“oh antic God”, by Lucille Clifton

oh antic God
return to me
my mother in her thirties
leaned across the front porch
the huge pillow of her breasts
pressing against the rail
summoning me in for bed.

I am almost the dead woman’s age times two.

I can barely recall her song
the scent of her hands
though her wild hair scratches my dreams
at night. return to me, oh Lord of then
and now, my mother’s calling,
her young voice humming my name.

After Us, by Nikola Madzirov

One day someone will fold our blankets
and send them to the cleaners
to scrub the last grain of salt from them,
will open our letters and sort them out by date
instead of by how often they’ve been read.

One day someone will rearrange the room’s furniture
like chessmen at the start of a new game,
will open the old shoebox
where we hoard pyjama-buttons,
not-quite-dead batteries and hunger.

One day the ache will return to our backs
from the weight of hotel room keys
and the receptionist’s suspicion
as he hands over the TV remote control.

Others’ pity will set out after us
like the moon after some wandering child.

Nature, That Washed Her Hands in Milk, by Sir Walter Ralegh

Nature, that washed her hands in milk,
And had forgot to dry them,
Instead of earth took snow and silk,
At love’s request to try them,
If she a mistress could compose
To please love’s fancy out of those.

Her eyes he would should be of light,
A violet breath, and lips of jelly;
Her hair not black, nor overbright,
And of the softest down her belly;
As for her inside he’d have it
Only of wantonness and wit.

At love’s entreaty such a one
Nature made, but with her beauty
She hath framed a heart of stone;
So as love, by ill destiny,
Must die for her whom nature gave him,
Because her darling would not save him.

But time (which nature doth despise,
And rudely gives her love the lie,
Makes hope a fool, and sorrow wise)
His hands do neither wash nor dry;
But being made of steel and rust,
Turns snow and silk and milk to dust.

The light, the belly, lips, and breath,
He dims, discolors, and destroys;
With those he feeds but fills not death,
Which sometimes were the food of joys.
Yea, time doth dull each lively wit,
And dries all wantonness with it.

Oh, cruel time! which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust;
Who in the dark and silent grave
When we have wandered all our ways
Shuts up the story of our days.

The Emergence of Memory, 1, by Laynie Browne

His unset eyes — containing water — become expression, or color.
They cloud in changing — though the change is never marked, it
may eventually be seen.

The cloud is green

His hand is light

He watches this first finding — pulling a hand in and out of a living
channel.
His newness betokens him all color. He passes through color —
setting each resonance for light.

The sound includes experience which is remembered, though from
not remote occasions, which swell upon his passing. Looking up with
different thought filled hands.

Why then does experience comb the onlooker away from the child,
when the child includes changing eyes in every picture?

Mingus at the Showplace, by William Matthews

I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen,
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem,

and it was miserable, for that was how I thought
poetry worked: you digested experience and shat

literature. It was 1960 at The Showplace, long since
defunct, on West 4th St., and I sat at the bar,

casting beer money from a thin reel of ones,
the kid in the city, big ears like a puppy.

And I knew Mingus was a genius. I knew two
other things, but they were wrong, as it happened.

So I made him look at the poem.
“There’s a lot of that going around,” he said,

and Sweet Baby Jesus he was right. He laughed
amiably. He didn’t look as if he thought

bad poems were dangerous, the way some poets do.
If they were baseball executives they’d plot

to destroy sandlots everywhere so that the game
could be saved from children. Of course later

that night he fired his pianist in mid-number
and flurried him from the stand.

“We’ve suffered a diminuendo in personnel,”
he explained, and the band played on.

Painting by Moonlight, by Medbh McGuckian

It was a bright inviting, freely formed,
though I suppose it was I who brightened,
with an internal scattering of light,
as though weather maps were more real
than the breath of autumn.

The low colourfulness
of the broken and dying leaves
was no embrittlement
to every decided colour on the sunlighted grass
and the warm-hued wood of his door.

But with the dust descending
in the glaring white gap
my backbone pulped and I closed up
like a concertina.

His tongue was hushed as Christ’s lips
or once-red grapes permitting
each touch to spread only
when the turn of the violet comes.

The River Now, by Richard Hugo

Hardly a ghost left to talk with. The slavs moved on
or changed their names to something green. Greeks gave up
old dishes and slid into repose. Runs of salmon thin
and thin until a ripple in October might mean carp.
Huge mills bang and smoke. Day hangs thick with commerce
and my favorite home, always overgrown with roses,
collapsed like moral advice. Tugs still pound against
the outtide pour but real, running on some definite fuel.
I can’t dream anything, not some lovely woman
murdered in a shack, not saw mills going broke,
not even wild wine and a landslide though I knew both well.
The blood still begs direction home. This river points
the way north to the blood, the blue stars certain
in their swing, their fix. I pass the backwash where
the cattails still lean north, familiar grebes pop up,
the windchill is the same. And it comes back with the odor
of the river, some way I know the lonely sources
of despair break down from too much love. No matter
how this water fragments in the reeds, it rejoins
the river and the bright bay north receives it all,
new salmon on their way to open ocean,
the easy tub returned.

