Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Captain Midnight and the Evil Eye

By Bonnie Lyons

Back when prizes
beckoned to me from the back
of every cereal box
like Captain Midnight’s magic ring,
I tried to enter my Bubbe
in a grandma contest.

Her invisible stitches, airy blintzes,
and fourteen healthy grandchildren
were bound to hit the jackpot,
I thought, but she refused to tempt
the Evil Eye by numbering
her grandchildren.

The Evil Eye showed up anyway.
Cocaine, jail, pistols, morgues.
Her grandchildren’s lives played out
like soap operas. No moment of glory
for my world-class, champion Bubbe.
No Captain Midnight to the rescue.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Golden Oldie

By Rita Dove

I made it home early, only to get
stalled in the driveway-swaying
at the wheel like a blind pianist caught in a tune
meant for more than two hands playing.
The words were easy, crooned
by a young girl dying to feel alive, to discover
a pain majestic enough
to live by. I turned the air conditioning off,
leaned back to float on a film of sweat,
and listened to her sentiment:
Baby, where did our love go?-a lament
I greedily took in
without a clue who my lover
might be, or where to start looking.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Tropics of New York

By Claude McKay

Bananas ripe and green, and ginger root
Cocoa in pods and alligator pears,
And tangerines and mangoes and grape fruit,
Fit for the highest prize at parish fairs,

Sat in the window, bringing memories
of fruit-trees laden by low-singing rills,
And dewy dawns, and mystical skies
In benediction over nun-like hills.

My eyes grow dim, and I could no more gaze;
A wave of longing through my body swept,
And, hungry for the old, familiar ways
I turned aside and bowed my head and wept.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


By Jason Shinder

Just when it seemed my mother couldn’t bear

one more needle, one more insane orange pill,
my sister, in silence, stood at the end

of the bed and slowly rubbed her feet,

which were scratchy with hard, yellow skin,
and dirt cramped beneath the broken nails,

which changed nothing in time except

the way my mother was lost in it for a while
as if with a kind of relief that doesn’t relieve.

And then, with her eyes closed, my mother said

the one or two words the living have for gratefulness,
which is a kind of forgetting, with a sense

of what it means to be alive long enough

to love someone. Thank you, she said. As for me
I didn’t care how her voice suddenly seemed low

and kind, or what failures and triumphs

of the body and spirit brought her to that point
just that it sounded like hope, stupid hope.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What Comes Back To Me

By Fiona Lesley Bennett                               for Massumi

Today is your birthday
I found out on Facebook
scrolling through seventy-two
in memoriam birthday grievings
my heart plummeting
to the floor of my gut
like an elevator with the cables snapped
eyes racing down screen after screen
a new technology prayer wheel from
your one hundred and eighty-six friends
none of whom can fathom how
at thirty-two cancer
could take you.

I can’t say stop the clocks.
I can’t claim that closeness after all
you slipped away over a month ago
a digit on my radar fading

I count the times we did meet –
four five six?
Tokyo - perched on the edge
of a small wooden stage cradling
plastic cups of cheap red wine
your eyes creature bright
piercing the dust and the emptiness.
London - loud and certain voices
pushing the air to the wall you
leaning in seeking some kind of
gravity in the whirl of it all,
some kind of anchoring.
An empty bar at the station
three new friends waiting
for different trains laughter
jumping over one another’s words
your smooth brow puckering
as the first departure is called.

Each memory comes back to me
canopied with a billowing peace
something your presence blew gently in
your watchful smile, a kind of otherworldly
sweetening influence
so imperceptible
so undemanding
that we shone in it

Fiona is a theatre practitioner, trainer and poet. She is co-director of The Map Consortium, a group of artists facilitating change in a wide range of settings. Reading and writing poetry is her touchstone. The highlight of her journey as a poet to date was being part of Marge Piercy's 2010 juried workshop in Wellfleet. With her friend and colleague Subhadassi, she has just launched Renga for Japan - a poetry initiative raising awareness and funds around the effects of the Tsunami and nuclear accident that happened in Japan on March 13th, 2011. She lives in the UK dividing her time between London and North Wales.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Anecdote of the Jar

By Wallace Stevens

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

O Taste and See

By Denise Levertov

The world is
not with us enough
O taste and see

the subway Bible poster said,
meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination’s tongue,

grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform

into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being
hungry, and plucking
the fruit.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


