Tablets, by Dunya Mikhail


She pressed her ear against the shell:
she wanted to hear everything
he never told her.


A single inch
separates their two bodies
facing one another
in the picture:
a framed smile
buried beneath the rubble.


Whenever you throw stones
into the sea
it sends ripples through me.


My heart’s quite small:
that’s why it fills so quickly.


Water needs no wars
to mix with water
and fill up spaces.


The tree doesn’t ask why it’s not moving
to some other forest
nor any other pointless questions.


He watches tv
while she holds a novel.
On the novel’s cover
there’s a man watching tv
and a woman holding a novel.


On the first morning
of the new year
all of us will look up
at the same sun.


She raised his head to her chest.
He did not respond:
he was dead.


The person who gazed at me for so long,
and whose gaze I returned for just as long …
That man who never once embraced me,
and whom I never once embraced …
The rain wrecked the colors around him
on that old canvas.


He was not with the husbands
who were lost and then found;
he did not come with the prisoners of war,
nor with the kite that took her,
in her dream,
to some other place,
while she stood before the camera
to have her smile
glued into the passport.


Dates piled high
beside the road:
your way
of kissing me.


Rapunzel’s hair
reaching down
from the window
to the earth
is how we wait.


The shadows
the prisoners left
on the wall
surrounded the jailer
and cast light
on his loneliness.


Homeland, I am not your mother,
so why do you weep in my lap like this
every time
something hurts you?


Never mind this bird:
it comes every day
and stops at the branch’s edge
to sing for an hour
or two.
That’s all it does:
nothing makes it happier.


House keys,
identity cards,
faded pictures among the bones …
All of these are scattered
in a single mass grave.


The Arabic language
loves long sentences
and long wars.
It loves never-ending songs
and late nights
and weeping over ruins.
It loves working
for a long life
and a long death.


Far away from home?—
that’s all that changed in us.


Cinderella left her slipper in Iraq
along with the smell of cardamom
wafting from the teapot,
and that huge flower,
its mouth gaping like death.


Instant messages
ignite revolutions.
They spark new lives
waiting for a country to download,
a land that’s little more
than a handful of dust
when faced with these words:
“There are no results that match your search.”


The dog’s excitement
as she brings the stick to her owner
is the moment of opening the letter.


We cross borders lightly
like clouds.
Nothing carries us,
but as we move on
we carry rain,
and an accent,
and a memory
of another place.


How thrilling to appear in his eyes.
She can’t understand what he’s saying:
she’s too busy chewing his voice.
She looks at the mouth she’ll never kiss,
at the shoulder she’ll never cry on,
at the hand she’ll never hold,
and at the ground where their shadows meet.


Gapped Sonnet, by Suzanne Gardinier

Between the blinds Past the coded locks
Past the slanted gold bars of the day
Smelling of all-night salt rain on the docks
Of grief Of birth Of bergamot Of May
In the wind that lifts the harbor litter
Wet against my fingers in a dream
Salvaging among the tideline’s bitter
gleanings Generous Exigent Lush and lean
Your voice A tune I thought I had forgotten
The taste of cold July brook on my tongue
A fire built on thick ice in the winter
The place where lost and salvaged meet and fit
The cadences a class in grief is taught in
The sound when frozen rivers start to run

