The Dover Bitch, by Anthony Hecht

A Criticism of Life: for Andrews Wanning

So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, ‘Try to be true to me,
And I’ll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc.’
Well now, I knew this girl. It’s true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn’t judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She’s really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it’s a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come.
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d’ Amour.

Bells II, by John Ashbery

For just as a misunderstanding germinates
in a clear sky, climbing like a comma
from rack to misunderstood rack of worried clouds,
now difficult, now brusque, foregrounded, amoral,
the last birds took off into the abyss.
Now it was just us, though shielded,
separate, disparate. It almost seems—
and yet it doesn’t. Broken glass announces
more offenses, home invasions. Seems like
we’ve been here a long time. And still
ought to do those things. Every murk is a key.

No, it’s all right, don’t worry.
The long-fingered peninsulas have other fish to fry
as destiny germinates on summer sands, more lap top
than lap dog. And if I’d bargain you around the aisles,
don’t touch it, it’s a single thing.
We don’t know what breviaries are mixing cocktails for us
in the V room. It’s essential we be kept
out of the cordon. You should know. This is all about you:
how you arrived one cold day carrying your little knapsack
and crept in with us, to see how we could spell.
Others than old uncles hear us now,
hacking the website’s early spoilage distribution plan.

Getting Close, by Victoria Redel

Because my mother loved pocketbooks
I come alive at the opening click or close of a metal clasp.

And sometimes, unexpectedly, a faux crocodile handle makes me weep.

Breathy clearing of throat, a smooth arm, heels on pavement, she lingers, sound tattoos.

I go to the thrift store to feel for bobby pins caught in the pocket seam
of a camel hair coat.

I hinge a satin handbag in the crease of my arm. I buy a little change purse with its
curled and fitted snap.

My mother bought this for me. This was my mother’s.

I buy and then I buy and then, another day, I buy something else.

In Paris she had a dog, Bijou, and when they fled Paris in 1942 they left the dog behind.

When my mother died on February 9, 1983, she left me.

Now, thirty years later and I am exactly her age.

I tell my husband I will probably die by the end of today and all day he says, Are you
getting close, Sweetheart? And late in the afternoon, he asks if he should buy enough filet
of sole for two.

From a blue velvet clutch I take out a mirror and behold my lips in the small rectangle.

Put on something nice. Let him splurge and take you out for dinner, my mother whispers
on the glass.

Redaction, by Carmen Giménez Smith

We make dogma out of letter writing: the apocryphal story
of Lincoln who wrote angry letters he never sent. We wait for letters
for days and days. Someone tells me I’ll write you a letter
and I feel he’s saying you’re different than anyone else.
Distance’s buzz gets louder and louder. It gets to be a blackest hole.
I want the letter about the time we cross the avenue, and you reach
for my hand without looking—I am afraid I’m not what you want.
We float down the street as if in the curve of a pod
and the starry black is like the inside of a secret. We’re drunk.
The streetlight exposes us which becomes the deepest
horror. Yes. End the letter like that, so it becomes authorless.
Then the letter might give off secrets: acid imbalances that detonate.

The Language of the Birds, by Richard Siken

1

A man saw a bird and found him beautiful. The bird had a song inside him, and feathers. Sometimes the man felt like the bird and sometimes the man felt like a stone—solid, inevitable—but mostly he felt like a bird, or that there was a bird inside him, or that something inside him was like a bird fluttering. This went on for a long time.

2

A man saw a bird and wanted to paint it. The problem, if there was one, was simply a problem with the question. Why paint a bird? Why do anything at all? Not how, because hows are easy—series or sequence, one foot after the other—but existentially why bother, what does it solve?

And just because you want to paint a bird, do actually paint a bird, it doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished anything. Who gets to measure the distance between experience and its representation? Who controls the lines of inquiry? We do. Anyone can.

Blackbird, he says. So be it, indexed and normative. But it isn’t a bird, it’s a man in a bird suit, blue shoulders instead of feathers, because he isn’t looking at a bird, real bird, as he paints, he is looking at his heart, which is impossible.

Unless his heart is a metaphor for his heart, as everything is a metaphor for itself, so that looking at the paint is like looking at a bird that isn’t there, with a song in its throat that you don’t want to hear but you paint anyway.

The hand is a voice that can sing what the voice will not, and the hand wants to do something useful. Sometimes, at night, in bed, before I fall asleep, I think about a poem I might write, someday, about my heart, says the heart.

3

They looked at the animals. They looked at the walls of the cave. This is earlier, these are different men. They painted in torchlight: red mostly, sometimes black—mammoth, lion, horse, bear—things on a wall, in profile or superimposed, dynamic and alert.

They weren’t animals but they looked like animals, enough like animals to make it confusing, meant something but the meaning was slippery: it wasn’t there but it remained, looked like the thing but wasn’t the thing—was a second thing, following a second set of rules—and it was too late: their power over it was no longer absolute.

What is alive and what isn’t and what should we do about it? Theories: about the nature of the thing. And of the soul. Because people die. The fear: that nothing survives. The greater fear: that something does.

The night sky is vast and wide.

They huddled closer, shoulder to shoulder, painted themselves in herds, all together and apart from the rest. They looked at the sky, and at the mud, and at their hands in the mud, and their dead friends in the mud. This went on for a long time.

4

To be a bird, or a flock of birds doing something together, one or many, starling or murmuration. To be a man on a hill, or all the men on all the hills, or half a man shivering in the flock of himself. These are some choices.

The night sky is vast and wide.

A man had two birds in his head—not in his throat, not in his chest—and the birds would sing all day never stopping. The man thought to himself, One of these birds is not my bird. The birds agreed.

The More Loving One, by W. H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

Gradeschool’s Large Windows, by Thomas Lux

weren’t built to let the sunlight in.
They were large to let the germs out.
When polio, which sounds like the first dactyl
of a jump rope song, was on the rage,
you did not swim in public waters.
The awful thing was an iron lung.
We lined up in our underwear to get the shot.
Some kids fainted, we all were stung.
My cousin Speed sat in a vat
of ice cubes until his scarlet fever waned,
but from then on his heart was not the same.
My friend’s girlfriend was murdered in a hayfield
by two guys from Springfield.
Linda got a bad thing in her blood.
Everybody’s grandmother died.
Three times, I believe, Bobby shot his mother.
Rat poison took a beloved local bowler.
A famous singer sent condolences.
In the large second floor corner room
of my 4th grade class the windows were open.
Snow, in fat, well-fed flakes
floats in where they and the chalk-motes meet.
And the white rat powder, too, sifts down
into a box of oatmeal
on the shelf below.

With All Due Respect [excerpt], by Vincent Aleixandre

Trees, women and children
are all the same thing: Background.
Voices, affections, brightness, joy,
this knowledge that finally here we all are.
Indeed. Me and my ten fingers.

