A Memory of June, by Claude McKay

When June comes dancing o’er the death of May,
With scarlet roses tinting her green breast,
And mating thrushes ushering in her day,
And Earth on tiptoe for her golden guest,

I always see the evening when we met—
The first of June baptized in tender rain—
And walked home through the wide streets, gleaming wet,
Arms locked, our warm flesh pulsing with love’s pain.

I always see the cheerful little room,
And in the corner, fresh and white, the bed,
Sweet scented with a delicate perfume,
Wherein for one night only we were wed;

Where in the starlit stillness we lay mute,
And heard the whispering showers all night long,
And your brown burning body was a lute
Whereon my passion played his fevered song.

When June comes dancing o’er the death of May,
With scarlet roses staining her fair feet,
My soul takes leave of me to sing all day
A love so fugitive and so complete.

Haiku Journey, by Kimberly Blaeser

         i. Spring

the tips of each pine
the spikes of telephone poles
hold gathering crows

may's errant mustard
spreads wild across paved road
look both ways

roadside treble cleft
feeding gopher, paws to mouth
cheeks puffed with music

yesterday's spring wind
ruffling the grey tips of fur
rabbit dandelion

         ii. Summer

turkey vulture feeds
mechanical as a red oil rig
head rocks down up down

stiff-legged dog rises
goes grumbling after squirrel
old ears still flap

snowy egret—curves,
lines, sculpted against pond blue;
white clouds against sky

banded headed bird
this ballerina killdeer
dance on point my heart

         iii. Fall

leaf wind cold through coat
wails over hills, through barren trees
empty garbage cans dance

damp September night
lone farmer, lighted tractor
drive memory's worn path

sky black with migration
flocks settle on barren trees
leaf birds, travel songs

october moon cast
over corn, lighted fields
crinkled sheaves of white

         iv. Winter

ground painted in frost
thirsty morning sun drinks white
leaves rust golds return

winter bare branches
hold tattered cups of summer
empty nests trail twigs

lace edges of ice
manna against darkened sky
words turn with weather

now one to seven
deer or haiku syllables
weave through winter trees

Northern follows jig
body flashes with strike, dive:
broken line floats up.

Fall Parties, by Becca Klaver

I cannot wait for fall parties.
The invitations have begun to roll in.

I used to think I loved summer parties
until they got this year so sweaty and sad,

the whole world away at the shore,
sunk in sweet and salt.

Goodbye, summer:
you were supposed to save us

from spring but everyone just slumped
into you, sad sacks

pulling the shade down on an afternoon
of a few too many rounds.

Well, I won’t have another.
I’ll have fall. The fall of parties

for no reason, of shivering rooftops,
scuffed boots, scarves with cigarette holes.

I’ll warm your house.
I’ll snort your mulling spices.

I’ll stay too late, I’ll go on a beer run,
I’ll do anything

to stay in your dimly lit rooms
scrubbed clean of all their pity.

Spiral, by Roddy Lumsden

These years lift over coldly now: Aprils
and Augusts are gifted to ice, or sprawl
into mid-summers or year ends—pillars
of lesser standing. Still come no replies

to boyish queries, how the belly sleeper
buoys, begins again, becomes poor soul
or bull of appetite; why when the pearls
drop, no spool dares connect the ripples.

Vertical, by Linda Pastan

Perhaps the purpose
of leaves is to conceal
the verticality
of trees
which we notice
in December
as if for the first time:
row after row
of dark forms
yearning upwards.
And since we will be
horizontal ourselves
for so long,
let us now honor
the gods
of the vertical:
stalks of wheat
which to the ant
must seem as high
as these trees do to us,
silos and
telephone poles,
stalagmites
and skyscrapers.
but most of all
these winter oaks,
these soft-fleshed poplars,
this birch
whose bark is like
roughened skin
against which I lean
my chilled head,
not ready
to lie down.

Retired Ballerinas, Central Park West, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Retired ballerinas on winter afternoons   
          walking their dogs
                      in Central Park West
    (or their cats on leashes—
       the cats themselves old highwire artists)   
The ballerinas
                leap and pirouette
                           through Columbus Circle   
         while winos on park benches
               (laid back like drunken Goudonovs)   
            hear the taxis trumpet together
               like horsemen of the apocalypse   
                               in the dusk of the gods   
It is the final witching hour
                when swains are full of swan songs   
    And all return through the dark dusk   
                to their bright cells
                                  in glass highrises
      or sit down to oval cigarettes and cakes   
                              in the Russian Tea Room   
    or climb four flights to back rooms
                                 in Westside brownstones   
               where faded playbill photos
                        fall peeling from their frames   
                            like last year’s autumn leaves

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong

i

Tell me it was for the hunger
& nothing less. For hunger is to give
the body what it knows

it cannot keep. That this amber light
whittled down by another war
is all that pins my hand

to your chest.

i

You, drowning
between my arms—
stay.

You, pushing your body
into the river
only to be left
with yourself—
stay.

i

I’ll tell you how we’re wrong enough to be forgiven. How one night, after
backhanding
mother, then taking a chainsaw to the kitchen table, my father went to kneel
in the bathroom until we heard his muffled cries through the walls.
And so I learned that a man, in climax, was the closest thing
to surrender.

i

Say surrender. Say alabaster. Switchblade.
Honeysuckle. Goldenrod. Say autumn.
Say autumn despite the green
in your eyes. Beauty despite
daylight. Say you’d kill for it. Unbreakable dawn
mounting in your throat.
My thrashing beneath you
like a sparrow stunned
with falling.

i

Dusk: a blade of honey between our shadows, draining.

i

I wanted to disappear—so I opened the door to a stranger’s car. He was divorced. He was still alive. He was sobbing into his hands (hands that tasted like rust). The pink breast cancer ribbon on his keychain swayed in the ignition. Don’t we touch each other just to prove we are still here? I was still here once. The moon, distant & flickering, trapped itself in beads of sweat on my neck. I let the fog spill through the cracked window & cover my fangs. When I left, the Buick kept sitting there, a dumb bull in pasture, its eyes searing my shadow onto the side of suburban houses. At home, I threw myself on the bed like a torch & watched the flames gnaw through my mother’s house until the sky appeared, bloodshot & massive. How I wanted to be that sky—to hold every flying & falling at once.

i

Say amen. Say amend.

