neglect :: r.t. smith

Is the scent of apple boughs smoking
in the woodstove what I will remember
of the Red Delicious I brought down, ashamed

that I could not convince its limbs to render fruit?
Too much neglect will do that, skew the sap’s
passage, blacken leaves, dry the bark and heart.

I should have lopped the dead limbs early
and watched each branch with a goshawk’s eye,
patching with medicinal pitch, offering water,

compost and mulch, but I was too enchanted
by pear saplings, flowers and the pasture,
too callow to believe that death’s inevitable

for any living being unloved, untended.
What remains is this armload of applewood
now feeding the stove’s smolder. Splendor

ripens a final time in the firebox, a scarlet
harvest headed, by dawn, to embers.
Two decades of shade and blossoms – tarts

and cider, bees dazzled by the pollen,
spare elegance in ice – but what goes is gone.
Smoke is all, through this lesson in winter

regret, I’ve been given to remember.
Smoke, and Red Delicious apples redder
than a passing cardinal’s crest or cinders.

memory :: judith harris

Those years, after dogwoods
and purple phlox
the color of dyed Easter eggs,
the screen door rattling like a nerve …

On the porch, a cardboard box
for the stray cats
who stayed just long enough
to swell and litter.

So simple,
my mother, home
from the stenographer’s pool,
starlings dangling like keys
over the rooftops,

the late hour pulling us in
like a magnet,
the moon baying,
the solitaire train of cards.

Nothing could budge us
from our own little island,
our own little cushions,
where we stayed,
eating tuna sandwiches,

just her and me,
floating on TV laughter,
her hand clasped over mine
like a first date’s.

what it takes to disappear :: tanaya winder

Tell me again that my kisses are magic,
that my mouth unfolds longing like a landslide.
Loneliness spills over my lips each time you beg:
sing for me. Your unquenchable thirst devours

each syllable. Tell me again how you wanted to paint
the way you see me because I know all the words
to the first song you made love to in the back seat
of a red car, windows down overlooking the desert at sunset.

Tell me you didn’t forget to pay those parking tickets,
and to take your paintbrush out of the water, or
the way we fit together like puzzle pieces and
that once we slow danced, cheek-to-cheek

in the middle of the street, then hop-scotched
on the dotted lines all the way back to our childhoods
playing hide-and-seek. You told me once you didn’t
want to be left behind. Now you’re always leaving

the door open. I want to nail shut all possibilities because
the sun is already setting. The sky is red, and we’re driving the car
on a road to nowhere through the desert. The sand is so hot it burns.
Tell me you’ll quit hiding—and seek. See, the car is already melting;

you left your paintbrush in the water, and we’re dissolving
into red, the oils of our skin, our memories blur—
how do you see me? You painted a desert, red, and the car

falling apart. Tell me we dreamt it all and
when I open my eyes to see—I won’t remember. You
tell me the next time I open my mouth to sing
the magic of it all will make me disappear.

soft mask :: mary karr

On the ultrasound screen my child curled
in his own fluid orbit, less real
than any high-school-textbook tadpole
used to symbolize birth, till the nurse
placed a white arrow on his heart flicker:
a quick needle of light. Tonight his face

blooms in my window before trees
stripped bare, a moon hung full and red.
That soft mask, not yet hardened into autumn wind,
would hold a thumbprint if I touched him. I hesitate
to touch him. He’s not yet felt the burden
of hand, nor tasted air, nor toddled
toward some bladelike gaze. He is all sweetness,
mouth smudged against the clear silk
that envelops him, webbed hands that reach
and retreat as a cat tests water.

Or like Narcissus, or the great wondering
madonnas, or any beast lost in another, the demon
who kneels to feed at some lily throat.
His pulse first matching then at odds with mine,
that small arrow seeming to tremble
as if striking something true.

redwood :: douglas goetsch

I visited them late on a summer day,
racing down from Oregon in a rented car
in twilight that lingered long enough
to make a man think he could levitate.
The forest is narrow, east to west,
and it’s hard to know where
to cut in from the highway without
a lover in the passenger seat
looking at maps and literature.
But I found that famous trunk
you can drive through, which I did,
and out the other side, the darkness
still held aloft like a blanket unfurled
but yet to land on a sleeping child.
I pulled off the forest road again
where a felled giant lay, twenty feet
wide I guessed, a width I climbed,
the thick ridges of bark my footholds,
and walked that Sequoia’s flank out to the top,
a hundred yards or so, and back,
and that was my harvest—not height,
but length. Maybe I can suggest to you
that when you travel alone for so long
you learn to live sideways, or you just
take what you get, then go, as I scrambled
down from that dead tree and, coveting
nothing, left for San Francisco, where
there were things to do in the dark.

midnight snow :: james crews

Outside in the creek that feeds the lake
and never freezes, an otter slaps the water
with his paw to feel the current’s pulse—
Slip in, lie back. Slip in, lie back. He shuts
his eyes and obeys, knowing the layers
of hair and underfur will warm him while
he floats on a faith we wish could carry us.