Airporter, by Khaled Mattawa

Yardley, Pennsylvania, an expensive dump
and the van seats shake their broken bones.

Duty-free liquor and cigarettes,
the refineries and the harbor’s cranes.

The moon digs its way out of the dirt.
The branches of an evergreen sway.

She’s nice
the woman you don’t love.

She kisses you hard and often
holding your face in her big hands.

Emplumada, by Lorna Dee Cervantes

When summer ended
the leaves of snapdragons withered
taking their shrill-colored mouths with them.
They were still, so quiet. They were
violet where umber now is. She hated
and she hated to see
them go. Flowers

born when the weather was good – this
she thinks of, watching the branch of peaches
daring their ways above the fence, and further,
two hummingbirds, hovering, stuck to each other,
arcing their bodies in grim determination
to find what is good, what is
given them to find. These are warriors

distancing themselves from history.
They find peace
in the way they contain the wind
and are gone.

Vertical, by Linda Pastan

Perhaps the purpose
of leaves is to conceal
the verticality
of trees
which we notice
in December
as if for the first time:
row after row
of dark forms
yearning upwards.
And since we will be
horizontal ourselves
for so long,
let us now honor
the gods
of the vertical:
stalks of wheat
which to the ant
must seem as high
as these trees do to us,
silos and
telephone poles,
stalagmites
and skyscrapers.
but most of all
these winter oaks,
these soft-fleshed poplars,
this birch
whose bark is like
roughened skin
against which I lean
my chilled head,
not ready
to lie down.

Joyride, by Ana Bozicevic

Skinny dirt road
In the middle of the ocean.
That led to the house of art.
I took it. The engine nearly
Drowned. I lied that it was fun
That I’d do it again. When I got to
That shore
The house was gone and when
I looked back, so was the path.
Now I’m old. Drown in my bed
A thousand miles inland.
For years I thought
I could
Art my way back. Cats sing
Of rose dawns. This country’s a
Mirror image
Of the one I left, except
I’ve bad dreams. And
You’re the only
Person who’s not here.
Is it the same
For you.

Dawn Chorus, by Sasha Dugdale

March 29, 2010

Every morning since the time changed
I have woken to the dawn chorus
And even before it sounded, I dreamed of it
Loud, unbelievably loud, shameless, raucous

And once I rose and twitched the curtains apart
Expecting the birds to be pressing in fright
Against the pane like passengers
But the garden was empty and it was night

Not a slither of light at the horizon
Still the birds were bawling through the mists
Terrible, invisible
A million small evangelists

How they sing: as if each had pecked up a smoldering coal
Their throats singed and swollen with song
In dissonance as befits the dark world
Where only travelers and the sleepless belong

What The Bones Know, by Carolyn Kizer

Remembering the past
And gloating at it now,
I know the frozen brow
And shaking sides of lust
Will dog me at my death
To catch my ghostly breath.
 
          I think that Yeats was right,
          That lust and love are one.
          The body of this night
          May beggar me to death,
          But we are not undone
          Who love with all our breath.
 
                     I know that Proust was wrong,
                     His wheeze: love, to survive,
                     Needs jealousy, and death
                     And lust, to make it strong
                     Or goose it back alive.
                     Proust took away my breath.
 
                                 The later Yeats was right
                                 To think of sex and death
                                 And nothing else. Why wait
                                 Till we are turning old?
                                 My thoughts are hot and cold.
                                 I do not waste my breath.

On Happier Lawns, I, by Justin Marks

In the days of yore I was a parakeet and my mouth
a river    The lights low to see
into other worlds    Vessels completing
circuits    Ancient conjurings and obscure
geometries    Screens so lovely
If I have a true self it is you    Blood, slow    
Dimensionally agnostic and lost in the loam    A gun-
powder portrait or arc that ends with smashing
into glass    Skeletons scanned    An imaged sky
If you hold me in your head I will be happy    
An edible ghost    Encoded identity in a cloud
of processors    The difference you experience entirely
different    Perforated form    Sad
appendage    The heart, a stencil

I Saw the Devil with His Needlework, by Bianca Stone

The air was like a bullet made out of silk
I saw him at the curb
on old upholstery
saw him with his counted-thread-point
and tent-stitch, bent over an embroidery hoop
the trees lifted their drunk limbs and leaves
while the evening
looked through a succession of windows
into other people’s rooms
the evening was a powerful gun
the evening had an Uzi
broad evening
in a neighborhood full of translucent teens
sucking on one another’s backpacks
filling up the trains with their heat
their intelligence pouring out into the street, sobbing—
I saw the devil with his sewing threads
making something special for me
and it wasn’t thunder
it was perfect clouds
I saw the devil with his stitching techniques
textiles and shadow
saw his hands that never stopped
the clean amp of his forehead
tight intervals of flowers in his teeth
bright as an earing in the drain
and I made a force field with the wilderness in my face
and a fortune-teller’s neon sign
that glowed a painted light onto the street
and I said his name
and his crimes
three times against a curse
and found a coin on the ground and read the tiny date
and blessed a bag of weed
and a wild bore
I left my bones and my scars
and went out
like a poltergeist
totally empty

The Empty Dance Shoes, by Cornelius Eady

My friends,
As it has been proven in the laboratory,   
An empty pair of dance shoes
Will sit on the floor like a wart
Until it is given a reason to move.

