first snow in schenectady :: judith harris

        — for Claudia Emerson

It held off for months the locals said,
as we start down the historic Inn’s
icy steps, the same steps the bartender told us
George Washington descended
after taking lodging there for a night—as he

sailed up the Hudson, recruiting soldiers,
a signed letter of gratitude now framed,
on a hallway’s floral wallpaper,
the stairs, narrow and arduous, creaking
as arthritic joints, the tinny wings

of mourning doves, audible in the muscled oak.
We climb into the back seat of the taxi,
the cabbie brushing off scabs of ice,
meter ticking, no early breakfasters, no passersby,
the dry cleaners, tattoo parlor, all deserted.

We drive down Main Street,
tires swerving to avert black ice
past the crumbling bricks of the State House,
and the dilapidated railroad tracks.
Shops, foreclosed, a corner bakery, nailed-up.
The obsolete jail and stockade
converted into tourist museums.

Oh world, oh snow, how it pauses here
at the ledge of dawn, listless, in silence,
snowflakes caught in a halo of light’s glare
piling up on dumpsters, a chicken coop,
a white eiderdown coverlet spread out
upon the fields as if trying to warm the frigid cold,

as we sit back, driven blindly into a fugue,
into a sharp curve on the exit ramp, toward the airport
and we can make out albino spider-birches
stretched out for miles,
snow sloping and rising, under deep revision,
white-washing the time-weathered barns
and a graveyard set within a meadow,
once a patriot’s battleground,
snow covering the toppled headstones,
veiled and nameless now,
stony angels flocking to protect the tombs,
untouched, unbidden.

a partial history of my stupidity :: edward hirsch

Traffic was heavy coming off the bridge,
and I took the road to the right, the wrong one,
and got stuck in the car for hours.

Most nights I rushed out into the evening
without paying attention to the trees,
whose names I didn’t know,
or the birds, which flew heedlessly on.

I couldn’t relinquish my desires
or accept them, and so I strolled along
like a tiger that wanted to spring
but was still afraid of the wildness within.

The iron bars seemed invisible to others,
but I carried a cage around inside me.

I cared too much what other people thought
and made remarks I shouldn’t have made.
I was silent when I should have spoken.

Forgive me, philosophers,
I read the Stoics but never understood them.

I felt that I was living the wrong life,
spiritually speaking,
while halfway around the world
thousands of people were being slaughtered,
some of them by my countrymen.

So I walked on—distracted, lost in thought—
and forgot to attend to those who suffered
far away, nearby.

Forgive me, faith, for never having any.

I did not believe in God,
who eluded me.

toy boat :: ocean vuong

    For Tamir Rice

yellow plastic
black sea

eye-shaped shard
on a darkened map

no shores now
to arrive — or
no wind but
this waiting which
moves you

as if  the seconds
could be entered
& never left

toy boat — oarless
each wave
a green lamp

toy boat
toy leaf  dropped
from a toy tree

as if the sp-
thinning above you
are not
already pierced
by their own names

lines :: ina coolbrith

   On Hearing Kelley’s Music to ‘Macbeth’

O melody, what children strange are these
    From thy most vast, illimitable realm?
    These sounds that seize upon and overwhelm
    The soul with shuddering ecstasy! Lo! here
    The night is, and the deeds that make night fear;
Wild winds and waters, and the sough of trees
    Tossed in the tempest; wail of spirits banned,
    Wandering, unhoused of clay, in the dim land;
The incantation of the Sisters Three,
    Nameless of deed and name – the mystic chords
    Weird repetitions of the mystic words;
    The mad, remorseful terrors of the Thane,
    And bloody hands – which bloody must remain.
    Last, the wild march; the battle hand to hand
Of clashing arms, in awful harmony,
    Sublimely grand, and terrible as grand!
The clan-cries; the barbaric trumpetry;
    And the one fateful note, that, throughout all,
    Leads, follows, calls, compels, and holds in thrall.

