Sunday, July 31, 2011

That Time Of Year Thou Mayst In Me Behold (Sonnet 73)

By William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Friday, July 29, 2011


By Jane Kenyon

The dog has cleaned his bowl
and his reward is a biscuit,
which I put in his mouth
like a priest offering the host.

I can't bear that trusting face!
He asks for bread, expects
bread, and I in my power
might have given him a stone.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

In the subway car

By Charles Reznikoff

In the subway car all are reading intently
their newspapers;
students of current events, no doubt.
War in Viet Nam, crisis in the Middle East, clashes between
the Russians and the Chinese.
But when the train reaches the station at the race-track,
young and old rush out;
they have been merely students of the racing-charts, it seems.

But not all:
one man remains seated,
pencil in hand,
deep in thought—
doing a cross-word puzzle.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Three Sixty

By Ruth Gooley

From the Overlook, I can see it all:
the scythelike bow of the Santa Monica Bay,
the far-off crawl of Catalina Island, rain-green hills,
a red-tailed hawk, sun-bright, wings outstretched like a jet.

In thrall, I decide, again,
that this is where my ashes
will be scattered, here,
where sky, sea, mountains, city collide.

A leaf moves oddly,
against the wind.
A grasshopper or
a green butterfly, perhaps.
But when I get up to look,
I see a furry grey head
peeking up from a hole.
The animal ducks back like a bashful child,
jumps out, grabs a small thick leaf in its mouth
and retreats.

I forget all about my ashes
and marvel at the mole.

First published in Red Poppy Review, July 2011

For a Fatherless Son

By Sylvia Plath

You will be aware of an absence, presently,
Growing beside you, like a tree,
A death tree, color gone, an Australian gum tree ---
Balding, gelded by lightning--an illusion,
And a sky like a pig's backside, an utter lack of attention.
But right now you are dumb.
And I love your stupidity,
The blind mirror of it. I look in
And find no face but my own, and you think that's funny.
It is good for me
To have you grab my nose, a ladder rung.
One day you may touch what's wrong ---
The small skulls, the smashed blue hills, the godawful hush.
Till then your smiles are found money.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Stepping Across the Border

By Shadab Zeest Hashmi

From my home window
    Prussian blue
Mazda’s window
    broken glass blue
my school’s window
    carbon-paper blue

    circled my life like a spell
in blue

At Tor Khum
    they were touching distance
Was it charcoal or chalk or rope
    that marked the border?
Afghanistan was just beyond a slim crease of blue

Before being warned by the guards
    I had moved my foot across
To step into what would later become ash blue

The guards made me step back
    gave me a water-melon
I was only a child under the spell of mountains
    Out of which I would later see
refugees flow
    River blue              Bruise blue

Note: Tor Khum or The Black Curve is a small town on the northwestern border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Shadab Zeest Hashmi is the author of Baker of Tarifa, a book of poems based on Medieval Spain where the three Abrahamic faiths shared a golden age. Hashmi's work has been published in Nimrod International, The Cortland Review, Journal of Postcolonial Writings, and other places. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her book won the 2011 San Diego Book Award.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

No Wife in Sight

By Ren Jender

“He talks about the wife a lot,” my girlfriend said of the straight guy who shares her office.

“Like ‘the car’, ‘the house’, ‘the dog’,” I offered.

“Yeah,” she said. “Women don’t do that.”

If she had been talking about straight women she would have been right. They rarely refer to “the husband.” They say, “my husband,” the same way they say “my mother, my father, my aunt, my uncle.” But in liberal Massachusetts, “the wife” endures – even in queer psyches. Barely a year after queer marriage became legal I read a post on a queer women’s mailing list that began, “Over the weekend the wife and I went to this great new bar…”

Whether it has a definite article in front of it or not, “wife” is one of those names whose proximity can poison the words around it. Any banker, plumber, or garbage collector can hold his or her head high if he or she is called “accomplished”, “top-tier”, or “first-class”, but put any of those descriptions next to “wife” and a tang of sarcasm leaks into them.

“Wife” has a taint equaled only by the “Miss America” title. If the next Miss America had a pierced clit and bright blue and green fire-breathing dragon tattoo stretching from her shoulder, across her back, and ending on the front of her upper thigh, not only would she not be considered cool, but huge ornate tattoos and clit piercings would, in an instant, become as stale and outdated as a grandmother’s dentures and “Evening in Paris” perfume. Most grandmothers are wives too.

The coolest dyke couple I know, after being together for years married soon after the law changed. I had to ask one of them, “Do your refer to each other as ‘wife’?”

