A Situation for Mrs. Biswas, by Prageeta Sharma


When I received the call I was in a store in Missoula, Montana.

A store stocked with sparkling ephemera: glass fauna, tiny belfry bulbs,

winter white birch and stump-lamps brandishing light cones,

little shelves and branches hung with drops of ice and round silver baubles.

I loved the store: it was cavernous, dark with wood and burlap,

a ruddy brick loft with lithographs and monographs on birds or bracelets.

The store-owner, Fran, was away that day otherwise
I would have stayed in there a little longer.

She was a comforting friend—
she had impeccable taste, manifested in her put-together garments,
she also had a warming patient smile.

I didn’t stay long, I didn’t linger;
though linger is absolutely the wrong word,
more like I didn’t stumble around there for hours.

(I would stumble around in that store for a full year.)

If she had been behind the counter I would have turned to her in bewilderment.

~

You see I had picked up my ringing cell phone while browsing
(I usually keep it off in stores),

and my father said, there’s something I have to tell you.
I don’t want you to find out any other way. I am leaving my job.
They want me to resign.

Fran had met my father the week before—
he wanted to see downtown, the campus, get to know Montana—
he had done research on the education opportunities.

He was interested in outreach.

People all over met him and found him to be a kindhearted man.

I had set up meetings, he was here to meet educators, mathematicians—
more spirited people—I told him—than Bostonians.

I told him the West was a magical place. He agreed.

Later he would tell me that this was his last best day, a strange pun on the Last Best Place.

Little did we know we would have to fight a very public battle.

And apparently from the rumors and from the strange
treatment he received prior to his termination,
there was a plot in place.

We, as a family, felt the public ridicule.

And as an Asian family, we felt the acute Asian shame. It was a dark,
disastrous cloud hanging, hanging, hanging.

My father would be would be publicly shamed
and we were shocked at the racist narratives—
allegations—a greedy brown man—

mismanaging, mismanaging, mismanaging

One public interest story to release venom—
to tease out real feelings from strangers.

Blog comments were aggressive: the Indian was a con,
a snake-oil man.

You just have to give them a scenario
in which they can invest—in which to place those hard-to-place feelings.
White people bury their resentments beneath their liberalism.

We knew he hadn’t done anything wrong—we knew this was bogus.

Like I said, I was getting ready for the holidays,
I played hooky that Tuesday excited to wrap gifts;
I wanted to decorate the house.

This was my first house.
My husband was out looking at Christmas trees.
Albeit I am a Hindu, trees are an awful lot of fun.

And this planning was quickly thwarted with the difficult—
my family was falling apart—
the droop in my life felt permanent.

I was more than 2,000 miles from my father, but the way he spoke
at the moment of the call becalmed me—
I felt anchored to his side—
I will stay there for as long as it takes.

Before this moment I was in a terrific mood.

I wanted to don the table
with the kind of candles that beckoned, pulling you into an aesthetic presence
fully-fabricated and lit, and yet looked like it came from snow.

I had been in Missoula for many months,
I had come from Brooklyn, where I had lived for twelve years.
Now I was ready to escape.

Having been born and raised outside of Boston,
without the opportunities say someone like Robert Lowell had.

I knew I was not of that ilk nor was my father—we now realize.

Boston was indeed for the rich—with its stodgy colonial identity,
with its ridiculous Brahmans—
its oddly cultureless stance
even with Harvard as its mirror.
(Even with Cal as front & center literati.)

Even so, I was pleased, I was unhurried in my new life, I was, I was.
I could feel how I stood, I could feel the rising happiness—of the belly, not the gut.

I was consumed with the bliss of poetry,
so much poetry around me, everything with poetry.

I said and understood, the workshop will be my ideology,
my intentional community, front and center—with bells.

My family was overjoyed with the way our lives
were working together—

my father was comfortable, my mother pleased,
a professorship and presidential position
at a college, he was the first South-Asian president.

He had come to America with very little and now had something.

As you can see, there is an immigrant narrative here.

When he first arrived, he made very little money as a visiting professor so he worked
security at night at the Museum of Fine Arts. He kept thinking his colleague, Bruce,
was calling him bastard, when he was calling him buster.

It took him months to realize this. He first had to confront Bruce.

The sequence of his first major purchases and acquisitions, which took several months:

a suitcase and a rug, then he found a dentist’s chair for the living room.

He bought the Bob Dylan album that had “Blowing in the Wind,” because it really
sounded Hindu—it sounded like it came from the Rig Veda.

For many years I would say he was a model minority—he aspired to being
rewarded for his good work by white people.

We agreed, all was well— I had made my way to where I had wanted to be,
living a poet’s life and it felt extraordinary—
all of the birch-stump lamps lighting up inside, this was a kind of bliss.

I had arrived where I loved in absolute terms.

Where I could love the poetics of if, then & thou. The luminous…

And yet poetry haunts with its suggestion that terrible things are true and stick, as Rilke says:

I am much too small in this world, yet not small enough/to be to you just object
and thing/dark and smart.

~

The sun was hidden behind the darkest cloud.

I said what is happening to my father?

In response, my husband’s back gave out,
he could not walk without whimpering, there was whimpering in the night

and I wasn’t sure which one of us it was.

What was happening to my ableness?

We had failure, heaps of failure in our hands.

The world had recast itself in such a way that I had to address the power behind it.

I kept saying strange things to people like no one is exempt from suffering.
I felt like a tiny bird with sinking feet.

There are assertions about difference
That I had not wanted to make in the past, but now did.

Where was I? Who was I?

My father was told he had to watch his back
and then they took everything away from him.

To take away his dignity with so many untruths. Do I have to watch my back too?

What did I think I could have? I wasn’t even sure if I had it here.
People hadn’t seen me as me, I started to feel it. Those glass birds

and the birch lamps were a kind of privilege
only others could have—not “others” in the sense in which I was other.

I started to see how money worked the room: when we had it, when we didn’t.

Imagine, we were so close
to the soaring sky, and imagine how we fell.
How we knew falling wouldn’t end us,

fall right here, fall right there, cry out, oh blustering self,
it can’t be as bad as you think.

I said let’s remember how to do it so it won’t hurt
this time or the next.

But I had to say the branches extended their arms,
there was a house attached to them—

we found ourselves languishing, then needing
to rebuild.

It was the turning of the year and then another one.

And the showy, extravagant people capped themselves
on the tops of mountain ash—

we came out to clear them away.

 

A Calculus of Readiness, by Liz Waldner


I, too, come from the city of dolls.
A small palm is my umbrella.
This takes care of above
but below, the blind river of sadness rolls
on and in it, a hand is always reaching up
to pick fish from the night-time sky.

The lines on the palm of the hand lure a trout
with a strand of hair from the head of a doll.
The bait is the hope for a hand on your brow.
Shadows play on the wall. Or the face of a doll.
The plants eyeing each other
is all.

I would not call the stars generous.
They don’t cry enough for dolls to play Drink Me.
They don’t cast a covenant’s fishy rainbow
yet leaf faces watch the open window
where they hang far and hard.
The rein of starlight a second hand

with which to play Go Fish.
Now Give me a hand, plants. Now give me
good-night, stars.

 

Birds in the Night, by Luis Cernuda


The French—or was it the English?—government placed a plaque
On that house at 8 Great College Street, Camden Town, London,
Where in a room Rimbaud and Verlaine, a peculiar couple,
Lived, drank, worked, and fornicated
For a few brief stormy weeks.
No doubt the ambassador and the mayor attended the dedication,
All the same people who were enemies of Rimbaud and Verlaine when they lived.

