Suicide In The Trenches, by Siegfried Sassoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Humanimal [Feral children are fatty], by Bhanu Kapil

4. Feral children are fatty, complex and rigid. When you captured the two children, you had to brush the knots out of their hair then scrape the comb free of hard butter. Descent and serration. No. I don’t want to ask primal questions.

5. Kamala slips over the garden wall with her sister and runs, on all fours, towards the complex horizon between Midnapure and its surrounding belt of sal. The humanimal mode is one of pure anxiety attached to the presence of the body. Two panicked children strain against the gelatin envelope of the township, producing, through distension, a frightening shape. The animals see an opaque, milky membrane bulging with life and retreat, as you would, to the inner world. I am speaking for you in January. It is raining. Amniotic, compelled to emerge, the girls are nevertheless re-absorbed. I imagine them back in their cots illuminated by kerosene lanterns. I illuminate them in the colony—the cluster of residences, including the Home—around St. John’s. No. Though I’ve been there, it’s impossible for me to visualize retrieval. Chronologies only record the bad days, the attempted escapes.

d. I was almost to the gate. I was almost to the gate when a hand reached out and pulled me backwards by my hair, opening my mouth to an O. The next day, I woke up with a raw throat. The cook gave me salt in warm water. I waited until she was gone and then I bit it. I bit my own arm and ate it. Here is my belly, frosted with meat. Here are my eyes, bobbling in a tin.

6. It’s Palm Sunday and Kamala, with the other orphans in a dark, glittery crocodile, walks from Home to church. Her two arms extend stiffly from her body to train them, to extend. Unbound, her elbows and wrists would flex then supinate like two peeled claws. Wrapped, she is a swerve, a crooked yet regulated mark. This is corrective therapy; the fascia hardening over a lifetime then split in order to re-set it, educate the nerves.

e. The cook fed us meats of many kinds. I joined my belly to the belly of the next girl. It was pink and we opened our beaks for meat. It was wet and we licked the dictionary off each other’s faces.

7. Is this the humanimal question? No, it’s a disc, transferring light from corner to corner of the girl’s eye. Like an animal tapetum. The way at night an animal. Animal eyes, glinting, in the room where he kept her, his girl, deep in the Home.

Making a Meal Out of It, by Joel Lewis

Hoboken snowtime and the big slushy
mounds are the laundry of the future,
with next-door’s mortician rating
my clumsy shoveling by shouting:
“You’d never make it as a grave digger!”

Time pulse quickens with walkers
and curb lackeys merged in the quadrille
of symbiosis. In local shop windows
they sell devices capable
of reordering speech. I pass. I have
that exile’s sense of recreation
& believe rebirth is possible
from the wreck of our common misery
& that songs are clear when sung

by heroes, but not in this epoch. Niggling
winter dreams fueled by the rhythms
of the world’s desire. This is my version.
I know the dimensions. I live by a river.

Humanimal [I want to make a dark mirror out of writing], by Bhanu Kapil

47. I want to make a dark mirror out of writing: one child facing the other, like Dora and little Hans. I want to write, for example, about the violence done to my father’s body as a child. In this re-telling, India is blue, green, black and yellow like the actual, reflective surface of a mercury globe. I pour the mercury into a shallow box to see it: my father’s right leg, linear and hard as the bone it contains, and silver. There are scooped out places where the flesh is missing, shiny, as they would be regardless of race. A scar is memory. Memory is wrong. The wrong face appears in the wrong memory. A face, for example, condenses on the surface of the mirror in the bathroom when I stop writing to wash my face. Hands on the basin, I look up, and see it: the distinct image of an owlgirl. Her eyes protrude, her tongue is sticking out, and she has horns, wings and feet. Talons. I look into her eyes and see his. Writing makes a mirror between the two children who perceive each other. In a physical world, the mirror is a slice of dark space. How do you break a space? No. Tell me a story set in a different time, in a different place. Because I’m scared. I’m scared of the child I’m making.

48. They dragged her from a dark room and put her in a sheet. They broke her legs then re-set them. Both children, the wolfgirls, were given a fine yellow powder to clean their kidneys but their bodies, having adapted to animal ways of excreting meat, could not cope with this technology. Red worms came out of their bodies and the younger girl died. Kamala mourned the death of her sister with, as Joseph wrote, “an affection.” There, in a dark room deep in the Home. Many rooms are dark in India to kill the sun. In Midnapure, I stood in that room, and blinked. When my vision adjusted, I saw a picture of Jesus above a bed, positioned yet dusty on a faded turquoise wall. Many walls in India are turquoise, which is a color the human soul soaks up in an architecture not even knowing it was thirsty. I was thirsty and a girl of about eight, Joseph’s great-granddaughter, brought me tea. I sat on the edge of the bed and tried to focus upon the memory available to me in the room, but there was no experience. When I opened my eyes, I observed Jesus once again, the blood pouring from his open chest, the heart, and onto, it seemed, the floor, in drips.

Manifest Destiny, by Cynthia Lowen

The god I’d left behind sent one last email
before returning to his people.

That summer was sixty-five degrees and fluorescent.
I was working at a law firm.

The logical mind thinks,
You’ll be paid for your suffering.

Paradise is of this earth
and it is yours,
said the copy-machine.

The impenetrable old growth of paper on my desk
begged to be made
irrelevant.

When I took off my skirt-suit I felt like my mother, or myself

done pretending
to be my mother.

I stood at the edge
of a New World.

I stared up the long rocky coast.

Whichever way was something to bump against
I pressed on in that direction.

It was like a sickness.
It was like the uncontrollable urge
to eat dirt.

How Do I Know When a Poem Is Finished?, by Naomi Shihab Nye

When you quietly close
the door to a room
the room is not finished.

It is resting. Temporarily.
Glad to be without you
for a while.

Now it has time to gather
its balls of gray dust,
to pitch them from corner to corner.

Now it seeps back into itself,
unruffled and proud.
Outlines grow firmer.

When you return,
you might move the stack of books,
freshen the water for the roses.

I think you could keep doing this
forever. But the blue chair looks best
with the red pillow. So you might as well

leave it that way.

For What Binds Us, by Jane Hirshfield

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they’ve been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,

as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest-

And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.

For A Traveler, by Jessica Greenbaum

I only have a moment so let me tell you the shortest story,
about arriving at a long loved place, the house of friends in Maine,
their lawn of wildflowers, their grandfather clock and candid
portraits, their gabled attic rooms, and woodstove in the kitchen,
all accessories of the genuine summer years before, when I was
their son’s girlfriend and tied an apron behind my neck, beneath
my braids, and took from their garden the harvest for a dinner
I would make alone and serve at their big table with the gladness
of the found, and loved. The eggplant shone like polished wood,
the tomatoes smelled like their furred collars, the dozen zucchini
lined up on the counter like placid troops with the onions, their
minions, and I even remember the garlic, each clove from its airmail
envelope brought to the cutting board, ready for my instruction.
And in this very slight story, a decade later, I came by myself,
having been dropped by the airport cab, and waited for the family
to arrive home from work. I walked into the lawn, waist-high
in the swaying, purple lupines, the subject of June’s afternoon light
as I had never been addressed—a displaced young woman with
cropped hair, no place to which I wished to return, and no one
to gather me in his arms. That day the lupines received me,
and I was in love with them, because they were all I had left,
and in that same manner I have loved much of the world since then,
and who is to say there is more of a reason, or more to love?

