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His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.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?

Two Nudes, by Mary Jo Bang

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

Letter to Denise, by Hayden Carruth

Remember when you put on that wig
From the grab bag and then looked at yourself
In the mirror and laughed, and we laughed together?
It was a transformation, glamorous flowing tresses.
Who knows if you might not have liked to wear
That wig permanently, but of course you
Wouldn’t. Remember when you told me how
You meditated, looking at a stone until
You knew the soul of the stone? Inwardly I
Scoffed, being the backwoods pragmatic Yankee
That I was, yet I knew what you meant. I
Called it love. No magic was needed. And we
Loved each other too, not in the way of
Romance but in the way of two poets loving
A stone, and the world that the stone signified.
Remember when we had that argument over
Pee and piss in your poem about the bear?
“Bears don’t pee, they piss,” I said. But you were
Adamant. “My bears pee.” And that was that.
Then you moved away, across the continent,
And sometimes for a year I didn’t see you.
We phoned and wrote, we kept in touch. And then
You moved again, much farther away, I don’t
Know where. No word from you now at all. But
I am faithful, my dear Denise. And I still
Love the stone, and, yes, I know its soul.

The Ghazal of What Hurt, by Peter Cole

Pain froze you, for years-and fear-leaving scars.
But now, as though miraculously, it seems, here you are

walking easily across the ground, and into town
as though you were floating on air, which in part you are,

or riding a wave of what feels like the world’s good will-
though helped along by something foreign and older than you are

and yet much younger too, inside you, and so palpable
an X-ray, you’re sure, would show it, within the body you are,

not all that far beneath the skin, and even in
some bones. Making you wonder: Are you what you are-

with all that isn’t actually you having flowed
through and settled in you, and made you what you are?

The pain was never replaced, nor was it quite erased.
It’s memory now-so you know just how lucky you are.

You didn’t always. Were you then? And where’s the fear?
Inside your words, like an engine? The car you are?!

Face it, friend, you most exist when you’re driven
away, or on-by forms and forces greater than you are.

To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like a Death, by Lloyd Schwartz

In today’s paper, a story about our high school drama
teacher evicted from his Carnegie Hall rooftop apartment

made me ache to call you—the only person I know
who’d still remember his talent, his good looks, his self-

absorption. We’d laugh (at what haven’t we laughed?), then
not laugh, wondering what became of him. But I can’t call,

because I don’t know what became of you.

—After sixty years, with no explanation, you’re suddenly
not there. Gone. Phone disconnected. I was afraid

you might be dead. But you’re not dead.

You’ve left, your landlord says. He has your new unlisted
number but insists on “respecting your privacy.” I located

your oldest son, who refuses to tell me anything except that
you’re alive and not ill. Your ex-wife ignores my letters.

What’s happened? Are you in trouble? Something
you’ve done? Something I’ve done?

We used to tell each other everything: our automatic
reference points to childhood pranks, secret codes,

and sexual experiments. How many decades since we started
singing each other “Happy Birthday” every birthday?

(Your last uninhibited rendition is still on my voice mail.)

How often have we exchanged our mutual gratitude—the easy
unthinking kindnesses of long friendship.

This mysterious silence isn’t kind. It keeps me
up at night, bewildered, at some “stage “of grief.

Would your actual death be easier to bear?

I crave your laugh, your quirky takes, your latest
comedy of errors. “When one’s friends hate each other,”

Pound wrote near the end of his life, “how can there be
peace in the world?” We loved each other. Why why why

am I dead to you?

Our birthdays are looming. The older I get, the less and less
I understand this world,

and the people in it.

Those Graves in Rome, by Larry Levis

There are places where the eye can starve,
But not here. Here, for example, is
The Piazza Navona, & here is his narrow room
Overlooking the Steps & the crowds of sunbathing
Tourists. And here is the Protestant Cemetery
Where Keats & Joseph Severn join hands
Forever under a little shawl of grass
And where Keats’ name isn’t even on
His gravestone, because it is on Severn’s,
And Joseph Severn’s infant son is buried
Two modest, grassy steps behind them both.
But you’d have to know the story–how bedridden
Keats wanted the inscription to be
Simple, & unbearable: “Here lies one
Whose name is writ in water.” On a warm day,
I stood here with my two oldest friends.
I thought, then, that the three of us would be
Indissoluble at the end, & also that
We would all die, of course. And not die.
And maybe we should have joined hands at that
Moment. We didn’t. All we did was follow
A lame man in a rumpled suit who climbed
A slight incline of graves blurring into
The passing marble of other graves to visit
The vacant home of whatever is not left
Of Shelley & Trelawney. That walk uphill must
Be hard if you can’t walk. At the top, the man
Wheezed for breath; sweat beaded his face,
And his wife wore a look of concern so
Habitual it seemed more like the way
Our bodies, someday, will have to wear stone.
Later that night, the three of us strolled,
Our arms around each other, through the Via
Del Corso & toward the Piazza di Espagna
As each street grew quieter until
Finally we heard nothing at the end
Except the occasional scrape of our own steps,
And so we said good-bye. Among such friends,
Who never allowed anything, still alive,
To die, I’d almost forgotten that what
Most people leave behind them disappears.
Three days later, staying alone in a cheap
Hotel in Naples, I noticed a child’s smeared
Fingerprints on a bannister. It
Had been indifferently preserved beneath
A patina of varnish applied, I guessed, after
The last war. It seemed I could almost hear
His shout, years later, on that street. But this
Is speculation, & no doubt the simplest fact
Could shame me. Perhaps the child was from
Calabria, & went back to it with
A mother who failed to find work, & perhaps
The child died there, twenty years ago,
Of malaria. It was so common then—
The children crying to the doctors for quinine.
It was so common you did not expect an aria,
And not much on a gravestone, either—although
His name is on it, & weathered stone still wears
His name—not the way a girl might wear
The too large, faded blue workshirt of
A lover as she walks thoughtfully through
The Via Fratelli to buy bread, shrimp,
And wine for the evening meal with candles &
The laughter of her friends, & later the sweet
Enkindling of desire; but something else, something
Cut simply in stone by hand & meant to last
Because of the way a name, any name,
Is empty. And not empty. And almost enough.

