Just Listen, by Peter Johnson

I sit by the window and watch a great mythological bird go down in flames. In fact, it’s a kite the neighborhood troublemaker has set on fire. Twenty-one and still living at home, deciding when to cut through a screen and chop us into little pieces. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” his mother would say, as they packed our parts into black antiseptic body bags. I explain this possibility to the garbage men. I’m trying to make friends with them, unable to understand why they leave our empty cans in the middle of the driveway, then laugh as they walk away. One says, “Another name for moving air is wind, and shade is just a very large shadow”—perhaps a nice way to make me feel less eclipsed. It’s not working, it’s not working. I’m scared for children yet to be abducted, scared for the pregnant woman raped at knife point on the New Jersey Turnpike, scared for what violence does to one’s life, how it squats inside the hollow heart like a dead cricket. My son and his friends found a dead cricket, coffined it in a plastic Easter egg and buried it in the backyard. It was a kind of time capsule, they explained—a surprise for some future boy archeologist, someone much happier than us, who will live during a time when trees don’t look so depressed, and birds and dogs don’t chatter and growl like the chorus in an undiscovered Greek tragedy.

Brooklyn Anchorage, by Lisa Jarnot

and at noon I will fall in love 
and nothing will have meaning 
except for the brownness of 
the sky, and tradition, and water 
and in the water off the railway 
in New Haven all the lights 
go on across the sun, and for 
millennia those who kiss fall into 
hospitals, riding trains, wearing 
black shoes, pursued by those 
they love, the Chinese in the armies 
with the shiny sound of Johnny Cash, 
and in my plan to be myself 
I became someone else with
soft lips and a secret life, 
and I left, from an airport, 
in tradition of the water
on the plains, until the train 
started moving and yesterday 
it seemed true that suddenly 
inside of the newspaper 
there was a powerline and 
my heart stopped, and everything 
leaned down from the sky to kill me 
and now the cattails sing.

in the ruins, by Mark Conway

we drank in the remains
of ruined buildings
and we sat in a cave or
wrecked houses on farms given back to the bank
listening to men who’d been raised
in ways that were lost
and we strained to make out
the use of their news
they were crazy or passed out
speed notched with a cross
they drank from the flask and the mouth
they came in and shook off the rain
inflamed and dismayed
calm and arcane
the least one seethed chanting whitman for hours
then wept at the dregs of the fire
foam formed at the edge of their lips
we drank and waited for something to drop
you and I looking and sifting
for signs written in wax
we were young we knew how to die
but not how to last
a small man who claimed he was blake raged
all night and probably he was
he had god in his sights
white crosses shone in our eyes or acid mandalic
in the ruins the men talked:
seraphic and broken
glowing with gnosis and rubbish
we sorted their mad sacred words
these dog-headed guides to the life after
and the life after that

The Woman and the Flame, by Aimé Césaire

     translated by Clayton Eshleman

A bit of light that descends the springhead of a gaze
twin shadow of the eyelash and the rainbow on a face
and round about
who goes there angelically
ambling
Woman the current weather
the current weather matters little to me
my life is always ahead of a hurricane
you are the morning that swoops down on the lamp a night stone
   between its teeth
you are the passage of seabirds as well
you who are the wind through the salty ipomeas of consciousness
insinuating yourself from another world
Woman
you are a dragon whose lovely color is dispersed and darkens so
   as to constitute the
inevitable tenor of things
I am used to brush fires
I am used to ashen bush rats and the bronze ibis of the flame
Woman binder of the foresail gorgeous ghost
helmet of algae of eucalyptus
                                 dawn isn't it
                                 and in the abandon of the ribbands
                                 very savory swimmer

Remarks on Poetry and the Physical World, by Mary Barnard

After reading Ash Wednesday
she looked once at the baked beans
and fled. Luncheonless, poor girl,
she observed a kind of poetic Lent—
and I had thought I liked poetry
better than she did.

I do. But to me its most endearing
quality is its unsuitableness;
and, conversely, the chief wonder in heaven
(whither I also am sometimes transported)
is the kind of baggage I bring with me.

Surely there is no more exquisite jointure
in the anatomy of life than that at which
poetry dovetails with the inevitable meal
and Mrs. B. sits murmuring of avocados.

December 2, 2002, by Juliana Spahr

As it happens every night, beloveds, while we turned in the night
sleeping uneasily the world went on without us.

We live in our own time zone and there are only a small million of
us in this time zone and the world as a result has a tendency to
begin and end without us.

While we turned sleeping uneasily at least ten were injured in a
bomb blast in Bombay and four killed in Palestine.

While we turned sleeping uneasily a warehouse of food aid was
destroyed, stocks on upbeat sales soared, Australia threatened first
strikes, there was heavy gunfire in the city of Man, the Belarus
ambassador to Japan went missing, a cruise ship caught fire, on yet
another cruise ship many got sick, and the pope made a statement
against xenophobia.

While we turned sleeping uneasily perhaps J Lo gave Ben a
prenuptial demand for sex four times a week.

While we turned sleeping uneasily Liam Gallagher brawled and
irate fans complained that “Popstars: The Rivals” was fixed.

While we turned sleeping uneasily the Supreme Court agreed to
hear the case of whether university admissions may favor racial
minorities.

While we turned sleeping uneasily poachers caught sturgeon in the
reed-filled Caspian, which shelters boar and wolves, and some of
the residents on the space shuttle planned a return flight to the US.

Beloveds, our world is small and isolated.

We live our lives in six hundred square feet about a quarter mile
from the shore on land that is seven hundred square miles and five
thousand miles from the nearest land mass.

Despite our isolation, there is no escape from the news of how
many days are left in the Iraq inspections.

The news poll for today was should we invade Iraq now or should
we wait until the inspections are complete and we tried to laugh
together at this question but our laughter was uneasy and we just
decided to turn off the television that arrives to us from those
other time zones.

Beloveds, we do not know how to live our lives with any agency
outside of our bed.

It makes me angry that how we live in our bed—full of connected
loving and full of isolated sleep and dreaming also—has no
relevance to the rest of the world.

