Thursday, September 29, 2011

Zucchini Shofar

By Sarah Lindsay

No animals were harmed in the making of this joyful noise:
A thick, twisted stem from the garden
is the wedding couple's ceremonial ram's horn.
Its substance will not survive one thousand years,
nor will the garden, which is today their temple,
nor will their names, nor their union now announced
with ritual blasts upon the zucchini shofar.
Shall we measure blessings by their duration?
Through the narrow organic channel fuzzily come
the prescribed sustained notes, short notes, rests.
All that rhythm requires. Among their talents,
the newlyweds excel at making
and serving mustard-green soup and molasses cookies,
and taking nieces and nephews for walks in the woods.
The gardener dyes eggs with onion skins,
wraps presents, tells stories, finds the best seashells;
his friends adore his paper-cuttings—
"Nothing I do will last," he says.
What is this future approval we think we need;
who made passing time our judge?
Do we want butter that endures for ages,
or butter that melts into homemade cornbread now?
—the note that rings in my deaf ear without ceasing,
or two voices abashed by the vows they undertake?
This moment's chord of earthly commotion
will never be struck exactly so again—
though love does love to repeat its favorite lines.
So let the shofar splutter its slow notes and quick notes,
let the nieces and nephews practice their flutes and trombones,
let living room pianos invite unwashed hands,
let glasses of different fullness be tapped for their different notes,
let everyone learn how to whistle,
let the girl dawdling home from her trumpet lesson
pause at the half-built house on the corner,
where the newly installed maze of plumbing comes down
to one little pipe whose open end she can reach,
so she takes a deep breath
and makes the whole house sound.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Days of Awe

By Alicia Ostriker


elul: psalm 27

we are told to say the following
every day for a month
in preparation for the days of awe:

you are my light my help
when I’m with you I’m not afraid
I want to live in your house

the enemies that chew my heart
the enemies that break my spine
I’m not afraid of them when I’m with you

all my life I have truly trusted you
save me from the liars
let me live in your house

***

rosh hashanah

the birthday of
the innocent earthling
and the day hagar and ishmael
found water in the desert

in memory of whom
mud staining our shoes
water flowing in handfuls
we sniff the smell of living dying things

reach into our pockets
for the bread that represents
our sins, toss it in, praying release
us, help us, forgive us

the river answers
by swallowing our crumbs

do our prayers travel upward
do they defy gravity
like rain splashed on the windshield
of a car speeding through storm

in ten days we will go hungrier
pray harder

***

yom kippur

we destroy we break we are broken
and this is the fast you have chosen
on rosh hashana it is written
on yom kippur it is sealed

who shall live and who shall die
which goat will have his throat cut
like an unlucky

spitting a red thread and which goat
will be sent alive to the pit where the crazies are
thread lightly tied around its neck

who will possess diamonds and pearls
and who will be killed
by an addicted lover

who shall voyage the web of the world
like an eagle, and who shall curl to sleep
over a steam grate like a worm

who shall be photographed and whose
face will disappear like smoke

this is the fast you have chosen, turn return
how to turn like leaves like a corner
what is our knowledge, what is our strength

I am like the stones people place on graves to make them a little heavier
such a stone says, in its oracular way, don’t come back or return only as grass
but it is tired of being a stone, it wishes to be open, it would like to be an egg

honeybees manufacture honey, a power station generates electricity
cotton plants extrude smooth fibre, and my cells secrete anger
my mind propagates envy, but repentance, prayer and good deeds

avert the stern decree, I am like a ramshackle house during a hurricane
struck by guilt waves and fear waves, the walls could collapse any time
but the foolish old woman who lives there refuses to leave

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ave Maria

By Frank O'Hara

Mothers of America
                                         let your kids go to the movies!
get them out of the house so they won't know what you're up to
it's true that fresh air is good for the body
                                                            but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images
and when you grow old as grow old you must
                                                                          they won't hate you
they won't criticize you they won't know
                                                           they'll be in some glamorous country
they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing hookey

they may even be grateful to you
                                                          for their first sexual experience
which only cost you a quarter
                                             and didn't upset the peaceful home
they will know where candy bars come from
                                                              and gratuitous bags of popcorn
as gratuitous as leaving the movie before it's over
with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg
near the Williamsburg Bridge
                                             oh mothers you will have made the little tykes
so happy because if nobody does pick them up in the movies
they won't know the difference
                                                  and if somebody does it'll be sheer gravy
and they'll have been truly entertained either way
instead of hanging around the yard
                                                       or up in their room
                                                                  hating you
prematurely since you won't have done anything horribly mean yet
except keeping them from the darker joys
                                                                      it's unforgivable the latter
so don't blame me if you won't take this advice
                                                                         and the family breaks up
and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set
                                                                                  seeing
movies you wouldn't let them see when they were young

