hospital :: marianne boruch

It seems so—
I don’t know. It seems
as if the end of the world
has never happened in here.
No smoke, no
dizzy flaring except
those candles you can light
in the chapel for a quarter.
They last maybe an hour
before burning out.
                        And in this room
where we wait, I see
them pass, the surgical folk—
nurses, doctors, the guy who hangs up
the blood drop—ready for lunch,
their scrubs still starched into wrinkles,
a cheerful green or pale blue,
and the end of a joke, something
about a man who thought he could be—
what? I lose it
in their brief laughter.

clothespins :: stuart dybek

I once hit clothespins   
for the Chicago Cubs.   
I’d go out after supper   
when the wash was in   
and collect clothespins   
from under four stories   
of clothesline.   
A swing-and-a-miss   
was a strike-out;   
the garage roof, Willie Mays,   
pounding his mitt   
under a pop fly.   
Bushes, a double,   
off the fence, triple,   
and over, home run.   
The bleachers roared.   
I was all they ever needed for the flag.   
New records every game—
once, 10 homers in a row!   
But sometimes I’d tag them   
so hard they’d explode,   
legs flying apart in midair,   
pieces spinning crazily   
in all directions.   
Foul Ball! What else   
could I call it?   
The bat was real. 

the fox :: faith shearin

It was an ordinary morning: November, thin light,
and we paused over our pancakes to watch
something red move outside. Our house is on

an untamed patch of land and, across the lagoon,
another house surrounded by trees. On the banks
of their shore, facing us: a fox. We thought

he might be a dog at first for he trotted and sniffed
like a dog but when he turned to us
we knew he was nobody’s pet. His face was arranged

like a child’s face — playful, dainty — and his eyes
were liquid and wild. He stood for awhile, looking out,
as if he could see us in our pajamas, then found

a patch of sand beneath a tree and turned himself
into a circle of fur: his head tucked into his tail.
It was awful to watch him sleep: exposed,

tiny, his eyes closed. How can any animal
be safe enough to rest? But while I washed
our dishes he woke again, yawned, and ran

away to the places only foxes know. My God
I was tired of being a person. Even now his tail
gestures to me across the disapproving lagoon.

the slow weight of time :: tino villanueva

Endlessly to no end looking through
memory (O conscience that accentuates
a history full of ways to know the

heart) at what not long ago did happen,
you turn back to when your offended
little world was unresolved. Each

thought is longing to become another,
longing to sing, once again and always,
deep into a song of what memory still

might know. You draw air, press these
thoughts to paper and release your daily
self from the lost fragments of the past.

Now: in the conquered vigil of your
days, all distance weeps for you as you
drift out from the journey through

the slow weight of time, and you claim
that you are safe forever in the
very words you have chosen to become.

ramadan :: kazim ali

You wanted to be so hungry, you would break into branches,
and have to choose between the starving month’s

nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-third evenings.
The liturgy begins to echo itself and why does it matter?

If the ground-water is too scarce one can stretch nets
into the air and harvest the fog.

Hunger opens you to illiteracy,
thirst makes clear the starving pattern,

the thick night is so quiet, the spinning spider pauses,
the angel stops whispering for a moment—

The secret night could already be over,
you will have to listen very carefully—

You are never going to know which night’s mouth is sacredly reciting
and which night’s recitation is secretly mere wind—

june light :: richard wilbur

Your voice, with clear location of June days,
Called me outside the window. You were there,
Light yet composed, as in the just soft stare
Of uncontested summer all things raise
Plainly their seeming into seamless air.

Then your love looked as simple and entire
As that picked pear you tossed me, and your face
As legible as pearskin’s fleck and trace,
Which promise always wine, by mottled fire
More fatal fleshed than ever human grace.

And your gay gift—Oh when I saw it fall
Into my hands, through all that naïve light,
It seemed as blessed with truth and new delight
As must have been the first great gift of all.

a map of the world :: ted kooser

One of the ancient maps of the world
is heart-shaped, carefully drawn
and once washed with bright colors,
though the colors have faded
as you might expect feelings to fade
from a fragile old heart, the brown map
of a life. But feeling is indelible,
and longing infinite, a starburst compass
pouting in all the directions
two lovers might go, a fresh breeze
swelling their sails, the future uncharted,
still far from the edge
where the sea pours into the stars.

the gospel of barbecue :: honorée fanonne jeffers

       for Alvester James

Long after it was
necessary, Uncle
Vess ate the leavings
off the hog, doused
them with vinegar sauce.
He ate chewy abominations.
Then came high pressure.
Then came the little pills.
Then came the doctor
who stole Vess’s second
sight, the predication
of pig’s blood every
fourth Sunday.
Then came the stillness
of barn earth, no more
trembling at his step.
Then came the end
of the rib, but before
his eyes clouded,
Uncle Vess wrote
down the gospel
of barbecue.