Say yes. Say yes

anyway.

i

In the shower, sweating under cold water, I scrubbed & scrubbed.

i

In the life before this one, you could tell
two people were in love
because when they drove the pickup
over the bridge, their wings
would grow back just in time.

Some days I am still inside the pickup.
Some days I keep waiting.

i

It’s not too late. Our heads haloed
with gnats & summer too early
to leave any marks.
Your hand under my shirt as static
intensifies on the radio.
Your other hand pointing
your daddy’s revolver
to the sky. Stars falling one
by one in the cross hairs.
This means I won’t be
afraid if we’re already
here. Already more
than skin can hold. That a body
beside a body
must make a field
full of ticking. That your name
is only the sound of clocks
being set back another hour
& morning
finds our clothes
on your mother’s front porch, shed
like week-old lilies.

February, by James Schuyler

A chimney, breathing a little smoke.
The sun, I can’t see
making a bit of pink
I can’t quite see in the blue.
The pink of five tulips
at five p.m. on the day before March first.
The green of the tulip stems and leaves
like something I can’t remember,
finding a jack-in-the-pulpit
a long time ago and far away.
Why it was December then
and the sun was on the sea
by the temples we’d gone to see.
One green wave moved in the violet sea
like the UN Building on big evenings,
green and wet
while the sky turns violet.
A few almond trees
had a few flowers, like a few snowflakes
out of the blue looking pink in the light.
A gray hush
in which the boxy trucks roll up Second Avenue
into the sky. They’re just
going over the hill.
The green leaves of the tulips on my desk
like grass light on flesh,
and a green-copper steeple
and streaks of cloud beginning to glow.
I can’t get over
how it all works in together
like a woman who just came to her window
and stands there filling it
jogging her baby in her arms.
She’s so far off. Is it the light
that makes the baby pink?
I can see the little fists
and the rocking-horse motion of her breasts.
It’s getting grayer and gold and chilly.
Two dog-size lions face each other
at the corners of a roof.
It’s the yellow dust inside the tulips.
It’s the shape of a tulip.
It’s the water in the drinking glass the tulips are in.
It’s a day like any other.

Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird, by Wallace Stevens

1

Among twenty snowy mountains
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird

2

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

3

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

4

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

5

I do not know which to prefer
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes.
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

6

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

7

O thin men of Haddam,
Why to do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
of the women about you?

8

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

9

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

10

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

11

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

12

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

13

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

1923

Waiting On The Reading, by Samiya Bashir

Many of my race have lived long without the touch of
these fine things which separate us from beasts. Things
I call my own now. Having served thirty-six years as needleman

for a family far more ape than we will ever be, I rode
the moonlight train to find my free. Up here it is colder than I like,
but the gentlemen admire my frock coats above all. I taught my son this trade

and hope this picture I made will help retrieve him. Come summer I leave
this coast for Philadelphia where I hear we of color can breathe yet more free.
Tonight I stitch. The breeze off the bay smells of aria. It is almost the season for cloaks.

Road Tar, by Chase Twichell

A kid said you could chew road tar
if you got it before it cooled,
black globule with a just-forming skin.
He said it was better than cigarettes.
He said he had a taste for it.

On the same road, a squirrel
was doing the Watusi to free itself
from its crushed hindquarters.
A man on a bicycle stomped on its head,
then wiped his shoe on the grass.

It was autumn, the adult word for fall.
In school we saw a film called Reproduction.
The little snake-father poked his head
into the slippery future,
and a girl with a burned tongue was conceived.

In General, by Pattiann Rogers

This is about no rain in particular,
just any rain, rain sounding on the roof,
any roof, slate or wood, tin or clay
or thatch, any rain among any trees,
rain in soft, soundless accumulation,
gathering rather than falling on the fir
of juniper and cedar, on a lace-community
of cobwebs, rain clicking off the rigid
leaves of oaks or magnolias, any kind
of rain, cold and smelling of ice or rising
again as steam off hot pavements
or stilling dust on country roads in August.
This is about rain as rain possessing
only the attributes of any rain in general.

And this is about night, any night
coming in its same immeasurably gradual
way, fulfilling expectations in its old
manner, creating heavens for lovers
and thieves, taking into itself the scarlet
of the scarlet sumac, the blue of the blue
vervain, no specific night, not a night
of birth or death, not the night forever
beyond the frightening side of the moon,
not the night always meeting itself
at the bottom of the sea, any sea, warm
and tropical or starless and stormy, night
meeting night beneath Arctic ice.
This attends to all nights but no night.

And this is about wind by itself,
not winter wind in particular lifting
the lightest snow off the mountaintop
into the thinnest air, not wind through
city streets, pushing people sideways,
rolling ash cans banging down the block,
not a prairie wind holding hawks suspended
mid-sky, not wind as straining sails
or as curtains on a spring evening, casually
in and back over the bed, not wind
as brother or wind as bully, not a lowing
wind, not a high howling wind. This is
about wind solely as pure wind in itself,
without moment, without witness.
Therefore this night tonight—
a midnight of late autumn winds shaking
the poplars and aspens by the fence, slamming
doors, rattling the porch swing, whipping
thundering black rains in gusts across
the hillsides, in batteries against the windows
as we lie together listening in the dark, our own
particular fingers touching—can never
be a subject of this specific conversation

Rapture: Lucus, by Traci Brimhall

Posters for the missing kapok tree appear on streetlights
offering a reward for its safe return. I hate to spoil it,

but the end of every biography is death. The end of a city
in the rainforest is a legend and a lost expedition. The end

of mythology is forgetfulness, placing gifts in the hole
where the worshipped tree should be. But my memory

lengthens with each ending. I know where to find the lost
mines of Muribeca and how to cross the Pacific on a raft

made of balsa. I know the tree wasn’t stolen. She woke from
her stillness some equatorial summer evening by a dream

of being chased by an amorous faun, which was a memory,
which reminded her that in another form she had legs

and didn’t need the anxious worship of people who thought
her body was a message. She is happier than the poem tattooed

on her back says she is, but sadder than the finches nesting
in her hair believe her to be. I am more or less content to be

near her in October storms, though I can’t stop thinking that
with the right love or humility or present of silk barrettes

and licorice she might become a myth again in my arms, ardent
wordless, needing someone to bear her away from the flood.

