Saturday, February 17, 2018

Asking for Directions by Linda Gregg


Asking for Directions
 
We could have been mistaken for a married couple
riding on the train from Manhattan to Chicago
that last time we were together. I remember 
looking out the window and praising the beauty
of the ordinary: the in-between places, the world
with its back turned to us, the small neglected
stations of our history. I slept across your 
chest and stomach without asking permission
because they were the last hours. There was
a smell to the sheepskin lining of your new
Chinese vest that I didn't recognize. I felt
it deliberately. I woke early and asked you
to come with me for coffee. You said, sleep more,
and I said we only had one hour and you came. 
We didn't say much after that. In the station,
you took your things and handed me the vest,
then left as we had planned. So you would have 
ten minutes to meet your family and leave. 
I stood by the seat dazed by exhaustion
and the absoluteness of the end, so still I was
aware of myself breathing. I put on the vest
and my coat, got my bag and, turning, saw you
through the dirty window standing outside looking 
up at me. We looked at each other without any
expression at all. Invisible, unnoticed, still.
That moment is what I will tell of as proof
that you loved me permanently. After that I was
a woman alone carrying her bag, asking a worker
which direction to walk to find a taxi.  

 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Song by T. S. Eliot


Song

If space and time, as sages say,
    Are things which cannot be,
The fly that lives a single day
    Has lived as long as we.
But let us live while yet we may,
    While love and life are free,
For time is time, and runs away,
    Though sages disagree.

The flowers I sent thee when the dew
    Was trembling on the vine,
Were withered ere the wild bee flew
    To suck the eglantine.
But let us haste to pluck anew
    Nor mourn to see them pine,
And though the flowers of love be few
    Yet let them be divine.

 

Of Roots & Roamers by Ada Limón


Of Roots & Roamers 

Have you ever noticed how the trees
change from state to state? Not all
at once, of course, more like a weaver
gradually weaving in another color
until the old trees become scarce
and new trees offer a shaded kingdom
all their own. Before I knew the names
of towns or roads, I could recognize
places by the trees: Northern California’s
smooth-skinned madrone, looming eucalyptus,
fuzzy fragrant flowers of the acacia. So
much of America belongs to the trees.
Even when we can’t agree on much,
there’s still the man returning from his
late shift at the local bar, who takes
a long look at the bird’s nest in the maple,
pats the trunk like a friend’s forearm,
mumbles something about staying safe
and returns home. And the girl whose
slapdash tree fort we can see from our blurry
window, how she stands there to wave
at a world she does not even know
the half of yet. My grandmother once
complained she couldn’t see much
of America on her cross country trip because
it was all just trees. Ask her, she’ll laugh as she
tells you. Still, without the bother of licenses
or attention to a state line, a border, they
just grow where they’ve grown all their lives:
there, a small stand of white pine arrives,
there, a redwood begins to show itself along
the coastline, water oaks in the south, willows.
Their power is in not moving, so we must move
to them, point to each new tree to find out
where we have come from and where
we are going.

 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Poem for Trapped Things by John Wieners


A Poem for Trapped Things
 
This morning with a blue flame burning
this thing wings its way in.
Wind shakes the edges of its yellow being.
Gasping for breath.
Living for the instant.
Climbing up the black border of the window.
Why do you want out.
I sit in pain.
A red robe amid debris.
You bend and climb, extending antennae.
 
I know the butterfly is my soul
grown weak from battle.
 
A Giant fan on the back of
                            a beetle.
A caterpillar chrysalis that seeks
a new home apart from this room.
 
And will disappear from sight
at the pulling on invisible strings.
Yet so tenuous, so fine
       this thing is, I am
        sitting on the hard bed, we could
                 vanish from sight like the puff
                   off an invisible cigarette.
Furred chest, ragged silk under
           wings beating against the glass
 
           no one will open.
 
The blue diamonds on your back
are too beautiful to do
                       away with.
 
I watch you
           all morning
                        long.
With my hand over my mouth. 

 

Monday, February 12, 2018

In a Country by Larry Levis


In a Country

My love and I are inventing a country, which we
can already see taking shape, as if wheels were 
passing through yellow mud. But there is a prob-
lem: if we put a river in the country, it will thaw 
and begin flooding. If we put the river on the bor-
der, there will be trouble. If we forget about the 
river, there will be no way out. There is already a 
sky over that country, waiting for clouds or smoke. 
Birds have flown into it, too. Each evening more 
trees fill with their eyes, and what they see we can 
never erase. 

