We Are Seven, by William Wordsworth

—A simple child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?

I met a little cottage girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.

She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
—Her beauty made me glad.

“Sisters and brothers, little maid,
How many may you be?”
“How many? Seven in all,” she said,
And wondering looked at me.

“And where are they? I pray you tell.”
She answered, “Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.

“Two of us in the churchyard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the churchyard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.”

“You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,
Sweet maid, how this may be.”

Then did the little maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the churchyard lie,
Beneath the churchyard tree.”

“You run about, my little maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the churchyard laid,
Then ye are only five.”

“Their graves are green, they may be seen,”
The little maid replied,
“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,
And they are side by side.

“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.

“And often after sunset, sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.

“The first that died was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.

“So in the churchyard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.

“And when the ground was white with snow
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.”

“How many are you, then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven?”
Quick was the little maid’s reply,
“O master! we are seven.”

“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
‘Twas throwing words away; for still
The little maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”

Evolution of Danger, by Tina Chang

I’m the one in the back of the bar, drinking cachaça,
fingering the lip of the glass. Every dream has left
me now as I wait for the next song: Drag and drum.
They’ll be no humming in this room, only fragrance
of sweat and fuel. To make the animal go. To make it
Hungry. After that there is Thirst.

*

I danced in the border town until it wasn’t decent,
until I was my grandest self hitchhiking, my slim arm
out like the stalk of a tired flower, waving, silver rings
catch the headlights. I’m not sure what I wanted
as we rode on his motorcycle where Chinese signs blurred
past, flashing red, then blue, and I breathed in the scent
of fish and plum. My hands found their way to his pockets
as I rode without helmet, careening toward the cemetery,
the moon dripping light onto avenues of tombstones.

*

If the Tunisian black market was hidden within a maze.
If I couldn’t find my way, I asked. The wide eyes
of the boy who led me to the Mediterranean Sea.
If I took his kindness as a version of truth and stood
posing for a photo in front of bicycles leaned
against the sand colored walls. If I arrived
at the center of the market, women in black muslin
sold glazed tile on blankets. When I bent down,
the men surrounded me. If they asked for money
I had nothing. If they threw their bills around me,
I recall the purple and red faces crushed on paper.

*

Attempting to cross the border with no passport,
no money. The contents had fallen out of her
pocket as she ran for the bus. She made promises
to the officers, bared an inner thigh until their eyes
grew wide, until they stamped a sheet of official paper
with tri-colored emblems. The man’s fist
was large though it twitched as he pounded
the stamp onto the translucent page. The little
money she had inside an orange handkerchief tied
to her hair, coins rolling to the ground as she fled.

*

Perhaps it was chance that I ended on the far side
of the earth. Atrocities of our entanglement not on the bed
but beside it. Using our mouths as tools for betterment,
for seduction, for completion. The vertebra twists
into a question mark to conform to another’s.

In the Patanal, the cowboys steadied the horses
in the barn, the animal’s labored breathing, the sigh
as the coarse brush worked through the mane.
The owner’s daughter learning to move her hips
as she practiced her samba before the steaming pot,
and radio clicking, and lid drumming.

Of the men I’ve known, you were the most steady,
reliable one near the window killing mosquitoes,
gathering cool water to press to my scalp. One-sided
heart I was then. Selfish one. I wanted everything.
Macaws flew past in quick flock, pushing outward
toward the earth’s scattering filament and mystery.

*

I don’t ask myself questions anymore
(but it is not a question you ask yourself),
rather it was born, rather that the statement
was peeled like a film of dirt, (rather
the words were meaning) wrapped inside
a scarf, stuffed into my carry bag, rather
that the camera caught all of it
(the hunter and the kill).

When danger itself was restless,
(it had four legs and it ran with speed
& vengeance). Though there was
no purpose, (though the past had nothing
to do with the chase now). This grand state
(pumped from its own engine of blood),
centuries of evolution, first as a red-eyed
embryo, then reptile, then mammal, then
man, pure racing, push of muscle and tendon,
the tongue loose and dragging as the body
made its way forward. Each time more
powerful, a new version of waking until
the species grew great wings and lifted.

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.