A Score for Tourist Movies, by Mary Austin Speaker

If music plays with film
then film is an illustration
of music’s movement.
Snap, blast, sever, sever, stop.
Even the dog twitching his ears.

If islands nestle in the ocean,
and a statue rises above the pilgrim,
then we are standing on a cliff
and the pilgrim has reached her goal.
The light is as pale as the back of her hand.

If the dancers twitch arrythmically
their dance is only partly kept.
At twenty-four frames per second,
film makes a lonely memory.
They sway staccato, staggered, stretched.

If drums repeat the pace
of film’s slip through the gate,
then the song’s refrain
retells film’s fades and cutaways.
Even its night-quiet darks.

If horns evoke an antique joy,
lens flares and close-ups send
their renderings into red relief.
How has mankind managed grief?
Light, noise, movement, breath.

If blood is to the body
as film is to the camera,
if film is a flat and lucid eye,
if light is a perishable gift,
then the night is the gate of the dark.

If light falls away with always
then film is a parcel of rest.
Panoramas, linked and strung
as castle-steps, lawns, the fine
iron bars of the castle gate.

If drums pace the beat of blood
and film is the speed of the rattle
of breath, then the dancers have
truly escaped us. We slow
as they quicken. We go and go.

Consolation Miracle, by Chad Davidson

In the pewless church of San Juan Chula,
a Neocatholic Tzozil Indian
wrings a chicken’s neck. Through piñoned air,

stars from tourist flashbulbs flame, reflecting
in the reddened eyes, in the mirrors
statuary cling to, inside their plate-

glass boxes. A mother fills a shot-
glass with fire. Others offer up moon-
shine swelling in goat bladders, the slender

throats of coke bottles, as if gods too thirsted
for the real thing. The slightest angle
of a satellite dish sends me to Florida,

where the sleepless claim the stars talk
too much. They stumble to their own
worn Virgin Mary whose eyes, they swear,

bleed. Florida: rising with its dead,
even as it sinks into the glade.
Meanwhile, a coast away, the heavenly gait

of Bigfoot in the famous Super-8,
voiced over with a cyrptozoologist
who’s all but laughed at the zipper-lined torso.

Bigfoot trails out of California
into my living room, a miracle
in the muddled middle ground of the event

horizon, in the swell between each seismic wave
where time carries itself like Bigfoot: heavy,
awkward, a touch too real to be real.

And the miracle cleaners make everything
disappear into faintly floral scents.
Miracle-starved, out of sleep or the lack of it.

I keep watching, not to see Bigfoot
but to be Bigfoot, trapse through grainy screens,
and the countless watching eyes, the brilliant

nebulae bleeding. Yeti, pray
you come again, you Sasquatch. Video
our world for your religions. Memorize

all these pleasure bulbs, these satellites,
our eyes, our stars. Look: how we turn
each other on tonight, one at a time.

In Praise Of The Passivity Of Paper, by Sam Riviere

I felt suddenly convinced that I had feelings for the wallpaper.
I was especially captivated by its blonde hair and bad dreams.
I had the impression the wallpaper needed longer to properly respond.
By the time I left, my affections had produced this abrasion on my cheek.
People looked on the abrasion as unquestionable proof of my sincerity.
The abrasion was produced by rubbing my face on the paper’s smooth surface.
It only occurred to me later that it might have found this sensation disagreeable.
But by then I had become known for my abrasion, and I seldom thought of,
discussed, or in any way depended upon the wallpaper for anything.
My affections, though, had produced upon the paper their own mark.
To my irritation and gradual dismay, interest in the paper’s abrasion
began to outweigh interest in my own; indeed, mine was starting to fade
while the mark upon the paper had deepened with the passing of time.
People liked to visit the paper in its room and probe their fingers
into the widening tear, by now a gruesome black-edged wound.
The silence of the paper during these incursions suggested to some
condemnation of their curiosity, but to others implied approval.
Some even speculated that the paper “enjoyed” the infringement
of its surfaces, while most agreed it was a question of the paper
enduring this indignity, having little or no opportunity to protest.
Some visitors could not contain their enthusiasm, and over time
other recesses were opened in the paper without its consent.
The earliest admirers of the paper’s abrasion were heard lamenting
the gulf between the paper’s current state and its previous appearance.
They opined that to experience the abrasion now was to encounter
a kind of mockery of the gentle and informal gesture it had once been.
Others contended that while the paper’s condition was certainly different,
it couldn’t be in any way “better” or “worse” than it had been originally;
on the contrary, the paper, exhibiting as it did the marks of the affections
spent upon it, was in every way a true record of the destruction this attention
had wrought, and had become if anything a more moving testament,
charting as it did the changing and accelerated passions of the times.
In later phases of the paper’s deterioration some expressed admiration
for the stoical indifference with which the paper withstood its abusers
and wondered if such an attitude might not improve the willing
and reciprocal style with which they and their contemporaries
were accustomed to receiving each other’s gazes and caresses.
Against the odds, this view seemed timely and took root in the populace,
and to this day in all the estimations of historians and critics of culture
it is widely held accountable for the period of dormancy and inertia
among the youngest of our people, whose silence and repose
has replaced the humors and rages of those whose desires had flown
unchecked, who had coupled for so long with such energy and frequency.

Inland, by Chase Twichell

Above the blond prairies,
the sky is all color and water.
The future moves
from one part to another.

This is a note
in a tender sequence
that I call love,
trying to include you,
but it is not love.
It is music, or time.

To explain the pleasure I take
in loneliness, I speak of privacy,
but privacy is the house around it.
You could look inside,
as through a neighbor’s window
at night, not as a spy
but curious and friendly.
You might think
it was a still life you saw.

Somewhere, the ocean
crashes back and forth
like so much broken glass,
but nothing breaks.
Against itself,
it is quite powerless.

Irises have rooted
all along the fence,
and the barbed berry-vines
gone haywire.

Unpruned and broken,
the abandoned orchard
reverts to the smaller,
harder fruits, wormy and tart.
In the stippled shade,
the fallen pears move
with the soft bodies of wasps,
and cows breathe in
the licorice silage.

It is silent
where the future is.
No longer needed there,
love is folded away in a drawer
like something newly washed.
In the window,
the color of the pears intensifies,
and the fern’s sporadic dust
darkens the keys of the piano.

Clouds containing light
spill out my sadness.
They have no sadness of their own.

The timeless trash of the sea
means nothing to me—
its roaring descant,
its multiple concussions.
I love painting more than poetry.

