Weaving, by Paul Otremba

I don’t think they’ll find the new weaving
anywhere finer than truth.
—Osip Mandelstam

I’ve tried to sift a truth finer than salt
from my mouth. It matters: I get up

or I do not. The books can wait, leaves
burn themselves these days, and the day

begins or it does not. Now wingless,
a wasp masquerading as the sun crawls—

a harmless razor—across the backlit
curtain. No city trembles on the verge

of the sea. No stupid bird threatens
to dissolve me if I forget my species

in the official questionnaire. I could
put my ten bureaucrats to their task.

The dusting and polishing. There’s a point,
a mirror for me to enumerate my teeth.

Beyond these walls, there’s only the snowed-in
field, an egg just opened but empty.

Bread and Cake, by Kevin Prufer

The black Mercedes
with the Ayn Rand
vanity plate
crashed through
the glass bus stop
and came to rest
among a bakery’s
upturned tables.
In the stunned silence,
fat pigeons descended
to the wreckage
and pecked at
the scattered
bread and cake.
The driver slept,
head to the wheel.
The pigeons grew
rich with crumbs.
The broken glass winked.
God grinned.

Cinque Terre, by Jon Pineda

Between the train’s long slide and the sun
ricocheting off the sea, anyone
would have fallen silent in those words,
the language of age in her face, the birds
cawing over the broken earth, gathering near its stones
and chapel doors. In the marina, the sea and its bones
have grown smaller. Though the tide is out,
it is not the tide nor the feathers nor the cat
that jumps into the street, the dust
lifting with each wing and disappearing. The rust-
colored sheets that wrap the sails of ships,
I don’t know their name nor the way to say lips
of water in Italian and mean this: an old woman
stood by the tracks until his hand stopped waving.

Caged Bird, by Matthew J. Spireng

Some believe there’s somewhere in the brain
that senses minor fluctuations in the Earth’s
magnetic field and uses a sort of memory
of that to travel the same route year after year
over thousands of miles, over open ocean
on moonless, clouded nights, and a built-in clock
that, save for weather’s influence, tells
when it’s time to go. But they utter nothing
of thwarted dreams in birds’ brains, how
a few cubic feet near the ground, however
well-kept and lighted, however large it seems
around a small bright bird, is like a fist
closed tight on feather and bone, how, certain times
of year, the bird’s heart races as if to power flight.

Bed in Summer, by Robert Louis Stevenson

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird, by Wallace Stevens

1

Among twenty snowy mountains
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird

2

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

3

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

4

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

5

I do not know which to prefer
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes.
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

6

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

7

O thin men of Haddam,
Why to do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
of the women about you?

8

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

9

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

10

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

11

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

12

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

13

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

1923

Flux, by Afaa Michael Weaver

I am a city of bones
deep inside my marrow,
a song in electric chords,
decrescendo to mute, rise
to white noise, half silences
in a blank harmony as all
comes to nothing, my eyes
the central fire of my soul,
yellow, orange, red—gone
in an instant and then back
when I am, for a glimpse,
as precise as a bird’s breath,
when I am perfect, undone
by hope when hope will not
listen, the moon wasting
to where I need not worry
that bones turn to ash,
a brittle staccato in dust.

Survey: Phototropes, by Eleni Sikélianòs

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

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

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

Where are they going?

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

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

The body is in the root cellar

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

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

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

—words bird the zone—

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

Vision, by Erica Funkhouser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Names of Children, by Rachel Sherwood

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

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

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

Things I Found and Left Where They Were, by Robert Gregory

A slow summer morning:
new light through a veil of green leaves, young leaves
that vibrate and tremble. The shadows are blurred in this light

shadows once ourselves, they say. Clouds and a girl in
green trousers, three birds on the blacktop confer, between
two
buildings a vacant lot, a concrete slab for some old
vanished building surrounded by a few dry rags of grass.
A little local dove in shades of brown and black investigating,
looking for food. A buzzard floating high above the Marriott,
up above the former Happy Meals and a blue discarded shoe.
A splash of bird shit and a splash of old blue paint together
on a picnic table side by side, sea grape in blossom overhead,
long green spikes and tiny blossoms, two fat bees intrigued so
though a breeze from off the ocean pushes them away they
come back and back. Now a girl floats by on skates, a pretty,
haughty face, unwritten on. She flies her naked skin like a
pirate flag, a big tattoo across her shoulder blade. At first
it looked just like a gunshot wound (I saw them sometimes
in the barracks on some ordinary guy in a towel walking
toward the shower). Shrapnel makes all kinds of shapes:
sickle moons and stickmen, twigs and teeth. Bullets always
make a perfect circle (for entry anyway) and make the
same two colors: blue-black and a purple like raspberry sherbet.
Up ahead, a man in a dirty shirt, his eyes turned inward, his
hair
and thoughts all scattered, just awake from sleeping in a field
someplace. At every house the dogs come at him roaring,
not just barking as they do to everyone who passes by
but raging and fierce, they really want to tear him open, him
or the things he thinks he’s talking to. I’m remembering
as I walk along a ways behind him the ladies in the office
talking about the new widow: Is she cleaning? Yes. The first
one,
the questioner, nodded. “Right after Frederick died,” she said,
“I got down on my knees and scrubbed that kitchen, places
I had never ever cleaned. For that whole month I did nothing
but scrub that floor.” It gets dark here very slowly and gently.
Now the stores are closed and locked. In this window lies
a fat old cat asleep inside the small remaining shadow
underneath an old lost table from elsewhere with graceful
skinny curving legs. As I walk away along the place
with no windows, headlights pick my shadow up and
spread it out along the wall, fatten it and give it wings
for just a second. Then they’re gone and it’s gone too.

