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.

A Happy Birthday, by Ted Kooser

This evening, I sat by an open window
and read till the light was gone and the book
was no more than a part of the darkness.
I could easily have switched on a lamp,
but I wanted to ride this day down into night,
to sit alone and smooth the unreadable page
with the pale gray ghost of my hand.

Layabout, by John Brehm

Do nothing and everything will be done,
that’s what Mr. Lao Tzu said, who walked
around talking 2,500 years ago and

now his books practically grow on trees
they’re so popular and if he were
alive today beautiful women would

rush up to him like waves lapping
at the shores of his wisdom.
That’s the way it is, I guess: humbling.

But if I could just unclench my fists,
empty out my eyes, turn my mind into
a prayer flag for the wind to play with,

we could be brothers, him the older one
who’s seen and not done it all and me
still unlearning, both of us slung low

in our hammocks, our hats tipped
forwards, hands folded neatly,
like bamboo huts, above our hearts.

Inspire Hope, by Amy Lawless

I am in a common despair. So in order for me to have hope, it is crucial to stack fifty pounds of books on the left-hand side of my bed. I cover him tightly with my warmest woolen blankets. This boyfriend is named Shiver. He is best left alone to his thoughts. But one night, I will accidentally roll into him. He’ll fall on me with such grace and with the acceleration of all of history.

Shawl, by Albert Goldbarth

Eight hours by bus, and night
was on them. He could see himself now
in the window, see his head there with the country
running through it like a long thought made of steel and wheat.
Darkness outside; darkness in the bus—as if the sea
were dark and the belly of the whale were dark to match it.
He was twenty: of course his eyes returned, repeatedly,
to the knee of the woman two rows up: positioned so
occasional headlights struck it into life.
But more reliable was the book; he was discovering himself
to be among the tribe that reads. Now his, the only
overhead turned on. Now nothing else existed:
only him, and the book, and the light thrown over his shoulders
as luxuriously as a cashmere shawl.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Practicing Vigilance, by Bianca Stone

Every day try and write down one terrible thing.
One terrible thing—I’m filled with them,
carry each one
like an organ locked in a Coleman cooler.

Add a little color for emphasis.

I say my father’s surname to a migration of crows.
His name like a figure jumping out of an aerodynamic object

through a burning hoop
into a glass of still water.

*

My history is comprised of the inappropriate.
I look into the mirror and see disturbed human qualities,

my face like grass in a summer essay
like a senator stepping into an empty room

to hate his speech,

the almost symmetrical science of it.

Trying to feel something.
Covering rented light with a curtain.

*

Today make nothing happen very slowly.

I can see through the atmosphere’s silk chemise

all the way to the faint constellation in the southern sky
and it’s making me want to shake my head

and ask a question
to the clairvoyant 8-Ball in my hands—ask

if we are among those left in a dark forest

with our flare guns pointed at the ground

or among those loved by our parents’ parents
on the paternal side we never see.

Hell If I know, the 8-Ball says
drunk in its dark blue alcohol.

*

Winter breathed out all language.
My father appeared
and began taking my hair
one follicle at a time.
He worked his way to the neural tissue
threw himself down
in a tantrum.
I listen attentively to the wind
and cannot compute this.
I sell my letter to the sentimentalists
leaving behind a trail of fuck you
crumbs the largest of birds cannot tear.

*

Despite the parables I keep close
I won’t be mythologized by my father
who moves like an incoherent, boozing breeze
through my life’s antechambers.
I won’t admire the west vestibule of the Frick with him
not with this roast on a spit in my chest
the mind like a database of rage-expressions
the mind like a bottle of loose glitter—

so shadowy, my people, you begin
to see the blueprints in all things
until you can’t hold a book without
blowing on it to see if it will scatter
or laying on a bed, waiting to fall through
into the particle-laden apartment below—
to each his own until it ruins pleasure.

*

Where is the rain
when I am feeling this
reckless?

I went to a doctor and she said
There’s a little you in there who feels
hideous—

the little me fell
like a grand piano into my lap

*

Visualize a knock-knock joke with yourself
in a white noise somewhere
on the Upper West Side
a box of Kleenex in your hand.

memory swam through the grotesque
with its spoon paddle.

My dreams always fell flat.

The doctor said:
Start with finding out where your hands go
when you say your father’s name.

*

I say his name and I can see him.
He squats in the corner computing Zeno’s paradox.
He fills another glass and pukes,

starts in again about the illusion of motion—

If I’m coming toward you on the street
I will never reach you, he raves.
I’ll go half way and there will be another half and another half and another half.

He stands in infinite points on the distance
assuring with his ancient terrible glee
that I am going to go out and get a drink with him.

Deep within some cell
the nucleus grows unstable

*

I used to put a miniature rosebush
in the ground each year
to counteract my squalor.
Don’t tell me that definition of madness,
doing the same thing over again etcetera.
The definition of madness
is a certain enthusiasm, then there has
to be another person there
to not share in it—who is oppressed by it
who can only stare into it.
Tell it to the bluebird rustling over my head.
Tell it to a satellite orbiting in its delusion of being a moon.

I’m coaxing the black bull out of my mouth
with a red flag and a beer. I’m constructing
out of my faulty genes,
my last sentence, my last thing
which addresses the dilemma obliquely:

we will perceive our own pain in others.
And we will know if we are capable of loving them.

[A black God touched me today…], by Jon Leon

A black God touched me today and I knew I was a poet. When I produce
poetry I am responding to a God who touched me in a perverse way. The
state of my text is an act of worship to a black female God that told me to
worship capital. From a business perspective my poetics is about
marketing a God who fondles with my white self. This is what makes my
poetry so friendly to the void in the world. I marketed a God who exploits
me to bring her message of panic to the poetry sector. I was watching a
Kenneth Anger film when a large aphrodisiac God converged on me and
told me to create a poem that pleases her. The results of her visit are
collected in books called Hit Wave and Right Now the Music and the Life
Rule. The text in these books is to give the audience hope for life today
because a black female God told me to.

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.

Clonazepam, by Donald Dunbar

Finally, stability.
Finally, the fractal iteration of kings.
The legless herds lie still in the fields
and eventually the fences crumble
and the wilderness returns.

Like cinnamon coaxed back out of the tongue,
this book is a formalist approach for a kiss.
Or vice versa.

Like a kiss
is oblivious, they don’t know their homestead is meat;
is meat in an age of eternal iteration.

Finally I have met you
in this video of cyborgs making out, making out
with androids in the comments below.