christmas mail :: ted kooser

Cards in each mailbox,
angel, manger, star and lamb,
as the rural carrier,
driving the snowy roads,
hears from her bundles
the plaintive bleating of sheep,
the shuffle of sandals,
the clopping of camels.
At stop after stop,
she opens the little tin door
and places deep in the shadows
the shepherds and wise men,
the donkeys lank and weary,
the cow who chews and muses.
And from her Styrofoam cup,
white as a star and perched
on the dashboard, leading her
ever into the distance,
there is a hint of hazelnut,
and then a touch of myrrh.

help wanted :: timothy tocher

Santa needs new reindeer.
The first bunch has grown old.
Dasher has arthritis;
Comet hates the cold.
Prancer’s sick of staring
at Dancer’s big behind.
Cupid married Blitzen
and Donder lost his mind.
Dancer’s mad at Vixen
for stepping on his toes.
Vixen’s being thrown out—
she laughed at Rudolph’s nose.
If you are a reindeer
we hope you will apply.
There is just one tricky part:
You must know how to fly.

light the festive candles :: aileen lucia fisher


Light the first of eight tonight—
the farthest candle to the right.

Light the first and second, too,
when tomorrow’s day is through.

Then light three, and then light four—
every dusk one candle more

Till all eight burn bright and high,
honoring a day gone by

When the Temple was restored,
rescued from the Syrian lord,

And an eight-day feast proclaimed—
The Festival of Lights—well named

To celebrate the joyous day
when we regained the right to pray
to our one God in our own way.

chicago and december :: w. s. di piero

Trying to find my roost
one lidded, late afternoon,
the consolation of color
worked up like neediness,
like craving chocolate,
I’m at Art Institute favorites:
Velasquez’s “Servant,”
her bashful attention fixed
to place things just right,
Beckmann’s “Self-Portrait,”
whose fishy fingers seem
never to do a day’s work,
the great stone lions outside
monumentally pissed
by jumbo wreaths and ribbons
municipal good cheer
yoked around their heads.
Mealy mist. Furred air.
I walk north across
the river, Christmas lights
crushed on skyscraper glass,
bling stringing Michigan Ave.,
sunlight’s last-gasp sighing
through the artless fog.
Vague fatigued promise hangs
in the low darkened sky
when bunched scrawny starlings
rattle up from trees,
switchback and snag
like tossed rags dressing
the bare wintering branches,
black-on-black shining,
and I’m in a moment
more like a fore-moment:
from the sidewalk, watching them
poised without purpose,
I feel lifted inside the common
hazards and orders of things
when from their stillness,
the formal, aimless, not-waiting birds
erupt again, clap, elated weather-
making wing-clouds changing,
smithereened back and forth,
now already gone to follow
the river’s running course.

argonaut’s vow :: carol frost

Pushed prow southerly into the golden wind:

hurt the eyes: gold pelted water: so looked less far away:

plovers huddling on the tide’s last piece of shore:

Rise up in brightness: clap wings::

I told myself I’ll go where eagles go: if to brimstone:

my wake a narrow river back

to its source in cedar: and when sunlight embers

the shore’s soft fleece will be before me.

brian age seven :: mark doty

Grateful for their tour
of the pharmacy,
the first-grade class
has drawn these pictures,
each self-portrait taped
to the window-glass,
faces wide to the street,
round and available,
with parallel lines for hair.

I like this one best: Brian,
whose attenuated name
fills a quarter of the frame,
stretched beside impossible
legs descending from the ball
of his torso, two long arms
springing from that same
central sphere. He breathes here,

on his page. It isn’t craft
that makes this figure come alive;
Brian draws just balls and lines,
in wobbly crayon strokes.
Why do some marks
seem to thrill with life,
possess a portion
of the nervous energy
in their maker’s hand?