Chapter one:
Somebody got to die
with something at some
time or another.

Chapter two:
Don’t ever trust
white folk to cook
your meat until
it’s done to the bone.

Chapter three:
December is the best
time for hog killing.
The meat won’t
spoil as quick.
Screams and blood
freeze over before
they hit the air.

Chapter four, Verse one:
Great Grandma Mandy
used to say food
you was whipped
for tasted the best.

Chapter four, Verse two:
Old Master knew to lock
the ham bacon chops
away quick or the slaves
would rob him blind.
He knew a padlock
to the smokehouse
was best to prevent
stealing, but even the
sorriest of slaves would
risk a beating for a full
belly. So Christmas time
he give his nasty
leftovers to the well
behaved. The head ears
snout tail fatback
chitlins feet ribs balls.
He thought gratitude
made a good seasoning.

Chapter five:
Unclean means dirty
means filthy means
underwear worn too
long in summertime heat.
Perfectly good food
can’t be no sin.
Maybe the little
bit of meat on ribs
makes for lean eating.
Maybe the pink flesh
is tasteless until you add
onions garlic black
pepper tomatoes
soured apple cider
but survival ain’t never been
no crime against nature
or Maker. See, stay alive
in the meantime, laugh
a little harder. Go on
and gnaw that bone clean.

my century :: alan feldman

The year I was born the atomic bomb went off.
Here I’d just begun, and someone
found the switch to turn off the world.

In the furnace-light, in the central solar fire
of that heat lamp, the future got very finite,
and it was possible to imagine time-travelers

failing to arrive, because there was no future.
Inside the great dark clock in the hall,
heavy brass cylinders descended.

Tick-tock, the chimes changed their tune
one phrase at a time. The bomb became
a film star, its glamorous globe of smoke

searing the faces of men in beach chairs.
Someone threw up every day at school.
No time to worry about collective death,

when life itself was permeated by ordeals.
And so we grew up, beneath an umbrella of acceptance.
In bio we learned there were particles

cruising through us like whales through archipelagoes,
and in civics that if Hitler had gotten the bomb
he’d have used it on the inferior races,

and all this time love was etching its scars
on our skins like maps. The heavens
remained pure, except for little white slits

on the perfect blue skin that planes cut
in the icy upper air, like needles sewing.
From one, a tiny seed might fall

that would make a sun on earth.
And so the century passed, with me still in it,
books waiting on the shelves to become cinders,

what we felt locked up inside, waiting to be read,
down the long corridor of time. I was born
the year the bomb exploded. Twice

whole cities were charred like cities in the Bible,
but we didn’t look back. We went on thinking
we could go on, our shapes the same,

darkened now against a background lit by fire.
Forgive me for doubting you’re there,
Citizens, on your holodecks with earth wallpaper—

a shadow-toned ancestor with poorly pressed pants,
protected like a child from knowing the future.

after making love :: stephen dunn

No one should ask the other
“What were you thinking?”

No one, that is,
who doesn’t want to hear about the past

and its inhabitants,
or the strange loneliness of the present

filled, even as it may be, with pleasure,
or those snapshots

of the future, different heads
on different bodies.

Some people actually desire honesty.
They must never have broken

into their own solitary houses
after having misplaced the key,

never seen with an intruder’s eyes
what is theirs.

torn :: ada limón

Witness the wet dead snake,
its long hexagonal pattern weaved
around its body like a code for creation,
curled up cold on the newly tarred road.
Let us begin with the snake: the fact
of death, the poverty of place, of skin
and surface. See how the snake is cut
in two–its body divided from its brain.
Imagine now, how it moves still, both
sides, the tail dancing, the head dancing.
Believe it is the mother and the father.
Believe it is the mouth and the words.
Believe it is the sin and the sinner–
the tempting, the taking, the apple, the fall,
every one of us guilty, the story of us all.
But then return to the snake, pitiful dead
thing, forcefully denying the split of its being,
longing for life back as a whole, wanting
you to see it for what it is: something
that loves itself so much it moves across
the boundaries of death to touch itself
once more, to praise both divided sides
equally, as if it was easy.
 
