Beatrix is three, by Adrian Mitchell

At the top of the stairs
I ask for her hand. O.K.
She gives it to me.
How her fist fits my palm,
A bunch of consolation.
We take our time
Down the steep carpetway
As I wish silently
That the stairs were endless.

Carmel Highlands, by Janet Loxley Lewis

Below the gardens and the darkening pines
The living water sinks among the stones,
Sinking yet foaming till the snowy tones
Merge with the fog drawn landward in dim lines.
The cloud dissolves among the flowering vines,
And now the definite mountain-side disowns
The fluid world, the immeasurable zones.
Then white oblivion swallows all designs.

But still the rich confusion of the sea,
Unceasing voice, sombre and solacing,
Rises through veils of silence past the trees;
In restless repetition bound, yet free,
Wave after wave in deluge fresh releasing
An ancient speech, hushed in tremendous ease.

A Change Of Wind, by Katia Kapovich

On the eighth day he coined the word “alone”
and saw that it was as good as everything else.
A yellow school bus rattled down the lane,
a wind blew in a drainpipe, strong, mellifluous.

I brought two empty crates to the parking lot,
watched neighbors with briefcases and car keys.
At noon a mailman passed by where I sat
invisible, like a tree among trees.

Why, why, I asked. I wanted to know why,
but only scared a squirrel that dropped his acorn
when my voice broke silence unexpectedly—
a white noise in a wireless telephone.

My club soda went flat in the bottle. With a spit
of rain, a wind blew again from the lake.
I raised my index finger and touched it,
pleading, give me a break, give me a break.

Bread and Cake, by Kevin Prufer

The black Mercedes
with the Ayn Rand
vanity plate
crashed through
the glass bus stop
and came to rest
among a bakery’s
upturned tables.
In the stunned silence,
fat pigeons descended
to the wreckage
and pecked at
the scattered
bread and cake.
The driver slept,
head to the wheel.
The pigeons grew
rich with crumbs.
The broken glass winked.
God grinned.

A Reminiscence, by Richard O. Moore

Held in a late season
At a shifting of worlds,
In the golden balance of autumn,
Out of love and reason

We made our peace;
Stood still in October
In the failing light and sought,
Each in the other, ease

And release from silence,
From the slow damnation
Of speech that is weak
And falls from silence.

In the October sun
By the green river we spoke,
Late in October, the leaves
Of the water maples had fallen.

But whatever we said
In the bright leaves was lost,
Quick as the leaf-fall,
Brittle and blood red.

For Kenneth Rexroth, 1950

Breathing, by Josephine Dickinson

As I walk up the rise into the silence of snow, in the sough of brittle snowflakes,
you are breathing shallow breaths in bed.
A paper tissue lies discarded where I dabbed a drip from your nose.

As I sit in another room you are swishing your lips.
You have become the inside of my body. I am gasping for the crackle
and whistle of your chest. My body is your world under a blanket of snow.

The wolf leaves paw prints on it, catching a niff of tussocky breasts,
dipping thighs, flat tummy, tight skin, the mutter of a bony outcrop.
Hills rise and fall with your breathing, its spate and its whisper.

The snow is lisping from the eaves as I listen for the blab of your heart.
You stir to speak. Your chest heaves. Fistfuls of ice slack off and pelt the stones,
sluds of snow stretch and slide under the window.

There is a quiver, a tingle, then icy water stutters after the snow in a stream.
The night before last, you stopped.
There was a gulp, then stillness and listening — for the lick

of the meniscus on a swollen river, for a trickle in the dried-out bed
of a beck, the jostle of fingertips, snapping of feet. You nestled in a heap
under jacket, quilt, hat, light, scarf, shawl, sheet,

you were all twined and tangled up,
your suck held back by a puff, a spanking sea breeze,
then, flat out, pillows concertinaed, released a salty waft, a redolence

while you held one slippered foot under the sinews, stung and docketed
the twisted jumble, face motionless apart from spitting pith,
and I hoicked you up, straightened the pillows in your shadow

and your voice spurted out as I kibbled your lungs in my own chest’s thump.
A sky flipped open when you breathed again, like the tilt over Hartside Top.
No birds. No scratchings. Just rustling of clothes and clacking of teeth.

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.

The Ocean, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Ocean has its silent caves,
Deep, quiet, and alone;
Though there be fury on the waves,
Beneath them there is none.
The awful spirits of the deep
Hold their communion there;
And there are those for whom we weep,
The young, the bright, the fair.

Calmly the wearied seamen rest
Beneath their own blue sea.
The ocean solitudes are blest,
For there is purity.
The earth has guilt, the earth has care,
Unquiet are its graves;
But peaceful sleep is ever there,
Beneath the dark blue waves.