Salmon, by Kim Addonizio

In this shallow creek
they flop and writhe forward as the dead
float back toward them. Oh, I know

what I should say: fierce burning in the body
as her eggs burst free, milky cloud
of sperm as he quickens them. I should stand

on the bridge with my camera,
frame the white froth of rapids where one
arcs up for an instant in its final grace.

But I have to go down among
the rocks the glacier left
and squat at the edge of the water

where a stinking pile of them lies,
where one crow balances and sinks
its beak into a gelid eye.

I have to study the small holes
gouged into their skin, their useless gills,
their gowns of black flies. I can’t

make them sing. I want to,
but all they do is open
their mouths a little wider

so the water pours in
until I feel like I’m drowning.
On the bridge the tour bus waits

and someone waves, and calls down
It’s time, and the current keeps lifting
dirt from the bottom to cover the eggs.

Evolution of Danger, by Tina Chang

I’m the one in the back of the bar, drinking cachaça,
fingering the lip of the glass. Every dream has left
me now as I wait for the next song: Drag and drum.
They’ll be no humming in this room, only fragrance
of sweat and fuel. To make the animal go. To make it
Hungry. After that there is Thirst.

*

I danced in the border town until it wasn’t decent,
until I was my grandest self hitchhiking, my slim arm
out like the stalk of a tired flower, waving, silver rings
catch the headlights. I’m not sure what I wanted
as we rode on his motorcycle where Chinese signs blurred
past, flashing red, then blue, and I breathed in the scent
of fish and plum. My hands found their way to his pockets
as I rode without helmet, careening toward the cemetery,
the moon dripping light onto avenues of tombstones.

*

If the Tunisian black market was hidden within a maze.
If I couldn’t find my way, I asked. The wide eyes
of the boy who led me to the Mediterranean Sea.
If I took his kindness as a version of truth and stood
posing for a photo in front of bicycles leaned
against the sand colored walls. If I arrived
at the center of the market, women in black muslin
sold glazed tile on blankets. When I bent down,
the men surrounded me. If they asked for money
I had nothing. If they threw their bills around me,
I recall the purple and red faces crushed on paper.

*

Attempting to cross the border with no passport,
no money. The contents had fallen out of her
pocket as she ran for the bus. She made promises
to the officers, bared an inner thigh until their eyes
grew wide, until they stamped a sheet of official paper
with tri-colored emblems. The man’s fist
was large though it twitched as he pounded
the stamp onto the translucent page. The little
money she had inside an orange handkerchief tied
to her hair, coins rolling to the ground as she fled.

*

Perhaps it was chance that I ended on the far side
of the earth. Atrocities of our entanglement not on the bed
but beside it. Using our mouths as tools for betterment,
for seduction, for completion. The vertebra twists
into a question mark to conform to another’s.

In the Patanal, the cowboys steadied the horses
in the barn, the animal’s labored breathing, the sigh
as the coarse brush worked through the mane.
The owner’s daughter learning to move her hips
as she practiced her samba before the steaming pot,
and radio clicking, and lid drumming.

Of the men I’ve known, you were the most steady,
reliable one near the window killing mosquitoes,
gathering cool water to press to my scalp. One-sided
heart I was then. Selfish one. I wanted everything.
Macaws flew past in quick flock, pushing outward
toward the earth’s scattering filament and mystery.

*

I don’t ask myself questions anymore
(but it is not a question you ask yourself),
rather it was born, rather that the statement
was peeled like a film of dirt, (rather
the words were meaning) wrapped inside
a scarf, stuffed into my carry bag, rather
that the camera caught all of it
(the hunter and the kill).

When danger itself was restless,
(it had four legs and it ran with speed
& vengeance). Though there was
no purpose, (though the past had nothing
to do with the chase now). This grand state
(pumped from its own engine of blood),
centuries of evolution, first as a red-eyed
embryo, then reptile, then mammal, then
man, pure racing, push of muscle and tendon,
the tongue loose and dragging as the body
made its way forward. Each time more
powerful, a new version of waking until
the species grew great wings and lifted.

