evening :: dorianne laux

Moonlight pours down
without mercy, no matter
how many have perished
beneath the trees.

The river rolls on.

There will always be
silence, no matter
how long someone
has wept against
the side of a house,
bare forearms pressed
to the shingles.

Everything ends.
Even pain, even sorrow.

The swans drift on.

Reeds bear the weight
of their feathery heads.
Pebbles grow smaller,
smoother beneath night’s
rough currents. We walk

long distances, carting
our bags, our packages.
Burdens or gifts.

We know the land
is disappearing beneath
the sea, islands swallowed
like prehistoric fish.

We know we are doomed,
done for, damned, and still
the light reaches us, falls
on our shoulders even now,

even here where the moon is
hidden from us, even though
the stars are so far away.

from Only as the Day Is Long (2019), via poets.org

what i didn’t know before :: ada limón

was how horses simply give birth to other
horses. Not a baby by any means, not
a creature of liminal spaces, but already
a four-legged beast hellbent on walking,
scrambling after the mother. A horse gives way
to another horse and then suddenly there are
two horses, just like that. That’s how I loved you.
You, off the long train from Red Bank carrying
a coffee as big as your arm, a bag with two
computers swinging in it unwieldily at your
side. I remember we broke into laughter
when we saw each other. What was between
us wasn’t a fragile thing to be coddled, cooed
over. It came out fully formed, ready to run.

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)

after his ex died :: ada limón

We were quick to tell each other what we wanted. I said, I want to be cremated and then I want my ashes to be tossed in the Pacific and the Atlantic. He said I was greedy for wanting both coasts, but he’d do it. I made it specific: Herring Cove in Cape Cod and Salmon Creek on the Sonoma Coast (but also, I was thinking of the Calabazas Creek in Glen Ellen). He said any horse farm will do for him, and then he corrected himself to just any pretty pasture. He said we don’t believe in the afterlife. I stopped him and said, I don’t believe in God, but I do have some very interesting thoughts concerning ghosts. What he was trying to say, if I’d stop talking about ghosts for once, is that it’s important to have a spot to visit: a tree, a rock, any place where you can think of that person. We’ve got her two old cats downstairs now, hiding behind the water heater, the stairs, hissing and purring both. Last night, I dreamt that she didn’t like me, wouldn’t let me in a car that everyone else was getting into. Or rather she took the last seat in the car and everyone drove off without me. But this morning, I kissed the man she used to love and one of her cats crawled in my lap.
 
 
Virginia Quarterly Review, Fall 2017

telemachus :: ocean vuong

Like any good son, I pull my father out
of the water, drag him by his hair

through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail
the waves rush in to erase. Because the city

beyond the shore is no longer
where we left it. Because the bombed

cathedral is now a cathedral
of trees. I kneel beside him to see how far

I might sink. Do you know who I am,
Ba?
But the answer never comes. The answer

is the bullet hole in his back, brimming
with seawater. He is so still I think

he could be anyone’s father, found
the way a green bottle might appear

at a boy’s feet containing a year
he has never touched. I touch

his ears. No use. I turn him
over. To face it. The cathedral

in his sea-black eyes. The face
not mine—but one I will wear

to kiss all my lovers good-night:
the way I seal my father’s lips

with my own & begin
the faithful work of drowning.
 
 
Night Sky with Exit Wounds (2016)

the chance :: ron carlson

All right, we agree, a snowball gets to hell.

We don’t know how, we just know it is there,
in hell. Maybe some sinner died skiing
with a snowball in his pocket and there it is,
assuming that your clothes go to hell with you
which is a huge discussion in itself. Some bad
guy’s bad heart quits while he’s at the symphony
and he gets to show up in hell in a tux,
while the rest of us appear in cut off levis
and the upper half of a football jersey.

Regardless though, the snowball is in hell.
What could happen to it? A tender globe
of snow? There we are blinking in the inferno,
suddenly burning the way we knew we would,
none of us is surprised by this hot place,
the fire everywhere as promised,
and the stinging smoke almost familiar.
Forged in the instant is a certainty
that we will feed these flames forever.
Now we understand the strange phenomena
the snowball.

