Friday, April 30, 2010

Anticipatory Psalm 2

By Rachel Barenblat

I forgot to hang the feeder.
The cat never settled on the couch
to watch the chickadees and juncos
at their perennial cocktail party.
Next year you'll be old enough
to notice as they congregate.
For now, settle into your stroller
and listen: as the equinox approaches
the woodpeckers are waking.
You can't see the trees' distant fingers,
too far and fine for your new eyes,
but a trillion twigs are turning nubbly
like grapestems denuded of fruit
and inside lurk embryonic leaves.
On your eighth day, flakes fell
thick and fast, coating hills
which haven't yet been bared, but
soon the snow will seep into soil
revealing the pale and sun-starved lawn.
Your short life has held only winter.
As you can smell milk when I hold you
I can smell the earth warming, the mud
laced with shreds of last year's mulch,
the spring I know is almost here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Am Offering this Poem

By Jimmy Santiago Baca

I am offering this poem to you,
since I have nothing else to give.
Keep it like a warm coat
when winter comes to cover you,
or like a pair of thick socks
the cold cannot bite through,

I love you,

I have nothing else to give you,
so it is a pot full of yellow corn
to warm your belly in winter,
it is a scarf for your head, to wear
over your hair, to tie up around your face,

I love you,

Keep it, treasure this as you would
if you were lost, needing direction,
in the wilderness life becomes when mature;
and in the corner of your drawer,
tucked away like a cabin or hogan
in dense trees, come knocking,
and I will answer, give you directions,
and let you warm yourself by this fire,
rest by this fire, and make you feel safe

I love you,

It’s all I have to give,
and all anyone needs to live,
and to go on living inside,
when the world outside
no longer cares if you live or die;

I love you.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Psalm of Life

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
"Life is but an empty dream!"
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
"Dust thou art, to dust returnest,"
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act to each to-morrow
Finds us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,--act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing
Learn to labor and to wait.

Monday, April 26, 2010


By Alicia Suskin Ostriker

I am not lyric any more
I will not play the harp
for your pleasure

I will not make a joyful
noise to you, neither
will I lament

for I know you drink
lamentation, too,
like wine

so I dully repeat
you hurt me
I hate you

I pull my eyes away from the hills
I will not kill for you
I will never love you again

unless you ask me

Sunday, April 25, 2010


By Terri Ford

The Lord is my Arctic, my tube
nosed bird. He hoppeth over
the surface of waters, my Jesus
bird who doth follow my ship.

He broods over cliff's edge, ponderous
over all of the penguins balancing
their eggs on their feet.

The Lord is my giant frigate bird. I am
his limpet, krill, and his plankton.
He is the blue and the ever
in waking, blue
in the wake.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Poetry as Insurgent Art

By Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am signaling you through the flames.

The North Pole is not where it used to be.

Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.

Civilization self-destructs.

Nemesis is knocking at the door.

What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?

The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.

If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.

You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words....

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Sacred

By Stephen Dunn

After the teacher asked if anyone had
a secret place
and the students fidgeted and shrunk

in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car
being in it alone, his tape deck playing

things he'd chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,

their hiding places, but the car kept coming
up, the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person

who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need

to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Passionate Freudian to His Love

By Dorothy Parker

Only name the day, and we'll fly away
In the face of old traditions,
To a sheltered spot, by the world forgot,
Where we'll park our inhibitions.
Come and gaze in eyes where the lovelight lies
As it psychoanalyzes,
And when once you glean what your fantasies mean
Life will hold no more surprises.
When you've told your love what you're thinking of
Things will be much more informal;
Through a sunlit land we'll go hand-in-hand,
Drifting gently back to normal.

While the pale moon gleams, we will dream sweet dreams,
And I'll win your admiration,
For it's only fair to admit I'm there
With a mean interpretation.
In the sunrise glow we will whisper low
Of the scenes our dreams have painted,
And when you're advised what they symbolized
We'll begin to feel acquainted.
So we'll gaily float in a slumber boat
Where subconscious waves dash wildly;
In the stars' soft light, we will say good-night—
And “good-night!” will put it mildly.

Our desires shall be from repressions free—
As it's only right to treat them.
To your ego's whims I will sing sweet hymns,
And ad libido repeat them.
With your hand in mine, idly we'll recline
Amid bowers of neuroses,
While the sun seeks rest in the great red west
We will sit and match psychoses.
So come dwell a while on that distant isle
In the brilliant tropic weather;
Where a Freud in need is a Freud indeed,
We'll always be Jung together.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Back Stairwell

By Mark Rudman

I've chosen to take the stairs.
It's harder, but quicker

than waiting for the elevator
which seems eternally stuck on R—Roof.