The Geese, by Hyam Plutzik

A miscellaneous screaming that comes from nowhere
Raises the eyes at last to the moonward-flying
Squadron of wild-geese arcing the spatial cold.

Beyond the hunter’s gun or the will’s range
They press southward, toward the secret marshes
Where the appointed gunmen mark the crossing

Of flight and moment. There is no force stronger
(In the sweep of the monomaniac passion, time)
Than the will toward destiny, which is death.

Value the intermediate splendor of birds.

Etta’s Elegy, by Maureen Seaton

for Etta Silver (1913–2013)

This is where the poem holds its breath,
where the usable truth sways, sorrowing,

and the people sway with the truth of it,
and this is where the poem enters the dark.

This is where the book closes and the clock
opens and the clock closes and the book

opens to song so the snow geese murmur
and the coyote swaggers along the aspens.

This is where the geese fly unabashedly out,
and the sky turns white and wild with sound.

This is where tumult, this is where prophecy.
This is where the poem repents of language.

This is where the poem enters silence,
where the child holds the book in her lap

whose pages are aflame with life, whose
song sways with a usable truth, sorrowing.

And this is where the poem holds its breath,
and this is where the poem enters the dark.

This is where it leaps wild about the child,
where the snow geese seize the seamless sky

and the universe splits open for one poem—
the way a life lived calls on us to praise it.

About this poem:

“Etta Silver read and loved poetry all her life. I loved her and she loved me. Her grandson, my friend, asked me to write a poem for her funeral. Inspired by Etta, and having just seen the snow geese fly out of the Bosque del Apache in southern New Mexico and heard the silence after they’d gone, I did.”

Maureen Seaton

 

Almost There, by Timothy Liu

Hard to imagine getting
anywhere near another semi-
nude encounter down this concrete
slab of interstate, the two of us
all thumbs—

white-throated swifts mating mid-flight
instead of buckets of
crispy wings thrown down
hoi polloi—
an army of mouths

eager to feed
left without any lasting sustenance.
Best get down on all fours.
Ease our noses past
rear-end collisions wrapped around

guardrails shaking loose their bolts
while unseen choirs jacked on
airwaves go on preaching
loud and clear to every
last pair of unrepentant ears—

Bells II, by John Ashbery

For just as a misunderstanding germinates
in a clear sky, climbing like a comma
from rack to misunderstood rack of worried clouds,
now difficult, now brusque, foregrounded, amoral,
the last birds took off into the abyss.
Now it was just us, though shielded,
separate, disparate. It almost seems—
and yet it doesn’t. Broken glass announces
more offenses, home invasions. Seems like
we’ve been here a long time. And still
ought to do those things. Every murk is a key.

No, it’s all right, don’t worry.
The long-fingered peninsulas have other fish to fry
as destiny germinates on summer sands, more lap top
than lap dog. And if I’d bargain you around the aisles,
don’t touch it, it’s a single thing.
We don’t know what breviaries are mixing cocktails for us
in the V room. It’s essential we be kept
out of the cordon. You should know. This is all about you:
how you arrived one cold day carrying your little knapsack
and crept in with us, to see how we could spell.
Others than old uncles hear us now,
hacking the website’s early spoilage distribution plan.

The Language of the Birds, by Richard Siken

1

A man saw a bird and found him beautiful. The bird had a song inside him, and feathers. Sometimes the man felt like the bird and sometimes the man felt like a stone—solid, inevitable—but mostly he felt like a bird, or that there was a bird inside him, or that something inside him was like a bird fluttering. This went on for a long time.

2

A man saw a bird and wanted to paint it. The problem, if there was one, was simply a problem with the question. Why paint a bird? Why do anything at all? Not how, because hows are easy—series or sequence, one foot after the other—but existentially why bother, what does it solve?

And just because you want to paint a bird, do actually paint a bird, it doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished anything. Who gets to measure the distance between experience and its representation? Who controls the lines of inquiry? We do. Anyone can.

Blackbird, he says. So be it, indexed and normative. But it isn’t a bird, it’s a man in a bird suit, blue shoulders instead of feathers, because he isn’t looking at a bird, real bird, as he paints, he is looking at his heart, which is impossible.

Unless his heart is a metaphor for his heart, as everything is a metaphor for itself, so that looking at the paint is like looking at a bird that isn’t there, with a song in its throat that you don’t want to hear but you paint anyway.

The hand is a voice that can sing what the voice will not, and the hand wants to do something useful. Sometimes, at night, in bed, before I fall asleep, I think about a poem I might write, someday, about my heart, says the heart.

3

They looked at the animals. They looked at the walls of the cave. This is earlier, these are different men. They painted in torchlight: red mostly, sometimes black—mammoth, lion, horse, bear—things on a wall, in profile or superimposed, dynamic and alert.

They weren’t animals but they looked like animals, enough like animals to make it confusing, meant something but the meaning was slippery: it wasn’t there but it remained, looked like the thing but wasn’t the thing—was a second thing, following a second set of rules—and it was too late: their power over it was no longer absolute.

