Another Poem on My Daughter’s Birthday, by Craig Morgan Teicher

There must be soft words
for an evening like this, when the breeze
caresses like gentle fingertips
all over. I don’t know

how not to write darkly and sad.
But it’s two years today since
my little girl was born, cut safely
from the noose.

We meant nothing but hope;
how near death is to that.

Only children, only some children,
get to run free from these snags. She
was born! She lived and she grows
like joy spreading from the syllables

of songs. She reminds me of now
and now and now.
I must learn
to have been so lucky.

A Supermarket in California, by Allen Ginsberg

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!–and you, García Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?

I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.

Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in a hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?
–Berkeley, 1955


More by Allen Ginsberg:

Howl, Parts I & II & III,
by Allen Ginsberg
A Supermarket in California,
by Allen Ginsberg
Kaddish, Part I,
by Allen Ginsberg

 

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.