The Parallel Cathedral, by Tom Sleigh

1
The cathedral being built
around our split level house was so airy, it stretched
so high it was like a cloud of granite
and marble light the house rose up inside.

At the time I didn’t notice masons laying courses
of stone ascending, flying buttresses
pushing back forces that would have crushed our flimsy wooden beams.
But the hammering and singing of the guilds went on

outside my hearing, the lancets’ stained glass
telling how a tree rose up from Jesse’s loins whose
flower was Jesus staring longhaired from our bathroom wall where I

always wanted to ask if this was how he
really looked, slender, neurasthenic, itching for privacy
as the work went on century after century.

2
Fog in cherry trees, deer strapped
to bumpers, fresh snow marked
by dog piss shining frozen in the day made
a parallel cathedral unseen but intuited

by eyes that took it in and went on to the next
thing and the next as if unbuilding
a cathedral was the work
that really mattered—not knocking

it down which was easy—
but taking it apart stone
by stone until all

that’s left is the cathedral’s
outline coming in and out of limbo
in the winter sun.

3
All through childhood on eternal sick day afternoons,
I lived true to my name, piling dominoes
into towers, fingering the white dots like the carpenter Thomas
putting fingertips into the nail-holes of his master’s hands.

A builder and a doubter. Patron saint of all believers
in what’s really there every time you look:
black-scabbed cherry trees unleafed in winter,
the irrigation ditch that overflows at the back

of the house, chainlink of the schoolyard
where frozen footsteps in the snow
criss-cross and doubleback. And now the shroud falls away

and the wound under his nipple seeps fresh blood.
And when Jesus says, Whither I go you know,
Thomas says, We know not…how can we know the way?

Streets, by Naomi Shihab Nye

A man leaves the world
and the streets he lived on
grow a little shorter.

One more window dark
in this city, the figs on his branches
will soften for birds.

If we stand quietly enough evenings
there grows a whole company of us
standing quietly together.
overhead loud grackles are claiming their trees
and the sky which sews and sews, tirelessly sewing,
drops her purple hem.
Each thing in its time, in its place,
it would be nice to think the same about people.

Some people do. They sleep completely,
waking refreshed. Others live in two worlds,
the lost and remembered.
They sleep twice, once for the one who is gone,
once for themselves. They dream thickly,
dream double, they wake from a dream
into another one, they walk the short streets
calling out names, and then they answer.

One Day, by Joseph Millar

Everything shimmers
with the sound of the train
rattling over the bridge
especially the ears and nostrils and teeth
of the horse riding out
to the pasture of death
where the long train runs
on diesel fuel
that used to run on coal.
I keep listening
for the crickets and birds
and my words fall down below.

I mistook the train for a thunder storm,
I mistook the willow tree
for a home, it’s nothing to brag about
when you think of it
spending this time all alone.
I wandered into the hay field
and two ticks jumped in my hair
they dug in my scalp
and drank up my blood
like the sweet wine of Virginia,
then left me under the Druid moon
down here on earth in the kingdom.

The Pomegranate, by Eavan Boland

The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.

Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, by Patricia Smith

My mother scraped the name Patricia Ann from the ruins
of her discarded Delta, thinking it would offer me shield
and shelter, that leering men would skulk away at the slap
of it. Her hands on the hips of Alabama, she went for flat
and functional, then siphoned each syllable of drama,
repeatedly crushing it with her broad, practical tongue
until it sounded like an instruction to God, not a name.
She wanted a child of pressed head and knocking knees,
a trip-up in the doubledutch swing, a starched pinafore
and peppermint-in-the-sour-pickle kinda child, stiff-laced
and unshakably fixed on salvation. Her Patricia Ann
would never idly throat the Lord’s name or wear one
of those thin, sparkled skirts that flirted with her knees.
She’d be a nurse or a third-grade teacher or a postal drone,
jobs requiring alarm-clock discipline and sensible shoes.
My four downbeats were music enough for a vapid life
of butcher-shop sawdust and fatback as cuisine, for Raid
spritzed into the writhing pockets of a Murphy bed.
No crinkled consonants or muted hiss would summon me.

My daddy detested borders. One look at my mother’s
watery belly, and he insisted, as much as he could insist
with her, on the name Jimi Savannah, seeking to bless me
with the blues-bathed moniker of a ball breaker, the name
of a grown gal in a snug red sheath and unlaced All-Stars.
He wanted to shoot muscle through whatever I was called,
arm each syllable with tiny weaponry so no one would
mistake me for anything other than a tricky whisperer
with a switchblade in my shoe. I was bound to be all legs,
a bladed debutante hooked on Lucky Strikes and sugar.
When I sent up prayers, God’s boy would giggle and consider.

Daddy didn’t want me to be anybody’s surefire factory,
nobody’s callback or seized rhythm, so he conjured
a name so odd and hot even a boy could claim it. And yes,
he was prepared for the look my mother gave him when
he first mouthed his choice, the look that said, That’s it,
you done lost your goddamned mind. She did that thing
she does where she grows two full inches with righteous,
and he decided to just whisper Love you, Jimi Savannah
whenever we were alone, re- and rechristening me the seed
of Otis, conjuring his own religion and naming it me.

The Blue Cup, by Minnie Bruce Pratt

Through binoculars the spiral nebula was
a smudged white thumbprint on the night sky.
Stories said it was a mark left by the hand
of Night, that old she, easily weaving
the universe out of milky strings of chaos.

Beatrice found creation more difficult.
Tonight what she had was greasy water
whirling in the bottom of her sink, revolution,
and one clean cup.

She set the blue cup
down on the table, spooned instant coffee, poured
boiling water, a thread of sweetened milk. Before
she went back to work, she drank the galaxy that spun
small and cautious between her chapped cupped hands.

Panther, by Ned O’Gorman

When the panther came
no belfrey rang alarums,
no cleric spat his tea.
When the panther came
the sky and lawn were still.
The panter came
through forest,
through field,
up to the wall
and my one blossoming cherry tree.

I had constructed
the world as it was
and had pared the body
from the customs of languor.
It pressed its nose against
the pane and its gears
ground me away into ribbons
of dissonance.

It turned and sauntered
into the shadows. Its
paw marks on the earth
like cherries too ripe in a white bowl.

On 52nd Street, by Philip Levine

Down sat Bud, raised his hands,
the Deuces silenced, the lights
lowered, and breath gathered
for the coming storm. Then nothing,
not a single note. Outside starlight
from heaven fell unseen, a quarter-
moon, promised, was no show,
ditto the rain. Late August of ‘50,
NYC, the long summer of abundance
and our new war. In the mirror behind
the bar, the spirits—imitating you—
stared at themselves. At the bar
the tenor player up from Philly, shut
his eyes and whispered to no one,
“Same thing last night.” Everyone
been coming all week long
to hear this. The big brown bass
sighed and slumped against
the piano, the cymbals held
their dry cheeks and stopped
chicking and chucking. You went
back to drinking and ignored
the unignorable. When the door
swung open it was Pettiford
in work clothes, midnight suit,
starched shirt, narrow black tie,
spit shined shoes, as ready
as he’d ever be. Eyebrows
raised, the Irish bartender
shook his head, so Pettiford eased
himself down at an empty table,
closed up his Herald Tribune,
and shook his head. Did the TV
come on, did the jukebox bring us
Dinah Washington, did the stars
keep their appointments, did the moon
show, quartered or full, sprinkling
its soft light down? The night’s
still there, just where it was, just
where it’ll always be without
its music. You’re still there too
holding your breath. Bud walked out.

