In The Museum Of Lost Objects, by Rebecca Lindenberg

You’ll find labels describing what is gone:
an empress’s bones, a stolen painting

of a man in a feathered helmet
holding a flag-draped spear.

A vellum gospel, hidden somewhere long ago
forgotten, would have sat on that pedestal;

this glass cabinet could have kept the first
salts carried back from the Levant.

To help us comprehend the magnitude
of absence, huge rooms

lie empty of their wonders—the Colossus,
Babylon’s Hanging Gardens and

in this gallery, empty shelves enough to hold
all the scrolls of Alexandria.

My love, I’ve petitioned the curator
who has acquired an empty chest

representing all the poems you will
now never write. It will be kept with others

in the poet’s gallery. Next door,
a vacant room echoes with the spill

of jewels buried by a pirate who died
before disclosing their whereabouts.

I hope you don’t mind, but I have kept
a few of your pieces

for my private collection. I think
you know the ones I mean.

Ghost House, by Robert Frost

I dwell in a lonely house I know
That vanished many a summer ago,
And left no trace but the cellar walls,
And a cellar in which the daylight falls
And the purple-stemmed wild raspberries grow.

O’er ruined fences the grape-vines shield
The woods come back to the mowing field;
The orchard tree has grown one copse
Of new wood and old where the woodpecker chops;
The footpath down to the well is healed.

I dwell with a strangely aching heart
In that vanished abode there far apart
On that disused and forgotten road
That has no dust-bath now for the toad.
Night comes; the black bats tumble and dart;

The whippoorwill is coming to shout
And hush and cluck and flutter about:
I hear him begin far enough away
Full many a time to say his say
Before he arrives to say it out.

It is under the small, dim, summer star.
I know not who these mute folk are
Who share the unlit place with me—
Those stones out under the low-limbed tree
Doubtless bear names that the mosses mar.

They are tireless folk, but slow and sad—
Though two, close-keeping, are lass and lad,—
With none among them that ever sings,
And yet, in view of how many things,
As sweet companions as might be had.

Old Boy, by A. Van Jordan

(Park Chan-Wook, 2003)

If one rainy night you find yourself
leaving a phone booth, and you meet a man
with a lavender umbrella, resist
your desire to follow him, to seek
shelter from the night in his solace.
Later, don’t fall victim to the Hypnotist’s
narcotic of clarity, which proves
a curare for the heart; her salve
is merely a bandage, under which memories
pulse. Resist the taste for something still
alive for your first meal; resist the craving
for the touch of a hand from your past.
We live some memories,
and some memories are planted. There’s
only so much space for the truth
and the fabrications to spread out
in one’s mind. When there’s no more
space, we grow desperate. You’ll ask
if practicing love for years in your mind,
prepares you for the moment,
if practicing to defend one’s life
is the same as living? You’ll
hole up, captive, in a hotel room
for fifteen years and learn to find
a man within you, which will prove
a painful introduction to the trance
into which you were born. Better
to stay under the spell of your guilt,
than to forget; you’ve already released
your pain onto the world; don’t believe
there’s some joy in forgetting.
There’s no joy in the struggle to forget.
And what appears as an endless verdant field,
only spreads across a building’s rooftop;
your peaceful sleep could be a fetal position,
which secures you in a suitcase in this field.
A bell rings, and you fall out of this luggage
like clothes you no longer fit. Now what to do?
You remember when you were the man
who fit those clothes, but you’ve forgotten this
world. Even forgotten scenes from your life,
leave shadows of the memory,
haunting your spirit
until, within a moment’s glance,
strangers passing you on the street,
observe history in your eyes. Experience
lingers through acts of forgetting,
small acts of love or trauma
falling from the same place. Whether
memory comes in the form of a stone
or a grain of sand, they both sink in water.
A tongue—even if it were, say, sworn
to secrecy; or if it were cut from one’s mouth;
yes, even without a mouth to envelop
its truth—the tongue continues to confess.

Beating his lead, by Hans Faverey

Beating his lead with the blunt
end of his axe, flattening it
in order to forget that he is

a child of death who wants to weight

his net. Until it is suddenly
done and the one who did not disappear
stands in my room, taking me
in; still lying whether I am,

and how. Just as you might ask
a fisherman returning with nothing:
So where’s the fish? And for him to reply,
without resentment, without envy:
The fish—it’s in the sea.

