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.

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.

my california :: lee herrick

Here, an olive votive keeps the sunset lit,
the Korean twenty-somethings talk about hyphens,

graduate school and good pot. A group of four at a window
table in Carpinteria discuss the quality of wines in Napa Valley versus Lodi.

Here, in my California, the streets remember the Chicano
poet whose songs still bank off Fresno’s beer soaked gutters

and almond trees in partial blossom. Here, in my California
we fish out long noodles from the pho with such accuracy

you’d know we’d done this before. In Fresno, the bullets
tire of themselves and begin to pray five times a day.

In Fresno, we hope for less of the police state and more of a state of grace.
In my California, you can watch the sun go down

like in your California, on the ledge of the pregnant
twenty-second century, the one with a bounty of peaches and grapes,

red onions and the good salsa, wine and chapchae.
Here, in my California, paperbacks are free,

farmer’s markets are twenty four hours a day and
always packed, the trees and water have no nails in them,

the priests eat well, the homeless eat well.
Here, in my California, everywhere is Chinatown,

everywhere is K-Town, everywhere is Armeniatown,
everywhere a Little Italy. Less confederacy.

No internment in the Valley.
Better history texts for the juniors.

In my California, free sounds and free touch.
      Free questions, free answers.
Free songs from parents and poets, those hopeful bodies of light.

why people really have dogs :: kim dower

People really have dogs so they can talk to themselves
without feeling crazy. Take me, for example, cooking
scrambled eggs, ranting about this dumb fuck
who sent naked pictures of himself to strange women,
a politician from New York, I read about it in the paper,
start telling my nervous cock-a-poo, blind in one eye,
practically deaf (so I have to talk extra loud), all about it
and he’s looking at me, poor thing, like he thinks I’m
the smartest person he’s ever heard, and I go on, him
tilting his head, and when he sees me pick up my dish
of eggs he starts panting and wagging his tail, I tell him,
no, they’re not for you, but then I break down and give
him some knowing full well that feeding from the table
is rule number one of what you don’t do with dogs,
but I do it anyway because he wants them so bad,
because it makes me feel good to give him what he wants,
and I expound more to make sure he’s aware of the whole
political scandal, the implications for the democrats,
the hypocrisy, tell him dogs are rarely hypocrites, except
when they pretend to be interested in you when all they want
is your food, take him, for example, right now pretending
to love me so much when all he wants are my eggs, me
talking to him when all I want is to say my opinions with no one
interrupting, feel my voice roll out on a clear Saturday morning,
listen to it echo from the kitchen to the bath, up through the ceiling,
out to the sky, the voice from within, all alone in the morning
as the light from outside catches the edge of the silver mixing bowl
where the remaining, uncooked eggs sit stirred, ready to toss
into the pan, cooked, eaten by whoever pretends to want them.

across a great wilderness without you :: keetje kuipers

The deer come out in the evening.
God bless them for not judging me,
I’m drunk. I stand on the porch in my bathrobe
and make strange noises at them—
                                          language,
if language can be a kind of crying.
The tin cans scattered in the meadow glow,
each bullet hole suffused with moon,
like the platinum thread beyond them
where the river runs the length of the valley.
That’s where the fish are.
                            Tomorrow
I’ll scoop them from the pockets of graveled
stone beneath the bank, their bodies
desperately alive when I hold them in my hands,
the way prayers become more hopeless
when uttered aloud.
                    The phone’s disconnected.
Just as well, I’ve got nothing to tell you:
I won’t go inside where the bats dip and swarm
over my bed. It’s the sound of them
shouldering against each other that terrifies me,
as if it might hurt to brush across another being’s
living flesh.
            But I carry a gun now. I’ve cut down
a tree. You wouldn’t recognize me in town—
my hands lost in my pockets, two disabused tools
I’ve retired from their life of touching you.
 