She narrowed her eyes and shook her head. “We prefer partner. ‘Wife’ is kind of a loaded term.”

A corporate lawyer friend who also writes poetry is of the generation that tends to smile and give clueless straight people a pass. But when her writers’ group was looking for new members she made her one preference clear, “No more doctor’s wives,” she said.

When I first started to frequent lesbian bars I avoided the seventies-style feminists perched on their stools not just because of their bad haircuts and outfits but because I couldn’t get past their self-righteous disdain for lipstick, razors, and sex toys: the best things in life. When queer marriage became legal I really missed these women. Whatever faults they had they wouldn’t be, like so many engaged dyke couples interviewed in the media, gushing, with all the depth and incisiveness of a bridal magazine, about how wonderful becoming a wife would be. Friends of friends well into their thirties who had been through ever other permutation of relationship among the Boston dyke dating pool, got engaged after they’d known each other two months – just like we used to make fun of straight people for doing.

Still, when I was invited to this wedding, my first legal same-sex wedding I not only accepted, but promised, “If I find the right dress, I’ll wear it.” Before Gillian Anderson’s sensible pant suits in The X Files, and Hillary Clinton’s Senatorial campaign wardrobe I was the woman who wore girl clothes and makeup but never donned dresses or skirts no matter what the occasion. A decade ago I wrote a poem about making one exception to the no dresses policy: if I won an Academy Award – I’d have to know beforehand I was going to win, though: being nominated wouldn’t be enough. Since I hadn’t written a screenplay and had no immediate plans to do so, I thought I was safe. To one of my cousin’s weddings I wore a satin blouse cut from a vintage wedding dress and tails with my dress pants – and still got disapproving looks from my mother.

For this wedding I tried on a lot of terrible dresses – decorated with two many bows and baubles, laughably overpriced and ranging from a too tight size 10 to a billowing size 6. I settled on this all-silk crimson secondhand number that cost $18. It fit like a glove, but I can’t get into it without assistance – a problem that doesn’t arise with pants that fit. The dress also necessitated my cutting back on dessert consumption for a month beforehand so that pulling up the last inch of the zipper wouldn’t regress from being a challenge to an impossibility. Like most dresses it doesn’t have pockets, so I had to buy the first – and last – purse of my adult life.

Why go to all that trouble for a celebration that will create not one but two wives? Maybe because one time sifting through the sweaty crowd at a 90 degree Pride I saw Eve and J. L. give each other a spontaneous kiss that didn’t seem perfunctory – or like a last ditch effort to keep either party from committing murder. Maybe because even though queer marriage became legal in Massachusetts over a year ago – for which there was a big midnight celebration at Cambridge City Hall – I couldn’t find a marriage card that featured a couple different from the one-woman-and-one-man ethos even in my two favorite, funky stores near Harvard Square. Maybe those of us who have been the confidante for women of all sexual orientations hope for more to change instead of just a switch from saying, “That’s terrible what he said to you” to “That’s terrible what she said to you.” My advice is, no matter what your legal status is don’t let anyone be the designated wife. Have a marriage with no wife in sight, you’re off to a good start.

Friday, July 22, 2011

On the Nature of Understanding

By Kay Ryan

Say you hoped to
tame something
wild and stayed
calm and inched up
day by day. Or even
not tame it but
meet it halfway.
Things went along.
You made progress,
it would be a
lengthy process,
sensing changes
in your hair and
nails. So it's
strange when it
attacks: you though
you had a deal

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Witch's Life

By Anne Sexton

When I was a child
there was an old woman in our neighborhood whom we called The Witch.
All day she peered from her second story
from behind the wrinkled curtains
and sometimes she would open the window
and yell: Get out of my life!
She had hair like kelp
and a voice like a boulder.

I think of her sometimes now
and wonder if I am becoming her.
My shoes turn up like a jester's.
Clumps of my hair, as I write this,
curl up individually like toes.
I am shoveling the children out,
scoop after scoop.
Only my books anoint me,
and a few friends,
those who reach into my veins.
Maybe I am becoming a hermit,
opening the door for only
a few special animals?
Maybe my skull is too crowded
and it has no opening through which
to feed it soup?
Maybe I have plugged up my sockets
to keep the gods in?
Maybe, although my heart
is a kitten of butter,
I am blowing it up like a zeppelin.
Yes. It is the witch's life,
climbing the primordial climb,
a dream within a dream,
then sitting here
holding a basket of fire.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Twenty-One Love Poems

By Adrienne Rich

Wherever in this city, screens flicker
with pornography, with science-fiction vampires,
victimized hirelings bending to the lash,
we also have to walk… if simply as we walk
through the rainsoaked garbage, the tabloid cruelties
of our own neighborhoods.
We need to grasp our lives inseparable
from those rancid dreams, that blurt of metal, those disgraces,
and the red begonia perilously flashing
from a tenement sill six stories high,
or the long-legged young girls playing ball
in the junior high school playground.
No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees,
sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air,
dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding,
our animal passion rooted in the city.

