Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Handmaid's Sinai

By Bonnie Lyons

That day at Sinai only Miriam stood
with the bearded elders close to Moses.
The rest of the women were behind
the men hushing restless children,
and we handmaids
stood farthest away.

Together we stood transfigured
by the glorious encounter,
united into one people
accepting the covenant
that gave meaning
to our meandering lives.

Small and slight,
I could barely see
what was happening
and could not push forward.

Standing so far back
I could not help but notice
that while we were one people
we were still many people:
men and women, rich and poor,
powerful and powerless.
Those standing near the mountain
could see only the oneness.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Small Thing Love

By Anthony Flores

'tis a molecular thing
makes me love you,
a CELL-u-lar thing
keeps me caged in your gaze,
a subatomic thing
in the smallest parts of me
that makes me feel so BIG about you, love
- 'cuz you're in every micron
of my wolf heart.

you're helix-spun
and stranded in me good
(perhaps like magic)
in the D
and the N
and the A of me

or settled sweet
in my deepest bottoms,
like crystals
in my deepest, darkest bottoms.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Rules of Evidence

By Lee Robinson

What your want to say most
is inadmissible.
Say it anyway.
Say it again.
What they tell you is irrelevant
can't be denied and will
eventually be heard.
Every question
is a leading question.
Ask it anyway, then expect
what you won't get.
There is no such thing
as the original
so you'll have to make do
with a reasonable facsimile.
The history of the world
is hearsay. Hear it.
The whole truth
is unspeakable
and nothing but the truth
is a lie.
I swear this.
My oath is a kiss.
I swear
by everything
incredible.

If I Could Shake

you like a mat from my floor,
pick you up and throw your dirt
out to a long wind, away.

But you have brushed each room of
my house with your scent, have touched
these walls with more than one color.

Winds that flatten even the boldest
trees could strike all this, right
to the foundation. And still

you would thrive underground,
a firm root, food I would need.
Even if all that were gone,

you would be here: every
one of the tunnels of my
body spills with your fruit.

by Wendy Barker

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fall in the Hill Country

By Marian Aitches

Oh, you know how wrong
they were, the philosophers


It is the edge of the morning when
if you go out,
you feel you are interrupting
a sacred act,
creation maybe,
one of the days before humans bloomed
in a perfect garden.

Why you push open the cabin door,
see light rush among live oaks,
a herd of green horses
stamping their hooves in the spirit world.

The field beyond is pulsing
with something more than words,
alone in its rock-strewn beauty
except for one old maple
stirring in the wind across early sky

like a yellow river fluent
over burnt gold stones -
inhabits the world
the way you long to.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

First Boyfriend

By Sharon Olds

(for D.R.)

We would park on any quiet street,
gliding over to the curb as if by accident,
the houses dark, the families sealed into them,
we’d park away from the street-light, just the
fait waves of its amber grit
reached your car, you’d switch off the motor and
turn and reach for me, and I would
slide into your arms as if I had been born for it,
the ochre corduroy of your sports jacket
pressing the inside of my wrists,
making its patter of rivulets,
water rippling out like sound waves from a source.
Your front seat had an overpowering
make smell, as if the chrome had been
rubbed with jism, a sharp stale
delirious odor like the sour plated
taste of the patina on an old watch, the
fragrance of your sex polished till it shone in the night, the
jewel of Channing Street, of Benvenue Avenue, of
Panoramic, of Dwight Way, I
returned to you as if to the breast of my father,
grain of the beard on your umber cheeks,
delicate line of tartar on the edge of your teeth,
the odor of use, the stained brass
air in the car as if I had come
back to a pawnshop to claim what was mine—
and as your tongue went down my throat,
right down the central nerve of my body, the
gilt balls of the street-light gleamed like a
pawnbroker’s over your second-hand Chevy and
all the toasters popped up and
all the saxophones began to play
hot riffs of scat for the return to their rightful owners.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Prospective Immigrants Please Note

By Adrienne Rich

Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself
makes no promises.
It is only a door.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wild Is The Wind

By Travis Nichols

There is a movie called "She's Gotta Have It."
There is a blizzard in Massachusetts today.
Twenty-one people died in Chicago last night.
Two of my friends live there,
but I have never wanted to live there
because it is cold there and people die
from the cold and the wind and from each other.
There is a movie called "Chicago."
I saw it yesterday in Massachusetts.
The wind is shaking our house this morning
but it's warm inside. One of my friends
in Chicago loves to have sex, the other
thinks she might but she's scared
because she passed out the first time
she had sex with someone else but that
was only a few months ago before it got so cold
in Chicago. I’ve had sex with one of my friends from Chicago
but not the other one though I wouldn’t have sex
with either of them now after I’ve read how it is always
colder in Chicago than it is in Massachusetts
because of the wind. "Wild is the Wind" is a song
by Nina Simone about not having sex with your friends
in Chicago. That’s not true. Twenty-one people
died in Chicago last night but not two of my friends
or me because I live in Massachusetts.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cotton Candy On A Rainy Day

By Nikki Giovanni

Don't look now
I'm fading away
Into the gray of my mornings
Or the blues of every night

Is it that my nails
keep breaking
Or maybe the corn
on my second little piggy
Things keep popping out
on my face or of my life

It seems no matter how
I try I become more difficult
to hold
I am not an easy woman
to want

They have asked
the psychiatrists...psychologists...
politicians and social workers
What this decade will be
known for

There is no doubt...it is
loneliness

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Letter to the Front

By Muriel Rukeyser

VII.

To be a Jew in the twentieth century
Is to be offered a gift. If you refuse,
Wishing to be invisible, you choose
Death of the spirit, the stone insanity.
Accepting, take full life. Full agonies:
Your evening deep in labyrinthine blood
Of those who resist, fail, and resist; and God
Reduced to a hostage among hostages.
The gift is torment. Not alone the still
Torture, isolation; or torture of the flesh.
That may come also. But the accepting wish,
The whole and fertile spirit as guarantee
For every human freedom, suffering to be free,
Daring to live for the impossible.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

7 AM at the Western Wall

By Jessica Rosenfeld

At 7 AM at the Wall the men
eddy and swirl, wearing their prayers
on their sleeves.
Angry old men with long beards
shout against the wall
as if it were a donkey
blocking the road.

At 7 AM at the Wall the women
rock and sway in heavy black shoes
moving their lips to silent music.
Tired old women kiss the wall
as it it were a long lost child
setting out again.

Answer us! demand the men
pounding the door to their King.

Speak to us, implore the women
whispering to their Lover
across a pillow of stone.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Issei Strawberry

By David Mura

Taste this strawberry, spin it in motion
on the whirl of your tongue, look west
towards Watsonville or some other
sleepy California town, spit
and wipe your sleeve across
your mouth, then bend down again, dipping
and rising like a piston, like fire, like a swirling
dervish, a lover ready to ravish this harvest, this
autumn of thirty-one or eight or nine, years
when, as everyone declines
around you, as swing and Capra redefine
an American dream, as some are deferred and some
preferred, and some complain, and some confer
and strike, and are stricken, are written
out of history, you have managed your own
prosperity, a smacking ripeness on the vine, acres
and acres you mine as your own, as your children's
whose deed it is, knowing you own nothing
here, you're no one here
but your genes, the ones who spit back
so readily in English on their tongues, tart
and trickier, phrases that blow past
you, winking, even as they
sink in, you're losing
them, you're gaining a harvest, a country, a future
so much to lose when, in biting your tongue,
the red juice flows between your teeth
with the strawberries
of loam and sweat, of summers in the valley
when you made it before the war had come.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

When the Saints Come Marching In

By Audre Lorde

Plentiful sacrifice and believers in redemption
are all that is needed
so any day now I expect
some new religion
to rise up like tear gas
from the streets of New York
erupting like the rank pavement smell
released by a garbage truck's
baptismal drizzle.

HIgh priests are ready and waiting
their incense pans full of fire

I do not know their rituals
nor what name of the god
the survivors will worship
I only know she will be terrible
and very busy
and very old.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Doctors

By Anne Sexton

They work with herbs
and penicillin
They work with gentleness
and the scalpel.
They dig out the cancer,
close an incision
and say a prayer
to the poverty of the skin.
They are not Gods
though they would like to be;
they are only a human
trying to fix up a human.
Many humans die.
They die like the tender,
palpitating berries
in November.
But all along the doctors remember:
First do no harm.
They would kiss if it would heal.
It would not heal.

