fear poem, or I give you back :: joy harjo

I release you, my beautiful and terrible
fear. I release you. You were my beloved
and hated twin, but now, I don’t know you
as myself. I release you with all the
pain I would know at the death of
my children.
You are not my blood anymore.
I give you back to the soldiers
who burned down my home, beheaded my children,
raped and sodomized my brothers and sisters.
I give you back to those who stole the
food from our plates when we were starving.
I release you, fear, because you hold
these scenes in front of me and I was born
with eyes that can never close.
I release you
I release you
I release you
I release you
I am not afraid to be angry.
I am not afraid to rejoice.
I am not afraid to be black.
I am not afraid to be white.
I am not afraid to be hungry.
I am not afraid to be full.
I am not afraid to be hated.
I am not afraid to be loved.
to be loved, to be loved, fear.
Oh, you have choked me, but I gave you the leash.
You have gutted me but I gave you the knife.
You have devoured me, but I laid myself across the fire.
I take myself back, fear.
You are not my shadow any longer.
I won’t hold you in my hands.
You can’t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice
my belly, or in my heart my heart
my heart my heart
But come here, fear
I am alive and you are so afraid of dying.

mint :: elaine terranova

Already, we’d be driving past
those trees, that part of the forest.
Even briefly, it refreshed you.
It was like mint in August
though that sting would be gone
with summer. The ground
tarnishing first, and soon the leaves.
I thought then, men don’t stop.
They want so much to get on.
What we said, incidental
yet hammered into the mind.
Talk like a magnet, so it draws you
together or away. We made a line
around that part of the forest,
the exact shape of our attention.
Even after, I remember
how it was taken up and moved
along with us, into the dim
living room. Each holding a glass,
ice colliding in water. A tiny
mirrored sun caught in the trees.
The same sadness that darkened
our features. Later, bed
without making love, without
the chance of a reprieve.

tradition :: juliana spahr

I hold out my hand.
I hand over
and I pass on.
I hold out my hand.
I hold out my hand.
I hand over
and I pass on.
Some call this mothering,
this way I begin each day by holding out my hand and then all day
     long pass on.
Some call this caretaking,
this way all day and all night long, I hold out my hand and take engine
     oil additive into me and then I pass on this engine oil additive to
     this other thing that once was me, this not really me.
This soothing obligation
This love.
This hand over
and this pass on.
This part of me and this not really me.
This me and engine oil additive.
This me and not really me and engine oil additive.
Back and forth.

All day long, like a lion I lie where I will with not really me
and I bestow upon not really me
refractive index testing oils and wood preservatives.
I lie with not really me all day long,
and so I bequeath not really me a honeyed wine of flame retardants
     and fire preventing agents.
I make a milk like nectar,
a honeyed nectar of capacitor dielectrics, dyes, and electrical insulation
and I pass it on every two hours to not really me.
Not really me is a ram perched on a cliff above a stream,
unable to be quenched by the flame retardant in furniture.
Not really me comes near
and takes a nectar of insulated pipes, and some industrial paints.
Later I pass the breast cup to not really me,
a breast cup filled with sound insulation panels and imitation wood
     with a little nectar and sweetness.
And not really me drinks it and then complains a little,
rebuking me, for my cakes of nuts and raisins
are cakes of extraction of crude petroleum and natural gas,
for my apples are filled with televisions and windshield wiper blades.
On my breast are the curls of not really me
and against the brow of not really me wafts plasticizer used in heat
     transfer systems.
As drinking not really me takes in anger and in need
not really me drinks from the hand of that sweetest sleep the juice of me
that cup of adhesives,
that cup of fire retardants,
of pesticide extenders.
And as not really me drinks
I cradle the moon and not really me in my right hand
my lips kissing with the dedusting agents and wax extenders.
Then later in the night,
the bed scattered with the stains of cutting oils and gas-transmission
the blankets with blends of hydraulic fluid,
we lie there together
handing over and passing on
filled up and attempting to think our way through
economics and labor and time and biology
me and not really me