Now the sun isn’t horrendous like a cheek that’s ready:
it isn’t a piece of clothing or a speechless flashlight.
Nor is it the answer heard by our knees,
nor the task of touching the frontiers with the whitest part of our eyes.
The Sun has already become truth, lucidity, stability.
You converse with the mountain,
you trade the mountain for a heart:
then you can go on, weightless, going away.
The fish’s eye, if we come to the river,
is precisely the image of happiness God sets up for us,
the passionate kiss that breaks our bones.

Indeed. Finally, it’s life. Oh, what egg-like beauty
in this ample gift the Valley spreads before us,
this limitation we can lean our heads against
so as to hear the greatest music, that of the distant planets.
Hurry, let’s all
get close around the bonfire.
Your hands made of petals and mine of bark,
these delicious improvisations we show each other,
are good—for burning, for keeping faith in tomorrow,
so that our talk can go on ignoring our clothes.
I don’t notice our clothes. Do you?
Dressed up in three-hundred burlap suits,
wrapped in my roughest heaviest get-up,
I maintain a dawn-like dignity and brag of how much I know about nakedness.

In the great snowfall before the bomb, by Lorine Niedecker

In the great snowfall before the bomb
colored yule tree lights
windows, the only glow for contemplation
along this road

I worked the print shop
right down among em
the folk from whom all poetry flows
and dreadfully much else.

I was Blondie
I carried my bundles of hog feeder price lists
down by Larry the Lug,
I’d never get anywhere
because I’d never had suction,
pull, you know, favor, drag,
well-oiled protection.

I heard their rehashed radio barbs—
more barbarous among hirelings
as higher-ups grow more corrupt.
But what vitality! The women hold jobs—
clean house, cook, raise children, bowl
and go to church.

What would they say if they knew
I sit for two months on six lines
of poetry?

NINE, 86, by Anne Tardos

The insubstantial and changing quality of space is appreciated.
Intellectual understanding is based on harmless and spontaneous perception.
Supposition gold-digger advocating pleasure—be the laughing stock!
Amber cushion softly evident seagull commentary, we shall prevail.
Tirelessly pedaling along the ever present source of ideas.
Long, drawn-out suffering is not what we’re after.
Palpably diligent search for the hidden order in art.
Studying aspects of artistic imagination, the kinds of attention.
Conscious and unconscious scanning of perceptual stress and oscillation.

The Bear, by Galway Kinnell

1

In late winter
I sometimes glimpse bits of steam
coming up from
some fault in the old snow
and bend close and see it is lung-colored
and put down my nose
and know
the chilly, enduring odor of bear.
2

I take a wolf’s rib and whittle
it sharp at both ends
and coil it up
and freeze it in blubber and place it out
on the fairway of the bears.

And when it has vanished
I move out on the bear tracks,
roaming in circles
until I come to the first, tentative, dark
splash on the earth.

And I set out
running, following the splashes
of blood wandering over the world.
At the cut, gashed resting places
I stop and rest,
at the crawl-marks
where he lay out on his belly
to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice
I lie out
dragging myself forward with bear-knives in my fists.
3

On the third day I begin to starve,
at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would
at a turd sopped in blood,
and hesitate, and pick it up,
and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down,
and rise
and go on running.
4

On the seventh day,
living by now on bear blood alone,
I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled,
steamy hulk,
the heavy fur riffling in the wind.

I come up to him
and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes,
the dismayed
face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils
flared, catching
perhaps the first taint of me as he
died.

I hack
a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink,
and tear him down his whole length
and open him and climb in
and close him up after me, against the wind,
and sleep.
5

And dream
of lumbering flatfooted
over the tundra,
stabbed twice from within,
splattering a trail behind me,
splattering it out no matter which way I lurch,
no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence,
which dance of solitude I attempt,
which gravity-clutched leap,
which trudge, which groan.
6

Until one day I totter and fall—
fall on this
stomach that has tried so hard to keep up,
to digest the blood as it leaked in,
to break up
and digest the bone itself: and now the breeze
blows over me, blows off
the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood
and rotted stomach
and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear,

blows across
my sore, lolled tongue a song
or screech, until I think I must rise up
and dance. And I lie still.
7

I awaken I think. Marshlights
reappear, geese
come trailing again up the flyway.
In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear
lies, licking
lumps of smeared fur
and drizzly eyes into shapes
with her tongue. And one
hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me,
the next groaned out,
the next,
the next,
the rest of my days I spend
wandering: wondering
what, anyway,
was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived?

Oklahoma City: The Aftermath, by Ira Sadoff

Sometimes I’m so lachrymose I forget I was there
with my darling—I call her my darling to make her
more anonymous, so she can’t take up all the space
in my brain. But please, can I continue, or must I

look away from such openness, those spools of light
bringing red and fine threads of silver to her brunette hair?
Or is she an instant, a car ride, a little post-it, last month’s
no particular town? Can we shine a little first? First

there was a dust storm that made everyone invisible,
then a thunderstorm where each drop of rain painted a ringlet
on the road like haze around the moon. I’d already
deserted what crumbled there. The mind loves blackouts

more than those dusty bins of grain at the general store,
or the little hand-shovel you’d use to fill muslin sacks
with feed for animals you’d later bring to slaughter.
Then they were cementing over the childcare center.

the shell of state offices were still standing:
buried in the rubble, well there was no rubble…
Are we all so kinetic that on the highway
we’re always communicating? We’re cacophonic,

colossally bored, it takes many simultaneous tasks
to keep our souls busy. The breeze makes the ash leaves blur,
they’re almost silver in the light, like confederate money.
Or I’m driving by the Chinese Pistache, the lacebark elm,

brushing my teeth, taking notes for a morning meeting:
is there no one here to calm me? I don’t remember
the whippoorwill, the leaf brown male, if I ever knew one.
I can’t decide how this parallels our current situation:

So I take a few minutes’ cigarette to see how this
razes all of us. Have you ever been lax, insufficient, prolix?
Weren’t you ever particularly sorry? This may be entirely
personal, but once I was driven, exemplar, sheltered

from earthly business—now I keep burying and eclipsing,
more obscuring, suppressing with murmurs what’s under duress.

