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.

Advertisements

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.