Saturday, May 5, 2018

4 1/2 by Tracy K. Smith


4 1/2

Morning finds her curled like a prawn
Around a stuffed blue Pegasus, or the smallest
Prawn-pink lion. Or else she's barging
Into my room, and leaning in close so
It's her hair I wake to—that coarse, dark
Heaven of knots and purple fluff. And
She's hungry, but first she has to pee—
"Pee! Pee!" she sings, hopping in place, trying
To staunch off the wild ravenous river
She carries, until I'm awake for real, saying
"Go! Go! Hurry before you wet the floor!"
And then she tries, and succeeds, or else stands
Bereft, relieved, as a pool trickles out
Around her feet. She's like an island
Made of rock, with one lone tree at the top
Of the only mountain. She's like the sole
Incongruous goat tethered to the tree,
Smiling almost as you approach, scraping
The ground with its horns, and then—
Lickety split—lurching hard, daring
The rope to snap. She's hungry. She wants
"Bread, toasted, with no skin." And enough butter
To write her name in. Or a bowl of cereal ("But
Not the noisy kind"). She wants a movie, or maybe
Just the tussle of her will against mine,
That scrape and crack. Horn on rock. Rope
Relenting one fiber at a time. "I want that," she says,
Punctuating what she just said she wanted.

 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Explorers Cry Out Unheard by Marie Ponsot


Explorers Cry Out Unheard 

What I have in mind is the last wilderness. 

I sweat to learn its heights of sun, scrub, ants,
its gashes full of shadows and odd plants,
as inch by inch it yields to my hard press. 

And the way behind me changes as I advance.
If interdependence shapes the biomass,
though I plot my next step by pure chance
I can’t go wrong. Even willful deviance
connects me to all the rest. The changing past
includes and can’t excerpt me. Memory grants
just the nothing it knows, & my distress
drives me toward the imagined truths I stalk,
those savages. Warned by their haunting talk,
their gestures, I guess they mean no. Or yes. 

 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

My Father No Longer Knows Me by Adam Zagajewski


My Father No Longer Knows Me
 
My father no longer knows me. Not even
those sparks of consciousness
that cheered us not so long ago.
He lies submerged in darkness, sleeps, dozes,
as if he’d already taken leave.
There are still the brief moments, though,
when his real face is revealed.

(Translated by Clare Cavanagh)

 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

As You Never Bothered to Return My Call by August Kleinzahler


As You Never Bothered to Return My Call

What I had wanted was to be chaste,
sober and uncomfortable
for a sprawling episode on a beach somewhere
dirty, perennially out of fashion;
let the smell of cocoa butter drive deep memory wild
as the sun went down, a parti-colored blur,
examined through a bottle of pop
some kid gave up on only half-way through
and left to go warm in the sand.

The train ride would be long and hot,
and you, you’ve had it with men.
Me . . .
        I’m sickened by the pronoun.
Tenderness seems as far away as Sioux City
and besides, it would have cost too much.
But you should have called,

if only since a preposterous little episode like this
is just the stuff to scare off extra friends,
like soaking their laps with corrosive fizz.
And us . . .
              What an impertinence, us.
We could have played gin rummy and taken a stroll
into town or along the boardwalk, maybe,
                                      with dear old Godzilla,
the first one, the best one, the 1954 one,
reprising his role this one last time, raising himself up
over the horizon at dusk,
and hurrying us to a place we never would have
dreamt of
             going.

 

Nothing’s a Gift by Wisława Szymborska


Nothing’s a Gift
 
Nothing’s a gift, it’s all on loan.
I’m drowning in debts up to my ears.
I’ll have to pay for myself
with my self,
give up my life for my life.
 
Here’s how it’s arranged:
The heart can be repossessed,
the liver, too,
and each single finger and toe.
 
Too late to tear up the terms,
my debts will be repaid,
and I’ll be fleeced,
or, more precisely, flayed.
 