One day it was snowing heavily, and again we were 
lying in bed, watching our country: we could 
make out the wide river for the first time, blue and 
moving. We seemed to be getting closer; we saw 
our wheel tracks leading into it and curving out 
of sight behind us. It looked like the land we had 
left, some smoke in the distance, but I wasn’t sure. 
There were birds calling. The creaking of our 
wheels. And as we entered that country, it felt as if 
someone was touching our bare shoulders, lightly, 
for the last time.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Slouching Toward Beyoncé by Nicole Sealey


Slouching Toward Beyoncé
 
Who reads her horoscope
in secret and bathes
her loose strings
in holy watercolor, cucumbers
over the temple. Her body
is like mine it is filled
with holes. It starts black
and stays   Black.
   I keep thinking
   the only city left
   is outer space
     where we lived
     before
   we had tongues.
Things don't fall
apart they find new homes.
Down here there's a thing
called skin   I keep mine clean.
There are things
called medication
and days.     They are hard
to believe. I am tired
so I wife myself.
   Down here
the boys are theoretical.
I shrink their hearts. I say spells because
I'm magic.  Fire
is another word for absolute
sunset on a high cliff.
I am never afraid to jump.
O Beyoncé  I love you
your fragments like a map.
I think I am addicted.
You soaked blue   you trouble
in my sight. The beast has come
at last:   hair of a cattail
and legs of a palm.
The truth like a bowl of seeds.
The secret album. Midnight.
O! Vessel of womanhood
I am loosed upon the world
with dust and filed nails.
All my life I turn water into wine.
This the hour I lower my shoulders.
My second coming: split
screen, clouds like orchid
   bulbs in the throat.

 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens


Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Among twenty snowy mountains,   
The only moving thing   
Was the eye of the blackbird.   

II 
I was of three minds,   
Like a tree   
In which there are three blackbirds.   

III 
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.   
It was a small part of the pantomime.   

IV 
A man and a woman   
Are one.   
A man and a woman and a blackbird   
Are one.   

I do not know which to prefer,   
The beauty of inflections   
Or the beauty of innuendoes,   
The blackbird whistling   
Or just after.   

VI 
Icicles filled the long window   
With barbaric glass.   
The shadow of the blackbird   
Crossed it, to and fro.   
The mood   
Traced in the shadow   
An indecipherable cause.   

VII 
O thin men of Haddam,   
Why do you imagine golden birds?   
Do you not see how the blackbird   
Walks around the feet   
Of the women about you?   

VIII 
I know noble accents   
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;   
But I know, too,   
That the blackbird is involved   
In what I know.   

IX 
When the blackbird flew out of sight,   
It marked the edge   
Of one of many circles.   

At the sight of blackbirds   
Flying in a green light,   
Even the bawds of euphony   
Would cry out sharply.   

XI 
He rode over Connecticut   
In a glass coach.   
Once, a fear pierced him,   
In that he mistook   
The shadow of his equipage   
For blackbirds.   

XII 
The river is moving.   
The blackbird must be flying.   

XIII 
It was evening all afternoon.   
It was snowing   
And it was going to snow.   
The blackbird sat   
In the cedar-limbs.

Friday, February 9, 2018

In the Waiting Room by Elizabeth Bishop


In the Waiting Room

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist’s appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist’s waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited I read
the National Geographic  
(I could read) and carefully 
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson 
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
--“Long Pig," the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
—Aunt Consuelo’s voice—
not very loud or long.
I wasn’t at all surprised;
even then I knew she was 
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn’t.  What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I--we--were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918. 

I said to myself: three days
and you’ll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
—I couldn’t look any higher—
 at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen. 

Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities—
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts—
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How—I didn’t know any
word for it—how “unlikely”. . .
How had I come to be here,
like them, and overhear
a cry of pain that could have
got loud and worse but hadn’t? 

The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another. 

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth 
of February, 1918. 

