Thursday, September 30, 2010

Black Sons

By Yvette Battle-Leaphart

It is common for black males to die young in these times
Prematurely, violently before their prime.
It is a phenomena that cannot be explained
But I see the wall of pain revisited by mothers
Whose sons die before their very eyes
And we, mothers, cry for the loss of our sons who die
And the loss of our sons who pulled the trigger.

My son crying at the wakes of dozens of his friends in as many years

What is this dark vigilante spirit that invades their soul?
Creating countless black holes in our universe
Perpetuating a twisted ecological balance-
Some weird equation with no solution
It is, after all, not the earth that yields
9 millimeters/assault rifles, Glock 9s ­

Yet they come to rest frequently in the hands of
the young who become life-takers, stalkers, hunters,
killers; declaring war on each other
trading a look, a gold chain, a girl... for a life?

This is our terror and our reality.
A cousin bound, gagged, tortured ­ dead at 15
His mom wailing, recognizing him only by a mole ­ a birthmark -
left starkly intact on his young face

Not just "over there" ---no --not just "over there"
Here - on my street today, yours tomorrow
Inner-city discontent turned to irrationality
bullets flying in the face of reason
for no reason that we can comprehend

Yet, we can launch spaceships. Build supercomputers.
Download massive amounts of data onto the heads of pins
But have no science to predict or save the next victim
Billions of dollars spent on war "over there"
­0-for this insidious war at home.

My sons survived;
Though I have held mothers of the sons who did not.

We will save the Great Winged Hawk from extinction
But, who will save our Black sons?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cross-fire

By Stacyann Chin

Am I a feminist
or a womanist
the student needs to know
if I do men occasionally
and primarily am I a lesbian

Tongue twisted in cheek I attempt to respond with honesty-

This business of sexual dykes and dykery
I tell her
is often messy-with social tensions as they are
you never quite know what you're getting
-some girls can only be straight at night
-hardcore butches be wearing dresses
between nine and six during the day
sometimes she is really a he trapped
by the limitations of our imagination-

Primarily
I am concerned about young women
who are raped on college campuses
in cars
after poetry readings like this one
in bars
bruised lip and broken heart
you will forgive her if she does not come
forward with the truth immediately

Everyone will think she asked for it
dressed as she was she must have wanted it

The words will knock about in her head
horny bitch
slut-harlot-tease
loose woman
some people cannot handle a woman on the loose
you know those women in silk-ties and pin-striped shirts
women in blood-red stilettos and short pink skirts
-these women make New York City the most interesting place
and while we're on the subject of diversity
Asia is not one big race
and there is no such country called the Islands
and no-I am not from there

There are a hundred ways
to slip between the cracks
of our not-so-credible cultural assumptions
and other peoples' interpretations of race and religion

Most people are surprised my father is Chinese-like
there's some preconditioned
look for the half-Chinese lesbian poet
who used to be Catholic but now believes in dreams

Let's keep it real
says the boy in the double-X hooded sweatshirt
that blond haired blue eyed Jesus in the Vatican ain't right
that motherfucker was Jewish, not white

Christ was a Middle Eastern Rastaman
who ate grapes in the company of prostitutes
and drank wine more than he drank water
born of the spirit the disciples also loved him in the flesh
but the discourse is on people who clearly identify as gay
or lesbian or straight
the State needs us to be left or right
those in the middle get caught
in the cross-fire away at the other side

If you are not for us you must be against us
People get scared enough they pick a team

Be it for Buddha or for Krishna or for Christ
God is that place between belief and what you name it
I believe holy is what you do
when there is nothing between your actions and the truth

I am afraid to draw your black lines around me
I am not always pale in the middle
I come in too many flavors for one fucking spoon

I am never one thing or the other-
at night I am everything I fear
tears and sorrows
black windows and muffled screams
in the morning I am all I want to be
wild rain and open laughter
bare footprints and invisible seams
always without breath or definition-I claim every dawn
for yesterday is simply what I was
and tomorrow
even that will be gone

