to be of use :: marge piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

elegy :: aracelis girmay

      What to do with this knowledge that our living is not guaranteed?


Perhaps one day you touch the young branch
of something beautiful. & it grows & grows
despite your birthdays & the death certificate,
& it one day shades the heads of something beautiful
or makes itself useful to the nest. Walk out
of your house, then, believing in this.
Nothing else matters.

All above us is the touching
of strangers & parrots,
some of them human,
some of them not human.

Listen to me. I am telling you
a true thing. This is the only kingdom.
The kingdom of touching;
the touches of the disappearing, things.

I am the whole defense :: mai der vang

Mid-1700s, Southwestern China

Lightning is the creature who carries a knife.

Two months now,
The rains hold watch.

Statues bury in teak
Smeared with old egret’s blood.

I feel the pulse of this inferno,
Tested by the hour to know

That even torches must not waver.

In the garrison, I teach boulders
To trickle from the cliff.

My fallen grow parchment from their hair,

Calligraphy descends
From their lips.

Infantry attack
But my musket knows.

They scale the sides
Yet I tear the rocks.

I am not wife, but my name is Widow.

Let them arrive 
To my ready door,
The earth I’ve already dug.

april, after six months in the hospital :: judith harris

In the bedroom,
I notice you’ve stacked
my things into piles,
clusters of everyday items:

my grandmother’s costume beads,
spare reading glasses,
prescription bottles

that have long expired.

It is getting dark.
Through the window,
the moon shades in its marble.

And another woman
appears in my mirror,
this one too heavy,
the other, too old, to be me.

Now, I run my fingers
over a layer of dust on the tabletop
where, in my absence,

you’ve gathered my poems,
early drafts without
beginnings or endings,

while in the backyard,
the cherry blossoms bloom,
and black-capped chickadees
sate at the feeder,

the garden still waiting
for whatever might come.

fruit études :: marilyn chin


Melon is hard on the outside
Tender on the inside
She has a magnificent personality
So they bred her with an invasive species
Now, she is seedless and childless
Has become uncouth and jokey
She will die on the vine


Her grandmother says Cherry is sweet and kind
If you ruin her, I’ll come to your house
Drag you out by your ear
Take a hard branch
Off your crooked ancestry tree and beat you blind

And when I’m dead, I’ll haunt you
Curse you
Throw magic spells
Turn you into a hapless
Gonadless monkey
Just for thrills


They chopped off your head during the revolution
Although you have a French passport
I can tell you are a faker from your bad accent
How dare you think that you could float to the top
In the soup of history


I shaved off all my fuzz
Even around my navel
Because you are a sick fool
And like shaved girls

You take a first bite
Expecting to get juicy, but instead
You get a mouthful of needles
from a shaman in Tahiti


I’m a cherimoya migrant
Not a crazy rich Asian
Don’t put us all into the same bowl
In a tropical Jamba Juice swirl

I have this way of being :: jamaal may

I have this, and this isn’t a mouth
           full of the names of odd flowers

I’ve grown in secret.
           I know none of these by name

but have this garden now,
           and pastel somethings bloom

near the others and others.
           I have this trowel, these overalls,

this ridiculous hat now.
           This isn’t a lung full of air.

Not a fist full of weeds that rise
           yellow then white then windswept.

This is little more than a way
           to kneel and fill gloves with sweat,

so that the trowel in my hand
           will have something to push against,

rather, something to push
           against that it knows will bend

and give and return as sprout
           and petal and sepal and bloom.

in praise of okra :: january gill o’neil

No one believes in you
like I do. I sit you down on the table
& they overlook you for
fried chicken & grits,
crab cakes & hush puppies,
black-eyed peas & succotash
& sweet potatoes & watermelon.

Your stringy, slippery texture
reminds them of the creature
from the movie Aliens.

But I tell my friends if they don’t like you
they are cheating themselves;
you were brought from Africa
as seeds, hidden in the ears and hair
of slaves.