If the doctors cure
then the sun sees it.
If the doctors kill
then the earth hides it.
The doctors should fear arrogance
more than cardiac arrest.
If they are too proud,
and some are,
then they leave home on horseback
but God returns them on foot.

Monday, December 7, 2009

"What Do Women Want?"

By Kim Addonizio

I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what's underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I'm the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment
from its hanger like I'm choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I'll wear it like bones, like skin,
it'll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Winter Without Snow

By J. D. McClatchy

Even the sky here in Connecticut has it,
That wry look of accomplished conspiracy,
The look of those who've gotten away

With a petty but regular white collar crime.
When I pick up my shirts at the laundry,
A black woman, putting down her Daily News,

Wonders why and how much longer our luck
Will hold. "Months now and no kiss of the witch."
The whole state overcast with such particulars.

For Emerson, a century ago and farther north,
Where the country has an ode's jagged edges,
It was "frolic architecture." Frozen blue-

Print of extravagance, shapes of a shared life
Left knee-deep in transcendental drifts:
The isolate forms of snow are its hardest fact.

Down here, the plain tercets of provision do,
Their picket snow-fence peeling, gritty,
Holding nothing back, nothing in, nothing at all.

Down here, we've come to prefer the raw material
Of everyday and this year have kept an eye
On it, shriveling but still recognizable--

A sight that disappoints even as it adds
A clearing second guess to winter. It's
As if, in the third year of a "relocation"

To a promising notch way out on the Sunbelt,
You've grown used to the prefab housing,
The quick turnover in neighbors, the constant

Smell of factory smoke--like Plato's cave,
You sometimes think--and the stumpy trees
That summer slighted and winter just ignores,

And all the snow that never falls is now
Back home and mixed up with other piercing
Memories of childhood days you were kept in

With a Negro schoolmate, of later storms
Through which you drove and drove for hours
Without ever seeing where you were going.

Or as if you've cheated on a cold sickly wife.
Not in some overheated turnpike motel room
With an old flame, herself the mother of two,

Who looks steamy in summer-weight slacks
And a parrot-green pullover. Not her.
Not anyone. But every day after lunch

You go off by yourself, deep in a brown study,
Not doing much of anything for an hour or two,
Just staring out the window, or at a patch

On the wall where a picture had hung for ages,
A woman with planets in her hair, the gravity
Of perfection in her features--oh! her hair

The lengthening shadow of the galaxy's sweep.
As a young man you used to stand outside
On warm nights and watch her through the trees.

You remember how she disappeared in winter,
Obscured by snow that fell blindly on the heart,
On the house, on a world of possibilities.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

God's Wheel

By Shel Silverstein

God says to me with a kind of smile,
"Hey how would you like to be God awhile
And steer the world?"
"Okay," says I, "I'll give it a try.
Where do I set?
How much do I get?
What time is lunch?
When can I quit?"
"Gimme back that wheel," says God.
"I don't think you're quite ready yet."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

No Nation

By Janice Gould

There is no nation in my heart.
In the canyon which was once our home,
Burning water springs from the rock.
We sing for the dead who leave no ghost.

In my heart there is no nation.
Strong winds blow on our land.
The winds go wild – coyotes attack humans,
Condors spite the world with their demise,
Sea mammals beach themselves on an outgoing tide.

The nation in my heart is dead.
Our blood turns to powder and swirls to lightening.
Your blood burns air, too. The land flattens out.
An ash cloud forms with your passing.

The nation which never was is gone.
The lives of our dead do not trouble those who eat.
We drink from dry wells
while your grapes grow thick on vine.
Our children cry, We don’t have no shoes.
Your children chant, America.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Art in America

By Maggie Anderson

Three of us, two poets and one painter,
drive out into clear autumn weather
to gather in some harvest
from the roadside stands
where pumpkins are piled up
like huge orange marbles in the sun
and the gray Hubbard squash
are disguised as blue toy tops among
blueberries and jugs of apple cider.
We have to make our choices,
as in art, calculate the risk
of making them too ordinary, pale,
like a pool ball hit too thin
because we get afraid
when the table's so alive.
We also risk bravado
(too many pumpkins, or too large)
and, since nothing's ever free,
we might have to put things back.
But today, we think we'll
get it right because
we're not alone
and we're laughing,
arguing a bit,
examining the vegetables,
making up our minds, and
saying how we think we might
believe in the perfection
of communities of artists,
the common work among us.
What one of us does not get said,
the others will.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Visiting Pai-an Pavilion

By Hsieh Ling-yun

Beside this dike, I shake off the world's dust,
enjoying walks alone near my brushwood house.

A small stream gurgles down a rocky gorge.
Mountains rise beyond the trees,

kingfisher blue, almost beyond description,
but reminding me of the fisherman's simple life.

From a grassy bank, I listen
as springtime fills my heart.

Finches call and answer in the oaks.
Deer cry out, then return to munching weeds.

I remember men who knew a hundred sorrows,
and the gratitude they felt for gifts.

Joy and sorrow pass, each by each,
failure at one moment, happy success the next.

But not for me. I have chosen freedom
from the world's cares. I chose simplicity.

Translated by Sam Hamill

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sky Falling

By Brittney Corrigan

When he’s late, you don’t assume
he’s stopped for milk
or is stuck behind a train.
Instead, you picture metal against metal,
slick streets and overturned cars,
sirens, the voice of the woman
from the hospital when she calls
to tell you the news.
You think about the sound you would make—
first silence, then an opening like blinding
light, collapsing into a slide of scree.
Which friend would you call first?
How would you get to the ER?
And afterwards, would you give up
your life and move away
from everything?

You think of how the sun breaks
on the window of the church
behind your house, tumbles
down the walls into the street.
Conjure the scent of cigars and rain
as he curls around you from the cold side
of the bed. Wonder why you yell
at the dog when what you mean to do
is change the way you live.

So you’re drawn to the disasters
in the news. The shipwrecks,
plane crashes, bombings. The story
of the ladies of Locherbie
collecting the clothes of the dead—
torn, bloodstained—how they washed
them as best they could, folding and pressing
each shirt, each dress, and returning
them to the families like sleeping ghosts.

When you can’t sleep, you invent
what could happen. You imagine the pain.
You can’t place it, it isn’t yours. But you
hold it in your hands like a stone,
roll it over and over, feel the weight.
You can’t imagine putting it down.

Your shoulders tighten like clouds before
a storm, the deep blue sky moving in.
But then he pulls into the drive, the dog
wakes and stirs, you hear the key in the lock.
And you’re done imagining the woman
without a husband, the husband spinning
into this tree, that guardrail.
The ambulance, the helicopters,
the world a potential falling.

You’re done.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Family Reunion

By Jeredith Merrin

The divorced mother and her divorcing
daughter. The about-to-be ex-son-in-law
and the ex-husband's adopted son.
The divorcing daughter's child, who is

the step-nephew of the ex-husband's
adopted son. Everyone cordial:
the ex-husband's second wife
friendly to the first wife, warm

to the divorcing daughter's child's
great-grandmother, who was herself
long ago divorced. Everyone
grown used to the idea of divorce.

Almost everyone has separated
from the landscape of a childhood.
Collections of people in cities
are divorced from clean air and stars.

Toddlers in day care are parted
from working parents, schoolchildren
from the assumption of unbloodied
daylong safety. Old people die apart

from all they've gathered over time,
and in strange beds. Adults
grow estranged from a God
evidently divorced from History;

most are cut off from their own
histories, each of which waits
like a child left at day care.
What if you turned back for a moment

and put your arms around yours?
Yes, you might be late for work;
no, your history doesn't smell sweet
like a toddler's head. But look

at those small round wrists,
that short-legged, comical walk.
Caress your history--who else will?
Promise to come back later.

Pay attention when it asks you
simple questions: Where are we going?
Is it scary? What happened? Can
I have more now? Who is that?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Favorite Pair of Blue Jeans

By Julia Liberman

She was putting a load of laundry
out to dry on the back porch
when her favorite pair of jeans
turned into a blue jay and flew away.