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cupcake

By Zilla McCue


Reunited and it feels so good
I hadn’t had a Hostess Cupcake in 20 years
Until today
I held the box in my hand with wonder
I wondered if I could really eat it
Could I eat both of the cupcakes in the sleeve?
Could I do it in one sitting?
The calories
The net carbs
The joy,
The pain,
The creamy delicious middle,
The gelatinous top,
The moist cake,
They way it all melts together like a wondrous bakery miracle
Could I do it?
Oh yes
I did it!
I did it hard!
I savored every second of it
I devoured them
I licked the paper,
I licked my fingers
Then, I opened the second sleeve before I took my first breath
I could put the cake next to my nose and smell my childhood
The smell of that cupcake unlocked a door to a simpler time
A time when I could lay in the grass for hours, thinking only of the ice cream man
The smell of the cupcake catapulted me back to a time when I didn’t care about tomorrow and I didn’t really remember yesterday.
The creamy middle reminded me of my mother
How she would freeze the cupcakes to keep them fresh
We couldn’t wait until they thawed
We would chew at the frozen cake and unearth the hardened ball of frozen cream
Then let is melt in our mouths
It was heaven
Hostess cupcakes bring me to places of exploration before I realized that life was going to burn me
I washed it down with milk and then remembered that I still hate milk
I washed it down with coke and remembered that I still love coke
I thought about my friends, about trading lunches at school, about smoking cigarettes behind the dumpster, about swearing and teaching the dumb kids about sex, about being a bad little catholic girl and man, it man it still felt good.
The cupcake looks the exact same
Maybe a little smaller?
Or maybe I am a little bigger
I remember looking in my lunch bag and knowing that I had something cool
I would see that cupcake sitting along side my Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Along side my malformed peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was on a frozen hamburger bun
Again, my mother with the freezing and freshness
A sandwich that had slid out of the wax paper and was resting, naked in the bag, in soggy wet spot from the thaw
I would see that cupcake and know it was going to be all right
Everything was going to be O.K.
I don’t know why I bought the cupcakes today
I don’t even really remember it happening
I know that I ended up eating the entire box
I know that lay down on my couch in a tasty, sugar drunk haze
I know that I woke up with a chocolate ringed mouth, ashamed and with a hang over
But I felt young, I felt alive and those cupcakes set me FREE!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Do Not!

By Stevie Smith

Do not despair of man, and do not scold him,
Who are you that you should so lightly hold him?
Are you not also a man, and in your heart
Are there not warlike thoughts and fear and smart?
Are you not also afraid and in fear cruel,
Do you not think of yourself as usual,
Faint for ambition, desire to be loved,
Prick at a virtuous thought by beauty moved?
You love your wife, you hold your children dear,
Then say not that Man is vile, but say they are.
But they are not. So is your judgement shown
Presumptuous, false, quite vain, merely your own
Sadness for failed ambition set outside,
Made a philosophy of, prinked, beautified
In noble dress and into the world sent out
To run with the ill it most pretends to rout.
Oh know your own heart, that heart's not wholly evil,
And from the particular judge the general,
If judge you must, but with compassion see life,
Or else, of yourself despairing, flee strife.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

That Year

By Grace Paley

In my family
people who were eighty-two were very different
from people who were ninety-two

The eighty-two year old people grew up
it was 1914
this is what they knew
War World War War


That’s why when they speak to the child
they say
poor little one. . .

The ninety-two year old people remember
it was the year 1905
they went to prison
they went into exile
they said ah soon

When they speak to the grandchild
they say
yes there will be revolution
then there will be revolution then
once more then the earth itself
will turn and turn and cry out oh I
have been made sick

then you my little bud
must flower and save it

Friday, September 24, 2010

Why Latin Should Still Be Taught in High School

By Christopher Bursk

Because one day I grew so bored
with Lucretius, I fell in love
with the one object that seemed to be stationary,
the sleeping kid two rows up,
the appealing squalor of his drooping socks.
While the author of De Rerum Natura was making fun
of those who fear the steep way and lose the truth,
I was studying the unruly hairs on Peter Diamond’s right leg.
Titus Lucretius Caro labored, dactyl by dactyl
to convince our Latin IV class of the atomic
composition of smoke and dew,
and I tried to make sense of a boy’s ankles,
the calves’ intriguing
resiliency, the integrity to the shank,
the solid geometry of my classmate’s body.
Light falling through blinds,
a bee flinging itself into a flower,
a seemingly infinite set of texts
to translate and now this particular configuration of atoms
who was given a name at birth,
Peter Diamond, and sat two rows in front of me,
his long arms, his legs that like Lucretius’s hexameters
seemed to go on forever, all this hurly-burly
of matter that had the goodness to settle
long enough to make a body
so fascinating it got me
through fifty-five minutes
of the nature of things.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Big Tex and the Battenkill Maiden

By Bonnie Lyons

August’s newborn twin calves are packing on the pounds
and the lush goldenrod is now a browning omelet.
Already the maples are busy making their gaudy costumes
for the fall spectacular. For their finale they offer their finery
to the air in the world’s best striptease.

