Put Down That TV Tray, by Sina Queyras

All I ever wanted was that living room, Sunday evening, chicken
In the roaster, that deep orange sofa, that maple table
Spread out like a wagon wheel upon which cups of tea floated
And macramé or puzzles could be assembled. Don’t tell me

Disney isn’t reality: whole cities have ticked by in nylon print
T-shirts, under lithographs of the Blue Boy in plastic K-Mart frames.
Poets, don’t let your poems grow up to be idealists. I want in.
I agree we need to rethink everything from landfills to the accumulation

Of fat around the heart, but there really is nothing like a castle
Under a neon moon ringed with LED flowers. Also, dogs do
Find their way home, and while beds can’t fly you can wake
From a good trip around the Internet and be hungry for a Pop-Tart.

Don’t say you can’t, or won’t, or that my dream is flimsy: there is nothing
Less thrilling than a critique of others, how they do or do not, twirl.

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.

Grief Puppet, by Sandra Beasley

In the nearby plaza, musicians would often gather.
The eternal flame was fueled by propane tank.
An old man sold chive dumplings from a rolling cart,
while another grilled skewers of paprika beef.
Male turtledoves would puff their breasts, woo-ing,
and for a few coins, we each bought an hour with
the grief puppet. It had two eyes, enough teeth,
a black tangle of something like hair or fur,
a flexible spine that ran the length of your arm.
Flick your wrist, and at the end of long rods
it raised its hands as if conducting the weather.
Tilt the other wrist, and it nodded. No effort
was ever lost on its waiting face. It never
needed a nap or was too hungry to think straight.
You could have your conversation over and over,
past dusk when old men doused their charcoal,
into rising day when they warmed their skillets.
The puppet only asked what we could answer.
Some towns had their wall, others their well;
we never gave the stupid thing a name, nor
asked the name of the woman who took our coins.
But later, we could all remember that dank felt,
and how the last of grief’s flock lifted from our chests.

Beauty Supply, by Lee Ann Brown

Sheaves of wheat in cement relief
Supply the beauties of Archer Ave.

Past the scaffolded brick church spire
We turn on the vacant corner lot

Through winds worthy of Hopkins (Gerard M.)
New words — Alexus — Everything must go

"Include everything in poetry"
Even the things you think are nothing

Like the way the new white snowflake
Decoration waves its wild tentacles
     against the high blue sky

    loop and angle
Black graffiti palimpsests the
    yellow official sign of Danger
in bus stairwell

She stares at me unsmiling
    with cold Northface
Notices me writing but says nothing
    with her eye

The corner lot I used to chart or cheat in its ‘vacancies'
Configures new blown trash and walk through paths

Subjected to random search

Has grown a mouth of gravel
Constructed in a cone
Surrounded by temporary fence
    Of blue nailed board

Now on Roti Avenue
Cutlery & Wang Quai

Amalgam of chairs,
Jamaica Island Center

Constellations, by Steven Heighton

After bedtime the child climbed on her dresser
and peeled phosphorescent stars off the sloped
gable-wall, dimming the night vault of her ceiling
like a haze or the interfering glow
of a great city, small hands anticipating
eons as they raided the playful patterns
her father had mapped for her — black holes now
where the raised thumb-stubs and ears of the Bat
had been, the feet of the Turtle, wakeful
eyes of the Mourning Dove. She stuck those paper
stars on herself. One on each foot, the backs
of her hands, navel, tip of nose and so on,
then turned on the lamp by her bed and stood close
like a child chilled after a winter bath
pressed up to an air duct or a radiator
until those paper stars absorbed more light
than they could hold. Then turned off the lamp,
walked out into the dark hallway and called.

Her father came up. He heard her breathing
as he clomped upstairs preoccupied, wrenched
out of a rented film just now taking grip
on him and the child’s mother, his day-end
bottle of beer set carefully on the stairs,
marking the trail back down into that evening
adult world — he could hear her breathing (or
really, more an anxious, breathy giggle) but
couldn’t see her, then in the hallway stopped,
mind spinning to sort the apparition
of fireflies hovering ahead, till he sensed
his daughter and heard in her breathing
the pent, grave concentration of her pose,
mapped onto the star chart of the darkness,
arms stretched high, head back, one foot slightly raised —
the Dancer, he supposed, and all his love
spun to centre with crushing force, to find her
momentarily fixed, as unchanging
as he and her mother must seem to her,
and the way the stars are; as if the stars are.

Late Summer, by Jennifer Grotz

Before the moths have even appeared
to orbit around them, the streetlamps come on,
a long row of them glowing uselessly

along the ring of garden that circles the city center,
where your steps count down the dulling of daylight.
At your feet, a bee crawls in small circles like a toy unwinding.

Summer specializes in time, slows it down almost to dream.
And the noisy day goes so quiet you can hear
the bedraggled man who visits each trash receptacle

mutter in disbelief: Everything in the world is being thrown away!
Summer lingers, but it’s about ending. It’s about how things
redden and ripen and burst and come down. It’s when

city workers cut down trees, demolishing
one limb at a time, spilling the crumbs
of twigs and leaves all over the tablecloth of street.

Sunglasses! the man softly exclaims
while beside him blooms a large gray rose of pigeons
huddled around a dropped piece of bread.

Let Me Disappear, by Ray Gonzalez

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

Empty, by Laura Mullen

Huge crystalline cylinders emerge from the water

The future

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

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

Speech is silver the King mutters
Silence is

They discover a fabulous ancient city

Black lake
Flag of smoke

Where we turned to look

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

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

Garlands of flowers
Stars signaling physical impact

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

‘Be reasonable . . . ‘

Increasingly faint trace of inked
Flowers delicate

After that

Cat catch
The decree

Eradicate

A Franc Sonic, by Laura Moriarty

for Jerry Estrin

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

King County Metro, by Geffrey Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mingus at the Showplace, by William Matthews

I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen,
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem,

and it was miserable, for that was how I thought
poetry worked: you digested experience and shat

literature. It was 1960 at The Showplace, long since
defunct, on West 4th St., and I sat at the bar,

casting beer money from a thin reel of ones,
the kid in the city, big ears like a puppy.

And I knew Mingus was a genius. I knew two
other things, but they were wrong, as it happened.

