Friday, July 31, 2015

Giving and Getting

By Tony Hoaglad

I like that, he said in the hospital, where I was rubbing his feet
which were dry and smelled a bit.

Ahh, he said, ahhh, as I worried
what the nurse in the corridor might think,

pushing my thumbs into the pads and calluses,
the skin that had grown leathery and hard

                                        over a lifetime of streets and shoes—

and me trying but unable to forget
some of the things he had done

over the course of our long friendship.
Rubbing his feet was like reaching into some

thick part of my heart that couldn’t feel
and kneading away at it—

Blame caught inside the love
like a fishhook, or a bug in honey.

It is in my character,
this persistent selfishness—

one of my hands offering the gift, the other
trying to take something back.

Giving and getting
like two horses arriving at the same time

from opposite directions
at the stone gate

that will allow only one to pass.


This poem was first published in the New Yorker. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Worst Day Ever?

By Chanie Gorkin

Today was the absolute worst day ever
And don’t try to convince me that
There’s something good in every day
Because, when you take a closer look,
This world is a pretty evil place.
Even if
Some goodness does shine through once in a while
Satisfaction and happiness don’t last.
And it’s not true that
It’s all in the mind and heart
Because
True happiness can be attained
Only if one’s surroundings are good
It’s not true that good exists
I’m sure you can agree that
The reality
Creates
My attitude
It’s all beyond my control
And you’ll never in a million years hear me say
Today was a very good day

Now read it from bottom to top, the other way,
And see what I really feel about my day.


This poem has been viewed millions of times, but often without attribution to it's author. Please don't do that. Click here to read the story behind the poem.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Five Ways to Kill a Man

By Edwin Brock

There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
You can make him carry a plank of wood
to the top of a hill and nail him to it.
To do this properly you require a crowd of people
wearing sandals, a cock that crows, a cloak
to dissect, a sponge, some vinegar and one
man to hammer the nails home.

Or you can take a length of steel,
shaped and chased in a traditional way,
and attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears.
But for this you need white horses,
English trees, men with bows and arrows,
at least two flags, a prince, and a
castle to hold your banquet in.

Dispensing with nobility, you may, if the wind
allows, blow gas at him. But then you need
a mile of mud sliced through with ditches,
not to mention black boots, bomb craters,
more mud, a plague of rats, a dozen songs
and some round hats made of steel.

In an age of aeroplanes, you may fly
miles above your victim and dispose of him by
pressing one small switch. All you then
require is an ocean to separate you, two
systems of government, a nation's scientists,
several factories, a psychopath and
land that no-one needs for several years.

These are, as I began, cumbersome ways to kill a man.
Simpler, direct, and much more neat is to see
that he is living somewhere in the middle
of the twentieth century, and leave him there.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Talk

By Jabari Asim

It’s more than time we had that talk
about what to say and where to walk,
how to act and how to strive,
how to be upright and stay alive.
How to live and how to learn,
how to dig and be dug in return.

When to concede and when to risk,
how to handle stop and frisk:
Keep your hands where they can see
and don’t reach for your ID
until they request it quite clearly.
Speak to them politely and answer them sincerely.
The law varies according to where you are,
whether you’re traveling by foot or driving a car.
It won’t help to be black and proud,
nor will you be safer in a crowd.
Keeping your speech calm and restrained,
ask if in fact you’re being detained.
If the answer is no, you’re free to go.
If the answer is yes, remained unfazed
to avoid being choked, shot or tazed.
Give every cop your ear, but none your wit;
don’t tempt him to fold, spindle, mutilate, hit
or otherwise cause pain
to tendons, bones, muscles, brain.
These are things you need to know
if you want to safely come and go.
But still there is no guarantee
that you will make it home to me.
Despite all our care and labor,
you might frighten a cop or neighbor
whose gun sends you to eternal sleep,
proving life’s unfair and talk is cheap

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rigour

By Khairani Barakka

This is what they will say about my daughter
And her eyes: that the way they haunt your
 Memories are vestiges of trauma, of how a
 Child was caught between battling tribes,
 Her reddened feet, chapped and just visible
 Beneath one ragged hemline, laid waste to
 Near-bleeding. Girl, aged eight, page 11.

