The Hour and What Is Dead, by Li-Young Lee

Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking
through bare rooms over my head,
opening and closing doors.
What could he be looking for in an empty house?
What could he possibly need there in heaven?
Does he remember his earth, his birthplace set to torches?
His love for me feels like spilled water
running back to its vessel.

At this hour, what is dead is restless
and what is living is burning.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

My father keeps a light on by our bed
and readies for our journey.
He mends ten holes in the knees
of five pairs of boy’s pants.
His love for me is like sewing:
various colors and too much thread,
the stitching uneven. But the needle pierces
clean through with each stroke of his hand.

At this hour, what is dead is worried
and what is living is fugitive.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

God, that old furnace, keeps talking
with his mouth of teeth,
a beard stained at feasts, and his breath
of gasoline, airplane, human ash.
His love for me feels like fire,
feels like doves, feels like river-water.

At this hour, what is dead is helpless, kind
and helpless. While the Lord lives.

Someone tell the Lord to leave me alone.
I’ve had enough of his love
that feels like burning and flight and running away.

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.

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.

Far and Away [excerpt], by Fanny Howe

The rain falls on.
Acres of violets unfold.
Dandelion, mayflower
Myrtle and forsythia follow.

The cardinals call to each other.
Echoes of delicate
Breath-broken whistles.

I know something now
About subject, object, verb
And about one word that fails
For lack of substance.

Now people say, He passed on
Instead of that. Unit
Of space subtracted by one.
It almost rhymes with earth.

What is a poet but a person
Who lives on the ground
Who laughs and listens

Without pretension of knowing
Anything, driven by the lyric’s
Quest for rest that never
(God willing) will be found?

Concord, kitchen table, 1966.
Corbetts, Creeley, a grandmother
And me. Sweater, glasses,
One wet eye.

Lots of laughter
Before and after. Every meeting
Rhymed and fluttered into meter.
The beat was the message. . . .

(for Robert Creeley)

“oh antic God”, by Lucille Clifton

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

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

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

I Saw the Devil with His Needlework, by Bianca Stone

The air was like a bullet made out of silk
I saw him at the curb
on old upholstery
saw him with his counted-thread-point
and tent-stitch, bent over an embroidery hoop
the trees lifted their drunk limbs and leaves
while the evening
looked through a succession of windows
into other people’s rooms
the evening was a powerful gun
the evening had an Uzi
broad evening
in a neighborhood full of translucent teens
sucking on one another’s backpacks
filling up the trains with their heat
their intelligence pouring out into the street, sobbing—
I saw the devil with his sewing threads
making something special for me
and it wasn’t thunder
it was perfect clouds
I saw the devil with his stitching techniques
textiles and shadow
saw his hands that never stopped
the clean amp of his forehead
tight intervals of flowers in his teeth
bright as an earing in the drain
and I made a force field with the wilderness in my face
and a fortune-teller’s neon sign
that glowed a painted light onto the street
and I said his name
and his crimes
three times against a curse
and found a coin on the ground and read the tiny date
and blessed a bag of weed
and a wild bore
I left my bones and my scars
and went out
like a poltergeist
totally empty

I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.

With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.

Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves, but worse.

The Lamb, by Linda Gregg

It was a picture I had after the war.
A bombed English church. I was too young
to know the word English or war,
but I knew the picture.
The ruined city still seemed noble.
The cathedral with its roof blown off
was not less godly. The church was the same
plus rain and sky. Birds flew in and out
of the holes God’s fist made in the walls.
All our desire for love or children
is treated like rags by the enemy.
I knew so much and sang anyway.
Like a bird who will sing until
it is brought down. When they take
away the trees, the child picks up a stick
and says, this is a tree, this the house
and the family. As we might. Through a door
of what had been a house, into the field
of rubble, walks a single lamb, tilting
its head, curious, unafraid, hungry.

Zeus And Apollo, by David Rivard

Written on clapboard or asbestos siding, the cartoony
spray-paint signatures of Apollo and Zeus,
two home boys out bombing last night in thick fog.
Fog near the shade of pearls. Except they didn’t see the mist
that way, glad for their thin leather gloves.
Wind raw at the wide avenue, so they cut
from there to here.

Even if this is in the past
tense, tense of the totally chilled-out,
even if they argued here over Krylon blue or candy-apple red,
that doesn’t mean they knocked-off and streaked home then.
And if I saw fog the shade of pearls
it doesn’t mean my heart in its own corrosive and healing fog
can’t tug on thin leather gloves and stand
in front of a wall, pissing off the Fates
and whoever else owns that wall. Whoever owns it
means less than the dry, fallen leaves of eucalyptus
blown crackling over tar and concrete
and sounding, when you shut your eyes, like every tree
bursting into leaf for the first time, speeded-up
like the first minute of the world.

[A black God touched me today…], by Jon Leon

A black God touched me today and I knew I was a poet. When I produce
poetry I am responding to a God who touched me in a perverse way. The
state of my text is an act of worship to a black female God that told me to
worship capital. From a business perspective my poetics is about
marketing a God who fondles with my white self. This is what makes my
poetry so friendly to the void in the world. I marketed a God who exploits
me to bring her message of panic to the poetry sector. I was watching a
Kenneth Anger film when a large aphrodisiac God converged on me and
told me to create a poem that pleases her. The results of her visit are
collected in books called Hit Wave and Right Now the Music and the Life
Rule. The text in these books is to give the audience hope for life today
because a black female God told me to.

Dangerous Astronomy, by Sherman Alexie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surveillance Notes, by Bill Manhire

In Sweden, they whispered all winter,
counting the frozen minutes.
In France, they branched out. Tips of experience.
In England, they dreamed of Ireland.
In Ireland they seemed to be lonely.
Germany was Belgium then was Spain.
Italy was something else again.
Portugal, Portugal, Portugal:
they said that a lot because they never went back.
Later in Hungary, he lay on his back
and watched the clouds—so few of them
but each one big and fluffy. In the first dream
the angel was having a dream; in the next dream
the angel still clung to his story.

Jane, by Howard Moss

The startling pleasures all broke down,
It was her first arthritic spring.
Inside her furs, her bones, secure,
Suddenly became a source of pain
And froze on a Saturday afternoon
While she was listening to “La Boheme.”

