Unhappy Hour, by Richard Siken

Going to a party where I knew you’d be,
dudes bobbing for boyfriends, eyes shining
like candy apples. I want to be a lamppost,
or the history of plumbing. I am tired of being
mysterious. You are drinking rum next to
the laughing skullheads and I am unhappy
because I am dead and I miss you. Once
a year, day of the dead, you think you’d think
of me more often. These people shoulda
dressed up as their best selves to mix and
mingle in the courtyard garden. If everything
is green then why do I feel so blue? I would like
to be a plain-faced man, living with you quietly.
Leave the party but you can’t hear me you can
no longer hear me. The dead are boring.
Enlightenment is boring. We can read the minds
of dogs. We make the black cats scatter across
the grass. There is a better party where I am not
a ghost and you are not Aquaman. I am like
a pornstar, we are all of us pornstars aching
to get back into our terrycloth robes. Gives me
a headache, all this intellectual stimulation.
It’s cold out tonight. I am here by the back wall,
in the museum of the afterlife. I would like to
be a flickering cowboy. I like the live music—
we only get the recorded stuff here. I would like
to be alive again. I would like to say something
about grace.

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Odd Jobs, by Jericho Brown

I spent what light Saturday sent sweating
And learned to cuss cutting grass for women
Kind enough to say they couldn’t tell the damned
Difference between their mowed lawns
And their vacuumed carpets just before
Handing over a five-dollar bill rolled tighter
Than a joint and asking me in to change
A few light bulbs. I called those women old
Because they wouldn’t move out of a chair
Without my help or walk without a hand
At the base of their backs. I called them
Old, and they must have been; they’re all dead
Now, dead and in the earth I once tended.
The loneliest people have the earth to love
And not one friend their own age—only
Mothers to baby them and big sisters to boss
Them around, women they want to please
And pray for the chance to say please to.
I don’t do that kind of work anymore. My job
Is to look at the childhood I hated and say
I once had something to do with my hands.

from Projection, by Lidija Dimkovska

But I know that you know how your palms itch when you’re alone,
when the electricity goes off,
and the silence whirls in your stomach.
I know that you know how hard it is
to dress in white after wearing black,
to have your arms not merge into the day
but be signs by the road,
and to have nobody, Laurie, nobody travel
down your roads.

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.

Purism, by Vona Groarke

The wind orchestrates
its theme of loneliness
and the rain
has too much glitter in it, yes.

They are like words, the wrong ones,
insisting I listen to sense.
But I too am obstinate.

I have white walls,
white curtained windows.
What need have I
of the night’s jet-black,
outlandish ornament?

What I am after
is silence
in proportion
to desire,

the way music plumbs
its surfaces
as straight words do
the air between them.

I begin to learn
the simple thing

burning through
to an impulse at once lovely
and given to love

that will not be refused.

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.

The River Now, by Richard Hugo

Hardly a ghost left to talk with. The slavs moved on
or changed their names to something green. Greeks gave up
old dishes and slid into repose. Runs of salmon thin
and thin until a ripple in October might mean carp.
Huge mills bang and smoke. Day hangs thick with commerce
and my favorite home, always overgrown with roses,
collapsed like moral advice. Tugs still pound against
the outtide pour but real, running on some definite fuel.
I can’t dream anything, not some lovely woman
murdered in a shack, not saw mills going broke,
not even wild wine and a landslide though I knew both well.
The blood still begs direction home. This river points
the way north to the blood, the blue stars certain
in their swing, their fix. I pass the backwash where
the cattails still lean north, familiar grebes pop up,
the windchill is the same. And it comes back with the odor
of the river, some way I know the lonely sources
of despair break down from too much love. No matter
how this water fragments in the reeds, it rejoins
the river and the bright bay north receives it all,
new salmon on their way to open ocean,
the easy tub returned.