I move about the planet
in a crush of other debtors.
Some are saddled with the burden
of paying off their wings.
Others must, willy-nilly,
account for every leaf.
 
Every tissue in us lies
on the debit side.
Not a tentacle or tendril
is for keeps.
 
The inventory, infinitely detailed,
implies we’ll be left
not just empty-handed
but handless, too.
 
I can’t remember
where, when, and why
I let someone open
this account in my name.
 
We call the protest against this
the soul.
And it’s the only item
not included on the list.

(Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanaugh)

 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

I Dwell in Possibility by Emily Dickinson


I Dwell in Possibility

I dwell in Possibility –

A fairer House than Prose –

More numerous of Windows –

Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –

Impregnable of eye –

And for an everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –

For Occupation – This –

The spreading wide my narrow
Hands 
To gather Paradise –

 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour by Wallace Stevens


Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous,

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one …
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Gay Bingo at a Pasadena Animal Shelter by Henri Cole


Gay Bingo at a Pasadena Animal Shelter

My bingo cards are empty, because I’m not paying attention.
I can’t hear the numbers, because something inward is being given substance.
Then my mother and father appear in the bingo hall and seem sad and solitary.
They are shades now, with pale skin, and have no shame showing their genitals.
This is before I am born and before a little strip of DNA—
mutated in the 30s and 40s, part-chimpanzee—overran the community
and before the friends of my youth are victims of discrimination.
I resemble my mother and father, but if you look closer,
you will see that I am different, I am Henri.
“Don’t pay no mind to the haters,” Mother and Father are repeating,
and I listen poignantly, not hearing the bingo numbers called.
I think maybe my real subject is language as an act of revenge
against the past:
                                The beach was so white; O, how the sun burned;
he loved me as I loved him, but we did what others told us
and kept our feelings hidden. Now, I make my own decisions.
I don’t speak so softly. Tonight, we’re raising money for the shelter animals.
The person I call myself—elegant, libidinous, austere—
is older than many buildings here, where time moves too swiftly,
taking the measure of my body, like hot sand or a hand leaving its mark,
as the bright sunlight blurs the days into one another.
Still, the sleeping heart awakens,
and, once pricked and fed, it grows plump again.

 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Accident, Mass. Ave. by Jill McDonough


Accident, Mass. Ave.
 
I stopped at a red light on Mass. Ave.
in Boston, a couple blocks away
from the bridge, and a woman in a beat-up
old Buick backed into me. Like, cranked her wheel,
rammed right into my side. I drove a Chevy
pickup truck. It being Boston, I got out
of the car yelling, swearing at this woman,
a little woman, whose first language was not English.
But she lived and drove in Boston, too, so she knew,
we both knew, that the thing to do
is get out of the car, slam the door
as hard as you fucking can and yell things like What the fuck
were you thinking? You fucking blind? What the fuck
is going on? Jesus Christ! So we swore
at each other with perfect posture, unnaturally angled
chins. I threw my arms around, sudden
jerking motions with my whole arms, the backs
of my hands toward where she had hit my truck.
 
But she hadn't hit my truck. She hit
the tire; no damage done. Her car
was fine, too. We saw this while
we were yelling, and then we were stuck.
The next line in our little drama should have been
Look at this fucking dent! I'm not paying for this
shitI'm calling the copslady. Maybe we'd throw in a
You're in big trouble, sister, or I just hope for your sake
there's nothing wrong with my fucking suspension, that
sort of thing. But there was no fucking dent. There
was nothing else for us to do. So I
stopped yelling, and she looked at the tire she'd
backed into, her little eyebrows pursed
and worried. She was clearly in the wrong, I was enormous,
and I'd been acting as if I'd like to hit her. So I said
 
Well, there's nothing wrong with my car, nothing wrong
with your car . . . are you OK? She nodded, and started
to cry, so I put my arms around her and I held her, middle
of the street, Mass. Ave., Boston, a couple blocks from the bridge.
I hugged her, and I said We were scared, weren't we?
and she nodded and we laughed.
  