 
 
Beautiful in the Mouth, 2010

at the mall, there’s a machine that tells you if you are racist :: karen skolfield

It’s right next to a Polariod booth.
The instructions say the needles are small
and barely felt. The pictures, it explains,
have nudity, but no gratuitous nudity.
Special imaging equipment considers
the color value of your own skin
and calibrates your reactions
to words shouted in your headphones.
You know what words. Reading the instructions
brings some of these words to mind. You wonder
if this is part of the evaluation, if people
who are not racist think only of beautiful flowers,
or are beautiful flowers the very basis of racism?
Does everyone love the violet equally?
Does everyone think the tulip’s been overdone?
You try to think of a brown flower.
There are some. You’ve seen them in catalogs.
They’re called “chocolate.” Black flowers, too,
with varieties named Nightwatch,
Black Pearl, a lily named Naomi Campbell.
Thinking of this makes you hopeful
the machine will know you’re not a racist.
Or does remembering a black flower was named
Naomi Campbell mean you’re a racist?
The inside of the booth is dimly lit with walls
that look as if they could swiftly close together.
Like a grape, you’d pop right out of your skin.

of history and hope :: miller williams

We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.
The rich taste of it is on our tongues.
But where are we going to be, and why, and who?
The disenfranchised dead want to know.
We mean to be the people we meant to be,
to keep on going where we meant to go.

But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
except in the minds of those who will call it Now?
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?
With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row—
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.

Who were many people coming together
cannot become one people falling apart.
Who dreamed for every child an even chance
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.
We know what we have done and what we have said,
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become—
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free.

All this in the hands of children, eyes already set
on a land we never can visit—it isn’t there yet—
but looking through their eyes, we can see
what our long gift to them may come to be.
If we can truly remember, they will not forget.

fox :: alice oswald

I heard a cough
as if a thief was there
outside my sleep
a sharp intake of air

a fox in her fox-fur
stepping across
the grass in her black gloves
barked at my house

just so abrupt and odd
the way she went
hungrily asking
in the heart’s thick accent

in such serious sleepless
trespass she came
a woman with a man’s voice
but no name

as if to say: it’s midnight
and my life
is laid beneath my children
like gold leaf

the untrustworthy speaker :: louise glück

Don’t listen to me; my heart’s been broken.
I don’t see anything objectively.

I know myself; I’ve learned to hear like a psychiatrist.
When I speak passionately,
that’s when I’m least to be trusted.

It’s very sad, really: all my life, I’ve been praised
for my intelligence, my powers of language, of insight.
In the end, they’re wasted—

I never see myself,
standing on the front steps, holding my sister’s hand.
That’s why I can’t account
for the bruises on her arm, where the sleeve ends.

In my own mind, I’m invisible: that’s why I’m dangerous.
People like me, who seem selfless,
we’re the cripples, the liars;
we’re the ones who should be factored out
in the interest of truth.

When I’m quiet, that’s when the truth emerges.
A clear sky, the clouds like white fibers.
Underneath, a little gray house, the azaleas
red and bright pink.

If you want the truth, you have to close yourself
to the older daughter, block her out:
when a living thing is hurt like that,
in its deepest workings,
all function is altered.

That’s why I’m not to be trusted.
Because a wound to the heart
is also a wound to the mind.

dark matter and dark energy :: alicia ostriker

My husband says dark matter is a reality
not just some theory invented by adolescent computers
he can prove it exists and is everywhere

forming invisible haloes around everything
and somehow because of gravity
holding everything loosely together

the way a child wants to escape its parents
and doesn’t want to—what’s that—
we don’t know what it is but we know it is real

the way our mothers and fathers fondly
angrily followed fixed orbits around
each other like mice on a track

the way every human and every atom
rushes through space wrapped in its invisible
halo, this big shadow—that’s dark dark matter

sweetheart, while the galaxies
in the wealth of their ferocious protective bubbles
stare at each other

unable to cease
proudly
receding

evening solace :: charlotte brontë

The human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed;—
The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,
Whose charms were broken if revealed.
And days may pass in gay confusion,
And nights in rosy riot fly,
While, lost in Fame’s or Wealth’s illusion,
The memory of the Past may die.