Nothing was wasted in our kitchens.
We took the unused & the throwaways
& made feasts;
we taught our children
how to survive,

So I write this poem
in praise of okra
& the cooks who understood
how to make something out of nothing.
Your fibrous skin
melts in my mouth—
green flecks of flavor,
still tough, unbruised,
part of the fabric of earth.
Soul food.

seven stones :: marjorie agosín

translated by Cola Franzen

Today I picked up
seven stones
resembling birds and orphans
in the dead sand.
I looked at them
as if they were offerings
of uncommon times,
as if they were
seven endangered travelers.

Like a sorceress, I came near
and very gently
moistened them
against my cheek.

I wanted
to be seven stones
inside my skin,
to be, for an instant, very round and smooth
so somebody would pick me up
and make clefts in my sides
with the damp voice of the wind.

I wanted
you to pick me up,
to kiss me,
so I could be a river stone
in your estuary mouth.

I keep the seven stones
in my pocket.
They make a mound
in my hand
and in my stories
of absences,
a mossy sound.

gardening :: rhina p. espaillat

My hands are in the dirt, ten fingernails
black with it, and half-worms come up to writhe
in the hole I’ve made with a rusty trowel.
I nudge them out, drop them where shade is deeper
and moister: “Nothing to be alarmed about,”
I tell them. “There’s enough dirt for us all.”

Roots from our neighbor’s greedy birch, caught on
the wrong side of the fence, drop their booty
of damp clumps from black sweaty little fists.
I pat them back under, dig a new hole.
“If I don’t see you I don’t know you’re there,”
I tell them. “Do as much for me someday.”

With my hands in this dirt I’m on good terms
with everything but weeds, polite even
with them: “Sorry,” I tell the creamy fuzz
bursting from the dandelion’s pursed lip,
“Nothing personal, you’re just out of place.”
And I pry it loose like a bad habit.

Any dirt at all will lead you into
every grave you can think of, with a stick
long enough and time enough for digging.
I reach down deep for my mother’s mother,
show her tomato buds, stroke her to sleep
promising her, at least, enough to eat.

And listen, my father’s mother—midwife
and singer of poems, that champion laugher
whose fat roses scented my early days—
under my nails, wherever I dig, still
laughing. I tell her I sing roses too,
my hands in dirt where she lives forever.

wildwood flower :: kathryn stripling byer

I hoe thawed ground
with a vengeance. Winter has left
my house empty of dried beans
and meat. I am hungry

and now that a few buds appear
on the sycamore, I watch the road
winding down this dark mountain
not even the mule can climb
without a struggle. Long daylight

and nobody comes while my husband
traps rabbits, chops firewood, or
walks away into the thicket. Abandoned
to hoot owls and copperheads,

I begin to fear sickness. I wait
for pneumonia and lockjaw. Each month
I brew squaw tea for pain.
In the stream where I scrub my own blood
from rags, I see all things flow
down from me into the valley.

Once I climbed the ridge
to the place where the sky
comes. Beyond me the mountains continued
like God. Is there no place to hide
from His silence? A woman must work

else she thinks too much. I hoe
this earth until I think of nothing
but the beans I will string,
the sweet corn I will grind into meal.

We must eat. I will learn
to be grateful for whatever comes to me.

lunar new year :: jennifer nguyen

                    after Portrait of the Alcoholic by kaveh akbar

Tết commences
mother aggressively scrubbing, sweeping, and
setting out the vase of fake yellow apricot

Be on your best behavior 
because a sour start
leads to a year of bad luck. 

This can guide us forward or not guide us at all. 

Because you think
luck is phony. 

this is one instance 
where generations clash. 

Today, you’re finding problems in areas where you
didn’t have areas before. 

You try to find small comforts 
folded and stuffed in lì xì

Stuck in East-West flux –
is there a vocabulary for this? 

Thinking if it had a name it would have a solution.

holding pattern :: timothy liu

Intermittent wet under
cloud cover, dry
where you are. All day
this rain without

you—so many planes
above the cloud line
carrying strangers
either closer or

farther away from
one another while
you and I remain
grounded. Are we

moving anyway
towards something
finer than what the day
might bring or is this

an illusion, a stay
against everything
unforeseen—tiny bottles
clinking as the carts

make their way down
the narrow aisle
no matter what
class we find ourselves

seated in, your voice
the captain’s voice
even if the masks
do not inflate

and there’s no one
here to help me
put mine on first—
my head cradled

between your knees.

reports of the dream you’re not likely to recover from :: jay deshpande

You know how it goes. You love something dearly,
something that you make with your own two hands,
lovingly, molding the skull, the back of the neck.
That heat only you can feel beneath the chin.

