Passerby, These are Words, by Yves Bonnefoy

Passerby, these are words. But instead of reading
I want you to listen: to this frail
Voice like that of letters eaten by grass.

Lend an ear, hear first of all the happy bee
Foraging in our almost rubbed-out names.
It flits between two sprays of leaves,
Carrying the sound of branches that are real
To those that filigree the unseen gold.

Then know an even fainter sound, and let it be
The endless murmuring of all our shades.
Their whisper rises from beneath the stones
To fuse into a single heat with that blind
Light you are as yet, who can still gaze.

Listen simply, if you will. Silence is a threshold
Where, unfelt, a twig breaks in your hand
As you try to disengage
A name upon a stone:

And so our absent names untangle your alarms.
And for you who move away, pensively,
Here becomes there without ceasing to be.

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Rocket, by Todd Boss

Despite that you
wrote your name
and number
on its fuselage
in magic marker

neither your quiet
hours at the kitchen
table assembling
it with glue

nor your choice of
paint and lacquer

nor your seemingly
equally perfect
choice of a seemingly
breezeless day
for the launch of
your ambition

nor the thrill
of its swift ignition

nor the heights
it streaks

nor the dancing
way you chase
beneath its

dot

across that
seemingly endless
childhood field

will ever be
restored to you

by the people
in the topmost
branches of whose trees

unseen

it may yet from
its plastic
chute
on thin
white
string

still swing.

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.

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.

Solitaire, by Sam Riviere

I think I always liked the game
because it sounded like my name
combined with the concept of alone.
(My name really does mean “alone”
in Slovenian!) We don’t actually care
if it’s true, but we want to know
the person telling us is telling us
the truth. Say his name is “Hank,”
as in, “of hair.” (It’s not.) My upbringing
was classically smooth/chaotic, apart
from traumatic events I’ve never detailed,
even to myself. Traumatic but methodical.
But why say what happened even.
In the tech block the blinds were down
and I cleared my way to the final marble
under the indistinct gaze of an indistinct
master. My success had allowed me
to become the bastard I always knew
I could be. What did it mean, to clean
the board like this, counting down to one?
By these gradual and orderly subtractions
my persona was configured. The goal
was to remain single. Sometimes telling you
the truth wouldn’t be telling you anything
much. For a while I’ve felt torpid and detuned,
as if I want to share a view with you,
so we can both be absent in one place.
Look, the sky is beautiful and sour.
I’m not here, too. I’m staring out of this cloud
like an anagram whose solution
is probably itself. I am only the method
that this stupid game was invented to explain.

Names of Children, by Rachel Sherwood

In early morning when the sun
is vague and birds are furious
names of children float
like smoke through the empty room:
Ariadne, dark as seal skin
Ian, fair-skinned baby
Marina Terrence Alex John

after dinner pulled back from
talk of war and morals
their names glow like light
around a candle —
Jack, my rampant youngest son
Celia, my daughter who sings

but no children call from other rooms
no soft faces turn to kiss
each guest goodnight
or whisper that stars are a giant’s eyes
there is only the slow still wait
through the opaque night
for morning and more names.

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.