Study In Orange And White, by Billy Collins

I knew that James Whistler was part of the Paris scene,
but I was still surprised when I found the painting
of his mother at the Musée d’Orsay
among all the colored dots and mobile brushstrokes
of the French Impressionists.

And I was surprised to notice
after a few minutes of benign staring,
how that woman, stark in profile
and fixed forever in her chair,
began to resemble my own ancient mother
who was now fixed forever in the stars, the air, the earth.

You can understand why he titled the painting
“Arrangement in Gray and Black”
instead of what everyone naturally calls it,
but afterward, as I walked along the river bank,
I imagined how it might have broken
the woman’s heart to be demoted from mother
to a mere composition, a study in colorlessness.

As the summer couples leaned into each other
along the quay and the wide, low-slung boats
full of spectators slid up and down the Seine
between the carved stone bridges
and their watery reflections,
I thought: how ridiculous, how off-base.

It would be like Botticelli calling “The Birth of Venus”
“Composition in Blue, Ochre, Green, and Pink,”
or the other way around
like Rothko titling one of his sandwiches of color
“Fishing Boats Leaving Falmouth Harbor at Dawn.”

Or, as I scanned the menu at the cafe
where I now had come to rest,
it would be like painting something laughable,
like a chef turning on a spit
over a blazing fire in front of an audience of ducks
and calling it “Study in Orange and White.”

But by that time, a waiter had appeared
with my glass of Pernod and a clear pitcher of water,
and I sat there thinking of nothing
but the women and men passing by—
mothers and sons walking their small fragile dogs—
and about myself,
a kind of composition in blue and khaki,
and, now that I had poured
some water into the glass, milky-green.

Waiting On The Reading, by Samiya Bashir

Many of my race have lived long without the touch of
these fine things which separate us from beasts. Things
I call my own now. Having served thirty-six years as needleman

for a family far more ape than we will ever be, I rode
the moonlight train to find my free. Up here it is colder than I like,
but the gentlemen admire my frock coats above all. I taught my son this trade

and hope this picture I made will help retrieve him. Come summer I leave
this coast for Philadelphia where I hear we of color can breathe yet more free.
Tonight I stitch. The breeze off the bay smells of aria. It is almost the season for cloaks.

Accidents Of Birth, by William Meredith

Je vois les effroyables espaces de l’Univers qui m’enferment, et je me trouve attaché à un coin de cette vaste étendue, sans savoir pourquoi je suis plutôt en ce lieu qu’en un autre, ni pourquoi ce peu de temps qui m’est donné à vivre m’est assigné à ce point plutôt qu’à un autre de toute l’éternité qui m’a précédé, et de toute qui me suit.

—Pascal, Pensées sur la religion

The approach of a man’s life out of the past is history, and the approach of time out of the future is mystery. Their meeting is the present, and it is consciousness, the only time life is alive. The endless wonder of this meeting is what causes the mind, in its inward liberty of a frozen morning, to turn back and question and remember. The world is full of places. Why is it that I am here?

—Wendell Berry, The Long-Legged House

Spared by a car or airplane crash or
cured of malignancy, people look
around with new eyes at a newly
praiseworthy world, blinking eyes like these.

For I’ve been brought back again from the
fine silt, the mud where our atoms lie
down for long naps. And I’ve also been
pardoned miraculously for years
by the lava of chance which runs down
the world’s gullies, silting us back.
Here I am, brought back, set up, not yet
happened away.

But it’s not this random
life only, throwing its sensual
astonishments upside down on
the bloody membranes behind my eyeballs,
not just me being here again, old
needer, looking for someone to need,
but you, up from the clay yourself,
as luck would have it, and inching
over the same little segment of earth-
ball, in the same little eon, to
meet in a room, alive in our skins,
and the whole galaxy gaping there
and the centuries whining like gnats—
you, to teach me to see it, to see
it with you, and to offer somebody
uncomprehending, impudent thanks.

This, Here, by Kush Thompson

This, we tiptoe.
This, we flower in euphemism.
The street has swallowed itself into border. Into railroad track.
This, where the bus line ends.
This, where little boys bike across curfew and into eulogy.
This, where board-slapped windows domino into mansions.
Runaway men into joggers.
This, where Oak Park River Forest alumni rep westside,
Redlands East Valley minstrels “Gangsta Day” during spirit week.
This, where the grass and the quiet
lull mothers to sleep.
This, where your heart is not yet
a restless telephone wire shackled to the ankle
of every one you have ever loved after sunset.
This, where the news stations tell you everything you know about
what lives across your street, outside of your living room window,
at the end of your driveway.
This, deliberate. This, abrupt.
This, sloppy stitching.

Here, you are exception,
urban, and articulate.
The black friend that let them poke pencils through your kink that one time
while you curled a trembling smile, pretending not to be
token or voodoo doll,
half house, half field
a Susie Carmichael or Huxtable.
The black family in a White House
ran north and bought the plantation.

This all too familiar of being someplace but not.
You were raised on “twice as good.”
Mama left the westside when you were two.
You were raised into valley-girl accent.
Your voice lost all of its skyline until
you went to high school through metal detectors.
You were raised on ditches and division streets.
Here, where you were born before you were conceived.

Here, where your cousin lives in the basement.
Here is your first real boyfriend
the first tongue in your mouth, and first
call from the county.
Here is the splintered wall your back will know.
Here, where you are no bourgeois success story,
just lucky enough to slip through cracks and make it
to your front door each night.
Here is where your ashes will be scattered.
Here is your home 6 years from now.
Here is your home 50 years ago.
Here is your redemption skin.
Your corner store.
Your corner stone.
Here is your Gramma’s house and dusted porcelain
and stuffed bears on the living room walls.
Here, where everything grows without permission.
Here, where sunflowers rise from the potholes

each and every summer.

