end of days advice from an ex-zombie :: michael derrick hudson

To think I used to be so good at going to pieces
gobbling my way through the cops

and spooking what’s left of the girls. How’d I

get so far, sloughing off one knuckle at a time,
jerking my mossy pelt along

ruined streets? Those insistent, dreadful thuds

when we stacked our futile selves
against locked doors. Our mumbles and groans!

Such hungry nights! Staggering through the grit

of looted malls, plastered with tattered
flags of useless currency, I’d slobbered all over

the busted glass and merchandise of America …

But first you’ll have to figure out those qualities
separating what’s being alive from

who’s already dead. Most of you will flunk that.

Next learn how to want one thing over and over,
night after night. Most of you

are good at that. Don’t get tired. Don’t cough

into your leftovers. Don’t think. Always stand
by your hobgoblin buddies. Clutch

at whatever’s there. Learn to sniff out sundowns.

self-portrait on the street of an unnamed foreign city :: jennifer grotz

The lettering on the shop window in which
you catch a glimpse of yourself is in Polish.

Behind you a man quickly walks by, nearly shouting
into his cell phone. Then a woman

at a dreamier pace, carrying a just-bought bouquet
upside-down. All on a street where pickpockets abound

along with the ubiquitous smell of something baking.
It is delicious to be anonymous on a foreign city street.

Who knew this could be a life, having languages
instead of relationships, struggling even then,

finding out what it means to be a woman
by watching the faces of men passing by.

I went to distant cities, it almost didn’t matter
which, so primed was I to be reverent.

All of them have the beautiful bridge
crossing a grey, near-sighted river,

one that massages the eyes, focuses
the swooping birds that skim the water’s surface.

The usual things I didn’t pine for earlier
because I didn’t know I wouldn’t have them.

I spent so much time alone, when I actually turned lonely
it was vertigo.

Myself estranged is how I understood the world.
My ignorance had saved me, my vices fueled me,

and then I turned forty. I who love to look and look
couldn’t see what others did.

Now I think about currencies, linguistic equivalents, how
   lop-sided they are, while
my reflection blurs in the shop windows.

Wanting to be as far away as possible exactly as much as still
   with you.
Shamelessly entering a Starbucks (free wifi) to write this.

fragment :: amy lowell

What is poetry? Is it a mosaic
Of coloured stones which curiously are wrought
Into a pattern? Rather glass that’s taught
By patient labor any hue to take
And glowing with a sumptuous splendor, make
Beauty a thing of awe; where sunbeams caught,
Transmuted fall in sheafs of rainbows fraught
With storied meaning for religion’s sake.

long after :: matthew thorburn

A break in the clouds spills a quick shimmer—
slivers of light that lick the river: white
puckers, coins, bits of crumpled foil, glimmers
too bright to look at long, or else a flight
of silver birds, their flickering wings. How
you define space, inhabit it: blue light
breaks behind the alders. How your faint glow
makes this world knowable again: the sleight
of hand of light and dew working against
each other on the grass: sprinkling half-moons,
sparks, glister, glisten, a glissando longed
for long after it’s gone, known only in its
moving, moving away. Too soon, too soon,
the silver birds call, as if somehow wronged.

my faithful mother tongue :: czeslaw milosz

Faithful mother tongue,
I have been serving you.
Every night, I used to set before you little bowls of colors
so you could have your birch, your cricket, your finch
as preserved in my memory.

This lasted many years.
You were my native land; I lacked any other.
I believed that you would also be a messenger
between me and some good people
even if they were few, twenty, ten
or not born, as yet.

Now, I confess my doubt.
There are moments when it seems to me I have squandered my life.
For you are a tongue of the debased,
of the unreasonable, hating themselves
even more than they hate other nations,
a tongue of informers,
a tongue of the confused,
ill with their own innocence.

But without you, who am I?
Only a scholar in a distant country,
a success, without fears and humiliations.
Yes, who am I without you?
Just a philosopher, like everyone else.

I understand, this is meant as my education:
the glory of individuality is taken away,
Fortune spreads a red carpet
before the sinner in a morality play
while on the linen backdropp a magic lantern throws
images of human and divine torture.

