relic :: rachel richardson

The first time I touched it,
cloth fell under my fingers,
the frail white folds
softened, demure. No burn,

no combustion at the touch of skin.
It sat, silent, like any other contents
of any other box: photographs
of the dead, heirloom jewels.

Exposed to thin windowlight it is
exactly as in movies:
a long gown, and where a chest
must have breathed, a red cross

crossed over. The crown, I know,
waits underneath, the hood with eyes
carefully stitched open, arch cap
like a bishop’s, surging to its point.

grubbing :: gabriel spera

The jay’s up early, and attacks the lawn
with something of that fervor and despair
of one whose keys are not where they always are,
checking the same spots over and again
till something new or overlooked appears—
an armored pillbug, or a husk of grain.
He flits with it home, where his mate beds down,
her stern tail feathers jutting from the nest
like a spoon handle from a breakfast bowl.
The quickest lover’s peck, and he’s paroled
again to stalk the sodgrass, cockheaded, obsessed.
He must get something from his selfless work—
joy, or reprieve, or a satisfying sense
of obligation dutifully dispensed.
Unless, of course, he’s just a bird, with beaks—
too many beaks—to fill, in no way possessed
of traits or demons humans might devise,
his dark not filled with could-have-beens and whys.

flounder :: natasha tretheway

Here, she said, put this on your head.
She handed me a hat.
You ’bout as white as your dad,
and you gone stay like that.

Aunt Sugar rolled her nylons down
around each bony ankle,
and I rolled down my white knee socks
letting my thin legs dangle,

circling them just above water
and silver backs of minnows
flitting here then there between
the sun spots and the shadows.

This is how you hold the pole
to cast the line out straight.
Now put that worm on your hook,
throw it out and wait.

She sat spitting tobacco juice
into a coffee cup.
Hunkered down when she felt the bite,
jerked the pole straight up

reeling and tugging hard at the fish
that wriggled and tried to fight back.
A flounder, she said, and you can tell
’cause one of its sides is black
.

The other side is white, she said.
It landed with a thump.
I stood there watching that fish flip-flop,
switch sides with every jump.

memorial :: clifton gachagua

To the young and able man who lets his death come in
with veils in his face that say you can come in and claim
a place among us. To the young man who closes his eyes
to the parting of clouds and lets what is beyond come in.
To the young man whose body is still warm, that weightless
being with halos, whose footsteps we will never fill. To the endless
clock machine in the god body of the young man who
closes his eyes as the light sweeps him to eternity. To the blessed
beating of his heart when we listen to our closed palms.
To the complex latticework of smiles in his photographs
every two seconds you pick him up and back. God body love.
Good-bye. To the young man whose laughter is now a memorial among us,
as we sit under tents, listen to our mothers and sisters cry,
shed our own not-so-private god tears love, shelter under
the night that claimed him. To him and beyond and the endless
love through which God privately loves him.

the marvelous women :: mohja kahf

All women speak two languages:
the language of men
and the language of silent suffering.
Some women speak a third,
the language of queens.
They are marvelous
and they are my friends.

My friends give me poetry.
If it were not for them
I’d be a seamstress out of work.
They send me their dresses
and I sew together poems,
enormous sails for ocean journeys.

My marvelous friends, these women
who are elegant and fix engines,
who teach gynecology and literacy,
and work in jails and sing and sculpt
and paint the ninety-nine names,
who keep each other’s secrets
and pass on each other’s spirits
like small packets of leavening,

it is from you I fashion poetry.
I scoop up, in handfuls, glittering
sequins that fall from your bodies
as you fall in love, marry, divorce,
get custody, get cats, enter
supreme courts of justice,
argue with God.

You rescuers on galloping steeds
of the weak and the wounded–
Creatures of beauty and passion,
powerful workers in love–
you are the poems.
I am only your stenographer.
I am the hungry transcriber
of the conjuring recipes you hoard
in the chests of your great-grandmothers.