She watched in surprise
as soft, faded, blue denim
turned into feathers, bones, a beak, feet,
black beady eyes and an indignant screech.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Affirmation

By Donald Hall

To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Kol Nidrei

By Mark Belletini

Let’s set it all down, you and me.
The disappointments.
Little and large.
The frustrations.
Let’s open our fists and drop them.

The useless waiting.
The obsession with what we cannot have.
The focus on foolish things.
The pin-wheeling worry which wears us out.
The fretting.
Let’s throw them down.

The comparisons of ourselves with others.
The competition, as if Domination
was the best name we could give to God.
The cynical assumptions.
The unspoken, shelved anger.
Let’s toss them.

The inarticulate suspicions.
The self-doubt.
The pre-emptive self-dumping.
The numbing bouts of self-pity.
Let’s sink them all like stones.

Like stones in the pool of this gift of silence.
Let’s drop them like hot rocks
into the cool silence.

And when they’re gone,
let’s lay back gently, and float,
float on the calm surface of the silence.

Let’s be supported in this still cradle
of the world, new-born, ready for anything.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Poem to my uterus

By Lucille Clifton

you uterus
you have been patient
as a sock
while i have slippered into you
my dead and living children
now
they want to cut you out
stocking i will not need
where i am going
where am i going
old girl
without you
uterus
my bloody print
my estrogen kitchen
my black bag of desire
where can i go
barefoot
without you
where can you go
without me

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Cleaving

By Li-Young Lee

He gossips like my grandmother, this man
with my face, and I could stand
amused all afternoon
in the Hon Kee Grocery,
amid hanging meats he
chops: roast pork cut
from a hog hung
by nose and shoulders,
her entire skin burnt
crisp, flesh I know
to be sweet,
her shining
face grinning
up at ducks
dangling single file,
each pierced by black
hooks through breast, bill,
and steaming from a hole
stitched shut at the ass.
I step to the counter, recite,
and he, without even slightly
varying the rhythm of his current confession or harangue,
scribbles my order on a greasy receipt,
and chops it up quick.

Such a sorrowful Chinese face,
nomad, Gobi, Northern
in its boniness
clear from the high
warlike forehead
to the sheer edge of the jaw.
He could be my brother, but finer,
and, except for his left forearm, which is engorged,
sinewy from his daily grip and
wield of a two-pound tool,
he's delicate, narrow-
waisted, his frame
so slight a lover, some
rough other
might break it down
its smooth, oily length.
In his light-handed calligraphy
on receipts and in his
moodiness, he is
a Southerner from a river-province;
suited for scholarship, his face poised
above an open book, he’d mumble
his favorite passages.
He could be my grandfather;
come to America to get a Western education
in 1917, but too homesick to study,
he sits in the park all day, reading poems
and writing letters to his mother.

He lops the head off, chops
the neck of the duck
into six, slits
the body
open, groin
to breast, and drains
the scalding juices,
then quarters the carcass
with two fast hacks of the cleaver,
old blade that has worn
into the surface of the round
foot-thick chop-block
a scoop that cradles precisely the curved steel.

The head, flung from the body, opens
down the middle where the butcher
cleanly halved it between
the eyes, and I
see, foetal-crouched
inside the skull, the homunculus,
gray brain grainy
to eat.
Did this animal, after all, at the moment
its neck broke,
image the way his executioner
shrinks from his own death?
Is this how
I, too, recoil from my day?
See how this shape
hordes itself, see how
little it is.
See its grease on the blade.
Is this how I’ll be found
when judgement is passed, when names
are called, when crimes are tallied?
This is also how I looked before I tore my mother open.
Is this how I presided over my century, is this how
I regarded the murders?
This is also how I prayed.
Was it me in the Other
I prayed to when I prayed?
This too was how I slept, clutching my wife.
Was it me in the other I loved
when I loved another?
The butcher sees me eye this delicacy.
With a finger, he picks it
out of the skull-cradle
and offers it to me.
I take it gingerly between my fingers
and suck it down.
I eat my man.

The noise the body makes
when the body meets
the soul over the soul’s ocean and penumbra
is the old sound of up-and-down, in-and-out,
a lump of muscle chug-chugging blood
into the ear; a lover’s
heart-shaped tongue;
flesh rocking flesh until flesh comes;
the butcher working
at his block and blade to marry their shapes
by violence and time;
an engine crossing,
re-crossing salt water, hauling
immigrants and the junk
of the poor. These
are the faces I love, the bodies
and scents of bodies
for which I long
in various ways, at various times,
thirteen gathered around the redwood,
happy, talkative, voracious
at day’s end,
eager to eat
four kinds of meat
prepared four different ways,
numerous plates and bowls of rice and vegetables,
each made by distinct affections
and brought to table by many hands.

Brothers and sisters by blood and design,
who sit in separate bodies of varied shapes,
we constitute a many-membered
body of love.
In a world of shapes
of my desires, each one here
is a shape of one of my desires, and each
is known to me and dear by virtue
of each one’s unique corruption
of those texts, the face, the body:
that jut jaw
to gnash tendon;
that wide nose to meet the blows
a face like that invites;
those long eyes closing on the seen;
those thick lips
to suck the meat of animals
or recite 300 poems of the T’ang;
these teeth to bite my monosyllables;
these cheekbones to make
those syllables sing the soul.
Puffed or sunken
according to the life,
dark or light according
to the birth, straight
or humped, whole, manqué, quasi, each pleases, verging
on utter grotesquery.
All are beautiful by variety.
The soul too
is a debasement
of a text, but, thus, it
acquires salience, although a
human salience, but
inimitable, and, hence, memorable.
God is the text.
The soul is a corruption
and a mnemonic.

A bright moment,
I hold up an old head
from the sea and admire the haughty
down-curved mouth
that seems to disdain
all the eyes are blind to,
including me, the eater.
Whole unto itself, complete
without me, yet its
shape complements the shape of my mind.
I take it as text and evidence
of the world’s love for me,
and I feel urged to utterance,
urged to read the body of the world, urged
to say it
in human terms,
my reading a kind of eating, my eating
a kind of reading,
my saying a diminishment, my noise
a love-in-answer.
What is it in me would
devour the world to utter it?
What is it in me will not let
the world be, would eat
not just this fish,
but the one who killed it,
the butcher who cleaned it.
I would eat the way he
squats, the way he
reaches into the plastic tubs
and pulls out a fish, clubs it, takes it
to the sink, guts it, drops it on the weighing pan.
I would eat that thrash
and plunge of the watery body
in the water, that liquid violence
between the man’s hands,
I would eat
the gutless twitching on the scales,
three pounds of dumb
nerve and pulse, I would eat it all
to utter it.
The deaths at the sinks, those bodies prepared
for eating, I would eat,
and the standing deaths
at the counters, in the aisles,
the walking deaths in the streets,
the death-far-from-home, the death-
in-a-strange-land, these Chinatown
deaths, these American deaths.
I would devour this race to sing it,
this race that according to Emerson
managed to preserve to a hair
for three or four thousand years
the ugliest features in the world.
I would eat these features, eat
the last three or four thousand years, every hair.
And I would eat Emerson, his transparent soul, his
soporific transcendence.
I would eat this head,
glazed in pepper-speckled sauce,
the cooked eyes opaque in their sockets.
I bring it to my mouth and—
the way I was taught, the way I’ve watched
others before me do—
with a stiff tongue lick out
the cheek-meat and the meat
over the armored jaw, my eating,
its sensual, salient nowness,
punctuating the void
from which such hunger springs and to which it proceeds.

And what
is this
I excavate
with my mouth?
What is this
plated, ribbed, hinged
architecture, this carp head,
but one more
articulation of a single nothing
severally manifested?
What is my eating,
rapt as it is,
but another
shape of going,
my immaculate expiration?

O, nothing is so
steadfast it won’t go
the way the body goes.
The body goes.
The body’s grave,
so serious
in its dying,
arduous as martyrs
in that task and as
glorious. It goes
empty always
and announces its going
by spasms and groans, farts and sweats.

