the hammock :: li-young lee

When I lay my head in my mother’s lap
I think how day hides the stars,
the way I lay hidden once, waiting
inside my mother’s singing to herself. And I remember
how she carried me on her back
between home and the kindergarten,
once each morning and once each afternoon.

I don’t know what my mother’s thinking.

When my son lays his head in my lap, I wonder:
Do his father’s kisses keep his father’s worries
from becoming his? I think, Dear God, and remember
there are stars we haven’t heard from yet:
They have so far to arrive. Amen,
I think, and I feel almost comforted.

I’ve no idea what my child is thinking.

Between two unknowns, I live my life.
Between my mother’s hopes, older than I am
by coming before me, and my child’s wishes, older than I am
by outliving me. And what’s it like?
Is it a door, and good-bye on either side?
A window, and eternity on either side?
Yes, and a little singing between two great rests.

awash :: brian russell

the unthinkable prospect
of a world in which I am left
to my own devices

which are few and as soon
as the batteries die useless
first order of business

I draw a map in the sand
mark where I stand as the capital
of civilization within me the
detailed blueprints of the pyramids
and the concept of zero
beyond me the finite frontier

the many miles of undeveloped
shoreline with spectacular views of a
sea filled with intricately depicted
monsters I have a lot to do before

I introduce the new world
to art and astronomy and industry
medicine and technology
ethics politics democracy

by a show of hands we shall elect
which tree to burn in the first fire

requests for the toy piano :: tony hoagland

Play the one about the family of the ducks
where the ducks go down to the river
and one of them thinks the water will be cold
but then they jump in anyway
and like it and splash around.

No, I must play the one
about the nervous man from Palestine in row 14
with a brown bag in his lap
in which a gun is hidden in a sandwich.

Play the one about the handsome man and woman
standing on the steps of her apartment
and how the darkness and her perfume and the beating of their hearts
conjoin to make them feel
like leaping from the edge of chance—

No, I should play the one about
the hard rectangle of the credit card
hidden in the man’s back pocket
and how the woman spent an hour
plucking out her brows, and how her perfume
was made from the destruction of a hundred flowers.

Then play the one about the flower industry
in which the migrant workers curse their own infected hands
from tossing sheaves of roses and carnations
into the back of the refrigerated trucks.

No, I must play the one about the single yellow daffodil
standing on my kitchen table
whose cut stem draws the water upwards
so the plant is flushed with the conviction

that the water has been sent
to find and raise it up
from somewhere so deep inside the earth
not even flowers can remember.

to see the queen :: allison seay

Since I was the one who had been ill, it was me she came to see.
Everyone wanted a glimpse of her.
The people emerged from their houses toward mine
and with such caution.
They made a visor of their hands.
It was as if they were to be accounted for,
wading the long uphill, little moving triangles
all I could distinguish at first.
But the queen came to see only me and I saw her.
And my life for a while was dismissed
and so repaired.

my mother’s music :: emilie buchwald

In the evenings of my childhood,
when I went to bed,
music washed into the cove of my room,
my door open to a slice of light.

I felt a melancholy I couldn’t have named,
a longing for what I couldn’t yet have said
or understood but still
knew was longing,
knew was sadness
untouched by time.

Sometimes
the music was a rippling stream
of clear water rushing
over a bed of river stones
caught in sunlight.

And many nights
I crept from bed
to watch her
swaying where she sat
overtaken by the tide,
her arms rowing the music
out of the piano.

grace :: phillis levin

Someone across the room laughs so lightly
We hear the rustle of pines, the rattle
In a cone when a sparrow, alighting,
Leaves for a reason unsung in its singing,
And the air, stirred by startled breath, now
Emptied, surprises like another’s pain
We register without a smile or gesture,
Admitting it is there as our pupils
Dilate slightly, change gently pulling like
An undertow anemones answer
When waters whose whispers are lost in waves
Intimate worlds we will never enter.

