all souls :: michael collier

A few of us—Hillary Clinton, Vlad Dracula,
Oprah Winfrey, and Trotsky—peer through
the kitchen window at a raccoon perched
outside on a picnic table where it picks

over chips, veggies, olives, and a chunk of pâte.
Behind us others crowd the hallway, many more
dance in the living room. Trotsky fusses with the bloody
screwdriver puttied to her forehead.

Hillary Clinton, whose voice is the rumble
of a bowling ball, whose hands are hairy
to the third knuckle, lifts his rubber chin to announce,
“What a perfect mask it has!” While the Count

whistling through his plastic fangs says, “Oh,
and a nose like a chef.” Then one by one
the other masks join in: “Tail of a gambler,”
“a swashbuckler’s hips,” “feet of a cat burglar.”

Trotsky scratches herself beneath her skirt
and Hillary, whose lederhosen are so tight they form a codpiece,
wraps his legs around Trotsky’s leg and humps like a dog.
Dracula and Oprah, the married hosts, hold hands

and then let go. Meanwhile the raccoon squats on
the gherkins, extracts pimentos from olives, and sniffs
abandoned cups of beer. A ghoul in the living room
turns the music up and the house becomes a drum.

The windows buzz. “Who do you love? Who do you love?”
the singer sings. Our feathered arms, our stockinged legs.
The intricate paws, the filleting tongue.
We love what we are; we love what we’ve become.

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fast gas :: dorianne laux

      for Richard

Before the days of self service,
when you never had to pump your own gas,
I was the one who did it for you, the girl
who stepped out at the sound of a bell
with a blue rag in my hand, my hair pulled back
in a straight, unlovely ponytail.
This was before automatic shut-offs
and vapor seals, and once, while filling a tank,
I hit a bubble of trapped air and the gas
backed up, came arcing out of the hole
in a bright gold wave and soaked me — face, breasts,
belly and legs. And I had to hurry
back to the booth, the small employee bathroom
with the broken lock, to change my uniform,
peel the gas-soaked cloth from my skin
and wash myself in the sink.
Light-headed, scrubbed raw, I felt
pure and amazed — the way the amber gas
glazed my flesh, the searing,
subterranean pain of it, how my skin
shimmered and ached, glowed
like rainbowed oil on the pavement.
I was twenty. In a few weeks I would fall,
for the first time, in love, that man waiting
patiently in my future like a red leaf
on the sidewalk, the kind of beauty
that asks to be noticed. How was I to know
it would begin this way: every cell of my body
burning with a dangerous beauty, the air around me
a nimbus of light that would carry me
through the days, how when he found me,
weeks later, he would find me like that,
an ordinary woman who could rise
in flame, all he would have to do
is come close and touch me.

in the fog :: giovanni pascoli

translated by geoffrey brock

Read the translator’s notes

I stared into the valley: it was gone—
wholly submerged! A vast flat sea remained,
gray, with no waves, no beaches; all was one.

And here and there I noticed, when I strained,
the alien clamoring of small, wild voices:
birds that had lost their way in that vain land.

And high above, the skeletons of beeches,
as if suspended, and the reveries
of ruins and of the hermit’s hidden reaches.

And a dog yelped and yelped, as if in fear,
I knew not where nor why. Perhaps he heard
strange footsteps, neither far away nor near—

echoing footsteps, neither slow nor quick,
alternating, eternal. Down I stared,
but I saw nothing, no one, looking back.

The reveries of ruins asked: “Will no
one come?” The skeletons of trees inquired:
“And who are you, forever on the go?”

I may have seen a shadow then, an errant
shadow, bearing a bundle on its head.
I saw—and no more saw, in the same instant.

All I could hear were the uneasy screeches
of the lost birds, the yelping of the stray,
and, on that sea that lacked both waves and beaches,

the footsteps, neither near nor far away.

fireflies :: frank ormsby

The lights come on and stay on under the trees.
Visibly a whole neighborhood inhabits the dusk,
so punctual and in place it seems to deny
dark its dominion. Nothing will go astray,
the porch lamps promise. Sudden, as though a match
failed to ignite at the foot of the garden, the first squibs
trouble the eye. Impossible not to share
that sportive, abortive, clumsy, where-are-we-now
dalliance with night, such soothing relentlessness.
What should we make of fireflies, their quick flare
of promise and disappointment, their throwaway style?
Our heads turn this way and that. We are loath to miss
such jauntiness in nature. Those fugitive selves,
winged and at random! Our flickery might-have-beens
come up form the woods to haunt us! Our yet-to-be
as tentative frolic! What do fireflies say?
That loneliness made of light becomes at last
convivial singleness? That any antic spark
cruising the void might titillate creation?
And whether they spend themselves, or go to ground,
or drift with their lights out, they have left the gloom,
for as long as our eyes take to absorb such absence,
less than it seemed, as childless and deprived
as Chaos and Old Night. But ruffled, too,
as though it unearthed some memory of light
from its long blackout, a hospitable core
fit home for fireflies, brushed by fireflies’ wings.

imperatives for carrying on in the aftermath :: natasha trethewey

Do not hang your head or clench your fists
when even your friend, after hearing the story,
says: My mother would never put up with that.