The sound of his splashing fades, but not
his joy in being pushed, light as driftwood,
back to the mouth of the den I have seen
carved out beneath the roots of a fallen fir
now packed with snow and lined with leaves
that promise his sleep will be deep.

Because no dreams wait softly for me,
I open the woodstove and strike a match,
hold the bloom of the flame to kindling
that catches quick as my wish: To be that
slick body sliding into the lake that holds
the moon, bright portal to glide through
without so much as a shiver, no doubt
about where I’m going, how to get there.

rain :: ron carlson

A person’s crying does not sound like rain.
It is not like rain at all. Rain has its
own ten sounds, none of them like crying.
What is rain? Sometimes it’s a patter.
Is crying a patter? Not to me.
Crying is like something wounded trying
to tell you where it is hidden. Or Crying
is the wah wah wah, you know, the real
wailing interspersed sometimes with words
like Oh no or No no no or just wah wah.
There are no words in the rain. There’s
wind, of course, sometimes, and thunder,
but what is that saying? Boom? Boom crash?
So which crying and which rain sound alike,
I want to know. Oh, there’s water in both;
Everybody knows that—water, water, but
it’s not even the same water, and as long
as I have lived and the hours I’ve cried,
I’ve never heard a tear hit the floor.
And I was listening! I’ve seen tear marks
on a letter, but I didn’t, and I swear this is true,
hear them hit.

affirmation :: assata shakur

i believe in living.
i believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
i believe in sunshine.
In windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs.
And i believe that seeds grow into sprouts.
And sprouts grow into trees.
i believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
i believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.

i believe in life.
And i have seen the death parade
march through the torso of the earth,
sculpting mud bodies in its path.
i have seen the destruction of the daylight,
and seen bloodthirsty maggots
prayed to and saluted.

i have seen the kind become the blind
and the blind become the bind
in one easy lesson.
i have walked on cut glass.
i have eaten crow and blunder bread
and breathed the stench of indifference.

i have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if i know any thing at all,
it’s that a wall is just a wall
and nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.

i believe in living.
i believe in birth.
i believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.

And i believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home
to port.
 
 
 
(from Assata: An Autobiography)

peripheries :: ruth stone

This circle holding the afternoon sky is a lake
For summer business measured in stacked pairs
Of peeling oars whose dinghies all ship water.
Beside it on the trampled grass a carrousel shakes
And turns on an Old World instrument
The plink and plank and tinkle of a tune
Of plunging horses in fresh habiliment.
We catch the reins of enamel Pegasus
And lift the child until she is astride
A purple beast, where, wrapping infant arms
About his neck of wood, she whirls in space
And gallops off upon the turning wheel.
The horse climbs steadily the silver pole
Where cherubs hang, then slides toward spinning earth;
She sees the moving heaven of winged babes;
Rising to meet them, rising, she returns
To where our faces, staring in at hers,
Fixed, while her orbit whirls and sunlight burns,
Recede to artifact as her vision blurs.

what everybody knows now :: jacqueline woodson

Even though the laws have changed
my grandmother still takes us
to the back of the bus when we go downtown
in the rain. It’s easier, my grandmother says,
than having white folks look at me like I’m dirt.

But we aren’t dirt. We are people
paying the same fare as other people.
When I say this to my grandmother,
she nods, says, Easier to stay where you belong.

I look around and see the ones
who walk straight to the back. See
the ones who take a seat up front, daring
anyone to make them move. And know
this is who I want to be. Not scared
like that. Brave
like that.

Still, my grandmother takes my hand downtown
pulls me right past the restaurants that have to let us sit
wherever we want now. No need in making trouble,
she says. You all go back to New York City but
I have to live here.

