family reunion :: maxine w. kumin

The week in August you come home,
adult, professional, aloof,
we roast and carve the fatted calf
—in our case home-grown pig, the chine
garlicked and crisped, the applesauce
hand-pressed. Hand-pressed the greengage wine.

Nothing is cost-effective here.
The peas, the beets, the lettuces
hand sown, are raised to stand apart.
The electric fence ticks like the slow heart
of something we fed and bedded for a year,
then killed with kindness’s one bullet
and paid Jake Mott to do the butchering.

In winter we lure the birds with suet,
thaw lungs and kidneys for the cat.
Darlings, it’s all a circle from the ring
of wire that keeps the raccoons from the corn
to the gouged pine table that we lounge around,
distressed before any of you was born.

Benign and dozy from our gluttonies,
the candles down to stubs, defenses down,
love leaking out unguarded the way
juice dribbles from the fence when grounded
by grass stalks or a forgotten hoe,
how eloquent, how beautiful you seem!

Wearing our gestures, how wise you grow,
ballooning to overfill our space,
the almost-parents of your parents now.
So briefly having you back to measure us
is harder than having let you go.

beginning :: james wright

The moon drops one or two feathers into the field.
The dark wheat listens.
Be still.
Now.
There they are, the moon’s young, trying
Their wings.
Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow
Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone
Wholly, into the air.
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
Or move.
I listen.
The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,
And I lean toward mine.

come into animal presence :: denise levertov

Come into animal presence.
No man is so guileless as
the serpent. The lonely white
rabbit on the roof is a star
twitching its ears at the rain.
The llama intricately
folding its hind legs to be seated
not disdains but mildly
disregards human approval.
What joy when the insouciant
armadillo glances at us and doesn’t
quicken his trotting
across the track into the palm brush.

What is this joy? That no animal
falters, but knows what it must do?
That the snake has no blemish,
that the rabbit inspects his strange surroundings
in white star-silence? The llama
rests in dignity, the armadillo
has some intention to pursue in the palm-forest.
Those who were sacred have remained so,
holiness does not dissolve, it is a presence
of bronze, only the sight that saw it
faltered and turned from it.
An old joy returns in holy presence.

the girl who buried snakes in a jar :: john haines

She came to see the bones
whiten in a summer,
and one year later a narrow
mummy with a dusty skin
and flaking scales
would break apart in her hand.

She wanted to see if sunlight
still glinted in those eyes,
to know what it lighted
from a window on the mallow roots,
leaf mold and fallen casques.

And to ask if a single tongue,
one forked flicker in the dark,
had found any heat in death:
in the closed space and chill
of that burial, what speech,
what sign would there be.

She who walked in the canyon early,
parted the grass and halted
upon the living snake, coiled
and mottled by a bitter pool,

unearthed her jar in another spring,
to find the snake spirit gone,
only a little green water standing,
some dust, or a smell.

my proteins :: jane hirshfield

They have discovered, they say,
the protein of itch—
natriuretic polypeptide b—
and that it travels its own distinct pathway
inside my spine.
As do pain, pleasure, and heat.

A body it seems is a highway,
a cloverleaf crossing
well built, well traversed.
Some of me going north, some going south.

Ninety percent of my cells, they have discovered,
are not my own person,
they are other beings inside me.

As ninety-six percent of my life is not my life.

Yet I, they say, am they—
my bacteria and yeasts,
my father and mother,
grandparents, lovers,
my drivers talking on cell phones,
my subways and bridges,
my thieves, my police
who chase my self night and day.

My proteins, apparently also me,
fold the shirts.

I find in this crowded metropolis
a quiet corner,
where I build of not-me Lego blocks
a bench,
pigeons, a sandwich
of rye bread, mustard, and cheese.

It is me and is not,
the hunger
that makes the sandwich good.

It is not me then is,
the sandwich—
a mystery neither of us
can fold, unfold, or consume.

life :: charlotte brontë

Life, believe, is not a dream
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day.
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
O why lament its fall?
Rapidly, merrily,
Life’s sunny hours flit by,
Gratefully, cheerily
Enjoy them as they fly!
What though Death at times steps in,
And calls our Best away?
What though sorrow seems to win,
O’er hope, a heavy sway?
Yet Hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell;
Still buoyant are her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.
Manfully, fearlessly,
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair!

faithful :: dara wier

You come as close as the skin on my face,
As if you were a sure enough wind for me to walk into.
In woodgrain on a doorframe of a door I walk out of
You wander and I wander within you.
With luciferin, luciferase, and oxygen you light the way.
A mid-summer’s late evening scatters you so
That by midnight all of the stars that surround us
By morning are cresting by curving by blazing.
You’re light that’s passed through my eyes.
I see you in profile as if sharpened and stenciled
Examining creases in the palm of my hand.
Exchanging places in ground fog with black flares.
What is this translucence you’ve dropped between us?
When will some sure enough wind arrive to blow this curtain aside?

print :: billy collins

In the dining room there is a brown fish
hanging on the wall who swims along
in his frame while we are eating dinner.