How can the power of our combination of intimacy and isolation
have so little power outside the space of our bed?

Beloveds, the shuttle is set to return home and out the window of
the shuttle one can see the earth.

“How massive the earth is; how minute the atmosphere,” one of
the astronauts notes.

Beloveds, what do we do but keep breathing as best we can this
minute atmosphere?

December, by Michael Miller

I want to be a passenger
in your car again
and shut my eyes
while you sit at the wheel,

awake and assured
in your own private world,
seeing all the lines
on the road ahead,

down a long stretch
of empty highway
without any other
faces in sight.

I want to be a passenger
in your car again
and put my life back
in your hands.

Pericardium, by Joanna Klink

Am I not alone, as I thought I was, as I thought
The day was, the hour I walked into, morning
When I felt night fly from my chest where prospect had
Slackened, and close itself off, understanding, as I thought I did,
That the ground would resist my legs and not let them
Break nor let them be released into air as my heart, in its
Muscle, might be released from the body that surrounds it,
Like someone who, placing a hand on a shoulder’s
Blade, felt a life move inside an hour and a day
Break from the day the hour meant something more than weakness,
More than fear, and flew forward into the depths of
Prospect, your arms, where you’d been, before me, waiting
For me, the way the body has always been waiting for the heart to sense
It is housed, it is needed, it will not be harmed.

Driving out of Southern Worcester County, by Mary Fell

say goodbye to small towns
their boundaries cutting across the names
of dead indians, trees
still remembering that speech

their shelved histories leaning on
years of drought, of rain, lives
the immigrant knows nothing of

canadian, pole, latin
root their lives on rock
this earth won’t give up

their names the journey a word took
changed but familiar, unaware of footsteps
echoing years back in the forest

their lives held like a cup, thin and intricate
that could break with a sound like water falling
or the sound of an animal running for shelter

but strong with an old craft
hard, and made to be passed on
to their children
or to tourists who look out from car windows
bored, and unknowingly carry them off

Going There, by Jack Gilbert

Of course it was a disaster.
The unbearable, dearest secret
has always been a disaster.
The danger when we try to leave.
Going over and over afterward
what we should have done
instead of what we did.
But for those short times
we seemed to be alive. Misled,
misused, lied to and cheated,
certainly. Still, for that
little while, we visited
our possible life.

On My Third Anniversary in New Jersey, by Noelle Kocot

It’s the fern beyond the wind, the classic
Eruptions. Night is a funnel that is overcome.
Violence of signs beyond the pale. Stasis
Has its own way, the hard work, the violence.
Convalesce, convalesce in the green green
World, in which you could hardly walk,
But that was before, before life set its rhythms
In its way. Passion is confused by silence.
Gone are the slow horses, the wetness and the
Going forth, that’s made me whole again.
A small room, a sandwich in the moonlight,
Intermittently, I see a hummingbird at
The flower box, and the great church bells
Ring. This is the beginning. I lived in a small
Room long ago. The soft earth beckoned me
Here, and I stayed. There is a dearness about
All of this, and though I want to be hungry
Again, I find that I am filled. My legs fly into
Summer, into the morning air and the leaves.
So this is what peace is, no need to spiral
In the twilight, no need to ask, season after
Season, where are you now? And, should I go?

Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg, by Richard Hugo

You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago. You walk these streets
laid out by the insane, past hotels
that didn’t last, bars that did, the tortured try
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
Only churches are kept up. The jail
turned 70 this year. The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he’s done.

The principal supporting business now
is rage. Hatred of the various grays
the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,
The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls
who leave each year for Butte. One good
restaurant and bars can’t wipe the boredom out.
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines,
a dance floor built on springs—
all memory resolves itself in gaze,
in panoramic green you know the cattle eat
or two stacks high above the town,
two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse
for fifty years that won’t fall finally down.

Isn’t this your life? That ancient kiss
still burning out your eyes? Isn’t this defeat
so accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?
Don’t empty houses ring? Are magnesium
and scorn sufficient to support a town,
not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz and booze
the world will never let you have
until the town you came from dies inside?

Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty
when the jail was built, still laughs
although his lips collapse. Someday soon,
he says, I’ll go to sleep and not wake up.
You tell him no. You’re talking to yourself.
The car that brought you here still runs.
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it’s mined, is silver
and the girl who serves your food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall.

Gaslight, by Tom Raworth

a line of faces borders the strangler’s work
heavy european women
mist blows over dusty tropical plants
lit from beneath the leaves by a spotlight
mist in my mind a riffled deck
 
of cards or eccentrics
was i
a waterton animal my head
is not my own
 
poetry is neither swan nor owl
but worker, miner
digging each generation deeper
through the shit of its eaters
to the root – then up to the giant tomato
 
someone else’s song is always behind us
as we wake from a dream trying to remember
step onto a thumbtack
 
two worlds – we write the skin
the surface tension that holds
                                       you
                                       in
what we write is ever the past
 
curtain pulled back
a portrait behind it
is a room suddenly lit
 
looking out through the eyes
at a t.v. programme
of a monk sealed into a coffin
 
we close their eyes and ours
and still here the tune
 
moves on

Old Boy, by A. Van Jordan

(Park Chan-Wook, 2003)