Parowan Canyon, by David Lee

When granite and sandstone begin to blur
and flow, the eye rests on cool white aspen.
Strange, their seeming transparency.
How as in a sudden flash one remembers
a forgotten name, so the recollection. Aspen.
With a breeze in them, their quiet rhythms,
shimmering, quaking. Powder on the palm.
Cool on the cheek. Such delicacy
the brittle wood, limbs snapping
at a grasp, whole trees tumbling in the winds.
Sweet scent on a swollen afternoon.
Autumn, leaves falling one upon another, gold
rains upon a golden earth. How at evening
when the forest darkens, aspen do not.
And a white moon rises and silver stars
point toward the mountain, darkness
holds them so pale.
They stand still, very still.

Porch Swing in September, by Ted Kooser

The porch swing hangs fixed in a morning sun
that bleaches its gray slats, its flowered cushion
whose flowers have faded, like those of summer,
and a small brown spider has hung out her web
on a line between porch post and chain
so that no one may swing without breaking it.
She is saying it’s time that the swinging were done with,
time that the creaking and pinging and popping
that sang through the ceiling were past,
time now for the soft vibrations of moths,
the wasp tapping each board for an entrance,
the cool dewdrops to brush from her work
every morning, one world at a time.

April to May, by Joyce Peseroff

1.
It is cold enough for rain
to coagulate and fall in heavy drops.
Tonight a skin of ice will grow
over the bones of the smallest bush,

making it droop like the wrist
of someone carrying a heavy suitcase. This moving on,
from season to season, is exhausting
and violent, the break from the Berlin Wall

of winter especially. Like a frostbitten
hand coming to life, I color
first with warmth,
then with pain. Thawing, letting

the great powers go
their own way, in rivers and in flesh,
frightens me, as this day
warns me of an icy night.

2.
Each year I am astonished
at the havoc wrought
on other lives: fathers
made tiny by cancer;

a mother swollen around
a bad heart “brought on by aggravation.”
To suffer is to do something new
yet always the same—

a change of life
from the sexual dread. Some women
wish they were men, some men
wish they were dead; still,

there is coin in suffering . . .
It makes us rich
as Croesus in his golden tears,
and we are rarely hated for it.

This coin I store in a purse
made of my mother’s
milk and flesh, which God says I must not mix.
I use it instead to seek pleasure.

3.
Walking around with this thing in me
all day, this loving cup
full of jelly, waiting for you
to come home—seven o’clock,

eight o’clock, eight-thirty . . .
What could be more important
than love? I can’t imagine; you can.
Not a good day, not about to get better.

4.
The bird comes complete
with heart, liver, and neck-bone
wrapped chastely in white paper.
Still half-frozen,

the legs are hard to separate.
Inside, wax paper sticks to the ribs.
I reach like a vet delivering pigs,
or a boy finger-fucking a virgin.

5.
Air the same sweet
temperature inside the house
as outside the house.
Stepping up from the cellar

with an armful of sheets,
I listen for the dirge of flies
under the chittering birds,
both painfully loud. There is a stridency

that’s stubborn in a life
grown by inches: the fat
little fingers of buds bursting;
ugly ducklings; the slow war

of day against night.
As I pin the swelling sheets
with clothespins damp and too
narrow at the mouth, I wonder how

flies know to come out
to feed the birds, and feast themselves
on the new stillborn, this stubborn
great chain of being.

The Vacant Lot at the End of the Street, by Debora Greger

in memory of Margaret Greger, 1923-2009

 

I. Death Takes a Holiday

Battleships melted down into clouds:
first the empire died, then the shipbuilding,

but cloud formations of gun-metal gray
ruled over the sea that was England in June.

A scarecrow treaded water instead of barley,
gulls set sail across a cricket ground.

In a suit woven of the finest mist,
Death took the last seat on the train,

the one next to me. He loosened his tie.
His cellphone had nothing to say to him

as he gazed out the window, ignoring us all.
Had the country changed since he was last

on holiday here, a hundred years ago?
Like family, rather than look at each other,

we watched the remains of empire smear the glass.
Had we met somewhere? “Out West last week,

I passed your parent’s house,” he said.
“I waved but your mother didn’t notice.

Your father must have turned off his hearing aid,
in that way he has.” In the rack overhead,

a net, a jar, a box, a pin: Death had come
for another of Britain’s butterflies.
He rose, unwrinkled. “I’ll see you later,” he said.

II. Demeter in Winter

Earlier and earlier, the dark
comes to the door, but no one knocks.

No, the wind scratches at the window.
Clouds skate the ice of your old room,

Daughter, a cloud falls to the floor
and can’t get up—

or are you my sister? Remember the rope
tied from schoolhouse to home,

so the blizzard could find its way to us?
It climbed into the attic,

spread a white sheet and ay down in the dust.
Who left behind the army greatcoat

into whose cave we crawled that night?
Lie down beside me. Under a blanket of snow,

something freezes: the mind’s gray rag,
caught on a rusty nail. Come closer.

Say I am not the woman I used to be,
just bones turned to sand in a sack of skin.