Pretty Polly, by Jane Springer

Who made the banjo sad & wrong?
Who made the luckless girl & hell bound boy?
Who made the ballad? The one, I mean,
where lovers gallop down mountain brush as though in love-
where hooves break ground to blood earth scent.
Who gave the boy swift words to woo the girl from home,
& the girl too pretty to leave alone? He locks one arm
beneath her breasts as they ride on-maybe her apron comes
undone & falls to a ditch of black-eyed susans. Maybe
she dreams the clouds are so much flour spilt on heaven’s table.

I’ve run the dark county of the heart this music comes from-but
I don’t know where to hammer-on or to drop a thumb to the
haunted string that sets the story straight: All night Willie’s dug
on Polly’s grave with a silver spade & every creek they cross
makes one last splash. Though flocks of swallows loom-the one
hung in cedar now will score the girl’s last thrill. Tell
me, why do I love this sawmill-tuned melancholy song
& thud of knuckles darkening the banjo face?
Tell me how to erase the ancient, violent beauty
in the devil of not loving what we love.

San Antonio, by Naomi Shihab Nye

Tonight I lingered over your name,
the delicate assembly of vowels
a voice inside my head.
You were sleeping when I arrived.
I stood by your bed
and watched the sheets rise gently.
I knew what slant of light
would make you turn over.
It was then I felt
the highways slide out of my hands.
I remembered the old men
in the west side cafe,
dealing dominoes like magical charms.
It was then I knew,
like a woman looking backward,
I could not leave you,
or find anyone I loved more.

To The One Upstairs, by Charles Simic

Boss of all bosses of the universe.
Mr. know-it-all, wheeler-dealer, wire-puller,
And whatever else you’re good at.
Go ahead, shuffle your zeros tonight.
Dip in ink the comets’ tails.
Staple the night with starlight.

You’d be better off reading coffee dregs,
Thumbing the pages of the Farmer’s Almanac.
But no! You love to put on airs,
And cultivate your famous serenity
While you sit behind your big desk
With zilch in your in-tray, zilch
In your out-tray,
And all of eternity spread around you.

Doesn’t it give you the creeps
To hear them begging you on their knees,
Sputtering endearments,
As if you were an inflatable, life-size doll?
Tell them to button up and go to bed.
Stop pretending you’re too busy to take notice.

Your hands are empty and so are your eyes.
There’s nothing to put your signature to,
Even if you knew your own name,
Or believed the ones I keep inventing,
As I scribble this note to you in the dark.

The Bistro Styx, by Rita Dove

She was thinner, with a mannered gauntness
as she paused just inside the double
glass doors to survey the room, silvery cape
billowing dramatically behind her. What’s this,

I thought, lifting a hand until
she nodded and started across the parquet;
that’s when I saw she was dressed all in gray,
from a kittenish cashmere skirt and cowl

down to the graphite signature of her shoes.
“Sorry I’m late,” she panted, though
she wasn’t, sliding into the chair, her cape

tossed off in a shudder of brushed steel.
We kissed. Then I leaned back to peruse
my blighted child, this wary aristocratic mole.

“How’s business?” I asked, and hazarded
a motherly smile to keep from crying out:
Are you content to conduct your life
as a cliché and, what’s worse,

an anachronism, the brooding artist’s demimonde?
Near the rue Princesse they had opened
a gallery cum souvenir shop which featured
fuzzy off-color Monets next to his acrylics, no doubt,

plus beared African drums and the occasional miniature
gargoyle from Notre Dame the Great Artist had
carved at breakfast with a pocket knife.

“Tourists love us. The Parisians, of course”—
she blushed—“are amused, though not without
a certain admiration . . .”
The Chateaubriand

arrived on a bone-white plate, smug and absolute
in its fragrant crust, a black plug steaming
like the heart plucked from the chest of a worthy enemy;
one touch with her fork sent pink juices streaming.

“Admiration for what?” Wine, a bloody
Pinot Noir, brought color to her cheeks. “Why,
the aplomb with which we’ve managed
to support our Art”—meaning he’d convinced

her to pose nude for his appalling canvases,
faintly futuristic landscapes strewn
with carwrecks and bodies being chewed

by rabid cocker spaniels. “I’d like to come by
the studio,” I ventured, “and see the new stuff.”
“Yes, if you wish . . .” A delicate rebuff

before the warning: “He dresses all
in black now. Me, he drapes in blues and carmine—
and even though I think it’s kinda cute,
in company I tend toward more muted shades.”

She paused and had the grace
to drop her eyes. She did look ravishing,
spookily insubstantial, a lipstick ghost on tissue,
or as if one stood on a fifth-floor terrace

peering through a fringe of rain at Paris’
dreaming chimney pots, each sooty issue
wobbling skyward in an ecstatic oracular spiral.

“And he never thinks of food. I wish
I didn’t have to plead with him to eat. . . .” Fruit
and cheese appeared, arrayed on leaf-green dishes.

I stuck with café crème. “This Camembert’s
so ripe,” she joked, “it’s practically grown hair,”
mucking a golden glob complete with parsley sprig
onto a heel of bread. Nothing seemed to fill

her up: She swallowed, sliced into a pear,
speared each tear-shaped lavaliere
and popped the dripping mess into her pretty mouth.
Nowhere the bright tufted fields, weighted

vines and sun poured down out of the south.
“But are you happy?” Fearing, I whispered it
quickly. “What? You know, Mother”—

she bit into the starry rose of a fig—
“one really should try the fruit here.”
I’ve lost her, I thought, and called for the bill.

Koi, by Katie Ford

After all the days and nights we’ve spent
with Starry Messenger, with Dante,
with Plato, his temperance
painted as a woman who pours
water into a bowl but does not spill,
after particle theory and the geologic time of this quartz
gilded beneath the roaming gone,
composites of limestone calculated down to the animal
that laid upon it and quietly died,

after hearing how camels carted away the broken
Colossus of Rhodes, showing us how to carry
and build back our destroyed selves,

hearing there was once a hand
that first learned to turn
an infant right in the womb,

that there was, inside Michelangelo, an Isaiah to carve out
the David, the idea, the one buried
in us who can slay the enormities,

after all visions and prophecies that made the heart large,
once and again, true or untrue,

after learning to shave the gleaming steel down—
the weapon, the bomb we make,
and the watercolor made after
of the dropped-upon crowd, thin strokes
over a pale wash—
after all this, still
one of us can’t know another.