I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
you’ve been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
our friend the poet comes into my room
where I’ve been writing for days,
drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
and I want to show her one poem
which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
and wake. You’ve kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone…
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.

Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time
for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp
in time tells me we’re not young.
Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,
my limbs streaming with a purer joy?
did I lean from any window over the city
listening for the future
as I listen here with nerves tuned for your ring?
And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.
Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark
of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,
the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.
At twenty, yes: we thought we’d live forever.
At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.
I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other life,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.

I come home from you through the early light of spring
flashing off ordinary walls, the Pez Dorado,
the Discount Wares, the shoe-store… I’m lugging my sack
of groceries, I dash for the elevator
where a man, taut, elderly, carefully composed
lets the door almost close on me.—For god’s sake hold it!
I croak at him.—Hysterical,--he breathes my way.
I let myself into the kitchen, unload my bundles,
make coffee, open the window, put on Nina Simone
singing Here comes the sun… I open the mail,
drinking delicious coffee, delicious music,
my body still both light and heavy with you. The mail
lets fall a Xerox of something written by a man
aged 27, a hostage, tortured in prison:
My genitals have been the object of such a sadistic display
they keep me constantly awake with the pain…
Do whatever you can to survive.
You know, I think that men love wars…
And my incurable anger, my unmendable wounds
break open further with tears, I am crying helplessly,
and they still control the world, and you are not in my arms.

This apartment full of books could crack open
to the thick jaws, the bulging eyes
of monsters, easily: Once open the books, you have to face
the underside of everything you’ve loved—
the rack and pincers held in readiness, the gag
even the best voices have had to mumble through,
the silence burying unwanted children—
women, deviants, witnesses—in desert sand.
Kenneth tells me he’s been arranging his books
so he can look at Blake and Kafka while he types;
yes; and we still have to reckon with Swift
loathing the woman’s flesh while praising her mind,
Goethe’s dread of the Mothers, Claudel vilifying Gide,
and the ghosts—their hands clasped for centuries—
of artists dying in childbirth, wise-women charred at the stake,
centuries of books unwritten piled behind these shelves;
and we still have to stare into the absence
of men who would not, women who could not, speak
to our life—this still unexcavated hole
called civilization, this act of translation, this half-world.

Your small hands, precisely equal to my own—
only the thumb is larger, longer—in these hands
I could trust the world, or in many hands like these,
handling power-tools or steering-wheel
or touching a human face… Such hands could turn
the unborn child rightways in the birth canal
or pilot the exploratory rescue-ship
through icebergs, or piece together
the fine, needle-like sherds of a great krater-cup
bearing on its sides
figures of ecstatic women striding
to the sibyl’s den or the Eleusinian cave—
such hands might carry out an unavoidable violence
with such restraint, with such a grasp
of the range and limits of violence
that violence ever after would be obsolete.

What kind of beast would turn its life into words?
What atonement is this all about?
--and yet, writing words like these, I’m also living.
Is all this close to the wolverines’ howled signals,
that modulated cantata of the wild?
or, when away from you I try to create you in words,
am I simply using you, like a river or a war?
And how have I used rivers, how have I used wars
to escape writing of the worst thing of all—
not the crimes of others, not even our own death,
but the failure to want our freedom passionately enough
so that blighted elms, sick rivers, massacres would seem
mere emblems of that desecration of ourselves?

I can see myself years back at Sunion,
hurting with an infected foot, Philoctetes
in woman’s form, limping the long path,
lying on a headland over the dark sea,
looking down the red rocks to where a soundless curl
of white told me a wave had struck,
imagining the pull of that water from that height,
knowing deliberate suicide wasn’t my métier,
yet all the time nursing, measuring that wound.
Well, that’s finished. The woman who cherished
her suffering is dead. I am her descendant.
I love the scar-tissue she handed on to me,
but I want to go on from here with you
fighting the temptation to make a career of pain.

