A Happy Birthday, by Ted Kooser

This evening, I sat by an open window
and read till the light was gone and the book
was no more than a part of the darkness.
I could easily have switched on a lamp,
but I wanted to ride this day down into night,
to sit alone and smooth the unreadable page
with the pale gray ghost of my hand.

Larkinesque, by Michael Ryan

Reading in the paper a summary
of a five-year psychological study
that shows those perceived as most beautiful
are treated differently,

I think they could have just asked me,
remembering a kind of pudgy kid
and late puberty, the bloody noses
and wisecracks because I wore glasses,

though we all know by now how awful it is
for the busty starlet no one takes seriously,
the loveliest women I’ve lunched with
lamenting the opacity of the body,

they can never trust a man’s interest
even when he seems not just out for sex
(eyes focus on me above rim of wineglass),
and who would want to live like this?

And what does beauty do to a man?—
Don Juan, Casanova, Lord Byron—
those fiery eyes and steel jawlines
can front a furnace of self-loathing,

all those breathless women rushing to him
while hubby’s at the office or ball game,
primed to be consumed by his beauty
while he stands next to it, watching.

So maybe the looks we’re dealt are best.
It’s only common sense that happiness
depends on some bearable deprivation
or defect, and who knows what conflicts

great beauty could have caused,
what cruelties one might have suffered
from those now friends, what unmanageable
possibilities smiling at every small turn?

So if I get up to draw a tumbler
of ordinary tap water and think what if this were
nectar dripping from delicious burning fingers
,

will all I’ve missed knock me senseless?

No. Of course not. It won’t.

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.

Forty-Seven Minutes, by Nick Flynn

Years later I’m standing before a roomful of young writers in a high school in Texas. I’ve asked them to locate an image in a poem we’d just read—their heads at this moment are bowed to the page. After some back & forth about the grass & a styrofoam cup, a girl raises her hand & asks, Does it matter? I smile—it is as if the universe balanced on those three words & we’ve landed in the unanswerable. I have to admit that no, it doesn’t, not really, matter, if rain is an image or rain is an idea or rain is a sound in our heads. But, I whisper, leaning in close, to get through the next forty-seven minutes we might have to pretend it does.

Shawl, by Albert Goldbarth

Eight hours by bus, and night
was on them. He could see himself now
in the window, see his head there with the country
running through it like a long thought made of steel and wheat.
Darkness outside; darkness in the bus—as if the sea
were dark and the belly of the whale were dark to match it.
He was twenty: of course his eyes returned, repeatedly,
to the knee of the woman two rows up: positioned so
occasional headlights struck it into life.
But more reliable was the book; he was discovering himself
to be among the tribe that reads. Now his, the only
overhead turned on. Now nothing else existed:
only him, and the book, and the light thrown over his shoulders
as luxuriously as a cashmere shawl.

In the Land of Words, by Eloise Greenfield

In the land
of words,
I stand as still
as a tree,
and let the words
rain down on me.
Come, rain, bring
your knowledge and your
music. Sing
while I grow green
and full.
I’ll stand as still
as a tree,
and let your blessings
fall on me.

How I Discovered Poetry, by Marilyn Nelson

It was like soul-kissing, the way the words
filled my mouth as Mrs. Purdy read from her desk.
All the other kids zoned an hour ahead to 3:15,
but Mrs. Purdy and I wandered lonely as clouds borne
by a breeze off Mount Parnassus. She must have seen
the darkest eyes in the room brim: The next day
she gave me a poem she’d chosen especially for me
to read to the all except for me white class.
She smiled when she told me to read it, smiled harder,
said oh yes I could. She smiled harder and harder
until I stood and opened my mouth to banjo playing
darkies, pickaninnies, disses and dats. When I finished
my classmates stared at the floor. We walked silent
to the buses, awed by the power of words.

First Love, by Jan Owen

Titian’s Young Englishman with a Glove, circa 1530

It happened in Physics,
reading a Library art book under the desk,
(the lesson was Archimedes in the bath)
I turned a page and fell
for an older man, and anonymous at that,
hardly ideal –
he was four hundred and forty-five,
I was fourteen.
‘Eureka!’ streaked each thought
(I prayed no-one would hear)
and Paradise all term
was page 179
(I prayed no-one would guess).
Of course
my fingers, sticky with toffee and bliss,
failed to entice him from his century;
his cool grey stare
fastened me firmly in mine.
I got six overdues,
suspension of borrowing rights
and a D in Physics.
But had by heart what Archimedes proves.
Ten years later I married:
a European with cool grey eyes,
a moustache,
pigskin gloves.