Strength had been her weakness, and
Because it was, she got to like
The exhilaration of catastrophes
That prove our lives as stupid as we think,
But pain, more stupid than stupidity,
Is an accident of animals in which, once caught,
The distances are never again the same.

Yet there was another Jane in Jane:
She smelled the inside of a logarithm,
And felt a Gothic arch rise in her chest,
Her clavicle widening to bear the weight
Of the two smooth plumb lines of her breasts,
The blueprints forming an enormous skirt
Around her body. Arch and star and cross
Swung like little lights inside her head,
A church and temple rising from the floor,
Nave and transept and an altar where,
Unbidden, she saw a kind of sacrifice;
The knife was in her hand, the stick, the whip;
She cried at her cruelty and cried to be
Outside of her defenses. And just then,

The windows buckled in, the paintings cracked,
The furniture went walking by itself,
All out of her control. And it was pain
That let her know she was herself again:
She wore a cloak of fire on her skin,
And power, power floated up to her.

The Coriolanus Effect, by Tim Wells

For Jack the Ripper walking tours

Come
ye learned,
ye loquacious,
ye lost.

Walk a pentagram
around ego,
erudition,
experience.

Our shuls,
mosques,
and homes
be yours.

Our murdered
laid bare,
our slums
still teem,
our souls sold.

As for us,
we marvel as
our own effluvia
swirls
widdershins.

Invictus, by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

The more Alice reaches out, the more her dream-rushes, by Jenny Boully

disappear: one by one by one the darling scented rushes sink back into melt. In the dream stream, the boat glides past too quick, and there is no chance to gather the loveliest of the dream-rushes. No less satisfying was the old sheep: so many knitting needles, dozens and dozens all pierced into a ball of worsted, and there was never ever any telling of just what, even in dream, it might be that the old sheep was knitting.

For years, I dreamt of the child who, when I reached out to her, turned into a sheet of paper, and so, in waking hours, I wrote and wrote and wrote and my friends consoled me: see, you have book babies; this, while I looked on at other women who knit bibs and booties, so many booties, such small socks.

When Alice steals away and consoles the Duchess’s baby, it metamorphoses into a pig and runs away from her, runs away. That is ever so much a better-known story than the one of dream-rushes or too many knitting needles. (How ever did Alice ever console herself? Did her friends say, Oh, just think now you’ll have truffles!?)

Odysseus’s mother wonders how her son, a mere mortal, made it over Oceanus to the land where lives sink back into melt. She says that he must have had a good boat; he tries to embrace her, but like a soul she flits about and away. When Odysseus asks why Mother, why not stay still and let us embrace, she says, Son, it’s because I no longer have sinew, no longer have bones.

My little baby, who I will name a weaver of spools and not of dreams, with mortal limbs—not quite sinew, not quite bone—paddles a rowboat inside of me, and I stay, in those moments, ever-so-still so that she may reach out to me. The midwife says that what I’m feeling is called quickening. Scientists say that she is dreaming—practicing for this life, I like to think, where, in her nursery, there will be a machine projecting fake moonbeams and fake stars and fake shadows and fake birds and fake clouds to storm over her.

B-Sides from my Idol Tryouts, by Harmony Holiday

1. Just like in true life

The wild geese approaching treason, now federated along one keep

May we find a rafter

2. I like the way you don’t
go into the cabin
That is how I like it: methodically, mythically, my accidents are protests,
are my only protests, they are never accidents

3. We even misprism the past
Turn our waltz on the face of another
To turn on
To turn against
Opposite statements that express the same, sometimes, or binary like the lines:
Man is something to be overcome, what you you done to overcome him
or
Just how far can you push the heroic guy to being evil
and how far can you push the villain to being somebody you can
care about
or
Floodtide beneath you, I see you face to face

4. Check out your mind
Masquerading with dawn
It was invented by the press
Press harder (press not push)
The bell, the liquor, the deck of card crisp hardships surfacing as clovers and nights at his club getting low, if they ask you to sell them, don’t
On the Corner, (side 1) try
Thinking of one thing and doing another

4. Repeat: But we are
Only getting rich in order to repeat these trips

5. But we are getting rich in order…
So neither group can be understood except in relation to the other
as in/
as out/
as excuses for true stories—

It’s just that his passion costumes his thoughts,
not just his past
Not just a fat vacation Sunday
Also an emaciated smoke break
Also broken into images of smoke,

the way smoke moves
From tobacco
or factory chimney
your mouth
your vandalised memory
in order
to get rich
Someone has to work there and believe it into disappearance

6. Wealth: I am farmers/I am a thief.
Fame money/anonymous fame/factory farmed/black thief/by black I mean/
Buy black I mean
We are what sells
Thinking to ourselves:
Something in me wishes this wasn’t my poem—
That emotion is glory or—
still?

7. Compliments: The only one I want is (the) speechless/
ness, (he) nestled in me bold and hip like a broken risk

8. Peaty Greene, Casius X (who’s that) Jack Johnson, Blind Tom Wiggans, Bama the Village Poet, Gregor Samson, Fred Hampton, Josephine Baker, Lester Young, will you give up your death for me? Teach me why I am a destiny

9. If you think about me, and you ain’t gonna do no revolutionary act, forget about me, I don’t want myself on your mind

10. Anyway, innocence. Man is something to be overcome, what have you done to overcome him. Digitally pacing the stage as his future and his past, a full body holograph of Tupac Shakur. But then when he got shot no bitches came out, no music, nothin’. Just some critics’ unphased mumblings: man you were marvelous but your co-star the gun was a bit over the top

11. Rehearsal for God Bless the Child.
I wanna get it right
Let’s start with ‘rich relations’
Green sides of goldsides
I immediately had to get a drum instructor a trumpet teacher and a sword twirling coach. Get your silence together. Hope is final

12. Super soul/supra soul/hip hop’s egoless self-agrandisement is the next
toll/phase on the free/way, high/way, autoroute, or space between proof and privacy in loose weather

13.The man you love is walking home in Hollywood. 5 or 6 police cars come up, about 8 cops around. You fit the description, you always fit the description, you fit the description of a robbery in the area. A black guy, wearing jeans, 5’8,” the whole thing

14. He had dreams of really hitting it big with his stereo store
He’d play samples of Caetano Veloso singing 9 out of ten movie stars make me cry, I’m alive!, or— One thing leads to another, but the kid is not my son or god bless the child that’s got his own

Void and Compensation (Karaoke Genesis), by Michael Morse

Since when did keeping things to ourselves
help us to better remember them?