That big curve of a smile
reaches nearly to the rim
of his face; he holds
a towering ice cream,
brown spheres teetering
on their cone,
a soda fountain gift
half the length of him
—as if it were the flag

of his own country held high
by the unadorned black line
of his arm. Such naked support
for so much delight! Artless boy,
he’s found a system of beauty:
he shows us pleasure
and what pleasure resists.
The ice cream is delicious.
He’s frail beside his relentless standard.

my-ness :: czeslaw milosz

“My parents, my husband, my brother, my sister.”
Having breakfast in the cafeteria, I listen.
Women’s voices rustle and fulfill themselves
In a ritual we clearly need.
Out of the corner of my eye I watch their moving lips
And feel such sweetness, being here on earth,
One more moment, together, here on earth,
To celebrate our little my-ness.

metaphysics :: wislawa szymborska

translated from the polish by clare cavanagh and stanisław barańczak

It’s been and gone.
It’s been, so it’s gone.
In the same irreversible order,
for such is the rule of this foregone game.
A trite conclusion, not worth writing
if it weren’t an unquestionable fact,
the fact for ever and ever,
for the whole cosmos, as it is and will be,
that something really was
until it was gone,
even the fact
that today you had a side of fries.

elegy :: jill osier

Not every day but most days that summer

I went calmly and quietly and climbed

to the sixth floor of the library and walked

not fast and not slow but with purpose

down the last row and reached

almost without looking to the same

place on the shelf and pulled out

the large book and carried it to a chair

that looks out toward the ridge, to a mountain

that is there, whether it is or it isn’t,

the mountain people love, maybe for this,

love and die with all their love,

trying, and I opened to the page

where I left off before, and sometimes the library

announced it was closing, sometimes I got hungry,

sometimes it looked like rain, and I’d close the book

and carry it again, with purpose, back to its exact

place on the shelf, and I’d walk down the stairs

and out of the building, and it was like

I’d left it ticking.

you and I :: stanley moss

You are Jehovah, and I am a wanderer.
Who should have mercy on a wanderer
if not Jehovah? You create and I decay.
Who should have mercy on the decayed
if not the creator? You are the Judge
and I the guilty Who should have mercy
on the guilty if not the Judge? You are All
and I am a particle. Who should have mercy
on a particle if not the All?
You are the Living One and I am dead.
Who should have mercy on the dead if not
the Living One? You are the Painter and Potter
and I am clay. Who should have mercy on clay
if not the Painter and Potter? You are the Fire
and I am straw Who should have mercy on straw
if not the Fire? You are the Listener
and I am the reader. Who should have mercy
on the reader if not the Listener? You
are the Beginning and I am what follows.
Who should have mercy on what follows
if not the Beginning? You are the End and I am
what follows. Who should have mercy
on what follows if not the End?

daisy cutter :: camille t. dungy

Pause here at the flower stand—mums
and gladiolas, purple carnations

dark as my heart. We are engaged
in a war, and I want to drag home

any distraction I can carry. Tonight
children will wake to bouquets of fire

that will take their breath away. Still,
I think of my life. The way you hold me,

sometimes, you could choke me.
There is no way to protect myself,

except by some brilliant defense. I want
the black iris with their sabered blooms.

I want the flame throwers: the peonies,
the sunflowers. I will cut down the beautiful ones

and let their nectared sweetness bleed
into the careless air. This is not the world

I’d hoped it could be. It is horrible,
the way we carry on. Last night, you catalogued

our arsenal. You taught me devastation
is a goal we announce in a celebration

of shrapnel. Our bombs shower
in anticipation of their marks. You said this

is to assure damage will be widely distributed.
What gruesome genius invents our brutal hearts?

When you touch me I am a stalk of green panic
and desire. Wait here while I decide which

of these sprigs of blossoming heartbreak I can afford
to bring into my home. Tonight dreams will erupt

in chaotic buds of flame. This is the world we have
arranged. It is horrible, this way we carry on.

ashore :: ernest hilbert

The harpooned great white shark heaves onto sand,
Nudged by waves, red cavern of dripping teeth.
A crowd comes. Loud gulls wreathe the booming mist.
Blue flies cloud the fishy sunset, and land.
One, sated, is slapped to a smear beneath
A child’s quick hand and then flicked from his wrist.
Compass and munitions are sunk with skulls
In wrecks beneath old storms, glass angels
And hourglasses, flint of sunlight through motes,
Violence of slit sails, drowned crews, split hulls,
Quiet draw of dust, too, and all that it pulls,
The slow leak and loss of each thing that floats—
Flail and wild eye, flecked spit of crippled horse,
Crust of diamonds on the throat of a corpse.