My marvelous friends–the women
of brilliance in my life,
who levitate my daughters,
you are a coat of many colors
in silk tie-dye so gossamer
it can be crumpled in one hand.
You houris, you mermaids, swimmers
in dangerous waters, defiers of sharks–

My marvelous friends,
thirsty Hagars and laughing Sarahs,
you eloquent radio Aishas,
Marys drinking the secret
milkshakes of heaven,
slinky Zuleikas of desire,
gay Walladas, Harriets
parting the sea, Esthers in the palace,
Penelopes of patient scheming,

you are the last hope of the shrinking women.
You are the last hand to the fallen knights
You are the only epics left in the world

Come with me, come with poetry
Jump on this wild chariot, hurry–

for women who are ‘difficult’ to love :: warsan shire

you are a horse running alone
and he tries to tame you
compares you to an impossible highway
to a burning house
says you are blinding him
that he could never leave you
forget you
want anything but you
you dizzy him, you are unbearable
every woman before or after you
is doused in your name
you fill his mouth
his teeth ache with memory of taste
his body just a long shadow seeking yours
but you are always too intense
frightening in the way you want him
unashamed and sacrificial
he tells you that no man can live up to the one who
lives in your head
and you tried to change didn’t you?
closed your mouth more
tried to be softer
prettier
less volatile, less awake
but even when sleeping you could feel
him travelling away from you in his dreams
so what did you want to do, love
split his head open?
you can’t make homes out of human beings
someone should have already told you that
and if he wants to leave
then let him leave
you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love.

watch the poet perform this poem

dear proofreader :: david hernandez

You’re right. I meant “midst,” not “mist.”
I don’t know what I was stinking,
I mean thinking, soap speaks intimately
to my skin every day. Most days.
Depending if darkness has risen
to my skull like smoke up a chimney floe.
Flue. Then no stepping nude
into the shower, no mist turning
the bathroom mirror into frosted glass
where my face would float
coldly in the oval. Picture a caveman
encased in ice. Good. I like how
your mind works, how your eyes
inside your mind works, and your actual eyes
reading this, their icy precision, nothing
slips by them. Even now I can feel you
hovering silently above these lines,
hawkish, Godlike, each period
a lone figure kneeling in the snow.
That’s too sad. I would like to send
search parties and rescue choppers
to every period ever printed.
I would like to apologize to my wife
for not showering on Monday and Tuesday.
I was stinking. I was simultaneously
numb and needled with anxiety,
in the midst of a depressive episode.
Although “mist” would work too,
metaphorically speaking, in the mist of,
in the fog of, this gray haze that followed me
relentlessly from room to room
until every red bell inside my head
was wrong. Rung.

parliament :: carol ann duffy

Then in the writers’ wood,

every bird with a name in the world

crowded the leafless trees,

took its turn to whistle or croak.

An owl grieved in an oak.

A magpie mocked. A rook

cursed from a sycamore.

The cormorant spoke:

Stinking seas

below ill winds. Nothing swims.

A vast plastic soup, thousand miles

wide as long, of petroleum crap.

A bird of paradise wept in a willow.

The jewel of a hummingbird shrilled

on the air.

A stork shawled itself like a widow.

The gull said:

Where coral was red, now white, dead

under stunned waters.

The language of fish

Advertisement

cut out at the root.

Mute oceans. Oil like a gag

on the Gulf of Mexico.

A woodpecker heckled.

A vulture picked at its own breast.

Thrice from the cockerel, as ever.

The macaw squawked:

Nouns I know –

Rain. Forest. Fire. Ash.

Chainsaw. Cattle. Cocaine. Cash.

Squatters. Ranchers. Loggers. Looters.

Barons. Shooters.

A hawk swore.

A nightingale opened its throat

in a garbled quote.

A worm turned in the blackbird’s beak.

This from the crane:

What I saw – slow thaw

in permafrost broken terrain

of mud and lakes

peat broth seepage melt

methane breath.

A bat hung like a suicide.

Only a rasp of wings from the raven.

A heron was stone a robin blood

in the written wood.