If one rainy night you find yourself
leaving a phone booth, and you meet a man
with a lavender umbrella, resist
your desire to follow him, to seek
shelter from the night in his solace.
Later, don’t fall victim to the Hypnotist’s
narcotic of clarity, which proves
a curare for the heart; her salve
is merely a bandage, under which memories
pulse. Resist the taste for something still
alive for your first meal; resist the craving
for the touch of a hand from your past.
We live some memories,
and some memories are planted. There’s
only so much space for the truth
and the fabrications to spread out
in one’s mind. When there’s no more
space, we grow desperate. You’ll ask
if practicing love for years in your mind,
prepares you for the moment,
if practicing to defend one’s life
is the same as living? You’ll
hole up, captive, in a hotel room
for fifteen years and learn to find
a man within you, which will prove
a painful introduction to the trance
into which you were born. Better
to stay under the spell of your guilt,
than to forget; you’ve already released
your pain onto the world; don’t believe
there’s some joy in forgetting.
There’s no joy in the struggle to forget.
And what appears as an endless verdant field,
only spreads across a building’s rooftop;
your peaceful sleep could be a fetal position,
which secures you in a suitcase in this field.
A bell rings, and you fall out of this luggage
like clothes you no longer fit. Now what to do?
You remember when you were the man
who fit those clothes, but you’ve forgotten this
world. Even forgotten scenes from your life,
leave shadows of the memory,
haunting your spirit
until, within a moment’s glance,
strangers passing you on the street,
observe history in your eyes. Experience
lingers through acts of forgetting,
small acts of love or trauma
falling from the same place. Whether
memory comes in the form of a stone
or a grain of sand, they both sink in water.
A tongue—even if it were, say, sworn
to secrecy; or if it were cut from one’s mouth;
yes, even without a mouth to envelop
its truth—the tongue continues to confess.

Garden Poem, by Robert Adamson

for Juno

Sunlight scatters wild bees across a blanket
of flowering lavender. The garden

grows, visibly, in one morning—
native grasses push up, tough and lovely

as your angel’s trumpets. At midday
the weather, with bushfire breath, walks about

talking to itself. A paper wasp zooms
above smooth river pebbles. In the trees

possums lie flat on leafy branches to cool off,
the cats notice, then fall back to sleep.

This day has taken our lives to arrive.
Afternoon swings open, although

the mechanics of the sun require
the moon’s white oil. Daylight fades to twilight

streaking bottlebrush flowers with shade;
a breeze clatters in the green bamboo and shakes

its lank hair. At dinnertime, the French doors present us
with a slice of night, shining clear—

a Naples-yellow moon outlines the ridges
of the mountains—all this, neatly laid out

on the dining room table
across patches of moonlight.

Veterans of Foreign Wars, by Edward Hirsch

Let’s not forget the General
Shuffling out in his gray slippers
To feed the pigeons in Logan Square.

He wore a battered White Sox cap
And a heavy woolen scarf tossed
Over his shoulder, even in summer.

I remember how he muttered to himself
And coughed into his newspaper
And complained about his gout

To the other Latvian exiles,
The physicist who lived on Gogol Street
In Riga, my grandfather’s hometown,

The auxiliary policeman from Daugavpils,
And the chemical engineer,
Who always gave me hard candy,

Though grandfather spit
And grandmother hurried me away
When she saw them coming.

Reasons, by Thomas James

For our own private reasons
We live in each other for an hour.
Stranger, I take your body and its seasons,
Aware the moon has gone a little sour

For us. The moon hangs up there like a stone
Shaken out of its proper setting.
We lie down in each other. We lie down alone
and watch the moon’s flawed marble getting

Out of hand. What are the dead doing tonight?
The padlocks of their tongues embrace the black,
Each syllable locked in place, tucked out of sight.
Even this moon could never pull them back,

Even if it held them in its arms
And weighed them down with stones,
Took them entirely on their own terms
And piled the orchard’s blossom on their bones.

I am aware of your body and its dangers.
I spread my cloak for you in leafy weather
Where other fugitives and other strangers
Will put their mouths together.

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.

Back, by Beckian Fritz Goldberg

The god of the back
must be a lonely god,
god in the shape of man-headed hawk.

Long ago
a man had been sailing the river
and the hawk had been flying beside him
for days. Mornings,

the man would wake and look,
yes, there it was, dark tip-to-tip, the hawk.
His hawk, he began to think of it.
And after a time

he forgot the point of the journey,
he only woke each morning to see
if the hawk was there, to move if the hawk
moved with him, to not rest

if the hawk did not rest. And all of this love
was done in silence, between animal
and animal. There

beside him in the air and there
beside him in the water, the yoke
of the hawk. Once he had a family. Once
he had a city to go to and something

to bring back. More and more
he began to see his life
as a story the hawk was telling

holding the rat of the field in its claw, meaning
There is another world
and I will take you in it.
This

is when he became the god,
god of the back, the beautiful
brow of leaving.

Diptych: My Bracelet, by Jim Moore

1

Before going to bed I take off my bracelet. It is meant to protect me. A dancer gave it to me: for decades she has known sorrow and beauty. Beloveds have come and gone. Mountains and forest fires. Lives that might have lived through her, but didn’t. Lives that do still live through her. I go to sleep, protected by her love, even though now my wrist is naked. All of you who have lived with the mysterious succession of love and grief, of dogs and dances, of yoga and tears: all of you will know just what I mean.

2

There is sunlight and a staircase ending at the sky. There are electrical wires, a black cable. Then the sound of the train going away. There is my bracelet made of jasper that Peggy made for me. The river and the sweetness of going down to the river. There is all that darkness rushing under the arches of the old stone bridge. The waiting darkness. The patience. There is the going away: let’s get that straight once and for all. And the new waitress, her hand shaking, the tattoo pulsing at her neck, “And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.”

Let Me Disappear, by Ray Gonzalez

According to scientists, astronauts get taller when they are in space and in Albania, nodding your head means “no” and shaking your head means “yes.” This says I am going to disappear and become a parrot, sitting on my perch in some strange woman’s living room, ready to imitate everything she has to say to her illicit lover over the phone. Maybe I won’t have to speak in the shrill voice of parrots, but simply nod and shake my head, getting it right, unlike the Albanians. St. Paul, Minnesota was originally called Pig’s Eye after a man named Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant who set up the first business there in the mid-nineteenth century. Well, let me disappear because I live about twelve miles south of St. Paul’s southern city limits and have seen the eyes of pigs quite often. Minnesota is full of them. The last one I saw was tailgating me and almost ran me off the road. Before I could switch lanes, he swerved around me and shot away. About four blocks later, he was pulled over by a cop and given a ticket. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s mother’s maiden name was “Moon.” That sentence is hard to say. Of course, Buzz was the second man to step onto the moon in 1969. The first was Neil Armstrong, but he had no moons in his family, so he pleaded to Buzz on his knees, “Please, let me go second. Let me go second and every moon lover will love you forever, instead of me.” This happened inside the capsule on its way down to the moon. Buzz thought, “Let me disappear,” but it was too late. They hit the surface and history was on its way. I don’t have a clue what this has to do with me because the only moon in my life rose over the desert skies for the first twenty-five years of my life, until I disappeared. It is why I insist on a dark, moonless night when it is the best time for all men to go away, inspect their dreams, and maybe come back taller, wiser, and able to know the difference between yes and no.