 
from Bright Dead Things (2015)

poem for my father :: quincy troupe

for Quincy T. Trouppe Sr.

father, it was an honor to be there, in the dugout
with you, the glory of great black men swinging their lives
as bats, at tiny white balls
burning in at unbelievable speeds, riding up & in & out
a curve breaking down wicked, like a ball falling off a table
moving away, snaking down, screwing its stitched magic
into chitlin circuit air, its comma seams spinning
toward breakdown, dipping, like a hipster
bebopping a knee-dip stride, in the charlie parker forties
wrist curling, like a swan’s neck
behind a slick black back
cupping an invisible ball of dreams

& you there, father, regal, as an african, obeah man
sculpted out of wood, from a sacred tree, of no name, no place, origin
thick branches branching down, into cherokee & someplace else lost
way back in africa, the sap running dry
crossing from north carolina into georgia, inside grandmother mary’s
womb, where your mother had you in the violence of that red soil
ink blotter news, gone now, into blood graves
of american blues, sponging rococo
truth long gone as dinosaurs
the agent-oranged landscape of former names
absent of african polysyllables, dry husk, consonants there
now, in their place, names, flat, as polluted rivers
& that guitar string smile always snaking across
some virulent, american, redneck’s face
scorching, like atomic heat, mushrooming over nagasaki
& hiroshima, the fever blistered shadows of it all
inked, as etchings, into sizzled concrete
but you, there, father, through it all, a yardbird solo
riffing on bat & ball glory, breaking down the fabricated myths
of white major league legends, of who was better than who
beating them at their own crap
game, with killer bats, as bud powell swung his silence into beauty
of a josh gibson home run, skittering across piano keys of bleachers
shattering all manufactured legends up there in lights
struck out white knights, on the risky edge of amazement
awe, the miraculous truth sluicing through
steeped & disguised in the blues
confluencing, like the point at the cross
when a fastball hides itself up in a slider, curve
breaking down & away in a wicked, sly grin
curved & posed as an ass-scratching uncle tom, who
like old sachel paige delivering his famed hesitation pitch
before coming back with a hard, high, fast one, is slicker
sliding, & quicker than a professional hitman—
the deadliness of it all, the sudden strike
like that of the “brown bomber’s” crossing right
of sugar ray robinson’s, lightning, cobra bite

& you, there, father, through it all, catching rhythms
of chono pozo balls, drumming, like conga beats into your catcher’s mitt
hard & fast as “cool papa” bell jumping into bed
before the lights went out

of the old, negro baseball league, a promise, you were
father, a harbinger, of shock waves, soon come

a tree party :: mark waldron

They’re cumbersome dancers, the trees,
though the birches perhaps have a certain gracefulness,
and the oaks certainly gyrate and stamp their roots
and clap their leaves in a manner that’s both comical
and charming because of the way they put their all
into it. They’re creating a terrible ruckus, and on
the ground are the leaves and twigs and bits of bark
and branches that have broken off in their exertions,
and look like the scattered detritus of a human party.

The trees are doing their dance in a wood. Also,
of course the trees are the wood, which is a hopeless
and profound moment and which I didn’t know was
going to be waiting here like a woodland enclosure
for protecting pheasants when I set off amongst
the cavorting timber like a child at a grown-ups’ party
where everything smelt of cigarettes and drink and
perfume, and adulthood towered over you so libidinous,
and you knew all along that the birds were bred to be shot.

a small needful fact :: ross gay

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

nomenclatures of invisibility :: mahtem shiferraw

My ancestors are made with water—
blue on the sides, and green down the spine;

when we travel, we lose brothers at sea
and do not stop to grieve.