Your silence today is a pond where drowned things live
I want to see raised dripping and brought into the sun.
It’s not my own face I see there, but other faces,
even your face at another age.
Whatever’s lost there is needed by both of us—
a watch of old gold, a water-blurred fever chart,
a key… Even the silt and pebbles of the bottom
deserve their glint of recognition. I fear this silence,
this inarticulate life. I’m waiting
for a wind that will gently open this sheeted water
for once, and show me what I can do
for you, who have often made the unnameable
nameable for others, even for me.

Your dog, tranquil and innocent, dozes through
our cries, our murmured dawn conspiracies
our telephone calls. She knows—what can she know?
If in my human arrogance I claim to read
her eyes, I find there only my own animal thoughts:
that creatures must find each other for bodily comfort,
that voices of the psyche drive through the flesh
further than the dense brain could have foretold,
that the planetary nights are growing cold for those
on the same journey, who want to touch
one creature-traveler clear to the end;
that without tenderness, we are in hell.

Every peak is a crater. This is the law of volcanoes,
making them eternally and visibly female.
No height without depth, without a burning core,
though our straw soles shred on the hardened lava.
I want to travel with you to every sacred mountain
smoking within like the sibyl stooped over his tripod,
I want to reach for your hand as we scale the path,
to feel your arteries glowing in my clasp,
never failing to note the small, jewel-like flower
unfamiliar to us, nameless till we rename her,
that clings to the slowly altering rock—
that detail outside ourselves that brings us to ourselves,
was here before us, knew we would come, and sees beyond us.

Sleeping, turning in turn like planets
rotating in their midnight meadow:
a touch is enough to let us know
we’re not alone in the universe, even in sleep:
the dream-ghosts of two worlds
walking their ghost-towns, almost address each other.
I’ve wakened to your muttered words
spoken light- or dark-years away
as if my own voice had spoken.
But we have different voices, even in sleep,
and our bodies, so alike, are yet so different
and the past echoing through our bloodstreams
is freighted with different language, different meanings—
though in any chronicle of the world we share
it could be written with new meaning
we were two lovers of one gender,
we were two women of one generation.

The rules break like a thermometer,
quicksilver spills across the charted systems,
we’re out in a country that has no language
no laws, we’re chasing the raven and the wren
through gorges unexplored since dawn
whatever we do together is pure invention
the maps they gave us were out of date
by years… we’re driving through the desert
wondering if the water will hold out
the hallucinations turn to simple villages
the music on the radio comes clear—
neither Rosenkavalier nor Götterdämmerung
but a woman’s voice singing old songs
with new words, with a quiet bass, a flute
plucked and fingered by women outside the law.

It was your vision of the pilot
confirmed my vision of you: you said, He keeps
on steering headlong into the waves, on purpose
while we crouched in the open hatchway
vomiting into plastic bags
for three hours between St. Pierre and Miquelon.
I never felt closer to you.
In the close cabin where the honeymoon couples
huddled in each other’s laps and arms
I put my hand on your thigh
to comfort both of us, your hand came over mine,
we stayed that way, suffering together
in our bodies, as if all suffering
were physical, we touched so in the presence
of strangers who knew nothing and cared less
vomiting their private pain
as if all suffering were physical.

(The Floating Poem, Unnumbered)

Whatever happens with us, your body
will haunt mine—tender, delicate
your lovemaking, like the half-curled frond
of the fiddlehead fern in forests
just washed by sun. Your traveled, generous thighs
between which my whole face has come and come—
the innocence and wisdom of the place my tongue has found there—
the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth—
your touch on me, firm, protective, searching
me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers
reaching where I had been waiting for years for you
in my rose-wet cave—whatever happens, this is.

If I lay on that beach with you
white, empty, pure green water warmed by the Gulf Stream
and lying on that beach we could not stay
because the wind drove fine sand against us
as if it were against us
if we tried to withstand it and we failed—
if we drove to another place
to sleep in each other’s arms
and the beds were narrow like prisoners’ cots
and we were tired and did not sleep together
and this was what we found, so this is what we did—
was the failure ours?
If I cling to circumstances I could feel
not responsible. Only she who says
she did not choose, is the loser in the end.

Across a city from you, I’m with you,
just as an August night
moony, inlet-warm, seabathed, I watched you sleep,
the scrubbed, sheenless wood of the dressing-table
cluttered with our brushes, books, vials in the moonlight—
or a salt-mist orchard, lying at your side
watching red sunset through the screendoor of the cabin,
G minor Mozart on the tape-recorder,
falling asleep to the music of the sea.
This island of Manhattan is wide enough
for both of us, and narrow:
I can hear your breath tonight, I know how your face
lies upturned, the halflight tracing
your generous, delicate mouth
where grief and laughter sleep together.

