Thursday, November 27, 2014


By Sherman Alexie

When other Indians want to give thanks
For my poems, stories, readings, and movies,
They often give me Pendleton blankets.
I think I own twenty-five or thirty

And actively use ten or twelve of them,
Which is, according to custom, rather odd.
Growing up on the Spokane Indian Rez,
I never saw a blanket leave its box

Because my mom thought they were gifts from God.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Te Deum

By Charles Reznikoff

Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day’s work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

alternate names for black boys

By Danez Smith

1.   smoke above the burning bush
2.   archnemesis of summer night
3.   first son of soil
4.   coal awaiting spark & wind
5.   guilty until proven dead
6.   oil heavy starlight
7.   monster until proven ghost
8.   gone
9.   phoenix who forgets to un-ash
10. going, going, gone
11. gods of shovels & black veils
12. what once passed for kindling
13. fireworks at dawn
14. brilliant, shadow hued coral
15. (I thought to leave this blank
       but who am I to name us nothing?)
16. prayer who learned to bite & sprint
17. a mother’s joy & clutched breath

Friday, November 21, 2014

Immigrant Blues

By Li-Young Lee

People have been trying to kill me since I was born,
a man tells his son, trying to explain
the wisdom of learning a second tongue.

It's the same old story from the previous century
about my father and me.

The same old story from yesterday morning
about me and my son.

It's called "Survival Strategies
and the Melancholy of Racial Assimilation."

It's called "Psychological Paradigms of Displaced Persons,"

called "The Child Who'd Rather Play than Study."

Practice until you feel
the language inside you
, says the man.

But what does he know about inside and outside,
my father who was spared nothing
in spite of the languages he used?

And me, confused about the flesh and soul,
who asked once into a telephone,
Am I inside you?

You're always inside me, a woman answered,
at peace with the body's finitude,
at peace with the soul's disregard
of space and time.

Am I inside you? I asked once
lying between her legs, confused
about the body and the heart.

If you don't believe you're inside me, you're not,
she answered, at peace with the body's greed,
at peace with the heart's bewilderment.

It's an ancient story from yesterday evening

called "Patterns of Love in Peoples of Diaspora,"

called "Loss of the Homeplace
and the Defilement of the Beloved,"

called "I Want to Sing but I Don’t Know Any Songs."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gd, I don't want to talk to You today

By David Karpel

 Gd, I don’t want to talk to You today.

 Today I was late for work.
 I couldn’t tear myself away from the news.
 Pesha and Eldad and their four boys.
 Hadassah and Levi and their white page future.
Friends, family, brothers and sisters.
All of them in imminent danger from missiles,
from weaponized cars, from bullets, from blades.
No place is safe. And I am at a desk.
There are books, papers needing grading,
cold water, hot coffee, an apple. I am enraged.
Not a good place to be when high school girls
are depending on you to teach them,
to learn from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
or “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”
 I am enraged. I blasted Metallica on the way in.
Wasn’t enough. I screamed my throat raw at a red light.
Wasn’t enough. Helpless, paralyzed,
with a heart pounding rage against my rib cage.
My sternum hurts. And all I can do is pray?

Gd, I don’t want to talk to You today.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Just a Common Soldier (A Soldier Died Today)

By A. Lawrence Vaincourt

He was getting old and paunchy and his hair was falling fast,
And he sat around the Legion, telling stories of the past.
Of a war that he had fought in and the deeds that he had done,
In his exploits with his buddies; they were heroes, every one.
And tho’ sometimes, to his neighbors, his tales became a joke,
All his Legion buddies listened, for they knew whereof he spoke.
But we’ll hear his tales no longer for old Bill has passed away,
And the world’s a little poorer, for a soldier died today.
He will not be mourned by many, just his children and his wife,
For he lived an ordinary and quite uneventful life.
Held a job and raised a family, quietly going his own way,
And the world won’t note his passing, though a soldier died today.
When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.
Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?
A politician’s stipend and the style in which he lives
Are sometimes disproportionate to the service that he gives.
While the ordinary soldier, who offered up his all,
Is paid off with a medal and perhaps, a pension small.
It’s so easy to forget them for it was so long ago,
That the old Bills of our Country went to battle, but we know
It was not the politicians, with their compromise and ploys,
Who won for us the freedom that our Country now enjoys.
Should you find yourself in danger, with your enemies at hand,
Would you want a politician with his ever-shifting stand?
Or would you prefer a soldier, who has sworn to defend
His home, his kin and Country and would fight until the end?
He was just a common soldier and his ranks are growing thin,
But his presence should remind us we may need his like again.
For when countries are in conflict, then we find the soldier’s part
Is to clean up all the troubles that the politicians start.
If we cannot do him honor while he’s here to hear the praise,
Then at least let’s give him homage at the ending of his days.
Perhaps just a simple headline in a paper that would say,
Our Country is in mourning, for a soldier died today.