What I thought were the arms
aching cleave, were the knees trembling leave.
What I thought were the muscles
insisting resist, persist, exist,
were the pores
hissing mist and waste.
What I thought was the body humming reside, reside,
was the body sighing revise, revise.
O, the murderous deletions, the keening
down to nothing, the cleaving.
All of the body’s revisions end
in death.
All of the body’s revisions end.

Bodies eating bodies, heads eating heads,
we are nothing eating nothing,
and though we feast,
are filled, overfilled,
we go famished.
We gang the doors of death.
That is, our deaths are fed
that we may continue our daily dying,
our bodies going
down, while the plates-soon-empty
are passed around, that true
direction of our true prayers,
while the butcher spells
his message, manifold,
in the mortal air.
He coaxes, cleaves, brings change
before our very eyes, and at every
moment of our being.
As we eat we’re eaten.
Else what is this
violence, this salt, this
passion, this heaven?

I thought the soul an airy thing.
I did not know the soul
is cleaved so that the soul might be restored.
Live wood hewn,
its sap springs from a sticky wound.
No seed, no egg has he
whose business calls for an axe.
In the trade of my soul’s shaping,
he traffics in hews and hacks.

No easy thing, violence.
One of its names? Change. Change
resides in the embrace
of the effaced and the effacer,
in the covenant of the opened and the opener;
the axe accomplishes it on the soul’s axis.
What then may I do
but cleave to what cleaves me.
I kiss the blade and eat my meat.
I thank the wielder and receive,
while terror spirits
my change, sorrow also.
The terror the butcher
scripts in the unhealed
air, the sorrow of his Shang
dynasty face,
African face with slit eyes. He is
my sister, this
beautiful Bedouin, this Shulamite,
keeper of sabbaths, diviner
of holy texts, this dark
dancer, this Jew, this Asian, this one
with the Cambodian face, Vietnamese face, this Chinese
I daily face,
this immigrant,
this man with my own face.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

On Gifts For Grace

By Bernadette Mayer

I saw a great teapot
I wanted to get you this stupendous
100% cotton royal blue and black checked shirt,
There was a red and black striped one too
Then I saw these boots at a place called Chuckles
They laced up to about two inches above your ankles
All leather and in red, black or purple
It was hard to have no money today
I won't even speak about the possible flowers and kinds of lingerie
All linen and silk with not-yet-perfumed laces
Brilliant enough for any of the Graces
Full of luxury, grace notes, prosperousness and charm
But I can only praise you with this poem—
Its being is the same as the meaning of your name

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Adios

By Naomi Shihab Nye

It is a good word, rolling off the tongue
no matter what language you were born with.
Use it. Learn where it begins,
the small alphabet of departure,
how long it takes to think of it,
then say it, then be heard.

Marry it. More than any golden ring,
it shines, it shines.
Wear it on every finger
till your hands dance,
touching everything easily,
letting everything, easily, go.

Strap it to your back like wings.
Or a kite-tail. The stream of air behind a jet.
If you are known for anything,
let it be the way you rise out of sight
when your work is finished.

Think of things that linger: leaves,
cartons and napkins, the damp smell of mold.

Think of things that disappear.

Think of what you love best,
what brings tears into your eyes.

Something that said adios to you
before you knew what it meant
or how long it was for.

Explain little, the word explains itself.
Later perhaps. Lessons following lessons,
like silence following sound.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

San Antonio

By Naomi Shihab Nye

Tonight I lingered over your name,
the delicate assembly of vowels
a voice inside my head.
You were sleeping when I arrived.
I stood by your bed
and watched the sheets rise gently.
I knew what slant of light
would make you turn over.
It was then I felt
the highways slide out of my hands.
I remembered the old men
in the west side cafe,
dealing dominoes like magical charms.
It was then I knew,
like a woman looking backward,
I could not leave you,
or find anyone I loved more

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Song in the Off Season

By Rafael Campo

Last boats grow lonely in the harbor.
The clanging buoys mark their shoals,
as if the sea were time, its danger, hours.
The restaurants are shuttered closed.

October: doddering leaves tell
the same old stories to the wind.
The secret reasons for their fall
remain unsaid, to our chagrin.

Off season, those who still remain
look hungry, like they want to know.
The older couple, gripped in pain;
the stray white cat, portent of snow.

You're here with me, near the world's end.
A cup of tea pretends to dream;
we read. It's good to be back in.
Let the night revise, the lamp gleam:

We're sure of insecurity.
Floors creak, from no one's weight but home's.
My love, you asked what we should be.
It's not enough, what we've become?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Untitled

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.


- Usually attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller

Thursday, November 5, 2009

My November Guest

By Robert Frost

My Sorrow, when she’s here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Another Story

By Harvey Shapiro

The whole drift of the world disturbs her:
technology out of hand, pride of work
lost. She tells him this, and keeps
telling him this, and what she is telling him is
that she doesn't see what she loves is before her.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Don't Imitate Me

By Matsuo Basho

Don't imitate me;
it's as boring
as the two halves of a melon.


(Translated by Robert Hass)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Four Poems for Robin

By Gary Snyder

Siwashing It Out Once in Suislaw Forest

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

A Spring Night in Shokoku-ji

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

An Autumn Morning in Shokoku-ji

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

December at Yase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Hug

By Tess Gallagher

A woman is reading a poem on the street
and another woman stops to listen. We stop too,
with our arms around each other...

Suddenly, a hug comes over me and I'm
giving it to you, like a variable star shooting light
off to make itself comfortable, then
subsiding. I finish but keep holding
you. A man walks up to us and we know he hasn't
come out of nowhere, but if he could, he
would have. He looks homeless because of how
he needs. "Can I have one of those?" he asks you,
and I feel you nod. I'm surprised,
surprised you don't tell him how
it is -- that I'm yours, only
yours, exclusive as a nose to
its face. Love -- that's what we're talking about, love
that nabs you with "for me only" and holds on.

So I walk over to him and put my
arms around him and try to
hug him like I mean it. He's got an overcoat on
so thick I can't feel
him past it. I'm starting the hug
and thinking, "How big a hug is this supposed to be?
How long shall I hold this hug?" Already
we could be eternal, his arms falling over my
shoulders, my hands not
meeting behind his back, he is so big!

I put my head into his chest and snuggle
in. I lean into him. I lean my blood and my wishes
into him. He stands for it. This is his
and he's starting to give it back so well I know he's
getting it. This hug. So truly, so tenderly
we stop having arms and I don't know if
my lover has walked away or what, or
if the woman is still reading the poem...

Clearly, a little permission is a dangerous thing.
But when you hug someone you want it
to be a masterpiece of connection, the way the button
on his coat will leave the imprint of
a planet on my cheek
when I walk away. When I try to find some place
to go back to.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ordinary Human Arms

By Marianne Larsen

we put our arms around each other
a pair of ordinary tax-paying human arms
not to rest them
but to harden them
a pair of ordinary concrete-accustomed
and marketed human arms
a pair of ordinarily hugging
human arms
we put them around each other
they are health-insured and ordinarily dressed
a pair of ordinary love-interpreting
human arms
how strong they are
sovereign, independent –
no matter where
no matter what the hour
no matter what the season
suddenly and for all time
human arms
without speculation
we put them around each other
as if to show that their powerlessness
doesn’t exist

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Pennycandystore Beyond The El

By Lawrence Ferlinghetti

The pennycandystore beyond the El
is where i first
fell in love
with unreality
Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
of that september afternoon
A cat upon the counter moved among
the licorice sticks
and tootsie rolls
and Oh Boy Gum

Outside the leaves were falling as they died

A wind had blown away the sun

A girl ran in
Her hair was rainy
Her breasts were breathless in the little room

Outside the leaves were falling
and they cried
Too soon! too soon!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

For the Young Who Want To

By Marge Piercy

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Losing Track

By Denise Levertov

Long after you have swung back
away from me
I think you are still with me:

you come in close to the shore
on the tide
and nudge me awake the way

a boat adrift nudges the pier:
am I a pier
half-in half-out of the water?

and in the pleasure of that communion
I lose track,
the moon I watch goes down, the

tide swings you away before
I know I'm
alone again long since,

mud sucking at gray and black
timbers of me,
a light growth of green dreams drying

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Remember

By Joy Harjo

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star's stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is. I met her
in a bar once in Iowa City.
Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother's, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe. I heard her singing Kiowa war
dance songs at the corner of Fourth and Central once.
Remember that you are all people and that all people are you.
Remember that you are this universe and that this universe is you.
Remember that all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember that language comes from this.
Remember the dance that language is, that life is.
Remember.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

More Than Myself

By Anne Sexton

Not that it was beautiful,
but that, in the end, there was
a certain sense of order there;
something worth learning
in that narrow diary of my mind,
in the commonplaces of the asylum
where the cracked mirror
or my own selfish death
outstared me . . .
I tapped my own head;
it was glass, an inverted bowl.
It's small thing
to rage inside your own bowl.
At first it was private.
Then it was more than myself.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Why Is This Age Worse...?