We need tutorials from predecessors.

To restore what’s missing makes a science
of equating like with like, or touching
small pebbles on a larger mental abacus.

We hitch a memory of order to ourselves:

From rotating bodies in space comes wind,
by which we’re buffeted, cooled, or graced;
The sun warms both the sunflower
and the angel with whom we might wrestle;
We get some lyrics from a higher power
and then we act on or for each other.

In calculated reunions of broken parts,
the latter must always feel the former,
inherit both the track and the turn.

A situation like an empty orchestra.

And when we try to sing above it, intuit,
and even in our singing are mistaken—

if pitch is something sought and never pure,
if latter sounds like something we can climb
as opposed to where we find ourselves
more recently in our relations, in time,
having been left or starting our leave-taking—

something happened—someone followed someone.
Someone had. Even held. Our formers.

We’re doppelgangers, saintly or undone;
pick a song and listen for your cue.

Here’s the void. Now sing some compensation.

Quid Pro Quo, by Paul Mariani

Just after my wife’s miscarriage (her second
in four months), I was sitting in an empty
classroom exchanging notes with my friend,
a budding Joyce scholar with steelrimmed
glasses, when, lapsed Irish Catholic that he was,
he surprised me by asking what I thought now
of God’s ways toward man. It was spring,

such spring as came to the flintbacked Chenango
Valley thirty years ago, the full force of Siberia
behind each blast of wind. Once more my poor wife
was in the local four-room hospital, recovering.
The sun was going down, the room’s pinewood panels
all but swallowing the gelid light, when, suddenly,
I surprised not only myself but my colleague

by raising my middle finger up to heaven, quid
pro quo, the hardly grand defiant gesture a variant
on Vanni Fucci’s figs, shocking not only my friend
but in truth the gesture’s perpetrator too. I was 24,
and, in spite of having pored over the Confessions
& that Catholic Tractate called the Summa, was sure
I’d seen enough of God’s erstwhile ways toward man.

That summer, under a pulsing midnight sky
shimmering with Van Gogh stars, in a creaking,
cedarscented cabin off Lake George, having lied
to the gentrified owner of the boys’ camp
that indeed I knew wilderness & lakes and could,
if need be, lead a whole fleet of canoes down
the turbulent whitewater passages of the Fulton Chain

(I who had last been in a rowboat with my parents
at the age of six), my wife and I made love, trying
not to disturb whosever headboard & waterglass
lie just beyond the paperthin partition at our feet.
In the great black Adirondack stillness, as we lay
there on our sagging mattress, my wife & I gazed out
through the broken roof into a sky that seemed

somehow to look back down on us, and in that place,
that holy place, she must have conceived again,
for nine months later in a New York hospital she
brought forth a son, a little buddha-bellied
rumplestiltskin runt of a man who burned
to face the sun, the fact of his being there
both terrifying & lifting me at once, this son,

this gift, whom I still look upon with joy & awe. Worst,
best, just last year, this same son, grown
to manhood now, knelt before a marble altar to vow
everything he had to the same God I had had my own
erstwhile dealings with. How does one bargain
with a God like this, who, quid pro quo, ups
the ante each time He answers one sign with another?

We Are Seven, by William Wordsworth

—A simple child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?

I met a little cottage girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.

She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
—Her beauty made me glad.

“Sisters and brothers, little maid,
How many may you be?”
“How many? Seven in all,” she said,
And wondering looked at me.

“And where are they? I pray you tell.”
She answered, “Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.

“Two of us in the churchyard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the churchyard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.”

“You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,
Sweet maid, how this may be.”

Then did the little maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the churchyard lie,
Beneath the churchyard tree.”

“You run about, my little maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the churchyard laid,
Then ye are only five.”

“Their graves are green, they may be seen,”
The little maid replied,
“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,
And they are side by side.

“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.

“And often after sunset, sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.

“The first that died was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.

“So in the churchyard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.

“And when the ground was white with snow
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.”

“How many are you, then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven?”
Quick was the little maid’s reply,
“O master! we are seven.”

“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
‘Twas throwing words away; for still
The little maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”

Any God, by Gail Martin

The rocks beneath her heart began to move
the night her daughter lost her native tongue.
No god of French-milled soap and lavender
could build a church on cradled hands and love.

The night that artist lost her native tongue
something seismic dropped, rolled away,
faith in that childish church of hands tested
and sung, the green-faced violinist played.

Something seismic drops through an open heart
these nights, gone missing between the cradle and now.
The face of the violinist green and dark,
fiddling toward some unknown gift, not found.

Gone missing between the cradle and now, hands reach
for any god—of hardboiled eggs, of nail heads—
fiddling on toward gifts not recognized nor found.
The girl keeps playing, beating time. She says

any god will do: god of plum pits, ice cubes,
dog hair, there’s always something to believe in.
This girl—the gift we recognize—found
and rocked, o hourglass god, beneath my heart.

After Mandelshtam, by Reginald Gibbons

To the futile sound
of midnight church bells,
out back someone is
rinsing her thoughts in
unfathomable
universal sky—
a cold faint glowing.
As always stars are
white as salt on the
blade of an old axe.
The rain-barrel’s full,
there’s ice in its mouth.
Smash the ice—comets
and stars melt away
like salt, the water
darkens and the earth
on which the barrel
stands is transparent
underfoot, and there
too are galaxies,
ghost-pale and roaring
silently in the
seven-hundred-odd
chambers of the mind.

XIII, by César Vallejo

I think about your sex.
My heart simplified, I think about your sex,
before the ripe daughterloin of day.
I touch the bud of joy, it is in season.
And an ancient sentiment dies
degenerated into brains.

I think about your sex, furrow more prolific
and harmonious than the belly of the Shadow,
though Death conceives and bears
from God himself.
Oh Conscience,
I am thinking, yes, about the free beast
who takes pleasure where he wants, where he can.

Oh, scandal of the honey of twilights.
Oh mute thunder.