Faithful mother tongue,
perhaps after all it’s I who must try to save you.
So I will continue to set before you little bowls of colors
bright and pure if possible,
for what is needed in misfortune is a little order and beauty.

heirloom :: nikky finney

Sundown, the day nearly eaten away,

the Boxcar Willies peep. Their
inside-eyes push black and plump

against walls of pumpkin skin. I step
into dying backyard light. Both hands

steal into the swollen summer air,
a blind reach into a blaze of acid,

ghost bloom of nacre & breast.
One Atlantan Cherokee Purple,

two piddling Radiator Charlies
are Lena-Horne lured into the fingers

of my right hand. But I really do love you,
enters my ear like a nest of yellow jackets,

well wedged beneath a two-by-four.

But I really didn’t think I would (ever leave),
stings before the ladder hits the ground.

I swat the familiar buzz away.
My good arm arcs and aims.

My elbow cranks a high, hard cradle
and draws a fire. The end of the day’s

sweaty air stirs fast in a bowl, the coming
shadows, the very diamond match I need.

One by one, each Blind Willie
takes his turn Pollocking the back

fence, heart pine explodes gold-leafed in
red and brown-eyed ochre. There is practice

for everything in this life. This is how
you throw something perfectly good away.

conflict with a god :: maría luisa arroyo

for Lucie Brock-Broido

I find it
in the cupboard
above the stove

it sits behind
the gluey
jug of syrup

it hides behind
the yogurt container
of congealed lard

the apple welded
to the saucer
resists my pull

the apple sticks with honey,
its slightly puckered skin
still intact

—a healthy shrunken head—
the sliced top tied
with a red satin ribbon

I untie,
lift to look
and see pennies

strong hands
jerk me off the chair
“¡Dejaste salir a los espíritus malos!”

pero, mami,
there are no such things
as bad spirits,
are there?

sea garden :: rosamond s. king

Dead man’s fingers—
short and still
or waving spindles
brain coral,
mountain coral
ground small—they
would be pebbles
if they weren’t shards
hiding places
for trumpet
fish and crabs
live and dead coral
What is sand made of?
Who is to know
which is coral
and which
is bone
From the surface you
can see dark
patches where sea grass
and spirit hair grow

e is for eden :: mahtem shiferraw

It lasts a while. The bitter aftertaste of sorrow
and something sweet. Like honey waves soaked

in lemon juice, it creates hollow spaces between
moments of unabridged whiteness. Glance over

once and the skies have a different story to tell.

You were created with a purpose:

a land of all lands, neither heaven nor earth
suspended between the blue wings of oceans
and their unoccupied gaze.

Once there were creatures here, inhabiting
your luscious corners, and they prodded and swiveled
and flew to please you.

You were made in somebody’s image,
but you have forgotten.

What remains now is the aftermath –
even that stripped of all its glory.

The eyes of men are saddened by the sudden
shadows unveiling in women’s eyes. Your breath

was once dirt, ash, tangible and ugly. Your face
did not exist. The contours that shape your smile,

your hairline, the timid dimple on the left cheek, they
were all ash. Here is what was: only the thought of

being loved and rejected, being loved and birthed,
being loved and destroyed. Your breath does not have

the apple’s acre taste; it smells of something wild and
unadorned, it says do not fear, it is I, it whispers at night

when you are cold and shivering and alone in this world.

This breath is not yours to take:
mend it and oceans will flow once again.

skirt :: elaine terranova

It wasn’t meant to happen. Like a knife
that slips through bread
and into the first joint of your finger.
I was a woman in a dress and pearls.
My footing sure, the front of me
so carefully put together.

And this was a block of firmly closed doors.
Lawn after lawn, the green rectangles
going on forever. No razor wire
or stagnant gutters anywhere. No one ahead,
but one man moving toward me.

It was a summer afternoon. I’d been looking away,
studying the dead air beside me. We should
have passed like two bars of light,
but he grabbed my skirt and threw it
up over my shoulders.

Then, like a scene in a painting
that takes place half in the sky, I am where I am
and at the same time, locked out of my body.

I must have known this was nothing,
that worse went on within those walls.

That smear of sounds, only a record started wrong,
something torn. For I stood there, hushed,
like a tree with fire at its heart.

the white fires of venus :: denis johnson

We mourn this senseless planet of regret,
droughts, rust, rain, cadavers
that can’t tell us, but I promise
you one day the white fires
of Venus shall rage: the dead,
feeling that power, shall be lifted, and each
of us will have his resurrected one to tell him,
“Greetings. You will recover
or die. The simple cure
for everything is to destroy
all the stethoscopes that will transmit
silence occasionally. The remedy for loneliness
is in learning to admit
solitude as one admits
the bayonet: gracefully,
now that already
it pierces the heart.
Living one: you move among many
dancers and don’t know which
you are the shadow of;
you want to kiss your own face in the mirror
but do not approach,
knowing you must not touch one
like that. Living
one, while Venus flares
O set the cereal afire,
O the refrigerator harboring things
that live on into death unchanged.”