               It still has a chance.

persimmons :: li-young lee

In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
slapped the back of my head
and made me stand in the corner
for not knowing the difference
between persimmon and precision.
How to choose

persimmons. This is precision.
Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.
Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one
will be fragrant. How to eat:
put the knife away, lay down newspaper.
Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.
Chew the skin, suck it,
and swallow. Now, eat
the meat of the fruit,
so sweet,
all of it, to the heart.

Donna undresses, her stomach is white.
In the yard, dewy and shivering
with crickets, we lie naked,
face-up, face-down.
I teach her Chinese.
Crickets: chiu chiu. Dew: I’ve forgotten.
Naked:   I’ve forgotten.
Ni, wo:   you and me.
I part her legs,
remember to tell her
she is beautiful as the moon.

Other words
that got me into trouble were
fight and fright, wren and yarn.
Fight was what I did when I was frightened,
Fright was what I felt when I was fighting.
Wrens are small, plain birds,
yarn is what one knits with.
Wrens are soft as yarn.
My mother made birds out of yarn.
I loved to watch her tie the stuff;
a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.

Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class
and cut it up
so everyone could taste
a Chinese apple. Knowing
it wasn’t ripe or sweet, I didn’t eat
but watched the other faces.

My mother said every persimmon has a sun
inside, something golden, glowing,
warm as my face.

Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,
forgotten and not yet ripe.
I took them and set both on my bedroom windowsill,
where each morning a cardinal
sang, The sun, the sun.

Finally understanding
he was going blind,
my father sat up all one night
waiting for a song, a ghost.
I gave him the persimmons,
swelled, heavy as sadness,
and sweet as love.

This year, in the muddy lighting
of my parents’ cellar, I rummage, looking
for something I lost.
My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,
black cane between his knees,
hand over hand, gripping the handle.
He’s so happy that I’ve come home.
I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.
All gone, he answers.

Under some blankets, I find a box.
Inside the box I find three scrolls.
I sit beside him and untie
three paintings by my father:
Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.
Two cats preening.
Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.

He raises both hands to touch the cloth,
asks, Which is this?

This is persimmons, Father.

Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,
the strength, the tense
precision in the wrist.
I painted them hundreds of times
eyes closed. These I painted blind.
Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of one you love,
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight.

river through :: brynn saito

Mother, if you let me, I’ll lay down with you tonight—
your own mother dead, your brother long gone, your other brother

praising your eyesight and your long-stemmed intentions
making gardens happen. In the broken and choking

California valley, reservoirs sink into themselves, ghost-waters rain
over un-blossomed orchards, stones stand watch over souls.

We bury her body. Wind aches to be sung through us, sunlight
catches the rose tips near the silver casket. You call out

the scriptures like a child again, we are children again,
we call for her spirit and she comes. We cry without crying

and she comes. We were circling the body of a living saint,
though how could we have known it? She kept watch over us

the whole of our lives like a standing river. Now Leigh’s
in the kitchen and Stella’s in the garden and Father’s

growing funeral flowers where nothing was. Mother
if you let me, I’ll lay down with you tonight. I’ll summon

my body to meet your body. We’ll water the breathable world
with the bravery of our grief. We are bodies of water. We are one

body of water. We river through.
 
 
 
(via poemeleon)

after making love :: stephen dunn

No one should ask the other
“What were you thinking?”

No one, that is,
who doesn’t want to hear about the past

and its inhabitants,
or the strange loneliness of the present

filled, even as it may be, with pleasure,
or those snapshots

of the future, different heads
on different bodies.

