Spellbound, by Sara Miller

Two women on a train
sit beside me.

I am young and the world
is flying and I am watching.

One of them is frosty.
The other turns like a leaf

to hand me something?—
it looked for all the world like a page.

I thought at the time
that it needed me and I was right.

The letters fell into place
and simple flowers grew.

Now it talks unceasingly
in long white verses

as if at a wedding,
something women understand

and gently want and then regift.
I myself agree with Herbert,

who in a dark mood conjured
the mushrooms underfoot

unseen by bride or groom
and with him I say, Perhaps

the world is unimportant
after all, though this is not

what one discusses with
women on a train, no matter

how long the journey,
or untroubled the land.

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.

A Bronze God, Or A Letter On Demand, by Clifton Gachagua

I like to think of your silence as the love letters you will not write me,
as two sax solos from two ages across a stage, learning the languages
of kissing with your eyes closed. I like to think of you as a god
to whom I no longer pray, as a god I aspire to. I like the opening of your joined palms,
which is like an urn where my ashes find a home. The music of your lashes;
the silent way your body wears out mine.
Mostly, I like to think of you at night when a black screen of shining dust shines
from your mines to the edge of my skin, where you are a lamp of flutters.
I remember the spectral lashes–marigold, tamarind, secret thing between your thighs,
of closed kissing eyes. At night, the possibility of you is a heavy
sculpture of heavy bronze at the side of my bed,
a god. And I pray you into life. Into flesh.

After Us, by Nikola Madzirov

One day someone will fold our blankets
and send them to the cleaners
to scrub the last grain of salt from them,
will open our letters and sort them out by date
instead of by how often they’ve been read.

One day someone will rearrange the room’s furniture
like chessmen at the start of a new game,
will open the old shoebox
where we hoard pyjama-buttons,
not-quite-dead batteries and hunger.

One day the ache will return to our backs
from the weight of hotel room keys
and the receptionist’s suspicion
as he hands over the TV remote control.

Others’ pity will set out after us
like the moon after some wandering child.

The Letter Scale, by Jacques Réda

One of the objects I’ve treasured most in my life
Is this letter scale which, long ago, you gave me.
I was an active correspondent at the time,
Even sending lots of letters overseas.
While still enjoying the pleasure of going to the post,
I now had another: assessing exactly, in advance,
At my counter, the cost of packets and envelopes,
To which, price list in hand, I stuck my stamps.
I use it less these days, this quite simple device
Graded with little marks up to a whole pound,
For my mailings rarely still exceed the price
Of an ordinary stamp. The tray of polished metal’s now
Covered with dust, without the slightest hint
That the red pointer marking the weight on the front
Has budged. But in the long run, one would, I think,
Discern a difference and see how much the months
Were worth in terms of dust, the seasons elapsed
Since the previous weighing. But having been seized,
Suddenly, just this morning, by a tremendous attack
(Annual) of cleaning, from which nothing is released,
I restored to the tray’s slightly concave stainless steel,
That ever so slightly distorted mirror, its polished shine.
It reflected all of the sky, through which clouds reeled,
And I could confirm that space does not weigh more than time.

I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.

With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.

Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves, but worse.

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.

Redaction, by Carmen Giménez Smith

We make dogma out of letter writing: the apocryphal story
of Lincoln who wrote angry letters he never sent. We wait for letters
for days and days. Someone tells me I’ll write you a letter
and I feel he’s saying you’re different than anyone else.
Distance’s buzz gets louder and louder. It gets to be a blackest hole.
I want the letter about the time we cross the avenue, and you reach
for my hand without looking—I am afraid I’m not what you want.
We float down the street as if in the curve of a pod
and the starry black is like the inside of a secret. We’re drunk.
The streetlight exposes us which becomes the deepest
horror. Yes. End the letter like that, so it becomes authorless.
Then the letter might give off secrets: acid imbalances that detonate.

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.

Winter Letter, by Huu Thinh

The letter I wrote you had smeared ink,
But the bamboo walls are thin, and fog kept leaking through.
On this cold mountain, I cannot sleep at night.
By morning, a reed stalk can fade.

White snow on my thin blanket.
The stove glows red for lunch, but the mountain remains hazy.
Ink freezes inside my pen–
I hold it over the glowing coals and it melts into a letter.