thanksgiving :: tim nolan

Thanks for the Italian chestnuts—with their
tough shells—the smooth chocolaty
skin of them—thanks for the boiling water—

itself a miracle and a mystery—
thanks for the seasoned sauce pan
and the old wooden spoon—and all

the neglected instruments in the drawer—
the garlic crusher—the bent paring knife—
the apple slicer that creates six

perfect wedges out of the crisp Haralson—
thanks for the humming radio—thanks
for the program on the radio

about the guy who was a cross-dresser—
but his wife forgave him—and he
ended up almost dying from leukemia—

(and you could tell his wife loved him
entirely—it was in her deliberate voice)—
thanks for the brined turkey—

the size of a big baby—thanks—
for the departed head of the turkey—
the present neck—the giblets

(whatever they are)—wrapped up as
small gifts inside the cavern of the ribs—
thanks—thanks—thanks—for the candles

lit on the table—the dried twigs—
the autumn leaves in the blue Chinese vase—
thanks—for the faces—our faces—in this low light.

subject to change :: marilyn l. taylor

       A reflection on my students

They are so beautiful, and so very young
they seem almost to glitter with perfection,
these creatures that I briefly move among.

I never get to stay with them for long,
but even so, I view them with affection:
they are so beautiful, and so very young.

Poised or clumsy, placid or high-strung,
they’re expert in the art of introspection,
these creatures that I briefly move among—

And if their words don’t quite trip off the tongue
consistently, with just the right inflection,
they remain beautiful. And very young.

Still, I have to tell myself it’s wrong
to think of them as anything but fiction,
these creatures that I briefly move among—

Because, like me, they’re traveling headlong
in that familiar, vertical direction
that coarsens beautiful, blackmails young
the two delusions we all move among.

the end of the world :: dana gioia

“We’re going,” they said, “to the end of the world.”
So they stopped the car where the river curled,
And we scrambled down beneath the bridge
On the gravel track of a narrow ridge.

We tramped for miles on a wooded walk
Where dog-hobble grew on its twisted stalk.
Then we stopped to rest on the pine-needle floor
While two ospreys watched from an oak by the shore.

We came to a bend, where the river grew wide
And green mountains rose on the opposite side.
My guides moved back. I stood alone,
As the current streaked over smooth flat stone.

Shelf by stone shelf the river fell.
The white water goosetailed with eddying swell.
Faster and louder the current dropped
Till it reached a cliff, and the trail stopped.

I stood at the edge where the mist ascended,
My journey done where the world ended.
I looked downstream. There was nothing but sky,
The sound of the water, and the water’s reply.

the mystery of the hunt :: michael mcclure

It’s the mystery of the hunt that intrigues me,
              That drives us like lemmings, but cautiously—
The search for a bright square cloud—the scent of lemon verbena—
              Or to learn rules for the game the sea otters
                              Play in the surf.

              It is these small things—and the secret behind them
                              That fill the heart.
                  The pattern, the spirit, the fiery demon
                          That link them together
                  And pull their freedom into our senses,

          The smell of a shrub, a cloud, the action of animals

      —The rising, the exuberance, when the mystery is unveiled.
                          It is these small things

                That when brought into vision become an inferno.

leaving the pain clinic :: william brewer

Always this warm moment when I forget which part of me
I blamed. Never mind the pills kicking in, their spell
that showers the waiting room, once full of shame,
in a soft rain of hot sparks that pity sometimes is,
how it mends the past like a welder seams metal,
and isn’t that why we’re all here, addicts
and arthritics–we close our eyes completely
but the edges only blur–and though the door’s the same,
somehow the exit, like the worst wounds, is greater
than the entrance was. I throw it open for all to see
how daylight, so tall, has imagination. It has heart. It loves.

tech help :: chase twichell

My bonsai teacher says to quit doing it like a girl.
I’m pruning the root-ball of a Podocarpus,
or Buddhist pine, trained semicascade.