Rednuhtetum!

Body Mostly Flown, by Terese Svoboda

A De Chirico head aslant on a coverlet,
body mostly flown, the dazed prayers dumb.

The ritual cigarette, the ritual drink:
incense, holy water. No ambivalence,

the woman inside fled, the whispers
I make of tenderness—hers—she sleeps through.

She’s in that corridor, tunnel, the light is left on—
shut if off. But the nurse has to see the thermometer.

No ambivalence. No valence either, no speech.
My own heart stops, skids. No lingering regret or all,

sealed with stubbornness,
forgiveness a ness from a life

more fairytale, the hard breathing still, still.
A wing flaps and fear scurries out,

a mouse with a crumb it meant to eat earlier.
De Chirico empties the patio.

With All Due Respect [excerpt], by Vincent Aleixandre

Trees, women and children
are all the same thing: Background.
Voices, affections, brightness, joy,
this knowledge that finally here we all are.
Indeed. Me and my ten fingers.

Now the sun isn’t horrendous like a cheek that’s ready:
it isn’t a piece of clothing or a speechless flashlight.
Nor is it the answer heard by our knees,
nor the task of touching the frontiers with the whitest part of our eyes.
The Sun has already become truth, lucidity, stability.
You converse with the mountain,
you trade the mountain for a heart:
then you can go on, weightless, going away.
The fish’s eye, if we come to the river,
is precisely the image of happiness God sets up for us,
the passionate kiss that breaks our bones.

Indeed. Finally, it’s life. Oh, what egg-like beauty
in this ample gift the Valley spreads before us,
this limitation we can lean our heads against
so as to hear the greatest music, that of the distant planets.
Hurry, let’s all
get close around the bonfire.
Your hands made of petals and mine of bark,
these delicious improvisations we show each other,
are good—for burning, for keeping faith in tomorrow,
so that our talk can go on ignoring our clothes.
I don’t notice our clothes. Do you?
Dressed up in three-hundred burlap suits,
wrapped in my roughest heaviest get-up,
I maintain a dawn-like dignity and brag of how much I know about nakedness.

from Mesongs, by Kamau Brathwaite

XXIV
for Barbara at Devizes

And suddenly you was talking trees
fall black with birds behind the hill
and green as grass fly off
into the sun o blinding girl
the whole cathedral crash at your back

XXV

Not the blue the orthodoxy of the day
But a blue like intuition
The soft of the night into morning
Felt here . remembered
Under the hoofs of the cart

God the Broken Lock, by David Rivard

I’ve died enough by now I trust
just what’s imperfect or ruined. I mean God,
God who is in the stop sign
asking to be shotgunned, the ocean that evaporates even
as we float. God the bent nail & broken lock,
and God the hangnail. The hangnail.
And a million others might be like me, our hopes
a kind of illegal entry, a belief in smashed windows,
every breakage
like breaking & entering into a concert hall,
the place my friend & I crawled into an air shaft, & later
fell asleep. After breakage
there is always sleep.
We woke to gospel hymns from the dressing room
below, songs commending
embrace to the fists, & return to the prodigal.
And hasn’t my luck always been a shadow, stepping out, stretching?
I mean I trust what breaks.
A broken bone elicits condolence,
and the phone call sounds French if the transmission fritzes,
and our brains—our blessed, desirable brains—are composed
of infinitesimal magnets, millions of them
a billionth-of-a-milligram in weight, so
they make us knock our heads against hard walls.
When we pushed through the air vent,
the men singing seemed only a little surprised,
just slightly freaked,
three of them in black tuxes, & the fourth in red satin,
crimson, lit up like a furnace trimmed with paisley swirls,
the furnace of a planet, or of a fatalistic ocean liner
crisscrossing a planet we’ve not discovered yet,
a fire you might love to be thrown into.
That night they would perform the songs half
the country kept on its lips half of every day.
Songs mostly praising or lamenting or accusing some loved one
of some beautiful, horrendous betrayal or affection.
But dressing, between primping & joking about
their thinning afros, they sang of Jesus. Jesus,
who said, “Split a stick, & you shall find me inside.”
It was the winter we put on asbestos gloves, & flameproof
stuck our hands in the fireplace, adjusting logs.
Jesus, we told them, left no proof of having sung a single note.
And that, said the lead singer, is why we are all sinners.
What he meant was
we are all like the saints on my neighbors’ lawns—
whose plaster shoulders & noses,
chipped cloaks & tiaras, have to be bundled
in plastic sheets, each winter, blanketed
from the wind & the cold. That was what he meant,
though I couldn’t know it then.

Miz Rosa Rides The Bus, by Angela Jackson

That day in December I sat down
by Miss Muffet of Montgomery.
I was myriad-weary. Feets swole
from sewing seams on a filthy fabric;
tired-sore a pedalin’ the rusty Singer;

dingy cotton thread jammed in the eye.
All lifelong I’d slide through century-reams
loathsome with tears. Dreaming my own
silk-self.

It was not like they all say. Miss Liberty Muffet
she didn’t
jump at the sight of me.
Not exactly.
They hauled me
away—a thousand kicking legs pinned down.

The rest of me I tell you—a cloud.
Beautiful trouble on the dead December
horizon. Come to sit in judgment.

How many miles as the Jim Crow flies?
Over oceans and some. I rumbled.
They couldn’t hold me down. Long.
No.

My feets were tired. My eyes were
sore. My heart was raw from hemming
dirty edges of Miss L. Muffet’s garment.
I rode again.

A thousand bloody miles after the Crow flies
that day in December long remembered when I sat down
beside Miss Muffet of Montgomery.
I said—like the joke say—What’s in the bowl, Thief?
I said—That’s your curse.
I said—This my way.
She slipped her frock, disembarked,
settled in the suburbs, deaf, mute, lewd, and blind.
The bowl she left behind. The empty bowl mine.
The spoiled dress.

Jim Crow dies and ravens come with crumbs.
They say—Eat and be satisfied.
I fast and pray and ride.

Accomplishments, by Michael Chitwood

What you have not done
is without error. What you
have not said is beyond contradiction.

What you understand of God
was yesterday. Today a bicycle
waits, chained to a bench.

The success of this afternoon’s nap
is the dream of lifting seven boxes,
your week, sealed with clear tape.