Monday, November 10, 2014


By Rafael Campo
You say, “I do this to myself.” Outside,
my other patients wait. Maybe snow falls;
we’re all just waiting for our deaths to come,
we’re all just hoping it won’t hurt too much.
You say, “It makes it seem less lonely here.”
I study them, as if the deep red cuts
were only wounds, as if they didn’t hurt
so much. The way you hold your upturned arms,
the cuts seem aimed at your unshaven face.
Outside, my other patients wait their turns.
I run gloved fingertips along their course,
as if I could touch pain itself, as if
by touching pain I might alleviate
my own despair. You say, “It’s snowing, Doc.”
The snow, instead of howling, soundlessly
comes down. I think you think it’s beautiful;
I say, “This isn’t all about the snow,
is it?” The way you hold your upturned arms,
I think about embracing you, but don’t.
I think, “We do this to ourselves.” I think
the falling snow explains itself to us,
blinding, faceless, and so deeply wounding. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Silence, Anopheles

By Cameron Conaway
You should have just asked the mosquito.
— 14th Dalai Lama

It's risky business needing
from others
not for science or even more life
for hellos and goodbyes
and most substances between
but so your kids can exit
while entering and spread
their wings long
after yours dry and carry on
by wind not will.
It's risky business feeding on others,
but we all do
one way or another.
It's risky business needing
when you have nothing,
but life has you and lives
writhe inside you.
Risky to solo into the wild
aisles of forearm hair thicket
for a mad sip,
not quick enough
to snuff the wick of awareness
but too fast for savoring.
A mad sip that makes
you gotcha or gone
and may paint you and yours
and them — Plasmodium falciparum
on the canvas you needed
to taste behind.
It's risky business needing
and then getting
and being too too to know what to do —
too full and carrying
too many to fly.
It's risky business being
the silent messenger
of bad news when you don't know the bad news
is consuming you, too.
It's not risky business
being the blind black barrel
of pistol or proboscis,
but it is damn risky business being
the pointer or the pointed at.
It's risky business being
born without asking
for a beating heart.
Having and then needing to need
to want until next
or else
and sometimes still or else.
Risky when you're expected to deliver
babies and have no gods to guide
their walk on water
because you did it
long before they or him or her or it
never did.
Risky when you're born
on water and capricious cloudscapes
shape whether sun lets leaves
bleed their liquid shadow blankets
into marshes or mangrove swamps
or hoof prints or rice fields or kingdoms
of ditches.
It's risky business naming and being named
while skewered and viewed
under the skewed microscopic lens
of anthropocentrism
an (not) opheles (profit)
a goddess name, Anopheles,
that translates to mean useless
and sounds beautiful at first
then awful when its insides linger.
An(ophel)es, you are only 57% different, no,
you are 43% the same as me, no,
I am, no, we are 43% you, no, we all are
nearly, mostly.
It's risky business leaving
large clues —
a welt and then a dying child slobbering silver
under its mother's croon.
It's risky business being
when you don't
because you have two weeks
or less to do doing.
Risky business killing,
but it depends on who, where, when —
self-sufficient Malawi village in 2014
vs. the legend of Dante & Lord Byron.
Mae Sot or Maine, Rourkela or Leeds.
It's risky business killing
killers that always only want
their kind
of tropical retreat.
It's risky business being
profoundly —
the speck of black
sesame or apostrophe
blending in the expanse
of rye or papyrus
and taken
onto allergic tongues.
It's risky business sharing
your body with strangers —
uninvited multiplicities hijacking
what you have
because to them you are what you have.
Risky when all know
your 1 mile per hour,
your under 25 feet high for miles,
your 450 wingbeats per second.
Risky business being you
when some want not to fly
weeks with your wings
but walk days atop them.
Is it riskier business being content
and peacefully going extinct
or not being
content and forever brinking
in the bulbous ends of raindrops
that cling but fatten?
Like raindrops and us, Anopheles,
when you fatten, you fall.
History favors the fallen.
To drip
a long life
of falling
before the fall
or to live
a short life
oblivious to it all?
Risky that we exchange
counters — DNA mutations
that make some of us
sort of
immune to each other's jabs
though hooks always slip through,
and we send each other stumbling,
always stumbling, always only stumbling.
Changing ourselves changes each other.
Each other is ourselves.
They tell us it's risky business doing
but it is more risky being
Did you hear all that, Anopheles?
How about now?
We're asking. We're good at that.
Does all life listen
at the speed of its growing?
Are we listening too loudly
or too slowly to your silence?