And I'm late, the last of the parents
who don't send a stand-in.

I'm running, propelled by a kind of demon
―and embarrassed by my lateness—

up the back stairs of the synagogue,
when a window appears in the shaft,

on the wall of the stairwell;
a real window, like a painting on a wall

through which you can see the sky.
The shattered blue leans in, breaks

through the wall; it leaves
an opening, a sudden shudder, a frisson

like a rustle of eternity
shattered in the vista of receding

clouds, antennae, water towers…
and I think we are not far from ecstasy

even in the interior.
I can't get my son to hold the banister

as we descend the stairs;
a look of sheer defiance clouds his face,

the same boy who, the other night
I watched shuffle and backpedal and nearly fall,

down the escalator, over
the rapids of the raw-toothed

edges of the blades;
his hands, his attention, occupied

by a rabbit samurai Ninja turtle
and Krang, the bodiless brain.

I gauged the dive I would need
to catch him if he fell:

a flat out floating horizontal grab
I couldn't even have managed in my youth.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Prayer for Sleep

By Cheryl Dumesnil

The chiropractor sent me home
with my left ankle taped, my neck
cracked, and instructions not to sleep

on my belly, so when it came time
for bed, I dropped a tequila shot,
laid back and closed my lids, entrails

exposed to vultures of bad dreams.
From the neighboring pillow,
my love whispered theories

of meditation, biofeedback, post-
traumatic stress, and prayer. When
she asked, "If a divine creator

made the universe, who made
the divine creator?" I mumbled,
"Are you trying to talk me to sleep?"

She smiled, then babbled
past midnight, contemplating out loud
the metaphysics of leaf production,

the wonder of molecules
that make up our bed, the web
of my cell structure connected

to hers, until I fell asleep,
imagining the mitochondria
of words, thinking, if god is

love, let me sleep to this sound of her voice.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Mystery Train

By Sherman Alexie

I boarded the Amtrak in Portland on my way
To Seattle and searched for an empty seat—
Hopefully an empty row. In Coach Car C,
I saw a seat next to a teen. The train swayed

As I approached him and asked, "Can I sit here?"
He wouldn’t look at me. His face was blank.
Asberger’s, I thought. "I must warn you I’m weird,"
The kid said. "I’m weird, too," I said and thanked

Him for his kindness. I worried he would talk
Too much, and he did, but he was charming and rude.
He said, "You’ve got a big head and face, dude."
He said, "I like rap music more than I like rock

Because I like blacks more than whites,
Especially when I play the royal game, chess."
With Asberger’s, I knew the kid might obsess
Over certain objects or ideas, like

The boy I know who collects Matchbox cars
And recites the manufacturing history
Of thousands of them. "It’s not too far,"
The Train Kid said, "We are on a train journey,

But I take it twice a month, on weekends.
I’m sorry I’m weird. I don’t have many friends.
My mother and father love me, but they
Got divorced when I was ten. You could say

They hate each other as much they love me."
He told me his father lived in Portland
And his mother in Seattle. "It’s kind of fun
To ride the train," he said. "I like to see

The landscape out the window. Pretty soon,
There will be a yellow truck parked outside
A blue and red house." Of course, he was right.
As we traveled north, the kid always knew

What was coming next. I asked, "What’s your name?"
He ignored me and said, "There used to be
A dog that lived in that junkyard. It’s a shame,
But I think he’s dead now." Then he looked at me,

Made eye contact for the first time, and said,
"In seven years, I have taken this trip
One hundred and nine times. I have only missed
Two trains because I had the flu in my head."

Jesus, the kid had become a nomad
Riding rails through the ruins of a marriage,
And, at first, I was eager to disparage
His parents, but then I realized that

His folks must love him as obsessively
As he loves them. They put him on the train
Because they need to see him. It was lovely
And strange. I wanted to ask this kid about pain

And what that word meant to him. I guessed
He could teach me a new vocabulary—
I was vain and wanted to be blessed—
But then he asked, "Are you old and married?"

"Yes," I said. "I’ve been married for ten years."
He nodded his head and looked out the window
At the sunlight flashing between tree rows,
Then whispered, "I have cried a lot of tears."