Those of us who study inertia
(Those of us covered with wild hair and sleep)
Can state this without fear:
The energy in a pair of shoes at rest   
Is about the same as that of a clown

Knocked flat by a sandbag.
This you can tell your friends with certainty:   
A clown, flat on his back,
Is a lot like an empty pair of
    dancing shoes.

An empty pair of dancing shoes
Is also a lot like a leaf   
Pressed in a book.
And now you know a simple truth:
A leaf pressed in, say, The Colossus
    by Sylvia Plath,
Is no different from an empty pair of dance shoes

Even if those shoes are in the middle of the Stardust Ballroom   
With all the lights on, and hot music shakes the windows   
    up and down the block.
This is the secret of inertia:
The shoes run on their own sense of the world.   
They are in sympathy with the rock the kid skips   
    over the lake
After it settles to the mud.
Not with the ripples,
But with the rock.

A practical and personal application of inertia
Can be found in the question:   
Whose Turn Is It
To Take Out The Garbage?   
An empty pair of dance shoes
Is a lot like the answer to this question,
As well as book-length poems
Set in the Midwest.

To sum up:
An empty pair of dance shoes
Is a lot like the sand the 98-pound weakling   
    brushes from his cheeks
As the bully tows away his girlfriend.   
Later,

When he spies the coupon at the back of the comic book,
He is about to act upon a different set of scientific principles.   
He is ready to dance.

Autumn, by Richard Garcia

Both lying on our sides, making love in
spoon position when she’s startled, What’s that?
She means the enormous ship passing before you-
maybe not that large, is it a freighter

or a passenger ship? But it seems huge in the dark
and it’s so close. That’s a poem you say, D. H.
Lawrence-Have you built your ship of death,
have you? O build your ship of death,

For you will need it. Right here it would be good
if there were a small orchestra on board, you’d hear
them and say to her, That piece is called Autumn

that’s what the brave musicians played as the Titanic
went under-and then you could name this poem “Autumn.”
But no, the ship is silent, its white lights glow in the darkness.

Little America, by Jason Shinder

My friend says she is like an empty drawer

being pulled out of the earth.
I am the long neck of the giraffe coming down

to see what she doesn’t have.

What holds us chained to the same cold river,
where we are surprised by the circles

we make in the ice? When we talk about the past

it is like pushing stones back into the earth.
Sometimes she digs her nails into her leather bag

to find out where my heart is. The white sleeves

of her shirt are bright with waves when I visit.
When we lie, we live a little longer—

which is unbelievable. If you love

someone, the water moves up from the well.

For Prince Myshkin, by Daniela Gioseffi

When I ride the adventures of my legs through your
    heart,
or complain of bathroom spiders crawling up my ankles
as I wash blood from my thighs,
when I call to you from nightmares,
want you to be a wave pulling me out to sea,
or beg you to assure my voice is etched on glass
    eardrums,
when I go leaving behind a sink full of winter,
I need to swallow my agony,
be told, “You are, you are a child again!”

I poke at your petals like a child,
twisting your stem until you break
and your pollen falls around you.
I gather and examine it in trembling hands.
I know that you are pure, the ideal idiot,
but I am trying to understand you
through a periscope.
I’m a lonely submarine of ripe flesh
swimming with the blind,
crusted creatures of the deep.

The Letter Scale, by Jacques Réda

One of the objects I’ve treasured most in my life
Is this letter scale which, long ago, you gave me.
I was an active correspondent at the time,
Even sending lots of letters overseas.
While still enjoying the pleasure of going to the post,
I now had another: assessing exactly, in advance,
At my counter, the cost of packets and envelopes,
To which, price list in hand, I stuck my stamps.
I use it less these days, this quite simple device
Graded with little marks up to a whole pound,
For my mailings rarely still exceed the price
Of an ordinary stamp. The tray of polished metal’s now
Covered with dust, without the slightest hint
That the red pointer marking the weight on the front
Has budged. But in the long run, one would, I think,
Discern a difference and see how much the months
Were worth in terms of dust, the seasons elapsed
Since the previous weighing. But having been seized,
Suddenly, just this morning, by a tremendous attack
(Annual) of cleaning, from which nothing is released,
I restored to the tray’s slightly concave stainless steel,
That ever so slightly distorted mirror, its polished shine.
It reflected all of the sky, through which clouds reeled,
And I could confirm that space does not weigh more than time.

Triolet, by Robert Bridges

When first we met, we did not guess
      That Love would prove so hard a master;
Of more than common friendliness
When first we met we did not guess.
Who could foretell the sore distress,
      This irretrievable disaster,
When first we met?—We did not guess
      That Love would prove so hard a master.

Four Glimpses of Night, by Frank Marshall Davis

I

Eagerly
Like a woman hurrying to her lover
Night comes to the room of the world
And lies, yielding and content
Against the cool round face
Of the moon.