What is alive and what isn’t and what should we do about it? Theories: about the nature of the thing. And of the soul. Because people die. The fear: that nothing survives. The greater fear: that something does.

The night sky is vast and wide.

They huddled closer, shoulder to shoulder, painted themselves in herds, all together and apart from the rest. They looked at the sky, and at the mud, and at their hands in the mud, and their dead friends in the mud. This went on for a long time.

4

To be a bird, or a flock of birds doing something together, one or many, starling or murmuration. To be a man on a hill, or all the men on all the hills, or half a man shivering in the flock of himself. These are some choices.

The night sky is vast and wide.

A man had two birds in his head—not in his throat, not in his chest—and the birds would sing all day never stopping. The man thought to himself, One of these birds is not my bird. The birds agreed.

Given, by Joanna Klink

And I carried to that emptiness
between us the birds
that had been calling out

all night. I carried an old
bicycle, a warm meal,
some time to talk.

I would have brought
them to you sooner
but was afraid your own

hopelessness would keep you
crouched there. If you spring up,
let it not be against me

but like a weed or a
fountain. I grant you
the hard spine of your

childhood. I grant you
the frowning arc of this morning.
If I could I would grant you

a bright throat and even
brighter eyes, this whole hill
of olive trees, its

calmness of purpose.
Let me not forget
ever what I owe you.

I have loved the love
you felt for those gardens
and I would grant you

the always steadying
presence of seeds.
I bring to that trouble

between us a bell that might
blur into air. I bring the woods
and a sense of what lives there.

Like you, I turn to sunlight for
answers. Like you, I am
not sure where it has gone.

from Mesongs, by Kamau Brathwaite

XXIV
for Barbara at Devizes

And suddenly you was talking trees
fall black with birds behind the hill
and green as grass fly off
into the sun o blinding girl
the whole cathedral crash at your back

XXV

Not the blue the orthodoxy of the day
But a blue like intuition
The soft of the night into morning
Felt here . remembered
Under the hoofs of the cart

La Pelona as Birdwoman [excerpt], by Rigoberto González

Tonight
I dared to crawl
beneath the sheets

to be nailed down
around me,
waiting for my lover, she

who enters
without knocking, she
who will unstitch

my every seam
along my thigh,
my side, my armpit.

She who carves
a heart out of the heart
and drops it

down her throat.
Sweet surrender this
slow death in sleep

as I dream
the love-making
is autopsy. How else

will I be hers
completely? Be her
treasure box I said:

a trove of pearls
and stones, the ding
of coins cascading

through her fingers.
The bird over her shoulder
not a parrot, but an owl

to be my mirror
when I close my eyes
and shape a moon-white

bowl out of my face
where she can wash
the hooks of her caress.

Miz Rosa Rides The Bus, by Angela Jackson

That day in December I sat down
by Miss Muffet of Montgomery.
I was myriad-weary. Feets swole
from sewing seams on a filthy fabric;
tired-sore a pedalin’ the rusty Singer;

dingy cotton thread jammed in the eye.
All lifelong I’d slide through century-reams
loathsome with tears. Dreaming my own
silk-self.

It was not like they all say. Miss Liberty Muffet
she didn’t
jump at the sight of me.
Not exactly.
They hauled me
away—a thousand kicking legs pinned down.

The rest of me I tell you—a cloud.
Beautiful trouble on the dead December
horizon. Come to sit in judgment.

How many miles as the Jim Crow flies?
Over oceans and some. I rumbled.
They couldn’t hold me down. Long.
No.

My feets were tired. My eyes were
sore. My heart was raw from hemming
dirty edges of Miss L. Muffet’s garment.
I rode again.

A thousand bloody miles after the Crow flies
that day in December long remembered when I sat down
beside Miss Muffet of Montgomery.
I said—like the joke say—What’s in the bowl, Thief?
I said—That’s your curse.
I said—This my way.
She slipped her frock, disembarked,
settled in the suburbs, deaf, mute, lewd, and blind.
The bowl she left behind. The empty bowl mine.
The spoiled dress.

Jim Crow dies and ravens come with crumbs.
They say—Eat and be satisfied.
I fast and pray and ride.

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.

One Day, by Joseph Millar

Everything shimmers
with the sound of the train
rattling over the bridge
especially the ears and nostrils and teeth
of the horse riding out
to the pasture of death
where the long train runs
on diesel fuel
that used to run on coal.
I keep listening
for the crickets and birds
and my words fall down below.

I mistook the train for a thunder storm,
I mistook the willow tree
for a home, it’s nothing to brag about
when you think of it
spending this time all alone.
I wandered into the hay field
and two ticks jumped in my hair
they dug in my scalp
and drank up my blood
like the sweet wine of Virginia,
then left me under the Druid moon
down here on earth in the kingdom.

