stravinsky in l.a. :: elizabeth alexander

In white pleated trousers, peering through green
sunshades, looking for the way the sun is red
noise, how locusts hiss to replicate the sun.
What is the visual equivalent
of syncopation? Rows of seared palms wrinkle
in the heat waves through green glass. Sprinklers
tick, tick, tick. The Watts Towers aim to split
the sky into chroma, spires tiled with rubble
nothing less than aspiration. I’ve left
minarets for sun and syncopation,
sixty-seven shades of green which I have
counted, beginning: palm leaves, front and back,
luncheon pickle, bottle glass, etcetera.
One day I will comprehend the different
grades of red. On that day I will comprehend
these people, rhythms, jazz, Simon Rodia,
Watts, Los Angeles, aspiration.

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next :: jeffrey harrison

It wasn’t until we got the Christmas tree
into the house and up on the stand
that our daughter discovered a small bird’s nest
tucked among its needled branches.

Amazing, that the nest had made it
all the way from Nova Scotia on a truck
mashed together with hundreds of other trees
without being dislodged or crushed.

And now it made the tree feel wilder,
a balsam fir growing in our living room,
as though at any moment a bird might flutter
through the house and return to the nest.

And yet, because we’d brought the tree indoors,
we’d turned the nest into the first ornament.
So we wound the tree with strings of lights,
draped it with strands of red beads,

and added the other ornaments, then dropped
two small brass bells into the nest, like eggs
containing music, and hung a painted goldfinch
from the branch above, as if to keep them warm.

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.

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.

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.