last poem in may :: judith harris

After the late spring storm,
the downed roses lower their faces,
grazing in the wild grass…

Nervous mourning doves circle
the veranda, chitterling birdsongs,
blowing out their white puffs of seed
like ashes from a low fire.

The loam turns black and gold,
and black again. Stones hobble in place.
The bushes gleam vigorously, intact,
like menaced buildings still standing.

For each of us, there is a place we dare not enter
lest we trust the other has been there, too—
the star-shaped flowers splay backwards,
aiming their hoary cacti at the sun.

This is why the dead never come back:
because they want us to believe they are this happy.

habitation :: margaret atwood

Marriage is not
a house or even a tent

it is before that, and colder:

the edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
                 the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn

the edge of the receding glacier

where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
this far

we are learning to make fire

r & r :: brian turner

The curve of her hip where I’d lay my head,
that’s what I’m thinking of now, her fingers
gone slow through my hair on a blue day
ten thousand miles off in the future somewhere,
where the beer is so cold it sweats in your hand,
cool as her kissing you with crushed ice,
her tongue wet with blackberry and melon.

That’s what I’m thinking of now.
Because I’m all out of adrenaline,
all out of smoking incendiaries.

Somewhere deep in the landscape of the brain,
under the skull’s blue curving dome—
that’s where I am now, swaying
in a hammock by the water’s edge
as soldiers laugh and play volleyball
just down the beach, while others tan
and talk with the nurses who bring pills
to help them sleep. And if this is crazy,
then let this be my sanatorium,
let the doctors walk among us here
marking their charts as they will.

I have a lover with hair that falls
like autumn leaves on my skin.
Water that rolls in smooth and cool
as anesthesia. Birds that carry
all my bullets into the barrel of the sun.

the fallen protester’s song :: mohja kahf

These last few days were the most beautiful
I ever lived, my friends. For the first time
in our lives spent under martial law,
we took the secret freedom we’d been eating
out of the hidden cupboard, and ate it openly.
Then we took it right outside like melting ice cream
and started giving it away. To anyone.
After that, we were free.
I don’t know how to explain to those who haven’t tasted it.
Imagine an entire country with a calcium deficiency,
long-term, and everybody shrinks, but no one notices.
People smelled the free on us, like win on a horse, and loved us,
gave us secret bits of their food wrapped in warm bread,
beginning to free themselves, so that one day
the inside and the outside of people
will no longer be split bloody trembling down the middle,
like I was by the bullet spray of soldiers sent to shoot us,
then by the state’s torture-doctors. They cut my insides out,
trying to find the freedom and extract it surgically.
That’s what they do, those who have lost half
their humanity, they try to make half-humans out of everyone.
My friends, you are heaving a giant iron shelf,
off the limbs of people whose bones it crushes.
Soon it will yield to the weight of all your shoulders.
Remember me when that happens.
We worked for it together.
You were as ready to die for it as I was,
but it happened to be me. So when you write a word
on a wall for all to see
and it doesn’t have to be in code,
and no one breaks the hand that drew it,
when freedom is no longer treated like a narcotic,
dosed in hidden little baggies only for the few,
but becomes like photosynthesis in plants,
processing light in every leaf,
when everyone can be openly free,
when freedom falls like a deliverance rain,
then, my friends, remember me.

surreptitious kissing :: denis johnson

I want to say that
forgiveness keeps on

dividing, that hope
gives issue to hope,

and more, but of course I
am saying what is

said when in this dark
hallway one encounters

you, and paws and
assaults you—love

affairs, fast lies—and you
say it back and we

blunder deeper, as would
any pair of loosed

marionettes, any couple
of cadavers cut lately

from the scaffold,
in the secluded hallways

of whatever is
holding us up now.

praxis :: wendy xu

I had put down in writing my fear of the war

I too pined for pastoral description

The blue of the water was the blue of the world

Newness does not, for me, equal satisfaction

A finite number of concentric rings I push out into space

A tedious fabric moving through time without malice

An act of oration, rebellion, inventory, fantasy

The sound of the earth closing its one good eye over me

Imagine: you reach out towards the margin’s white hand

You do what your poems want and are clean

When you lay down your thorns you will be done

You do not take up arms against anyone

wanting to be white :: charif shanahan

How easy for the waterfall to turn back

into the river, the long, silent face

holding all that has passed through it

as though untouched,

undisturbed…. Then, within it,

a shadow moves—a turtle, or

kelp wavering, drifting, reaching,

trying to exist beyond its own watery nest—

and the face darkens,

quickens, stills. The waterfall

insists on its own incessant breaking, an anxiety,

a completion at once its own negation,

merging at its most opaque

with the waiting body, froth gathering, evaporating.