On My Third Anniversary in New Jersey, by Noelle Kocot

It’s the fern beyond the wind, the classic
Eruptions. Night is a funnel that is overcome.
Violence of signs beyond the pale. Stasis
Has its own way, the hard work, the violence.
Convalesce, convalesce in the green green
World, in which you could hardly walk,
But that was before, before life set its rhythms
In its way. Passion is confused by silence.
Gone are the slow horses, the wetness and the
Going forth, that’s made me whole again.
A small room, a sandwich in the moonlight,
Intermittently, I see a hummingbird at
The flower box, and the great church bells
Ring. This is the beginning. I lived in a small
Room long ago. The soft earth beckoned me
Here, and I stayed. There is a dearness about
All of this, and though I want to be hungry
Again, I find that I am filled. My legs fly into
Summer, into the morning air and the leaves.
So this is what peace is, no need to spiral
In the twilight, no need to ask, season after
Season, where are you now? And, should I go?

Late Summer, by Jennifer Grotz

Before the moths have even appeared
to orbit around them, the streetlamps come on,
a long row of them glowing uselessly

along the ring of garden that circles the city center,
where your steps count down the dulling of daylight.
At your feet, a bee crawls in small circles like a toy unwinding.

Summer specializes in time, slows it down almost to dream.
And the noisy day goes so quiet you can hear
the bedraggled man who visits each trash receptacle

mutter in disbelief: Everything in the world is being thrown away!
Summer lingers, but it’s about ending. It’s about how things
redden and ripen and burst and come down. It’s when

city workers cut down trees, demolishing
one limb at a time, spilling the crumbs
of twigs and leaves all over the tablecloth of street.

Sunglasses! the man softly exclaims
while beside him blooms a large gray rose of pigeons
huddled around a dropped piece of bread.

from Projection, by Lidija Dimkovska

But I know that you know how your palms itch when you’re alone,
when the electricity goes off,
and the silence whirls in your stomach.
I know that you know how hard it is
to dress in white after wearing black,
to have your arms not merge into the day
but be signs by the road,
and to have nobody, Laurie, nobody travel
down your roads.

Back, by Beckian Fritz Goldberg

The god of the back
must be a lonely god,
god in the shape of man-headed hawk.

Long ago
a man had been sailing the river
and the hawk had been flying beside him
for days. Mornings,

the man would wake and look,
yes, there it was, dark tip-to-tip, the hawk.
His hawk, he began to think of it.
And after a time

he forgot the point of the journey,
he only woke each morning to see
if the hawk was there, to move if the hawk
moved with him, to not rest

if the hawk did not rest. And all of this love
was done in silence, between animal
and animal. There

beside him in the air and there
beside him in the water, the yoke
of the hawk. Once he had a family. Once
he had a city to go to and something

to bring back. More and more
he began to see his life
as a story the hawk was telling

holding the rat of the field in its claw, meaning
There is another world
and I will take you in it.
This

is when he became the god,
god of the back, the beautiful
brow of leaving.

Goddess of Maple at Evening, by Chard deNiord

She breathed a chill that slowed the sap
inside the phloem, stood perfectly still
inside the dark, then walked to a field
where the distance crooned in a small
blue voice how close it is, how the gravity
of sky pulls you up like steam from the arch.
She sang along until the silence soloed
in a northern wind, then headed back
to the sugar stand and drank from a maple
to thin her blood with the spirit of sap.
To quicken its pace to the speed of sound
then hear it boom inside her heart.
To quicken her mind to the speed of light
with another suck from the flooded tap.

A Bronze God, Or A Letter On Demand, by Clifton Gachagua

I like to think of your silence as the love letters you will not write me,
as two sax solos from two ages across a stage, learning the languages
of kissing with your eyes closed. I like to think of you as a god
to whom I no longer pray, as a god I aspire to. I like the opening of your joined palms,
which is like an urn where my ashes find a home. The music of your lashes;
the silent way your body wears out mine.
Mostly, I like to think of you at night when a black screen of shining dust shines
from your mines to the edge of my skin, where you are a lamp of flutters.
I remember the spectral lashes–marigold, tamarind, secret thing between your thighs,
of closed kissing eyes. At night, the possibility of you is a heavy
sculpture of heavy bronze at the side of my bed,
a god. And I pray you into life. Into flesh.

Inheritance, by Daniel Johnson

We drank hard water.
Spoke in plain language.

Said what we didn’t

with a joke or a look.
One went missing—

let silence drill its hole.
A second fell ill.

We cloaked our mirrors.
Slashed a red X

on the door to our house.
Pass over us, I asked

the raven sky,
or burn in me

a second mouth.

Fairbanks Under the Solstice, by John Haines

Slowly, without sun, the day sinks
toward the close of December.
It is minus sixty degrees.

Over the sleeping houses a dense
fog rises—smoke from banked fires,
and the snowy breath of an abyss
through which the cold town
is perceptibly falling.

