Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg, by Richard Hugo

You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago. You walk these streets
laid out by the insane, past hotels
that didn’t last, bars that did, the tortured try
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
Only churches are kept up. The jail
turned 70 this year. The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he’s done.

The principal supporting business now
is rage. Hatred of the various grays
the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,
The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls
who leave each year for Butte. One good
restaurant and bars can’t wipe the boredom out.
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines,
a dance floor built on springs—
all memory resolves itself in gaze,
in panoramic green you know the cattle eat
or two stacks high above the town,
two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse
for fifty years that won’t fall finally down.

Isn’t this your life? That ancient kiss
still burning out your eyes? Isn’t this defeat
so accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?
Don’t empty houses ring? Are magnesium
and scorn sufficient to support a town,
not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz and booze
the world will never let you have
until the town you came from dies inside?

Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty
when the jail was built, still laughs
although his lips collapse. Someday soon,
he says, I’ll go to sleep and not wake up.
You tell him no. You’re talking to yourself.
The car that brought you here still runs.
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it’s mined, is silver
and the girl who serves your food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall.

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

Invictus, by William Ernest Henley

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

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

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

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

The Dover Bitch, by Anthony Hecht

A Criticism of Life: for Andrews Wanning

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

Redaction, by Carmen Giménez Smith

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

Francesca, by Ezra Pound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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