He swims in candlelight for all to see,
as if he has been swimming forever, even
in the darkness of the ink before someone thought

to draw him and the thin reeds waving in his stream
and the clear pebbles strewn upon the sand.
No wonder he continues his swimming

deep into the night, long after we have
blown out the candles and gone upstairs to bed.
No wonder I find him in the pale morning

light, still swimming, still looking out at me
with his one, small, spellbound eye.

typing the menu :: nellie wong

Not a day goes by
when Ma, in her blue waitress uniform,
stops me reading The Oakland Tribune
to dictate, precisely at 3:30 P.M.,
the next day’s menu.

All right, Ma says, in English,
tomorrow we’ll serve
Baked Spaghetti
Beef Stew with Potatoes and Carrots
Fried Breast of Lamb and
Boiled Ox Tongue with Spanish Sauce.

My mouth waters
as she decides the next day’s specials.
Ma doesn’t need to say
Breaded Veal Cutlets
Fried Oysters or
Prime Rib of Beef
because these are always
on the menu every day.

Though I can write in shorthand,
I scribble the specials in long hand
and step down into Bah Bah’s office
and insert a a piece of paper
into the old Royal typewriter.
I type tomorrow’s menu
watching the purple letters spring up
like soldiers marching in union
filling up the sheet, such plums and grapes
for our daily lives.

I proofread carefully,
the typed menu, making sure
I typed the correct specials
that Ma dictated,
making sure that each item
was spelled correctly
just from memory
because Spell Check
was a futuristic ploy.

With the labor of my fingers,
my back, my eyes
staring at the list of items
that ranged from Halibut Steak
for 50 cents to
Prime Rib of Beef
for 95 cents
knowing that my fingers
helped to support the family,
my secretarial skills a blip
of the family business
known as The Great China Restaurant
Ai Joong Wah
at 723 Webster Street
in Chinatown, Oakland, California.

When my sisters and I labored
without wage
but survived with tips
and ngow ngiook fahn
Beef over Rice
served us by Bock Gung
the head cook
when Ma and Bah Bah
weren’t looking.

When World War II filled
The Great China with customers
Pinky of Milen’s Jewlers
Mr. Carlson of Carlson’s Confectionery
Johnny, the boxer, and his girlfriend Lucille
with her ruby red lips and white teeth
Thlon doy
single men
families
pensioners
workers from gas stations,
the parachute factory
and herb and poultry stores,
tenants from The Aloha Hotel,
gypsies with their love
for bowls of steamed rice overflowing
with gravy.

Typing the menu
a job I didn’t apply for
but became mine
in between making coffee,
milkshakes and lettuce and tomato salads,
anxious for tips that filled
the glasses kept beneath
the formica counter,
understanding, even then,
that money grew not on trees,
but through our labor
typing the menu
drying silverware
stringing string beans
refilling granulated sugar jars
washing the coffee urn on tip toes
sweeping
mopping
Bah Bah inventorying and planning
the next day’s supplies
vegetable oil
flour
50 pound sacks of long grain rice
Flank steak, pork butt,
Jello.

The Great China,
our second home,
sandwiched between
regular school and Chinese school,
our days of wonder,
questions,
fatigue,
anticipation and
simmering American dreams.

driving through :: mark vinz

This could be the town you’re from,
marked only by what it’s near.
The gas station man speaks of weather
and the high school football team
just as you knew he would—
kind to strangers, happy to live here.

Tell yourself it doesn’t matter now,
you’re only driving through.
Past the sagging, empty porches
locked up tight to travelers’ stares,
toward the great dark of the fields,
your headlights startle a flock of
old love letters—still undelivered,
enroute for years.

‘daddy mend it’ :: andrew waterman

Summer sealed the garden as you played,
gentle with petals, smiled at the black cat
lapping milk you poured. Green habitat
intact against whatever edge of shade.

One fallen leaf on the lawn’s grass. You ran
and tried to put it back on its low bough;
then said ‘Daddy mend it’, knowing how
I’ve fixed a light, your broken top, toy van,

and gave me it trusting that yet again
I’d make all right. And found that wasn’t true,
there is no trick of screwdriver or glue
for growing things; but how could I explain?