They know all about us on Andromeda,
they peek at us, they see us
in this world illumined and pasteled
phonily like a bus station,
they are with us when the streets fall down fraught
with laundromats and each of us
closes himself in his small
San Francisco without recourse.
They see you with your face of fingerprints
carrying your instructions in gloved hands
trying to touch things, and know you
for one despairing, trying to touch the curtains,
trying to get your reflection mired in alarm tape
past the window of this then that dark
closed business establishment.
The Andromedans hear your voice like distant amusement park music
converged on by ambulance sirens
and they understand everything.
They’re on your side. They forgive you.

I want to turn for a moment to those my heart loves,
who are as diamonds to the Andromedans,
who shimmer for them, lovely and useless, like diamonds:
namely, those who take their meals at soda fountains,
their expressions lodged among the drugs
and sunglasses, each gazing down too long
into the coffee as though from a ruined balcony.
O Andromedans they don’t know what to do
with themselves and so they sit there
until they go home where they lie down
until they get up, and you beyond the light years know
that if sleeping is dying, then waking
is birth, and a life
is many lives. I love them because they know how
to manipulate change
in the pockets musically, these whose faces the seasons
never give a kiss, these
who are always courteous to the faces
of presumptions, the presuming streets,
the hotels, the presumption of rain in the streets.
I’m telling you it’s cold inside the body that is not the body,
lonesome behind the face
that is certainly not the face
of the person one meant to become.

at the moment :: joyce sutphen

Suddenly, I stopped thinking about Love,
after so many years of only that,
after thinking that nothing else mattered.

And what was I thinking of when I stopped
thinking about Love? Death, of course—what else
could take Love’s place? What else could hold such force?

I thought about how far away Death once
had seemed, how unexpected that it could
happen to someone I knew quite well,

how impossible that this should be the
normal thing, as natural as frost and
winter. I thought about the way we’d aged,

how skin fell into wrinkles, how eyes grew
dim; then (of course) my love, I thought of you.

one moment touching all the others :: jeff hardin

If only each line of a poem could be its true beginning.
If only each moment could know every other moment
and we could hold them all at once the way we wish to,
the way we keep imagining we can. I don’t care
what anyone says about the impossibility, for I step
into the same moment again and again. I’ve lived
such a blessed life
, a dying friend told me as I
leaned in close and caressed her face. I am writing
this line, this poem’s true beginning, six years later,
touching her radiant face again. Every moment is
the time I followed a yellow leaf downstream when I
was nine. To be, or not to be, Hamlet asked, and two
centuries later, Issa’s poems were born. And yet, and yet
the cancer still arrives to steal her breath, the same
breath blessing all her time. Just now a purple bird
flew up and startled me, and I said, Yes, yes, and raised
my hands. To live lightly in the body is to live deeply
in the spirit
—I say her words out loud some days,
holding them all at once, and follow a yellow leaf
through overhanging limbs and enter my grandfather’s
quiet steps along a ridge a century ago when he was young.
He is being and not being, in and out of shadows,
arriving wherever the next step takes him, here and here.
When rain begins, he just keeps walking, drenched
and smiling, emerging decades later, holy. Sometimes
an echo hints from half a life ago. A driveway puddle
trembles at the foster home I lived in when I was three.
Good Lord, son, how did you know how to get here,
the father asked when I showed up, adult, from two
towns over. In the beginning was the Word, John wrote,
for each word starts anew, each word startling the sky,
the cells, the breath. Each word, each line, is an echo,
an arrival, a blessed breath, being and not being. I don’t
care about the impossibility of anything. The dawn keeps
breaking for which I am awake. The prologue is the epilogue,
the epilogue a leaf holding everything at once. I keep
arriving where I am, born and blessed again. I lean in
close to radiance: I’ve always known how to get here.

[that] :: leslie harrison

That this is the morning in which nothing much

that the sky is still there and the water dresses

accordingly that only at night does the water rest

vanish from sight that the stars are too small too far

to register there that all our names too are writ

invisibly on water that abiding requires more hope

than I can possibly acquire that hope is not a thing

with feathers that hope is a thing with a fist a thin

crust sketched over oceans that hope is what despair

uses for bait come in hope says the water’s fine

that hope is the blood with which you write letters

that start dear sea dear ocean stop asking so fucking

much that hope is a telegram delivered by men

in pairs men in uniform a telegram that says missing

stop that says once again presumed lost stop

if the ocean had a mouth :: marie-elizabeth mali

I’d lean close, my ear
to her whisper and roar,
her tongue scattered
with stars.