Kingfishers, blue heron, jays, wild geese.
cawing crows and complaining catbirds.
Chests outthrust, the merganser families float by
in their own river parade. Paying no attention,
the turkeys talk over travel plans. Cedar waxwings
like once popular Saabs are out out out,
chickadees and Subarus, very in right now.

Fly fishermen in fancy outfits catch and release.
Poor farmers try to hold on, just hold on.
Eyes closed, head out the car window,
our Airedale exhales audibly like a true yogi.
Big Tex and the Battenkill Maiden,
rusty flatbed trailer and paint-peeling motorboat,
sit close together on the horse farm meadow.

My man is too trim to be called Big Tex
and I shed my maidenhead fifty years ago.
Clear Brook Farm will close on Columbus Day
and we’ll clear out soon after that,
traveling back from the Battenkill
to Texas like the birds..

Monday, September 20, 2010

What Work Is

By Philip Levine

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is--if you're
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it's someone else's brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, "No,
we're not hiring today," for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who's not beside you or behind or
ahead because he's home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You've never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you're too young or too dumb,
not because you're jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don't know what work is.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

With My Back to City Hall, On Yom Kippur

By Jordan Davis


The gnats love the highway dividers,
the freelance pickup artists love the softness of the hands
of the women who love their friends
for walking with them laughing at the situation,
lost people love that I am sitting here looking likely to know,
I love it when I know, knowledge in the form of radar
loves the cloud cover which resembles my headache
in its topography and its effect on my mood,
the path which connects Park Row with Broadway
loves the paranoia which has closed off all the paths closer than this to City Hall,
Jesus loves the balding man in the striped windbreaker
who looks at my small script and remarks, "Jesus loves you,"
I love the silk suit and the hard candy curl hair
of the middle-aged black woman going by with her dry cleaning,
I love the sock the bundled baby recumbent in an Aprica stroller kicks out,
I love from a distance the speck this woman in the tight clothes
reaches to brush from her shoe, I love the effect it has on her distraction, I love
the ties tucked into the short sleeve shirts of the men returning from lunch,
I love the men and women my age strolling
with purpose in their Pumas, the feather tumbling by,
the drift of the hulking red haired woman with psoriatic elbows,
the opal in the hairbow of the Hindi woman in white robes
and the tuck of her husband's shirt into his jeans,
the ticking of the wheel of the bicycle rolled along
by a backpack-wearing man on foot,
the acceleration of an open-roof double-decker tour bus,
the ignition cough of the not-in-service kneeling bus,
the change clod and leaf-shuffle of the lower torsos
and the carry-out conveyor sound of a closed up shopping cart,
I love the downturned glance of the woman carrying the Borzoi College Reader crossing against the light and going into Pace,
may all these people have rent-stabilized leases,
and may they be registered to vote, in their unions,
and in the next election.

Friday, September 17, 2010

You and Art

By William Stafford

Your exact errors make a music
that nobody hears.
Your straying feet find the great dance,
walking alone.
And you live on a world where stumbling
always leads home.

Year after year fits over your face—
when there was youth, your talent
was youth;
later, you find your way by touch
where moss redeems the stone;

and you discover where music begins
before it makes any sound,
far in the mountains where canyons go
still as the always-falling, ever-new flakes of snow.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

talisman

By Suheir Hammad

it is written
the act of writing is
holy words are
sacred and your breath
brings out the
god in them
i write these words
quickly repeat them
softly to myself
this talisman for you
fold this prayer
around your neck fortify
your back with these
whispers
may you walk ever
loved and in love
know the sun
for warmth the moon
for direction
may these words always
remind you your breath
is sacred words
bring out the god
in you

