An Arundel Tomb, by Philip Larkin

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd—
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

The Empty Dance Shoes, by Cornelius Eady

My friends,
As it has been proven in the laboratory,   
An empty pair of dance shoes
Will sit on the floor like a wart
Until it is given a reason to move.

Those of us who study inertia
(Those of us covered with wild hair and sleep)
Can state this without fear:
The energy in a pair of shoes at rest   
Is about the same as that of a clown

Knocked flat by a sandbag.
This you can tell your friends with certainty:   
A clown, flat on his back,
Is a lot like an empty pair of
    dancing shoes.

An empty pair of dancing shoes
Is also a lot like a leaf   
Pressed in a book.
And now you know a simple truth:
A leaf pressed in, say, The Colossus
    by Sylvia Plath,
Is no different from an empty pair of dance shoes

Even if those shoes are in the middle of the Stardust Ballroom   
With all the lights on, and hot music shakes the windows   
    up and down the block.
This is the secret of inertia:
The shoes run on their own sense of the world.   
They are in sympathy with the rock the kid skips   
    over the lake
After it settles to the mud.
Not with the ripples,
But with the rock.

A practical and personal application of inertia
Can be found in the question:   
Whose Turn Is It
To Take Out The Garbage?   
An empty pair of dance shoes
Is a lot like the answer to this question,
As well as book-length poems
Set in the Midwest.

To sum up:
An empty pair of dance shoes
Is a lot like the sand the 98-pound weakling   
    brushes from his cheeks
As the bully tows away his girlfriend.   
Later,

When he spies the coupon at the back of the comic book,
He is about to act upon a different set of scientific principles.   
He is ready to dance.

Little America, by Jason Shinder

My friend says she is like an empty drawer

being pulled out of the earth.
I am the long neck of the giraffe coming down

to see what she doesn’t have.

What holds us chained to the same cold river,
where we are surprised by the circles

we make in the ice? When we talk about the past

it is like pushing stones back into the earth.
Sometimes she digs her nails into her leather bag

to find out where my heart is. The white sleeves

of her shirt are bright with waves when I visit.
When we lie, we live a little longer—

which is unbelievable. If you love

someone, the water moves up from the well.

The Family Photograph, by Vona Groarke

In the window of the drawing-room
there is a rush of white as you pass
in which the figure of your husband is,
for a moment, framed. He is watching you.

His father will come, of course,
and, although you had not planned it,
his beard will offset your lace dress,
and always it will seem that you were friends.

All morning, you had prepared the house
and now you have stepped out
to make sure that everything
is in its proper place: the railings whitened,

fresh gravel on the avenue, the glasshouse
crystal when you stand in the courtyard
expecting the carriage to arrive at any moment.
You are pleased with the day, all month it has been warm.

They say it will be one of the hottest summers
the world has ever known.
Today, your son is one year old.
Later, you will try to recall

how he felt in your arms—
the weight of him, the way he turned to you from sleep,
the exact moment when you knew he would cry
and the photograph be lost.

But it is not lost.
You stand, a well-appointed group
with an air of being pleasantly surprised.
You will come to love this photograph

and will remember how, when he had finished,
you invited the photographer inside
and how, in celebration of the day,
you drank a toast to him, and summer-time.

The Remarkable Objectivity of Your Old Friends, by Liam Rector

We did right by your death and went out,
Right away, to a public place to drink,
To be with each other, to face it.

We called other friends—the ones
Your mother hadn’t called—and told them
What you had decided, and some said

What you did was right; it was the thing
You wanted and we’d just have to live
With that, that your life had been one

Long misery and they could see why you
Had chosen that, no matter what any of us
Thought about it, and anyway, one said,

Most of us abandoned each other a long
Time ago and we’d have to face that
If we had any hope of getting it right.

The Vampyre, by John Stagg

“Why looks my lord so deadly pale?
Why fades the crimson from his cheek?
What can my dearest husband ail?
Thy heartfelt cares, O Herman, speak!