Slowly in Prayer, by Matthew Lippman

To be thankful for the Starbucks lady, Lucy,
who is pissed at me for asking too many questions
about my damn phone app
is one thing.
To be thankful for my wife plastering my face to the bathroom floor
with pancake batter
for missing the bus
is another thing.
I tried to be thankful for my eyes this morning
even though one of them is filled with puss
and the other with marigold juice.
Marigold juice is the stuff that comes from the flower
when you put it between your palms and rub, slowly in prayer,
even though nothing comes out.
It’s the imagined juice of God,
the thing you can’t see when you are not being thankful.
I try to be thankful for the lack of energy that is my laziness
and my lonely best friend with no wife and children
knowing I am as lonely as he
with one wife and two daughters.
Sometimes we travel five minutes to the pier in Red Hook
and it takes hours in our loneliness to know, in our thankfulness,
that if we held hands it’d be a quiet romance for the ages.
I’ll admit, I’m thankful for Justin Timberlake
because he’s better than Beethoven
and my friend Aaron
who lived in the woods with an axe and never used it once.
I try hard to forget love,
to abandon love,
so that one day I will actually be able to love.
Until then, I am thankful that Lucy wanted to spit in my coffee,
or imagined that she did,
and thanked her profusely
for showing me which buttons to push
and how to do it, with just the right amount of pressure,
the whole tips of all my fingers dancing like stars
through the blackness
of a mocha latte, black.

Days of Me, by Stuart Dischell

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

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

On. On. Stop. Stop., by Saskia Hamilton

In the old recording of the birthday party,
the voices of the living and the dead
instruct twelve absent friends
on the reliable luxury of gratitude.
The celebrated one hands out presents.
The dead dog barks once. We
take one another’s hands and follow their lead,
past the garden wall, out to the land
still stripped by winter. Those gone
do not usurp those here. We keep
the warning close, the timbre of their voices
mingling with the sounds of traffic
going much faster to its destinations.
Is it the size or the scale of the past
on the small reels of the cassette?
Someone gives her a new pot, which,
she exclaims, is too great a luxury for her.
Someone’s missing who can convert
the currencies. The old treasure
was dropped in the furrows
to await spring, with rings and pennies
and florins and other denominations
from those pockets and fingers.

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?

Everything That Happens Can Be Called Aging, by Carl Adamshick

I have more love than ever.
Our kids have kids soon to have kids.
I need them. I need everyone
to come over to the house,
sleep on the floor, on the couches
in the front room. I need noise,
too many people in too small a space,
I need dancing, the spilling of drinks,
the loud pronouncements
over music, the verbal sparring,
the broken dishes, the wealth.
I need it all flying apart.
My friends to slam against me,
to hold me, to say they love me.
I need mornings to ask for favors
and forgiveness. I need to give,
have all my emotions rattled,
my family to be greedy,
to keep coming, to keep asking
and taking. I need no resolution,
just the constant turmoil of living.
Give me the bottom of the river,
all the unadorned, unfinished,
unpraised moments, one good turn
on the luxuriant wheel.

In Praise of Their Divorce, by Tony Hoagland

And when I heard about the divorce of my friends,
I couldn’t help but be proud of them,

that man and that woman setting off in different directions,
like pilgrims in a proverb

—him to buy his very own toaster oven,
her seeking a prescription for sleeping pills.

Let us keep in mind the hidden forces
which had struggled underground for years

to push their way to the surface—and that finally did,
cracking the crust, moving the plates of earth apart,

releasing the pent-up energy required
for them to rent their own apartments,

for her to join the softball league for single mothers
for him to read George the Giraffe over his speakerphone

at bedtime to the six-year-old.