Insomnia, by Alicia Suskin Ostriker

But it’s really fear you want to talk about
and cannot find the words
so you jeer at yourself

you call yourself a coward
you wake at 2 a.m. thinking failure,
fool, unable to sleep, unable to sleep

buzzing away on your mattress with two pillows
and a quilt, they call them comforters,
which implies that comfort can be bought

and paid for, to help with the fear, the failure
your two walnut chests of drawers snicker, the bookshelves mourn
the art on the walls pities you, the man himself beside you

asleep smelling like mushrooms and moss is a comfort
but never enough, never, the ceiling fixture lightless
velvet drapes hiding the window

traffic noise like a vicious animal
on the loose somewhere out there—
you brag to friends you won’t mind death only dying

what a liar you are—
all the other fears, of rejection, of physical pain,
of losing your mind, of losing your eyes,

they are all part of this!
Pawprints of this! Hair snarls in your comb
this glowing clock the single light in the room

Poem for Adlai Stevenson and Yellow Jackets, by David Young

It’s summer, 1956, in Maine, a camp resort
on Belgrade Lakes, and I am cleaning fish,
part of my job, along with luggage, firewood,
Sunday ice cream, waking everyone
by jogging around the island every morning
swinging a rattle I hold in front of me
to break the nightly spider threads.
Adlai Stevenson is being nominated,
but won’t, again, beat Eisenhower,
sad fact I’m half aware of, steeped as I am
in Russian novels, bathing in the tea-
brown lake, startling a deer and chasing it by canoe
as it swims from the island to the mainland.
I’m good at cleaning fish: lake trout,
those beautiful deep swimmers, brown trout,
I can fillet them and take them to the cook
and the grateful fisherman may send a piece
back from his table to mine, a salute.
I clean in a swarm of yellow jackets,
sure they won’t sting me, so they don’t,
though they can’t resist the fish, the slime,
the guts that drop into the bucket, they’re mad
for meat, fresh death, they swarm around
whenever I work at this outdoor sink
with somebody’s loving catch.
Later this summer we’ll find their nest
and burn it one night with a blowtorch
applied to the entrance, the paper hotel
glowing with fire and smoke like a lantern,
full of the death-bees, hornets, whatever they are,
that drop like little coals
and an oily smoke that rolls through the trees
into the night of the last American summer
next to this one, 36 years away, to show me
time is a pomegranate, many-chambered,
nothing like what I thought.

The Land of Story-books, by Robert Louis Stevenson

At evening when the lamp is lit,
Around the fire my parents sit;
They sit at home and talk and sing,
And do not play at anything.

Now, with my little gun, I crawl
All in the dark along the wall,
And follow round the forest track
Away behind the sofa back.

There, in the night, where none can spy,
All in my hunter’s camp I lie,
And play at books that I have read
Till it is time to go to bed.

These are the hills, these are the woods,
These are my starry solitudes;
And there the river by whose brink
The roaring lions come to drink.

I see the others far away
As if in firelit camp they lay,
And I, like to an Indian scout,
Around their party prowled about.

So, when my nurse comes in for me,
Home I return across the sea,
And go to bed with backward looks
At my dear land of Story-books.

Poetry Anonymous, by Prageeta Sharma

Do not fall in love with a poet
they are no more honest than a stockbroker.

(Do you have a stockbroker? If you do,
your poet is with you because you have one.)

If you think that they are more sensitive because they care about language
pay attention to how they use language.
Are you included? Are you the “you”?

Or are you a suggestion?
Are you partially included as a suggestion?

Are you partially excluded because you are a concept
in some jewel-like nouns, almost throwaway,
yet a perfect resemblance?

How does narcissism
assist you, who is also the object of desire?
Do you become the tour-de-force?

Consider that poem’s vagueness doesn’t account for your complexity
and the epithets don’t suffice, you are not “one who is a horse-drawn carriage”
nor are you a “sparrow with hatchet.”

Perhaps they quote Mallarme when taking you to bed,
carefully confusing you with their charm and faux-chastity.

All this before voracious body-pressing.
The lovemaking is confusing until, you remember, they said something:

thus spake the dreamboat, your poet, alarmingly announces during climax:

I spend my fires with the slender rank of prelate

and then fierce withdrawal with a rush of perseverance to flee.

You are mistaken if language furthers your devotion.
You are a fallen person now.
They care more about “you” than for you (you, the real person you).

Line after line, a private, unmediated act done to you with confusing abandon,
flailing in its substance, however deceptive.

It will enhance your own directionlessness,
you will be harmed.

You cannot mediate it with caress.

Do you think because they understand what meaning looks like,
they have more meaning than others?
They are the protectors of feeling, mere protectors: earnest?
No. They are protectors of the flawed,
filling zones of bereftness.
The aftermath of pleasure. A contested zone for all.

What about the lawyer who loves the law?
Isn’t he just a poet with a larger book—
the way they protect and subject language
to sense-making?

A kind of cognitive patternization.

Ultimately, both undertake the hijacking of language,
they won’t love you the way
you are; it’s in this inability to love—
unless you embody the poem—
you embody the law and its turn of phrase.
Unless you see the poet clearly: loving utterance,
an unadulterated utterance—seized and insular.

You must entice with otherness.
You must catch the poem as a muse does.
You must muse and muse and muse.

In thralldom to encounters that stand in for sexual ones,
we terrorize with sense-making,

it stands in for intimacy.

It stands in and suggests that all other kinds of feelings
and declarations yield to it.

It will move you if you ask for permission
to exist within its confines,
and you move the poet toward you and you hold the poet’s head,
wrapping your arms around it
strapped in your wordless hold, but soon words do come

and in the trailing off of speech, you will be permanently lost.

Canzone Delle Preposizioni, by Caroline Knox

I packed up the books: Under
Milk Wood, Of
Mice and Men, Under
the Window, Under
the Volcano, Up
from Slavery, The Thunder-
ing Herd, Under
the Greenwood Tree, The Over-
Coat, The Changing Light at Sandover,
Under-
world, Out
of Africa, Paris Trout;

and I went over
to the Under-
woods’ house over
on River Road. Over-
head the blackness of
clouds out-
paced a fleeing sun. Out
and up
the clouds rolled, roiled up,
wrung out
in horrendous rain over
and over.

I had agreed over
coffee one day to farm out
lots of books people were giving over
to the library book sale over
at the high school. Under
the agreement, volunteers took books over
to the Underwoods’ over
spring break. I was up
for this, and signed up.
Over
I drove, up
the Cross Road, and turned up

River Road. I walked up
the Underwoods’ driveway and over
the lawn. The voice of Dawn Up-
shaw drifted up
from a CD player, and out
on the screen porch was John Up-
dike’s new book of essays, next to the Up-
anishads. Under
the lilacs, under
the clematis, climbing up
trellises of
lath, of

ironwork, of
wicker, blossoms hardly held up
their heads. Of
course, of
course; but the storm that had crushed them was over.
Pools of
water, of
mud were all around. The Underwoods’ cookout
was a washout,
but the sun of
a glowing afternoon under-
cut the thunder.

The Under-
woods took all the discarded books out
of the trunk of my car, and then dove them (with lots of other books) over
to the high school, where these books were put up
for sale for the benefit of the Westport Free Public Library, a generous act
which the Underwoods should be proud of.