Offerings, by Howard Altmann

To the night I offered a flower
and the dark sky accepted it
like earth, bedding
for light.

To the desert I offered an apple
and the dunes received it
like a mouth, speaking
for wind.

To the installation I offered a tree
and the museum planted it
like a man, viewing
his place.

To the ocean I offered a seed
and its body dissolved it
like time, composing
a life.

Empty, by Laura Mullen

Huge crystalline cylinders emerge from the water

The future

Where do they come from the King gushes these talking fish
Show me at once

We see the writer buried under a collapsing mountain of scribbled-over
papers
While ink blurts from an overturned bottle

Speech is silver the King mutters
Silence is

They discover a fabulous ancient city

Black lake
Flag of smoke

Where we turned to look

Skulls, bats, stars, spirals, lightning bolts
Words spoken in anger
Flowers for sarcasm

The sequence continued to work in references to the brevity of life

Garlands of flowers
Stars signaling physical impact

They discover a fabulous ancient city
Under the water
None of the inhabitants

‘Be reasonable . . . ‘

Increasingly faint trace of inked
Flowers delicate

After that

Cat catch
The decree

Eradicate

Night Life, by Vivian Smith

Disturbed at 2 a.m. I hear a claw
scratching the window, tapping at the pane,
and then I realise, a broken branch,
and yet I can’t turn back to sleep again.

Slowly, not to wake you, I get up,
thinking of food, perhaps a quiet read.
A cockroach runs across the kitchen floor,
its lacquered shell as quick and dry as seed.

Outside the chalice lily lifts its cup
in adoration to the mirrored moon,
full of purpose as it trembles there,
collecting drops of moisture on its spoon.

Noises of the night, it’s all alive,
birds shifting in the steady trees,
slugs and snails eating fallen flowers,
a moth freighted with fragilities.

Nocturnal life, the other side of things,
proceeding whether we observe or not,
like rows and rows of brown coastal ants
transporting food from here to another spot.

Far and Away [excerpt], by Fanny Howe

The rain falls on.
Acres of violets unfold.
Dandelion, mayflower
Myrtle and forsythia follow.

The cardinals call to each other.
Echoes of delicate
Breath-broken whistles.

I know something now
About subject, object, verb
And about one word that fails
For lack of substance.

Now people say, He passed on
Instead of that. Unit
Of space subtracted by one.
It almost rhymes with earth.

What is a poet but a person
Who lives on the ground
Who laughs and listens

Without pretension of knowing
Anything, driven by the lyric’s
Quest for rest that never
(God willing) will be found?

Concord, kitchen table, 1966.
Corbetts, Creeley, a grandmother
And me. Sweater, glasses,
One wet eye.

Lots of laughter
Before and after. Every meeting
Rhymed and fluttered into meter.
The beat was the message. . . .

(for Robert Creeley)

Theories of Time and Space, by Natasha Trethewey

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.
Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:
head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off
another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end
at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches
in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand
dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only
what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock
where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:
the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return

Practicing Vigilance, by Bianca Stone

Every day try and write down one terrible thing.
One terrible thing—I’m filled with them,
carry each one
like an organ locked in a Coleman cooler.

Add a little color for emphasis.

I say my father’s surname to a migration of crows.
His name like a figure jumping out of an aerodynamic object

through a burning hoop
into a glass of still water.

*

My history is comprised of the inappropriate.
I look into the mirror and see disturbed human qualities,

my face like grass in a summer essay
like a senator stepping into an empty room

to hate his speech,

the almost symmetrical science of it.

Trying to feel something.
Covering rented light with a curtain.

*

Today make nothing happen very slowly.

I can see through the atmosphere’s silk chemise

all the way to the faint constellation in the southern sky
and it’s making me want to shake my head

and ask a question
to the clairvoyant 8-Ball in my hands—ask

if we are among those left in a dark forest

with our flare guns pointed at the ground

or among those loved by our parents’ parents
on the paternal side we never see.

Hell If I know, the 8-Ball says
drunk in its dark blue alcohol.

*

Winter breathed out all language.
My father appeared
and began taking my hair
one follicle at a time.
He worked his way to the neural tissue
threw himself down
in a tantrum.
I listen attentively to the wind
and cannot compute this.
I sell my letter to the sentimentalists
leaving behind a trail of fuck you
crumbs the largest of birds cannot tear.

*

Despite the parables I keep close
I won’t be mythologized by my father
who moves like an incoherent, boozing breeze
through my life’s antechambers.
I won’t admire the west vestibule of the Frick with him
not with this roast on a spit in my chest
the mind like a database of rage-expressions
the mind like a bottle of loose glitter—

so shadowy, my people, you begin
to see the blueprints in all things
until you can’t hold a book without
blowing on it to see if it will scatter
or laying on a bed, waiting to fall through
into the particle-laden apartment below—
to each his own until it ruins pleasure.

*

Where is the rain
when I am feeling this
reckless?

I went to a doctor and she said
There’s a little you in there who feels
hideous—

the little me fell
like a grand piano into my lap

*

Visualize a knock-knock joke with yourself
in a white noise somewhere
on the Upper West Side
a box of Kleenex in your hand.

memory swam through the grotesque
with its spoon paddle.

My dreams always fell flat.

The doctor said:
Start with finding out where your hands go
when you say your father’s name.

*

I say his name and I can see him.
He squats in the corner computing Zeno’s paradox.
He fills another glass and pukes,

starts in again about the illusion of motion—

If I’m coming toward you on the street
I will never reach you, he raves.
I’ll go half way and there will be another half and another half and another half.

He stands in infinite points on the distance
assuring with his ancient terrible glee
that I am going to go out and get a drink with him.