So I made him look at the poem.
“There’s a lot of that going around,” he said,

and Sweet Baby Jesus he was right. He laughed
amiably. He didn’t look as if he thought

bad poems were dangerous, the way some poets do.
If they were baseball executives they’d plot

to destroy sandlots everywhere so that the game
could be saved from children. Of course later

that night he fired his pianist in mid-number
and flurried him from the stand.

“We’ve suffered a diminuendo in personnel,”
he explained, and the band played on.

Retired Ballerinas, Central Park West, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Retired ballerinas on winter afternoons   
          walking their dogs
                      in Central Park West
    (or their cats on leashes—
       the cats themselves old highwire artists)   
The ballerinas
                leap and pirouette
                           through Columbus Circle   
         while winos on park benches
               (laid back like drunken Goudonovs)   
            hear the taxis trumpet together
               like horsemen of the apocalypse   
                               in the dusk of the gods   
It is the final witching hour
                when swains are full of swan songs   
    And all return through the dark dusk   
                to their bright cells
                                  in glass highrises
      or sit down to oval cigarettes and cakes   
                              in the Russian Tea Room   
    or climb four flights to back rooms
                                 in Westside brownstones   
               where faded playbill photos
                        fall peeling from their frames   
                            like last year’s autumn leaves

The Clerk’s Tale, by Spencer Reece

I am thirty-three and working in an expensive clothier,
selling suits to men I call “Sir.”
These men are muscled, groomed and cropped—
with wives and families that grow exponentially.
Mostly I talk of rep ties and bow ties,
of full-Windsor knots and half-Windsor knots,
of tattersall, French cuff, and English spread collars,
of foulards, neats, and internationals,
of pincord, houndstooth, nailhead, and sharkskin.
I often wear a blue pin-striped suit.
My hair recedes and is going gray at the temples.
On my cheeks there are a few pimples.
For my terrible eyesight, horn-rimmed spectacles.
One of my fellow-workers is an old homosexual
who works hard and wears bracelets with jewels.
No one can rival his commission checks.
On his break he smokes a Benson & Hedges cigarette,
puffing expectantly as a Hollywood starlet.
He has carefully applied a layer of Clinique bronzer
to enhance the tan on his face and neck.
His hair is gone except for a few strands
which are combed across his scalp.
He examines his manicured lacquered nails.
I admire his studied attention to details:
his tie stuck to his shirt with masking tape,
his teeth capped, his breath mint in place.
The old homosexual and I laugh in the back
over a coarse joke involving an octopus.
Our banter is staccato, staged and close
like those “Spanish Dances” by Granados.
I sometimes feel we are in a musical—
gossiping backstage between our numbers.
He drags deeply on his cigarette.
Most of his life is over.
Often he refers to himself as “an old faggot.”
He does this bemusedly, yet timidly.
I know why he does this.
He does this because his acceptance is finally complete—
and complete acceptance is always
bittersweet. Our hours are long. Our backs bent.
We are more gracious than English royalty.
We dart amongst the aisles tall as hedgerows.
Watch us face into the merchandise.
How we set up and take apart mannequins
as if we were performing autopsies.
A naked body, without pretense, is of no use.
It grows late.
I hear the front metal gate close down.
We begin folding the ties correctly according to color.
The shirts—Oxfords, broadcloths, pinpoints—
must be sized, stacked, or rehashed.
The old homosexual removes his right shoe,
allowing his gigantic bunion to swell.
There is the sound of cash being counted—
coins clinking, bills swishing, numbers whispered—
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. . .
We are changed when the transactions are done—
older, dirtier, dwarfed.
A few late customers gawk in at us.
We say nothing. Our silence will not be breached.
The lights go off, one by one—
the dressing room lights, the mirror lights.
Then it is very late. How late? Eleven?
We move to the gate. It goes up.
The gate’s grating checkers our cheeks.
This is the Mall of America.
The light is bright and artificial,
yet not dissimilar to that found in a Gothic cathedral.
You must travel down the long hallways to the exits
before you encounter natural light.
One final formality: the manager checks out bags.
The old homosexual reaches into his over-the-shoulder leather bag—
the one he bought on his European travels
with his companion of many years.
He finds a stick of lip balm and applies it to his lips
liberally, as if shellacking them.
Then he inserts one last breath mint
and offers one to me. The gesture is fraternal
and occurs between us many times.
At last, we bid each other good night.
I watch him fade into the many-tiered parking lot,
where the thousands of cars have come
and are now gone. This is how our day ends.
This is how our day always ends.
Sometimes snow falls like rice.
See us take to our dimly lit exits,
disappearing into the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul;
Minneapolis is sleek and St. Paul,
named after the man who had to be shown,
is smaller, older, and somewhat withdrawn.
Behind us, the moon pauses over the vast egg-like dome of the mall.
See us loosening our ties among you.
We are alone.
There is no longer any need to express ourselves.

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.

In Search of an Umbrella in NYC, by Juan Felipe Herrera

You were having a stroke – i
did not grasp what was going on you
standing almost half ways up half
ways down the colors what were they
i was frozen both us us staring
woman with parasol behind me
are you drunk she said facing
you and the deli behind you you
leaned shivered dropped your coat
parasol
white
reddish flowers
brain  sweat eyes your eyes moving
seeing me behind me what
black man brown man no man no
colors you
pushed something away  i was
in a rush en route to big time
poetry Biz duded up ironed shirt
the rain was in my way i was not
breathing  you were losing  yourself i
was gaining something you
stumbled out of your coat unrolled
a stranger’s language from your lips
pushed your  feet down to
the depths of the tiny sidewalk even
though it was infinite burning
ahead of me to
the food truck at the corner yellow chips
corn violet green sugar drops
fiery torn packs flaring down  and
across the street under the cement i
was moving silent alone a crooked line
going nowhere a woman
touched your hand you were lying
on the dirty shoe ground swimming
up to her i   wanted you
i was a man
running for cover from the waters
i could not     lift your suffering
it was too late   the current pulled
i was floating away  (i noticed it)
you
were rising

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.

After The Disaster, by Abigail Deutsch

New York City, 2001

One night, not long after the disaster,
as our train was passing Astor,
the car door opened with a shudder
and a girl came flying down the aisle,
hair that looked to be all feathers
and a half-moon smile
making open air of our small car.

The crowd ignored her or they muttered
“Hey, excuse me” as they passed her
when the train had paused at Rector.
The specter crowed “Excuse me,” swiftly
turned, and ran back up the corridor,
then stopped for me.
We dove under the river.

