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.

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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.