Unfinished Poem, by Shirley Kaufman

We live on a holy mountain
where the crows and the Crown Plaza
rise higher than our expectations
and the golden dome is only
a restored reflection
of the absolute.
All night the bodies of prophets
break out of the clouds
calling, “Doom, doom.”
Like the carp we bring home
from the market, our lives
are wrapped up in newsprint.
My friend says she’d like to
cut off her head and let all
the Jewish history run out.
We lift weights together
twice a week to increase
our bone density.

Garden Poem, by Robert Adamson

for Juno

Sunlight scatters wild bees across a blanket
of flowering lavender. The garden

grows, visibly, in one morning—
native grasses push up, tough and lovely

as your angel’s trumpets. At midday
the weather, with bushfire breath, walks about

talking to itself. A paper wasp zooms
above smooth river pebbles. In the trees

possums lie flat on leafy branches to cool off,
the cats notice, then fall back to sleep.

This day has taken our lives to arrive.
Afternoon swings open, although

the mechanics of the sun require
the moon’s white oil. Daylight fades to twilight

streaking bottlebrush flowers with shade;
a breeze clatters in the green bamboo and shakes

its lank hair. At dinnertime, the French doors present us
with a slice of night, shining clear—

a Naples-yellow moon outlines the ridges
of the mountains—all this, neatly laid out

on the dining room table
across patches of moonlight.

Inside Out, by Diane Wakoski

I walk the purple carpet into your eye
carrying the silver butter server
but a truck rumbles by,
                      leaving its black tire prints on my foot
and old images          the sound of banging screen doors on hot   
             afternoons and a fly buzzing over the Kool-Aid spilled on   
             the sink
flicker, as reflections on the metal surface.

Come in, you said,
inside your paintings, inside the blood factory, inside the   
old songs that line your hands, inside
eyes that change like a snowflake every second,
inside spinach leaves holding that one piece of gravel,
inside the whiskers of a cat,
inside your old hat, and most of all inside your mouth where you   
grind the pigments with your teeth, painting
with a broken bottle on the floor, and painting
with an ostrich feather on the moon that rolls out of my mouth.

You cannot let me walk inside you too long inside   
the veins where my small feet touch
bottom.
You must reach inside and pull me
like a silver bullet
from your arm.

Fall Parties, by Becca Klaver

I cannot wait for fall parties.
The invitations have begun to roll in.

I used to think I loved summer parties
until they got this year so sweaty and sad,

the whole world away at the shore,
sunk in sweet and salt.

Goodbye, summer:
you were supposed to save us

from spring but everyone just slumped
into you, sad sacks

pulling the shade down on an afternoon
of a few too many rounds.

Well, I won’t have another.
I’ll have fall. The fall of parties

for no reason, of shivering rooftops,
scuffed boots, scarves with cigarette holes.

I’ll warm your house.
I’ll snort your mulling spices.

I’ll stay too late, I’ll go on a beer run,
I’ll do anything

to stay in your dimly lit rooms
scrubbed clean of all their pity.

Hovering at a Low Altitude, by Dahlia Ravikovitch

(translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld)

I am not here.
I am on those craggy eastern hills
streaked with ice
where grass doesn’t grow
and a sweeping shadow overruns the slope.
A little shepherd girl
with a herd of goats,
black goats,
emerges suddenly
from an unseen tent.
She won’t live out the day, that girl,
in the pasture.

I am not here.
Inside the gaping mouth of the mountain
a red globe flares,
not yet a sun.
A lesion of frost, flushed and sickly,
revolves in that maw.

And the little one rose so early
to go to the pasture.
She doesn’t walk with neck outstretched
and wanton glances.
She doesn’t paint her eyes with kohl.
She doesn’t ask, Whence cometh my help.

I am not here.
I’ve been in the mountains many days now.
The light will not scorch me. The frost cannot touch me.
Nothing can amaze me now.
I’ve seen worse things in my life.

I tuck my dress tight around my legs and hover
very close to the ground.
What ever was she thinking, that girl?
Wild to look at, unwashed.
For a moment she crouches down.
Her cheeks soft silk,
frostbite on the back of her hand.
She seems distracted, but no,
in fact she’s alert.
She still has a few hours left.
But that’s hardly the object of my meditations.
My thoughts, soft as down, cushion me comfortably.
I’ve found a very simple method,
not so much as a foot-breadth on land
and not flying, either—
hovering at a low altitude.

But as day tends toward noon,
many hours
after sunrise,
that man makes his way up the mountain.
He looks innocent enough.
The girl is right there, near him,
not another soul around.
And if she runs for cover, or cries out—
there’s no place to hide in the mountains.