The Culture of Glass, by Thylias Moss

Thanksgiving 2004: I’m thankful for

Columbo’s eye, Peter Falk’s indivisible
from the other’s vitreous dupe that he can pocket,
rub into, off of, and shine the crystal eyeball after
it subs in a game of table pool. Oh yeah!
The future of fortunes is manufactured revelation
of a snow globe: when the right someone gets his hands
on such a world, that world is shaken to pieces, the glass
is tapped in the aquarium, semitransparent arowanas remain
inexplicable, a tapper’s desire breaks out: oh to become glass,
to slide the foot into a transparent baby slipper arowana
and dance with a prince whose glass toenails
shatter when he runs after glass-footed beauties
born that way, skin so thin it hides nothing
without actually being clear, sneak peak
at the friable optic nerve, the components
separated only by glass
through which all seen becomes transparent, criminal
activity obvious, the put-on of opaque alibis
exposing a fear of crime’s transparency:
finger prints on the latex interior of the gloves,
imprint of a face on the wrong side of the mask:
at some level, a matter of seeing eye dog versus unseeing
eye dog, culture of breed, hole-in-the-wall expectations, cash
transactions, motel by the half-hour versus extended stay
opulence just to sleep there for real
with seeing eye dog sleeping on a braided rug half-under
the bed of a blind girl, the girlishness not an issue,
the dog not meant to be her guide into decisions, just
crossings to which she becomes committed independently,
regarding the cool dark of evening, the lapse
of the feel of light as day’s form of breathing,
getting illumination off its wide chest
until able to face again the responsibility of light
that even this girl must accept behind glasses:
day is hers too, given by an internal clock
that wants all the bright hours, odor of rising,
flowers opening with the bakeries, stunning
synchronizations, a pas de deux, she steps, dog steps
into the crosswalk at the same time as a man heading
toward them with coffee, led also but by the Arabica, hookah
descent, descant now to the caffeine
that doesn’t adhere to the glass mug: it is all for him,
her too if they merge at first sight: the world of coffee,
the culture of glass
bottom boats, success:
liquid assets: if solidity is the basic state
that matters, it’s obvious what happens:
The dog retires, seeing what canines see
for himself, fleas cross
his coat without help other than his receiving
no special treatment,
tied in a twenty-foot yard frequented most
by sunflowers, each seed
like the eye of an insect. An alley of a yard
that from time to time becomes a crime scene
in the blink of an eye
the glass one melts last.

Given, by Joanna Klink

And I carried to that emptiness
between us the birds
that had been calling out

all night. I carried an old
bicycle, a warm meal,
some time to talk.

I would have brought
them to you sooner
but was afraid your own

hopelessness would keep you
crouched there. If you spring up,
let it not be against me

but like a weed or a
fountain. I grant you
the hard spine of your

childhood. I grant you
the frowning arc of this morning.
If I could I would grant you

a bright throat and even
brighter eyes, this whole hill
of olive trees, its

calmness of purpose.
Let me not forget
ever what I owe you.

I have loved the love
you felt for those gardens
and I would grant you

the always steadying
presence of seeds.
I bring to that trouble

between us a bell that might
blur into air. I bring the woods
and a sense of what lives there.

Like you, I turn to sunlight for
answers. Like you, I am
not sure where it has gone.

The Cloister, by William Matthews

The last light of a July evening drained
into the streets below: My love and I had hard
things to say and hear, and we sat over
wine, faltering, picking our words carefully.

The afternoon before I had lain across
my bed and my cat leapt up to lie
alongside me, purring and slowly
growing dozy. By this ritual I could

clear some clutter from my baroque brain.
And into that brief vacancy the image
of a horse cantered, coming straight to me,
and I knew it brought hard talk and hurt

and fear. How did we do? A medium job,
which is well above average. But because
she had opened her heart to me as far
as she did, I saw her fierce privacy,

like a gnarled, luxuriant tree all hung
with disappointments, and I knew
that to love her I must love the tree
and the nothing it cares for me.

from Mesongs, by Kamau Brathwaite

XXIV
for Barbara at Devizes

And suddenly you was talking trees
fall black with birds behind the hill
and green as grass fly off
into the sun o blinding girl
the whole cathedral crash at your back

XXV

Not the blue the orthodoxy of the day
But a blue like intuition
The soft of the night into morning
Felt here . remembered
Under the hoofs of the cart

The Ghazal of What Hurt, by Peter Cole

Pain froze you, for years-and fear-leaving scars.
But now, as though miraculously, it seems, here you are

walking easily across the ground, and into town
as though you were floating on air, which in part you are,

or riding a wave of what feels like the world’s good will-
though helped along by something foreign and older than you are

and yet much younger too, inside you, and so palpable
an X-ray, you’re sure, would show it, within the body you are,

not all that far beneath the skin, and even in
some bones. Making you wonder: Are you what you are-

with all that isn’t actually you having flowed
through and settled in you, and made you what you are?

The pain was never replaced, nor was it quite erased.
It’s memory now-so you know just how lucky you are.

You didn’t always. Were you then? And where’s the fear?
Inside your words, like an engine? The car you are?!

Face it, friend, you most exist when you’re driven
away, or on-by forms and forces greater than you are.

Cracked Ice, by Julie Sheehan

When I return, I’ll come in clapboard, stained
chestnut, with lead-based paint on radiators,
old-fashioned, and a little bit insane

but sturdy to a fault. A spalting grain
on punky myrtle and no refrigerator
when I return. I’ll come in clapboard, stained

shake shingles skittering on skewed roof planes
that snarl the corner lot like unpaid panders,
old-fashioned and a little bitten, saying,

“Leave our sightlines sharp. Let dormers train
What angles water sheds.” They congregate for
when I return. I’ll come in clapboard, stained

with varnished truth: you ran me down. You caned
old rockers with prefab splints, hack renovator
refashioning me bit by bit, insane

to strip as spilth fine bulrush. I’ll maintain
myself, then. There will be no mediators
when I return. I’ll come in clapboard. Stained,
old-fashioned, I’ll come a little bit insane.

To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like a Death, by Lloyd Schwartz

In today’s paper, a story about our high school drama
teacher evicted from his Carnegie Hall rooftop apartment

made me ache to call you—the only person I know
who’d still remember his talent, his good looks, his self-

absorption. We’d laugh (at what haven’t we laughed?), then
not laugh, wondering what became of him. But I can’t call,

because I don’t know what became of you.

—After sixty years, with no explanation, you’re suddenly
not there. Gone. Phone disconnected. I was afraid

you might be dead. But you’re not dead.

You’ve left, your landlord says. He has your new unlisted
number but insists on “respecting your privacy.” I located

your oldest son, who refuses to tell me anything except that
you’re alive and not ill. Your ex-wife ignores my letters.

What’s happened? Are you in trouble? Something
you’ve done? Something I’ve done?

We used to tell each other everything: our automatic
reference points to childhood pranks, secret codes,

and sexual experiments. How many decades since we started
singing each other “Happy Birthday” every birthday?

(Your last uninhibited rendition is still on my voice mail.)

How often have we exchanged our mutual gratitude—the easy
unthinking kindnesses of long friendship.

This mysterious silence isn’t kind. It keeps me
up at night, bewildered, at some “stage “of grief.

Would your actual death be easier to bear?

I crave your laugh, your quirky takes, your latest
comedy of errors. “When one’s friends hate each other,”

Pound wrote near the end of his life, “how can there be
peace in the world?” We loved each other. Why why why

am I dead to you?

Our birthdays are looming. The older I get, the less and less
I understand this world,

and the people in it.

Blackwater Fever, by Vandana Khanna

They didn’t find it in me until months later—
just like Vallejo who died on a rainy
day far from the heat rising over a garden
in silvers and reds—far away from the din
of buses, tobacco vendors, cows that overran
the streets with their holiness. Laid on the surface
of the Ganges, the thin shells reflected light, clamored
against the current. Far from the Atlantic, farther still
from the Potomac. Same color of night, dull dawn.
The fever should have churned my blood into tight
fists while the sunset stretched across the sky
like an open mouth. Everything was splintered heat.
I’d awake to winter in D.C., find streets covered
in snow, the words of some ancient language blooming
under my ankles like a song, a mantra called home.
I could trace it like a geography of someone I had once been.
How to explain the hum of mosquitos in my ear, sensual
and low, nothing like the sound of rusted-out engines,
police sirens, a train’s whistle. How easily I’d lost the taste
for that water, opened my legs to their hot, biting mouths.