Or now. Since mad October’s massive fall
whirling you over salt estranging sea.
Hail-scourged in dark yearns the stripped weeping tree
precarious greenness hints, and can’t forestall.

pity the beautiful :: dana gioia

Pity the beautiful,
the dolls, and the dishes,
the babes with big daddies
granting their wishes.

Pity the pretty boys,
the hunks, and Apollos,
the golden lads whom
success always follows.

The hotties, the knock-outs,
the tens out of ten,
the drop-dead gorgeous,
the great leading men.

Pity the faded,
the bloated, the blowsy,
the paunchy Adonis
whose luck’s gone lousy.

Pity the gods,
no longer divine.
Pity the night
the stars lose their shine.

at the choral concert :: tim nolan

The high school kids are so beautiful
in their lavender blouses and crisp white shirts.

They open their mouths to sing with that
far-off stare they had looking out from the crib.

Their voices lift up from the marble bed
of the high altar to the blue endless ceiling

of heaven as depicted in the cloudy dome—
and we—as the parents—crane our necks

to see our children and what is above us—
and ahead of us—until the end when we

are invited up to sing with them—sopranos
and altos—tenors and basses—to sing the great

Hallelujah Chorus—and I’m standing with the other
stunned and gray fathers—holding our sheet music—

searching for our parts—and we realize—
our voices are surprisingly rich—experienced—

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth—
and how do we all know to come in

at exactly the right moment?—Forever and ever
and how can it not seem that we shall reign

forever and ever—in one voice with our beautiful
children—looking out into all those lights.

beija-flor :: diane ackerman

(Hummingbird)

When you kiss me, moths flutter in my mouth;
when you kiss me, leaf-cutter ants lift up
their small burdens and carry them along
corridors of scent; when you kiss me,
caymans slither down wet banks in moonlight,
jaws yawning open, eyes bright red lasers;
when you kiss me, my tiny fist conceals
the bleached skull of a sloth; when you kiss me,
the waters wed in my ribs, dark and pale
rivers exchange their potions—she gives him
love’s power, he gives her love’s lure;
when you kiss me, my heart, surfacing, steals
a small breath like a pink river dolphin;
when you kiss me, the rain falls think as rubber,
sunset pours red caramel down my spine
and, in my hips, the green wings of the jungle flutter;
when you kiss me, blooms explode like land minds
in trees loud with monkey-muttering
and the kazoo-istry of birds; when you kiss me,
a palm cradling the moon in its arms becomes
a pictograph for leisure; when you kiss me
my flesh sambas like an iguana; when you kiss me,
the river-mirror reflects an unknown land,
eyes glitter in the foliage, ships lass
like traveling miracle plays, and coca sets
brush fires in my veins; when you kiss me,
the river tilts its wet thighs around a bend;
when you kiss me, my tongue unfolds its wings
and flies through shadows at a leaf-nosed bat,
a ventriloquist of the twilight shore
which hurls its voice against the tender world
and aches to hear its echo rushing back;
when you kiss me, anthuria send up
small telescopes, the vine-clad trees wear
pantaloons, a reasonably evitable moon
rises among a signature of clouds,
the sky fills with the pandemonium
of swamp moneys, the aerial slither
and looping confetti of butterflies;
when you kiss me, time’s caravan pauses
to sip from the rich tropic of the heart,
find shade in the oasis of a touch,
bath in Nature carnal, mute and radiant;
you find me there trembling and over-awed;
for, when you kiss me, I become the all
you love; a peddler on your luminous river,
whose salted-fish are words, daughter
of a dolphin; when you kiss me, I small
of night-blooming orchids; when you kiss me,
my mouth softens into scarlet feathers—
an ibis with curved bill and small dark smile;
when you kiss me, jaguars lope through my knees;
when you kiss me, my lips quiver like bronze
violets; when you kiss me. . . .

developing the land :: stephen behrendt

For six nights now the cries have sounded in the pasture:
coyote voices fluting across the greening rise to the east
where the deer have almost ceased to pass
now that the developers have carved up yet another section,
filled another space with spars and studs, concrete, runoff.

Five years ago you saw two spotted fawns rise
for the first time from brome where brick mailboxes will stand;
only three years past came great horned owls
who raised two squeaking, downy owlets
that perished in the traffic, skimming too low across the road
behind some swift, more fortunate cottontail.

It was on an August afternoon that you drove in,
curling down our long gravel drive past pasture and creek,
that you saw, flickering at the edge of your sight,
three mounted Indians, motionless in the paused breeze,
who vanished when you turned your head.