So snow and darkness slowly fell

the eagle, history, in silhouette,

with the golden plover,

and the albatross

telling of Arctic ice

as the cold, hard moon calved from the earth.

workshop :: billy collins

I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title.
It gets me right away because I’m in a workshop now
so immediately the poem has my attention,
like the Ancient Mariner grabbing me by the sleeve.

And I like the first couple of stanzas,
the way they establish this mode of self-pointing
that runs through the whole poem
and tells us that words are food thrown down
on the ground for other words to eat.
I can almost taste the tail of the snake
in its own mouth,
if you know what I mean.

But what I’m not sure about is the voice,
which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans,
but other times seems standoffish,
professorial in the worst sense of the word
like the poem is blowing pipe smoke in my face.
But maybe that’s just what it wants to do.

What I did find engaging were the middle stanzas,
especially the fourth one.
I like the image of clouds flying like lozenges
which gives me a very clear picture.
And I really like how this drawbridge operator
just appears out of the blue
with his feet up on the iron railing
and his fishing pole jigging—I like jigging—
a hook in the slow industrial canal below.
I love slow industrial canal below. All those l’s.

Maybe it’s just me,
but the next stanza is where I start to have a problem.
I mean how can the evening bump into the stars?
And what’s an obbligato of snow?
Also, I roam the decaffeinated streets.
At that point I’m lost. I need help.

The other thing that throws me off,
and maybe this is just me,
is the way the scene keeps shifting around.
First, we’re in this big aerodrome
and the speaker is inspecting a row of dirigibles,
which makes me think this could be a dream.
Then he takes us into his garden,
the part with the dahlias and the coiling hose,
though that’s nice, the coiling hose,
but then I’m not sure where we’re supposed to be.
The rain and the mint green light,
that makes it feel outdoors, but what about this wallpaper?
Or is it a kind of indoor cemetery?
There’s something about death going on here.

In fact, I start to wonder if what we have here
is really two poems, or three, or four,
or possibly none.

But then there’s that last stanza, my favorite.
This is where the poem wins me back,
especially the lines spoken in the voice of the mouse.
I mean we’ve all seen these images in cartoons before,
but I still love the details he uses
when he’s describing where he lives.
The perfect little arch of an entrance in the baseboard,
the bed made out of a curled-back sardine can,
the spool of thread for a table.
I start thinking about how hard the mouse had to work
night after night collecting all these things
while the people in the house were fast asleep,
and that gives me a very strong feeling,
a very powerful sense of something.
But I don’t know if anyone else was feeling that.
Maybe that was just me.
Maybe that’s just the way I read it.