The bible says, Be fruitful and multiply

but is it not also fruitful to subtract and to divide?
Because if marriage is a kind of womb,

divorce is the being born again;
alimony is the placenta one of them will eat;

loneliness is the name of the wet-nurse;
regret is the elementary school;

endurance is the graduation.
So do not say that they are splattered like dropped lasagna

or dead in the head-on collision of clichés
or nailed on the cross of their competing narratives.

What is taken apart is not utterly demolished.
It is like a great mysterious egg in Kansas

that has cracked and hatched two big bewildered birds.
It is two spaceships coming out of retirement,

flying away from their dead world,
the burning booster rocket of divorce
falling off behind them,

the bystanders pointing at the sky and saying, Look.

Four Poems for Robin, by Gary Snyder

Four Poems for Robin, by Gary Snyder


Siwashing It Out Once in Suislaw Forest
by Gary Snyder

I slept under rhododendron
All night blossoms fell
Shivering on a sheet of cardboard
Feet stuck in my pack
Hands deep in my pockets
Barely able to sleep.
I remembered when we were in school
Sleeping together in a big warm bed
We were the youngest lovers
When we broke up we were still nineteen
Now our friends are married
You teach school back east
I dont mind living this way
Green hills the long blue beach
But sometimes sleeping in the open
I think back when I had you.


A Spring Night in Shokoku-ji
by Gary Snyder

Eight years ago this May
We walked under cherry blossoms
At night in an orchard in Oregon.
All that I wanted then
Is forgotten now, but you.
Here in the night
In a garden of the old capital
I feel the trembling ghost of Yugao
I remember your cool body
Naked under a summer cotton dress.


An Autumn Morning in Shokoku-ji
by Gary Snyder

Last night watching the Pleiades,
Breath smoking in the moonlight,
Bitter memory like vomit
Choked my throat.
I unrolled a sleeping bag
On mats on the porch
Under thick autumn stars.
In dream you appeared
(Three times in nine years)
Wild, cold, and accusing.
I woke shamed and angry:
The pointless wars of the heart.
Almost dawn. Venus and Jupiter.
The first time I have
Ever seen them close.


December at Yase
by Gary Snyder

You said, that October,
In the tall dry grass by the orchard
When you chose to be free,
“Again someday, maybe ten years.”

After college I saw you
One time. You were strange.
And I was obsessed with a plan.

Now ten years and more have
Gone by: I’ve always known
where you were—
I might have gone to you
Hoping to win your love back.
You still are single.

I didn’t.
I thought I must make it alone. I
Have done that.

Only in dream, like this dawn,
Does the grave, awed intensity
Of our young love
Return to my mind, to my flesh.

We had what the others
All crave and seek for;
We left it behind at nineteen.

I feel ancient, as though I had
Lived many lives.
And may never now know
If I am a fool
Or have done what my
karma demands.


 

Headaches, by Marilyn Hacker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Situation for Mrs. Biswas, by Prageeta Sharma

When I received the call I was in a store in Missoula, Montana.

A store stocked with sparkling ephemera: glass fauna, tiny belfry bulbs,

winter white birch and stump-lamps brandishing light cones,

little shelves and branches hung with drops of ice and round silver baubles.

I loved the store: it was cavernous, dark with wood and burlap,

a ruddy brick loft with lithographs and monographs on birds or bracelets.

The store-owner, Fran, was away that day otherwise
I would have stayed in there a little longer.

She was a comforting friend—
she had impeccable taste, manifested in her put-together garments,
she also had a warming patient smile.

I didn’t stay long, I didn’t linger;
though linger is absolutely the wrong word,
more like I didn’t stumble around there for hours.

(I would stumble around in that store for a full year.)

If she had been behind the counter I would have turned to her in bewilderment.

~

You see I had picked up my ringing cell phone while browsing
(I usually keep it off in stores),

and my father said, there’s something I have to tell you.
I don’t want you to find out any other way. I am leaving my job.
They want me to resign.

Fran had met my father the week before—
he wanted to see downtown, the campus, get to know Montana—
he had done research on the education opportunities.

He was interested in outreach.

People all over met him and found him to be a kindhearted man.

I had set up meetings, he was here to meet educators, mathematicians—
more spirited people—I told him—than Bostonians.

I told him the West was a magical place. He agreed.

Later he would tell me that this was his last best day, a strange pun on the Last Best Place.

Little did we know we would have to fight a very public battle.

And apparently from the rumors and from the strange
treatment he received prior to his termination,
there was a plot in place.

We, as a family, felt the public ridicule.

And as an Asian family, we felt the acute Asian shame. It was a dark,
disastrous cloud hanging, hanging, hanging.

My father would be would be publicly shamed
and we were shocked at the racist narratives—
allegations—a greedy brown man—

mismanaging, mismanaging, mismanaging

One public interest story to release venom—
to tease out real feelings from strangers.

Blog comments were aggressive: the Indian was a con,
a snake-oil man.

You just have to give them a scenario
in which they can invest—in which to place those hard-to-place feelings.
White people bury their resentments beneath their liberalism.

We knew he hadn’t done anything wrong—we knew this was bogus.