I’d like to think we had agreed upon this together,
that we had a tradition,
that we agreed these things explained us to us
but when not really me wakes
after drinking the pharmaceuticals and photo chemicals
night after night
and day after day
not really me will sing a song of rebuke,
sing the song of not really me, the song that
goes like Salutations to brominated fire retardants of Koppers Ind.
goes like Salutations to water/oil repellant paper coating of 3M
goes like Salutations to wiper blades of Asahi
goes like Salutations to bike chain lubrication of Clariant International
goes like Salutations to wire and cable insulation of Daikin
goes like Salutations to pharmaceutical packaging of DuPont
goes like Salutations to nail polish of Dyneon
goes like Salutations to engine oil additive of Agrevo E
goes like Salutations to hair curling and straightening of Agsin Ptd. Ltd.
goes like Salutations to insecticide and termiticide for empty green-
     houses of Chevron Chemical
goes like Salutations to greenhouse flowers of Monsanto
goes like Salutations to insecticide to kill fire ants of Rigo Co.
goes like Salutations to plasticizers of US Borax Inc.
Not really me’s song will go on and on
Not really me will sing it all night long
hour after hour for weeks on end.
It will have eighty-five company names in it.
It will have twenty-one chemical functions in it.
It will have ninety-seven products in it.
It will have two hundred trade names in it.
Not really me’s song will rotate through these names in all their
And then it will end with another part that is as long as the first and
     inventories the chemicals that not really me does not yet know.
But oh those of you who are not really me at all
I say let wisdom be your anvil and knowledge your hammer.
Hand this over.
Pass this on.

it couldn’t be done :: edgar guest

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
     But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
     Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
     On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
     That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
     At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
     And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
     Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
     That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
     There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
     The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
     Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
     That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

when I grow up I want to be a list of further possibilities :: chen chen

To be a good
ex/current friend for R. To be one last

inspired way to get back at R. To be relationship
advice for L. To be advice

for my mother. To be a more comfortable
hospital bed for my mother. To be

no more hospital beds. To be, in my spare time,
America for my uncle, who wants to be China

for me. To be a country of trafficless roads
& a sports car for my aunt, who likes to go

fast. To be a cyclone
of laughter when my parents say

their new coworker is like that, they can tell
because he wears pink socks, see, you don’t, so you can’t,

can’t be one of them. To be the one
my parents raised me to be—

a season from the planet
of planet-sized storms.

To be a backpack of PB&J & every
thing I know, for my brothers, who are becoming

their own storms. To be, for me, nobody,
homebody, body in bed watching TV. To go 2D

& be a painting, an amateur’s hilltop & stars,
simple decoration for the new apartment

with you. To be close, J.,
to everything that is close to you—

blue blanket, red cup, green shoes
with pink laces.

To be the blue & the red.
The green, the hot pink.

georgette :: erín moure

Dignified is a heartsong here
Harsh traverse of the unknown

“Better to go down dignified”
Ekes out

What gives in us, or won’t give
(her smile seen once in the Red Café)

Turns sparkless
Into sparklers

One “s” less
One “r” more, Georgette

— — — — —

The new wall we built that year
where the house side had been torn out

Grammar we called in

like a bet on narrative

— — — — —

Now I am the only one who hasn’t yet gone in;
and I have these sentences

(fissures in the hand)

the knot :: susan stewart

The problem was how to begin with the end
and then it turned out there were two ends:
the end within the continuing
that, continuing, enveloped
the end. You passed yourself
coming and going, went through
one loop, then another,
what was behind drawn
through at a
slide until
it rose
before you, sprung.
Tangle like a bramble,
like a rose. Start,
start again against
the tight-
ening. A knife
could give up
on patience, but you
were born among
the dull and
kind, who wait
for Spring, and
and lightning.

earth day :: jane yolen

I am the Earth
And the Earth is me.
Each blade of grass,
Each honey tree,
Each bit of mud,
And stick and stone
Is blood and muscle,
Skin and bone.