Daughter, if this page isn’t blank, turn to the next
and read me the part where you disappear.

III. Persephone on the Way to Hell

Over there, beside the road—
is that the letter I should have left you, Mother?
The shade of a scarecrow waves a blank page
as big as he is.

Blond waves of winter wheat roll up
to the knees he’ll never have,
tempting his shirt to set sail
for some other myth.

He’s a white plastic bag
tied to a stake and stuck in a field
at the end of summer. What’s left of a river
lies in a bed grown too big for it,

surrounded by rocks it carried this far.
Mother seems smaller, too.
I saw you, my lord of the dark,
take her hand as it were just a child’s.

The door of a room had closed in her mind.
“Where am I?” she wanted to know,
reigning from her old recliner. You knelt
and tenderly took off her shoes.

IV. The River of Forgetting

Why aren’t you packed to leave town?
my mother asked. Why was I holding a rock
worn down until smooth,
gone dull when it dried?

Where was she, who prided herself
on being born with no sense of direction?
Where were the fifty years
of maps my father drew for her?

Did she remember her own name by the end?
Remember for her, you modest houses,
so alike that only those who die there
can tell them apart.

Cottonwoods crowding the driveway,
did your leaves whisper which turn
the dead should to take to the water?
The ferry that hasn’t run for fifty years

leaves for the river of forgetting tonight.

V. The Azalea Justifies Its Existence

Dream of yourself or stay awake,
Martial says, and the azalea agrees:
fifty weeks it dreams,

not the greater green of Florida
the rest of us do, but a pink almost red,
a shade I’d forgotten for thirty years:

a coat marked down and down again,
coat in a color not from the desert
of subtleties my mother favored

but somewhere between magenta and mauve—
but coat in her size, and so she bought it.
Finding her in a crowd, you found yourself

facing spring come before its time.
Yesterday she died.
She couldn’t lift a spoon to the watery winter light

of eastern Washington. Azalea,
if only she could see you now,
the pink of your magnificence

like some ruffled thing thrown on
in your rush to extend a sympathy
so far beyond the pink of flushed and fevered,

it’s—what is the word for such ragged,
joy-riddled gauds of grief?

VI. The Death of Demeter

From a distance, a woman’s life is nothing
a glass of ice water losing its edge.

I should know, Daughter. I spent the night
in a graveyard, behind a tombstone,

trying to stay cold. The trees
that wouldn’t stop whispering—

they’re nothing but chairs and tables
dying not to become tables and chairs.

A tree cries out to be covered with leaves?
A deep breath of dirt fills the lungs.

Permit me to propose a few things.
I don’t want my soul to find its body.

VII. The School for the Dead

The blackboard’s endless night,
a constellation of chalk dust unnamed—

through the classroom window, I saw a map
pulled down like a window shade:

continents pushed apart, an ocean
blotting out names with tears.

South America and Africa no longer nestled
like spoons in a silver drawer.

The lost mitten of Greenland froze
to the Arctic Circle, the empty space

called Canada yawned. The new pupil,
my mother, hunched in a desk too small,

waiting for her daughter the professor
to begin the obedience lesson:

how to lie down. How to roll over
in the grave. How to play dead.

VIII. Nocturne for Female Voice

I walk the old street at night, the way I always did,
I heard my dead mother say.
Why didn’t you come? I had to talk to a tree.
I talked to dogs—they bark at anything,

even a ghost. You shiver, Daughter,
but know nothing of the cold.
Tumbleweeds roll into town as if they owned it,
night shrouds me in darkness, wind wraps me in dust—

where’s your coat? You’ve been to Rome
with a man you weren’t married to,
and now you know ruins? If the body is a temple,
as the nuns tried to teach you long ago,

it collapses on itself, bringing down the mind.
The vacant lot at the end of your childhood—
which of us rules it now? I lower myself
to the puncture-vine, the weed I warned you

never to step on. I prostrate myself
the way you coax something to grow
in the desert of the past. Its pale star
blooms a week and then bears fruit.

It survives by causing pain.
I walk our street at night, the way I always did.
Why didn’t you come? I had to bark at a tree.
I howled like a dog.

IX. The Library of the Dead

Deep in the shelves of shadows,
I closed the book I hadn’t read.
Who wanted for food

when you could smuggle something
snatched from the jaws of the vending machine
into the library of the dead?

Down on my shoulder came a hand:
my late mother’s, turned to ash.
In the house where she died,

we would sit, not speaking,
even in eternity: she had her book
and pressed one upon me, companionably.

Everything had shrunk
to fit in a suitcase when I left.
The past had been ironed flat,

a thousand leaves starched and pinned
to a cottonwood just a shade of its former self,
the only sound its rustle, industrious,

leaves turning waxen, unread—
though no shelf lay empty
in the library of the dead.

Four Poems for Robin, by Gary Snyder

Four Poems for Robin, by Gary Snyder


Siwashing It Out Once in Suislaw Forest
by Gary Snyder

I slept under rhododendron
All night blossoms fell
Shivering on a sheet of cardboard
Feet stuck in my pack
Hands deep in my pockets
Barely able to sleep.
I remembered when we were in school
Sleeping together in a big warm bed
We were the youngest lovers
When we broke up we were still nineteen
Now our friends are married
You teach school back east
I dont mind living this way
Green hills the long blue beach
But sometimes sleeping in the open
I think back when I had you.


A Spring Night in Shokoku-ji
by Gary Snyder

Eight years ago this May
We walked under cherry blossoms
At night in an orchard in Oregon.
All that I wanted then
Is forgotten now, but you.
Here in the night
In a garden of the old capital
I feel the trembling ghost of Yugao
I remember your cool body
Naked under a summer cotton dress.