Deep within some cell
the nucleus grows unstable

*

I used to put a miniature rosebush
in the ground each year
to counteract my squalor.
Don’t tell me that definition of madness,
doing the same thing over again etcetera.
The definition of madness
is a certain enthusiasm, then there has
to be another person there
to not share in it—who is oppressed by it
who can only stare into it.
Tell it to the bluebird rustling over my head.
Tell it to a satellite orbiting in its delusion of being a moon.

I’m coaxing the black bull out of my mouth
with a red flag and a beer. I’m constructing
out of my faulty genes,
my last sentence, my last thing
which addresses the dilemma obliquely:

we will perceive our own pain in others.
And we will know if we are capable of loving them.

Warning, by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

The Emergence of Memory, 1, by Laynie Browne

His unset eyes — containing water — become expression, or color.
They cloud in changing — though the change is never marked, it
may eventually be seen.

The cloud is green

His hand is light

He watches this first finding — pulling a hand in and out of a living
channel.
His newness betokens him all color. He passes through color —
setting each resonance for light.

The sound includes experience which is remembered, though from
not remote occasions, which swell upon his passing. Looking up with
different thought filled hands.

Why then does experience comb the onlooker away from the child,
when the child includes changing eyes in every picture?

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.

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.

The Clerk’s Tale, by Spencer Reece

I am thirty-three and working in an expensive clothier,
selling suits to men I call “Sir.”
These men are muscled, groomed and cropped—
with wives and families that grow exponentially.
Mostly I talk of rep ties and bow ties,
of full-Windsor knots and half-Windsor knots,
of tattersall, French cuff, and English spread collars,
of foulards, neats, and internationals,
of pincord, houndstooth, nailhead, and sharkskin.
I often wear a blue pin-striped suit.
My hair recedes and is going gray at the temples.
On my cheeks there are a few pimples.
For my terrible eyesight, horn-rimmed spectacles.
One of my fellow-workers is an old homosexual
who works hard and wears bracelets with jewels.
No one can rival his commission checks.
On his break he smokes a Benson & Hedges cigarette,
puffing expectantly as a Hollywood starlet.
He has carefully applied a layer of Clinique bronzer
to enhance the tan on his face and neck.
His hair is gone except for a few strands
which are combed across his scalp.
He examines his manicured lacquered nails.
I admire his studied attention to details:
his tie stuck to his shirt with masking tape,
his teeth capped, his breath mint in place.
The old homosexual and I laugh in the back
over a coarse joke involving an octopus.
Our banter is staccato, staged and close
like those “Spanish Dances” by Granados.
I sometimes feel we are in a musical—
gossiping backstage between our numbers.
He drags deeply on his cigarette.
Most of his life is over.
Often he refers to himself as “an old faggot.”
He does this bemusedly, yet timidly.
I know why he does this.
He does this because his acceptance is finally complete—
and complete acceptance is always
bittersweet. Our hours are long. Our backs bent.
We are more gracious than English royalty.
We dart amongst the aisles tall as hedgerows.
Watch us face into the merchandise.
How we set up and take apart mannequins
as if we were performing autopsies.
A naked body, without pretense, is of no use.
It grows late.
I hear the front metal gate close down.
We begin folding the ties correctly according to color.
The shirts—Oxfords, broadcloths, pinpoints—
must be sized, stacked, or rehashed.
The old homosexual removes his right shoe,
allowing his gigantic bunion to swell.
There is the sound of cash being counted—
coins clinking, bills swishing, numbers whispered—
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. . .
We are changed when the transactions are done—
older, dirtier, dwarfed.
A few late customers gawk in at us.
We say nothing. Our silence will not be breached.
The lights go off, one by one—
the dressing room lights, the mirror lights.
Then it is very late. How late? Eleven?
We move to the gate. It goes up.
The gate’s grating checkers our cheeks.
This is the Mall of America.
The light is bright and artificial,
yet not dissimilar to that found in a Gothic cathedral.
You must travel down the long hallways to the exits
before you encounter natural light.
One final formality: the manager checks out bags.
The old homosexual reaches into his over-the-shoulder leather bag—
the one he bought on his European travels
with his companion of many years.
He finds a stick of lip balm and applies it to his lips
liberally, as if shellacking them.
Then he inserts one last breath mint
and offers one to me. The gesture is fraternal
and occurs between us many times.
At last, we bid each other good night.
I watch him fade into the many-tiered parking lot,
where the thousands of cars have come
and are now gone. This is how our day ends.
This is how our day always ends.
Sometimes snow falls like rice.
See us take to our dimly lit exits,
disappearing into the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul;
Minneapolis is sleek and St. Paul,
named after the man who had to be shown,
is smaller, older, and somewhat withdrawn.
Behind us, the moon pauses over the vast egg-like dome of the mall.
See us loosening our ties among you.
We are alone.
There is no longer any need to express ourselves.

First Love, by Jennifer Franklin

The boy beside me
is not you but he
is familiar in all

the important ways.
I pass through life
finding you over

and over again—
oppress you
with love. And every

surrogate?
Afflicted by my
kindness, they leave

me with my music.
I loved you before
I ever loved you.

Money Is an Energy, by Justin Marks

Everybody is already
someone else
An existential tag line

Money is current

I would like to not live
paycheck to paycheck

You could make a pun on currency
but not quite

Money is an energy nonetheless

Dark space   Dark water

A long silent drive

Dark matter(s)

Driving is my personality

The methods of one wor(l)d revealing
the hidden harmonies of another

Prayer card  Lotto ticket  You occupy
my pocket

My payment has not arrived

The End of Science Fiction, by Lisel Mueller

This is not fantasy, this is our life.
We are the characters
who have invaded the moon,
who cannot stop their computers.
We are the gods who can unmake
the world in seven days.

Both hands are stopped at noon.
We are beginning to live forever,
in lightweight, aluminum bodies
with numbers stamped on our backs.
We dial our words like Muzak.
We hear each other through water.