Monday, September 26, 2011

Security

By William Stafford

Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
I always find it. Then on to the next island.
These places hidden in the day separate
and come forward if you beckon.
But you have to know they are there before they exist.
Some time there will be a tomorrow without any island.
So far, I haven't let that happen, but after
I'm gone others may become faithless and careless.
Before them will tumble the wide unbroken sea,
and without any hope they will stare at the horizon.
So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
to be a discoverer you hold close whatever
you find, and after a while you decide
what it is. Then, secure in where you have been,
you turn to the open sea and let go.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Traffic Jam

By Maria Sudibyo

Which side do you choose?
To the left, or to the right
Don't say you're still in your place
We should solve this problem
Or stuck in this bloody road
Do you think I want surrender?
Or you plea me for forgiveness
Don't underestimate me
Because I still have the power to control
Where are you going?
Should I step first,
Or you gonna move forward
We are facing each other like mirror
And second later it will be shattered
I can escape from you
But I need to surpass and see if I could
So let's break the ice and fight
Which side do you want to move?
We are two stubborn people
I live in my world, you live in your world
Our meeting is an irony
Go get out from my way
Or should I push you from this game
We running out the time in this passageway
Where are you going to choose?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Can You Say Kaddish For the Living?

By Keith Tornheim

Can you say Kaddish for the living? -
the living who lost their lives
through broken synapses
or neurons clogged or tangled,
whatever it takes
the let the memories leak out.
Can you mourn with them,
holding their warm hands,
seeing their eyes that know sometimes
or maybe have forgotten you
and all they did before?
Can you grieve while they still walk,
run out of tears before they leave,
so the Kaddish is an echo
from its time within your heart?
When should you speak the words aloud,
praising God in your anguish?

Can you say Kaddish for the living?


Previously published in Poetica, Fall 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

Why I Unplug On Shabbat

By Eve Lyons

It's not out of Orthodoxy,
It's the kavanah
not the halacha
which moves me.
It's good for my soul
to turn off Facebook,
Blogger, Gmail, Skype
for one day.
It's good to go out into the salt marsh
where the frogs croak louder
than any person, bird, or car
It's good to remember what
we came here for,
to this refuge
of wildlife
herons, chipmunks, deer,
muskrat, hawks, and us.
This keeps me going
This sustains me.

Published in Poetica, Fall 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Final Journey

By Ronald W. Clark Jr.

I'm strapped to a gurney
For my final journey
For all to see
Premeditated homicide
is what it will be
The liquid will flow
Through the I.V. below
My eyes will shut
My lungs will collapse
and my heart will burst
and my body will be driven off
in a pearly white hearse.
In the name of Justice
is what they will cry
but the justice they seek
was nothing more than a lie.
For it was all quite phony
with False testimony
the trial was a sham
yes, one big scam.
For I had no support
From the U.S. Court
who assigned me Mr. Davis
an incompetent attorney
and that's why I'm off
on my Final Journey.


Previously published in Poems from Death Row

Ronald Clark is on death row in Florida.  With the cooperation of someone on the outside, his experiences are documented here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Polymastic Goddess

By Eric G. Müller

Hardly anybody bothers
to come here much
and the few who do
step off the bus for seconds
then quickly retreat
to the tinted interior
of AC cooled comfort
or get chased away
by hissing geese
that guard the grounds’
grassy threshold
of toppled pillars and
abandoned boulders
with gendarme authority

Hard to think
this morass of a place
midst nature’s budding sprawl
topped the mythic list
of the ancient world’s
seven wonders
where only one solitary column
crowned with a scrappy nest
of sentinel stalks now remains
to remind us of Artemisia’s temple
the polymastic goddess
(sometimes said to be laced with bulls’ scrotal sacs)
who housed in its hallowed hidden cellar

Swallows swirl
and dive for insects
above the swamp
were turtles, frogs and water snakes
keep something alive
of the mysteries
that glow in the slow
revolving zodiac
behind nature’s wrap
which the hierophants
of Leto’s lush daughter
Apollo’s chaste sister
knew how to loosen and unravel
but now are lost


