Quincenañera, by Judith Ortiz Cofer

My dolls have been put away like dead
children in a chest I will carry
with me when I marry.
I reach under my skirt to feel
a satin slip bought for this day. It is soft
as the inside of my thighs. My hair
has been nailed back with my mother’s
black hairpins to my skull. Her hands
stretched my eyes open as she twisted
braids into a tight circle at the nape
of my neck. I am to wash my own clothes
and sheets from this day on, as if
the fluids of my body were poison, as if
the little trickle of blood I believe
travels from my heart to the world were
shameful. Is not the blood of saints and
men in battle beautiful? Do Christ’s hands
not bleed into your eyes from His cross?
At night I hear myself growing and wake
to find my hands drifting of their own will
to soothe skin stretched tight
over my bones,
I am wound like the guts of a clock,
waiting for each hour to release me.

Stairway to Heaven, by Alison Hawthorne Deming

The queen grows fat beneath my house
while drones infest the walls

reconnaissance to feed her glut,
wood ripped from studs and joists.

I’ll pay to drill the slab and ruin
her pestilential nest. How to find

the song in this day’s summons?
I’ve been accused of darkness

by my inner light. My brother sits
in the chemo chair another long day

of toxic infusion, the house of his body—
bones, brain and balls gone skeltering.

I sit in my parked car listening
to Robert Plant recall how the English

envied the Americans for getting
the blues, getting all of it, into song.

I remember the dream where
brother and sister, adult and equal,

lean and white as lilies, as bare,
dove into a mountain lake, black water,

high elevation, fir trees growing
in flood water that had joined

two lakes into one. Do you ever dream
of animals, I ask him, hospice bed

looking out on a plywood squirrel
perched on cement block wall.

Frequently. A lilt of surprising joy. What kind?
Mostly the jungle animals. Then: I’m going

to do my exercises now. What exercises?
I like pacing, he said, immobilized

upon his death nest of nine pillows.
Then he closed his eyes to become the inward one

whose only work was to wear a pathway
back and forth within his enclosure.

Learning to swim, by Bob Hicok

At forty-eight, to be given water,
which is most of the world, given life
in water, which is most of me, given ease,

which is most of what I lack, here, where walls
don’t part to my hands, is to be born
as of three weeks ago. Taking nothing

from you, mother, or you, sky, or you,
mountain, that you wouldn’t take
if offered by the sea, any sea, or river,

any river, or the pool, beside which
a woman sits who would save me
if I needed saving, in a red suit, as if flame

is the color of emergency, as I do,
need saving, from solid things,
most of all, their dissolve.

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.

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.

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.