By Anna Akhmatova

Why is this age worse than earlier ages?
In a stupor of grief and dread
have we not fingered the foulest wounds
and left them unhealed by our hands?

In the west the falling light still glows,
and the clustered housetops glitter in the sun,
but here Death is already chalking the doors with crosses,
and calling the ravens, and the ravens are flying in.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Central Square

By Eve Lyons

Being robbed
makes everyone a suspect:
the man coming out of his apartment
next door, the garbage man,
the man on the street chatting
into his cell phone.
This is not how I want to live.
And the man with the drunken slur,
who invades people’s space until
they shove him away, I am sure
this is not how he wants to live his life
either. Stealing people’s backpacks
only to find class notes and
confidential papers,
computer disks and prescription glasses.
This is not what this time,
this brief blip in the cosmos,
should be. I want to sort out
“the beautiful,” like my third grade friend
sorted out the beautiful, sleek racing cars
from the beat up matchbox ones.
Not even a hesitation - just throw back
what isn’t beautiful.
Throw it back.



Published in The Texas Observer, March 16, 2001
Nominated for a 2001 Cambridge Poetry Award (Narrative category)
Reprinted in Nest of Vipers, June 2002

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Beautification Of America

By Tony Brown

Too damn early
for no coffee in the house
and all this heavy equipment
tearing up the street –

although it’ll be smoother
once they’re done, and the snowplows
will glide more quietly over the blacktop
in a month or so with fewer rough patches
in the pavement,
and I’ll be able to come home at night
with fewer teeth shaking loose in my head
every time I hit a pothole,
and in general the whole place will look
and feel more like someone cares
for this neighborhood –

still, this morning I’d trade the future
for two more hours of sleep
in the heart of
the decrepit status quo…

which
of course
is what makes me
an all-American.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Happiness

By Carl Sandburg

I asked the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell
me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of
thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though
I was trying to fool with them
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along
the Desplaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with
their women and children and a keg of beer and an
accordion

Friday, October 9, 2009

This Morning

By Raymond Carver

This morning was something. A little snow
lay on the ground. The sun floated in a clear
blue sky. The sea was blue, and blue-green,
as far as the eye could see.
Scarcely a ripple. Calm. I dressed and went
for a walk -- determined not to return
until I took in what Nature had to offer.
I passed close to some old, bent-over trees.
Crossed a field strewn with rocks
where snow had drifted. Kept going
until I reached the bluff.
Where I gazed at the sea, and the sky, and
the gulls wheeling over the white beach
far below. All lovely. All bathed in a pure
cold light. But, as usual, my thoughts
began to wander. I had to will
myself to see what I was seeing
and nothing else. I had to tell myself this is what
mattered, not the other. (And I did see it,
for a minute or two!) For a minute or two
it crowded out the usual musings on
what was right, and what was wrong -- duty,
tender memories, thoughts of death, how I should treat
with my former wife. All the things
I hoped would go away this morning.
The stuff I live with every day. What
I've trampled on in order to stay alive.
But for a minute or two I did forget
myself and everything else. I know I did.
For when I turned back i didn't know
where I was. Until some birds rose up
from the gnarled trees. And flew
in the direction I needed to be going.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Living with Illness

By Rafael Campo

One knits, another reads a magazine,
and if they’re anything, they’re patient as
they wait. What narratives they’ll share I can’t
imagine; all I know is that they’ll need
advice, a new prescription, someone to
sit quietly for just a moment while
they cry. It’s not their symptoms, not the noise
of jackhammers enlarging asphalt wounds
outside, it’s not their alcoholic wives,
it’s not the presidential primary
that’s won or lost today—not any of
this hurts, not even when I give a shot
in someone’s flabby, freckled arm. What does
it mean, this endless suffering?
(The US News and World Report, months old;
the knitting, maybe a misshapen sweater?)
They always come, as if they wanted to
be understood yet not explained, laid bare
as by the temporary freedom of
the flimsy paper gowns I’ve given them
to lie completely naked underneath—
examining their eyes, I wonder if
they’ve told me everything, then listen to
their hearts as if I’d never known the truth.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Turtle, Swan

By Mark Doty

Because the road to our house
is a back road, meadowlands punctuated
by gravel quarry and lumberyard,... Read More
there are unexpected travelers
some nights on our way home from work.
Once, on the lawn of the Tool

and Die Company, a swan;
the word doesn't convey the shock
of the thing, white architecture
rippling like a pond's rain-pocked skin,
beak lifting to hiss at my approach.
Magisterial, set down in elegant authority,

he let us know exactly how close we might come.
After a week of long rains
that filled the marsh until it poured
across the road to make in low woods
a new heaven for toads,
a snapping turtle lumbered down the center

of the asphalt like an ambulatory helmet.
His long tail dragged, blunt head jutting out
of the lapidary prehistoric sleep of shell.
We'd have lifted him from the road
but thought he might bend his long neck back
to snap. I tried herding him; he rushed,

though we didn't think those blocky legs
could hurry-- then ambled back
to the center of the road, a target
for kids who'd delight in the crush
of something slow with the look
of primeval invulnerability. He turned

the blunt spear point of his jaws,
puffing his undermouth like a bullfrog,
and snapped at your shoe,
vising a beakful of-- thank God--
leather. You had to shake him loose. We left him
to his own devices, talked on the way home

of what must lead him to new marsh
or old home ground. The next day you saw,
one town over, remains of shell
in front of the little liquor store. I argued
it was too far from where we'd seen him,
too small to be his... though who could tell

what the day's heat might have taken
from his body. For days he became a stain,
a blotch that could have been merely
oil. I did not want to believe that
was what we saw alive in the firm center
of his authority and right

to walk the center of the road,
head up like a missionary moving certainly
into the country of his hopes.
In the movies in this small town
I stopped for popcorn while you went ahead
to claim seats. When I entered the cool dark

I saw straight couples everywhere,
no single silhouette who might be you.
I walked those two aisles too small
to lose anyone and thought of a book
I read in seventh grade, "Stranger Than Science,"
in which a man simply walked away,

at a picnic, and was,
in the act of striding forward
to examine a flower, gone.
By the time the previews ended
I was nearly in tears-- then realized
the head of one-half the couple in the first row

was only your leather jacket propped in the seat
that would be mine. I don't think I remember
anything of the first half of the movie.
I don't know what happened to the swan. I read
every week of some man's lover showing
the first symptoms, the night sweat

or casual flu, and then the wasting begins
and the disappearance a day at a time.
I don't know what happened to the swan;
I don't know if the stain on the street
was our turtle or some other. I don't know
where these things we meet and know briefly,

as well as we can or they will let us,
go. I only know that I do not want you
--you with your white and muscular wings
that rise and ripple beneath or above me,
your magnificent neck, eyes the deep mottled autumnal colors
of polished tortoise-- I do not want you ever to die.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Traveling Through The Dark

By William Stafford

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

My fingers touching her side brought me the reason--
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.

The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

I thought hard for us all--my only swerving--,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Untitled

Dear daughter, don't fret;
It hasn't fallen yet.
The sukkah's fine; banish your fright.
There have been many such fears,
For nigh two thousand years;
Yet the little sukkah still stands upright.