Some people actually desire honesty.
They must never have broken

into their own solitary houses
after having misplaced the key,

never seen with an intruder’s eyes
what is theirs.

torn :: ada limón

Witness the wet dead snake,
its long hexagonal pattern weaved
around its body like a code for creation,
curled up cold on the newly tarred road.
Let us begin with the snake: the fact
of death, the poverty of place, of skin
and surface. See how the snake is cut
in two–its body divided from its brain.
Imagine now, how it moves still, both
sides, the tail dancing, the head dancing.
Believe it is the mother and the father.
Believe it is the mouth and the words.
Believe it is the sin and the sinner–
the tempting, the taking, the apple, the fall,
every one of us guilty, the story of us all.
But then return to the snake, pitiful dead
thing, forcefully denying the split of its being,
longing for life back as a whole, wanting
you to see it for what it is: something
that loves itself so much it moves across
the boundaries of death to touch itself
once more, to praise both divided sides
equally, as if it was easy.
 
 
from Bright Dead Things (2015)

scientific romance :: tim pratt

If starship travel from our
Earth to some far
star and back again
at velocities approaching the speed
of light made you younger than me
due to the relativistic effects
of time dilation,
I’d show up on your doorstep hoping
you’d developed a thing for older men,
and I’d ask you to show me everything you
learned to pass the time
out there in the endless void
of night.

If we were the sole survivors
of a zombie apocalypse
and you were bitten and transformed
into a walking corpse
I wouldn’t even pick up my
assault shotgun,
I’d just let you take a bite
out of me, because I’d rather be
undead forever
with you
than alive alone
without you.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back
to the days of your youth
to see how you became the someone
I love so much today, and then
I’d return to the moment we first met
just so I could see my own face
when I saw your face
for the first time,
and okay,
I’d probably travel to the time
when we were a young couple
and try to get a three-way
going. I never understood
why more time travelers don’t do
that sort of thing.

If the alien invaders come
and hover in stern judgment
over our cities, trying to decide
whether to invite us to the Galactic
Federation of Confederated
Galaxies or if instead
a little genocide is called for,
I think our love could be a powerful
argument for the continued preservation
of humanity in general, or at least,
of you and me
in particular.

If we were captives together
in an alien zoo, I’d try to make
the best of it, cultivate a streak
of xeno-exhibitionism,
waggle my eyebrows, and make jokes
about breeding in captivity.

If I became lost in
the multiverse, exploring
infinite parallel dimensions, my
only criterion for settling
down somewhere would be
whether or not I could find you:
and once I did, I’d stay there even
if it was a world ruled by giant spider-
priests, or one where killer
robots won the Civil War, or even
a world where sandwiches
were never invented, because
you’d make it the best
of all possible worlds anyway,
and plus
we could get rich
off inventing sandwiches.

If the Singularity comes
and we upload our minds into a vast
computer simulation of near-infinite
complexity and perfect resolution,
and become capable of experiencing any
fantasy, exploring worlds bound only
by our enhanced imaginations,
I’d still spend at least 10^21 processing
cycles a month just sitting
on a virtual couch with you,
watching virtual TV,
eating virtual fajitas,
holding virtual hands,
and wishing
for the real thing.
 
 
 
(Listen.)

blk girl art :: jamila woods

after Amiri Baraka

Poems are bullshit unless they are eyeglasses, honey
tea with lemon, hot water bottles on tummies. I want
poems my grandma wants to tell the ladies at church
about. I want orange potato words soaking in the pot
til their skins fall off, words you burn your tongue on,
words on sale two for one, words that keep my feet dry.
I want to hold a poem in my fist in the alley just in case.
I want a poem for dude at the bus stop. Oh you can’t talk
ma?
Words to make the body inside my body less invisible.
Words to teach my sister how to brew remedies in her mouth.
Words that grow mama’s hair back. Words to detangle the kitchen.
I won’t write poems unless they are an instruction manual, a bus
card, warm shea butter on elbows, water, a finger massage to the scalp,
a broomstick sometimes used for cleaning and sometimes
                                                                to soar.

good bones :: maggie smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

poem for the young white man who asked me how i, an intelligent, well-read person, could believe in the war between races :: lorna dee cervantes

In my land there are no distinctions.
The barbed wire politics of oppression
have been torn down long ago. The only reminder
of past battles, lost or won, is a slight
rutting in the fertile fields.

In my land
people write poems about love,
full of nothing but contented childlike syllables.
Everyone reads Russian short stories and weeps.
There are no boundaries.
There is no hunger, no
complicated famine or greed.