This poem originally appeared on NPR's website. The author has a new book entitled Malaria: Poems.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Asphodel, That Greeny Flower

By William Carlos Williams

Of asphodel, that greeny flower, 
          like a buttercup 
                    upon its branching stem - 
 save that it’s green and wooden - 
          I come, my sweet, 
                    to sing to you.
We lived long together 
          a life filled, 
                    if you will, 
with flowers. 
          So that I was cheered 
                    when I came first to know 
that there were flowers also 
           in hell. 
I’m filled with the fading memory of those flowers 
          that we both loved, 
                    even to this poor 
colorless thing - 
          I saw it 
                    when I was a child - 
little prized among the living 
          but the dead see, 
                    asking among themselves: 
What do I remember 
          that was shaped 
                     as this thing is shaped? 
while our eyes fill 
          with tears. 
                    Of love, abiding love 
it will be telling 
          though too weak a wash of crimson 
                    colors it 
to make it wholly credible. 
          There is something 
                     something urgent 
I have to say to you 
          and you alone 
                    but it must wait 
while I drink in 
           the joy of your approach, 
                    perhaps for the last time. 
And so 
          with fear in my heart 
                    I drag it out 
and keep on talking 
          for I dare not stop. 
                    Listen while I talk on 
against time. 
          It will not be 
                     for long. 
I have forgot 
          and yet I see clearly enough 
central to the sky 
          which ranges round it. 
                    An odor 
springs from it! 
           A sweetest odor! 
                    Honeysuckle! And now 
there comes the buzzing of a bee! 
          and a whole flood 
                    of sister memories! 
Only give me time, 
          time to recall them 
                    before I shall speak out. 
Give me time, 
When I was a boy 
          I kept a book 
                    to which, from time 
to time, 
          I added pressed flowers 
                    until, after a time, 
I had a good collection. 
          The asphodel, 
among them. 
          I bring you, 
a memory of those flowers. 
          They were sweet 
                    when I pressed them 
and retained 
          something of their sweetness 
                     a long time. 
It is a curious odor, 
          a moral odor, 
                    that brings me 
near to you. 
          The color 
                    was the first to go. 
There had come to me 
          a challenge, 
                    your dear self, 
mortal as I was, 
          the lily’s throat 
                    to the hummingbird! 
Endless wealth, 
          I thought, 
                    held out its arms to me. 
A thousand tropics 
          in an apple blossom. 
                    The generous earth itself 
gave us lief. 
          The whole world 
                    became my garden! 
But the sea 
          which no one tends 
                    is also a garden 
when the sun strikes it 
          and the waves 
                    are wakened. 
I have seen it 
          and so have you 
                    when it puts all flowers 
to shame. 
          Too, there are the starfish 
                    stiffened by the sun 
and other sea wrack 
          and weeds. We knew that 
                    along with the rest of it 
for we were born by the sea, 
          knew its rose hedges 
                     to the very water’s brink. 
There the pink mallow grows 
          and in their season 
and there, later, 
          we went to gather 
                     the wild plum. 
I cannot say 
           that I have gone to hell 
                    for your love 
but often 
           found myself there 
                    in your pursuit. 
I do not like it 
          and wanted to be 
                    in heaven. Hear me out. 
Do not turn away. 
I have learned much in my life 
          from books 
                    and out of them 
about love. 
                    is not the end of it. 
There is a hierarchy 
          which can be attained, 
                    I think, 
in its service. 
          Its guerdon 
                    is a fairy flower; 
a cat of twenty lives. 
          If no one came to try it 
                    the world 
would be the loser. 
          It has been 
                    for you and me 
as one who watches a storm 
          come in over the water. 
                    We have stood 
from year to year 
          before the spectacle of our lives 