Those Graves in Rome, by Larry Levis

There are places where the eye can starve,
But not here. Here, for example, is
The Piazza Navona, & here is his narrow room
Overlooking the Steps & the crowds of sunbathing
Tourists. And here is the Protestant Cemetery
Where Keats & Joseph Severn join hands
Forever under a little shawl of grass
And where Keats’ name isn’t even on
His gravestone, because it is on Severn’s,
And Joseph Severn’s infant son is buried
Two modest, grassy steps behind them both.
But you’d have to know the story–how bedridden
Keats wanted the inscription to be
Simple, & unbearable: “Here lies one
Whose name is writ in water.” On a warm day,
I stood here with my two oldest friends.
I thought, then, that the three of us would be
Indissoluble at the end, & also that
We would all die, of course. And not die.
And maybe we should have joined hands at that
Moment. We didn’t. All we did was follow
A lame man in a rumpled suit who climbed
A slight incline of graves blurring into
The passing marble of other graves to visit
The vacant home of whatever is not left
Of Shelley & Trelawney. That walk uphill must
Be hard if you can’t walk. At the top, the man
Wheezed for breath; sweat beaded his face,
And his wife wore a look of concern so
Habitual it seemed more like the way
Our bodies, someday, will have to wear stone.
Later that night, the three of us strolled,
Our arms around each other, through the Via
Del Corso & toward the Piazza di Espagna
As each street grew quieter until
Finally we heard nothing at the end
Except the occasional scrape of our own steps,
And so we said good-bye. Among such friends,
Who never allowed anything, still alive,
To die, I’d almost forgotten that what
Most people leave behind them disappears.
Three days later, staying alone in a cheap
Hotel in Naples, I noticed a child’s smeared
Fingerprints on a bannister. It
Had been indifferently preserved beneath
A patina of varnish applied, I guessed, after
The last war. It seemed I could almost hear
His shout, years later, on that street. But this
Is speculation, & no doubt the simplest fact
Could shame me. Perhaps the child was from
Calabria, & went back to it with
A mother who failed to find work, & perhaps
The child died there, twenty years ago,
Of malaria. It was so common then—
The children crying to the doctors for quinine.
It was so common you did not expect an aria,
And not much on a gravestone, either—although
His name is on it, & weathered stone still wears
His name—not the way a girl might wear
The too large, faded blue workshirt of
A lover as she walks thoughtfully through
The Via Fratelli to buy bread, shrimp,
And wine for the evening meal with candles &
The laughter of her friends, & later the sweet
Enkindling of desire; but something else, something
Cut simply in stone by hand & meant to last
Because of the way a name, any name,
Is empty. And not empty. And almost enough.

Her Body Like a Lantern Next to Me, by John Rybicki

There’s this movie I am watching:
my love’s belly almost five months
pregnant with cancer,

more like a little rock wall
piled and fitted inside her
than some prenatal rounding.

Over there’s her face
near the frying pan she’s bent over,
but there’s no water in the pan,

and so, no reflection. No pool
where I might gather such a thing as a face,
or sew it there on a tablet made of water.

To have and to haul it away,
sometimes dipping into her
in the next room that waits for me.

I am old at this. I am stretching
the wick again into my throat
when the flame burns down.

She’s splashing in the tub
and singing, I love him very much,
though I’m old and tired

and cancerous. It’s spring
and now she’s stopping traffic,
lifting one of her painted turtles

across the road. Someone’s honking,
pumping one arm out the window,
cheering her on.

She falls then like there’s a house
on her back, hides her head in the bank grass
and vomits into the ditch.

She keeps her radioactive linen,
Bowl, and spoon separate. For seven days
we sleep in different rooms.

Over there’s the toilet she’s been
heaving her roots into. One time I heard her
through the door make a toast to it,

Here’s to you, toilet bowl.
There’s nothing poetic about this.
I have one oar that hangs

from our bedroom window,
and I am rowing our hut
in the same desperate circle.

I warm her tea then spread
cream cheese over her bagel,
and we lie together like two guitars,

A rose like a screw
in each of our mouths.
There’s that liquid river of story

that sometimes sweeps us away
from all this, into the ha ha
and the tender. At night the streetlights

buzz on again with the stars,
and the horses in the field swat their tails
like we will go on forever.

I’m at my desk herding some
lost language when I notice how quiet
she has been. Twice I call her name

and wait after my voice has lost its legs
and she does not ring back.
Dude, I’m still here, she says at last

then the sound of her
stretching her branches, and from them
the rain falling thick through our house.

I’m racing to place pots and pans
everywhere. Bottle her in super canning jars.
For seventeen years, I’ve lined

the shelves of our root cellar with them.
One drop for each jar.
I’ll need them for later.

Peanut Butter, By Eileen Myles

I am always hungry
& wanting to have
sex. This is a fact.
If you get right
down to it the new
unprocessed peanut
butter is no damn
good & you should
buy it in a jar as
always in the
largest supermarket
you know. And
I am an enemy
of change, as
you know. All
the things I
embrace as new
are in
fact old things,
re-released: swimming,
the sensation of
being dirty in
body and mind
summer as a
time to do
nothing and make
no money. Prayer
as a last re-
sort. Pleasure
as a means,
and then a
means again
with no ends
in sight. I am
absolutely in opposition
to all kinds of
goals. I have
no desire to know
where this, anything
is getting me.
When the water
boils I get
a cup of tea.
Accidentally I
read all the
works of Proust.
It was summer
I was there
so was he. I
write because
I would like
to be used for
years after
my death. Not
only my body
will be compost
but the thoughts
I left during
my life. During
my life I was
a woman with
hazel eyes. Out
the window
is a crooked
silo. Parts
of your
body I think
of as stripes
which I have
learned to
love along. We
swim naked
in ponds &
I write be-
hind your
back. My thoughts
about you are
not exactly
forbidden, but
exalted because
they are useless,
not intended
to get you
because I have
you & you love
me. It’s more
like a playground
where I play
with my reflection
of you until
you come back
and into the
real you I
get to sink
my teeth. With
you I know how
to relax. &
so I work
behind your
back. Which
is lovely.
Nature
is out of control
you tell me &
that’s what’s so
good about
it. I’m immoderately
in love with you,
knocked out by
all your new
white hair

why shouldn’t
something
I have always
known be the
very best there
is. I love
you from my
childhood,
starting back
there when
one day was
just like the
rest, random
growth and
breezes, constant
love, a sand-
wich in the
middle of
day,
a tiny step
in the vastly
conventional
path of
the Sun. I
squint. I
wink. I
take the
ride.

Slanting Light, by Arthur Sze

Slanting light casts onto a stucco wall
the shadows of upwardly zigzagging plum branches.