 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Unfaithful Housewife by Frederico García Lorca


The Unfaithful Housewife

Then I led her to the river
certain she was still a virgin
though she had a husband.
The fourth Friday in July,
as good as on a promise.
The street lights were vanishing
and the crickets flaring up.
Last bend out of town
I brushed her sleepy breasts.
They blossomed of a sudden
like the tips of hyacinths
and the starch of her petticoat
bustled in my ear like silk
slit by a dozen blades.
The pines, minus their halo 
of silver, grew huger
and the horizon of dogs
howled a long way from the river.

Past the blackberry bushes,
the rushes and whitethorn,
beneath her thatch of hair,
I made a dip in the sand.
I took off my neckerchief.
She unstrapped her dress.
Me my gun and holster,
she her layers of slips...
Not tuberose, not shell, 
has skin as half as smooth
nor does mirror glass
have half the shimmer.
Her hips flitted from me
like a pair of startled tench:
the one full of fire,
the other full of cold.
That night I might
as well have ridden
the pick of the roads
on a mother-of-pearl mare
without bridle or stirrups.
Gentleman that I am,
I won’t say back the scraps
she whispered to me.
It dawned out there 
to leave my lip bitten.
Filthy with soil and kisses,
I led her from the river
and the spears of lilies
battled in the air.

I behaved only the way
a blackguard like me behaves.
I offered her a big creel
of hay-colored satins.
I had no wish to fall for her.
She has a husband after all,
though she was still a virgin
when I led her to the river.

(Translated by Conor O’Callaghan)

 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Last Summer of Innocence by Danez Smith


Last Summer of Innocence

there was Noella who knew I was sweet
but cared enough to bother with me

that summer when nobody died
except for boys from other schools

but not us, for which our mothers
lifted his holy name & even let us skip

some Sundays to go to the park
or be where we had no business being

talking to girls who had no interest
in us, who flocked to their new hips

dumb birds that we were, nectar high
& singing all round them, preening

waves all day, white beater & our best
basketball shorts, the flyest shoes

our mamas could buy hot, line-up fresh
from someone's porch, someone's uncle

cutting heads round the corner cutting
eyes at the mothers of girls I pretended

to praise. I showed off for girls
but stared at my stupid, boney crew.

I knew the word for what I was
but couldn't think it. I played football

& believed that meant something.
when Noella n 'nem didn't come out

& instead we turned our attention
to our wild legs, narrow arms & pig skin

I spent all day in my brothers' arms
& wanted that to be forever–

boy after boy after boy after boy
pulling me down into the dirt.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

How Can It Be I Am No Longer I by Lucie Brock-Broido


How Can It Be I Am No Longer I

Winter was the ravaging in the scarified
Ghost garden, a freak of letters crossing down a rare 

Path bleak with poplars. Only the yew were a crewel
Of kith at the fieldstone wall, annulled 

As a dulcimer cinched in a green velvet sack.
To be damaged is to endanger—taut as the stark 

Throats of castrati in their choir, lymphless & fawning
& pale. The miraculous conjoining 

Where the beamless air harms our self & lung,
Our three-chambered heart & sternum, 

Where two made a monstrous
Braid of other, ravishing. 

To damage is an animal hunch
& urge, thou fallen—the marvelous much 

Is the piece of Pleiades the underworld calls
The nightsky from their mud & rime. Perennials 

Ghost the ground & underground the coffled
Veins, an aneurism of the ice & spectacle. 

I would not speak again. How flinching
The world will seem—in the lynch 

Of light as I sail home in a winter steeled
For the deaths of the few loved left living I will 

Always love. I was a flint
To bliss & barbarous, a bristling 

Of tracks like a starfish carved on his inner arm,
A tindering of tissue, a reliquary, twinned. 