                    with joined hands. 
The storm unfolds. 
                    plays about the edges of the clouds. 
The sky to the north 
          is placid, 
                    blue in the afterglow 
as the storm piles up. 
          It is a flower 
                    that will soon reach 
the apex of its bloom. 
          We danced, 
                    in our minds, 
and read a book together. 
          You remember? 
                    It was a serious book. 
And so books 
          entered our lives. 
The sea! The sea! 
                   when I think of the sea 
 there comes to mind 
          the Iliad 
                    and Helen’s public fault 
that bred it. 
          Were it not for that 
                    there would have been 
no poem but the world 
          if we had remembered, 
                    those crimson petals 
spilled among the stones, 
          would have called it simply 
The sexual orchid that bloomed then 
          sending so many 
men to their graves 
          has left its memory 
                     to a race of fools 
or heroes 
           if silence is a virtue. 
                    The sea alone 
with its multiplicity 
           holds any hope. 
                    The storm 
has proven abortive 
           but we remain 
                    after the thoughts it roused 
          re-cement our lives. 
                    It is the mind 
the mind 
          that must be cured 
                    short of death’s 
          and the will;postID=83081912703592879 becomes again 
                    a garden. The poem
is complex and the place made 
           in our lives 
                     for the poem. 
Silence can be complex too, 
          but you do not get far 
                    with silence. 
Begin again. 
          It is like Homer’s 
                    catalogue of ships: 
it fills up the time. 
          I speak in figures, 
                    well enough, the dresses 
you wear are figures 
          also, we could not meet 
                    otherwise. When I speak 
of flowers 
          it is to recall
                     that at one time
 we were young. 
          All women are not Helen,
                     I know that, 
but have Helen in their hearts. 
          My sweet, 
                    you have it also, therefore 
I love you 
           and could not love you otherwise. 
                    Imagine you saw 
a field made up of women 
          all silver-white. 
                    What should you do 
but love them? 
          The storm bursts 
                    or fades! it is not 
the end of the world. 
           Love is something else, 
                    or so I thought it, 
a garden which expands, 
           though I knew you as a woman 
                    and never thought otherwise, 
until the whole sea 
          has been taken up 
                    and all its gardens. 
It was the love of love, 
          the love that swallows up all else, 
                    a grateful love, 
a love of nature, of people, 
          of animals, 
                    a love engendering 
gentleness and goodness 
           that moved me 
                    and that I saw in you. 
I should have known, 
          though I did not, 
                    that the lily-of-the-valley 
is a flower makes many ill 
          who whiff it. 
                    We had our children, 
rivals in the general onslaught
           put them aside 
                     though I cared for them. 
as well as any man 
          could care for his children 
                     according to my lights. 
You understand 
          I had to meet you 
                    after the event 
and have still to meet you. 
                     to which you too shall bow 
along with me - 
           a flower 
                    a weakest flower 
shall be our trust 
          and not because 
                    we are too feeble 
to do otherwise 
          but because 
                    at the height of my power 
I risked what I had to do, 
          therefore to prove
                     that we love each other 
while my very bones sweated 
           that I could not cry to you 
                     in the act. 
Of asphodel, that greeny flower, 
           I come, my sweet, 
                    to sing to you! 
My heart rouses 
          thinking to bring you news 
                    of something 
that concerns you 
          and concerns many men. Look at 
                    what passes for the new. 
You will not find it there but in 
          despised poems. 
                    It is difficult 
to get the news from poems 
          yet men die miserably every day 
                     for lack 
of what is found there. 
          Hear me out 
                    for I too am concerned 
and every man 
          who wants to die at peace in his bed