Blocking the wind, a tree with purple roots trembles.
Corn seeds shrivel underground.
On days when my comrades are on assignment,
I miss them, but. . .there is an extra blanket.

The cold rooster crows lazily in a hoarse voice.
We beat on the cups, the bowls, to ease the strangeness.
The mountain hides hundreds of ores in its bosom.
I try, but can’t find enough vegetables for a meal.

The rice often comes early, the letters late.
The radio is on all night to make the bunker seem less desolate.
So many years without women,
I mistake the sound of horse hooves for your footsteps.

Gathering clouds often invite me to dream;
knowing so, you keep the light glowing late.
Wishing I had some scent of soapberry
So rocks would soften, the mountains grow warm.

Meo Vac, 3/82

Epistle: Leaving, by Kerrin McCadden

Dear train wreck, dear terrible engines, dear spilled freight,
dear unbelievable mess, all these years later I think
to write back. I was not who I am now. A sail is a boat,
a bark is a boat, a mast is a boat and the train was you and me.
Dear dark, dear paper, dear files I can’t toss, dear calendar
and visitation schedule, dear hello and goodbye.

If a life is one thing and then another; if no grasses grow
through the tracks; if the train wreck is a red herring;
if goodbye then sincerely. Dear disappeared bodies
and transitions, dear edge of a good paragraph.
Before the wreck, we misunderstood revision.

I revise things now. I teach pertinence. A girl in class told
us about some boys who found bodies on the tracks
then went back and they were gone, the bodies.
It was true that this story was a lie, like all things

done to be seen. I still think about this story, what it would
be like to be a boy finding bodies out in the woods,
however they were left—and think of all the ways they
could be left. There I was, teaching the building
of a good paragraph, dutiful investigator

of sentences, thinking dear boys, dear stillness in the woods,
until, again, there is the boy I knew as a man
whose father left him at a gas station, and unlike the lie
of the girl’s story, this one is true—he left him there for good.

Sometimes this boy, nine and pale, is sitting next to me, sitting there
watching trains go past the gas station in Wyoming,
thinking there is a train going one way, and a train
going the other way, each at different and variable speeds:
how many miles before something happens
that feels like answers when we write them down—

like solid paragraphs full of transitional phrases
and compound, complex sentences, the waiting space
between things that ends either in pleasure or pain. He
keeps showing up, dear boy, man now, and beautiful

like the northern forest, hardwoods iced over.

[Persian Letters], by Solmaz Sharif

Dear Aleph,

Like Ovid: I’ll have no last words.
This is what it means to die among barbarians. Bar bar bar
was how the Greeks heard our speech—
sheep, beasts—and so we became
barbarians. We make them reveal
the brutes they are, Aleph, by the things
we make them name. David,
they tell me, is the one
one should aspire to, but ever since
I first heard them say Philistine
I’ve known I am Goliath
if I am anything.

Letter To A Future Lover, by Ander Monson

You were my birthday present; you came to the door—no one else was home, you said “let’s celebrate.” We dropped acid and went to the friend with the nocturnal monkey-like animal and made love for hours….

inscribed in Gary Snyder, Turtle Island (Casa de los Niños discard library)

Handwritten, it goes without saying, this inscription to an unnamed lover goes on for three pages before arriving at a final sorrow at the lover’s loss—”today we are with different lovers”—but no regrets. Was it ever sent? Ever read? One thing is sure: it was inscribed and meant. Such passion cannot be shrugged off until it can. I found the book in Casa de los Niños on Prince and Mountain, thrift shop stuffed with this stuff, the stuffing escaping the chewed-on animals packed in the discount bin. Pick six for a buck. Doll heads are free. They stare at your future, our future, maybe, lover, if we ever come together.

Dear future lover, every time it feels like forever when it’s new: bright colors, fabric softener, calliopes that were once terrifying softening into daylight as it fades. You know, your lovers surely number more than mine; that’s fine, but when I fall, it’s Ditch Witch hitting electric line, the whole world alive and lit in amperes for a moment. It might be gone again a nanosecond later, the body aching with or for or from the jolt; & perhaps it’s fever dream; & who cares where it comes from as long as it’s fast and seems like it might last until we’re rusting into dust? We are always dying for the future. Otherwise it couldn’t ever come. That it might split ever’s seams apart, that it might bring down the lights until forever’s in the mirror, and the book is given up for thrift: it doesn’t matter. Maybe this book was never sent. I can imagine that, an inscription toward the future. Maybe the lover’s dead. Maybe the lover’s lover’s dead. Maybe we all are like those who had their laughs recorded into tracks for television shows years before, who continue to laugh now a lifetime a lifeline a phone-a-friend later, disembodied, at jokes that are no longer funny. Perhaps they never were.