But you don’t ever give it a face. Maybe
call it bravery. You remember the green stem gold,
your hands around the neck. How you watched
the sun come up drained of blood. You remember

everything in a timescale of your own design.
Every day your blind hands work on the same project
naming it different things as time goes by
to keep up the frenzied newness of the romance.

Each body plucked out of the tree of night
will be still and dead by morning, then found
in a well of light. But this part’s best of all:
when you return to that warmth below the chin you feel

a new correctness, not unlike stupor,
showering you in hot sparks. You feel a hitman’s craving
coming on, rounding corners, ready for awakening.
Perhaps it seems a little odd to be so disrobed

by night-music. But you have found a new lover.
Her touch uncertain, her eyes an absence, her skin
the braided violets only seen in sleep.
She is coming for you in a timescale of your own design.

She is lifting her hands like an orchestra.

the cipher :: molly brodak

A nonbeliever accepts
a kind of fog around facts—

believers demand meaning.

Beloved fog forms a tissue between them, like love.
Burns off in bald light, like love.

Nonbelievers just put on their war wigs
and their war gloves
and pick

from a fanned deck of brute facts.
To prove nothingness exists

you’d need just one thing that was not itself,
one x that did not equal x.

One copse of alders in one dim dusk
that was none of the above.
Souls are made up
of such obstacles.

And a nonbeliever accepts
that God is very, very likely.

nothingness is just not
how brute facts work.

A rainstorm, brute fact, shuttles brainlessly towards us,

and our evening is overtaken in rain,
rain and fog, infinity, the opposite of engineering.

I listened to some invisible bird
rattling off the facts of consciousness.

He used that exact word,

in walked bud :: adrian matejka

—for Thelonious Monk

Half full of brow-beaten strings,
you get down like a man who lost
an engagement ring. What else
is in there? High hat, pork pie hat.
Trench coat wrapped around this
moment like a villain twisting
his mustaches. There’s a pause
in there disguised as a metronome.
There’s a thumb & pinkie chord
as off kilter as an upside-down
telephone. When you get going,
you get down like a business man
on a business trip. Forget skyscrapers,
the dirty Hudson, the mortar’s gray
split as off center as a black key
stacked next to more black keys:
you want swing while someone
is soloing. Around & around again,
the wheels inside of an automaton.
You want half notes hinged
by gusto & snapped bass strings,
horns trumpeting the end of some
good thing like a wind-tossed
newspapers with big headlines
tumbling on an empty winter street.

the plagiarist :: nicky beer

I only steal from the ones
you’ve never heard of,
the ones whose fingers
shook too hard to hold
a pen, the ones who froze
with their heads to the ground
like cattle in a blizzard,
the ones who drowned
like witches in their sleep.
One I shut up in a closet
and fed through the keyhole,
spoonfuls for genius.
Another I hypnotized
into thinking she was a bird,
charmed her with seeds
each morning to my bed.
Her little claws clutched
my nipples, and she couldn’t keep
her songs inside her.
For one, I had to rummage
in his torso, elbow-deep.
I found his words folded beneath
his sweetbread, nodes draped
like a yellow quilt. The flies took
up the conversation from there.

split :: cathy linh che

I see my mother, at thirteen,
in a village so small
it’s never given a name.

Monsoon season drying up—
steam lifting in full-bodied waves.
She chops bắp chuối for the hogs.

Her hair dips to the small of her back
as if smeared in black
and polished to a shine.

She wears a deep side-part
that splits her hair
into two uneven planes.

They come to watch her:
Americans, Marines, just boys,
eighteen or nineteen.

With scissor-fingers,
they snip the air,
point at their helmets

and then at her hair.
All they want is a small lock—
something for a bit of good luck.

Days later, my mother
is sent to the city
for safekeeping.

She will return home once,
only to be given away
to my father.

In the pictures,
the cake is sweet
and round.