She took my head between her fingers,
squeezing till the birds began to stir.
And then from out my eyes and ears
a flock came forth—I couldn’t think or hear
or breathe or see within that feather-world
so silently I thanked her.

Such things were common after the disaster.

The End of Science Fiction, by Lisel Mueller

This is not fantasy, this is our life.
We are the characters
who have invaded the moon,
who cannot stop their computers.
We are the gods who can unmake
the world in seven days.

Both hands are stopped at noon.
We are beginning to live forever,
in lightweight, aluminum bodies
with numbers stamped on our backs.
We dial our words like Muzak.
We hear each other through water.

The genre is dead. Invent something new.
Invent a man and a woman
naked in a garden,
invent a child that will save the world,
a man who carries his father
out of a burning city.
Invent a spool of thread
that leads a hero to safety,
invent an island on which he abandons
the woman who saved his life
with no loss of sleep over his betrayal.

Invent us as we were
before our bodies glittered
and we stopped bleeding:
invent a shepherd who kills a giant,
a girl who grows into a tree,
a woman who refuses to turn
her back on the past and is changed to salt,
a boy who steals his brother’s birthright
and becomes the head of a nation.
Invent real tears, hard love,
slow-spoken, ancient words,
difficult as a child’s
first steps across a room.

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.

Monody to the Sound of Zithers, by Kay Boyle

I have wanted other things more than lovers …
I have desired peace, intimately to know
The secret curves of deep-bosomed contentment,
To learn by heart things beautiful and slow.

Cities at night, and cloudful skies, I’ve wanted;
And open cottage doors, old colors and smells a part;
All dim things, layers of river-mist on river—
To capture Beauty’s hands and lay them on my heart.

I have wanted clean rain to kiss my eyelids,
Sea-spray and silver foam to kiss my mouth.
I have wanted strong winds to flay me with passion;
And, to soothe me, tired winds from the south.

These things have I wanted more than lovers …
Jewels in my hands, and dew on morning grass—
Familiar things, while lovers have been strangers.
Friended thus, I have let nothing pass.

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.

Study In Orange And White, by Billy Collins

I knew that James Whistler was part of the Paris scene,
but I was still surprised when I found the painting
of his mother at the Musée d’Orsay
among all the colored dots and mobile brushstrokes
of the French Impressionists.

And I was surprised to notice
after a few minutes of benign staring,
how that woman, stark in profile
and fixed forever in her chair,
began to resemble my own ancient mother
who was now fixed forever in the stars, the air, the earth.

You can understand why he titled the painting
“Arrangement in Gray and Black”
instead of what everyone naturally calls it,
but afterward, as I walked along the river bank,
I imagined how it might have broken
the woman’s heart to be demoted from mother
to a mere composition, a study in colorlessness.

As the summer couples leaned into each other
along the quay and the wide, low-slung boats
full of spectators slid up and down the Seine
between the carved stone bridges
and their watery reflections,
I thought: how ridiculous, how off-base.

It would be like Botticelli calling “The Birth of Venus”
“Composition in Blue, Ochre, Green, and Pink,”
or the other way around
like Rothko titling one of his sandwiches of color
“Fishing Boats Leaving Falmouth Harbor at Dawn.”

Or, as I scanned the menu at the cafe
where I now had come to rest,
it would be like painting something laughable,
like a chef turning on a spit
over a blazing fire in front of an audience of ducks
and calling it “Study in Orange and White.”

But by that time, a waiter had appeared
with my glass of Pernod and a clear pitcher of water,
and I sat there thinking of nothing
but the women and men passing by—
mothers and sons walking their small fragile dogs—
and about myself,
a kind of composition in blue and khaki,
and, now that I had poured
some water into the glass, milky-green.

Big City, by Amaud Jamaul Johnson

He promises a canary dress, white gloves,
says they’ll eat chops, thick as her thighs,
that they’ll order doubles of the “finest,”
see all the Big Names when they arrive.
But it’s the thought of them dead:
half of what they own draped around them,
her head against his chest, his back slack
against the headboard, all their letters unopened,
bills not paid, long knocks, the notices tacked
outside their door. It’s not knowing
whether some smell would introduce them
to their neighbors or a landlord wheeling
them out into the hallway; the highboy
he chipped on the drive up, the silver
she inherited from her mother, her hatboxes,
stacked high next to them like a wedding cake
waiting to be buried. He heard that “up there”
the wind had talons sharp enough to hook
a grown man beneath his collarbone and carry
him a full city block. He heard that you learned
the months by measuring the length of their shadows
and even summer was like a quality of night.

Train to Agra, by Vandana Khanna

I want to reach you—
in that city where the snow

only shimmers silver
for a few hours. It has taken

seventeen years. This trip,
these characters patterned

in black ink, curves catching
on the page like hinges,

this weave of letters fraying
like the lines on my palm,

all broken paths. Outside,
no snow. Just the slow pull

of brown on the hills, umber
dulling to a bruise until the city

is just a memory of stained teeth,
the burn of white marble

to dusk, cows standing
on the edges like a dust

cloud gaining weight
after days of no rain. Asleep

in the hot berth, my parents
sway in a dance, the silence

broken by scrape of tin, hiss
of tea, and underneath,

the constant clatter of wheels
beating steel tracks over and over:

to the city of white marble,
to the city of goats, tobacco

fields, city of dead hands,
a mantra of my grandmother’s—

her teeth eaten away
by betel leaves—the story

of how Shah Jahan had cut off
all the workers’ hands

after they built the Taj, so they
could never build again. I dreamt

of those hands for weeks before
the trip, weeks even before I

stepped off the plane, thousands
of useless dead flowers drying

to sienna, silent in their fall.
Every night, days before, I dreamt

those hands climbing over the iron
gate of my grandparents’ house, over

grate and spikes, some caught
in the groove between its sharpened

teeth, others biting where
they pinched my skin.