Rocket Fantastic [excerpt], by Gabrielle Calvocoressi

He’s really beautiful. When he’s standing in the trees like that and thinks nobody sees him. He’s like a stag. Which sounds silly but he is. The way the light shines on him. The way it bounces off his hair like spray from the sprinkler. And he doesn’t know it right then. Because he’s looking somewhere else. Maybe up at a bird. I was standing a few feet away and turned back because I heard him whistling when he thought I wasn’t listening. He wasn’t thinking of me. He was looking at a bird who was sitting in the tree and looking back at him. If his shirt was off he’d have been dappled golden in the sun coming through the leaves. He didn’t notice me watching him without his shirt on. He was standing in the forest and the sun was coming through the trees and covering him so he glowed. I knew he’d be warm if I walked up and touched him. And probably not mad. He’s like something in a movie or like a book we’d read in summer by the pool. He didn’t see me looking because he was so peaceful staring at the bird.

Animal Graves, by Chase Twichell

The mower flipped it belly up,
a baby garter less than a foot long,
dull green with a single sharp

stripe of pale manila down its back,
same color as the underside
which was cut in two places,

a loop of intestine poking out.

It wouldn’t live,
so I ran the blades over it again,

and cut it again but didn’t kill it,

and again and then again,
a cloud of two-cycle fuel smoke
on me like a swarm of bees.

It took so long
my mind had time to spiral
back to the graveyard

I tended as a child
for the dead ones, wild and tame:
fish from the bubbling green aquarium,

squirrels from the road,
the bluejay stalked to a raucous death
by Cicero the patient, the tireless hunter,

who himself was laid to rest
one August afternoon
under a rock painted gray, his color,

with a white splash for his white splash.

Once in the woods I found the skeleton
of a deer laid out like a diagram,

long spine curved like a necklace of crude, ochre spools
with the string rotted away,

and the dull metal shaft of the arrow
lying where it must have pierced

not the heart, not the head,
but the underbelly, the soft part
where the sex once was.

I carried home the skull
with its nubs of not-yet-horns
which the mice had overlooked,

and set it on a rock
in my kingdom of the dead.

Before I chopped the little snake
to bits of raw mosaic,

it drew itself
into an upward-straining coil,
head weaving, mouth open,

hissing at the noise that hurt it.

The stripe was made
of tiny paper diamonds,
sharp-edged but insubstantial,

like an x-ray of the spine
or the ghost beginning to pull away.

What taught the snake to make itself
seem bigger than it was,
to spend those last few seconds

dancing in the roar
and shadow of its death?

Now I see, though none exists,
its grave:

harebells withered in a jar,
a yellow spiral
painted on a green-black stone,

a ring of upright pine cones for a fence.
That’s how the deer skull lay in state

until one of the neighborhood dogs
came to claim it,

and carried it off to bury
in the larger graveyard of the world.

After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard, by Charles Wright

East of me, west of me, full summer.
How deeper than elsewhere the dusk is in your own yard.
Birds fly back and forth across the lawn
looking for home
As night drifts up like a little boat.

Day after day, I become of less use to myself.
Like this mockingbird,
I flit from one thing to the next.
What do I have to look forward to at fifty-four?
Tomorrow is dark.
Day-after-tomorrow is darker still.

The sky dogs are whimpering.
Fireflies are dragging the hush of evening
up from the damp grass.
Into the world’s tumult, into the chaos of every day,
Go quietly, quietly.

[I’m not with my], by Joshua Beckman

I’m not with my blue toes or my doggies
nor am I under any arched roof rotting blossoms
in my drain, sunlight pouncing upon me,
nor am I fixed like a tree, nor am I unfixed
like a wind. I ate an apple, that’s fine
and after Anthony left I got a whiskey.
I stared a bit like a shadow at a book,
a fold in my shirt showed a monk’s bowing head
in a column of dusty light, but I just basically
used it to cover up my arm which was prickling
now because of some awful thing within me.
Big nasty sun making me feel old and then
this lovely gold bird flew up to my lunch.
An actual family of little white turnips
rolling over in the boiling pot like some
clouds is how I act. A great blue sky for a bed
and that beauty make me happy again.

Mysteries of Afternoon and Evening, by Rachel Sherwood

The wind is fitful now:
soot piles in the corners
of new buildings,
gulls stumble out of place
in ragged branches
to skim against a rise
of pond water.

The children watch, breathless
with the birds.
They feel an emanation
from this shuddering place.

This winter evening
the sky cracks with cardinal color
and we sit in cooing wonder
like dwarves at the Venetian court
must have done —
amazed at Tiepolo’s sunshot ceilings;
like us, they were fickle,
aware of smaller inconstancy.
But the dazzle above, enclosing
seems fit or made for this
fragment of belief.

Sapphic Fragment, by Eliza Griswold

I never longed for my virginity.
I heard it on the radio after the hurricane.