II

Night is a curious child, wandering
Between earth and sky, creeping
In windows and doors, daubing
The entire neighborhood
With purple paint.
Day
Is an apologetic mother
Cloth in hand
Following after.

III

Peddling
From door to door
Night sells
Black bags of peppermint stars
Heaping cones of vanilla moon
Until
His wares are gone
Then shuffles homeward
Jingling the gray coins
Of daybreak.

IV

Night’s brittle song, sliver-thin
Shatters into a billion fragments
Of quiet shadows
At the blaring jazz
Of a morning sun.

Retired Ballerinas, Central Park West, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Retired ballerinas on winter afternoons   
          walking their dogs
                      in Central Park West
    (or their cats on leashes—
       the cats themselves old highwire artists)   
The ballerinas
                leap and pirouette
                           through Columbus Circle   
         while winos on park benches
               (laid back like drunken Goudonovs)   
            hear the taxis trumpet together
               like horsemen of the apocalypse   
                               in the dusk of the gods   
It is the final witching hour
                when swains are full of swan songs   
    And all return through the dark dusk   
                to their bright cells
                                  in glass highrises
      or sit down to oval cigarettes and cakes   
                              in the Russian Tea Room   
    or climb four flights to back rooms
                                 in Westside brownstones   
               where faded playbill photos
                        fall peeling from their frames   
                            like last year’s autumn leaves

I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.

With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.

Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves, but worse.

The Clerk’s Tale, by Spencer Reece

I am thirty-three and working in an expensive clothier,
selling suits to men I call “Sir.”
These men are muscled, groomed and cropped—
with wives and families that grow exponentially.
Mostly I talk of rep ties and bow ties,
of full-Windsor knots and half-Windsor knots,
of tattersall, French cuff, and English spread collars,
of foulards, neats, and internationals,
of pincord, houndstooth, nailhead, and sharkskin.
I often wear a blue pin-striped suit.
My hair recedes and is going gray at the temples.
On my cheeks there are a few pimples.
For my terrible eyesight, horn-rimmed spectacles.
One of my fellow-workers is an old homosexual
who works hard and wears bracelets with jewels.
No one can rival his commission checks.
On his break he smokes a Benson & Hedges cigarette,
puffing expectantly as a Hollywood starlet.
He has carefully applied a layer of Clinique bronzer
to enhance the tan on his face and neck.
His hair is gone except for a few strands
which are combed across his scalp.
He examines his manicured lacquered nails.
I admire his studied attention to details:
his tie stuck to his shirt with masking tape,
his teeth capped, his breath mint in place.
The old homosexual and I laugh in the back
over a coarse joke involving an octopus.
Our banter is staccato, staged and close
like those “Spanish Dances” by Granados.
I sometimes feel we are in a musical—
gossiping backstage between our numbers.
He drags deeply on his cigarette.
Most of his life is over.
Often he refers to himself as “an old faggot.”
He does this bemusedly, yet timidly.
I know why he does this.
He does this because his acceptance is finally complete—
and complete acceptance is always
bittersweet. Our hours are long. Our backs bent.
We are more gracious than English royalty.
We dart amongst the aisles tall as hedgerows.
Watch us face into the merchandise.
How we set up and take apart mannequins
as if we were performing autopsies.
A naked body, without pretense, is of no use.
It grows late.
I hear the front metal gate close down.
We begin folding the ties correctly according to color.
The shirts—Oxfords, broadcloths, pinpoints—
must be sized, stacked, or rehashed.
The old homosexual removes his right shoe,
allowing his gigantic bunion to swell.
There is the sound of cash being counted—
coins clinking, bills swishing, numbers whispered—
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. . .
We are changed when the transactions are done—
older, dirtier, dwarfed.
A few late customers gawk in at us.
We say nothing. Our silence will not be breached.
The lights go off, one by one—
the dressing room lights, the mirror lights.
Then it is very late. How late? Eleven?
We move to the gate. It goes up.
The gate’s grating checkers our cheeks.
This is the Mall of America.
The light is bright and artificial,
yet not dissimilar to that found in a Gothic cathedral.
You must travel down the long hallways to the exits
before you encounter natural light.
One final formality: the manager checks out bags.
The old homosexual reaches into his over-the-shoulder leather bag—
the one he bought on his European travels
with his companion of many years.
He finds a stick of lip balm and applies it to his lips
liberally, as if shellacking them.
Then he inserts one last breath mint
and offers one to me. The gesture is fraternal
and occurs between us many times.
At last, we bid each other good night.
I watch him fade into the many-tiered parking lot,
where the thousands of cars have come
and are now gone. This is how our day ends.
This is how our day always ends.
Sometimes snow falls like rice.
See us take to our dimly lit exits,
disappearing into the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul;
Minneapolis is sleek and St. Paul,
named after the man who had to be shown,
is smaller, older, and somewhat withdrawn.
Behind us, the moon pauses over the vast egg-like dome of the mall.
See us loosening our ties among you.
We are alone.
There is no longer any need to express ourselves.