I was breathless. Stunned. I wanted to take
The kid into my arms, but I knew he’d hate
The contact, so I could only smile
When the kid said, "In a little while,

We are going to see the Mima Mounds."
And there were thousands of those things, six
To eight feet tall, dotting the South Sound.
Created with gravel, rocks, dirt, and sticks,

Those mounds escape explanation. They’re not
Indian burial sites. They’re not homes
For gophers or insects. They don’t contain bones
Or fossils or UFOs. They’re just odd

Geologic formations that will keep
Their secrets no matter how hard we try
To reveal them. When our train arrived
In Seattle, the kid walked beside me—

I had quickly become a habit, I guess—
Until he saw his Mom, short and pretty,
And pulled her tightly against his chest.
He said something to her, pointed at me,

And she smiled and waved. I walked home,
Chanted the first lines of this poem,
And committed them to memory.
And if a few strangers thought me crazy

For writing poetry, aloud, in public,
Like another homeless schizophrenic,
Then fuck them for wanting clarity
And fuck them for fearing mystery.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

April 15th

By Aleda Shirley

Taxes due, the anniversary of Henry James’s death,
& a brilliant sky rinsed of pollen & glare by yesterday’s
record rain. From the magnolia in my front yard

the Mexican workers who are here to fix
the foundation of my house have hung their lunches
in grocery bags–they look like large dull light bulbs

that have burned out. When the foreman leaves
on an errand I see the youngest worker struggling to pull
a water hose to the back. Through the window

I tell him there’s another hose in the garbage that will reach,
but he doesn’t understand a word I’m saying. Finally
I point & say aqua & all six of them brighten

with comprehension, although I realize later I used
the Latin work, not the Spanish one. The house
was slowly sinking, stairstep cracks along the brick,

fractures in the plaster, the floor of the back bedroom
sloping three inches; one night, we heard a huge crash:
the window frame so distorted the glass shattered

in jagged shards, transparent puzzle pieces
on the fruitwood table. Later, after the holes
have been dug, the forsythia & sweet olive bent

out of the way, the lunches eaten, they jack the house up
& it shudders & pops, the cats head for somewhere
dark & safe, & before I figure out what’s going on

I wonder if the workers are playing soccer
on the roof or if there’s an earthquake. By dusk
they’re mixing mortar, repointing brick, & in the yard

a grackle, a bluejay, & two cardinals peck
at the damp grass. I’d love to draw some lesson
from this, that things we can’t see hold us up

& it’s possible for those things to be repaired.
But I don’t buy it; I think how you are
is how you are, that the level of joy or meaning

on the most ordinary Wednesday afternoon
is the level of joy or meaning you’re stuck with.
Years from now I’ll think of the lunches hanging

from the tree & how at the end of a long day
I heard music in the foreign recognizable sounds
of the workers calling to my neighbor’s dog.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

April Rain Song

By Langston Hughes

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


By Stephen Dobyns

A cry was heard among the trees,
not a man's, something deeper.
The forest extended up one side
the mountain and down the other.
None wanted to ask what had made
the cry. A bird, one wanted to say,
although he knew it wasn't a bird.
The sun climbed to the mountaintop,
and slid back down the other side.
The black treetops against the sky
were like teeth on a saw. They waited
for it to come a second time. It's lost,
one said. Each thought of being lost
and all the years that stretched behind.
Where had wrong turns been made?
Soon the cry came again. Closer now.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Behaving Like a Jew

By Gerald Stern

When I got there the dead opossum looked like
an enormous baby sleeping on the road.
It took me only a few seconds—just
seeing him there—with the hole in his back
and the wind blowing through his hair
to get back again into my animal sorrow.
I am sick of the country, the bloodstained
bumpers, the stiff hairs sticking through the grilles,
the slimy highways, the heavy birds
refusing to move;
I am sick of the spirit of Lindbergh over everything,
that joy in death, that philosophical
understanding of carnage, that
concentration on the species.
---I am going to be unappeased at the opossum's death.
I am going to behave like a Jew
and touch his face, and stare into his eyes,
and pull him off the road.
I am not going to stand in a wet ditch
with the Toyotas and the Chevys passing over me
at sixty miles an hour
and praise the beauty and the balance
and lose myself in the immortal lifestream
when my hands are still a little shaky
from his stiffness and his bulk
and my eyes are still weak and misty
from his round belly and his curved fingers
and his black whiskers and his little dancing feet.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"This one's happy - for you" or "They said I couldn't do it"

By Jenny McClain

I never minded eating
cheap chocolate ice cream
out of the container
but you took me
to Haagen Dazs
letting me
pick out any flavor
and treating me to
whipped cream and hot fudge.
I was used to silence
but you let me laugh
in my loud obnoxious way
and listened to my
theories on a Middle East religion
while holding steadfastly to
your own faith.
You opened up to me
by telling me you weren't
always open.
I had been stung before
by biting humor
but you teased without malice.
I craved affection
but it was different
when you didn't reach
for my hand.
The closeness,
the intimacy
was still there.
I wasn't sure who I was with
when you picked
me up.
But I met someone new
when you tenderly
kissed my lips.
And the boy
I tortured in school
became the man
I can't stop
thinking about.