Making a Meal Out of It, by Joel Lewis

Hoboken snowtime and the big slushy
mounds are the laundry of the future,
with next-door’s mortician rating
my clumsy shoveling by shouting:
“You’d never make it as a grave digger!”

Time pulse quickens with walkers
and curb lackeys merged in the quadrille
of symbiosis. In local shop windows
they sell devices capable
of reordering speech. I pass. I have
that exile’s sense of recreation
& believe rebirth is possible
from the wreck of our common misery
& that songs are clear when sung

by heroes, but not in this epoch. Niggling
winter dreams fueled by the rhythms
of the world’s desire. This is my version.
I know the dimensions. I live by a river.

Animal Graves, by Chase Twichell

The mower flipped it belly up,
a baby garter less than a foot long,
dull green with a single sharp

stripe of pale manila down its back,
same color as the underside
which was cut in two places,

a loop of intestine poking out.

It wouldn’t live,
so I ran the blades over it again,

and cut it again but didn’t kill it,

and again and then again,
a cloud of two-cycle fuel smoke
on me like a swarm of bees.

It took so long
my mind had time to spiral
back to the graveyard

I tended as a child
for the dead ones, wild and tame:
fish from the bubbling green aquarium,

squirrels from the road,
the bluejay stalked to a raucous death
by Cicero the patient, the tireless hunter,

who himself was laid to rest
one August afternoon
under a rock painted gray, his color,

with a white splash for his white splash.

Once in the woods I found the skeleton
of a deer laid out like a diagram,

long spine curved like a necklace of crude, ochre spools
with the string rotted away,

and the dull metal shaft of the arrow
lying where it must have pierced

not the heart, not the head,
but the underbelly, the soft part
where the sex once was.

I carried home the skull
with its nubs of not-yet-horns
which the mice had overlooked,

and set it on a rock
in my kingdom of the dead.

Before I chopped the little snake
to bits of raw mosaic,

it drew itself
into an upward-straining coil,
head weaving, mouth open,

hissing at the noise that hurt it.

The stripe was made
of tiny paper diamonds,
sharp-edged but insubstantial,

like an x-ray of the spine
or the ghost beginning to pull away.

What taught the snake to make itself
seem bigger than it was,
to spend those last few seconds

dancing in the roar
and shadow of its death?

Now I see, though none exists,
its grave:

harebells withered in a jar,
a yellow spiral
painted on a green-black stone,

a ring of upright pine cones for a fence.
That’s how the deer skull lay in state

until one of the neighborhood dogs
came to claim it,

and carried it off to bury
in the larger graveyard of the world.

Sequestered Writing, by Carolyn Forché

Horses were turned loose in the child’s sorrow. Black and roan, cantering through snow.
The way light fills the hand with light, November with graves, infancy with white.
White. Given lilacs, lilacs disappear. Then low voices rising in walls.
The way they withdrew from the child’s body and spoke as if it were not there.

What ghost comes to the bedside whispering You?
— With its no one without its I –
A dwarf ghost? A closet of empty clothes?
Ours was a ghost who stole household goods. Nothing anyone would miss.
Supper plates. Apples. Barbed wire behind the house.

At the end of the hall, it sleepwalks into a mirror wearing mother’s robe.
A bedsheet lifts from the bed and hovers. Face with no face. Come here.
The bookcase knows, and also the darkness of books. Long passages into,
Endless histories toward, sleeping pages about. Why else toss gloves into a grave?

A language that once sent ravens through firs. The open world from which it came.
Words holding the scent of an asylum fifty years. It is fifty years, then.
The child hears from within: Come here and know, below
And unbeknownst to us, what these fields had been.

Haunted Houses, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the door-way, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.

The stranger at my fireside cannot see
The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;
He but perceives what is; while unto me
All that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates.

The spirit-world around this world of sense
Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
Wafts through these earthly mists and vapours dense
A vital breath of more ethereal air.

Our little lives are kept in equipoise
By opposite attractions and desires;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
And the more noble instinct that aspires.

These perturbations, this perpetual jar
Of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from the influence of an unseen star
An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd
Into the realm of mystery and night,—

So from the world of spirits there descends
A bridge of light, connecting it with this,
O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,
Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.