Wednesday, April 30, 2014

New Year Love

By Kristal Leebrick 

I remember our breath
in the icy air
and how the northern lights gathered
in a haze at the horizon,
spread up past the water tower
then vanished into the dark.
I remember that January night in North Dakota:
We left the dance,
the hoods of our dads' air force parkas zipped tight,
our bare hands pulled into the coat sleeves.
We ran
into the wind
down the drifting sidewalks of our eighth-grade lives
to the brick-and-clapboard row houses on Spruce Street.
We ducked between buildings
and you pulled me close.
A flickering light from someone's TV screen.
A kitchen window.
Your fingers tracing my face.
Your hair brushing my eyes.
Your skin, your lips.
My legs.
My heart.
I remember that January night in North Dakota,
but I can't remember your name.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A poem for my white friends

By Norma Johnson

I Didn’t Tell You
I didn’t tell you about my real life
The one that haunts me most days
It comes in moments at a time
Triggered by a look,
an attitude,
a sensing of superiority,
of blatant ignorance,
of good meaning intention dripping crap down my face.
I didn’t tell you about the look they gave me when I opened my door and they saw black me standing there, their mouths agape, their thoughts running loudly through my head.
I didn’t tell you about being followed through the store and how I obediently kept my hands and my bag in plain sight.
I didn’t tell you how quickly they look away when I catch them staring at me in the restaurant and standing in the supermarket line.
I didn’t tell you how the clerk pretended the white woman had been standing at the counter before I had and waited on her first.
I didn’t tell you how I have to take a really deep long breath every time before I walk into a room full of white people.
I didn’t tell you that in the meeting, the classroom, and the workshop, when the subject of diversity comes up, they all look at me as if I am the spokesperson for the whole nation of people of color.
I didn’t tell you that when diversity isn’t mentioned and needs to be, I’m too often the one who has to point it out.
I didn’t tell you how many times white people say to me in one way or another, “you’re different,” because they felt comfortable with me and that didn’t fit their mold of what they figured a black person was like.
I didn’t tell you how disappointed that white man was, when after eagerly questioning me, found out that I was not the exotic nubian he had fantasized, but just another negro girl from new jersey.
I didn’t tell you about the white woman, a stranger who chose out of all the white people around us, to sit next to me and proceed to tell me all about her favorite black performers and her black friends and how this country needs to take integration to the next level so I could see how her life is an example of that.
I didn’t tell you about the anger I stuffed down when that dreadlocked young white boy gave me a high five and called me “sistah.”
I didn’t tell you about the white woman I passed at twilight in the park, who tensed her body, tightened her grip on her purse and walked a large curved detour past me.
I didn’t tell you that my stomach clenches when I see a police car because it means I may not...be...safe.
I didn’t tell you that your world is not mine and that we are virtual worlds apart.
I didn’t tell you that while you can somehow think of yourself as multi-ethnically expansive because you have a black friend, I meanwhile just still... stay... black.
I didn’t tell you that while you can walk boldly into any place you choose, I always have to consider where I am, who I’m with, and how I’m going to affect people.
I didn’t tell you how your liberalism chokes me sometimes as you sit in judgment of someone you don’t even know.
I didn’t tell you that being a good person and being clueless can come in the same package.
I didn’t tell you about the comments you made that would take a lifetime of explaining how you’ve bought into the system that keeps us ALL, ...in...our...place.
I didn’t tell you about my day because I had been taught not to.
And you have been taught not to even consider it.
I didn’t tell you about my day because then I would have to live it all over again ...
And I have to save that... for tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Space Heater

