no matter how many skies have fallen :: erika meitner

Let’s say we are making a list,
and it’s not about how to be

good or zombie foreclosures
or anything resembling distress

calls from an airline going down
in a cluster of trees. Someone

says, I’ve got a situation here,
but they don’t mean that holiday

picture of you dangling handcuffs
from your index finger or the fact

that your mother loved you
very much until we enhanced

the audio. Let’s say we are in
violation of the local housing

code, which specifies the number
of outlets per room where we can

plug in to the network that says
Join Other Network or Airport: On.

The overhead compartments groan
under the weight of our collective

sadness and in the emergency exit
row we must speak English, confirm

with a loud yes that we’re willing
to perform certain duties. We agree

to rescue each other and strangers
who also glance sideways at street

grids from above during takeoff,
chew gum while we rise past what-

ever their threshold for fear or
adventure. We are under the care

of each other and sometimes we
fail mightily to contain the damage:

the house picked clean by scavengers,
the hanging gutters, collapsed garage.

the needs of the many :: brendan constantine

On the days when we wept—
and they were many—we did it
over the sound of a television
or radio, or the many engines
of the sky. It was rarely so quiet
we could hear just our sadness,
the smallness of it
that is merely the sound of wind
and water between the many pages
of the lungs. Many afternoons
we left the house still crying
and drove to a café or the movies,
or back to the hospital where we sat
dumb under the many eyes
of Paul Klee. There were many
umbrellas, days when it refused
to rain, cups of tea ignored. We
washed them all in the sink,
dry eyed. It’s been a while,
we’re cried out. We collect pauses
and have taken to reading actual
books again. We go through them
like yellow lights, like tunnels
or reunions, we forget which;
the older you are the more similes,
the more pangs per hour. Indeed,
this is how we break one hour into
many, how healing wounds time
in return. And though we know
there will always be crying to do,
just as there’s always that song,
always a leaf somewhere in the car,
this may be the only sweetness left,
to have a few griefs we cherish
against the others, which are many.

don’t call me, I’m practicing for my threesome :: alina pleskova

thoughts all sing-songy like
No one knows where I am right now

I test a swelling sense of
invincibility

stroll in the wrong direction with
my dress trailing mid-air

all the bars letting out
& some bodies so close I’m convinced
they pass right through me

every jolt of pleasure
attuned at once:

strung-up lights blurred & blinking
mouths holding silent O’s

chilled air by the gulpful,
a shock to the system

senses sharper
& a harvest-bright moon

the clock tower chimes an alarm
for those tensed & ready to walk
the high-wire between
ardor & fury

13th street starlets
fan their lashes curbside, holler
Get it, honey

which I take to mean
quit sleeping easy

& shimmy down a backstreet
to slip off last year’s
sweetness & reserve

The wanting itself
suddenly enough.

senses of heritage :: ntozake shange

my grandpa waz a doughboy from carolina
the other a garveyite from lakewood
I got talked to abt the race & achievement
bout color & propriety/
nobody spoke to me about the moon

daddy talked abt music & mama bout christians
my sisters/ we
always talked & talked
there waz never quiet
trees were status symbols

I’ve taken to fog/
the moon still surprisin me

the fifth dream: bullets and deserts and borders :: benjamin alire sáenz

A man is walking toward me.
He is alone.
He has been walking through the desert.
He has been walking for days.
He has been walking for years.
His lips are dry
and cracking
like a piece of spent soil.
I can see his open wounds.
His eyes are dark
as a Tanzanian night.

He discovers I have been watching
though he has long ceased to care
what others see. I ask him
his name, ask him what
has brought him here, ask
him to name
his angers and his loves.
                         He opens his mouth
to speak—
but just as his words hit
the air, a bullet
pierces his heart.

                         I do not know
the country
of this man’s birth. I only know
that he is from
the desert. He has the worn
look of despair
that only rainless days can give.
That is all I know.
He might have been born
in Jerusalem. He might have been
born in Egypt. He might
have been the direct descendant
of a pharaoh. His name
might have been Ptolemy.
His name might have been
Moses. Or Jesus.
Or Muhammad.
He might have been a prophet.
He might have been a common thief.
He might have been a terrorist
or he might have been just
another man destined
to be worn down
by the ceaseless, callous storms.
He might have come
from a country called Afghanistan.
He might have been from Mexico.

He might have been
looking for a well.
His dreams were made of water.
His lips touching
water—yes—
that is what he was dreaming.

I can still hear the sound of the bullet.