Our mothers burn with a fire
that does not let them be;

they whisper our names
nomenclatures of invisibility
honey-dewed faces, eyes sewn shut,
how to tell them
the sorrow that splits us in half
the longing for a land not our own
the constant moving and shifting of things,
within, without—

which words describe
the clenching in our stomachs
the fear lodged deeply into our bones
churning us from within,

and the loss that follows us everywhere:
behind mountains, past oceans, into
the heads of trees, how to swallow
a tongue that speaks with too many accents—

when white faces sprout
we are told to set ourselves ablaze
and this smell of smoke we know—
water or fire, or both,

because we have drowned many at a time
and left our bodies burning, or swollen, or bleeding
and purple—this kind of language we know,
naming new things into our invisibility
and this, we too, call home.

the soul :: tracy k. smith

The voice is clean. Has heft. Like stones
Dropped in still water, or tossed
One after the other at a low wall.
Chipping away at what pushes back.
Not always making a dent, but keeping at it.
And the silence around it is a door
Punched through with light. A garment
That attests to breasts, the privacy
Between thighs. The body is what we lean toward,
Tensing as it darts, dancing away.
But it’s the voice that enters us. Even
Saying nothing. Even saying nothing
Over and over absently to itself.

Check out the newly appointed U.S. poet laureate!

apartment :: rae armantrout

1

The woman on the mantel,
who doesn’t much resemble me,
is holding a chainsaw
away from her body,
with a shocked smile,
while an undiscovered tumor
squats on her kidney.

2

The present
is a sentimental favorite,
with its heady mix
of grandiosity
and abjection,
truncated,
framed.

3

It’s as if I’m subletting
a friend’s apartment.
Even in the dream,
I’m trying to imagine
which friend.

And I’m trying to get
all my robes together,
robes I really own and
robes I don’t

mortal limit :: robert penn warren

I saw the hawk ride updraft in the sunset over Wyoming.
It rose from coniferous darkness, past gray jags
Of mercilessness, past whiteness, into the gloaming
Of dream-spectral light above the lazy purity of snow-snags.

There—west—were the Tetons. Snow-peaks would soon be
In dark profile to break constellations. Beyond what height
Hangs now the black speck? Beyond what range will gold eyes see
New ranges rise to mark a last scrawl of light?

Or, having tasted that atmosphere’s thinness, does it
Hang motionless in dying vision before
It knows it will accept the mortal limit,
And swing into the great circular downwardness that will restore

The breath of earth? Of rock? Of rot? Of other such
Items, and the darkness of whatever dream we clutch?

heft :: rusty morrison

She sketches sky. Not to lure clouds—diaphanous, changeable—
down to her canvas, but to see wind’s measure
of their heft.
In the low, thrush-voiced shading of her graphite pencil,
she hears variations in density
as the psyches of leaves individuate.
Every previous perception she’s taken from world—each small, muscular
holding-on—
she will yield to weight
as her counter-mode of attention, and let what amasses
extend. On her erasure-roughened paper,
a skylark’s wings in flight
are neither bone nor blood, yet they gather
from bone and blood the aggregate weight of moving shadows.
But not so abruptly
as would provoke in her a whitening of skin, a wringing of hands.

there is no name yet :: dorothea lasky

Until I find a name
I will not put it in the soul calculator
I will leave it free and open and unnamed
And not limit my expectations for the kind of person
That goes in one direction of the wind
I will keep all lines of the wind open
And place all my days free and empty
And re-envision what it means to be unencumbered
Or bereft
Not crying but the expanse of numbers
That go beyond the grave to what is left
And it may be true
I said it could be true
That the sunny days do stick to walls
And then enter you
It may be true that the purple bells do chime
Everyday you let them
It may be true that the sweet juice
I put across my lips would not be my last
But that the nights could get better and better
Until the evil is banished until the day
When the sun would crush it anyway
It was true without a set of things like letters
It was true the air was free and open
And I saw things as they were
Without violence
For the first time

carnegie hall rush seats :: mary karr

Whatever else the orchestra says,
the cello insists, You’re dying.
It speaks from the core

of the tree’s hacked-out heart,
shaped and smoothed like a woman.
Be glad you are not hard wood

yourself and can hear it.
Every day the cello is taken
into someone’s arms, taken between

spread legs and lured into
its shivering. The arm saws and
saws and all the sacred cries of saints

and demons issue from the carved cleft holes.
Like all of us, it aches, sending up moans
from the pit we balance on the edge of.

the trees delete themselves inside a fog-sphere :: francis ponge

translated by karen volkman

Read the translator’s notes

In the fog which surrounds the trees, the leaves are stripped—leaves defaced already by slow oxidation, deadened by the sap’s out-seeping for flowers’ and fruits’ gain, since the harsh heats of August made of them a less.

In the bark, vertical furrows crease and slit where dampness drains to the earth’s base, indifferent to the living citizens of the trunk.