 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Against Dying by Kaveh Akbar


Against Dying
 
if the body is just a parable 
about the body if breath 
is a leash to hold the mind 
then staying alive should be 
easier than it is most sick 
things become dead things 
at twenty-four my liver was
already covered in fatty
rot my mother filled a tiny
coffin with picture frames 
I spent the year drinking 
from test tubes weeping
wherever I went somehow
it happened wellness crept 
into me like a roach nibbling 
through an eardrum for 
a time the half minutes 
of fire in my brainstem 
made me want to pull out 
my spine but even those
have become bearable so 
how shall I live now
in the unexpected present
I spent so long in a lover’s
quarrel with my flesh
the peace seems over-
cautious too-polite I say
stop being cold or make
that blue bluer and it does
we speak to each other
in this code where every word
means obey I sit under 
a poplar tree with a thermos 
of chamomile feeling  
useless as an oath against 
dying I put a sugar cube 
on my tongue and 
swallow it like a pill 

 

The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams


The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon 

a red wheel
barrow 

glazed with rain
water 

beside the white
chickens.

 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Scavengers by Ocean Vuong


Scavengers

                              Your body wakes
into its quiet rattle.
                                         Ropes & ropes . . . 

                How quickly the animal
empties.
               We’re alone again
                           with spent mouths. 

Two trout gasping
                                      on a June shore.
Side by side, I see
                               what I came for, behind 

your iris: a tiny mirror.
                                                       I stare
into its silver syllable
                               where a fish with my face
twitches once
                  then gones. 

                                         The fisherman
                                                   suddenly a boy
with too much to carry.

 

Friday, January 19, 2018

After 37 Years My Mother Apologizes for My Childhood by Sharon Olds


After 37 Years My Mother Apologizes for My Childhood

When you tilted toward me, arms out
like someone trying to walk through a fire,
when you swayed toward me, crying out you were
sorry for what you had done to me, your
eyes filling with terrible liquid like
balls of mercury from a broken thermometer
skidding on the floor, when you quietly screamed
Where else could I turn? Who else did I have? The
chopped crockery of your hands swinging toward me, the
water cracking from your eyes like moisture from
stones under heavy pressure, I could not
see what I would do with the rest of my life.
The sky seemed to be splintering, like a window
someone is bursting into or out of, your
tiny face glittered as if with
shattered crystal, with true regret, the
regret of the body. I could not see what my
days would be, with you sorry, with
you wishing you had not done it, the
sky falling around me, its shards
glistening in my eyes, your old, soft
body fallen against me in horror I
took you in my arms, I said It’s all right,
don’t cry, it’s all right, the air filled with
flying glass, I hardly knew what I
said or who I would be now that I had forgiven you.

 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The 17-Year-Old & the Gay Bar by Danez Smith


The 17-Year-Old & the Gay Bar

this gin-heavy heaven, blessed ground to think gay & mean we.
bless the fake id & the bouncer who knew
this need to be needed, to belong, to know how
a man taste full on vodka & free of sin. i know not which god to pray to.
i look to christ, i look to every mouth on the dance floor, i order
a whiskey coke, name it the blood of my new savior. he is just.
he begs me to dance, to marvel men with the
                                                                                   dash
of hips i brought, he deems my mouth in some stranger’s mouth necessary.
bless that man’s mouth, the song we sway sloppy to, the beat, the bridge, the length
of his hand on my thigh & back & i know not which country i am of.
i want to live on his tongue, build a home of gospel & gayety
i want to raise a city behind his teeth for all boys of choirs & closets to refuge in.
i want my new god to look at the mecca i built him & call it damn good
or maybe i’m just tipsy & free for the first time, willing to worship anything i can taste.

 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What Shines Does Not Always Need To by Adam Clay


What Shines Does Not Always Need To

Because today we did not leave this world,
We now embody a prominence within it,
Even amidst its indifference to our actions,
Whether they be noiseless or not.
After all, nonsense is its own type of silence,
Lasting as long as the snow on your
Tongue. You wonder why each evening
Must be filled with a turning away, eyes to the lines
Of the hardwood floor as if to regret the lack
Of movement in a single day, our callous hope
For another wish put to bed with the others in a slow
Single-file line. I used to be amazed at the weight
An ant could carry. I used to be surprised by
Survival. But now I know the mind can carry
Itself to the infinite power. Like the way snow
Covers trauma to the land below it, we only
Believe the narrative of what the eye can see.

 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Otherwise by Jane Kenyon

Otherwise

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Arrow by Beth Bachmann


Arrow

I lived and died like an animal.
If death by arrow, death by feather,
death by sweet spot.
Heel;
rise, red dog.
I see now what you’ve been sniffing:
wings.
What you’ve been licking:
all those bright, bright teeth.
You said, Angel.
I said, Anchor
dragging this body.
The way the sea is
the vein is.
The doctors advise,
Too late now;
you’ve got to live
with it in you.

 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Harlem by Langston Hughes


Harlem

What happens to a dream deferred?