Two Nudes, by Mary Jo Bang

I was working in a bookstore and as an antidote to the twin torment of exhaustion and boredom, one day I went with a friend on a walking tour. We made it as far as Berlin and there I met the man I would move with to a boarding house, then to furnished rooms in the flat of a civil servant, and from there one morning in January to the Registry to be married. Afterward we moved to a studio apartment and two years later to the school where boys returning from the war would remove their collars and sew them back on with red thread to demonstrate the end of their allegiance to the cruel and fastidious past. Everyone wanted to be launched into a place from which you could look back and ask whether the red was also meant to enact spilled blood. You could say so, but only if you want to insist that history’s minutia is best read as allegory. The fact is, history didn’t exist then. Each day was a twenty-four hour stand-still on a bridge from which we discretely looked into the distance, hoping to catch sight of the future. It’s near where you’re standing now. One day we were lying in the sun dressed in nothing but our skin when a camera came by and devoured us.

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

 

End Words, by Randall Mann

in memory of Reetika Vazirani (1962-2003) and Rachel Wetzsteon (1967-2009)

Sewanee, Tennessee.
Summer of ‘96, I went there for
booze and poetry and rest.
I danced a little dance;
I talked a little shop.
I forgot a recent ghost.

“Invitation to a Ghost”
was my favorite poem in Tennessee.
And Justice taught my workshop.
(God love him, he called me decadent for
ending a line with an anapest.) At the dance
party with Allison and the rest

of the poets from Rebel’s Rest,
ambition was the ghost
unseen, but always in attendance.
And I misplaced my faith in Tennessee,
upon a hill: I gave an undergrad what-for
after priming him with lines of Bishop.

Gossip is another word for talking shop.
But Rachel, sharper than the rest,
winner of things I hoped for,
was above all that, like a charming host.
She spoke of posterity in Tennessee.
And every day felt like a dance

preparing us for a bigger dance.
In the bookstore, I pretended to shop
with Reetika, Rachel’s roommate in Tennessee,
wicked-funny and stunning and rest-
less. We flirted like we stood a ghost
of a chance. I was twenty-four.

I wonder now what it’s all been for:
that summer; the words; the awful dance
that followed. So many ghosts.
Let the muses close the horror shop.
Let Rachel and Reetika rest.
—Years ago, there was Tennessee.

Getting Close, by Victoria Redel

Because my mother loved pocketbooks
I come alive at the opening click or close of a metal clasp.

And sometimes, unexpectedly, a faux crocodile handle makes me weep.

Breathy clearing of throat, a smooth arm, heels on pavement, she lingers, sound tattoos.

I go to the thrift store to feel for bobby pins caught in the pocket seam
of a camel hair coat.

I hinge a satin handbag in the crease of my arm. I buy a little change purse with its
curled and fitted snap.

My mother bought this for me. This was my mother’s.

I buy and then I buy and then, another day, I buy something else.

In Paris she had a dog, Bijou, and when they fled Paris in 1942 they left the dog behind.

When my mother died on February 9, 1983, she left me.

Now, thirty years later and I am exactly her age.

I tell my husband I will probably die by the end of today and all day he says, Are you
getting close, Sweetheart? And late in the afternoon, he asks if he should buy enough filet
of sole for two.

From a blue velvet clutch I take out a mirror and behold my lips in the small rectangle.

Put on something nice. Let him splurge and take you out for dinner, my mother whispers
on the glass.

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.

In Portraits in Seasons, by Danielle Pafunda

As a feral thing would. As a dead leaf
whose crunch she herself hears, whose

buggy interior floods the sidewalk. Beamy
the world, yet a blank all the same.

Where you’ve tucked your pen into your notes,
I tuck my fingernail, burned and cursed and

shut tight my eyes. I tuck my feet up like a girl.
In this corner, warm milk fall of light something

far from revealing its bone-blank eyes, that is,
the eyes downcast in every portrait, shaded

the ribbon a bright blue furl across the gaze,
the peculiar mother, her arm around a naked toddler

the fall of light. Betrays nothing. The book in
hand, betrays. As a feral thing would,

I shred its binding and burn through it for warmth.

Drowsing over The Arabian Nights, by Thomas Kinsella

I nodded. The books agree,
one hopes for too much.
It is ridiculous.
We are elaborate beasts.

If we concur it is only
in our hunger: the soiled gullet.
And sleep’s airy nothing.
And the moist matter of lust

—if the whole waste of women
could be gathered like one pit
under swarming Man,
then all might act together.

And the agonies of death,
as we enter our endless nights
quickly, one by one, fire
darting up to the roots of our hair.

Moths, by Caleb Klaces

A translator who has a phobia of moths
spent three years translating a book with a moth motif.
It’s ironic, she has said, that she knew more about the moths
than the author of the original, who was merely fascinated.
The translation contained a greater variety of moths than the original,
drawn from suggestions she had made, some of which were in fact
too perfect and changed back before it went to print.

Her moths, the ones that were too aptly named,
meant too much, her moths that she hated, where are they now?
The same place as all the versions of people
that have been undressed and slept with, in lieu of the people
themselves, by others. That must include a version
of almost everyone, lots of versions of some people,
some only a flutter, animated then decided against.

Days of Me, by Stuart Dischell

When people say they miss me,
I think how much I miss me too,
Me, the old me, the great me,
Lover of three women in one day,
Modest me, the best me, friend
To waiters and bartenders, hearty
Laugher and name rememberer,
Proud me, handsome and hirsute
In soccer shoes and shorts
On the ball fields behind MIT,
Strong me in a weightbelt at the gym,
Mutual sweat dripper in and out
Of the sauna, furtive observer
Of the coeducated and scantily clad,
Speedy me, cyclist of rivers,
Goose and peregrine falcon
Counter, all season venturer,
Chatterer-up of corner cops,
Groundskeepers, mothers with strollers,
Outwitter of panhandlers and bill
Collectors, avoider of levies, excises,
Me in a taxi in the rain,
Pressing my luck all the way home.

That’s me at the dice table, baby,
Betting come, little Joe, and yo,
Blowing the coals, laying thunder,
My foot on top a fifty dollar chip
Some drunk spilled on the floor,
Dishonest me, evener of scores,
Eager accepter of the extra change,
Hotel towel pilferer, coffee spoon
Lifter, fervent retailer of others’
Humor, blackhearted gossiper,
Poisoner at the well, dweller
In unsavory detail, delighted sayer
Of the vulgar, off course belier
Of the true me, empiric builder
Newly haircutted, stickerer-up
For pals, jam unpriser, medic
To the self-inflicted, attorney
To the self-indicted, petty accountant
And keeper of the double books,
Great divider of the universe
And all its forms of existence
Into its relationship to me,
Fellow trembler to the future,
Thin air gawker, apprehender
Of the frameless door.

How Do I Know When a Poem Is Finished?, by Naomi Shihab Nye

When you quietly close
the door to a room
the room is not finished.

It is resting. Temporarily.
Glad to be without you
for a while.

