what is the grass? :: mark doty

On the margin
in the used text
I’ve purchased without opening

—pale green dutiful vessel—

some unconvinced student has written,
in a clear, looping hand,
Isn’t it grass?

How could I answer the child?
I do not exaggerate,
I think of her question for years.

And while first I imagine her the very type
of the incurious, revealing the difference
between a mind at rest and one that cannot,

later I come to imagine that she
had faith in language,
that was the difference: she believed

that the word settled things,
the matter need not be looked into again.

And he who’d written his book over and over, nearly ruining it,
so enchanted by what had first compelled him
—for him the word settled nothing at all.

irony :: layli long soldier

I wake to
red sand I
sleep here
coral brick
hooghaan I
walk thin
rabbit brush
trails side-
step early
autumn
tarantulas
pick desert
white flowers
on full days I
inhale fe-
male rain
I stop wheels
slow sheep
bounce drop
sheep shit
across
highways
potholed
me I grass
nothing
here I meta-
grass I sleep-
walk grasses
open eyes to
blue corn sky
to cook up
stews chunks
half-chewed thru
I am this
salivating
mouth without
hands with-
out arms
bent down
shameless
face to plate to
some origin(al)
hunger aware
that I’m alone
and I alone am
the one -> pushing
the head
to eat

before :: khaled mattawa

Somewhere beyond faith and grace there is
the footprint of logic lost in the purest light.

Not hidden at all, but a vehicle, a necessity, neither
mop nor bucket, but whatever gives the floor its shine.

The sun through the window pours on the floor,
and the wood glistens as if in praise.
As if a child breaking into a run. That is what I see

through the window now. A child breaking
into a run for the simple flame that must burn
and because there are such words.

Of course, I could be wailing.
Of course, the child is not a memory,
only a gesture on my part.

Yesterday, I fed a friend’s cat and talked to her,
the town was emptied and filled with
snow embroidered with tire tracks.

I fed a friend’s cat and she rubbed her sides against my calves.

The thing to say now is that I am in the middle of a life
in a house with the owners on holiday.

Or to say a car engine hums (the owner forgetting
the keys inside), and is on its way to a crystalline loss.

Here deduction is howling at an oncoming storm.

The thing is, I fed a friend’s cat and later poured
a bowl of milk for her and she sniffed it,
barely licked it, and left.

The thought is. The life is.

I’ve visited graves—tombstones ten feet high.
I ran through the cemetery and laughed my Cairo laugh.
I wanted to be arrested by the police, wanted

someone to take down what I had to say.
Whatever I would have said then would have been the truth.

But there was no one there.
Only dust and a shitload of romance.

Only dust and the hum of the interstate. Detroit,
Toledo, the hitchhiker hums a foreign song.

I feed the cat and talk to her.
I take the milk away and begin to forget
and the cat stares at the missing milk.

Billions of snowflakes in between,
and the befores that follow the first before.

echolocation :: sally bliumis-dunn

The whales can’t hear each other calling
in the noise-cluttered sea: they beach themselves.
I saw one once— heaved onto the sand with kelp
stuck to its blue-gray skin.
Heavy and immobile

it lay like a great sadness.
And it was hard to breathe with all the stink.
Its elliptical black eyes had stilled, were mostly dry,
and barnacles clustered on its back
like tiny brown volcanoes.

Imagining the other whales, their roving weight,
their blue-black webbing of the deep,
I stopped knowing how to measure my own grief.
And this one, large and dead on the sand
with its unimaginable five-hundred-pound heart.

psalm :: paisley rekdal

Too soon, perhaps, for fruit. And the broad branches,
ice-sheathed early, may bear none. But still the woman
waits, with her ladder and sack, for something to break.
A gold, a lengthening of light. For the greens to burst
into something not unlike flame: the pale fruit
blushing over weeks through the furred cleft creases:
a freckling of blood. Then the hot, sweet scent
of August rot, drawing wasps and birds and children
through the month. So much abundance, and the only cost
waiting. Looking at the tree, I almost expect the sound of bells,
a stone church, sheep in flocks. But no sound of bells,
no clarion call. The church is far down in the valley.
This tree should be a revered thing, placed at the ancient
heart of a temple. Instead, it is on a common
lot, beside a road, apartment buildings, a dog
sleeping in its yard. The woman has come here
neither as master nor supplicant. She simply plans
to fill a plastic sack with whatever she can take:
the sweet meat giving under the press of a thumb,
covering what is its true fruit: the little pit, hard
and almond-brown that I’ve scooped out,
palmed and planted, but to no avail. A better gardener
could make demands of such a seed, could train a tree
for what desire anticipates. But here the tree grows
only for itself. And if it bears no fruit for the killing
frost, or if it flowers late because of a too-warm winter,
what debt am I owed? At whose feet should I lay
disappointment? Delight no more comforting
nor wounding than hunger. The tree traffics
in a singular astonishment, its gold tongues
lolling out a song so rich and sweet, the notes
are left to rot upon the pavement. Is this the only religion
left to us? Not one only of mortification or desire,
not one of suffering, succor, not even of pleasure.
The juice of summer coils in the cells. It is a faith
that may not come to more than waiting.
To insist on pleasure alone is a mark
of childishness. To believe only in denial
the fool’s prerogative. You hunger
because you hunger. And the tree calls to this.
But the fruit is real. I have eaten it. Have plucked
and washed and cut the weight, and stewed it
with sugar and lemon peel until the gold
ran rich and thick into jars. I have spooned it
over bread and meat. I have sucked it
from my husband’s fingers. I have watched it sour
in its pots until a mist of green bubbled up
for a crust. I have gathered and failed it, as the tree
for me both ripens and fallows. But now, it is perhaps
too soon for fruit. The winter this year was hard,
the air full of smokes, and do I know if spring
reached the valley in time? Who planted this tree?
How long has it stood here? How many more years
can such a thing remain? The woman reaches a hand
up into the branches, palm cupped, weighing
the leaf knots. She is looking to see
what instincts, what weathers still grow here.
She snakes her hand through the greening branches.
Up from the valley, come the golden tongues of bells.