The first time Dad fell,
the femur broke in eleven places
due to his artificial knee (titanium and steel).
A rod screwed to the bones in thirteen places
didn’t work, and the graft stayed weak.
For two years he fought his wheelchair
into near submission. The grand finale
was him riding it down two flights of stairs
without tipping over or falling out.
The nurses loved him.

The last time I called tech help
I got George in Salt Lake, at work
at six in the morning their time.
He was very helpful.
I offered to write a note for his file,
but he said, It’s OK, Chase.
Your compliment is enough.

love after love :: derek walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored for another,
who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

longing :: ina coolbrith

O foolish wisdom sought in books!
    O aimless fret of household tasks!
O chains that bind the hand and mind—
    A fuller life my spirit asks!

For there the grand hills, summer-crowned,
    Slope greenly downward to the seas;
One hour of rest upon their breast
    Were worth a year of days like these.

Their cool, soft green to ease the pain
    Of eyes that ache o’er printed words;
This weary noise – the city’s voice,
    Lulled in the sound of bees and birds.

For Eden’s life within me stirs,
    And scorns the shackles that I wear;
The man-life grand – pure soul, strong hand,
    The limb of steel, the heart of air!

And I could kiss, with longing wild,
    Earth’s dear brown bosom, loved so much,
A grass-blade fanned across my hand,
    Would thrill me like a lover’s touch.

The trees would talk with me; the flowers
    Their hidden meanings each make known—
The olden lore revived once more,
    When man’s and nature’s heart were one!

And as the pardoned pair might come
    Back to the garden God first framed,
And hear Him call at even-fall,
    And answer, ‘Here am I,’ unshamed—

So I, from out these toils, wherein
    The Eden-faith grows stained and dim,
Would walk, a child, through nature’s wild,
    And hear His voice and answer Him.

center of the world :: safiya sinclair

The meek inherit nothing.
God in his tattered coat
this morning, a quiet tongue

in my ear, begging for alms,
cold hands reaching up my skirt.
Little lamb, paupered flock,

bless my black tea with tears.
I have shorn your golden
fleece, worn vast spools

of white lace, glittering jacquard,
gilded fig leaves, jeweled dust
on my skin. Cornsilk hair

in my hems. I have milked
the stout beast of what you call America;
and wear your men across my chest

like furs. Stick-pin fox and snow
blue chinchilla: They too came
to nibble at my door,

the soft pink tangles I trap
them in. Dear watchers in the shadows,
dear thick-thighed fiends. At ease,

please. Tell the hounds who undress
me with their eyes—I have nothing
to hide. I will spread myself

wide. Here, a flash of muscle. Here,
some blood in the hunt. Now the center
of the world: my incandescent cunt.

All hail the dark blooms of amaryllis
and the wild pink Damascus,
my sweet Aphrodite unfolding

in the kink. All hail hot jasmine
in the night; thick syrup
in your mouth, forked dagger

on my tongue. Legions at my heel.
Here at the world’s red mecca,
kneel. Here Eden, here Bethlehem,

here in the cradle of Thebes,
a towering sphinx roams the garden,
her wet dawn devouring.

the election :: leonard nathan

courtesy of c.c.

How did the stones vote
this time?

They voted for hardness
and few words

as the trees voted
for slow growth
upward and a shedding
of dead dependents.

And the men?

They voted against
themselves again
and for fire
which they thought they
could control,
fire
which voted for blackened stumps
and no more elections.