An Autumn Morning in Shokoku-ji
by Gary Snyder

Last night watching the Pleiades,
Breath smoking in the moonlight,
Bitter memory like vomit
Choked my throat.
I unrolled a sleeping bag
On mats on the porch
Under thick autumn stars.
In dream you appeared
(Three times in nine years)
Wild, cold, and accusing.
I woke shamed and angry:
The pointless wars of the heart.
Almost dawn. Venus and Jupiter.
The first time I have
Ever seen them close.


December at Yase
by Gary Snyder

You said, that October,
In the tall dry grass by the orchard
When you chose to be free,
“Again someday, maybe ten years.”

After college I saw you
One time. You were strange.
And I was obsessed with a plan.

Now ten years and more have
Gone by: I’ve always known
where you were—
I might have gone to you
Hoping to win your love back.
You still are single.

I didn’t.
I thought I must make it alone. I
Have done that.

Only in dream, like this dawn,
Does the grave, awed intensity
Of our young love
Return to my mind, to my flesh.

We had what the others
All crave and seek for;
We left it behind at nineteen.

I feel ancient, as though I had
Lived many lives.
And may never now know
If I am a fool
Or have done what my
karma demands.


 

[Untitled], by J. Michael Martinez

Imagine—in front of us—they silently pass. And they believe unrelated
objects are machines
for recognizing the human. And, again, we are no longer interruptions.

Imagine—in front of us—the beginning is not a study. And they believe
the cicada’s larva
reveals narrow secrets. And we accompany: to form, to shape.

Imagine—in front of us—a beautiful garden. And they believe color is the
shoreline’s end
where we abandon our too sudden bodies. And, here, we are carriers of different
significance.

Imagine—in front of us—each word devolves a lexicon. And they believe
shape shuts on a hinge
within the voice they fable. And, here, we slaughter the spring lambs.

Imagine—in front of us—they pass us between nature, between history.
And they believe the door
frame alters the curtains’ flow. And we are a dark summer moving against oceans.

Imagine starlings circling in a postcard’s blue. And they believe oration is the living
thing, the end
of geometric space. And here, in full sunlight, we are gifts hoisted to the vanishing
point.

Ghost Notes [excerpt], by Ralph Burns

for Danny Fletcher

 

I. Call and Response

1

Plumbline of disaster, shadow storage
of the way thought travels, the opinion,
the sentiment, only assertion following silence,
only a way of everlasting breathing,
a verb searching for grammar too devoted
to making sense so that the self interrupts
with a final pitch. From stop to stop the mouth
makes music by holding sound in a razz
mixed with spit, air pushing through idea
to a new phrase, followed by a chill,
then riding on the other air. So the moment might live
outside itself, lips vibrate against
the mouthpiece of the horn, the face blooms
in concentration, the idea of interval.

2

Anoint the valves, they stick — my
it is bright when you bring out your trumpet
William, standing there, tapping your right
foot, bent like a cricket at the knee, slouching.
Whoever hears your Ode to Joy hears your knocking
then setting down of carrying
case, cradling of brass. Dizzy said it took
his whole life to learn what not
to play but in one month you deny nothing,
not even the feel of your embouchere,
who’d been in school all day. Lubricate the valves,
once neighbors lifted up their heads
like lilies in the field, and wind rolled over
the need to stay away.

3

It’s beauty people fear, bright
rose riding on Aunt Billie’s forehead,
the way light makes green everything
after her pickled okra, stubble
in the hands of day labor, callouses
of a parade of things and
touching them without seeing
or hearing without knowledge,
dumbstruck by a brooding need to define
or look without a place
to grieve, beauty and not faith
in truth in the light of justice —
just reach and nothing’s there
but what’s there already.

4

William — where — is — your — horn,
did you leave it in math class again
with Fibonacci’s sequence, flaring
bell, flex and curve in sunlight leaning
at a forty-five degree angle,
your teacher Mr. Fletcher having cranked
open the classroom window with an allen wrench,
merged with sunlight so a horsefly wheeled
blue-green in its own wingbeat
by a rote it answered to in music,
lesser to the greater as the greater
to the whole, tube twice bent
on itself, Sin curve on the line of displacement,
sending sound backwards until it’s now?

5

William, when thirty kids try out for basketball
calculate the odds, the tendency of mind
to see itself in transition — feminine green light
like call waiting — you might be playing trumpet
into the speaker, your girlfriend Corrine might
be listening, exhausting her telephone allotment
of fifteen minutes, holding her ear inches away, glint
of a clipboard watching you both. You might move out of
the paint. The yellow squeak of rubber on oak
wakes rivers of grain — what does it matter
that this matter jumps back or breaks for open court —
sometimes you only stand and scream,
wave both arms, put it on the floor and drive,
lay it up, put it down, take it home.

6

Let me find the keys says Candace
let’s go says William the water
nibbles at the bank sunlight shafts
the fog wait says Candace
clouds back off the water
what else the boat suspended
glint gray along the gunnels
here they are I’ve found them
the washing machine idles in its cycle
sun shattered in water slaps
let’s go says William the legs follow
the surface tension the door closes
the car starts the green wave slides
under the boat a day begins.

7

Slow it down, bring it down, bring it
on home, tympanum of the trumpet-
flower, raised hood, swollen yellow face,
pathological woe standing
in rank grass against the Hurricane fence,
half a brick bewildered, half
carried through slatted shadows, cracked
bell shrouded by buildings, doorways
listening, patiently waiting for someone to open
a paper bag and bring out the horn
and this one time it sounds exactly like
laughter, wind blows in your face,
from a high window in metallic light
long green trumpets beat back rain.

8

When the instruments linger in the band room,
snare leaning into itself,
tuba beached against green cinderblock,
do they riff where a fault opens,
make a crazy line in space, does brass
lie in bronze alloy, does longing
breathe in acoustic energy? Notes hang
to the skirt of the bell
like a city of light for a moment.
A tire spooks the gravel, you hear talk
about the weather, the leaning toward
and then away. Pierce the blind
to better hear the music, the fall
of each sound and pause between.