half omen half hope :: joanna klink

When everything finally has been wrecked and further shipwrecked,
When their most ardent dream has been made hollow and unrecognizable,
They will feel inside their limbs the missing shade of blue that lingers
Against hills in the cooler hours before dark, and the moss at the foot of the forest
When green starts to leave it. What they take into their privacy (half of his embrace,
Her violence at play) are shadows of acts which have no farewells in them.
Moons unearth them. And when, in their separate dwellings, their bodies
Feel the next season come, they no longer have anyone to whom
To tell it. Clouds of reverie pass outside the window and a strange emptiness
Peers back in. If they love, it is solely to be adored, it is to scatter and gather
Themselves like hard seeds in a field made fallow by a fire someone years ago set.
In the quiet woods, from the highest trees, there is always something
Weightless falling; and he, who must realize that certain losses are irreparable,
Tells himself at night, before the darkest mirror, that vision keeps him whole.

On the verge of warm and simple sleep they tell themselves certain loves
Are like sheets of dark water, or ice forests, or husks of ships. To stop a thing
Such as this would be to halve a sound that travels out from a silent person’s
Thoughts. The imprint they make on each other’s bodies is worth any pain
They may have caused. Quiet falls around them. And when she reaches
For him the air greens like underwater light and the well-waters drop.
They will see again the shadows of insects.
They will touch the bark and feel each age of the tree fly undisturbed
Into them. If what is no longer present in them cannot be restored,
It can at least be offered. Through long bewildered dusks, stalks grow;
Rains fill and pass out of clouds; animals hover at the edges of fields
With eyes like black pools. For nothing cannot be transformed;
Pleasure and failure feed each other daily. Do not think any breeze,
Any grain of light, shall be withheld. All the stars will sail out for them.

snow :: naomi shihab nye

Once with my scarf knotted over my mouth
I lumbered into a storm of snow up the long hill
and did not know where I was going except to the top of it.
In those days we went out like that.
Even children went out like that.
Someone was crying hard at home again,
raging blizzard of sobs.

I dragged the sled by its rope,
which we normally did not do
when snow was coming down so hard,
pulling my brother whom I called by our secret name
as if we could be other people under the skin.
The snow bit into my face, prickling the rim
of the head where the hair starts coming out.
And it was a big one. It would come down and down
for days. People would dig their cars out like potatoes.

How are you doing back there? I shouted,
and he said Fine, I’m doing fine,
in the sunniest voice he could muster
and I think I should love him more today
for having used it.

At the top we turned and he slid down,
steering himself with the rope gripped in
his mittened hands. I stumbled behind
sinking deeply, shouting Ho! Look at him go!
as if we were having a good time.
Alone on the hill. That was the deepest
I ever went into the snow. Now I think of it
when I stare at paper or into silences
between human beings. The drifting
accumulation. A father goes months
without speaking to his son.

How there can be a place
so cold any movement saves you.

Ho! You bang your hands together,
stomp your feet. The father could die!
The son!
Before the weather changes.

elegy for my sadness :: chen chen

Maybe the centipede in the cellar
knows with its many disgusting legs
why I am sad. No one else does.
I want to be a sweetheart in every moment,
full of goats & xylophones, as charming
as a hill with a small village on it.
I want to be a village full of sweethearts,
as you are, every second of the day,
cooking me soups & drawing me pictures
& holding me, my inexplicable & elephant sadness,
with your infinite arms.
But isn’t it true, you are not
always why I am happy. & I promise
it is true, you are almost never why,
why I am sad. You are just
in the same room with me & my unsweet,
uncharming, completely
uninteresting sadness. I wish it could
unbelong itself from me, unstick
from my face. Who invented the word
“ennui”? A sad Frenchman?
A centipede? They should’ve never
been born. They should’ve seen me
in Paris, a sad teenage
exchange student. I was so sad
& so teenaged, one day my host sister
gripped my hand hard & even harder
BE HAPPY. & miraculously,
I wasn’t sad anymore.
All I felt was the desire to slap my host sister.
See, I was angry in Paris, which is clearly
not allowed. One can be sad in Paris (I was)
& one can be in love in Paris (I was not),
but angry? Angry in Paris?
Now, I am in love—with you!—though sometimes
terribly sad for no good reason, & not so much
angry as guilty when you say to me,
Don’t cry, don’t be sad, as if my sadness
could sink this room, this apartment, this
whole city not Paris. But does my sadness
always need to be your sadness?
I wish I could write an elegy for my sadness
because it has suddenly died. I wish I could mourn it
by kissing you again & again while neither of us
can stop laughing, a kind of kiss where we sometimes
miss the mouth altogether, a kind of kiss
I think every single dead person
in every part of the world must crave
with violent impossibility.