Now it has time to gather
its balls of gray dust,
to pitch them from corner to corner.

Now it seeps back into itself,
unruffled and proud.
Outlines grow firmer.

When you return,
you might move the stack of books,
freshen the water for the roses.

I think you could keep doing this
forever. But the blue chair looks best
with the red pillow. So you might as well

leave it that way.

To The One Upstairs, by Charles Simic

Boss of all bosses of the universe.
Mr. know-it-all, wheeler-dealer, wire-puller,
And whatever else you’re good at.
Go ahead, shuffle your zeros tonight.
Dip in ink the comets’ tails.
Staple the night with starlight.

You’d be better off reading coffee dregs,
Thumbing the pages of the Farmer’s Almanac.
But no! You love to put on airs,
And cultivate your famous serenity
While you sit behind your big desk
With zilch in your in-tray, zilch
In your out-tray,
And all of eternity spread around you.

Doesn’t it give you the creeps
To hear them begging you on their knees,
Sputtering endearments,
As if you were an inflatable, life-size doll?
Tell them to button up and go to bed.
Stop pretending you’re too busy to take notice.

Your hands are empty and so are your eyes.
There’s nothing to put your signature to,
Even if you knew your own name,
Or believed the ones I keep inventing,
As I scribble this note to you in the dark.

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.

Kissing Stieglitz Good-Bye, by Gerald Stern

Every city in America is approached
through a work of art, usually a bridge
but sometimes a road that curves underneath
or drops down from the sky. Pittsburgh has a tunnel—

you don’t know it—that takes you through the rivers
and under the burning hills. I went there to cry
in the woods or carry my heavy bicycle
through fire and flood. Some have little parks—

San Francisco has a park. Albuquerque
is beautiful from a distance; it is purple
at five in the evening. New York is Egyptian,
especially from the little rise on the hill

at 14-C; it has twelve entrances
like the body of Jesus, and Easton, where I lived,
has two small floating bridges in front of it
that brought me in and out. I said good-bye

to them both when I was 57. I’m reading
Joseph Wood Krutch again—the second time.
I love how he lived in the desert. I’m looking at the skull
of Georgia O’Keeffe. I’m kissing Stieglitz good-bye.

He was a city, Stieglitz was truly a city
in every sense of the word; he wore a library
across his chest; he had a church on his knees.
I’m kissing him good-bye; he was, for me,

the last true city; after him there were
only overpasses and shopping centers,
little enclaves here and there, a skyscraper
with nothing near it, maybe a meaningless turf

where whores couldn’t even walk, where nobody sits,
where nobody either lies or runs; either that
or some pure desert: a lizard under a boojum,
a flower sucking the water out of a rock.

What is the life of sadness worth, the bookstores
lost, the drugstores buried, a man with a stick
turning the bricks up, numbering the shards,
dream twenty-one, dream twenty-two. I left

with a glass of tears, a little artistic vial.
I put it in my leather pockets next
to my flask of Scotch, my golden knife and my keys,
my joyful poems and my T-shirts. Stieglitz is there

beside his famous number; there is smoke
and fire above his head; some bowlegged painter
is whispering in his ear; some lady-in-waiting
is taking down his words. I’m kissing Stieglitz

goodbye, my arms are wrapped around him, his photos
are making me cry; we’re walking down Fifth Avenue;
we’re looking for a pencil; there is a girl
standing against the wall—I’m shaking now

when I think of her; there are two buildings, one
is in blackness, there is a dying poplar;
there is a light on the meadow; there is a man
on a sagging porch. I would have believed in everything.

valentine for Sally Hemings, by Sojourner Ahebee

there’s a dead jefferson in every black girl’s belly,
an unknown hunger for something stolen.
i found a poem in these parts, in the belly of a black girl.

i was told to look in the garage,
into the person i almost liked,
at the bottom of an odd blue sock buried
in my dresser drawer:
the hiding places of my life.

oh, but if you only knew
the way I wanted to love the dead president,
rescue him from the depths of a stomach,
feed him the warm soil from a Virginia plantation,
feed him pages from my history books,
heavy with lies.

but then i heard Sally scream,
and wondered what she’d think of me,
i heard Sally scream
and wondered what all the black girls
with bloated bellies would think of me
in my confusion:
the way i mistaked his breath, smelling of lavender and france,
for liberty,
when this scent was made of more potent stuff,
of silence,
of a black girl’s blood against white sheets.

i went looking for a poem
in the darkness,
a love poem for Sally,
an apology,
a revelation,
a dead man haunting the hallways
of a breaking girl.

Letter To A Future Lover, by Ander Monson

You were my birthday present; you came to the door—no one else was home, you said “let’s celebrate.” We dropped acid and went to the friend with the nocturnal monkey-like animal and made love for hours….

inscribed in Gary Snyder, Turtle Island (Casa de los Niños discard library)

Handwritten, it goes without saying, this inscription to an unnamed lover goes on for three pages before arriving at a final sorrow at the lover’s loss—”today we are with different lovers”—but no regrets. Was it ever sent? Ever read? One thing is sure: it was inscribed and meant. Such passion cannot be shrugged off until it can. I found the book in Casa de los Niños on Prince and Mountain, thrift shop stuffed with this stuff, the stuffing escaping the chewed-on animals packed in the discount bin. Pick six for a buck. Doll heads are free. They stare at your future, our future, maybe, lover, if we ever come together.

Dear future lover, every time it feels like forever when it’s new: bright colors, fabric softener, calliopes that were once terrifying softening into daylight as it fades. You know, your lovers surely number more than mine; that’s fine, but when I fall, it’s Ditch Witch hitting electric line, the whole world alive and lit in amperes for a moment. It might be gone again a nanosecond later, the body aching with or for or from the jolt; & perhaps it’s fever dream; & who cares where it comes from as long as it’s fast and seems like it might last until we’re rusting into dust? We are always dying for the future. Otherwise it couldn’t ever come. That it might split ever’s seams apart, that it might bring down the lights until forever’s in the mirror, and the book is given up for thrift: it doesn’t matter. Maybe this book was never sent. I can imagine that, an inscription toward the future. Maybe the lover’s dead. Maybe the lover’s lover’s dead. Maybe we all are like those who had their laughs recorded into tracks for television shows years before, who continue to laugh now a lifetime a lifeline a phone-a-friend later, disembodied, at jokes that are no longer funny. Perhaps they never were.

We are all in wires eventually, reduced to what we said, or didn’t say, and what we wrote or didn’t write, who we loved or didn’t love, or loved and lost and never told it except writing in or to a book. We are all discarded, discordant, confusingly, and so I salute your bravery, book inscriber. Your heart is big enough for both of us, so that there is no room for mockery in me. Anyone willing to strip themselves this bare this fast this way deserves our breathlessness and our hearts’ attention. Let us spend an hour, then longer, in contemplation. If you open, open all the way, or as much as you can bear, or else there’s nothing here at all.