*

The man reappears.
It does not matter
that I do not want him
in my dreams. He is
searching through the rubble
of what was once his house.
There are no tears on his
face. His lips still yearn
for water.

*

I wake. I begin to believe
that the man has escaped
from Auschwitz. Perhaps he sinned
against the Nazis or because
he was a collaborator or because
he was Jewish
or because he loved another man.
He has come
to the desert looking
for a place he can call home.
I fall asleep trying
to give the man a name.

*

The man is now
walking toward a city
that is no longer there.

*

I am the man.
I see clearly. I am
awake now.
It is me. It has taken me
a long time to know this.
I am a Palestinian.
I am an Israeli.
I am a Mexican.
I am an American.
I am a busboy in a tall building
that is about to collapse.
I am attending a Seder and I am
tasting my last bitter
herb. I am a boy who has learned
all his prayers. I am bowing
toward Mecca in a house
whose roof will soon collapse
on my small frame.
I am a servant. I shine shoes
and wash the feet
of the rich. I am an illegal.
I am a Mexican who hates all Americans.
I am an American who hates all Mexicans.
I am a Palestinian who hates all Israelis.
I am an Israeli who hates all Palestinians.
I am a Palestinian Jew who hates himself.

I am dying of all this knowledge.
I am dying of thirst.
I am a river that will never know water again.
I am becoming dust.

*

I am walking toward my home.
Mexico City? Washington?
Mecca? Jerusalem?
I don’t know. I don’t know.

*

I am walking in the desert.

I see that I am reaching a border.

A bullet is piercing my heart.

earth, you have returned to me :: elaine equi

Can you imagine waking up
every morning on a different planet,
each with its own gravity?

Slogging, wobbling,
wavering. Atilt
and out-of-sync
with all that moves
and doesn’t.

Through years of trial
and mostly error
did I study this unsteady way — 

changing pills, adjusting the dosage,
never settling.

A long time we were separate,
O Earth,
but now you have returned to me.

the biggest problems come from being :: peter grandbois

“Darkness, my sole light! Death’s shadows, so clear to me! Take me! Take me to live with you! I am no longer fit to look to gods for help, no, nor mortals neither.” —Ajax, from Ajax by Sophocles

After night sinks into
its private stillness,

and you stand before a mirror
turned the wrong way,

remember that the world, too,
is exhausted, having devoured

everything it could from sky.
You’ll need to look elsewhere

for something to hold you
together, lavender ice cream,

perhaps, or the neighbor’s cat.
Considering how often

we must reinvent ourselves,
how many times we try to speak

the silent language of the Absent,
it’s no wonder we choose to stumble
away from the one story worth telling.

the goddess tires of being holy :: vandana khanna

Call yourself whatever you want: girl or goddess.
Truth is, no one loves you any better. There’s
not enough gold in the world to make you feel
holy, hallowed, whole. No gloss pretty enough
to save a face marked by ash. For your trouble—
a handful of thorns, a bit of marigold dust.

This is what you get for begging to be
chosen: every god in the universe eyeing
you through the clouds like a hot wound
he can’t help but press. That terrible beating

under your skin, so loud it makes your
blood hurt, that’s the part of the story
you always get wrong—the one where
they watch you burn and burn.

in the mushroom summer :: david mason

Colorado turns Kyoto in a shower,
mist in the pines so thick the crows delight
(or seem to), winging in obscurity.
The ineffectual panic of a squirrel
who chattered at my passing gave me pause
to watch his Ponderosa come and go—
long needles scratching cloud. I’d summited
but knew it only by the wildflower meadow,
the muted harebells, paintbrush, gentian,
scattered among the locoweed and sage.
Today my grief abated like water soaking
underground, its scar a little path
of twigs and needles winding ahead of me
downhill to the next bend. Today I let
the rain soak through my shirt and was unharmed.

the valley of its making :: nate marshall

for Page

poetry makes nothing happen
—W. H. Auden

the people in the streets
are plucked up like
radishes from dark earth,
heads beat the purplish-red
of ripeness. the women lead
the stupid & brutish to a
future they don’t deserve.
the organized are still
unbearably human, they
still fuck & hurt & harm
& are not actually sorry.
the people still fight
each other too much &
the system not enough
& too often it is not a fight
but a bullet. too many men
want to be in the front
& don’t want to march
anywhere in particular.
some of us have degrees
& noses to look down.
so many want a version
of old days that never
existed. many are still unwilling
to grow a vocabulary for personhood,
even from the words already in them.
so many will deny they to a sibling
simply because. our people are
messy & messed up & a mess.
nothing about our people is romantic
& it shouldn’t be. our people deserve
poetry without meter. we deserve our
own jagged rhythm & our own uneven
walk toward sun. you make happening happen.
we happen to love. this is our greatest
action.

