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.

King County Metro, by Geffrey Davis

In Seattle, in 1982, my mother beholds this man
boarding the bus, the one she’s already

turning into my father. His style (if you can
call it that): disarming disregard—a loud

Hawaiian-print shirt and knee-high tube socks
that reach up the deep tone of his legs,

toward the dizzying orange of running shorts.
Outside, the gray city blocks lurch

past wet windows, as he starts his shy sway
down the aisle. Months will pass

before he shatters his ankle during a Navy drill,
the service discharging him back into the everyday

teeth of the world. Two of four kids will arrive
before he meets the friend who teaches him

the art of rooing and, soon after, the crack pipe—
the attention it takes to manage either

without destroying the hands. The air brakes gasp
as he approaches my mother’s row,

each failed rehab and jail sentence still
decades off in the distance. So much waits

in the fabulous folds of tomorrow.
And my mother, who will take twenty years

to burn out her love for him, hesitates a moment
before making room beside her—the striking

brown face, poised above her head, smiling.
My mother will blame all that happens,

both good and bad, on this smile, which glows now,
ready to consume half of everything it gives.

from The Princess [Sweet and low, sweet and low], by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Sweet and low, sweet and low,
   Wind of the western sea,
Low, low, breathe and blow,
   Wind of the western sea!
Over the rolling waters go,
Come from the dying moon, and blow,
   Blow him again to me;
While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps.

Sleep and rest, sleep and rest,
   Father will come to thee soon;
Rest, rest, on mother’s breast,
   Father will come to thee soon;
Father will come to his babe in the nest,
Silver sails all out of the west
   Under the silver moon:
Sleep, my little one, sleep, my pretty one, sleep.

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

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

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

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

“oh antic God”, by Lucille Clifton

oh antic God
return to me
my mother in her thirties
leaned across the front porch
the huge pillow of her breasts
pressing against the rail
summoning me in for bed.

I am almost the dead woman’s age times two.

I can barely recall her song
the scent of her hands
though her wild hair scratches my dreams
at night. return to me, oh Lord of then
and now, my mother’s calling,
her young voice humming my name.

Dangerous Astronomy, by Sherman Alexie

I wanted to walk outside and praise the stars,
But David, my baby son, coughed and coughed.
His comfort was more important than the stars

So I comforted and kissed him in his dark
Bedroom, but my comfort was not enough.
His mother was more important than the stars

So he cried for her breast and milk. It’s hard
For fathers to compete with mothers’ love.
In the dark, mothers illuminate like the stars!

Dull and jealous, I was the smallest part
Of the whole. I know this is stupid stuff
But I felt less important than the farthest star

As my wife fed my son in the hungry dark.
How can a father resent his son and his son’s love?
Was my comfort more important than the stars?

A selfish father, I wanted to pull apart
My comfortable wife and son. Forgive me, Rough
God, because I walked outside and praised the stars,
And thought I was more important than the stars.

Study In Orange And White, by Billy Collins

I knew that James Whistler was part of the Paris scene,
but I was still surprised when I found the painting
of his mother at the Musée d’Orsay
among all the colored dots and mobile brushstrokes
of the French Impressionists.

And I was surprised to notice
after a few minutes of benign staring,
how that woman, stark in profile
and fixed forever in her chair,
began to resemble my own ancient mother
who was now fixed forever in the stars, the air, the earth.

You can understand why he titled the painting
“Arrangement in Gray and Black”
instead of what everyone naturally calls it,
but afterward, as I walked along the river bank,
I imagined how it might have broken
the woman’s heart to be demoted from mother
to a mere composition, a study in colorlessness.

As the summer couples leaned into each other
along the quay and the wide, low-slung boats
full of spectators slid up and down the Seine
between the carved stone bridges
and their watery reflections,
I thought: how ridiculous, how off-base.

It would be like Botticelli calling “The Birth of Venus”
“Composition in Blue, Ochre, Green, and Pink,”
or the other way around
like Rothko titling one of his sandwiches of color
“Fishing Boats Leaving Falmouth Harbor at Dawn.”

Or, as I scanned the menu at the cafe
where I now had come to rest,
it would be like painting something laughable,
like a chef turning on a spit
over a blazing fire in front of an audience of ducks
and calling it “Study in Orange and White.”

But by that time, a waiter had appeared
with my glass of Pernod and a clear pitcher of water,
and I sat there thinking of nothing
but the women and men passing by—
mothers and sons walking their small fragile dogs—
and about myself,
a kind of composition in blue and khaki,
and, now that I had poured
some water into the glass, milky-green.