A singe of salt-hay shrouds the orchard-skin,
That I would be—lukewarm, mammalian, even then, 

In winter when moss sheathes every thing alive
& everything not or once alive. 

That I would be—dryadic, gothic, fanatic against
The vanishing; I will not speak to you again.

 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Beginning of November by Franz Wright


Beginning of November

The light is winter light.
You’ve already felt it
before you can open your eyes,
and now it’s too late
to prepare yourself
for this gray originless
sorrow that’s filling the room. It’s not winter. The light
is. The light is
winter light,
and you’re alone.
At last you get up:
and suddenly notice you’re holding
your body without the heart
to curse its lonely life, it’s suffering
from cold and from the winter
light that fills the room
like fear. And all at once you hug it tight,
the way you might hug
somebody you hate,
if he came to you in tears. 

 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Touch me by Stanley Kunitz


Touch me

Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that's late,
it is my song that's flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it's done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am. 

 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Fannie Lou Hamer by Kamilah Aisha Moon


Fannie Lou Hamer

                  “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!”  
 
She sat across the desk from me, squirming.
It was stifling. My suite runs hot
but most days it is bearable.  
 
This student has turned in nothing,
rarely comes to class. When she does,
her eyes bore into me with a disdain
born long before either of us.  
 
She doesn’t trust anything I say.
She can’t respect my station,
the words coming out of these lips,
this face. My breathing
is an affront. It’s me, she says.  
 
I never was this student’s professor—
her immediate reaction
seeing me at the smart board.
But I have a calling to complete
& she has to finish college,
return to a town where
she doesn’t have to look at,
listen to or respect anyone
like me—forever tall, large
& brown in her dagger eyes,
though it’s clear she looks down
on me. She can return—
if not to her hometown, another
enclave, so many others, where
she can brush a dog’s golden coat,
be vegan & call herself
a good person.  
 
Are you having difficulty with your other classes?  

No.  

Go, I say, tenderly.
Loaded as a cop’s gun,
she blurts point-blank
that she’s afraid of me. Twice.
My soft syllables rattle something
planted deep,
so I tell her to go where
she’d feel more comfortable
as if she were my niece or
godchild, even wish her
a good day.  
 
If she stays, the ways
this could backfire! 
Where is my Kevlar shield
from her shame?  
 
There’s no way to tell
when these breasts will evoke
solace or terror. I hate
that she surprises me, that I lull
myself to think her ilk
is gone despite knowing
so much more, and better.  
 
I can’t proselytize my worth
all semester, exhaust us
for the greater good.
I can’t let her make me
a monster to myself—
I’m running out of time & pity
the extent of her impoverished
heart. She’s from New
England, I’m from the Mid-South.
Far from elderly, someone
just raised her like this
with love.  
 
I have essays to grade
but words warp
on the white page, dart
just out of reach. I blink
two hours away, find it hard
to lift my legs, my voice,
my head precious to my parents
now being held
in my own hands.  
 
How did they survive
so much worse, the millions
with all of their scars!
What would these rivers be
without their weeping,
these streets without
their faith & sweat?  
 
Fannie Lou Hamer
thundered what they felt,
we feel, into DNC microphones
on black and white TV
years before
I was a notion.  
 
She doesn’t know who
Fannie Lou Hamer is,
and never has to.
  
 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

I Am in Love, Hence Free to Live by Vera Pavlova


I Am in Love, Hence Free to Live

I am in love, hence free to live
by heart, to ad lib as I caress.
A soul is light when full,
heavy when vacuous.
My soul is light. She is not afraid
to dance the agony alone,
for I was born wearing your shirt,
will come from the dead with that shirt on.