I am not here.
I’m above those savage mountain ranges
in the farthest reaches of the East.
No need to elaborate.
With a single hurling thrust one can hover
and whirl about with the speed of the wind.
Can make a getaway and persuade myself:
I haven’t seen a thing.
And the little one, her eyes start from their sockets,
her palate is dry as a potsherd,
when a hard hand grasps her hair, gripping her
without a shred of pity.

Touching the Floor, by Max Ritvo

I touch my palms to the floor
and granite rhinos surge up my arms
and lock in my shoulders.
Water flecks on my back
and my head is shaved
by bladed cream.

But then my time in my body is up
and it’s time for my mind:
It seeks wisdom
and the rhinos fall into a well,
their faces falling apart—

I want to know what their last words are
but their lips are fading into the purple.

I put my hands into the ground again
but rhinos come only for the body
and never for the mind.

I used to want infinite time with my thoughts.
Now I’d prefer to give all my time
to a body that’s dying
from cancer.

King Lear, by Lisa Sewell

For the father who wakes
and wakes himself, eyes full of himself

and for the one, who when the sun descends
slips into the stormy

smite flat the rotundity o’ the world.

Done in with conspiracy and murder
in his sleep (his eye-tooth finally unfixed
and tucked into a cheek for safekeeping)

he dreams of a three-armed garment
unable to wonder or comprehend
how he has come to this blurred ridge and broken—

I try to fix in my mind, his shining eyes
the terrors he shut his lips against

and his early morning utterly lucid accusation:
“I never would have believed,” he said to me
“that you would be among them.”


About this Poem

‘King Lear’ is part of a sequence of poems that explore the intersection of reading and the construction of identity. Many of the different relationships in King Lear have resonated for me at different points in my life and by the time I wrote this poem, I had already written two other poems with this title. During the last days of his life, my father, mad with what the hospice nurse called ‘sundowner syndrome,’ made me understand the play again in a completely unexpected and heartbreaking way.

Lisa Sewell

from Projection, by Lidija Dimkovska

But I know that you know how your palms itch when you’re alone,
when the electricity goes off,
and the silence whirls in your stomach.
I know that you know how hard it is
to dress in white after wearing black,
to have your arms not merge into the day
but be signs by the road,
and to have nobody, Laurie, nobody travel
down your roads.

Rocket, by Todd Boss

Despite that you
wrote your name
and number
on its fuselage
in magic marker

neither your quiet
hours at the kitchen
table assembling
it with glue

nor your choice of
paint and lacquer

nor your seemingly
equally perfect
choice of a seemingly
breezeless day
for the launch of
your ambition

nor the thrill
of its swift ignition

nor the heights
it streaks

nor the dancing
way you chase
beneath its

dot

across that
seemingly endless
childhood field

will ever be
restored to you

by the people
in the topmost
branches of whose trees

unseen

it may yet from
its plastic
chute
on thin
white
string

still swing.

Veterans of Foreign Wars, by Edward Hirsch

Let’s not forget the General
Shuffling out in his gray slippers
To feed the pigeons in Logan Square.

He wore a battered White Sox cap
And a heavy woolen scarf tossed
Over his shoulder, even in summer.

I remember how he muttered to himself
And coughed into his newspaper
And complained about his gout

To the other Latvian exiles,
The physicist who lived on Gogol Street
In Riga, my grandfather’s hometown,

The auxiliary policeman from Daugavpils,
And the chemical engineer,
Who always gave me hard candy,

Though grandfather spit
And grandmother hurried me away
When she saw them coming.

Dividend Of The Social Opt Out, by Jennifer Moxley

How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.
Not seriously ill, just a little under the weather.
To feel slightly peaked, indisposed. Plagued by
a vague ache, or a slight inexplicable chill.

Perhaps such pleasures are denied
to those who never feel obliged. If there are such.

How pleasant to convey your regrets. To feel sincerely
sorry, but secretly pleased to send them on their way
without you. To entrust your good wishes to others.
To spare the equivocal its inevitable rise.

How nice not to hope that something will happen,
but to lie on the couch with a book, hoping that
nothing will. To hear the wood creak and to think.
It is lovely to stay without wanting to leave.

How delicious not to care how you look,
clean and uncombed in the sheets. To sip
brisk mineral water, to take small bites
off crisp Saltines. To leave some on the plate.

To fear no repercussions. Nor dodge
the unkind person you bug.

Even the caretaker has gone to the party.
If you want something you will have to
get it yourself. The blue of the room seduces.
The cars of the occupied sound the wet road.

You indulge in a moment of sadness, make
a frown at the notion you won’t be missed.
This is what it is. You have opted to be
forgotten so that your thoughts might live.