But there are hours of lonely musing,
Such as in evening silence come,
When, soft as birds their pinions closing,
The heart’s best feelings gather home.
Then in our souls there seems to languish
A tender grief that is not woe;
And thoughts that once wrung groans of anguish
Now cause but some mild tears to flow.

And feelings, once as strong as passions,
Float softly back—a faded dream;
Our own sharp griefs and wild sensations,
The tale of others’ sufferings seem.
Oh! when the heart is freshly bleeding,
How longs it for that time to be,
When, through the mist of years receding,
Its woes but live in reverie!

And it can dwell on moonlight glimmer,
On evening shade and loneliness;
And, while the sky grows dim and dimmer,
Feel no untold and strange distress—
Only a deeper impulse given
By lonely hour and darkened room,
To solemn thoughts that soar to heaven
Seeking a life and world to come.

where do you enter :: nikki giovanni

At the same place
I enter you
with balance
and trust
and a jazzy sense
of adventure

Painting outside
the lines
wearing clothes cut
against the bias
with spices
among the flowers

A poem unfolds
like a baby bat
testing her wings
or a kitten taking
her first steps
or a good dog
moving arthritic limbs
toward the door

There is sadness
as well as loss
in the promise
of love

We begin a poem
with longing
and end with
responsibility

And laugh
all through the storms
that are bound
to come

We have umbrellas
We have boots
We have each
other

a diamond :: jack spicer

      A Translation for Robert Jones

A diamond
Is there
At the heart of the moon or the branches or my nakedness
And there is nothing in the universe like diamond
Nothing in the whole mind.

The poem is a seagull resting on a pier at the end of the ocean.

A dog howls at the moon
A dog howls at the branches
A dog howls at the nakedness
A dog howling with pure mind.

I ask for the poem to be as pure as a seagull’s belly.

The universe falls apart and discloses a diamond
Two words called seagull are peacefully floating out where the
      waves are.
The dog is dead there with the moon, with the branches, with
      my nakedness
And there is nothing in the universe like diamond
Nothing in the whole mind.

perpetually attempting to soar :: mary ruefle

A boy from Brooklyn used to cruise on summer nights.
As soon as he’d hit sixty he’d hold his hand out the window,
cupping it around the wind. He’d been assured
this is exactly how a woman’s breast feels when you put
your hand around it and apply a little pressure. Now he knew,
and he loved it. Night after night, again and again, until
the weather grew cold and he had to roll the window up.
For many years afterwards he was perpetually attempting
to soar. One winter’s night, holding his wife’s breast
in his hand, he closed his eyes and wanted to weep.
He loved her, but it was the wind he imagined now.
As he grew older, he loved the word etcetera and refused
to abbreviate it. He loved sweet white butter. He often
pretended to be playing the organ. On one of his last mornings,
he noticed the shape of his face molded in the pillow.
He shook it out, but the next morning it reappeared.

the animals in the zoo don’t seem worried :: tom sleigh

Looking at the lion behind the plate glass
I wasn’t sure what I was looking at: a lion, OK,
but he seemed to come apart, not literally

I mean, but I couldn’t see him whole:
Mane. Teeth. The slung belly pumping
as he panted and began to roar. His balls

sheathed in fur swaying a little. His tail’s tuft
jerking in an arc like an old-time pump handle
rusted in midair. Somebody or something