Jane, by Howard Moss

The startling pleasures all broke down,
It was her first arthritic spring.
Inside her furs, her bones, secure,
Suddenly became a source of pain
And froze on a Saturday afternoon
While she was listening to “La Boheme.”

Strength had been her weakness, and
Because it was, she got to like
The exhilaration of catastrophes
That prove our lives as stupid as we think,
But pain, more stupid than stupidity,
Is an accident of animals in which, once caught,
The distances are never again the same.

Yet there was another Jane in Jane:
She smelled the inside of a logarithm,
And felt a Gothic arch rise in her chest,
Her clavicle widening to bear the weight
Of the two smooth plumb lines of her breasts,
The blueprints forming an enormous skirt
Around her body. Arch and star and cross
Swung like little lights inside her head,
A church and temple rising from the floor,
Nave and transept and an altar where,
Unbidden, she saw a kind of sacrifice;
The knife was in her hand, the stick, the whip;
She cried at her cruelty and cried to be
Outside of her defenses. And just then,

The windows buckled in, the paintings cracked,
The furniture went walking by itself,
All out of her control. And it was pain
That let her know she was herself again:
She wore a cloak of fire on her skin,
And power, power floated up to her.

An Institute Is Closing, by Ish Klein

I’m not in with this mystery. Somebody steady me.
Cool ocean breezes don’t make me laugh.

I’m in with noisy metal little nils. A million apologies.
I must have made more.

You were sensitive, you needed them
No you weren’t and you didn’t. In fact . . . oh forget it!

In the middle of the ocean reflected with the moon,
good place to show; probably no one knows you there.

Your leaving, the thrown rope up to sky, climbed up for real goodbye.
I realized my reason insufficient; you must have considered this.

How my specific lean to you smelled like an old paper cup
of funny water and you were not very thirsty.

You came unbidden initially and often. A field
and flickering wicks of foxes from here to there. You.

Holding Hell at bay. Back to ground,
I see you on the moon with your mirror

catching action on the parallax.
Some kind of wise guy.

Footfall, by Julie Maclean

I used to live on the chalk
where clay gives way
to the Roman road
en route to an Iron Age fort

Laid a bivvy bag
off the track squinting
into the night bling for meteors
and space junk Hiked for days
dodging sarn and tor

Woke to dew on blade of plantain
shoved aside by the
nose of a blind mole

Once I flew a homemade kite
with the boy who had the wrong smell
He tried to kiss me on Gallows Barrow

So how could I leave
my homeland webbed by
common path and famine row
where blackberries dared
to bleed over my teeth

When I’d loved nothing more
than swinging over worn stiles
chasing primrose trails
wiping sap of bluebell from my sleeve

On the road my legs seem
less reckless now
more tools of philosophy

And what of this is true?

The boy, the kite, the blood
of berry, how I can tell
a simple lie that weaves the yarn
of my country back into my story

The bit about philosophy

The Coriolanus Effect, by Tim Wells

For Jack the Ripper walking tours

Come
ye learned,
ye loquacious,
ye lost.

Walk a pentagram
around ego,
erudition,
experience.

Our shuls,
mosques,
and homes
be yours.

Our murdered
laid bare,
our slums
still teem,
our souls sold.

As for us,
we marvel as
our own effluvia
swirls
widdershins.

Big City, by Amaud Jamaul Johnson

He promises a canary dress, white gloves,
says they’ll eat chops, thick as her thighs,
that they’ll order doubles of the “finest,”
see all the Big Names when they arrive.
But it’s the thought of them dead:
half of what they own draped around them,
her head against his chest, his back slack
against the headboard, all their letters unopened,
bills not paid, long knocks, the notices tacked
outside their door. It’s not knowing
whether some smell would introduce them
to their neighbors or a landlord wheeling
them out into the hallway; the highboy
he chipped on the drive up, the silver
she inherited from her mother, her hatboxes,
stacked high next to them like a wedding cake
waiting to be buried. He heard that “up there”
the wind had talons sharp enough to hook
a grown man beneath his collarbone and carry
him a full city block. He heard that you learned
the months by measuring the length of their shadows
and even summer was like a quality of night.

High Yellow, by Hannah Lowe

Errol drives me to Treasure Beach It’s an old story, the terrible storm
swerving the dark country roads the ship going down, half the sailors
I think about what you will be, your mix drowned, half swimming the
white, black, Chinese, and your father’s slate waves, spat hard onto shore
Scottish-Englishness. We cross the Black River Smashed crates, bodies
where they shipped cane sugar and molasses choking on the black sand
upstream past a sign One man stands — What is this place? A woman
for Lover’s Leap. The air stinks of sulphur in the trees, one hand raised
Errol drops me at a blue gate. Be safe This is how the Scotsmen came
behind the house, the thin beach why the black people here have red hair
of black sand, the water warm and gray Or the other story, no storm
I am deep before I know it, groundless no wrecked ship. Just the miles
the swell stops the sickness of cane fields and mulatto children named
under a crooked tree, perched on sea rocks McDonald or McArthur for
two fishermen in torn denims, smoking their fathers, who owned them
I dry in the sun. They pass, turn, come close Nothing grows at Lover’s Leap
they have rust afros, gold faces splashed with freckles where two runaways
one ripped with muscle, one with eyes cornered by their master, held hands
like razors. What you want here they say and jumped down into the clouds

Survey: Phototropes, by Eleni Sikélianòs

The snow falls, picks itself up, dusts itself off
a sparrow flying like a leaf back up to its tree
The future does a backbend toward you, it’s
what you can almost see, scrimmed
in the clouds which crowd the sky, elbowing, laughing

After that I see space and its influence in a bucket of spinning water
and two calcium atoms shoot forth, twinned photons traveling

back to back, arms unlaced, perfect
swimmers in the lit dusk

Where are they going?

