sustenance :: barbara crooker

The sky hangs up its starry pictures: a swan,
a crab, a horse. And even though you’re
three hundred miles away, I know you see
them, too. Right now, my side
of the bed is empty, a clear blue lake
of flannel. The distance yawns and stretches.
It’s hard to remember we swim in an ocean
of great love, so easy to fall into bickering
like little birds at the feeder fighting over proso
and millet, unaware of how large the bag of grain is,
a river of golden seeds, that the harvest was plentiful,
the corn is in the barn, and whenever we’re hungry,
a dipperful of just what we need will be spilled . . .

how was your weekend :: kim dower

the lab technician asks me
as she sticks the needle in my vein,
routine physical, blood rushing
up the tube as if being chased
out of my body. Fine, I tell her
all good, really good, did some things,
saw some people, ate out, got rid of shoes
I haven’t worn in years, craved ice cream,
but had no one to go with, so I went by myself,
embarrassed ordering a mint chip cone
alone in the middle of a Saturday, got over it
when I took a bite, euphoric, no longer caring
that my son was too old to take for ice cream.
Wrote a letter to my dead mother but couldn’t
read it at her grave because we cremated her
so I read it sitting at the kitchen table,
a photo of her propped up in front of me.

“Sounds amazing,” she says, my blood still flowing
up the tube, new one now as I’d filled up the first.
Where will they send my blood, and how
do they test for all the things they test for,
and what if they discover I have one?
of a million diseases one could have, something
to confine me to bed for as many days, weekends
as I have left on this earth, or what if they find
nothing? Will I start to take pictures of my food
like a friend of mine does? He takes pictures
of what he’s about to eat so he’ll remember?
what he put in his body, so if something goes
wrong he’ll know it was the yellowtail swimming?
in lime sauce or the ginger sorbet with one proud
blackberry perched on top. He keeps files of photos
so he’ll never forget what he tasted, what filled him.
I want to taste the blood being drawn from my arm,
wonder if it would taste the same as my mother’s.
“What did you do this weekend,” she asks
forgetting she already asked. I had an ice cream cone,
I tell her, took a picture of it before it started to melt,
licked a drop of blood still warm from a new cut
,
read a letter to my mother at her grave.

watch the film you paid to see :: todd colby

In my bedroom my weight is three times more
than what I’d weigh on Jupiter.
If your kitchen was on Mercury I’d be heavier by half
of you while sitting at your table.
On Uranus, a quarter of my weight is meat,
or an awareness of myself as flesh.
On Venus the light would produce a real volume around me
that would make me look happy in photographs.
This is how it is with quantity in any life. It’s a fact
that on certain planets I’d actually be able to mount
the stairs four at a time. Think of the most beautiful horse
in the world: a ridiculously beautiful golden horse,
with a shimmering coat; it would weigh no more
than an empty handbag on Mars. You need
to get real about these things.

monastery nights :: chase twichell

I like to think about the monastery
as I’m falling asleep, so that it comes
and goes in my mind like a screen saver.
I conjure the lake of the zendo,
rows of dark boats still unless
someone coughs or otherwise
ripples the calm.
I can hear the four AM slipperiness
of sleeping bags as people turn over
in their bunks. The ancient bells.

When I was first falling in love with Zen,
I burned incense called Kyonishiki,
“Kyoto Autumn Leaves,”
made by the Shoyeido Incense Company,
Kyoto, Japan. To me it smelled like
earnestness and ether, and I tried to imagine
a consciousness ignorant of me.
I just now lit a stick of it. I had to run downstairs
for some rice to hold it upright in its bowl,
which had been empty for a while,
a raku bowl with two fingerprints
in the clay. It calls up the monastery gate,
the massive door demanding I recommit myself
in the moments of both its opening
and its closing, its weight now mine,
I wanted to know what I was,
and thought I could find the truth
where the floor hurts the knee.

I understand no one I consider to be religious.
I have no idea what’s meant when someone says
they’ve been intimate with a higher power.
I seem to have been born without a god receptor.
I have fervor but seem to lack
even the basic instincts of the many seekers,
mostly men, I knew in the monastery,
sitting zazen all night,
wearing their robes to near-rags
boy-stitched back together with unmatched thread,
smoothed over their laps and tucked under,
unmoving in the long silence,
the field of grain ripening, heavy tasseled,
field of sentient beings turned toward candles,
flowers, the Buddha gleaming
like a vivid little sports car from his niche.