My mother’s hair
which spans the length
of her áo dài

is long, washed, and uncut.

missing persons :: sam sax

it’s silly
missing anyone
who lives

or maybe
the opposite

you can only
miss the living
in a way
that ferries
marrow up
your spine
in one furious
red curtain

or no
the dead
they’re the ones
that open
the asphalt
for ghost-buses
to pour forth from
covered in
ink-black names
scrwld across
the windows

paint-thick names
names so dark
inside you can blink
or be blinded
or die
& be unable to tell
the difference

i miss everyone
all the time.

my room’s a coffin
with one glass wall

there’s a parade
to welcome me

the horns
are so bright
& blood-drunk
you might think
was being born

the bullet tore
through my neighbor’s brain
like a nail
through a fig

i began
to love him
only once

the ambulances
sang into
the radio-singed stillness

the street after
was empty
as a body
when the soul
climbs out
of the hole
in its head
& becomes
a god

saudade :: john freeman

means nostalgia, I’m told, but also
nostalgia for what never was. Isn’t it
the same thing? At a café
in Rio flies wreathe my glass.

How you would have loved this: the waiter
sweating his knit shirt dark. Children
loping, in tiny suits or long shorts, dragging
toys and towels to the beach. We talk,

or I talk, and imagine your answer, the heat clouding our view.
Here, again, grief fashioned in its cruelest translation:
my imagined you is all I have left of you.

let them not say :: jane hirschfield

Let them not say:   we did not see it.
We saw.

Let them not say:   we did not hear it.
We heard.

Let them not say:     they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.

Let them not say:   it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and hands.

Let them not say:     they did nothing.
We did not-enough.

Let them say, as they must say something: 

A kerosene beauty.
It burned.

Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.


praise :: angela geter

Today I will praise.

I will praise the sun

For showering its light

On this darkened vessel.

I will praise its shine.

Praise the way it wraps

My skin in ultraviolet ultimatums

Demanding to be seen.

I will lift my hands in adoration

Of how something so bright

Could be so heavy.

I will praise the ground

That did not make feast of these bones.

Praise the casket

That did not become a shelter for flesh.

Praise the bullets

That called in sick to work.

Praise the trigger

That went on vacation.

Praise the chalk

That did not outline a body today.

Praise the body

For still being a body

And not a headstone.

Praise the body,

For being a body and not a police report

Praise the body

For being a body and not a memory

No one wants to forget.

Praise the memories.

Praise the laughs and smiles

You thought had been evicted from your jawline

Praise the eyes

For seeing and still believing.

For being blinded from faith

But never losing their vision

Praise the visions.

Praise the prophets

Who don’t profit off of those visions.

Praise the heart

For housing this living room of emotions

Praise the trophy that is my name

Praise the gift that is my name.

Praise the name that is my name

Which no one can plagiarize or gentrify

Praise the praise.

How the throat sounds like a choir.

The harmony in your tongue lifts

Into a song of adoration.

Praise yourself

For being able to praise.

For waking up,

When you had every reason not to.

dear life :: maya c. popa

I can’t undo all I have done unto myself,
what I have let an appetite for love do to me.

I have wanted all the world, its beauties
and its injuries; some days,
I think that is punishment enough.

Often, I received more than I’d asked,

which is how this works—you fish in open water
ready to be wounded on what you reel in.

Throwing it back was a nightmare.
Throwing it back and seeing my own face

as it disappeared into the dark water.

Catching my tongue suddenly on metal,
spitting the hook into my open palm.

Dear life: I feel that hook today most keenly.

Would you loosen the line—you’ll listen

if   I ask you,

if   you are the sort of  life I think you are.

i commit :: matthew zapruder

I commit to vote because
I’m pretty sure I grab
whatever I need from the world
and place it in my mind
which is getting incrementally
like the commons
undeniably more toxic and sad
yes I too walk around
considering my intractable problems
complaining it’s too late
for more sonatas
everything is already too beautiful
music and anger won’t save us
yet I commit to talking
earnestly with Sarah
about the school board
it will be night and we will be sitting
shoulder to shoulder 
at the old table we love
each holding a pencil
like grade school children left alone at last
then in the morning
before our son wakes
I commit to holding
this tiny bit of quicksilver
(quick in the sense of living
in its very molecular nature
it wants to usefully combine with yours)
in my palm and to walking
up to the blue mailbox
I pass most mornings
in that familiar silence
under those nameless little trees
when all things that surround me wait

road at ache :: kazim ali

I was whispered along the road at Ache
toward the sun-puddled gate

the sum of yearning for
whatever makes you emptier

better weather, the absence of bees
but the year tells it better, all the hives

unraveling into summer, little mouths
flooding the May air to stillness.