Sometimes I’ll come this far from home

merely to taste the air,

the always witness to this relentless constructed flow

unable to hold itself

beyond the falling of its own nature,

asserting itself only to destroy

itself. The sky is

sunless, ill-fitting, unhinging, barely awake. The river,

taking its motion from the surging above, urges,

persists, knowing

no way out, no way to extract

itself from its own circular endurance,

tenacious, whole, singularly minded

until it carries itself back to its own source.

 
after Jorie Graham

possum in the garbage :: faith shearin

He was a surprise of white: his teeth
like knives, his face a triangle
of albino dislike. I had seen him before,

on our back porch, where my father
sometimes left watermelon rinds,
and he dipped his tongue into them,

his skin glowing beneath our lights,
like some four-legged relative
of the moon. I knew him
as a citizen of the night:

a fainting, ghostly presence
with a tail so naked it was
embarrassed to drag behind him.

But that morning, terrified and violent,
he was different: a hissing fury
at the bottom of the garbage can,
a vampire bathed in light.

equations of the light :: dana gioia

Turning the corner, we discovered it
just as the old wrought-iron lamps went on—
a quiet, tree-lined street, only one block long
resting between the noisy avenues.

The streetlamps splashed the shadows of the leaves
across the whitewashed brick, and each tall window
glowing through the ivy-decked facade
promised lives as perfect as the light.

Walking beneath the trees, we counted all
the high black doors of houses bolted shut.
And yet we could have opened any door,
entered any room the evening offered.

Or were we deluded by the strange
equations of the light, the vagrant wind
searching the trees, that we believed this brief
conjunction of our separate lives was real?

It seemed that moment lingered like a ghost,
a flicker in the air, smaller than a moth,
a curl of smoke flaring from a match,
haunting a world it could not touch or hear.

There should have been a greeting or a sign,
the smile of a stranger, something beyond
the soft refusals of the summer air
and children trading secrets on the steps.

Traffic bellowed from the avenue.
Our shadows moved across the street’s long wall,
and at the end what else could I have done
but turn the corner back into my life?

bread :: helena minton

The dough rises in the sun,
history of the human rice inside it:
orgies, famines, Christanity,
eras when a man could have his arm
chopped off for stealing half a loaf.
I punch it down, knead the dark
flour into the light, let it bake,
then set it on the table beside the knife,
learning the power
cooks have over others, the pleasure
of saying eat.

offering :: jacques j. rancourt

That night the shore kept our shoes
and we left our boxers hanging from branches,
hid ourselves in the river. It was a test of manhood,
to see how naked we’d become
and not care. Tony, the most beautiful,
was laughing. Through the water
I saw a pale blur and knew what it stood for,
my heart paddling. We slapped each others’ backs,
tossed a football, the moon showing on the river
in fragments. When the girls came
with their breasts and their reluctance
to leave their panties in the tree shrine,
the energy shifted — the water shook.
We brushed against each other, sent beer cans
crumpled downriver. From somewhere
in the crowd, a scream, then bodies fled,
clamoring over the bank. The cause — a deer
who had come to test the shore with its mouth
and was frozen, as I was frozen, to the edge
until it bolted away and I bolted away too.
Into the field I ran with the pack of men
and in the moonlight I saw Tony, all of Tony,
and in his hand the hand of a girl, his mouth
coming down to her neck as they ran. Off they went,
back from where they came, but I had left
my reflection at the shore, the reflection
of the deer there too, my other’s arm
outstretched to the deer and offering it water.

believe this :: richard levine

All morning, doing the hard, root-wrestling
work of turning a yard from the wild
to a gardener’s will, I heard a bird singing
from a hidden, though not distant, perch;
a song of swift, syncopated syllables sounding
like, Can you believe this, believe this, believe?
Can you believe this, believe this, believe?