I am not a revolutionary.
I don’t even like political poems.
Do you think I can believe in a war between races?
I can deny it. I can forget about it
when I’m safe,
living on my own continent of harmony
and home, but I am not
there.

I believe in revolution
because everywhere the crosses are burning,
sharp-shooting goose-steppers round every corner,
there are snipers in the schools…
(I know you don’t believe this.
You think this is nothing
but faddish exaggeration. But they
are not shooting at you.)

I’m marked by the color of my skin.
The bullets are discrete and designed to kill slowly.
They are aiming at my children.
These are facts.
Let me show you my wounds: my stumbling mind, my
“excuse me” tongue, and this
nagging preoccupation
with the feeling of not being good enough.

These bullets bury deeper than logic.
Racism is not intellectual.
I can not reason these scars away.

Outside my door
there is a real enemy
who hates me.

I am a poet
who yearns to dance on rooftops,
to whisper delicate lines about joy
and the blessings of human understanding.
I try. I go to my land, my tower of words and
bolt the door, but the typewriter doesn’t fade out
the sounds of blasting and muffled outrage.
My own days bring me slaps on the face.
Every day I am deluged with reminders
that this is not
my land

and this is my land.

I do not believe in the war between races

but in this country
there is war.
 
 
 
(Reflections from the poet)

across a great wilderness without you :: keetje kuipers

The deer come out in the evening.
God bless them for not judging me,
I’m drunk. I stand on the porch in my bathrobe
and make strange noises at them—
                                          language,
if language can be a kind of crying.
The tin cans scattered in the meadow glow,
each bullet hole suffused with moon,
like the platinum thread beyond them
where the river runs the length of the valley.
That’s where the fish are.
                            Tomorrow
I’ll scoop them from the pockets of graveled
stone beneath the bank, their bodies
desperately alive when I hold them in my hands,
the way prayers become more hopeless
when uttered aloud.
                    The phone’s disconnected.
Just as well, I’ve got nothing to tell you:
I won’t go inside where the bats dip and swarm
over my bed. It’s the sound of them
shouldering against each other that terrifies me,
as if it might hurt to brush across another being’s
living flesh.
            But I carry a gun now. I’ve cut down
a tree. You wouldn’t recognize me in town—
my hands lost in my pockets, two disabused tools
I’ve retired from their life of touching you.
 
 
 
Beautiful in the Mouth, 2010

the untrustworthy speaker :: louise glück

Don’t listen to me; my heart’s been broken.
I don’t see anything objectively.

I know myself; I’ve learned to hear like a psychiatrist.
When I speak passionately,
that’s when I’m least to be trusted.

It’s very sad, really: all my life, I’ve been praised
for my intelligence, my powers of language, of insight.
In the end, they’re wasted—

I never see myself,
standing on the front steps, holding my sister’s hand.
That’s why I can’t account
for the bruises on her arm, where the sleeve ends.

In my own mind, I’m invisible: that’s why I’m dangerous.
People like me, who seem selfless,
we’re the cripples, the liars;
we’re the ones who should be factored out
in the interest of truth.

When I’m quiet, that’s when the truth emerges.
A clear sky, the clouds like white fibers.
Underneath, a little gray house, the azaleas
red and bright pink.

If you want the truth, you have to close yourself
to the older daughter, block her out:
when a living thing is hurt like that,
in its deepest workings,
all function is altered.