Lights They Live By, by Pamela Alexander

1. nightjar

A carafe beside her bed or a glass goose;
a piece of water, stoppered, or a solid chunk, like ice?
She watches it all night,
death, the brightening star.
She thinks it is one with her all along
or she thinks it is the final thing she contains.

She reads all night.
Under a microscope there are lights in a leaf
that flicker, and go out, as the leaf dies.

All night.
Cities of lights.
A glass of water has as many.
The smallest piece of water has lights in it,
she reads, and looks
at the carafe to find
a juggler tossing jugglers holding stars.

She is a maze. She finds a candle at each
corner but loses the way. She thinks
she can make it up as she goes, strike
a bargain, make it stick.
Or she thinks she can’t,
turns again.

She wonders what holds her life together.
Not herself; she too is held.
Something does it like daylight through
a glass of water.

She has a son. He cuts his hands in grass,
long grass that leads to the sea.
He listens to water.

She has a song for him, tells him
the first ladder was a fern; she shows him the lines
that craze a leaf, says she’s not, he’s not
out of the woods yet, praise be.

2. daybreak

Whatever he sees in his hands is beautiful.
He sees lines; stones; lumps of glass, often
(often they are green); a carved cat; he sees
the last day of his life.

Looking closer doesn’t change things.
Through a magnifying glass obsidian is still
glossy, like a muscle; a moth’s wing
porous as manila paper.

He thinks he could put a bottle together in his hands
if he had all the pieces. He looks
for them, stands

waist deep in grass among the dull
green lamps of fireflies, hundreds, below
night-hawks flashing their wing-bars like lights shot
from a wave.

Days open and fold. Geese
slide through them, French curves.
The hawks shriek and turn;
they are pieces.

His rooms are a forest of things that have
touched him, including a jar
of rain, a pair of marble pigeons.
He picks up some white glass to give it away
and keeps it.

His hands tell him everything. They ache
when a friend he desires turns away. Still
he thinks he can find and keep them
all, all his days.

The Land of Story-books, by Robert Louis Stevenson

At evening when the lamp is lit,
Around the fire my parents sit;
They sit at home and talk and sing,
And do not play at anything.

Now, with my little gun, I crawl
All in the dark along the wall,
And follow round the forest track
Away behind the sofa back.

There, in the night, where none can spy,
All in my hunter’s camp I lie,
And play at books that I have read
Till it is time to go to bed.

These are the hills, these are the woods,
These are my starry solitudes;
And there the river by whose brink
The roaring lions come to drink.

I see the others far away
As if in firelit camp they lay,
And I, like to an Indian scout,
Around their party prowled about.

So, when my nurse comes in for me,
Home I return across the sea,
And go to bed with backward looks
At my dear land of Story-books.

Two Nudes, by Mary Jo Bang

I was working in a bookstore and as an antidote to the twin torment of exhaustion and boredom, one day I went with a friend on a walking tour. We made it as far as Berlin and there I met the man I would move with to a boarding house, then to furnished rooms in the flat of a civil servant, and from there one morning in January to the Registry to be married. Afterward we moved to a studio apartment and two years later to the school where boys returning from the war would remove their collars and sew them back on with red thread to demonstrate the end of their allegiance to the cruel and fastidious past. Everyone wanted to be launched into a place from which you could look back and ask whether the red was also meant to enact spilled blood. You could say so, but only if you want to insist that history’s minutia is best read as allegory. The fact is, history didn’t exist then. Each day was a twenty-four hour stand-still on a bridge from which we discretely looked into the distance, hoping to catch sight of the future. It’s near where you’re standing now. One day we were lying in the sun dressed in nothing but our skin when a camera came by and devoured us.

El Florida Room, by Richard Blanco

Not a study or a den, but El Florida
as my mother called it, a pretty name
for the room with the prettiest view
of the lipstick-red hibiscus puckered up
against the windows, the tepid breeze
laden with the brown-sugar scent
of loquats drifting in from the yard.