As if Death were a voice made visible,
with the power of illumination…

Now, in the white shadow
of those streets, ghostly newsboys
make their rounds, delivering
to the homes of those
who have died of the frost
word of the resurrection of Silence.

Purism, by Vona Groarke

The wind orchestrates
its theme of loneliness
and the rain
has too much glitter in it, yes.

They are like words, the wrong ones,
insisting I listen to sense.
But I too am obstinate.

I have white walls,
white curtained windows.
What need have I
of the night’s jet-black,
outlandish ornament?

What I am after
is silence
in proportion
to desire,

the way music plumbs
its surfaces
as straight words do
the air between them.

I begin to learn
the simple thing

burning through
to an impulse at once lovely
and given to love

that will not be refused.

Empty, by Laura Mullen

Huge crystalline cylinders emerge from the water

The future

Where do they come from the King gushes these talking fish
Show me at once

We see the writer buried under a collapsing mountain of scribbled-over
papers
While ink blurts from an overturned bottle

Speech is silver the King mutters
Silence is

They discover a fabulous ancient city

Black lake
Flag of smoke

Where we turned to look

Skulls, bats, stars, spirals, lightning bolts
Words spoken in anger
Flowers for sarcasm

The sequence continued to work in references to the brevity of life

Garlands of flowers
Stars signaling physical impact

They discover a fabulous ancient city
Under the water
None of the inhabitants

‘Be reasonable . . . ‘

Increasingly faint trace of inked
Flowers delicate

After that

Cat catch
The decree

Eradicate

Reseda, by Paul Colinet

Step-ladder, tiny pyramid for miserly hunchbacks, near- 
sighted reckoner, the reseda, gathered in its cunning 
little cabin, breaks up, clears itself of perfume.
This flower is the friend of silent eyes, of century- 
old hands, of honest blades.
She grows near modest shale-like clusters — these, 
devout, dyed purple, or else those, burnt to brown 
ribbons, daughters seen from a libertarian star.
When the limed soil turns toward the sexton, the weekly 
herb heralds, at the bottom of some old fashioned desk, 
some thin copy-book bound in boards of somber blue and 
covered with beautifully written secrets.
When she’s moved by a ridge of fired peat, the flower 
forecasts for the initiated only such a display of 
nymphomania, such nutritious folly, nauseating tropical 
inheritance.
And when she becomes incrusted in the millennial 
foundations of bits of shale, she’s the prophetess of 
the glass reed, the measly pot, the head schoolmaster, 
the starched virgin, the pigeon-breeding spiritualist.
Her perfume is a secondary condition since its 
disproportion to her stem and its continual layers make 
it unexplainable.

Hunger Moon, by Jane Cooper

The last full moon of February
stalks the fields; barbed wire casts a shadow.
Rising slowly, a beam moved toward the west
stealthily changing position

until now, in the small hours, across the snow
it advances on my pillow
to wake me, not rudely like the sun
but with the cocked gun of silence.

I am alone in a vast room
where a vain woman once slept.
The moon, in pale buckskins, crouches
on guard beside her bed.

Slowly the light wanes, the snow will melt
and all the fences thrum in the spring breeze
but not until that sleeper, trapped
in my body, turns and turns.

Nature, That Washed Her Hands in Milk, by Sir Walter Ralegh

Nature, that washed her hands in milk,
And had forgot to dry them,
Instead of earth took snow and silk,
At love’s request to try them,
If she a mistress could compose
To please love’s fancy out of those.

Her eyes he would should be of light,
A violet breath, and lips of jelly;
Her hair not black, nor overbright,
And of the softest down her belly;
As for her inside he’d have it
Only of wantonness and wit.

At love’s entreaty such a one
Nature made, but with her beauty
She hath framed a heart of stone;
So as love, by ill destiny,
Must die for her whom nature gave him,
Because her darling would not save him.

But time (which nature doth despise,
And rudely gives her love the lie,
Makes hope a fool, and sorrow wise)
His hands do neither wash nor dry;
But being made of steel and rust,
Turns snow and silk and milk to dust.

The light, the belly, lips, and breath,
He dims, discolors, and destroys;
With those he feeds but fills not death,
Which sometimes were the food of joys.
Yea, time doth dull each lively wit,
And dries all wantonness with it.

Oh, cruel time! which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust;
Who in the dark and silent grave
When we have wandered all our ways
Shuts up the story of our days.

