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.

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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.