The house is sad and poor, like the neighborhood,
With the sordid sadness that goes with poverty,
Not the funereal sadness of spiritless wealth.
When night comes down, as in their time,
Over that sidewalk, with its damp gray air, a hand organ
Plays, and the neighbors, on their way home from work,
The young ones dance, the rest take to the pub.

Brief was the singular friendship of Verlaine the drunk
And Rimbaud the tramp, quarreling constantly.
But we can think that maybe it was
A good time for the two, at least if each remembered
That they left behind an intolerable mother and a boring wife.
But freedom is not of this world, and the freed,
Having broken with everything, had a high price to pay.

Yes, they were there, the plaque says so, behind the wall,
Prisoners of their fate: the impossible friendship, the bitterness
Of separation, and then the scandal; and for this one
The trial, and two years in jail, thanks to his habits
Condemned by society and law, at least up to now; for that one on his own
To wander from one corner of the earth to the other,
Escaping to our world and its celebrated progress.

The silence of one and the talkative banality of the other
Made for a kind of balance. Rimbaud rejected the hand that Oppressed
His life; Verlaine kisses it, accepting his punishment.
One drags in his belt the gold he’s gained; the other
Wastes it on absinthe and whores. But both
Outside the law forever, beyond the respectable people
Whose meaningless work makes them rich and successful.

Then even the black prostitute had the right to insult them;
Today, as time has passed, as it does in the world,
Their lives on the edge of everything, sodomy, drunkenness, vicious verses,
No longer matter, and France makes use of both their names and their works
For the greater glory of France and its logical art.
Their acts and their comings and goings are studied, giving the public
Intimate tidbits about their lives. No one is shocked now, nor protests.

“Verlaine? Go on, my friend, a satyr, a regular lech
When it comes to women; a perfectly normal fellow,
Like you and I. Rimbaud? A devout Catholic, as it’s been proved.”
And they recite hunks of the “Drunken Boat” and the Sonnet to the “Vowels.”
But of Verlaine they recite nothing, because he’s not in vogue
Like the other, of whom they bring out phony texts in fancy editions;
Young poets, in every country, talk about him nonstop in their provinces.

Can the dead hear what the living are saying about them?
Let’s hope not: that endless silence must be a relief
For those who lived and died by the word,
Like Rimbaud and Verlaine. But the silence there is no escape
From this repugnant laudatory farce. There was a time one of them wished
That humanity had a single head, so it could be chopped off.
Maybe he was exaggerating: if it were just a cockroach, and be crushed.

 

Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 

All Us Beautiful Monsters, by Alex Lemon


The entire world wants
To pretend to be a foreigner
In a big box store & wander
The aisles shouting, endlessly—
But I am pretty sure that today
Is my day to not just be a guy
But to be the guy. A baby grows
In each drawer of the million-
Drawered cherrywood cabinet
That is my head & to keep
This army of tender brutes warm
Before heading to the strip mall,
I put on your coonskin hat.
I swallow a fist of stones
You stole from the Alamo.
It is like it is each time—not
Just like returning to the womb—
It is as if the womb sucked me up
Into the starlight like a spaceship.
Nothing came before us, I suppose.
Tonight, we will once again forgive
Ourselves for the people that have
All gone missing while under
Our care. Fireworks will splash
The sky with a pink wave & we
Will both jump back, feigning
To look at what we’ve done, exactly
In the same way. Like lobsters
Hammering missives back & forth
With claw & rock, when it goes
Black, we will bang our fists
On whatever’s closest to speak
To each other about
The loveliness all over us.

 

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Ars Poetica (Poetry Written On the Art Of Poetry):

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CONTENTS:
+ A True Poem, by Lloyd Schwartz
Adam’s Curse, by W. B. Yeats
Always on the Train, by Ruth Stone
Ars Poetica (cocoons), by Dana Levin
Ars Poetica, by Anthony Butts
Ars Poetica, by Archibald MacLeish
Ars Poetica, by Dorothea Lasky
Ars Poetica, by Paul Verlaine
Ars Poetica, by Primus St. John
Ars Poetica, by Vicente Huidobro
Ars Poetica?, by Czeslaw Milosz
+ Arthur’s Anthology of English Poetry, by Laurence Lerner
Because You Asked about the Line Between Prose and Poetry, by Howard Nemerov
Blue or Green, by James Galvin
Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks, by Jane Kenyon
Cockroaches: Ars Poetica, by Chad Davidson
Endnote, by Hayden Carruth
Envoi, by William Meredith
Five Poems about Poetry, by George Oppen
If It All Went Up in Smoke, by George Oppen
Languages, by Carl Sandburg
Light (an Ars Poetica), by Michael Cirelli
Mars Poetica, by Wyn Cooper
Stilling to North, by Arthur Sze
Take the I Out, by Sharon Olds
Teaching the Ape to Write Poems, by James Tate
The Indications [excerpt], by Walt Whitman
The Novel as Manuscript, by Norman Dubie

The dandelions in the moment and then, by CJ Evans


It is. And needles don’t fall;
cones don’t fall. The soil keeps

holding the grass seed and the dune
sand beneath is still torn by thirsty,

wooden hands. By bedrock
is where will be my tenoned pine.

And the grass seeds don’t split,
their shoots don’t spill. The clouds

remain, widely. That locked closet
inside will never have its tumblers

turned. Honestly, all I had
was the only lie—that I could be

the one who evades. Sparrows
don’t fall, no owl falls. Left behind

are her thin hands, a box full
of ribbons, a bolt, a knife.

Photographs with anybody’s faces.
Hungry letters, angry letters about

a time and people and love that is
not. No image holds its meaning

within itself. Not one dandelion fell.
Please. Something did happen here.

 

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost


Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

 

Room Tone, by Bill Berkson


Wrestling that old beauty
“Body and Soul”
To the ground

The genus award for epochal comes besotted
Complicity follows like caramel on a sponge mop
Child-bearing babies on stilts

I dreamed you were felled by an unspecified illness
In yours I was rowing a leaky boat, even though
The motor was foolproof and bore hairs

Taken up with travel and foreign visitors
An intimacy implied in big block letters leans
Beside its planar incandescent surrogate

I tend backward haughtily through froth
Abandoned sweetness meaning torpor
Behind gorgeous intervals of removal and need

An alligator in every pot
Keeping company doesn’t count
Dame Kind adjusts her ribbon frills

Give life a shot
Circular breath redemption
At the Door of the Wolf

You heard me

 

Quandary, by Louise Mathias


All night I flew the dark recess of God’s mind.
It was arranged like Iowa fields–

not a damn thing missing.
You ask how I survived.

I lived on a message, broad light
at the end of the world.

Words, they have so much in common with departure,

the clouds elliptical & nervous.
Why translate? It’s just a revolving door.

“Chill wind” has seven
components. One is loss.