We walk straight past Woolworth’s
without even looking in the windows
because the one time my grandmother went inside
they made her wait and wait. Acted like
I wasn’t even there
. It’s hard not to see the moment—
my grandmother in her Sunday clothes, a hat
with a flower pinned to it
neatly on her head, her patent-leather purse,
perfectly clasped
between her gloved hands—waiting quietly
long past her turn.

prayer for the mutilated world :: sam sax

what will be left after the last fidget
spinner’s spun its last spin

after the billboards accrue their thick
layer of grit masking advertisements
for teeth paste & tanqueray gin

after the highways are overtaken
by invasive forests

after the ministers give up their gods
& the rabbis their congregations
for drink

after new men rise to lead us sheep
toward our shearing, to make bed
sheets from our hair

after the high towers have no airplanes
to warn away & instead blink purely
toward heaven like children
with one red eye

after phone lines do nothing
but cut the sky into sheet music
& our phones are just expensive
bricks of metal & glass

after our cloud of photographs collapses
& all memories retreat back
into their privatized skulls

after the water taps gasp out their final
blessing
what then?

when even the local militias run
out of ammunitions

when the blast radii have been
chalked & the missiles do all they were
built to

when us jews have given up our state
for that much older country of walking
& then that even older religion of dirt

when all have succumbed to illness
inside the church of our gutted pharmacies

when the seas eat their cities

when the ground splits like a dress

when the trash continent in the mid-atlantic
at last opens its mouth to spit

what will be left after we’ve left

i dare not consider it

instead dance with me a moment
late in this last extinction

that you are reading this
must be enough

sonnets to madness and other misfortunes, iii :: francisco x. alarcón

translated by Francisco Aragón

your eyes show me how to see again
like mirrors of water, understanding all,
there’s no mystery they can’t solve—
a single glance is more than enough

your eyes see, listen, touch, speak.
are beacons on the horizon
shedding light on shades of life
beyond the reach of words

so I start to read your body,
pausing at every mole, as if
they were commas or periods

how I love to scribble on your chest,
use the muscles on your back as lines—
you and I are both page and pen

the weeping sea beast :: naomi replansky

Tentacled for food,
You range your underwater neighborhood.

To look, to like, to eat, to break your fast!
Before you move an inch an hour is past,

Your prey is past, a swarm of scales, an eye,
A round fish eye, a rude unblinking eye.

You close on nothing; slowly you untwine
Your many arms and trail them through the brine.

Now sailors at the surface hear you cry,
And from those heights they cannot fathom why.

For there are agile creatures all around
Who dart like flames through this rich hunting ground

And others who lie still and gaping wide
And make no move; but armies come inside.

call and response :: susanna lang

           We have forgotten how to listen.
                 — Patti Smith

Nothing is still, not light
or leaf or the sharp-edged

shadows of leaves. Never
birds, who ask and answer

and having forgotten, ask
again. I’m re-learning,

restless like the horn I heard
a man playing months ago

from the top of a child’s slide.
He marked the beat on a rail

while the freight train entered
from the south, bass solo,

and a spindle-legged girl
turned a cartwheel below.

In this meadow along the forest’s
thin edge, someone

has built a nest box for bluebirds
who can no longer find

a natural cavity—but instead
swallows find their way in,

whistling and gurgling
from their ready-made perch.

buddies :: richard schiffman

I called you after you died to hear again your ducky voice
on the answering machine. For weeks you continued:
“This is Will at Bathrooms Restored, please leave a message
after the beep.” But I never did. What was there to say?
Even before– what was there to say? You used to call
first thing in the morning, “Hey Richard, it’s Will,”
and I’d say, “Hey Will, what’s up?” We’d chew the bull, maybe
plan to meet that evening. “Will, there’s a concert tonight,
I can get free tickets.” And you would trudge over wasted
after a day of laying tiles, then nod off during the Beethoven.
Who else could sleep through the “Ode to Joy”?
Later we’d go to an all-night cafe and you would yatter
about your nonexistent love life, and I would tell you mine.
Guy talk, unrepeatable mostly. And then, go figure,
you were dying, and I sat there with the gaunt shell of you
too stunned to speak, and you too sick to speak
(although we both knew that there was nothing left to say.)
I could only hold you, but that didn’t feel right either:
two awkward and dry-eyed male animals clutching.
Give me a break! Later, of course, the tears did come,
for me at least, when you moved upstate. I’m guessing
that you had already gone beyond the veil where tears
make sense. On my last visit, your eyes, not exactly vacant,
but impenetrable wells, so purged of wanting
and of needing that they were no longer entirely human.
Was this the enlightenment that we both pursued to India
and beyond? Or maybe just pain, which also clears the deck
magnificently. Or death. That will do it too. I’d like to ask.
But it has been years since your answering machine
stopped answering. And talk was never your thing,
Will, nor mine, when I was with you. We understood
each other without it in those days before male bonding,
when no one said the word “love,” or needed to.

heat wave :: j. p. grasser

See the particles of confederation, ionic
bonds broken, static shackles cast off.
See them shimmy their shimmer-slick
two-steps, dancing on dense air

like kerosene fumes or paint thinner
alone in the bucket. The mercury clobbers
up the tube; shirtless boys in Baltimore
break open hydrants to dance in the rain.