I can see the thinning of branches to the very twig.
I have to sift what you say, what she thinks,

what he believes is genetic strength, what
they agree is inevitable. I have to sift this

quirky and lashing stillness of form to see myself,
even as I see laid out on a table for Death

an assortment of pomegranates and gourds.
And what if Death eats a few pomegranate seeds?

Does it insure a few years of pungent spring?
I see one gourd, yellow from midsection to top

and zucchini-green lower down, but
already the big orange gourd is gnawed black.

I have no idea why the one survives the killing nights.
I have to sift what you said, what I felt,

what you hoped, what I knew. I have to sift
death as the stark light sifts the branches of the plum.

On the Platform, by Tom Sleigh

1
The omen I didn’t know I was waiting for
pulled into the station the same instant as the train.
It was just a teenage boy busking on the platform,
cello cutting through garble, Bach’s repetitions

hard-edged as a scalpel probing an open wound.
But then I kept thinking how a sound wave
travels the path of least resistance,
how the notes rebound off steel and stone

the same as a blast wave shattering row on row
of windows as it swerves through the city.
And when the music stops, on the balcony

above the rubble, coffee and tea are served.
And if there’s sugar, is it one lump or two
and did you hear what happened to Mrs. So and So?

2
I saw, out from under the grime, whiskers
dipping into clear water that trickled between
the rails to get the feel of what was near-
the same scene as on the church wall, the slimy brethren

gathered at the river, one gnawing
an ear of corn, the rest intently listening
to Francis teaching them their catechism
about the wild man John and his crucified cousin.

Except they were birds in the painting, not rats.
But let’s go with that, let them stand
on hind legs and sniff incense and myrrh

wafting down from high up in the air
so that one day on miraculous, fly paper feet
they’ll scale the golden walls and storm the high ground.

3
Nothing moving on the platform, nothing for miles.
And then a shovel clanging against paving stone
like an old man clearing rubble while a rat climbs a vine
and looks into the broken window and smells the smells.

Rubble shoulder high after two weeks work,
a toilet with a sink and a light on a pull chain
stand framed at the end of the gravel walk
already sprouting suckers leafing out more green

from the fire that scorched the burned out bush.
Ten years, fifteen, and tree limbs shade the bedrooms
and branch out window frames toward the sun.

And where the electric pump pumped water for the town
the wellhead lies broken and two clear streams
wear ruts in the floor of the wrecked house.

Winter Letter, by Huu Thinh

The letter I wrote you had smeared ink,
But the bamboo walls are thin, and fog kept leaking through.
On this cold mountain, I cannot sleep at night.
By morning, a reed stalk can fade.

White snow on my thin blanket.
The stove glows red for lunch, but the mountain remains hazy.
Ink freezes inside my pen–
I hold it over the glowing coals and it melts into a letter.

Blocking the wind, a tree with purple roots trembles.
Corn seeds shrivel underground.
On days when my comrades are on assignment,
I miss them, but. . .there is an extra blanket.

The cold rooster crows lazily in a hoarse voice.
We beat on the cups, the bowls, to ease the strangeness.
The mountain hides hundreds of ores in its bosom.
I try, but can’t find enough vegetables for a meal.

The rice often comes early, the letters late.
The radio is on all night to make the bunker seem less desolate.
So many years without women,
I mistake the sound of horse hooves for your footsteps.

Gathering clouds often invite me to dream;
knowing so, you keep the light glowing late.
Wishing I had some scent of soapberry
So rocks would soften, the mountains grow warm.

Meo Vac, 3/82

I Pack Her Suitcase with Sticks, Light the Tinder, and Shut the Lid, by Rob Schlegel

She used to sit on the forest floor
and I would cut her hair until it piled up
onto the ground, like ash.

Tonight, her name is a leaf covering
my left eye. The right I close
for the wind to stitch shut with thread

from the dress she wore into the grave
where the determined roots of the tree
are making a braid around her body.

God the Broken Lock, by David Rivard

I’ve died enough by now I trust
just what’s imperfect or ruined. I mean God,
God who is in the stop sign
asking to be shotgunned, the ocean that evaporates even
as we float. God the bent nail & broken lock,
and God the hangnail. The hangnail.
And a million others might be like me, our hopes
a kind of illegal entry, a belief in smashed windows,
every breakage
like breaking & entering into a concert hall,
the place my friend & I crawled into an air shaft, & later
fell asleep. After breakage
there is always sleep.
We woke to gospel hymns from the dressing room
below, songs commending
embrace to the fists, & return to the prodigal.
And hasn’t my luck always been a shadow, stepping out, stretching?
I mean I trust what breaks.
A broken bone elicits condolence,
and the phone call sounds French if the transmission fritzes,
and our brains—our blessed, desirable brains—are composed
of infinitesimal magnets, millions of them
a billionth-of-a-milligram in weight, so
they make us knock our heads against hard walls.
When we pushed through the air vent,
the men singing seemed only a little surprised,
just slightly freaked,
three of them in black tuxes, & the fourth in red satin,
crimson, lit up like a furnace trimmed with paisley swirls,
the furnace of a planet, or of a fatalistic ocean liner
crisscrossing a planet we’ve not discovered yet,
a fire you might love to be thrown into.
That night they would perform the songs half
the country kept on its lips half of every day.
Songs mostly praising or lamenting or accusing some loved one
of some beautiful, horrendous betrayal or affection.
But dressing, between primping & joking about
their thinning afros, they sang of Jesus. Jesus,
who said, “Split a stick, & you shall find me inside.”
It was the winter we put on asbestos gloves, & flameproof
stuck our hands in the fireplace, adjusting logs.
Jesus, we told them, left no proof of having sung a single note.
And that, said the lead singer, is why we are all sinners.
What he meant was
we are all like the saints on my neighbors’ lawns—
whose plaster shoulders & noses,
chipped cloaks & tiaras, have to be bundled
in plastic sheets, each winter, blanketed
from the wind & the cold. That was what he meant,
though I couldn’t know it then.

Beside You on Main Street, by Jillian Weise

We were stepping out of a reading
in October, the first cold night,
and we were following this couple,
were they at the reading? and because
we were lost, I called out to them,
“Are you going to the after party?”
The woman laughed and said no
and the man kept walking, and she
was holding his hand like I hold yours,
though not exactly, she did not
need him for balance. Then what
got into me? I said, “How long
have you been married?” and she said
“Almost 30 years” and because
we were walking in public, no secret,
tell everyone now it’s official,
I said, “How’s marriage?” The man
kept walking. The woman said,
“It gets better but then it gets different.”
The man kept walking.

La Pelona as Birdwoman [excerpt], by Rigoberto González

Tonight
I dared to crawl
beneath the sheets

to be nailed down
around me,
waiting for my lover, she

who enters
without knocking, she
who will unstitch

my every seam
along my thigh,
my side, my armpit.

She who carves
a heart out of the heart
and drops it

down her throat.
Sweet surrender this
slow death in sleep

as I dream
the love-making
is autopsy. How else

will I be hers
completely? Be her
treasure box I said:

a trove of pearls
and stones, the ding
of coins cascading

through her fingers.
The bird over her shoulder
not a parrot, but an owl

to be my mirror
when I close my eyes
and shape a moon-white

bowl out of my face
where she can wash
the hooks of her caress.

