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.

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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
depart
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
outlasted

toy boat
toy leaf  dropped
from a toy tree
waiting

waiting
as if the sp-
arrows
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.