Like I said, I was getting ready for the holidays,
I played hooky that Tuesday excited to wrap gifts;
I wanted to decorate the house.

This was my first house.
My husband was out looking at Christmas trees.
Albeit I am a Hindu, trees are an awful lot of fun.

And this planning was quickly thwarted with the difficult—
my family was falling apart—
the droop in my life felt permanent.

I was more than 2,000 miles from my father, but the way he spoke
at the moment of the call becalmed me—
I felt anchored to his side—
I will stay there for as long as it takes.

Before this moment I was in a terrific mood.

I wanted to don the table
with the kind of candles that beckoned, pulling you into an aesthetic presence
fully-fabricated and lit, and yet looked like it came from snow.

I had been in Missoula for many months,
I had come from Brooklyn, where I had lived for twelve years.
Now I was ready to escape.

Having been born and raised outside of Boston,
without the opportunities say someone like Robert Lowell had.

I knew I was not of that ilk nor was my father—we now realize.

Boston was indeed for the rich—with its stodgy colonial identity,
with its ridiculous Brahmans—
its oddly cultureless stance
even with Harvard as its mirror.
(Even with Cal as front & center literati.)

Even so, I was pleased, I was unhurried in my new life, I was, I was.
I could feel how I stood, I could feel the rising happiness—of the belly, not the gut.

I was consumed with the bliss of poetry,
so much poetry around me, everything with poetry.

I said and understood, the workshop will be my ideology,
my intentional community, front and center—with bells.

My family was overjoyed with the way our lives
were working together—

my father was comfortable, my mother pleased,
a professorship and presidential position
at a college, he was the first South-Asian president.

He had come to America with very little and now had something.

As you can see, there is an immigrant narrative here.

When he first arrived, he made very little money as a visiting professor so he worked
security at night at the Museum of Fine Arts. He kept thinking his colleague, Bruce,
was calling him bastard, when he was calling him buster.

It took him months to realize this. He first had to confront Bruce.

The sequence of his first major purchases and acquisitions, which took several months:

a suitcase and a rug, then he found a dentist’s chair for the living room.

He bought the Bob Dylan album that had “Blowing in the Wind,” because it really
sounded Hindu—it sounded like it came from the Rig Veda.

For many years I would say he was a model minority—he aspired to being
rewarded for his good work by white people.

We agreed, all was well— I had made my way to where I had wanted to be,
living a poet’s life and it felt extraordinary—
all of the birch-stump lamps lighting up inside, this was a kind of bliss.

I had arrived where I loved in absolute terms.

Where I could love the poetics of if, then & thou. The luminous…

And yet poetry haunts with its suggestion that terrible things are true and stick, as Rilke says:

I am much too small in this world, yet not small enough/to be to you just object
and thing/dark and smart.

~

The sun was hidden behind the darkest cloud.

I said what is happening to my father?

In response, my husband’s back gave out,
he could not walk without whimpering, there was whimpering in the night

and I wasn’t sure which one of us it was.

What was happening to my ableness?

We had failure, heaps of failure in our hands.

The world had recast itself in such a way that I had to address the power behind it.

I kept saying strange things to people like no one is exempt from suffering.
I felt like a tiny bird with sinking feet.

There are assertions about difference
That I had not wanted to make in the past, but now did.

Where was I? Who was I?

My father was told he had to watch his back
and then they took everything away from him.

To take away his dignity with so many untruths. Do I have to watch my back too?

What did I think I could have? I wasn’t even sure if I had it here.
People hadn’t seen me as me, I started to feel it. Those glass birds

and the birch lamps were a kind of privilege
only others could have—not “others” in the sense in which I was other.

I started to see how money worked the room: when we had it, when we didn’t.

Imagine, we were so close
to the soaring sky, and imagine how we fell.
How we knew falling wouldn’t end us,

fall right here, fall right there, cry out, oh blustering self,
it can’t be as bad as you think.

I said let’s remember how to do it so it won’t hurt
this time or the next.

But I had to say the branches extended their arms,
there was a house attached to them—

we found ourselves languishing, then needing
to rebuild.

It was the turning of the year and then another one.

And the showy, extravagant people capped themselves
on the tops of mountain ash—

we came out to clear them away.

Vocabulary, by Jason Schneiderman

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

Now I love both,
the knowing,

and the looking up,
the absurdity

of discovering that “boreal”
has been meaning

“northern” all this time
or that “estrus”

is a much better word
for the times when

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

When I was translating,
the dictionary

was my enemy,
the repository of knowledge

that I seemed incapable
of retaining. The foreign word

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

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

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

for a decade, first encountered
in an unkind portrayal

of Ronald Reagan, and then
finally returned to me

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

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

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

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

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

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

My friend reads the dictionary
for its perspective on culture,

laughs when I say that
reference books are not really

books, but proleptic databases.
My third grade teacher

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

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

Discovery is always tinged
with sorrow, the knowledge

that you have been living
without something,

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

who have less time to regret
having lived in ignorance.

