Plague of Dead Sharks, by Alan Dugan

Who knows whether the sea heals or corrodes?
The wading, wintered pack-beasts of the feet
slough off, in spring, the dead rind of the shoes’
leather detention, the big toe’s yellow horn
shines with a natural polish, and the whole
person seems to profit. The opposite appears
when dead sharks wash up along the beach
for no known reason. What is more built
for winning than the swept-back teeth,
water-finished fins, and pure bad eyes
these old, efficient forms of appetite
are dressed in? Yet it looks as if the sea
digested what is wished of them with viral ease
and threw up what was left to stink and dry.
If this shows how the sea approaches life
in its propensity to feed as animal entire,
then sharks are comforts, feet are terrified,
but they vacation in the mystery and why not?
Who knows whether the sea heals or corrodes?:
what the sun burns up of it, the moon puts back.

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Stairway to Heaven, by Alison Hawthorne Deming

The queen grows fat beneath my house
while drones infest the walls

reconnaissance to feed her glut,
wood ripped from studs and joists.

I’ll pay to drill the slab and ruin
her pestilential nest. How to find

the song in this day’s summons?
I’ve been accused of darkness

by my inner light. My brother sits
in the chemo chair another long day

of toxic infusion, the house of his body—
bones, brain and balls gone skeltering.

I sit in my parked car listening
to Robert Plant recall how the English

envied the Americans for getting
the blues, getting all of it, into song.

I remember the dream where
brother and sister, adult and equal,

lean and white as lilies, as bare,
dove into a mountain lake, black water,

high elevation, fir trees growing
in flood water that had joined

two lakes into one. Do you ever dream
of animals, I ask him, hospice bed

looking out on a plywood squirrel
perched on cement block wall.

Frequently. A lilt of surprising joy. What kind?
Mostly the jungle animals. Then: I’m going

to do my exercises now. What exercises?
I like pacing, he said, immobilized

upon his death nest of nine pillows.
Then he closed his eyes to become the inward one

whose only work was to wear a pathway
back and forth within his enclosure.

Touching the Floor, by Max Ritvo

I touch my palms to the floor
and granite rhinos surge up my arms
and lock in my shoulders.
Water flecks on my back
and my head is shaved
by bladed cream.

But then my time in my body is up
and it’s time for my mind:
It seeks wisdom
and the rhinos fall into a well,
their faces falling apart—

I want to know what their last words are
but their lips are fading into the purple.

I put my hands into the ground again
but rhinos come only for the body
and never for the mind.

I used to want infinite time with my thoughts.
Now I’d prefer to give all my time
to a body that’s dying
from cancer.

Dividend Of The Social Opt Out, by Jennifer Moxley

How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.
Not seriously ill, just a little under the weather.
To feel slightly peaked, indisposed. Plagued by
a vague ache, or a slight inexplicable chill.

Perhaps such pleasures are denied
to those who never feel obliged. If there are such.

How pleasant to convey your regrets. To feel sincerely
sorry, but secretly pleased to send them on their way
without you. To entrust your good wishes to others.
To spare the equivocal its inevitable rise.

How nice not to hope that something will happen,
but to lie on the couch with a book, hoping that
nothing will. To hear the wood creak and to think.
It is lovely to stay without wanting to leave.

How delicious not to care how you look,
clean and uncombed in the sheets. To sip
brisk mineral water, to take small bites
off crisp Saltines. To leave some on the plate.

To fear no repercussions. Nor dodge
the unkind person you bug.

Even the caretaker has gone to the party.
If you want something you will have to
get it yourself. The blue of the room seduces.
The cars of the occupied sound the wet road.

You indulge in a moment of sadness, make
a frown at the notion you won’t be missed.
This is what it is. You have opted to be
forgotten so that your thoughts might live.

The Ferry, by Katia Kapovich

I’m jotting down these lines,
having borrowed a pen from a waitress
in this roadside restaurant. Three rusty pines
prop up the sky in the windows.
My soup gets cold, which implies

I’ll eat it cold. Soon I too
will leave a tip on the table, merge
into the beehive of travelers
and board one of the ferries,
where there’s always a line to the loo
and no one knows where the captain is.

Slightly seasick, I keep on writing
of the wind-rose and lobster traps,
seagulls, if any—and there always are.
Check the air and you’ll see them
above straw hats and caps.
The sun at noon glides like a monstrous star-

fish through clouds. Others drink iced tea,
training binoculars on a tugboat.
When I finish this letter, I’ll take a gulp
from the flask you gave me for the road
in days when I was too young to care about
those on the pier who waved goodbye.

I miss them now: cousins in linen dresses,
my mother, you, boys in light summer shirts.
Life is too long. The compass needle dances.
Everything passes by. The ferry passes
by ragged yellow shores.

Study In Black, by Rickey Laurentiis

Tu Fu, "Thoughts While Traveling at Night"

        There’s a wind in the grass—
Is there here
       a boat’s mast claiming my lonely night too?
                                                                             I see the stars
                        can’t be called hanged, exactly,
just hanging down,
                                     not over emptiness, but honest ground,
the moon trying the black skin of this river, black corpse...
                                                                                      But, even plainer—
       I wonder if these words, my words,
will ever bring me fame.
       I have my age, my injuries. They limit me.
                                                                            I’m like some spook bird
I know, solo and roped between
                                                                where rotting happens and a sky.

To My Mother Waiting on 10/01/54, by Teresa Carson

That October might have begun
pretty much like this one. Last night,
first chilly night, we shut all the windows,
the cat curled between John’s legs, I slept
with a blanket over my head. At six a.m., wrapped
in a sweater, I checked the newly dug
beds of bulbs—tulips, your favorite—
and wondered if they, and the ones I planted
on your grave, would survive the months
of frozen ground.

You were three days from bearing your tenth;
rather than risk a fall, going up and down
two steep flights, you stayed inside.
At six a.m. you may’ve been in your rocking chair,
half-listening for fights over blankets
or Pop’s return from the graveyard shift
while you folded, again, a newly washed stack
of secondhand diapers and tees.
Maybe a draft made you shiver or a pain
made you think it’s beginning.

Too soon the cold will kill the last blooms
on asters, hydrangea, Autumn Joy sedum.
Too soon another breakdown
left you in the depression that lasted
the rest of your life. Too soon Judge Grossi ruled
you were dangerous to your child’s welfare.
At fifteen I was free to leave.
But this morning, I went back to when
the cold hadn’t yet settled in,
when you were waiting for me.