We have felt the presence on this land of others,
of some who paused here, some who passed, who have left
in the thick clay shards and splinters of themselves that we dig up,
turn up with spade and tine when we garden or bury our animals;
their voices whisper on moonless nights in the back pasture hollow
where the horses snort and nicker, wary with alarm.

the woodpecker keeps returning :: jane hirshfield

The woodpecker keeps returning
to drill the house wall.
Put a pie plate over one place, he chooses another.

There is nothing good to eat there:
he has found in the house
a resonant billboard to post his intentions,
his voluble strength as provider.

But where is the female he drums for? Where?

I ask this, who am myself the ruined siding,
the handsome red-capped bird, the missing mate.

word search :: elijah burrell

Donkey was the only one she’d found
in the puzzle called “Pets.” The circle, wavy
across the left side, the word struck
through with a confident lead line.

She never found Cat curled near the top,
or unchameleoned Lizard dead
center, backward Guinea Pig hid.
Hard to find energy to chase Canary.

I wonder if she closed her eyes
against the book. I see, now,
the next puzzle is “In the Air”—
devoid of marks, pristine, so clean.

Unfound Aroma, Drizzle, and Dust.
I think of Wind, and what it does
to a cotton dress. How, in a Haze,
her voice made me so glad and hopeless.

The Butterfly, so light and whole
and clear, quickly taken from the air

ode to a large tuna in the market :: pablo neruda

translated by robin robertson

Here,
among the market vegetables,
this torpedo
from the ocean
depths,
a missile
that swam,
now
lying in front of me
dead.

Surrounded
by the earth’s green froth
—these lettuces,
bunches of carrots—
only you
lived through
the sea’s truth, survived
the unknown, the
unfathomable
darkness, the depths
of the sea,
the great
abyss,
le grand abîme,
only you:
varnished
black-pitched
witness
to that deepest night.

Only you:
dark bullet
barreled
from the depths,
carrying
only
your
one wound,
but resurgent,
always renewed,
locked into the current,
fins fletched
like wings
in the torrent,
in the coursing
of
the
underwater
dark,
like a grieving arrow,
sea-javelin, a nerveless
oiled harpoon.

Dead
in front of me,
catafalqued king
of my own ocean;
once
sappy as a sprung fir
in the green turmoil,
once seed
to sea-quake,
tidal wave, now
simply
dead remains;
in the whole market
yours
was the only shape left
with purpose or direction
in this
jumbled ruin
of nature;
you are
a solitary man of war
among these frail vegetables,
your flanks and prow
black
and slippery
as if you were still
a well-oiled ship of the wind,
the only
true
machine
of the sea: unflawed,
undefiled,
navigating now
the waters of death.

antique :: robert pinsky

I drowned in the fire of having you, I burned
In the river of not having you, we lived
Together for hours in a house of a thousand rooms
And we were parted for a thousand years.
Ten minutes ago we raised our children who cover
The earth and have forgotten that we existed.
It was not maya, it was not a ladder to perfection,
It was this cold sunlight falling on this warm earth.

When I turned you went to Hell. When your ship
Fled the battle I followed you and lost the world
Without regret but with stormy recriminations.
Someday far down that corridor of horror the future
Someone who buys this picture of you for the frame
At a stall in a dwindled city will study your face
And decide to harbor it for a little while longer
From the waters of anonymity, the acids of breath.

how to listen :: major jackson

I am going to cock my head tonight like a dog
in front of McGlinchy’s Tavern on Locust;
I am going to stand beside the man who works all day combing
his thatch of gray hair corkscrewed in every direction.
I am going to pay attention to our lives
unraveling between the forks of his fine-tooth comb.
For once, we won’t talk about the end of the world
or Vietnam or his exquisite paper shoes.
For once, I am going to ignore the profanity and
the dancing and the jukebox so I can hear his head crackle
beneath the sky’s stretch of faint stars.

ballot for green :: andrade jorge carrera

translated by muna lee

Sea-green, admiral of the greens,
Earth-green, comrade of fieldhands
Everybody’s multitudinous anticipation of delight,
Infinite heaven of cattle browsing eternities of freshness.

Subaqueous light of the woodland
Where plants, bird and insects squander their lives
In the warm love of a green god.
Green smell of the thick-fleshed agave
Brewing in its vegetable cauldron
A dusky liquor blent of rainfall and shade.

Tropical table-land where sweats the green crest
Of the pineapple’s tattooed head.
Hunchbacked green bushes,
Poor relations of the hills.
Green music of insects ceaselessly sewing
Thick cloth of the herbage,
The mosquitoes that live in violins,
The roll of the frog’s opaque little green drums.
Green rage of the cactus,
And patience of trees gathering up in their green net
A miraculous haul of birds.