Eric G. Müller was born in Durban, South Africa, and studied literature and history at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Currently he is living in upstate New York, teaching music, drama, and English literature. He has written two novels, Rites of Rock (Adonis Press 2005) and Meet Me at the Met (Plain View Press, 2010), as well as a collection of poetry, Coffee on the Piano for You (Adonis Press, 2008). Poetry, articles and short stories have appeared in various journals, anthologies and magazines. www.ericgmuller.com.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Faith

By Eve Lyons

I envy them
their faith so clear,
their path pre-destined,
uncomplicated.
I see them
walking to and from shul
wearing their black hats
black blazers
white shirts
and peiyot.
I see the women in the supermarket
They always looks serene
even with four children in tow,
even without access to the Torah
where, for me,
the excitement is.
I understand the appeal
Jonah saw in their life
Yet it seems so far away,
so impossible.
I too went to Israel
studied with the Orthodox,
heard the urgency to make aliyah.
Yet I walked away
knowing if I didn’t,
it would reject me.
Whether because of the woman
by my side
or her Catholic upbringing,
or my own father’s
lack of membership in this club,
one way or the other
I would be rejected.
There can be no faith
without acceptance.
There can be no acceptance
without faith.

Previously published in Contemporary World Literature, February 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church

By Emily Dickinson

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church --
I keep it, staying at Home --
With a Bobolink for a Chorister --
And an Orchard, for a Dome --

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice --
I just wear my Wings --
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton -- sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman --
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last --
I'm going, all along.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I Ran Out Naked In The Sun

By Jane Hirshfield

I ran out naked
in the sun
and who could blame me
who could blame

the day was warm

I ran out naked
in the rain
and who could blame me
who could blame

the storm

I leaned toward sixty
that day almost done
it thundered
then

I wanted more I
shouted More
and who could blame me
who could blame

had been before

could blame me
that I wanted more

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Maybe He’s Grateful but Get Out of His Way

By Deborah Keenan

The Siberian tiger leaps from the back of the truck:
He’d been caught in a snare, rescued by Russian students
Deep in the forest, tranquilized, observed, fitted with a radio
Collar, woken up as if from a human dream for tigers,
Driven back to the forest, the cage opened, the leap,
And gone.

Four hundred left. Poachers demented with greed
Want every part of the Siberian tiger but never
The whole tiger.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How Many, How Much

By Shel Silverstein

How many slams in an old screen door?
     Depends how loud you shut it.
How many slices in a bread?
     Depends how thin you cut it.
How much good inside a day?
     Depends how good you live 'em.
How much love inside a friend?
     Depends how much you give 'em.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Second Door, Third Floor, Public Housing

By John Grey

Dark roses grow here,
decently enough.
Do you not see them
from your blanket,
dreaming of escape routes,
the face in your mirror, freed.

From your breast goes up,
brown flesh, hair of black.
You can’t stop bleeding.
You want to change
You want to die...
if only you could,
if only it were possible
in your bed.
Leaving! Leaving!
You cry
Let me climb!
Let me come!
Let me come!

Gun, drugs, beatings,
no more I,
nor is my house my house
Nor the two friends
murdered this past week,
dead of scrap,
of the moon of tin,
of the broken window,
of the sound of boulders
resounding from the roof.


John Grey has recently been published in The Talking River, South Carolina Review and Karamu. He has work upcoming in Prism International, and a poem forthcoming in The Evansville Review. He lives in Rhode Island.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Self-evident

By ani difranco

yes,
us people are just poems
we're 90% metaphor
with a leanness of meaning
approaching hyper-distillation
and once upon a time
we were moonshine
rushing down the throat of a giraffe
yes, rushing down the long hallway
despite what the p.a. announcement says
yes, rushing down the long stairs
with the whiskey of eternity
fermented and distilled
to eighteen minutes
burning down our throats
down the hall
down the stairs
in a building so tall
that it will always be there
yes, it's part of a pair
there on the bow of noah's ark
the most prestigious couple
just kickin back parked
against a perfectly blue sky
on a morning beatific
in its indian summer breeze
on the day that america
fell to its knees
after strutting around for a century
without saying thank you
or please

and the shock was subsonic
and the smoke was deafening
between the setup and the punch line
cuz we were all on time for work that day
we all boarded that plane for to fly
and then while the fires were raging
we all climbed up on the windowsill
and then we all held hands
and jumped into the sky