I read once said that when Jesus had his vision
of what his father, God, would do to him,
that Jesus could only see pieces of a cross,

pieces of a body appearing through flashes
of sun, as if the body in his vision
was hands looking for feet, a head for a torso,

everything come unmagnetized from the soul:
the lion caught me in his stare not at
or through me but fixated on the great chain

of being that Jesus couldn’t see and that
a zebra might gallop in — black and white stripes
marking longitudes of this world turning

to meat, bloody meat — this vision of an inmate
that Jesus’s father helped to orchestrate by
making a cageless cage with glass instead

of bars — though the lion didn’t seem to care,
he was roaring for his keepers to bring
him food, so everything’s what it should be

if you’re a lion. Nor did the sea lion
seem concerned about having gone a little
crazy, barking incessantly so I could see

the plush, hot pink insides of its throat,
though like the lion through the glass
there’s this distortion, my reflection

I’m looking through that makes me float above
the zoo: and now this silence at closing time
pours like a waterfall in different zones

of silences that, pouring through my head,
surround roaring, barking, human muttering — 
is any of that what being sounds like?

Or is it just animal gasping like what
Jesus must have heard from the thieves
hanging beside him, one damned, one saved?

What was in his heart when his vision
clarified and he saw it was a hand he
recognized that the nail was driving through?

morning news :: marilyn hacker

Spring wafts up the smell of bus exhaust, of bread
and fried potatoes, tips green on the branches,
repeats old news: arrogance, ignorance, war.
A cinder-block wall shared by two houses
is new rubble. On one side was a kitchen
sink and a cupboard, on the other was
a bed, a bookshelf, three framed photographs.

Glass is shattered across the photographs;
two half-circles of hardened pocket bread
sit on the cupboard. There provisionally was
shelter, a plastic truck under the branches
of a fig tree. A knife flashed in the kitchen,
merely dicing garlic. Engines of war
move inexorably toward certain houses

while citizens sit safe in other houses
reading the newspaper, whose photographs
make sanitized excuses for the war.
There are innumerable kinds of bread
brought up from bakeries, baked in the kitchen:
the date, the latitude, tell which one was
dropped by a child beneath the bloodied branches.

The uncontrolled and multifurcate branches
of possibility infiltrate houses’
walls, windowframes, ceilings. Where there was
a tower, a town: ash and burnt wires, a graph
on a distant computer screen. Elsewhere, a kitchen
table’s setting gapes, where children bred
to branch into new lives were culled for war.

Who wore this starched smocked cotton dress? Who wore
this jersey blazoned for the local branch
of the district soccer team? Who left this black bread
and this flat gold bread in their abandoned houses?
Whose father begged for mercy in the kitchen?
Whose memory will frame the photograph
and use the memory for what it was

never meant for by this girl, that old man, who was
caught on a ball field, near a window: war,
exhorted through the grief a photograph
revives. (Or was the team a covert branch
of a banned group; were maps drawn in the kitchen,
a bomb thrust in a hollowed loaf of bread?)
What did the old men pray for in their houses

of prayer, the teachers teach in schoolhouses
between blackouts and blasts, when each word was
flensed by new censure, books exchanged for bread,
both hostage to the happenstance of war?
Sometimes the only schoolroom is a kitchen.
Outside the window, black strokes on a graph
of broken glass, birds line up on bare branches.

“This letter curves, this one spreads its branches
like friends holding hands outside their houses.”
Was the lesson stopped by gunfire? Was
there panic, silence? Does a torn photograph
still gather children in the teacher’s kitchen?
Are they there meticulously learning war-
time lessons with the signs for house, book, bread?