at the fishhouses :: elizabeth bishop

Although it is a cold evening,
down by one of the fishhouses
an old man sits netting,
his net, in the gloaming almost invisible,
a dark purple-brown,
and his shuttle worn and polished.
The air smells so strong of codfish
it makes one’s nose run and one’s eyes water.
The five fishhouses have steeply peaked roofs
and narrow, cleated gangplanks slant up
to storerooms in the gables
for the wheelbarrows to be pushed up and down on.
All is silver: the heavy surface of the sea,
swelling slowly as if considering spilling over,
is opaque, but the silver of the benches,
the lobster pots, and masts, scattered
among the wild jagged rocks,
is of an apparent translucence
like the small old buildings with an emerald moss
growing on their shoreward walls.
The big fish tubs are completely lined
with layers of beautiful herring scales
and the wheelbarrows are similarly plastered
with creamy iridescent coats of mail,
with small iridescent flies crawling on them.
Up on the little slope behind the houses,
set in the sparse bright sprinkle of grass,
is an ancient wooden capstan,
cracked, with two long bleached handles
and some melancholy stains, like dried blood,
where the ironwork has rusted.
The old man accepts a Lucky Strike.
He was a friend of my grandfather.
We talk of the decline in the population
and of codfish and herring
while he waits for a herring boat to come in.
There are sequins on his vest and on his thumb.
He has scraped the scales, the principal beauty,
from unnumbered fish with that black old knife,
the blade of which is almost worn away.

Down at the water’s edge, at the place
where they haul up the boats, up the long ramp
descending into the water, thin silver
tree trunks are laid horizontally
across the gray stones, down and down
at intervals of four or five feet.

Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
element bearable to no mortal,
to fish and to seals . . . One seal particularly
I have seen here evening after evening.
He was curious about me. He was interested in music;
like me a believer in total immersion,
so I used to sing him Baptist hymns.
I also sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
He stood up in the water and regarded me
steadily, moving his head a little.
Then he would disappear, then suddenly emerge
almost in the same spot, with a sort of shrug
as if it were against his better judgment.
Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
the clear gray icy water . . . Back, behind us,
the dignified tall firs begin.
Bluish, associating with their shadows,
a million Christmas trees stand
waiting for Christmas. The water seems suspended
above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones.
I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

end of market day :: judith harris

At five, the market is closing.
Burdock roots, parsley, and rutabagas
are poured back into the trucks.
The antique dealer breaks down his tables.

Light dappled, in winter parkas
shoppers hunt for bargains:
a teapot, or costume jewelry,
a grab bag of rubbishy vegetables for stew.

Now twilight, the farmer’s wife
bundled in her tweed coat and pocket apron
counts out her cash from a metal box,
and nods to her grown-up son

back from a tour in Iraq,
as he waits in the station wagon
with the country music turned way up,
his prosthetic leg gunning the engine.

the veteran :: margaret i. postgate

We came upon him sitting in the sun—
   Blinded by war, and left. And past the fence
Wandered young soldiers from the Hand & Flower,
   Asking advice of his experience.

And he said this and that, and told them tales;
   And all the nightmares of each empty head
Blew into air. Then, hearing us beside—
   “Poor kids, how do they know what it’s like?” he said.

And we stood there, and watched him as he sat
   Turning his sockets where they went away;
Until it came to one of us to ask
      “And you’re—how old?”
                                                “Nineteen the third of May.”

don’t go hungry for my dark skin :: octavio quintanilla

Don’t go hungry for my dark skin.

Don’t go hungry for a homeland.

You ask why you must love a country
That doesn’t love you back.

Isn’t this the way of all love?
The nature of hunger?

You’ve forgotten the names of the birds
That fly above you.

You’ve forgotten the name of the tree
That gives you the fruit of its shade.

Your fingerprints swim like fish
in the currents of the rivers you crossed.

You want to swim after them,
Jump in the water and drift like a twig
Until you reach shore.

What shore?

The wind has erased the North Star
From the dark page of the sky.

If you could only glue together
All the torn pieces of the map
That guides you.

Follow the toll of your empty stomach,

Drink my bone marrow.

Take my hand as if taking a slice of bread.

poem for the young white man who asked me how i, an intelligent, well-read person, could believe in the war between races :: lorna dee cervantes

In my land there are no distinctions.
The barbed wire politics of oppression
have been torn down long ago. The only reminder
of past battles, lost or won, is a slight
rutting in the fertile fields.

In my land
people write poems about love,
full of nothing but contented childlike syllables.
Everyone reads Russian short stories and weeps.
There are no boundaries.
There is no hunger, no
complicated famine or greed.