By Sharon Olds

On the then-below-zero day, it was on,
near the patients' chair, the old heater
kept by the analyst's couch, at the end,
like the infant's headstone that was added near the foot
of my father's grave. And it was hot, with the almost
laughing satire of a fire's heat,
the little coils like hairs in Hell.
And it was making a group of sick noises-
I wanted the doctor to turn it off
but I couldn't seem to ask, so I just
stared, but it did not budge. The doctor
turned his heavy, soft palm
outward, toward me, inviting me to speak, I
said, "If you're cold-are you cold? But if it's on
for me..." He held his palm out toward me,
I tried to ask, but I only muttered,
but he said, "Of course," as if I had asked,
and he stood up and approached the heater, and then
stood on one foot, and threw himself
toward the wall with one hand, and with the other hand
reached down, behind the couch, to pull
the plug out. I looked away,
I had not known he would have to bend
like that. And I was so moved, that he
would act undignified, to help me,
that I cried, not trying to stop, but as if
the moans made sentences which bore
some human message. If he would cast himself toward the
outlet for me, as if bending with me in my old
shame and horror, then I would rest
on his art-and the heater purred, like a creature
or the familiar of a creature, or the child of a familiar,
the father of a child, the spirit of a father,
the healing of a spirit, the vision of healing,
the heat of vision, the power of heat,
the pleasure of power.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

When They Die We Change Our Minds About Them

By Jennifer Michael Hecht

When they die we change our minds
about them. While they live we see
the plenty hard they’re trying,
to be a star, or nice, or wise,
and so we do not quite believe them.
When they die, suddenly they are
what they claimed. Turns out,
that’s what one of those looks like.
The cold war over manner of manly
or mission is over. Same person,
same facts and acts, just now
a quiet brain stem. We no longer
begrudge his or her stupid luck.
When they die we change our minds

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Homo Will Not Inherit

By Mark Doty

Downtown anywhere and between the roil
of bathhouse steam—up there the linens of joy
and shame must be laundered again and again,

all night—downtown anywhere
and between the column of feathering steam
unknotting itself thirty feet above the avenue’s

shimmered azaleas of gasoline,
between the steam and the ruin
of the Cinema Paree (marquee advertising

its own milky vacancy, broken showcases sealed,
ticketbooth a hostage wrapped in tape
and black plastic, captive in this zone

of blackfronted bars and bookstores
where there’s nothing to read
but longing’s repetitive texts,

where desire’s unpoliced, or nearly so)
someone’s posted a xeroxed headshot
of Jesus: permed, blonde, blurred at the edges

as though photographed through a greasy lens,
and inked beside him, in marker strokes:
HOMO WILL NOT INHERIT. Repent & be saved.

I’ll tell you what I’ll inherit: the margins
which have always been mine, downtown after hours
when there’s nothing left to buy,

the dreaming shops turned in on themselves,
seamless, intent on the perfection of display,
the bodegas and offices lined up, impenetrable:

edges no one wants, no one’s watching. Though
the borders of this shadow-zone (mirror and dream
of the shattered streets around it) are chartered

by the police, and they are required,
some nights, to redefine them. But not now, at twilight,
permission’s descending hour, early winter darkness

pillared by smoldering plumes. The public city’s
ledgered and locked, but the secret city’s boundless;
from which do these tumbling towers arise?

I’ll tell you what I’ll inherit: steam,
and the blinding symmetry of some towering man,
fifteen minutes of forgetfulness incarnate.

I’ve seen flame flicker around the edges of the body,
pentecostal, evidence of inhabitation.
And I have been possessed of the god myself,

I have been the temporary apparition
salving another, I have been his visitation, I say it
without arrogance, I have been an angel

for minutes at a time, and I have for hours
believed—without judgement, without condemnation—
that in each body, however obscured or recast,

is the divine body—common, habitable—
the way in a field of sunflowers
you can see every bloom’s

the multiple expression
of a single shining idea,
which is the face hammered into joy.