 

On The Bus Someday, by Jessica Greenbaum


Of that string of memories about our lost friendship I remember
being invited places as a pair, like a comedy team; and after
one party, our self-parody of our own stammering
speechlessness when introduced to Henrik, the Swedish god
auto mechanic; our twin, garish, purple-flowered swimsuits
from Kmart, outlining, around Texas, our sameness
and differences; our dual waitressing shifts across town,
and the long phone calls that followed with their emphatic
reiteration of every stingy six-top ordering candy-flavored
alcoholic drinks; the after-work visit where we brayed,
stomped, then blinked stupidly (while the needle hit
the LP’s end) at the empty fifth of gin left on the coffee table,
prompting a dim: Uh oh; your imitation of your mother’s
habitual and by-the-way inexplicable confession about you
to shoe salesmen: She has a funny foot; the apartments,
the Olivettis, the boyfriends, all the thoughts exchanged
unedited like an experiment of the big, walk-in consciousness,
which we might have assumed the verbal equivalent
of sex for friends, and whatever closeness meant, we wanted
as much as we could have, it was our post-graduate work
in The Humanities. Even now, I can’t resist striking up
a conversation while standing on line, any line, or introducing
myself enthusiastically to whomever I am introduced,
but the truth is I am not looking for new friends at this point;
I am trying to locate the lost ones, the ones who left
through the hole of an argument decades ago,
a time more panicked and carefree than any other, except maybe
the early years of motherhood, which I missed sharing
with you on playground benches. But surely I will see you
on the bus someday, and your greeting will package
our jokes, advice, tears, book talk, our years of reliance.
And so I will expect you will tell me how much I have
misunderstood and wrongly assumed in these descriptions,
because I never expect those people who have mattered
to remain completely gone, even through death, or rebuke.
And of course I have to remember what parted us,
that I found faults with your other friends, that I spoke
as critically and crassly about them as I did about my own person,
and to this day I have to be careful of that trait, my junkyard
dog of expression, safe only with me on a too-long leash. Here,
again, telling you everything with no reason but for
memory’s insistence that I string an apology from what I see.

 

On Hearing That My Poems Were Being Studied in a Distant Place, by Hyam Plutzik


What are they mumbling about me there?
“Here,” they say, “he suffered; here was glad.”
Are words clothes or the putting off of clothes?”

The scene is as follows: my book is open
On thirty desks; the teacher expounds my life.
Outside the window the Pacific roars like a lion.

Beside which my small words rise and fall.
“In this alliteration a tower crashed.”
Are words clothes or the putting off of clothes?

“Here, in the fisherman casting on the water,
He saw the end of the dreamer.
And in that image, death, naked.”

Out of my life I fashioned a fistful of words.
When I opened my hand, they flew away.”

Moss Retains Moisture, by Matthew Rohrer


I never believed in bioluminescence before.
Here in Moravia where all daylight hides
the only illumination is whiskey.
Names seem unimportant.
Large are the memories growing elsewhere
beneath themselves.
Do hemlocks burn when stared at?
Darkness always retains something shapely.
Those leaves engender me.
Bedding down in pine-covered nighttime
I disappeared. Owls are silent.
Bears rest. In Moravian mythology
even I sleep well.

 

Love Song for Love Songs, by Rafael Campo


A golden age of love songs and we still
can’t get it right. Does your kiss really taste
like butter cream? To me, the moon’s bright face
was neither like a pizza pie nor full;
the Beguine began, but my eyelid twitched.
“No more I love you’s,” someone else assured
us, pouring out her heart, in love (of course)—
what bothers me the most is that high-pitched,
undone whine of “Why am I so alone?”
Such rueful misery is closer to
the truth, but once you turn the lamp down low,
you must admit that he is still the one,
and baby, baby he makes you so dumb
you sing in the shower at the top of your lungs.

Mint, by Elaine Terranova


Already, we’d be driving past
those trees, that part of the forest.
Even briefly, it refreshed you.
It was like mint in August
though that sting would be gone
with summer. The ground
tarnishing first, and soon the leaves.
I thought then, men don’t stop.
They want so much to get on.
What we said, incidental
yet hammered into the mind.
Talk like a magnet, so it draws you
together or away. We made a line
around that part of the forest,
the exact shape of our attention.
Even after, I remember
how it was taken up and moved
along with us, into the dim
living room. Each holding a glass,
ice colliding in water. A tiny
mirrored sun caught in the trees.
The same sadness that darkened
our features. Later, bed
without making love, without
the chance of a reprieve.

 

Move to the City, by Nathaniel Bellows


live life as a stranger. Disappear
into frequent invention, depending
on the district, wherever you get off
the train. For a night, take the name
of the person who’d say yes to that
offer, that overture, the invitation to
kiss that mouth, sit on that lap. Assume
the name of whoever has the skill to
slip from the warm side of the sleeping
stranger, dress in the hallway of the
hotel. This is a city where people
know the price of everything, and
know that some of the best things
still come free. In one guise: shed
all that shame. In another: flaunt the
plumage you’ve never allowed
yourself to leverage. Danger will
always be outweighed by education,
even if conjured by a lie. Remember:
go home while it’s still dark. Don’t
invite anyone back. And, once inside,
take off the mask. These inventions
are the art of a kind of citizenship,
and they do not last. In the end, it
might mean nothing beyond further
fortifying the walls, crystallizing
the questioned, tested autonomy,
ratifying the fact that nothing will be
as secret, as satisfying, as the work
you do alone in your room.

 

Love Poem, by Dorothea Lasky


The rain whistled.

A taxi brought me to your apartment building
And there I stood.

I had dreamed a dream
Of us in a bedroom.
The light shining upon us in white sheets.

You were singing me a song of your sailing days
And in the dream
I reached deep in you and pulled out a cardinal
Which in bright red
Flew out the window.

Sometimes when we talk
On the phone, I think to myself
That the deep perfect of your soul
Is what draws me to you.
But still what soul is perfect?
All souls are misshapen and off-colored.
Morning comes within a soul
And makes it obey another law
In which all souls are snowflakes.

Once at a funeral, a man had died
And with the prayers said, his soul flew up in a hurry
Like it had been let out of something awful.
It was strangely colored, that soul.
And it was a funny shape and a funny temperature.
As it blew away, all of us looking felt the cold.

 

Losing Track, by Denise Levertov


Long after you have swung back
away from me
I think you are still with me:

you come in close to the shore
on the tide
and nudge me awake the way

a boat adrift nudges the pier:
am I a pier
half-in half-out of the water?

and in the pleasure of that communion
I lose track,
the moon I watch goes down, the

tide swings you away before
I know I’m
alone again long since,

mud sucking at gray and black
timbers of me,
a light growth of green dreams drying.

 

Lisbon, by Eliza Griswold


We meet midway to walk white cobbles
under a fish-flesh gray sky.
Europe is collapsing; we are collapsing

always and again no matter how hard
we love one another. I don’t understand
our failure, where the feed loops

back and spits us into another country,
another junior suite reenacting this same,
same beat of a scene that begins, rises,

never ends, always ends?—
Our intentions don’t meet,
their courses set differently

by a force you don’t believe in,
could be as simple as life. I want
to be the wife you don’t want.

You won’t let go of my wrist.
I resist, threaten, bully, acquiesce.
We write the next act of The Alchemist

in New York, Lisbon, a beach,
a bar, star-crossed maybe
from different galaxies. You approach,

I retreat. You retreat, I reproach.
The manic two-step jitters
over North Africa’s dunes

farther than our hero, Santiago, can see.
I rise in the night to find the sharp knife
that came with the pears as a courtesy.

Lillian Gish Goes to Hell, by Richard Siken


But she has been there before, has a suite
in fact, where she can swan and collapse
on a series of fainting couches: velveteen,
plush, gem-colored. In 1913, during the
production of A Good Little Devil, Lillian
collapsed from anemia. She took delight in
suffering for art. Although not a religious
man, Sartre was fascinated by suffering
as well, said Hell is other people and meant it.
Some like to suffer and some try to eliminate
desire. Buddha, God bless him, had a great
idea: whatever is subject to change is subject to
suffering. But let’s face it, he was fat and sat
around in his underwear, while we delight
in changing our wardrobes. You, terrible
in your solitude. Me, ruined and desperate
in my cowboy shirt with the pearly buttons
and significant stitching. We can suffer with
the best of them, Lil, effortlessly working off
our karma as the drunken father breaks down
the wooden door, or we roam, dying, through
the streets of Montmartre. I am no stranger
to love and I am not waiting for you, because
I believe we will be reborn, because I believe
everything, and I believe that we will meet
again and suffer together again. The future
belongs to China and yet I want to learn
French. This, too, is another kind of suffering.
Once, at a truck stop, I ate an entire banana
cream pie and half a pound of bacon, which
is a kind of suffering for some, but I felt
fucking great. You know this, you must know
this. We are lovely and full of desire, we die
so many times and come back here, to cross
paths. I didn’t fall off the roof, I was pushed.
I want neither revenge nor relief. I crave no
rescue. What I want, Lillian, is to be gigantic
and perfectly lit, to be with you again, carnal
in our reincarnation. The future will find us
handsome taikonauts in a small ship spinning
out of control, flawed by love and plunging
realistically toward the heart of a hellish sun.
In the future we will suffer together in outer
space and eat crème brûlée out of a silver tube.
The novelty never wears off, Lil. It never does.