First, to Holland, then
to calcium-kiss her bones

And in Holland the streets are made of water, the dolls & dogs gather
round lit picnic tables like happy rags

The body is in the root cellar

When snow falls our dead gather close to our bones
because the cold’s ghost has come back to haunt the cold & the body,
too, is a happy rag

Tree, take a photograph of her thought, you can do it
with photosynthesis: silhouettes of seals appear, a swarmed planet and its satellites, a
celestial atlas that breaks when tapped (it’s glass)
Some giraffes, some elephants, a lion scatter
in the clearing; in the clearing

the leaves of the world turn toward the light as do the letters of the word
the words are beautiful not for their accuracy but for their dream:
words-are-arrows that loop between no-man’s-land and the wetlands, soft
flints flying toward their target

—words bird the zone—

when home was adopted as mother
area was given here
[a future of] all surface, no border

Vision, by Erica Funkhouser

With age
mirage
assuages
what the youthful eye
would have studied
until identified—
chicory? bluebird? debris?
Today no nomenclature
ruptures
the composure
of a chalk-blue haze
pausing, even dawdling,
now and then trembling
over what I’m going to call
fresh water.

The Family Photograph, by Vona Groarke

In the window of the drawing-room
there is a rush of white as you pass
in which the figure of your husband is,
for a moment, framed. He is watching you.

His father will come, of course,
and, although you had not planned it,
his beard will offset your lace dress,
and always it will seem that you were friends.

All morning, you had prepared the house
and now you have stepped out
to make sure that everything
is in its proper place: the railings whitened,

fresh gravel on the avenue, the glasshouse
crystal when you stand in the courtyard
expecting the carriage to arrive at any moment.
You are pleased with the day, all month it has been warm.

They say it will be one of the hottest summers
the world has ever known.
Today, your son is one year old.
Later, you will try to recall

how he felt in your arms—
the weight of him, the way he turned to you from sleep,
the exact moment when you knew he would cry
and the photograph be lost.

But it is not lost.
You stand, a well-appointed group
with an air of being pleasantly surprised.
You will come to love this photograph

and will remember how, when he had finished,
you invited the photographer inside
and how, in celebration of the day,
you drank a toast to him, and summer-time.

Invictus, by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Sometimes Night is a Creek Too Wide to Leap, by Gail Martin

The sky wears black serge pants while
hemming up another pair for tomorrow
night. A bit shorter, but you won’t notice.
Some nights the blue pill brings a dream
where a young girl is trying not to cry
in the sheep pasture, stuck where her brothers
eyed the watery gap and mossy stones and sailed
to the other side. We didn’t know about E. coli
then, how our waders must have buzzed with it.
By the time I was ten, I’d pared my list of things
I was scared of down to four: the high board,
hoods and kidnappers, blue racers, and shaking
hands with Uncle John who’d lost four fingers
in the cornpicker. I pushed the scared parts of me
away, like the two finches my mother watched
nudge a dead fledgling off the edge of her deck.

Her Father, by Thomas Hardy

I met her, as we had privily planned,
Where passing feet beat busily:
She whispered: “Father is at hand!
He wished to walk with me.”

His presence as he joined us there
Banished our words of warmth away;
We felt, with cloudings of despair,
What Love must lose that day.

Her crimson lips remained unkissed,
Our fingers kept no tender hold,
His lack of feeling made the tryst
Embarrassed, stiff, and cold.

A cynic ghost then rose and said,
“But is his love for her so small
That, nigh to yours, it may be read
As of no worth at all?

“You love her for her pink and white;
But what when their fresh splendours close?
His love will last her in despite
Of Time, and wrack, and foes.”

Molemen Beat Tapes, by Kevin Coval

were copped from Gramophone.
cassettes jammed into a factory-
issued stereo deck of the hoopty
i rolled around in. a bucket. bass
and drum looped with some string
sample, fixed. a sliver of perfect
adjusted. the scrapes of something
reconstituted. there was so much
space to fill. an invitation to utter.
Iqra– Allah said to the prophet
Muhammad (peace be upon Him).
a- to b-side and around again. a circle
a cipher. i’d drive down and back
in my mom’s Dodge for the latest
volumes of sound. i’d stutter
and stop and begin again. lonesome
and on fire. none. no one i knew
rapped. i’d recite alone on Clark St.
free, styling, shaping, my voice
a sapling, hatchling, rapping
my life, emerging in the dark
of an empty car.

there was a time when hip-hop felt like a secret
society of wizards and wordsmiths. magicians
meant to find you or that you were meant to find
like rappers i listened to and memorized in history
class talked specifically to me, for me.

& sometimes
you’d see a kid whisper to himself
in the corner of a bus seat & you
asked if he rhymed & traded a poem
a verse like a fur pelt/trapping.
some gold or food. this sustenance.
you didn’t have to ride solo anymore.

Jonathan was the first kid i met who rapped. he was Black
from a prep school, wore ski goggles on top his head & listened
to Wu-Tang which meant he was always rhyming about science
and chess. his pops made him read Sun Tzu. his mans was Omega
a fat Puerto Rican who wrote graffiti and smoked bidis.

& they’d have friends
& the backseat would swell
& the word got passed/scooped like a ball
on the playground. you’d juggle however long
your mind could double Dutch. sometimes you’d take
what you were given/lift off like a trampoline
rocket launch. sometimes you’d trip & scrape
your knees. tongue-tied, not quick. words stuck
on loop, like like words, stuck, like that. but break
thru, mind, knife sharp, mind darts
polished & gleaming we’d ride
for the sake of rhyming. take the long way
home or wherever the fuck we were going
cruise down Lake Shore & back, blasting
blazing. polishing these gems.
trying to get our mind right.

Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds, by Eleanor Lerman

This is what she says about Russia, in the year 2000, in
a restaurant on Prince Street, late on a summer night
She says: all the chandeliers were broken and in the winter,
you couldn’t get a drink, not even that piss from Finland.
The whole country was going crazy. She thinks she is speaking
about the days before she left, but I think, actually, that she is
recounting history. Somebody should be writing all this down

Or not. Perhaps the transition from Communism to a post-Soviet
federation as seen through the eyes of a woman who was hoping,
at least, for an influx of French cosmetics is of interest only to me.
And why not? It seems that the fall of a great empire—revolution!
murder! famine! martial music!—has had a personal effect.
Picture an old movie: here is the spinning globe, the dotted line
moving, dash by dash, from Moscow across the ocean to
New York and it’s headed straight for me. Another blonde
with an accent: the city’s full of them. Nostrovya! A toast
to how often I don’t know what’s coming at me next.

So here is a list of what she left behind: a husband, an abortion,
a mathematical education, and a black market career in
trading currencies. And what she brought: a gray poodle,
eight dresses and a fearful combination of hope, sarcasm,
and steel-eyed desire to which I have surrendered. And now
I know her secrets: she will never give up smoking.
She would have crawled across Eastern Europe and fed
that dog her own blood if she had to. And her mother’s secrets:
she would have thought, at last, that you were safe with me.
She hated men. Let me, then, acknowledge that last generation
of the women of the enemy: they are a mystery to me.
They would be a mystery even to my most liberal-minded friends.

That’s not to say that the daughter, this new democrat, can’t be
a handful. And sometimes noisy: One of those girls you see
now (ice blue manicure, real diamonds and lots of DKNY)
leans over from the next table and says, Can’t you ask your wife
to hold it down? My wife? I suppose I should be insulted,
but I think it’s funny. This is a dangerous woman they want
to quiet here. A woman who could sew gold into the ragged lining
of anybody’s coffin. Who knows that money does buy freedom.
Who just this morning has obtained a cell phone with a bonus plan.
She has it with her, and I believe she means to use it.
Soon, she will be calling everyone, just to wake them up.

Solitaire, by Sam Riviere

I think I always liked the game
because it sounded like my name
combined with the concept of alone.
(My name really does mean “alone”
in Slovenian!) We don’t actually care
if it’s true, but we want to know
the person telling us is telling us
the truth. Say his name is “Hank,”
as in, “of hair.” (It’s not.) My upbringing
was classically smooth/chaotic, apart
from traumatic events I’ve never detailed,
even to myself. Traumatic but methodical.
But why say what happened even.
In the tech block the blinds were down
and I cleared my way to the final marble
under the indistinct gaze of an indistinct
master. My success had allowed me
to become the bastard I always knew
I could be. What did it mean, to clean
the board like this, counting down to one?
By these gradual and orderly subtractions
my persona was configured. The goal
was to remain single. Sometimes telling you
the truth wouldn’t be telling you anything
much. For a while I’ve felt torpid and detuned,
as if I want to share a view with you,
so we can both be absent in one place.
Look, the sky is beautiful and sour.
I’m not here, too. I’m staring out of this cloud
like an anagram whose solution
is probably itself. I am only the method
that this stupid game was invented to explain.

Flying, by Sarah Arvio

One said to me tonight or was it day
or was it the passage between the two,
“It’s hard to remember, crossing time zones,

the structure of the hours you left behind.
Are they sleeping or are they eating sweets,
and are they wanting me to phone them now?”

“In the face of technological fact,
even the most seasoned traveler feels
the baffled sense that nowhere else exists.”

“It’s the moving resistance of the air
as you hurtle too fast against the hours
that stuns the cells and tissues of the brain.”

“The dry cabin air, the cramped rows of seats,
the steward passing pillows, pouring drinks,
and the sudden ridges of turbulence. . .”

“Oh yes, the crossing is always a trial,
despite precautions: drink water, don’t smoke,
and take measured doses of midday sun,

whether an ordinary business flight
or a prayer at a pleasure altar. . .
for moments or hours the earth out of sight,

the white cumuli dreaming there below,
warm fronts and cold fronts streaming through the sky,
the mesmerizing rose-and-purple glow.”

So did you leave your home à contrecoeur?
Did you leave a life? Did you leave a love?
Are you out here looking for another?

Some want so much to cross, to go away,
somewhere anywhere & begin again,
others can’t endure the separation. . .

One night, the skyline as I left New York
was a garden of neon flowerbursts—
the celebration of a history.

Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, by Amiri Baraka

for Kellie Jones, born 16 May 1959

Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus…

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars,
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night, I tiptoed up
To my daughter’s room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there…
Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands.

Train to Agra, by Vandana Khanna

I want to reach you—
in that city where the snow

only shimmers silver
for a few hours. It has taken

seventeen years. This trip,
these characters patterned

in black ink, curves catching
on the page like hinges,

this weave of letters fraying
like the lines on my palm,

all broken paths. Outside,
no snow. Just the slow pull

of brown on the hills, umber
dulling to a bruise until the city

is just a memory of stained teeth,
the burn of white marble

to dusk, cows standing
on the edges like a dust

cloud gaining weight
after days of no rain. Asleep

in the hot berth, my parents
sway in a dance, the silence

broken by scrape of tin, hiss
of tea, and underneath,

the constant clatter of wheels
beating steel tracks over and over:

to the city of white marble,
to the city of goats, tobacco

fields, city of dead hands,
a mantra of my grandmother’s—

her teeth eaten away
by betel leaves—the story

of how Shah Jahan had cut off
all the workers’ hands

after they built the Taj, so they
could never build again. I dreamt

of those hands for weeks before
the trip, weeks even before I

stepped off the plane, thousands
of useless dead flowers drying

to sienna, silent in their fall.
Every night, days before, I dreamt

those hands climbing over the iron
gate of my grandparents’ house, over

grate and spikes, some caught
in the groove between its sharpened

teeth, others biting where
they pinched my skin.

