now i live on my knees for you; now my heart is bleeding you, you, you

"All night I wait for language to form me. And think of the wind that comes to me, stays in me. All night I have walked in the unknown rain. I was given a silence full of forms and visions (you say). And run desolate like the only bird in the wind."
---Alejandra Pizarnik, "L'obscurité des eaux," trans. Cecilia Rossi


"Never are voices so beautiful as on a winter's evening, when dusk almost hides the body, and they seem to issue from nothingness with a note of intimacy seldom heard by day."
---Virginia Woolf, Night and Day


"We come back here to the status of metaphor in the fifth-century world, so different from its high profile in our own. Fifth-century listeners did not have our option of saying that something is metaphorical, 'therefore not real.' Personification, as the fifth century inherited and used it, was not an isolatable trick of language, but part of explaining what happened to and inside people."
---R. Padel, In and Out of the Mind


"The world is full of painful stories. Sometimes it seems as though there aren't any other kind and yet I found myself thinking how beautiful that gleam of water was through the trees."
---Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower


"There are no 'pure' phenomena, nor can there be, either in Nature or in society---that is what Marxist dialectics teaches us, for dialectics shows that the very concept of purity indicates a certain narrowness, a one-sidedness of human cognition, which cannot embrace an object in all its totality and complexity. There is no 'pure' capitalism in the world, nor can there be; what we always find is admixtures either of feudalism, philistinism, or of something else. Therefore, if anyone recalls that the war is not 'purely' imperialist, when we are discussing the flagrant deception of 'the masses of the people' by the imperialists, who are deliberately concealing the aims of undisguised robbery with 'national' phraseology, then such a person is either an infinitely stupid pedant, or a pettifogger and deceiver."
---V. I. Lenin, The Collapse of the Second International


"The Impossible Indispensability of the Ars Poetica"
But of course the poem is not an assertion. Do you see? When I wrote
That all my poems over the long years before I met you made you come true,
And that the poems for you since then have made you in yourself become more true,
I did not mean that the poems created or invented you. How many have foundered
In that sargasso! No, what I have been trying to say
For all the years of my awakening
Is that neither of the quaint immemorial views of poetry is adequate for us.
A poem is not an expression, nor is it an object. Yet it somewhat partakes of both. What a poem is
Is never to be known, for which I have learned to be grateful.
But the aspect in which I see my own
Is as the act of love. The poem is a gift, a bestowal.
The poem is for us what instinct is for animals, a continuing and chiefly unthought corroboration of essence
(Though thought, ours and the animals' is still useful).
Why otherwise is the earliest always the most important, the formative? The Iliad, the Odyssey, the book of Genesis,
These were acts of love, I mean deeply felt gestures, which continuously bestow upon us
What we are. And if I do not know which poem of mine
Was my earliest gift to you,
Except that it had to have been written about someone else,
Nevertheless it was the gesture accruing value to you, your essence, while you were still a child, and thereafter
Across all these years. And see, see how much
Has come from that first sonnet after our loving began, the one
That was a kiss, a gift, a bestowal. This is the paradigm of fecundity. I think the poem is not
Transparent, as some have said, nor a looking-glass, as some have also said,
Yet it has almost the quality of disappearance
In its cage of visibility. It disperses among the words. It is a fluidity, a vapor, of love.
This, the instinctual, is what caused me to write "Do you see?" instead of "Don't you see?" in the first line
Of this poem, this loving treatise, which is what gives away the poem
And gives it all to you.
---Hayden Carruth


"Science fiction is the only genre that not only allows you to disregard everything that we’re taught is realistic and practical, but actually demands that you do. So it allows us to move beyond the bounds of what is realistic and what is real, into the realm of the imagination, That is actually something that organizers do every single day. All organizing is science fiction. When organizers imagine a world without poverty, without war, without borders or prisons—that’s science fiction. They’re moving beyond the boundaries of what is possible or realistic, into the realm of what we are told is impossible. Being able to collectively dream those new worlds means that we can begin to create those new worlds here."
---Walidah Imarisha


"Autumn Day"
Lord, it is time. The summer was immense.
Lay your shadow on the sundials, turn
the urgent winds loose across the plains.
Ordain full ripening of the last fruit;
grant it but two days in the south wind,
follow it to perfection, and compress
the last sweetness for the heavy wine.
Whoever has no home will build none now.
Whoever is alone will long remain so,
sleepless, taken up with books and letters
and wandering back and forth along the ways,
restive, at the drifting of the leaves.
---Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. unknown