They stack, three to a column,
with the seventh like a capstone.
What you do not know they contain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1939, by Marjorie Agosín

I

She knew how to seduce her destiny,
predict the time of flight
In 1939, dressed in garments
of night and happiness
at the threshold of a fearful
Hamburg Harbor
resolved to live,
she sailed
to Southern seas.

In 1938, the windows
of her house of water and stone
resisted the extreme
horror of that night
of broken crystals.

She, my grandmother,
taught me to recognize
the landscape of danger,
the shards of fear,
the impenetrable faces
of women,
fleeing,
accused,
audacious in their will to live.

II

Helena Broder,
created a domain
of papers, fragile vessels,
clandestine poems and
notes to be made,
discreet addresses.
With little baggage,
like a frail and ancient
angel,
she arrived,
although ready to embark again.

I survived next to her
and I was thankful for the gift of her presence.

Slowly in Prayer, by Matthew Lippman

To be thankful for the Starbucks lady, Lucy,
who is pissed at me for asking too many questions
about my damn phone app
is one thing.
To be thankful for my wife plastering my face to the bathroom floor
with pancake batter
for missing the bus
is another thing.
I tried to be thankful for my eyes this morning
even though one of them is filled with puss
and the other with marigold juice.
Marigold juice is the stuff that comes from the flower
when you put it between your palms and rub, slowly in prayer,
even though nothing comes out.
It’s the imagined juice of God,
the thing you can’t see when you are not being thankful.
I try to be thankful for the lack of energy that is my laziness
and my lonely best friend with no wife and children
knowing I am as lonely as he
with one wife and two daughters.
Sometimes we travel five minutes to the pier in Red Hook
and it takes hours in our loneliness to know, in our thankfulness,
that if we held hands it’d be a quiet romance for the ages.
I’ll admit, I’m thankful for Justin Timberlake
because he’s better than Beethoven
and my friend Aaron
who lived in the woods with an axe and never used it once.
I try hard to forget love,
to abandon love,
so that one day I will actually be able to love.
Until then, I am thankful that Lucy wanted to spit in my coffee,
or imagined that she did,
and thanked her profusely
for showing me which buttons to push
and how to do it, with just the right amount of pressure,
the whole tips of all my fingers dancing like stars
through the blackness
of a mocha latte, black.

Drift, by Brenda Shaughnessy

I’ll go anywhere to leave you but come with me.
All the cities are like you anyway. Windows
darken when I get close enough to see.
Any place we want to stay’s polluted,

the good spots taken already by those
who ruin them. And restaurants we’d never find.
We’d rut a ditch by a river in nights
so long they must be cut by the many pairs

of wrong-handled scissors maybe god owns
and doesn’t share. I water god.
I make a haunted lake and rinse and rinse.
I take what I want, and have ever since what

I want disappeared, like anything hunted.
That’s what you said. Disappointment
isn’t tender, dried and wide instead.
The tourists snapped you crying,

and the blanket I brought was so dirty
it must have been lying around
in lice and blood that whole year we fought.
It wasn’t clear, so I forgot.

I haven’t been sleeping, next to you
twitching to bury my boring eyes.
The ship made you sad, and the ferry, and canoe.
All boats do.

Humanimal [I want to make a dark mirror out of writing], by Bhanu Kapil

47. I want to make a dark mirror out of writing: one child facing the other, like Dora and little Hans. I want to write, for example, about the violence done to my father’s body as a child. In this re-telling, India is blue, green, black and yellow like the actual, reflective surface of a mercury globe. I pour the mercury into a shallow box to see it: my father’s right leg, linear and hard as the bone it contains, and silver. There are scooped out places where the flesh is missing, shiny, as they would be regardless of race. A scar is memory. Memory is wrong. The wrong face appears in the wrong memory. A face, for example, condenses on the surface of the mirror in the bathroom when I stop writing to wash my face. Hands on the basin, I look up, and see it: the distinct image of an owlgirl. Her eyes protrude, her tongue is sticking out, and she has horns, wings and feet. Talons. I look into her eyes and see his. Writing makes a mirror between the two children who perceive each other. In a physical world, the mirror is a slice of dark space. How do you break a space? No. Tell me a story set in a different time, in a different place. Because I’m scared. I’m scared of the child I’m making.

48. They dragged her from a dark room and put her in a sheet. They broke her legs then re-set them. Both children, the wolfgirls, were given a fine yellow powder to clean their kidneys but their bodies, having adapted to animal ways of excreting meat, could not cope with this technology. Red worms came out of their bodies and the younger girl died. Kamala mourned the death of her sister with, as Joseph wrote, “an affection.” There, in a dark room deep in the Home. Many rooms are dark in India to kill the sun. In Midnapure, I stood in that room, and blinked. When my vision adjusted, I saw a picture of Jesus above a bed, positioned yet dusty on a faded turquoise wall. Many walls in India are turquoise, which is a color the human soul soaks up in an architecture not even knowing it was thirsty. I was thirsty and a girl of about eight, Joseph’s great-granddaughter, brought me tea. I sat on the edge of the bed and tried to focus upon the memory available to me in the room, but there was no experience. When I opened my eyes, I observed Jesus once again, the blood pouring from his open chest, the heart, and onto, it seemed, the floor, in drips.

Manifest Destiny, by Cynthia Lowen

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

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

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

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

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

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

done pretending
to be my mother.

I stood at the edge
of a New World.

I stared up the long rocky coast.

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

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

Consolation Miracle, by Chad Davidson

In the pewless church of San Juan Chula,
a Neocatholic Tzozil Indian
wrings a chicken’s neck. Through piñoned air,

stars from tourist flashbulbs flame, reflecting
in the reddened eyes, in the mirrors
statuary cling to, inside their plate-

glass boxes. A mother fills a shot-
glass with fire. Others offer up moon-
shine swelling in goat bladders, the slender

throats of coke bottles, as if gods too thirsted
for the real thing. The slightest angle
of a satellite dish sends me to Florida,

where the sleepless claim the stars talk
too much. They stumble to their own
worn Virgin Mary whose eyes, they swear,

bleed. Florida: rising with its dead,
even as it sinks into the glade.
Meanwhile, a coast away, the heavenly gait

of Bigfoot in the famous Super-8,
voiced over with a cyrptozoologist
who’s all but laughed at the zipper-lined torso.