and every borough looked up when it heard the first blast
and then every dumb action movie was summarily surpassed
and the exodus uptown by foot and motorcar
looked more like war than anything i've seen so far
so far
so far
so fierce and ingenious
a poetic specter so far gone
that every jackass newscaster was struck dumb and stumbling
over 'oh my god' and 'this is unbelievable' and on and on
and i'll tell you what, while we're at it
you can keep the pentagon
keep the propaganda
keep each and every tv
that's been trying to convince me
to participate
in some prep school punk's plan to perpetuate retribution
perpetuate retribution
even as the blue toxic smoke of our lesson in retribution
is still hanging in the air
and there's ash on our shoes
and there's ash in our hair
and there's a fine silt on every mantle
from hell's kitchen to brooklyn
and the streets are full of stories
sudden twists and near misses
and soon every open bar is crammed to the rafters
with tales of narrowly averted disasters
and the whiskey is flowin
like never before
as all over the country
folks just shake their heads
and pour

so here's a toast to all the folks who live in palestine
afghanistan
iraq
el salvador

here's a toast to the folks living on the pine ridge reservation
under the stone cold gaze of mt. rushmore

here's a toast to all those nurses and doctors
who daily provide women with a choice
who stand down a threat the size of oklahoma city
just to listen to a young woman's voice

here's a toast to all the folks on death row right now
awaiting the executioner's guillotine
who are shackled there with dread and can only escape into their heads
to find peace in the form of a dream

cuz take away our playstations
and we are a third world nation
under the thumb of some blue blood royal son
who stole the oval office and that phony election
i mean
it don't take a weatherman
to look around and see the weather
jeb said he'd deliver florida, folks
and boy did he ever

and we hold these truths to be self evident:
#1 george w. bush is not president
#2 america is not a true democracy
#3 the media is not fooling me
cuz i am a poem heeding hyper-distillation
i've got no room for a lie so verbose
i'm looking out over my whole human family
and i'm raising my glass in a toast

here's to our last drink of fossil fuels
let us vow to get off of this sauce
shoo away the swarms of commuter planes
and find that train ticket we lost
cuz once upon a time the line followed the river
and peeked into all the backyards
and the laundry was waving
the graffiti was teasing us
from brick walls and bridges
we were rolling over ridges
through valleys
under stars
i dream of touring like duke ellington
in my own railroad car
i dream of waiting on the tall blonde wooden benches
in a grand station aglow with grace
and then standing out on the platform
and feeling the air on my face

give back the night its distant whistle
give the darkness back its soul
give the big oil companies the finger finally
and relearn how to rock-n-roll
yes, the lessons are all around us and a change is waiting there
so it's time to pick through the rubble, clean the streets
and clear the air
get our government to pull its big dick out of the sand
of someone else's desert
put it back in its pants
and quit the hypocritical chants of
freedom forever

cuz when one lone phone rang
in two thousand and one
at ten after nine
on nine one one
which is the number we all called
when that lone phone rang right off the wall
right off our desk and down the long hall
down the long stairs
in a building so tall
that the whole world turned
just to watch it fall

and while we're at it
remember the first time around?
the bomb?
the ryder truck?
the parking garage?
the princess that didn't even feel the pea?
remember joking around in our apartment on avenue D?

can you imagine how many paper coffee cups would have to change their design
following a fantastical reversal of the new york skyline?!

it was a joke, of course
it was a joke
at the time
and that was just a few years ago
so let the record show
that the FBI was all over that case
that the plot was obvious and in everybody's face
and scoping that scene
religiously
the CIA
or is it KGB?
committing countless crimes against humanity
with this kind of eventuality
as its excuse
for abuse after expensive abuse
and it didn't have a clue
look, another window to see through
way up here
on the 104th floor
look
another key
another door
10% literal
90% metaphor
3000 some poems disguised as people
on an almost too perfect day
should be more than pawns
in some asshole's passion play
so now it's your job
and it's my job
to make it that way
to make sure they didn't die in vain
sshhhhhh....
baby listen
hear the train?



Hear ani difranco read this poem here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tourist Tree

By Eve Lyons

For Dr. Lionel Joseph, former clinical director of Brighton Allston Mental Health Association, given to him upon his resignation


In South Florida, the Gumbo Limbo tree grows
like morning glory;
its smooth red bark shading the alligators and
anhingas of the Everglades. It feels as solid as
the cement in which we surround ourselves,
but cooler to the touch and
more comforting, like the carousel horses
that were once carved from the Gumbo Limbo.
They’re called “tourist trees”
because their skin peels
like tourists’ sunburns.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew knocked down
hundreds of Gumbo Limbo trees,
along with everything else.
Nothing is as permanent as
we hope it will be.