Reasons, by Thomas James

For our own private reasons
We live in each other for an hour.
Stranger, I take your body and its seasons,
Aware the moon has gone a little sour

For us. The moon hangs up there like a stone
Shaken out of its proper setting.
We lie down in each other. We lie down alone
and watch the moon’s flawed marble getting

Out of hand. What are the dead doing tonight?
The padlocks of their tongues embrace the black,
Each syllable locked in place, tucked out of sight.
Even this moon could never pull them back,

Even if it held them in its arms
And weighed them down with stones,
Took them entirely on their own terms
And piled the orchard’s blossom on their bones.

I am aware of your body and its dangers.
I spread my cloak for you in leafy weather
Where other fugitives and other strangers
Will put their mouths together.

Gray, by Rose Terry Cooke

In the dead calm of night, when the stars are all shining,
The deep, silent shadows lie cold o’er my head,
And the wind, like a sad spirit, round the house pining,
Calls up from their quiet the tones of the dead.

Almost I can see them who rustle the curtain,
And flit past my cheek like a cold waft of air;
I hear their faint sighs and their footsteps uncertain,
I need not a vision to know they are there.

They call from the past all its bitterest warnings,
And trail the gray ghosts through my shuddering soul,
The nights of lone grief and the desolate mornings,
The long days of anguish that mocked my control.

Then comes the still angel who watches me ever,
And numbers the tears of my sleepless despair,
And for each sullen drop that assuages its fever,
The angel stoops softly, and kisses my hair.

And at dawn I perceive in those shadowy tresses
Bright silvery threads, as they fall o’er my breast,
And I know where the angel has left his caresses,
A promise and pledge that he hastens my rest.

Moon Gathering, by Eleanor Wilner

And they will gather by the well,
its dark water a mirror to catch whatever
stars slide by in the slow precession of
the skies, the tilting dome of time,
over all, a light mist like a scrim,
and here and there some clouds
that will open at the last and let
the moon shine through; it will be
at the wheel’s turning, when
three zeros stand like paw-prints
in the snow; it will be a crescent
moon, and it will shine up from
the dark water like a silver hook
without a fish—until, as we lean closer,
swimming up from the well, something
dark but glowing, animate, like live coals—
it is our own eyes staring up at us,
as the moon sets its hook;
and they, whose dim shapes are no more
than what we will become, take up
their long-handled dippers
of brass, and one by one, they catch
the moon in the cup-shaped bowls,
and they raise its floating light
to their lips, and with it, they drink back
our eyes, burning with desire to see
into the gullet of night: each one
dips and drinks, and dips, and drinks,
until there is only dark water,
until there is only the dark.

The Ferry, by Katia Kapovich

I’m jotting down these lines,
having borrowed a pen from a waitress
in this roadside restaurant. Three rusty pines
prop up the sky in the windows.
My soup gets cold, which implies

I’ll eat it cold. Soon I too
will leave a tip on the table, merge
into the beehive of travelers
and board one of the ferries,
where there’s always a line to the loo
and no one knows where the captain is.

Slightly seasick, I keep on writing
of the wind-rose and lobster traps,
seagulls, if any—and there always are.
Check the air and you’ll see them
above straw hats and caps.
The sun at noon glides like a monstrous star-

fish through clouds. Others drink iced tea,
training binoculars on a tugboat.
When I finish this letter, I’ll take a gulp
from the flask you gave me for the road
in days when I was too young to care about
those on the pier who waved goodbye.

I miss them now: cousins in linen dresses,
my mother, you, boys in light summer shirts.
Life is too long. The compass needle dances.
Everything passes by. The ferry passes
by ragged yellow shores.

Back, by Beckian Fritz Goldberg

The god of the back
must be a lonely god,
god in the shape of man-headed hawk.

Long ago
a man had been sailing the river
and the hawk had been flying beside him
for days. Mornings,

the man would wake and look,
yes, there it was, dark tip-to-tip, the hawk.
His hawk, he began to think of it.
And after a time

he forgot the point of the journey,
he only woke each morning to see
if the hawk was there, to move if the hawk
moved with him, to not rest

if the hawk did not rest. And all of this love
was done in silence, between animal
and animal. There

beside him in the air and there
beside him in the water, the yoke
of the hawk. Once he had a family. Once
he had a city to go to and something

to bring back. More and more
he began to see his life
as a story the hawk was telling

holding the rat of the field in its claw, meaning
There is another world
and I will take you in it.
This

is when he became the god,
god of the back, the beautiful
brow of leaving.

Then And Now, by Tom Clark

Then it was always
for now, later
for later.
And then years of now
passed, and it grew later
and later. Trapped
in the shrinking
chocolate box
the confused sardine
was unhappy. It
leapt, and banged its head
again. And afterward
they said shall we
repeat the experiment.
And it said
later for that.