Once under an iron sky I listened
to a small assemblage of voices.
Two by two broke off into the field
to strip down the unbroken flock of starling dark
between them. The ceremony of the closing in,
the hope each to each might not stay tourists
before the separate, chiseled ruin of the other:

The unspeakable, illegible one before us—

this is what the linguists call the dead, isn’t it?

But how are you, we say,
meaning how have you been made,
what is wrong, what
happened, we ask, how long have you been waiting,
are you on my side, can you promise to stay,
will you keep
the etchings clear on my stone
and come visit me, your never-known,

will you lean over my ghost
how we leaned over the green pools of the Japanese garden,
a cluster of lanterns blowing out above us
wisp by wisp, a school of koi pausing at the surface,
letting us look all the way in
until we saw each eye
was like a net heaped on shore.

Just like our eyes, weren’t they? all accidents, wastes,
all saving needs filled and unfilled, the cracked shells,
the kelp fronds torn from their buoys, all caught here,
inside us—
the seven we loved, the six we lost—
seaglass the living
and the human, alone.

Rocket Fantastic [excerpt], by Gabrielle Calvocoressi

He’s really beautiful. When he’s standing in the trees like that and thinks nobody sees him. He’s like a stag. Which sounds silly but he is. The way the light shines on him. The way it bounces off his hair like spray from the sprinkler. And he doesn’t know it right then. Because he’s looking somewhere else. Maybe up at a bird. I was standing a few feet away and turned back because I heard him whistling when he thought I wasn’t listening. He wasn’t thinking of me. He was looking at a bird who was sitting in the tree and looking back at him. If his shirt was off he’d have been dappled golden in the sun coming through the leaves. He didn’t notice me watching him without his shirt on. He was standing in the forest and the sun was coming through the trees and covering him so he glowed. I knew he’d be warm if I walked up and touched him. And probably not mad. He’s like something in a movie or like a book we’d read in summer by the pool. He didn’t see me looking because he was so peaceful staring at the bird.

In the Surgical Theatre, by Dana Levin

In the moment between
the old heart and the new
two angels gather at the empty chest.

The doctors flow over them as winds, as blurs, unnoticed but as currents
around this body, the flesh of the chest peeled back
as petals, revealing

a hole.
In it

the layers are fluttering—the back muscle, the bone, the chrome
of the table,
the tiled floor with its spatters of blood—

—fluttering as veils over the solid,
fluttering—

The angels, gathering. Small, and untroubled, perched quietly
on the rib-cage, its cupped hands trying
to keep in.
Around them the hands of the doctors,
hurrying—white flaps,
white wings—
the clicks and whirrs of the lung machine…

Do you want it to be stars, do you want it to be a hole to heaven,
clean and round—

Do you want their hands, dipping and dipping, flesh sticking like jelly
to the tips of their gloves—

Hovering at the edge of this
spot-lit stage,
loathe to enter, loathe to leave, is it terror,
fascination,
the angels too occupied to turn their gaze to you?
Go down,

go in.
The angels perch on either side of the hole like handles
round a grail.
The bleeding tissues part, underneath the solid shimmers
black, like a pool.
The lights above the table enter and extinguish,
the light of your face

enters,
is extinguished,
is this why you’ve come? The frigid cauldron
that is life without a heart?
I know,
I’m tired of the battle too, the visible and invisible clashing together,
the hands with the scalpels

flashing and glinting like flags and standards,
fighting,
fighting to the death—
When they cut you down the middle you fled.
The angels descended.
You came up here with me,
with the voiceless

thousands at the edge of the curtain, hearts beating
with ambivalence.
Do you know if you want it? Is that jumble of spit and bone
so worth it
that you would go down again and be
a body
raging with loss, each beat of the heart

like the strike of a hammer,
spiking the nails in, to feel, to feel—
I learned this from you, Father, all my life
I’ve felt your resign to the hurt
of living,
so I came up here, to the scaffolding above
the surgical theatre

to watch you decide.
Can you go on with this mortal vision? To the sword rearing up now
in orange fire, the angels turning
to face you poised at the hole’s
brink, their eyes in flames, in sprays of blood
their wings beating
against the steel wedge prying open the rib cage, is it

for you? Are they protecting
you?

But you bend down, you look in, you dip in
a finger, Father,
you bring it to your mouth and you taste it,
and I can feel the cold that is black on my tongue, it is bitter,
it is numbing,
snuffing the heart out, the heat,
the light,
and when will they lift the new heart like a lamp—

and will you wait—

the doctors pausing with their knives uplifted, the rush of wings
stirring a wind—

crack house, by Quraysh Ali Lansana

greeter

she hustles us in
eyes tired

shadows stutter
behind nervous trees

 

outer room

screen door grime
a porous portal

paneling drips
frantic carpet

 

living room

up early ricki lake
an endless loop

tv’s wide blue mouth
the only thing moving

 

pantry

she fast food she
buy one get one free

 

kitchen

parched bones
silently akimbo

peel of burn
gray of skin

he sizzles
cooks

Kissing Stieglitz Good-Bye, by Gerald Stern

Every city in America is approached
through a work of art, usually a bridge
but sometimes a road that curves underneath
or drops down from the sky. Pittsburgh has a tunnel—

you don’t know it—that takes you through the rivers
and under the burning hills. I went there to cry
in the woods or carry my heavy bicycle
through fire and flood. Some have little parks—

San Francisco has a park. Albuquerque
is beautiful from a distance; it is purple
at five in the evening. New York is Egyptian,
especially from the little rise on the hill

at 14-C; it has twelve entrances
like the body of Jesus, and Easton, where I lived,
has two small floating bridges in front of it
that brought me in and out. I said good-bye

to them both when I was 57. I’m reading
Joseph Wood Krutch again—the second time.
I love how he lived in the desert. I’m looking at the skull
of Georgia O’Keeffe. I’m kissing Stieglitz good-bye.

He was a city, Stieglitz was truly a city
in every sense of the word; he wore a library
across his chest; he had a church on his knees.
I’m kissing him good-bye; he was, for me,

the last true city; after him there were
only overpasses and shopping centers,
little enclaves here and there, a skyscraper
with nothing near it, maybe a meaningless turf

where whores couldn’t even walk, where nobody sits,
where nobody either lies or runs; either that
or some pure desert: a lizard under a boojum,
a flower sucking the water out of a rock.

What is the life of sadness worth, the bookstores
lost, the drugstores buried, a man with a stick
turning the bricks up, numbering the shards,
dream twenty-one, dream twenty-two. I left

with a glass of tears, a little artistic vial.
I put it in my leather pockets next
to my flask of Scotch, my golden knife and my keys,
my joyful poems and my T-shirts. Stieglitz is there

beside his famous number; there is smoke
and fire above his head; some bowlegged painter
is whispering in his ear; some lady-in-waiting
is taking down his words. I’m kissing Stieglitz

goodbye, my arms are wrapped around him, his photos
are making me cry; we’re walking down Fifth Avenue;
we’re looking for a pencil; there is a girl
standing against the wall—I’m shaking now

when I think of her; there are two buildings, one
is in blackness, there is a dying poplar;
there is a light on the meadow; there is a man
on a sagging porch. I would have believed in everything.

