingers,

chanting Latin—just to fashion Sevilla’s Easter? Wasn’t I sad?
       Didn’t I use to

go mucking through streambeds with the skunk cabbage raising

bursting violet spears? —Look, the afternoon dies

as night begins in the heart of the lilies and smokes up

their fluted throats until it fills the room

and my lights have to be not switched on.

And in close darkness the aroma grows so sweet,

so strong, that it could slice me open. It does.

I know I’m not the only one whose life is a conditional clause

hanging from something to do with spring and one tall room
       and the tremble of my phone.

I’m not the only one that love makes feel like a dozen

flapping bedsheets being ripped to prayer flags by the wind.

When I stand in full sun I feel I have been falling headfirst for

God, I am so transparent.

So light.

the soul’s expression :: elizabeth barrett browning

With stammering lips and insufficient sound
I strive and struggle to deliver right
That music of my nature, day and night
With dream and thought and feeling interwound
And only answering all the senses round
With octaves of a mystic depth and height
Which step out grandly to the infinite
From the dark edges of the sensual ground.
This song of soul I struggle to outbear
Through portals of the sense, sublime and whole,
And utter all myself into the air:
But if I did it,—as the thunder-roll
Breaks its own cloud, my flesh would perish there,
Before that dread apocalypse of soul.

work boots: still life :: jim daniels

Next to the screen door
work boots dry in the sun.
Salt lines map the leather
and laces droop
like the arms of a new-hire
waiting to punch out.
The shoe hangs open like the sigh
of someone too tired to speak
a mouth that can almost breathe.
A tear in the leather reveals
a shiny steel toe
a glimpse of the promise of safety
the promise of steel and the years to come.

blurry cow :: chase twichell

Two cows stand transfixed
by a trough of floating leaves,
facing as if into the camera,
black and white. One stamps
at the hot sting of a deerfly.

Seen from the window of a train,
the hoof lifts forever
over hay crosshatched by speed,
and the scales of the haunches
balance. The rest is lost:
the head a sudden slur of light,
the dog loping along the tracks
toward a farm yard
where a woman wavers
in her mirage of laundry.
A blurry cow, of all things,
strays into memory, the afterimage
of this day on earth.

all that is glorious around us :: barbara crooker

is not, for me, these grand vistas, sublime peaks, mist-filled
overlooks, towering clouds, but doing errands on a day
of driving rain, staying dry inside the silver skin of the car,
160,000 miles, still running just fine. Or later,
sitting in a café warmed by the steam
from white chicken chili, two cups of dark coffee,
watching the red and gold leaves race down the street,
confetti from autumn’s bright parade. And I think
of how my mother struggles to breathe, how few good days
she has now, how we never think about the glories
of breath, oxygen cascading down our throats to the lungs,
simple as the journey of water over a rock. It is the nature
of stone / to be satisfied / writes Mary Oliver, It is the nature
of water / to want to be somewhere else, rushing down
a rocky tor or high escarpment, the panoramic landscape
boundless behind it. But everything glorious is around
us already: black and blue graffiti shining in the rain’s
bright glaze, the small rainbows of oil on the pavement,
where the last car to park has left its mark on the glistening
street, this radiant world.

silent music :: floyd skloot

My wife wears headphones as she plays
Chopin etudes in the winter light.
Singing random notes, she sways
in and out of shadow while night
settles. The keys she presses make a soft
clack, the bench creaks when her weight shifts,
golden cotton fabric ripples across
her shoulders, and the sustain pedal clicks.
This is the hidden melody I know
so well, her body finding harmony in
the give and take of motion, her lyric
grace of gesture measured against a slow
fall of darkness. Now stillness descends
to signal the end of her silent music.

the magazine :: heather altfeld

The reports are all in
the reports from the hardened coves
of the wasps, the spindly trails of the ant-lion,
the mossy-wigged rocks, the bobcat, the plains mice—
all of the districts, in other words,
and none of the accounts look good,

they all heard the report shaving at the pines,
its dry embrittled crack, its angry stripe—
they scattered the news and carried,
on their knuckles, the white-tailed deer
her twitchy, terrified smile, that grim, thin smile
the one you wore when you heard the report

in the magazine, the investigation, its hemless, hard strap,
its thoughtless—that is, without a thought—
graze, its cold stutter reporting
against the stone, brick, window, the flocks
quacking and quailing in the rice fields,
on the playgrounds, and in front of the capitals,

in the magazines, you could see it, glinty and shining
and wanting to be yours. The reports arrive
by morse and pigeon, from the territories and the back streets
and the brownstones, you can hear them
during the bright noise of your interrogation,
beneath the static the words are clear, you are being stung, set up,

you are, in fact, in the report, you are being written up
in our magazine, you are being grazed on the ear,
cuffed on the sleeve, your heart
is being busted, your heart is busting
from its great belt of ice, you are lifting up
and floating outward and upward right as the last report

is being filed, and this is what they will remember afterwards,
the silver arc, the bow, the graceful way you fell,
the beauty of your blood, its steady, gorgeous, deepening pool.