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Brad Pitt

By Aaron Smith

With cotton candy armpits and sugary
Crevices, sweat glazing your donut skin.
Have you ever been fat, Brad?
Have you ever wanted a Snickers
More than love and lain on your bed
While the phone rang and rolled one
On your tongue, afraid to eat it, afraid
It would make your jeans too tight? Have you
Barfed, Brad, because you ate it,
Ate all the take-out, licked
Brown sauce off the box while you sobbed?
Brad Pitt down in the pits chaining menthol
Ciggys in your thick-wallet life,
It’s not so bad Brad, sad Brad, is it?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Morning, Thinking of Empire

By Raymond Carver

We press our lips to the enameled rim of the cups
and know this grease that floats
over the coffee will one day stop our hearts.
Eyes and fingers drop onto silverware
that is not silverware. Outside the window, waves
beat against the chipped walls of the old city.
Your hands rise from the rough tablecloth
as if to prophesy. Your lips tremble …
I want to say to hell with the future.
Our future lies deep in the afternoon.
It is a narrow street with a cart and driver,
a driver who looks at us and hesitates,
then shakes his head. Meanwhile,
I coolly crack the egg of a fine Leghorn chicken.
Your eyes film. You turn from me and look across
the rooftops at the sea. Even the flies are still.
I crack the other egg.
Surely we have diminished one another.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Redaction

By Carmen Giménez Smith

We make dogma out of letter writing: the
apocryphal story
of Lincoln who wrote angry letters he never sent.
We wait for letters
for days and days. Someone tells me I'll write you
a letter
and I feel he's saying you're different than anyone
else.
Distance's buzz gets louder and louder. It gets to
be a blackest hole.
I want the letter about the time we cross the avenue,
and you reach
for my hand without looking—I am afraid I'm not
what you want.
We float down the street as if in the curve of a pod
and the starry black is like the inside of a secret.
We're drunk.
The streetlight exposes us which becomes the
deepest
horror. Yes. End the letter like that, so it becomes
authorless.
Then the letter might give off secrets: acid
imbalances that detonate.



**Note: Line breaks are supposed to include every other line being indented, but Blogger won't let me do that

Friday, September 10, 2010

God Speaks To Each Of Us

By Rainer Maria Rilke

God speaks to each of us before we are,
Before he's formed us — then, in cloudy speech,
But only then, he speaks these words to each
And silently walks with us from the dark:

Driven by your senses, dare
To the edge of longing. Grow
Like a fire's shadowcasting glare
Behind assembled things, so you can spread
Their shapes on me as clothes.
Don't leave me bare.

Let it all happen to you: beauty and dread.
Simply go — no feeling is too much —
And only this way can we stay in touch.

Near here is the land
That they call Life.
You'll know when you arrive
By how real it is.

Give me your hand.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Journey

By Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Vocation

By Sandra Beasley

For six months I dealt Baccarat in a casino.
For six months I played Brahms in a mall.
For six months I arranged museum dioramas;
my hands were too small for the Paleolithic
and when they reassigned me to lichens, I quit.
I type ninety-one words per minute, all of them
Help. Yes, I speak Dewey Decimal.
I speak Russian, Latin, a smattering of Tlingit.
I can balance seven dinner plates on my arm.
All I want to do is sit on a veranda while
a hard rain falls around me. I'll file your 1099s.
I'll make love to strangers of your choice.
I'll do whatever you want, as long as I can do it
on that veranda. If it calls you, it's your calling,
right? Once I asked a broker what he loved
about his job, and he said Making a killing.
Once I asked a serial killer what made him
get up in the morning, and he said The people.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

caverns

By Katherine Perry

i scoop seeds of a cantaloupe
with a soup spoon, dropping each
ball into the sink until the orange
mass covers the drain.
switching on the disposal, i
watch the potential plants
being sucked away into a sewer
system where no soil will ever
nurture them. The expectant
house looms over me like
carlsbad
where an eight-year-old me watched
the growing mud bulge and balloon
under years of single drops
of earth and stone, blood and bone
of our planet. to spice up the browns
and whites for kids like me, the
national park system set up spotlights
of reds, blues, purples, and golds
to make the stalagmites and stalactites
pulse.
i fill my flat belly, a testament to hours
of pilates and yoga, with fruit: no
stretch marks, no sagging breasts. inside,
no cell has ever grown, no replication, not
even a mistake that i could scrape away
like the scores of the women i have known,
crying, conflicted, contrite
as the doctor swept away the mishaps
of youth, the fertilization that came too early.
upstairsbedrooms without beds wait for me
to make decisions, ask me how many more
years i will watch the droplets form
and then wipe them away. an echo
repeats the question, bounces between
the flat walls and the angular wedge cuts.
nothing swells, nothing grows, even the echoes
flatten.