flowers, always :: cate marvin

Inexplicable, the sign outside a deli scrawled
with FLOWERS
                            and below that: ALWAYS.
But there were no flowers. And I have never
seen an Always. I would like to,
                                      and I have looked.
I have kept my eye keen
                                for Always, have liked
its idea like an expensive purse, coveting it as
it appears,
          riding the arms of rich ladies who are
so very lady.                  I’ve rolled on velvet
          cushions where I heard Always slept,
and I once tried to kiss Always,
              but I don’t think it was the Always
I was looking for.
I like your Always, it looks
such a demanding pet. It looks like it kisses
nice and soft.
                    It looks like the bruise I found
flowering on my knee.
                            I fell down at your voice.
Not to worry, I got right back up, walked ten
more blocks
                and by then I was halfway home.
I knock my knees blue
                                and scabbed crawling
toward you, wanting flowers,
                        and always, always, always
to slide against the cold vinyl of a car’s seat,
your pale hands
                      on the bare backs of my legs,
that’s one Always I want, and whoever knew
there were so many species
                        of Always? Your bare hands
on the pale backs
                        of my thighs, printing bruise,
and if you said Flowers, said Always and we
could erect a forever
                              of something like sheets
                      and breakfast and an ordinary
day, my eyes would
            always slide across the table toward
you,
        to warm their twin marbles in your palm,
my face would flower
                      for you daily, so that when we
die, roses might petal
                          themselves out our throats.
 
 
 
Fragment of the Head of a Queen (2007), via AP
(Listen.)

on rhyme :: billy collins

It’s possible that a stitch in time
might save as many as twelve or as few as three,
and I have no trouble remembering
that September has thirty days.
So do June, November, and April.

I like a cat wearing a chapeau or a trilby,
Little Jack Horner sitting on a sofa,
old men who are not from Nantucket,
and how life can seem almost unreal
when you are gently rowing a boat down a stream.

That’s why instead of recalling today
that it mostly pours in Spain,
I am going to picture the rain in Portugal,
how it falls on the hillside vineyards,
on the surface of the deep harbors

where fishing boats are swaying,
and in the narrow alleys of the cities
where three boys in tee shirts
are kicking a soccer ball in the rain,
ignoring the window-cries of their mothers.

the mind in state :: fady joudah

Does consciousness exist only when
you name it? Was the double helix a
stranger, the nucleus the first brain?
I feel therefore I am. This is more
peptide than pep-talk. The tongueless
mood is sticking its tongue out at us.
The mountain wool is shaved into
vineyards. Without other there is no
self & and we are not always other of
other selves. Is the moon a self, is
wine or grape? The body & the as-if
body, taking time taste waking slow
rain healing grass.

the dream of knife, fork, and spoon :: kimiko hahn

I can’t recall where to set the knife and spoon.
I can’t recall which side to place the napkin

or which bread plate belongs to me. Or
how to engage in benign chatter.

I can’t recall when more than one fork—
which to use first. Or what to make of this bowl of water.

I can’t see the place cards or recall any names.
The humiliation is impressive. The scorn.

No matter how much my brain “revises” the dinner

to see if the host was a family member—
I can’t recall which dish ran away with which spoon.

uninhabitable :: sierra demulder

My father still lives in the house he built
for my mother. He calls himself a bachelor,

not a hoarder, but you can measure how long
she’s been gone by the piles of expired

mail, the dishes, the sun-stained photos
framed in dust—tree rings of his solitude.

When he speaks of his recovery, he lowers
his voice, even though we are on the phone.

He tells me he isn’t ashamed of what he did
or where he has been or what he put my mother

through, but I think he means that he does
not allow himself the luxury of forgetting.

                            :::

I am writing about you again today and
I wonder, why dig up our sad corpse?

Why put the spleen back, a spoiled balloon,
already burst, but here I am huffing life back

into it. Nursing our fruitless love. Sometimes,
I still can’t believe it. That you happened

and I happened and this was the best we could
do. Our nest of rubbish, our flowerless

garden—we slept here. Made love among
the bottle caps and ants and mold.

                            :::

My father told me he still imagines
getting back together with my mother,

maybe someday, after her new husband dies.
I think he means he started to build a house

and left it unfinished. What is it about
this family that draws us back to

the uninhabitable? That compels us
to make a bed where there isn’t one?
 
 
 
We Slept Here (2015)
(Listen.)

state poetry :: daniel borzutzky

This poem was written in the office of a state employee, and typed on a state-owned computer, and as such it is a violation of state ethics rules which prevent state employees from using state resources for work that is beyond the employee’s job description.