Oklahoma City: The Aftermath, by Ira Sadoff

Sometimes I’m so lachrymose I forget I was there
with my darling—I call her my darling to make her
more anonymous, so she can’t take up all the space
in my brain. But please, can I continue, or must I

look away from such openness, those spools of light
bringing red and fine threads of silver to her brunette hair?
Or is she an instant, a car ride, a little post-it, last month’s
no particular town? Can we shine a little first? First

there was a dust storm that made everyone invisible,
then a thunderstorm where each drop of rain painted a ringlet
on the road like haze around the moon. I’d already
deserted what crumbled there. The mind loves blackouts

more than those dusty bins of grain at the general store,
or the little hand-shovel you’d use to fill muslin sacks
with feed for animals you’d later bring to slaughter.
Then they were cementing over the childcare center.

the shell of state offices were still standing:
buried in the rubble, well there was no rubble…
Are we all so kinetic that on the highway
we’re always communicating? We’re cacophonic,

colossally bored, it takes many simultaneous tasks
to keep our souls busy. The breeze makes the ash leaves blur,
they’re almost silver in the light, like confederate money.
Or I’m driving by the Chinese Pistache, the lacebark elm,

brushing my teeth, taking notes for a morning meeting:
is there no one here to calm me? I don’t remember
the whippoorwill, the leaf brown male, if I ever knew one.
I can’t decide how this parallels our current situation:

So I take a few minutes’ cigarette to see how this
razes all of us. Have you ever been lax, insufficient, prolix?
Weren’t you ever particularly sorry? This may be entirely
personal, but once I was driven, exemplar, sheltered

from earthly business—now I keep burying and eclipsing,
more obscuring, suppressing with murmurs what’s under duress.

If You Forget Me, by Pablo Neruda

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
remember
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

But
if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

American Singer, by Matthew Zapruder

when I walk
to the mailbox
holding the letter
that fails to say
how sorry I am
you feel your call
or any words at all
on that day
would have stopped
the great singer
who long ago
decided more
quickly through
to move
I notice probably
because you wrote
that strange
word funeral
the constant black
fabric I think
is taffeta
always draped
over the scaffolds
the figures
scraping paint
are wearing dusty
protective suits
and to each other
saying nothing
I move invisibly
like a breeze
around three men
wearing advanced
practically weightless
jackets impervious
to all possible
weather even
a hurricane
I hear them say
something German
then photograph
the pale blue
turrets that floating
up in fog
seem noble
heads full
of important thoughts
like what revolution
could make us happy
from some window
wandering horns
he was three
when I was born
for a long time
I had no ideas
my father worked
in a private office
full of quiet
people working
I came to visit
it seemed correct
I went to college
studied things
dyed my hair
felt a rage
disguised as love
kept escaping
suffering only
a few broken bones
everything healed
now I live
in California
where in some
red and golden
theater I saw
him howl
such unfathomable
force from only
one lung
it was one
of? his last shows
in Athens once
many years
ago we shared
a cigarette
a little smoke
from our faces
I can’t remember
so many things
but see him
in his wheelchair
his folded body
it’s all gone
but for electrons
I can still push
into my ears
I choose the song
the perfect one
hear his words
and see
the mirror
in the ancient
lighthouse blinking
brave ships
somehow
you crossed
the water carrying
what we need
you can rest
light as nothing
in the harbor
we will take it
and go on

The Vacant Lot at the End of the Street, by Debora Greger

in memory of Margaret Greger, 1923-2009

 

I. Death Takes a Holiday

Battleships melted down into clouds:
first the empire died, then the shipbuilding,

but cloud formations of gun-metal gray
ruled over the sea that was England in June.

A scarecrow treaded water instead of barley,
gulls set sail across a cricket ground.

In a suit woven of the finest mist,
Death took the last seat on the train,

the one next to me. He loosened his tie.
His cellphone had nothing to say to him

as he gazed out the window, ignoring us all.
Had the country changed since he was last

on holiday here, a hundred years ago?
Like family, rather than look at each other,

we watched the remains of empire smear the glass.
Had we met somewhere? “Out West last week,

I passed your parent’s house,” he said.
“I waved but your mother didn’t notice.

Your father must have turned off his hearing aid,
in that way he has.” In the rack overhead,

a net, a jar, a box, a pin: Death had come
for another of Britain’s butterflies.
He rose, unwrinkled. “I’ll see you later,” he said.

II. Demeter in Winter

Earlier and earlier, the dark
comes to the door, but no one knocks.

No, the wind scratches at the window.
Clouds skate the ice of your old room,

Daughter, a cloud falls to the floor
and can’t get up—

or are you my sister? Remember the rope
tied from schoolhouse to home,

so the blizzard could find its way to us?
It climbed into the attic,

spread a white sheet and ay down in the dust.
Who left behind the army greatcoat

into whose cave we crawled that night?
Lie down beside me. Under a blanket of snow,

something freezes: the mind’s gray rag,
caught on a rusty nail. Come closer.

Say I am not the woman I used to be,
just bones turned to sand in a sack of skin.

Daughter, if this page isn’t blank, turn to the next
and read me the part where you disappear.

III. Persephone on the Way to Hell

Over there, beside the road—
is that the letter I should have left you, Mother?
The shade of a scarecrow waves a blank page
as big as he is.

Blond waves of winter wheat roll up
to the knees he’ll never have,
tempting his shirt to set sail
for some other myth.