Flowers scattered, fruit conferred. Since youth, this relinquishing of breathing attributes and body parts has become for the trees a standard practice.

a blurry photograph :: martha ronk

The tree azalea overwhelms the evening with its scent,
defining everything and the endless fields.

Walking away, suddenly, it slices off and is gone.

The visible object blurs open in front of you,
the outline of a branch folds back into itself, then clarifies—just as you turn away—

and the glass hardens into glass

as you go about taking care of things abstractedly
one thing shelved after another, as if they were already in the past,

needing nothing from you until, smashing itself on the tile floor,
the present cracks open the aftermath of itself.

the pacific written tradition :: craig santos perez

In 2010, I read aloud from my new book
to an English class at one of Guam’s
public high schools. After the reading, I

notice a student crying. “Whats wrong?”
I ask. She says, “I’ve never seen our culture
in a book before. I just thought we weren’t

worthy of literature.” I wonder how many
young islanders have dived into the depths
of a book, only to find bleached coral and

emptiness. They teach us that missionaries
were the first readers in the Pacific because
they could decipher the strange signs

of the Bible. They teach us that missionaries
were the first authors in the Pacific because
they possessed the authority of written words.

Today, studies show that islander students read
and write below grade level. “It’s natural,”
they claim. “Your ancestors were an illiterate,

oral people.” Do not believe their claims.
Our ancestors deciphered signs in nature,
interpreted star formations and sun positions,

cloud and wind patterns, wave currents and
fish migrations. Always remember what navigator
Papa Mau once said: “if you can read the ocean

you will never be lost.” Now let me tell you
about the Pacific written tradition, about how
our ancestors tattooed their skin with defiant

scripts of intricately inked genealogy, stories
of plumage and pain. Or how our ancestors carved
epics into hard wood with a sharpened point,

their hands, and the pressure and responsibility
of memory. Or how our ancestors stenciled
hieroglyphic poems on cave walls with clay, fire,

and smoke. So the next time someone tells you
islanders were illiterate, teach them
about our visual literacies, about how we

still read and write the intertextual sacredness
of all things. And always remember: if you
can write the ocean we will never be silenced.

percy (2002-2009) :: mary oliver

This—I said to Percy when I had left
    our bed and gone
out onto the living room couch where
he found me apparently doing nothing—this
   is called thinking.
It’s something people do,
not being entirely children of the earth,
   like a dog or a tree or a flower.

His eyes questioned such an activity.
“Well, okay,” he said. “If you say so. Whatever
it is. Actually
   I like kissing better.”

And next to me,
tucked down his curly head
and, sweet as a flower, slept.

rain :: kazim ali

With thick strokes of ink the sky fills with rain.
Pretending to run for cover but secretly praying for more rain.

Over the echo of the water, I hear a voice saying my name.
No one in the city moves under the quick sightless rain.

The pages of my notebook soak, then curl. I’ve written:
“Yogis opened their mouths for hours to drink the rain.”

The sky is a bowl of dark water, rinsing your face.
The window trembles; liquid glass could shatter into rain.

I am a dark bowl, waiting to be filled.
If I open my mouth now, I could drown in the rain.

I hurry home as though someone is there waiting for me.
The night collapses into your skin. I am the rain.

ark in the field :: joyce peseroff

One morning you open

one eye and listing to the south
it bulks like a barn,

noiseless, derelict

planks horizontal and deeply grooved.
A rudder the size of your front door

pivots as you push. Once

inside you can smell
the fear of every winged,

creeping and four-legged thing:

no water, no straw,
just shadow and bare wood.

Where is the one promised

to wake beside you forever?
Ox-eyed daisies, goldenrod, clover—

why are you breathing

among them, why don’t you gather
the outcast beasts or become one…

earth your dancing place :: may swenson

Beneath heaven’s vault
remember always walking
through halls of cloud
down aisles of sunlight
or through high hedges
of the green rain
walk in the world
highheeled with swirl of cape
hand at the swordhilt
of your pride
Keep a tall throat
Remain aghast at life

Enter each day
as upon a stage
lighted and waiting
for your step
Crave upward as flame
have keenness in the nostril
Give your eyes
to agony or rapture

Train your hands
as birds to be
brooding or nimble
Move your body
as the horses
sweeping on slender hooves
over crag and prairie
with fleeing manes
and aloofness of their limbs

Take earth for your own large room
and the floor of the earth
carpeted with sunlight
and hung round with silver wind
for your dancing place