The inscription goes on to quote from Duras’s The Lover, then “I cried when I was with you this time more than twenty years later…it was the reason for life and yet I knew it would end.”

A codex is a door, future lover. You can put whatever through it for a reader you imagine coming to your words in a day, a decade, a daze of centuries, entries in a future book. Codices have histories. They are leafed, spined, embodied, read by future lovers I imagine in bodices in just this kind of light at night. The future is a mystery, lover, a memory. The scent of wisteria coming up from somewhere.

Or: a codex is a hole through which we might not communicate, but instead be transformed entirely, through which we might descend without notice or equipment and not want or be able to return.

[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.

Homage to Sharon Stone, by Lynn Emanuel

It’s early morning. This is the “before,”
the world hanging around in its wrapper,
blowzy, frumpy, doing nothing: my
neighbors, hitching themselves to the roles
of the unhappily married, trundle their three
mastiffs down the street. I am writing this
book of poems. My name is Lynn Emanuel.
I am wearing a bathrobe and curlers; from
my lips, a Marlboro drips ash on the text.
It is the third of September nineteen**.
And as I am writing this in my trifocals
and slippers, across the street, Sharon Stone,
her head swollen with curlers, her mouth
red and narrow as a dancing slipper,
is rushed into a black limo. And because
these limos snake up and down my street,
this book will be full of sleek cars nosing
through the shadowy ocean of these words.
Every morning, Sharon Stone, her head
in a helmet of hairdo, wearing a visor
of sunglasses, is engulfed by a limo
the size of a Pullman, and whole fleets
of these wind their way up and down
the street, day after day, giving to the street
(Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh, PA)
and the book I am writing, an aspect
that is both glamorous and funereal.
My name is Lynn Emanuel, and in this
book I play the part of someone writing
a book, and I take the role seriously,
just as Sharon Stone takes seriously
the role of the diva. I watch the dark
cars disappear her and in my poem
another Pontiac erupts like a big animal
at the cool trough of a shady curb. So,
when you see this black car, do not think
it is a Symbol For Something. It is just
Sharon Stone driving past the house
of Lynn Emanuel who is, at the time,
trying to write a book of poems.

Or you could think of the black car as
Lynn Emanuel, because, really, as an author,
I have always wanted to be a car, even
though most of the time I have to be
the “I,” or the woman hanging wash;
I am a woman, one minute, then I am a man,
I am a carnival of Lynn Emanuels:
Lynn in the red dress; Lynn sulking
behind the big nose of my erection;
then I am the train pulling into the station
when what I would really love to be is
Gertrude Stein spying on Sharon Stone
at six in the morning. But enough about
that, back to the interior decorating:
On the page, the town looks bald
and dim so I turn up the amps on
the radioactive glances of bad boys.
In a kitchen, I stack pans sleek with
grease, and on a counter there is a roast
beef red as a face in a tantrum. Amid all
this bland strangeness is Sharon Stone,
who, like an engraved invitation, is asking
me, Won’t you, too, play a role? I do not
choose the black limo rolling down the street
with the golden stare of my limo headlights
bringing with me the sun, the moon, and
Sharon Stone. It is nearly dawn; the sun
is a fox chewing her foot from the trap;
every bite is a wound and every wound
is a red window, a red door, a red road.
My name is Lynn Emanuel. I am the writer
trying to unwrite the world that is all around her.

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

Mr. Darcy, by Victoria Chang

Then we are in the back seat of a car kissing
not the light kind but one where our
hands are on each other’s cheeks holding
each other’s heads as if they will fall

off why does so much love come at the beginning
then disappear then once again at the moment
before death why can’t the same kind exist
in between in the breaths in the

afternoon in the sitting room in a place of costumes
little girls dress like princesses one pink one
blue one yellow they wear plastic heels because
they still think they will never fall.


About This Poem:

“I’ve always been intrigued with the male characters in novels like Pride and Prejudice, such as Mr. Darcy. This poem is part of a series of poems that explore desire and obsessions. The poems have been sitting in adrawer for a few years so I decided to dust them off and work on them again since I have not written a new poem in over three years. I’m not sure anything will become of the series, but at least it gives me something to work on in a period where I feel very uncreative.”