Bigfoot trails out of California
into my living room, a miracle
in the muddled middle ground of the event

horizon, in the swell between each seismic wave
where time carries itself like Bigfoot: heavy,
awkward, a touch too real to be real.

And the miracle cleaners make everything
disappear into faintly floral scents.
Miracle-starved, out of sleep or the lack of it.

I keep watching, not to see Bigfoot
but to be Bigfoot, trapse through grainy screens,
and the countless watching eyes, the brilliant

nebulae bleeding. Yeti, pray
you come again, you Sasquatch. Video
our world for your religions. Memorize

all these pleasure bulbs, these satellites,
our eyes, our stars. Look: how we turn
each other on tonight, one at a time.

The Parallel Cathedral, by Tom Sleigh

1
The cathedral being built
around our split level house was so airy, it stretched
so high it was like a cloud of granite
and marble light the house rose up inside.

At the time I didn’t notice masons laying courses
of stone ascending, flying buttresses
pushing back forces that would have crushed our flimsy wooden beams.
But the hammering and singing of the guilds went on

outside my hearing, the lancets’ stained glass
telling how a tree rose up from Jesse’s loins whose
flower was Jesus staring longhaired from our bathroom wall where I

always wanted to ask if this was how he
really looked, slender, neurasthenic, itching for privacy
as the work went on century after century.

2
Fog in cherry trees, deer strapped
to bumpers, fresh snow marked
by dog piss shining frozen in the day made
a parallel cathedral unseen but intuited

by eyes that took it in and went on to the next
thing and the next as if unbuilding
a cathedral was the work
that really mattered—not knocking

it down which was easy—
but taking it apart stone
by stone until all

that’s left is the cathedral’s
outline coming in and out of limbo
in the winter sun.

3
All through childhood on eternal sick day afternoons,
I lived true to my name, piling dominoes
into towers, fingering the white dots like the carpenter Thomas
putting fingertips into the nail-holes of his master’s hands.

A builder and a doubter. Patron saint of all believers
in what’s really there every time you look:
black-scabbed cherry trees unleafed in winter,
the irrigation ditch that overflows at the back

of the house, chainlink of the schoolyard
where frozen footsteps in the snow
criss-cross and doubleback. And now the shroud falls away

and the wound under his nipple seeps fresh blood.
And when Jesus says, Whither I go you know,
Thomas says, We know not…how can we know the way?

The Pomegranate, by Eavan Boland

The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.

Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, by Patricia Smith

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

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

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

Pretty Polly, by Jane Springer

Who made the banjo sad & wrong?
Who made the luckless girl & hell bound boy?
Who made the ballad? The one, I mean,
where lovers gallop down mountain brush as though in love-
where hooves break ground to blood earth scent.
Who gave the boy swift words to woo the girl from home,
& the girl too pretty to leave alone? He locks one arm
beneath her breasts as they ride on-maybe her apron comes
undone & falls to a ditch of black-eyed susans. Maybe
she dreams the clouds are so much flour spilt on heaven’s table.

I’ve run the dark county of the heart this music comes from-but
I don’t know where to hammer-on or to drop a thumb to the
haunted string that sets the story straight: All night Willie’s dug
on Polly’s grave with a silver spade & every creek they cross
makes one last splash. Though flocks of swallows loom-the one
hung in cedar now will score the girl’s last thrill. Tell
me, why do I love this sawmill-tuned melancholy song
& thud of knuckles darkening the banjo face?
Tell me how to erase the ancient, violent beauty
in the devil of not loving what we love.

Koi, by Katie Ford

After all the days and nights we’ve spent
with Starry Messenger, with Dante,
with Plato, his temperance
painted as a woman who pours
water into a bowl but does not spill,
after particle theory and the geologic time of this quartz
gilded beneath the roaming gone,
composites of limestone calculated down to the animal
that laid upon it and quietly died,

after hearing how camels carted away the broken
Colossus of Rhodes, showing us how to carry
and build back our destroyed selves,

hearing there was once a hand
that first learned to turn
an infant right in the womb,

that there was, inside Michelangelo, an Isaiah to carve out
the David, the idea, the one buried
in us who can slay the enormities,

after all visions and prophecies that made the heart large,
once and again, true or untrue,

after learning to shave the gleaming steel down—
the weapon, the bomb we make,
and the watercolor made after
of the dropped-upon crowd, thin strokes
over a pale wash—
after all this, still
one of us can’t know another.

Once under an iron sky I listened
to a small assemblage of voices.
Two by two broke off into the field
to strip down the unbroken flock of starling dark
between them. The ceremony of the closing in,
the hope each to each might not stay tourists
before the separate, chiseled ruin of the other:

The unspeakable, illegible one before us—

this is what the linguists call the dead, isn’t it?

But how are you, we say,
meaning how have you been made,
what is wrong, what
happened, we ask, how long have you been waiting,
are you on my side, can you promise to stay,
will you keep
the etchings clear on my stone
and come visit me, your never-known,

will you lean over my ghost
how we leaned over the green pools of the Japanese garden,
a cluster of lanterns blowing out above us
wisp by wisp, a school of koi pausing at the surface,
letting us look all the way in
until we saw each eye
was like a net heaped on shore.

Just like our eyes, weren’t they? all accidents, wastes,
all saving needs filled and unfilled, the cracked shells,
the kelp fronds torn from their buoys, all caught here,
inside us—
the seven we loved, the six we lost—
seaglass the living
and the human, alone.

In the Surgical Theatre, by Dana Levin

In the moment between
the old heart and the new
two angels gather at the empty chest.