 

Let’s Get Out of Here, by Corey Zeller


The river is a fish
and my tongue
is white paper
you draw
your hand on
and the sounds
keys make
on the waist
of a janitor
in an empty building
on the night of your birth
when the moon was
a live bird pinned
to a girl’s chest
and the color
of a beat-up door
that hides a paint chipped
life where we lick the throats
of passing trains
and wear bright pills
over our faces
like ghost masks
and move the tiny ghosts
that live in us
like dominos.

Lessons from a Mirror, by Thylias Moss


Snow White was nude at her wedding, she’s so white
the gown seemed to disappear when she put it on.

Put me beside her and the proximity is good
for a study of chiaroscuro, not much else.

Her name aggravates me most, as if I need to be told
what’s white and what isn’t.

Judging strictly by appearance there’s a future for me
forever at her heels, a shadow’s constant worship.

Is it fair for me to live that way, unable
to get off the ground?

Turning the tables isn’t fair unless they keep turning.
Then there’s the danger of Russian roulette

and my disadvantage: nothing falls from the sky
to name me.

I am the empty space where the tooth was, that my tongue
rushes to fill because I can’t stand vacancies.

And it’s not enough. The penis just fills another
gap. And it’s not enough.

When you look at me,
know that more than white is missing.

 

Bardo, by Peter Gizzi


I’ve spent my life
in a lone mechanical whine,

this combustion far off.

How fathomless to be
embedded in glacial ice,

what piece of self hiding there.

I am not sure about meaning
but understand the wave.

No more Novalis out loud.

No Juan de la Cruz singing
“I do not die to die.”

No solstice, midhaven, midi, nor twilight.

No isn’t it amazing, no
none of that.

To crow, to crown, to cry, to crumble.

The trees the air warms into
a bright something

a bluish nothing into

clicks and pops
bursts and percussive runs.

I come with my asymmetries,
my untutored imagination.

Heathenish,

my homespun vision
sponsored by the winter sky.

Then someone said nether,
someone whirr.

And if I say the words
will you know them?

Is there world?
Are they still calling it that?

 

Chirality, by Rae Armantrout


If I didn’t need
to do anything,
would I?

Would I oscillate
in two
or three dimensions?

Would I summon
a beholder

and change chirality
for “him”?

A massless particle
passes through the void
with no resistance.

Ask what it means
to pass through the void.

Ask how it differs
from not passing.

 

ninth: a conversation between Annabot and the Human Machine on the subject of overpowering emotion, by Anna Moschovakis


(Note: Though Annabot is ostensibly downloadable, the attempt to open her produced an error, a string of errors.)

ANNABOT: What now?

HUMAN MACHINE: The Brain, the brain—that is the seat of trouble!

ANNABOT: My brain, whose brain? Those who feel, feel.

HUMAN MACHINE: On the blink?

ANNABOT: Or, discipline. The brain is a machine of habit. The heart is a hell.

HUMAN MACHINE: “The secret of smooth living is a calm cheerfulness which will leave me always in full possession of my reasoning faculty.”

ANNABOT: But I am not cheerful.

HUMAN MACHINE: I ought to reflect, again and again, and yet again, that all others deserve from me as much sympathy as I give to myself. I place my hand over your heart.

ANNABOT: I cannot feel your hand.

HUMAN MACHINE: I cannot feel your heart.

This is the language of simple, obvious things
The conclusion and the part before

Anna held her hand out to feel the cold
It was cold

Then, nothing

Teaching the Ape to Write Poems, by James Tate


They didn’t have much trouble
teaching the ape to write poems:
first they strapped him into the chair,
then tied the pencil around his hand
(the paper had already been nailed down).
Then Dr. Bluespire leaned over his shoulder
and whispered into his ear:
“You look like a god sitting there.
Why don’t you try writing something?”

 

Prefix: Finding the measure, by Robert Kelly


Finding the measure is finding the mantram,
is finding the moon, as index of measure,
is finding the moon’s source;

if that source
is Sun, finding the measure is finding
the natural articulation of ideas.

The organism
of the macrocosm, the organism of language,
the organism of I combine in ceaseless naturing
to propagate a fourth,
the poem,
from their trinity.

Style is death. Finding the measure is finding
a freedom from that death, a way out, a movement
forward.

Finding the measure is finding the
specific music of the hour,
the synchronous
consequence of the motion of the whole world.

Poem Interrupted by Whitesnake, by Timothy Donnelly


That agreeable feeling we haven’t yet been able
to convert into words to our satisfaction

despite several conscious attempts to do so
might prove in the end to be nothing

more than satisfaction itself, an advanced
new formula just sitting there waiting to be

marketed as such: Let my logo be the couch
I can feel it pulse as the inconstant moon

to which I’ve come to feel attached continues to pull
away from earth at a rate of 1.6 inches

every solar year: Let my logo be the couch
where you merge into nights until you can’t

up from the shadows of a factory warehouse
in historic Secaucus built on top of old swamp-

land I can feel it: Let my logo be the couch
where you merge into nights until you can’t

even remember what you wanted to begin with.
Let my slogan be the scrapes of an infinite

catalogue’s pages turning over and over until you
find it again.

In the air above Secaucus

a goldfinch, state bird of New Jersey, stops dead
midflight and falls to the asphalt of a final

parking lot. Where it lands is a sacred site
and earth is covered in them. Each is like

the single seed from which an entire wheat field
generates. This happens inside oneself

so one believes oneself to be the owner of it.
From the perimeter of the field one watches

as its workers undertake their given tasks:
some cut the wheat, some bundle it; others picnic

in the shade of a pear tree, itself a form of
labor, too, when unfolding at the worksite.

A gentle pride engilds this last observation like
sun in September. Because this happens

inside oneself one feels one must be its owner.
But call out to the workers, even kindly,

and they won’t call back, they won’t even look up
from their work.

There must be someplace

else where life takes place besides in front of
merchandise, but at the moment I can’t think of it.

In the clean white light of the market I am where
I appertain, where everything exists

for me to purchase. If there’s a place of not meaning
what you feel but at the same time meaning

every word, or almost, I might have been taught
better to avoid it, but

here I go again

on my own, going down the only road I’ve ever
known, trusting Secaucus’s first peoples

meant something specific and true when they fused
the words seke, meaning black, and achgook,

meaning snake, together to make a compound
variously translated as “place where the snake

hides,” “place of black snakes,” or, more simply,
“salt marsh.”

Going moon over the gone marsh

Secaucus used to be, I keep making the same
mistake over and over, and so do you, slowly

speeding up your orbital velocity, and thereby
increasing your orbital radius, just like Kepler

said you would, and though I keep trying not
to take it to heart, I can’t see where else there is

to go with it. In German, a Kepler makes caps
like those the workers wear who now bundle

twigs for kindling under the irregular gloom. One looks
to be making repairs to a skeletal umbrella

or to the thoughts a windmill entertains by means
of a silver fish. Off in the distance, ships tilt

and hazard up the choppy inlet. Often when I look
at an object, I feel it looking back, evaluating

my capacity to afford it.