 It was her birthday. She was smiling again,
 Moments after the man left our village,
 Having been unsure of how to reconcile the
 Reach of zoom lenses with a robot cartoon
 Seen that morning—both unwieldy, pointing.
 Washing off the ruddy paint we’d placed
By her room. The war had never touched
Our subdistrict; all roads to it were closed by
 3PM. Their jeep driver would never ring the
 Bureau chief. My daughter stood by the side
 Of the road, having drawn a rusty, laughing
 Rooster on paper with the balls of her heels.

Friday, July 10, 2015

What Has Been Done To Women

By Naomi Shihab Nye

Yesterday you cried in the car when you said soldiers in that war asked if women were fair game and the leaders said, "Yes, fair game, do anything you want to them." My own throat filled up when you said the woman you are loving now asks you please to say more sweet things to her. We passed battered barns and bushes, every license plate said OREGON in one color or another. We passed the rest stop planted with trees of all the 50 states. The really hot sunny states were having trouble. Access roads and overpasses, stores selling all manner of useless things. I watched the seam of your cheek as you spoke, we named people we had loved that the other would never know, they were clues to the road. We talked about the ugly words hurled at women for centuries, how they all have a click-shut sound, and why is it some lives feel hard as a curb that you kick. And how they could be softened. I told you about Coleman, on the night he was robbed, saying, "How long do you stay robbed once you've been robbed? I think I'm getting over it" - and Susan, later, translating "robbed" into "raped" and weeping with joy - how long it takes anybody to get over, get under, get out, shout.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Rape Joke

By Patricia Lockwood

The rape joke is that you were 19 years old.

The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend.

The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee.

Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. “Ahhhh,” it thinks. “Yes. A goatee.”

No offense.

The rape joke is that he was seven years older. The rape joke is that you had known him for years, since you were too young to be interesting to him. You liked that use of the word interesting, as if you were a piece of knowledge that someone could be desperate to acquire, to assimilate, and to spit back out in different form through his goateed mouth.

Then suddenly you were older, but not very old at all.

The rape joke is that you had been drinking wine coolers. Wine coolers! Who drinks wine coolers? People who get raped, according to the rape joke.

The rape joke is he was a bouncer, and kept people out for a living.

Not you!

The rape joke is that he carried a knife, and would show it to you, and would turn it over and over in his hands as if it were a book.

He wasn’t threatening you, you understood. He just really liked his knife.

The rape joke is he once almost murdered a dude by throwing him through a plate-glass window. The next day he told you and he was trembling, which you took as evidence of his sensitivity.

How can a piece of knowledge be stupid? But of course you were so stupid.

The rape joke is that sometimes he would tell you you were going on a date and then take you over to his best friend Peewee’s house and make you watch wrestling while they all got high.

The rape joke is that his best friend was named Peewee.

OK, the rape joke is that he worshiped The Rock.

Like the dude was completely in love with The Rock. He thought it was so great what he could do with his eyebrow.

The rape joke is he called wrestling “a soap opera for men.” Men love drama too, he assured you.

The rape joke is that his bookshelf was just a row of paperbacks about serial killers. You mistook this for an interest in history, and laboring under this misapprehension you once gave him a copy of Günter Grass’s My Century, which he never even tried to read.

It gets funnier.

The rape joke is that he kept a diary. I wonder if he wrote about the rape in it.

The rape joke is that you read it once, and he talked about another girl. He called her Miss Geography, and said “he didn’t have those urges when he looked at her anymore,” not since he met you. Close call, Miss Geography!

The rape joke is that he was your father’s high-school student—your father taught World Religion. You helped him clean out his classroom at the end of the year, and he let you take home the most beat-up textbooks.