That’s why I’m not to be trusted.
Because a wound to the heart
is also a wound to the mind.

flowers, always :: cate marvin

Inexplicable, the sign outside a deli scrawled
with FLOWERS
                            and below that: ALWAYS.
But there were no flowers. And I have never
seen an Always. I would like to,
                                      and I have looked.
I have kept my eye keen
                                for Always, have liked
its idea like an expensive purse, coveting it as
it appears,
          riding the arms of rich ladies who are
so very lady.                  I’ve rolled on velvet
          cushions where I heard Always slept,
and I once tried to kiss Always,
              but I don’t think it was the Always
I was looking for.
I like your Always, it looks
such a demanding pet. It looks like it kisses
nice and soft.
                    It looks like the bruise I found
flowering on my knee.
                            I fell down at your voice.
Not to worry, I got right back up, walked ten
more blocks
                and by then I was halfway home.
I knock my knees blue
                                and scabbed crawling
toward you, wanting flowers,
                        and always, always, always
to slide against the cold vinyl of a car’s seat,
your pale hands
                      on the bare backs of my legs,
that’s one Always I want, and whoever knew
there were so many species
                        of Always? Your bare hands
on the pale backs
                        of my thighs, printing bruise,
and if you said Flowers, said Always and we
could erect a forever
                              of something like sheets
                      and breakfast and an ordinary
day, my eyes would
            always slide across the table toward
you,
        to warm their twin marbles in your palm,
my face would flower
                      for you daily, so that when we
die, roses might petal
                          themselves out our throats.
 
 
 
Fragment of the Head of a Queen (2007), via AP
(Listen.)

uninhabitable :: sierra demulder

My father still lives in the house he built
for my mother. He calls himself a bachelor,

not a hoarder, but you can measure how long
she’s been gone by the piles of expired

mail, the dishes, the sun-stained photos
framed in dust—tree rings of his solitude.

When he speaks of his recovery, he lowers
his voice, even though we are on the phone.

He tells me he isn’t ashamed of what he did
or where he has been or what he put my mother

through, but I think he means that he does
not allow himself the luxury of forgetting.

                            :::

I am writing about you again today and
I wonder, why dig up our sad corpse?

Why put the spleen back, a spoiled balloon,
already burst, but here I am huffing life back

into it. Nursing our fruitless love. Sometimes,
I still can’t believe it. That you happened

and I happened and this was the best we could
do. Our nest of rubbish, our flowerless

garden—we slept here. Made love among
the bottle caps and ants and mold.

                            :::

My father told me he still imagines
getting back together with my mother,

maybe someday, after her new husband dies.
I think he means he started to build a house

and left it unfinished. What is it about
this family that draws us back to

the uninhabitable? That compels us
to make a bed where there isn’t one?
 
 
 
We Slept Here (2015)
(Listen.)

truant :: margaret hasse

Our high school principal wagged his finger
over two manila folders
lying on his desk, labeled with our names—
my boyfriend and me—
called to his office for skipping school.

The day before, we ditched Latin and world history
to chase shadows of clouds on a motorcycle.
We roared down rolling asphalt roads
through the Missouri River bottoms
beyond town, our heads emptied
of review tests and future plans.

We stopped on a dirt lane to hear
a meadowlark’s liquid song, smell
heart-break blossom of wild plum.
Beyond leaning fence posts and barbwire,
a tractor drew straight lines across the field
unfurling its cape of blackbirds.

Now forty years after that geography lesson
in spring, I remember the principal’s words.
How right he was in saying:
This will be part of
your permanent record.

 
 
 
Earth’s Appetite (2013)

father and daughter :: amanda strand

The wedding ring I took off myself,
his wife wasn’t up to it.
I brought the nurse into the room
in case he jumped or anything.
“Can we turn his head?
He looks so uncomfortable.”
She looked straight at me,
patiently waiting for it to sink in.

The snow fell.
His truck in the barn,
his boots by the door,
flagpoles empty.
It took a long time for the taxi to come.
“Where to?” he said.
“My father just died,” I said.
As if it were a destination.
 
 
 
Via American Life In Poetry

a small story about the sky :: alberto ríos

The fire was so fierce,
So red, so gray, so yellow
That, along with the land,
It burned part of the sky
Which stayed black in that corner
For years,
As if it were night there
Even in the daytime,
A piece of the sky burnt
And which then
Could not be counted on
Even by the birds.

It was a regular fire—
Terrible—we forget this
About fire—terrible
And full of pride.
It intended to be
Big, no regular fire.
Like so many of us,
It intended to be more
And this time was.
It was not better or worse
Than any other fire
Growing up.
But this time, it was a fire
At just the right time
And in just the right place—
If you think like a fire—
A place it could do something big.