The Clerk’s Tale, by Spencer Reece

I am thirty-three and working in an expensive clothier,
selling suits to men I call “Sir.”
These men are muscled, groomed and cropped—
with wives and families that grow exponentially.
Mostly I talk of rep ties and bow ties,
of full-Windsor knots and half-Windsor knots,
of tattersall, French cuff, and English spread collars,
of foulards, neats, and internationals,
of pincord, houndstooth, nailhead, and sharkskin.
I often wear a blue pin-striped suit.
My hair recedes and is going gray at the temples.
On my cheeks there are a few pimples.
For my terrible eyesight, horn-rimmed spectacles.
One of my fellow-workers is an old homosexual
who works hard and wears bracelets with jewels.
No one can rival his commission checks.
On his break he smokes a Benson & Hedges cigarette,
puffing expectantly as a Hollywood starlet.
He has carefully applied a layer of Clinique bronzer
to enhance the tan on his face and neck.
His hair is gone except for a few strands
which are combed across his scalp.
He examines his manicured lacquered nails.
I admire his studied attention to details:
his tie stuck to his shirt with masking tape,
his teeth capped, his breath mint in place.
The old homosexual and I laugh in the back
over a coarse joke involving an octopus.
Our banter is staccato, staged and close
like those “Spanish Dances” by Granados.
I sometimes feel we are in a musical—
gossiping backstage between our numbers.
He drags deeply on his cigarette.
Most of his life is over.
Often he refers to himself as “an old faggot.”
He does this bemusedly, yet timidly.
I know why he does this.
He does this because his acceptance is finally complete—
and complete acceptance is always
bittersweet. Our hours are long. Our backs bent.
We are more gracious than English royalty.
We dart amongst the aisles tall as hedgerows.
Watch us face into the merchandise.
How we set up and take apart mannequins
as if we were performing autopsies.
A naked body, without pretense, is of no use.
It grows late.
I hear the front metal gate close down.
We begin folding the ties correctly according to color.
The shirts—Oxfords, broadcloths, pinpoints—
must be sized, stacked, or rehashed.
The old homosexual removes his right shoe,
allowing his gigantic bunion to swell.
There is the sound of cash being counted—
coins clinking, bills swishing, numbers whispered—
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. . .
We are changed when the transactions are done—
older, dirtier, dwarfed.
A few late customers gawk in at us.
We say nothing. Our silence will not be breached.
The lights go off, one by one—
the dressing room lights, the mirror lights.
Then it is very late. How late? Eleven?
We move to the gate. It goes up.
The gate’s grating checkers our cheeks.
This is the Mall of America.
The light is bright and artificial,
yet not dissimilar to that found in a Gothic cathedral.
You must travel down the long hallways to the exits
before you encounter natural light.
One final formality: the manager checks out bags.
The old homosexual reaches into his over-the-shoulder leather bag—
the one he bought on his European travels
with his companion of many years.
He finds a stick of lip balm and applies it to his lips
liberally, as if shellacking them.
Then he inserts one last breath mint
and offers one to me. The gesture is fraternal
and occurs between us many times.
At last, we bid each other good night.
I watch him fade into the many-tiered parking lot,
where the thousands of cars have come
and are now gone. This is how our day ends.
This is how our day always ends.
Sometimes snow falls like rice.
See us take to our dimly lit exits,
disappearing into the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul;
Minneapolis is sleek and St. Paul,
named after the man who had to be shown,
is smaller, older, and somewhat withdrawn.
Behind us, the moon pauses over the vast egg-like dome of the mall.
See us loosening our ties among you.
We are alone.
There is no longer any need to express ourselves.

Flux, by Afaa Michael Weaver

I am a city of bones
deep inside my marrow,
a song in electric chords,
decrescendo to mute, rise
to white noise, half silences
in a blank harmony as all
comes to nothing, my eyes
the central fire of my soul,
yellow, orange, red—gone
in an instant and then back
when I am, for a glimpse,
as precise as a bird’s breath,
when I am perfect, undone
by hope when hope will not
listen, the moon wasting
to where I need not worry
that bones turn to ash,
a brittle staccato in dust.

Furthermore, by Christina Davis

It was something to let him go.

It was a having to believe, furthermore,

in the voyage
of the other, a Ulysses

without an Ithaca,

was to speak
of the sea
without speech
of the shore—

and to have for a body

the going away of the body, to have for eyes
the going away of the eyes. And for hearing,

a silence, where once
were people.

And for comfort, a dwelling
before each
steps into that weather
of which all
strangers speak.

Etta’s Elegy, by Maureen Seaton

for Etta Silver (1913–2013)

This is where the poem holds its breath,
where the usable truth sways, sorrowing,

and the people sway with the truth of it,
and this is where the poem enters the dark.

This is where the book closes and the clock
opens and the clock closes and the book

opens to song so the snow geese murmur
and the coyote swaggers along the aspens.

This is where the geese fly unabashedly out,
and the sky turns white and wild with sound.

This is where tumult, this is where prophecy.
This is where the poem repents of language.

This is where the poem enters silence,
where the child holds the book in her lap

whose pages are aflame with life, whose
song sways with a usable truth, sorrowing.

And this is where the poem holds its breath,
and this is where the poem enters the dark.