     Does it dry up
     Like a raisin in the sun?
     Or fester like a sore--
     And then run?
     Does it stink like rotten meat?
     Or crust and sugar over--
     like a syrupy sweet?

     Maybe it just sags
     like a heavy load.

     Or does it explode? 

 

O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman


O Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins


Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

“More Light! More Light!” by Anthony Hecht


“More Light! More Light!”

Composed in the Tower before his execution
These moving verses, and being brought at that time
Painfully to the stake, submitted, declaring thus:
"I implore my God to witness that I have made no crime."

Nor was he forsaken of courage, but the death was horrible,
The sack of gunpowder failing to ignite.
His legs were blistered sticks on which the black sap
Bubbled and burst as he howled for the Kindly Light.

And that was but one, and by no means one of he worst;
Permitted at least his pitiful dignity;
And such as were by made prayers in the name of Christ,
That shall judge all men, for his soul's tranquility.

We move now to outside a German wood.
Three men are there commanded to dig a hole
In which the two Jews are ordered to lie down
And be buried alive by the third, who is a Pole.

Not light from the shrine at Weimar beyond the hill
Nor light from heaven appeared. But he did refuse.
A Luger settled back deeply in its glove.
He was ordered to change places with the Jews.

Much casual death had drained away their souls.
The thick dirt mounted toward the quivering chin.
When only the head was exposed the order came
To dig him out again and to get back in.

No light, no light in the blue Polish eye.
When he finished a riding boot packed down the earth.
The Luger hovered lightly in its glove.
He was shot in the belly and in three hours bled to death.

No prayers or incense rose up in those hours
Which grew to be years, and every day came mute
Ghosts from the ovens, sifting through crisp air,
And settled upon his eyes in a black soot.

 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Yangtze by Sarah Howe


Yangtze

The moon glimmers
in the brown channel.
Strands of mist
wrap the mountainsides
crowded with firs.

Declining cliffs
sink beneath vast water.
By remote paths,
twisting pines.

Far downstream
two sides
of a half-built bridge
fail to meet.
Our crude boat
chugging
points to Chongqing.
As someone I now forget
once said
journeying is hard.

My face greets
the evening breeze
I listen –
the dream of a place.

A cormorant dives
by trembling light.
From the white
eyelet of a star
the sound of ripples.

--

A fisherman
skirting shore
in his high-prowed skiff
crossing bamboo oars
comes up with a jolt –
nets catch not fish
but the wizened finger
of a submerged branch
for below
a sunken valley persists –

slick bare trunks
furred in wafting fronds
have water for sky,
ghost forest.
Roots rot deep in the hill
where buried rock
is still dry.

Windows film,
doors drift open
in the empty concrete
shells of houses
towns that once
held hundreds
of thousands
slowly filling with
what, what is it
they fill with?

Someone I now forget
once said
journeying is hard.
The moon glimmers
in the brown channel.

 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

These Hands, If Not Gods by Natalie Diaz


These Hands, If Not Gods

Haven’t they moved like rivers—
like Glory, like light—
over the seven days of your body?

And wasn’t that good?
Them at your hips—

isn’t this what God felt when he pressed together
the first Beloved: Everything.
Fever. Vapor. Atman. Pulsus. Finally,
a sin worth hurting for. Finally, a sweet, a
You are mine.

It is hard not to have faith in this:
from the blue-brown clay of night
these two potters crushed and smoothed you
into being—grind, then curve—built your form up—

atlas of bone, fields of muscle,
one breast a fig tree, the other a nightingale,
both Morning and Evening.

O, the beautiful making they do—
of trigger and carve, suffering and stars—

Aren’t they, too, the dark carpenters
of your small church? Have they not burned
on the altar of your belly, eaten the bread
of your thighs, broke you to wine, to ichor,
to nectareous feast?

Haven’t they riveted your wrists, haven’t they
had you at your knees?

And when these hands touched your throat,
showed you how to take the apple and the rib,
how to slip a thumb into your mouth and taste it all,
didn’t you sing out their ninety-nine names—

Zahir, Aleph, Hands-time-seven,
Sphinx, Leonids, locomotura,
Rubidium, August, and September—
And when you cried out, O, Prometheans,
didn’t they bring fire?

These hands, if not gods, then why
when you have come to me, and I have returned you
to that from which you came—bright mud, mineral-salt—
why then do you whisper O, my Hecatonchire. My Centimani.
My hundred-handed one?