What is the mind that precedes
any sense we could possibly have
of ourselves, the mind of self-ignorance?
I thought that the divestiture of self
could be likened to the divestiture
of words, but I was wrong.
It’s not the same work.
One’s a transparency
and one’s an emptiness.

Kyonishiki…. Today I’m painting what Mom
calls no-colors, grays and browns,
evergreens: what’s left of the woods
when autumn’s come and gone.
And though he died, Dad’s here,
still forgetting he’s no longer
married to Annie,
that his own mother is dead,
that he no longer owns a car.
I told them not to make any trouble
or I’d send them both home.
Surprise half inch of snow.
What good are words?

And what about birches in moonlight,
Russell handing me the year’s
first chanterelle—
Shouldn’t God feel like that?

I aspire to “a self-forgetful,
perfectly useless concentration,”
as Elizabeth Bishop put it.
So who shall I say I am?
I’m a prism, an expressive temporary
sentience, a pinecone falling.
I can hear my teacher saying, No.
That misses it.

Buddha goes on sitting through the century,
leaving me alone in the front hall,
which has just been cleaned and smells of pine.

another of the happiness poems :: peter cooley

It’s not that we’re not dying.
Everything is dying.
We hear these rumors of the planet’s end
none of us will be around to watch.

It’s not that we’re not ugly.
We’re ugly.
Look at your feet, now that your shoes are off.
You could be a duck,

no, duck-billed platypus,
your feet distraction from your ugly nose.
It’s not that we’re not traveling,
we’re traveling.

But it’s not the broadback Mediterranean
carrying us against the world’s current.
It’s the imagined sea, imagined street,
the winged breakers, the waters we confuse with sky

willingly, so someone out there asks
are you flying or swimming?
That someone envies mortal happiness
like everyone on the other side, the dead

who stand in watch, who would give up their bliss,
their low tide eternity rippleless
for one day back here, alive again with us.
They know the sea and sky I’m walking on

or swimming, flying, they know it’s none of these,
this dancing-standing-still, this turning, turning,
these constant transformations of the wind
I can bring down by singing to myself,

the newborn mornings, these continuals—

birch :: cynthia zarin

Bone-spur, stirrup of veins—white colt
a tree, sapling bone again, worn to a splinter,
a steeple, the birch aground

in its ravine of leaves. Abide with me, arrive
at its skinned branches, its arms pulled
from the sapling, your wrist taut,

each ganglion a gash in the tree’s rent
trunk, a child’s hackwork, love plus love,
my palms in your fist, that

trio a trident splitting the birch, its bark
papyrus, its scars calligraphy,
a ghost story written on

winding sheets, the trunk bowing, dead is
my father
, the birch reading the news
of the day aloud as if we hadn’t

heard it, the root moss lit gas,
like the veins on your ink-stained hand—
the birch all elbows, taking us in.

love poem :: lisa russ spaar

Why was I born if it
wasn’t forever?

—Ionesco

I want to give you
more than these words
finite as husks
or a string of barbed wire.
I want you to see
the blue knot my fist made,
cast down against this page
in sunlight so bright,
it seemed to swallow
the marks I made here.
How the chuckling shadows
of full-leafed trees
swarmed around me while I wrote,
as though winter
were some remote, impossible joke;
and how they lengthened, eventually,
like the day,
into roads straight as rods,
slabs of gold, consoling sun
on either side
denying that there ever really are
any other paths
than the one we finally take.
I want to give you
what you cannot see here,
the shadow of my body
spilling across your face
when you lie under me,
as deep and intangible
as honeysuckle or any living thing
that heaps its fragrant weight
against a fence,
trusting it, forever.

what we lost :: michael ondaatje

The interior love poem
the deeper levels of the self
landscapes of daily life

dates when the abandonment
of certain principles occurred.

The rule of courtesy — how to enter
a temple or forest, how to touch
a master’s feet before lesson or performance.

The art of the drum. The art of eye-painting.
How to cut an arrow. Gestures between lovers.
The pattern of her teeth marks on his skin
drawn by a monk from memory.