And just as I
Need every bit
Of me to make
My body fit,
So Earth needs
Grass and stone and tree
And things that grow here

That’s why we
Celebrate this day.
That’s why across
The world we say:
As long as life,
As dear, as free,
I am the Earth
And the Earth is me. 

a print above the kitchen sink :: lucia cherciu

Wet with colors,
bursting, opening up
like compliments, the petunias
my sister has multiplied from cuttings
cascade over her balcony
on the sixth floor.

Only the purple petunias
ease up the tension,
take away the otherwise monastic look,
the postulant air of her rooms,
crumbling shelves of books,
loads of laundry dried on the line
waiting for the implacable
torment of the iron on a hot day.

Only the petunias erase the backdrop
of the buzz in the kitchen,
her carrying groceries on two buses
and up the stairs,
perfume of velvet
at she rests her aching back against the wall
respite from her punitive list of chores,
a Georgia O’Keeffe print
above her kitchen sink.

old men playing basketball :: b. h. fairchild

The heavy bodies lunge, the broken language
of fake and drive, glamorous jump shot
slowed to a stutter. Their gestures, in love
again with the pure geometry of curves,

rise toward the ball, falter, and fall away.
On the boards their hands and fingertips
tremble in tense little prayers of reach
and balance. Then, the grind of bone

and socket, the caught breath, the sigh,
the grunt of the body laboring to give
birth to itself. In their toiling and grand
sweeps, I wonder, do they still make love

to their wives, kissing the undersides
of their wrists, dancing the old soft-shoe
of desire? And on the long walk home
from the VFW, do they still sing

to the drunken moon? Stands full, clock
moving, the one in army fatigues
and houseshoes says to himself, pick and roll,
and the phrase sounds musical as ever,

radio crooning songs of love after the game,
the girl leaning back in the Chevy’s front seat
as her raven hair flames in the shuddering
light of the outdoor movie, and now he drives,

gliding toward the net. A glass wand
of autumn light breaks over the backboard.
Boys rise up in old men, wings begin to sprout
at their backs. The ball turns in the darkening air.

aubade :: camille rankine

They say brave but I don’t want it.
Who will we mourn today. Or won’t we.

Black all the windows. Lower
down the afternoon. I barricade

all my belonging. I am mostly never real
American or anything

availing. But I do take. And take
what’s given. The smell of blood.

I breathe it in. The dirt so thick with our good
fortune. And who pays for it. And what am I

but fear, but wanting. I’ll bite
the feeding hand until I’m fed

and buried. In the shining day.
All deadly good

intentions. A catalogue of virtues.
This is how I’ll disappear.

a renewal :: james merrill

Having used every subterfuge
To shake you, lies, fatigue, or even that of passion,
Now I see no way but a clean break.
I add that I am willing to bear the guilt.

You nod assent. Autumn turns windy, huge,
A clear vase of dry leaves vibrating on and on.
We sit, watching. When I next speak
Love buries itself in me, up to the hilt.

greeter of souls :: deborah digges

Ponds are spring-fed, lakes run off rivers.
Here souls pass, not one deified,
and sometimes this is terrible to know
three floors below the street, where light drinks the world,
siphoned like music through portals.
How fed, that dark, the octaves framed faceless.
A memory of water.
The trees more beautiful not themselves.
Souls who have passed here, tired, brightening.
Dumpsters of linen, empty
gurneys along corridors to parking garages.
Who wonders, is it morning?
Who washes these blankets?
Can I not be the greeter of souls?
What’s to be done with the envelopes of hair?
If the inlets are frozen, can I walk across?
When I look down into myself to see a scattering of birds,
do I put on the new garments?
On which side of the river should I wait?

boy and egg :: naomi shihab nye

Every few minutes, he wants
to march the trail of flattened rye grass
back to the house of muttering
hens. He too could make
a bed in hay. Yesterday the egg so fresh
it felt hot in his hand and he pressed it
to his ear while the other children
laughed and ran with a ball, leaving him,
so little yet, too forgetful in games,
ready to cry if the ball brushed him,
riveted to the secret of birds
caught up inside his fist,
not ready to give it over
to the refrigerator
or the rest of the day.

feel happier in nine seconds :: linda besner

I learned the secret of serenity
by waterboarding daffodils.
My Buddha is landfill.
My mantra choked

from a bluebird’s neck.
It’s ruthless, the pursuit
of happiness. Eighteen
seconds have elapsed.