dreamwood :: adrienne rich

In the old, scratched, cheap wood of the typing stand
there is a landscape, veined, which only a child can see
or the child’s older self, a poet,
a woman dreaming when she should be typing
the last report of the day. If this were a map,
she thinks, a map laid down to memorize
because she might be walking it, it shows
ridge upon ridge fading into hazed desert
here and there a sign of aquifers
and one possible watering-hole. If this were a map
it would be the map of the last age of her life,
not a map of choices but a map of variations
on the one great choice. It would be the map by which
she could see the end of touristic choices,
of distances blued and purpled by romance,
by which she would recognize that poetry
isn’t revolution but a way of knowing
why it must come. If this cheap, mass-produced
wooden stand from the Brooklyn Union Gas Co.,
mass-produced yet durable, being here now,
is what it is yet a dream-map
so obdurate, so plain,
she thinks, the material and the dream can join
and that is the poem and that is the late report.

a rite :: allyson paty

When a person dies the hours. That comprise
a total life. Have stripped their clothes
and buried them in mud. The days have.
Shaved their perfect heads. Floated the hair
downriver. And out. Out to sea. A body
of water where day. After day the ships are.
Carrying their freight. To market to uses
to garbage. Once beyond the shore where
land. Is worked and fucked and full for
harvest. Like a field in wartime the weeks
have already lit themselves. Have smoldered.
And we with our timeless. Ashes to rake.

thirsting :: alicia ostriker

It’s not that the old are wise
But that we thirst for the wisdom

we had at twenty
when we understood everything

when our brains bubbled
with tingling insights

percolating up from
our brilliant genitals

when our music rang like a global siege
shooting down all the lies in the world

oh then we knew the truth
then we sparkled like mica in granite

and now we stand on the shore
of an ocean that rises and rises
but is too salt to drink

permanence :: denise duhamel

The barista at the coffee shop is covered in tattoos. She says there are only two ways they hold her back. 1. She can’t work at Starbucks. 2. She can’t wear a corsage, since she’d just be way too busy, and this makes me laugh. She says no to gifts from prom dates—the wrist corsage, the pinned corsage; no to bridal bouquets, the get-well-soon carnations. One day soon her mother will insist on sympathy wreaths around her coffin, which is closed, lest she be confused with the flowers.

you meet their dancing and you have to start again :: david welch

                                                  —Heather Christle

You meet someone and inside of them
you know there swells
a small country brimming
with steel and beasts of labor.
You love the country
and so you fear it.
Its flora fascinates you.
You wish to visit, though
you worry you won’t
wear the right clothes, that you’ll fail
to order a drink, ask directions,
assure the clerk in the flower
shop you aren’t a thief.
They’re only roses. They remind you
of the one you love.
Even with your eyes closed
in your own mouth you’d know
they’re roses.

honeymoon :: hala alyan

Of this room remember heat. A fight with my father and
glass evil eyes. The television sparking like a glamorous fish.

We’ve turned off every lightbulb, fan each other with foreign
magazines. I take photographs of stray dogs. In the car,

the Turkish driver listens to horse races on the radio.
I won, he tells us. I dress like a pillar. I want to burn the verbs

I mispronounce to the Egyptian waiter. My uterus bleeds from Athens
to Istanbul and the moon is a spider tracking its white mud

across the sky. Orange blossoms open like pepper in the courtyard.
Everywhere, blue rooftops. Antibiotics for my infected jaw.

We take Rome with us to Rome. At the passport control line,
you tell me to let you speak. You tell them I’m with you.

chess :: aimee nezhukumatathil

Exactly four different men have tried
to teach me how to play. I could never
tell the difference between a rook
or bishop, but I knew the horse meant

knight. And that made sense to me,
because a horse is night: soot-hoof
and nostril, dark as a sabled evening
with no stars, bats, or moon blooms.

It’s a night in Ohio where a man sleeps
alone one week and the next, the woman
he will eventually marry leans her body
into his for the first time, leans a kind

of faith, too—filled with white crickets
and bouquets of wild carrot. And
the months and the honeyed years
after that will make all the light

and dark squares feel like tiles
for a kitchen they can one day build
together. Every turn, every sacrificial
move—all the decoys, the castling,

the deflections—these will be both
riotous and unruly, the exact opposite
of what she thought she ever wanted
in the endgame of her days.

flight :: b. h. fairchild

     In the early stages of epilepsy there
     occurs a characteristic dream …. One is
     somehow lifted free of one’s own body;
     looking back one sees oneself and feels a
     sudden, maddening fear; another presence is
     entering one’s own person, and there is no
     avenue of return.
     —George Steiner

Outside my window the wasps
are making their slow circle,
dizzy flights of forage and return,
hovering among azaleas
that bob in a sluggish breeze
this humid, sun-torn morning.