Foreign Wife Elegy, by Yuko Taniguchi

My language has its own world
where he doesn’t know how to live,
but he should learn my language;
then he can call my mother to say
that I am dead. I drive too fast
and someone else drives too fast
and we crash on the icy road.
The death sweeps me away.
He can tell this to my mother
if he learns my language.
Her large yellow voice travels
and hits his body, but at least she knows
that I am dead, and if I die,
I want him to tell my mother
with his deep voice shaking.

Diptych: My Bracelet, by Jim Moore

1

Before going to bed I take off my bracelet. It is meant to protect me. A dancer gave it to me: for decades she has known sorrow and beauty. Beloveds have come and gone. Mountains and forest fires. Lives that might have lived through her, but didn’t. Lives that do still live through her. I go to sleep, protected by her love, even though now my wrist is naked. All of you who have lived with the mysterious succession of love and grief, of dogs and dances, of yoga and tears: all of you will know just what I mean.

2

There is sunlight and a staircase ending at the sky. There are electrical wires, a black cable. Then the sound of the train going away. There is my bracelet made of jasper that Peggy made for me. The river and the sweetness of going down to the river. There is all that darkness rushing under the arches of the old stone bridge. The waiting darkness. The patience. There is the going away: let’s get that straight once and for all. And the new waitress, her hand shaking, the tattoo pulsing at her neck, “And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.”

Let Me Disappear, by Ray Gonzalez

According to scientists, astronauts get taller when they are in space and in Albania, nodding your head means “no” and shaking your head means “yes.” This says I am going to disappear and become a parrot, sitting on my perch in some strange woman’s living room, ready to imitate everything she has to say to her illicit lover over the phone. Maybe I won’t have to speak in the shrill voice of parrots, but simply nod and shake my head, getting it right, unlike the Albanians. St. Paul, Minnesota was originally called Pig’s Eye after a man named Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant who set up the first business there in the mid-nineteenth century. Well, let me disappear because I live about twelve miles south of St. Paul’s southern city limits and have seen the eyes of pigs quite often. Minnesota is full of them. The last one I saw was tailgating me and almost ran me off the road. Before I could switch lanes, he swerved around me and shot away. About four blocks later, he was pulled over by a cop and given a ticket. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s mother’s maiden name was “Moon.” That sentence is hard to say. Of course, Buzz was the second man to step onto the moon in 1969. The first was Neil Armstrong, but he had no moons in his family, so he pleaded to Buzz on his knees, “Please, let me go second. Let me go second and every moon lover will love you forever, instead of me.” This happened inside the capsule on its way down to the moon. Buzz thought, “Let me disappear,” but it was too late. They hit the surface and history was on its way. I don’t have a clue what this has to do with me because the only moon in my life rose over the desert skies for the first twenty-five years of my life, until I disappeared. It is why I insist on a dark, moonless night when it is the best time for all men to go away, inspect their dreams, and maybe come back taller, wiser, and able to know the difference between yes and no.

Goddess of Maple at Evening, by Chard deNiord

She breathed a chill that slowed the sap
inside the phloem, stood perfectly still
inside the dark, then walked to a field
where the distance crooned in a small
blue voice how close it is, how the gravity
of sky pulls you up like steam from the arch.
She sang along until the silence soloed
in a northern wind, then headed back
to the sugar stand and drank from a maple
to thin her blood with the spirit of sap.
To quicken its pace to the speed of sound
then hear it boom inside her heart.
To quicken her mind to the speed of light
with another suck from the flooded tap.

Spiral, by Roddy Lumsden

These years lift over coldly now: Aprils
and Augusts are gifted to ice, or sprawl
into mid-summers or year ends—pillars
of lesser standing. Still come no replies

to boyish queries, how the belly sleeper
buoys, begins again, becomes poor soul
or bull of appetite; why when the pearls
drop, no spool dares connect the ripples.

A Bronze God, Or A Letter On Demand, by Clifton Gachagua

I like to think of your silence as the love letters you will not write me,
as two sax solos from two ages across a stage, learning the languages
of kissing with your eyes closed. I like to think of you as a god
to whom I no longer pray, as a god I aspire to. I like the opening of your joined palms,
which is like an urn where my ashes find a home. The music of your lashes;
the silent way your body wears out mine.
Mostly, I like to think of you at night when a black screen of shining dust shines
from your mines to the edge of my skin, where you are a lamp of flutters.
I remember the spectral lashes–marigold, tamarind, secret thing between your thighs,
of closed kissing eyes. At night, the possibility of you is a heavy
sculpture of heavy bronze at the side of my bed,
a god. And I pray you into life. Into flesh.

Inheritance, by Daniel Johnson

We drank hard water.
Spoke in plain language.

Said what we didn’t

with a joke or a look.
One went missing—

let silence drill its hole.
A second fell ill.