Not a sunroom, but where the sun
both rose and set, all day the shadows
of banana trees fan-dancing across
the floor, and if it rained, it rained
the loudest, like marbles plunking
across the roof under constant threat
of coconuts ready to fall from the sky.

Not a sitting room, but El Florida where
I sat alone for hours with butterflies
frozen on the polyester curtains
and faces of Lladró figurines: sad angels,
clowns, and princesses with eyes glazed
blue and gray, gazing from behind
the glass doors of the wall cabinet.

Not a TV room, but where I watched
Creature Feature as a boy, clinging
to my brother, safe from vampires
in the same sofa where I fell in love
with Clint Eastwood and my Abuelo
watching westerns, or pitying women
crying in telenovelas with my Abuela.

Not a family room, but the room where
my father twirled his hair while listening
to 8-tracks of Elvis, and read Nietzsche
and Kant a few months before he died,
where my mother learned to dance alone
as she swept, and I learned Salsa pressed
against my Tía Julia’s enormous breasts.

At the edge of the city, in the company
of crickets, beside the empty clothesline,
telephone wires and the moon, tonight
my life is an old friend sitting with me
not in the living room, but in the light
of El Florida, as quiet and necessary
as any star shining above it.

The Dover Bitch, by Anthony Hecht

A Criticism of Life: for Andrews Wanning

So there stood Matthew Arnold and this girl
With the cliffs of England crumbling away behind them,
And he said to her, ‘Try to be true to me,
And I’ll do the same for you, for things are bad
All over, etc., etc.’
Well now, I knew this girl. It’s true she had read
Sophocles in a fairly good translation
And caught that bitter allusion to the sea,
But all the time he was talking she had in mind
The notion of what his whiskers would feel like
On the back of her neck. She told me later on
That after a while she got to looking out
At the lights across the channel, and really felt sad,
Thinking of all the wine and enormous beds
And blandishments in French and the perfumes.
And then she got really angry. To have been brought
All the way down from London, and then be addressed
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort
Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty.
Anyway, she watched him pace the room
And finger his watch-chain and seem to sweat a bit,
And then she said one or two unprintable things.
But you mustn’t judge her by that. What I mean to say is,
She’s really all right. I still see her once in a while
And she always treats me right. We have a drink
And I give her a good time, and perhaps it’s a year
Before I see her again, but there she is,
Running to fat, but dependable as they come.
And sometimes I bring her a bottle of Nuit d’ Amour.

Peanut Butter, By Eileen Myles

I am always hungry
& wanting to have
sex. This is a fact.
If you get right
down to it the new
unprocessed peanut
butter is no damn
good & you should
buy it in a jar as
always in the
largest supermarket
you know. And
I am an enemy
of change, as
you know. All
the things I
embrace as new
are in
fact old things,
re-released: swimming,
the sensation of
being dirty in
body and mind
summer as a
time to do
nothing and make
no money. Prayer
as a last re-
sort. Pleasure
as a means,
and then a
means again
with no ends
in sight. I am
absolutely in opposition
to all kinds of
goals. I have
no desire to know
where this, anything
is getting me.
When the water
boils I get
a cup of tea.
Accidentally I
read all the
works of Proust.
It was summer
I was there
so was he. I
write because
I would like
to be used for
years after
my death. Not
only my body
will be compost
but the thoughts
I left during
my life. During
my life I was
a woman with
hazel eyes. Out
the window
is a crooked
silo. Parts
of your
body I think
of as stripes
which I have
learned to
love along. We
swim naked
in ponds &
I write be-
hind your
back. My thoughts
about you are
not exactly
forbidden, but
exalted because
they are useless,
not intended
to get you
because I have
you & you love
me. It’s more
like a playground
where I play
with my reflection
of you until
you come back
and into the
real you I
get to sink
my teeth. With
you I know how
to relax. &
so I work
behind your
back. Which
is lovely.
Nature
is out of control
you tell me &
that’s what’s so
good about
it. I’m immoderately
in love with you,
knocked out by
all your new
white hair

why shouldn’t
something
I have always
known be the
very best there
is. I love
you from my
childhood,
starting back
there when
one day was
just like the
rest, random
growth and
breezes, constant
love, a sand-
wich in the
middle of
day,
a tiny step
in the vastly
conventional
path of
the Sun. I
squint. I
wink. I
take the
ride.