(Translated by Steven Seymour)

 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Lost Pilot by James Tate


The Lost Pilot 
 
       for my father, 1922-1944
 
Your face did not rot
like the others—the co-pilot,   
for example, I saw him
 
yesterday. His face is corn-
mush: his wife and daughter,   
the poor ignorant people, stare
 
as if he will compose soon.
He was more wronged than Job.   
But your face did not rot
 
like the others—it grew dark,
and hard like ebony;
the features progressed in their
 
distinction. If I could cajole
you to come back for an evening,   
down from your compulsive
 
orbiting, I would touch you,   
read your face as Dallas,   
your hoodlum gunner, now,
 
with the blistered eyes, reads   
his braille editions. I would
touch your face as a disinterested
 
scholar touches an original page.   
However frightening, I would   
discover you, and I would not
 
turn you in; I would not make   
you face your wife, or Dallas,   
or the co-pilot, Jim. You
 
could return to your crazy   
orbiting, and I would not try   
to fully understand what
 
it means to you. All I know   
is this: when I see you,   
as I have seen you at least
 
once every year of my life,   
spin across the wilds of the sky   
like a tiny, African god,
 
I feel dead. I feel as if I were   
the residue of a stranger’s life,   
that I should pursue you.
 
My head cocked toward the sky,   
I cannot get off the ground,   
and, you, passing over again,
 
fast, perfect, and unwilling   
to tell me that you are doing   
well, or that it was mistake
 
that placed you in that world,
and me in this; or that misfortune   
placed these worlds in us. 

 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Late Echoes by John Ashbery


Late Echoes
 
Alone with our madness and favorite flower
We see that there really is nothing left to write about.
Or rather, it is necessary to write about the same old things
In the same way, repeating the same things over and over
For love to continue and be gradually different.
Beehives and ants have to be re-examined eternally
And the color of the day put in
Hundreds of times and varied from summer to winter
For it to get slowed down to the pace of an authentic
Saraband and huddle there, alive and resting.
Only then can the chronic inattention
Of our lives drape itself around us, conciliatory
And with one eye on those long tan plush shadows
That speak so deeply into our unprepared knowledge
Of ourselves, the talking engines of our day. 

 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

To Be a Good Buddhist Is Ensnarement by Jenny Xie


To Be a Good Buddhist Is Ensnarement
 
The Zen priest says I am everything I am not.  
In order to stop resisting, I must not attempt to stop resisting. 
I must believe there is no need to believe in thoughts. 
Oblivious to appetites that appear to be exits, and also entrances. 
What is there to hoard when the worldly realm has no permanent vacancies? 
Ten years I’ve taken to this mind fasting. 
My shadow these days is bare.  
It drives a stranger, a good fool. 
Nothing can surprise. 
Clarity is just questioning having eaten its fill. 

 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Homewrecker by Ocean Vuong


Homewrecker

& this is how we danced: our mothers’
white dresses spilling from our feet, late August

turning our hands dark red. & this is how we loved:
a fifth of vodka & an afternoon in the attic, your fingers

through my hair—my hair a wildfire. We covered
our ears & your father’s tantrum turned

to heartbeats. When our lips touched the day closed
into a coffin. In the museum of the heart

there are two headless people building a burning house.
There was always the shotgun above

the fireplace. Always another hour to kill—only to beg
some god to give it back. If not the attic, the car. If not

the car, the dream. If not the boy, his clothes. If not alive,
put down the phone. Because the year is a distance

we’ve traveled in circles. Which is to say: this is how
we danced: alone in sleeping bodies. Which is to say:

this is how we loved: a knife on the tongue turning
into a tongue.

 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Reading to My Father by Jorie Graham


Reading to My Father

I come back indoors at dusk-end. I come back into the room with

your now finished no-longer-aching no-longer-being

body in it, the candle beside you still lit—no other

light for now. I sit by it and look at it. Another in

from the one I was just peering-out towards now, over

rooftops, over the woods, first stars.

The candle burns. It is so quiet you can hear it burn.

Only I breathe. I hear that too.

Listen I say to you, forgetting. Do you hear it Dad. Listen.

What is increase. The cease of increase.