Miz Rosa Rides The Bus, by Angela Jackson

That day in December I sat down
by Miss Muffet of Montgomery.
I was myriad-weary. Feets swole
from sewing seams on a filthy fabric;
tired-sore a pedalin’ the rusty Singer;

dingy cotton thread jammed in the eye.
All lifelong I’d slide through century-reams
loathsome with tears. Dreaming my own
silk-self.

It was not like they all say. Miss Liberty Muffet
she didn’t
jump at the sight of me.
Not exactly.
They hauled me
away—a thousand kicking legs pinned down.

The rest of me I tell you—a cloud.
Beautiful trouble on the dead December
horizon. Come to sit in judgment.

How many miles as the Jim Crow flies?
Over oceans and some. I rumbled.
They couldn’t hold me down. Long.
No.

My feets were tired. My eyes were
sore. My heart was raw from hemming
dirty edges of Miss L. Muffet’s garment.
I rode again.

A thousand bloody miles after the Crow flies
that day in December long remembered when I sat down
beside Miss Muffet of Montgomery.
I said—like the joke say—What’s in the bowl, Thief?
I said—That’s your curse.
I said—This my way.
She slipped her frock, disembarked,
settled in the suburbs, deaf, mute, lewd, and blind.
The bowl she left behind. The empty bowl mine.
The spoiled dress.

Jim Crow dies and ravens come with crumbs.
They say—Eat and be satisfied.
I fast and pray and ride.

Epistle: Leaving, by Kerrin McCadden

Dear train wreck, dear terrible engines, dear spilled freight,
dear unbelievable mess, all these years later I think
to write back. I was not who I am now. A sail is a boat,
a bark is a boat, a mast is a boat and the train was you and me.
Dear dark, dear paper, dear files I can’t toss, dear calendar
and visitation schedule, dear hello and goodbye.

If a life is one thing and then another; if no grasses grow
through the tracks; if the train wreck is a red herring;
if goodbye then sincerely. Dear disappeared bodies
and transitions, dear edge of a good paragraph.
Before the wreck, we misunderstood revision.

I revise things now. I teach pertinence. A girl in class told
us about some boys who found bodies on the tracks
then went back and they were gone, the bodies.
It was true that this story was a lie, like all things

done to be seen. I still think about this story, what it would
be like to be a boy finding bodies out in the woods,
however they were left—and think of all the ways they
could be left. There I was, teaching the building
of a good paragraph, dutiful investigator

of sentences, thinking dear boys, dear stillness in the woods,
until, again, there is the boy I knew as a man
whose father left him at a gas station, and unlike the lie
of the girl’s story, this one is true—he left him there for good.

Sometimes this boy, nine and pale, is sitting next to me, sitting there
watching trains go past the gas station in Wyoming,
thinking there is a train going one way, and a train
going the other way, each at different and variable speeds:
how many miles before something happens
that feels like answers when we write them down—

like solid paragraphs full of transitional phrases
and compound, complex sentences, the waiting space
between things that ends either in pleasure or pain. He
keeps showing up, dear boy, man now, and beautiful

like the northern forest, hardwoods iced over.

The Strange Hours Travelers Keep, by August Kleinzahler

The markets never rest
Always they are somewhere in agitation
Pork bellies, titanium, winter wheat
Electromagnetic ether peppered with photons
Treasure spewing from Unisys A-15 J mainframes
Across the firmament
Soundlessly among the thunderheads and passenger jets
As they make their nightlong journeys
Across the oceans and steppes

Nebulae, incandescent frog spawn of information
Trembling in the claw of Scorpio
Not an instant, then shooting away
Like an enormous cloud of starlings

Garbage scows move slowly down the estuary
The lights of the airport pulse in morning darkness
Food trucks, propane, tortured hearts
The reticent epistemologist parks
Gets out, checks the curb, reparks
Thunder of jets
Peristalsis of great capitals

How pretty in her tartan scarf
Her ruminative frown
Ambiguity and Reason
Locked in a slow, ferocious tango
Of if not, why not

Mary, Color Scientist, by John Beer

No one comes here anymore.
I have a token NO
I have an idea NO
I was washed up

on a lab table, in the traditional
manner. “Everybody wants
to say the joyful joyfully, and I
finally saw it, when I was destroyed.”
Talk all you like, you’re already dead.

**

Mary, would you like to come outside?
Mary worked so long and hard
In the palace of black and white.
Mary knows things I don’t know.
She knows every tear I’ve cried.
She gave her life to seeing sight.
Mary, Mary, when will you come outside?

**

Well, we have these instruments

**

Beauty is a tooth. Correction:
The telephone rang. I was looking
At brown, there’s a history
I’m not getting into, beauty
Is still a tooth. Correction:

Nobody wanted to go to the post office.

**

Individually a vision, a vision
Individuate. You manx.
“Yeah, it’s that paper that lights up
When you look at it.” But why did
The ground start moving? Catch up.
She knew it was happening before
It started to happen. Catch up.
“What did you do, pay for
Those eyes?”

**

Opaque: the rose is not red until your eyes fall upon it.

Translucent: the rose is not red until your eyes.

Transparent: the rose is not red.

**

Etc. Look, the story concerns Mary, and Mary alone. Mary
alone in her colorless tower.
Snow will fall, day turn to night, and not even postmen evade
her sight,
Lidless, fulfilling the ancient dream, she sees the tanks roll
into Gaza
And dieters, she sees with all-encompassing eyes the shredding
of orders,
Kids sneaking into The Story of O, the football scrimmage, and
Manhattan
Ending, she sees the end of Paris and Fort Worth, she watches
subways melt
Sleeplessly, she knew how it all would work out, she trains her
dials on the death
Of kings sitting sadly by the waterfront shacks, she sees
beyond the genius
Of Edwards Teller, Hopper, and Lear. You and I are the trouble
she’s seen.

Mary, wouldn’t you like to come outside?

Mary, Mary, when will you come outside?

**

The sky was black. The sky was blue.
I was sitting someplace. I saw it.

**

The community got together, as communities will,
And waited together for death. Some of us
Were colorblind, so when they lifted the red flag
To signal the drink, we had to be prodded
By neighbors. In a couple of cases,
There were clusters of the colorblind, after all
A genetic trait: these familial bands
Required repeated prodding by strangers
On the outskirts. It produced a wavelike pattern,
All this prodding, so that to an outside observer,
One tuning in from remote satellite, for example,
It was reminiscent of a Busby Berkeley scene,
Or one of those marching band routines
In which the scrambling about of the sousaphone players
Suddenly blossoms into a starfish or some kind of
Risqué joke. But within fifteen minutes or so,
The prodding subsided, and after that the drinking,
The twitching, and we all lay dead in the field.

**

After she emerged, she saw red, and it was red.
She emerged, and saw yellow. She saw blue.
After she emerged, she saw what green was like.
She saw purple and orange and gray.