She’d belt her brassy voice
over the waves’ backbeat.
No one sings better than her.

Would she ever bite
the inside of her cheek?

Would she yell at the moon
to quit tugging at her hem,
or would she whistle, drop
her blue dress and shimmy
through space to cleave
to that shimmer?

What did she mean to say
that morning she spit out
the emaciated whale
wearing a net for a corset?

All this emptying
on the sand. Eyeless
shrimp. Oiled pelicans.

Within her jaws the coral forests,
glittering fish, waves like teeth,
her hungry mortal brine.

a teacher’s lament :: kalli dakos

Don’t tell me the cat ate your math sheet,
And your spelling words went down the drain,
And you couldn’t decipher your homework,
Because it was soaked in the rain.

Don’t tell me you slaved for hours
On the project that’s due today,
And you would have had it finished
If your snake hadn’t run away.

Don’t tell me you lost your eraser,
And your worksheets and pencils, too,
And your papers are stuck together
With a great big glob of glue.

I’m tired of all your excuses;
They are really a terrible bore.
Besides, I forgot my own work,
At home in my study drawer.

interval :: marilyn hacker

Attention fraying
in late afternoon light, soon
day will be done, not

the work incumbent on it
—whatever that might have been—

Gnarls of an old text
in the other alphabet:
can I unknot them,

reweave mirror fabric of
liminal unravelings?

*

Liminal space where
exiles with dictionaries
lose themselves: barzakh,

Arabic isthmus, the span
from death to resurrection

in Farsi: limbo,
where Socrates murmurs to
unbaptized babies

in contrapuntal cognates,
they hear fardous, paradise.

vessels :: paisley rekdal

Shouldn’t it ache, this slit
into the sweet
and salt mix of waters

composing the mussel,
its labial meats
winged open: yellow-

fleshed, black and gray
around the tough
adductor? It hurts

to imagine it, regardless
of the harvester’s
denials, swiveling

his knife to make
the incision: one
dull cyst nicked

from the oyster’s
mantle—its thread of red
gland no bigger

than a seed
of trout roe—pressed
inside this mussel’s

tendered flesh.
Both hosts eased
open with a knife

(as if anything
could be said to be eased
with a knife):

so that one pearl
after another can be
harvested, polished,

added to others
until a single rope is strung
on silk. Linked

by what you think
is pain. Nothing
could be so roughly

handled and yet feel
so little, your pity
turned into part of this

production: you
with your small,
four-chambered heart,

shyness, hungers, envy: what
in you could be so precious
you would cleave

another to keep it
close? Imagine
the weeks it takes to wind

nacre over the red
seed placed at another
heart’s mantle. The mussel

become what no one
wants to:
vessel, caisson, wounded

into making us
the thing we want
to call beautiful.

lab genesis :: wendy rose

there will be
no archaeology
to my bones

my cells will
not forget
how to live
how to be born
how to be still singing
when they feel
the new knowledge
death is

life is dying
each moment
learning to live
each moment
in & out
like bird breath
like toad’s tongue
like making love

When I die
I ask only
to be thrown
into the sun.

impossible friendships :: adam zagajewski

translated by clare cavanagh

For example, with someone who no longer is,
who exists only in yellowed letters.

Or long walks beside a stream,
whose depths hold hidden

porcelain cups—and the talks about philosophy
with a timid student or the postman.

A passerby with proud eyes
whom you’ll never know.

Friendship with this world, ever more perfect
(if not for the salty smell of blood).

The old man sipping coffee
in St.-Lazare, who reminds you of someone.

Faces flashing by
in local trains—

the happy faces of travelers headed perhaps
for a splendid ball, or a beheading.