Jazz Lady of the Subway, by Daniela Gioseffi

She sings her heart out with a smile
like Louis Armstrong on the subway’s dusty platform
with her band, a bass, guitar, horn player,
and drummer. She keeps singing with a smile
even as an old demented man dances up and down,
keeping rhythm in front of her, blocking the audience view,
with his big rag of a coat, swollen leg and crutch.
Undaunted, smiling even at the old beggar who steals her
spotlight. “Music Under New York” says her sign, and she’s among
the good jazz musicians who play in the subways for quarters
and dollars collected in a hat or instrument case open
in front of them.
Making music amidst the rumble of trains and rush of people
who are made more cheerful by their tunes.
Evelyn Blakey knows that the homeless man
who dances on his crutch is comforted by her warble.
Georgia, Georgia…just an old sweet tune keeps Georgia
on my mind…” he sings along with her, grinning soul,
the sort of smile that says: “I’ve been
through it all, but sing anyway.” Evelyn Blakey, listens
to the horn jam, listens to the drums roll,
with ecstatic eyes closed, face full of music,
and the old beggar dances on his swollen foot,
his ragged coat swings back and forth with his tired bones,
his grey head bobs in rhythm,
and Evelyn, Evelyn, Evelyn Blakely sings,
her heart full of sonorous sound,
her foot tapping the ground,
her subway commuters gather around.

Lights They Live By, by Pamela Alexander

1. nightjar

A carafe beside her bed or a glass goose;
a piece of water, stoppered, or a solid chunk, like ice?
She watches it all night,
death, the brightening star.
She thinks it is one with her all along
or she thinks it is the final thing she contains.

She reads all night.
Under a microscope there are lights in a leaf
that flicker, and go out, as the leaf dies.

All night.
Cities of lights.
A glass of water has as many.
The smallest piece of water has lights in it,
she reads, and looks
at the carafe to find
a juggler tossing jugglers holding stars.

She is a maze. She finds a candle at each
corner but loses the way. She thinks
she can make it up as she goes, strike
a bargain, make it stick.
Or she thinks she can’t,
turns again.

She wonders what holds her life together.
Not herself; she too is held.
Something does it like daylight through
a glass of water.

She has a son. He cuts his hands in grass,
long grass that leads to the sea.
He listens to water.

She has a song for him, tells him
the first ladder was a fern; she shows him the lines
that craze a leaf, says she’s not, he’s not
out of the woods yet, praise be.

2. daybreak

Whatever he sees in his hands is beautiful.
He sees lines; stones; lumps of glass, often
(often they are green); a carved cat; he sees
the last day of his life.

Looking closer doesn’t change things.
Through a magnifying glass obsidian is still
glossy, like a muscle; a moth’s wing
porous as manila paper.

He thinks he could put a bottle together in his hands
if he had all the pieces. He looks
for them, stands

waist deep in grass among the dull
green lamps of fireflies, hundreds, below
night-hawks flashing their wing-bars like lights shot
from a wave.

Days open and fold. Geese
slide through them, French curves.
The hawks shriek and turn;
they are pieces.

His rooms are a forest of things that have
touched him, including a jar
of rain, a pair of marble pigeons.
He picks up some white glass to give it away
and keeps it.

His hands tell him everything. They ache
when a friend he desires turns away. Still
he thinks he can find and keep them
all, all his days.

New York Notes, by Harvey Shapiro

1. Caught on a side street in heavy traffic, I said to the cabbie, I should have walked. He replied, I should have been a doctor. 2. When can I get on the 11:33 I ask the guy in the information booth at the Atlantic Avenue Station. When they open the doors, he says. I am home among my people.

In General, by Pattiann Rogers

This is about no rain in particular,
just any rain, rain sounding on the roof,
any roof, slate or wood, tin or clay
or thatch, any rain among any trees,
rain in soft, soundless accumulation,
gathering rather than falling on the fir
of juniper and cedar, on a lace-community
of cobwebs, rain clicking off the rigid
leaves of oaks or magnolias, any kind
of rain, cold and smelling of ice or rising
again as steam off hot pavements
or stilling dust on country roads in August.
This is about rain as rain possessing
only the attributes of any rain in general.

And this is about night, any night
coming in its same immeasurably gradual
way, fulfilling expectations in its old
manner, creating heavens for lovers
and thieves, taking into itself the scarlet
of the scarlet sumac, the blue of the blue
vervain, no specific night, not a night
of birth or death, not the night forever
beyond the frightening side of the moon,
not the night always meeting itself
at the bottom of the sea, any sea, warm
and tropical or starless and stormy, night
meeting night beneath Arctic ice.
This attends to all nights but no night.

And this is about wind by itself,
not winter wind in particular lifting
the lightest snow off the mountaintop
into the thinnest air, not wind through
city streets, pushing people sideways,
rolling ash cans banging down the block,
not a prairie wind holding hawks suspended
mid-sky, not wind as straining sails
or as curtains on a spring evening, casually
in and back over the bed, not wind
as brother or wind as bully, not a lowing
wind, not a high howling wind. This is
about wind solely as pure wind in itself,
without moment, without witness.
Therefore this night tonight—
a midnight of late autumn winds shaking
the poplars and aspens by the fence, slamming
doors, rattling the porch swing, whipping
thundering black rains in gusts across
the hillsides, in batteries against the windows
as we lie together listening in the dark, our own
particular fingers touching—can never
be a subject of this specific conversation

Short Burst on Ames, Iowa, by Ander Monson

Ames, Iowa, just west of the city. Y Avenue south of Lincoln Way, where it crosses over US-30, nighttime, summer, faint smell of at least two kinds of manure, overpass. There is very little traffic. You are alone. A woman whom you do not know yet that you love has just left and, not satisfied with alone, you are lonely. Soon enough you will be leaving too. This is a rare spot of interface with nature, before you will have enough of it and give it up. This is not nature, proper—it is a cultivated nature, squares of farmland, corn and soy and more, repeating into the distance. There is a radio tower in the distance blinking out its Morse into the night. You can drive in any direction, and oftentimes you will think about it, just getting on any road and driving with the pizzas you are meant to deliver off into the night and not stopping until eventually you have to stop. It is two and a half miles to the base of the tower. Your car is off and you are above the highway. Each car is an event happening for miles, meaning minutes, and you are above them, witness to their approach and their disappearing into the horizon. Everything is flatness, and in the winter it will be whiteness. All around you are a half a million fireflies. There is some magic in the world beyond our easy grasp of it.

Vigo Martin, by Victor Hernández Cruz

In a city that now floats
in a bottle,
In a dimension outside
of the census,
within walls that were unregistered,
there was a painter,
Who performed his roll
like the Taino cave etchers,
the pyramid illustrators of
Mexico,
the scribblers of hieroglyphs.
Vigo painted the hallways
of the tenements,
While through the air
he flew upon a white horse,
Or smoked hashish for
his desert camel through
Moroccan tubes.
He painted rocks
which were heavy art.
Loose bricks were found
by landlords containing
Antillean pictographs.
An artisan of the streets,
whose smooth knowledge of
many angles
Made more lines visible
through the old face
of the barrio.