—Victoria Chang

Kaddish, Part I, by Allen Ginsberg

For Naomi Ginsberg, 1894-1956

Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on
the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village.
downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I’ve been up all night, talking,
talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues
shout blind on the phonograph
the rhythm the rhythm–and your memory in my head three years after–
And read Adonais’ last triumphant stanzas aloud–wept, realizing
how we suffer–
And how Death is that remedy all singers dream of, sing, remember,
prophesy as in the Hebrew Anthem, or the Buddhist Book of An-
swers–and my own imagination of a withered leaf–at dawn–
Dreaming back thru life, Your time–and mine accelerating toward Apoca-
lypse,
the final moment–the flower burning in the Day–and what comes after,
looking back on the mind itself that saw an American city
a flash away, and the great dream of Me or China, or you and a phantom
Russia, or a crumpled bed that never existed–
like a poem in the dark–escaped back to Oblivion–
No more to say, and nothing to weep for but the Beings in the Dream,
trapped in its disappearance,
sighing, screaming with it, buying and selling pieces of phantom, worship-
ping each other,
worshipping the God included in it all–longing or inevitability?–while it
lasts, a Vision–anything more?
It leaps about me, as I go out and walk the street, look back over my shoulder,
Seventh Avenue, the battlements of window office buildings shoul-
dering each other high, under a cloud, tall as the sky an instant–and
the sky above–an old blue place.
or down the Avenue to the south, to—as I walk toward the Lower East Side
—where you walked 50 years ago, little girl—from Russia, eating the
first poisonous tomatoes of America frightened on the dock
then struggling in the crowds of Orchard Street toward what?—toward
Newark—
toward candy store, first home-made sodas of the century, hand-churned ice
cream in backroom on musty brownfloor boards—
Toward education marriage nervous breakdown, operation, teaching school,
and learning to be mad, in a dream–what is this life?
Toward the Key in the window—and the great Key lays its head of light
on top of Manhattan, and over the floor, and lays down on the
sidewalk—in a single vast beam, moving, as I walk down First toward
the Yiddish Theater—and the place of poverty
you knew, and I know, but without caring now—Strange to have moved
thru Paterson, and the West, and Europe and here again,
with the cries of Spaniards now in the doorstops doors and dark boys on
the street, fire escapes old as you
—Tho you’re not old now, that’s left here with me—
Myself, anyhow, maybe as old as the universe—and I guess that dies with
us—enough to cancel all that comes—What came is gone forever
every time—
That’s good! That leaves it open for no regret—no fear radiators, lacklove,
torture even toothache in the end—
Though while it comes it is a lion that eats the soul—and the lamb, the soul,
in us, alas, offering itself in sacrifice to change’s fierce hunger—hair
and teeth—and the roar of bonepain, skull bare, break rib, rot-skin,
braintricked Implacability.
Ai! ai! we do worse! We are in a fix! And you’re out, Death let you out,
Death had the Mercy, you’re done with your century, done with
God, done with the path thru it—Done with yourself at last—Pure
—Back to the Babe dark before your Father, before us all—before the
world—
There, rest. No more suffering for you. I know where you’ve gone, it’s good.
No more flowers in the summer fields of New York, no joy now, no more
fear of Louis,
and no more of his sweetness and glasses, his high school decades, debts,
loves, frightened telephone calls, conception beds, relatives, hands–
No more of sister Elanor,—she gone before you—we kept it secret you
killed her—or she killed herself to bear with you—an arthritic heart
—But Death’s killed you both—No matter—
Nor your memory of your mother, 1915 tears in silent movies weeks and
weeks–forgetting, agrieve watching Marie Dressler address human-
ity, Chaplin dance in youth,
or Boris Godunov, Chaliapin’s at the Met, halling his voice of a weeping Czar
—by standing room with Elanor & Max—watching also the Capital
ists take seats in Orchestra, white furs, diamonds,
with the YPSL’s hitch-hiking thru Pennsylvania, in black baggy gym skirts
pants, photograph of 4 girls holding each other round the waste, and
laughing eye, too coy, virginal solitude of 1920
all girls grown old, or dead now, and that long hair in the grave—lucky to
have husbands later—
You made it—I came too—Eugene my brother before (still grieving now and
will gream on to his last stiff hand, as he goes thru his cancer—or kill
—later perhaps—soon he will think—)
And it’s the last moment I remember, which I see them all, thru myself, now
—tho not you
I didn’t foresee what you felt—what more hideous gape of bad mouth came
first—to you—and were you prepared?
To go where? In that Dark—that—in that God? a radiance? A Lord in the
Void? Like an eye in the black cloud in a dream? Adonoi at last, with
you?
Beyond my remembrance! Incapable to guess! Not merely the yellow skull
in the grave, or a box of worm dust, and a stained ribbon–Deaths-
head with Halo? can you believe it?
Is it only the sun that shines once for the mind, only the flash of existence,
than none ever was?
Nothing beyond what we have—what you had—that so pitiful—yet Tri-
umph,
to have been here, and changed, like a tree, broken, or flower–fed to the
ground—but made, with its petals, colored, thinking Great Universe,
shaken, cut in the head, leaf stript, hid in an egg crate hospital, cloth
wrapped, sore—freaked in the moon brain, Naughtless.
No flower like that flower, which knew itself in the garden, and fought the
knife—lost
Cut down by an idiot Snowman’s icy—even in the Spring—strange ghost
thought some—Death—Sharp icicle in his hand—crowned with old
roses—a dog for his eyes—cock of a sweatshop—heart of electric
irons.
All the accumulations of life, that wear us out—clocks, bodies, consciousness,
shoes, breasts—begotten sons—your Communism—‘Paranoia’ into
hospitals.
You once kicked Elanor in the leg, she died of heart failure later. You of
stroke. Asleep? within a year, the two of you, sisters in death. Is
Elanor happy?
Max grieves alive in an office on Lower Broadway, lone large mustache over
midnight Accountings, not sure. His life passes—as he sees—and
what does he doubt now? Still dream of making money, or that might
have made money, hired nurse, had children, found even your Im-
mortality, Naomi?
I’ll see him soon. Now I’ve got to cut through to talk to you as I didn’t
when you had a mouth.
Forever. And we’re bound for that, Forever like Emily Dickinson’s horses
—headed to the End.
They know the way—These Steeds—run faster than we think—it’s our own
life they cross—and take with them.

Magnificent, mourned no more, marred of heart, mind behind, mar-
ried dreamed, mortal changed—Ass and face done with murder.
In the world, given, flower maddened, made no Utopia, shut under
pine, almed in Earth, blamed in Lone, Jehovah, accept.
Nameless, One Faced, Forever beyond me, beginningless, endless,
Father in death. Tho I am not there for this Prophecy, I am unmarried, I’m
hymnless, I’m Heavenless, headless in blisshood I would still adore
Thee, Heaven, after Death, only One blessed in Nothingness, not
light or darkness, Dayless Eternity—
Take this, this Psalm, from me, burst from my hand in a day, some
of my Time, now given to Nothing–to praise Thee—But Death
This is the end, the redemption from Wilderness, way for the Won-
derer, House sought for All, black handkerchief washed clean by weeping
—page beyond Psalm—Last change of mine and Naomi—to God’s perfect
Darkness—Death, stay thy phantoms!

II
Over and over—refrain—of the Hospitals—still haven’t written your
history—leave it abstract—a few images
run thru the mind—like the saxophone chorus of houses and years—
remembrance of electrical shocks.
By long nites as a child in Paterson apartment, watching over your
nervousness—you were fat—your next move—
By that afternoon I stayed home from school to take care of you—
once and for all—when I vowed forever that once man disagreed with my
opinion of the cosmos, I was lost—
By my later burden—vow to illuminate mankind—this is release of
particulars—(mad as you)—(sanity a trick of agreement)—
But you stared out the window on the Broadway Church corner, and
spied a mystical assassin from Newark,
So phoned the Doctor—‘OK go way for a rest’—so I put on my coat
and walked you downstreet—On the way a grammarschool boy screamed,
unaccountably—‘Where you goin Lady to Death’? I shuddered—
and you covered your nose with motheaten fur collar, gas mask
against poison sneaked into downtown atmosphere, sprayed by Grandma—
And was the driver of the cheesebox Public Service bus a member of
the gang? You shuddered at his face, I could hardly get you on–to New
York, very Times Square, to grab another Greyhound—

Headaches, by Marilyn Hacker

Wine again. The downside of any evening’s
bright exchanges, scribbled with retribution :
stark awake, a tic throbs in the left temple’s
site of bombardment.

Tortured syntax, thorned thoughts, vocabulary
like a forest littered with unexploded
cluster bombs, no exit except explosion
ripping the branches.

Stacks of shadowed books on the bedside table
wall a jar of Tiger Balm. You grope for its
glass netsuke hexagon. Tic stabs, dull pain
supercedes voices,

stills obsessive one-sided conversations.
Turn from mouths you never will kiss, a neck your
fingers will not trace to a golden shoulder.
Think of your elders —

If, in fact, they’d died, the interlocutors
who, alive, recede into incoherence,
you would write the elegy, feel clean grief, still
asking them questions

— though you know it’s you who’d provide the answers.
Auden’s Old People”s Home, Larkin’s The Old Fools
are what come to mind, not Yeats. In a not-so
distant past, someone

poured a glass of wine at three in the morning,
laid a foolscap pad on the kitchen table,
mind aspark from the long loquacious dinner
two hours behind her,

and you got a postcard (a Fifties jazz club)
next day across town, where she scrawled she’d found the
tail-end of a good Sancerre in the fridge and
finished the chapter.