The rape joke is that he knew you when you were 12 years old. He once helped your family move two states over, and you drove from Cincinnati to St. Louis with him, all by yourselves, and he was kind to you, and you talked the whole way. He had chaw in his mouth the entire time, and you told him he was disgusting and he laughed, and spat the juice through his goatee into a Mountain Dew bottle.

The rape joke is that come on, you should have seen it coming. This rape joke is practically writing itself.

The rape joke is that you were facedown. The rape joke is you were wearing a pretty green necklace that your sister had made for you. Later you cut that necklace up. The mattress felt a specific way, and your mouth felt a specific way open against it, as if you were speaking, but you know you were not. As if your mouth were open ten years into the future, reciting a poem called Rape Joke.

The rape joke is that time is different, becomes more horrible and more habitable, and accommodates your need to go deeper into it.

Just like the body, which more than a concrete form is a capacity.

You know the body of time is elastic, can take almost anything you give it, and heals quickly.

The rape joke is that of course there was blood, which in human beings is so close to the surface.

The rape joke is you went home like nothing happened, and laughed about it the next day and the day after that, and when you told people you laughed, and that was the rape joke.

It was a year before you told your parents, because he was like a son to them. The rape joke is that when you told your father, he made the sign of the cross over you and said, “I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” which even in its total wrongheadedness, was so completely sweet.

The rape joke is that you were crazy for the next five years, and had to move cities, and had to move states, and whole days went down into the sinkhole of thinking about why it happened. Like you went to look at your backyard and suddenly it wasn’t there, and you were looking down into the center of the earth, which played the same red event perpetually.

The rape joke is that after a while you weren’t crazy anymore, but close call, Miss Geography.

The rape joke is that for the next five years all you did was write, and never about yourself, about anything else, about apples on the tree, about islands, dead poets and the worms that aerated them, and there was no warm body in what you wrote, it was elsewhere.

The rape joke is that this is finally artless. The rape joke is that you do not write artlessly.

The rape joke is if you write a poem called Rape Joke, you’re asking for it to become the only thing people remember about you.

The rape joke is that you asked why he did it. The rape joke is he said he didn’t know, like what else would a rape joke say? The rape joke said YOU were the one who was drunk, and the rape joke said you remembered it wrong, which made you laugh out loud for one long split-open second. The wine coolers weren’t Bartles & Jaymes, but it would be funnier for the rape joke if they were. It was some pussy flavor, like Passionate Mango or Destroyed Strawberry, which you drank down without question and trustingly in the heart of Cincinnati Ohio.

Can rape jokes be funny at all, is the question.

Can any part of the rape joke be funny. The part where it ends—haha, just kidding! Though you did dream of killing the rape joke for years, spilling all of its blood out, and telling it that way.

The rape joke cries out for the right to be told.

The rape joke is that this is just how it happened.

The rape joke is that the next day he gave you Pet Sounds. No really. Pet Sounds. He said he was sorry and then he gave you Pet Sounds. Come on, that’s a little bit funny.

Admit it.

Previously published in The Awl, 7/25/13

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Of History and Hope

By Miller Williams

For the second inauguration of Bill Clinton (1997)

We have memorized America, 
how it was born and who we have been and where.   
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,   
telling the stories, singing the old songs. 
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.   
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.   
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.   
The rich taste of it is on our tongues. 
But where are we going to be, and why, and who?   
The disenfranchised dead want to know. 
We mean to be the people we meant to be,   
to keep on going where we meant to go. 
But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
except in the minds of those who will call it Now? 
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?   
With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row— 
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow. 

Who were many people coming together 
cannot become one people falling apart. 
Who dreamed for every child an even chance 
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not. 
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head   
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart. 
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child   
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot. 
We know what we have done and what we have said,   
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,   
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become— 
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free. 

All this in the hands of children, eyes already set   
on a land we never can visit—it isn’t there yet— 
but looking through their eyes, we can see   
what our long gift to them may come to be.   
If we can truly remember, they will not forget.