Because this poem was written on a state-owned computer, and printed on a state-owned printer, and copied on a state-owned Xerox machine, it is, by law, the property of the state.

This poem willfully submits itself to state ownership.

This poem feels that there is no better owner of a poem than the state.

This poem feels that state-controlled poetry is the poetry of the future.

When the author of this poem is appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois, this poem will instantly transform into an important work of literature.

This poem has an active staff of fundraisers who are seeking corporate sponsorship.

This poem is static, and in the stasis of this poem, a community of poets shall be blown to ash by a force that believes in art as a government and military weapon.

This poem speaks of the world, but in its attempt to speak of the world it is interrupted by bureaucrats writing poetic memos; by generals writing poetic death orders; by refugees writing poetic love songs to sheep, Israeli Uzis, and virgins.

This poem carries guns, prayer books, maps, cash, and manuals for heavy machinery.

This poem contains poet-interrogators who shove into terrorist mouths a variety of sedatives in preparation for gradual neurological reprogramming.

This poem is to be read through a walkie-talkie at a convention of poets who long to be institutionalized.

This poem institutionalizes poets by granting them immediate tenure at state universities they will never be able to leave.

The university is a fitting place for these poets: lots of sodomy and bitter fights over misplaced semi-colons and poorly formed ideologies.

In the world of this poem, a ball of dust is a Neanderthal man with a club; a cobweb is a poppy field full of landmines; and a horse on a road is fourteen illegal immigrants in a stable.

Critics hate this poem.

Editors laugh at this poem.

Poets shit on this poem.

Babies and graduate students eat this poem.

There are bivalved mollusks in this poem, and hemorrhoids, and a dog named Chucho, and coyotes who kidnap immigrants.

This poem speaks of a sheep-herder’s wife in the same breath that it mentions a cheerleader from the Upper East Side who fashions pom-poms from the hair of poodles captured by her Canine Detention Brigade.

This poem is an ally of the Metrosexual Insurgents who waged war on Banana Republic after maxing out their credit cards.

This poem is actively recruiting insurgents to terrorize exurban outlet malls.

This poem is a representative sample of the Chilean-Jewish school of Western Pennsylvanian Poetics.

This poem is rhythmically unappealing.

The form of this poem has little to do with its content.

This poem feels slightly uncomfortable referring to teriyaki-flavored-tofu dildos and macrobiotic lesbians.

This poem longs to be doused in gasoline and shoved into the mouth of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay.

This poem has no desire to withstand the test of time, and its author recommends that all copies of this poem be burned two years after publication.

This poem is firm in its convictions and compassionate at the same time.

This is a people-poem, not a political poem.

This poem is committed to public service.

This poem is simple, unobtrusive, and easy to use or ignore as the reader sees fit.

lines depicting simple happiness :: peter gizzi

The shine on her buckle took precedence in sun
Her shine, I should say, could take me anywhere
It feels right to be up this close in tight wind
It feels right to notice all the shiny things about you
About you there is nothing I wouldn’t want to know
With you nothing is simple yet nothing is simpler
About you many good things come into relation
I think of proofs and grammar, vowel sounds, like
A is for knee socks, E for panties
I is for buttondown, O the blouse you wear
U is for hair clip, and Y your tight skirt
The music picks up again, I am the man I hope to be
The bright air hangs freely near your newly cut hair
It is so easy now to see gravity at work in your face
Easy to understand time, that dark process
To accept it as a beautiful process, your face

the blue wing :: donald hall

She was all around me
like a rainy day,
and though I walked bareheaded
I was not wet. I walked
on a bare path
singing light songs
about women.

A blue wing tilts at the edge of the sea.

The wreck of the small
airplane sleeps
drifted to the high tide line,
tangled in seaweed, green
glass from the sea.

The tiny skeleton inside
remembers the falter of engines, the
silence, the cry without
answer, the long dying
into
and out of the sea.