The limits of betrayal. The five ways
a lover could mock an ex-lover.

Nine finger and eye gestures
to signal key emotions.

The small boats of solitude.

Lyrics that rose
from love
back into the air

naked with guile
and praise.

Our works and days.

We knew how monsoons
(south-west, north-east)
would govern behaviour

and when to discover
the knowledge of the dead

hidden in clouds,
in rivers, in unbroken rock.

All this we burned or traded for power and wealth –
from the eight compass points of vengeance

from the two levels of envy

stenciled memories :: lorna dee cervantes

     for Gra’ma

There was always fabric in your lap
and a whistle in your heart. A sweet
sap to be sucked waited in the garden.
Nymphs of newts nestled under rock,
your role as She Who Brings the Waters
intact. Between the trilling of the crickets
educating into the night and the sad sack
of cans in the mornings something grew,
flourished in the dark — vines as sturdy
as telephone wire writhed in the breezes.
You patched together a blanket of us,
sewed together the mismatched and lopped
off edges. And anger grew a twin, ripped
through the bermuda grass, something stubborn
and determined: Me, in a leather patchwork skirt,
the bitter lemon song returning to its beginning
over and over on the Howdie Doody phonograph,
a handful of bandages, a faceful of ghosts
delivered from the mirrors. How did you stand it?
All of it. Us crunching through your set life,
kids scuffling through the mounds of leave.
Always making do. Your sunshine eyes,
those stenciled memories where
we still live.

a short story of falling :: alice oswald

It is the story of the falling rain
to turn into a leaf and fall again

it is the secret of a summer shower
to steal the light and hide it in a flower

and every flower a tiny tributary
that from the ground flows green and momentary

is one of water’s wishes and this tale
hangs in a seed-head smaller than my thumbnail

if only I a passerby could pass
as clear as water through a plume of grass

to find the sunlight hidden at the tip
turning to seed a kind of lifting rain drip

then I might know like water how to balance
the weight of hope against the light of patience

water which is so raw so earthy-strong
and lurks in cast-iron tanks and leaks along

drawn under gravity towards my tongue
to cool and fill the pipe-work of this song

which is the story of the falling rain
that rises to the light and falls again

scientific romance :: tim pratt

If starship travel from our
Earth to some far
star and back again
at velocities approaching the speed
of light made you younger than me
due to the relativistic effects
of time dilation,
I’d show up on your doorstep hoping
you’d developed a thing for older men,
and I’d ask you to show me everything you
learned to pass the time
out there in the endless void
of night.

If we were the sole survivors
of a zombie apocalypse
and you were bitten and transformed
into a walking corpse
I wouldn’t even pick up my
assault shotgun,
I’d just let you take a bite
out of me, because I’d rather be
undead forever
with you
than alive alone
without you.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back
to the days of your youth
to see how you became the someone
I love so much today, and then
I’d return to the moment we first met
just so I could see my own face
when I saw your face
for the first time,
and okay,
I’d probably travel to the time
when we were a young couple
and try to get a three-way
going. I never understood
why more time travelers don’t do
that sort of thing.

If the alien invaders come
and hover in stern judgment
over our cities, trying to decide
whether to invite us to the Galactic
Federation of Confederated
Galaxies or if instead
a little genocide is called for,
I think our love could be a powerful
argument for the continued preservation
of humanity in general, or at least,
of you and me
in particular.

If we were captives together
in an alien zoo, I’d try to make
the best of it, cultivate a streak
of xeno-exhibitionism,
waggle my eyebrows, and make jokes
about breeding in captivity.

If I became lost in
the multiverse, exploring
infinite parallel dimensions, my
only criterion for settling
down somewhere would be
whether or not I could find you:
and once I did, I’d stay there even
if it was a world ruled by giant spider-
priests, or one where killer
robots won the Civil War, or even
a world where sandwiches
were never invented, because
you’d make it the best
of all possible worlds anyway,
and plus
we could get rich
off inventing sandwiches.

If the Singularity comes
and we upload our minds into a vast
computer simulation of near-infinite
complexity and perfect resolution,
and become capable of experiencing any
fantasy, exploring worlds bound only
by our enhanced imaginations,
I’d still spend at least 10^21 processing
cycles a month just sitting
on a virtual couch with you,
watching virtual TV,
eating virtual fajitas,
holding virtual hands,
and wishing
for the real thing.
 