Yesterday my wife held me here
as I thrashed and moaned, her hand
in my foaming mouth, and my son
saw what he was warned he might.

Last night dreams stormed my brain
in thick swirls of shame and fear.
Behind a white garage a locked shed
full of wide-eyed dolls burned,
yellow smoke boiling up in huge clumps
as I watched, feet nailed to the ground.
In dining cars white table cloths
unfolded wings and flew like gulls.
An old German in a green Homburg
sang lieder, Mein Herz ist müde.
In a garden in Pasadena my father
posed in Navy whites while overhead
silver dirigibles moved like great whales.
And in the narrowing tunnel
of the dream’s end I flew down
onto the iron red road
of my grandfather’s farm.
There was a white rail fence.
In the green meadow beyond,
a small boy walked toward me.
His smile was the moon’s rim.
Across his egg-shell eyes
ran scenes from my future life,
and he embraced me like a son
or father or my lost brother.

the farm :: joyce sutphen

My father’s farm is an apple blossomer.
He keeps his hills in dandelion carpet
and weaves a lane of lilacs between the rose
and the jack-in-the-pulpits.
His sleek cows ripple in the pastures.
The dog and purple iris
keep watch at the garden’s end.

His farm is rolling thunder,
a lightning bolt on the horizon.
His crops suck rain from the sky
and swallow the smoldering sun.
His fields are oceans of heat,
where waves of gold
beat the burning shore.

A red fox
pauses under the birch trees,
a shadow is in the river’s bend.
When the hawk circles the land,
my father’s grainfields whirl beneath it.
Owls gather together to sing in his woods,
and the deer run his golden meadow.

My father’s farm is an icicle,
a hillside of white powder.
He parts the snowy sea,
and smooths away the valleys.
He cultivates his rows of starlight
and drags the crescent moon
through dark unfurrowed fields.

kites :: robert gibb

Come March we’d find them
In the five-and-dimes,
Furled tighter than umbrellas
About their slats, the air

In an undertow above us
Like weather on the maps.
We’d play out lines
Of kite string, tugging against

The bucking sideways flights.
Readied for assembly,
I’d arc the tensed keel of balsa
Into place against the crosspiece,

Feeling the paper snap
Tautly as a sheet, then lift
The almost weightless body
Up to where it hauled me

Trolling into the winds—
Knotted bows like vertebrae
Flashing among fields
Of light. Why ruin it

By recalling the aftermaths?
Kites gone down in tatters,
Kites fraying like flotsam
From the tops of the trees.

laundry :: bruce smith

Not even the cops who can do anything could do this—
work on Sunday picking up dirty and delivering clean
laundry in Philadelphia. Rambling with my father, get this,
in a truck that wasn’t even our own,
part ambulance, part bullet, there wasn’t anything
we couldn’t do. Sheets of stigmata, macula of love,
vomit and shit and the stains of pissing
another week’s salary away, we picked up and drove
to the stick men in shirt sleeves, the thin
Bolshevik Jews who laughed out the sheets like the empty
speech in cartoons. They smelled better than sin,
better than decadent capitalism. And oh, we
could deliver, couldn’t we, the lawless bags through the city
that said in his yawn, get money, get money, get money.

against chronology :: natasha sajé

without Agnus Dei
within air conditioning
via antigens
unlike Beethoven
until carbon dating
under a dynamo
toward the Eocene epoch
to the Flintstones
till the flood
through Freud
since the graviton
regarding gunpowder
per Gutenberg
past homophobia
outside internal combustion
on top of the Ku Klux Klan
onto the court of Louis XIV
on Medicare
off the middle class
next to the New Age
minus the old masters
like Marco Polo
into Qatar
instead of Roundup
in front of the silkworm
from the Song of Songs
for the Spanish Armada
except sulfides
during the titanium age
down with the Union Jack
by the Vikings
between da Vinci and the Young Pretender
below the Well of Loneliness
behind Westinghouse
atop womankind
at Woolworth’s
around the Wreck of the Deutschland
among xenophobes
along the Y chromosome
after Yankee Doodle
about the Zeitgeist
aboard the zephyr of time