I wade the redundant political climes
chiming from AM 1090: They’re burning
the city down
. Just ‘cause? A city block self-
immolates. Just cause. Two Januarys back

I stared into a false fire place, gas-lit,
as though it were a mirror and I had
no shame or face. That night I heard three
gunshots reverberate down the back alley

between all the brutal, brutal buildings.
I locked the door and did not call a soul.
How did I know a man, younger than me,
lay facedown, the molecules of his last

breath breaking apart as so much vapor
held aloft? This is the way it all ends:
in slow diffusion, the last ember
winked shut, the polished ringing in the ear

after the siren has passed away
into distance, the road’s far-off chevron—
tar and asphalt’s diminishing point,
as in a charcoal sketch.

elegy :: joanna klink

I saw you fall to the ground.
I saw the oaks fall. The clouds collapsed.
I saw a wildness twist through your limbs
and fly off. The river fell, the grasses fell.
The backs of six drowned cattle
rose to the surface ice—nothing moved.
But a wind touched my ankles when the snow began.
You left that night and we stayed,
our arms braced with weight. What power
there was was over. But I switched on the light
by the porch to see if anything was falling—
and it fell, a few glints in the air,
catching sun although there was no sun,
and the long descent over hours, all night,
seemed like years, and we buried our faces
in what came to rest on the ground
or moved our feet over it, effortless,
as nothing was in our lives, or ever will be.

after the fire :: ada limón

You ever think you could cry so hard
that there’d be nothing left in you, like
how the wind shakes a tree in a storm
until every part of it is run through with
wind? I live in the low parts now, most
days a little hazy with fever and waiting
for the water to stop shivering out of the
body. Funny thing about grief, its hold
is so bright and determined like a flame,
like something almost worth living for.

the world just now, emerging :: leah silvieus

after the storm and the stillness that came before,
              we make our way down to the river,

past the autumn burn pile and the first stirrings
              of the birds in the apple tree—

he untangles himself from his winter woolens
              and lopes ahead, having known too much

of paradise to resist cold’s threat,
              his back a fevered kite

tearing down the pale field:
              for each of his steps

two of my own, heavy
              through the crisp lip of snow

as if a haul from some deep well,
              and I wonder if it will always be this way,

he forging ahead as I lose sight in the gray tangle
              of creeper and paper birch—

calling his name as if he were miles
              away and not a few paces,

reckless in my panic
              as I thrash through the brush,

afraid he will not wait,
              afraid I will leave him, waiting

blue skies :: shira dentz

It’s a new sky today. I want to use this blue to make.
New, as we call the moon when it isn’t visible,
but here, black smoke instead of the moon.

I want to take the blue like it’s something.
Today the most beautiful blue ever.
The fullest range of shades I want to list them.
Blue alone a rainbow.

On the third day, gone the smoke to breathe from,
gone the black funnel to a hovering
like a swarm;
a net, perhaps, of a yellowing black that makes me think of
someone dead, so, perhaps, the flag of corpse.

Today no interference.
You can keep looking up the blue.

Only across town the still-fresh smell,
guttural blue.

etymology of hope :: d.m. aderibigbe

After Dante, after Robert Pinsky

Soon, the sun slipped into a grey quilt
above and the street began to vaporize:
skidding cars, passers-by, even the silt

beneath our bums fell asleep. We’d rise
and talk and talk and walk from road to road.
The night folding itself into our eyes.

We’d talk and walk. A church loomed: my friend, bold
like a child around a parent, led me
in. On the floor, we fed our dreams to cold

sweeping across the church. It was sunny
when we opened our eyes to a woman
in a white robe. Dangling in her left hand, key

to the car she drove us with to a can-
teen, where wraps of Eba and Ewedu soup,
seeds of joy dropping in our stomach. A can

of Coca-Cola in my left hand, I stooped
in respect with my right. My friend did
the same. The woman smiled, her head dropped,

as a mark of respect. Goodbye, we would bid.
She, agape, how hope-filled were these hopeless kids

peony :: marilyn chin

Why must I tell you this story, O little one
You’re just a bud-of-a-girl, who knows nothing

Now you are full-faced, bright as sun
Now you open your skirts pink, layered, brazen

Suffering is alchemy, change is God
Now you droop your head, heavy with rust

Sit, contemplate, what did Buddha say?
Old age, sickness, death, no one owns eternity

Detach, detach, look away from the sun
Let your petals fall aimlessly

Don’t despair, little one, we are done

invisible fish :: joy harjo

Invisible fish swim this ghost ocean now described by waves of sand, by water-worn rock. Soon the fish will learn to walk. Then humans will come ashore and paint dreams on the dying stone. Then later, much later, the ocean floor will be punctuated by Chevy trucks, carrying the dreamers’ descendants, who are going to the store.