My students are lost
in dictionaries,

unable to figure out why
“categorize” means

“to put into categories”
or why the fifth definition

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

in question make sense.
I wonder how anyone

can live without knowing
the word “wonder.”

A famous author
once said in an interview,

that he ended his novel
with an obscure word

he was sure his reader
would not know

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

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

another, that second book
being a dictionary,

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

that story
(and this may surprise you)

I loved him less.

Ghost Notes [excerpt], by Ralph Burns

for Danny Fletcher

 

I. Call and Response

1

Plumbline of disaster, shadow storage
of the way thought travels, the opinion,
the sentiment, only assertion following silence,
only a way of everlasting breathing,
a verb searching for grammar too devoted
to making sense so that the self interrupts
with a final pitch. From stop to stop the mouth
makes music by holding sound in a razz
mixed with spit, air pushing through idea
to a new phrase, followed by a chill,
then riding on the other air. So the moment might live
outside itself, lips vibrate against
the mouthpiece of the horn, the face blooms
in concentration, the idea of interval.

2

Anoint the valves, they stick — my
it is bright when you bring out your trumpet
William, standing there, tapping your right
foot, bent like a cricket at the knee, slouching.
Whoever hears your Ode to Joy hears your knocking
then setting down of carrying
case, cradling of brass. Dizzy said it took
his whole life to learn what not
to play but in one month you deny nothing,
not even the feel of your embouchere,
who’d been in school all day. Lubricate the valves,
once neighbors lifted up their heads
like lilies in the field, and wind rolled over
the need to stay away.

3

It’s beauty people fear, bright
rose riding on Aunt Billie’s forehead,
the way light makes green everything
after her pickled okra, stubble
in the hands of day labor, callouses
of a parade of things and
touching them without seeing
or hearing without knowledge,
dumbstruck by a brooding need to define
or look without a place
to grieve, beauty and not faith
in truth in the light of justice —
just reach and nothing’s there
but what’s there already.

4

William — where — is — your — horn,
did you leave it in math class again
with Fibonacci’s sequence, flaring
bell, flex and curve in sunlight leaning
at a forty-five degree angle,
your teacher Mr. Fletcher having cranked
open the classroom window with an allen wrench,
merged with sunlight so a horsefly wheeled
blue-green in its own wingbeat
by a rote it answered to in music,
lesser to the greater as the greater
to the whole, tube twice bent
on itself, Sin curve on the line of displacement,
sending sound backwards until it’s now?

5

William, when thirty kids try out for basketball
calculate the odds, the tendency of mind
to see itself in transition — feminine green light
like call waiting — you might be playing trumpet
into the speaker, your girlfriend Corrine might
be listening, exhausting her telephone allotment
of fifteen minutes, holding her ear inches away, glint
of a clipboard watching you both. You might move out of
the paint. The yellow squeak of rubber on oak
wakes rivers of grain — what does it matter
that this matter jumps back or breaks for open court —
sometimes you only stand and scream,
wave both arms, put it on the floor and drive,
lay it up, put it down, take it home.

6

Let me find the keys says Candace
let’s go says William the water
nibbles at the bank sunlight shafts
the fog wait says Candace
clouds back off the water
what else the boat suspended
glint gray along the gunnels
here they are I’ve found them
the washing machine idles in its cycle
sun shattered in water slaps
let’s go says William the legs follow
the surface tension the door closes
the car starts the green wave slides
under the boat a day begins.

7

Slow it down, bring it down, bring it
on home, tympanum of the trumpet-
flower, raised hood, swollen yellow face,
pathological woe standing
in rank grass against the Hurricane fence,
half a brick bewildered, half
carried through slatted shadows, cracked
bell shrouded by buildings, doorways
listening, patiently waiting for someone to open
a paper bag and bring out the horn
and this one time it sounds exactly like
laughter, wind blows in your face,
from a high window in metallic light
long green trumpets beat back rain.

8

When the instruments linger in the band room,
snare leaning into itself,
tuba beached against green cinderblock,
do they riff where a fault opens,
make a crazy line in space, does brass
lie in bronze alloy, does longing
breathe in acoustic energy? Notes hang
to the skirt of the bell
like a city of light for a moment.
A tire spooks the gravel, you hear talk
about the weather, the leaning toward
and then away. Pierce the blind
to better hear the music, the fall
of each sound and pause between.

9

It damages people when they do not understand
the healing power of friendship.
I am damaged. The left front light of my transport
is out. A day doesn’t pass. An hour
does not go by. There are minutes that glow
in human flesh. A trumpet has a voice.
A place lives in music of people and time.
These are not things I know.
Things of the air are also not thought of
in time of need. That is why the passive
voice is so active in distortion, and well
to note that a slur is more expressive
than a sharp note timed to surface admiration,
though the fool in me shines to perfection.