I am not a revolutionary.
I don’t even like political poems.
Do you think I can believe in a war between races?
I can deny it. I can forget about it
when I’m safe,
living on my own continent of harmony
and home, but I am not
there.

I believe in revolution
because everywhere the crosses are burning,
sharp-shooting goose-steppers round every corner,
there are snipers in the schools…
(I know you don’t believe this.
You think this is nothing
but faddish exaggeration. But they
are not shooting at you.)

I’m marked by the color of my skin.
The bullets are discrete and designed to kill slowly.
They are aiming at my children.
These are facts.
Let me show you my wounds: my stumbling mind, my
“excuse me” tongue, and this
nagging preoccupation
with the feeling of not being good enough.

These bullets bury deeper than logic.
Racism is not intellectual.
I can not reason these scars away.

Outside my door
there is a real enemy
who hates me.

I am a poet
who yearns to dance on rooftops,
to whisper delicate lines about joy
and the blessings of human understanding.
I try. I go to my land, my tower of words and
bolt the door, but the typewriter doesn’t fade out
the sounds of blasting and muffled outrage.
My own days bring me slaps on the face.
Every day I am deluged with reminders
that this is not
my land

and this is my land.

I do not believe in the war between races

but in this country
there is war.
 
 
 
(Reflections from the poet)

voting in favor of happy endings :: arthur oberg

The birds are too insistent for
quieting. They go from olive
bough to olive bough. Even if
we could catch them, they wouldn’t
keep the fire going for very long.
The horizon blurs just where you
usually see boats making it, with
small motors, to shore. Threaten
to bring in a string of professional
mourners, how will that alter the
day? Even vials of third-rate
tears are too expensive to price,
impossible to weep. Last night,
boring took on a third dimension—
high, deep as sky, almost as wide.
This morning, I went out to count
how many new almond blossoms had
fallen during the night. It was
disappointing. I had heard no wind,
expected to hear, find (this time down)
only the occasional petal on the ground.

the pomegranate and the big crowd :: alberto ríos

Ventura because she was hungry and because
She was curious—but more because she was curious—
Took the dare, a kiss for a pomegranate.
Everyone gathered, her friends and his. Everyone
Watched: the boys, the girls, the pigs and the chickens,
And more. Moving to the front were the children
She and Clemente would one day have,
And the children of those children, too,
Gathered and loud with everyone and everything else,
Loud as the pigs and fast as the chickens
Though she could not see them.
Still, they crowded her, and she could feel
Their anxious breathing.
This boy Clemente whom she would kiss
She would have kissed even without the pomegranate,
Though she could not say it
And was glad of this game. He suited her,
She thought. He had a strong face.
He felt what she felt. She could see him look around
But not at their friends. She could see him
Feel the shiver of the children they would have:
Their son Margarito, his two sisters
Both of whom would become nuns
If just to pray enough to take care of him,
This boy so serious he would seem like a stranger
In their arms, serious enough by himself
To make up for Clemente and Ventura
And for all the laughter
They themselves would feel,
This curious child who, as an old man
Would never trust a doctor for anything.
And his serious wife to come, Refugio,
And her sisters, Matilde and Consuelo as well,
All the people who would follow this kiss,
So many of them, and their children, too,
Everyone stood there, arms up, everyone watching,
So much noise in this moment,
This quick lending of herself
To his cheek, the way Ventura would later kiss
All these impatient children of theirs. The kiss
Seemed so small, but was filled with itself.
This small moment of affection she gave this boy
The quarter-second that it took:
There they all stood, waiting with the crowd
Egging them on, hefting the pomegranate
And pushing them toward each other.
Clemente and Ventura in that quarter-second lived
Their lives, a quarter-second not finished yet.