Maybe not wanting
anything in particular means mildly wanting

whatever, constantly, spreading like a wheat
field inside you as far as the edge of the pine

forest where the real owners hunt fox. They keep you
believing what you see and feel are actually

yours or yours to choose. And maybe it’s this
belief that keeps you from burning it all down.

In this economy, I am like the fox, my paws no good
for fire-starting yet, and so I scamper back

to my deep den to fatten on whatever I can find.
Sated, safe, disremembering what it’s like

up there, meaning everywhere, I tuck nose under tail
after I exhaust the catalogues, the cheap stuff

and sad talk to the moon, including some yelping but
never howling at it, which is what a wolf does.

Poem Entering the Apple Valley Target, by Lynn Melnick


Into the fluorescent rough country
headlong into bulks of flesh

impatient to outspend me

and who wouldn’t fold real quick
under the weight of America’s sales and specials.

I believed then I didn’t

that I was different than I am
in my own skin in this infinity

mirror, instructed such
to seduce myself, to go on.

I am sorry

about the space I take up
about the panic

running around my aspect and my hunger

although it’s nothing

these racks of acrylic winter apparatus
won’t dazzle out of my head.

I’ll take several. I’ll take fistfuls.
I’ll tuck it into my mouth at night to keep me quiet.


 

About this poem:

I wrote this poem because I find myself terribly overwhelmed by the experience of shopping, by all the stuff and all the people, and all the people in a frenzy over all the stuff. I get confused and I can’t breathe and I can barely remember who I am or what I want. And then I buy something I don’t need.”

Lynn Melnick

Things Between Themselves, by Heidi Lynn Staples


…to have been things among things between themselves and all others who live…
…to travel widely beyond the seas…
…to arrive one half king, one half informer…
…to appear o how atrocious soever…

…to present all the disabilities…
…to demonstrate an investment in kin…
…to show an interest real or personal in this…
…to uncover such estates…

…to expose ourselves as foundlings, nursed, clad, and taught…
…to observe ourselves founded by experience…
…to perceive ourselves discovered where unfounded…
…to receive the legacy and the gift…

…to forsake reckoned heavy sorrow…
…to suffer the penalties and become…

 

Sonnet [Nothing was ever what it claimed to be,], by Karen Volkman


Nothing was ever what it claimed to be,
the earth, blue egg, in its seeping shell
dispensing damage like a hollow hell
inchling weeping for a minor sea

ticking its tidelets, x and y and z.
The blue beneficence we call and spell
and call blue heaven, the whiteblue well
of constant water, deepening a thee,

a thou and who, touching every what—
and in the or, a shudder in the cut—
and that you are, blue mirror, only stare

bluest blankness, whether in the where,
sheen that bleeds blue beauty we are taught
drowns and booms and vowels.  I will not.

 

Knot iii.VII, by Stacy Doris


If people could feed on themselves which they can, whether in despair or

Pride, time becomes a circulation, reduced and expanded to that, imitating

Digestion. Ingesting decomposes any scrap into functions, whereas eating

Something other than yourself disprove wholeness. What rewards

Rewording might be justice. Then does response outrun responsibility,

Overthrow it, so all government’s automatic, total, a model of control based

On nature? If retribution’s normal, rule’s always enforcing, twisted and

Abstract: flexed. Then days are contaminated by law, and life’s a code,

Dead yet lethal. Even putrefaction would be saturated thus: the severed

Hand molder on schedule.

Perhaps in this way all living’s starvation, programmed to regurgitate itself,

So cutting off supplies would free, while goods stifle. Thus the excuse

That oneness means bodiless, that what has parts is too bulky for unity.

Indivisible then implies a corpus subtracted, or, origin in amputation. Any

Bomb curls back on its unleashing, so mirrors cause and denies effect.

So repeats; is a refrain. Like all waves, destruction won’t break. If so,

Nobody needs to be alive to go on. State equals machine, but runs only

By crashing. Each project attacks what may be in place with the corrosive

Burn of potential. Passivity’s the only order: ordains. But breathing counts

Down. Each movement of respiration encodes terror, which flourishes in

Everyone thus, in the midst of hunger and abundance, in the speed of love.

No tourniquet dispels it.

 

Poem for circulation, by Anselm Berrigan


Things surrounding things
fill my Wicked Tuna grid

heart with a swishy austerity-like
intention. I cut my post-fleshy

forearms & bleed a serious parallel
echo chamber reading everything

to approve of nothing. I massage
my anterior cruciate ligaments

to celebrate a hard won royal flush.
This mind is slick-like and easy-like

and music-like and gesture-like
and, as I am the dappled heathen

you’ve been given internal permission
to dismiss from your sacrosanct

barricades and bounty systems,
coy, and shit-like. A second first-person

recapitulation does not defiantly
buy shape rightly here. Sane

continuity is your trashy blues
making progress out of heart’s lack.

How should I know you’re not
there bleeding, respectably

to conclude a moist relentment
and make my evil labors clear?

 

To be the thing, by Dorothea Lasky


To be the name uttered, but not to have the burden to be
To be the name said, but not heard
To not breathe anymore, to be the thing
To be the thing being breathed
To not be about to die, to be already dead
To not have to disappoint
To not have the burden of being late
Or punctual
To not eat, to not have to eat
To not feel anything
To not be the one whose affect is criticized
To not pick up the fallen over boxes
To be everywhere but the boxes or plates
To not break the plates
To be beyond breaking
To have been broken
To not bear the burden of not being present
To not have to feel the pain of being hurt
To have transferred that pain over
So that hurt is only part of the imagination
And the imagination is everywhere, is every color
To not contain color, to be color
To not make sound, to be sound
To not have language, to echo, to plan language
To be the stream of words
To not be sad for
To not have those to be sad for
To not eat alone
To not fuck those who do not find your corpse attractive
To not fuck
Or stuff
To be ashes and non-placed
Not displaced, but to not be in any place
To enter the ocean on not a whim, but a physical force
Where there is no center
Where there is no safety
There never was
There was never any anger
There was never anything to look at
I never looked at anything
I just went and walked
I tried to love
But love is hopeless
And I have lost all hope, so bleak I am beyond
I am beyond what might be considered low
There is low nor high, space or time, I have
Gone away from that which is uttered
I have not burdened to be spoken of or spoken for
To croak everyday to the livelong bog
I do not speak a thing
I exist
No, no I don’t
I never did
And you may have
But I never did
And you may have called out for me
But I was already gone
And I am already there
That which you speak of
I am already spoken for
In a world of light and ashes
They all call my name
They have waited for me
And now I know
I was always
Already there
With them

 

High Tide at Race Point, by Charles Bernstein


for Norman Fischer
A commercial with no pitch.
A beach without sand.
A lover without a love.
A surface without an exterior.
A touch without a hand.
A protest without a cause.
A well without a bottom.
A sting without a bite.
A scream without a mouth.
A fist without a fight.
A day without an hour.
A park with no benches.
A poem without a text.
A singer with no voice.
A computer without memory.
A cabana without a beach.
A bump with no road.
A sorrow without a loss.
A goal without a purpose.
A noise without sound.
A story without a plot.
A sail without a boat.
A plane without wings.
A pen without ink.
A murder without a victim.
A sin without a sinner.
An agreement without terms.
A spice with no taste.
A gesture without motion.
A spectator without view.
A slope without a curve.
A craving without a desire.
A volume without dimension.
A Nazi without a Jew.
A comic without a joke.
A promise without a hope.
A comforter without the comfort.
The certainty without being sure.
Stealing with nothing stolen.
The might have beens without the was.
The Mishnah without Torah.
The two without the one.
The silken without the silk.
The inevitable without necessity.
Logic without inference.
Suddenness without change.
A canyon without depth.
Fume without smell.
Determination with no objective.
Gel without cohesion.
A cure without a disease.
A disease without a trace.
A mineral without a shape.
A line without extension.
Persistence without intention.
Blank without emptiness.
Border without division.
A puppet without strings.
Compliance without criteria.
A disappointment without an expectation.
Color without hue.
An idea without content.
Grief with no end.