rapture :: galway kinnell

I can feel she has got out of bed.
That means it is seven A.M.
I have been lying with eyes shut,
thinking, or possibly dreaming,
of how she might look if, at breakfast,
I spoke about the hidden place in her
which, to me, is like a soprano’s tremolo,
and right then, over toast and bramble jelly,
if such things are possible, she came.
I imagine she would show it while trying to conceal it.
I imagine her hair would fall about her face
and she would become apparently downcast,
as she does at a concert when she is moved.
The hypnopompic play passes, and I open my eyes
and there she is, next to the bed,
bending to a low drawer, picking over
various small smooth black, white,
and pink items of underwear. She bends
so low her back runs parallel to the earth,
but there is no sway in it, there is little burden, the day has hardly begun.
The two mounds of muscles for walking, leaping, lovemaking,
lift toward the east – what can I say?
Simile is useless; there is nothing like them on earth.
Her breasts fall full; the nipples
are deep pink in the glare shining up through the iron bars
of the gate under the earth where those who could not love
press, wanting to be born again.
I reach out and take her wrist
and she falls back into bed and at once starts unbuttoning my pajamas.
Later, when I open my eyes, there she is again,
rummaging in the same low drawer.
The clock shows eight. Hmmm.
With huge, silent effort of great,
mounded muscles the earth has been turning.
She takes a piece of silken cloth
from the drawer and stands up. Under the falls
of hair her face has become quiet and downcast,
as if she will be, all day among strangers,
looking down inside herself at our rapture.

lines on nonsense :: eliza lee follen

Yes, nonsense is a treasure!
   I love it from my heart;
The only earthly pleasure
   That never will depart.

But, as for stupid reason,
   That stalking, ten-foot rule,
She’s always out of season,
   A tedious, testy fool.

She’s like a walking steeple,
   With a clock for face and eyes,
Still bawling to all people,
   Time bids us to be wise.

While nonsense on the spire
   A weathercock you’ll find,
Than reason soaring higher,
   And changing with the wind.

The clock too oft deceives,
   Says what it cannot prove;
While every one believes
   The vane that turns above.

Reason oft speaks unbidden,
   And chides us to our face;
For which she should be chidden,
   And taught to know her place.

While nonsense smiles and chatters,
   And says such charming things,
Like youthful hope she flatters;
   And like a syren sings.

Her charm’s from fancy borrowed,
   For she is fancy’s pet;
Her name is on her forehead,
   In rainbow colors set.

Then, nonsense let us cherish,
   Far, far from reason’s light;
Lest in her light she perish,
   And vanish from our sight.

firework :: stacie cassarino

The day my body caught fire
the woodland darkened. The horizon
was a sea of maids, rushing to piece me
back into a girl. Out of the girl came yellow
flowers, came stem & sepal.
You never happened, they said.
The meadow was a narration of lessness.
Inside the corral, horses fell
from the impact of lightning. They broke
down. I heard gunshots in my sleep.
I was a keeper of breath,
of hay. I walked a field, collecting bones.
You can build a house out of bones.
You can stand at the doorway
quarrelling with your legs to enter
or run until you turn to ash.

cargo :: elizabeth metzger

The sky has the salt impediments
of thought. It wants to know

just what exactly it thinks,
but we know the sky is a fact,

just gas and distance, an observation.
The minutes, precocious, exceed the days here,

measured by the appetite of eels.
The feeling of blood as interior shadow

is enough to hold us back
from our lips, from any intention.

