Spellbound, by Sara Miller

Two women on a train
sit beside me.

I am young and the world
is flying and I am watching.

One of them is frosty.
The other turns like a leaf

to hand me something?—
it looked for all the world like a page.

I thought at the time
that it needed me and I was right.

The letters fell into place
and simple flowers grew.

Now it talks unceasingly
in long white verses

as if at a wedding,
something women understand

and gently want and then regift.
I myself agree with Herbert,

who in a dark mood conjured
the mushrooms underfoot

unseen by bride or groom
and with him I say, Perhaps

the world is unimportant
after all, though this is not

what one discusses with
women on a train, no matter

how long the journey,
or untroubled the land.

The Ferry, by Katia Kapovich

I’m jotting down these lines,
having borrowed a pen from a waitress
in this roadside restaurant. Three rusty pines
prop up the sky in the windows.
My soup gets cold, which implies

I’ll eat it cold. Soon I too
will leave a tip on the table, merge
into the beehive of travelers
and board one of the ferries,
where there’s always a line to the loo
and no one knows where the captain is.

Slightly seasick, I keep on writing
of the wind-rose and lobster traps,
seagulls, if any—and there always are.
Check the air and you’ll see them
above straw hats and caps.
The sun at noon glides like a monstrous star-

fish through clouds. Others drink iced tea,
training binoculars on a tugboat.
When I finish this letter, I’ll take a gulp
from the flask you gave me for the road
in days when I was too young to care about
those on the pier who waved goodbye.

I miss them now: cousins in linen dresses,
my mother, you, boys in light summer shirts.
Life is too long. The compass needle dances.
Everything passes by. The ferry passes
by ragged yellow shores.

Warning, by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mingus at the Showplace, by William Matthews

I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen,
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem,

and it was miserable, for that was how I thought
poetry worked: you digested experience and shat

literature. It was 1960 at The Showplace, long since
defunct, on West 4th St., and I sat at the bar,

casting beer money from a thin reel of ones,
the kid in the city, big ears like a puppy.

And I knew Mingus was a genius. I knew two
other things, but they were wrong, as it happened.

So I made him look at the poem.
“There’s a lot of that going around,” he said,

and Sweet Baby Jesus he was right. He laughed
amiably. He didn’t look as if he thought

bad poems were dangerous, the way some poets do.
If they were baseball executives they’d plot

to destroy sandlots everywhere so that the game
could be saved from children. Of course later

that night he fired his pianist in mid-number
and flurried him from the stand.

“We’ve suffered a diminuendo in personnel,”
he explained, and the band played on.

For Prince Myshkin, by Daniela Gioseffi

When I ride the adventures of my legs through your
    heart,
or complain of bathroom spiders crawling up my ankles
as I wash blood from my thighs,
when I call to you from nightmares,
want you to be a wave pulling me out to sea,
or beg you to assure my voice is etched on glass
    eardrums,
when I go leaving behind a sink full of winter,
I need to swallow my agony,
be told, “You are, you are a child again!”

I poke at your petals like a child,
twisting your stem until you break
and your pollen falls around you.
I gather and examine it in trembling hands.
I know that you are pure, the ideal idiot,
but I am trying to understand you
through a periscope.
I’m a lonely submarine of ripe flesh
swimming with the blind,
crusted creatures of the deep.

Windy City, by Stuart Dybek

The garments worn in flying dreams
were fashioned there—
overcoats that swooped like kites,
scarves streaming like vapor trails,
gowns ballooning into spinnakers.

In a city like that one might sail
through life led by a runaway hat.
The young scattered in whatever directions
their wild hair pointed, and gusting
into one another, fell in love.

At night, wind rippled saxophones
that hung like windchimes in pawnshop
windows, hooting through each horn
so that the streets seemed haunted
not by nighthawks, but by doves.

Pinwheels whirled from steeples
in place of crosses. At the pinnacles
of public buildings, snagged underclothes—
the only flag—flapped majestically.
And when it came time to disappear

one simply chose a thoroughfare
devoid of memories, raised a collar,
and turned his back on the wind.
I closed my eyes and stepped
into a swirl of scuttling leaves.