He’s a white plastic bag
tied to a stake and stuck in a field
at the end of summer. What’s left of a river
lies in a bed grown too big for it,

surrounded by rocks it carried this far.
Mother seems smaller, too.
I saw you, my lord of the dark,
take her hand as it were just a child’s.

The door of a room had closed in her mind.
“Where am I?” she wanted to know,
reigning from her old recliner. You knelt
and tenderly took off her shoes.

IV. The River of Forgetting

Why aren’t you packed to leave town?
my mother asked. Why was I holding a rock
worn down until smooth,
gone dull when it dried?

Where was she, who prided herself
on being born with no sense of direction?
Where were the fifty years
of maps my father drew for her?

Did she remember her own name by the end?
Remember for her, you modest houses,
so alike that only those who die there
can tell them apart.

Cottonwoods crowding the driveway,
did your leaves whisper which turn
the dead should to take to the water?
The ferry that hasn’t run for fifty years

leaves for the river of forgetting tonight.

V. The Azalea Justifies Its Existence

Dream of yourself or stay awake,
Martial says, and the azalea agrees:
fifty weeks it dreams,

not the greater green of Florida
the rest of us do, but a pink almost red,
a shade I’d forgotten for thirty years:

a coat marked down and down again,
coat in a color not from the desert
of subtleties my mother favored

but somewhere between magenta and mauve—
but coat in her size, and so she bought it.
Finding her in a crowd, you found yourself

facing spring come before its time.
Yesterday she died.
She couldn’t lift a spoon to the watery winter light

of eastern Washington. Azalea,
if only she could see you now,
the pink of your magnificence

like some ruffled thing thrown on
in your rush to extend a sympathy
so far beyond the pink of flushed and fevered,

it’s—what is the word for such ragged,
joy-riddled gauds of grief?

VI. The Death of Demeter

From a distance, a woman’s life is nothing
a glass of ice water losing its edge.

I should know, Daughter. I spent the night
in a graveyard, behind a tombstone,

trying to stay cold. The trees
that wouldn’t stop whispering—

they’re nothing but chairs and tables
dying not to become tables and chairs.

A tree cries out to be covered with leaves?
A deep breath of dirt fills the lungs.

Permit me to propose a few things.
I don’t want my soul to find its body.

VII. The School for the Dead

The blackboard’s endless night,
a constellation of chalk dust unnamed—

through the classroom window, I saw a map
pulled down like a window shade:

continents pushed apart, an ocean
blotting out names with tears.

South America and Africa no longer nestled
like spoons in a silver drawer.

The lost mitten of Greenland froze
to the Arctic Circle, the empty space

called Canada yawned. The new pupil,
my mother, hunched in a desk too small,

waiting for her daughter the professor
to begin the obedience lesson:

how to lie down. How to roll over
in the grave. How to play dead.

VIII. Nocturne for Female Voice

I walk the old street at night, the way I always did,
I heard my dead mother say.
Why didn’t you come? I had to talk to a tree.
I talked to dogs—they bark at anything,

even a ghost. You shiver, Daughter,
but know nothing of the cold.
Tumbleweeds roll into town as if they owned it,
night shrouds me in darkness, wind wraps me in dust—

where’s your coat? You’ve been to Rome
with a man you weren’t married to,
and now you know ruins? If the body is a temple,
as the nuns tried to teach you long ago,

it collapses on itself, bringing down the mind.
The vacant lot at the end of your childhood—
which of us rules it now? I lower myself
to the puncture-vine, the weed I warned you

never to step on. I prostrate myself
the way you coax something to grow
in the desert of the past. Its pale star
blooms a week and then bears fruit.

It survives by causing pain.
I walk our street at night, the way I always did.
Why didn’t you come? I had to bark at a tree.
I howled like a dog.

IX. The Library of the Dead

Deep in the shelves of shadows,
I closed the book I hadn’t read.
Who wanted for food

when you could smuggle something
snatched from the jaws of the vending machine
into the library of the dead?

Down on my shoulder came a hand:
my late mother’s, turned to ash.
In the house where she died,

we would sit, not speaking,
even in eternity: she had her book
and pressed one upon me, companionably.

Everything had shrunk
to fit in a suitcase when I left.
The past had been ironed flat,

a thousand leaves starched and pinned
to a cottonwood just a shade of its former self,
the only sound its rustle, industrious,

leaves turning waxen, unread—
though no shelf lay empty
in the library of the dead.

Ruin, by Seth Abramson

and backwards go
the men into the garden, and what is it
herding them
but a haircut and a vacuous look they had
when they were twenty,
which earned its horns twice over
if they had the same
cut and look
when they were thirty. Forget about great

men, and soon the great forgetting
will be over, leaving all that is left all over.
Forward go long sleeves, a longitude,
and shame.
What is herding them
you are. All over the world, curtains drew
and obscured lush portages
the world over, and there were some sighs

but mostly it was better than continuing
to want better. Ponies cannot love
children. But O, those ponies. Those ponies.