No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone.
The accidents happen, we’re not heroines,
they happen in our lives like car crashes,
books that change us, neighborhoods
we move into and come to love.
Tristan und Isolde is scarcely the story,
women at least should know the difference
between love and death. No poison cup,
no penance. Merely a notion that the tape-recorder
should have caught some ghost of us: that tape-recorder
not merely played but should have listened to us,
and could instruct those after us:
this we were, this is how we tried to love,
and these are the forces they had ranged against us,
and theses are the forces we had ranged within us,
within us and against us, against us and within us.

Rain on the West Side Highway,
red light at Riverside:
the more I love the more I think
two people together is a miracle.
You’re telling the story of your life
for once, a tremor breaks the surface of your words.
The story of our lives becomes our lives.
Now you’re in fugue across what some I’m sure
Victorian poet called the salt estranging sea.
Those are the words that come to mind.
I feel estrangement, yes. As I’ve felt dawn
pushing towards daybreak. Something: a cleft of light—?
Close between grief and anger, a space opens
where I am Adrienne alone. And growing colder.

Can it be growing colder when I begin
to touch myself again, adhesions pull away?
When slowly the naked face turns from staring backward
and looks into the present,
the eye of winter, city, anger, poverty, and death
and the lips part and say: I mean to go on living?
Am I speaking coldly when I tell you in a dream
or in this poem, There are no miracles?
(I told you from the first I wanted daily life,
this island of Manhattan was island enough for me.)
If I could let you know—
two women together is a work
nothing in civilization has make simple,
two people together is a work
heroic in its ordinariness,
the slow-picked, halting traverse of a pitch
where the fiercest attention becomes routine
—look at the faces of those who have chosen it.

That conversation we were always on the edge
of having, runs on in my head,
at night the Hudson trembles in New Jersey light
polluted water yet reflecting even
sometimes the moon
and I discern a woman
I loved, drowning in secrets, fear wound round her throat
and choking her like hair. And this is she
with whom I tried to speak, whose hurt, expressive head
turning aside from pain, is dragged down deeper
where it cannot hear me,
and soon I shall know I was talking to my own soul.

The dark lintels, the blue and foreign stones
of the great round rippled by stone implements
the midsummer night light rising form beneath
the horizon—when I said “a cleft of light”
I meant this. And this is not Stonehenge
simply nor any place but the mind
casting back to where her solitude,
shared, could be chosen without loneliness,
not easily nor without pains to stake out
the circle, the heavy shadows, the great light.
I choose to be a figure in that light,
half-blotted by darkness, something moving
across that space, the color of stone
greeting the moon, yet more than stone:
a woman. I choose to walk here. And to draw this circle.

Monday, July 18, 2011


By Martin Rosner

Increasingly, I am a spectator.
I see the world as slides
Viewed through a stereopticon,
People fixed in place, silent,
Closing out their empty words,
The rage, the pain,confusion
Surging through the tortured air,
Broadcast like a storm
Of sound, stifling the music
Of the wind, the birds,
The language of the waves.
You say I am retreating,
That I am wrapping up
My feelings to avoid
The clamor of humanity,
The ceaseless din
Of history unfolding
Like the swelling chorus
Of a dirge.
You say that I walk backwards
Towards the future,
Unable to shield my eyes
From the horrors of the past,
Knowing that they penetrate
The illusion of the present,
That those who walk
Beside me are anesthetized
Just enough to dull
The searing truth
Which would consume them
Like a sudden blast of flame.
But I am no coward,
Just old enough to know
That you are right.

Martin Rosner, M.D. has been published in numerous magazines and newspapers including 17 poems in "The New York Times" and is currently part of the course in modern poetry at American International College. He lives in New Jersey.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Advice from La Llorona

By Deborah A. Miranda

A found poem

Each grief has its unique side.
Choose the one that appeals to you.
Go gently.
Your body needs energy to repair the amputation.
Humor phantom pain.

Your brain cells are soaked with salt;
connections fail unexpectedly and often.
Ask for help.
Accept help.

Read your grief like the daily newspaper:
headlines may have information you need.
Scream. Drop-kick the garbage can across the street.

Don’t feel guilty if you have a good time.
Don’t act as if you haven’t been hit by a Mack Truck.
Do things a little differently
but don’t make a lot of changes.
Revel in contradiction.

Talk to the person who died.
Give her a piece of your mind.