[_________________]
                                   for ...

at night they pulled me into the dark they yelled
I spoke clearly through wool over my head the night
was clear moonlight against the wool their shadows
lengthened by flashlight their pipes shown through
moonlight bloodied edgeless
                             they removed the wool bag
to see my face to see my face they tilted it beneath
flashlight and counted what teeth remained what
white one of them had a son his face tilted at night
to my lips his teeth were white his face
like night would he recognize this wound this me

I smelled rain with what was left of my nose
with what was left of my nose I bled into my mouth
with what was left of my mouth I spoke my name
                                                          could they
hear my voice breaking blood to speak could they
hear me over truck engine over asphalt hissing beneath
my skin pulled my mouth my nose my blood without its body
dragged down a road where my blood made a road within
a road my mouth a mile back my tongueless name my foot
in a ditch my hands one waits for the other to lift like dust

---Phillip B. Williams


"The River"
          for Rekia Boyd

In the Book of Grief, a woman wrapped in black
scarves walks from the river bottom and says her own
name to the dusk. Horseflies comb
her hair this late afternoon to the tune of beauty
cricketing through the chamomile, distending
a frog's yellow throat. A ring of rust
draws a mouth on the woman's neck.
When she leans back the red crease loosens
as if to crack open and say:

            Who summoned me? Who thinks my gaze
            is a wheel of thread to sew wings onto backs
            that never had wings? Who traced the maze
            sunset makes on the water to lead me back?
            The air is caustic here and rotten milk
            spills from the flowerbeds. The earth is iron-
            stenched. There is blood like unwound silk
            ribboning from a body. Whose child has learned
            their history? Who's found the door but can't get out?
            Whose words do I perform from my sealed mouth?  

And the frogs fall quiet in the riverbed.
     And the crickets detune their shins
            in the chamomile disintegrating quickly

as it came. It was too easy a song
       and so must begin again, the lyric unwinding
            toward a destination not already-fulfilled,

the one to fulfill it touching the dead
     with unwashed hands, the unwashed mind
            scouring again the moment for merchandise.

Horseflies and their diligent limbs have failed,
     the desk lamp---not made into sun or
            moon---just the light, this time,

and its heat refuting elegy. And the river woman
      asks what in this now, and asks
            whose to say, and the sage of her voice

leaves my mouth, the inquiry the lyric,
      the impetus, that working organ
              running down as rivers do.

Inside, a thousand fish like specter-arrows
       swim hectored by waves, their patterns
            make turning back a moving forward

in the current. Inside me I carry the image of Boyd
       and ask permission to begin again,
            to say the words death in context,          

violence with the angel of vengeance
       at the corner of my lips but
            what now with this anger? What now

with these thousand fish in this river and
       the river woman waiting patiently
             for instructions, her yellow dress just now

appearing, the black scarves not for her
       but for me and I don't need that lace,
            or those seams sealed to keep

their secret massacres. Let them fade
       like frogs, like an intention. I hand over
            the image to the river. I watch it fold                      

into its own fish, unable to distinguish
it from the other, glistening arguments that turn,
       go nowhere; turn away. Am gone. 

---Phillip B. Williams


"Praise House: The New Economy"
The rosemary bush blooming
its unabashed blue. Also dumplings
filled with steam and soup
so my mouth fills and I bubble
over with laughter. Little things.
People kissing on bicycles.
Being able to walk up the stairs
and run back down.
Joanna’s garden after the long flight
to Tel Aviv. Not being detained
like everyone thought I would.
The man with dreadlocks
and a perfect green shirt walking home
from work. One cold beer
before I drink it and get sick.
How peaches mold into compost in a single day:
orange to gray to darkness into dirt.
Her ankle’s taste. The skin
right under the knob, delicate
as a tomatillo’s shroud. All the animals
that talk to me. That I finally let them
talk to me. The blessing of waking
early enough to watch the fox
bathe itself. The suction of a man’s hands
meeting another’s on the street.
Every single person looking up
to see them. Bros, yes. But lovely
in the golden light with brims swung
to the back. I want shoulders like
they have. Want my waist to taper
to an ass built like the David’s. I admit it:
this body’s not enough for me.
Still I love it. Al B Sure blasting
out a Nissan Sentra’s windows.
Bowties. Ridiculous blues.
My mother’s seizures—specifically
that I don’t have them.
That I can answer Ross’ call
or not because we live Harmonious
and are always talking somehow.
Tapestries with their gluttony of deer.
Fig perfume and also cypress.
Boxer briefs and packing socks
in jockey shorts. Strap ons.
Soft and hard. Welcome in her hand
and in mine as I greet the real me.
The little shop in Provincetown
And the speckled dog that licks itself
in that fresco of the crucifixion.
Mary Oliver. I love her. I really do.
The baseball she gave me
that says, “Go Sox!” Though, I love
the Orioles. Old Bay on all my shrimp.
And justice. And cities burning
if people need to burn them to get free.
My grandmother gardening
in the late light. Sun Ra. The first time.
Paris, even though I’ve never been
there. Natal plums. Tattoos everlasting:
Clouds. Orion’s belt. Pushing inside her
with both hands holding myself
up. My weight. Her grabbing and saying,
“God.” “Fuck.” The neighbors.
Casablanca. Not knowing anything.
Angels. Mashed potatoes. Good red wine.
---Gabrielle Calvocoressi