each night we drift :: hadara bar-nadav

Each night we drift

Heat-shimmer the wind
could blow away

Half nightmare, half dream

Put us back in a sentence
or a story of the world

The heat of history
our voices draw us into

There’s a silence here
I want to scratch away

Silence ready to break
into small birds of sound

Starlings gather in branches
when we cannot sleep

When we cannot sleep
starlings descend from the dark

Dark beats until the room
is night and sheen

The flickers offer only
a syllable

Our mouths are full
of birds

The cradle of song
either empty or aflame

Neither history nor a promise
of rain

A song like breaking glass

Somewhere there is a name
for this

Someone could write it down

Whatever finally falls,
falls quietly

All the innumerable wings

Wings arranged
like the hands of the dead

Later the song will break

Creel of starlight and moon,
pearl, beak, pebble, bone

A room of song behind us,
echo that will fill the night

a patched-up poem :: ruby rahman

translated by Farid Rahman

You must have realized by now
That this poem, like life, is all patched-up.
Two lines were written in the month of Agrahayon
Over which swept innumerable Sidrs, so many springs.
Haggling over fish
I jotted down two more lines on a taka note.
Then came inflation, came famine,
Who knows where flew away that taka note
Flew away this surreal life
Flew away all those open dreams.
That night amid a gentle earthquake
When trembled this new century
The trees flew up to somehow go and sit
Beside the stars in the sky,
Clouds rushed in at comet-speed to fill my rice plate,
And I was flung to land in Palashi’s battlefield.
From the earth’s depths out flowed boiling lava
My little finger and forefinger jerked
As my tears and blood burnt to vapour.
My Srabon nights misted, they fled away
Fled the blue deep-dark clouds, dried the ceaseless rain.
Yet, even then,
Astonishingly blue-and-green alphabets crowded me
To sew these lovely patches like a quilt
On the body of my poem.
Only to again disappear. What desolation!
On fields open spaces in offices rush working people
Aging faster than sound, faster than light.
In this tumult
Two stanzas of this poem enter into a black
hole
But every moment send distress signals
Blip-blip from the center of dreams, from the depths
of a re-awakening
As if a star was emerging from within Srabon-darkness!
In this poem like desolate life where do I fit in the lines!
Oh, this patch-work, this tailorwork I can no longer abide.

to you again :: mary szybist

Again this morning my eyes woke up too close
to your eyes,

their almost green orbs
too heavy-lidded to really look back.

To wake up next to you
is ordinary. I do not even need to look at you

to see you.
But I do look. So when you come to me

in your opulent sadness, I see
you do not want me

to unbutton you
so I cannot do the one thing

I can do.
Now it is almost one a.m. I am still at my desk

and you are upstairs at your desk a staircase
away from me. Already it is years

of you a staircase
away from me. To be near you

and not near you
is ordinary.

You
are ordinary.

Still, how many afternoons have I spent
peeling blue paint from

our porch steps, peering above
hedgerows, the few parked cars for the first

glimpse of you. How many hours under
the overgrown, pink Camillas, thinking

the color was wrong for you, thinking
you’d appear

after my next
blink.

Soon you’ll come down the stairs
to tell me something. And I’ll say,

okay. Okay. I’ll say it
like that, say it just like

that, I’ll go on being
your never-enough.

It’s not the best in you
I long for. It’s when you’re noteless,

numb at the ends of my fingers, all is
all. I say it is.

mary :: douglas goetsch

I promise not to touch you if we pull
the beds together, and you let your hair–
old cells, belonging as much to the world
as to you–drape across to me, so I might twist
it in my fingers as you do, in the fruit market
questioning yourself about melon and time
and the man who put you back on the pile
and made you never want to touch again.
If what they say is true–a woman’s hair
grows seven years long before letting go–
I’d find the day he did it, a sad ripple
circling your head like a fallen halo,
and brush it out until it shone like new,
and lay it back upon you like a blanket.

consciousness :: joanie mackowski

How it is fickle, leaving one alone to wander

the halls of the skull with the fluorescents
softly flickering. It rests on the head

like a bird nest, woven of twigs and tinsel
and awkward as soon as one stops to look.
That pile of fallen leaves drifting from

the brain to the fingertip burned on the stove,

to the grooves in that man’s voice
as he coos to his dog, blowing into the leaves

of books with moonlit opossums
and Chevrolets easing down the roads
of one’s bones. And now it plucks a single

tulip from the pixelated blizzard: yet

itself is a swarm, a pulse with no
indigenous form, the brain’s lunar halo.

Our compacted galaxy, its constellations
trembling like flies caught in a spider web,
until we die, and then the flies

buzz away—while another accidental

coherence counts to three to pass the time
or notes the berries on the bittersweet vine

strewn in the spruces, red pebbles dropped
in the brain’s gray pool. How it folds itself
like a map to fit in a pocket, how it unfolds

a fraying map from the pocket of the day.

across from the winter palace :: noah warren

Do you remember when you began to travel?
It lent you this astonishing lens and you kept a journal
That rode in your breast pocket like a stone,
There you wrote “Limoges — ” and “Altenkirchen”;
And when you saw a peasant, kissed, or passed out — 
Died for twenty seconds — in the heat on the hill above
Marseille you would rush out the notebook and make a note — 
Sometimes just an x in the top right corner — 
And ideally you would brood about that later.