“Why, at the silent hour of rest,
Dost thou in sleep so sadly mourn?
Has tho’ with heaviest grief oppress’d,
Griefs too distressful to be borne.

“Why heaves thy breast? — why throbs thy heart?
O speak! and if there be relief
Thy Gertrude solace shall impart,
If not, at least shall share thy grief.

“Wan is that cheek, which once the bloom
Of manly beauty sparkling shew’d;
Dim are those eyes, in pensive gloom,
That late with keenest lustre glow’d.

“Say why, too, at the midnight hour,
You sadly pant and tug for breath,
As if some supernat’ral pow’r
Were pulling you away to death?

“Restless, tho’ sleeping, still you groan,
And with convulsive horror start;
O Herman! to thy wife make known
That grief which preys upon thy heart.”

“O Gertrude! how shall I relate
Th’ uncommon anguish that I feel;
Strange as severe is this my fate, —
A fate I cannot long conceal.

“In spite of all my wonted strength,
Stern destiny has seal’d my doom;
The dreadful malady at length
Wil drag me to the silent tomb!”

“But say, my Herman, what’s the cause
Of this distress, and all thy care.
That, vulture-like, thy vitals gnaws,
And galls thy bosom with despair?

“Sure this can be no common grief,
Sure this can be no common pain?
Speak, if this world contain relief,
That soon thy Gertrude shall obtain.”

“O Gertrude, ’tis a horrid cause,
O Gertrude, ’tis unusual care,
That, vulture-like, my vitals gnaws,
And galls my bosom with despair.

“Young Sigismund, my once dear friend,
But lately he resign’d his breath;
With others I did him attend
Unto the silent house of death.

“For him I wept, for him I mourn’d,
Paid all to friendship that was due;
But sadly friendship is return’d,
Thy Herman he must follow too!

“Must follow to the gloomy grave,
In spite of human art or skill;
No pow’r on earth my life can save,
‘Tis fate’s unalterable will!

“Young Sigismund, my once dear friend,
But now my persecutor foul,
Doth his malevolence extend
E’en to the torture of my soul.

“By night, when, wrapt in soundest sleep,
All mortals share a soft repose,
My soul doth dreadful vigils keep,
More keen than which hell scarely knows.

“From the drear mansion of the tomb,
From the low regions of the dead,
The ghost of Sigismund doth roam,
And dreadful haunts me in my bed!

“There, vested in infernal guise,
(By means to me not understood,)
Close to my side the goblin lies,
And drinks away my vital blood!

“Sucks from my veins the streaming life,
And drains the fountain of my heart!
O Gertrude, Gertrude! dearest wife!
Unutterable is my smart.

“When surfeited, the goblin dire,
With banqueting by suckled gore,
Will to his sepulchre retire,
Till night invites him forth once more.

“Then will he dreadfully return,
And from my veins life’s juices drain;
Whilst, slumb’ring, I with anguish mourn,
And toss with agonizing pain!

“Already I’m exhausted, spent;
His carnival is nearly o’er,
My soul with agony is rent,
To-morrow I shall be no more!

“But, O my Gertrude! dearest wife!
The keenest pangs hath last remain’d—
When dead, I too shall seek thy life,
Thy blood by Herman shall be drain’d!

“But to avoid this horrid fate,
Soon as I’m dead and laid in earth,
Drive thro’ my corpse a jav’lin straight; —
This shall prevent my coming forth.

“O watch with me, this last sad night,
Watch in your chamber here alone,
But carefully conceal the light
Until you hear my parting groan.

“Then at what time the vesper-bell
Of yonder convent shall be toll’d,
That peal shall ring my passing knell,
And Herman’s body shall be cold!

“Then, and just then, thy lamp make bare,
The starting ray, the bursting light,
Shall from my side the goblin scare,
And shew him visible to sight!”