My telling tints the blue air
whiter, storm-white open ear

listening to what will unspool next,
clover, apple-trees, and to what

I owe the mysterious reciter arriving
driving out dry the flood month

spelling me in every direction, unclear but
swarming, given this my year to hear

things that are changed—march, 2020 :: kimiko hahn

A bandana. A cardinal. An apple

No. 2 lead pencil—the mechanical pencil, now empty—appears more vivid

A box of toothpicks—now that I’m baking bran muffins

Rubber gloves: that Playtex commercial “so flexible you can pick up a dime.” I tried once and it’s true. Thankfully, I have yellow rubber gloves—like those Mother wore. We never had a dishwasher. No, that was her, the dishwasher. Not even this gloomy daughter was assigned the chore. Though I did learn in Home Ec. to fill a basin with warm water and soap; wash glasses before the greasy dishes then silverware and finally pots and pans. Rinse. Air dry (“it’s more sanitary”). And I do.

Scissors: I cut up dish clothes to use as napkins. When I try sewing on the ancient Singer (1930?), the knee-lever doesn’t work so I abandon the hemming. Then hand stitch while listening to the news. I am grateful for a full spool of white thread.

Scissors: where once I used these to cut paper, now I use them for everything. Including hair. Father always directed us to use the right kind of scissors for the task—paper, cloth, hair. Had he lasted into his nineties, how would he have dealt with sequestering? With belligerence, no doubt.

Empty jar: I think to grow beansprouts and look into ordering seeds. Back ordered until May 1.

Egg shells: should I start a mulch pile? Mother had a large empty milk carton by the sink where she’d add stuff to mulch. And now T reports that because they are making every meal, Our mulch pile is so alive.

Sleeping Beauty, yes, that cocoon—

Moby Dick, The Tale of Genji, Anna Karenina—I left Emily Dickinson – Selected Poems edited by Helen Vendler in my office

Notebook: March 20, 2020
A student in Elmhurst cannot sleep for the constant ambulance sirens. She keeps her blinds drawn but sees on tv what is taking place a block away—bodies in body bags loaded onto an enormous truck. The governor calls this The Apex. And late last night, R called—”helicopters are hovering over the building!” She remembers the thrumming over our brownstone in Park Slope on 9/11. And just now I learn that religious people just blocks from her were amassing by the hundreds, refusing social distance. And I am full of rage. Some communities have begun to use drones to disperse people. The president states he has “complete power.” And I am filled with rage.

Binoculars: a cardinal



A neighbor goes out to pick up my prescription. I leave daffodils on the porch for him. I picked them with gloves on.

i am afraid of becoming a mountain :: r brown

let me rephrase:

i spent two years memorizing every possible cloud
that can float in between your house and mine

i mean, you say mountain
and it is the after that i am afraid of

you say mountain and it is like if i spend five years
learning to sing everything in the key of e

and then you tell me to sing in the key of a
i think i would still sing in the key of e sometimes accidentally

i have so many things to tell you
i am busy busy busy

making lists and lists and lists
and meanwhile you seem not to notice

that they tore down the library
on williamson ave

i mean, the thing about mountains is tunnels
(see list 15a: irrational fears; nightmares; age 23)

i have nothing else to say about tunnels
but i think we should stay here a minute longer

i would invite you to come sit on the couch
but i’m afraid that might be too forward

(see list 37c: appropriate/inappropriate behaviors;
correct social protocols; reset factory settings)

so mountains. i am trying to think of the strongest thing i know
and i am still stuck on decay

i mean, did you know that your teeth will start to rot in your mouth
after three months even while you are still alive? i mean

i think about that a lot i mean, the lake
i mean, i told myself after the mountain i wouldn’t be sad anymore i mean,

i am still looking for the mountain

from mountainsong