Call Us, by Sally Van Doren


Let’s use our nicknames
When we apply for this next job
Even though it’s past our bedtime
And our current paycheck

Can’t shut up the muse
Who mewls at the dinner table
Begging for a crust of bread
To sate the nightly terrors.

For they come, don’t they,
Leaving empty spaces numbers
Are supposed to fill. Buddy
And Chip loaded their coffers

Before the hard freeze.
The ice burns our tongues
As we swallow prosperity
One parched drop at a time.

 

The Poem as Mask, by Muriel Rukeyser


Orpheus

When I wrote of the women in their dances and
wildness, it was a mask,
on their mountain, gold-hunting, singing, in orgy,
it was a mask; when I wrote of the god,
fragmented, exiled from himself, his life, the love gone
down with song,
it was myself, split open, unable to speak, in exile from
myself.

There is no mountain, there is no god, there is memory
of my torn life, myself split open in sleep, the rescued
child
beside me among the doctors, and a word
of rescue from the great eyes.

No more masks! No more mythologies!

Now, for the first time, the god lifts his hand,
the fragments join in me with their own music.

 

Her Name was Name, by Matt Hart


I had a girl, I named her soap.
I had a soap, I named her cat.
One day I played the accordion on paper,
and it sounded like a birth certificate
drifting into the sun, a disintegration station
in a vast bewildered wilderness—
which sounds like a slide whistle at first
but later like the back porch flytrap I named
jungle. I have never before mentioned
these names in the airway, and neither has the girl
I named name ever faltered—
though the question of remains
in the hallway remains: Does one’s imagination
also disintegrate, or does it flutter forever
like a boa constrictor, circling the world
or a warthog? The warthog I named babe;
the boa constrictor I called pasture.
The last time I found myself ensnared
in the pastoral, I imagined a rope
and escaped by climbing up it.
Then I named it laminate, but I called it
overwhelming. Me and overwhelming
covered in skulls. One superhero
to another to another. I boiled a lobster,
I named it travel. I had an agent,
and I named her mob.
Then I took out the garbage
and went running with my dog
ostensibly to prove my existence,
if not also my purchase. I made a purchase,
I named it purpose. There is nothing so bright
as a toddler on fire. We don’t need no water…
I named the water deathstar.

 

Hey Allen Ginsberg Where Have You Gone and What Would You Think of My Drugs?, by Rachel Zucker


A mouse went to see his mother.  When his car broke down he bought a bike.
When the bike wore out he bought skates.  When the skates wore down he ran.
He ran until his sneakers wore through.  Then he walked.  He walked and
walked, almost walked his feet through so he bought new ones.  His mother was
happy to see him and said, “what nice new feet you have on.”
—paraphrase of a story in Mouse Tails by Arnold Lobel

hey, listen, a bad thing happened to
my friend’s marriage, can’t tell you
only can tell my own story which
so far isn’t so bad:

“Dad” and I stay married.  so far.
so good.  so so.

But it felt undoable. This lucky life
every day, every day. every. day.

(all the poetry books the goddamn same
until one guys gets up and stuns the audience)

Then, Joe Wenderoth, not by a long shot
sober says, I promised my wife I wouldn’t fuck
anyone, to no one in particular and reads a poem
about how Jesus has no penis.

Meanwhile, the psychiatrist, attractive in a fatherly
way, says libido question mark.

And your libido?
like a father, but not like mine, or my sons’—

“fix it.”

My friend’s almost written
a good novel by which I mean finished
which means I’d like to light myself
on fire, on fire
with envy, this isn’t “desire”
not what the Dr. meant
by libido?
I hope—

not, it’s just chemical:
jealousy. boredom. lethargy.

Books with prominent seraphs: their feet feet feet I am
marching to the same be—

other

than the neuronic slave I thought anxiety made me
do it, made me get up and carry forth, sally
the children to school the poems dragged
by little hands on their little seraphs
to the page my marriage sustained, remaining
energy: project #1, project #2, broken
fixtures, summer plans, demand met, request
granted, bunny noodles with and without cheesy
at the same time, and the night time I insomnia
these hours penning invisible letters—

till it stopped.

doc said: it’s a syndrome.        you’ve got it,
classic.

it’s chemical,
mental

circuitry we’ve got a fix for this
classic, I’m saying I can

make it better.

Everything was the same, then,
but better.

At night I slept.
In the morning got up.

Kids to school, husband still a fool-
hardy spirit makes
me pick a monday morning fight, snipe! I’ll pay for that
later I’m still a pain in the
elbow from writing prose those shift+hold+letter,
I’m still me less sleepy, crazy, I suppose
less crazy-jealous just
ha-ha now at Jesus’ no penis his
amazed at the other poet’s kickass
friend’s novel I dream instead about
the government makes me put stickers
on my driver’s license of family members
who are Jews, and mine all are.  Can they get us
all? I escape with a beautiful light-haired man,
blue-eyed day trader, gentile.

gentle, gentle, mind encased in its
blood-brain barrier from the harsh skull
sleep,  sleep and sleepy wake and want
to sleep and sleep a steep dosage—

“—chemical?”

in my dreams now every man’s mine, no-
problem, perhaps my mind’s a little plastic,
malleable, not so fatal now

the dose is engineered like that new genetic watercress
to turn from green to red when planted over buried
mines, nitrogen dioxide makes for early autumn
red marks the spot where I must
watch my step, up one half-step-dose specific—

The psychiatrist’s lived in NY so long
he’s of ambiguous religious—
everyone’s Jewish sometimes—
writes: “up the dosage.”

now,
when I’m late I just shrug
it’s my new improved style
missed the train? I tug
the two boys single file

the platform a safe aisle
between disasters, blithely
I step, step, step-lively
carefully, wisely.

I sing silly ditties
play I spy something pretty
grey-brown-metal-filthy
for a little city fun.

Just one way to enjoy life’s
trials, mile after mile, lucky
to have such dependable feet.

you see,
the rodents don’t frighten I’m
calm as can be expected to recover left to my
one devivces I was twice as fast getting everywhere but
where did that get me but there, that inevitable location
more waiting, the rats there scurry, scurry, a furry

till the next train comes

“up the dosage.”

Brown a first-cut brisket in hot Dutch oven
after dusting with paprika.  Remove.  Sauté
thickly sliced onions and add wine. (Sweet
is better, lasts forever, never need a new bottle).
Put the meat on onions, cover with tomato-sauce-
onion-soup-mix mixture, cover. Back in a low
oven many hours.

The house smells like meat.
My hair smells like meat.

I’m a light unto the nation.

I’m trying
to get out of Egypt.
This year,
I’ll  be better.

Joseph makes sense of the big man’s dreams, is saved,
saves his brothers those jealous boys who sold him
sold them all as slaves. Seven years of plenty.  Seven
years of famine.  He insomnias the nights counting up
grains, storing, planning, for what? They say throw
the small boys in the river (and mothers do so). Smite
the sons (and fathers do it.) God says take off your shoes,
this holy ground this pitiful, incombustible bush.