Jet, by Tony Hoagland

Sometimes I wish I were still out
on the back porch, drinking jet fuel
with the boys, getting louder and louder
as the empty cans drop out of our paws
like booster rockets falling back to Earth

and we soar up into the summer stars.
Summer. The big sky river rushes overhead,
bearing asteroids and mist, blind fish
and old space suits with skeletons inside.
On Earth, men celebrate their hairiness,

and it is good, a way of letting life
out of the box, uncapping the bottle
to let the effervescence gush
through the narrow, usually constricted neck.

And now the crickets plug in their appliances
in unison, and then the fireflies flash
dots and dashes in the grass, like punctuation
for the labyrinthine, untrue tales of sex
someone is telling in the dark, though

no one really hears. We gaze into the night
as if remembering the bright unbroken planet
we once came from,
to which we will never
be permitted to return.
We are amazed how hurt we are.
We would give anything for what we have.

Accomplishments, by Michael Chitwood

What you have not done
is without error. What you
have not said is beyond contradiction.

What you understand of God
was yesterday. Today a bicycle
waits, chained to a bench.

The success of this afternoon’s nap
is the dream of lifting seven boxes,
your week, sealed with clear tape.

They stack, three to a column,
with the seventh like a capstone.
What you do not know they contain.

Francesca, by Ezra Pound

You came in out of the night
And there were flowers in your hands,
Now you will come out of a confusion of people,
Out of a turmoil of speech about you.

I who have seen you amid the primal things
Was angry when they spoke your name
In ordinary places.
I would that the cool waves might flow over my mind,
And that the world should dry as a dead leaf,
Or as a dandelion seed-pod and be swept away,
So that I might find you again,
Alone.

Vodka, by Joel Brouwer

The Stoli bottle’s frost melts to brilliance where I press my
fingers. Evidence. Proof I’m here, drunk in your lamplit kitchen,
breathing up your rented air, no intention of leaving. Our lust
squats blunt as a brick on the table between us. We’re low on
vocabulary. We’re vodkaquiet. Vodkadeliquescent. Vodka doesn’t
like theatrics: it walks into your midnight bedroom already
naked, slips in beside you, takes your shoulders in its icy hands
and shoves. Is that a burglar at the window? No, he lives with
me, actually. Well, let him in for Christ’s sake, let’s actually get this
over with.

Confessions: My Father, Hummingbirds, and Frantz Fanon, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Every effort is made to bring the colonised person to admit
the inferiority of his culture
—Frantz Fanon

And there are days when storms hover
Over my house, their brooding just this side of rage,
An open hand about to slap a face. You won’t believe me

When I tell you it is not personal. It isn’t. It only feels
That way because the face is yours. So what if it is the only
Face you’ve got? Listen, a storm will grab the first thing
In its path, a Persian cat, a sixth grade boy on his way home
From school, an old woman watering her roses, a black
Man running down a street (late to a dinner with his wife),
A white guy buying cigarettes at the corner store. A storm
Will grab a young woman trying to escape her boyfriend,
A garbage can, a Mexican busboy with no papers, you.
We are all collateral damage for someone’s beautiful
Ideology, all of us inanimate in the face of the onslaught.
My father had the biggest hands I’ve ever seen. He never
Wore a wedding ring. Somehow, it would have looked lost,
Misplaced on his thick worker’s hands that were, to me,
As large as Africa. There have been a good many storms
In Africa over the centuries. One was called colonialism
(Though I confess to loving Tarzan as a boy).

In my thirties,
I read a book by Frantz Fanon. I fell in love
With the storms in his book even though they broke
My heart and made me want to scream. What good
Is screaming? Even a bad actress in a horror flick
Can do that. In my twenties, I had fallen in love
With the storms in the essays of James Baldwin.
They were like perfect poems. His friends called
Him Jimmy. People didn’t think he was beautiful.
Oh God, but he was. He could make a hand that was
Slapping you into something that was loving, loving you.
He could make rage sound elegant. Have you ever
Read “Stranger in the Village?” How would you like
To feel like a fucking storm every time someone looked
At you?

One time I was
At a party. Some guy asked me: What are you, anyway?
I downed my beer. Mexican I said. Really he said, Do
You play soccer? No I said but I drink Tequila. He smiled
At me, That’s cool. I smiled back So what are you?
What do you think I am he said. An asshole I said. People
Hate you when you’re right. Especially if you’re Mexican.
And every time I leave town, I pray that people will stop
Repeating You’re from El Paso with that same tone
Of voice they use when they see a rat running across
Their living rooms, interrupting their second glass
Of scotch. My father’s dead (Though sometimes I wake
And swear he has never been more alive—especially when
I see him staring back at me as I shave in the morning).
Even though I understand something about hating a man
I have never really understood the logic of slavery.
What do I know? I don’t particularly like the idea of cheap
Labor. I don’t like guns. And I don’t even believe
White men are superior. Do you? I wanted to be
St. Francis. I took this ambition very seriously. Instead
I wound up becoming a middle-aged man who dreams
Storms where all the animals wind up dead. It scares
Me to think I have this dream inside me. Still,
I love dogs—even mean ones. I could forgive
A dog that bit me. But if a man bit me, that would be
Another story. I have made my peace with cats.
I am especially in love with hummingbirds (though
They’re as mean as roosters in a cock fight). Have
You ever seen the storms in the eyes of men who
Were betting on a cock fight?

Last night, there was hail, thunder,
A tornado touching down in the desert—though I was
Away and was not a first hand witness. I was in another
Place, listening to the waves of the ocean crash against
The shore. Sometimes I think the sea is angry. Who
Can blame it? There are a million things to be angry
About. Have you noticed that some people don’t give
A damn and just keep on shopping? Doesn’t that make you
Angry? A storm is like God. You don’t have to see it
To believe—sometimes you just have to place
Your faith in it. When my father walked into a room
It felt like that. Like the crashing waves. You know,
Like a storm. This is the truth of the matter: I am
The son of a storm. Look, every one has to be the son
Of something. The thing to do when you are caught
In the middle of a storm is to abandon your car,
Keep quiet. Pray. Wait. Tell that to the men
Who were sleeping on the Arizona when
The Japanese dropped their bombs. War is the worst
Kind of storm. The truth is I have never met a breathing
Human being who did not have at least one scar
On his body. Bombs and bullets do more than leave
A permanent mark on the skin. I have never liked
The expression they were out for blood.

There are days
When there are so many storms hovering around
My house that I cannot even see the blue in the sky.
My father loved the sky. He was trying to memorize
The clouds before he died. I confess to being
Jealous of the sky.

On Sunday Mornings
I picture Frantz Fanon as an old man. He is looking up
At the pure African sky. He is trying to imagine how it appeared
Before the white men came. I don’t want to dream all the dead
Animals we have made extinct. I want to dream a sky
Full of hummingbirds. I would like to die in such a storm.

In Portraits in Seasons, by Danielle Pafunda

As a feral thing would. As a dead leaf
whose crunch she herself hears, whose

buggy interior floods the sidewalk. Beamy
the world, yet a blank all the same.