Ancient Theories, by Nick Lantz

A horse hair falls into the water and grows into an eel.
     Even Aristotle believed that frogs
                                formed from mud,
that mice sprouted like seedlings in the damp hay.

     I used to believe the world spoke
                           in code. I lay awake
and tried to parse the flashes of the streetlight—
       obscured, revealed,
                    obscured by the wind-sprung tree.
Stranded with you at the Ferris wheel’s apogee
       I learned the physics
                    of desire—fixed at the center,
it spins and goes nowhere.

       Pliny described eight-foot lobsters
                         sunning themselves
on the banks of the Ganges. The cuckoo devouring
       its foster mother. Bees alighting
                         on Plato’s young lips.

In the Andes, a lake disappears overnight, sucked
       through cracks in the earth.
                         How can I explain
the sunlight stippling your face in the early morning?

Why not believe that the eye throws its own light,
       that seeing illuminates
                    the world?
                         On the moon,
astronaut David Scott drops a hammer and a falcon feather,
     and we learn nothing
                    we didn’t already know.

Caro Nome, by Kathy Fagan

Jets shake the air and snow
breaks off a tree branch in little puffs. One
cardinal. Cars moving slowly downhill on the ice.

It is always someone’s last day.
Dearest Bird, she read from the card she’d found unattached to the flowers,
Happy Day To Our Sweetest Hart. Love Monster And Beef Dad.

Their secret language.
Manischewitz, she calls me for the sweetness.
Manitoba, for the expanse.

Deer rest in snow,
charcoal muzzle to charcoal hoof, heads slung over
their shoulders like swans.

One is in REM. Look at it dreaming, she said.
Fern buttons unwheel in a dark place behind the snow,
a contrast she loves in me.

The sledding hill is closed, the days like an unused billboard,
but sunsets have been fantastic,
jewel-toned as the flowers unattached to the card, or hot like the cardinal

who pins the whole picture up
with your eye. Meanwhile,
her tree is an iron room with the moon inside. Its branches

have a mental disorder so sunsets keep dodging them.
I am the color of that tree
she loves and nearly as still. And my blood, which is not in this picture,

will soon cool, sunset winking out in my eyes and her eyes
welling in a language that once fell and rose
in drifts then melted, starry, she said, starry, into my warm coat.

MiG-21 Raids at Shegontola, by Mir Mahfuz Ali

Only this boy moves
between the runes of trees
on his tricycle
when an eagle swoops,
releases two arrows
from its silver wings, and melts
away faster than lightning.
Then a loud whistle
and a bang like dry thunder.
In a blink the boy sees
his house roof sink.
Feels his ears ripped off.
The blast puffs up a fawn smoke
bigger than a mountain cloud.
The slow begonias rattle
their scarlet like confetti.
Metal slashes
the trees and ricochets.
Wires and pipes snap
at the roots, quiver.
The whirling smoke packed
with bricks and cement,
chicken feathers and nigella seeds.
When the cloud begins
to settle on the ground,
the boy makes out buckled iron rods.
White soot descends
and he finds himself dressed
like an apprentice baker.

Learning How to Make Love, by Denise Duhamel

This couple couldn’t figure it out. 
The man licked his wife’s genitals while she stared straight ahead. 
The woman poked her husband’s testicles with her nose. 
The man put his toe in the folds of the woman’s vulva. 
The woman took the man’s penis under her armpit. 
Neither one of them wanted to be the first to admit 
something was off. So it went on— 
the man put his finger in his wife’s navel. 
The woman batted her eyelashes against the arch of her husband’s foot. 
They pinched each other’s earlobes. They bit each other’s rear ends. 
To perpetrate the lie, they ended each encounter with a deep sigh. 
Then one day while the husband was hunting, 
a man stopped by the igloo and said to the wife: 
I hear you have been having trouble.
I can show you how to make love.
He took her to bed and left before the husband came home. 
Then the wife showed her husband, 
careful to make it seem like the idea sprang 
from both. After all these years of rubbing one’s face against the other’s belly 
or stroking a male elbow behind a female knee, 
this couple had a lot of catching up to do. They couldn’t stop to eat or sleep 
and grew so skinny they died. No one found them for a long time. 
And by then, their two skeletons were fused into one.

The Allure of Forms, by Coral Bracho

translated by Mónica de la Torre

Blissful dance. Scream
of the shadows in light.
Night that pours its animal shrill
into the morning’s joy.
There it ramifies,
bursts, intertwines itself. It blossoms
on its clearest edge. It’s the allure of forms
in their steep nearness, their engulfed
proximity. Rivers become entangled with, yet do not merge,
an obscure lightning, an arborescent
flame. Fauna
sliding between the blazes.
It’s the pleasure of opposites: the scattered pondering,
the swarming and resonant jungle.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Freemason, by Jascha Kessler

Where the heart was, a domestic chasm, an abyss bridged by snow
As France, once great, collapsed into tourism and poetry
Behind the sublimity, obscene

Unable to command even the words useful to propose toasts
Having filled space beneath the zodiac with debris
And found the moon in its rounds merely vague

This is the town he has chosen to live out his time in:

A DELUXE BODY & FENDER SHOP
BUILDING SUPPLIES
DRUGS
FUNERAL SERVICES
FLORIST
HARDWARE
INSURANCE & REAL ESTATE
MEATS & GROCERIES in emergencies call THE OPERATOR (dial zero)

He conforms to everything
He worships pleasantly
He tinkers endlessly with mixed drinks
He reneges on the Revolution, though it tore him from his chains
He tolerates melioratives
He addresses queries to psychiatrists who answer in
newspaper columns
He deplores the inhumanity of the avant/garde
He praises fools, and suffers them gladly
He preserves himself out of perversity, and perseveres

And in secret, at odd moments, he makes metaphors of royalty
Self piteously beginning Petrarchan sonnets thus:

After the Coronation
Forthright, busy Fortinbras summoned me,
Courteous, condoled a little, and then,
Snapping for his secretary, took pen
And signed me out ofhis drumming country…

Surmising that force brings no apples from the bare branch
Like a dark prophet in a wilderness of bright people
Full of exotic necessities
Or like a rational Messiah
Sojourning with brutes, sweet boys and hairy girls,
He busies himself studying the culture of perfume advertisements

No world is intact, by Alice Notley

No world is intact
and no one cares about you.