I’ll tell you what I’ll inherit:
stupidity, erasure, exile
inside the chalked lines of the police,

who must resemble what they punish,
the exile you require of me,
you who’s posted this invitation

to a heaven nobody wants.
You who must be patrolled,
who adore constraint, I’ll tell you

what I’ll inherit, not your pallid temple
but a real palace, the anticipated
and actual memory, the moment flooded

by skin and the knowledge of it,
the gesture and its description
—do I need to say it?—

the flesh and the word. And I’ll tell you,
you who can’t wait to abandon your body,
what you want me to, maybe something

like you’ve imagined, a dirty story:
Years ago, in the baths,
a man walked into the steam,

the gorgeous deep indigo of him gleaming,
solid tight flanks, the intricately ridged abdomen—
and after he invited me to his room,

nudging his key toward me,
as if perhaps I spoke another tongue
and required the plainest of gestures,

after we’d been, you understand,
worshipping a while in his church,
he said to me, I’m going to punish your mouth.

I can’t tell you what that did to me.
My shame was redeemed then;
I won’t need to burn in the afterlife.

It wasn’t that he hurt me,
more than that: the spirit’s transactions
are enacted now, here—no one needs

your eternity. This failing city’s
radiant as any we’ll ever know,
paved with oily rainbow, charred gates

jeweled with tags, swoops of letters
over letters, indecipherable as anything
written by desire. I’m not ashamed

to love Babylon’s scrawl. How could I be?
It’s written on my face as much as on
these walls. This city’s inescapable,

gorgeous, and on fire. I have my kingdom.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Poem for Dzhokhar

By Amanda Palmer

you don’t know how it felt to be in the womb but it must have been at least a little warmer than this.
you don’t know how intimately they’re recording your every move on closed-circuit cameras until you see your face reflected back at you through through the pulp.
you don’t know how to stop picking at your fingers.
you don’t know how little you’ve been paying attention until you look down at your legs again.
you don’t know how many times you can say you’re coming until they just stop believing you.
you don’t know how orgasmic the act of taking in a lungful of oxygen is until they hold your head under the water.
you don’t know how many vietnamese soft rolls to order.
you don’t know how convinced your parents were that having children would be, absolutely, without question, the correct thing to do.
you don’t know how precious your iphone battery time was until you’re hiding in the bottom of the boat.
you don’t know how to get away from your fucking parents.
you don’t know how it’s possible to feel total compassion in one moment and total disconnection in the next moment.
you don’t know how things could change so incredibly fast.
you don’t know how to make something, but the instructions are on the internet.
you don’t know how to make sense of this massive parade.
you don’t know how to believe anyone anymore.
you don’t know how to tell the girl in the chair next to you that you’ve been peeking at her dissertation draft and there’s a grammatical typo in the actual file name.
you don’t know how to explain yourself.
you don’t want two percent but it’s all they have.
you don’t know how claustrophobic your house is until you can’t leave it.
you don’t know why you let that guy go without shooting him dead and stuffing him in some bushes between cambridge and watertown.
you don’t know where your friends went.
you don’t know how to dance but you give it a shot anyway.
you don’t know how your life managed to move twenty six miles forward and twenty eight miles back.
you don’t know how to pay your debts.
you don’t know how to separate from this partnership to escape and finally breathe.
you don’t know how come people run their goddamn knees into the ground anyway.
you don’t know how to measure the value of the twenty dollar bill clutched in your hurting hand.
you don’t know how you walked into this trap so obliviously.
you don’t know how to adjust the rearview mirror.
you don’t know how to mourn your dead brother.
you don’t know how to drive this car.
you don’t know the way to new york.
you don’t know the way to new york.
you don’t know the way to new york.
you don’t know the way to new york.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pesach

By Bracha Meschaninov

House cleaned
more or less
kitchen surfaces covered
more or less
food ready
more or less
an experience of redemption
more or less

Friday, April 11, 2014

Enigma

By Martin Rosner

I have mislaid my touchstones.
They always glowed to show
The clearly destined path I had to walk.
Now I stumble weakly
On a dark uncertain road
That leads along a ravaged
Landscape towards an end
I neither want nor understand.
Who gave them to me
And why they disappeared
Are mysteries I cannot know.
I hope their magic transferred
Through the sorcery
That briefly guides us
In the labyrinth of life
To an eager hand that grasps
Them and kindles them to life
As mine did
When I was young.