The Very Nervous Family, by Sabrina Orah Mark

Mr. Horowitz clutches a bag of dried apricots to his chest. Although the sun is shining, there will probably be a storm. Electricity will be lost. Possibly forever. When this happens the very nervous family will be the last to starve. Because of the apricots. “Unless,” says Mrs. Horowitz, “the authorities confiscate the apricots.” Mr. Horowitz clutches the bag of dried apricots tighter. He should’ve bought two bags. One for the authorities and one for his very nervous family. Mrs. Horowitz would dead bolt the front door to keep the authorities out, but it is already bolted. Already dead. She doesn’t like that phrase. Dead bolt. It reminds her of getting shot before you even have a chance to run. “Everyone should have at least a chance to run,” says Mrs. Horowitz. “Don’t you agree, Mr. Horowitz?” Mrs. Horowitz always refers to her husband as Mr. Horowitz should they ever one day become strangers to each other. Mr. Horowitz agrees. When the authorities come they should give the Horowitzs a chance to run before they shoot them for the apricots. Eli Horowitz, their very nervous son, rushes in with his knitting. “Do not rush,” says Mr. Horowitz, “you will fall and you will die.” Eli wanted ice skates for his birthday. “We are not a family who ice skates!” shouts Mrs. Horowitz. She is not angry. She is a mother who simply does not wish to outlive her only son. Mrs. Horowitz gathers her very nervous son up in her arms, and gently explains that families who ice skate become the ice they slip on. The cracks they fall through. The frost that bites them. “We have survived this long to become our own demise?” asks Mrs. Horowitz. “No,” whispers Eli, “we have not.” Mr. Horowitz removes one dried apricot from the bag and nervously begins to pet it when Mrs. Horowitz suddenly gasps. She thinks she may have forgotten to buy milk. Without milk they will choke on the apricots. Eli rushes to the freezer with his knitting. There is milk. The whole freezer is stuffed with milk. Eli removes a frozen half pint and glides it across the kitchen table. It is like the milk is skating. He wishes he were milk. Brave milk. He throws the half pint on the floor and stomps on it. Now the milk is crushed. Now the milk is dead. Now the Horowitzs are that much closer to choking. Mr. and Mrs. Horowitz are dumbfounded. Their very nervous son might be a maniac. He is eight. God is punishing them for being survivors. God has given them a maniac for a son. All they ask is that they not starve, and now their only son is killing milk. Who will marry their maniac? No one. Who will mother their grandchildren? There will be no grandchildren. All they ask is that there is something left of them when they are shot for the apricots, but now their only son is a maniac who will give them no grandchildren. Mr. Horowitz considers leaving Eli behind when he and Mrs. Horowitz run for their lives.

Animal Graves, by Chase Twichell

The mower flipped it belly up,
a baby garter less than a foot long,
dull green with a single sharp

stripe of pale manila down its back,
same color as the underside
which was cut in two places,

a loop of intestine poking out.

It wouldn’t live,
so I ran the blades over it again,

and cut it again but didn’t kill it,

and again and then again,
a cloud of two-cycle fuel smoke
on me like a swarm of bees.

It took so long
my mind had time to spiral
back to the graveyard

I tended as a child
for the dead ones, wild and tame:
fish from the bubbling green aquarium,

squirrels from the road,
the bluejay stalked to a raucous death
by Cicero the patient, the tireless hunter,

who himself was laid to rest
one August afternoon
under a rock painted gray, his color,

with a white splash for his white splash.

Once in the woods I found the skeleton
of a deer laid out like a diagram,

long spine curved like a necklace of crude, ochre spools
with the string rotted away,

and the dull metal shaft of the arrow
lying where it must have pierced

not the heart, not the head,
but the underbelly, the soft part
where the sex once was.

I carried home the skull
with its nubs of not-yet-horns
which the mice had overlooked,

and set it on a rock
in my kingdom of the dead.

Before I chopped the little snake
to bits of raw mosaic,

it drew itself
into an upward-straining coil,
head weaving, mouth open,

hissing at the noise that hurt it.

The stripe was made
of tiny paper diamonds,
sharp-edged but insubstantial,

like an x-ray of the spine
or the ghost beginning to pull away.

What taught the snake to make itself
seem bigger than it was,
to spend those last few seconds

dancing in the roar
and shadow of its death?

Now I see, though none exists,
its grave:

harebells withered in a jar,
a yellow spiral
painted on a green-black stone,

a ring of upright pine cones for a fence.
That’s how the deer skull lay in state

until one of the neighborhood dogs
came to claim it,

and carried it off to bury
in the larger graveyard of the world.

valentine for Sally Hemings, by Sojourner Ahebee

there’s a dead jefferson in every black girl’s belly,
an unknown hunger for something stolen.
i found a poem in these parts, in the belly of a black girl.

i was told to look in the garage,
into the person i almost liked,
at the bottom of an odd blue sock buried
in my dresser drawer:
the hiding places of my life.

oh, but if you only knew
the way I wanted to love the dead president,
rescue him from the depths of a stomach,
feed him the warm soil from a Virginia plantation,
feed him pages from my history books,
heavy with lies.

but then i heard Sally scream,
and wondered what she’d think of me,
i heard Sally scream
and wondered what all the black girls
with bloated bellies would think of me
in my confusion:
the way i mistaked his breath, smelling of lavender and france,
for liberty,
when this scent was made of more potent stuff,
of silence,
of a black girl’s blood against white sheets.

i went looking for a poem
in the darkness,
a love poem for Sally,
an apology,
a revelation,
a dead man haunting the hallways
of a breaking girl.

The Room In Which My First Child Slept, by Eavan Boland

After a while I thought of it this way:
It was a town underneath a mountain
crowned by snow and every year a river
rushed through, enveloping the dusk
in a noise everyone knew signaled spring—
a small town, known for a kind of calico,
made there, strong and unglazed,
a makeshift of cotton in which the actual
unseparated husks still remained and
could be found if you looked behind
the coarse daisies and the red-billed bird
with swept-back wings always trying to
arrive safely on the inch or so of cotton it
might have occupied if anyone had offered it.
And if you ask me now what happened to it—
the town that is—the answer is of course
there was no town, it never actually
existed, and the calico, the glazed cotton
on which a bird never landed is not gone,
because it never was, never once, but then
how to explain that sometimes I can hear
the river in those first days of April, making
its way through the dusk, having learned
to speak the way I once spoke, saying
as if I didn’t love you,
as if I wouldn’t have died for you.