Kaddish, Part I, by Allen Ginsberg

For Naomi Ginsberg, 1894-1956

Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on
the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village.
downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I’ve been up all night, talking,
talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues
shout blind on the phonograph
the rhythm the rhythm–and your memory in my head three years after–
And read Adonais’ last triumphant stanzas aloud–wept, realizing
how we suffer–
And how Death is that remedy all singers dream of, sing, remember,
prophesy as in the Hebrew Anthem, or the Buddhist Book of An-
swers–and my own imagination of a withered leaf–at dawn–
Dreaming back thru life, Your time–and mine accelerating toward Apoca-
the final moment–the flower burning in the Day–and what comes after,
looking back on the mind itself that saw an American city
a flash away, and the great dream of Me or China, or you and a phantom
Russia, or a crumpled bed that never existed–
like a poem in the dark–escaped back to Oblivion–
No more to say, and nothing to weep for but the Beings in the Dream,
trapped in its disappearance,
sighing, screaming with it, buying and selling pieces of phantom, worship-
ping each other,
worshipping the God included in it all–longing or inevitability?–while it
lasts, a Vision–anything more?
It leaps about me, as I go out and walk the street, look back over my shoulder,
Seventh Avenue, the battlements of window office buildings shoul-
dering each other high, under a cloud, tall as the sky an instant–and
the sky above–an old blue place.
or down the Avenue to the south, to—as I walk toward the Lower East Side
—where you walked 50 years ago, little girl—from Russia, eating the
first poisonous tomatoes of America frightened on the dock
then struggling in the crowds of Orchard Street toward what?—toward
toward candy store, first home-made sodas of the century, hand-churned ice
cream in backroom on musty brownfloor boards—
Toward education marriage nervous breakdown, operation, teaching school,
and learning to be mad, in a dream–what is this life?
Toward the Key in the window—and the great Key lays its head of light
on top of Manhattan, and over the floor, and lays down on the
sidewalk—in a single vast beam, moving, as I walk down First toward
the Yiddish Theater—and the place of poverty
you knew, and I know, but without caring now—Strange to have moved
thru Paterson, and the West, and Europe and here again,
with the cries of Spaniards now in the doorstops doors and dark boys on
the street, fire escapes old as you
—Tho you’re not old now, that’s left here with me—
Myself, anyhow, maybe as old as the universe—and I guess that dies with
us—enough to cancel all that comes—What came is gone forever
every time—
That’s good! That leaves it open for no regret—no fear radiators, lacklove,
torture even toothache in the end—
Though while it comes it is a lion that eats the soul—and the lamb, the soul,
in us, alas, offering itself in sacrifice to change’s fierce hunger—hair
and teeth—and the roar of bonepain, skull bare, break rib, rot-skin,
braintricked Implacability.
Ai! ai! we do worse! We are in a fix! And you’re out, Death let you out,
Death had the Mercy, you’re done with your century, done with
God, done with the path thru it—Done with yourself at last—Pure
—Back to the Babe dark before your Father, before us all—before the
There, rest. No more suffering for you. I know where you’ve gone, it’s good.
No more flowers in the summer fields of New York, no joy now, no more
fear of Louis,
and no more of his sweetness and glasses, his high school decades, debts,
loves, frightened telephone calls, conception beds, relatives, hands–
No more of sister Elanor,—she gone before you—we kept it secret you
killed her—or she killed herself to bear with you—an arthritic heart
—But Death’s killed you both—No matter—
Nor your memory of your mother, 1915 tears in silent movies weeks and
weeks–forgetting, agrieve watching Marie Dressler address human-
ity, Chaplin dance in youth,
or Boris Godunov, Chaliapin’s at the Met, halling his voice of a weeping Czar
—by standing room with Elanor & Max—watching also the Capital
ists take seats in Orchestra, white furs, diamonds,
with the YPSL’s hitch-hiking thru Pennsylvania, in black baggy gym skirts
pants, photograph of 4 girls holding each other round the waste, and
laughing eye, too coy, virginal solitude of 1920
all girls grown old, or dead now, and that long hair in the grave—lucky to
have husbands later—
You made it—I came too—Eugene my brother before (still grieving now and
will gream on to his last stiff hand, as he goes thru his cancer—or kill
—later perhaps—soon he will think—)
And it’s the last moment I remember, which I see them all, thru myself, now
—tho not you
I didn’t foresee what you felt—what more hideous gape of bad mouth came
first—to you—and were you prepared?
To go where? In that Dark—that—in that God? a radiance? A Lord in the
Void? Like an eye in the black cloud in a dream? Adonoi at last, with
Beyond my remembrance! Incapable to guess! Not merely the yellow skull
in the grave, or a box of worm dust, and a stained ribbon–Deaths-
head with Halo? can you believe it?
Is it only the sun that shines once for the mind, only the flash of existence,
than none ever was?
Nothing beyond what we have—what you had—that so pitiful—yet Tri-
to have been here, and changed, like a tree, broken, or flower–fed to the
ground—but made, with its petals, colored, thinking Great Universe,
shaken, cut in the head, leaf stript, hid in an egg crate hospital, cloth
wrapped, sore—freaked in the moon brain, Naughtless.
No flower like that flower, which knew itself in the garden, and fought the
Cut down by an idiot Snowman’s icy—even in the Spring—strange ghost
thought some—Death—Sharp icicle in his hand—crowned with old
roses—a dog for his eyes—cock of a sweatshop—heart of electric
All the accumulations of life, that wear us out—clocks, bodies, consciousness,
shoes, breasts—begotten sons—your Communism—‘Paranoia’ into
You once kicked Elanor in the leg, she died of heart failure later. You of
stroke. Asleep? within a year, the two of you, sisters in death. Is
Elanor happy?
Max grieves alive in an office on Lower Broadway, lone large mustache over
midnight Accountings, not sure. His life passes—as he sees—and
what does he doubt now? Still dream of making money, or that might
have made money, hired nurse, had children, found even your Im-
mortality, Naomi?
I’ll see him soon. Now I’ve got to cut through to talk to you as I didn’t
when you had a mouth.
Forever. And we’re bound for that, Forever like Emily Dickinson’s horses
—headed to the End.
They know the way—These Steeds—run faster than we think—it’s our own
life they cross—and take with them.