There, in the aftermath, was the voice of a man—
once the sweet, screwed-up boy whose hooded,

jessed spirit I tried to possess with the ruthlessness
I mistook for power. Here he was on NPR,

so gentle, so familiar with devastation,
his timbre woke the teenage falconer in me

who once saw his kindness as weakness,
saw a boy as an unfledged goshawk—

a creature to trap and be trapped with
in darkened mews. I knew the rules:

neither of us could sleep until the molting bird
grew ravenous enough to take the raw mouse

from my hand. Breaking the falcon
broke us both, left us scared

and less aware of love than fear.

What’s Left (Al-Mutanabbi Street), by Katrina Roberts

Tracery

Not nostalgia but the bluer salt of longing, not sentiment but the smutted sky raining bitter sediment, not our winding blunder down into that wound, not the ash-riddled grotto nor the blood-orange blown-open

Not the mineral rash’s voice dubbed across the final unspooling reel, not that, whatever promise the book held, not what she said or he did or they might next, not that, nor a flitter of birds, hands—lifting a cup, flipping a page, tucking a strand, nor the ear, behind which, filling with each sweet rising note or tinkling descent

Not the delicacy of a single wish, nor the now-cracked face of a once-ticking, once-pocketed watch
Stitch

No filament long enough

No longer meshing, days before and those after, teeth of a zipper left to gape

An idling car, a parked pick-up, who hides in plain light who hides and why, cloaked in a troubled forest of unsayable tint

And which human desire does this resemble, which cosseting vest to cross the heart, which chilled sweat, which strait-jacketed vestment, which surely-numbing drone between temples
Resist

Faith in what

No walls, no shelves

No end to the well’s filling, the far-away sea’s waxy surge in a hole dug by anyone no matter, a relentless urge to pick the itch, the ooze, the scab, the meniscus of every hour finally spilling over, over, over

Nothing
But sound, but imprinted air
No end to the fraught tingle of phantom-limbs forever-after-not-but-there
Scar

Splinters the alley’s new stuttering currency, pocked, crumbling, indiscriminate coinage of returning light, triage of needling memory, a narrow strait to navigate, some beast, uneasy passage of meat into pure spirit, and every anguished ether-shard hive-swarming then hushed

Not silent but charged: listen

Every letter, accounted for but in a different more urgent order

Let Birds, by Linda Gregg

Eight deer on the slope
in the summer morning mist.
The night sky blue.
Me like a mare let out to pasture.
The Tao does not console me.
I was given the Way
in the milk of childhood.
Breathing it waking and sleeping.
But now there is no amazing smell
of sperm on my thighs,
no spreading it on my stomach
to show pleasure.
I will never give up longing.
I will let my hair stay long.
The rain proclaims these trees,
the trees tell of the sun.
Let birds, let birds.
Let leaf be passion.
Let jaw, let teeth, let tongue be
between us. Let joy.
Let entering. Let rage and calm join.
Let quail come.
Let winter impress you. Let spring.
Allow the ocean to wake in you.
Let the mare in the field
in the summer morning mist
make you whinny. Make you come
to the fence and whinny. Let birds.

Acts of Mind, by Catherine Barnett

What’s funny about this place
is us regulars coming in with our different
accoutrements, mine usually the little void
of space I call honey, days
I can barely get through I’m laughing so hard,
see? In the back a woman squeezes oranges,
someone presses the fresh white bread
into communion wafers or party favors.
In the window the chickens rotate blissfully,
questioning nothing—
Sometimes I flirt with the cashier, just improvising,
the way birds land all in a hurry on the streetlamp across the street,
which stays warm even on cold nights.
Guillaume says humor is sadness
and he’s awfully pretty.
What do they put in this coffee? Men?
No wonder I get a little high. Remember
when we didn’t have sex on the ferris wheel,
oh that was a blast,
high, high above the Tuileries!


About this Poem:

For two months every summer, you can pay ten euros to be lifted and spun in a little cage of air, weightless above the world’s most romantic city. I did ride it once, with a friend, but I only overheard the story about a couple making love in one of the little cabooses swaying in the hot summer night wind. This poem is a celebration of solitude and desire and is suspended on the cable that connects the one to the many.”

Catherine Barnett

Could Have Danced All Night, by Dean Young

The wolf appointed to tear me apart
is sure making slow work of it.
This morning just one eye weeping,
a single chip out of my back and
the usual maniacal wooden bird flutes
in the brain. Listen to that feeble howl
like having fangs is something to regret,
like we shouldn’t give thanks for blood
thirst. Even my idiot neighbor backing out
without looking could do a better job,
even that leaning diseased tree or dream
of a palsied hand squeezing the throat but
we’ve been at this for years, lying exposed
on the couch in the fat of the afternoon,
staring down the moon among night blooms.
What good’s a reluctant wolf anyway?
The other wolves just get it drunk
then tie it to a post. Poor pup.
Here’s my hand. Bite.