two set out on their journey :: galway kinnell

We sit side by side,
brother and sister, and read
the book of what will be, while a breeze
blows the pages over—
desolate odd, cheerful even,
and otherwise. When we come
to our own story, the happy beginning,
the ending we don’t know yet,
the ten thousand acts
encumbering the days between,
we will read every page of it.
If an ancestor has pressed
a love-flower for us, it will lie hidden
between pages of the slow going,
where only those who adore the story
ever read. When the time comes
to shut the book and set out,
we will take childhood’s laughter
as far as we can into the days to come,
until another laughter sounds back
from the place where our next bodies
will have risen and will be telling
tales of what seemed deadly serious once,
offering to us oldening wayfarers
the light heart, now made of time
and sorrow, that we started with.

idée fixe :: catherine barnett

No woman wants to be low-hanging fruit,
my glamorous girlfriend says, but I’m indiscriminate
and love all fruit, I’m tempted to list each kind
right here, in and out of season,
because even just saying the names gives me pleasure,
as does saying your name.
I’m not alone with my passion — my whole family,
we’re a little off in this regard,
we can spend hours talking about cantaloupe
or arguing over how many flats to buy
when it’s Peach-O-Rama at the Metropolitan.
Once I even drove half a day to get to Pence Orchards
where I met and took photos of Bert Pence,
who sold me three boxes of peaches at wholesale prices.
He was so good to me, as was the late-summer freestone
I picked as I walked back through the orchard
in the August heat to the entrance gates,
which were nothing like the Gates of Hell.
On the contrary, I was in heaven there in Yakima.
I can still smell that single peach, which was profusely
low-hanging, it was the definition of low-hanging,
it fell into my hands, as you did — 
or perhaps as I did into yours — 
but that was months ago.
When I walked past the stands yesterday,
on what should have been the first day of spring,
all produce had been covered with heavy blankets
to keep it warm, to mitigate harm.
Today the temperature dropped so low
someone thought to remove the fruit entirely and stash it away.
With this strange weather we’re having, will I see you again?
I can’t help myself.

say grace :: emily jungmin yoon

In my country our shamans were women
and our gods multiple until white people brought
an ecstasy of rosaries and our cities today
glow with crosses like graveyards. As a child
in Sunday school I was told I’d go to hell
if I didn’t believe in God. Our teacher was a woman
whose daughters wanted to be nuns and I asked
What about babies and what about Buddha, and she said
They’re in hell too and so I memorized prayers
and recited them in front of women
I did not believe in. Deliver us from evil.
O sweet Virgin Mary, amen
. O sweet. O sweet.
In this country, which calls itself Christian,
what is sweeter than hearing Have mercy
on us
. From those who serve different gods. O
clement, O loving, O God, O God, amidst ruins,
amidst waters, fleeing, fleeing. Deliver us from evil.
O sweet, O sweet. In this country,
point at the moon, at the stars, point at the way the lake lies,
with a hand full of feathers,
and they will look at the feathers. And kill you for it.
If a word for religion they don’t believe in is magic
so be it, let us have magic. Let us have
our own mothers and scarves, our spirits,
our shamans and our sacred books. Let us keep
our stars to ourselves and we shall pray
to no one. Let us eat
what makes us holy.

[the challenge: to start] :: anna moschovakis

The challenge: to start
not with theory but with tangible performance

You and others, approaching

We shall be asked for a way out

                    to be fed

                    to keep warm and dry

Starting with experience, magic
genuine science

More than once we have been lost
in a trackless wilderness

dwarfed and shadowed by mighty buildings
subway trains wild as elephants

One goes blindly back to one’s desk

These moments come, their dark
shadow

We glimpsed control
and more tragic waste

We entered with 40,000,000 warriors
with the dignity of cathedrals

The lake is upon you.
You have two canoes, your tent
The child has entered upon this desert

You have your axes

What, precisely, is your procedure?

danse russe :: william carlos williams

If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,-
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely,
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,-

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

advice for the traveller :: tania hershman

Fall, if possible
within an hour of your arrival

in any new city. Fall well
on knees and hands, in public

make sure you are seen. Bleeding
is optional. If someone immediately

lifts you without pausing
his mobile conversation, you will know

this is a place worth staying in. Limp
to the nearest park, sit and watch

locals by a fountain, dozing, kissing
walking dogs. Do not rush. If you have

fallen properly, there will be no need
to fall here again. Your knee’s sweet

sting and bruise will remind you
of attention, the necessity for kindness