Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Afterlife by James Tate


The Afterlife
 
A man fell out of the tree in our backyard. I ran over
to help him. “Would you like some tea?” I said. “I think
I broke my back,” he said. “Perhaps some ice cream would
be just the thing,” I said. “Lend me your hand,” he said.
I gave him my hand and tried to pull him up. When he was
upright, he said, “Where am I?” “You’re in my backyard,” I
said. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” he said.
“It’s just an ordinary yard, a small garden, a few flowers,”
I said. “Yes, it’s a sorry sight. How can you stand to live
here?” he said. “Oh, it’s my home,” I said. “Home? That’s
a curious word,” he said. “Where do you live?” I said. “Live?
Live? That’s a funny question,” he said. “I don’t live anywhere.”
“What do you mean?” I said. “I’m a dead man. I just float
around,” he said. “Well, I’ve never met a dead man. I’m
pleased to meet you,” I said. “I think you’re supposed to
scream or something,” he said. “Oh no, I’m really pleased,”
I said. “It’s really kind of you to drop by.” “I didn’t
drop by. It was the wind,” he said. “And then the wind stopped
and I fell into the tree.” “How lucky for me,” I said. “You’ll
be going with me, of course, when I leave. You’ll never be
coming back,” he said. 

 

Friday, September 29, 2017

My Doubt by Jane Hirshfield

My Doubt

I wake, doubt, beside you,
like a curtain half-open.

I dress doubting,
like a cup 
undecided if it has been dropped.

I eat doubting,
work doubting,
go out to a dubious cafe with skeptical friends.

I go to sleep doubting myself,
as a herd of goats
sleep in a suddenly gone-quiet truck.

I dream you, doubt,
nightly—
for what is the meaning of dreaming
if not that all we are while inside it
is transient, amorphous, in question?

Left hand and right hand,
doubt, you are in me,
throwing a basketball, guiding my knife and my fork.
Left knee and right knee,
we run for a bus,
for a meeting that surely will end before we arrive.

I would like
to grow content in you, doubt,
as a double-hung window
settles obedient into its hidden pulleys and ropes.

I doubt I can do so:
your own counterweight governs my nights and my days.

As the knob of hung lead holds steady
the open mouth of a window,
you hold me,
my kneeling before you resistant, stubborn,
offering these furious praises
I can’t help but doubt you will ever be able to hear.

 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

If  See No End In Is by Frank Bidart


If  See No End In Is

What none knows is when, not if. 
Now that your life nears its end 
when you turn back what you see 
is ruin. You think, It is a prison. No, 
it is a vast resonating chamber in 
which each thing you say or do is 

new, but the same. What none knows is 
how to change. Each plateau you reach, if 
single, limited, only itself, in- 
cludes traces of  all the others, so that in the end 
limitation frees you, there is no 
end, if   you once see what is there to see. 

You cannot see what is there to see — 
not when she whose love you failed is 
standing next to you. Then, as if refusing the know- 
ledge that life unseparated from her is death, as if 
again scorning your refusals, she turns away. The end 
achieved by the unappeased is burial within. 

Familiar spirit, within whose care I grew, within 
whose disappointment I twist, may we at last see 
by what necessity the double-bind is in the end 
the  figure  for human life, why what we love is 
precluded always by something else we love, as if 
each no we speak is yes, each yes no. 

The prospect is mixed but elsewhere the forecast is no 
better. The eyrie where you perch in 
exhaustion has food and is out of  the wind, if 
cold. You feel old, young, old, young: you scan the sea 
for movement, though the promise of  sex or food is 
the prospect that bewildered  you to this end. 

Something in you believes that it is not the end. 
When you wake, sixth grade will start. The finite you know 
you fear is infinite: even at eleven, what you love is 
what you should not love, which endless bullies in- 
tuit unerringly. The future will be different: you cannot see 
the end. What none knows is when, not if.