By Karina Borowicz

He comes to understand
the spirit abiding in each scrap of wood
that passes through his hands

every child is born he says
knowing the language of trees
for so long our unformed ear
is pressed to the wall of eternity

with his hands he smoothes the wood
from which a face is beginning
to emerge

tools rest at his feet
the blackened little knife
a bent nail

Previously published in Contrary.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

John Muir on Mt. Ritter

By Gary Snyder

After scanning its face again and again,
I began to scale it, picking my holds
With intense caution. About half-way
To the top, I was suddenly brought to
A dead stop, with arms outspread
Clinging close to the face of the rock
Unable to move hand or foot
Either up or down. My doom
Appeared fixed. I MUST fall.
There would be a moment of
Bewilderment, and then,
A lifeless rumble down the cliff
To the glacier below.
My mind seemed to fill with a
Stifling smoke. This terrible eclipse
Lasted only a moment, when life blazed
Forth again with preternatural clearness.
I seemed suddenly to become possessed
Of a new sense. My trembling muscles
Became firm again, every rift and flaw in
The rock was seen as through a microscope,
My limbs moved with a positiveness and precision
With which I seemed to have
Nothing at all to do.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Lost and Found

By Maxine Chernoff

I am looking for the photo that would make all the difference in my life. It’s very small and subject to fits of amnesia, turning up in poker hands, grocery carts, under the unturned stone. The photo shows me at the lost and found looking for an earlier photo, the one that would have made all the difference then. My past evades me like a politician. Wielding a fly-swatter, it destroys my collection of cereal boxes, my childhood lived close to the breakfast table. Only that photo can help me locate my fourteen lost children, who look just like me. When I call the Bureau of Missing Persons, they say, “Try the Bureau of Missing Photos.” They have a fine collection. Here’s one of Calvin Coolidge’s seventh wedding. Here’s one of a man going over a cliff on a dogsled. Here’s my Uncle Arthur the night he bought the prize peacock. O photo! End your tour of the world in a hot air balloon. Resign your job at the mirror-testing laboratory. Come home to me, you little fool, before I find I can live without you.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mr. Grumpledump's Song

By Shel Silverstein

Everything's wrong,
Days are too long,
Sunshine's too hot,
Wind is too strong.
Clouds are too fluffy,
Grass is too green,
Ground is too dusty,
Sheets are too clean.
Stars are too twinkly,
Moon is too high,
Water's too drippy,
Sand is too dry.
Rocks are too heavy,
Feathers too light,
Kids are too noisy,
Shoes are too tight.
Folks are too happy,
Singin' their songs.
Why can't they see it?
Everything's wrong!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


By Andrea Gibson

For Jenn

At 12 years old I started bleeding with the moon
and beating up boys who dreamed of becoming astronauts.
I fought with my knuckles white as stars,
and left bruises the shape of Salem.
There are things we know by heart,
and things we don't.

At 13 my friend Jen tried to teach me how to blow rings of smoke.
I'd watch the nicotine rising from her lips like halos,
but I could never make dying beautiful.
The sky didn't fill with colors the night I convinced myself
veins are kite strings you can only cut free.
I suppose I love this life,

in spite of my clenched fist.

I open my palm and my lifelines look like branches from an Aspen tree,
and there are songbirds perched on the tips of my fingers,
and I wonder if Beethoven held his breath
the first time his fingers touched the keys
the same way a soldier holds his breath
the first time his finger clicks the trigger.
We all have different reasons for forgetting to breathe.

But my lungs remember
the day my mother took my hand and placed it on her belly
and told me the symphony beneath was my baby sister's heartbeat.
And I knew life would tremble
like the first tear on a prison guard's hardened cheek,
like a prayer on a dying man's lips,
like a vet holding a full bottle of whisky like an empty gun in a war zone…
just take me just take me

Sometimes the scales themselves weigh far too much,
the heaviness of forever balancing blue sky with red blood.
We were all born on days when too many people died in terrible ways,
but you still have to call it a birthday.
You still have to fall for the prettiest girl on the playground at recess
and hope she knows you can hit a baseball
further than any boy in the whole third grade

and I've been running for home
through the windpipe of a man who sings
while his hands playing washboard with a spoon
on a street corner in New Orleans
where every boarded up window is still painted with the words
We're Coming Back
like a promise to the ocean
that we will always keep moving towards the music,
the way Basquait slept in a cardboard box to be closer to the rain.