Eclogue In Line To View The Clock By Christian Marclay, by Brian Blanchfield

Okay, but now imagine someone,
one of fifty, say, in the queue, fiftieth first
and advancing little, somewhere within
the seventy-two-hour window of efficacy
for post-exposure prophylaxis, and, later,
in the screening room watching The Clock
with the few dozen others in rows behind and ahead
who had waited too. He knows he has to
but he hasn’t yet. We pick it up there.
It is two thousand eleven a few more days.
The movie tells what time it is.
In poetry too we all face forward.

Prayer to Shadows on My Wall, by Mark McMorris

Soon the rushlights will go out in the flesh
of sympathetic bodies once close to my own hand
and I will go to my hammock, thinking of little
except the numbness that alone makes bearable
the wind’s twisting. I want atoms to separate
like hairs or dust onto the heads of my daughters.
I want to violate the edict that traps my hunger
in cages and away from her rough shoulder
and once to be enough for this and all the loves
that flicker through my bedroom before sleep.
They keep me awake, and tonight they are fierce
as whips or as needles to make the skin crawl.
I want to drift like the poui in a southerly wind
and settle where I need to before the faces erode,
my appetite of iron caulking the egg-shell heart.

First Love, by Jennifer Franklin

The boy beside me
is not you but he
is familiar in all

the important ways.
I pass through life
finding you over

and over again—
oppress you
with love. And every

surrogate?
Afflicted by my
kindness, they leave

me with my music.
I loved you before
I ever loved you.

Money Is an Energy, by Justin Marks

Everybody is already
someone else
An existential tag line

Money is current

I would like to not live
paycheck to paycheck

You could make a pun on currency
but not quite

Money is an energy nonetheless

Dark space   Dark water

A long silent drive

Dark matter(s)

Driving is my personality

The methods of one wor(l)d revealing
the hidden harmonies of another

Prayer card  Lotto ticket  You occupy
my pocket

My payment has not arrived

The Light the Dead See, by Frank Stanford

There are many people who come back
After the doctor has smoothed the sheet
Around their body
And left the room to make his call.

They die but they live.

They are called the dead who lived through their deaths,
And among my people
They are considered wise and honest.

They float out of their bodies
And light on the ceiling like a moth,
Watching the efforts of everyone around them.

The voices and the images of the living
Fade away.

A roar sucks them under
The wheels of a darkness without pain.
Off in the distance
There is someone
Like a signalman swinging a lantern.

The light grows, a white flower.
It becomes very intense, like music.

They see the faces of those they loved,
The truly dead who speak kindly.

They see their father sitting in a field.
The harvest is over and his cane chair is mended.
There is a towel around his neck,
The odor of bay rum.
Then they see their mother
Standing behind him with a pair of shears.
The wind is blowing.
She is cutting his hair.

The dead have told these stories
To the living.

Reflections on History in Missouri, by Constance Urdang

This old house lodges no ghosts!
Those swaggering specters who found their way
Across the Atlantic
Were left behind
With their old European grudges
In the farmhouses of New England
And Pennsylvania
Like so much jettisoned baggage
Too heavy
To lug over the Piedmont.

The flatlands are inhospitable
To phantoms. Here
Shadows are sharp and arbitrary
Not mazy, obscure,
Cowering in corners
Behind scary old boots in a cupboard
Or muffled in empty coats, deserted
By long-dead cousins
(Who appear now and then
But only in photographs
Already rusting at the edges)—

Setting out in the creaking wagon
Tight-lipped, alert to move on,
The old settlers had no room
For illusions.
Their dangers were real.
Now in the spare square house
Their great-grandchildren
Tidy away the past
Until the polished surfaces
Reflect not apparitions, pinched,
Parched, craving, unsatisfied,
But only their own faces.

Undressing You, by Witter Bynner

Fiercely I remove from you
All the little vestiges—
Garments that confine you,
Things that touch the flesh,
The wool and the silk
And the linen that entwine you,
Tear them all away from you,
Bare you from the mesh.
And now I have you as you are,
Nothing to encumber you—
But now I see, caressing you,
Colder hands than mine.
They take away your flesh and bone,
And, utterly undressing you,
They tear you from your beauty
And they leave no sign.

Another Feeling, by Ruth Stone

Once you saw a drove of young pigs
crossing the highway. One of them
pulling his body by the front feet,
the hind legs dragging flat.
Without thinking,
you called the Humane Society.
They came with a net and went for him.
They were matter of fact, uniformed;
there were two of them,
their truck ominous, with a cage.
He was hiding in the weeds. It was then
you saw his eyes. He understood.
He was trembling.
After they took him, you began to suffer regret.
Years later, you remember his misfit body
scrambling to reach the others.
Even at this moment, your heart
is going too fast; your hands sweat.

Flood: Years of Solitude, by Dionisio D. Martínez

To the one who sets a second place at the table anyway.

To the one at the back of the empty bus.

To the ones who name each piece of stained glass projected on a white wall.

To anyone convinced that a monologue is a conversation with the past.

To the one who loses with the deck he marked.

To those who are destined to inherit the meek.

To us.

Windy City, by Stuart Dybek

The garments worn in flying dreams
were fashioned there—
overcoats that swooped like kites,
scarves streaming like vapor trails,
gowns ballooning into spinnakers.