10

Soft percussive no-look pass of summer,
flexion of bell, white seed
of longing and forgetfulness — I remember
stopping on the way home from school
at a car showroom, perching on vinyl I could smell
thinking I don’t belong here
and the place about to close. I hold the page
of music so you can see it, William,
your face reddens, your foot taps eight times
to push breath past unbelievable seconds,
a dandelion head floats out of sight
senseless and alive, full of feather
and plume, empty to itself wherever
it flies, drifting from its own heart.

11

The dog growls, a low unearthed intent stands
up on back of the neck — I am here and
somewhere else — back in time maybe, fingers
tap the valves. Make two trumpets
of silver Yahweh said to Moses —
and make them play flat and sharp notes
at the same time said Ornette Coleman,
no loose lipping. Wake the memory.
Wake the present tense. The tongue wicks the mouthpiece.
Horripilates the cause. Lights up the argument.
A column of air moving through an empty place,
three stops, an opening outward
toward no purpose or proof beyond the time
when people will not hear it.

12

My father’s there. Like fugitive dust
seeping through cracks and keyholes in Oklahoma
in the early 30’s. What happens when I try
to hold him is my arms pass through air.
Goodbye goodbye to the river and to
green metallic leaves. I leave
the darkness which sat on my shoulders
for love talk and grace of music.
Still, there are strains of darkness
dear to light. I found a photograph
under the couch. My father barbecuing
chicken with his shirt off, skin brown
as a berry. Grinning from the other side.
Into the lens. Of light and song.

II. Shout Trumpet

1

When passing the Trumpet in Zion Church,
red brick soaked with morning rain,
four cars parked on slickened blacktop,
marked yellow lines, redbud clusters,
heart-shaped lavender pods, I keep hearing
my own minor key. Even so,
a person puts a thumb out, an awning
cantilevers, traffic comes
to a rolling stop. Through an open window
high bright notes clarify the air
back to March wind, locked doors, to those who
have lost their love, decided
to go and not come back: the high C
of incalculable motion.

2

At the Trumpet in Zion they do the laying
on of hands — your long hair
passes over me, the purpose of
the body hidden in the word.
Thinking nothing. Resembling an eighth note.
If the rapture taketh then where
does the body go when hands lie down on air?
A flag dragged through the iris
upside down. Desire runs through its stops —
the dance rises to water level.
What happens inside music to make it run
over arms and legs like a squirrel?
Toot toot go to the water to the river
of folded wings,

3

where catalpa shade holds a body of gnats
just the shape of smoke and water
saturates yellow air and a water moccasin
displaces the imagination —
not away from but toward where the world
reaches and a song carries across water,
one they’ve been singing all along,
the same notes and fears,
the sound of pure tones. I wouldn’t know it
if I heard it. I might not
know if it were only mine.
I would like to think I could clearly hear
the music as it calls across so
I could know what you know.

4

Bats are back. Looping the Mulberry. Concentric
gravitational waves. I think I notice
my own radar. I loll in a yellow chair
with two ear plugs connected to Art Porter.
Art Porter Junior in background on clarinet.
Little Rock’s own. Follow the ogive turns
past Maybelline to Telegraph Road, past
Jimmy Doyle’s and the white birches,
signs for Alltel and Jesus, SunCom,
and Ruby Lube. Are you a holy roller
William asks his grandmother. No but I’m
spirit-filled. Her sisters’ faces
ghost across her own face as it is — Jean,
Billie in her garden, pious Lucille.

5

I ask myself riddles in sleep and part of me
thinks it knows the answers. My
body leaks, my ignorance, my desire. I keep a
gold tooth which is not the trumpet,
wood landing over water knock, photon locked
in early light wrapped around
a cove, people in a boat, not much talking
but it echoes, love is there, when
will I ever believe, fill the body up and sing.
A wireless chip with beams of light carries
itself in your eye. Who sleeps upside down
on a ledge with toes turned in, dreams of making
love mid-air, only you and me in water? Bats are back.
I feel a scarf of air rush past.

6

Some mean ass little red bug just bit the shit out of me!
So why does it grease the room with soulless
nasal noise, no antennae for opposites,
alighting on the trumpet case? Seven years
of mending, leaving and coming back through you,
I think I can hear syncopation
in the last half of the beat, cancellation
too, but I only want to touch the button
on your blouse. The hi-hat clears the moment.
Out of nowhere you came to me.
Where is memory with its leaning sideways solo
under a stone weight? Out of nowhere
you came back. Today and today an old wind blows,
music flares above the grasstips.

7

When the moon stares from its forehead
and sound waves and particles
knock on tiny hairs in the inner ear,
information travels — how can one not know
the only pressure occurs at a molecular
level? A channel forms in the flow of ions.
When one whacks at a cloud of flies,
one clarifies that insects don’t know where
the hell they are — they can’t hear
right so spend their remaining days
complaining that music by itself is trivial.
Their bristles get bent, ions
flow in to trumpet the brain, but still
no hard high note, no upward rip.