9

It damages people when they do not understand
the healing power of friendship.
I am damaged. The left front light of my transport
is out. A day doesn’t pass. An hour
does not go by. There are minutes that glow
in human flesh. A trumpet has a voice.
A place lives in music of people and time.
These are not things I know.
Things of the air are also not thought of
in time of need. That is why the passive
voice is so active in distortion, and well
to note that a slur is more expressive
than a sharp note timed to surface admiration,
though the fool in me shines to perfection.

10

Soft percussive no-look pass of summer,
flexion of bell, white seed
of longing and forgetfulness — I remember
stopping on the way home from school
at a car showroom, perching on vinyl I could smell
thinking I don’t belong here
and the place about to close. I hold the page
of music so you can see it, William,
your face reddens, your foot taps eight times
to push breath past unbelievable seconds,
a dandelion head floats out of sight
senseless and alive, full of feather
and plume, empty to itself wherever
it flies, drifting from its own heart.

11

The dog growls, a low unearthed intent stands
up on back of the neck — I am here and
somewhere else — back in time maybe, fingers
tap the valves. Make two trumpets
of silver Yahweh said to Moses —
and make them play flat and sharp notes
at the same time said Ornette Coleman,
no loose lipping. Wake the memory.
Wake the present tense. The tongue wicks the mouthpiece.
Horripilates the cause. Lights up the argument.
A column of air moving through an empty place,
three stops, an opening outward
toward no purpose or proof beyond the time
when people will not hear it.

12

My father’s there. Like fugitive dust
seeping through cracks and keyholes in Oklahoma
in the early 30’s. What happens when I try
to hold him is my arms pass through air.
Goodbye goodbye to the river and to
green metallic leaves. I leave
the darkness which sat on my shoulders
for love talk and grace of music.
Still, there are strains of darkness
dear to light. I found a photograph
under the couch. My father barbecuing
chicken with his shirt off, skin brown
as a berry. Grinning from the other side.
Into the lens. Of light and song.

II. Shout Trumpet

1

When passing the Trumpet in Zion Church,
red brick soaked with morning rain,
four cars parked on slickened blacktop,
marked yellow lines, redbud clusters,
heart-shaped lavender pods, I keep hearing
my own minor key. Even so,
a person puts a thumb out, an awning
cantilevers, traffic comes
to a rolling stop. Through an open window
high bright notes clarify the air
back to March wind, locked doors, to those who
have lost their love, decided
to go and not come back: the high C
of incalculable motion.

2

At the Trumpet in Zion they do the laying
on of hands — your long hair
passes over me, the purpose of
the body hidden in the word.
Thinking nothing. Resembling an eighth note.
If the rapture taketh then where
does the body go when hands lie down on air?
A flag dragged through the iris
upside down. Desire runs through its stops —
the dance rises to water level.
What happens inside music to make it run
over arms and legs like a squirrel?
Toot toot go to the water to the river
of folded wings,

3

where catalpa shade holds a body of gnats
just the shape of smoke and water
saturates yellow air and a water moccasin
displaces the imagination —
not away from but toward where the world
reaches and a song carries across water,
one they’ve been singing all along,
the same notes and fears,
the sound of pure tones. I wouldn’t know it
if I heard it. I might not
know if it were only mine.
I would like to think I could clearly hear
the music as it calls across so
I could know what you know.

4

Bats are back. Looping the Mulberry. Concentric
gravitational waves. I think I notice
my own radar. I loll in a yellow chair
with two ear plugs connected to Art Porter.
Art Porter Junior in background on clarinet.
Little Rock’s own. Follow the ogive turns
past Maybelline to Telegraph Road, past
Jimmy Doyle’s and the white birches,
signs for Alltel and Jesus, SunCom,
and Ruby Lube. Are you a holy roller
William asks his grandmother. No but I’m
spirit-filled. Her sisters’ faces
ghost across her own face as it is — Jean,
Billie in her garden, pious Lucille.

5

I ask myself riddles in sleep and part of me
thinks it knows the answers. My
body leaks, my ignorance, my desire. I keep a
gold tooth which is not the trumpet,
wood landing over water knock, photon locked
in early light wrapped around
a cove, people in a boat, not much talking
but it echoes, love is there, when
will I ever believe, fill the body up and sing.
A wireless chip with beams of light carries
itself in your eye. Who sleeps upside down
on a ledge with toes turned in, dreams of making
love mid-air, only you and me in water? Bats are back.
I feel a scarf of air rush past.

6

Some mean ass little red bug just bit the shit out of me!
So why does it grease the room with soulless
nasal noise, no antennae for opposites,
alighting on the trumpet case? Seven years
of mending, leaving and coming back through you,
I think I can hear syncopation
in the last half of the beat, cancellation
too, but I only want to touch the button
on your blouse. The hi-hat clears the moment.
Out of nowhere you came to me.
Where is memory with its leaning sideways solo
under a stone weight? Out of nowhere
you came back. Today and today an old wind blows,
music flares above the grasstips.

7

When the moon stares from its forehead
and sound waves and particles
knock on tiny hairs in the inner ear,
information travels — how can one not know
the only pressure occurs at a molecular
level? A channel forms in the flow of ions.
When one whacks at a cloud of flies,
one clarifies that insects don’t know where
the hell they are — they can’t hear
right so spend their remaining days
complaining that music by itself is trivial.
Their bristles get bent, ions
flow in to trumpet the brain, but still
no hard high note, no upward rip.

8

Plumbline of the asters, music caught inside
the throat, the implacability, the fluted crescent
of the body, the temple, the infarcted heart,
the age of reason, the tap tap tap of the baton:
one time one steps off the porch two stories high,
next the song sings itself:
the air, the ambient glue, the tongue
in mid-salute, the coup de langue,
the nation at war, the wormhole connecting nothing
to nothing, the creak of heaven over
the creek, the flat speckled rock, the event
horizon, the accretion disk, the no
which means no, the wide swing under stars,
the water, the verb, the hidden grammar.

