someone leans near :: toni morrison

Someone leans near
And sees the salt your eyes have shed.

You wait, longing to hear
Words of reason, love or play
To lash or lull you toward the hollow day.

Silence kneads your fear
Of crumbled star-ash sifting down
Clouding the rooms here, here.

You shore up your heart to run. To stay.
But no sign or design marks the narrow way.

Then on your skin a breath caresses
The salt your eyes have shed.

And you remember a call clear, so clear
“You will never die again.”

Once more you know
You will never die again.

a whole foods in hawai’i :: craig santos perez

I dreamed of you tonight, Wayne Kaumualii Westlake, as I walked down on the sidewalk under plumeria trees with a vog headache looking at the Māhealani moon.

In my need fo’ grindz, and hungry fo’ modernity, I stumbled into the gentrified lights of Whole Foods, dreaming of your manifestos!
What pineapples and what papayas! Busloads of tourists shopping at night! Bulk aisle full of hippies! Millennials in the kale! Settlers in the Kona coffee! And you, Richard Hamasaki, what were you doing kissing the ripe mangos?

I saw you, Wayne Kaumualii Westlake, broomless, ghostly janitor, sampling the poke in the seafood section and eyeing the smoked fish.
I heard you ask questions of each: Who butchered the mahimahi? What price opah belly? Are you my ‘aumakua?
I wandered in and out of the canned goods aisle following you, and followed in my imagination by Sir Spamalot.
In our bourgeois fancy we strolled through the cooked foods section tasting hand-churned cheese, possessing every imported delicacy, and whispering to the cashier, “Go fuck yourself.”

Where are we going, Wayne Kaumualii Westlake? The doors of perception close in an hour. Which way does your pakalōlō point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our huaka‘i in Whole Foods and feel dādā.)
Will we sail all night through Honolulu streets? The coconut trees no have nuts, tarps up for the homeless, we’ll both be lonely.
Will we cruise witnessing the ruined empire of America, past pink mopeds in driveways, home to our overpriced apartments?
Ah, dear uncle, Buddhahead, ghostly poetry teacher, what Hawai‘i did you have when TheBus quit turning its wheels and you arrived in Waikīkī and stood watching the canoes disappear on the murky waters of the Ala Wai?

ambulance :: brittany perham

I speak as if my voice is a guidewire
sliding toward my brother’s heart,
opening each vessel’s glossy skin, lighting
the coal stove inside. Warmth might begin
rising upward, his cheeks coloring like twin flowers.
I narrate the roads we drive by memory:
The coastline north of the airport, I say,
the tunnel beneath the harbor, and the city’s summer
market, each storefront closed. If I could see
my mother, where she sits beside the driver,
I’d see how tears can look like sweat—
as though she’s been running
some long distance, her hair the wiry stems
of orchids in my father’s greenhouse.
When I was young, he lifted a caught sparrow
from the soil bed and set it in my hands.
It rolled to its side, clawless, injured
in the falling. Toss it up, my father said,
maybe it will fly. The truth is,
I bring my father to the poem only
suddenly, to amend the law of his absence,
and because my brother’s eyes are closed.

kindness :: nikita gill

And maybe this is how we learn the value of kindness.

When the whole world is like a small child with a fever,

trying her very best to make herself feel better.

Maybe we find our unity in the near-losing of everything.

Where we have no choice but to depend upon each other.

This is what it takes to realise we are in this together.

A man helps someone he dislikes because they are in danger.

A neighbour delivers groceries to everyone ill on her street.

Old friends forgive each other, stop acting like they are strangers.

Maybe this time, the revolution arrives dressed as kindness.

People helping each other despite their differences.

Understanding truly, that without the aid of others,

we would be all alone in this.

the most gentle revolution :: nikita gill

There are still versions of you that remember
a soft childhood filled with caring for everything
that the grown ups around you simply ignored.

The baby bird with a broken wing you healed,
the thirsty plants you always gave water to
the lonely and sad children you befriended.

We learn when we are young how to be kind,
we are so certain back then that we are here to help
each other through sorrow and through sadness too.

But when we grow up we forget the magic
that lies within each act of kindness, that it has
the facility to build true hope the way revolutions do.

Kindness was always your superpower.
And your gentle heart can still change the world
if only you believe you can and truly want to.

finale :: pablo neruda

translated by william o’daly

Matilde, years or days
sleeping, feverish,
here or there,
gazing off,
twisting my spine,
bleeding true blood,
perhaps I awaken
or am lost, sleeping:
hospital beds, foreign windows,
white uniforms of the silent walkers,
the clumsiness of feet.