The cease of progress. What is progress.

What is going. The cease of going.

What is knowing. What is fruition.

The cease of. Cease of.

What is bloodflow. The cease of bloodflow

of increase of progress the best is over, is over-

thrown, no, the worst is yet to come, no, it is

7:58 p.m., it is late spring, it is capital’s apogee, the

flow’s, fruition’s, going’s, increase’s, in creases of

matter, brainfold, cellflow, knowing’s

pastime, it misfired, lifetime’s only airtime—candle says

you shall out yourself, out-

perform yourself, grow multiform—you shall self-identify as

                                  still

mortal—here in this timestorm—this end-of-time

storm—the night comes on.


Last night came on with you still here.

Now I wait here. Feel I can think. Feel there are no minutes in you

Put my minutes there, on you, as hands—touch, press,

feel the flying-away, the leaving-sticks-behind under the skin, then even the skin

abandoned now, no otherwise now, even the otherwise gone.

I lay our open book on you, where we left off. I read. I read aloud—

grove, forest, jungle, dog—the words don’t grip-up into sentences for me,

                   it is in pieces,

I start again into the space above you—grandeur wisdom village

tongue, street, wind—hornet—feeler runner rust red more—oh

more—I hear my voice—it is so raised—on you—are you—refinery portal

land scald difference—here comes my you, rising in me, my feel-

                   ing your it, my me, in-

creasing, elaborating, flowing, not yet released from form, not yet,

still will-formed, swarming, mis-

informed—bridegroom of spume and vroom.

I touch your pillowcase. I read this out to you as, in extremis, we await

those who will come to fix you—make you permanent. No more vein-hiss. A

                   masterpiece. My phantom

father-body—so gone—how gone. I sit. Your suit laid out. Your silver tie. Your

                   shirt. I don’t know

                   what is

needed now. It’s day. Read now, you’d say. Here it is then, one last time, the

                   news. I

                   read. There is no

precedent for, far exceeds the ability of, will not

                   adapt to, cannot

                   adapt to,

but not for a while yet, not yet, but not for much longer, no, much

sooner than predicted, yes, ten times, a hundred times, all evidence

                   points towards.

                   What do I tell my child.

Day has arrived and crosses out the candle-light. Here it is now the

silent summer—extinction—migration—the blue-jewel-

butterfly you loved, goodbye, the red kite, the dunnock, the crested tit, the cross-

billed spotless starling (near the top of the list) smokey gopher—spud-

wasp—the named storms, extinct fonts, ingots, blindmole-made-

tunnels—oh your century, there in you, how it goes out—

how lonely are we aiming for—are we there

yet—the orange-bellied and golden-shouldered parrots—

I read them out into our room, I feel my fingers grip this

page, where are the men who are supposed to come for you,

most of the ecosystem’s services, it says,

will easily become replaced—the soil, the roots, the webs—the organizations

of—the 3D grasses, minnows, mudflats—the virtual carapace—the simulated action of

forest, wetland, of all the living noise that keeps us

company. Company. I look at you.

Must I be this machine I am

become. This brain programming

blood function, flowing beating releasing channeling.

This one where I hold my head in my hands and the chip

slips in and click I go to find my in-

formation. The two-headed eagle, the

beaked snake, the feathered men walking sideways while looking

ahead, on stone, on wall, on pyramid, in

sacrifice—must I have already become when it is all still

happening. Behind you thin machines that ticked and hummed until just now

are off for good. What I wouldn’t give, you had said last night, for five more

minutes here. You can’t imagine it. Minutes ago.

Ago. It hums. It checks us now, monitoring

this minute fraction of—the MRI, the access-zone, the

aura, slot, logo, confession-

al—I feel the hissing multiplying

satellites out there I took for stars, the bedspread’s weave, your being tucked-in—

goodnight, goodnight—Once upon a time I say into my air,

and I caress you now with the same touch

as I caress these keys.