We are all in wires eventually, reduced to what we said, or didn’t say, and what we wrote or didn’t write, who we loved or didn’t love, or loved and lost and never told it except writing in or to a book. We are all discarded, discordant, confusingly, and so I salute your bravery, book inscriber. Your heart is big enough for both of us, so that there is no room for mockery in me. Anyone willing to strip themselves this bare this fast this way deserves our breathlessness and our hearts’ attention. Let us spend an hour, then longer, in contemplation. If you open, open all the way, or as much as you can bear, or else there’s nothing here at all.

The inscription goes on to quote from Duras’s The Lover, then “I cried when I was with you this time more than twenty years later…it was the reason for life and yet I knew it would end.”

A codex is a door, future lover. You can put whatever through it for a reader you imagine coming to your words in a day, a decade, a daze of centuries, entries in a future book. Codices have histories. They are leafed, spined, embodied, read by future lovers I imagine in bodices in just this kind of light at night. The future is a mystery, lover, a memory. The scent of wisteria coming up from somewhere.

Or: a codex is a hole through which we might not communicate, but instead be transformed entirely, through which we might descend without notice or equipment and not want or be able to return.

My Grandma’s Love Letters, by Hart Crane

There are no stars tonight
But those of memory.
Yet how much room for memory there is
In the loose girdle of soft rain.

There is even room enough
For the letters of my mother’s mother,
Elizabeth,
That have been pressed so long
Into a corner of the roof
That they are brown and soft,
And liable to melt as snow.

Over the greatness of such space
Steps must be gentle.
It is all hung by an invisible white hair.
It trembles as birch limbs webbing the air.

And I ask myself:

“Are your fingers long enough to play
Old keys that are but echoes:
Is the silence strong enough
To carry back the music to its source
And back to you again
As though to her?”

Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand
Through much of what she would not understand;
And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof
With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.

Marble Hill, by Kazim Ali

Paradise lies beneath the feet of your mother. A verse I’ve heard recited so frequently I do not know if it is scripture or hadith.

Hadith, meaning traditions of the prophet, are always accompanied by a careful oral lineage of who said what to whom, and who heard who say they heard what. Usually back to one of the prophet’s wives who heard the prophet say it.

The veil also between what you want to see and cannot see, what you wish to have heard but did not hear.

In butoh the dancers are rendered in white smoke, ghosts traversing the stage-as-womb, moving so slowly you do not even know they are there.

If paradise lies beneath the feet of my mother then how will I find my way inside unless she admits me.

Now I look at each face, each body, as it moves around the subway platform, down the stairs and around the platform, onto trains, off of them.

After my aunt Chand-mumani’s death I thought of them each as flames, in each the body is combusting, burning up the fuel of the soul.

Michelle after giving birth walked around the city imagining everyone glistening, bordered in amniotic grit.

But is it really like Fanny writes, the body only a car the soul is driving.

Or something of us sunk into the matter of the body, part of us actually flesh, inseparable from it and upon death, truly dispersed, smoke.

The body of the prophet’s wife always between us. Who said what.

In which case there really is something to grieve at death: that the soul is wind, not immortal.

A middle-aged woman, in the seat in front of me on the train, wearing a green puffy winter jacket. Her hair, though pulled back, frizzy and unkempt.

It’s the unkempt I feel tenderness towards.

Have always felt about myself a messiness, an awkwardness, an ugliness.

As a child, such an envy of birds, of graceful slopes, of muscular boys.

In the train rushing above ground at125th Street. Thinking about stumbling.

House by house, walking down this street or the other one. Going into the library, going into the school.

Where every middle-aged woman is my mother.

Waiting to be trusted with the truth.

I have nearly as much silver in my hair as she does.

Any pronoun here can be misread. He can mean you can mean I.