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.

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.

Getting Close, by Victoria Redel

Because my mother loved pocketbooks
I come alive at the opening click or close of a metal clasp.

And sometimes, unexpectedly, a faux crocodile handle makes me weep.

Breathy clearing of throat, a smooth arm, heels on pavement, she lingers, sound tattoos.

I go to the thrift store to feel for bobby pins caught in the pocket seam
of a camel hair coat.

I hinge a satin handbag in the crease of my arm. I buy a little change purse with its
curled and fitted snap.

My mother bought this for me. This was my mother’s.

I buy and then I buy and then, another day, I buy something else.

In Paris she had a dog, Bijou, and when they fled Paris in 1942 they left the dog behind.

When my mother died on February 9, 1983, she left me.

Now, thirty years later and I am exactly her age.

I tell my husband I will probably die by the end of today and all day he says, Are you
getting close, Sweetheart? And late in the afternoon, he asks if he should buy enough filet
of sole for two.

From a blue velvet clutch I take out a mirror and behold my lips in the small rectangle.

Put on something nice. Let him splurge and take you out for dinner, my mother whispers
on the glass.

A Natural History of My White Girl, by Ching-In Chen

after Mendi Obadike

When I was a white girl, I had no mother.

I drank whiskey, lived in a house with no walls.

Girls visited and marveled at my room to breathe.
When it was sunny, they let down their hair, drank fresh orange juice.

We drank all morning, didn’t go to class.
I knew which words to carry in the arsenal, which memory to disarm the most resilient bully.
Nobody bothered us or asked why we were missing.

I never doubted this was me. I knew how to pull up short, how to light my name under their skin.

There was no need for mirrors. No need to get free.

Manifest Destiny, by Cynthia Lowen

The god I’d left behind sent one last email
before returning to his people.

That summer was sixty-five degrees and fluorescent.
I was working at a law firm.

The logical mind thinks,
You’ll be paid for your suffering.

Paradise is of this earth
and it is yours,
said the copy-machine.

The impenetrable old growth of paper on my desk
begged to be made
irrelevant.

When I took off my skirt-suit I felt like my mother, or myself

done pretending
to be my mother.

I stood at the edge
of a New World.

I stared up the long rocky coast.

Whichever way was something to bump against
I pressed on in that direction.

It was like a sickness.
It was like the uncontrollable urge
to eat dirt.

Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, by Patricia Smith

My mother scraped the name Patricia Ann from the ruins
of her discarded Delta, thinking it would offer me shield
and shelter, that leering men would skulk away at the slap
of it. Her hands on the hips of Alabama, she went for flat
and functional, then siphoned each syllable of drama,
repeatedly crushing it with her broad, practical tongue
until it sounded like an instruction to God, not a name.
She wanted a child of pressed head and knocking knees,
a trip-up in the doubledutch swing, a starched pinafore
and peppermint-in-the-sour-pickle kinda child, stiff-laced
and unshakably fixed on salvation. Her Patricia Ann
would never idly throat the Lord’s name or wear one
of those thin, sparkled skirts that flirted with her knees.
She’d be a nurse or a third-grade teacher or a postal drone,
jobs requiring alarm-clock discipline and sensible shoes.
My four downbeats were music enough for a vapid life
of butcher-shop sawdust and fatback as cuisine, for Raid
spritzed into the writhing pockets of a Murphy bed.
No crinkled consonants or muted hiss would summon me.

My daddy detested borders. One look at my mother’s
watery belly, and he insisted, as much as he could insist
with her, on the name Jimi Savannah, seeking to bless me
with the blues-bathed moniker of a ball breaker, the name
of a grown gal in a snug red sheath and unlaced All-Stars.
He wanted to shoot muscle through whatever I was called,
arm each syllable with tiny weaponry so no one would
mistake me for anything other than a tricky whisperer
with a switchblade in my shoe. I was bound to be all legs,
a bladed debutante hooked on Lucky Strikes and sugar.
When I sent up prayers, God’s boy would giggle and consider.

Daddy didn’t want me to be anybody’s surefire factory,
nobody’s callback or seized rhythm, so he conjured
a name so odd and hot even a boy could claim it. And yes,
he was prepared for the look my mother gave him when
he first mouthed his choice, the look that said, That’s it,
you done lost your goddamned mind. She did that thing
she does where she grows two full inches with righteous,
and he decided to just whisper Love you, Jimi Savannah
whenever we were alone, re- and rechristening me the seed
of Otis, conjuring his own religion and naming it me.