I leaned down over
don’t care about, I care about
you
I leaned down over the

world in portrayal
of carefulness, answering

something you couldn’t say.
walking or fallen and you
were supposed
to give therapy to me—

me leaning down
brushing with painted feathers
to the left chance your operatic,
broken

book.

Tattoo Writing Poem, by Fawziyya Abu Khalid

Not with your tribe’s spears i write
for they are dull
but with my nails
words without walls
Sister,
For you i have inscribed
Love-songs
weaving the sun’s rays
to your latticed window.
To tell me you accept
The tribe’s traditions and prescriptions
is a concession
to being buried alive
The noble inch or two
of tatoo
over your skin
shall curve a bottomless night
into your flesh
It pains me
to see the tribe dwell
in you sprawling
in your college seat not unlike
your grandmother
who thought she was
a lottery ticket won
at home. A woman
in her twenties
sitting before some tent
shrouded with robes and veils
carrying the spindle
but does not spin.
To hear you talk
about a cloak
the clan’s man bought
for you;
to hear you boast
about blue-blood
the heirs
and chip off the old oak tree.
The Sheik’s voice in your voice
cancels you.
Sister
My kingdom does not claim
dowries of cows and cattle
thus the Tribe rejects me
For you are their legitimate child
I am the one disavowed
You belong to lords of virgin lands
I to seasons bleeding flames
How long will they keep raping you on your wedding night?

Antique, by Arthur Rimbaud

Graceful son of Pan! Around your forehead crowned
with small flowers and berries, your eyes, precious
spheres, are moving. Spotted with brownish wine lees,
your cheeks grow hollow. Your fangs are gleaming. Your
chest is like a lyre, jingling sounds circulate between your
blond arms. Your heart beats in that belly where the double
sex sleeps. Walk at night, gently moving that thigh,
that second thigh and that left leg.

Jazz Lady of the Subway, by Daniela Gioseffi

She sings her heart out with a smile
like Louis Armstrong on the subway’s dusty platform
with her band, a bass, guitar, horn player,
and drummer. She keeps singing with a smile
even as an old demented man dances up and down,
keeping rhythm in front of her, blocking the audience view,
with his big rag of a coat, swollen leg and crutch.
Undaunted, smiling even at the old beggar who steals her
spotlight. “Music Under New York” says her sign, and she’s among
the good jazz musicians who play in the subways for quarters
and dollars collected in a hat or instrument case open
in front of them.
Making music amidst the rumble of trains and rush of people
who are made more cheerful by their tunes.
Evelyn Blakey knows that the homeless man
who dances on his crutch is comforted by her warble.
Georgia, Georgia…just an old sweet tune keeps Georgia
on my mind…” he sings along with her, grinning soul,
the sort of smile that says: “I’ve been
through it all, but sing anyway.” Evelyn Blakey, listens
to the horn jam, listens to the drums roll,
with ecstatic eyes closed, face full of music,
and the old beggar dances on his swollen foot,
his ragged coat swings back and forth with his tired bones,
his grey head bobs in rhythm,
and Evelyn, Evelyn, Evelyn Blakely sings,
her heart full of sonorous sound,
her foot tapping the ground,
her subway commuters gather around.

Sorrow Home, by Margaret Walker

My roots are deep in southern life; deeper than John Brown
or Nat Turner or Robert Lee. I was sired and weaned
in a tropic world. The palm tree and banana leaf,
mango and coconut, breadfruit and rubber trees know
me.

Warm skies and gulf blue streams are in my blood. I belong
with the smell of fresh pine, with the trail of coon, and
the spring growth of wild onion.

I am no hothouse bulb to be reared in steam-heated flats
with the music of El and subway in my ears, walled in
by steel and wood and brick far from the sky.

I want the cotton fields, tobacco and the cane. I want to
walk along with sacks of seed to drop in fallow ground.
Restless music is in my heart and I am eager to be
gone.

O Southland, sorrow home, melody beating in my bone and
blood! How long will the Klan of hate, the hounds and
the chain gangs keep me from my own?

Lights They Live By, by Pamela Alexander

1. nightjar

A carafe beside her bed or a glass goose;
a piece of water, stoppered, or a solid chunk, like ice?
She watches it all night,
death, the brightening star.
She thinks it is one with her all along
or she thinks it is the final thing she contains.

She reads all night.
Under a microscope there are lights in a leaf
that flicker, and go out, as the leaf dies.

All night.
Cities of lights.
A glass of water has as many.
The smallest piece of water has lights in it,
she reads, and looks
at the carafe to find
a juggler tossing jugglers holding stars.

She is a maze. She finds a candle at each
corner but loses the way. She thinks
she can make it up as she goes, strike
a bargain, make it stick.
Or she thinks she can’t,
turns again.

She wonders what holds her life together.
Not herself; she too is held.
Something does it like daylight through
a glass of water.

She has a son. He cuts his hands in grass,
long grass that leads to the sea.
He listens to water.

She has a song for him, tells him
the first ladder was a fern; she shows him the lines
that craze a leaf, says she’s not, he’s not
out of the woods yet, praise be.

2. daybreak

Whatever he sees in his hands is beautiful.
He sees lines; stones; lumps of glass, often
(often they are green); a carved cat; he sees
the last day of his life.