Beauty, catch me on your tongue.
Thunder, clap us open.
The pupils in our eyes were not born to hide beneath their desks.
Tonight lay us down to rest in the Arizona dessert,
then wake us washing the feet of pregnant women
who climbed across the border with their bellies aimed towards the sun.
I know a thousand things louder than a soldier's gun.
I know the heartbeat of his mother.

Don't cover your ears, Love.
Don't cover your ears, Life.
There is a boy writing poems in Central Park
and as he writes he moves
and his bones become the bars of Mandela's jail cell stretching apart,
and there are men playing chess in the December cold
who can't tell if the breath rising from the board
is their opponents or their own,
and there's a woman on the stairwell of the subway
swearing she can hear Niagara Falls from her rooftop in Brooklyn,
and I'm remembering how Niagara Falls is a city overrun
with strip malls and traffic and vendors
and one incredibly brave river that makes it all worth it.

Ya'll, I know this world is far from perfect.
I am not the type to mistake a streetlight for the moon.
I know our wounds are deep as the Atlantic.
But every ocean has a shoreline
and every shoreline has a tide
that is constantly returning
to wake the songbirds in our hands,
to wake the music in our bones,
to place one fearless kiss on the mouth of that brave river
that has to run through the center of our hearts
to find its way home.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What Happens

By Erich Fried

It has happened
and it happens now as before
and will continue to happen
if nothing is done against it.

The innocent don’t know a thing about it
because they are too innocent
and the guilty don’t know a thing about it
because they’re too guilty.

The poor don’t take notice
because they’re too poor
and the rich don’t take notice
because they’re too rich.

The stupid shrug their shoulders
because they’re too stupid
and the clever shrug their shoulders
because they’re too clever.

It doesn’t bother the young
because they’re too young
and it doesn’t both the old
because they’re too old.

That’s why nothing is done against it
and that’s why it happened
and happens now as before
and will continue to happen.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Son Of Words

By Adam Stone

I am a knot in the branch of my family tree;
the bastard son of a bastard father
who attacked my mother with a blade and a gun
and filled my embryonic mind so full that I dreamed
fierce and vivid enough to bleed these roots red
and grow up blind to the ambivalence of aggression.

I am the missing face
in my real mother’s false family photographs;
the never mentioned,
(never forgotten)
number one son,
the airbrushed face in her nightmares,
the hushed “Nothing” when someone asks what’s wrong.

I am the what-might-have-been,
passed into the hands of strangers who deal in strange babies.

I am the second hand that ceased my adopted family’s smoking;
the little white liar who turned my mother’s thoughts
from mortality to morality
with the push of a pen and a twist of twisted truth.

I am the needle that drained the Catholic from my father’s blood;
the private, secular child, chosen
when the Catholic Church turned it’s back
on a formerly faithful altar boy.
I am the needle
that turned my father’s Christmas Tree into a common fir.

I am the lost gospel of a forgotten faith;
what Job might have been thinking had God and Satan been gambling on a neighbor’s soul instead.

I am the Hindu widow before the pyre;
reincarnated in the form of a cat
leaping from peak to peak without falling because he’s afraid
that the adage about landing on feet may not be true.

I am not the son of fate.

I am the lone-wolf,
packless hiker
trailing off to the sidelined,
jocular editorial commentary
to whatever deity will give me their time,
by my eternal internal quest to find out who the hell I am.

Am I the bastard my father made me?
Nothing more than a bullet from his fully cocked gun?
A random strand of genetic destiny?
Or was I molded by my adopted family’s hands?
Or am I an orphaned nomad cursed to question
every thought, every act, every decision placed in front of me
by God or Shiva or Allah or some author? No.
I am not the sun this planet revolves around.
I am not the son of fate,
not the son of faith,
not the son of God,
not the son of man,
not the son of that monster,
not the son of his gun,
I am not that son of a bitch.
But I am a son

of words.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Song in the Front Yard

By Gwendolyn Brooks

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine
How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


By Eve Lyons

Things are easier to see in the snow.
The clean white palate
shows red berries,
yellow urine, and the tracks of everyone
who has been out that day.

Most days in Boston
hundreds of people trek
up and down streets
on and off subway cars
without noticing the tiny berries
still hanging on
despite winter's persistence.

Today, I notice.

The cold nips my face
I concentrate hard on my feet
to keep from slipping.