By Avraham Reisen
Translated by Rabbi Avi Shafran

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Guest House

By Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Translated by Coleman Barks

Friday, October 2, 2009

What's Loved Will Hold

By Dannye Romine Powell

The hackberry tree
shading the old hotel
in the mountain town
I'd almost forgotten -
yet the image
eases in, settles,
as if a place
had been prepared,
a chair pulled out
in welcome,
the way your face
will appear
in my window
late afternoons
and I see again,
can almost feel,
what's already etched
there, vibrant,
one leaf cupping the sun.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hellish Night

By Arthur Rimbaud

I've swallowed a terrific mouthful of poison.—Blessings three times over on the impulse that came to me!—My guts are on fire. The poison's violence twists my limbs, deforms me, knocks me down. I'm dyng of thirst, I'm choking, I can't scream. It's hell, endless pain! Look how the fire flashes up! I'm burning nicely. Go on, demon!

I'd caught a glimpse of conversion to goodness and happiness, salvation. Can I describe the vision? Hell's atmosphere won't suffer hymns! There were millions of charming people, a sweet spiritual concert, strength and peace, noble ambitions, who knows?

Noble ambitions!

And this is still life!— What if damnation's everlasting! A man who wants to mutilate himself is pretty well damned, right? I think I'm in hell, therefore I am. It's the catechism come true. I'm the slave of my baptism. Parents, you've created my tortures and yours.—Poor nitwit! Hell can't wield power over pagans.— This is still life! Later on, the delights of damnation will be much deeper. A crime, quick, so I can plunge into nothingness in accordance with human law.

Shut up, will you shut up. .. ! There's disgrace and reproaches here—Satan who says the fire's contemptible, who says my temper's desperately silly.— Enough. .. ! Errors they're whispering to me, magic, misleading perfumes, childish music.—And to think I'm dealing in truth, I'm looking at justice: my reasoning powers are sane and sound, I'm ready for perfection. .. Pride.—My scalp is drying up. Help! Lord, I'm scared. I'm thirsty, so thirsty! O childhood, the grass, the rain, the lake water on stones, the moonlight when the hell struck twelve. . . . The devil's in the tower right now. Mary! Holy Virgin. . . !— Loathing for my blunder.

Out there, aren't those virtuous souls who are wishing me well. . . ? Come.. .. I've got a pillow over my mouth, they won't hear me, they're ghosts. Besides, no one ever thinks of others. Don't come near me. I smell of heresy, that's for sure.

No end to these hallucinations. It's exactly what I've always known: no more faith in history, principles forgotten. I'll keep quiet: poets and visionaries would be jealous. I'm a thousand times richer, let's be miserly like the sea.

Well now! the clock of life stopped a few minutes ago. I'm not in the world any more.— Theology's a serious thing, hell is certainly way down—and heaven's above.—Ecstasy, nightmare, sleep in a nest of flames.

How malicious one's outlook in the country. . . Satan—Old Scratch——goes running around with the wild grain. . . Jesus is walking on the blackberry bushes without bending them. .. Jesus used to walk on troubled waters. The lantern revealed him to us, standing, pale with long brownish hair, on the crest of an emerald wave. . . .

I'm going to unveil all the mysteries: religious mysteries or natural, death, birth, future, past, cosmogony, nothingness. I'm a master of hal— lucinations.

Listen...!

I've got all the talents!— There's no one here and there's someone: I wouldn't want to waste my treasure.—Do you want nigger songs, houri dances? Do you want me to disappear, to dive down for the ring? Do you want that? I'm going to make gold. . . remedies.

Then have faith in me, faith is soothing, it guides, it cures. Come, all of you—even the little children—and I'll comfort you, I'll spill out my heart for you,—the marvelous heart!—Poor men, workers! I don't ask for your prayers. With your trust alone, I'll be happy.

—And what about me? All of this doesn't make me miss the world much. I'm lucky not to suffer more. My life was nothing but lovely mistakes, it's too bad.

Bah! let's make every possible ugly face.

We're out of the world, for sure. Not even a sound. My touch has disappeared. Ah, my castle, my Saxony, my willow woods. Evenings, mornings, nights, days. . . I'm worn out!

I should have my hell for anger, my hell for conceit—and the hell of caresses: a concert of hells.

I'm dying of tiredness. It's the grave, horror of horrors, I'm going to the worms! Satan, you joker, you want to melt me down with your charms. I demand it, I demand it! a poke of the pitchfork, a drop of fire. Ah, to come back to life again! To feast my eyes on our deformities.

And that poison, that kiss a thousand times damned! My weakness, the world's cruelty! My God, mercy, hide me, I always misbehave!—I'm hidden and then again I'm not.

It's the fire flaring up again with its damned!


Translated by Bertrand Mathieu

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Some Things, Say The Wise Ones

By Mary Oliver

Some things, say the wise ones who know everything,
are not living. I say,
You live your life your way and leave me alone.

I have talked with the faint clouds in the sky when they
are afraid of being behind; I have said, Hurry, hurry!
and they have said, Thank you, we are hurrying.

About cows, and starfish, and roses there is no
argument. They die, after all.

But water is a question, so many living things in it,
but what is it itself, living or not? Oh, gleaming

generosity, how can they write you out?

As I think this I am sitting on the sand beside
the harbor. I am holding in my hand
small pieces of granite, pyrite, schist.
Each one, just now, so thoroughly asleep.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

You, Darkness

By Rainier Maria Rilke

You, darkness, that I come from
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone
and then no one outside learns of you.

But the darkness pulls in everything-
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them! -
powers and people-

and it is possible a great presence is moving near me.

I have faith in nights.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Short-order Cook

By Jim Daniels

An average joe comes in
and orders thirty cheeseburgers and thirty fries.

I wait for him to pay before I start cooking.
He pays.
He ain't no average joe.

The grill is just big enough for ten rows of three.
I slap the burgers down
throw two buckets of fries in the deep frier
and they pop pop spit spit . . .
pss . . .

The counter girls laugh.
I concentrate.
It is the crucial point—
they are ready for the cheese:
my fingers shake as I tear off slices
toss them on the burgers/fries done/dump/
refill buckets/burgers ready/flip into buns/
beat that melting cheese/wrap burgers in plastic/
into paper bags/fries done/dump/fill thirty bags/
bring them to the counter/wipe sweat on sleeve
and smile at the counter girls.
I puff my chest out and bellow:
"Thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries!"
They look at me funny.
I grab a handful of ice, toss it in my mouth
do a little dance and walk back to the grill.
Pressure, responsibility, success,
thirty cheeseburgers, thirty fries

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

wishes for sons

By Lucille Clifton

i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town
and the last tampon.
I wish them no 7-11.

i wish them one week early
and wearing a white skirt.
i wish them one week late.

later i wish them hot flashes
and clots like you
wouldn't believe. let the
flashes come when they
meet someone special.
let the clots come
when they want to.

let them think they have accepted
arrogance in the universe,
then bring them to gynecologists
not unlike themselves.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World

By Sherman Alexie

The morning air is all awash with angels . . .
- Richard Wilbur


The eyes open to a blue telephone
In the bathroom of this five-star hotel.

I wonder whom I should call? A plumber,
Proctologist, urologist, or priest?

Who is most among us and most deserves
The first call? I choose my father because

He's astounded by bathroom telephones.
I dial home. My mother answers. "Hey, Ma,

I say, "Can I talk to Poppa?" She gasps,
And then I remember that my father

Has been dead for nearly a year. "Shit, Mom,"
I say. "I forgot he’s dead. I’m sorry—

How did I forget?" "It’s okay," she says.
"I made him a cup of instant coffee

This morning and left it on the table—
Like I have for, what, twenty-seven years—

And I didn't realize my mistake
Until this afternoon." My mother laughs

At the angels who wait for us to pause
During the most ordinary of days

And sing our praise to forgetfulness
Before they slap our souls with their cold wings.

Those angels burden and unbalance us.
Those fucking angels ride us piggyback.

Those angels, forever falling, snare us
And haul us, prey and praying, into dust.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Second Generation

By Yael Globerman

I
The man who almost wasn't sits down at the table.
The woman who barely made it serves him plum cake.
This is my home: It is good here. Safe.
Mother leans on Father. Father leans on shadow.
At night they tiptoe into my room in beekeepers' clothing,
rubbing my temples with wax.
We are a very warm family.
The floor burns under our feet.

We believe in walls. Believe less in a roof.
It has to be built every morning anew. We build.
There is ammunition in the medicine cabinet
and a bribe in the bank for the guard
who lets us steal across the border every night.
Silence is the pitch that stops up openings, seals the floors.
I hear something deep roaring and swelling:
There's a sea underneath the foundations of home.