Its flames reached out
With ten thousand pincers,
As if the fire
Were made of beetles and scorpions
Clawing themselves to get up,
Pinching the air itself
And climbing,
So many sharp animals
On each other’s backs
Then into the air itself,
Ten thousand snaps and pinches
At least,
So that if the sky
Was made of something,
It could not get away this time.

Finally the fire
Caught the sky,
Which acted like a slow rabbit
Which had made a miscalculation.
It didn’t believe this could happen
And so it ran left,
Right into the thin toothpicks of flames,
Too fast to pull back,
The sky with all its arms,
Hands, fingers, fingernails,
All of it
Disappeared.
Goodbye.

The sky stayed black
For several years after.
I wanted to tell you
This small story
About the sky.
It’s a good one
And explains why the sky
Comes so slowly in the morning,
Still unsure of what’s here.
But the story is not mine.
It was written by fire,
That same small fire
That wanted to come home
With something of its own
To tell,
And it did,
A small piece of blue in its mouth.
 
 
 
Poetry (February 2011)

diving into the wreck :: adrienne rich

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

(Listen)

the forgotten dialect of the heart :: jack gilbert

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
Get it wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not a language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses and birds.

mysticism in the dark :: mira rosenthal

As children we were warned not to whistle at night for fear of evil spirits.
Dangerous animals became even more
sinister and uncanny in the dark.
A snake was never called by its name at night because it would hear.
It was called a string.
A beetle the size of a child’s fist was never pointed out to have pinchers.
It was called a button.
A spider in the web of its life didn’t have poison secreted away
nor the sticky means with which to entrap.
It was purely called an apple hanging on a branch.
A black bat wasn’t fast enough to swoop into anyone’s hair, get tangled there.
It was called a paper snowflake.
It was called a falling leaf.
A lizard bent around a branch
was a headband you wear to keep hair out of your face.
A cricket was simply a clothespin.

The bigger animals were nothing more than clothing tossed out.
A bear was a worn-through winter jacket.
A fox, a scarf rubbed down to beaded threads.
And that praying mantis stuck up against the wall,
only a necklace to adorn your thin collarbones.
A scorpion is merely the bent latch from a window.
A silverfish is just a drop of coffee.
Two cockroaches paused on cement,
plainly a pair of sunglasses dropped and forgotten in the hustle of the day.
A line of ants, straight stitches on the hem of the tablecloth
at which you’ll sit in the morning.

And what is that roll of toilet paper doing
hooting from the ridge of the roof?
And why is the lamp shade creeping stealthily through the courtyard
and hopping up on the rim of the open garbage can?
And how is that small water bottle inching slowly forward,
leaving its saliva, a trail of where it has been
pointing to where it is going?
And who scattered those twenty plump babies’ shoes under the bush
and what makes them chirp and dance around
like popcorn in the fryer?
They seem to be looking for something so small
they can’t find it, pecking as they are with their blunt toes.
A house is not a house and you are not inside the house.
You are not a body lying in bed
but a bench for something higher to sit down on.
If only you could move your wooden legs and stand up,
everything would be revealed in an instant.

land in sight :: anne michaels

All day the sky
whispered into the sea and the sails
would not fill. On the pier,
dogs drank the air dry
with searching tongues.
We were seared wherever clothes
revealed us. Down the boulevard,
shutters clapped loud against the sun.
Children slipped messages through the slats,
flecks of paper drifted into the street.

All through the city love looked for us, through
the crooked Altestrasse, under Lenin’s balcony,
past the terrace where Goethe drank his coffee.
Into cafés where coolness turns its key
in a shadow. All day love followed us
as we climbed, from fountain to bridge.
A gull hovered as if
broken. All day love drew its finger
across my belly, ascended my damp spine.
I kept turning my face
from its breath.

The city woke. Dogs unfolded their legs
and stood. One by one, shutters parted,
glimpses of voices
pressed the air.

The same loneliness that closes us
opens us again.

