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.

Gray, by Rose Terry Cooke

In the dead calm of night, when the stars are all shining,
The deep, silent shadows lie cold o’er my head,
And the wind, like a sad spirit, round the house pining,
Calls up from their quiet the tones of the dead.

Almost I can see them who rustle the curtain,
And flit past my cheek like a cold waft of air;
I hear their faint sighs and their footsteps uncertain,
I need not a vision to know they are there.

They call from the past all its bitterest warnings,
And trail the gray ghosts through my shuddering soul,
The nights of lone grief and the desolate mornings,
The long days of anguish that mocked my control.

Then comes the still angel who watches me ever,
And numbers the tears of my sleepless despair,
And for each sullen drop that assuages its fever,
The angel stoops softly, and kisses my hair.

And at dawn I perceive in those shadowy tresses
Bright silvery threads, as they fall o’er my breast,
And I know where the angel has left his caresses,
A promise and pledge that he hastens my rest.

Foreign Wife Elegy, by Yuko Taniguchi

My language has its own world
where he doesn’t know how to live,
but he should learn my language;
then he can call my mother to say
that I am dead. I drive too fast
and someone else drives too fast
and we crash on the icy road.
The death sweeps me away.
He can tell this to my mother
if he learns my language.
Her large yellow voice travels
and hits his body, but at least she knows
that I am dead, and if I die,
I want him to tell my mother
with his deep voice shaking.

Gobbo Remembers His Youth, by David Cappella

Let me tell you about suffering
because I was a boy cold without love
in a large house, so dark it stifled laughs.
I would run to my mother with stones
only to drop them under a grim gaze
so harsh I felt tossed in a freezing bath.
Her words, like a cicada’s shrill chirp, pierced
the long summer afternoons of my hopes.
I can still remember my brother’s folded hands
in the coffin, how kissing them burnt me.
I cried uncontrollably, torched inside
with processional fires held by shadowed monks
cowled in their black walk through narrow streets
of my town, terrifying my heart forever.

Cortege, by Mary Fell

A cold rain comforts the sky.
Everything ash-colored under clouds.
I take my place in the crowd,

move without will as the procession moves,
a gray wave breaking against the street.
Up ahead, one hundred and forty seven

coffins float, wreckage of lives. I follow
the box without a name. In it
whose hand encloses whose heart? Whose mouth

presses the air toward a scream?
She is no one, the one I claim
as sister. When the familiar is tagged

and taken away, she remains.
I do not mourn her. I mourn no one.
I do not praise her. No one

is left to praise. Seventy years after
her death, I walk in March rain behind her.
She travels before me into the dark.

In Search of an Umbrella in NYC, by Juan Felipe Herrera

You were having a stroke – i
did not grasp what was going on you
standing almost half ways up half
ways down the colors what were they
i was frozen both us us staring
woman with parasol behind me
are you drunk she said facing
you and the deli behind you you
leaned shivered dropped your coat
parasol
white
reddish flowers
brain  sweat eyes your eyes moving
seeing me behind me what
black man brown man no man no
colors you
pushed something away  i was
in a rush en route to big time
poetry Biz duded up ironed shirt
the rain was in my way i was not
breathing  you were losing  yourself i
was gaining something you
stumbled out of your coat unrolled
a stranger’s language from your lips
pushed your  feet down to
the depths of the tiny sidewalk even
though it was infinite burning
ahead of me to
the food truck at the corner yellow chips
corn violet green sugar drops
fiery torn packs flaring down  and
across the street under the cement i
was moving silent alone a crooked line
going nowhere a woman
touched your hand you were lying
on the dirty shoe ground swimming
up to her i   wanted you
i was a man
running for cover from the waters
i could not     lift your suffering
it was too late   the current pulled
i was floating away  (i noticed it)
you
were rising

Butterflies Poem, by Fawziyya Abu Khalid

When you abandoned me,
I didn’t need an elegy
because you had planted
a flight of butterflies in my heart
whose path I follow
like a bedouin who knows
how to perfectly trace the footsteps
of his traunt mare.