And friendship with yourself
—since after all you don’t know who you are.

the ripple effect :: jamey dunham

The sleepy shark rolls from bed at the sound of the bell: the fisherman’s foot ringing in the water. On the pier a young girl purchases a dried apricot from a vendor and rolls its wrinkled skin over her tongue before biting down. Behind tightly drawn curtains, the boy who might have grown up to be her great love (or grocer) succumbs to his illness and orphans his parents, as the shark draws behind a curtain of foam. The girl, grown tired of waiting for her father, disappears into the crowded streets of the village as a bell ringing from the marketplace wakes the sleeping fisherman just in time to reel in his apricot. The young boy watching from the pier bites his tongue at the sight of the wrinkled skin. Succumbing to his illness, he runs off to the grocer as if to his lover. The young girl, running late for dinner, stops off at the marketplace on her way home. She purchases a shark from the vendor and leads it home through the crowded streets of the village to meet her parents. The girl is an orphan but it doesn’t matter. There are wedding bells ringing in her ears. They’re in love.

leave it all up to me :: major jackson

All we want is to succumb to a single kiss
that will contain us like a marathon
with no finish line, and if so, that we land
like newspapers before sunrise, halcyon
mornings arrived like blue martinis. I am
learning the steps to a foreign song: her mind
was torpedo, and her body was storm,
a kind of Wow. All we want is a metropolis
of Sundays, an empire of hand-holding
and park benches? She says, “Leave it all up to me.”

ghosts and fashion :: elaine equi

Although it no longer has a body
to cover out of a sense of decorum,

the ghost must still consider fashion—

must clothe its invisibility in something
if it is to “appear” in public.

Some traditional specters favor
the simple shroud—

a toga of ectoplasm
worn Isadora-Duncan-style
swirling around them.

While others opt for lightweight versions
of once familiar tee shirts and jeans.

Perhaps being thought-forms,
they can change their outfits instantly—

or if they were loved ones,
it is we who clothe them
like dolls from memory.

the blade of nostalgia :: chase twichell

When fed into the crude, imaginary
machine we call the memory,

the brain’s hard pictures
slide into the suggestive
waters of the counterfeit.

They come out glamorous and simplified,

even the violent ones,
even the ones that are snapshots of fear.

Maybe those costumed,
clung-to fragments are the first wedge

nostalgia drives into our dreaming.

Maybe our dreams are corrupted
right from the start: the weight

of apples in the blossoms overhead.

Even the two thin reddish dogs
nosing down the aisles of crippled trees,
digging in the weak shade

thrown by the first flowerers,
snuffle in the blackened leaves
for the scent of a dead year.

Childhood, first love, first loss of love–

the saying of their names
brings an ache to the teeth
like that of tears withheld.

What must happen now
is that the small funerals
celebrated in the left-behind life

for their black exotica, their high relief,

their candles and withered wreaths,
must be allowed to pass through
into the sleeping world,

there to be preserved and honored
in the fullness and color of their forms,

their past lives their coffins.

Goodbye then to all innocent surprise
at mortality’s panache,
and goodbye to the children fallen

ahead of me into the slow whirlpool
I conceal within myself, my death,

into its snow-froth and the green-black
muscle of its persuasion.

The spirits of children
must look like the spirits of animals,
though in the adult human

the vacancy left by the child
probably darkens the surviving form.

The apples drop their blossom-shadows
onto the still-brown grass.
Old selves, this is partly for you,

there at the edge of the woods
like a troop of boy soldiers.

You can go on living with the blade
of nostalgia in your hearts forever,
my pale darlings. It changes nothing.

Don’t you recognize me? I admit
I too am almost invisible now, almost.

Like everything else, I take on
light and color from outside myself,
but it is old light, old paint.

The first shadows are supple ones,
school of gray glimpses, insubstantial.

In children, the quality of darkness
changes inside the sleeping mouth,

and the ghost of child-grime–
that infinite smudge of no color–

blows off into the afterlife.

preface :: valzhyna mort

on a bare tree—a red beast,
so still it has become the tree.
now it’s the tree that prowls over the beast,
a cautious beast itself.

a stone thrown at its breast is
so fast—the stone has become the beast.
now it’s the beast that throws itself like a stone.
blood like a dog-rose tree on a windy day,
and the moon is trying on your face
for the annual masquerade of the dead.

death decides to wait to hear more.
so death mews:
first—your story, then—me.

meditation for the silence of morning :: adam clay

I wake myself imagining the shape
of the day and where I will find

myself within it. Language is not often
in that shape,

but sentences survive somehow
through the islands of dark matter,

the negative space often more important
than the positive.

Imagine finding you look at the world
completely different upon waking one day.

You do not know if this is permanent.
Anything can change, after all,

for how else would you find yourself
in this predicament or this opportunity,

depending on the frame? A single thought
can make loneliness seem frighteningly new.