Letter To Al by Lee Sharkey


Letter To Al

It was all sound. The loons. My lunatic heart. The warblers’ variations.
It was the loon night leading me to damage, a reluctant knowledge
that to do for you is to do to you. Wild, erratic, the loon
sings out its night devotions, Monk of the bird kingdom,
trilling the high note past its measure till the heart’s thrilled open.
Is it fog you wander when you stare out of the house of yourself,
is a you small and distant gathering itself for your return - a penny
for your thoughts, but you do not speak them. Only when you draw your bow
across the cello strings do I hear the one who made my fierce heart
tremble. It was pure sound answering pure sound rising and subsiding
on a flood of memory and it had the power to unlock my grief.
Were there a hiding place in poems I would slip you into it; you could cling
to my back or a fiddler’s trousers, as Chagall wrote of his father, who worked
loading barrels of herring and died crushed by a car. Barrels of grief.
Do not forsake me. Who can know what is written on his back.

I return to the nights in Russia when we stripped off sweaters and shirts,
long johns and underthings, and dived for the narrow bed. A deep cold
had crystalized the city, trees of crystal, palaces of crystal sparkling
where families paraded on winter evenings in high fur hats
and long fur coats and boots made of caribou on sidewalks
layered with snow. Beneath thin covers we shivered as we stole
the fire of sex. This was the kingdom you carried me off to,
where everyone recited Pushkin and bested each other’s tales
of the gulag, the breath of the great bear of hunger on their lips.
I lay on the floor teaching my throat the sounds of a new language;
I called out for chalk and they gave me honey; you struggled to teach
in a language you learned in high school, the Cold War piquing
your interest, you with the gift of tongues. Do you have potatoes?
our colleagues repeated, concerned for the strangers recently arrived
in the closed zone, knowing nothing, but eager and alert.

To live a routine of catastrophe. Each day radically undetermined.
Will tomorrow be Sunday or Tuesday? Will the heart hold for one more hour?
Each day undermined. Darkly mirrored in the monitor.
Will I drop to the floor in the cereal aisle? Will you forget your pin?
The dish lies broken. This wasn’t what we anticipated.
The thing without a name goes with us. Labouring and uncertain.
Death’s imbecile cousin. Volatile. Childlike and self-absorbed.
Delights in your confusion. Will not be ignored. Sprawls in the bed
with its seductions. Swipes your keys and identification.|
What’s the game plan? Take each day as it metastasizes,
Lord, your humble servant, Shekhinah of the midnight hour.
In whose hands we place ourselves in medicated dreaming,
the voices calling each other’s names: Wake! Emergency!
I fumbling to you. You fumbling to me. What can I do?Just stay
with me. Till the end of shadows. Till the end of end.

It’s the if under every utterance. It’s the utterance over every if.
It’s the memory arriving of my mother in a slatted lawn chair,
eyes closed (I have closed them), smelling the salted sea grass,
a black and white memory I am painting red. Tonight she will leave
her diaphragm in the drawer. Don’t tell my father. I want to be.
To be out in it, making memories of my mother, head thrown back,
letting the breeze touch her. She and I painting the lawn chair red.
To be about it. Desire, the little engine that keeps on pulling,
in every box car a generation re-membering its lost stories
over the clatter of the rails. To make, to shape it. To see every word
flown from the mouth as a catbird’s feather loosed in wind,
tipping the scales of a future. As in: my father has throttled his words
once too often and lost the power to speak. He has brought
the house down around him and sits staring from the rubble.
I write this feather to touch him not to impeach.

It is enough some hours simply to be together, within our walls
among our familiar objects—refrigerator, toaster, pencil, stepladder,
jacket, glove—or walking hand in hand. We rest when we’re tired.
We eat when we’re hungry. The locusts, the frogs, the death of the firstborn—
we have escaped them. Against us, not a dog shall move his tongue.
Some hours it seems perfected, the cycle of passion and caring,
striving and settling, everything come down to love. The marvel
of devotion, the osmotic comfort of skin on skin. We quiet,
old lovers who have no need to speak. Outside, the plagues continue:
the pestilence, the grievous hail, the stinking fish, extinctions.
Pharaoh doubles down on his intransigence. But our ambitions
have grown modest. I stop for a flower’s deliquescence, recite
the sequence: crocus, daffodil, tulip, peony, rose.
You fill your pillbox, watch Space X rockets land on water.
A hand held, a kiss soft on the lips—there is no future to speak of.