The genre is dead. Invent something new.
Invent a man and a woman
naked in a garden,
invent a child that will save the world,
a man who carries his father
out of a burning city.
Invent a spool of thread
that leads a hero to safety,
invent an island on which he abandons
the woman who saved his life
with no loss of sleep over his betrayal.

Invent us as we were
before our bodies glittered
and we stopped bleeding:
invent a shepherd who kills a giant,
a girl who grows into a tree,
a woman who refuses to turn
her back on the past and is changed to salt,
a boy who steals his brother’s birthright
and becomes the head of a nation.
Invent real tears, hard love,
slow-spoken, ancient words,
difficult as a child’s
first steps across a room.

Playback, by Lauren Camp

Let there be footfall and car door. Let me
be finished with fire. Let
the man get on a plane for his morning
departure, erasing each reverie. Soon
there will be only daylight,
maybe a blue envelope, torn. Maybe bracelets
of color from the petunias. I will need
to know how to recover
the familiar, how to open the door
in the evening. How to again lock it.
Almost everything about me goes unspoken,
but commas and colons. I live with this
heart rate, multiple times, its direction,
its tempo: my 4/4 with acceleration, sometimes
tuned to an alternate signature. Think of Brubeck’s
“Take Five.” Those blocky chords were the result
of an accident—dead on arrival, they said,
after he smashed to the surf. Think how
he switched it around, made his hands
do what he wanted to hear, and forgive me
for the analogy. May I never
rush a surge for a better experience.
Every Sunday all over the country,
apologies gather. When I’m not in this
small cottage, unreacting, I cascade sound
and a few sentences from a cramped
room to whoever will listen. I know some
people think it is sinful to love such temptations,
but I stay with my face soft against
microphone, announcing my moral
directions. Sometimes, I’m convinced my blood
needs all those crossings. I’m not after
absolution. The man I love taught me to want
without lyrics. Remember I haven’t
gone anywhere. I’m in a thirsty way
sort of possessive. I shouldn’t show you this
side of myself. Try to remember I’m also praised
for my kindness. We each need to learn
to turn off some dreams so we can play
hours without creases.

Kargil, by Sudeep Sen

Ten years on, I came searching for
                                war signs of the past
expecting remnants — magazine debris,
unexploded shells,
                  shrapnel
                                   that mark bomb wounds.
 
I came looking for
                                                                  ghosts —
people past, skeletons charred,
abandoned
                  brick-wood-cement
                                                  that once housed them.
 
I could only find whispers —
                                   whispers among the clamour
of a small town outpost
                                                  in full throttle —
everyday chores
                                   sketching outward signs
              of normality and life.
 
In that bustle
                  I spot war-lines of a decade ago,
though the storylines
                                   are kept buried, wrapped
in old newsprint.
 
There is order amid uneasiness —
                                                 the muezzin’s cry,
the monk’s chant —
                                   baritones
                                   merging in their separateness.
 
At the bus station
                                 black coughs of exhaust
smoke-screens everything.
                                                  The roads meet
and after the crossroad ritual
                                                                   diverge,
skating along the undotted lines
                                                 of control.
A porous garland
                                 with cracked beads
adorns Tiger Hill.
                                 Beyond the mountains
                                                 are dark memories,
and beyond them
                                no one knows,
                                                               and beyond them
no one wants to know.
 
Even the flight of birds
                                                     that wing over their crests
don’t know which feathers to down.
               Chameleon-like
they fly, tracing perfect parabolas.
 
I look up
                 and calculate their exact arc
and find instead,                                     a flawed theorem.

February, by James Schuyler

A chimney, breathing a little smoke.
The sun, I can’t see
making a bit of pink
I can’t quite see in the blue.
The pink of five tulips
at five p.m. on the day before March first.
The green of the tulip stems and leaves
like something I can’t remember,
finding a jack-in-the-pulpit
a long time ago and far away.
Why it was December then
and the sun was on the sea
by the temples we’d gone to see.
One green wave moved in the violet sea
like the UN Building on big evenings,
green and wet
while the sky turns violet.
A few almond trees
had a few flowers, like a few snowflakes
out of the blue looking pink in the light.
A gray hush
in which the boxy trucks roll up Second Avenue
into the sky. They’re just
going over the hill.
The green leaves of the tulips on my desk
like grass light on flesh,
and a green-copper steeple
and streaks of cloud beginning to glow.
I can’t get over
how it all works in together
like a woman who just came to her window
and stands there filling it
jogging her baby in her arms.
She’s so far off. Is it the light
that makes the baby pink?
I can see the little fists
and the rocking-horse motion of her breasts.
It’s getting grayer and gold and chilly.
Two dog-size lions face each other
at the corners of a roof.
It’s the yellow dust inside the tulips.
It’s the shape of a tulip.
It’s the water in the drinking glass the tulips are in.
It’s a day like any other.

A Note, by Wislawa Szymborska

Life is the only way
to get covered with leaves
Catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;
to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;
to tell pain
from everything it’s not;

to squeeze inside events
dawdle in views
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with a lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble on a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another
mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;

and to keep on not knowing
something important.

Accidents Of Birth, by William Meredith

Je vois les effroyables espaces de l’Univers qui m’enferment, et je me trouve attaché à un coin de cette vaste étendue, sans savoir pourquoi je suis plutôt en ce lieu qu’en un autre, ni pourquoi ce peu de temps qui m’est donné à vivre m’est assigné à ce point plutôt qu’à un autre de toute l’éternité qui m’a précédé, et de toute qui me suit.

—Pascal, Pensées sur la religion

The approach of a man’s life out of the past is history, and the approach of time out of the future is mystery. Their meeting is the present, and it is consciousness, the only time life is alive. The endless wonder of this meeting is what causes the mind, in its inward liberty of a frozen morning, to turn back and question and remember. The world is full of places. Why is it that I am here?

—Wendell Berry, The Long-Legged House

Spared by a car or airplane crash or
cured of malignancy, people look
around with new eyes at a newly
praiseworthy world, blinking eyes like these.

For I’ve been brought back again from the
fine silt, the mud where our atoms lie
down for long naps. And I’ve also been
pardoned miraculously for years
by the lava of chance which runs down
the world’s gullies, silting us back.
Here I am, brought back, set up, not yet
happened away.