In a city like that one might sail
through life led by a runaway hat.
The young scattered in whatever directions
their wild hair pointed, and gusting
into one another, fell in love.

At night, wind rippled saxophones
that hung like windchimes in pawnshop
windows, hooting through each horn
so that the streets seemed haunted
not by nighthawks, but by doves.

Pinwheels whirled from steeples
in place of crosses. At the pinnacles
of public buildings, snagged underclothes—
the only flag—flapped majestically.
And when it came time to disappear

one simply chose a thoroughfare
devoid of memories, raised a collar,
and turned his back on the wind.
I closed my eyes and stepped
into a swirl of scuttling leaves.

In Search of an Umbrella in NYC, by Juan Felipe Herrera

You were having a stroke – i
did not grasp what was going on you
standing almost half ways up half
ways down the colors what were they
i was frozen both us us staring
woman with parasol behind me
are you drunk she said facing
you and the deli behind you you
leaned shivered dropped your coat
parasol
white
reddish flowers
brain  sweat eyes your eyes moving
seeing me behind me what
black man brown man no man no
colors you
pushed something away  i was
in a rush en route to big time
poetry Biz duded up ironed shirt
the rain was in my way i was not
breathing  you were losing  yourself i
was gaining something you
stumbled out of your coat unrolled
a stranger’s language from your lips
pushed your  feet down to
the depths of the tiny sidewalk even
though it was infinite burning
ahead of me to
the food truck at the corner yellow chips
corn violet green sugar drops
fiery torn packs flaring down  and
across the street under the cement i
was moving silent alone a crooked line
going nowhere a woman
touched your hand you were lying
on the dirty shoe ground swimming
up to her i   wanted you
i was a man
running for cover from the waters
i could not     lift your suffering
it was too late   the current pulled
i was floating away  (i noticed it)
you
were rising

A Thought of the Nile, by Leigh Hunt

It flows through old hushed Egypt and its sands,
      Like some grave mighty thought threading a dream,
      And times and things, as in that vision, seem
Keeping along it their eternal stands,—
Caves, pillars, pyramids, the shepherd bands
      That roamed through the young world, the glory extreme
      Of high Sesostris, and that southern beam,
The laughing queen that caught the world's great hands.

Then comes a mightier silence, stern and strong,
As of a world left empty of its throng,
      And the void weighs on us; and then we wake,
And hear the fruitful stream lapsing along
      Twixt villages, and think how we shall take
      Our own calm journey on for human sake.

The Lamb, by Linda Gregg

It was a picture I had after the war.
A bombed English church. I was too young
to know the word English or war,
but I knew the picture.
The ruined city still seemed noble.
The cathedral with its roof blown off
was not less godly. The church was the same
plus rain and sky. Birds flew in and out
of the holes God’s fist made in the walls.
All our desire for love or children
is treated like rags by the enemy.
I knew so much and sang anyway.
Like a bird who will sing until
it is brought down. When they take
away the trees, the child picks up a stick
and says, this is a tree, this the house
and the family. As we might. Through a door
of what had been a house, into the field
of rubble, walks a single lamb, tilting
its head, curious, unafraid, hungry.

War Widow, by Chris Abani

The telephone never rings. Still
you pick it up, smile into the static,
the breath of those you’ve loved; long dead.

The leaf you pick from the fall
rises and dips away with every ridge.
Fingers stiff from time, you trace.

Staring off into a distance limned
by cataracts and other collected debris,
you have forgotten none of the long-ago joy
of an ice-cream truck and its summer song.

Between the paving stones;
between tea, a cup, and the sound
of you pouring;
between the time you woke that morning
and the time when the letter came,
a tired sorrow: like an old flagellant
able only to tease with a weak sting.

Riding the elevator all day,
floor after floor after floor,
each stop some small victory whittled
from the hard stone of death, you smile.
They used to write epics about moments like this.

After The Disaster, by Abigail Deutsch

New York City, 2001

One night, not long after the disaster,
as our train was passing Astor,
the car door opened with a shudder
and a girl came flying down the aisle,
hair that looked to be all feathers
and a half-moon smile
making open air of our small car.

The crowd ignored her or they muttered
“Hey, excuse me” as they passed her
when the train had paused at Rector.
The specter crowed “Excuse me,” swiftly
turned, and ran back up the corridor,
then stopped for me.
We dove under the river.

She took my head between her fingers,
squeezing till the birds began to stir.
And then from out my eyes and ears
a flock came forth—I couldn’t think or hear
or breathe or see within that feather-world
so silently I thanked her.

Such things were common after the disaster.

The End of Science Fiction, by Lisel Mueller

This is not fantasy, this is our life.
We are the characters
who have invaded the moon,
who cannot stop their computers.
We are the gods who can unmake
the world in seven days.

Both hands are stopped at noon.
We are beginning to live forever,
in lightweight, aluminum bodies
with numbers stamped on our backs.
We dial our words like Muzak.
We hear each other through water.

The genre is dead. Invent something new.
Invent a man and a woman
naked in a garden,
invent a child that will save the world,
a man who carries his father
out of a burning city.
Invent a spool of thread
that leads a hero to safety,
invent an island on which he abandons
the woman who saved his life
with no loss of sleep over his betrayal.