My happiness is twice
your size, gold-chained
to the lamppost. It strains
its waistcoat as it grows.

Flog a sunbeam, harness
a cloud. You should be feeling
five times happier now:
the world is your Kleenex.

It’s been a long sixty-three
seconds in Attawapiskat,
but my happiness digs
diamond mines, slobbers

parasol knobs on the Rhine.
I sweeten my cantaloupe
with stolen breastmilk.
Peak joy is at nine

times nine—Saddle up, dear.
An asteroid of happiness
is blasting through
the atmosphere.

match :: brynn saito

You live in a house of sound and you live
with a ghost. The one who stole your heart
also lives in your heart so you cut it out
with a carving knife and send it flying.
You say sometimes you wake and wait
for the god of loneliness to leave you alone.
I say our city is small and teeming
with ghosts and there are no seasons
for hiding. So we let go of the ones
who called us by our names. We make
ourselves new names by tracing letters
in a sand tray with sharp stones.
This is called Patience or Practicing
Solitude or The Wind Will Ruin Everything
but what does it matter let’s go for beauty
every time. You say the price we pay for love
is loss. I say the price we pay for love
is love. You say sometimes you’ve nothing
save your hand in the glove and the glove
against wind and you’re jabbing at the sky now
in the match of your life but the sky
never fights back so you praise it.

beauty is a real thing, I’ve seen it :: jay hopler

If only those parakeets would settle
A little nearer to where I’m sitting, instead of at the tops of far-off
trees, this morning
Would be so much more remarkable.
One could watch the blackbirds, I suppose, peck their ways like
Oxford dons across
The flagstone paths and lawns, or the swallows, or the sparrows,
Or the crows. But those birds are so plain—, so…painfully
No, only those parakeets will do and they will not do
What I want them to. In this, they are like everything else in the
Every beautiful thing.

song :: charif shanahan

I wait each night for a self.
I say the mist, I say the strange
tumble of leaves
, I say a motor
in the distance
, but I mean
a self and a self and a self.
A small cold wind
coils and uncoils in the corner
of every room. A vagrant.
In the dream
I gather my life in bundles
and stand at the edge of a field
of snow. It is a field I know
but have never seen. It is
nowhere and always new:
What about the lives
I might have lived?
As who? And who
will be accountable
for this regret I see
no way to avoid? A core,
or a husk, I need to learn
not how to speak, but from where.
Do you understand? I say
name, but I mean a conduit
from me to me
, I mean a net,
I mean an awning of stars.

the sadness of clothes :: emily fragos

When someone dies, the clothes are so sad. They have outlived
their usefulness and cannot get warm and full.
You talk to the clothes and explain that he is not coming back

as when he showed up immaculately dressed in slacks and plaid
and had that beautiful smile on and you’d talk.
You’d go to get something and come back and he’d be gone.

You explain death to the clothes like that dream.
You tell them how much you miss the spouse
and how much you miss the pet with its little winter sweater.

You tell the worn raincoat that if you talk about it,
you will finally let grief out. The ancients etched the words
for battle and victory onto their shields and then they went out

and fought to the last breath. Words have that kind of power
you remind the clothes that remain in the drawer, arms
folded across the chest, or slung across the backs of chairs,

or hanging inside the dark closet. Do with us what you will,
they faintly sigh, as you close the door on them.
He is gone and no one can tell us where.

