Just Listen, by Peter Johnson

I sit by the window and watch a great mythological bird go down in flames. In fact, it’s a kite the neighborhood troublemaker has set on fire. Twenty-one and still living at home, deciding when to cut through a screen and chop us into little pieces. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” his mother would say, as they packed our parts into black antiseptic body bags. I explain this possibility to the garbage men. I’m trying to make friends with them, unable to understand why they leave our empty cans in the middle of the driveway, then laugh as they walk away. One says, “Another name for moving air is wind, and shade is just a very large shadow”—perhaps a nice way to make me feel less eclipsed. It’s not working, it’s not working. I’m scared for children yet to be abducted, scared for the pregnant woman raped at knife point on the New Jersey Turnpike, scared for what violence does to one’s life, how it squats inside the hollow heart like a dead cricket. My son and his friends found a dead cricket, coffined it in a plastic Easter egg and buried it in the backyard. It was a kind of time capsule, they explained—a surprise for some future boy archeologist, someone much happier than us, who will live during a time when trees don’t look so depressed, and birds and dogs don’t chatter and growl like the chorus in an undiscovered Greek tragedy.

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Great Sleeps I Have Known, by Robin Becker

Once in a cradle in Norway folded
like Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir
as a ship in full sail transported the dead to Valhalla

Once on a mountain in Taos after making love
in my thirties the decade of turquoise and silver

After your brother walked into the Atlantic
to scatter your mothers ashes his khakis soaked
to the knees his shirtsleeves blowing

At the top of the cottage in a thunderstorm
once or twice each summer covetous of my solitude

Immediately following lunch
against circadian rhythms, once
in a bunk bed in a dormitory in the White Mountains

Once in a hollow tree in Wyoming
A snow squall blew in the guide said tie up your horses

The last night in the Katmandu guest house
where I saw a bird fly from a monk’s mouth
a consolidated sleep of East and West

Once on a horsehair mattress two feet thick
I woke up singing
as in the apocryphal story of my birth
at Temple University Hospital

On the mesa with the burrowing owls
on the mesa with the prairie dogs

Willing to be lucky
I ran the perimeter road in my sleep
entrained to the cycles of light and dark
Sometimes my dead sister visited my dreams

Once on the beach in New Jersey
after the turtles deposited their eggs
before my parents grew old, nocturnal

in the ruins, by Mark Conway

we drank in the remains
of ruined buildings
and we sat in a cave or
wrecked houses on farms given back to the bank
listening to men who’d been raised
in ways that were lost
and we strained to make out
the use of their news
they were crazy or passed out
speed notched with a cross
they drank from the flask and the mouth
they came in and shook off the rain
inflamed and dismayed
calm and arcane
the least one seethed chanting whitman for hours
then wept at the dregs of the fire
foam formed at the edge of their lips
we drank and waited for something to drop
you and I looking and sifting
for signs written in wax
we were young we knew how to die
but not how to last
a small man who claimed he was blake raged
all night and probably he was
he had god in his sights
white crosses shone in our eyes or acid mandalic
in the ruins the men talked:
seraphic and broken
glowing with gnosis and rubbish
we sorted their mad sacred words
these dog-headed guides to the life after
and the life after that

December 2, 2002, by Juliana Spahr

As it happens every night, beloveds, while we turned in the night
sleeping uneasily the world went on without us.

We live in our own time zone and there are only a small million of
us in this time zone and the world as a result has a tendency to
begin and end without us.

While we turned sleeping uneasily at least ten were injured in a
bomb blast in Bombay and four killed in Palestine.

While we turned sleeping uneasily a warehouse of food aid was
destroyed, stocks on upbeat sales soared, Australia threatened first
strikes, there was heavy gunfire in the city of Man, the Belarus
ambassador to Japan went missing, a cruise ship caught fire, on yet
another cruise ship many got sick, and the pope made a statement
against xenophobia.

While we turned sleeping uneasily perhaps J Lo gave Ben a
prenuptial demand for sex four times a week.