A Situation for Mrs. Biswas, by Prageeta Sharma

When I received the call I was in a store in Missoula, Montana.

A store stocked with sparkling ephemera: glass fauna, tiny belfry bulbs,

winter white birch and stump-lamps brandishing light cones,

little shelves and branches hung with drops of ice and round silver baubles.

I loved the store: it was cavernous, dark with wood and burlap,

a ruddy brick loft with lithographs and monographs on birds or bracelets.

The store-owner, Fran, was away that day otherwise
I would have stayed in there a little longer.

She was a comforting friend—
she had impeccable taste, manifested in her put-together garments,
she also had a warming patient smile.

I didn’t stay long, I didn’t linger;
though linger is absolutely the wrong word,
more like I didn’t stumble around there for hours.

(I would stumble around in that store for a full year.)

If she had been behind the counter I would have turned to her in bewilderment.

~

You see I had picked up my ringing cell phone while browsing
(I usually keep it off in stores),

and my father said, there’s something I have to tell you.
I don’t want you to find out any other way. I am leaving my job.
They want me to resign.

Fran had met my father the week before—
he wanted to see downtown, the campus, get to know Montana—
he had done research on the education opportunities.

He was interested in outreach.

People all over met him and found him to be a kindhearted man.

I had set up meetings, he was here to meet educators, mathematicians—
more spirited people—I told him—than Bostonians.

I told him the West was a magical place. He agreed.

Later he would tell me that this was his last best day, a strange pun on the Last Best Place.

Little did we know we would have to fight a very public battle.

And apparently from the rumors and from the strange
treatment he received prior to his termination,
there was a plot in place.

We, as a family, felt the public ridicule.

And as an Asian family, we felt the acute Asian shame. It was a dark,
disastrous cloud hanging, hanging, hanging.

My father would be would be publicly shamed
and we were shocked at the racist narratives—
allegations—a greedy brown man—

mismanaging, mismanaging, mismanaging

One public interest story to release venom—
to tease out real feelings from strangers.

Blog comments were aggressive: the Indian was a con,
a snake-oil man.

You just have to give them a scenario
in which they can invest—in which to place those hard-to-place feelings.
White people bury their resentments beneath their liberalism.

We knew he hadn’t done anything wrong—we knew this was bogus.

Like I said, I was getting ready for the holidays,
I played hooky that Tuesday excited to wrap gifts;
I wanted to decorate the house.

This was my first house.
My husband was out looking at Christmas trees.
Albeit I am a Hindu, trees are an awful lot of fun.

And this planning was quickly thwarted with the difficult—
my family was falling apart—
the droop in my life felt permanent.

I was more than 2,000 miles from my father, but the way he spoke
at the moment of the call becalmed me—
I felt anchored to his side—
I will stay there for as long as it takes.

Before this moment I was in a terrific mood.

I wanted to don the table
with the kind of candles that beckoned, pulling you into an aesthetic presence
fully-fabricated and lit, and yet looked like it came from snow.

I had been in Missoula for many months,
I had come from Brooklyn, where I had lived for twelve years.
Now I was ready to escape.

Having been born and raised outside of Boston,
without the opportunities say someone like Robert Lowell had.

I knew I was not of that ilk nor was my father—we now realize.

Boston was indeed for the rich—with its stodgy colonial identity,
with its ridiculous Brahmans—
its oddly cultureless stance
even with Harvard as its mirror.
(Even with Cal as front & center literati.)

Even so, I was pleased, I was unhurried in my new life, I was, I was.
I could feel how I stood, I could feel the rising happiness—of the belly, not the gut.

I was consumed with the bliss of poetry,
so much poetry around me, everything with poetry.

I said and understood, the workshop will be my ideology,
my intentional community, front and center—with bells.

My family was overjoyed with the way our lives
were working together—

my father was comfortable, my mother pleased,
a professorship and presidential position
at a college, he was the first South-Asian president.

He had come to America with very little and now had something.

As you can see, there is an immigrant narrative here.

When he first arrived, he made very little money as a visiting professor so he worked
security at night at the Museum of Fine Arts. He kept thinking his colleague, Bruce,
was calling him bastard, when he was calling him buster.

It took him months to realize this. He first had to confront Bruce.

The sequence of his first major purchases and acquisitions, which took several months:

a suitcase and a rug, then he found a dentist’s chair for the living room.

He bought the Bob Dylan album that had “Blowing in the Wind,” because it really
sounded Hindu—it sounded like it came from the Rig Veda.

For many years I would say he was a model minority—he aspired to being
rewarded for his good work by white people.

We agreed, all was well— I had made my way to where I had wanted to be,
living a poet’s life and it felt extraordinary—
all of the birch-stump lamps lighting up inside, this was a kind of bliss.

I had arrived where I loved in absolute terms.

Where I could love the poetics of if, then & thou. The luminous…

And yet poetry haunts with its suggestion that terrible things are true and stick, as Rilke says:

I am much too small in this world, yet not small enough/to be to you just object
and thing/dark and smart.