And all morning, I did believe. All morning,
between break-even bouts with the unwanted,
I wanted to see that bird, and looked up so
I might later recognize it in a guide, and know
and call its name, but even more, I wanted
to join its church. For all morning, and many
a time in my life, I have wondered who, beyond
this plot I work, has called the order of being,
that givers of food are deemed lesser
than are the receivers. All morning,
muscling my will against that of the wild,
to claim a place in the bounty of earth,
seed, root, sun and rain, I offered my labor
as a kind of grace, and gave thanks even
for the aching in my body, which reached
beyond this work and this gift of struggle.

accompaniment :: w. s. merwin

Day alone first of December with rain
falling lightly again in the garden
and the dogs sleeping on the dark floorboards
day between journeys unpacking from one

then packing for another and reading
poems as I go words from a time past
light migrants coming from so long ago
through the sound of this quiet rain falling

the new trees :: rosalia moffett

            Cell towers can be hidden inside an. artificial tree.
                       —Wikipedia

The new trees rise up and up, fingering out, one cell
in a cellular network. They do everything
the old trees did: listen, collect our discarded breath,

transmit it new into air. We need them. We take them
ugly and make them hidden: crown of fronds, green
more ever than evergreen. And then we talk to them

the way we used to talk to dolls. They weren’t quite right—
too light, never blinked—but they were ours
and knew our language the way babies never did.

curtains :: stuart dybek

Sometimes they are the only thing beautiful
about a hotel.
Like transients,
come winter they have a way of disappearing,
disguised as dirty light,
limp beside a puttied pane.
Then some April afternoon
a roomer jacks a window open,
a breeze intrudes,
resuscitates memory,
and suddenly they want to fly,
while men,
looking up from the street,
are deceived a moment
into thinking
a girl in an upper story
is waving.

thanking my mother for piano lessons :: diane wakoski

The relief of putting your fingers on the keyboard,
as if you were walking on the beach
and found a diamond
as big as a shoe;

as if
you had just built a wooden table
and the smell of sawdust was in the air,
your hands dry and woody;

as if
you had eluded
the man in the dark hat who had been following you
all week;

the relief
of putting your fingers on the keyboard,
playing the chords of
Beethoven,
Bach,
Chopin
        in an afternoon when I had no one to talk to,
        when the magazine advertisement forms of soft sweaters
        and clean shining Republican middle-class hair
        walked into carpeted houses
        and left me alone
        with bare floors and a few books

I want to thank my mother
for working every day
in a drab office
in garages and water companies
cutting the cream out of her coffee at 40
to lose weight, her heavy body
writing its delicate bookkeeper’s ledgers
alone, with no man to look at her face,
her body, her prematurely white hair
in love
        I want to thank
my mother for working and always paying for
my piano lessons
before she paid the Bank of America loan
or bought the groceries
or had our old rattling Ford repaired.

I was a quiet child,
afraid of walking into a store alone,
afraid of the water,
the sun,
the dirty weeds in back yards,
afraid of my mother’s bad breath,
and afraid of my father’s occasional visits home,
knowing he would leave again;
afraid of not having any money,
afraid of my clumsy body,
that I knew
        no one would ever love

But I played my way
on the old upright piano
obtained for $10,
played my way through fear,
through ugliness,
through growing up in a world of dime-store purchases,
and a desire to love
a loveless world.

I played my way through an ugly face
and lonely afternoons, days, evenings, nights,
mornings even, empty
as a rusty coffee can,
played my way through the rustles of spring
and wanted everything around me to shimmer like the narrow tide
on a flat beach at sunset in Southern California,
I played my way through
an empty father’s hat in my mother’s closet
and a bed she slept on only one side of,
never wrinkling an inch of
the other side,
waiting,
waiting,

I played my way through honors in school,
the only place I could
talk
      the classroom,
      or at my piano lessons, Mrs. Hillhouse’s canary always
      singing the most for my talents,
      as if I had thrown some part of my body away upon entering
      her house
      and was now searching every ivory case
      of the keyboard, slipping my fingers over black
      ridges and around smooth rocks,
      wondering where I had lost my bloody organs,
      or my mouth which sometimes opened
      like a California poppy,
      wide and with contrasts
      beautiful in sweeping fields,
      entirely closed morning and night,

I played my way from age to age,
but they all seemed ageless
or perhaps always
old and lonely,
wanting only one thing, surrounded by the dusty bitter-smelling
leaves of orange trees,
wanting only to be touched by a man who loved me,
who would be there every night
to put his large strong hand over my shoulder,
whose hips I would wake up against in the morning,
whose mustaches might brush a face asleep,
dreaming of pianos that made the sound of Mozart
and Schubert without demanding
that life suck everything
out of you each day,
without demanding the emptiness
of a timid little life.