We cloaked our mirrors.
Slashed a red X

on the door to our house.
Pass over us, I asked

the raven sky,
or burn in me

a second mouth.

Jacksonville, Vermont, by Jason Shinder

Because I am not married, I have the skin of an orange

that has spent its life in the dark. Inside the orange
I am blind. I cannot tell when a hand reaches in

and breaks the atoms of the blood. Sometimes

a blackbird will bring the wind into my hair.
Or the yellow clouds falling on the cold floor are animals

beginning to fight each other out of their drifting misery.

All the women I have known have been ruined by fog
and the deer crossing the field at night.

Countess Lethargy, by Terese Svoboda

Dogs slink around her bed in hunger.
Lest you make sacred her image
on a brick, on your drive or thumb,
she needs to be turned twice a day
plant-ish, in her deshabille.

Lethargy has its roots in lethal.
This is the truth you must share
or die, the waves over your head,
the waving you’re not doing.
Pride vacuums away the scraps

yet nobody empties the bag.
Maybe she hurts. Maybe.
The dogs devour her at dusk.
You have it in a book, read once,
now on the computer shelf.

Clever is what those dogs become,
punished by crowds anxious to see
the Countess’ soul fly from their mouths.
She wears gold and shines: sunlight.
You are one of those dogs.

My House, I Say, by Robert Louis Stevenson

My house, I say. But hark to the sunny doves
That make my roof the arena of their loves,
That gyre about the gable all day long
And fill the chimneys with their murmurous song:
Our house, they say; and mine, the cat declares
And spreads his golden fleece upon the chairs;
And mine the dog, and rises stiff with wrath
If any alien foot profane the path.
So, too, the buck that trimmed my terraces,
Our whilom gardener, called the garden his;
Who now, deposed, surveys my plain abode
And his late kingdom, only from the road.

Nimis Compos Mentis, by Leslie Monsour

(Too sound of mind)

The paper table cloth was tastefully bleak,
The misty morning light shone on his cheek,
And made him look alone and masculine.

He talked of Seneca and bad translations,
Of modern critics’ lightweight observations;
A bread crumb rested sweetly on his chin.

Behind him, through the glass, the ocean’s heave
Uncurled against the sand, beside his sleeve,
As Eros aimed his toxic javelin.

I ducked out of the way, to no avail;
It glanced my flesh, injecting quite a cocktail
That blurred my sight and caused my head to spin—

Never mind the coffee we were drinking,
Whatever I said was not what I was thinking.
I wanted to become his mandolin,

And lie across his lap, a dainty lute,
And sing to him and feed him ripened fruit,
While light upon the sea turned opaline.

Instead, this conversation about art
And formal education—God, he’s smart!
Such rationality should be a sin.

The hour was up, he had to run, of course;
A handshake and a peck of shy remorse—
Outside, the sea was gray and dull as tin;
It ruled the shore with tedious discipline.

Offerings, by Howard Altmann

To the night I offered a flower
and the dark sky accepted it
like earth, bedding
for light.

To the desert I offered an apple
and the dunes received it
like a mouth, speaking
for wind.

To the installation I offered a tree
and the museum planted it
like a man, viewing
his place.

To the ocean I offered a seed
and its body dissolved it
like time, composing
a life.

As one listens to the rain, by Octavio Paz

Listen to me as one listens to the rain,
not attentive, not distracted,
light footsteps, thin drizzle,
water that is air, air that is time,
the day is still leaving,
the night has yet to arrive,
figurations of mist
at the turn of the corner,
figurations of time
at the bend in this pause,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
without listening, hear what I say
with eyes open inward, asleep
with all five senses awake,
it’s raining, light footsteps, a murmur of syllables,
air and water, words with no weight:
what we are and are,
the days and years, this moment,
weightless time and heavy sorrow,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
wet asphalt is shining,
steam rises and walks away,
night unfolds and looks at me,
you are you and your body of steam,
you and your face of night,
you and your hair, unhurried lightning,
you cross the street and enter my forehead,
footsteps of water across my eyes,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
the asphalt’s shining, you cross the street,
it is the mist, wandering in the night,
it is the night, asleep in your bed,
it is the surge of waves in your breath,
your fingers of water dampen my forehead,
your fingers of flame burn my eyes,
your fingers of air open eyelids of time,
a spring of visions and resurrections,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
the years go by, the moments return,
do you hear the footsteps in the next room?
not here, not there: you hear them
in another time that is now,
listen to the footsteps of time,
inventor of places with no weight, nowhere,
listen to the rain running over the terrace,
the night is now more night in the grove,
lightning has nestled among the leaves,
a restless garden adrift-go in,
your shadow covers this page.