~

The sun was hidden behind the darkest cloud.

I said what is happening to my father?

In response, my husband’s back gave out,
he could not walk without whimpering, there was whimpering in the night

and I wasn’t sure which one of us it was.

What was happening to my ableness?

We had failure, heaps of failure in our hands.

The world had recast itself in such a way that I had to address the power behind it.

I kept saying strange things to people like no one is exempt from suffering.
I felt like a tiny bird with sinking feet.

There are assertions about difference
That I had not wanted to make in the past, but now did.

Where was I? Who was I?

My father was told he had to watch his back
and then they took everything away from him.

To take away his dignity with so many untruths. Do I have to watch my back too?

What did I think I could have? I wasn’t even sure if I had it here.
People hadn’t seen me as me, I started to feel it. Those glass birds

and the birch lamps were a kind of privilege
only others could have—not “others” in the sense in which I was other.

I started to see how money worked the room: when we had it, when we didn’t.

Imagine, we were so close
to the soaring sky, and imagine how we fell.
How we knew falling wouldn’t end us,

fall right here, fall right there, cry out, oh blustering self,
it can’t be as bad as you think.

I said let’s remember how to do it so it won’t hurt
this time or the next.

But I had to say the branches extended their arms,
there was a house attached to them—

we found ourselves languishing, then needing
to rebuild.

It was the turning of the year and then another one.

And the showy, extravagant people capped themselves
on the tops of mountain ash—

we came out to clear them away.

Birds in the Night, by Luis Cernuda

The French—or was it the English?—government placed a plaque
On that house at 8 Great College Street, Camden Town, London,
Where in a room Rimbaud and Verlaine, a peculiar couple,
Lived, drank, worked, and fornicated
For a few brief stormy weeks.
No doubt the ambassador and the mayor attended the dedication,
All the same people who were enemies of Rimbaud and Verlaine when they lived.

The house is sad and poor, like the neighborhood,
With the sordid sadness that goes with poverty,
Not the funereal sadness of spiritless wealth.
When night comes down, as in their time,
Over that sidewalk, with its damp gray air, a hand organ
Plays, and the neighbors, on their way home from work,
The young ones dance, the rest take to the pub.

Brief was the singular friendship of Verlaine the drunk
And Rimbaud the tramp, quarreling constantly.
But we can think that maybe it was
A good time for the two, at least if each remembered
That they left behind an intolerable mother and a boring wife.
But freedom is not of this world, and the freed,
Having broken with everything, had a high price to pay.

Yes, they were there, the plaque says so, behind the wall,
Prisoners of their fate: the impossible friendship, the bitterness
Of separation, and then the scandal; and for this one
The trial, and two years in jail, thanks to his habits
Condemned by society and law, at least up to now; for that one on his own
To wander from one corner of the earth to the other,
Escaping to our world and its celebrated progress.

The silence of one and the talkative banality of the other
Made for a kind of balance. Rimbaud rejected the hand that Oppressed
His life; Verlaine kisses it, accepting his punishment.
One drags in his belt the gold he’s gained; the other
Wastes it on absinthe and whores. But both
Outside the law forever, beyond the respectable people
Whose meaningless work makes them rich and successful.

Then even the black prostitute had the right to insult them;
Today, as time has passed, as it does in the world,
Their lives on the edge of everything, sodomy, drunkenness, vicious verses,
No longer matter, and France makes use of both their names and their works
For the greater glory of France and its logical art.
Their acts and their comings and goings are studied, giving the public
Intimate tidbits about their lives. No one is shocked now, nor protests.

“Verlaine? Go on, my friend, a satyr, a regular lech
When it comes to women; a perfectly normal fellow,
Like you and I. Rimbaud? A devout Catholic, as it’s been proved.”
And they recite hunks of the “Drunken Boat” and the Sonnet to the “Vowels.”
But of Verlaine they recite nothing, because he’s not in vogue
Like the other, of whom they bring out phony texts in fancy editions;
Young poets, in every country, talk about him nonstop in their provinces.

Can the dead hear what the living are saying about them?
Let’s hope not: that endless silence must be a relief
For those who lived and died by the word,
Like Rimbaud and Verlaine. But the silence there is no escape
From this repugnant laudatory farce. There was a time one of them wished
That humanity had a single head, so it could be chopped off.
Maybe he was exaggerating: if it were just a cockroach, and be crushed.

 

Let’s Get Out of Here, by Corey Zeller

The river is a fish
and my tongue
is white paper
you draw
your hand on
and the sounds
keys make
on the waist
of a janitor
in an empty building
on the night of your birth
when the moon was
a live bird pinned
to a girl’s chest
and the color
of a beat-up door
that hides a paint chipped
life where we lick the throats
of passing trains
and wear bright pills
over our faces
like ghost masks
and move the tiny ghosts
that live in us
like dominos.