The doctors flow over them as winds, as blurs, unnoticed but as currents
around this body, the flesh of the chest peeled back
as petals, revealing

a hole.
In it

the layers are fluttering—the back muscle, the bone, the chrome
of the table,
the tiled floor with its spatters of blood—

—fluttering as veils over the solid,
fluttering—

The angels, gathering. Small, and untroubled, perched quietly
on the rib-cage, its cupped hands trying
to keep in.
Around them the hands of the doctors,
hurrying—white flaps,
white wings—
the clicks and whirrs of the lung machine…

Do you want it to be stars, do you want it to be a hole to heaven,
clean and round—

Do you want their hands, dipping and dipping, flesh sticking like jelly
to the tips of their gloves—

Hovering at the edge of this
spot-lit stage,
loathe to enter, loathe to leave, is it terror,
fascination,
the angels too occupied to turn their gaze to you?
Go down,

go in.
The angels perch on either side of the hole like handles
round a grail.
The bleeding tissues part, underneath the solid shimmers
black, like a pool.
The lights above the table enter and extinguish,
the light of your face

enters,
is extinguished,
is this why you’ve come? The frigid cauldron
that is life without a heart?
I know,
I’m tired of the battle too, the visible and invisible clashing together,
the hands with the scalpels

flashing and glinting like flags and standards,
fighting,
fighting to the death—
When they cut you down the middle you fled.
The angels descended.
You came up here with me,
with the voiceless

thousands at the edge of the curtain, hearts beating
with ambivalence.
Do you know if you want it? Is that jumble of spit and bone
so worth it
that you would go down again and be
a body
raging with loss, each beat of the heart

like the strike of a hammer,
spiking the nails in, to feel, to feel—
I learned this from you, Father, all my life
I’ve felt your resign to the hurt
of living,
so I came up here, to the scaffolding above
the surgical theatre

to watch you decide.
Can you go on with this mortal vision? To the sword rearing up now
in orange fire, the angels turning
to face you poised at the hole’s
brink, their eyes in flames, in sprays of blood
their wings beating
against the steel wedge prying open the rib cage, is it

for you? Are they protecting
you?

But you bend down, you look in, you dip in
a finger, Father,
you bring it to your mouth and you taste it,
and I can feel the cold that is black on my tongue, it is bitter,
it is numbing,
snuffing the heart out, the heat,
the light,
and when will they lift the new heart like a lamp—

and will you wait—

the doctors pausing with their knives uplifted, the rush of wings
stirring a wind—

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 Dead, by Mina Loy

We have flowed out of ourselves
Beginning on the outside
That shrivable skin
Where you leave off

Of infinite elastic
Walking the ceiling
Our eyelashes polish stars

Curled close in the youngest corpuscle
Of a descendant
We spit up our passions in our grand-dams

Fixing the extension of your reactions
Our shadow lengthens
In your fear

You are so old
Born in our immortality
Stuck fast as Life
In one impalpable
Omniprevalent Dimension

We are turned inside out
Your cities lie digesting in our stomachs
Street lights footle in our ocular darkness

Having swallowed your irate hungers
Satisfied before bread-breaking
To your dissolution
We splinter into Wholes
Stirring the remorses of your tomorrow
Among the refuse of your unborn centuries
In our busy ashbins
Stink the melodies
Of your
So easily reducible
Adolescences

Our tissue is of that which escapes you
Birth-Breaths and orgasms
The shattering tremor of the static
The far-shore of an instant
The unsurpassable openness of the circle
Legerdemain of God

Only in the segregated angles of Lunatic Asylums
Do those who have strained to exceeding themselves
Break on our edgeless contours

The mouthed echoes of what
has exuded to our companionship
Is horrible to the ear
Of the half that is left inside them.

Lenore, by Edgar Allan Poe

Ah broken is the golden bowl! the spirit flown forever!
Let the bell toll!–a saintly soul floats on the Stygian river;
And, Guy De Vere, hast thou no tear?–weep now or never more!
See! on yon drear and rigid bier low lies thy love, Lenore!
Come! let the burial rite be read–the funeral song be sung!–
An anthem for the queenliest dead that ever died so young–
A dirge for her the doubly dead in that she died so young.

“Wretches! ye loved her for her wealth and hated her for her pride,
“And when she fell in feeble health, ye blessed her–that she died!
“How shall the ritual, then, be read?–the requiem how be sung
“By you–by yours, the evil eye,–by yours, the slanderous tongue
“That did to death the innocent that died, and died so young?”

Peccavimus; but rave not thus! and let a Sabbath song
Go up to God so solemnly the dead may feel so wrong!
The sweet Lenore hath “gone before,” with Hope, that flew beside
Leaving thee wild for the dear child that should have been thy bride–
For her, the fair and debonair, that now so lowly lies,
The life upon her yellow hair but not within her eyes–
The life still there, upon her hair–the death upon her eyes.

“Avaunt! to-night my heart is light. No dirge will I upraise,
“But waft the angel on her flight with a Pæan of old days!
“Let no bell toll!–lest her sweet soul, amid its hallowed mirth,
“Should catch the note, as it doth float up from the damnéd Earth.
“To friends above, from fiends below, the indignant ghost is riven–
“From Hell unto a high estate far up within the Heaven–
“From grief and groan, to a golden throne, beside the King of Heaven.”

The Truth, by Carl Phillips

And now,
the horse is entering
the sea, and the sea

holds it.

Where are we?

Behind us,
the beach,
yes, its

scrim,
yes, of
grass, dune, sky—Desire

goes by, and though
it’s wind of course making
the grass bend,

unbend, we say
it’s desire again, passing
us by, souveniring us with
gospel the grass, turned
choir, leans into,

Coming—
Lord, soon.

Because
it still matters, to say something. Like:
the heart isn’t

really breakable,
not in the way you mean, any more
than a life shatters,

—which is what
dropped shells can do, or a bond sworn to,
remember, once

couldn’t, a wooden boat between
unmanageable wave and rock or,
as hard, the shore.

The wooden boat is
not the heart,
the wave the flesh,
the rock the soul—

and if we thought so, we have merely been
that long
mistaken.

Also,
about the shore: it doesn’t
mean all trespass
is forgiven, if nightly
the sand is cleared of
any sign
we were here.

It doesn’t equal that whether
we were here or not
matters,
doesn’t—

Waves, because
so little of the world, even
when we say that it has
shifted, has:

same voices,
ghosts, same
hungers come,
stop coming—
Soon—

How far the land can be found to
be, and
of a sudden,
sometimes. Now—
so far from rest,
should rest be needed—

Will it drown?

The horse, I mean.