 
 
(Listen.)

native trees :: w. s. merwin

Neither my father nor my mother knew
the names of the trees
where I was born
what is that
I asked and my
father and mother did not
hear they did not look where I pointed
surfaces of furniture held
the attention of their fingers
and across the room they could watch
walls they had forgotten
where there were no questions
no voices and no shade

Were there trees
where they were children
where I had not been
I asked
were there trees in those places
where my father and my mother were born
and in that time did
my father and my mother see them
and when they said yes it meant
they did not remember
What were they I asked what were they
but both my father and my mother
said they never knew

aunties :: kevin young

There’s a way a woman
            will not
relinquish

her pocketbook
            even pulled
onstage, or called up

to the pulpit—
            there’s a way only
your Auntie can make it

taste right—
            rice & gravy
is a meal

if my late Great Aunt
            Toota makes it—
Aunts cook like

there’s no tomorrow
            & they’re right.
Too hot

is how my Aunt Tuddie
            peppers everything,
her name given

by my father, four, seeing
            her smiling in her crib.
There’s a barrel

full of rainwater
            beside the house
that my infant father will fall

into, trying to see
            himself—the bottom—
& there’s his sister

Margie yanking him out
            by his hair grown long
as superstition. Never mind

the flyswatter they chase you
            round the house
& into the yard with

ready to whup the daylights
            out of you—
that’s only a threat—

Aunties will fix you
            potato salad
& save

you some. Godmothers,
            godsends,
Aunts smoke like

it’s going out of style—
            & it is—
make even gold

teeth look right, shining.
            saying I’ll be
John
, with a sigh. Make way

out of no way—
            keep they key
to the scale that weighed

the cotton, the cane
            we raised more
than our share of—

If not them, then who
            will win heaven?
holding tight

to their pocketbooks
            at the pearly gates
just in case.

bath :: stuart dybek

She mops a washcloth down his spine and scrubs
until his bones glow with the inner light of porcelain
and when his Haloed hair bursts forth into foam
he holds his nose and dunks beneath the soapy gloom
ears flooding with signals
the pipes transmit like microphones.

The boy can hear another city, the one below
where wind coils when it isn’t howling,
one can hear Purgatory boil
up through the manholes, a river flushing souls
into the underworld, tomorrow’s news
bawled at the crossroad of subway and sewer.

If he were accidentally to swallow here
the water would taste like silver
off a dead man’s eyes. Upstairs,
the mute émigré waitress he secretly
adores sings naked in the shower,
the newlyweds from Mexico

rage about dinero, next door
a newborn wails like a Black Maria,
while in a hidden room, a crazy old man
won’t stop repeating “the goddamn, the goddman!”
And the boy comes up for air,
eyes burning, rinsed hair silky, his hands
wrinkled, Busha says, as prunes.

Overhead, the bare bulb fogs with steam.
She jerks the plug, the drain
gulps a vortex of gray bathwater.
It’s time to rinse before it sucks him down,
to stand calf-deep, lacquered with Ivory,
smoldering before a faucet that trickles

a cool stream at which Busha washes him
first gently in front and then behind
in a way that no one else will ever wash him.
The moon, too, must be fogged above
misted lamps that bleed into reflections
on the marbled pane.

He swipes abstractions in the sweat,
finger painting night
while Busha towels his hair
as if reviving a drowned sailor
the sea has graciously returned.
Don’t worry, Busha, your grandson is clean

for Saturday night:
ears, navel, nails, inspected,
teeth unstained, cleansed as baptism
leaves the soul, pure enough to sleep—
as you instruct him—with the angels,
cleaner than he’ll ever be again.

bogliasco :: robert polito

I’m always running ahead of my life,
The way when we walk you are always

Three, fifteen, forty steps behind
Taking a picture, or inspecting

A bottlebrush tree, a cornice, the sea
As it breaks white on the striated rock,

As though I can’t dare look, and
I’m always running away from myself

The way when we walk you are always
Asking me to slow down, and what will happen

When one of us dies, and, if it’s me first,
There’s no one’s back in our photos anymore.

return to winter :: elaine terranova

That day the starlings didn’t eat.
That day was a sudden return
to winter. In the fields,
snow on a base of ice.