Beside You on Main Street, by Jillian Weise

We were stepping out of a reading
in October, the first cold night,
and we were following this couple,
were they at the reading? and because
we were lost, I called out to them,
“Are you going to the after party?”
The woman laughed and said no
and the man kept walking, and she
was holding his hand like I hold yours,
though not exactly, she did not
need him for balance. Then what
got into me? I said, “How long
have you been married?” and she said
“Almost 30 years” and because
we were walking in public, no secret,
tell everyone now it’s official,
I said, “How’s marriage?” The man
kept walking. The woman said,
“It gets better but then it gets different.”
The man kept walking.

Confessions: My Father, Hummingbirds, and Frantz Fanon, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Every effort is made to bring the colonised person to admit
the inferiority of his culture
—Frantz Fanon

And there are days when storms hover
Over my house, their brooding just this side of rage,
An open hand about to slap a face. You won’t believe me

When I tell you it is not personal. It isn’t. It only feels
That way because the face is yours. So what if it is the only
Face you’ve got? Listen, a storm will grab the first thing
In its path, a Persian cat, a sixth grade boy on his way home
From school, an old woman watering her roses, a black
Man running down a street (late to a dinner with his wife),
A white guy buying cigarettes at the corner store. A storm
Will grab a young woman trying to escape her boyfriend,
A garbage can, a Mexican busboy with no papers, you.
We are all collateral damage for someone’s beautiful
Ideology, all of us inanimate in the face of the onslaught.
My father had the biggest hands I’ve ever seen. He never
Wore a wedding ring. Somehow, it would have looked lost,
Misplaced on his thick worker’s hands that were, to me,
As large as Africa. There have been a good many storms
In Africa over the centuries. One was called colonialism
(Though I confess to loving Tarzan as a boy).

In my thirties,
I read a book by Frantz Fanon. I fell in love
With the storms in his book even though they broke
My heart and made me want to scream. What good
Is screaming? Even a bad actress in a horror flick
Can do that. In my twenties, I had fallen in love
With the storms in the essays of James Baldwin.
They were like perfect poems. His friends called
Him Jimmy. People didn’t think he was beautiful.
Oh God, but he was. He could make a hand that was
Slapping you into something that was loving, loving you.
He could make rage sound elegant. Have you ever
Read “Stranger in the Village?” How would you like
To feel like a fucking storm every time someone looked
At you?

One time I was
At a party. Some guy asked me: What are you, anyway?
I downed my beer. Mexican I said. Really he said, Do
You play soccer? No I said but I drink Tequila. He smiled
At me, That’s cool. I smiled back So what are you?
What do you think I am he said. An asshole I said. People
Hate you when you’re right. Especially if you’re Mexican.
And every time I leave town, I pray that people will stop
Repeating You’re from El Paso with that same tone
Of voice they use when they see a rat running across
Their living rooms, interrupting their second glass
Of scotch. My father’s dead (Though sometimes I wake
And swear he has never been more alive—especially when
I see him staring back at me as I shave in the morning).
Even though I understand something about hating a man
I have never really understood the logic of slavery.
What do I know? I don’t particularly like the idea of cheap
Labor. I don’t like guns. And I don’t even believe
White men are superior. Do you? I wanted to be
St. Francis. I took this ambition very seriously. Instead
I wound up becoming a middle-aged man who dreams
Storms where all the animals wind up dead. It scares
Me to think I have this dream inside me. Still,
I love dogs—even mean ones. I could forgive
A dog that bit me. But if a man bit me, that would be
Another story. I have made my peace with cats.
I am especially in love with hummingbirds (though
They’re as mean as roosters in a cock fight). Have
You ever seen the storms in the eyes of men who
Were betting on a cock fight?