it’s the little towns I like :: thomas lux

It’s the little towns I like
with their little mills making ratchets
and stanchions, elastic web,
spindles, you
name it. I like them in New England,
America, particularly-providing
bad jobs good enough to live on, to live in
families even: kindergarten,
church suppers, beach umbrellas … The towns
are real, so fragile in their loneliness
a flood could come along
(and floods have) and cut them in two,
in half. There is no mayor,
the town council’s not prepared
for this, three of the four policemen
are stranded on their roofs … and it doesn’t stop
raining. The mountain
is so thick with water parts of it just slide
down on the heifers—soggy, suicidal—
in the pastures below. It rains, it rains
in these towns and, because
there’s no other way, your father gets in a rowboat
so he can go to work.

room for the holy spirit :: hayley brooks

I took the late train into the city
on a Friday. I am still learning to
say no. I want my expression to
speak for me, but I am young
and female and that is usually
translated as an invitation. If I
had said no, I might’ve tried the
boldness of expanding, spread
my legs and watch him shrink.
Instead I whispered sure,
curled my regret into a quiet sigh.

I have known this swell before,
in a cathedral built in the
name of a male God,
in his voyeurism replacing every mirror.
He asked me why I was headed
to Chicago. I said to visit
my girlfriend.

His shock hung from his mouth for
a while. Then, his comments how is a girl like
you a lesbian? have you ever even tried to
be attracted to a man?
ballooned between

I know where on my body his eyes
landed each time they moved.
He asked if when I say girlfriend,
I am with her, like physically?
I tipped the glow of my phone
away from him as I texted her,
thought about catching her
eyes, what wholeness lies there.

He told me, you can’t get offended at
what I’m about to say.
And I am back at the
cathedral, swallowed. He said,
you really shouldn’t be with a woman.

I try to breathe a sigh so loud
it pushes him off the seat. I imagine
her head on my lap, stroking her hair,
her hand trailing my thigh.

I went to prom with a boy.
I wept to the girl I loved
that I didn’t have a date
and he asked me a few days later.
He tried to slow dance with me and
I scanned the room, looking at the girls
pressed up against the boys and
wondered if the room was getting bigger,
if I had been emptied.

I apologized the first time a girl kissed
me. She said let’s try it again. And I
bloomed, my fullness abounded.
It was God, I knew, awakening in my body.

I used to keep a stock
of male names to answer sleepover
questions. I feigned a pavilion of
nerves, prayed for a different body
at the altar erected
in yahweh’s name at asherah’s expense.
I maimed everything holy
in me for patriarchy.

I kissed a girl.
Until that sanctity between mouths
rebuilt asherah’s altar,
until I could
beam my fullness outward.

lunchtime with woodwinds :: alli warren

I wish I could write a song
to make the world
yield to this rushing

lapping what starts
tonguing what parts
any possible other world than this

inertia for pink medallion
inertia for those skeptics
in the building

who think of the unknown
as hemorrhage—quick stop
that thing from surfacing

I want to rub along
the webbing I want nothing but
the cove’s yawning jaw

for how else could possibility emerge
you see that honey
seeping through cracks?

let’s consider unbearable facts
beat this meat against the rocks
you call that virtue? knock knock

is this the proper place for the symposium?
small of my back requests unfolding
requests enveloping entry

call the operators
to open pathways
to vessels which gleam

rightly and rush
to make this here inlet
a humid blue bowl

to resist enclosure
and the loaded laying down
of structure on soft earth

as desire can never perish
blind in the rush of weeds
trying to get a glimpse

of the law
falling away
and in passing breathing lift

drill :: michael collier

When the fire bell rang its two short, one long
electric signal, the boys closest to the wall
of windows had to raise the blinds and close
the sashes, and then join the last of our line
as it snaked out the classroom onto the field
of asphalt where we stood, grade-by-grade,
until the principal appeared with her gold Timex.

We learned early that catastrophe must always
be attended in silence, that death prefers us
orderly and ordered, and that rules will save us
from the chaos of our fear, so that even
if we die, we die together, which was the calm
almost consoling thought I had each time
the yellow C.D. siren wailed and we would tuck
ourselves beneath our sturdy desktops.