This is where it leaps wild about the child,
where the snow geese seize the seamless sky

and the universe splits open for one poem—
the way a life lived calls on us to praise it.

About this poem:

“Etta Silver read and loved poetry all her life. I loved her and she loved me. Her grandson, my friend, asked me to write a poem for her funeral. Inspired by Etta, and having just seen the snow geese fly out of the Bosque del Apache in southern New Mexico and heard the silence after they’d gone, I did.”

Maureen Seaton

 

Verguenza, by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Woman, I wish I didn’t know your name.
What could you be? Silence in my house
& the front yard where the dogwood
wouldn’t make up its mind about flowers.
Aren’t you Nature? A stem cringing, half-
shadowed beneath a torque of rain.
I too am leaving. I too am half-spun.
The other day near the river
I bent down & Narcissus
turned his immaculate mouth
away, refusing to caress
my howls. Silence in the trees
all around the shotgun house & that scent
of cedar whenever I dream.
I turn the light around on the ground,
sweeping the red mud, holding
the light like a rattler. Like a hood of
poison, fitted over my face. Cobra
woman, slicked with copperhead flutes.
I too am fleeing. My face born
in a caul of music. Bravado.
The men come into the yard
& pull all my clothes off,
walk me into the house,
into my own kitchen.
Tell me not to say
say I’m wrong.

To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like a Death, by Lloyd Schwartz

In today’s paper, a story about our high school drama
teacher evicted from his Carnegie Hall rooftop apartment

made me ache to call you—the only person I know
who’d still remember his talent, his good looks, his self-

absorption. We’d laugh (at what haven’t we laughed?), then
not laugh, wondering what became of him. But I can’t call,

because I don’t know what became of you.

—After sixty years, with no explanation, you’re suddenly
not there. Gone. Phone disconnected. I was afraid

you might be dead. But you’re not dead.

You’ve left, your landlord says. He has your new unlisted
number but insists on “respecting your privacy.” I located

your oldest son, who refuses to tell me anything except that
you’re alive and not ill. Your ex-wife ignores my letters.

What’s happened? Are you in trouble? Something
you’ve done? Something I’ve done?

We used to tell each other everything: our automatic
reference points to childhood pranks, secret codes,

and sexual experiments. How many decades since we started
singing each other “Happy Birthday” every birthday?

(Your last uninhibited rendition is still on my voice mail.)

How often have we exchanged our mutual gratitude—the easy
unthinking kindnesses of long friendship.

This mysterious silence isn’t kind. It keeps me
up at night, bewildered, at some “stage “of grief.

Would your actual death be easier to bear?

I crave your laugh, your quirky takes, your latest
comedy of errors. “When one’s friends hate each other,”

Pound wrote near the end of his life, “how can there be
peace in the world?” We loved each other. Why why why

am I dead to you?

Our birthdays are looming. The older I get, the less and less
I understand this world,

and the people in it.

Her Body Like a Lantern Next to Me, by John Rybicki

There’s this movie I am watching:
my love’s belly almost five months
pregnant with cancer,

more like a little rock wall
piled and fitted inside her
than some prenatal rounding.

Over there’s her face
near the frying pan she’s bent over,
but there’s no water in the pan,

and so, no reflection. No pool
where I might gather such a thing as a face,
or sew it there on a tablet made of water.

To have and to haul it away,
sometimes dipping into her
in the next room that waits for me.

I am old at this. I am stretching
the wick again into my throat
when the flame burns down.

She’s splashing in the tub
and singing, I love him very much,
though I’m old and tired

and cancerous. It’s spring
and now she’s stopping traffic,
lifting one of her painted turtles

across the road. Someone’s honking,
pumping one arm out the window,
cheering her on.

She falls then like there’s a house
on her back, hides her head in the bank grass
and vomits into the ditch.

She keeps her radioactive linen,
Bowl, and spoon separate. For seven days
we sleep in different rooms.

Over there’s the toilet she’s been
heaving her roots into. One time I heard her
through the door make a toast to it,

Here’s to you, toilet bowl.
There’s nothing poetic about this.
I have one oar that hangs

from our bedroom window,
and I am rowing our hut
in the same desperate circle.

I warm her tea then spread
cream cheese over her bagel,
and we lie together like two guitars,

A rose like a screw
in each of our mouths.
There’s that liquid river of story

that sometimes sweeps us away
from all this, into the ha ha
and the tender. At night the streetlights

buzz on again with the stars,
and the horses in the field swat their tails
like we will go on forever.

I’m at my desk herding some
lost language when I notice how quiet
she has been. Twice I call her name

and wait after my voice has lost its legs
and she does not ring back.
Dude, I’m still here, she says at last

then the sound of her
stretching her branches, and from them
the rain falling thick through our house.