Last night, there was hail, thunder,
A tornado touching down in the desert—though I was
Away and was not a first hand witness. I was in another
Place, listening to the waves of the ocean crash against
The shore. Sometimes I think the sea is angry. Who
Can blame it? There are a million things to be angry
About. Have you noticed that some people don’t give
A damn and just keep on shopping? Doesn’t that make you
Angry? A storm is like God. You don’t have to see it
To believe—sometimes you just have to place
Your faith in it. When my father walked into a room
It felt like that. Like the crashing waves. You know,
Like a storm. This is the truth of the matter: I am
The son of a storm. Look, every one has to be the son
Of something. The thing to do when you are caught
In the middle of a storm is to abandon your car,
Keep quiet. Pray. Wait. Tell that to the men
Who were sleeping on the Arizona when
The Japanese dropped their bombs. War is the worst
Kind of storm. The truth is I have never met a breathing
Human being who did not have at least one scar
On his body. Bombs and bullets do more than leave
A permanent mark on the skin. I have never liked
The expression they were out for blood.

There are days
When there are so many storms hovering around
My house that I cannot even see the blue in the sky.
My father loved the sky. He was trying to memorize
The clouds before he died. I confess to being
Jealous of the sky.

On Sunday Mornings
I picture Frantz Fanon as an old man. He is looking up
At the pure African sky. He is trying to imagine how it appeared
Before the white men came. I don’t want to dream all the dead
Animals we have made extinct. I want to dream a sky
Full of hummingbirds. I would like to die in such a storm.

During the Montenegrin Poetry Reading, by Tess Gallagher

Mira, like a white goddess, is translating
so my left ear is a cave near Kotor
where the sea lashes and rakes
the iron darkness inside
the black mountains. Young and old, the poets
are letting us know this sweltering night,
under a bridge near a river outside
Karver Bookstore at the beginning of July,
belongs to them. They clear away debris

about politicians and personal suffering,
these gladiators of desire
and doubt, whose candor has roiled
me like a child shaking stolen beer to foam
the genie of the moment out of
its bottle. The poets’ truth-wrought poems dragging it
out of me, that confession—that I didn’t have children
probably because in some clear corner I knew I would have left them
to join these poets half a world away who, in their language
that is able to break stones, have broken me open
like a melon. Instead of children, I leave my small dog, quivering
as I touched her on the nose, to let her know it’s
me, the one who is always leaving her, yes
I’m going, and for her I have no language with
which to reassure her I’m coming

back, no—what’s the use to pretend I’m
a good mistress to her, she who would never
leave me, she who looks for me everywhere
I am not, until I return. I should feel guilty
but the Montenegrin poets have taken false guilt off
the table. I’ve been swallowed by a cosmic
sneer, with an entire country behind it where
each day it occurs to them how many are still missing
in that recent past of war and havoc. Nothing to do
but shut the gate behind me
and not look back where my scent
even now is fading from the grass. Nostalgia
for myself won’t be tolerated here. I’m just a beast
who, if my dog were a person, would give me a pat
on the head and say something stupid like: Good dog.

To The One Upstairs, by Charles Simic

Boss of all bosses of the universe.
Mr. know-it-all, wheeler-dealer, wire-puller,
And whatever else you’re good at.
Go ahead, shuffle your zeros tonight.
Dip in ink the comets’ tails.
Staple the night with starlight.

You’d be better off reading coffee dregs,
Thumbing the pages of the Farmer’s Almanac.
But no! You love to put on airs,
And cultivate your famous serenity
While you sit behind your big desk
With zilch in your in-tray, zilch
In your out-tray,
And all of eternity spread around you.

Doesn’t it give you the creeps
To hear them begging you on their knees,
Sputtering endearments,
As if you were an inflatable, life-size doll?
Tell them to button up and go to bed.
Stop pretending you’re too busy to take notice.

Your hands are empty and so are your eyes.
There’s nothing to put your signature to,
Even if you knew your own name,
Or believed the ones I keep inventing,
As I scribble this note to you in the dark.

Letter To A Future Lover, by Ander Monson

You were my birthday present; you came to the door—no one else was home, you said “let’s celebrate.” We dropped acid and went to the friend with the nocturnal monkey-like animal and made love for hours….

inscribed in Gary Snyder, Turtle Island (Casa de los Niños discard library)

Handwritten, it goes without saying, this inscription to an unnamed lover goes on for three pages before arriving at a final sorrow at the lover’s loss—”today we are with different lovers”—but no regrets. Was it ever sent? Ever read? One thing is sure: it was inscribed and meant. Such passion cannot be shrugged off until it can. I found the book in Casa de los Niños on Prince and Mountain, thrift shop stuffed with this stuff, the stuffing escaping the chewed-on animals packed in the discount bin. Pick six for a buck. Doll heads are free. They stare at your future, our future, maybe, lover, if we ever come together.