The live-long night poor Gertrude sate,
Watch’d by her sleeping, dying lord;
The live-long night she mourn’d his fate,
The object whom her soul ador’d.

Then at what time the vesper-bell
Of yonder convent sadly toll’d,
The, then was peal’d his passing knell,
The hapless Herman he was cold!

Just at that moment Gertrude drew
From ‘neath her cloak the hidden light;
When, dreadful! she beheld in view
The shade of Sigismund! — sad sight!

Indignant roll’d his ireful eyes,
That gleam’d with wild horrific stare;
And fix’d a moment with surprise,
Beheld aghast th’ enlight’ning glare.

His jaws cadaverous were besmear’d
With clott’d carnage o’er and o’er,
And all his horrid whole appear’d
Distent, and fill’d with human gore!

With hideous scowl the spectre fled;
She shriek’d aloud; — then swoon’d away!
The hapless Herman in his bed,
All pale, a lifeless body lay!

Next day in council ’twas decree,
(Urg’d at the instance of the state,)
That shudd’ring nature should be freed
From pests like these ere ’twas too late.

The choir then burst the fun’ral dome
Where Sigismund was lately laid,
And found him, tho’ within the tomb,
Still warm as life, and undecay’d.

With blood his visage was distain’d,
Ensanguin’d were his frightful eyes,
Each sign of former life remain’d,
Save that all motionless he lies.

The corpse of Herman they contrive
To the same sepulchre to take,
And thro’ both carcases they drive,
Deep in the earth, a sharpen’d stake!

By this was finish’d their career,
Thro’ this no longer they can roam;
From them their friends have nought to fear,
Both quiet keep the slumb’ring tomb.

Quid Pro Quo, by Paul Mariani

Just after my wife’s miscarriage (her second
in four months), I was sitting in an empty
classroom exchanging notes with my friend,
a budding Joyce scholar with steelrimmed
glasses, when, lapsed Irish Catholic that he was,
he surprised me by asking what I thought now
of God’s ways toward man. It was spring,

such spring as came to the flintbacked Chenango
Valley thirty years ago, the full force of Siberia
behind each blast of wind. Once more my poor wife
was in the local four-room hospital, recovering.
The sun was going down, the room’s pinewood panels
all but swallowing the gelid light, when, suddenly,
I surprised not only myself but my colleague

by raising my middle finger up to heaven, quid
pro quo, the hardly grand defiant gesture a variant
on Vanni Fucci’s figs, shocking not only my friend
but in truth the gesture’s perpetrator too. I was 24,
and, in spite of having pored over the Confessions
& that Catholic Tractate called the Summa, was sure
I’d seen enough of God’s erstwhile ways toward man.

That summer, under a pulsing midnight sky
shimmering with Van Gogh stars, in a creaking,
cedarscented cabin off Lake George, having lied
to the gentrified owner of the boys’ camp
that indeed I knew wilderness & lakes and could,
if need be, lead a whole fleet of canoes down
the turbulent whitewater passages of the Fulton Chain

(I who had last been in a rowboat with my parents
at the age of six), my wife and I made love, trying
not to disturb whosever headboard & waterglass
lie just beyond the paperthin partition at our feet.
In the great black Adirondack stillness, as we lay
there on our sagging mattress, my wife & I gazed out
through the broken roof into a sky that seemed

somehow to look back down on us, and in that place,
that holy place, she must have conceived again,
for nine months later in a New York hospital she
brought forth a son, a little buddha-bellied
rumplestiltskin runt of a man who burned
to face the sun, the fact of his being there
both terrifying & lifting me at once, this son,

this gift, whom I still look upon with joy & awe. Worst,
best, just last year, this same son, grown
to manhood now, knelt before a marble altar to vow
everything he had to the same God I had had my own
erstwhile dealings with. How does one bargain
with a God like this, who, quid pro quo, ups
the ante each time He answers one sign with another?