"Neither Conquest nor Surrender"
I have not been long in the meaning of shadow, the one shared bruise of
all things. Light in its truest mood. I had come to know this masklessness
in my own restless mornings. I found my shadow in the pit of myself,
merely a knot of what it could become, until light pulled my form from me
and gave it to my shadow. It keeps quiet, working harder than the mind to
make real what is not, though it is the mind that imagines the shadow
having its own language, its own dark idiom translating the body onto
whatever surface will hold it. The shadow is the mind, the mind’s work,
seen. I roll over

~

         and see him sleeping next to me, having forgotten he was there, the
wrinkled cave of him now locked, almost. I sit upright on the bed and face
the wall that holds my shadow like an opened door.

~

Through which the impossible multitudes of the hidden self swiftly pass.

---Phillip B. Williams


"Children Walk on Chairs to Cross a Flooded Schoolyard"

Taytay, Rizal Province, Philippines (based on the photo by Noel Celis)

Hardly anything holds the children up, each poised
mid-air, barely the ball of one small foot
kissing the chair’s wood, so
they don’t just step across, but pause
above the water. I look at that cotton mangle
of a sky, post-typhoon, and presume
it’s holding something back. In this country,
it’s the season of greedy gods
and the several hundred cathedrals
worth of water they spill onto little tropic villages
like this one, where a girl is likely to know
the name of the man who built
every chair in her school by hand,
six of which are now arranged
into a makeshift bridge so that she and her mates
can cross their flooded schoolyard.
Boys in royal blue shorts and red rain boots,
the girls brown and bare-toed
in starch white shirts and pleated skirts.
They hover like bells that can choose
to withhold their one clear, true
bronze note, until all this nonsense
of wind and drizzle dies down.
One boy even reaches forward
into the dark sudden pool below
toward someone we can’t see, and
at the same time, without looking, seems
to offer the tips of his fingers back to the smaller girl
behind him. I want the children
ferried quickly across so they can get back
to slapping one another on the neck
and cheating each other at checkers.
I’ve said time and time again I don’t believe
in mystery, and then I’m reminded what it’s like
to be in America, to kneel beside
a six-year-old, to slide my left hand
beneath his back and my right under his knees,
and then carry him up a long flight of stairs
to his bed. I can feel the fine bones,
the little ridges of the spine
with my palm, the tiny smooth stone
of the elbow. I remember I’ve lifted
a sleeping body so slight I thought
the whole catastrophic world could fall away.
I forget how disaster works, how it can turn
a child back into glistening butterfish
or finches. And then they’ll just do
what they do, which is teach the rest of us
how to move with such natural gravity.
Look at these two girls, center frame,
who hold out their arms
as if they’re finally remembering
they were made for other altitudes.
I love them for the peculiar joy
of returning to earth. Not an ounce
of impatience. This simple thrill
of touching ground.
---Patrick Rosal


"Personal Helicon"
for Michael Longley

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.
---Seamus Heaney


We grow accustomed to the Dark -
When Light is put away -
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Good bye -

A Moment - We Uncertain step
For newness of the night -
Then - fit our Vision to the Dark -
And meet the Road - erect -

And so of larger - Darknesses -
Those Evenings of the Brain -
When not a Moon disclose a sign -
Or Star - come out - within -

The Bravest - grope a little -
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead -
But as they learn to see -

Either the Darkness alters -
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight -
And Life steps almost straight.
---Emily Dickinson


"For darkness restores what light cannot repair."
---Joseph Brodsky, trans. unknown