Try to touch someone at least once a day.
Approach grief with determination.
Pretend the finish line doesn’t keep receding.
Lean into the pain.
You can’t outrun it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Health-Food Diner

By Maya Angelou

No sprouted wheat and soya shoots
And Brussels in a cake,
Carrot straw and spinach raw,
(Today, I need a steak).

Not thick brown rice and rice pilaw
Or mushrooms creamed on toast,
Turnips mashed and parsnips hashed,
(I'm dreaming of a roast).

Health-food folks around the world
Are thinned by anxious zeal,
They look for help in seafood kelp
(I count on breaded veal).

No smoking signs, raw mustard greens,
Zucchini by the ton,
Uncooked kale and bodies frail
Are sure to make me run


Loins of pork and chicken thighs
And standing rib, so prime,
Pork chops brown and fresh ground round
(I crave them all the time).

Irish stews and boiled corned beef
and hot dogs by the scores,
or any place that saves a space
For smoking carnivores.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


By Dorianne Laux

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.
Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don't regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You've walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You've traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don't bother remembering
any of it. Let's stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by


By Rafael Campo

While jogging on the treadmill at the gym,
that exercise in getting nowhere fast,
I realized we need a health pandemic.
Obesity writ large no more, Alzheimer's
forgotten, we could live carefree again.
We'd chant the painted shaman's sweaty oaths,
We'd kiss the awful relics of the saints,
we'd sip the bitter tea from twisted roots,
we'd listen to our grandmothers' advice.
We'd understand the moonlight's whispering.
We'd exercise by making love outside,
and afterwards, while thinking only of
how much we'd lived in just one moment's time,
forgive ourselves for wanting something more:
to praise the memory of long-lost need,
or not to live forever in a world
made painless by our incurable joy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ask Much, The Voice Suggested

By Jane Hirshfield

Ask much, the voice suggested, and I startled.
Feeling my body like the trembling body of a horse
tied to its tree while the strange noise
passes over its ears.
I who in extremity had always wanted less,
even of eating, of sleeping.
Agile, the voice did not speak again, but waited.
“Want more” -
a cure for longing I had not thought of.
But that is how it is with wells.
Whatever is taken refills to the steady level.
The voice agreed, though softly, to quiet the feet of the horse:
A cup taken out, a cup reappears; a bucketful taken, a bucket.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Prayer for a Bad Performance

By Kirk Lynn

Make it quick. Please.
Let’s skip the intermission tonight.
Shorten this performance
if only by a single, dropped line.

Let something unexpected happpen.

Enter a character
to remind me of someone I slept with,
someone I loved too briefly,
someone for whom I’m still longing,
someone I still look for
in minor characters,
the way I, myself, have been
a minor character
in the lives of those I loved too briefly.

Forgive me for the performances I’ve made.
Forgive me my intermissions.
—as I should forgive this performance.

Teach me to see effort in the work of others
rather than flaws.

Remind me of all the things
there are to study and enjoy in this room:
the miracle of audience,
the many kinds of laughter,
the several sexes,
imagined intercourse,
the smells we try to sweep beneath the rugs
of our deodorants and perfumes,
the shock of touching a stranger
in the seat next to me
even if only with an elbow,
the warmth of the human body,
the untamable imagination
(and its fractal patterns of consciousness
which, even as they spiral out from my mind,
are a part of this performance,
doing as much to alter the rhythm of the evening
as any missed cue or smooth recovery),
the way silence charges a room,
the time travel and telepathy of literature,
how someone can have a thought
hundreds of years ago
or miles away from here
and by a series of magical symbols (like these)
communicate that thought with others
across the miles and years.

If nothing else, help me use this evening
as a way of training my heart.

I remember R. once telling me
how, in fulfilling her lifelong dream
of going to the opera in Rome,
she was amazed the audience
had dressed itself so crisply
and carried themselves
like an aesthetic military in procession
down the aisles to their assigned seats
as if they each had been cast for a role
in the performance.
When the orchestra began
the audience leaned forward en masse
to meet the music partway.
When the tenor first lifted his chin
and opened his mouth so wide
you would think he wanted to give the gods
direct access to the heart in his chest,
then the audience, too, opened their mouths
to boo.

What shocked R. was, after intermission,
the house remained packed;
the entire audience returned
to continue booing
and booing.

Why not get in their Lamborghinis
and go home? Was it their commission
to stay and blot out the entire mistake
of this tenor’s performance?
Or was it simply the joy of standing together
and refusing to surrender the field
until the battle had been won?

Help me learn to generate pleasure from any fuel.
Make my mind more powerful than the art
of my enemies.
Protect me from that most ignorant notion
that I would like my own work.