Beating his lead, by Hans Faverey

Beating his lead with the blunt
end of his axe, flattening it
in order to forget that he is

a child of death who wants to weight

his net. Until it is suddenly
done and the one who did not disappear
stands in my room, taking me
in; still lying whether I am,

and how. Just as you might ask
a fisherman returning with nothing:
So where’s the fish? And for him to reply,
without resentment, without envy:
The fish—it’s in the sea.

Their Story, by Stuart Dybek

They were nearing the end of their story.
The fire was dying, like the fire in the story.
Each page turned was torn and fed
to flames, until word by word the book
burned down to an unmade bed of ash.
Wet kindling from an orchard of wooden spoons,
snow stewing, same old wind on the Gramophone,
same old wounds. Turn up the blue dial
under the kettle until darkness boils
with fables, and mirrors defrost to the quick
before fogging with steam, and dreams
rattle their armor of stovepipes and ladles.
Boots in the corner kick in their sleep.
A jacket hangs from a question mark.

Gobbo Remembers His Youth, by David Cappella

Let me tell you about suffering
because I was a boy cold without love
in a large house, so dark it stifled laughs.
I would run to my mother with stones
only to drop them under a grim gaze
so harsh I felt tossed in a freezing bath.
Her words, like a cicada’s shrill chirp, pierced
the long summer afternoons of my hopes.
I can still remember my brother’s folded hands
in the coffin, how kissing them burnt me.
I cried uncontrollably, torched inside
with processional fires held by shadowed monks
cowled in their black walk through narrow streets
of my town, terrifying my heart forever.

Fairbanks Under the Solstice, by John Haines

Slowly, without sun, the day sinks
toward the close of December.
It is minus sixty degrees.

Over the sleeping houses a dense
fog rises—smoke from banked fires,
and the snowy breath of an abyss
through which the cold town
is perceptibly falling.

As if Death were a voice made visible,
with the power of illumination…

Now, in the white shadow
of those streets, ghostly newsboys
make their rounds, delivering
to the homes of those
who have died of the frost
word of the resurrection of Silence.

Purism, by Vona Groarke

The wind orchestrates
its theme of loneliness
and the rain
has too much glitter in it, yes.

They are like words, the wrong ones,
insisting I listen to sense.
But I too am obstinate.

I have white walls,
white curtained windows.
What need have I
of the night’s jet-black,
outlandish ornament?

What I am after
is silence
in proportion
to desire,

the way music plumbs
its surfaces
as straight words do
the air between them.

I begin to learn
the simple thing

burning through
to an impulse at once lovely
and given to love

that will not be refused.

Empty, by Laura Mullen

Huge crystalline cylinders emerge from the water

The future

Where do they come from the King gushes these talking fish
Show me at once

We see the writer buried under a collapsing mountain of scribbled-over
papers
While ink blurts from an overturned bottle

Speech is silver the King mutters
Silence is

They discover a fabulous ancient city

Black lake
Flag of smoke

Where we turned to look

Skulls, bats, stars, spirals, lightning bolts
Words spoken in anger
Flowers for sarcasm

The sequence continued to work in references to the brevity of life

Garlands of flowers
Stars signaling physical impact

They discover a fabulous ancient city
Under the water
None of the inhabitants

‘Be reasonable . . . ‘

Increasingly faint trace of inked
Flowers delicate

After that

Cat catch
The decree

Eradicate

A Franc Sonic, by Laura Moriarty

for Jerry Estrin

Snow covers
The hills one by one
Our neighborhood
Characters become
San Francisco 1874
Words later language
A photograph
At home when
Light writes 1974
Or 1979
We move where
The Lives of My Books
Pages accumulate
Not legible as themselves
Historical time 1989
Startled leaves us
Unafraid though
Overgrown
Died in 1993
Moved in 1994
In pink stone
Earlier in “The Park”
Wrote shells and cherubs
The cathedral
The fountain

Ghost in the Land of Skeletons, by Christopher Kennedy

If not for flesh’s pretty paint, we’re just a bunch of skeletons, working hard to deny the fact of bones. Teeth remind me that we die. That’s why I never smile, except when looking at a picture of a ghost, captured by a camera lens, in a book about the paranormal. When someone takes a picture of a spirit, it gives me hope. I admire the ones who refuse to go away. Lovers scorned and criminals burned. I love the dead little girl who plays in her yard, a spectral game of hide and seek. It’s the fact they don’t know they’re dead that appeals to me most. Like a man once said to me, Do you ever feel like you’re a ghost? Sure, I answered, every day. He laughed at that and disappeared. All I could think was he beat me to it.

The Origin of Order, by Pattiann Rogers

Stellar dust has settled.
It is green underwater now in the leaves
Of the yellow crowfoot. Its vacancies are gathered together
Under pine litter as emerging flower of the pink arbutus.
It has gained the power to make itself again
In the bone-filled egg of osprey and teal.