We destroy the paths of rivers to make room for the sea.

pencil :: marianne boruch

My drawing teacher said: Look, think, make a mark.
Look, I told myself.
And waited to be marked.

Clouds are white but they darken
with rain. Even a child blurs them back
to little woolies on a hillside, little
bundles without legs. Look, my teacher
would surely tell me, they’re nothing

like that. Like that: the lie. Like that: the poem.
She said: Respond to the heaviest part
of the figure first. Density is
form. That I keep hearing destiny

is not a mark of character. Like pilgrimage
once morphed to mirage in a noisy room, someone
so earnest at my ear. Then marriage slid.
Mir-aage, Mir-aage, I heard the famous poet let loose
awry into her microphone, triumphant.

The figure to be drawn —
not even half my age. She’s completely
emptied her face for this job of standing still an hour.
Look. Okay. But the little

dream in there, inside the think
that comes next. A pencil in my hand, its secret life
is charcoal, the wood already burnt,
a sacrifice.

moon festival :: bei dao

translated by eliot weinberger and iona man-cheong

Lovers holding pits in their mouths
make vows and delight in each other
till the underwater infant
periscopes his parents
and is born

an uninvited guest knocks at my
door, determined to go deep
into the interior of things

the trees applaud

wait a minute, the full moon
and this plan are making me nervous
my hand fluttering
over the obscure implications of the letter
let me sit in the dark
a while longer, like
sitting on a friend’s heart

the city a burning deck
on the frozen sea
can it be saved? it must be saved
the faucet drip-drop drip-drop
mourns the reservoir

grief :: d. h. lawrence

The darkness steals the forms of all the queens.
But oh, the palms of her two black hands are red!
—It is Death I fear so much, it is not the dead—
Not this gray book, but the red and bloody scenes.

The lamps are white like snowdrops in the grass;
The town is like a churchyard, all so still
And gray, now night is here: nor will
Another torn red sunset come to pass.

And so I sit and turn the book of gray,
Feeling the shadows like a blind man reading,
All fearful lest I find some next word bleeding.
—Nay, take my painted missal book away.

his stillness :: sharon olds

The doctor said to my father, “You asked me
to tell you when nothing more could be done.
That’s what I’m telling you now.” My father
sat quite still, as he always did,
especially not moving his eyes. I had thought
he would rave if he understood he would die,
wave his arms and cry out. He sat up,
thin, and clean, in his clean gown,
like a holy man. The doctor said,
“There are things we can do which might give you time,
but we cannot cure you.” My father said,
“Thank you.” And he sat, motionless, alone,
with the dignity of a foreign leader.
I sat beside him. This was my father.
He had known he was mortal. I had feared they would have to
tie him down. I had not remembered
he had always held still and kept quiet to bear things,
the liquor a way to keep still. I had not
known him. My father had dignity. At the
end of his life his life began
to wake in me.

smoke :: faith shearin

It was everywhere in my childhood: in restaurants,
on buses or planes. The teacher’s lounge looked like
London under fog. My grandmother never stopped

smoking, and walking in her house was like diving
in a dark pond. Adults were dimly lit: they carried
matches in their pockets as if they might need fire

to see. Cigarette machines inhaled quarters and
exhaled rectangles. Women had their own brands,
long and thin; one was named Eve and it was meant

to be smoked in a garden thick with summer flowers.
I’m speaking of moods: an old country store where
my grandfather met friends and everyone spoke

behind a veil of smoke. (My Uncle Bill preferred
fragrant cigars; I can still smell his postal jacket …)
He had time to tell stories because he took breaks

and there was something to do with his hands.
My mother’s bridge club gathered around tables
with ashtrays and secrets which are best revealed

beside fire. Even the fireplaces are gone: inefficient
and messy. We are healthier now and safer! We have
exercise and tests for breast or colon cancer. We have

helmets and car seats and smokeless coffee shops
where coffee has grown frothy and complex. The old
movies are so full of smoke that actors are hard to see

and they are often wrapped in smoking jackets, bent
over a piano or kiss. I miss the places smoke created.
I like the way people sat down for rest or pleasure

and spoke to other people, not phones, and the tiny fire
which is crimson and primitive and warm. How long
ago when humans found this spark of warmth and made

their first circle? What about smoke as words? Or the
pipes of peace? In grade school we learned how it rises
and how it can kill. We were taught to shove towels

under our closed doors: to stop, drop, and roll. We had
a plan to meet our family in the yard, the house behind
us alive with all we cannot put out…