 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The School Play by James Merrill


The School Play

"Harry of Hereford, Lancaster, and Derby,
Stands here for God, his country, and . . ." And what?
"Stands here for God, his Sovereign, and himself,"
Growls Captain Fry who had the play by heart.
I was the First Herald, "a small part"
--I was small too--"but an important one."
What was not important to the self 
At nine or ten? Already I had crushes
On Mowbray, Bushy, and the Duke of York.
Handsome Donald Niemann (now himself,
According to the Bulletin, headmaster
Of his own school somewhere out West) awoke
Too many self-indulgent mouthings in
The dummy mirror before smashing it,
For me to set my scuffed school cap at him.
Another year I'd play that part myself,
Or Puck, or Goneril, or Prosepero. 
Later, in adolescence, it was thought
Clever to speak of having found oneself,
With a smile and rueful headshake for those who hadn't.
People still do. Only the other day
A woman my age told us that her son
"Hadn't found himself"--at thirty-one!
I heard in the mind's ear an amused hum
Of mothers and fathers from beyond the curtain,
And that flushed, far-reaching hour came back
Months of rehearsal in the gymnasium
Had led to: when the skinny nobodies
Who'd memorized the verse and learned to speak it
Emerged in beards and hose (or gowns and rouge)
Vivid with character, having put themselves
All unsuspecting into the master's hands.

 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Why Some Girls Love Horses by Paisley Rekdal


Why Some Girls Love Horses

And then I thought, Can I have more
of this, would it be possible
for every day to be a greater awakening: more light,
more light, your face on the pillow
with the sleep creases rudely
fragmenting it, hair so stiff
from paint and sheet rock it feels
like the dirty short hank
of mane I used to grab on Dandy’s neck
before he hauled me up and forward,
white flanks flecked green
with shit and the satin of his dander,
the livingness, the warmth
of all that blood just under the skin
and in the long, thick muscle of the neck—
He was smarter than most of the children
I went to school with. He knew
how to stand with just the crescent
of his hoof along a boot toe and press,
incrementally, his whole weight down. The pain
so surprising when it came,
its iron intention sheathed in stealth, the decisive
sudden twisting of his leg until the hoof
pinned one’s foot completely to the ground,
we’d have to beat and beat him with a brush
to push him off, that hot
insistence with its large horse eye trained
deliberately on us, to watch—

Like us, he knew how to announce through violence
how he didn’t hunger, didn’t want
despite our practiced ministrations: too young
not to try to empathize
with this cunning: this thing
that was and was not human we must respect
for itself and not our imagination of it: I loved him because
I could not love him anymore
in the ways I’d taught myself,
watching the slim bodies of teenagers
guide their geldings in figure eights around the ring
as if they were one body, one fluid motion
of electric understanding I would never feel
working its way through fingers to the bit: this thing
had a name, a need, a personality; it possessed
an indifference that gave me
logic and a measure: I too might stop wanting
the hand placed on back or shoulder
and never feel the desired response.
I loved the horse for the pain it could imagine

and inflict on me, the sudden jerking
of head away from halter, the tentative nose
inspecting first before it might decide
to relent and eat. I loved
what was not slave or instinct, that when you turn to me
it is a choice, it is always a choice to imagine pleasure
might be blended, one warmth
bleeding into another as the future
bleeds into the past, more light, more light,
your hand against my shoulder, the image
of the one who taught me disobedience
is the first right of being alive.