And I—who do not ride, and
do not swim

And would that I had never climbed
its back

And love you too

Kaddish, Part I, by Allen Ginsberg

For Naomi Ginsberg, 1894-1956

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

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

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

The Aeneid, Book VI, [First, the sky and the earth], by Virgil

                                                           “First,
the sky and the earth and the flowing fields of the sea,
the shining orb of the moon and the Titan sun, the stars:
an inner spirit feeds them, coursing through all their limbs,
mind stirs the mass and their fusion brings the world to birth.
From their union springs the human race and the wild beasts,
the winged lives of birds and the wondrous monsters bred
below the glistening surface of the sea. The seeds of life—
fiery is their force, divine their birth, but they
are weighed down by the bodies’ ills or dulled
by earthly limbs and flesh that’s born for death.
That is the source of all men’s fears and longings,
joys and sorrows, nor can they see the heavens’ light,
shut up in the body’s tomb, a prison dark and deep.
“True,
but even on that last day, when the light of life departs,
the wretches are not completely purged of all the taints,
nor are they wholly freed of all the body’s plagues.
Down deep they harden fast—they must, so long engrained
in the flesh—in strange, uncanny ways. And so the souls
are drilled in punishments, they must pay for their old offenses.
Some are hung splayed out, exposed to the empty winds,
some are plunged in the rushing floods—their stains,
their crimes scoured off or scorched away by fire.
Each of us must suffer his own demanding ghost.
Then we are sent to Elysium’s broad expanse,
a few of us even hold these fields of joy
till the long days, a cycle of time seen through,
cleanse our hard, inveterate stains and leave us clear
ethereal sense, the eternal breath of fire purged and pure.
But all the rest, once they have turned the wheel of time
for a thousand years: God calls them forth to the Lethe,
great armies of souls, their memories blank so that
they may revisit the overarching world once more
and begin to long to return to bodies yet again.”

A Path Between Houses, by Greg Rappleye

Where is the dwelling place of light?
And where is the house of darkness?
Go about; walk the limits of the land.
Do you know a path between them?
Job 38:19-20

The enigma of August.
Season of dust and teenage arson.
The nightly whine of pickup trucks
bouncing through the sumac
beneath the Co-Operative power lines,
country & western booming from woofers
carved into the doors. A trace of smoke
when the wind shifts,
spun gravel rattling the fenders of cars,
the groan of clutch and transaxle,
pickup trucks, arriving at a friction point,
gunning from nowhere to nowhere.
The duets begin. A compact disc,
a single line of muted trumpet,
plays against the sirens
pursuing the smoke of grass fires.

I love a painter. On a new canvas,
she paints the neighbor’s field.
She paints it without trees,
and paints the field beyond the field,
the field that has no trees,
and the upturned Jesus boat,
made into a planter,
“For God so loved the world. . .”
a citation from John, chapter and verse,
splattered across the bow
the boat spills roses into the weeds.
What does the stray dog know,
after a taste of what is holy?
The sun pulls her shadow toward me,
an undulant shape that shelters the grass,
an unaimed thing.

In the gray house, the tiny house,
in ’52 there was a fire. The old woman,
drunk and smoking cigarettes, fell asleep.
The winter of the blizzard and her son
Not coming home from the Yalu.
There are times I still smell smoke.
There are days I know she set the fire
and why.

Last night, lightning to the south.
Here, nothing, though along the river
the wind upends a willow,
a gorgon of leaves and bottom-up clod
browning in the afternoon sun.
In the museum we dispute
the poet’s epiphany call–
white light or more warmth?
And what is the Greek word for the flesh,
and the body apart from the spirit,
meaning even the body opposed to the spirit?
I do not know this word.
Dante claims there are pools of fire
in the middle regions of hell,
but the lowest circles are lakes of ice,
offering the hope our greatest sins
aren’t the passions but indifference.
And the willow grew for years
With no real hold upon the ground.

How the accident occurred
and how the sky got dark:
Six miles from my house,
a drunk leaves the Holiday Inn
spins on 104 and smacks a utility pole.
The power line sparks
across the hood of his Ford
and illuminates the crazed spider web
of the windshield. His bloody tongue burns
with a slurry gospel. Around me,
the lights go down,
the way death is described
as armor crashing to the ground,
the soul having already departed
for another place. Was it his body I heard
leaning against the horn,
the body’s final song, before the body
slumped sideways in the seat?

When I was a child,
I would wake at night
and imagine a field of asteroids, rolling
across the walls of my room.
In fact, I’ve seen them,
like the last herd of buffalo,
grazing against the background of fixed stars.
Plate 420 shows the asteroid 433 Eros,
the bright point of light, as it closes its approach
to light. I loose myself in Cygnus,
ancient kamikaze swan,
rising or diving to earth,
Draco, snarling at the polestar,
and Pegasus, stone horse of the gods,
ecstatic, looking one last time at home.

August and the enigma it is.
Days when I move in crabbed circles,
nights when I walk with Jesus through the fields.
What finally stands between us
and the world of flying things?
Mobbed by jays, the Cooper’s hawk
drops the dead bird. It tumbles
beneath the cedar tree,
tiny acrobat of death,
a dead bird released
in a failed act of atonement.
A nest of wasps buzzing beneath the shingles,
flickers drilling the cottonwood,
jays, sparrows, the insistent wrens,
the language of birds, heads cocked,
staring the moon-eyed through the air.
Sedge, asters, and fleabane,
red tins of gasoline and glowing cigarettes,
the midnight voice of a fourteen-year-old girl
wailing the word “blue” from the pickup’s open doors,
illuminated by the dome light,
the sulphurous rasp of another struck match,
and foxglove, goldenrod and chicory,
the dry flowers of late summer,
an exhaustion I no longer look at.

Time passes. The authorities
gather the wreckage, the whirr
of cicadas, and light dissembles the sky.
A wind shift, and the Cedar Creek fire
snaps the backfire line
and roars through the cemetery.
In the morning,
I walk a path between houses.
I cross to the water
and circle again, the redwings
forcing me back from the marsh.
Smoke rises from a fire
still smoldering along the power lines,
flaring and exhausting itself
in the shape of something lost.
Grass fires, fires through the scrub
of the clear-cut, fires in the pulpwood,
cemetery fires,
the powder of ash still untracked
beneath the enormous trees,
fires that explode the seed cones
on the pines, the smoke of set fires
and every good intention gone wrong,
scorching the monuments
above the graves of the dead.