Is God chemical?
Enzymatic of our great need to chaos?

We’re unforgivable.
People of the salted
cheeks.  Slap, turn, slap.

To be chosen
is to be
unforgiving/ unforgiv-
en, always chosen:
be better.

The Zuckers are a long line of obsessives.

This served them well in war time saw it
coming in time that unseeable thing they
hoarded they ferried, schemed, paced, got the hell
out figured out at night, insomnia, how to visa—

now, if it happens again, I won’t be
ready

I’m “better.”

The husband, a country club Jew from Denver, American
intelligentsia will have to carry me out and he’s no big
man and I’m not a small girl how fast

can the doctor switch the refugee gene back on?

How fast can I get worse?  Smart again and worse?

Better to be alive than better.

“…listen:” says the doctor, “sleeping isn’t death.
All children unlearn this fear you got confused
thought thinking was the same as spinning—”
Writes: “up the dosage.”
don’t think.  this refugee thing part
of a syndrome fear of medication of being better…

Truth is, the anti-obsessional medicine works
wonders and drags me through life’s course…

About this time of year but years ago the priests spread
rumors of blood libel. Jews huddled in basements accused
of using Christian babes’ blood to make unleavened bread.

signs and wonders.
Christ rises.

Blood and body and babes.
Basements and briskets
and bread of afflictions.

I am calm now with my pounds of meat
made and frozen, my party schedule, my pills
of liberation, my gentile dream-boy, American
passport, my grey haired-psychiatrist, my blue-
eyed son, my brown-eyed son, my poems on their
pretty little fleet-feet, my big shot friends, olive-skinned
husband, my right elbow on fire: fire inside deep in the nerve
from too much carrying and word-mongering, smithery, bearing
and tensing choosing to be better to live this real life this better orbit this Jack

Kerouac never loved you like you wanted.
Blake.
Buddha.
Only Jesus and that’s his shtick,
he loves

everyone: smile! that’s it,
for the camera, blood pressure
normal, better, you’re a poster child
for signs and wonders what a little chemistry
does for the brain, blood, thought, hey,

did you know that Pharaoh actually wanted
to let them go?  those multitude Jews
but God hardened Pharaoh’s heart against them [Jews]
to prove his prowess show his signs, wonders, outstretched
hand, until the dosage was a perfect ten and then
some, sea closing up around those little chariots
the men and horses while women on the far shore shook
their tambourines.  And then what?  Forty years to get the smell
of slavery off them.

Because of this. Bloody Nile. My story one of
the lucky.  Escape hatch even from my own
obsess—

I am here because of this.
Because of what my ancestors did for me to tell this
story of the outstretched hand what it did for me this
marked door and behind this red-marked door, around
a corner a blue-eyed boy waits to love me up with his
leavened bread, his slim body, professional detachment,
medical advancements, forgive me my father’s mother’s
father was the last in a long line of Rabbis—again! with this? This
rhapsody of affliction and escape, the mind bobbing along
in its watery safe. Be like everyone. Else. Indistinguishable but
better than the other nations but that’s what got us into this, Allen,
no one writes these long-ass poems anymore.  Now we’re
better, all better.  All Christian.  Kind.

 

My Daughter Among the Names, by Farid Matuk


Difficult once I’ve said things

to know them this morning

the lights above the tollway all off

at exactly 7:36

all “we took our yellow from the pewter sky.”

But we have so many

things!   Stories

about our diction, the leather couch

some trees and our ages.

What about all the rooms the sky makes—

she tried several

spaces today, under a desk, a nook

bent to her.

I thought of picking a fight

with dead Bachelard.

Her small body a new host for

waters, spaces brought round

for viruses, their articulations, their ranges.

Think of all the products

left behind by a shift in design—

iPod cases, dancers called spirit rappers

sites where “women, negroes, natives were acted out”

for Rev. Hiram Mattison “vehicles of impurity.”

“My children too have learned

a barbarous tongue, though it’s not so sure

they will rise to high command”— Tu Fu or

Bernadette Mayer on Hawthorne’s American Notebooks

a boy tried to hang a dog in a playground, she said.

O structural inequalities!  O explanations!

The owner of the desert house we rented

plants butterfly bushes, cenizo, and columns

of dark leaves where birds go.

Sharp sweet dung smell off the horse trailer

after it pulls away.

What about all the rooms the sky makes?

Faint blue expanse

a long far line of electric poles

a mountain I can see.  Dog yelps almost digital

maybe from inside a car at the Dollar General.

She made her first marks today

on this page

rain    hand      here

 

Poem, by Rachel Zucker


The other day Matt Rohrer said,
the next time you feel yourself going dark
in a poem, just don’t, and see what happens.

That was when Matt, Deborah Landau,
Catherine Barnett, and I were chatting,
on our way to somewhere and something else.

In her office, a few minutes earlier, Deborah
had asked, are you happy? And I said, um, yes,
actually, and Deborah: well, I’m not—

all I do is work and work. And the phone
rang every thirty seconds and between
calls Deborah said, I asked Catherine

if she was happy and Catherine said, life
isn’t about happiness it’s about helping
other people. I shrugged, not knowing how

to respond to such a fine idea.
So, what makes you happy?
Deborah asked, in an accusatory way,

and I said, I guess, the baby, really,
because he makes me stop
working? And Deborah looked sad

and just then her husband called
and Deborah said, Mark, I’ve got
rachel Zucker here, she’s happy,

I’ll have to call you back. And then
we left her office and went downstairs
to the salon where a few weeks before

we’d read poems for the Not for Mothers Only
anthology and I especially liked Julie Carr’s
poem about crying while driving while listening to

the radio report news of the war while her kids
fought in the back seat while she remembered
her mother crying while driving, listening to

news about the war. There were a lot of poems
that night about crying, about the war, about
fighting, about rage, anger, and work. Afterward

Katy Lederer came up to me and said,
“I don’t believe in happiness”—you’re such a bitch
for using that line, now no one else can.

Deborah and I walked through that now-sedated space
which felt smaller and shabby without Anne Waldman
and all those women and poems and suddenly

there was Catherine in a splash of sunlight
at the foot of a flight of stairs talking to Matt Rohrer
on his way to a room or rooms I’ve never seen.

And that’s when Deborah told Matt that I was
happy and that Catherine thought life wasn’t about
happiness and Deborah laughed a little and flipped

her hair (she is quite glamorous) and said, but Matt,
are you happy? Well, Matt said he had a bit of a coldd
but otherwise was and that’s when he said,

next time you feel yourself going dark in a poem,
just don’t, and see what happens. And then,
because it was Julian’s sixth birthday, Deborah went

to bring him cupcakes at school and Catherine and I
went to talk to graduate students who teach poetry
to children in hospitals and shelters and other

unhappy places and Matt went up the stairs to the room
or rooms I’ve never seen. That was last week and now
I’m here, in bed, turning toward something I haven’t felt

for a long while. A few minutes ago I held our baby up
to the bright window and sang the song I always sing
before he takes his nap. He whined and struggled

the way toddlers do, wanting to move on to something
else, something next, and his infancy is almost over.
He is crying himself to sleep now and I will not say

how full of sorrow I feel, but will turn instead
to that day, only a week ago, when I was
the happiest poet in the room, including Matt Rohrer.

 

Diary [Surface], by Rachel Zucker


Spring is not so very promising as it is the thing
that looking back was fire, promising:
ignition, aspiration; it was not under my thumb.

Now when I pretend a future it is the moment
he holds the thing I say new-born,
delicate, sure to begin moving but

I am burned out of it like the melody underneath
(still not under my thumb)–
was he ambiguous, amphibian?