Previously published in Southern Women's Review, Vol 2, Issue 2

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Politics

By Carol Ann Duffy

How it makes of your face a stone
that aches to weep, of your heart a fist,
clenched or thumping, sweating blood, of your tongue
an iron latch with no door. How it makes of your right hand
a gauntlet, a glove-puppet of the left, of your laugh
a dry leaf blowing in the wind, of your desert island discs
hiss hiss hiss, makes of the words on your lips dice
that can throw no six. How it takes the breath
away, the piss, makes of your kiss a dropped pound coin,
makes of your promises latin, gibberish, feedback, static,
of your hair a wig, of your gait a plankwalk. How it says this –
politics – to your education education education; shouts this –
Politics! – to your health and wealth; how it roars, to your
conscience moral compass truth, POLITICS POLITICS POLITICS.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Someone Said

By Adam Stone

Someone said poetry was art
Like storytelling, conversation, or flirting
And it poured forth from their soul
Because to them, the message was more important than the mode
Until

Someone said poetry was art
Like music
So they gave it a beat
Arranged their thoughts by vowel sounds and consonance
They sang it to their loves
They sang it to the streets
They sang it to their kings
Until some king or some queen or some scholar or

Someone said poetry was art
Like logic, or literature
And they shackled it into categories:
Rhetoric/Romance/Mystery
Modernism/Post Modernism/Cubism
Cuban Verse/Free Verse/Blank Verse
Sestinas/Sonnets/Raps or Hymns
Until

Someone said poetry was art
Like paintings or sculptures
And they hung it next to their Norman Rockwells
Friends, passing the poem on the way to the television room
Were forced to either comment on its “depth”
Or else dismiss them completely
Until, in passing

Someone said poetry was not art
But math
A finite set of answers to a given question
Few variables
Each simile assimilated into psychological profile

Because poetry was neither art nor math
But science
An alkaline measurement of a person's sanity
Less expensive than a doctor
More damaging than medication
Poetry had become a type of therapy
Like boxing or counting down from ten
Or art
I seem to remember

Someone said poetry was art
And they lifted it with their tongues
To the ears of those who would not look at it on paper
They enhanced the text with tone and texture
They taught it to their children
They sang it in their showers
But they dared not bring it out in public alone
For fear of embarrassment or opinions

Until someone said that poetry was art
Like dancing or drama
So they shouted it from street corners
Brought it to their museums, their coffeehouses, their bars
They commented on it
Compared it, contrasted it, comprehended it, competed with it
And they called these competitions “Slams”
Until one day

Someone slamming said poetry was art
At a price
Peace, souls, and entirely too much free time
To limit their thoughts to three minute time intervals
Someone didn't want to be known as a slam poet
Or a SPOKEN WORD PO-ET
Or a scholarly written poet
Someone just wanted to be known as a poet
Because somehow somewhere they'd heard that

Someone said poetry was art
Like thinking, living or breathing
And to be limited to either page or voice
Would be like being given the choice between inhaling—
Or exhaling
Sure

Someone said that poetry was art
But nobody bought it

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Room and the World

By Stephen Dunn

The room was room enough for one
or maybe two if the two had just
discovered each other and were one.
Outside of the room was the world
which had a key to the room, and knowing
a little about the world he knew
how pointless it was to change the lock.
He knew the world could enter the room
anytime it wanted, but for the present
the world was content to do its damage
elsewhere, which the television recorded.
Always, he kept in his mind the story of a man
hanging from a cliff, how the wildflowers
growing there looked lovelier than ever.
That was how he felt about his one chair
and the geometry of the hangers in his closet
and the bed that fit him like a body shirt.
Sometimes the world would breathe heavily
outside the door because it was obscene
and could not help itself. It was this
that led him eventually to love the world
for its pressure and essential sadness.
One day he just found himself opening
the door, allowing the inevitable.
The world came in and filled the room.
It seemed so familiar with everything.