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.

Small Talk, by Eleanor Lerman

It is a mild day in the suburbs
Windy, a little gray. If there is
sunlight, it enters through the
kitchen window and spreads
itself, thin as a napkin, beside
the coffee cup, pie on a plate

What am I describing?
I am describing a dream
in which nobody has died

These are our mothers:
your mother and mine
It is an empty day; everyone
else is gone. Our mothers
are sitting in red chairs
that look like metal hearts
and they are smoking
Your mother is wearing
sandals and a skirt. My
mother is thinking about
dinner. The bread, the meat

Later, there will be
no reason to remember
this, so remember it
now: a safe day. Time
passes into dim history.

And we are their babies
sleeping in the folds of
the wind. Whatever our
chances, these are the
women. Such small talk
before life begins

Anyway, by Richard Siken

He was pointing at the moon but I was looking at his hand.
He was dead anyway, a ghost. I’m surprised
I saw his hand at all. The moon, of course, is always
there—day moon, but it’s still there; behind the clouds but
it’s still there. I like seeing things: a hand, the moon, ice
in a highball glass. The moon? It’s free, it doesn’t
cost you anything so go ahead and look. Sustained attention
to anything—a focus, a scrutiny—always yields results.
I’d live on the moon probably except I think I’d miss
the moonlight, landscaping craters with clay roses in earthshine
and a reasonable excuse to avoid visiting hours
at the mental hospital. In space, no one can hear you
lying to your mom: “Can’t make it, Mom. It’s
a really long schlep.” The coffee’s weak and the coffee cake’s
imaginary. You’re not missing anything. Inside: a day room
and a day pass. Outside: a gazebo under a jackfruit tree.
The other inside: a deeper understanding of the burden
and its domestic infrastructure. Make yourself white.
Make yourself snow but the black bears trample
your landscape like little black dots that show up on x-rays.
It is not enough to be a landscape. One must also become
the path through the landscape, which is creepy. Truly.
The sun melts the snow, the bears wander off, the leaves
tremble like all my sad friends. I can still see his hand.
Once, in a fable, the moon woke the dead. Buried
underground, its light was too much to bear. How did it
get there? Greed. The brothers who owned it had it
buried with them. Later, St. Peter hung it in a tree.
The dead went back to bed, allegedly. One wonders why
a story like this exists. Who wrote it and to what end?
An ingenious solution: trees. Cashew, avocado, fig,
olive. Put it in a tree. Hide it in plain sight and climb
higher. We are all of us secret agents, undercover in our
overcoats, the snow falling down. Little black dots.
Some dream of tall things—trees, ladders, a rope trick.
My dreams are filled with bricks, or things in the shape
of bricks. Rectangles in the hot sun. A cow, a car,
a carton of cigarettes. Even my imagination sleeps
when I sleep and why not rest? Why crash the party
on the astral plane? You’ll just be too tired to go
to the real party later. Have you ever eaten
Swedish meatballs at a dream party? They taste like
your blanket, because they are your blanket.
My imagination wants breakfast burritos. It refuses
to punch the clock until then. I could eat six but then
I’d need a nap. A breakfast that puts you back to sleep
is useless. Dear bears, we must not hibernate!
The bathroom tile is always wet and slippery and the door
from sleeping to waking always sticks and squeeks
but I have arrived, triumphant, with corporate coffee!
Tawnya has written our names on the paper cups
in her immaculate cursive. Her eyes are dead
and lusterless but her heart is in the right place, I guess.
Somewhere deep in her chest, I guess.
We take our hats off and get down
to business. “You got plans tonight, Dick?”
“Eight dollar spaghetti dinner and all you can sing
karaoke at the Best Western. Gonna school
Pace and Killian in the finer points of falsetto.”
Not even one hour later: smoke break
in the breezeway by the handicapped bathroom.
Why is it we believe we only have one soul?
Because it’s easier to set the table for one. And you can
sing your dinner tune to yourself while you eat over the sink.
The throat of the sink: silent. The throat of the argument:
more silverware, a tablecloth, gratitude, more souls.
A kid under a tablecloth isnists he’s a ghost. A table
underneath a tablecloth is, I guess, like the rest of us,
only pretending to be invisible. Or worse:
dressed for work and not in the mood for, you know,
how it all plays out, always the same ways, boring times infinity.
“When I grow up I’m going to be a truck,”
says the kid underneath the tablecloth, and that’s one way
to deflect the weight of the inevitable, to insist on possibility
in the face of grownups and the pumace of their compromises.
The trees die standing. My Spanish teacher told me this.
I had conjugated the verbs beforehand and taped them
to the bottom of my sneaker. Cheater, yes. Also uninvested
in the outcome. She could tell. Nothing to be done about it.
Verbs of being and verbs of action. We, neither
of us, were doing much anyway at the time and the room was
too hot. I think she meant unroot, which is a good thing to mean
but a difficult thing to hear when you’re living under someone
else’s roof. I climbed trees then, too. Then climbed back down.
How do I tell you how I got here without getting trapped
in the past? I suppose that’s a bigger question than I expected.
“Hey Dick, tell ‘em about that one time when we made out.
That was a good time.” Yes, it was. And yet
should we really spend our velocities on backwards motion?
Yes. Any motion, every motion. It’s spring, green, take off
your coat, pull down your cap, roll up your sleeves, we’re
hunting, we’re arrows, we’re stag in a meadow, in a frenzy.
“Like I said, Dick. That was a good time.”
Soul 1: Was it a good time?
Soul 2: I had fun. You seemed to like it.
Soul 3: He’s no Neil Armstrong.
Soul 2: Few are.
Neil Armstrong: Hush.
“He was such a colicky baby. Always fussing and crying.
As if he didn’t want to be here at all. Right, Dicky?”
No, mom. I don’t remember. And you’re not supposed to be
in this part of the poem. You come back later, near the end,
with the ghost and the hand and the moon, after dark, after
the gimlets. “Sweetie, you asked for prompts and it’s getting dark
on the East Coast. Tick tock. And don’t type drunk.”
Dear East Coast, I’m sorry it’s getting dark. It must be problematic,
living in the future, always a few steps ahead, knowing
things you shouldn’t say, since they haven’t happened
to the rest of us yet. And Poland? I don’t dare wonder
what you know about tomorrow. “Your grandma was from Poland.”
I know, mom. And grandpa was handsome and you
were the smart one and the pretty one. “Still am. Poor Barbara.
You know, Dicky, I’ve been out of the hospital for a while now.
Remember how you promised you wouldn’t write about me
while I was alive, Dicky? Remember? So if you’re
writing about me that must mean something, yes?”
You’re not sticking around for the end, then. “No, you’re
doing fine, Squish. And yes, I miss you, too.”
We cannot tarry here. We must march, we must bear the brunt.
Smoke break: in the alley by the oleanders, the pink ones.
Dear East Coast, it is getting dark here too now. Suddenly.
“It’s getting late, Little Moon. Sing them the song.”
It’s not that late, Mr. Kitten.
“You are my moon, Little Moon. And it’s late enough.
So climb down out of the tree.”
Is it safe? “Safe enough.” Are you dead as well?
Soul 1: Sing.
Soul 2: Sing.
Soul 3: Sing.
Stag In The Meadow: Sing.
The Black Bears: Sing.
Kid Under The Tablecloth: Sing.
I’ve been singing all day.
“Yes, you’ve been singing all day. And no, I’m not dead, not
everyone is dead, Little Moon. But the big moon needs the tree.”
There is a ghost at the end of the song.
“Yes, there is. And you see his hand, and then you see the moon.”
Am I the ghost at the end of the song?
“No, you are the way we bounce the light to see the ghost.”
He was looking at the moon by I was looking at his hand.
He was dead anyway, a ghost. I’m surprised I saw
his hand at all. Once, in a fable, the moon woke the dead.
One wonders why a story like this exists. Who wrote it
and to what end? Sure, everyone wants the same things—
to belong, and to not be left behind—but still, does it help?
Perhaps. Once, in a fable: a man in a tree. Once,
in a fable: the trace of his thinking, the sound of his singing.
I like seeing things: a hand, the moon, ice in a highball glass.
The light of the mind illuminating the mind itself.
Put it in a tree. Hide it in plain sight and climb higher.
We are all of us secret agents, undercover in our overcoats,
the snow falling down.

Poem, by Rachel Zucker

The other day Matt Rohrer said,
the next time you feel yourself going dark
in a poem, just don’t, and see what happens.

That was when Matt, Deborah Landau,
Catherine Barnett, and I were chatting,
on our way to somewhere and something else.