And then, these journeys
and my sea of renewal:
your head on the pillow,
your hands floating
in the light, in my light,
over my earth.

It was beautiful to live
when you lived!

The world is bluer and of the earth
at night, when I sleep
enormous, within your small hands.

an escape :: ha jin

We sat in the neon light
on a cool evening of a summer day
drinking beer and eating salad.
You told me your story
similar to those of many others:
All your savings are gone,
the managers, the secretaries, the supervisors,
the police in charge of passports
all having received a handsome share.
Now you have nothing left there,
your color TV and refrigerator were sold
to get the cash for the plane ticket.

“But I was lucky,” you assured me.
“Many people have spent fortunes
and still cannot leave the country.”

“What are you going to do here?
Don’t think this is a place where
you can make a fortune by snapping fingers.
Starting poor, we have to labor for every dollar.
It is a place where money
can hire the devil to make bean curd
and your growth is measured by financial figures.
There is no way for us to get beyond
a social security number.”

“Anything, I would do anything,
as long as I can make a living.
At least, I am free here and don’t
hate others. Do you know what I wanted
when I was back there?
I always imagined how to get a gun
so I could shoot all the bastards.
That country is not a place to live—
I would rather die than go back.”

We stopped to watch seagulls.
An airplane was writing the word
FUN in the distant sky.
I wish I had left the same way,
but I brought with me all my belongings,
even my army mug and a bunch of old letters.

on the term of exile :: bertolt brecht

translated from the german by adam kirsch

No need to drive a nail into the wall
To hang your hat on;
When you come in, just drop it on the chair
No guest has sat on.

Don’t worry about watering the flowers—
In fact, don’t plant them.
You will have gone back home before they bloom,
And who will want them?

If mastering the language is too hard,
Only be patient;
The telegram imploring your return
Won’t need translation.

Remember, when the ceiling sheds itself
In flakes of plaster,
The wall that keeps you out is crumbling too,
As fast or faster.

the bugs of childhood :: danusha laméris

Don’t you remember them, the furred legs
of a caterpillar moving along your arm, each follicle
prickling beneath their touch? The crumpling
of the ladybug’s underwings as it tucked them back
beneath its glossy shell. The butterfly on your finger
unfurling its long, spiral tongue. Rows and rows of ants,
hefting their white eggs. The fly’s head
bowed, antennae bent under the careful work
of forelegs as it bathed its large composite eye.

One, no bigger than a speck, left tufts of foam
in your palm; another, a pool of green. Some
rolled themselves into a pill-shaped ball at the slightest touch,
while others, no matter how you tried, refused.
What was it about the workings of their small bodies,
the click of the mandibles or the steady pulse
of the thorax, so nipped at the center it seemed
tied with string? Almost electric,
the way they zipped through the grass,
sunlight caught in iridescence.
Remember? How the dirt glinted
and shimmered, how the blind earth
once writhed, alive in your hands.

harvest :: michael shewmaker

Ruth speaks in old age

To watch him in the fields,
his tempered violence
against the grain, the long
silent sweep of the scythe,
the gathering of sheaves,
recalls a happiness
brief as kindled chaff.

Beneath the tilting sun,
the same strict sun of childhood,
bound by the rhythm of
his labor, he ignores
the frailness of his body,
the failing light, his shadow
rising slowly to meet him.

How long will the moon stall
over the edge of the fields?
The day-moon, a lone ghost
above the grain? The stalks
stir in a subtle wind
that starts along the length
of the descending blade—

and as the barley yields
to the wide arc of his
endeavoring, it whispers
in another tongue,
and of another time,
when, like the grain, he laid
me on the threshing floor.

amusing our daughters :: carolyn kizer

after Po Chü-i,
for Robert Creeley

We don’t lack people here on the Northern coast,
But they are people one meets, not people one cares for.
So I bundle my daughters into the car
And with my brother poets, go to visit you, brother.

Here come your guests! A swarm of strangers and children;
But the strangers write verses, the children are daughters like yours.
We bed down on mattresses, cots, roll up on the floor:
Outside, burly old fruit trees in mist and rain;
In every room, bundles asleep like larvae.

We waken and count our daughters. Otherwise, nothing happens.
You feed them sweet rolls and melon, drive them all to the zoo;
Patiently, patiently, ever the father, you answer their questions.
Later, we eat again, drink, listen to poems.
Nothing occurs, though we are aware you have three daughters
Who last year had four. But even death becomes part of our ease:
Poems, parenthood, sorrow, all we have learned
From these of tenderness, holds us together
In the center of life, entertaining daughters
By firelight, with cake and songs.