 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Mergers and Acquisitions by Edward Hirsch


Mergers and Acquisitions

Beyond junk bonds and oil spills,
beyond the collapse of Savings and Loans,
beyond liquidations and options on futures,
beyond basket trading and expanding foreign markets,
the Dow Jones industrial average, the Standard
& Poor's stock index, mutual funds, commodities,
beyond the rising tide of debits and credits,
opinion polls, falling currencies, the signs
for L. A. Gear and Coca Cola Classic, 
the signs for U.S. Steel and General Motors,
hi-grade copper, municipal bonds, domestic sugar,
beyond fax it and collateral buildups,
beyond mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buyouts,
hostile takeovers, beyond the official policy
on inflation and the consensus on happiness,
beyond the national trends in buying and selling,
getting and spending, the market stalled
and the cost passed on to consumers,
beyond the statistical charts on prices,
there is something else that drives us, some
rage or hunger, some absence smoldering
like a childhood fever vaguely remembered
or half-perceived, some unprotected desire,
greed that is both wound and knife,
a failed grief, a lost radiance.

 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Good Life by Tracy K. Smith


The Good Life

When some people talk about money
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
Who went out to buy milk and never
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
Like a woman journeying for water
From a village without a well, then living
One or two nights like everyone else
On roast chicken and red wine.

 

So Early in the Morning by Charles Simić


So Early in the Morning

It pains me to see an old woman fret over
A few small coins outside a grocery store—
How swiftly I forget her as my own grief
Finds me again—a friend at death’s door
And the memory of the night we spent together.

I had so much love in my heart afterward,
I could have run into the street naked,
Confident anyone I met would understand
My madness and my need to tell them
About life being both cruel and beautiful,

But I did not—despite the overwhelming evidence:
A crow bent over a dead squirrel in the road,
The lilac bushes flowering in some yard,
And the sight of a dog free from his chain
Searching through a neighbor’s trash can.

 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Self-Portrait as Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong


Self-Portrait as Exit Wounds

Instead, let it be the echo to every footstep
drowned out by rain, cripple the air like a name

flung onto a sinking boat, splash the kapok’s bark
through rot & iron of a city trying to forget

the bones beneath its sidewalks, then through
the refugee camp sick with smoke & half-sung

hymns, a shack rusted black & lit with Bà Ngoại’s
last candle, the hogs’ faces we held in our hands

& mistook for brothers, let it enter a room illuminated
with snow, furnished only with laughter, Wonder Bread

& mayonnaise raised to cracked lips as testament
to a triumph no one recalls, let it brush the newborn’s

flushed cheek as he’s lifted in his father’s arms, wreathed
with fishgut & Marlboros, everyone cheering as another

brown gook crumbles under John Wayne’s M16, Vietnam
burning on the screen, let it slide through their ears,

clean, like a promise, before piercing the poster
of Michael Jackson glistening over the couch, into

the supermarket where a Hapa woman is ready
to believe every white man possessing her nose

is her father, may it sing, briefly, inside her mouth,
before laying her down between jars of tomato

& blue boxes of pasta, the deep-red apple rolling
from her palm, then into the prison cell

where her husband sits staring at the moon
until he’s convinced it’s the last wafer

god refused him, let it hit his jaw like a kiss
we’ve forgotten how to give one another, hissing

back to ’68, Ha Long Bay: the sky replaced
with fire, the sky only the dead

look up to, may it reach the grandfather fucking
the pregnant farmgirl in the back of his army jeep,

his blond hair flickering in napalm-blasted wind, let it pin
him down to dust where his future daughters rise,

fingers blistered with salt & Agent Orange, let them
tear open his olive fatigues, clutch that name hanging

from his neck, that name they press to their tongues
to relearn the word live, live, live—but if

for nothing else, let me weave this deathbeam
the way a blind woman stitches a flap of skin back

to her daughter’s ribs. Yes—let me believe I was born
to cock back this rifle, smooth & slick, like a true

Charlie, like the footsteps of ghosts misted through rain
as I lower myself between the sights—& pray

that nothing moves.

 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Another Elegy by Jericho Brown


Another Elegy

To believe in God is to love
What none can see. Let a lover go,

Let him walk out with the good
Spoons or die

Without a signature, and so much
Remains for scrubbing, for a polish

Cleaner than devotion. Tonight,
God is one spot, and you,

You must be one blind nun. You
Wipe, you rub, but love won’t move.