Looking closer doesn’t change things.
Through a magnifying glass obsidian is still
glossy, like a muscle; a moth’s wing
porous as manila paper.

He thinks he could put a bottle together in his hands
if he had all the pieces. He looks
for them, stands

waist deep in grass among the dull
green lamps of fireflies, hundreds, below
night-hawks flashing their wing-bars like lights shot
from a wave.

Days open and fold. Geese
slide through them, French curves.
The hawks shriek and turn;
they are pieces.

His rooms are a forest of things that have
touched him, including a jar
of rain, a pair of marble pigeons.
He picks up some white glass to give it away
and keeps it.

His hands tell him everything. They ache
when a friend he desires turns away. Still
he thinks he can find and keep them
all, all his days.

Encounter, by Czeslaw Milosz

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

Wilno, 1936

The more Alice reaches out, the more her dream-rushes, by Jenny Boully

disappear: one by one by one the darling scented rushes sink back into melt. In the dream stream, the boat glides past too quick, and there is no chance to gather the loveliest of the dream-rushes. No less satisfying was the old sheep: so many knitting needles, dozens and dozens all pierced into a ball of worsted, and there was never ever any telling of just what, even in dream, it might be that the old sheep was knitting.

For years, I dreamt of the child who, when I reached out to her, turned into a sheet of paper, and so, in waking hours, I wrote and wrote and wrote and my friends consoled me: see, you have book babies; this, while I looked on at other women who knit bibs and booties, so many booties, such small socks.

When Alice steals away and consoles the Duchess’s baby, it metamorphoses into a pig and runs away from her, runs away. That is ever so much a better-known story than the one of dream-rushes or too many knitting needles. (How ever did Alice ever console herself? Did her friends say, Oh, just think now you’ll have truffles!?)

Odysseus’s mother wonders how her son, a mere mortal, made it over Oceanus to the land where lives sink back into melt. She says that he must have had a good boat; he tries to embrace her, but like a soul she flits about and away. When Odysseus asks why Mother, why not stay still and let us embrace, she says, Son, it’s because I no longer have sinew, no longer have bones.

My little baby, who I will name a weaver of spools and not of dreams, with mortal limbs—not quite sinew, not quite bone—paddles a rowboat inside of me, and I stay, in those moments, ever-so-still so that she may reach out to me. The midwife says that what I’m feeling is called quickening. Scientists say that she is dreaming—practicing for this life, I like to think, where, in her nursery, there will be a machine projecting fake moonbeams and fake stars and fake shadows and fake birds and fake clouds to storm over her.

Spent, by Mark Doty

Late August morning I go out to cut
spent and faded hydrangeas—washed
greens, russets, troubled little auras

of sky as if these were the very silks
of Versailles, mottled by rain and ruin
then half-restored, after all this time…

When I come back with my handful
I realize I’ve accidentally locked the door,
and can’t get back into the house.

The dining room window’s easiest;
crawl through beauty bush and spirea,
push aside some errant maples, take down

the wood-framed screen, hoist myself up.
But how, exactly, to clamber across the sill
and the radiator down to the tile?

I try bending one leg in, but I don’t fold
readily; I push myself up so that my waist
rests against the sill, and lean forward,

place my hands on the floor and begin to slide
down into the room, which makes me think
this was what it was like to be born:

awkward, too big for the passageway…
Negotiate, submit?
When I give myself
to gravity there I am, inside, no harm,

the dazzling splotchy flowerheads
scattered around me on the floor.
Will leaving the world be the same

—uncertainty as to how to proceed,
some discomfort, and suddenly you’re
—where? I am so involved with this idea

I forget to unlock the door,
so when I go to fetch the mail, I’m locked out
again. Am I at home in this house,

would I prefer to be out here,
where I could be almost anyone?
This time it’s simpler: the window-frame,

the radiator, my descent. Born twice
in one day!
In their silvered jug,
these bruise-blessed flowers:

how hard I had to work to bring them
into this room. When I say spent,
I don’t mean they have no further coin.

If there are lives to come, I think
they might be a littler easier than this one.

New York Notes, by Harvey Shapiro

1. Caught on a side street in heavy traffic, I said to the cabbie, I should have walked. He replied, I should have been a doctor. 2. When can I get on the 11:33 I ask the guy in the information booth at the Atlantic Avenue Station. When they open the doors, he says. I am home among my people.

Ashes, by Paula Meehan

The tide comes in; the tide goes out again
washing the beach clear of what the storm
dumped. Where there were rocks, today there is sand;
where sand yesterday, now uncovered rocks.

So I think on where her mortal remains
might reach landfall in their transmuted forms,
a year now since I cast them from my hand
—wanting to stop the inexorable clock.

She who died by her own hand cannot know
the simple love I have for what she left
behind. I could not save her. I could not
even try. I watch the way the wind blows
life into slack sail: the stress of warp against weft
lifts the stalling craft, pushes it on out.

Clonazepam, by Donald Dunbar

Finally, stability.
Finally, the fractal iteration of kings.
The legless herds lie still in the fields
and eventually the fences crumble
and the wilderness returns.

Like cinnamon coaxed back out of the tongue,
this book is a formalist approach for a kiss.
Or vice versa.

Like a kiss
is oblivious, they don’t know their homestead is meat;
is meat in an age of eternal iteration.

Finally I have met you
in this video of cyborgs making out, making out
with androids in the comments below.