Against colorful bodega windows,
bright candy stores,
the epoch of the pachanga

Deep in the clubs of night
under the world
In the submetropolis of need,
against walls merely holding up.
Once we spoke of the art
of survival,
of loose lions and hungry tigers,
He painted lizard instincts
along imaginary river bamboo,
Frozen eye sockets
containing tar and northern ice.
We recognized how we were
packed in the chance of numbers,
ciphers in the wintry spread,
noses popping out of sardine cans,
We spoke against the doo-wop of
The Paragons Meet the Jesters
Till dawn brought
a blue light upon
roofs—the city skyline bricks steel
edges jagged in the wind.
In a conference of the stoops
he maintained that Dulces Labios
Mayaguez was his origin,
he spoke of sweet mangoes,
plena pulp,
Touching trees in honor
of the Tainos of his hands
stationed deep in his bark,
with his left hand where a tattooed
cherry blossomed.

Vigo made a collaboration
between survival and creativity,
He stored objects that came with
the wind,
Had a cellar full of broken gadgets
portions that could insert into
any malfunction,
A bazaar in search of a dictionary
of shapes and proportion.

He brushed himself like
freezer ice Halka brilliantine shine,
never alone always with a
prehistoric beast.
As evidence that I was there
on this other planet
I still maintain a rock
which he painted against
the laws of gravity
Now a paperweight
grounding the poetry of the tropics
Against the flight of the east trade
winds.

The Real Enough World, by Karen Brennan

Spider City

After a while I dreamt about
                  the Spider City
& when I woke up in my
                  flannel pj’s
the curtain flapped open
                  & the sky greeted me.

Hello Karen, Hello Little Bee,
         it said which is when
I remembered the strange
         webbed sky of the Spider
City & your face in the
         middle saying Kiss Me.

Breathless City

Every city is a little breathless,
a little behind the times,
racing to catch up, thus
gasping.

That day I wore a gray suit,
         white gloves, 1960 or so.
Some thin man approached
         & offered me $$ to
         pose in the nude.
The sun over St. Patrick’s
         Cathedral like a child’s
sun, all rays around
         a smiling face
& the man whose gray suit
         matched my own was
         called Ray!

         Such coincidences
occur in a city whose heart
         splits open in two shocks.
But this happened later.
& I wasn’t around
though I watched it on TV.

Dapper City

In Florida the palm branches
         rustle like neckties,
the ocean an opulent
         cologne we plunder,
the grass, green as the
         stolen eye of the Dowager
or a bruised infant
which is so sad
found in the trash can
among some white receipts
& spaghetti.
                  I am smoking a cigarette
wishing it were over–
the parasols, the gliding waterway
         ships, the cocktails,
the aces & clubs, the languorous beach
         stretches, the strings of pearls,
hats–
wishing it would begin again.

Dieting City

Or Starving City. It’s hard
         to tell. For one thing, it’s
         dark & for another
         I feel inadequate.
My perpetual motion has
         ceased to amuse anyone here
         (I confide) even though…

I wore a beautiful skirt of red silk
         & when I whirled you could
         see everything–
         the river
         with its captured lights, the
         glint of bridges, the
         pock-marked Palisades,
         aflame.

                  So much of this is untrue.

A worm slunk in the sidewalk cracks.
An old, old woman, wreathed
         in snot,
spoke sharply: She said,
“just because you give me five dollars
don’t entitle you to my life’s story.”

City of Jokes

A man goes to a psychiatrist
         sporting a huge gash in his
         forehead, says I bit
         myself. How did you
         do that? asks the psychiatrist.
         It was easy, says the man.
         I stood on a stool.
Afterwards, I pulled out of
         the parking garage & the
         day was overcast, streets
         icy.
I drove up the hill & took
         a right. I drove by the
         drive-in coffee place &
         the brown house with the
         shutters & took a left
         & then I was home.
         I turned
on the radio at this point.
A girl with a cane made her way
         down the sidewalk.
She was a stranger,
& she was my daughter.

Elizabethan City

I encountered Hamlet in a glade
& this scene, forsooth, changed into
hills &
then again a dark chamber
in which my own mother lay dying.

I wish it were another era
         but things occur where
         they will
& my defenses are poor ones.

         She has elegant bones which,
in age, have become sharp &
unfriendly.

         (Oh the body weeps & slickers
of hair cover all of us who
keep vigils.)

In a moment, I too, would
         invent a soliloquy about
         existence.

My heart in its jeweled box
         as of nothing
& zero the shape of
sorrow which doesn’t
add up.

City of Dot Dot Dot

There was a window, a drape,
         a venetian blind thickened with
         dust, an accordion sound
up from the street…
Your friend the author [was] inside
this which was inside that which was
once again…
ad nauseum…
contained in…
etc etc…
         Space
         shrinks & even afternoons
         which once seemed so voluminous
         have dwindled to a sad heap…
Little wrinkled days no longer
         unfold… Lawns have grown
minuscule & purposeless… Hairs
sprout on the female chin & buildings
formerly majestic are…
But I was crazy then…
In the fullness of each moment…
I walked everywhere in the gloam & sand…

City of Basements

Of course, conducive to sleep.
Of course, musty & poorly
         organized. You wouldn’t go there
         uninvited. I wouldn’t invite you.
But there are chinks in the brick ceilings
         that make it seem radiant
elsewhere, which is a blessing.

& amid the rats & spider houses
I might invent something
spectacular (I almost believe).

This is all I have to say about it.
Because it is unamenable to description.
Because even now my eyes are closing.

Pity yourself, Sister.
Life is harder than you dreamed possible.

Rapture: Lucus, by Traci Brimhall

Posters for the missing kapok tree appear on streetlights
offering a reward for its safe return. I hate to spoil it,

but the end of every biography is death. The end of a city
in the rainforest is a legend and a lost expedition. The end

of mythology is forgetfulness, placing gifts in the hole
where the worshipped tree should be. But my memory

lengthens with each ending. I know where to find the lost
mines of Muribeca and how to cross the Pacific on a raft

made of balsa. I know the tree wasn’t stolen. She woke from
her stillness some equatorial summer evening by a dream

of being chased by an amorous faun, which was a memory,
which reminded her that in another form she had legs

and didn’t need the anxious worship of people who thought
her body was a message. She is happier than the poem tattooed

on her back says she is, but sadder than the finches nesting
in her hair believe her to be. I am more or less content to be

near her in October storms, though I can’t stop thinking that
with the right love or humility or present of silk barrettes

and licorice she might become a myth again in my arms, ardent
wordless, needing someone to bear her away from the flood.