Dear future lover, every time it feels like forever when it’s new: bright colors, fabric softener, calliopes that were once terrifying softening into daylight as it fades. You know, your lovers surely number more than mine; that’s fine, but when I fall, it’s Ditch Witch hitting electric line, the whole world alive and lit in amperes for a moment. It might be gone again a nanosecond later, the body aching with or for or from the jolt; & perhaps it’s fever dream; & who cares where it comes from as long as it’s fast and seems like it might last until we’re rusting into dust? We are always dying for the future. Otherwise it couldn’t ever come. That it might split ever’s seams apart, that it might bring down the lights until forever’s in the mirror, and the book is given up for thrift: it doesn’t matter. Maybe this book was never sent. I can imagine that, an inscription toward the future. Maybe the lover’s dead. Maybe the lover’s lover’s dead. Maybe we all are like those who had their laughs recorded into tracks for television shows years before, who continue to laugh now a lifetime a lifeline a phone-a-friend later, disembodied, at jokes that are no longer funny. Perhaps they never were.

We are all in wires eventually, reduced to what we said, or didn’t say, and what we wrote or didn’t write, who we loved or didn’t love, or loved and lost and never told it except writing in or to a book. We are all discarded, discordant, confusingly, and so I salute your bravery, book inscriber. Your heart is big enough for both of us, so that there is no room for mockery in me. Anyone willing to strip themselves this bare this fast this way deserves our breathlessness and our hearts’ attention. Let us spend an hour, then longer, in contemplation. If you open, open all the way, or as much as you can bear, or else there’s nothing here at all.

The inscription goes on to quote from Duras’s The Lover, then “I cried when I was with you this time more than twenty years later…it was the reason for life and yet I knew it would end.”

A codex is a door, future lover. You can put whatever through it for a reader you imagine coming to your words in a day, a decade, a daze of centuries, entries in a future book. Codices have histories. They are leafed, spined, embodied, read by future lovers I imagine in bodices in just this kind of light at night. The future is a mystery, lover, a memory. The scent of wisteria coming up from somewhere.

Or: a codex is a hole through which we might not communicate, but instead be transformed entirely, through which we might descend without notice or equipment and not want or be able to return.

In the Waiting Room, by Elizabeth Bishop

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist’s appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist’s waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited I read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
— “Long Pig,” the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
— Aunt Consuelo’s voice —
not very loud or long.
I wasn’t at all surprised;
even then I knew she was
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn’t. What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I — we — were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918.

I said to myself: three days
and you’ll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world.
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
— I couldn’t look any higher —
at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.

Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities —
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts —
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How — I didn’t know any
word for it — how “unlikely”. . .
How had I come to be here,
like them, and overhear
a cry of pain that could have
got loud and worse but hadn’t?

The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another.

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918.

Nocturne, by Wayne Miller

Tonight all the leaves are paper spoons
in a broth of wind. Last week
they made a darker sky below the sky.

The houses have swallowed their colors,
and each car moves in the blind sack
of its sound like the slipping of water.

Flowing means falling very slowly—
the river passing under the tracks,
the tracks then buried beneath the road.

When a knocking came in the night,
I rose violently toward my reflection
hovering beneath this world. And then

the fluorescent kitchen in the window
like a page I was reading—a face
coming into focus behind it:

my neighbor locked out of his own party,
looking for a phone. I gave him
a beer and the lit pad of numbers

through which he disappeared; I found
I was alone with the voices that bloomed
as he opened the door. It’s time

to slip my body beneath the covers,
let it fall down the increments of shale,
let the wind consume every spoon.

My voice unhinging itself from light,
my voice landing in its cradle—.
How terrifying a payphone is

hanging at the end of its cord.
Which is not to be confused with sleep—
sleep gives the body back its mouth.