While we turned sleeping uneasily Liam Gallagher brawled and
irate fans complained that “Popstars: The Rivals” was fixed.

While we turned sleeping uneasily the Supreme Court agreed to
hear the case of whether university admissions may favor racial
minorities.

While we turned sleeping uneasily poachers caught sturgeon in the
reed-filled Caspian, which shelters boar and wolves, and some of
the residents on the space shuttle planned a return flight to the US.

Beloveds, our world is small and isolated.

We live our lives in six hundred square feet about a quarter mile
from the shore on land that is seven hundred square miles and five
thousand miles from the nearest land mass.

Despite our isolation, there is no escape from the news of how
many days are left in the Iraq inspections.

The news poll for today was should we invade Iraq now or should
we wait until the inspections are complete and we tried to laugh
together at this question but our laughter was uneasy and we just
decided to turn off the television that arrives to us from those
other time zones.

Beloveds, we do not know how to live our lives with any agency
outside of our bed.

It makes me angry that how we live in our bed—full of connected
loving and full of isolated sleep and dreaming also—has no
relevance to the rest of the world.

How can the power of our combination of intimacy and isolation
have so little power outside the space of our bed?

Beloveds, the shuttle is set to return home and out the window of
the shuttle one can see the earth.

“How massive the earth is; how minute the atmosphere,” one of
the astronauts notes.

Beloveds, what do we do but keep breathing as best we can this
minute atmosphere?

Cruel Cogito, by Ken Chen

How joyous!,
passing this time alone
with your father, how bright his golden laugh
which drew you to laugh yourself uncontrolled,
how sweet the happy hour oysters you two pry and eat,
piling wobbling shells that glisten on the table
while the pianist plays by the kitchen doors.
You find yourself reminded of what you wrote
in the eulogy: that you two would still possess
a relationship even though
he was dead, that you could still
go and speak with him
when you dreamed

and so you see the seat opposite from you seats no one.

The Hour and What Is Dead, by Li-Young Lee

Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking
through bare rooms over my head,
opening and closing doors.
What could he be looking for in an empty house?
What could he possibly need there in heaven?
Does he remember his earth, his birthplace set to torches?
His love for me feels like spilled water
running back to its vessel.

At this hour, what is dead is restless
and what is living is burning.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

My father keeps a light on by our bed
and readies for our journey.
He mends ten holes in the knees
of five pairs of boy’s pants.
His love for me is like sewing:
various colors and too much thread,
the stitching uneven. But the needle pierces
clean through with each stroke of his hand.

At this hour, what is dead is worried
and what is living is fugitive.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

God, that old furnace, keeps talking
with his mouth of teeth,
a beard stained at feasts, and his breath
of gasoline, airplane, human ash.
His love for me feels like fire,
feels like doves, feels like river-water.

At this hour, what is dead is helpless, kind
and helpless. While the Lord lives.

Someone tell the Lord to leave me alone.
I’ve had enough of his love
that feels like burning and flight and running away.

Unhappy Hour, by Richard Siken

Going to a party where I knew you’d be,
dudes bobbing for boyfriends, eyes shining
like candy apples. I want to be a lamppost,
or the history of plumbing. I am tired of being
mysterious. You are drinking rum next to
the laughing skullheads and I am unhappy
because I am dead and I miss you. Once
a year, day of the dead, you think you’d think
of me more often. These people shoulda
dressed up as their best selves to mix and
mingle in the courtyard garden. If everything
is green then why do I feel so blue? I would like
to be a plain-faced man, living with you quietly.
Leave the party but you can’t hear me you can
no longer hear me. The dead are boring.
Enlightenment is boring. We can read the minds
of dogs. We make the black cats scatter across
the grass. There is a better party where I am not
a ghost and you are not Aquaman. I am like
a pornstar, we are all of us pornstars aching
to get back into our terrycloth robes. Gives me
a headache, all this intellectual stimulation.
It’s cold out tonight. I am here by the back wall,
in the museum of the afterlife. I would like to
be a flickering cowboy. I like the live music—
we only get the recorded stuff here. I would like
to be alive again. I would like to say something
about grace.