One could say this toothpick grasshopper
Is a cloud of decayed nebula congealed and perching
On his female mating. The tortoise beetle,
Leaving the stripped veins of morning glory vines
Like licked bones, is a straw-colored swirl
Of clever gases.

At this moment there are dead stars seeing
Themselves as marsh and forest in the eyes
Of muskrat and shrew, disintegrated suns
Making songs all night long in the throats
Of crawfish frogs, in the rubbings and gratings
Of the red-legged locust. There are spirits of orbiting
Rock in the shells of pointed winkles
And apple snails, ghosts of extinct comets caught
In the leap of darting hare and bobcat, revolutions
Of rushing stone contained in the sound of these words.

The paths of the Pleiades and Coma clusters
Have been compelled to mathematics by the mind
Contemplating the nature of itself
In the motions of stars. The patterns
Of any starry summer night might be identical
To the summer heavens circling inside the skull.
I can feel time speeding now in all directions
Deeper and deeper into the black oblivion
Of the electrons directly behind my eyes.

Flesh of the sky, child of the sky, the mind
Has been obligated from the beginning
To create an ordered universe
As the only possible proof of its own inheritance.

Night Life, by Vivian Smith

Disturbed at 2 a.m. I hear a claw
scratching the window, tapping at the pane,
and then I realise, a broken branch,
and yet I can’t turn back to sleep again.

Slowly, not to wake you, I get up,
thinking of food, perhaps a quiet read.
A cockroach runs across the kitchen floor,
its lacquered shell as quick and dry as seed.

Outside the chalice lily lifts its cup
in adoration to the mirrored moon,
full of purpose as it trembles there,
collecting drops of moisture on its spoon.

Noises of the night, it’s all alive,
birds shifting in the steady trees,
slugs and snails eating fallen flowers,
a moth freighted with fragilities.

Nocturnal life, the other side of things,
proceeding whether we observe or not,
like rows and rows of brown coastal ants
transporting food from here to another spot.

Silt, by Stephen Burt

Things you know but can’t say,
the sort of things, or propositions
that build up week after week at the end of the day,

& have to be dredged
by the practical operators so that their grosser cargo
& barges & boxy schedules can stay.

The great shovels and beaks and the rolling gantries
of Long Beach, and of Elizabeth, New Jersey,
can keep their high and rigorous distinction
between on-time and late, between work and play.

“Since you excluded me, I will represent you,
not meanly but generously, with an attention
that is itself

a revenge, since it shows that I know you

better than you have ever known yourselves,

that if I could never have learned
how to be you, nor how to be
somebody you’d like to be very near, nevertheless

you could not do without me, or keep me away.”

Telling, by Elisabeth Frost

They keep telling me why I do what I do. I do it so that one day someone will do for me what I’m doing for her. They’re saying, then, that my motivation is to be, down the line, the recipient of the doing. According to their logic, I buy her the Times and irises for the bed table, renew the nitroglycerin and Cardia, throw in the chocolate that isn’t allowed, and, back home, scour the tub, scrub the toilet—I do these things in order to have them done for me, if not by her, who can’t do them (let’s be honest), then, second best, by someone else. They say that’s the reason I study so closely her happiness, her lack of happiness. And their gentleness in the telling, the lowered chin and eyes, the slow enunciation, the hand reaching toward my wrist—it all tells me that things won’t end where I think they will, that what I do isn’t like a mitral valve (thrust open, clamp shut), an act without volition, but is, like the refusal finally to turn away, something chosen, which may or may not do anything like what one hopes it will.

King County Metro, by Geffrey Davis

In Seattle, in 1982, my mother beholds this man
boarding the bus, the one she’s already

turning into my father. His style (if you can
call it that): disarming disregard—a loud

Hawaiian-print shirt and knee-high tube socks
that reach up the deep tone of his legs,

toward the dizzying orange of running shorts.
Outside, the gray city blocks lurch

past wet windows, as he starts his shy sway
down the aisle. Months will pass

before he shatters his ankle during a Navy drill,
the service discharging him back into the everyday

teeth of the world. Two of four kids will arrive
before he meets the friend who teaches him

the art of rooing and, soon after, the crack pipe—
the attention it takes to manage either

without destroying the hands. The air brakes gasp
as he approaches my mother’s row,

each failed rehab and jail sentence still
decades off in the distance. So much waits

in the fabulous folds of tomorrow.
And my mother, who will take twenty years

to burn out her love for him, hesitates a moment
before making room beside her—the striking

brown face, poised above her head, smiling.
My mother will blame all that happens,

both good and bad, on this smile, which glows now,
ready to consume half of everything it gives.