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.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

this is not a poem

By Will Falk

this is not a poem, really
it’s a prayer maybe
I’m trying to listen and
once hearing to write it all down
I’m listening for rain
in places like Anza Borrego
and Joshua Tree
in places inside and outside of me
and under the famous green tower
in North Park, San Diego
where I live wondering
just what holds any water anymore
there has been a long drought
it’s not a musical drought
it’s just everything is off-key
voices are a dry river bed
the clacks of angry stones
singing dry songs
as shaming as grandfather warnings
a seagull cries in the desert
an aged gull, snow white
odd here and stark
against the brown
only to see once more
the dancing of fish
and hear their fins’ soft melodies


this is not a poem, really
it’s a prayer maybe
I’m trying to listen
through personal droughts
hoping to be washed clean
by the ringing bells
in a soft moving stream

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mother to Daughter (1960)

By Bonnie Lyons

Prepare your fortresses.
Our ancestors knew
not to let fingernail clippings
or hair fall
into the wrong hands.
And we know there must be
nothing as obvious
as cigarette ashes, book, or cushion
imperfectly placed.
No signs of untidy life
in house beautiful.

Now your armor:
First the concealed weapons.
Girdle and longline bra
and your girded loin to chest.
Next the crisp, coordinated outfit
with matching shoes and handbag.
Under your helmet of lacquered hair
put on your face.
Base, powder, lipstick, mascara
Now you're ready.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Fat Southern Men in Summer Suits

By Liam Rector

Fat Southern men in their summer suits,
Usually with suspenders, love to sweat
Into and even through their coats,

Taking it as a matter of honor to do so,
Especially when the humidity gets as close
As it does each Southern summer.

Some think men could do better
By just going ahead and taking the damned
Coats off, but the summer code stays

Because summer is the time
For many men, no matter what their class,
To be Southern Gentlemen by keeping

Those coats on. So late in life here I am
Down here again, having run to fat
(As Southern men tend), visiting the farm

Where my grandfather deposited
So much of his own working sweat,
Where Granddaddy never bought into any

Of "that Southern Gentleman crap."
Up north where I landed in the urban
Middle class I am seldom caught

Not wearing a coat of some kind. I love
The coats, and though I love them most
In the fall I still enact the summer code,

I suppose, because my father and I did buy
That code, even though I organized students
To strike down any dress code whatsoever

In the high school I attended (it was a matter
Of honor). And it still puts me in good humor
To abide with the many pockets, including

One for a flask. So whether it's New York,
Vermont, or Virginia, the spectacle
Of the summer seersucker proceeds,

Suspenders and all, and I lean into the sweat
(Right down to where the weather really is)
Until it has entirely soaked through my jacket.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Melon

By Charles Simic

There was a melon fresh from the garden
So ripe the knife slurped
As it cut it into six slices.
The children were going back to school.
Their mother, passing out paper plates,
Would not live to see the leaves fall.

I remember a hornet, too, that flew in
Through the open window
Mad to taste the sweet fruit
While we ducked and screamed,
Covered our heads and faces,
And sat laughing after it was gone.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Friend

By Jean Valentine

Friend I need a hand every evening
but anger and hope and beauty
are three roses
that make one rose.
Let's fix our bed it's in splinters
and I want to stay all year.
Let's fix our bed it's in splinters
and I want to stay all year.
Did you hear what that woman on Grafton Street was saying?
You won't be killed today.
We don't even know we're born.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

After Love

By Maxine Kumin

Afterward, the compromise.
Bodies resume their boundaries

These legs, for instance, mine.
Your arms take you back in.

Spoons of our fingers, lips
admit their ownership.

The bedding yawns, a door
blows aimlessly ajar

and overhead, a plane
singsongs coming down.

Nothing is changed, except
there was a moment when

the wolf, the mongering wolf
who stands outside the self

lay lightly down, and slept.