But it’s not this random
life only, throwing its sensual
astonishments upside down on
the bloody membranes behind my eyeballs,
not just me being here again, old
needer, looking for someone to need,
but you, up from the clay yourself,
as luck would have it, and inching
over the same little segment of earth-
ball, in the same little eon, to
meet in a room, alive in our skins,
and the whole galaxy gaping there
and the centuries whining like gnats—
you, to teach me to see it, to see
it with you, and to offer somebody
uncomprehending, impudent thanks.

Caro Nome, by Kathy Fagan

Jets shake the air and snow
breaks off a tree branch in little puffs. One
cardinal. Cars moving slowly downhill on the ice.

It is always someone’s last day.
Dearest Bird, she read from the card she’d found unattached to the flowers,
Happy Day To Our Sweetest Hart. Love Monster And Beef Dad.

Their secret language.
Manischewitz, she calls me for the sweetness.
Manitoba, for the expanse.

Deer rest in snow,
charcoal muzzle to charcoal hoof, heads slung over
their shoulders like swans.

One is in REM. Look at it dreaming, she said.
Fern buttons unwheel in a dark place behind the snow,
a contrast she loves in me.

The sledding hill is closed, the days like an unused billboard,
but sunsets have been fantastic,
jewel-toned as the flowers unattached to the card, or hot like the cardinal

who pins the whole picture up
with your eye. Meanwhile,
her tree is an iron room with the moon inside. Its branches

have a mental disorder so sunsets keep dodging them.
I am the color of that tree
she loves and nearly as still. And my blood, which is not in this picture,

will soon cool, sunset winking out in my eyes and her eyes
welling in a language that once fell and rose
in drifts then melted, starry, she said, starry, into my warm coat.

No world is intact, by Alice Notley

No world is intact
and no one cares about you.

I leaned down over
don’t care about, I care about
you
I leaned down over the

world in portrayal
of carefulness, answering

something you couldn’t say.
walking or fallen and you
were supposed
to give therapy to me—

me leaning down
brushing with painted feathers
to the left chance your operatic,
broken

book.

The more Alice reaches out, the more her dream-rushes, by Jenny Boully

disappear: one by one by one the darling scented rushes sink back into melt. In the dream stream, the boat glides past too quick, and there is no chance to gather the loveliest of the dream-rushes. No less satisfying was the old sheep: so many knitting needles, dozens and dozens all pierced into a ball of worsted, and there was never ever any telling of just what, even in dream, it might be that the old sheep was knitting.

For years, I dreamt of the child who, when I reached out to her, turned into a sheet of paper, and so, in waking hours, I wrote and wrote and wrote and my friends consoled me: see, you have book babies; this, while I looked on at other women who knit bibs and booties, so many booties, such small socks.

When Alice steals away and consoles the Duchess’s baby, it metamorphoses into a pig and runs away from her, runs away. That is ever so much a better-known story than the one of dream-rushes or too many knitting needles. (How ever did Alice ever console herself? Did her friends say, Oh, just think now you’ll have truffles!?)

Odysseus’s mother wonders how her son, a mere mortal, made it over Oceanus to the land where lives sink back into melt. She says that he must have had a good boat; he tries to embrace her, but like a soul she flits about and away. When Odysseus asks why Mother, why not stay still and let us embrace, she says, Son, it’s because I no longer have sinew, no longer have bones.

My little baby, who I will name a weaver of spools and not of dreams, with mortal limbs—not quite sinew, not quite bone—paddles a rowboat inside of me, and I stay, in those moments, ever-so-still so that she may reach out to me. The midwife says that what I’m feeling is called quickening. Scientists say that she is dreaming—practicing for this life, I like to think, where, in her nursery, there will be a machine projecting fake moonbeams and fake stars and fake shadows and fake birds and fake clouds to storm over her.

Spent, by Mark Doty

Late August morning I go out to cut
spent and faded hydrangeas—washed
greens, russets, troubled little auras

of sky as if these were the very silks
of Versailles, mottled by rain and ruin
then half-restored, after all this time…

When I come back with my handful
I realize I’ve accidentally locked the door,
and can’t get back into the house.

The dining room window’s easiest;
crawl through beauty bush and spirea,
push aside some errant maples, take down

the wood-framed screen, hoist myself up.
But how, exactly, to clamber across the sill
and the radiator down to the tile?

I try bending one leg in, but I don’t fold
readily; I push myself up so that my waist
rests against the sill, and lean forward,

place my hands on the floor and begin to slide
down into the room, which makes me think
this was what it was like to be born:

awkward, too big for the passageway…
Negotiate, submit?
When I give myself
to gravity there I am, inside, no harm,

the dazzling splotchy flowerheads
scattered around me on the floor.
Will leaving the world be the same

—uncertainty as to how to proceed,
some discomfort, and suddenly you’re
—where? I am so involved with this idea

I forget to unlock the door,
so when I go to fetch the mail, I’m locked out
again. Am I at home in this house,

would I prefer to be out here,
where I could be almost anyone?
This time it’s simpler: the window-frame,

the radiator, my descent. Born twice
in one day!
In their silvered jug,
these bruise-blessed flowers:

how hard I had to work to bring them
into this room. When I say spent,
I don’t mean they have no further coin.

If there are lives to come, I think
they might be a littler easier than this one.

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.

Void and Compensation (Karaoke Genesis), by Michael Morse

Since when did keeping things to ourselves
help us to better remember them?

We need tutorials from predecessors.

To restore what’s missing makes a science
of equating like with like, or touching
small pebbles on a larger mental abacus.

We hitch a memory of order to ourselves:

From rotating bodies in space comes wind,
by which we’re buffeted, cooled, or graced;
The sun warms both the sunflower
and the angel with whom we might wrestle;
We get some lyrics from a higher power
and then we act on or for each other.

In calculated reunions of broken parts,
the latter must always feel the former,
inherit both the track and the turn.

A situation like an empty orchestra.