You, my brother, are a good and violent drinker,
Good at reciting short-line or long-line poems.
In time we will lose all our daughters, you and I,
Be temperate, venerable, content to stay in one place,
Sending our messages over the mountains and waters.

yesterday from my fever :: galway kinnell

Yesterday from my fever,
My first illness in these
Three years, I reached out
And telephoned you; and today,
For the first time, I was able to go out
Into the streets, the satisfying light,
Where the plane-trees were green and the green-
hearted chestnut leaves hung burning their edges.
Tomorrow I will come to you
In full foreknowledge, yes,
In the deliberate innocence of one
Risen from his body’s fevers and about to be
Into the loves and seasons he foreknows
And dreads, the fevered earth, plunged gratefully
           again.

decorating a cake while listening to tennis :: peg duthie

The commentator’s rabbiting on and on
about how it’s so easy for Roger, resentment
thick as butter still in a box. Yet word
from those who’ve done their homework
is how the man loves to train—how much
he relishes putting in the hours
just as magicians shuffle card after card,
countless to mere humans
but carefully all accounted for.
At hearing “luck” again, I stop
until my hands relax their clutch
on the cone from which a dozen more
peonies are to materialize. I make it look easy
to grow a garden on top of a sheet
of fondant, and that’s how it should appear:
as natural and as meant-to-be
as the spin of a ball from the sweetest spot
of a racquet whisked through the air like a wand.

country summer :: léonie adams

Now the rich cherry, whose sleek wood,
And top with silver petals traced
Like a strict box its gems encased,
Has spilt from out that cunning lid,
All in an innocent green round,
Those melting rubies which it hid;
With moss ripe-strawberry-encrusted,
So birds get half, and minds lapse merry
To taste that deep-red, lark’s-bite berry,
And blackcap bloom is yellow-dusted.

The wren that thieved it in the eaves
A trailer of the rose could catch
To her poor droopy sloven thatch,
And side by side with the wren’s brood—
O lovely time of beggar’s luck—
Opens the quaint and hairy bud;
And full and golden is the yield
Of cows that never have to house,
But all night nibble under boughs,
Or cool their sides in the moist field.

Into the rooms flow meadow airs,
The warm farm baking smell’s blown round.
Inside and out, and sky and ground
Are much the same; the wishing star,
Hesperus, kind and early born,
Is risen only finger-far;
All stars stand close in summer air,
And tremble, and look mild as amber;
When wicks are lighted in the chamber,
They are like stars which settled there.

Now straightening from the flowery hay,
Down the still light the mowers look,
Or turn, because their dreaming shook,
And they waked half to other days,
When left alone in the yellow stubble
The rusty-coated mare would graze.
Yet thick the lazy dreams are born,
Another thought can come to mind,
But like the shivering of the wind,
Morning and evening in the corn.

it comes unadorned :: toni morrison

It comes
Unadorned
Like a phrase
Strong enough to cast a spell;
It comes
Unbidden,
Like the turn of sun through hills
Or stars in wheels of song.
The jeweled feet of women dance the earth.
Arousing it to spring.
Shoulders broad as a road bend to share the weight of years.
Profiles breach the distance and lean
Toward an ordinary kiss.
Bliss.
It comes naked into the world like a charm.

the MRI :: judith skillman

You take off your jewels and your watch,
lie down head first, prepare to enter the cavern.
A nurse, kind and young, arranges you
with a pillow and warm blanket.
She asks are you comfortable?

If only she understood how fretful you’ve been,
claustrophobia growing its cluster of symptoms
each day before this day—and now—
distress, sweat, vertigo. She places
an emergency beeper in your hand.

You can emerge at will from this procedure,
though that will increase the length of time it takes.
You hear the technician’s voice in earphones.
Don’t move. This will be a four-minute cycle.
She sings the instruction manual.

Perhaps you feel like an astronaut
traveling through space,
each radio frequency pulsing a different oscillation.
Some long and deep, others like the backward beeping trucks
in your neighborhood.

You decide to tour the solar system.
After leaving earth, you see the red planet’s dust storms,
pass through the asteroid belt and head to Jupiter.
From there you’re on your way
to the rings of Saturn.