An Arundel Tomb, by Philip Larkin

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd—
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

White Shells, by Kathleen Peirce

Then there was beauty in what clung,
vertical and multiple against a damp tombstone
where no one goes, or has gone forever,
the stone carved in another language
and the weed-life overgrown.
We knew they must know movement,
but they would not move
while being what they meant to us.
Where the headstone’s windowpane
meant to protect the crucifix and photograph
was cracked apart, we saw how
on its inward, wetter side,
the infant shells began self-generation in a line
like vowels strung inside a child’s understanding:
this belongs to this. O perfect succulence
with which interiors adhere to forms, O open mouths.
Should we have found the world more often
clinging to words describing it?
What would have been the afterlife of that?

In the Land of Words, by Eloise Greenfield

In the land
of words,
I stand as still
as a tree,
and let the words
rain down on me.
Come, rain, bring
your knowledge and your
music. Sing
while I grow green
and full.
I’ll stand as still
as a tree,
and let your blessings
fall on me.

Reseda, by Paul Colinet

Step-ladder, tiny pyramid for miserly hunchbacks, near- 
sighted reckoner, the reseda, gathered in its cunning 
little cabin, breaks up, clears itself of perfume.
This flower is the friend of silent eyes, of century- 
old hands, of honest blades.
She grows near modest shale-like clusters — these, 
devout, dyed purple, or else those, burnt to brown 
ribbons, daughters seen from a libertarian star.
When the limed soil turns toward the sexton, the weekly 
herb heralds, at the bottom of some old fashioned desk, 
some thin copy-book bound in boards of somber blue and 
covered with beautifully written secrets.
When she’s moved by a ridge of fired peat, the flower 
forecasts for the initiated only such a display of 
nymphomania, such nutritious folly, nauseating tropical 
inheritance.
And when she becomes incrusted in the millennial 
foundations of bits of shale, she’s the prophetess of 
the glass reed, the measly pot, the head schoolmaster, 
the starched virgin, the pigeon-breeding spiritualist.
Her perfume is a secondary condition since its 
disproportion to her stem and its continual layers make 
it unexplainable.

Horse Latitudes, by Jo Sarzotti

The past lies in the brine
                            Of equatorial water,
Parchment-folded,
Black ink veining where the quill paused.

Rich doldrums
                            Full of gold
Where Spanish sailors
                            Threw the Queen’s horses,
Palomino, the color of her hair.

On the Outer Banks
                            Each wave a breaking 
Promise of the New World,
                            Lost colonies,
Lost ships, wild ponies
                                          Swimming even now.

Far and Away [excerpt], by Fanny Howe

The rain falls on.
Acres of violets unfold.
Dandelion, mayflower
Myrtle and forsythia follow.

The cardinals call to each other.
Echoes of delicate
Breath-broken whistles.

I know something now
About subject, object, verb
And about one word that fails
For lack of substance.

Now people say, He passed on
Instead of that. Unit
Of space subtracted by one.
It almost rhymes with earth.

What is a poet but a person
Who lives on the ground
Who laughs and listens

Without pretension of knowing
Anything, driven by the lyric’s
Quest for rest that never
(God willing) will be found?

Concord, kitchen table, 1966.
Corbetts, Creeley, a grandmother
And me. Sweater, glasses,
One wet eye.

Lots of laughter
Before and after. Every meeting
Rhymed and fluttered into meter.
The beat was the message. . . .

(for Robert Creeley)

The Carolina Wren, by Laura Donnelly

I noticed the mockingbirds first,
           not for their call but the broad white bands,

like reverse mourning bands on gunmetal
           gray, exposed during flight

then tucked into their chests. A thing
            seen once, then everywhere—

the top of the gazebo, the little cracked statue,
            along the barbed fence. Noticed because

I know first with my eyes, then followed
           their several songs braiding the trees.

Only later, this other, same-same-again song,
           a bird I could not see but heard

when I walked from the house to the studio,
           studio to the house, its three notes

repeated like a child’s up and down
           on a trampoline looping

the ground to the sky—
           When I remember being a child like this

I think I wouldn’t mind living alone
           on a mountain, stilled into the daily

which isn’t stillness at all but a whirring
           gone deep. The composer shows how

the hands, palms down, thumb to thumb
           and forefinger to mirrored finger, make

a shape like a cone, a honeybee hive, and then
           how that cone moves across the piano—

notes in groups fluttering fast back-and-forth
           and it sounds difficult but it isn’t

really, how the hand likes to hover each patch
           of sound. Likes gesture. To hold. Listening

is like this. How it took me a week to hear
           the ever-there wren. And the bees

are like this, intent on their nectar,
           their waggle dance better than any GPS.

A threatened thing. A no-one-knows-why.
           But the wrens’ invisible looping their loop—

And I, for a moment, pinned to the ground.
           Pinned and spinning in the sound of it.