first thought :: lorna dee cervantes

best thought, you had taught
me — a river runs through it,
the foot of the soul standing
stubbornly in the freeze, all
the shards of ice crumpling up
the banks, what survives
in the ignorance. Play it away.
Be ceremony. Be a lit candle
to what blows you. Outside,
the sun gives a favorite present,
mountain nests in ironic meadows,
otter takes off her shoes, the small
hands of her feet reaching, reaching; still,
far away people are dying. Crisp
one dollar bills fold another life.
You taught me to care in the moment,
carve day into light, or something,
moving in the west that doesn’t destroy
us. Look again, in the coming summer,
the cruelest month alive still eats up
the hours. Regret is an uneven hand,
a rough palm at the cheek — tender
and calloused. I drink another glass
of water, turn on the tap
for what grows, for you,
for what lasts, for the last
and the first found thought of you.

victory :: sherman alexie

When I was twelve, I shoplifted a pair
Of basketball shoes. We could not afford
Them otherwise. But when I tied them on,
I found that I couldn’t hit a shot.

When the ball clanked off the rim, I felt
Only guilt, guilt, guilt. O, immoral shoes!
O, kicks made of paranoia and rue!
Distraught but unwilling to get caught

Or confess, I threw those cursed Nikes
Into the river and hoped that was good
Enough for God. I played that season
In supermarket tennis shoes that felt

The same as playing in bare feet.
O, torn skin! O, bloody heels and toes!
O, twisted ankles! O, blisters the size
Of dimes and quarters! Finally, after

I couldn’t take the pain anymore, I told
My father what I had done. He wasn’t angry.
He wept out of shame. Then he cradled
And rocked me and called me his Little

Basketball Jesus. He told me that every cry
Of pain was part of the hoops sonata.
Then he laughed and bandaged my wounds—
My Indian Boy Poverty Basketball Stigmata.

migrating birds :: mónica de la torre

Victor got a real sense of power
from making his own raisins. He’d buy
pounds and pounds of grapes
and leave them to dry
on the kitchen table.

Theresa didn’t want to hear about
her ex-husband’s cancer. Not on Father’s Day.
She took a train all night
to have breakfast with her cousin.
All Sunday she rode the train back.

Once Martin’s wife had left,
he decided to take advantage of her space.
He built a sauna where her closet was,
sat there every morning, to read the paper
and Buddha.

One night Helga wore her prettiest dress,
though she knew he wouldn’t be there.
She drank dry white, got drunk
(she was on a diet), and fell down.
Later he saw the holes in her pantyhose.

María was usually bumping into
furniture. Each time she got closer to what
she wanted. “What do you want from me?”
“Nothing,” he replied, so she took off
and felt like migrating birds. But many.

making peace :: denise levertov

A voice from the dark called out,
“The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.”

But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.

A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.

A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses. . . .

A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light–facets
of the forming crystal.

let it be forgotten :: sara teasdale

Let it be forgotten, as a flower is forgotten,
Forgotten as a fire that once was singing gold,
Let it be forgotten for ever and ever,
Time is a kind friend, he will make us old.

If anyone asks, say it was forgotten
Long and long ago,
As a flower, as a fire, as a hushed footfall
In a long forgotten snow.

let everything happen to you :: natalie eilbert

As a girl I made my calves into little drinking elephants,
I would stare at the wonder of their pumping muscles,
the sup of their leg-trunks. I resuscitated a bunny once
from my cat’s electric teeth. I was on neighborhood watch
to save animals, as many as I could. My damage was easy.
My plainspoken voice is a watercolor. I’m afraid of it
as I’m afraid of what the world will do to color. I don’t
think I’ve done much. A table leans against itself
to be a table. I hold nothing but this air. I give it off.
I want a literature that is not made from literature, says Bhanu.
Last night my legs ached a low-tone. I imagined the body
giving itself up for another system. Dandelions tickling
out of my knee. The meniscus a household of worms.
It is okay to bear. My apartment hums in a Rilke sense.
A pain blooms. I am told that it’s okay to forego details
of what happened. I am told it doesn’t matter now.
I want to write sentences for days. I want days to not
be a sentence. We put men in boxes and sail them away.
Justice gave me an amber necklace. I tried to swallow
as many as I could.