Sally’s Hair, by John Koethe

It’s like living in a light bulb, with the leaves
Like filaments and the sky a shell of thin, transparent glass
Enclosing the late heaven of a summer day, a canopy
Of incandescent blue above the dappled sunlight golden on the grass.

I took the train back from Poughkeepsie to New York
And in the Port Authority, there at the Suburban Transit window,
She asked, “Is this the bus to Princeton?”—which it was.
“Do you know Geoffrey Love?” I said I did. She had the blondest hair,

Which fell across her shoulders, and a dress of almost phosphorescent blue.
She liked Ayn Rand. We went down to the Village for a drink,
Where I contrived to miss the last bus to New Jersey, and at 3 a.m. we
Walked around and found a cheap hotel I hadn’t enough money for

And fooled around on its dilapidated couch. An early morning bus
(She’d come to see her brother), dinner plans and missed connections
And a message on his door about the Jersey shore. Next day
A summer dormitory room, my roommates gone: “Are you,” she asked,

“A hedonist?” I guessed so. Then she had to catch her plane.
Sally—Sally Roche. She called that night from Florida,
And then I never heard from her again. I wonder where she is now,
Who she is now. That was thirty-seven years ago.

And I’m too old to be surprised again. The days are open,
Life conceals no depths, no mysteries, the sky is everywhere,
The leaves are all ablaze with light, the blond light
Of a summer afternoon that made me think again of Sally’s hair.

From the Long Sad Party, by Mark Strand

Someone was saying
something about shadows covering the field, about
how things pass, how one sleeps towards morning
and the morning goes.

Someone was saying
how the wind dies down but comes back,
how shells are the coffins of wind
but the weather continues.

It was a long night
and someone said something about the moon shedding its
white
on the cold field, that there was nothing ahead
but more of the same.

Someone mentioned
a city she had been in before the war, a room with two
candles
against a wall, someone dancing, someone watching.
We began to believe

the night would not end.
Someone was saying the music was over and no one had
noticed.
Then someone said something about the planets, about the
stars,
how small they were, how far away.

El Florida Room, by Richard Blanco

Not a study or a den, but El Florida
as my mother called it, a pretty name
for the room with the prettiest view
of the lipstick-red hibiscus puckered up
against the windows, the tepid breeze
laden with the brown-sugar scent
of loquats drifting in from the yard.

Not a sunroom, but where the sun
both rose and set, all day the shadows
of banana trees fan-dancing across
the floor, and if it rained, it rained
the loudest, like marbles plunking
across the roof under constant threat
of coconuts ready to fall from the sky.

Not a sitting room, but El Florida where
I sat alone for hours with butterflies
frozen on the polyester curtains
and faces of Lladró figurines: sad angels,
clowns, and princesses with eyes glazed
blue and gray, gazing from behind
the glass doors of the wall cabinet.

Not a TV room, but where I watched
Creature Feature as a boy, clinging
to my brother, safe from vampires
in the same sofa where I fell in love
with Clint Eastwood and my Abuelo
watching westerns, or pitying women
crying in telenovelas with my Abuela.

Not a family room, but the room where
my father twirled his hair while listening
to 8-tracks of Elvis, and read Nietzsche
and Kant a few months before he died,
where my mother learned to dance alone
as she swept, and I learned Salsa pressed
against my Tía Julia’s enormous breasts.

At the edge of the city, in the company
of crickets, beside the empty clothesline,
telephone wires and the moon, tonight
my life is an old friend sitting with me
not in the living room, but in the light
of El Florida, as quiet and necessary
as any star shining above it.

On the Platform, by Tom Sleigh

1
The omen I didn’t know I was waiting for
pulled into the station the same instant as the train.
It was just a teenage boy busking on the platform,
cello cutting through garble, Bach’s repetitions

hard-edged as a scalpel probing an open wound.
But then I kept thinking how a sound wave
travels the path of least resistance,
how the notes rebound off steel and stone

the same as a blast wave shattering row on row
of windows as it swerves through the city.
And when the music stops, on the balcony

above the rubble, coffee and tea are served.
And if there’s sugar, is it one lump or two
and did you hear what happened to Mrs. So and So?

2
I saw, out from under the grime, whiskers
dipping into clear water that trickled between
the rails to get the feel of what was near-
the same scene as on the church wall, the slimy brethren

gathered at the river, one gnawing
an ear of corn, the rest intently listening
to Francis teaching them their catechism
about the wild man John and his crucified cousin.

Except they were birds in the painting, not rats.
But let’s go with that, let them stand
on hind legs and sniff incense and myrrh

wafting down from high up in the air
so that one day on miraculous, fly paper feet
they’ll scale the golden walls and storm the high ground.

3
Nothing moving on the platform, nothing for miles.
And then a shovel clanging against paving stone
like an old man clearing rubble while a rat climbs a vine
and looks into the broken window and smells the smells.

Rubble shoulder high after two weeks work,
a toilet with a sink and a light on a pull chain
stand framed at the end of the gravel walk
already sprouting suckers leafing out more green

from the fire that scorched the burned out bush.
Ten years, fifteen, and tree limbs shade the bedrooms
and branch out window frames toward the sun.

And where the electric pump pumped water for the town
the wellhead lies broken and two clear streams
wear ruts in the floor of the wrecked house.

Drift, by Brenda Shaughnessy

I’ll go anywhere to leave you but come with me.
All the cities are like you anyway. Windows
darken when I get close enough to see.
Any place we want to stay’s polluted,

the good spots taken already by those
who ruin them. And restaurants we’d never find.
We’d rut a ditch by a river in nights
so long they must be cut by the many pairs

of wrong-handled scissors maybe god owns
and doesn’t share. I water god.
I make a haunted lake and rinse and rinse.
I take what I want, and have ever since what

I want disappeared, like anything hunted.
That’s what you said. Disappointment
isn’t tender, dried and wide instead.
The tourists snapped you crying,

and the blanket I brought was so dirty
it must have been lying around
in lice and blood that whole year we fought.
It wasn’t clear, so I forgot.