"And I, leaning out of my window, alone, peering into the gloom, am seized by a passionate desire for everything that is hidden and forbidden. I want the night to come, and kiss me with her hot mouth, and lead me through an amethyst twilight to the place of the white gardenia. There is a dull, heavy sound of clocks striking far away, and, in my room, darkness, emptiness, save for the ghostlike bed. I feel to lie there quiet, silent, passively warm would be too fearful—yet—quite a little fascinating."
---Katherine Mansfield, from a journal entry


"All Hallows"
Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
sleep in their blue yoke,
the fields having been
picked clean, the sheaves
bound evenly and piled at the roadside
among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:

This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended, as in payment,
and the seeds
distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.
---Louise Glück


"That is why I—the Other, the exception, the sometimes unexpected—came to poetry. To make because I couldn’t find. To risk the shards. To speak with fire. To shape glass. To make once. To keep making."
---Scherezade Siobhan, "Llamada"


Is there no voice to cry out from the wind and say what it is like to be the wind,
To be roughed up by the trees and to bring music from the scattered houses
And the stones, and to be in such an intimate relationship with the sea
That you cannot understand it? Is there no one who feels like a pair of pants?
---Kenneth Koch, "Fresh Air"


"She appeared to be walking in a dream; or, more truly, the vivid life and reality assumed by her emotions made all outward occurrences unsubstantial, like the teasing phantasms of a half-conscious slumber."
---Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables


"If I’m interested in a writer, I want to know who they are as writers, and I want to know the communities they came out of. I’m not ticking off boxes. I’m making relationships, between myself and the writing I love, and the organizations that support that writing, so that I know who their newcomers are, their ancestors and their heroes. And so if I choose a writer for something, it comes out of that long relationship. It is coming out of the conversations, and those rooms. If your life and reading are not diverse, I feel sorry for you. You’re living in a tiny tiny corridor inside of an enormous world. You’re on what amounts to a restricted diet while a feast goes on around you. Get out of that corridor and live."
---Alexander Chee


"The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door."
---Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype


"I write, I extend my hand; without my knowing it, this is already a prayer, I extend my hand to you so that you will exist because you do exist, beyond my fingers, your fingers, without my knowing it this is already a response, already I draw to my side the site for you, with one hand I call the other hand, it is in this modest, all-powerful way that I begin to save what is lost. When I write I ask for your hand."
---Hélène Cixous, Stigmata: Escaping Texts, trans. unknown


"Vert"
As in green, vert, a royal demesne
stocked with deer. Invert as in tipped
as a snow globe, going nowhere in circles
but not lost, not bereft as the wood
without deer, waiting for the white antlered
buck, or his does, or any slim yearling
to step along the berm, return. Vertigo
as in whirling round, swimming in the head,
unanchored by the long spring,
the horse cantering, the meadow dropping
like an elevator into the earth, falling
like Persephone through a crevice, a swiveling
crack, a loose screw, a lost way. Disordered
as in death lasts, my brother’s not coming back.
The spin of it continuous as in looking down
from height, and then it stops, the spinning
just slows, a chariot wheel stilled in grass.
The world is the same, but it isn’t. The tipped
views of trees when hanging from your knees.
The deer in twos and threes watching.
---Catherine Staples


"Northern Pike"
All right. Try this,
Then. Every body
I know and care for,
And every body
Else is going
To die in a loneliness
I can’t imagine and a pain
I don’t know. We had
To go on living. We
Untangled the net, we slit
The body of this fish
Open from the hinge of the tail
To a place beneath the chin
I wish I could sing of.
I would just as soon we let
The living go on living.
An old poet whom we believe in
Said the same thing, and so
We paused among the dark cattails and prayed
For the muskrats,
For the ripples below their tails,
For the little movements that we knew the crawdads were making under water,
For the right-hand wrist of my cousin who is a policeman.
We prayed for the game warden’s blindness.
We prayed for the road home.
We ate the fish.
There must be something very beautiful in my body,
I am so happy.
---James Wright


3.
(To Iphigeneia.)
Your hair is scattered light:
The Greeks will bind it with petals.

And like a little beast,
dappled and without horns,
That scampered on the hill-rocks,
They will leave you
With stained throat–
Though you never cropped hill-grass
To the reed-cry
and the shepherd’s note.

Some Greek hero is cheated
And your mother’s court
Of its bride.