An Institute Is Closing, by Ish Klein

I’m not in with this mystery. Somebody steady me.
Cool ocean breezes don’t make me laugh.

I’m in with noisy metal little nils. A million apologies.
I must have made more.

You were sensitive, you needed them
No you weren’t and you didn’t. In fact . . . oh forget it!

In the middle of the ocean reflected with the moon,
good place to show; probably no one knows you there.

Your leaving, the thrown rope up to sky, climbed up for real goodbye.
I realized my reason insufficient; you must have considered this.

How my specific lean to you smelled like an old paper cup
of funny water and you were not very thirsty.

You came unbidden initially and often. A field
and flickering wicks of foxes from here to there. You.

Holding Hell at bay. Back to ground,
I see you on the moon with your mirror

catching action on the parallax.
Some kind of wise guy.

Ashes, by Paula Meehan

The tide comes in; the tide goes out again
washing the beach clear of what the storm
dumped. Where there were rocks, today there is sand;
where sand yesterday, now uncovered rocks.

So I think on where her mortal remains
might reach landfall in their transmuted forms,
a year now since I cast them from my hand
—wanting to stop the inexorable clock.

She who died by her own hand cannot know
the simple love I have for what she left
behind. I could not save her. I could not
even try. I watch the way the wind blows
life into slack sail: the stress of warp against weft
lifts the stalling craft, pushes it on out.

The Last 4 Things [That hard thread], by Kate Greenstreet

That hard thread
between us.

Is it gold? Do I have to be
so outshined by my curtain?

Opened,
especially by breaking.

people who would die
people who would almost

die and
who would be injured

My dad was in the water.
Across an unprecedented space.

It would rain
for days, they said

he’d come home.
[lists the father’s wounds]

 

That hard thread
is a bone. Is made of bone.

When I was
alone,
a girl,

the first loss,
between tunnels…

I didn’t need so much.
I’d eventually get hungry.

Gradeschool’s Large Windows, by Thomas Lux

weren’t built to let the sunlight in.
They were large to let the germs out.
When polio, which sounds like the first dactyl
of a jump rope song, was on the rage,
you did not swim in public waters.
The awful thing was an iron lung.
We lined up in our underwear to get the shot.
Some kids fainted, we all were stung.
My cousin Speed sat in a vat
of ice cubes until his scarlet fever waned,
but from then on his heart was not the same.
My friend’s girlfriend was murdered in a hayfield
by two guys from Springfield.
Linda got a bad thing in her blood.
Everybody’s grandmother died.
Three times, I believe, Bobby shot his mother.
Rat poison took a beloved local bowler.
A famous singer sent condolences.
In the large second floor corner room
of my 4th grade class the windows were open.
Snow, in fat, well-fed flakes
floats in where they and the chalk-motes meet.
And the white rat powder, too, sifts down
into a box of oatmeal
on the shelf below.

The Pomegranate, by Eavan Boland

The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.

The Bistro Styx, by Rita Dove

She was thinner, with a mannered gauntness
as she paused just inside the double
glass doors to survey the room, silvery cape
billowing dramatically behind her. What’s this,

I thought, lifting a hand until
she nodded and started across the parquet;
that’s when I saw she was dressed all in gray,
from a kittenish cashmere skirt and cowl

down to the graphite signature of her shoes.
“Sorry I’m late,” she panted, though
she wasn’t, sliding into the chair, her cape

tossed off in a shudder of brushed steel.
We kissed. Then I leaned back to peruse
my blighted child, this wary aristocratic mole.

“How’s business?” I asked, and hazarded
a motherly smile to keep from crying out:
Are you content to conduct your life
as a cliché and, what’s worse,

an anachronism, the brooding artist’s demimonde?
Near the rue Princesse they had opened
a gallery cum souvenir shop which featured
fuzzy off-color Monets next to his acrylics, no doubt,

plus beared African drums and the occasional miniature
gargoyle from Notre Dame the Great Artist had
carved at breakfast with a pocket knife.