Next Neptune, and, after Pluto and its cousins,
you decide to skip back toward the sun.
By the time you get to Venus
it’s your disks they’ve mapped
with detailed pictures of annular tears.

this morning i pray for my enemies :: joy harjo

And whom do I call my enemy?
An enemy must be worthy of engagement.
I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.
It’s the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.
The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.
It sees and knows everything.
It hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.
The door to the mind should only open from the heart.
An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.

green-thumb boy :: marilyn nelson

Dr. L. H. Pammel

Hybridization, cross-breeding, evolution:
He takes to new theories
like a puppy takes to ice cream.
We whisper that our Green-Thumb Boy
is the black Mendel, that Darwin
would have made good use of Carver’s eyes.
So clear his gift for observation:
the best collector I’ve ever known.
I think we have an entirely new species
of Pseudocercospora.
And always in his threadbare lapel
a flower. Even in January.
I’ve never asked how.

We had doubts
about giving him a class to teach,
but he’s done a bang-up job
with the greenhouse. His students
see the light of genius
through the dusky window of his skin.
Just yesterday, that new boy,
what’s-his-name, from Arkansas,
tried to raise a ruckus when Carver
put his dinner tray down.
He cleared his throat, stared, rattled
his own tray, scraped his chair legs
in a rush to move away. Carver
ate on in silence. Then the boys
at the table the new boy had moved to
cleared their throats, rattled their trays
and scraped their chair legs as they got up
and moved to Carver’s table.

Something about the
man does that, raises the best
in you. I’ve never asked what.
I guess I’ll put his name next to mine
on that article I’m sending out.

how i discovered poetry :: marilyn nelson

It was like soul-kissing, the way the words
filled my mouth as Mrs. Purdy read from her desk.
All the other kids zoned an hour ahead to 3:15,
but Mrs. Purdy and I wandered lonely as clouds borne
by a breeze off Mount Parnassus. She must have seen
the darkest eyes in the room brim: The next day
she gave me a poem she’d chosen especially for me
to read to the all except for me white class.
She smiled when she told me to read it, smiled harder,
said oh yes I could. She smiled harder and harder
until I stood and opened my mouth to banjo playing
darkies, pickaninnies, disses and dats. When I finished
my classmates stared at the floor. We walked silent
to the buses, awed by the power of words.

may :: jonathan galassi

The backyard apple tree gets sad so soon,
takes on a used-up, feather-duster look
within a week.

The ivy’s spring reconnaissance campaign
sends red feelers out and up and down
to find the sun.

Ivy from last summer clogs the pool,
brewing a loamy, wormy, tea-leaf mulch
soft to the touch

and rank with interface of rut and rot.
The month after the month they say is cruel
is and is not.

ramadan :: khaled mattawa

My mother forgets to feed her animals
because it’s only fair.
She rushes to them when
she hears hoarse roosters crowing
and billy goats butting
over a last straw.

This month the moon becomes a princess.
The stars fan her,
Jupiter pours cups of wine,
Mars sings melancholy mawals.
Bearded men holding prayer beads
and yellow booklets stare at her
and point aching fingers at her waist.

In our house we break a fast
with dates from Huun
and glasses of buttermilk.
Then on to bowls of lamb soup
flavored with mint, trays
of stuffed grape leaves,
spiced fava beans drenched
in olive oil and lemon juice.
And that is only the beginning.

The spirits of Johnny Walker and gin
hide in the trunks of white Peugeots.
In the nightclubs of my city, waiters
serve only non-alcoholic beer
and belly dancers cover themselves.

Father of sixteen children, our neighbor
visits bringing two kilos of baklava.
He washes them down with a dozen
demitasses of sweet sage tea.
Before dawn he runs to one
of his two wives, both named Salma,
and loves her hurriedly,
his hands barely touching a breast.

Notes: A Mawal is an unaccompanied improvisarional vocal solo regularly performed by singers of traditional Arabic music to show their poetic as well as singing prowess.

lessons :: jacqueline woodson

My mother says:

When Mama tried to teach me

to make collards and potato salad
I didn’t want to learn.

She opens the box of pancake mix, adds milk
and eggs, stirs. I watch
grateful for the food we have now—syrup waiting
in the cabinet, bananas to slice on top.
It’s Saturday morning.
Five days a week, she leaves us
to work at an office back in Brownsville.
Saturday we have her to ourselves, all day long.

Me and Kay didn’t want to be inside cooking.

She stirs the lumps from the batter, pours it
into the buttered, hissing pan.

Wanted to be with our friends
running wild through Greenville.
There was a man with a peach tree down the road.
One day Robert climbed over that fence, filled a bucket
with peaches. Wouldn’t share them with any of us but
told us where the peach three was. And that’s where we
wanted to be
sneaking peaches from that man’s tree, throwing
the rotten ones
at your uncles!

Mama wanted us to learn to cook.