II
This house is filled with love. Father is strong
And mother good-looking.
Gershwin could have written our lullaby.
What good will this sorrow do
Where will I lead this sorrow
Where will I sit it down when it gets here
What will I give it to eat

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Passing through Peshawar

By Shadab Zeest Hashmi


I know each poplar and willow of this town,
how telephone wires sag with the weight of belligerent crows,
the Tonga-horses wait at red lights.
I know afternoon shadows on slate verandahs,
the squeaking of a rusted see-saw,

the breaking open of a walnut in a door-hinge;
its embossed shell, a secret cracking;

the winter sun warming the mosque’s marble,
plums sold in crates on the road-side,
corn with salt and lime,
the radio at the tandoor playing
filmi songs, the whiff of Lux soap.

I almost say to you,
Look out the window,
look, look, look!
My library with beetle-eaten furniture,
my raw silk bazaar, my ancient fort!
And look, the bakery that sells pink coconut rolls!
And look, there I used to get my hair cut.


One turn and my town will once again
socket into its timeless hollow
what I remember, what I know.
The bus will pass
all these things
before you click pause on your video game.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Niggerlips

By Martín Espada

Niggerlips was the high school name
for me.
So called by Douglas
the car mechanic, with green tattoos
on each forearm,
and the choir of round pink faces
that grinned deliciously
from the back row of classrooms,
droned over by teachers
checking attendance too slowly.

Douglas would brag
about cruising his car
near sidewalks of black children
to point an unloaded gun,
to scare niggers
like crows off a tree,
he'd say.

My great-grandfather Luis
was un negrito too,
a shoemaker in the coffee hills
of Puerto Rico, 1900.
The family called him a secret
and kept no photograph.
My father remembers
the childhood white powder
that failed to bleach
his stubborn copper skin,
and the family says
he is still a fly in milk.

So Niggerlips has the mouth
of his great-grandfather,
the song he must have sung
as he pounded the leather and nails,
the heat that courses through copper,
the stubbornness of a fly in milk,
and all you have, Douglas,
is that unloaded gun.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Late September

By Charles Simic

The mail truck goes down the coast
Carrying a single letter.
At the end of a long pier
The bored seagull lifts a leg now and then
And forgets to put it down.
There is a menace in the air
Of tragedies in the making.

Last night you thought you heard television
In the house next door.
You were sure it was some new
Horror they were reporting,
So you went out to find out.
Barefoot, wearing just shorts.
It was only the sea sounding weary
After so many lifetimes
Of pretending to be rushing off somewhere
And never getting anywhere.

This morning, it felt like Sunday.
The heavens did their part
By casting no shadow along the boardwalk
Or the row of vacant cottages,
Among them a small church
With a dozen gray tombstones huddled close
As if they, too, had the shivers.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Something

By Stephen Dunn

A wish for something moral like a wound
pitying the knife
its inability to be pleased or sad.
Or perhaps an afternoon one day a month
when everyone says why they’re ashamed.
Something to end the talk that passes
for talk. Something the lonesome ear,
the starved eye, can take in,
like nourishment from the world
in which, now and then, we’ve lived.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Where the Sidewalk Ends

By Shel Silverstein

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Boston

By Aaron Smith

I’ve been meaning to tell
you how the sky is pink
here sometimes like the roof
of a mouth that’s about to chomp
down on the crooked steel teeth
of the city,

I remember the desperate
things we did
and that I stumble
down sidewalks listening
to the buzz of street lamps
at dusk and the crush
of leaves on the pavement,

Without you here I’m viciously lonely

and I can’t remember
the last time I felt holy,
the last time I offered
myself as sanctuary

*

I watched two men
press hard into
each other, their bodies
caught in the club’s
bass drum swell,
and I couldn’t remember
when I knew I’d never
be beautiful, but it must
have been quick
and subtle, the way
the holy ghost can pass
in and out of a room.
I want so desperately
to be finished with desire,
the rushing wind, the still
small voice.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Limited but fertile possibilities are offered by this brochure

By Marge Piercy

We cannot have monogrammed towels
or matches with our names on. We cannot
have children. We cannot share joint
tax returns. We don’t have a past.
Our future is a striped unicorn, fragile,
shy, the first of a new
species born without kind
to hostile kin. We can work together
snarling and giggling and grunting.
Every few years we can have a play
as offspring. We can travel. We can
go away and come back. We can shake
each other rattling honest. We can have long
twining soft voiced phonecalls that leave me
molten and fevered. We can make each other
laugh, cry, groan till our flesh shines
phosphorescent, till heat shimmers in the room,
till we steam with joy and streamers of light
run down the insides of our eyes.
We can love. We can love. We can
love.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Grown Up

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

Was it for this I uttered prayers
And sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs,
That now, domestic as a plate,
I should retire at half-past eight?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What Kind of a Person

By Yehuda Amichai

"What kind of a person are you," I heard them say to me.
I'm a person with a complex plumbing of the soul,
Sophisticated instruments of feeling and a system
Of controlled memory at the end of the twentieth century,
But with an old body from ancient times
And with a God even older than my body.
I'm a person for the surface of the earth.
Low places, caves and wells
Frighten me. Mountain peaks
And tall buildings scare me.
I'm not like an inserted fork,
Not a cutting knife, not a stuck spoon.

I'm not flat and sly
Like a spatula creeping up from below.
At most I am a heavy and clumsy pestle
Mashing good and bad together
For a little taste
And a little fragrance.

Arrows do not direct me. I conduct
My business carefully and quietly
Like a long will that began to be written
The moment I was born.

Now I stand at the side of the street
Weary, leaning on a parking meter.
I can stand here for nothing, free.

I'm not a car, I'm a person,
A man-god, a god-man
Whose days are numbered. Hallelujah.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My Kind of Love Poem

By Rafael Campo

Unluckily, the day begins: a bomb
has detonated in Mumbai. Again,
we ask ourselves. Is this what we’ve become?
Unluckily, the night has eyes. A train
makes music of the city’s sleeplessness
again; a baby shrieks with hunger or
the need to have its diaper changed. Unless
he finds a job, the man who lives next door
will have to go on unemployment. Bombs
explode in other places, ruining
other lives, scarring other faces. Crumbs
form constellations in my sink. The ring
of doorbells, telephones, and certain phrases:
The night dies. Unlucky Saturn rises.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Quiet World

By Jeffrey McDaniel

In an effort to get people to look
into each other’s eyes more,
and also to appease the mutes,
the government has decided
to allot each person exactly a hundred
and sixty-seven words, per day.
When the phone rings, I put it to my ear
without saying hello. In the restaurant
I point at chicken noodle soup.
I am adjusting well to the new way.
Late at night, I call my long distance lover,
proudly say I only used fifty-nine today.
I saved the rest for you.
When she doesn’t respond,
I know she’s used up all her words,
so I slowly whisper I love you
thirty-two and a third times.
After that, we just sit on the line
and listen to each other breathe.

Monday, August 31, 2009

What Came to Me

By Jane Kenyon

I took the last
dusty piece of china
out of the barrel.
It was your gravy boat,
with a hard, brown
drop of gravy still
on the porcelain lip.
I grieved for you then
as I never had before.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

For the Union Dead

By Robert Lowell

The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back. I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens' shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city's throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound's gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man's lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die--
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year--
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns . . .

Shaw's father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son's body was thrown
and lost with his "niggers."

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the "Rock of Ages"
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the blessèd break.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

O Captain! My Captain!

By Walt Whitman

1
O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

2
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

3
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Father's Geography

By Afaa M. Weaver

I was parading the Côte d'Azur,
hopping the short trains from Nice to Cannes,
following the maze of streets in Monte Carlo
to the hill that overlooks the ville.
A woman fed me pâté in the afternoon,
calling from her stall to offer me more.
At breakfast I talked in French with an old man
about what he loved about America--the Kennedys.

On the beaches I walked and watched
topless women sunbathe and swim,
loving both home and being so far from it.