All the appeasing green of the world
Drowning itself in the sea, scaling the mountains up to the sky,
And coursing in the river-nudity’s school
And in the nostalgic cow of the wind

headhunter :: chris green

The world is too expensive and far.
Using false identities, I called companies to find employees who haven’t forgotten,
what a terrible life.
Once I had a prospect, I called as myself, read from a script,
“Hello, I’m a recruiter with Eagles International.
What if I told you I can put your career on a flight to Europe?”

My girlfriend believed in Adam and Eve. Daily, she’d plead for my soul.
Her eyes shone like big innocent suns, vaguely inspirational.
Once, she even blessed my phone—opening her pocket notebook of secret prayers.
Yet I felt unabsolved, a kind of corporate sorrow. Lying
made my teeth hurt

I was alone as the moon—
came home from work, dropped my shoes and groaned
because I was no one.

aubade :: rick barot

Scintillas of the anatomical
on the vines, buds opening—
make me a figure
for the woken.

On the vines, buds opening—
blue, little throats.
For the woken,
this different tin sky.

Blue, little throats
speak to me in the right voice.
This different tin sky,
the playground thawing.

Speak to me in the right voice,
only clean, sweeter.
The playground thawing
into its primary colors.

Only clean, sweeter,
briary as honeysuckle,
into their primary colors
the words come: bitter, astral.

Briar—as honeysuckle,
as attic webs, constellated
into their primary colors.
White, or whiter.

The words come: bitter, astral.
Make me a figure,
blue little throats,
scintillas of the anatomical.

vortex :: claudia emerson

The town’s trees, roomy with winter, have begun
of late to fill with them, a settling
that commences with dusk. The widows complain —

claim they can smell them, can hear them shuffling
in the trees, a wing hitting a branch a sound
sharp, they say, as ice cracking. They cannot

sleep. And so you form a committee, convening
with shotguns to fire every night into the darkling

congregation. Every night, the air resounds
with that resolve, and every dusk they return
with theirs, circle, a lazy familiar vortex

around a drain, an old appointment they keep
with an inescapable place; this argument
no way, Claude says, to be any less afraid.

the forgotten dialect of the heart :: jack gilbert

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
Get it wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not a language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses and birds.

shaker orchard :: mark doty

Holding even flowers subject
to the principle of use,
the Shakers invented

the notion of packaged seeds
and a steam-powered
distiller for rosewater.

They uncluttered rooms
till space filled
with Universal Light—

white walls, a chest, a chair
hung on pegs beside a broom
so perfect in its simplicity

as to become a pure channel:
there was nothing in those lines
to impede the flow

of the divine, no ornament
to distract the mind from Love.
Work, Ann Lee said, as though

you had a thousand years to live;
thus the tiny stitches
in a sister’s cotton cap, the exact lid

of a pine box. Pestered
by holy doves delivering
gifts—exotic telegrams of fruit,

flower and verse—Mother Ann danced
to come to terms with the demands
of angels. In one print

the brothers and sisters
in their separate portions of the room
thunder on the polished floorboards.

They swept clean. Clear
the excess, they knew,
and light will pour in

as in certain American landscapes
where light itself occupies space,
whole regions of luminosity.

Seeing the turn of things
and unwilling to propagate,
they were swept away.

The last,
four elderly sisters,
live at Sabbathday Lake;

the brothers are twenty years gone.
In October their grapes yield,
suspended from the arbor

as if to recall a paradise of ease
where we had only to look upward
to be fed, and the apple trees

hold out their thousands of small victories,
having managed both to contain light
and to bear.

miss jacklyn analyzes love :: arden levine

I asked her for a poem. She made one that went:
It was night.
The love went by.

My young author knew love
was a good word. At times,
love spent time in her house.

I told her: That’s lovely.

So the poem was lovely and
the word was lovely. Love,
also, maybe, was lovely.

But, long still would she wait
for an understanding
of adverbs, –ly words that live leeward

that protect love and other words
from wind damage, from collapsing
if they otherwise held up a sentence alone.

What does love do when it goes by?
My young author had no knowledge
of Paul Revere when she wrote the poem.

But, for my part, I picture love galloping
through a town square late at night.
(Not galloping. I’m forcing the metaphor.)

Love is walking, assertively walking.
It is announcing, loudly announcing.
Get up! Love is going by!

If you are asleep, wake up! If you are writing,
come have a look at love, here in the flesh!
If you are making love, keep doing that.

Lovely.