Underneath, his voice, the many ways
he gathers oxygen; it will not stop raining
until the buds push through the brittle trees.

If they fail we will not survive,
washed and washed with rain, will we?
No,we are not there yet.

She is pushing me two ways until
I am inside the paradox, the many lungs,
and they’re at it again, gathering oxygen;

no wonder I am wrung out
holding out for the promise of
something secret, after–

 

For Once, Then, Something, by Robert Frost


Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

A Green Crab’s Shell, by Mark Doty


Not, exactly, green:
closer to bronze
preserved in kind brine,

something retrieved
from a Greco-Roman wreck,
patinated and oddly

muscular. We cannot
know what his fantastic
legs were like–

though evidence
suggests eight
complexly folded

scuttling works
of armament, crowned
by the foreclaws’

gesture of menace
and power. A gull’s
gobbled the center,

leaving this chamber
–size of a demitasse–
open to reveal

a shocking, Giotto blue.
Though it smells
of seaweed and ruin,

this little traveling case
comes with such lavish lining!
Imagine breathing

surrounded by
the brilliant rinse
of summer’s firmament.

What color is
the underside of skin?
Not so bad, to die,

if we could be opened
into this–
if the smallest chambers

of ourselves,
similarly,
revealed some sky.

A Boat, Beneath a Sunny Sky, by Lewis Carroll


A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?

Waiting for Rain, by Ellen Bass


Finally, morning. This loneliness

feels more ordinary in the light, more like my face

in the mirror. My daughter in the ER again.

Something she ate? Some freshener

 

someone spritzed in the air?

They’re trying to kill me, she says,

as though it’s a joke. Lucretius

got me through the night. He told me the world goes on

 

making and unmaking. Maybe it’s wrong

to think of better and worse.

There’s no one who can carry my fear

for a child who walks out the door

 

not knowing what will stop her breath.

The rain they say is coming

sails now over the Pacific in purplish nimbus clouds.

But it isn’t enough. Last year I watched

 

elephants encircle their young, shuffling

their massive legs without hurry, flaring

their great dusty ears. Once they drank

from the snowmelt of Kilimanjaro.

 

Now the mountain is bald. Lucretius knows

we’re just atoms combining and recombining:

star dust, flesh, grass. All night

I plastered my body to Janet,

 

breathing when she breathed. But her skin,

warm as it is, does, after all, keep me out.

How tenuous it all is.

My daughter’s coming home next week.

 

She’ll bring the pink plaid suitcase we bought at Ross.

When she points it out to the escort

pushing her wheelchair, it will be easy

to spot on the carousel. I just want to touch her.

Red String, by Minnie Bruce Pratt


      At first she thought the lump in the road
was clay thrown up by a trucker’s wheel.
Then Beatrice saw the mess of feathers.

Six or seven geese stood in the right-of-way, staring
at the blood, their black heads rigid above white throats.
Unmoved by passing wind or familiar violence, they fixed
their gaze on dead flesh and something more, a bird on the wing.

It whirled in a thicket of fog that grew up from fields plowed
and turned to winter. It joined other spirits exhaled before dawn,
creatures that once had crept or flapped or crawled over the land.

Beatrice had heard her mother tell of men who passed
as spirits. They hid in limestone caves by the river, hooded
themselves inside the curved wall, the glistening rock.
Then just at dark they appeared, as if they had the power
to split     the earth open to release them. White-robed, faceless
horned heads, they advanced with torches over the water,
saying, We are the ghosts of Shiloh and Bull Run fight!

Neighbors who watched at the bridge knew each man by his voice
or limp or mended boots but said nothing, let the marchers
pass on. Then they ran their skinny hounds to hunt other
lives down ravines, to save their skins another night
from the carrion beetles, spotted with red darker than blood,
who wait by the grave for the body’s return to the earth.

Some years the men killed scores, treed them in the sweetgums,
watched a beast face flicker in the starry green leaves.
Then they burned the tree.

Smoke from their fires
still lay over the land where Beatrice travelled.

Out of this cloud the dead of the field spoke to her,
voices from a place where women’s voices never stop:

They took my boy down by Sucarnochee creek.
He said, “Gentlemen, what have I done?”
They says, “Never mind what you have done.
We just want your damned heart.” After they
killed him, I built up a little fire and laid out
by him all night until the neighbors came
in the morning. I was standing there when
they killed him, down by Sucarnochee creek.

I am a mighty brave woman, but I was getting
scared the way they were treating me, throwing rocks
on my house, coming in disguise. They come to my bed
where I was laying, and whipped me. They dragged me
out into the field so that the blood strung across
the house, and the fence, and the cotton patch,
in the road, and they ravished me. Then they went
back into my house and ate the food on the stove.
They have drove me from my home. It is over
by DeSotoville, on the other side in Choctaw.

I had informed of persons whom I saw
dressing in Ku-Klux disguise;
had named the parties. At the time
I was divorced from Dr. Randall
and had a school near Fredonia.
About one month before the election
some young men about the county
came in the night-time; they said
I was not a decent woman; also
I was teaching radical politics.
They whipped me with hickory withes.
The gashes cut through my thin dress,
through the abdominal wall.
I was thrown into a ravine
in a helpless condition. The school
closed after my death.

From the fog above the bloody entrails of the bird, the dead flew
toward Beatrice like the night crow whose one wing rests on the evening
while the other dusts off the morning star. They gave her such a look:

Child, what have you been up to while we
were trying to keep body and soul together?

But never mind that now. Here’s what you must do:

Tie a red flannel string around your waist.
Plant your roots when the moon is dark. Remember
your past, and ours. Always remember who you are.
Don’t let those men fool you about the ways of life
even if blood must sign your name.

 

The Aeneid, Book VI, [First, the sky and the earth], by Virgil


                                                           “First,
the sky and the earth and the flowing fields of the sea,
the shining orb of the moon and the Titan sun, the stars:
an inner spirit feeds them, coursing through all their limbs,
mind stirs the mass and their fusion brings the world to birth.
From their union springs the human race and the wild beasts,
the winged lives of birds and the wondrous monsters bred
below the glistening surface of the sea. The seeds of life—
fiery is their force, divine their birth, but they
are weighed down by the bodies’ ills or dulled
by earthly limbs and flesh that’s born for death.
That is the source of all men’s fears and longings,
joys and sorrows, nor can they see the heavens’ light,
shut up in the body’s tomb, a prison dark and deep.
“True,
but even on that last day, when the light of life departs,
the wretches are not completely purged of all the taints,
nor are they wholly freed of all the body’s plagues.
Down deep they harden fast—they must, so long engrained
in the flesh—in strange, uncanny ways. And so the souls
are drilled in punishments, they must pay for their old offenses.
Some are hung splayed out, exposed to the empty winds,
some are plunged in the rushing floods—their stains,
their crimes scoured off or scorched away by fire.
Each of us must suffer his own demanding ghost.
Then we are sent to Elysium’s broad expanse,
a few of us even hold these fields of joy
till the long days, a cycle of time seen through,
cleanse our hard, inveterate stains and leave us clear
ethereal sense, the eternal breath of fire purged and pure.
But all the rest, once they have turned the wheel of time
for a thousand years: God calls them forth to the Lethe,
great armies of souls, their memories blank so that
they may revisit the overarching world once more
and begin to long to return to bodies yet again.”

 

Strange Meeting, by Wilfred Owen


It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which Titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,—
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand fears that vision’s face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
“Strange, friend,” I said, “Here is no cause to mourn.”
“None,” said the other, “Save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something has been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress,
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery;
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot—wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now . . .”