I’m racing to place pots and pans
everywhere. Bottle her in super canning jars.
For seventeen years, I’ve lined

the shelves of our root cellar with them.
One drop for each jar.
I’ll need them for later.

Casualty, by Seamus Heaney

I

He would drink by himself
And raise a weathered thumb
Towards the high shelf,
Calling another rum
And blackcurrant, without
Having to raise his voice,
Or order a quick stout
By a lifting of the eyes
And a discreet dumb-show
Of pulling off the top;
At closing time would go
In waders and peaked cap
Into the showery dark,
A dole-kept breadwinner
But a natural for work.
I loved his whole manner,
Sure-footed but too sly,
His deadpan sidling tact,
His fisherman’s quick eye
And turned observant back.

Incomprehensible
To him, my other life.
Sometimes on the high stool,
Too busy with his knife
At a tobacco plug
And not meeting my eye,
In the pause after a slug
He mentioned poetry.
We would be on our own
And, always politic
And shy of condescension,
I would manage by some trick
To switch the talk to eels
Or lore of the horse and cart
Or the Provisionals.

But my tentative art
His turned back watches too:
He was blown to bits
Out drinking in a curfew
Others obeyed, three nights
After they shot dead
The thirteen men in Derry.
PARAS THIRTEEN, the walls said,
BOGSIDE NIL. That Wednesday
Everyone held
His breath and trembled.

II

It was a day of cold
Raw silence, wind-blown
Surplice and soutane:
Rained-on, flower-laden
Coffin after coffin
Seemed to float from the door
Of the packed cathedral
Like blossoms on slow water.
The common funeral
Unrolled its swaddling band,
Lapping, tightening
Till we were braced and bound
Like brothers in a ring.

But he would not be held
At home by his own crowd
Whatever threats were phoned,
Whatever black flags waved.
I see him as he turned
In that bombed offending place,
Remorse fused with terror
In his still knowable face,
His cornered outfaced stare
Blinding in the flash.

He had gone miles away
For he drank like a fish
Nightly, naturally
Swimming towards the lure
Of warm lit-up places,
The blurred mesh and murmur
Drifting among glasses
In the gregarious smoke.
How culpable was he
That last night when he broke
Our tribe’s complicity?
‘Now, you’re supposed to be
An educated man,’
I hear him say. ‘Puzzle me
The right answer to that one.’

III

I missed his funeral,
Those quiet walkers
And sideways talkers
Shoaling out of his lane
To the respectable
Purring of the hearse…
They move in equal pace
With the habitual
Slow consolation
Of a dawdling engine,
The line lifted, hand
Over fist, cold sunshine
On the water, the land
Banked under fog: that morning
I was taken in his boat,
The screw purling, turning
Indolent fathoms white,
I tasted freedom with him.
To get out early, haul
Steadily off the bottom,
Dispraise the catch, and smile
As you find a rhythm
Working you, slow mile by mile,
Into your proper haunt
Somewhere, well out, beyond…

Dawn-sniffing revenant,
Plodder through midnight rain,
Question me again.

The Moment, by Marie Howe

Oh, the coming-out-of-nowhere moment

when,  nothing

happens

no what-have-I-to-do-today-list

maybe  half a moment

the rush of traffic stops.

The whir of I should be, I should be, I should be

slows to silence,

the white cotton curtains hanging still.

The Call, by C. Dale Young

in memoriam Cecil Young

I am addicted to words, constantly ferret them away
in anticipation. You cannot accuse me of not being prepared.
I am ready for anything. I can create an image faster than

just about anyone. And so, the crows blurring the tree line;
the sky’s light dimming and shifting; the Pacific cold and
impatient as ever: this is just the way I feel. Nothing more.

I could gussy up those crows, transform them
into something more formal, more Latinate, could use
the exact genus Corvus, but I won’t. Not today.

Like any addict, I, too, have limits. And I have written
too many elegies already. The Living have become
jealous of the amount I have written for the Dead.

So, leave the crows perched along the tree line
watching over us. Leave them be. The setting sun?
Leave it be. For God’s sake, what could be easier

in a poem about death than a setting sun? Leave it be.
Words cannot always help you, the old poet had taught
me, cannot always be there for you no matter how you

store them away with sharpened forethought.
Not the courier in his leather sandals, his legs dark and dirty
from the long race across the desert. Not the carrier

pigeon arriving with the news of another dead Caesar
and the request you present yourself. Nothing like that.
The telephone rings. Early one morning, the telephone rings

and the voice is your mother’s voice. No fanfare. Your
father’s brother is dead. He died that morning. And your tongue
went silent. Like any other minor poet, you could not find

the best words, the appropriate words. Leave it be now.
You let your mother talk and talk to fill the silence. Leave it be.
All of your practiced precision, all of the words saved up

for a poem, can do nothing to remedy that now.