I want to thank my mother
for letting me wake her up sometimes at 6 in the morning
when I practiced my lessons
and for making sure I had a piano
to lay my school books down on, every afternoon.
I haven’t touched the piano in 10 years,
perhaps in fear that what little love I’ve been able to
pick, like lint, out of the corners of pockets,
will get lost,
slide away,
into the terribly empty cavern of me
if I ever open it all the way up again.
Love is a man
with a mustache
gently holding me every night,
always being there when I need to touch him;
he could not know the painfully loud
music from the past that
his loving stops from pounding, banging,
battering through my brain,
which does its best to destroy the precarious gray matter when I
am alone;
he does not hear Mrs. Hillhouse’s canary singing for me,
liking the sound of my lesson this week,
telling me,
confirming what my teacher says,
that I have a gift for the piano
few of her other pupils had.
When I touch the man
I love,
I want to thank my mother for giving me
piano lessons
all those years,
keeping the memory of Beethoven,
a deaf tortured man,
in mind;
          of the beauty that can come
from even an ugly
past.

this marriage :: rumi

May these vows and this marriage be blessed.
May it be sweet milk,
this marriage, like wine and halvah.
May this marriage offer fruit and shade
like the date palm.
May this marriage be full of laughter,
our every day a day in paradise.
May this marriage be a sign of compassion,
a seal of happiness here and hereafter.
May this marriage have a fair face and a good name,
an omen as welcomes the moon in a clear blue sky.
I am out of words to describe
how spirit mingles in this marriage.

my doubt :: jane hirshfield

I wake, doubt, beside you,
like a curtain half-open.

I dress doubting,
like a cup
undecided if it has been dropped.

I eat doubting,
work doubting,
go out to a dubious cafe with skeptical friends.

I go to sleep doubting myself,
as a herd of goats
sleep in a suddenly gone-quiet truck.

I dream you, doubt,
nightly—
for what is the meaning of dreaming
if not that all we are while inside it
is transient, amorphous, in question?

Left hand and right hand,
doubt, you are in me,
throwing a basketball, guiding my knife and my fork.
Left knee and right knee,
we run for a bus,
for a meeting that surely will end before we arrive.

I would like
to grow content in you, doubt,
as a double-hung window
settles obedient into its hidden pulleys and ropes.

I doubt I can do so:
your own counterweight governs my nights and my days.

As the knob of hung lead holds steady
the open mouth of a window,
you hold me,
my kneeling before you resistant, stubborn,
offering these furious praises
I can’t help but doubt you will ever be able to hear.

coastal plain :: kathryn stripling byer

The only clouds
forming are crow clouds,

the only shade, oaks
bound together in a tangle of oak

limbs that signal the wind
coming, if there is any wind

stroking the flat
fields, the flat

swatch of corn.
Far as anyone’s eye can see, corn’s

dying under the sky
that repeats itself either as sky

or as water
that won’t remain water

for long on the highway: its shimmer
is merely the shimmer

of one more illusion that yields
to our crossing as we ourselves yield

to our lives, to the roots
of our landscape. Pull up the roots

and what do we see but the night
soil of dream, the night

soil of what we call
home. Home that calls

and calls
and calls.

english :: yusef komunyakaa

When I was a boy, he says, the sky began burning,
& someone ran knocking on our door
one night. The house became birds
in the eaves too low for a boy’s ears.

I heard a girl talking, but they weren’t words.
I knew one good thing: a girl
was somewhere in our house,
speaking slow as a sailor’s parrot.

I glimpsed Alice in Wonderland.
Her voice smelled like an orange,
though I’d never peeled an orange.
I knocked on the walls, in a circle.

The voice was almost America.
My ears plucked a word out of the air.
She said, Friend. I eased open the door
hidden behind overcoats in a closet.

The young woman was smiling at me.
She was teaching herself a language
to take her far, far away,
& she taught me a word each day to keep secret.

But one night I woke to other voices in the house.
A commotion downstairs & a pleading.
There are promises made at night
that turn into stones at daybreak.

From my window, I saw the stars
burning in the river brighter than a big
celebration. I waited for her return,
with my hands over my mouth.

I can’t say her name, because it was
dangerous in our house so close to the water.
Was she a boy’s make-believe friend
or a beehive breathing inside the walls?