And when we try to sing above it, intuit,
and even in our singing are mistaken—

if pitch is something sought and never pure,
if latter sounds like something we can climb
as opposed to where we find ourselves
more recently in our relations, in time,
having been left or starting our leave-taking—

something happened—someone followed someone.
Someone had. Even held. Our formers.

We’re doppelgangers, saintly or undone;
pick a song and listen for your cue.

Here’s the void. Now sing some compensation.

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?

You Are Not a Statue, by Mark Yakich

And I am not a pedestal.

We are not a handful of harmless
scratches on pale pink canvas.
Today is not the day to stop

looking for the woman
to save you. What was once
ivory is wood. What was once

whalebone is cotton.
My coif and corset are duly
fastened, and your shirttail is

tied in a diamond knot.
You may be the giver
of unappreciated nicknames

and the devoted artist
who has given my still life
life. But we can never reach

each other’s standards.
You want to condemn me
to eternity. I want to make you

no more perfect than you
used to be. We are not
together, we are not alone.

The Real Enough World, by Karen Brennan

Spider City

After a while I dreamt about
                  the Spider City
& when I woke up in my
                  flannel pj’s
the curtain flapped open
                  & the sky greeted me.

Hello Karen, Hello Little Bee,
         it said which is when
I remembered the strange
         webbed sky of the Spider
City & your face in the
         middle saying Kiss Me.

Breathless City

Every city is a little breathless,
a little behind the times,
racing to catch up, thus
gasping.

That day I wore a gray suit,
         white gloves, 1960 or so.
Some thin man approached
         & offered me $$ to
         pose in the nude.
The sun over St. Patrick’s
         Cathedral like a child’s
sun, all rays around
         a smiling face
& the man whose gray suit
         matched my own was
         called Ray!

         Such coincidences
occur in a city whose heart
         splits open in two shocks.
But this happened later.
& I wasn’t around
though I watched it on TV.

Dapper City

In Florida the palm branches
         rustle like neckties,
the ocean an opulent
         cologne we plunder,
the grass, green as the
         stolen eye of the Dowager
or a bruised infant
which is so sad
found in the trash can
among some white receipts
& spaghetti.
                  I am smoking a cigarette
wishing it were over–
the parasols, the gliding waterway
         ships, the cocktails,
the aces & clubs, the languorous beach
         stretches, the strings of pearls,
hats–
wishing it would begin again.

Dieting City

Or Starving City. It’s hard
         to tell. For one thing, it’s
         dark & for another
         I feel inadequate.
My perpetual motion has
         ceased to amuse anyone here
         (I confide) even though…

I wore a beautiful skirt of red silk
         & when I whirled you could
         see everything–
         the river
         with its captured lights, the
         glint of bridges, the
         pock-marked Palisades,
         aflame.

                  So much of this is untrue.

A worm slunk in the sidewalk cracks.
An old, old woman, wreathed
         in snot,
spoke sharply: She said,
“just because you give me five dollars
don’t entitle you to my life’s story.”

City of Jokes

A man goes to a psychiatrist
         sporting a huge gash in his
         forehead, says I bit
         myself. How did you
         do that? asks the psychiatrist.
         It was easy, says the man.
         I stood on a stool.
Afterwards, I pulled out of
         the parking garage & the
         day was overcast, streets
         icy.
I drove up the hill & took
         a right. I drove by the
         drive-in coffee place &
         the brown house with the
         shutters & took a left
         & then I was home.
         I turned
on the radio at this point.
A girl with a cane made her way
         down the sidewalk.
She was a stranger,
& she was my daughter.

Elizabethan City

I encountered Hamlet in a glade
& this scene, forsooth, changed into
hills &
then again a dark chamber
in which my own mother lay dying.

I wish it were another era
         but things occur where
         they will
& my defenses are poor ones.

         She has elegant bones which,
in age, have become sharp &
unfriendly.

         (Oh the body weeps & slickers
of hair cover all of us who
keep vigils.)

In a moment, I too, would
         invent a soliloquy about
         existence.

My heart in its jeweled box
         as of nothing
& zero the shape of
sorrow which doesn’t
add up.

City of Dot Dot Dot

There was a window, a drape,
         a venetian blind thickened with
         dust, an accordion sound
up from the street…
Your friend the author [was] inside
this which was inside that which was
once again…
ad nauseum…
contained in…
etc etc…
         Space
         shrinks & even afternoons
         which once seemed so voluminous
         have dwindled to a sad heap…
Little wrinkled days no longer
         unfold… Lawns have grown
minuscule & purposeless… Hairs
sprout on the female chin & buildings
formerly majestic are…
But I was crazy then…
In the fullness of each moment…
I walked everywhere in the gloam & sand…

City of Basements

Of course, conducive to sleep.
Of course, musty & poorly
         organized. You wouldn’t go there
         uninvited. I wouldn’t invite you.
But there are chinks in the brick ceilings
         that make it seem radiant
elsewhere, which is a blessing.

& amid the rats & spider houses
I might invent something
spectacular (I almost believe).

This is all I have to say about it.
Because it is unamenable to description.
Because even now my eyes are closing.

Pity yourself, Sister.
Life is harder than you dreamed possible.

3 Men: Portraits Without the Human Figure, by Deena Linnett

Hotel-casino: lights flash, crowds tread
patterned carpets hoping for a turn
in fortune. Despite the ardent wishes
of the women you have left you are not dead.
You’re good at lively passing things
that happen here: at restaurants, in bed,
at tables tossing dice and cards. That smudge
at bottom right stands in for me, as you plunge
breathless into chance as into women, risk
like drink obliterating everything.

Studio: smells of linseed oil and turpentine. Brushes,
palette knives, mixing-sticks; bottles, jars, tubes. Paint
in daubs and gobs and smears and dots and slashes.
You left the window open and everything stained.

Greenhouse. Beneath little panes pocked
by time and dotted with mold and lichen, rot,
a riot of tropical effulgence, small framed portion
of the endlessness. Spiky plants blossom
like ideas; light glances off the glass and gleams
on the permanent hunger, steams. Everything
blooms or is green. You shrug into your coat.