My Grandma’s Love Letters, by Hart Crane

There are no stars tonight
But those of memory.
Yet how much room for memory there is
In the loose girdle of soft rain.

There is even room enough
For the letters of my mother’s mother,
Elizabeth,
That have been pressed so long
Into a corner of the roof
That they are brown and soft,
And liable to melt as snow.

Over the greatness of such space
Steps must be gentle.
It is all hung by an invisible white hair.
It trembles as birch limbs webbing the air.

And I ask myself:

“Are your fingers long enough to play
Old keys that are but echoes:
Is the silence strong enough
To carry back the music to its source
And back to you again
As though to her?”

Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand
Through much of what she would not understand;
And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof
With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.

What’s Left (Al-Mutanabbi Street), by Katrina Roberts

Tracery

Not nostalgia but the bluer salt of longing, not sentiment but the smutted sky raining bitter sediment, not our winding blunder down into that wound, not the ash-riddled grotto nor the blood-orange blown-open

Not the mineral rash’s voice dubbed across the final unspooling reel, not that, whatever promise the book held, not what she said or he did or they might next, not that, nor a flitter of birds, hands—lifting a cup, flipping a page, tucking a strand, nor the ear, behind which, filling with each sweet rising note or tinkling descent

Not the delicacy of a single wish, nor the now-cracked face of a once-ticking, once-pocketed watch
Stitch

No filament long enough

No longer meshing, days before and those after, teeth of a zipper left to gape

An idling car, a parked pick-up, who hides in plain light who hides and why, cloaked in a troubled forest of unsayable tint

And which human desire does this resemble, which cosseting vest to cross the heart, which chilled sweat, which strait-jacketed vestment, which surely-numbing drone between temples
Resist

Faith in what

No walls, no shelves

No end to the well’s filling, the far-away sea’s waxy surge in a hole dug by anyone no matter, a relentless urge to pick the itch, the ooze, the scab, the meniscus of every hour finally spilling over, over, over

Nothing
But sound, but imprinted air
No end to the fraught tingle of phantom-limbs forever-after-not-but-there
Scar

Splinters the alley’s new stuttering currency, pocked, crumbling, indiscriminate coinage of returning light, triage of needling memory, a narrow strait to navigate, some beast, uneasy passage of meat into pure spirit, and every anguished ether-shard hive-swarming then hushed

Not silent but charged: listen

Every letter, accounted for but in a different more urgent order

October (section I), by Louise Glück

Is it winter again, is it cold again,
didn’t Frank just slip on the ice,
didn’t he heal, weren’t the spring seeds planted

didn’t the night end,
didn’t the melting ice
flood the narrow gutters

wasn’t my body
rescued, wasn’t it safe

didn’t the scar form, invisible
above the injury

terror and cold,
didn’t they just end, wasn’t the back garden
harrowed and planted–

I remember how the earth felt, red and dense,
in stiff rows, weren’t the seeds planted,
didn’t vines climb the south wall

I can’t hear your voice
for the wind’s cries, whistling over the bare ground

I no longer care
what sound it makes

when was I silenced, when did it first seem
pointless to describe that sound

what it sounds like can’t change what it is–

didn’t the night end, wasn’t the earth
safe when it was planted

didn’t we plant the seeds,
weren’t we necessary to the earth,

the vines, were they harvested?

Marble Hill, by Kazim Ali

Paradise lies beneath the feet of your mother. A verse I’ve heard recited so frequently I do not know if it is scripture or hadith.

Hadith, meaning traditions of the prophet, are always accompanied by a careful oral lineage of who said what to whom, and who heard who say they heard what. Usually back to one of the prophet’s wives who heard the prophet say it.

The veil also between what you want to see and cannot see, what you wish to have heard but did not hear.

In butoh the dancers are rendered in white smoke, ghosts traversing the stage-as-womb, moving so slowly you do not even know they are there.

If paradise lies beneath the feet of my mother then how will I find my way inside unless she admits me.

Now I look at each face, each body, as it moves around the subway platform, down the stairs and around the platform, onto trains, off of them.

After my aunt Chand-mumani’s death I thought of them each as flames, in each the body is combusting, burning up the fuel of the soul.

Michelle after giving birth walked around the city imagining everyone glistening, bordered in amniotic grit.

But is it really like Fanny writes, the body only a car the soul is driving.

Or something of us sunk into the matter of the body, part of us actually flesh, inseparable from it and upon death, truly dispersed, smoke.

The body of the prophet’s wife always between us. Who said what.

In which case there really is something to grieve at death: that the soul is wind, not immortal.

A middle-aged woman, in the seat in front of me on the train, wearing a green puffy winter jacket. Her hair, though pulled back, frizzy and unkempt.

It’s the unkempt I feel tenderness towards.

Have always felt about myself a messiness, an awkwardness, an ugliness.