We think of what we once were,
a bypassed island

we carried into our guilt.
Once I loved you simply because

it made me feel truthful, like a ship.
Now I love without integrity.

There is no depth but there is
because the ship is going into it.

return of the friend :: mohja kahf

I had not expected love but it surprised,
like the slip of arm around my waist
I had expected chiding, but your eyes
spoke only kindness, like your face

Tulips by the road, the burst of red—
I drew my breath as your bus rounded the bend
Pink rose in lime green tissue, then your tread,
and the slip of arm around my waist

Years dissolve between us in this place,
and I exhale. I had expected questions,
quizzing, an exchange, a taxing gaze,
not acceptance freely given, your embrace
I had not expected love

paula :: hafizah geter

Hafizah, when you sleep, a storm suddenly opens its jaw like that ancient dog your neighbors used to beat in front of God and everybody. The wasps duel like prophets and hide their nests in your clothes. Every day your eyes are barefoot. A child could kick the door of you in. So what if you are some kind of Icarus? Sunlight jails itself in your bone. Remember when our eyes were two halves of a locket? And on TV, women were so crazy men had to snatch them by their elbows? You still look like the first time we learned swans were vicious. That year you could carry not even your name. Let’s pretend this grief is possible to initiate when sober. Let’s pretend I am Paula no more. Fact— if you segregate the kingdom by genus you will find the moon bears all the markers of a boarded up fireplace, that the blowflies always find the coyote. In the game of truth, you pick the dare every time.

maps :: yesenia montilla

For Marcelo

Some maps have blue borders
like the blue of your name
or the tributary lacing of
veins running through your
father’s hands. & how the last
time I saw you, you held
me for so long I saw whole
lifetimes flooding by me
small tentacles reaching
for both our faces. I wish
maps would be without
borders & that we belonged
to no one & to everyone
at once, what a world that
would be. Or not a world
maybe we would call it
something more intrinsic
like forgiving or something
simplistic like river or dirt.
& if I were to see you
tomorrow & everyone you
came from had disappeared
I would weep with you & drown
out any black lines that this
earth allowed us to give it—
because what is a map but
a useless prison? We are all
so lost & no naming of blank
spaces can save us. & what
is a map but the delusion of
safety? The line drawn is always
in the sand & folds on itself
before we’re done making it.
& that line, there, south of
el rio, how it dares to cover
up the bodies, as though we
would forget who died there
& for what? As if we could
forget that if you spin a globe
& stop it with your finger
you’ll land it on top of someone
living, someone who was not
expecting to be crushed by thirst—

beasts :: carmen giménez smith

My siblings and I archive the blanks in my mother’s memory,
diagnose her in text messages. And so it begins, I write although

her disease had no true beginning, only a gradual peeling away
until she was left a live wire of disquiet. We frame her illness

as a conceptual resistance—She thinks, yet she is an other
to make sense of the transformation. She forgot my brother’s cancer,

for example, and her shock, which registered as surprise,
was the reaction to any story we told her, an apogee of sublimity

over and over. Once on a walk she told us she thought
she was getting better, and exhausted, we told her she was incurable,

a child’s revenge. The flash of sorrow was tempered only
by her forgetting and new talk of a remedy,

and we continued with the fiction because darker dwindling
awaits us like rage, suspicion, delusion, estrangement.

I had once told myself a different story about us.
In it she was a living marble goddess in my house

watching over my children and me. So what a bitter fruit
for us to share, our hands sinking into its fetid bruise,

the harsh flavor stretched over all our days, coloring them grey,
infesting them with the beasts that disappeared her,

the beasts that hid her mail in shoeboxes under her bed,
bills unpaid for months, boxes to their brims. The lesson:

memory, which once seemed impermeable, had always been
a muslin, spilling the self out like water, so that one became

a new species of naïf and martyr. And us, we’re made a cabal
of medieval scholars speculating how many splinters of light

make up her diminishing core, how much we might harvest before
she disappears. This is the new love: her children making an inventory

of her failing body to then divide into pieces we can manage—
her shame our reward, and I’ll speak for the three of us:

we would have liked her to relish in any of the boons that never came,
our own failures amplified by her ephemeral and fading quality.