Invent us as we were
before our bodies glittered
and we stopped bleeding:
invent a shepherd who kills a giant,
a girl who grows into a tree,
a woman who refuses to turn
her back on the past and is changed to salt,
a boy who steals his brother’s birthright
and becomes the head of a nation.
Invent real tears, hard love,
slow-spoken, ancient words,
difficult as a child’s
first steps across a room.

Photo of a Girl on a Beach, by Carmen Giménez Smith

Once when I was harmless
and didn’t know any better,

a mirror to the front of me
and an ocean behind,

I lay wedged in the middle of daylight,
paper-doll thin, dreaming,

then I vanished. I gave the day a fingerprint,
then forgot.

I sat naked on a towel
on a hot June Monday.

The sun etched the inside of my eyelids,
while a boy dozed at my side.

The smell of all oceans was around us—
steamy salt, shell, and sweat,

but I reached for the distant one.
A tide rose while I slept,

and soon I was alone. Try being
a figure in memory. It’s hollow there.

For truth’s sake, I’ll say she was on a beach
and her eyes were closed.

She was bare in the sand, long,
and the hour took her bit by bit.

Zeus And Apollo, by David Rivard

Written on clapboard or asbestos siding, the cartoony
spray-paint signatures of Apollo and Zeus,
two home boys out bombing last night in thick fog.
Fog near the shade of pearls. Except they didn’t see the mist
that way, glad for their thin leather gloves.
Wind raw at the wide avenue, so they cut
from there to here.

Even if this is in the past
tense, tense of the totally chilled-out,
even if they argued here over Krylon blue or candy-apple red,
that doesn’t mean they knocked-off and streaked home then.
And if I saw fog the shade of pearls
it doesn’t mean my heart in its own corrosive and healing fog
can’t tug on thin leather gloves and stand
in front of a wall, pissing off the Fates
and whoever else owns that wall. Whoever owns it
means less than the dry, fallen leaves of eucalyptus
blown crackling over tar and concrete
and sounding, when you shut your eyes, like every tree
bursting into leaf for the first time, speeded-up
like the first minute of the world.

How I Discovered Poetry, by Marilyn Nelson

It was like soul-kissing, the way the words
filled my mouth as Mrs. Purdy read from her desk.
All the other kids zoned an hour ahead to 3:15,
but Mrs. Purdy and I wandered lonely as clouds borne
by a breeze off Mount Parnassus. She must have seen
the darkest eyes in the room brim: The next day
she gave me a poem she’d chosen especially for me
to read to the all except for me white class.
She smiled when she told me to read it, smiled harder,
said oh yes I could. She smiled harder and harder
until I stood and opened my mouth to banjo playing
darkies, pickaninnies, disses and dats. When I finished
my classmates stared at the floor. We walked silent
to the buses, awed by the power of words.

A Sense of Proportion, by William Stobb

On 20th between Madison and Ferry
a line of municipal maples binds the community
to an orderly, serviceable beauty. Platforms
from which our sparrows and starlings
might decorate our domestic sedans,
perhaps these trees serve most to stimulate
the car wash economy. Today, they remind me:

unsatisfied with workaday species, my parents
nailed oranges to a post to attract the exotic Oriole.
When the birds arrived, I wondered if they’d flown
all the way from Baltimore, which in turn
evoked a hotel, gables lined
with black and tangerine, posh clientele
spackled by the vagaries of Maryland living.

By nine I could sigh, climb our single
red maple, which I imagined a national landmark.
Child of movies, I could see the tree even at night
as a kind of beacon, a singularity. White
sheen on the leaves’ pitchy gloss, bodily.
And I too would learn to feel glazed
as any creature accumulating light

cast from stars, hidden in a federation
of equivalent times, distant trains
carrying sugar, coal, whole families beyond
deserts, imposing ranges, shimmering coastlines
said to define the spirit of a people.
Far from the station, the pinpoint aurora,
a line of municipal maples bears its charge.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong

i

Tell me it was for the hunger
& nothing less. For hunger is to give
the body what it knows

it cannot keep. That this amber light
whittled down by another war
is all that pins my hand

to your chest.

i

You, drowning
between my arms—
stay.

You, pushing your body
into the river
only to be left
with yourself—
stay.

i

I’ll tell you how we’re wrong enough to be forgiven. How one night, after
backhanding
mother, then taking a chainsaw to the kitchen table, my father went to kneel
in the bathroom until we heard his muffled cries through the walls.
And so I learned that a man, in climax, was the closest thing
to surrender.

i

Say surrender. Say alabaster. Switchblade.
Honeysuckle. Goldenrod. Say autumn.
Say autumn despite the green
in your eyes. Beauty despite
daylight. Say you’d kill for it. Unbreakable dawn
mounting in your throat.
My thrashing beneath you
like a sparrow stunned
with falling.

i

Dusk: a blade of honey between our shadows, draining.

i

I wanted to disappear—so I opened the door to a stranger’s car. He was divorced. He was still alive. He was sobbing into his hands (hands that tasted like rust). The pink breast cancer ribbon on his keychain swayed in the ignition. Don’t we touch each other just to prove we are still here? I was still here once. The moon, distant & flickering, trapped itself in beads of sweat on my neck. I let the fog spill through the cracked window & cover my fangs. When I left, the Buick kept sitting there, a dumb bull in pasture, its eyes searing my shadow onto the side of suburban houses. At home, I threw myself on the bed like a torch & watched the flames gnaw through my mother’s house until the sky appeared, bloodshot & massive. How I wanted to be that sky—to hold every flying & falling at once.

i

Say amen. Say amend.