As a child, such an envy of birds, of graceful slopes, of muscular boys.

In the train rushing above ground at125th Street. Thinking about stumbling.

House by house, walking down this street or the other one. Going into the library, going into the school.

Where every middle-aged woman is my mother.

Waiting to be trusted with the truth.

I have nearly as much silver in my hair as she does.

Any pronoun here can be misread. He can mean you can mean I.

An odd list of things I want to do in the next five years: study butoh. Write an autobiography. Go back toParis. Get lost somewhere I haven’t been.

Also begin to say it.

Marco and I moved to Marble Hill in the summer of 2006.

Let me tell you a story about a city that floats onto the ocean. Opposite of Atlantis which fell into the sea or Cascadia which threatens to rise back out of it.

Marble Hill, a real hill, perched at the northernmost tip ofManhattanIsland, a promontory out into the conjunction of the Hudson River andSpuyten Duyvil Creek.

The wind is an instrument, its own section of the sky orchestra.

Today I read of a Turkish mullah who is canceling 800 different hadith regarding treatment of women found now or believed at least to be untrue.

Untrue is it.

Untrue the laws that were graven in fire or graven in stone.

Says the Quran, “This is the Book. In it there is no doubt.”

All for a belief that a human animal is a wicked one and requires a law.

Which requires if not actual violence then at least the threat of it.

At least fury.

Here in Marble Hill you are where you aren’t.

Orchestral the river that curves and curves north of the island.

Ships bound for the upper east side fromAlbanyhave a harder and harder time negotiating the torturous and twisting Spuyten Duyvil.

So a canal is blasted through and what was once the northern tip ofManhattanbecame an island.

Walking across one of the bridges inParisI came to a place called Les Mauvaises Garçons. Being afraid to enter I crossed the street to another tavern.

I stayed for three hours.

Radiant with traffic, the streets do not remember the gone.

The pillar at the Place de Bastille does not put back brick or bar.

Ten miles out of Chartres nothing but grain across and gray above a dark raven emerges screaming from the fields.

These thoughts are nothing, following one after the other.

Somali lesbians scheduled for their execution. Two boys in Iran convicted of drunken and lewd behavior and hanged for it. Boys. 16 and 18. There was video footage of the actual hanging on the internet.

I watched it myself.

“You wear your fingers down copying sacred texts,” sang Lalla, “but still the rage inside you has no way to leave.”

The Arabic line “This is the Book. In it there is no doubt” can also be read as “This is, no doubt, the Book . . . ”

Dear mother, there is a folder of my loose poems lost somewhere during the summer of 2006 when I traveled between Pennsylvania, New York City, Virginia, Maine, and your house in Buffalo. There was a letter inside the folder to you.

Though I’ve looked and looked and failed to find it, I am sure it is still in the house in Buffalo somewhere. An envelope with a folder inside. Inside the folder loose poems. Tucked into poems, there was a letter.

The veil between what you want to see and what you cannot see.

Emily Dickinson sent her first letter to Thomas Higginson unsigned. She included with the unsigned letter a smaller sealed envelope in which there was a calling card upon which she had written her name.

When Colin Powell spoke at the UN about the invasion of Iraq, workers were asked to hang a black drape over Picasso’s Guernica.

Which would have otherwise been in the background, surrounding him, as he spoke.

There is a body and a boy between you and utterance, the boy you were who could never speak.

Bright red bracelet of time.

“Fury,” is how Galway Kinnell explained Dickinson’s intent in writing her poems.

Poetry and fury in the time of war. Civil War for her.

What is my war? Not the one you think.

I won’t say.

Constant state, sure as the white noise on the television after the station has gone off the air.

But who goes off the air any more.

And whose air.

Come to Marble Hill then.

Each night sleep is pierced by someone outside gunning their car engine over and over again before driving off.

A car alarm or two.

There is a streetlight outside the window that shines into the bedroom, bright as the moon but more orange.

Orange like the saffron scarf I wore to Tokudo.—”leaving home.” When Ansho became a monk and took a new name.

The day I sat down next to a young man with a sweet smile. A gardener. Name of Marco.

The train runs the next block over. We are on the second floor so hear it if we really pay attention.

By now its rumble on the tracks, the chiming when the doors are about to close, are on the order of background noise.

I have not yet learned how to sleep through the night.

Marble Hill was an island for twenty years before the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, still running, underground below 228th Street, was filled in and joined to the mainland.

The city itself, my life, that first butoh performance I saw.

A man with such slow and intense movements, so internal.

You hardly knew he had moved at all and suddenly he was all the way across the stage, contorted, holding a glass bowl aloft in which a fish swam.

None of which you had even noticed was on the stage.

As I write this, a car alarm. The train.

Then silence.

In Memory of W. B. Yeats, by W. H. Auden

I

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the
Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly
accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his
freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

II

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

III

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.