Kaddish, Part I, by Allen Ginsberg

For Naomi Ginsberg, 1894-1956

Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on
the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village.
downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I’ve been up all night, talking,
talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues
shout blind on the phonograph
the rhythm the rhythm–and your memory in my head three years after–
And read Adonais’ last triumphant stanzas aloud–wept, realizing
how we suffer–
And how Death is that remedy all singers dream of, sing, remember,
prophesy as in the Hebrew Anthem, or the Buddhist Book of An-
swers–and my own imagination of a withered leaf–at dawn–
Dreaming back thru life, Your time–and mine accelerating toward Apoca-
lypse,
the final moment–the flower burning in the Day–and what comes after,
looking back on the mind itself that saw an American city
a flash away, and the great dream of Me or China, or you and a phantom
Russia, or a crumpled bed that never existed–
like a poem in the dark–escaped back to Oblivion–
No more to say, and nothing to weep for but the Beings in the Dream,
trapped in its disappearance,
sighing, screaming with it, buying and selling pieces of phantom, worship-
ping each other,
worshipping the God included in it all–longing or inevitability?–while it
lasts, a Vision–anything more?
It leaps about me, as I go out and walk the street, look back over my shoulder,
Seventh Avenue, the battlements of window office buildings shoul-
dering each other high, under a cloud, tall as the sky an instant–and
the sky above–an old blue place.
or down the Avenue to the south, to—as I walk toward the Lower East Side
—where you walked 50 years ago, little girl—from Russia, eating the
first poisonous tomatoes of America frightened on the dock
then struggling in the crowds of Orchard Street toward what?—toward
Newark—
toward candy store, first home-made sodas of the century, hand-churned ice
cream in backroom on musty brownfloor boards—
Toward education marriage nervous breakdown, operation, teaching school,
and learning to be mad, in a dream–what is this life?
Toward the Key in the window—and the great Key lays its head of light
on top of Manhattan, and over the floor, and lays down on the
sidewalk—in a single vast beam, moving, as I walk down First toward
the Yiddish Theater—and the place of poverty
you knew, and I know, but without caring now—Strange to have moved
thru Paterson, and the West, and Europe and here again,
with the cries of Spaniards now in the doorstops doors and dark boys on
the street, fire escapes old as you
—Tho you’re not old now, that’s left here with me—
Myself, anyhow, maybe as old as the universe—and I guess that dies with
us—enough to cancel all that comes—What came is gone forever
every time—
That’s good! That leaves it open for no regret—no fear radiators, lacklove,
torture even toothache in the end—
Though while it comes it is a lion that eats the soul—and the lamb, the soul,
in us, alas, offering itself in sacrifice to change’s fierce hunger—hair
and teeth—and the roar of bonepain, skull bare, break rib, rot-skin,
braintricked Implacability.
Ai! ai! we do worse! We are in a fix! And you’re out, Death let you out,
Death had the Mercy, you’re done with your century, done with
God, done with the path thru it—Done with yourself at last—Pure
—Back to the Babe dark before your Father, before us all—before the
world—
There, rest. No more suffering for you. I know where you’ve gone, it’s good.
No more flowers in the summer fields of New York, no joy now, no more
fear of Louis,
and no more of his sweetness and glasses, his high school decades, debts,
loves, frightened telephone calls, conception beds, relatives, hands–
No more of sister Elanor,—she gone before you—we kept it secret you
killed her—or she killed herself to bear with you—an arthritic heart
—But Death’s killed you both—No matter—
Nor your memory of your mother, 1915 tears in silent movies weeks and
weeks–forgetting, agrieve watching Marie Dressler address human-
ity, Chaplin dance in youth,
or Boris Godunov, Chaliapin’s at the Met, halling his voice of a weeping Czar
—by standing room with Elanor & Max—watching also the Capital
ists take seats in Orchestra, white furs, diamonds,
with the YPSL’s hitch-hiking thru Pennsylvania, in black baggy gym skirts
pants, photograph of 4 girls holding each other round the waste, and
laughing eye, too coy, virginal solitude of 1920
all girls grown old, or dead now, and that long hair in the grave—lucky to
have husbands later—
You made it—I came too—Eugene my brother before (still grieving now and
will gream on to his last stiff hand, as he goes thru his cancer—or kill
—later perhaps—soon he will think—)
And it’s the last moment I remember, which I see them all, thru myself, now
—tho not you
I didn’t foresee what you felt—what more hideous gape of bad mouth came
first—to you—and were you prepared?
To go where? In that Dark—that—in that God? a radiance? A Lord in the
Void? Like an eye in the black cloud in a dream? Adonoi at last, with
you?
Beyond my remembrance! Incapable to guess! Not merely the yellow skull
in the grave, or a box of worm dust, and a stained ribbon–Deaths-
head with Halo? can you believe it?
Is it only the sun that shines once for the mind, only the flash of existence,
than none ever was?
Nothing beyond what we have—what you had—that so pitiful—yet Tri-
umph,
to have been here, and changed, like a tree, broken, or flower–fed to the
ground—but made, with its petals, colored, thinking Great Universe,
shaken, cut in the head, leaf stript, hid in an egg crate hospital, cloth
wrapped, sore—freaked in the moon brain, Naughtless.
No flower like that flower, which knew itself in the garden, and fought the
knife—lost
Cut down by an idiot Snowman’s icy—even in the Spring—strange ghost
thought some—Death—Sharp icicle in his hand—crowned with old
roses—a dog for his eyes—cock of a sweatshop—heart of electric
irons.
All the accumulations of life, that wear us out—clocks, bodies, consciousness,
shoes, breasts—begotten sons—your Communism—‘Paranoia’ into
hospitals.
You once kicked Elanor in the leg, she died of heart failure later. You of
stroke. Asleep? within a year, the two of you, sisters in death. Is
Elanor happy?
Max grieves alive in an office on Lower Broadway, lone large mustache over
midnight Accountings, not sure. His life passes—as he sees—and
what does he doubt now? Still dream of making money, or that might
have made money, hired nurse, had children, found even your Im-
mortality, Naomi?
I’ll see him soon. Now I’ve got to cut through to talk to you as I didn’t
when you had a mouth.
Forever. And we’re bound for that, Forever like Emily Dickinson’s horses
—headed to the End.
They know the way—These Steeds—run faster than we think—it’s our own
life they cross—and take with them.