Now she barely knows her friends when you visit.
Drill and mallet work on your forehead. Basta!
And it is Màrgaret you mourn for.. Get up,
go to the bathroom.

You take the drugs. Synapses buzz and click.
You turn the bed lamp on, open a book :
vasoconstrictor and barbiturate
make words in oval light reverberate.
The sky begins to pale at five o’clock.

Vocabulary, by Jason Schneiderman

I used to love words,
but not looking them up.

Now I love both,
the knowing,

and the looking up,
the absurdity

of discovering that “boreal”
has been meaning

“northern” all this time
or that “estrus”

is a much better word
for the times when

I would most likely
have said, “in heat.”

When I was translating,
the dictionary

was my enemy,
the repository of knowledge

that I seemed incapable
of retaining. The foreign word

for “inflatable” simply
would not stay in my head,

though the English word “deictic,”
after just one encounter,

has stuck with me for a year.
I once lost “desiccated”

for a decade, first encountered
in an unkind portrayal

of Ronald Reagan, and then
finally returned to me

in an article about cheese.
I fell in love with my husband,

not when he told me
what the word “apercus” means,

but when I looked it up,
and he was right.

There’s even a word
for when you use a word

not to mean its meaning,
but as a word itself,

and I’d tell you what it was
if I could remember it.

My friend reads the dictionary
for its perspective on culture,

laughs when I say that
reference books are not really

books, but proleptic databases.
My third grade teacher

used to joke that if we were bored
we could copy pages out of the dictionary,

but when I did, also as a joke,
she was horrified rather than amused.

Discovery is always tinged
with sorrow, the knowledge

that you have been living
without something,

so we try to make learning
the province of the young,

who have less time to regret
having lived in ignorance.

My students are lost
in dictionaries,

unable to figure out why
“categorize” means

“to put into categories”
or why the fifth definition

of “standard” is the one
that will make the sentence

in question make sense.
I wonder how anyone

can live without knowing
the word “wonder.”

A famous author
once said in an interview,

that he ended his novel
with an obscure word

he was sure his reader
would not know

because he liked the idea
of the reader looking it up.

He wanted the reader,
upon closing his book, to open

another, that second book
being a dictionary,

and however much I may have loved
that author, after reading

that story
(and this may surprise you)

I loved him less.

Song for Future Books, by Joanna Fuhrman

The book is made of glass and I look
through it and see more books.

Many glass books.

Is someone speaking?

A muffled voice is telling me
to make soup which I think
means I am loved.

What other kind of cup
fills itself?

Can there be a cup of cup?

A cup of itself?

Outside a black squirrel has wiggled
to the end
of a very skinny branch.

When the squirrel breathes
the whole tree shakes,

as if the squirrel were the soul
of the tree.

Have you ever felt like
such a tree?

Not sayin’
I have.

Sequestered Writing, by Carolyn Forché

Horses were turned loose in the child’s sorrow. Black and roan, cantering through snow.
The way light fills the hand with light, November with graves, infancy with white.
White. Given lilacs, lilacs disappear. Then low voices rising in walls.
The way they withdrew from the child’s body and spoke as if it were not there.

What ghost comes to the bedside whispering You?
— With its no one without its I –
A dwarf ghost? A closet of empty clothes?
Ours was a ghost who stole household goods. Nothing anyone would miss.
Supper plates. Apples. Barbed wire behind the house.

At the end of the hall, it sleepwalks into a mirror wearing mother’s robe.
A bedsheet lifts from the bed and hovers. Face with no face. Come here.
The bookcase knows, and also the darkness of books. Long passages into,
Endless histories toward, sleeping pages about. Why else toss gloves into a grave?

A language that once sent ravens through firs. The open world from which it came.
Words holding the scent of an asylum fifty years. It is fifty years, then.
The child hears from within: Come here and know, below
And unbeknownst to us, what these fields had been.

Marble Hill, by Kazim Ali

Paradise lies beneath the feet of your mother. A verse I’ve heard recited so frequently I do not know if it is scripture or hadith.

Hadith, meaning traditions of the prophet, are always accompanied by a careful oral lineage of who said what to whom, and who heard who say they heard what. Usually back to one of the prophet’s wives who heard the prophet say it.

The veil also between what you want to see and cannot see, what you wish to have heard but did not hear.

In butoh the dancers are rendered in white smoke, ghosts traversing the stage-as-womb, moving so slowly you do not even know they are there.

If paradise lies beneath the feet of my mother then how will I find my way inside unless she admits me.

Now I look at each face, each body, as it moves around the subway platform, down the stairs and around the platform, onto trains, off of them.

After my aunt Chand-mumani’s death I thought of them each as flames, in each the body is combusting, burning up the fuel of the soul.

Michelle after giving birth walked around the city imagining everyone glistening, bordered in amniotic grit.

But is it really like Fanny writes, the body only a car the soul is driving.

Or something of us sunk into the matter of the body, part of us actually flesh, inseparable from it and upon death, truly dispersed, smoke.

The body of the prophet’s wife always between us. Who said what.

In which case there really is something to grieve at death: that the soul is wind, not immortal.

A middle-aged woman, in the seat in front of me on the train, wearing a green puffy winter jacket. Her hair, though pulled back, frizzy and unkempt.

It’s the unkempt I feel tenderness towards.

Have always felt about myself a messiness, an awkwardness, an ugliness.

As a child, such an envy of birds, of graceful slopes, of muscular boys.

In the train rushing above ground at125th Street. Thinking about stumbling.

House by house, walking down this street or the other one. Going into the library, going into the school.

Where every middle-aged woman is my mother.

Waiting to be trusted with the truth.

I have nearly as much silver in my hair as she does.

Any pronoun here can be misread. He can mean you can mean I.

An odd list of things I want to do in the next five years: study butoh. Write an autobiography. Go back toParis. Get lost somewhere I haven’t been.

Also begin to say it.

Marco and I moved to Marble Hill in the summer of 2006.

Let me tell you a story about a city that floats onto the ocean. Opposite of Atlantis which fell into the sea or Cascadia which threatens to rise back out of it.

Marble Hill, a real hill, perched at the northernmost tip ofManhattanIsland, a promontory out into the conjunction of the Hudson River andSpuyten Duyvil Creek.

The wind is an instrument, its own section of the sky orchestra.

Today I read of a Turkish mullah who is canceling 800 different hadith regarding treatment of women found now or believed at least to be untrue.

Untrue is it.

Untrue the laws that were graven in fire or graven in stone.

Says the Quran, “This is the Book. In it there is no doubt.”

All for a belief that a human animal is a wicked one and requires a law.

Which requires if not actual violence then at least the threat of it.

At least fury.

Here in Marble Hill you are where you aren’t.

Orchestral the river that curves and curves north of the island.

Ships bound for the upper east side fromAlbanyhave a harder and harder time negotiating the torturous and twisting Spuyten Duyvil.

So a canal is blasted through and what was once the northern tip ofManhattanbecame an island.