Just as every word in a language has a use,
help me see every performance
as part of a great vocabulary of experience.

Sharpen my instinct in believing
it’s a little bit stupid to ‘like’ or ‘dislike’
any portion of my existence.

‘Like’ and ‘dislike’ are words without depth,
a paper thin wall, advertising
to each of us that we are on the sophisticated side
of things. When everything else seems arbitrary
you can always rely on your own prejudice.
But poke a hole, take a peek and you’ll see
the world goes on in all directions,
wrapping around itself until
thumbs up and thumbs down
don’t tell you anything.

I want to see Rome for myself.
I want to travel back in time
and see every opera’s opening night
—no idea which ones we’ll come to like or dislike
—just listen to all those corpses singing
—no idea how dead they are in my lifetime
—no idea how dead I’ll get to be myself
—listen, he’s crying
—lo morrò ma lieto in core.

I’ve wasted a lot of my life preferring this or that.
It seems no coincidence
that ghosts and disappointed audiences
say the same thing to us: boo.

Death, too, is in this room,
right now, in these performers.
They are using their lives
to share something.
Thank you.

Teach me to be the perfect audience
to this moment of my life.

Previously published in HowlRound, July 10, 2011

Monday, July 11, 2011

Brain Storm

By Patrick Lillis

I often write my story,
But I have no book to publish.
I collect what speaks to me,
But some may call it rubbish.
I like to play with toys,
Though I am not a child.
Many call me wacky,
But no one calls me wild.
I harmonize to music,
But I am not a singer.
I do Liza in the mirror,
But look more like Deborah Winger.
I seldom stop for ceilings
When a project gets me flying.
I’m afraid of sudden death,
But I’m not afraid of dying.
I still don’t get why seasons change,
Yet I store my clothes each spring.
And I travel to the moon sometimes
To take back things I fling.
To me, toupees just look like fear,
And brave looks silvery gray,
And payphones look like tombstones
On the streets of yesterday.
I like to talk of life
But my mom prefers the weather,
And I still can’t find good substitutes
For potato chips and leather.
I sometimes think that living long
Is not for everyone,
And that demons, me, and time
Are still things I can outrun.
I’m not afraid of thunder,
But a mess when my dog is.
And I don’t think it’s polite
To sell towels “hers” and “his”.
Everybody loves me
If it doesn’t ask too much,
And nothing that I love
Walks away without a crutch.
I don’t know how to fear a god
Then turn to him for answers,
Or why clowns don’t stay in the ring
As long as hoops and dancers.
I often lose the lesson
Of my last mistake or blunder,
And I sometimes think my purpose
Will be this world’s eighth wonder.
Nothing makes me quite as sad
As things that say self-loathing,
Like a gay man in a catholic church,
Or a big girl in black clothing.
I like that karma always wins,
As when a bull fights back.
And that giving on the road of life
Puts you back on track.
I don’t know why grown men don’t cry
And I don’t know why kids do.
I’d follow a yellow brick road to know,
But the damn things painted blue.
I think it’s good to brainstorm,
But not always alone.
And I still prefer a voice
To a text on my cell phone.
I resent that love is fragile,
And elusive to the touch.
And if the truth will set me free,
Why does it cost so much?
I don’t like to change my flavors,
But I’ll move states in a snap.
And I think the Pope’s big dress
Is just a place to hide his crap.
I hear the world may end today,
So I’ll wash my clothes tomorrow,
And try my sandwich with the crust,
And see what I can borrow.
I’ll do my best to smell each rose,
And to look up at the sky,
And learn to love, flaws and all,
This complicated guy.

Patrick Lillis is an artist, poet, art therapist, licensed mental health counselor, and licensed massage therapist. He lives and works in the Boston area. He occasionally exhibits in shows and enjoys doing a series of paintings on a theme. His work a way for him to process, understand and integrate what he learns from his environment, culture, and society in general. He has two writing projects near completion which he hopes to publish in 2012.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tinfoil Love

By Kyla Pasha

Things you say, I reread
like scripture, recite like
supplications to the one God of
and somehow
somehow, it proves itself balm.

I don't understand.
As if you only exist
when you open your mouth
or when I open
the window you live in.