Magnificent, mourned no more, marred of heart, mind behind, mar-
ried dreamed, mortal changed—Ass and face done with murder.
In the world, given, flower maddened, made no Utopia, shut under
pine, almed in Earth, blamed in Lone, Jehovah, accept.
Nameless, One Faced, Forever beyond me, beginningless, endless,
Father in death. Tho I am not there for this Prophecy, I am unmarried, I’m
hymnless, I’m Heavenless, headless in blisshood I would still adore
Thee, Heaven, after Death, only One blessed in Nothingness, not
light or darkness, Dayless Eternity—
Take this, this Psalm, from me, burst from my hand in a day, some
of my Time, now given to Nothing–to praise Thee—But Death
This is the end, the redemption from Wilderness, way for the Won-
derer, House sought for All, black handkerchief washed clean by weeping
—page beyond Psalm—Last change of mine and Naomi—to God’s perfect
Darkness—Death, stay thy phantoms!

II
Over and over—refrain—of the Hospitals—still haven’t written your
history—leave it abstract—a few images
run thru the mind—like the saxophone chorus of houses and years—
remembrance of electrical shocks.
By long nites as a child in Paterson apartment, watching over your
nervousness—you were fat—your next move—
By that afternoon I stayed home from school to take care of you—
once and for all—when I vowed forever that once man disagreed with my
opinion of the cosmos, I was lost—
By my later burden—vow to illuminate mankind—this is release of
particulars—(mad as you)—(sanity a trick of agreement)—
But you stared out the window on the Broadway Church corner, and
spied a mystical assassin from Newark,
So phoned the Doctor—‘OK go way for a rest’—so I put on my coat
and walked you downstreet—On the way a grammarschool boy screamed,
unaccountably—‘Where you goin Lady to Death’? I shuddered—
and you covered your nose with motheaten fur collar, gas mask
against poison sneaked into downtown atmosphere, sprayed by Grandma—
And was the driver of the cheesebox Public Service bus a member of
the gang? You shuddered at his face, I could hardly get you on–to New
York, very Times Square, to grab another Greyhound—

Books, by Gerald Stern

How you loved to read in the snow and when your
face turned to water from the internal heat
combined with the heavy crystals or maybe it was
reversus you went half-blind and your eyelashes
turned to ice the time you walked through swirls
with dirty tears not far from the rat-filled river
or really a mile away—or two—in what
you came to call the Aristotle room
in a small hole outside the Carnegie library.