--Published in Bullseye, my high school literary magazine, in 1989.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How the Pope is Chosen

By James Tate

Any poodle under ten inches high is a toy.
Almost always a toy is an imitation
of something grown-ups use.
Popes with unclipped hair are called corded popes.
If a Pope's hair is allowed to grow unchecked,
it becomes extremely long and twists
into long strands that look like ropes.
When it is shorter it is tightly curled.
Popes are very intelligent.
There are three different sizes.
The largest are called standard Popes.
The medium-sized ones are called miniature Popes.
I could go on like this, I could say:
"He is a squarely built Pope, neat,
well-proportioned, with an alert stance
and an expression of bright curiosity,"
but I won't. After a poodle dies
all the cardinals flock to the nearest 7-Eleven.
They drink Slurpies until one of them throws up
and then he's the new Pope.
He is then fully armed and rides through the wilderness alone,
day and night in all kinds of weather.
The new Pope chooses the name he will use as Pope,
like "Wild Bill" or "Buffalo Bill."
He wears red shoes with a cross embroidered on the front.
Most Popes are called "Babe" because
growing up to become a Pope is a lot of fun.
All the time their bodies are becoming bigger and stranger,
but sometimes things happen to make them unhappy.
They have to go to the bathroom by themselves,
and they spend almost all of their time sleeping.
Parents seem to be incapable of helping their little popes grow up.
Fathers tell them over and over again not to lean out of windows,
but the sky is full of them.
It looks as if they are just taking it easy,
but they are learning something else.
What, we don't know, because we are not like them.
We can't even dress like them.
We are like red bugs or mites compared to them.
We think we are having a good time cutting cartoons out of the paper,
but really we are eating crumbs out of their hands.
We are tiny germs that cannot be seen under microscopes.
When a Pope is ready to come into the world,
we try to sing a song, but the words do not fit the music too well.
Some of the full-bodied popes are a million times bigger than us.
They open their mouths at regular intervals.
They are continually grinding up pieces of the cross
and spitting them out. Black flies cling to their lips.
Once they are elected they are given a bowl of cream
and a puppy clip. Eyebrows are a protection
when the Pope must plunge through dense underbrush

in search of a sheep.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Buddha the pinsetter

By Gabrielle Marcus

I was born Jewish
and I was told I was Jewish
but it was all very offhand and I
never knew what to do at Seder,
though I read very well:
at 7 I was told there
was no God by Mother at a
Motel 6 after her god had been
dethroned at our former residence;
still we meditated, Mother and I,
on a towel on the cement balcony over
Denny's; Mother wanted Jonathan to too;
he refused and read sci fi in the bedroom -
still I said yes because
I'd always been into pleasing her.

at 8 I took TM in
White Plains. We learned our mantras upstairs
and brought our teachers fruit;
one student said he'd seen
rows of Campbell soup cans rushing before his
eyes did anyone know what that meant?
the teacher said you could keep your
eyes open until you were 10, so I read;
after 10 I meditated less.

at 12 Mother said there was
a God I yelled back and she
yelled back that how could I be angry over
her confusion? I felt
very young
and then we attended
spiritualist churches and read
Shirley MacLaine books and
in them was my excuse for not
crying after my uncle's death
there is no death
and we tied crystals to
copper bands to our foreheads
and we prayed for the good of the world
on Thursdays,
then every second Wednesday,
then when no one was busy.

at 16 I read Emerson in class
and determined my Transcendentalism;
I prayed to Thoreau for my semester exam,
bowling his transparent eyeball into an
endless flow of gods.

First published in Bullseye, my high school literary magazine, in 1991. Line breaks are different than they appear here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

At Blanco and Rector Street

By Karin Riley

To the East Berliners who now walk across
the Wall
shouting "freedom"
-a triumph-
I want to show them the man I saw
standing at the intersection today
he held a sign in capital letters
and the cars rolled past and past
thinking of lunch
or perhaps annoyed that time is so short
and I
wrapped in shame for having
all along the highway the world blurred
because I cried
the arms of freedom
do not catch everyone gently.

--Published in Bullseye, my high school literary magazine, in 1990. Line breaks are different than they appear here.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Fist

By Derek Walcott

The fist clenched round my heart
loosens a little, and I gasp
brightness; but it tightens
again. When have I ever not loved
the pain of love? But this has moved

past love to mania. This has the strong
clench of the madman, this is
gripping the ledge of unreason, before
plunging howling into the abyss.

Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live.