Say yes. Say yes

anyway.

i

In the shower, sweating under cold water, I scrubbed & scrubbed.

i

In the life before this one, you could tell
two people were in love
because when they drove the pickup
over the bridge, their wings
would grow back just in time.

Some days I am still inside the pickup.
Some days I keep waiting.

i

It’s not too late. Our heads haloed
with gnats & summer too early
to leave any marks.
Your hand under my shirt as static
intensifies on the radio.
Your other hand pointing
your daddy’s revolver
to the sky. Stars falling one
by one in the cross hairs.
This means I won’t be
afraid if we’re already
here. Already more
than skin can hold. That a body
beside a body
must make a field
full of ticking. That your name
is only the sound of clocks
being set back another hour
& morning
finds our clothes
on your mother’s front porch, shed
like week-old lilies.

Playback, by Lauren Camp

Let there be footfall and car door. Let me
be finished with fire. Let
the man get on a plane for his morning
departure, erasing each reverie. Soon
there will be only daylight,
maybe a blue envelope, torn. Maybe bracelets
of color from the petunias. I will need
to know how to recover
the familiar, how to open the door
in the evening. How to again lock it.
Almost everything about me goes unspoken,
but commas and colons. I live with this
heart rate, multiple times, its direction,
its tempo: my 4/4 with acceleration, sometimes
tuned to an alternate signature. Think of Brubeck’s
“Take Five.” Those blocky chords were the result
of an accident—dead on arrival, they said,
after he smashed to the surf. Think how
he switched it around, made his hands
do what he wanted to hear, and forgive me
for the analogy. May I never
rush a surge for a better experience.
Every Sunday all over the country,
apologies gather. When I’m not in this
small cottage, unreacting, I cascade sound
and a few sentences from a cramped
room to whoever will listen. I know some
people think it is sinful to love such temptations,
but I stay with my face soft against
microphone, announcing my moral
directions. Sometimes, I’m convinced my blood
needs all those crossings. I’m not after
absolution. The man I love taught me to want
without lyrics. Remember I haven’t
gone anywhere. I’m in a thirsty way
sort of possessive. I shouldn’t show you this
side of myself. Try to remember I’m also praised
for my kindness. We each need to learn
to turn off some dreams so we can play
hours without creases.

Butterflies Poem, by Fawziyya Abu Khalid

When you abandoned me,
I didn’t need an elegy
because you had planted
a flight of butterflies in my heart
whose path I follow
like a bedouin who knows
how to perfectly trace the footsteps
of his traunt mare.

[A black God touched me today…], by Jon Leon

A black God touched me today and I knew I was a poet. When I produce
poetry I am responding to a God who touched me in a perverse way. The
state of my text is an act of worship to a black female God that told me to
worship capital. From a business perspective my poetics is about
marketing a God who fondles with my white self. This is what makes my
poetry so friendly to the void in the world. I marketed a God who exploits
me to bring her message of panic to the poetry sector. I was watching a
Kenneth Anger film when a large aphrodisiac God converged on me and
told me to create a poem that pleases her. The results of her visit are
collected in books called Hit Wave and Right Now the Music and the Life
Rule. The text in these books is to give the audience hope for life today
because a black female God told me to.

Kargil, by Sudeep Sen

Ten years on, I came searching for
                                war signs of the past
expecting remnants — magazine debris,
unexploded shells,
                  shrapnel
                                   that mark bomb wounds.
 
I came looking for
                                                                  ghosts —
people past, skeletons charred,
abandoned
                  brick-wood-cement
                                                  that once housed them.
 
I could only find whispers —
                                   whispers among the clamour
of a small town outpost
                                                  in full throttle —
everyday chores
                                   sketching outward signs
              of normality and life.
 
In that bustle
                  I spot war-lines of a decade ago,
though the storylines
                                   are kept buried, wrapped
in old newsprint.
 
There is order amid uneasiness —
                                                 the muezzin’s cry,
the monk’s chant —
                                   baritones
                                   merging in their separateness.
 
At the bus station
                                 black coughs of exhaust
smoke-screens everything.
                                                  The roads meet
and after the crossroad ritual
                                                                   diverge,
skating along the undotted lines
                                                 of control.
A porous garland
                                 with cracked beads
adorns Tiger Hill.
                                 Beyond the mountains
                                                 are dark memories,
and beyond them
                                no one knows,
                                                               and beyond them
no one wants to know.
 
Even the flight of birds
                                                     that wing over their crests
don’t know which feathers to down.
               Chameleon-like
they fly, tracing perfect parabolas.
 
I look up
                 and calculate their exact arc
and find instead,                                     a flawed theorem.