War Widow, by Chris Abani

The telephone never rings. Still
you pick it up, smile into the static,
the breath of those you’ve loved; long dead.

The leaf you pick from the fall
rises and dips away with every ridge.
Fingers stiff from time, you trace.

Staring off into a distance limned
by cataracts and other collected debris,
you have forgotten none of the long-ago joy
of an ice-cream truck and its summer song.

Between the paving stones;
between tea, a cup, and the sound
of you pouring;
between the time you woke that morning
and the time when the letter came,
a tired sorrow: like an old flagellant
able only to tease with a weak sting.

Riding the elevator all day,
floor after floor after floor,
each stop some small victory whittled
from the hard stone of death, you smile.
They used to write epics about moments like this.

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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.

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.

A Situation for Mrs. Biswas, by Prageeta Sharma

When I received the call I was in a store in Missoula, Montana.

A store stocked with sparkling ephemera: glass fauna, tiny belfry bulbs,

winter white birch and stump-lamps brandishing light cones,

little shelves and branches hung with drops of ice and round silver baubles.

I loved the store: it was cavernous, dark with wood and burlap,

a ruddy brick loft with lithographs and monographs on birds or bracelets.

The store-owner, Fran, was away that day otherwise
I would have stayed in there a little longer.

She was a comforting friend—
she had impeccable taste, manifested in her put-together garments,
she also had a warming patient smile.

I didn’t stay long, I didn’t linger;
though linger is absolutely the wrong word,
more like I didn’t stumble around there for hours.

(I would stumble around in that store for a full year.)

If she had been behind the counter I would have turned to her in bewilderment.

~

You see I had picked up my ringing cell phone while browsing
(I usually keep it off in stores),

and my father said, there’s something I have to tell you.
I don’t want you to find out any other way. I am leaving my job.
They want me to resign.

Fran had met my father the week before—
he wanted to see downtown, the campus, get to know Montana—
he had done research on the education opportunities.

He was interested in outreach.

People all over met him and found him to be a kindhearted man.

I had set up meetings, he was here to meet educators, mathematicians—
more spirited people—I told him—than Bostonians.

I told him the West was a magical place. He agreed.

Later he would tell me that this was his last best day, a strange pun on the Last Best Place.

Little did we know we would have to fight a very public battle.

And apparently from the rumors and from the strange
treatment he received prior to his termination,
there was a plot in place.

We, as a family, felt the public ridicule.

And as an Asian family, we felt the acute Asian shame. It was a dark,
disastrous cloud hanging, hanging, hanging.

My father would be would be publicly shamed
and we were shocked at the racist narratives—
allegations—a greedy brown man—

mismanaging, mismanaging, mismanaging

One public interest story to release venom—
to tease out real feelings from strangers.

Blog comments were aggressive: the Indian was a con,
a snake-oil man.

You just have to give them a scenario
in which they can invest—in which to place those hard-to-place feelings.
White people bury their resentments beneath their liberalism.

We knew he hadn’t done anything wrong—we knew this was bogus.

Like I said, I was getting ready for the holidays,
I played hooky that Tuesday excited to wrap gifts;
I wanted to decorate the house.

This was my first house.
My husband was out looking at Christmas trees.
Albeit I am a Hindu, trees are an awful lot of fun.

And this planning was quickly thwarted with the difficult—
my family was falling apart—
the droop in my life felt permanent.

I was more than 2,000 miles from my father, but the way he spoke
at the moment of the call becalmed me—
I felt anchored to his side—
I will stay there for as long as it takes.

Before this moment I was in a terrific mood.

I wanted to don the table
with the kind of candles that beckoned, pulling you into an aesthetic presence
fully-fabricated and lit, and yet looked like it came from snow.

I had been in Missoula for many months,
I had come from Brooklyn, where I had lived for twelve years.
Now I was ready to escape.

Having been born and raised outside of Boston,
without the opportunities say someone like Robert Lowell had.

I knew I was not of that ilk nor was my father—we now realize.