Eyes averted from the windows,
we’d wait for the drill to pass or until
the nun’s rosary no longer clicked and we could hear
her struggling to free herself from the leg-well
of her desk, and then her call for us to rise
and, like herself, brush off the dust gathered
on our clothes. And then the lessons resumed.
No thought of how easily we interred ourselves,

though at home each would dream the mushroom cloud,
the white cap of apocalypse whose funnel stem
sucked glass from windows, air from lungs,
and made all these rehearsals the sad and hollow
gestures that they were, for we knew it in our bones
that we would die, curled in a last defense—
head on knees, arms locked around legs—
the way I’ve seen it since in nursing homes

and hospices: forms bedsheets can’t hide,
as if in death the body takes on the soul’s
compact shape, acrobatic, posed to tumble free
of the desktop or bed and join the expanse
and wide scatter of debris.

storm :: hildegarde flanner

The lofty wind is beatin at the hill’s dark breast
And in the face of heaven springs the storm.
Night wheels and stumbles like a wounded beast,
Rears up and plunges in alarm
And knocks the shaken sky from east to west.

The mountain wind is blowing his melancholy horn
And fierce upon his music flies the rain.
The clamorous wet rocks are crying, Storm!
And there the monster rages and proclaims
That he was god before all other gods were born.

the vacuum :: howard nemerov

The house is so quiet now
The vacuum cleaner sulks in the corner closet,
Its bag limp as a stopped lung, its mouth
Grinning into the floor, maybe at my
Slovenly life, my dog-dead youth.

I’ve lived this way long enough,
But when my old woman died her soul
Went into that vacuum cleaner, and I can’t bear
To see the bag swell like a belly, eating the dust
And the woolen mice, and begin to howl

Because there is old filth everywhere
She used to crawl, in the corner and under the stair.
I know now how life is cheap as dirt,
And still the hungry, angry heart
Hangs on and howls, biting at air.

sonnet in search of an author :: william carlos williams

Nude bodies like peeled logs
sometimes give off a sweetest
odor, man and woman

under the trees in full excess
matching the cushion of

aromatic pine-drift fallen
threaded with trailing woodbine
a sonnet might be made of it

Might be made of it! odor of excess
odor of pine needles, odor of
peeled logs, odor of no odor
other than trailing woodbine that

has no odor, odor of a nude woman
sometimes, odor of a man.

narrative without people :: hilda raz

The soaked books lip open in piles.
The shelves stoop, slough paint.
The doors, their locks sprung, hinge air
open to weather, gulp rain.
Something here enters the trees.

If we believe in ghosts, white pearl
shadows the batten and boards. Rust
runs on the shelves. The sounds on air
wail, a nail in the thumb. Stickers
underfoot poke holes.

In rafters, wings or the suggestion of wings
rend air, whoosh of rubbish, burnt rubber
hooks for skeleton elbows. Ash,
dry sift through moist fingers
in a room where everything’s mold.

old love :: pat mora

When my aunt died,
my uncle raised his hands
like a prophet in the Bible.
“I’ve lost my girl,” he said,
“I’ve lost my girl,” over and over,
shaking his head.

I didn’t know what to say,
where to look,
my quiet uncle raising his voice
to silence.

My aunt was eighty-seven.
“Listen,” my uncle said, sighing
like a tree alone at night,
“women know.
Every midnight on New Year’s Eve,
when others sang
and laughed and hugged,
your aunt looked at me,
tears in her eyes.
Sixty years.
She knew.
One day, we’d kiss good-bye.”

recess :: maria hummel

This is the sound of the bell. It rings,
full of brass and the end it brings:
once for the children, once for the child
who sits alone. His eyes hurt and mild,
he waits, holding his things.

Time should hold no meaning
for him yet. You don’t learn
how to play; you forget. But he knows a while
well, and longs for the clang of the bell.

A bell is a room of nothing.
No, a dome with a hidden swing — 
a will, a sway, a tone, a peal,
the beginning of song. The wild
crowd nears, passes, laughing.
Here is the sound of the bell.