 

Persistence of Vision: Televised Confession by Solmaz Sharif


Persistence of Vision: Televised Confession

You are like a daughter
to me—the prisoner’s
mother tells me. Meal by
meal she sets then clears. She

rinses some tablewear
the prisoner never
held, then a glass she did,
then recalls her daughter’s

mouth opening softly
to drink water on state-
run TV, then water
over everything. The

glass appears in hundreds
of frames before reaching
the prisoner’s lips. In
between each frame, the grief

our eyes jump to create
movement: dark strips to keep
sharp the glass lip, water
skin trembling, hand that

trembles it. These mothers
move as flipbooks, tiny,
stuttering pasts, sobbing
at the sink. It is death

that sharpens our sight each
sixteenth second, slender,
blocking enough light so
that the prisoner’s face

is again and again
alive each light-punctured
frame, her mouth: in hundreds
of stills is still opening

softly to drink.

 

Monday, September 18, 2017

The First Person Who Will Live to Be One Hundred and Fifty Years Old Has Already Been Born by Nicole Sealey


The First Person Who Will Live to Be One Hundred and Fifty Years Old Has Already Been Born
 
Scientists say the average human
life gets three months longer every year.
By this math, death will be optional. Like a tie
or dessert or suffering. My mother asks
whether I’d want to live forever.
“I’d get bored,” I tell her. “But,” she says,
“there’s so much to do,” meaning
she believes there’s much she hasn’t done.
Thirty years ago she was the age I am now
but, unlike me, too industrious to think about
birds disappeared by rain. If only we had more
time or enough money to be kept on ice
until such a time science could bring us back.
Of late my mother has begun to think life
short-lived. I’m too young to convince her
otherwise. The one and only occasion
I was in the same room as the Mona Lisa,
it was encased in glass behind what I imagine
were velvet ropes. There’s far less between
ourselves and oblivion—skin that often defeats
its very purpose. Or maybe its purpose
isn’t protection at all, but rather to provide
a place, similar to a doctor’s waiting room,
in which to sit until our names are called.
Hold your questions until the end.
Mother, measure my wide-open arms—
we still have this much time to kill. 

 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

When You Are Old by W. B. Yeats


When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Death Barged In by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno


Death Barged In
  
In his Russian greatcoat
slamming open the door  
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since.  
  
He changes everything,
rearranges the furniture,
his hand hovers  
by the phone;
he will answer now, he says;
he will be the answer.  
  
Tonight he sits down to dinner
at the head of the table
as we eat, mute;
later, he climbs into bed
between us.    
  
Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two  
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down  
and whispers to my neck,
From now on,
you write about me

 

Yellow Rain by Mai Der Vang


Yellow Rain

First, the sting
in your nose.

Then in your eyes,
a furnace flared

To hollow
your face.

Flies above
your empty sockets.

Maggots made
your split skin.

Another cow dies
from breathing

as you swallowed
from the same air.

How many days before
it wintered you gray

in this wilderness turned
makeshift-graveyard.

How many hours
before the lesions,

before your vomit
hardens the earthen

floor. Somewhere
a house ages cold,

no longer warmed
by the hearth

you once tended.
No one lights

any spirit money.
No one chants the way.

 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Another Country by Jim Harrison


Another Country

I love these raw moist dawns with
a thousand birds you hear but can’t
quite see in the mist.
My old alien body is a foreigner
struggling to get into another country.
The loon call makes me shiver.
Back at the cabin I see a book
and am not quite sure what that is.

 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Fusion by Rae Armantrout


Fusion
  
When we recognize we  “think again”
without knowing what or if
we thought before.
  
I confuse copper
with brass.
  
To recognize is almost
always a pleasure;
perhaps it is pleasure itself.
  
I confuse Melissa
with Melissa.
  
To recognize is not
only to give something a name
but to give it the very name
that was waiting for it
  
somewhere
  
as if thing and name had been
sad without each other.
  
That’s a woman
in an arctic-fox costume
singing,  “Don’t you worry
‘bout a thing,
baby.”
  
I confuse worry with
  
                *
  
Darkness in the shape
of leaves
flows over a building;
  
black ellipses
on the bay
  
slipping
and falling into place