9

Not long ago a fly landed in the butter.
The buzz stumbled, the the stared out
from the portable computer, the astral light
combined with the high speed line
to toot back an unheard, unseen opinion
so popular here in the South.
I reach for you and nothing, not anything
from all the days of walking, breathing
in and out, waking to change and resemblance,
quickened to the task of words,
time and timing unsung — belly to belly,
keyboard to hyperthought, one wing
gleaming on a salt sweet brick like a face
in the screen, increased singularity.

10

I hear the neighbors talking over the fence —
“He came driving up in that turd-colored
convertible and didn’t even open the door
when he saw his stuff all flayed out
in the bushes and grass, his shirt with the sleeve
drooping over the hostas . . .” The glass doors
screech, the monarch glisses over standing water,
the ego in its drifting boat interminably waits.
We have no ideas but why should we say goodbye?
The signature and sign don’t mean
the end of it. White azalea blossom stuck to mud.
That is the end of winter, this
a preoccupation with weather which has nothing
more than last night on its mind.

11

Thunder and rain all day like the drumming
of Zutty Singleton. Ivy gropes
the fern, a sprig of oak pollen navigates
over two bar breaks. One or two
octaves over, like a ghost flattened out, down
the basement, up one flight
to the dirty silver door with Judas hole, to a few
tables and wicker chairs, late afternoon — that’s
where to hear a phrase turn. The upright
shakes the floor, and when
however fast the falling torrent flows —
stop that please thinks management if people
stand too long and listen — the whole world knows
in wind when self assured, the roses blow.

12

You know that silo in Oklahoma, the one with
chipped tooth on the way to Grandma’s house
where apple blossoms lit the way to certain hell?
Well, it’s gone now. The leaping light
and silence. Through channels of urgent voluntary
sing-song, passing tones in the hallway
mirror, tension through the saunter of water cooled
air, all is gone. You don’t have to remember.
Only that violation in the upper registers which
sounded and does sound in houses
just a few blocks over, and in fact, in this house
which is hot at night and cunning,
waits for a future. Slap-tongue’s gone. The mouth
meets and notches the music.

Birds Again, by Jim Harrison

A secret came a week ago though I already
knew it just beyond the bruised lips of consciousness.
The very alive souls of thirty-five hundred dead birds
are harbored in my body. It’s not uncomfortable.
I’m only temporary habitat for these not-quite-
weightless creatures. I offered a wordless invitation
and now they’re roosting within me, recalling
how I had watched them at night
in fall and spring passing across earth moons,
little clouds of black confetti, chattering and singing
on their way north or south. Now in my dreams
I see from the air the rumpled green and beige,
the watery face of earth as if they’re carrying
me rather than me carrying them. Next winter
I’ll release them near the estuary west of Alvarado
and south of Veracruz. I can see them perching
on undiscovered Olmec heads. We’ll say goodbye
and I’ll return my dreams to earth.

Coda, by Marilyn Hacker

Maybe it was jet lag, maybe not,
but I was smoking in the kitchen: six,
barely, still dark: beyond the panes, a mix
of summer storm and autumn wind. I got
back to you; have I got you back? What
warmed me wasn’t coffee, it was our
revivified combustion. In an hour,
gray morning, but I’d gone back to my spot
beside you, sleeping, where we’d stayed awake
past exhaustion, talking, after, through
the weeks apart, divergent times and faces.
I fell asleep, skin to warm skin, at daybreak.
Your breasts, thighs, shoulders, mouth, voice, are the places
I live, whether or not I live with you.

Fog hid the road. The wipers shoved back torrents
across the windshield. You, on knife-edge, kept
driving. Iva, in the back seat, wept
histrionically. The crosscurrents
shivered like heat-lightning into the parent’s
shotgun seat. I shut up, inadept
at deflecting them. A Buick crept
ahead at twenty-five an hour. “Why aren’t
we passing him? My Coke spilled. The seat’s wet.
You guys keep whispering so I can’t hear.”
“Sit in the front with us, then.”
“No! I’ll get
too hot. Is the fan on? What time is it?
What time will it be when we get there?”
Time to be somewhere else than where we are.

“What do we have? I guess we still don’t know.”
I was afraid to say, you made me feel
my sectioned heart, quiescent loins, and spill
past boundaries the way blackberry-brambles grow
up those tenacious hills I left for you.
Their gritty fruit’s ripe now, but oceans still
separate us, waves opaque as oatmeal,
miles of fog roiling between your pillow
and mine while you say your best: sometimes, she’s where
your compass points, despite you, though a meal
with me, or talk, is good . . . Where our starfire
translated depths, low fog won’t let you steer
by sight. The needle fingers one desire,
and no other direction can compel.

If no other direction can compel
me upward from the dark-before-the-dawn
descending spiral, I drop like a stone
flung into some scummed-over stagnant well.
The same momentum with which once we fell
across each other’s skies, meteors drawn
by lodestones taproots clutched in unmapped ground
propels me toward some amphibious hell
where kissing’s finished, and I tell, tell, tell
reasons as thick and sticky as frogspawn:
had I done this, that wouldn’t have come undone.
The wolf of wolf’s hour cried at once too often
picks out enfeebled stragglers by the smell
of pond scum drying on them in the sun.

I miss you more than when I was in France
and thought I’d soon be done with missing you.
I miss what we’d have made past making do,
haft meshing weft as autumn days advance,
transliterating variegated strands
of silk, hemp, ribbon, flax, into some new
texture. I missed out on misconstrued
misgivings; did I miss my cue; boat? Chanc-
es are, the answer’s missing too. At risk
again, sleep and digestion, while I seize on
pricklier strands, crushed to exude the reason
I can’t expect you’ll ring up from your desk,
calling me Emer, like Cuchulain’s queen,
to say, we need bread and some salad greens.