You're like television.
I'm like the crazy woman
with foil antennae
wrapped around her head,
flailing in the wind and shrubbery,
no attention
to her bosom flying
every which way as she adjusts
for proper reception, fighting time
before the window closes
and then another day spent on buses,

Geography is my altar now.
Blood sacrifice
being dated and barbaric, we have
words, which are timeless, and saliva,
which is just as fluid, and dismay
at the fact of geography, bringing

separation full circle
and the devotee in perfect pain.
It's a dance, electronic and complete,
a great performance in the temple of
it's a song, wet and vicious,
equal to the task of
devotional anger,

deafening static
raging overland
to mask
antennas cocked for the sound of
you know
you know

Previously published in Samar Magazine, Issue 25, 1/14/2007

Friday, July 8, 2011

Expect Nothing

By Alice Walker

Expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.
become a stranger
To need of pity
Or, if compassion be freely
Given out
Take only enough
Stop short of urge to plead
Then purge away the need.

Wish for nothing larger
Than your own small heart
Or greater than a star;
Tame wild disappointment
With caress unmoved and cold
Make of it a parka
For your soul.

Discover the reason why
So tiny human midget
Exists at all
So scared unwise
But expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lives of the Women Poets

(from biographical notes in The Things That Matter edited by Julia Neuberger)

By Naomi Shihab Nye

Essentially she is not very well-remembered.
She had a happy but limited childhood.
After she was married to the easy-going Tommy Tucker,
also known as "the Skipper" her years were rich
in love and devotion but short on cash and comfort.
Most of her work went and goes unread
It deserves at least a second look.
She was T.S. Eliot's secretary.
Most of her poetry is hard reading these days.
Now and then we are grateful for a sense of humor popping up.
She never enjoyed good health.
Her most famous love conquest was George Bernard Shaw.
Her poetry has been the subject of a lot of criticism.
Her content is not always to today's taste.
Her work ought to appear immature, which it does not.
No longer able to play the violin, she took to writing poetry.
Her husband was smitten with acute neurotis.
She was, despite everything, an extraordinary woman.
Her poetry was not what made her memorable.
She expressed well the turbulent passions of her soul,
but never attained her sister's success or popularity.
After her death, her sister would not allow
anything of Jewish interest to be included
in her collected works.
Her life as secluded, isolated, but her death was brave.
She did not relish the idea of a prolonged death.
Her poetry is most fascinating when it is not clear
to whom it is addressed.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


By Anne Sexton

A thousand doors ago
when I was a lonely kid
in a big house with four
garages and it was summer
as long as I could remember,
I lay on the lawn at night,
clover wrinkling over me,
the wise stars bedding over me,
my mother's window a funnel
of yellow heat running out,
my father's window, half shut,
an eye where sleepers pass,
and the boards of the house
were smooth and white as wax
and probably a million leaves
sailed on their strange stalks
as the crickets ticked together
and I, in my brand new body,
which was not a woman's yet,
told the stars my questions
and thought God could really see
the heat and the painted light,
elbows, knees, dreams, goodnight.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Coloring the Border

By Shadab Zeest Hashmi

They stood in cleanest sunlight,
the mountains,
their lines so cold
there wasn’t a color for them in my pencil box.

I let the sharp breeze cut out
emerald for a heart
with a pushto beat,
a tribe lost and hanging by the star of David,
a language blue and gold-veined like lapis,
I drew war cries of the Greeks
in plume-red,
the Mongols in horse-leather red.

It was 1979,
history looping
like a bomb circuit,
feeding on itself,
while the black curve of Tor Khum,
a trail of loss,
sang in war-tongues,
a lament drained of all color.

When I left,
I left for long and with
my pencil box.

Note: Tor Khum or The Black Curve is a small town on the northwestern border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Shadab Zeest Hashmi is the author of Baker of Tarifa, a book of poems based on Medieval Spain where the three Abrahamic faiths shared a golden age. Hashmi's work has been published in Nimrod International, The Cortland Review, Journal of Postcolonial Writings, and other places. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her book won the 2011 San Diego Book Award.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Nation's Strength

By Ralph Waldo Emerson

What makes a nation's pillars high
And it's foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor's sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly...
They build a nation's pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Jorge the Church Janitor Finally Quits

By Martín Espada

No one asks
where I am from,
I must be
from the country of janitors,
I have always mopped this floor.
Honduras, you are a squatter's camp
outside the city
of their understanding.

No one can speak my name,
I host the fiesta
of the bathroom,
stirring the toilet
like a punchbowl.
The Spanish music of my name
is lost
when the guests complain
about toilet paper.

What they say
must be true:
I am smart
but I have a bad attitude.

No one knows
that I quit tonight,
maybe the mop
will push on without me,
sniffing along the floor
like a crazy squid
with stringy gray tentacles.
They will call it Jorge.