Which led slowly to the dark hot bar
Where you enjoy a glass of beer across from the Winter Palace in summer.
In the rose-and-blue windows of the basilica
Today radiant burghers stood and learned Mercy in a circle
Around Stephen, recognized
By the pebble enthroned in his skull and the scarlet ooze.

While in your system the amphetamines progress.
The idea is they’ll give you heart to haul yourself up and cross
The limestone plaza. And when at the gate of the place
You pay you can enter the Palace.

mrs. green :: david huddle

At the screen door
a pretty woman just
married and in shorts
on a Saturday in May,
she was sweet to me
when I came up to collect,
offered me something cold
to drink,
              which I refused
for the sake of dreaming
the whole summer I was
twelve about what it
would be like some
morning to walk
softly into
that lady’s
kitchen.

fragment of a women from kos :: susan mitchell

At first all you see are the folds
of drapery, high grass close together, swaying
beads you parted as a child, field behind
the house, then river. Sky.
You were told finches lived there, red-
winged, tipsy, upside down their hold
on the reeds, even so
they sang, trilling over and over
your outstretched hands song
poured like seeds from a basket or from
a bowl, water.
                              There was a woman,
young, beautiful—you used to hug her
from behind, closing your hands
over the cry of surprise
she gave out
like perfume. Now here
she is, rising
from the dead
landscape of memory, just this
fragment of her, still
kneeling.

a flowering absence :: john montague

How can one make an absence flower,
lure a desert to sudden bloom?
Taut with terror, I rehearse a time
when I was taken from a sick room:
as before from your flayed womb.

And given away to be fostered
wherever charity could afford.
I came back, lichened with sores,
from the care of still poorer
immigrants, new washed from the hold.

I bless their unrecorded names,
whose need was greater than mine,
wet nurses from tenement darkness
giving suck for a time,
because their milk was plentiful

Or their own children gone.
They were the first to succour
that still terrible thirst of mine,
a thirst for love and knowledge,
to learn something of that time

Of confusion, poverty, absence.
Year by year, I track it down
intent for a hint of evidence,
seeking to manage the pain –
how a mother gave away her son.

I took the subway to the hospital
in darkest Brooklyn, to call
on the old nun who nursed you
through the travail of my birth
to come on another cold trail.

“Sister Virgilius, how strange!
She died, just before you came.
She was delirious, rambling of all
her old patients; she could well
have remembered your mother’s name.”

Around the bulk of St Catherine’s
another wild, raunchier Brookyln:
as tough a territory as I’ve known,
strutting young Puerto Rican hoods,
flash of blade, of bicycle chain.

Mother, my birth was death
of your love life, the last man
to flutter near your tender womb:
a neonlit bar sign winks off & on
motherfucka, thass your name.

There is an absence, real as presence.
In the mornings I hear my daughter
chuckle, with runs of sudden joy.
Hurt, she rushes to her mother,
as I never could, a whining boy.

All roads wind backwards to it.
An unwanted child, a primal hurt.
I caught fever on the big boat
that brought us away from America –
away from my lost parents.

Surely my father loved me,
teaching me to croon, Ragtime Cowboy
Joe, swaying in his saddle
as he sings
, as he did, drunkenly
dropping in from the speakeasy.

So I found myself shipped back
to his home, in an older country,
transported to a previous century,
where his sisters restored me,
natural love flowering around me.

And the hurt ran briefly underground
to break out in a schoolroom
where I was taunted by a mistress
who hunted me publicly down
to near speechlessness.

“So this is our brightest infant?
Where did he get the outlandish accent?
What do you expect, with no parents,
sent back from some American slum:
none of you are to speak like him!”

Stammer, impediment, stutter:
she had found my lode of shame,
and soon I could no longer utter
those magical words I had begun
to love, to dolphin delight in.