8

Plumbline of the asters, music caught inside
the throat, the implacability, the fluted crescent
of the body, the temple, the infarcted heart,
the age of reason, the tap tap tap of the baton:
one time one steps off the porch two stories high,
next the song sings itself:
the air, the ambient glue, the tongue
in mid-salute, the coup de langue,
the nation at war, the wormhole connecting nothing
to nothing, the creak of heaven over
the creek, the flat speckled rock, the event
horizon, the accretion disk, the no
which means no, the wide swing under stars,
the water, the verb, the hidden grammar.

9

Not long ago a fly landed in the butter.
The buzz stumbled, the the stared out
from the portable computer, the astral light
combined with the high speed line
to toot back an unheard, unseen opinion
so popular here in the South.
I reach for you and nothing, not anything
from all the days of walking, breathing
in and out, waking to change and resemblance,
quickened to the task of words,
time and timing unsung — belly to belly,
keyboard to hyperthought, one wing
gleaming on a salt sweet brick like a face
in the screen, increased singularity.

10

I hear the neighbors talking over the fence —
“He came driving up in that turd-colored
convertible and didn’t even open the door
when he saw his stuff all flayed out
in the bushes and grass, his shirt with the sleeve
drooping over the hostas . . .” The glass doors
screech, the monarch glisses over standing water,
the ego in its drifting boat interminably waits.
We have no ideas but why should we say goodbye?
The signature and sign don’t mean
the end of it. White azalea blossom stuck to mud.
That is the end of winter, this
a preoccupation with weather which has nothing
more than last night on its mind.

11

Thunder and rain all day like the drumming
of Zutty Singleton. Ivy gropes
the fern, a sprig of oak pollen navigates
over two bar breaks. One or two
octaves over, like a ghost flattened out, down
the basement, up one flight
to the dirty silver door with Judas hole, to a few
tables and wicker chairs, late afternoon — that’s
where to hear a phrase turn. The upright
shakes the floor, and when
however fast the falling torrent flows —
stop that please thinks management if people
stand too long and listen — the whole world knows
in wind when self assured, the roses blow.

12

You know that silo in Oklahoma, the one with
chipped tooth on the way to Grandma’s house
where apple blossoms lit the way to certain hell?
Well, it’s gone now. The leaping light
and silence. Through channels of urgent voluntary
sing-song, passing tones in the hallway
mirror, tension through the saunter of water cooled
air, all is gone. You don’t have to remember.
Only that violation in the upper registers which
sounded and does sound in houses
just a few blocks over, and in fact, in this house
which is hot at night and cunning,
waits for a future. Slap-tongue’s gone. The mouth
meets and notches the music.

Coda, by Marilyn Hacker

Maybe it was jet lag, maybe not,
but I was smoking in the kitchen: six,
barely, still dark: beyond the panes, a mix
of summer storm and autumn wind. I got
back to you; have I got you back? What
warmed me wasn’t coffee, it was our
revivified combustion. In an hour,
gray morning, but I’d gone back to my spot
beside you, sleeping, where we’d stayed awake
past exhaustion, talking, after, through
the weeks apart, divergent times and faces.
I fell asleep, skin to warm skin, at daybreak.
Your breasts, thighs, shoulders, mouth, voice, are the places
I live, whether or not I live with you.

Fog hid the road. The wipers shoved back torrents
across the windshield. You, on knife-edge, kept
driving. Iva, in the back seat, wept
histrionically. The crosscurrents
shivered like heat-lightning into the parent’s
shotgun seat. I shut up, inadept
at deflecting them. A Buick crept
ahead at twenty-five an hour. “Why aren’t
we passing him? My Coke spilled. The seat’s wet.
You guys keep whispering so I can’t hear.”
“Sit in the front with us, then.”
“No! I’ll get
too hot. Is the fan on? What time is it?
What time will it be when we get there?”
Time to be somewhere else than where we are.

“What do we have? I guess we still don’t know.”
I was afraid to say, you made me feel
my sectioned heart, quiescent loins, and spill
past boundaries the way blackberry-brambles grow
up those tenacious hills I left for you.
Their gritty fruit’s ripe now, but oceans still
separate us, waves opaque as oatmeal,
miles of fog roiling between your pillow
and mine while you say your best: sometimes, she’s where
your compass points, despite you, though a meal
with me, or talk, is good . . . Where our starfire
translated depths, low fog won’t let you steer
by sight. The needle fingers one desire,
and no other direction can compel.

If no other direction can compel
me upward from the dark-before-the-dawn
descending spiral, I drop like a stone
flung into some scummed-over stagnant well.
The same momentum with which once we fell
across each other’s skies, meteors drawn
by lodestones taproots clutched in unmapped ground
propels me toward some amphibious hell
where kissing’s finished, and I tell, tell, tell
reasons as thick and sticky as frogspawn:
had I done this, that wouldn’t have come undone.
The wolf of wolf’s hour cried at once too often
picks out enfeebled stragglers by the smell
of pond scum drying on them in the sun.