The snow makes everything
a little easier
to notice.

Previously published in Red Poppy Review, July 27, 2011

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Psychoanalysis: An Elegy

By Jack Spicer

What are you thinking about?

I am thinking of an early summer.
I am thinking of wet hills in the rain
Pouring water. Shedding it
Down empty acres of oak and manzanita
Down to the old green brush tangled in the sun,
Greasewood, sage, and spring mustard.
Or the hot wind coming down from Santa Ana
Driving the hills crazy,
A fast wind with a bit of dust in it
Bruising everything and making the seed sweet.
Or down in the city where the peach trees
Are awkward as young horses,
And there are kites caught on the wires
Up above the street lamps,
And the storm drains are all choked with dead branches.

What are you thinking?

I think that I would like to write a poem that is slow as a summer
As slow getting started
As 4th of July somewhere around the middle of the second stanza
After a lot of unusual rain
California seems long in the summer.
I would like to write a poem as long as California
And as slow as a summer.
Do you get me, Doctor? It would have to be as slow
As the very tip of summer.
As slow as the summer seems
On a hot day drinking beer outside Riverside
Or standing in the middle of a white-hot road
Between Bakersfield and Hell
Waiting for Santa Claus.

What are you thinking now?

I’m thinking that she is very much like California.
When she is still her dress is like a roadmap. Highways
Traveling up and down her skin
Long empty highways
With the moon chasing jackrabbits across them
On hot summer nights.
I am thinking that her body could be California
And I a rich Eastern tourist
Lost somewhere between Hell and Texas
Looking at a map of a long, wet, dancing California
That I have never seen.
Send me some penny picture-postcards, lady,
Send them.
One of each breast photographed looking
Like curious national monuments,
One of your body sweeping like a three-lane highway
Twenty-seven miles from a night’s lodging
In the world’s oldest hotel.

What are you thinking?

I am thinking of how many times this poem
Will be repeated. How many summers
Will torture California
Until the damned maps burn
Until the mad cartographer
Falls to the ground and possesses
The sweet thick earth from which he has been hiding.

What are you thinking now?

I am thinking that a poem could go on forever.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Poem for Jack Spicer

By Matthew Zapruder

It's the start of baseball season,
and I am thinking again
as I do every year
in early April now
that I live in California
where afternoon is a blue
span to languidly cross
of those long ones
you used to sort of sleep
through getting drunk
on many beers, lying
next to your radio
on a little square of grass
in the sun, listening
half to the game and half
to the Pacific water gently
slapping the concrete
barrier of the man-made cove.
I have heard it and it sounds
like conversations among
not there people I can't
quite hear. But you could.
And later you would try
to remember what they said
and transcribe it on your
black typewriter
in your sad, horrible room.
When I read your poems
about suicide and psychoanalysis
I feel very lucky and ashamed
to be alive at all. Everyone
has been talking lately
about radiation, iodine,
and wind, and you are in
your grave, far from the water.
I know I don't care about you
at all but when I look
at your photograph,
your round head tilted up
so you are staring down
at everyone, I remember
how much you hated your body.
Today I will go down by the water
where you used to sit and think
I do not hate my body
even though I often do.
When I die please write he tried
on whatever stone you choose.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Look To the Sky

By Helen Losse

As you long for love
and pray to the Heavens,
as you sing, look to the sky.

Look to the sky
where clouds gather,
clouds darken,
as you live, as you worship,
forget not to remove shoes
on the holy mountain.

Look to the sky:
Sky over ocean,
sky over hills,
sky over mountains,
sky yellow with jealousy,
red with Heaven’s passion:
sky bringing tongues of fire
like a mighty wind:
a sky filled with a rainbow,
a sky that consumes.

Helen Losse is a poet from Winston-Salem, NC. She is the author of two full length books, Seriously Dangerous (Main Street Rag, 2011) and Better With Friends (Rank Stranger Press, 2009) and two chapbooks, Gathering the Broken Pieces and Paper Snowflakes. She attended Missouri Southern State and Wake Forest. Her recent poetry publications include Main Street Rag, Iodine Poetry Review, Blue Fifth Review, The Pedestal Magazine, ken*again, Referential, and Literary Trails of the North Carolina Piedmont. Helen’s poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and twice for a Best of the Net award, one of which was a finalist. She is the Poetry Editor for online literary magazine The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.