An odd list of things I want to do in the next five years: study butoh. Write an autobiography. Go back toParis. Get lost somewhere I haven’t been.

Also begin to say it.

Marco and I moved to Marble Hill in the summer of 2006.

Let me tell you a story about a city that floats onto the ocean. Opposite of Atlantis which fell into the sea or Cascadia which threatens to rise back out of it.

Marble Hill, a real hill, perched at the northernmost tip ofManhattanIsland, a promontory out into the conjunction of the Hudson River andSpuyten Duyvil Creek.

The wind is an instrument, its own section of the sky orchestra.

Today I read of a Turkish mullah who is canceling 800 different hadith regarding treatment of women found now or believed at least to be untrue.

Untrue is it.

Untrue the laws that were graven in fire or graven in stone.

Says the Quran, “This is the Book. In it there is no doubt.”

All for a belief that a human animal is a wicked one and requires a law.

Which requires if not actual violence then at least the threat of it.

At least fury.

Here in Marble Hill you are where you aren’t.

Orchestral the river that curves and curves north of the island.

Ships bound for the upper east side fromAlbanyhave a harder and harder time negotiating the torturous and twisting Spuyten Duyvil.

So a canal is blasted through and what was once the northern tip ofManhattanbecame an island.

Walking across one of the bridges inParisI came to a place called Les Mauvaises Garçons. Being afraid to enter I crossed the street to another tavern.

I stayed for three hours.

Radiant with traffic, the streets do not remember the gone.

The pillar at the Place de Bastille does not put back brick or bar.

Ten miles out of Chartres nothing but grain across and gray above a dark raven emerges screaming from the fields.

These thoughts are nothing, following one after the other.

Somali lesbians scheduled for their execution. Two boys in Iran convicted of drunken and lewd behavior and hanged for it. Boys. 16 and 18. There was video footage of the actual hanging on the internet.

I watched it myself.

“You wear your fingers down copying sacred texts,” sang Lalla, “but still the rage inside you has no way to leave.”

The Arabic line “This is the Book. In it there is no doubt” can also be read as “This is, no doubt, the Book . . . ”

Dear mother, there is a folder of my loose poems lost somewhere during the summer of 2006 when I traveled between Pennsylvania, New York City, Virginia, Maine, and your house in Buffalo. There was a letter inside the folder to you.

Though I’ve looked and looked and failed to find it, I am sure it is still in the house in Buffalo somewhere. An envelope with a folder inside. Inside the folder loose poems. Tucked into poems, there was a letter.

The veil between what you want to see and what you cannot see.

Emily Dickinson sent her first letter to Thomas Higginson unsigned. She included with the unsigned letter a smaller sealed envelope in which there was a calling card upon which she had written her name.

When Colin Powell spoke at the UN about the invasion of Iraq, workers were asked to hang a black drape over Picasso’s Guernica.

Which would have otherwise been in the background, surrounding him, as he spoke.

There is a body and a boy between you and utterance, the boy you were who could never speak.

Bright red bracelet of time.

“Fury,” is how Galway Kinnell explained Dickinson’s intent in writing her poems.

Poetry and fury in the time of war. Civil War for her.

What is my war? Not the one you think.

I won’t say.

Constant state, sure as the white noise on the television after the station has gone off the air.

But who goes off the air any more.

And whose air.

Come to Marble Hill then.

Each night sleep is pierced by someone outside gunning their car engine over and over again before driving off.

A car alarm or two.

There is a streetlight outside the window that shines into the bedroom, bright as the moon but more orange.

Orange like the saffron scarf I wore to Tokudo.—”leaving home.” When Ansho became a monk and took a new name.

The day I sat down next to a young man with a sweet smile. A gardener. Name of Marco.

The train runs the next block over. We are on the second floor so hear it if we really pay attention.

By now its rumble on the tracks, the chiming when the doors are about to close, are on the order of background noise.

I have not yet learned how to sleep through the night.

Marble Hill was an island for twenty years before the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, still running, underground below 228th Street, was filled in and joined to the mainland.

The city itself, my life, that first butoh performance I saw.

A man with such slow and intense movements, so internal.

You hardly knew he had moved at all and suddenly he was all the way across the stage, contorted, holding a glass bowl aloft in which a fish swam.

None of which you had even noticed was on the stage.

As I write this, a car alarm. The train.

Then silence.