I haven’t been sleeping, next to you
twitching to bury my boring eyes.
The ship made you sad, and the ferry, and canoe.
All boats do.

Arms, by Richard Tayson

I’m late for the birth-
day party, it’s one
of those cool after-

noons when the world
is clear, is made
of glass, the sky

so blue you want to
look up at the very
center of its pupil

in case you get
a glimpse of what
comes after

we leave here. I’m
thinking my lover’s
sister is thirty-two

today, but I want
to let time stand
still, let the tourists

go on waving their
America the Beautiful
flags across 49th

Street, let the three
ladies whose hair
is the color of smoke

rising and ghosts
taking leave of their
senses go on laughing,

near the fountain, may
we all not have
a care in the world. But

it’s August 23rd, I must
get on the train, yet
a tree keeps holding

my attention, its leaves
luscious from the summer
rain, there’s a canopy

beneath which the Pakistani
man I talked to last
week sells his salty

sauerkraut, lifting
the lid and letting out
steam each time he

serves it over hot
dogs, and the man
pays him then turns

toward me, his thick
muscled arm tan
in the sun, the tattoo:

BORN
FOR
WAR. The day

is gone, the people
around me gone, I am
trying not to forget

that I’m a pacifist,
trying not to pay
attention to his name-

brand shorts and sun
glasses that won’t
let you see a glint

of eye behind them,
I’m trying not to watch
him eat the hot dog in two

bites and nudge the woman
beside him who pushes
a stroller, his arm around

her waist as he pivots and
sees me staring. Yes he might
leap to the right, grab

my throat punch
me shoot me gut
me clean as a fish

taken from the black glass
of the city’s river street, but
the church bells are tolling,

people are saying
their prayers three blocks
from here in the hushed

dark. So I take a deep
breath and am no longer
here, I haven’t been

born yet, there is no state
of California, no Gold
Rush or steam

engine, electricity hasn’t
been invented, people
cross open spaces

on horses, no Middle
Passage, and I watch
the Huns kill the Visigoths

who slice the throats
of every living
Etruscan, a crowning

city is razed, the virgins
raped, one nation
fights for land

to walk on, then are
walked on until
someone carves on a cave

wall, then someone
writes on papyrus,
until we do it all

again, right up to
concentration camps, rivers
flowing with nuclear

waste. 49th Street
floods back, and the man
with the tattoo turns

away, as if he’s decided
not to crack my skull
open and drink me

today, the 965th day
of the new century. War
goes into fifth month. The church

bells stop and the ladies
get up and walk
toward Radio City

and while I don’t believe
in an eye for an eye, I have
a flash lasting no longer

than it takes for a nuclear
blast to render this city
invisible, shadow

of a human arm I’ve torn
from its socket, its left
hand gripping the air.

Streets, by Naomi Shihab Nye

A man leaves the world
and the streets he lived on
grow a little shorter.

One more window dark
in this city, the figs on his branches
will soften for birds.

If we stand quietly enough evenings
there grows a whole company of us
standing quietly together.
overhead loud grackles are claiming their trees
and the sky which sews and sews, tirelessly sewing,
drops her purple hem.
Each thing in its time, in its place,
it would be nice to think the same about people.

Some people do. They sleep completely,
waking refreshed. Others live in two worlds,
the lost and remembered.
They sleep twice, once for the one who is gone,
once for themselves. They dream thickly,
dream double, they wake from a dream
into another one, they walk the short streets
calling out names, and then they answer.

On 52nd Street, by Philip Levine

Down sat Bud, raised his hands,
the Deuces silenced, the lights
lowered, and breath gathered
for the coming storm. Then nothing,
not a single note. Outside starlight
from heaven fell unseen, a quarter-
moon, promised, was no show,
ditto the rain. Late August of ‘50,
NYC, the long summer of abundance
and our new war. In the mirror behind
the bar, the spirits—imitating you—
stared at themselves. At the bar
the tenor player up from Philly, shut
his eyes and whispered to no one,
“Same thing last night.” Everyone
been coming all week long
to hear this. The big brown bass
sighed and slumped against
the piano, the cymbals held
their dry cheeks and stopped
chicking and chucking. You went
back to drinking and ignored
the unignorable. When the door
swung open it was Pettiford
in work clothes, midnight suit,
starched shirt, narrow black tie,
spit shined shoes, as ready
as he’d ever be. Eyebrows
raised, the Irish bartender
shook his head, so Pettiford eased
himself down at an empty table,
closed up his Herald Tribune,
and shook his head. Did the TV
come on, did the jukebox bring us
Dinah Washington, did the stars
keep their appointments, did the moon
show, quartered or full, sprinkling
its soft light down? The night’s
still there, just where it was, just
where it’ll always be without
its music. You’re still there too
holding your breath. Bud walked out.

San Antonio, by Naomi Shihab Nye

Tonight I lingered over your name,
the delicate assembly of vowels
a voice inside my head.
You were sleeping when I arrived.
I stood by your bed
and watched the sheets rise gently.
I knew what slant of light
would make you turn over.
It was then I felt
the highways slide out of my hands.
I remembered the old men
in the west side cafe,
dealing dominoes like magical charms.
It was then I knew,
like a woman looking backward,
I could not leave you,
or find anyone I loved more.

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.

The Room In Which My First Child Slept, by Eavan Boland

After a while I thought of it this way:
It was a town underneath a mountain
crowned by snow and every year a river
rushed through, enveloping the dusk
in a noise everyone knew signaled spring—
a small town, known for a kind of calico,
made there, strong and unglazed,
a makeshift of cotton in which the actual
unseparated husks still remained and
could be found if you looked behind
the coarse daisies and the red-billed bird
with swept-back wings always trying to
arrive safely on the inch or so of cotton it
might have occupied if anyone had offered it.
And if you ask me now what happened to it—
the town that is—the answer is of course
there was no town, it never actually
existed, and the calico, the glazed cotton
on which a bird never landed is not gone,
because it never was, never once, but then
how to explain that sometimes I can hear
the river in those first days of April, making
its way through the dusk, having learned
to speak the way I once spoke, saying
as if I didn’t love you,
as if I wouldn’t have died for you.