Ten years after Andrew
I found myself working
with a woman
who couldn’t meet with me with the door closed,
who looked at me in utter shock
when I told her that
some people,
sometimes
have friends who don’t
hurt them or leave them.
She died a year ago—
I think she died
not really believing this.

What does all this have to do with you,
and me, and you leaving?
I come back to the image of the
Gumbo Limbo trees in Florida
lying prostrate on the forest floor
but re-growing despite themselves.

I’ve heard that if you plant a
the limb of a Gumbo Limbo tree
like a fencepost
you will get another tree.

It’s the best we can hope for.


Previously published
in Hospital Drive, Summer 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Patience

By Kay Ryan

Patience is
wider than one
once envisioned,
with ribbons
of rivers
and distant
ranges and
tasks undertaken
and finished
with modest
relish by
natives in their
native dress.
Who would
have guessed
it possible
that waiting
is sustainable—
a place with
its own harvests.
Or that in
time's fullness
the diamonds
of patience
couldn't be
distinguished
from the genuine
in brilliance
or hardness.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Written on the eve of my 20th high school reunion, which I was not able to attend

By A. E. Stallings

For the Briarcliff High School class of 1986


Just what I needed,
Just when the dreams had almost totally receded,

The dreams of roles for which I learned no lines and knew no cues,
Dreams of pop quizzes with no pants on and no shoes,

Just when I understood I was no longer among
Those ephemeral immortals, the gauche and pitiable young,

Suddenly come phone calls, messages sift out of the air
To ask who will be there:

Names I haven't given a thought to in a score
(A score!) of years, and names I used to think about but don't much anymore,

And those I think of all the time and yet
Have lost somehow like keys to doors I've closed, and some I have tried to forget—

And some who will never arrive at this date
Here in the distant future where we wait

Still surprised at how
We carry with us the omnipresent and ever-changing now.

We wince at what we used to wear,
Fashion has made ridiculous the high hubris of our hair.

Heartbreak, looked at through the wrong end of distance's glasses,
Is trivial, and quickly passes,

Its purity embarrasses us, its lust,
The way we wept because it was unjust.

Why should we travel back, who've come so far—
We know who we are.

How can we be the same
As those quaint ancestors we have left behind, who share our name—

Why have we inherited their shame?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Poet’s work

By Lorine Niedecker

Grandfather
      advised me:
           Learn a trade

I learned
      to sit at desk
           and condense

No layoff
      from this
           condensery

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Summer Evening by the Window with Psalms

By Yehuda Amichai

Close scrutiny of the past.
How my soul yearns within me like those souls
in the nineteenth century before the great wars,
like curtains that want to pull free
of the open window and fly.

We console ourselves with short breaths,
as, after running, we always recover.
We want to reach death hale and hearty,
like a murderer sentenced to death,
wounded when he was caught,
whose judges want him to heal before
he’s brought to the gallows.

I think, how many still waters
can yield a single night of stillness
and how many green pastures, wide as deserts,
can yield the quiet of a single hour
and how many valleys of the shadow of death do we need
to be a compassionate shade in the unrelenting sun.

I look out the window: a hundred and fifty
psalms pass through the twilight,
a hundred and fifty psalms, great and small.
What a grand and glorious and transient fleet!

I say: the window is God
And the door is his prophet.


Previousy published in The New Yorker, July 28, 2008

Friday, September 2, 2011

We Had Words

By Vona Groarke

Another hurricane, the third this month, strikes at the heart
of a city far from here. Tomorrow, its leftovers will fill our drain
and leak into the basement to advance on our low-tide mark
a seepage shot with grit and aftermath. My sleep tonight
will be a skimming stone affair: every hour fulfilling an ellipsis
predicted by the last. This day, all day, is hypothetical.
When it steals inside an offhand dusk, not even I
will muster a send-off beyond the thought of dust in darkness,
a breathless stowaway, like your words on the flip side
of my tongue, one almost completely slipped inside another.
I was saying, likening the way you like to single out
a single word to bear the weight of this, to boarded windows
and spineless pines bent double in thin air; cars afloat
on streets that have lost the run of themselves by now;
a casket in a clutch of branches, an item of clothing
tied to a TV aerial, for help. It bypasses us completely.
Your full leg, white as that whip-lashed shirt, has drifted
over mine. A siren flares on the pike. It plays itself out
in hours perched on high ground; our breath brimming over;
our new words islanded and arch, to steer us wide of harm.

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