Unpacking a Globe, by Arthur Sze

I gaze at the Pacific and don’t expect
to ever see the heads on Easter Island,

though I guess at sunlight rippling
the yellow grasses sloping to shore;

yesterday a doe ate grass in the orchard:
it lifted its ears and stopped eating

when it sensed us watching from
a glass hallway—in his sleep, a veteran

sweats, defusing a land mine.
On the globe, I mark the Battle of

the Coral Sea—no one frets at that now.
A poem can never be too dark,

I nod and, staring at the Kenai, hear
ice breaking up along an inlet;

yesterday a coyote trotted across
my headlights and turned his head

but didn’t break stride; that’s how
I want to live on this planet:

alive to a rabbit at a glass door—
and flower where there is no flower.

To Those Of You Alive In The Future, by Dean Young

who somehow have found a sip of water,
on this day in the past four syndicated
series involving communication with the dead
were televised and in this way we resembled
our own ghosts in a world made brief with flowers.
To you, our agonies and tizzies
must appear quaint as the stiff shoulders
of someone carrying buckets from a well
or the stung beekeeper gathering honey.
Why did we bother hurrying from A to B
when we’d get no further than D, if that?
On Monday, it sleeted in Pennsylvania
while someone’s mother was scoured further
from her own mind. A son-in-law smoked
in the parking lot, exhaling white curses
torn apart by the large invisible indifference.
The general anesthetic wore off
and someone else opened her eyes to the results.
In this way our world was broken and glued.
But why did we bother shooing away the flies?
Did we think we could work our way
inside a diamond if we ground more pigment
into the paper’s tooth, tried to hold fire
on our tongues, sucked at the sugars of each other?
Many the engagement rings in the pawnshop.
Many the empties piled at the curbs.
A couple paused on a bridge to watch
chunks of ice tugged by bickering currents.
One who slept late reached out
for one who wasn’t there. Breads, heavy
and sweet, were pulled from wide infernos
of stone ovens. My name was Dean Young,
I wrote it on a leaf. Sometimes
I could still manage to get lost,
there was no guidance system wired inside me yet.
Laughter might have come from a window
lit far into the night, others were dark
and always silent.

Negotiations, by Rae Armantrout

1

The best part
is when we’re tired
of it all
in the same degree,

a fatigue we imagine
to be temporary,
and we lie near each other,
toes touching.

What’s done is done,
we don’t say,
to begin our transaction,

each letting go of something
without really
bringing it to mind

until we’re lighter,
sicker,
older

and a current
runs between us
where our toes touch.

It feels unconditional.

2

Remember this, we don’t say:

The Little Mermaid
was able to absorb
her tail,

refashion it
to form legs.

This meant that
everything’s negotiable

and that everything is played out
in advance

in secret.

E.H., by John Koethe

Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor,
Not going left, not going right.

—Stephen Sondheim

I like to get drunk and I like to write.
I search for ways in and can’t find them,
But that doesn’t mean they’re not there. What isn’t
There is the life between the words, the life that existed
Beyond the words, the life I don’t have anymore.
In Michigan the feelings soaked the page,
Yet now they seem diminished in the telling
And no longer in our time, no longer of our place,
But in another country, one of an imagination
Anchored in a style; no longer in the stream
Or swamp, where the fishing was tragic.

I (whichever I this is) saw Follies last year.
The Weismann Girls come back to stand for what they were
And aren’t anymore, in a theatre slated for demolition.
Sally is a prisoner of her rage and her imagination,
Pining for the magic of what might have been
Until the spell breaks, leaving her alone on the stage
Amid the shards of her illusions. As she looks around
For what she is, all she can find is her age:
“I’m forty-nine. That’s all I am.”

Why do I get so angry? Why do I assume
The characters I love, the characters I love and hate?
There’s a corruption from which I’ve never recovered
That diminishes me each day, until I can’t tell which I am
Anymore, the mask or the face. The boat in Havana:
Last time was the last time. The stirring begins each night
And continues through the day here in a home that isn’t home,
With Michigan far away, the finca far away, alone
In the vestibule in the early morning light, imagining
The feeling of cool steel against my forehead
And the sound of two drawers slamming.
I’m sixty-two. That’s all I am.

Letter To A Future Lover, by Ander Monson

You were my birthday present; you came to the door—no one else was home, you said “let’s celebrate.” We dropped acid and went to the friend with the nocturnal monkey-like animal and made love for hours….

inscribed in Gary Snyder, Turtle Island (Casa de los Niños discard library)

Handwritten, it goes without saying, this inscription to an unnamed lover goes on for three pages before arriving at a final sorrow at the lover’s loss—”today we are with different lovers”—but no regrets. Was it ever sent? Ever read? One thing is sure: it was inscribed and meant. Such passion cannot be shrugged off until it can. I found the book in Casa de los Niños on Prince and Mountain, thrift shop stuffed with this stuff, the stuffing escaping the chewed-on animals packed in the discount bin. Pick six for a buck. Doll heads are free. They stare at your future, our future, maybe, lover, if we ever come together.

Dear future lover, every time it feels like forever when it’s new: bright colors, fabric softener, calliopes that were once terrifying softening into daylight as it fades. You know, your lovers surely number more than mine; that’s fine, but when I fall, it’s Ditch Witch hitting electric line, the whole world alive and lit in amperes for a moment. It might be gone again a nanosecond later, the body aching with or for or from the jolt; & perhaps it’s fever dream; & who cares where it comes from as long as it’s fast and seems like it might last until we’re rusting into dust? We are always dying for the future. Otherwise it couldn’t ever come. That it might split ever’s seams apart, that it might bring down the lights until forever’s in the mirror, and the book is given up for thrift: it doesn’t matter. Maybe this book was never sent. I can imagine that, an inscription toward the future. Maybe the lover’s dead. Maybe the lover’s lover’s dead. Maybe we all are like those who had their laughs recorded into tracks for television shows years before, who continue to laugh now a lifetime a lifeline a phone-a-friend later, disembodied, at jokes that are no longer funny. Perhaps they never were.

We are all in wires eventually, reduced to what we said, or didn’t say, and what we wrote or didn’t write, who we loved or didn’t love, or loved and lost and never told it except writing in or to a book. We are all discarded, discordant, confusingly, and so I salute your bravery, book inscriber. Your heart is big enough for both of us, so that there is no room for mockery in me. Anyone willing to strip themselves this bare this fast this way deserves our breathlessness and our hearts’ attention. Let us spend an hour, then longer, in contemplation. If you open, open all the way, or as much as you can bear, or else there’s nothing here at all.

The inscription goes on to quote from Duras’s The Lover, then “I cried when I was with you this time more than twenty years later…it was the reason for life and yet I knew it would end.”

A codex is a door, future lover. You can put whatever through it for a reader you imagine coming to your words in a day, a decade, a daze of centuries, entries in a future book. Codices have histories. They are leafed, spined, embodied, read by future lovers I imagine in bodices in just this kind of light at night. The future is a mystery, lover, a memory. The scent of wisteria coming up from somewhere.