Fight the urge to rattle off statistics: that,
more often, a woman who chooses to leave
is then murdered. The hundredth time

your father says, But she hated violence,
why would she marry a guy like that?—

don’t waste your breath explaining, again,

how abusers wait, are patient, that they
don’t beat you on the first date, sometimes
not even the first few years of a marriage.

Keep an impassive face whenever you hear
Stand by Your Man, and let go your rage
when you recall those words were advice

given your mother. Try to forget the first
trial, before she was dead, when the charge
was only attempted murder; don’t belabor

the thinking or the sentence that allowed
her ex-husband’s release a year later, or
the juror who said, It’s a domestic issue—

they should work it out themselves. Just
breathe when, after you read your poems
about grief, a woman asks: Do you think

your mother was weak for men? Learn
to ignore subtext. Imagine a thought-
cloud above your head, dark and heavy

with the words you cannot say; let silence
rain down. Remember you were told
by your famous professor, that you should

write about something else, unburden
yourself of the death of your mother and
just pour your heart out in the poems.

Ask yourself what’s in your heart, that
reliquary—blood locket and seed-bed—and
contend with what it means, the folk-saying

you learned from a Korean poet in Seoul:
that one does not bury the mother’s body
in the ground but in the chest, or—like you—

you carry her corpse on your back.

the song of despair :: pablo neruda

The memory of you emerges from the night around me.
The river mingles its stubborn lament with the sea.

Deserted like the wharves at dawn.
It is the hour of departure, oh deserted one!

Cold flower heads are raining over my heart.
Oh pit of debris, fierce cave of the shipwrecked.

In you the wars and the flights accumulated.
From you the wings of the song birds rose.

You swallowed everything, like distance.
Like the sea, like time. In you everything sank!

It was the happy hour of assault and the kiss.
The hour of the spell that blazed like a lighthouse.

Pilot’s dread, fury of a blind diver,
turbulent drunkenness of love, in you everything sank!

In the childhood of mist my soul, winged and wounded.
Lost discoverer, in you everything sank!

You girdled sorrow, you clung to desire,
sadness stunned you, in you everything sank!

I made the wall of shadow draw back,
beyond desire and act, I walked on.

Oh flesh, my own flesh, woman whom I loved and lost,
I summon you in the moist hour, I raise my song to you.

Like a jar you housed the infinite tenderness,
and the infinite oblivion shattered you like a jar.

There was the black solitude of the islands,
and there, woman of love, your arms took me in.

There were thirst and hunger, and you were the fruit.
There were grief and the ruins, and you were the miracle.

Ah woman, I do not know how you could contain me
in the earth of your soul, in the cross of your arms!

How terrible and brief was my desire of you!
How difficult and drunken, how tensed and avid.

Cemetery of kisses, there is still fire in your tombs,
still the fruited boughs burn, pecked at by birds.

Oh the bitten mouth, oh the kissed limbs,
oh the hungering teeth, oh the entwined bodies.

Oh the mad coupling of hope and force
in which we merged and despaired.

And the tenderness, light as water and as flour.
And the word scarcely begun on the lips.

This was my destiny and in it was the voyage of my longing,
and in it my longing fell, in you everything sank!

Oh pit of debris, everything fell into you,
what sorrow did you not express, in what sorrow are you not drowned!

From billow to billow you still called and sang.
Standing like a sailor in the prow of a vessel.

You still flowered in songs, you still broke in currents.
Oh pit of debris, open and bitter well.

Pale blind diver, luckless slinger,
lost discoverer, in you everything sank!

It is the hour of departure, the hard cold hour
which the night fastens to all the timetables.

The rustling belt of the sea girdles the shore.
Cold stars heave up, black birds migrate.

Deserted like the wharves at dawn.
Only the tremulous shadow twists in my hands.

Oh farther than everything. Oh farther than everything.

It is the hour of departure. Oh abandoned one.