At a phone looking to Africa over the Mediterranean,
I called my father, and, missing me, he said,
"You almost home boy. Go on cross that sea!"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In a Country

By Larry Levis

My love and I are inventing a country, which we
can already see taking shape, as if wheels were
passing through yellow mud. But there is a prob-
lem: if we put a river in the country, it will thaw
and begin flooding. If we put the river on the bor-
der, there will be trouble. If we forget about the
river, there will be no way out. There is already a
sky over that country, waiting for clouds or smoke.
Birds have flown into it, too. Each evening more
trees fill with their eyes, and what they see we can
never erase.

One day it was snowing heavily, and again we were
lying in bed, watching our country: we could
make out the wide river for the first time, blue and
moving. We seemed to be getting closer; we saw
our wheel tracks leading into it and curving out
of sight behind us. It looked like the land we had
left, some smoke in the distance, but I wasn't sure.
There were birds calling. The creaking of our
wheels. And as we entered that country, it felt as if
someone was touching our bare shoulders, lightly,
for the last time.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Secretary Chant

By Marge Piercy

My hips are a desk,
From my ears hang
chains of paper clips.
Rubber bands form my hair.
My breasts are quills of
mimeograph ink.
My feet bear casters,
Buzz. Click.
My head is a badly organized file.
My head is a switchboard
where crossed lines crackle.
Press my fingers
and in my eyes appear
credit and debit.
Zing. Tinkle.
My navel is a reject button.
From my mouth issue canceled reams.
Swollen, heavy, rectangular
I am about to be delivered
of a baby
Xerox machine.
File me under W
because I wonce
was
a woman.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Alone

By Maya Angelou

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can't use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They've got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Scratch

By Raymond Carver

I woke up with a spot of blood
over my eye. A scratch
halfway across my forehead.
But I'm sleeping alone these days.
Why on earth would a man raise his hand
against himself, even in sleep?
It's this and similar questions
I'm trying to answer this morning.
As I study my face in the window.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Elephant is Slow to Mate

By D. H. Lawrence

The elephant, the huge old beast,
is slow to mate;
he finds a female, they show no haste
they wait

for the sympathy in their vast shy hearts
slowly, slowly to rouse
as they loiter along the river-beds
and drink and browse

and dash in panic through the brake
of forest with the herd,
and sleep in massive silence, and wake
together, without a word.

So slowly the great hot elephant hearts
grow full of desire,
and the great beasts mate in secret at last,
hiding their fire.

Oldest they are and the wisest of beasts
so they know at last
how to wait for the loneliest of feasts
for the full repast.

They do not snatch, they do not tear;
their massive blood
moves as the moon-tides, near, more near
till they touch in flood.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Otherwise

By Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fast Gas

By Dorianne Laux

Before the days of self service,
when you never had to pump your own gas,
I was the one who did it for you, the girl
who stepped out at the sound of a bell
with a blue rag in my hand, my hair pulled back
in a straight, unlovely ponytail.
This was before automatic shut-offs
and vapor seals, and once, while filling a tank,
I hit a bubble of trapped air and the gas
backed up, came arcing out of the hole
in a bright gold wave and soaked me—face, breasts,
belly and legs. And I had to hurry
back to the booth, the small employee bathroom
with the broken lock, to change my uniform,
peel the gas-soaked cloth from my skin
and wash myself in the sink.
Light-headed, scrubbed raw, I felt
pure and amazed—the way the amber gas
glazed my flesh, the searing,
subterranean pain of it, how my skin
shimmered and ached, glowed
like rainbowed oil on the pavement.
I was twenty. In a few weeks I would fall,
for the first time, in love, that man waiting
patiently in my future like a red leaf
on the sidewalk, the kind of beauty
that asks to be noticed. How was I to know
it would begin this way: every cell of my body
burning with a dangerous beauty, the air around me
a nimbus of light that would carry me
through the days, how when he found me,
weeks later, he would find me like that,
an ordinary woman who could rise
in flame, all he would have to do
is come close and touch me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cannon Beach

By Diane Wakoski

One morning of early morning sunshine, like a perfect rose frozen
into an ice cube,
made us so grateful, we then loved the mist
which rolled in and blanketed us for days.
When the sun shone, we walked
the beach at dawn
while most people slept, but on the foggy mornings,
we slept too, not even hearing the horns
sounding from the rocks. Two thousand miles away,
I can only pretend to see the Pacific Ocean
no matter how early I rise.
The mist that steams up from this autumn ground
over pumpkins, the dried dinner-plate sunflowers
with bowed heads, the final red tomatoes on the browning
vines, a different beauty. It is as if everyone
in Cannon Beach is sleeping,
while I'm awake, while everyone, everywhere,
different from this landscape, sleeping,
only I awake, not knowing the images in each head;
as we all sleep through each others' lives.

Only a few even try to imagine
what others simultaneously try to perceive,
and then know its futility. An act of faith
lets me believe the Pacific Ocean's still there,
since I now can't see it. That the sun exists,
though the fog entirely covers it today. That in my
sleep I do not lose my identity, or in death,
pass beyond what I now know I am.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In The Baggage Room At Greyhound

By Allen Ginsberg

I.
In the depths of the Greyhound Terminal
sitting dumbly on a baggage truck looking at the sky
waiting for the Los Angeles Express to depart
worrying about eternity over the Post Office roof in
the night-time red downtown heaven
staring through my eyeglasses I realized shuddering
these thoughts were not eternity, nor the poverty
of our lives, irritable baggage clerks,
nor the millions of weeping relatives surrounding the
buses waving goodbye,
nor other millions of the poor rushing around from
city to city to see their loved ones,
nor an indian dead with fright talking to a huge cop
by the Coke machine,
nor this trembling old lady with a cane taking the last
trip of her life,
nor the red-capped cynical porter collecting his quar-
ters and smiling over the smashed baggage,
nor me looking around at the horrible dream,
nor mustached negro Operating Clerk named Spade,
dealing out with his marvelous long hand the
fate of thousands of express packages,
nor fairy Sam in the basement limping from leaden
trunk to trunk,
nor Joe at the counter with his nervous breakdown
smiling cowardly at the customers,
nor the grayish-green whale's stomach interior loft
where we keep the baggage in hideous racks,
hundreds of suitcases full of tragedy rocking back and
forth waiting to be opened,
nor the baggage that's lost, nor damaged handles,
nameplates vanished, busted wires & broken
ropes, whole trunks exploding on the concrete
floor,
nor seabags emptied into the night in the final
warehouse.

II.
Yet Spade reminded me of Angel, unloading a bus,
dressed in blue overalls black face official Angel's work-
man cap,
pushing with his belly a huge tin horse piled high with
black baggage,
looking up as he passed the yellow light bulb of the loft
and holding high on his arm an iron shepherd's crook.

III.
It was the racks, I realized, sitting myself on top of
them now as is my wont at lunchtime to rest
my tired foot,
it was the racks, great wooden shelves and stanchions
posts and beams assembled floor to roof jumbled
with baggage,
--the Japanese white metal postwar trunk gaudily
flowered & headed for Fort Bragg,
one Mexican green paper package in purple rope
adorned with names for Nogales,
hundreds of radiators all at once for Eureka,
crates of Hawaiian underwear,
rolls of posters scattered over the Peninsula, nuts to
Sacramento,
one human eye for Napa,
an aluminum box of human blood for Stockton
and a little red package of teeth for Calistoga-
it was the racks and these on the racks I saw naked
in electric light the night before I quit,
the racks were created to hang our possessions, to keep
us together, a temporary shift in space,
God's only way of building the rickety structure of
Time,
to hold the bags to send on the roads, to carry our
luggage from place to place
looking for a bus to ride us back home to Eternity
where the heart was left and farewell tears
began.

IV.
A swarm of baggage sitting by the counter as the trans-
continental bus pulls in.
The clock registering 12:15 A.M., May 9, 1956, the
second hand moving forward, red.
Getting ready to load my last bus.-Farewell, Walnut
Creek Richmond Vallejo Portland Pacific
Highway
Fleet-footed Quicksilver, God of transience.
One last package sits lone at midnight sticking up out
of the Coast rack high as the dusty fluorescent
light.

The wage they pay us is too low to live on. Tragedy
reduced to numbers.
This for the poor shepherds. I am a communist.
Farewell ye Greyhound where I suffered so much,
hurt my knee and scraped my hand and built
my pectoral muscles big as a vagina.

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