Or: a codex is a hole through which we might not communicate, but instead be transformed entirely, through which we might descend without notice or equipment and not want or be able to return.

William Dawes, by Eileen Myles

faint tinkling down the street
moved me from Swan
to Mass Ave
the skinny men running
into Boston. Why

I don’t know. Let’s go
to town hall
giant horses
Paul Revere & William
Dawes and horses
hairy poop lands
splat on the brick. Get em to sign
your program. It’s not
even really Paul Revere
I went to the other
guy he signed William
Dawes was there really
a him he signed all antiquey
I think it’s in my trunk
and horses went down the street
again after the runners
I don’t even think they
live here. They run all the way
into Boston. Why

little babies dying

man’s and people losing
their leg you live in the world
now in history it’s true
is not a fake.

Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow, by Robert Duncan

as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
that is not mine, but is a made place,

that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
an eternal pasture folded in all thought
so that there is a hall therein

that is a made place, created by light
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.

Wherefrom fall all architectures I am
I say are likenesses of the First Beloved
whose flowers are flames lit to the Lady.

She it is Queen Under The Hill
whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words
that is a field folded.

It is only a dream of the grass blowing
east against the source of the sun
in an hour before the sun’s going down

whose secret we see in a children’s game
of ring a round of roses told.

Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
as if it were a given property of the mind
that certain bounds hold against chaos,

that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.

In the Waiting Room, by Elizabeth Bishop

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist’s appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist’s waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited I read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
— “Long Pig,” the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
— Aunt Consuelo’s voice —
not very loud or long.
I wasn’t at all surprised;
even then I knew she was
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn’t. What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I — we — were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918.

I said to myself: three days
and you’ll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world.
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
— I couldn’t look any higher —
at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.

Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities —
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts —
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How — I didn’t know any
word for it — how “unlikely”. . .
How had I come to be here,
like them, and overhear
a cry of pain that could have
got loud and worse but hadn’t?

The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another.

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918.

Be Drunk, by Charles Baudelaire

You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”

The Moment, by Marie Howe

Oh, the coming-out-of-nowhere moment

when,  nothing

happens

no what-have-I-to-do-today-list

maybe  half a moment

the rush of traffic stops.

The whir of I should be, I should be, I should be

slows to silence,

the white cotton curtains hanging still.

Compulsively Allergic to the Truth, by Jeffrey McDaniel

I’m sorry I was late.
I was pulled over by a cop
for driving blindfolded
with a raspberry-scented candle
flickering in my mouth.
I’m sorry I was late.
I was on my way
when I felt a plot
thickening in my arm.
I have a fear of heights.
Luckily the Earth
is on the second floor
of the universe.
I am not the egg man.
I am the owl
who just witnessed
another tree fall over
in the forest of your life.
I am your father
shaking his head
at the thought of you.
I am his words dissolving
in your mind like footprints
in a rainstorm.
I am a long-legged martini.
I am feeding olives
to the bull inside you.
I am decorating
your labyrinth,
tacking up snapshots
of all the people
who’ve gotten lost
in your corridors.

Flying at Night, by Ted Kooser

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like
his.

On. On. Stop. Stop., by Saskia Hamilton

In the old recording of the birthday party,
the voices of the living and the dead
instruct twelve absent friends
on the reliable luxury of gratitude.
The celebrated one hands out presents.
The dead dog barks once. We
take one another’s hands and follow their lead,
past the garden wall, out to the land
still stripped by winter. Those gone
do not usurp those here. We keep
the warning close, the timbre of their voices
mingling with the sounds of traffic
going much faster to its destinations.
Is it the size or the scale of the past
on the small reels of the cassette?
Someone gives her a new pot, which,
she exclaims, is too great a luxury for her.
Someone’s missing who can convert
the currencies. The old treasure
was dropped in the furrows
to await spring, with rings and pennies
and florins and other denominations
from those pockets and fingers.

Pyrotechnics, by Amy Lowell

I

Our meeting was like the upward swish of a rocket
In the blue night.
I do not know when it burst;
But now I stand gaping,
In a glory of falling stars.

II

Hola! Hola! shouts the crowd, as the catherine-wheels sputter and turn.
Hola! They cheer the flower-pots and set pieces.
And nobody heeds the cries of a young man in shirt-sleeves,
Who has burnt his fingers setting them off.

III

A King and Queen, and a couple of Generals,
Flame in colored lights;
Putting out the stars,
And making a great glare over the people wandering among the booths.
They are very beautiful and impressive,
And all the people say “Ah!”
By and by they begin to go out,
Little by little.
The King’s crown goes first,
Then his eyes,
Then his nose and chin.
The Queen goes out from the bottom up,
Until only the topmost jewel of her tiara is left.
Then that, too, goes;
And there is nothing but a frame of twisted wires,
With the stars twinkling through it.

Muse & Drudge [just as I am I come], by Harryette Mullen

just as I am I come
knee bent and body bowed
this here’s sorrow’s home
my body’s southern song

cram all you can
into jelly jam
preserve a feeling
keep it sweet

so beautiful it was
presumptuous to alter
the shape of my pleasure
in doing or making

proceed with abandon
finding yourself where you are
and who you’re playing for
what stray companion

City, by Ander Monson

Sometimes it is empty and it reminds us all of loneliness. Though we are in love or in affairs that approximate love or long-term relationships we can still be lonely and we are still lonely when it is between 3am and 4am and the world is full of nothingness. We are inside the city. We are inside ourselves. You know what I am talking about. Your husband or lover or maybe just a no one, an approximation of zero, a blank space where there should be feature, a nothing where you thought there was a something, and you don’t know it yet, but you will soon enough, trust me: he’s in the other room. He is tolerant of all your strayings, your nightly rambles around the neighborhood. Maybe you’re looking into windows. Maybe you’re looking out for a particular window. Maybe you saw something there a year ago, but you remember it. It is these things that come back to you in moments when your attention strays and your body directs you here, at 3am. Who is the couple you saw through the window that one time? Were they renters? Was that why you have never seen them both naked again? What was so powerful about that sight? You’d seen nudes before. You’d seen others nude before. Was it the surreptitiousness of it? The stolen glimpse of it?

It might have been their offering to you, to world, to the city. If the city only would take the time to look at its half-darkened windows it might see something spectacular.

Or trace that line backwards. You were in college. You were living in a borrowed city, another’s city, working at whatever job you could do. You were over visiting a friend. You were watching The Black Hole, it turns out that film is pretty good in spite of it being from Disney, and old. From the second-floor window you could see the neighbor girl as she dropped her towel and faced the window, faced towards you. It was lovely, like those childhood woods, dark and deep, and you were fixed there watching her. Was it power? Was it pleasure? Was it all of these? Do you secretly like framing your body in windows for the city too, hoping someone will notice? Are you just radiating back a sense of lust or openness? Are you talking back to the city? And what of your lover, your loved one in the other room whose sleep is undisturbed while you are awake and thinking of this, of that couple, that girl, those lighted frames?