Walking across one of the bridges inParisI came to a place called Les Mauvaises Garçons. Being afraid to enter I crossed the street to another tavern.

I stayed for three hours.

Radiant with traffic, the streets do not remember the gone.

The pillar at the Place de Bastille does not put back brick or bar.

Ten miles out of Chartres nothing but grain across and gray above a dark raven emerges screaming from the fields.

These thoughts are nothing, following one after the other.

Somali lesbians scheduled for their execution. Two boys in Iran convicted of drunken and lewd behavior and hanged for it. Boys. 16 and 18. There was video footage of the actual hanging on the internet.

I watched it myself.

“You wear your fingers down copying sacred texts,” sang Lalla, “but still the rage inside you has no way to leave.”

The Arabic line “This is the Book. In it there is no doubt” can also be read as “This is, no doubt, the Book . . . ”

Dear mother, there is a folder of my loose poems lost somewhere during the summer of 2006 when I traveled between Pennsylvania, New York City, Virginia, Maine, and your house in Buffalo. There was a letter inside the folder to you.

Though I’ve looked and looked and failed to find it, I am sure it is still in the house in Buffalo somewhere. An envelope with a folder inside. Inside the folder loose poems. Tucked into poems, there was a letter.

The veil between what you want to see and what you cannot see.

Emily Dickinson sent her first letter to Thomas Higginson unsigned. She included with the unsigned letter a smaller sealed envelope in which there was a calling card upon which she had written her name.

When Colin Powell spoke at the UN about the invasion of Iraq, workers were asked to hang a black drape over Picasso’s Guernica.

Which would have otherwise been in the background, surrounding him, as he spoke.

There is a body and a boy between you and utterance, the boy you were who could never speak.

Bright red bracelet of time.

“Fury,” is how Galway Kinnell explained Dickinson’s intent in writing her poems.

Poetry and fury in the time of war. Civil War for her.

What is my war? Not the one you think.

I won’t say.

Constant state, sure as the white noise on the television after the station has gone off the air.

But who goes off the air any more.

And whose air.

Come to Marble Hill then.

Each night sleep is pierced by someone outside gunning their car engine over and over again before driving off.

A car alarm or two.

There is a streetlight outside the window that shines into the bedroom, bright as the moon but more orange.

Orange like the saffron scarf I wore to Tokudo.—”leaving home.” When Ansho became a monk and took a new name.

The day I sat down next to a young man with a sweet smile. A gardener. Name of Marco.

The train runs the next block over. We are on the second floor so hear it if we really pay attention.

By now its rumble on the tracks, the chiming when the doors are about to close, are on the order of background noise.

I have not yet learned how to sleep through the night.

Marble Hill was an island for twenty years before the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, still running, underground below 228th Street, was filled in and joined to the mainland.

The city itself, my life, that first butoh performance I saw.

A man with such slow and intense movements, so internal.

You hardly knew he had moved at all and suddenly he was all the way across the stage, contorted, holding a glass bowl aloft in which a fish swam.

None of which you had even noticed was on the stage.

As I write this, a car alarm. The train.

Then silence.

My First Memory (of Librarians), by Nikki Giovanni

This is my first memory:
A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky
wood floor
A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center
Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply
too short
For me to sit in and read
So my first book was always big

In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided
To the left side the card catalogue
On the right newspapers draped over what looked like
a quilt rack
Magazines face out from the wall

The welcoming smile of my librarian
The anticipation in my heart
All those books—another world—just waiting
At my fingertips.


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The Libraries Didn’t Burn, by Elaine Equi

despite books kindled in electronic flames.

The locket of bookish love
still opens and shuts.

But its words have migrated
to a luminous elsewhere.

Neither completely oral nor written —
a somewhere in between.

Then will oak, willow,
birch, and olive poets return
to their digital tribes —

trees wander back to the forest?

Books, by Gerald Stern

How you loved to read in the snow and when your
face turned to water from the internal heat
combined with the heavy crystals or maybe it was
reversus you went half-blind and your eyelashes
turned to ice the time you walked through swirls
with dirty tears not far from the rat-filled river
or really a mile away—or two—in what
you came to call the Aristotle room
in a small hole outside the Carnegie library.

The Author to Her Book, by Anne Bradstreet

Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save homespun cloth i’ th’ house I find.
In this array ‘mongst vulgars may’st thou roam.
In critic’s hands beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known;
If for thy father asked, say thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.

Curtains, by Ruth Stone

Putting up new curtains,
other windows intrude.
As though it is that first winter in Cambridge
when you and I had just moved in.
Now cold borscht alone in a bare kitchen.

What does it mean if I say this years later?

Listen, last night
I am on a crying jag
with my landlord, Mr. Tempesta.
I sneaked in two cats.
He screams, “No pets! No pets!”
I become my Aunt Virginia,
proud but weak in the head.
I remember Anna Magnani.
I throw a few books. I shout.
He wipes his eyes and opens his hands.
OK OK keep the dirty animals
but no nails in the walls.
We cry together.
I am so nervous, he says.

I want to dig you up and say, look,
it’s like the time, remember,
when I ran into our living room naked
to get rid of that fire inspector.

See what you miss by being dead?

from Blue Dark, by Deborah Landau

the moon might rise and it might not
and if it brings a ghost light we will read beneath it

and if it returns to earth
we will listen for its phrases

and if I’m alone at the bedside table
I will have a ghost book to refer to

and when I lie back I’ll see its imprint
beneath my blood-red lids:

not lettered ink
but the clean page

not sugar
but the empty bowl

not flowers
but the dirt

*

blame the egg blame the fractured stones
at the bottom of the mind

blame his darkblue glare and craggy mug
the bulky king of trudge and stein

how I love a masculine in my parlor
his grizzly shout and weight one hundred drums

in this everywhere of blunt and soft sinking
I am the heavy hollow snared

the days are spring the days are summer
the days are nothing and not dead yet

*

worry the river over its banks
the train into flames

worry the black rain into the city
the troops into times square

worry the windows cracked acidblack
and the children feverblistered

worry never another summer
never again to live here gentle
with the other inhabitants

then leave too quickly
leave the pills and band-aids
the bathroom scale the Christmas lights the dog

go walking on our legs
dense and bare and useless

worry our throats and lungs
into taking the air

leave books on the shelves
leave keys dustpan

telephones don’t work where you were
in the chaos

*

and I couldn’t bear it
the children nearing the place
where the waves wet the shore

vaporous force
rising imperceptibly behind

we were talking about circumstance
horizon-gates swinging open
beneath the cherry blooms

wave rising in the background
impalpable and final
a girl in a white dress barefoot

wasn’t I right to ask her to move in from the shore

*

this is the last usable hour

bird lured
through the window

a little sweet fruit

I could die here
and the hearsedriver
would take me out of this city

I’d say my name to him
as we crossed the Triboro

I’d say it softly the way he likes it

it would be the last time
I’d introduce myself that way