Like hair loosened by the sea,
slowly the darkness opens into darkness.

spring, san francisco :: brynn saito

        for Gabriel

You live in a house of sound and you live
with a ghost. The one who stole your heart
also lives in your heart so you cut it out
with a carving knife and send it flying.
You say sometimes you wake and wait
for the god of loneliness to leave you alone.
I say our city is small and teeming
with ghosts and there are no seasons
for hiding. So we let go of the ones
who called us by our names. We make
ourselves new names by tracing letters
in a sand tray with sharp stones.
This is called Patience or Practicing
Solitude or The Wind Will Ruin Everything
but what does it matter let’s go for beauty
every time. You say the price we pay for love
is loss. I say the price we pay for love
is love. Sometimes you’ve nothing
save your hand in the glove and the glove
against wind and you’re jabbing at the sky now
in the match of your life but the sky
never fights back so you praise it.

disciple :: mindy nettifee

The best advice I ever got about how to heal
came from a beleaguered camp counselor
who found herself suddenly surrounded
by a flock of heaving sobbing twelve year old girls.
It had been billed as a session on conflict resolution,
an alternative to wood cookie crafts, or horseshoes,
and maybe she should have seen it coming,
how water seeks the cracks in any dam.

One girl had been brutally sexually assaulted
by the preschool director, and had not slept
through the night alone since.
One had been molested by her foster brother,
who sliced his arms with scissors in the bedroom dark.
One had been strangled by her own mother,
who later found God and apologized,
and then punished her for not offering up

the fish and loaves of forgiveness instantly,
the forgiveness which her mother had been promised
by some pastor that she deserved now, and would receive
through the mysterious machines of grace;
the kind that multiplied and magnified and
fed the endless hunger at the center of things.
There were other stories.
Abuse is a word that sounds powerful in your head

and goes limp the moment you speak it,
hanging like a soaked wet curtain
around the things we can not bear to know.
I don’t remember the counselor’s name, or
what she looked like, just that she was an enormous
buoy of a woman. That her voice was deep
and calm and quavered at all the right turns.
That she sat in a way that trained gravity.

How unprepared she must have felt,
to see the sharks swimming in our eyes,
to have been handed the heavy anchors
of our trust. What well of strength did she draw from?
What inheritance of bedrock and granite and spine?
What gospel stolen from the bent melted steel of kitchen knives?
She absorbed every blow of every word.
When we had finished, when we were softened

by confession, she took a breath and began.
Without getting into the kind of details that get attention,
she told us the story of her own early ruin,
of the lifetimes of gentle obligation it left in its wake.
The heart and the mind and the body
might never align on the requirements of joy.
The mind must be taught patience with the heart.
The heart must learn faith from the body.

The body must be tended lovingly and unwaveringly, an infant.
The heart will take its own sweet time, and can not be rushed.
“Just fake it ’till you feel it,” she told us,
and like that, gave us permission
to put on the tight masks of adulthood,
to build walls around what was
too tender and shocked;
to survive.

aubade :: sandra lim

From the last stars to sunrise the world is dark and enduring
and emptiness has its place.

Then, to wake each day to the world’s unwavering
limits, you have to think about passion differently, again.

Don’t we forgive everything of a lover
if we are the motive,
if love promises to take us to many places, to even larger themes?

Faithlessness is a heart glancing down
a plumed avenue
in which one is serenaded by myriad, scattering birds.

Thunder in the air begins opening appetites;
everyone is being true to themselves, they think—

And then it is having your right arm sheared off,
and the whole world gets to touch you, chime your losses.

I turn to my imagination, but its eyes are still
green, as if from
too much looking on at equatorial gardens.

Still, if I were you I would linger here,
deepen in the rottenness,
learn something about the world, about the desire for safety.

Then, I’d make an instrument from the ruins,
something awfully beautiful.

I would sit down to eat as if I were reading a poem.
I would observe how the night went into the day with a special grandeur.

It could be like swallowing a sword and growing surprised
by how good it is, how it opens.

And then maybe to sing out with a throat like that—
saying look, look how the world has touched me.