Magnificent, mourned no more, marred of heart, mind behind, mar-
ried dreamed, mortal changed—Ass and face done with murder.
In the world, given, flower maddened, made no Utopia, shut under
pine, almed in Earth, blamed in Lone, Jehovah, accept.
Nameless, One Faced, Forever beyond me, beginningless, endless,
Father in death. Tho I am not there for this Prophecy, I am unmarried, I’m
hymnless, I’m Heavenless, headless in blisshood I would still adore
Thee, Heaven, after Death, only One blessed in Nothingness, not
light or darkness, Dayless Eternity—
Take this, this Psalm, from me, burst from my hand in a day, some
of my Time, now given to Nothing–to praise Thee—But Death
This is the end, the redemption from Wilderness, way for the Won-
derer, House sought for All, black handkerchief washed clean by weeping
—page beyond Psalm—Last change of mine and Naomi—to God’s perfect
Darkness—Death, stay thy phantoms!

Over and over—refrain—of the Hospitals—still haven’t written your
history—leave it abstract—a few images
run thru the mind—like the saxophone chorus of houses and years—
remembrance of electrical shocks.
By long nites as a child in Paterson apartment, watching over your
nervousness—you were fat—your next move—
By that afternoon I stayed home from school to take care of you—
once and for all—when I vowed forever that once man disagreed with my
opinion of the cosmos, I was lost—
By my later burden—vow to illuminate mankind—this is release of
particulars—(mad as you)—(sanity a trick of agreement)—
But you stared out the window on the Broadway Church corner, and
spied a mystical assassin from Newark,
So phoned the Doctor—‘OK go way for a rest’—so I put on my coat
and walked you downstreet—On the way a grammarschool boy screamed,
unaccountably—‘Where you goin Lady to Death’? I shuddered—
and you covered your nose with motheaten fur collar, gas mask
against poison sneaked into downtown atmosphere, sprayed by Grandma—
And was the driver of the cheesebox Public Service bus a member of
the gang? You shuddered at his face, I could hardly get you on–to New
York, very Times Square, to grab another Greyhound—

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.

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.

Long Distance II, by Tony Harrison

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn’t just drop in. You had to phone.
He’d put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn’t risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he’d hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she’d just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven’t both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there’s your name
and the disconnected number I still call.

Midwinter Day [Excerpt], by Bernadette Mayer

I write this love as all transition
As if I’m in instinctual flight,
a small lady bug
With only two black dots on its back
Climbs like a blind turtle on my pen
And begins to drink ink in the light
of tradition
We’re allowed to crowd love in
Like a significant myth
resting still on paper
I remember being bitten by a spider
It was like feeling what they call
the life of the mind
Stinging my thigh like Dante
this guilty beetle
Is a frightening thing
When it shows its wings
And leaps like the story of a woman who
once in this house
Said the world was like a madhouse
cold winds blowing
And life looks like some malignant disease,
Viewed from the heights of reason
Which I don’t believe in
I know the place
Taken by tradition is like superstition
And even what they call the
Literary leaves less for love
I know
The world is straight ice
I know backwards the grief of life like chance
if I can say that
I can say easily I know you
like the progression
From memory to what they call freedom
Or reason
though it’s not reason at all
It’s an ideal like anarchism though it’s not an ideal
It’s a kind of time that has flown away from causes
Or gotten loose from them, pried loose
Or used them up, gotten away
no one knows why
Nothing happens
There is no reason, there’s no dream
it’s not inherited
Like peace but it’s not peace
there’s no beginning
Like religion but it is not God
It’s more like middle age or humor
Without elucidation
like greeting-card verse
This love is a recognized occasion
I know you like I know my times
As if I were God and gave you birth
if I can say that
I can say I am Ra who drew from himself
To give birth to Geb and Nut, Isis and Osiris
Though it isn’t decorous today to say this
instead I say
You are the resource for my sense of decorum
Knowing you as Ra knew the great of magic,
His imaginary wife,
and without recourse to love
Men and women are like tears
I would lose my memory,
I would sleep twelve hours, I would wake up
And get into my boat with my scribe,
I would study the twelve hours of the day
Spending an hour in each
I would have a secret name
I would rush upon the guilty without pity
Till the goddess of my eye in her vengeance
Overwhelmed my own rage
as you and I take turns
In love’s anger like the royal children
Born every morning to die that night
I know you speak
And are as suddenly forgiven,
It’s the consequence of love’ having no cause
Then we wonder what we can say
I can say
I turn formally to love to spend the day,
To you to form the night as what I know,
An image of love allows what I can’t say,
Sun’s lost in the window and love is below
Love is the same and does not keep that name
I keep that name and I am not the same
A shadow of ice exchanges the color of light,
Love’s figure to begin the absent night.