Boston was indeed for the rich—with its stodgy colonial identity,
with its ridiculous Brahmans—
its oddly cultureless stance
even with Harvard as its mirror.
(Even with Cal as front & center literati.)

Even so, I was pleased, I was unhurried in my new life, I was, I was.
I could feel how I stood, I could feel the rising happiness—of the belly, not the gut.

I was consumed with the bliss of poetry,
so much poetry around me, everything with poetry.

I said and understood, the workshop will be my ideology,
my intentional community, front and center—with bells.

My family was overjoyed with the way our lives
were working together—

my father was comfortable, my mother pleased,
a professorship and presidential position
at a college, he was the first South-Asian president.

He had come to America with very little and now had something.

As you can see, there is an immigrant narrative here.

When he first arrived, he made very little money as a visiting professor so he worked
security at night at the Museum of Fine Arts. He kept thinking his colleague, Bruce,
was calling him bastard, when he was calling him buster.

It took him months to realize this. He first had to confront Bruce.

The sequence of his first major purchases and acquisitions, which took several months:

a suitcase and a rug, then he found a dentist’s chair for the living room.

He bought the Bob Dylan album that had “Blowing in the Wind,” because it really
sounded Hindu—it sounded like it came from the Rig Veda.

For many years I would say he was a model minority—he aspired to being
rewarded for his good work by white people.

We agreed, all was well— I had made my way to where I had wanted to be,
living a poet’s life and it felt extraordinary—
all of the birch-stump lamps lighting up inside, this was a kind of bliss.

I had arrived where I loved in absolute terms.

Where I could love the poetics of if, then & thou. The luminous…

And yet poetry haunts with its suggestion that terrible things are true and stick, as Rilke says:

I am much too small in this world, yet not small enough/to be to you just object
and thing/dark and smart.

~

The sun was hidden behind the darkest cloud.

I said what is happening to my father?

In response, my husband’s back gave out,
he could not walk without whimpering, there was whimpering in the night

and I wasn’t sure which one of us it was.

What was happening to my ableness?

We had failure, heaps of failure in our hands.

The world had recast itself in such a way that I had to address the power behind it.

I kept saying strange things to people like no one is exempt from suffering.
I felt like a tiny bird with sinking feet.

There are assertions about difference
That I had not wanted to make in the past, but now did.

Where was I? Who was I?

My father was told he had to watch his back
and then they took everything away from him.

To take away his dignity with so many untruths. Do I have to watch my back too?

What did I think I could have? I wasn’t even sure if I had it here.
People hadn’t seen me as me, I started to feel it. Those glass birds

and the birch lamps were a kind of privilege
only others could have—not “others” in the sense in which I was other.

I started to see how money worked the room: when we had it, when we didn’t.

Imagine, we were so close
to the soaring sky, and imagine how we fell.
How we knew falling wouldn’t end us,

fall right here, fall right there, cry out, oh blustering self,
it can’t be as bad as you think.

I said let’s remember how to do it so it won’t hurt
this time or the next.

But I had to say the branches extended their arms,
there was a house attached to them—

we found ourselves languishing, then needing
to rebuild.

It was the turning of the year and then another one.

And the showy, extravagant people capped themselves
on the tops of mountain ash—

we came out to clear them away.

Long Distance II, by Tony Harrison

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn’t just drop in. You had to phone.
He’d put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn’t risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he’d hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she’d just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven’t both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there’s your name
and the disconnected number I still call.

from Blue Dark, by Deborah Landau

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

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

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

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

not lettered ink
but the clean page

not sugar
but the empty bowl

not flowers
but the dirt

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

worry the river over its banks
the train into flames

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

worry the windows cracked acidblack
and the children feverblistered

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

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

go walking on our legs
dense and bare and useless

worry our throats and lungs
into taking the air

leave books on the shelves
leave keys dustpan

telephones don’t work where you were
in the chaos

*

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

vaporous force
rising imperceptibly behind

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

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

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

*

this is the last usable hour

bird lured
through the window

a little sweet fruit

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

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

I’d say it softly the way he likes it

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