Ask the boys, we said. And Mama knew that wasn’t fair
girls inside and the boys going off to steal peaches!
So she let all of us
stay outside until suppertime.

And by then, she says, putting our breakfast on the table,

it was too late.

midflight :: james k. zimmerman

that old man
because he can’t
get his bag down
from the overhead bin

because he can’t
unzip it with bulging
knuckles and neuropathic
fingers

because he can’t
find the whatever
he was looking for
in it with eyes
that don’t see as well
as they should
and thoughts that don’t
come so easy anymore

who has too many
chins and bags
under his eyes
and knees and elbows
that don’t cooperate
like good children
or well-trained cockapoos

who is chewing chips
with an open mouth
and salted tongue

who is blocking
the aisle so I can’t
get by to get
my bag down
from the overhead bin

that old man
may be several years
younger than I am
and not even realize it
until he gets off the plane

and we go home

why is it :: john foy

Why is it I keep these things,
this calendar, a pocket kind,
the pages filled with random jottings
that might have mattered at the time,
scribbled in and barely legible
but clear enough to understand
on the fly back then, now valuable
only to show again the plans
that used to have significance,
or the name of a girl in Carson City
who never called me back, or a list
from five years ago today,
a week before my mother died,
of some vegetables I had to buy.

gumball machines :: susanna lang

They have not changed since I was a child, simple machines
near the doors of groceries and check-cashing stores,
wherever children wait without attempting to understand
their parents’ transactions, only coveting a few quarters
to fit into the slot, release the lever, rattle the gumball
into the chute. Was it a nickel when I was the child?
Sometimes the machine offered a bouncy ball that never went
where it should but made me chase from corner to corner, or the eternal
surprise of a plastic bubble that I pried open in the privacy
of the back seat, to find who-knows-what, a dog, a doll,
a spindly-legged monster. Today the gumball machines wait
in line with us at the check-cashing store where we will witness
our friend’s will, this sunny afternoon before his surgery—
just in case, he assures us, his prognosis good but he is a careful man.
He walks us back to our car, none of us asking, Do you remember…?
or speculating about what might be coming down the chute.

fund drive :: terri kirby erickson

She could be a Norman Rockwell painting,
the small girl on my front porch with her eager
face, her wind-burned cheeks red as cherries.
Her father waits by the curb, ready to rescue
his child should danger threaten, his shadow
reaching halfway across the yard. I take the
booklet from the girl’s outstretched hand,
peruse the color photos of candy bars and
caramel-coated popcorn, pretend to read it.
I have no use for what she’s selling, but I
can count the freckles on her nose, the scars
like fat worms on knobby knees that ought
to be covered on a cold day like this, when
the wind is blowing and the trees are losing
their grip on the last of their leaves. I’ll take
two of these and one of those
, I say, pointing,
thinking I won’t eat them, but I probably will.
It’s worth the coming calories to see her joy,
how hard she works to spell my name right,
taking down my information. Then she turns
and gives a thumbs-up sign to her father, who
grins like an outfielder to whom the ball has
finally come—his heart like a glove, opening.

the small vases from hebron :: naomi shihab nye

Tip their mouths open to the sky.
Turquoise, amber,
the deep green with fluted handle,
pitcher the size of two thumbs,
tiny lip and graceful waist.

Here we place the smallest flower
which could have lived invisibly
in loose soil beside the road,
sprig of succulent rosemary,
bowing mint.

They grow deeper in the center of the table.

Here we entrust the small life,
thread, fragment, breath.
And it bends. It waits all day.
As the bread cools and the children
open their gray copybooks
to shape the letter that looks like
a chimney rising out of a house.

And what do the headlines say?

Nothing of the smaller petal
perfectly arranged inside the larger petal
or the way tinted glass filters light.
Men and boys, praying when they died,
fall out of their skins.
The whole alphabet of living,
heads and tails of words,
sentences, the way they said,
“Ya’Allah!” when astonished,
or “ya’ani” for “I mean”—
a crushed glass under the feet
still shines.
But the child of Hebron sleeps
with the thud of her brothers falling
and the long sorrow of the color red.

december 1 :: czeslaw milosz

The vineyard country, russet, reddish, carmine-brown in this season.
A blue outline of hills above a fertile valley.
It’s warm as long as the sun does not set, in the shade cold returns.
A strong sauna and then swimming in a pool surrounded by trees.
Dark redwoods, transparent pale-leaved birches.
In their delicate network, a sliver of the moon.
I describe this for I have learned to doubt philosophy
And the visible world is all that remains.