Insomnia, by Alicia Suskin Ostriker

But it’s really fear you want to talk about
and cannot find the words
so you jeer at yourself

you call yourself a coward
you wake at 2 a.m. thinking failure,
fool, unable to sleep, unable to sleep

buzzing away on your mattress with two pillows
and a quilt, they call them comforters,
which implies that comfort can be bought

and paid for, to help with the fear, the failure
your two walnut chests of drawers snicker, the bookshelves mourn
the art on the walls pities you, the man himself beside you

asleep smelling like mushrooms and moss is a comfort
but never enough, never, the ceiling fixture lightless
velvet drapes hiding the window

traffic noise like a vicious animal
on the loose somewhere out there—
you brag to friends you won’t mind death only dying

what a liar you are—
all the other fears, of rejection, of physical pain,
of losing your mind, of losing your eyes,

they are all part of this!
Pawprints of this! Hair snarls in your comb
this glowing clock the single light in the room

Into Bad Weather Bounding, by Bin Ramke

(After Wallace Stevens’ “Of The Surface Of Things”)

Colligated points, dust, ultimately a cloud, as in
an orographic cloud in Colorado cringing against
a horizon. Boundaried vision and vapor conspire

to exhale, exalt into rain random dispersal into
the present: I see as far as that. I never saw farther.

In sinking air, mammatus cloud a sign the storm
has passed is passing… I walk happily whenever
or sometimes pass the last bad sign the bounded

land, I am sad as you are doubtless. Sad said
the bad man, somber. Otherwise say:
In my room the world is beyond
my understanding;/ But when I walk I see
that it consists of three or four hills
and a cloud.

The Remarkable Objectivity of Your Old Friends, by Liam Rector

We did right by your death and went out,
Right away, to a public place to drink,
To be with each other, to face it.

We called other friends—the ones
Your mother hadn’t called—and told them
What you had decided, and some said

What you did was right; it was the thing
You wanted and we’d just have to live
With that, that your life had been one

Long misery and they could see why you
Had chosen that, no matter what any of us
Thought about it, and anyway, one said,

Most of us abandoned each other a long
Time ago and we’d have to face that
If we had any hope of getting it right.

The Paper Nautilus, by Marianne Moore

For authorities whose hopes
are shaped by mercenaries?
Writers entrapped by
teatime fame and by
commuters’ comforts? Not for these
the paper nautilus
constructs her thin glass shell.

Giving her perishable
souvenir of hope, a dull
white outside and smooth-
edged inner surface
glossy as the sea, the watchful
maker of it guards it
day and night; she scarcely

eats until the eggs are hatched.
Buried eight-fold in her eight
arms, for she is in
a sense a devil-
fish, her glass ram’shorn-cradled freight
is hid but is not crushed;
as Hercules, bitten

by a crab loyal to the hydra,
was hindered to succeed,
the intensively
watched eggs coming from
the shell free it when they are freed,–
leaving its wasp-nest flaws
of white on white, and close-

laid Ionic chiton-folds
like the lines in the mane of
a Parthenon horse,
round which the arms had
wound themselves as if they knew love
is the only fortress
strong enough to trust to.

Inventing Father In Las Vegas, by Lynn Emanuel

If I could see nothing but the smoke
From the tip of his cigar, I would know everything
About the years before the war.
If his face were halved by shadow I would know
This was a street where an EATS sign trembled
And a Greek served coffee black as a dog’s eye.
If I could see nothing but his wrist I would know
About the slot machine and I could reconstruct
The weak chin and ruin of his youth, the summer
My father was a gypsy with oiled hair sleeping
In a Murphy bed and practicing clairvoyance.
I could fill his vast Packard with showgirls
And keep him forever among the difficult buttons
Of the bodice, among the rustling of their names,
Miss Christina, Miss Lorraine.
I could put his money in my pocket
and wearing memory’s black fedora
With the condoms hidden in the hatband
The damp cigar between my teeth,
I could become the young man who always got sentimental
About London especially in Las Vegas with its single bridge­-
So ridiculously tender—leaning across the river
To watch the starlight’s soft explosions.
If I could trace the two veins that crossed
His temple, I would know what drove him
To this godforsaken place, I would keep him forever
Remote from war—like the come-hither tip of his lit cigar
Or the harvest moon, that gold planet, remote and pure
American.

The Problem of Hands, by Louise Mathias

And how to fill them
is the problem of cigarettes and paint.

First time I felt my undoing
was in front of

a painting—Sam Francis, I believe.

Oh, his bloomed out, Xanax-ed California.

I liked the word guard, but you know

we made each other
nervous, standing too close

for everyone concerned. All art being

a form of violence
as a peony
is violence.

Here you come

with your open hands.

Difficult Body, by Mark Wunderlich

A story: There was a cow in the road, struck by a semi–
half-moon of carcass and jutting legs, eyes
already milky with dust and snow, rolled upward

as if tired of this world tilted on its side.
We drove through the pink light of the police cruiser,
her broken flank blowing steam in the air.

Minutes later, a deer sprang onto the road
and we hit her, crushed her pelvis–the drama reversed,
first consequence, then action–but the doe,

not dead, pulled herself with front legs
into the ditch. My father went to her, stunned her
with a tire iron before cutting her throat, and today I think

of the body of St. Francis in the Arizona desert,
carved from wood and laid in his casket,
lovingly dressed in red and white satin

covered in petitions–medals, locks of hair,
photos of infants, his head lifted and stroked,
the grain of his brow kissed by the penitent.

O wooden saint, dry body. I will not be like you,
carapace. A chalky shell scooped of its life.
I will leave less than this behind me.

Names of Children, by Rachel Sherwood

In early morning when the sun
is vague and birds are furious
names of children float
like smoke through the empty room:
Ariadne, dark as seal skin
Ian, fair-skinned baby
Marina Terrence Alex John

after dinner pulled back from
talk of war and morals
their names glow like light
around a candle —
Jack, my rampant youngest son
Celia, my daughter who sings

but no children call from other rooms
no soft faces turn to kiss
each guest goodnight
or whisper that stars are a giant’s eyes
there is only the slow still wait
through the opaque night
for morning and more names.