On your birthday, I reread Meredith,
whose life’s mean truths inform, tonight, his text
so generously framed. There’ll be the next
night, and the next, cold gaps. I’d have been with
you now, lover and friend, across the width
of some candle-lit table as we mixed
habit and hope in toasts. Instead, perplexed
by separation like a monolith
bulked in the rooms and hours I thought would be
ours, I practice insensibility.
We crossed four miles, three thousand. You diminish
now, on a fogged horizon, far away.
Your twenty-fifth was our first class Tuesday
—will one year bracket us from start to finish?

Will one year bracket us from start to finish,
who, in an evening’s gallant banter, made
plans for new voyages to span decades
of love and work around a world we’d win? Wish
was overgrown with fears; voyages vanish
with empty wine bottles and summer’s paid
bills. Lengthens the legendary blade
between us: silence; hope I hope to banish;
doubt, till I almost doubt what happened, did.
Chicken from Zabar’s warms, and frozen spinach
simmers, while Iva writes a school essay:
“Both Sides: Everything has an opposite . . .”
sucking her inky fingers and her braid,
and I read Meredith, on your birthday.

“Why did Ray leave her pipe tobacco here
in the fridge?” Iva asks me while we’re
rummaging for mustard and soy sauce
to mix with wine and baste the lamb. “Because
cold keeps it fresh.” That isn’t what she means,

we both know. I’ve explained, there were no scenes
or fights, really. We needed time to clear
the air, and think. What she was asking, was,
“Why did Ray leave

her stuff if she’s not coming back?” She leans
to extremes, as I might well. String beans
to be sautéed with garlic; then I’ll toss
the salad; then we’ll eat. (Like menopause
it comes in flashes, more or less severe:
why did you leave?)

“Now that you know you can, the city’s full
of girls—just notice them! It’s not like pull-
ing teeth to flirt,” she said, “or make a date.”
It’s quite like pulling teeth to masturbate
(I didn’t say), and so I don’t. My nice

dreams are worse than nightmares. As my eyes
open, I know I am; that instant, feel
you with me, on me, in me, and you’re not.
Now that you know

you don’t know, fantasies are more like lies.
They don’t fit when I try them on for size.
I guess I can, but can’t imagine what
I’d do, with whom, tonight. It’s much too late
or soon, so what’s yours stays yours. It has until
now. That, you know.

Who would divorce her lover with a phone
call? You did. Like that, it’s finished, done—
or is for you. I’m left with closets of
grief (you moved out your things next day). I love
you. I want to make the phone call this
time, say, pack your axe, cab uptown, kiss
me, lots. I’ll run a bubble bath; we’ll sing
in the tub. We worked for love, loved it. Don’t sling
that out with Friday’s beer cans, or file-card it
in a drawer of anecdotes: “My Last
Six Girlfriends: How a Girl Acquires a Past.”
I’ve got “What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted”
run on a loop, unwanted leitmotif.
Lust, light, love, life all tumbled into grief.
You closed us off like a parenthesis
and left me knowing just enough to miss.

“Anyone who (I did) ran down Broadway
screaming, or dropped in Bryant Park in a faint
similarly provoked, will sniff a taint
of self-aggrandizement in the assured way
you say: so be it; then she cut the cord; hey,
the young are like that. Put yourself on main-
tenance, stoically, without more complaint?
Grown-ups, at least, will not rush to applaud. They
won’t believe you.” And he downed his Negroni.
Who wants to know how loss and sorrow hit
me daily in the chest, how like a stone
this bread tastes? Even though lunch is on me,
he doesn’t. Home alone is home, alone.
(I’d reach for Nightwood, but she “borrowed” it.)

Did you love well what very soon you left?
Come home and take me in your arms and take
away this stomach ache, headache, heartache.
Never so full, I never was bereft
so utterly. The winter evenings drift
dark to the window. Not one word will make
you, where you are, turn in your day, or wake
from your night toward me. The only gift
I got to keep or give is what I’ve cried,
floodgates let down to mourning for the dead
chances, for the end of being young,
for everyone I loved who really died.
I drank our one year out in brine instead
of honey from the seasons of your tongue.

From you have I been absent in the spring… (Sonnet 98), by William Shakespeare

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.

Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.

 

from Blue Dark, by Deborah Landau

the moon might rise and it might not
and if it brings a ghost light we will read beneath it

and if it returns to earth
we will listen for its phrases

and if I’m alone at the bedside table
I will have a ghost book to refer to

and when I lie back I’ll see its imprint
beneath my blood-red lids:

not lettered ink
but the clean page

not sugar
but the empty bowl

not flowers
but the dirt

*

blame the egg blame the fractured stones
at the bottom of the mind

blame his darkblue glare and craggy mug
the bulky king of trudge and stein

how I love a masculine in my parlor
his grizzly shout and weight one hundred drums

in this everywhere of blunt and soft sinking
I am the heavy hollow snared

the days are spring the days are summer
the days are nothing and not dead yet

*

worry the river over its banks
the train into flames

worry the black rain into the city
the troops into times square

worry the windows cracked acidblack
and the children feverblistered

worry never another summer
never again to live here gentle
with the other inhabitants

then leave too quickly
leave the pills and band-aids
the bathroom scale the Christmas lights the dog

go walking on our legs
dense and bare and useless

worry our throats and lungs
into taking the air

leave books on the shelves
leave keys dustpan

telephones don’t work where you were
in the chaos

*

and I couldn’t bear it
the children nearing the place
where the waves wet the shore

vaporous force
rising imperceptibly behind

we were talking about circumstance
horizon-gates swinging open
beneath the cherry blooms

wave rising in the background
impalpable and final
a girl in a white dress barefoot

wasn’t I right to ask her to move in from the shore

*

this is the last usable hour

bird lured
through the window

a little sweet fruit

I could die here
and the hearsedriver
would take me out of this city

I’d say my name to him
as we crossed the Triboro

I’d say it softly the way he likes it

it would be the last time
I’d introduce myself that way