William Dawes, by Eileen Myles

faint tinkling down the street
moved me from Swan
to Mass Ave
the skinny men running
into Boston. Why

I don’t know. Let’s go
to town hall
giant horses
Paul Revere & William
Dawes and horses
hairy poop lands
splat on the brick. Get em to sign
your program. It’s not
even really Paul Revere
I went to the other
guy he signed William
Dawes was there really
a him he signed all antiquey
I think it’s in my trunk
and horses went down the street
again after the runners
I don’t even think they
live here. They run all the way
into Boston. Why

little babies dying

man’s and people losing
their leg you live in the world
now in history it’s true
is not a fake.

Flying at Night, by Ted Kooser

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like
his.

City, by Ander Monson

Sometimes it is empty and it reminds us all of loneliness. Though we are in love or in affairs that approximate love or long-term relationships we can still be lonely and we are still lonely when it is between 3am and 4am and the world is full of nothingness. We are inside the city. We are inside ourselves. You know what I am talking about. Your husband or lover or maybe just a no one, an approximation of zero, a blank space where there should be feature, a nothing where you thought there was a something, and you don’t know it yet, but you will soon enough, trust me: he’s in the other room. He is tolerant of all your strayings, your nightly rambles around the neighborhood. Maybe you’re looking into windows. Maybe you’re looking out for a particular window. Maybe you saw something there a year ago, but you remember it. It is these things that come back to you in moments when your attention strays and your body directs you here, at 3am. Who is the couple you saw through the window that one time? Were they renters? Was that why you have never seen them both naked again? What was so powerful about that sight? You’d seen nudes before. You’d seen others nude before. Was it the surreptitiousness of it? The stolen glimpse of it?

It might have been their offering to you, to world, to the city. If the city only would take the time to look at its half-darkened windows it might see something spectacular.

Or trace that line backwards. You were in college. You were living in a borrowed city, another’s city, working at whatever job you could do. You were over visiting a friend. You were watching The Black Hole, it turns out that film is pretty good in spite of it being from Disney, and old. From the second-floor window you could see the neighbor girl as she dropped her towel and faced the window, faced towards you. It was lovely, like those childhood woods, dark and deep, and you were fixed there watching her. Was it power? Was it pleasure? Was it all of these? Do you secretly like framing your body in windows for the city too, hoping someone will notice? Are you just radiating back a sense of lust or openness? Are you talking back to the city? And what of your lover, your loved one in the other room whose sleep is undisturbed while you are awake and thinking of this, of that couple, that girl, those lighted frames?

Suicide of a Moderate Dictator, by Elizabeth Bishop

This is a day when truths will out, perhaps;
leak from the dangling telephone earphones
sapping the festooned switchboards’ strength;
fall from the windows, blow from off the sills,
—the vague, slight unremarkable contents
of emptying ash-trays; rub off on our fingers
like ink from the un-proof-read newspapers,
crocking the way the unfocused photographs
of crooked faces do that soil our coats,
our tropical-weight coats, like slapped-at moths.

Today’s a day when those who work
are idling. Those who played must work
and hurry, too, to get it done,
with little dignity or none.
The newspapers are sold; the kiosk shutters
crash down. But anyway, in the night
the headlines wrote themselves, see, on the streets
and sidewalks everywhere; a sediment’s splashed
even to the first floors of apartment houses.

This is a day that’s beautiful as well,
and warm and clear. At seven o’clock I saw
the dogs being walked along the famous beach
as usual, in a shiny gray-green dawn,
leaving their paw prints draining in the wet.
The line of breakers was steady and the pinkish,
segmented rainbow steadily hung above it.
At eight two little boys were flying kites.

French Movie, by David Lehman

I was in a French movie
and had only nine hours to live
and I knew it
not because I planned to take my life
or swallowed a lethal but slow-working
potion meant for a juror
in a mob-related murder trial,
nor did I expect to be assassinated
like a chemical engineer mistaken
for someone important in Milan
or a Jew journalist kidnapped in Pakistan;
no, none of that; no grounds for
suspicion, no murderous plots
centering on me with cryptic phone
messages and clues like a scarf or
lipstick left in the front seat of a car;
and yet I knew I would die
by the end of that day
and I knew it with a dreadful certainty,
and when I walked in the street
and looked in the eyes of the woman
walking toward me I knew that
she knew it, too,
and though I had never seen her before,
I knew she would spend the rest of that day
with me, those nine hours walking,
searching, going into a bookstore in Rome,
smoking a Gitane, and walking,
walking in London, taking the train
to Oxford from Paddington or Cambridge
from Liverpool Street and walking
along the river and across the bridges,
walking, talking, until my nine hours
were up and the black-and-white movie
ended with the single word FIN
in big white letters on a bare black screen.

5 South 43rd Street, Floor 2, by Yolanda Wisher

Sometimes we would get hungry for the neighborhood.
Walk up the sidewalk towards Chestnut Street.
Speak to the Rev holding the light-skinned baby,
ask his son to come put a new inner tube on my bike.
Cross Ludlow, past the mailbox on the corner,
Risqué Video, Dino’s Pizza, and the Emerald Laundromat.
The fruit trucks tucked into 44th Street on the left,
house eyes shut with boards, fringes of children.
Once we went into a store sunk into the street,
owned by a Cambodian woman. She sold everything,
from evening gowns to soup. Over to Walnut and 45th,
where the Muslim cat sells this chicken wrapped in pita,
draped in cucumber sauce. The pregnant woman
behind the counter writes our order out in Arabic.
We grab a juice from the freezer, some chips,
eye the bean and sweet potato pies.

Back into the hot breath of West Philly, sun is setting.
The sky is smeared squash, tangerines in a glaze.
Three girls and one boy jump doubledutch. A white man
hustles from the video store with a black plastic bag.
We look for money in the street, steal flowers
from the church lawn. The shit stain from the wino
is still on our step. Mr. Jim is washing a car for cash.
John is cleaning his rims to Buju Banton.
Noel is talking sweetly to the big blue-eyed woman.
Linda, on her way to the restaurant. The sister
in the wheelchair buzzes by with her headphones on.

One night, a man was shot and killed on this block,
right outside our thick wood door. But not today.
Today is one of those days to come home from walking
in the world, leave the windows open, start a pot of
black beans. Smoke some Alice Coltrane. Cut up
some fruit, toenails. Hold on to the moment
as if time is taking your blood pressure.

Preludes, by T. S. Eliot

I

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.

And then the lighting of the lamps.

II

The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.

With the other masquerades
That time resumes,
One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms.

III

You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.

IV

His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o’clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.

I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.