“Tourists love us. The Parisians, of course”—
she blushed—“are amused, though not without
a certain admiration . . .”
The Chateaubriand

arrived on a bone-white plate, smug and absolute
in its fragrant crust, a black plug steaming
like the heart plucked from the chest of a worthy enemy;
one touch with her fork sent pink juices streaming.

“Admiration for what?” Wine, a bloody
Pinot Noir, brought color to her cheeks. “Why,
the aplomb with which we’ve managed
to support our Art”—meaning he’d convinced

her to pose nude for his appalling canvases,
faintly futuristic landscapes strewn
with carwrecks and bodies being chewed

by rabid cocker spaniels. “I’d like to come by
the studio,” I ventured, “and see the new stuff.”
“Yes, if you wish . . .” A delicate rebuff

before the warning: “He dresses all
in black now. Me, he drapes in blues and carmine—
and even though I think it’s kinda cute,
in company I tend toward more muted shades.”

She paused and had the grace
to drop her eyes. She did look ravishing,
spookily insubstantial, a lipstick ghost on tissue,
or as if one stood on a fifth-floor terrace

peering through a fringe of rain at Paris’
dreaming chimney pots, each sooty issue
wobbling skyward in an ecstatic oracular spiral.

“And he never thinks of food. I wish
I didn’t have to plead with him to eat. . . .” Fruit
and cheese appeared, arrayed on leaf-green dishes.

I stuck with café crème. “This Camembert’s
so ripe,” she joked, “it’s practically grown hair,”
mucking a golden glob complete with parsley sprig
onto a heel of bread. Nothing seemed to fill

her up: She swallowed, sliced into a pear,
speared each tear-shaped lavaliere
and popped the dripping mess into her pretty mouth.
Nowhere the bright tufted fields, weighted

vines and sun poured down out of the south.
“But are you happy?” Fearing, I whispered it
quickly. “What? You know, Mother”—

she bit into the starry rose of a fig—
“one really should try the fruit here.”
I’ve lost her, I thought, and called for the bill.

Tablets, by Dunya Mikhail

1

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

2

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

3

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

4

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

5

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

6

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

7

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

8

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

9

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

10

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

11

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

12

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

13

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

14

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

15

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

16

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

17

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

18

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

19

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

20

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

21

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

22

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

23

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

24

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

The Abduction, by Stanley Kunitz

Some things I do not profess
to understand, perhaps
not wanting to, including
whatever it was they did
with you or you with them
that timeless summer day
when you stumbled out of the wood,
distracted, with your white blouse torn
and a bloodstain on your skirt.
“Do you believe?” you asked.
Between us, through the years,
we pieced enough together
to make the story real:
how you encountered on the path
a pack of sleek, grey hounds,
trailed by a dumbshow retinue
in leather shrouds; and how
you were led, through leafy ways,
into the presence of a royal stag,
flaming in his chestnut coat,
who kneeled on a swale of moss
before you; and how you were borne
aloft in triumph through the green,
stretched on his rack of budding horn,
till suddenly you found yourself alone
in a trampled clearing.

That was a long time ago,
almost another age, but even now,
when I hold you in my arms,
I wonder where you are.
Sometimes I wake to hear
the engines of the night thrumming
outside the east bay window
on the lawn spreading to the rose garden.
You lie beside me in elegant repose,
a hint of transport hovering on your lips,
indifferent to the harsh green flares
that swivel through the room,
searchlights controlled by unseen hands.
Out there is a childhood country,
bleached faces peering in
with coals for eyes.
Our lives are spinning out
from world to world;
the shapes of things
are shifting in the wind.
What do we know
beyond the rapture and the dread?

Quandary, by Louise Mathias

All night I flew the dark recess of God’s mind.
It was arranged like Iowa fields–

not a damn thing missing.
You ask how I survived.

I lived on a message, broad light
at the end of the world.

Words, they have so much in common with departure,

the clouds elliptical & nervous.
Why translate? It’s just a revolving door.

“Chill wind” has seven
components. One is loss.