In her office, a few minutes earlier, Deborah
had asked, are you happy? And I said, um, yes,
actually, and Deborah: well, I’m not—

all I do is work and work. And the phone
rang every thirty seconds and between
calls Deborah said, I asked Catherine

if she was happy and Catherine said, life
isn’t about happiness it’s about helping
other people. I shrugged, not knowing how

to respond to such a fine idea.
So, what makes you happy?
Deborah asked, in an accusatory way,

and I said, I guess, the baby, really,
because he makes me stop
working? And Deborah looked sad

and just then her husband called
and Deborah said, Mark, I’ve got
rachel Zucker here, she’s happy,

I’ll have to call you back. And then
we left her office and went downstairs
to the salon where a few weeks before

we’d read poems for the Not for Mothers Only
anthology and I especially liked Julie Carr’s
poem about crying while driving while listening to

the radio report news of the war while her kids
fought in the back seat while she remembered
her mother crying while driving, listening to

news about the war. There were a lot of poems
that night about crying, about the war, about
fighting, about rage, anger, and work. Afterward

Katy Lederer came up to me and said,
“I don’t believe in happiness”—you’re such a bitch
for using that line, now no one else can.

Deborah and I walked through that now-sedated space
which felt smaller and shabby without Anne Waldman
and all those women and poems and suddenly

there was Catherine in a splash of sunlight
at the foot of a flight of stairs talking to Matt Rohrer
on his way to a room or rooms I’ve never seen.

And that’s when Deborah told Matt that I was
happy and that Catherine thought life wasn’t about
happiness and Deborah laughed a little and flipped

her hair (she is quite glamorous) and said, but Matt,
are you happy? Well, Matt said he had a bit of a coldd
but otherwise was and that’s when he said,

next time you feel yourself going dark in a poem,
just don’t, and see what happens. And then,
because it was Julian’s sixth birthday, Deborah went

to bring him cupcakes at school and Catherine and I
went to talk to graduate students who teach poetry
to children in hospitals and shelters and other

unhappy places and Matt went up the stairs to the room
or rooms I’ve never seen. That was last week and now
I’m here, in bed, turning toward something I haven’t felt

for a long while. A few minutes ago I held our baby up
to the bright window and sang the song I always sing
before he takes his nap. He whined and struggled

the way toddlers do, wanting to move on to something
else, something next, and his infancy is almost over.
He is crying himself to sleep now and I will not say

how full of sorrow I feel, but will turn instead
to that day, only a week ago, when I was
the happiest poet in the room, including Matt Rohrer.

Sequestered Writing, by Carolyn Forché

Horses were turned loose in the child’s sorrow. Black and roan, cantering through snow.
The way light fills the hand with light, November with graves, infancy with white.
White. Given lilacs, lilacs disappear. Then low voices rising in walls.
The way they withdrew from the child’s body and spoke as if it were not there.

What ghost comes to the bedside whispering You?
— With its no one without its I –
A dwarf ghost? A closet of empty clothes?
Ours was a ghost who stole household goods. Nothing anyone would miss.
Supper plates. Apples. Barbed wire behind the house.

At the end of the hall, it sleepwalks into a mirror wearing mother’s robe.
A bedsheet lifts from the bed and hovers. Face with no face. Come here.
The bookcase knows, and also the darkness of books. Long passages into,
Endless histories toward, sleeping pages about. Why else toss gloves into a grave?

A language that once sent ravens through firs. The open world from which it came.
Words holding the scent of an asylum fifty years. It is fifty years, then.
The child hears from within: Come here and know, below
And unbeknownst to us, what these fields had been.

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.

Untitled [A house just like his mother’s], by Gregory Orr

A house just like his mother’s,
But made of words.
Everything he could remember
Inside it:
Parrots and a bowl
Of peaches, and the bright rug
His grandmother wove.

Shadows also—mysteries
And secrets.
Corridors
Only ghosts patrol.
And did I mention
Strawberry jam and toast?

Did I mention
That everyone he loved
Lives there now,

In that poem
He called “My Mother’s House?”

Long Distance II, by Tony Harrison

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn’t just drop in. You had to phone.
He’d put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn’t risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he’d hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she’d just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven’t both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there’s your name
and the disconnected number I still call.

The Author to Her Book, by Anne Bradstreet

Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th’ press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run’st more hobbling than is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save homespun cloth i’ th’ house I find.
In this array ‘mongst vulgars may’st thou roam.
In critic’s hands beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known;
If for thy father asked, say thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.