The birds couldn’t bear
to set down except
on the clear face
of the road they remembered.

My husband leaned on the horn
the way you lean on a railing
until they lifted
before the unstoppable metal.

I pushed into the floorboard
as if I were doing the driving,
as if I could halt
the laws of physics,
while somewhere, my brother’s chest
rose and sunk and rose.

So much you take for granted,
like going to sleep in spring
that you will wake in spring.
That the blossoms were right
to push out, there was
no contradiction.

But when we hit the slick
and slammed hard against
our own forward motion,
the roadbank spun
and the orchard of stunted trees
that had just begun to soften.

in defense of melancholy :: pablo medina

At least once a week
I walk into the city of bricks
where the rubies grow

and the killers await
the coming of doves and cats.

I pass by the homes of butchers
and their knives sharpened by insomnia

to the river of black sails
and the torn-up sea and the teeth of dogs.

She waits for me in a narrow bed,
watching the rain
that gathers on the broken street

and the weak light of dusk
and the singing trees.

wide receiver :: mark halliday

In the huddle you said “Go long—get open”
and at the snap I took off along the right sideline
and then cut across left in a long arc
and I’m sure I was open at several points—
glancing back I saw you pump-fake more than once
but you must not have been satisfied with what you saw downfield
and then I got bumped off course and my hands touched the turf
but I regained my balance and dashed back to the right
I think or maybe first left and then right
and I definitely got open but the throw never came—

maybe you thought I couldn’t hang on to a ball flung so far
or maybe you actually can’t throw so far
but in any case I feel quite open now,
the defenders don’t seem too interested in me
I sense only open air all around me
though the air is getting darker and it would appear
by now we’re well into the fourth quarter
and I strongly doubt we can afford to settle for
dinky little first downs if the score is what I think it is

so come on, star boy, fling a Hail Mary
with a dream-coached combination of muscle and faith
and I will gauge the arc and I will not be stupidly frantic
and I will time my jump and—I’m just going to say
in the cool gloaming of this weirdly long game
it is not impossible that I will make the catch.

bread :: richard levine

Each night, in a space he’d make
between waking and purpose,
my grandfather donned his one
suit, in our still dark house, and drove
through Brooklyn’s deserted streets
following trolley tracks to the bakery.

There he’d change into white
linen work clothes and cap,
and in the absence of women,
his hands were both loving, well
into dawn and throughout the day—
kneading, rolling out, shaping

each astonishing moment
of yeasty predictability
in that windowless world lit
by slightly swaying naked bulbs,
where the shadows staggered, woozy
with the aromatic warmth of the work.

Then, the suit and drive, again.
At our table, graced by a loaf
that steamed when we sliced it,
softened the butter and leavened
the very air we’d breathe,
he’d count us blessed.

holiness :: kateri kosek

in three starlings out the window,
bathing in snowmelt this damp winter day.

On the icy path worn down by rain they dip their heads,
their sleek, flecked bodies, and water tumbles over. Invasive

opportunists, evictor of nestlings, today they’ve only seized
the soft edges between winter and warmth.

Holiness too in the small talk that covers
the gaping pains, the crippling judgments and easy

despair. Over the blaring TV I tell my grandmother
I thought of her yesterday, seeing rabbit on a menu in Albany.

She is pleased, and I bask in how simple it was, she who is
displeased by so many things—the limbs that won’t lift

as they should, the empty house, the too-short dresses
of TV newscasters, the news, always the news–

her evidence we are coming to the end
of an age. Good, I always think, though I grow tired

of hearing about it. I knew she would embark
on the whole story about rabbit, how with a tour group

in Sorrento, she was gallantly served the dreaded food
of her Great Depression childhood. Didn’t

come all the way to Italy to have rabbit.
Nothing gourmet about the soft warm bodies

her father lugged from the woods.
We’ve never seen such unrest, she says,

distracted by the turmoil on the screen,
every plane crash and religious scuffle piling up

on her heart, negating the centuries she hasn’t seen
in Technicolor. I pray for something besides

her mouthfuls of rabbit shot,
for the marauders of her life recast

like these starlings—iridescent, harmless,
throwing water behind them.