Years later my aunts said two German soldiers
shot the girl one night beside the Vistula.
This is how I learned your language.
It was long ago. It was springtime.

a queerification :: regie cabico

—for Creativity and Crisis at the National Mall

queer me
shift me
transgress me
tell my students i’m gay
tell chick fil a i’m queer
tell the new york times i’m straight
tell the mail man i’m a lesbian
tell american airlines
i don’t know what my gender is
like me
liking you
like summer blockbuster armrest dates
armrest cinematic love
elbow to forearm in the dark
humor me queerly
fill me with laughter
make me high with queer gas
decompress me from centuries of spanish inquisition
& self-righteous judgment
like the blood my blood
that has mixed w/ the colonizer
& the colonized
in the extinct & instinct to love
bust memories of water & heat
& hot & breath
beating skin on skin fluttering
bruise me into vapors
bleed me into air
fly me over sub-saharan africa & asia & antarctica
explode me from the closet of my fears
graffiti me out of doubt
bend me like bamboo
propose to me
divorce me
divide me into your spirit 2 spirit half spirit
& shadow me w/ fluttering tongues
& caresses beyond head
heart chakras
fist smashing djembes
between my hesitations
haiku me into 17 bursts of blossoms & cold saki
de-ethnicize me
de-clothe me
de-gender me in brassieres
& prosthetic genitalias
burn me on a brazier
wearing a brassiere
in bitch braggadocio soprano bass
magnificat me in vespers
of hallelujah & amen
libate me in halos
heal me in halls of femmy troubadors
announcing my hiv status
or your status
i am not afraid to love you
implant dialects as if they were lilacs
in my ear
medicate me with a lick & a like
i am not afraid to love you
so demand me
reclaim me
queerify me

it’s been a while since they asked :: yehuda amichai

translated by Chana Bloch

It’s been a while since they asked, Who lives in between these
     houses,
And who was he, the last of the last to speak,
And who forgot his coat between these houses,
And who was the one who stayed. Why didn’t he flee?

Among the blossomers, a dead tree stands, dead tree.
A long-standing error, a misunderstanding of yore,
The edge of the Land, where an era begins to be
For somebody else. A bit of stillness there.

And the current events of body and of hell,
The reeds of the end, their spells of sway and sough.
The wind passed on its way through that locale
And a serious dog saw the humans laugh.

muffin of sunsets :: elaine equi

The sky is melting. Me too.
Who hasn’t seen it this way?

Pink between the castlework
of buildings.

Pensive syrup
drizzled over clouds.

It is almost catastrophic how heavenly.

A million poets, at least,
have stood in this very spot,
groceries in hand, wondering:

“Can I witness the Rapture
and still make it home in time for dinner?”

heroic :: eavan boland

Sex and history. And skin and bone.
And the oppression of Sunday afternoon.
Bells called the faithful to devotion.

I was still at school and on my own.
And walked and walked and sheltered from the rain.

The patriot was made of drenched stone.
His lips were still speaking. The gun
he held had just killed someone.

I looked up. And looked at him again.
He stared past me without recognition.

I moved my lips and wondered how the rain
would taste if my tongue were made of stone.
And wished it was. And whispered so that no one
could hear it but him. Make me a heroine.

my friends :: ali power

my friends
create the mood
by describing it
turning off all the lights
a place in our minds
wakes as in water
we dance alone and with each other
we make circles around each other
get close then step back
then get close again
my friends
the furniture is round
the furniture is covered
in bluets
there are drugs my friends
why be evasive
when you can listen to an audio book
about a biologist
on a mysterious expedition
to Area X
an area cut off from civilization
today I’ve spoken to no one
and I feel fine
but feelings aren’t facts my friends
and I’ve eaten the last of the cheese
and table water crackers
and I have no salary
but I will hold you

daysleep :: laura kasischke

Remember sleep, in May, in the afternoon, like
a girl’s bright feet slipped into dark, new boots.

Or sleep in one another’s arms at 10 o’clock
on a Saturday in June?—that

smiling child hiding behind
the heavy curtain of a photo booth.

All our daysleep, my love, remember sleep

like brides in violets. Sleep
like sleepy pilots casting

the shadows of their silver jets
onto the silver sailboats
they also sailed
on oceans miles below.

Such nothingness, on the other

side of which
infinity slid
into eternity, insisting

that we had lived together forever—and did.