I miss you more than when I was in France
and thought I’d soon be done with missing you.
I miss what we’d have made past making do,
haft meshing weft as autumn days advance,
transliterating variegated strands
of silk, hemp, ribbon, flax, into some new
texture. I missed out on misconstrued
misgivings; did I miss my cue; boat? Chanc-
es are, the answer’s missing too. At risk
again, sleep and digestion, while I seize on
pricklier strands, crushed to exude the reason
I can’t expect you’ll ring up from your desk,
calling me Emer, like Cuchulain’s queen,
to say, we need bread and some salad greens.

On your birthday, I reread Meredith,
whose life’s mean truths inform, tonight, his text
so generously framed. There’ll be the next
night, and the next, cold gaps. I’d have been with
you now, lover and friend, across the width
of some candle-lit table as we mixed
habit and hope in toasts. Instead, perplexed
by separation like a monolith
bulked in the rooms and hours I thought would be
ours, I practice insensibility.
We crossed four miles, three thousand. You diminish
now, on a fogged horizon, far away.
Your twenty-fifth was our first class Tuesday
—will one year bracket us from start to finish?

Will one year bracket us from start to finish,
who, in an evening’s gallant banter, made
plans for new voyages to span decades
of love and work around a world we’d win? Wish
was overgrown with fears; voyages vanish
with empty wine bottles and summer’s paid
bills. Lengthens the legendary blade
between us: silence; hope I hope to banish;
doubt, till I almost doubt what happened, did.
Chicken from Zabar’s warms, and frozen spinach
simmers, while Iva writes a school essay:
“Both Sides: Everything has an opposite . . .”
sucking her inky fingers and her braid,
and I read Meredith, on your birthday.

“Why did Ray leave her pipe tobacco here
in the fridge?” Iva asks me while we’re
rummaging for mustard and soy sauce
to mix with wine and baste the lamb. “Because
cold keeps it fresh.” That isn’t what she means,

we both know. I’ve explained, there were no scenes
or fights, really. We needed time to clear
the air, and think. What she was asking, was,
“Why did Ray leave

her stuff if she’s not coming back?” She leans
to extremes, as I might well. String beans
to be sautéed with garlic; then I’ll toss
the salad; then we’ll eat. (Like menopause
it comes in flashes, more or less severe:
why did you leave?)

“Now that you know you can, the city’s full
of girls—just notice them! It’s not like pull-
ing teeth to flirt,” she said, “or make a date.”
It’s quite like pulling teeth to masturbate
(I didn’t say), and so I don’t. My nice

dreams are worse than nightmares. As my eyes
open, I know I am; that instant, feel
you with me, on me, in me, and you’re not.
Now that you know

you don’t know, fantasies are more like lies.
They don’t fit when I try them on for size.
I guess I can, but can’t imagine what
I’d do, with whom, tonight. It’s much too late
or soon, so what’s yours stays yours. It has until
now. That, you know.

Who would divorce her lover with a phone
call? You did. Like that, it’s finished, done—
or is for you. I’m left with closets of
grief (you moved out your things next day). I love
you. I want to make the phone call this
time, say, pack your axe, cab uptown, kiss
me, lots. I’ll run a bubble bath; we’ll sing
in the tub. We worked for love, loved it. Don’t sling
that out with Friday’s beer cans, or file-card it
in a drawer of anecdotes: “My Last
Six Girlfriends: How a Girl Acquires a Past.”
I’ve got “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted”
run on a loop, unwanted leitmotif.
Lust, light, love, life all tumbled into grief.
You closed us off like a parenthesis
and left me knowing just enough to miss.

“Anyone who (I did) ran down Broadway
screaming, or dropped in Bryant Park in a faint
similarly provoked, will sniff a taint
of self-aggrandizement in the assured way
you say: so be it; then she cut the cord; hey,
the young are like that. Put yourself on main-
tenance, stoically, without more complaint?
Grown-ups, at least, will not rush to applaud. They
won’t believe you.” And he downed his Negroni.
Who wants to know how loss and sorrow hit
me daily in the chest, how like a stone
this bread tastes? Even though lunch is on me,
he doesn’t. Home alone is home, alone.
(I’d reach for Nightwood, but she “borrowed” it.)

Did you love well what very soon you left?
Come home and take me in your arms and take
away this stomach ache, headache, heartache.
Never so full, I never was bereft
so utterly. The winter evenings drift
dark to the window. Not one word will make
you, where you are, turn in your day, or wake
from your night toward me. The only gift
I got to keep or give is what I’ve cried,
floodgates let down to mourning for the dead
chances, for the end of being young,
for everyone I loved who really died.
I drank our one year out in brine instead
of honey from the seasons of your tongue.

How I Am, by Jason Shinder

When I talk to my friends I pretend I am standing on the wings

of a flying plane. I cannot be trusted to tell them how I am.
Or if I am falling to earth weighing less

than a dozen roses. Sometimes I dream they have broken up

with their lovers and are carrying food to my house.
When I open the mailbox I hear their voices

like the long upward-winding curve of a train whistle

passing through the tall grasses and ferns
after the train has passed. I never get ahead of their shadows.

I embrace them in front of moving cars. I keep them away

from my miseries because to say I am miserable is to say I am like them.