Where you’ve tucked your pen into your notes,
I tuck my fingernail, burned and cursed and

shut tight my eyes. I tuck my feet up like a girl.
In this corner, warm milk fall of light something

far from revealing its bone-blank eyes, that is,
the eyes downcast in every portrait, shaded

the ribbon a bright blue furl across the gaze,
the peculiar mother, her arm around a naked toddler

the fall of light. Betrays nothing. The book in
hand, betrays. As a feral thing would,

I shred its binding and burn through it for warmth.

A Natural History of My White Girl, by Ching-In Chen

after Mendi Obadike

When I was a white girl, I had no mother.

I drank whiskey, lived in a house with no walls.

Girls visited and marveled at my room to breathe.
When it was sunny, they let down their hair, drank fresh orange juice.

We drank all morning, didn’t go to class.
I knew which words to carry in the arsenal, which memory to disarm the most resilient bully.
Nobody bothered us or asked why we were missing.

I never doubted this was me. I knew how to pull up short, how to light my name under their skin.

There was no need for mirrors. No need to get free.

Disgust, by Liam Rector

I was well towards the end
Of middle-age before I
Realized I loved saying

Disgusting things but didn’t
Really myself much enjoy hearing
Them. They

Go to the heart of life,
I realize (I think
Everyone recognizes this),

Since almost everyone
Can agree: Life, so
Generally disgusting.

But no one really
Wants to hear
That much about

The disgusting (except,
Perhaps, those who have frozen
Significant portions

Of their senses of humor
In the fifth grade, as I have).
Those of us who love

Verbally bringing up
The disgusting
Incessantly

Are usually prevented
From ever holding
Truly executive positions

In any organized
Situation, but there are,
Looking around I’ve noticed,

Plenty of us
Placed somewhere
In middle-management.

We are the ones
Managing things
“On the ground,”

As they say, the ground
Which is also where,
I can’t help but bring it

Up, most beasts of the field
Leave
Their ghastly deposits.

[Persian Letters], by Solmaz Sharif

Dear Aleph,

Like Ovid: I’ll have no last words.
This is what it means to die among barbarians. Bar bar bar
was how the Greeks heard our speech—
sheep, beasts—and so we became
barbarians. We make them reveal
the brutes they are, Aleph, by the things
we make them name. David,
they tell me, is the one
one should aspire to, but ever since
I first heard them say Philistine
I’ve known I am Goliath
if I am anything.

Drowsing over The Arabian Nights, by Thomas Kinsella

I nodded. The books agree,
one hopes for too much.
It is ridiculous.
We are elaborate beasts.

If we concur it is only
in our hunger: the soiled gullet.
And sleep’s airy nothing.
And the moist matter of lust

—if the whole waste of women
could be gathered like one pit
under swarming Man,
then all might act together.

And the agonies of death,
as we enter our endless nights
quickly, one by one, fire
darting up to the roots of our hair.

1939, by Marjorie Agosín

I

She knew how to seduce her destiny,
predict the time of flight
In 1939, dressed in garments
of night and happiness
at the threshold of a fearful
Hamburg Harbor
resolved to live,
she sailed
to Southern seas.

In 1938, the windows
of her house of water and stone
resisted the extreme
horror of that night
of broken crystals.

She, my grandmother,
taught me to recognize
the landscape of danger,
the shards of fear,
the impenetrable faces
of women,
fleeing,
accused,
audacious in their will to live.

II

Helena Broder,
created a domain
of papers, fragile vessels,
clandestine poems and
notes to be made,
discreet addresses.
With little baggage,
like a frail and ancient
angel,
she arrived,
although ready to embark again.

I survived next to her
and I was thankful for the gift of her presence.

They Romp with Wooly Canines, by Patricia Smith

and spy whole lifetimes on the undersides of leaves.
Jazz intrudes, stank clogging that neat procession
of lush and flutter. His eyes, siphoned and dimming,
demand that he accept ardor as it is presented, with
its tear-splashed borders and stilted lists, romance
that is only on the agenda because hours do not stop.
Bless his sliver of soul. He’s nabbed a sizzling matron
who grays as we watch, a thick-ankled New England
whoop, muscled to suffer his stifling missionary weight.
Earth-smudged behind the wheel of her pickup,
she hums a tune that rhymes dots of dinner trapped
in his beard with twilight. Is it still a collision course
if you must lie down to rest? Bless her as she tries
on his name for size and plucks hairs from her chin.
Bless him as he barrels toward yet another wife
who will someday realize, idly, that her only purpose
in this dwindling novella of his days is to someday
lower his heralded bulk, with little fanfare, into a grave.

During the Montenegrin Poetry Reading, by Tess Gallagher

Mira, like a white goddess, is translating
so my left ear is a cave near Kotor
where the sea lashes and rakes
the iron darkness inside
the black mountains. Young and old, the poets
are letting us know this sweltering night,
under a bridge near a river outside
Karver Bookstore at the beginning of July,
belongs to them. They clear away debris

about politicians and personal suffering,
these gladiators of desire
and doubt, whose candor has roiled
me like a child shaking stolen beer to foam
the genie of the moment out of
its bottle. The poets’ truth-wrought poems dragging it
out of me, that confession—that I didn’t have children
probably because in some clear corner I knew I would have left them
to join these poets half a world away who, in their language
that is able to break stones, have broken me open
like a melon. Instead of children, I leave my small dog, quivering
as I touched her on the nose, to let her know it’s
me, the one who is always leaving her, yes
I’m going, and for her I have no language with
which to reassure her I’m coming

back, no—what’s the use to pretend I’m
a good mistress to her, she who would never
leave me, she who looks for me everywhere
I am not, until I return. I should feel guilty
but the Montenegrin poets have taken false guilt off
the table. I’ve been swallowed by a cosmic
sneer, with an entire country behind it where
each day it occurs to them how many are still missing
in that recent past of war and havoc. Nothing to do
but shut the gate behind me
and not look back where my scent
even now is fading from the grass. Nostalgia
for myself won’t be tolerated here. I’m just a beast
who, if my dog were a person, would give me a pat
on the head and say something stupid like: Good dog.

Engines Within the Throne, by Cathy Park Hong

We once worked as clerks
scanning moth-balled pages
into the clouds, all memories
outsourced except the fuzzy
childhood bits when
I was an undersized girl with a tic,
they numbed me with botox
I was a skinsuit
of dumb expression, just fingerprints
over my shamed
all I wanted was snow
to snuff the sun blades to shadow spokes,
muffle the drum of freeways, erase
the old realism
but this smart snow erases
nothing, seeps everywhere,
the search engine is inside us,
the world is our display
and now every industry
has dumped whole cubicles, desktops,
fax machines into developing
worlds where they stack
them as walls against
what disputed territory
we asked the old spy who drank
with Russians to gather information
the old-fashioned way,
now we have snow sensors,
so you can go spelunking
in anyone’s mind,
let me borrow your child
thoughts, it’s benign surveillance,
I can burrow inside, find a cave
pool with rock-colored flounder,
and find you, half-transparent
with depression.