And not for two stumbling decades
Would I manage to speak straight again.
Grounded for the second time
my tongue became a rusted hinge
until the sweet oils of poetry

eased it and grace flooded in

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.

without a claim :: grace schulman

Raised like a houseplant on a windowsill
looking out on other windowsills
of a treeless block, I couldn’t take it in

when told I owned this land with oaks and maples
scattered like crowds on Sundays, and an underground
strung not with pipes but snaky roots that writhed

when my husband sank a rhododendron,
now flaunting pinks high as an attic window.
This land we call our place was never ours.

If it belonged to anyone, it was
the Montauk chief who traded it for mirrors,
knowing it wasn’t his. Not the sailors

who brought the blacksmith iron, nor the farmers
who dried salt hay, nor even the later locals,
whale hunters, the harpooner from Sumatra,

the cook from Borneo, who like my ancestors
wandered from town to port without a claim,
their names inside me though not in the registries.

No more than geese in flight, shadowing the lawn,
cries piercing wind, do we possess these fields,
given the title, never the dominion.

But here we are in April, watching earth rise
with bellflowers that toll, brawl, call, in silence;
daffodils that gleam yellow through sea haze

and cedars at sunrise asking for flame
like a cake with tiers of birthday candles.
Come visit us by shore, up a mud lane.

Duck under the elm’s branches, thick with leaves,
on land deeded to us but not to keep,
and take my hand, mine only to give

for a day that shines like corn silk in wind.
We rent, borrow, or share even our bodies,
and never own all that we know and love.

the sink :: catherine bowman

She loves to talk on the phone
while washing the dinner dishes,
catching up long distance or
dealing with issues closer to home,
the reconnoitring with the long lost
or a recent so-and-so. She finds it
therapeutic, washing down
the aftermath. And that feeling
she gets in her stomach with a loved one’s
prolonged silence. And under the sink
in the dark among the L-pipes, the confederate
socket wrenches, lost twine, wire lei,
sink funk, steel-wool lemnisci, leitmotifs
of oily sacraments, a broken compass forever
pointing southeast by east, mold codices,
ring-tailed dust motes from days well served,
a fish-shaped flyswatter with blue horns,
fermented lemures, fiery spectres,
embottled spirit vapors swirling in the crude
next to the Soft Scrub, the vinegared
and leistered sealed in tins, delicious with saltines,
gleaned spikelets, used-up votives. . . .
In the back in the corner forgotten
an old coffee can of bacon fat
from a month of sinful Sundays,
a luna moth embossed, rising—a morning star.

poem for haruko :: june jordan

I never thought I’d keep a record of my pain
or happiness
like candles lighting the entire soft lace
of the air
around the full length of your hair/a shower
organized by God
in brown and auburn
undulations luminous like particles
of flame

But now I do
retrieve an afternoon of apricots
and water interspersed with cigarettes
and sand and rocks
we walked across:
                                        How easily you held
my hand
beside the low tide
of the world

Now I do
relive an evening of retreat
a bridge I left behind
where all the solid heat
of lust and tender trembling
lay as cruel and as kind
as passion spins its infinite
tergiversations in between the bitter
and the sweet

Alone and longing for you
now I do

a credence :: danielle legros georges

Those who best love freedom
are those who are not free
or those who were not free
or those who could not be.

The prison. The real cell.
The bars of one’s own
making. The scars, and flesh
beneath still quaking.

The dire need to breathe.
The stars and sky on fire.
Seed and pyre. The turning,
turning all to dust. The air.

A hole bored through
a tent’s blue ceiling.
The sky reeling.
Reeling.

Will. Force. The thing
that will not let you die.
A million, million, million
whys. An absence

of antecedents. A frankness.
A tension. A craggy flower
rough blossom, repeating.
Repeating.

metamorphosis :: may sarton

Always it happens when we are not there–
The tree leaps up alive into the air,
Small open parasols of Chinese green
Wave on each twig. But who has ever seen
The latch sprung, the bud as it burst?
Spring always manages to get there first.

Lovers of wind, who will have been aware
Of a faint stirring in the empty air,
Look up one day through a dissolving screen
To find no star, but this multiplied green,
Shadow on shadow, singing sweet and clear.
Listen, lovers of wind, the leaves are here!