And we ask this–where truth is,
Of what use is valour and is worth?
For evil has conquered the race,
There is no power but in base men,
Nor any man whom the gods do not hate.
---H.D., "Chorus of the Women of Chalkis"


"As for 'Write what you know,' I was regularly told this as a beginner. I think it’s a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them."
---Ursula K. Le Guin


"I am coloured glass from a church window long since shattered. I find pieces of myself everywhere, and I cut myself handling them."
---Jeanette Winterson, Lighthousekeeping


"My deepest impulses are optimistic; an attitude that seems to me as spiritually necessary and proper as it is intellectually suspect."
---Ellen Willis


"We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm---yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine."
---E.M. Forster, A Room with a View


"People say that you should really do something out of your comfort zone. Why? I worked very hard to find my comfort zone. It was really rough and I can’t even get there that often. Takes all day and I gotta get off to a good start and do all the right things and avoid the right people and find all the right people and do all of these things to find my comfort zone. And then I’m supposed to do something outside of my - Fuck you! You do something outside your comfort zone. My comfort zone is hard-won….

"But then, that’s where popular culture and pop psych comes in and wants – and the shtick I was looking at last night was that like, so, if it’s ‘afraid’, then, ‘You should do the things you’re afraid of’. Why? Why? I have felt quite enough fear. I don’t think I will benefit from more fear. I don’t think it’s the missing element in my life. I don’t think that’s the thing I need to be seeking out. ‘Go to the places that scare you.’ No! I have carved out an awesome space in which I don’t have to visit the places that scare me. I don’t like them there. I’ve been there. I know more about them than you, person telling me to go to the places that scare me."
---John Darnielle

oh, you're the king of hearts: can i share your throne?

I ask you, how much beauty
can a person bear? It is
heavier than ugliness, even the burden
of emptiness is nothing beside it.
---Louise Glück, "Baskets"


"I shall never forget the occasion when I was visiting a school as a writer and the whole place suddenly fell into an uproar because the school tomboy - a most splendid Britomart of a girl - had beaten up the school bully. Everything stopped in the staffroom while the teachers debated what to do. They wanted to give the tomboy a prize, but decided reluctantly that they had better punish her and the bully too. They knew that if, as a child, you do pluck up courage to hit the bully, it is an act of true heroism - as great as that of Beowulf in his old age. I remember passing the tomboy, sitting in her special place of punishment opposite the bully. She was blazing with her deed, as if she had actually been touched by a god. And I thought that this confirmed all my theories: a child in her position is open to any heroic myth I care to use; she is inward with folktales; she would feel the force of any magical or divine intervention."
---Diana Wynne Jones


"Because children grow up, we think its a child’s purpose to grow up. But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what lives for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment. We don’t value the lily less for not being made of flint and built to last. Life’s bounty is in its flow, later is too late. Where is the song when its being sung? The dance when its being danced? It’s only humans who want to own the future, too. We persuade ourselves that the universe is modestly employed in unfolding our destination. We note the haphazard chaos of history by the day, by the hour, but there is something wrong with the picture. Where is the unity, the meaning, of nature’s highest creation? Surely those millions of little streams of accident and willfulness have their correction in the vast underground river, which, without a doubt, is carrying us to the place where we’re expected! But there is not such place, that’s why it’s called utopia. The death of a child has no more meaning than the death of armies, of nations. Was the child happy while he lived? That is the proper question, the only question. If we can’t arrange our own happiness, it’s a conceit beyond vulgarity to arrange the happiness of those who come after us."
---Tom Stoppard


"A poem is a glass, through which light is conveyed to us."
---Susan Howe, "Vagrancy in the Park"


"To love does not mean to surrender, dissolve and merge with another person. It is the noble opportunity for an individual to ripen, to become something in and of himself. To become a world in response to another is a great immodest challenge that has sought him out and called him forth."
---Rainer Maria Rilke


"The Sermon on the Warpland"
“The fact that we are black
is our ultimate reality.”
—Ron Karenga


And several strengths from drowsiness campaigned
but spoke in Single Sermon on the warpland.

And went about the warpland saying No.
“My people, black and black, revile the River.
Say that the River turns, and turn the River.

Say that our Something in doublepod contains
seeds for the coming hell and health together.
Prepare to meet
(sisters, brothers) the brash and terrible weather;
the pains;
the bruising; the collapse of bestials, idols.
But then oh then!—the stuffing of the hulls!
the seasoning of the perilously sweet!
the health! the heralding of the clear obscure!

Build now your Church, my brothers, sisters. Build
never with brick nor Corten nor with granite.
Build with lithe love. With love like lion-eyes.
With love like morningrise.
With love like black, our black—
luminously indiscreet;
complete; continuous.
---Gwendolyn Brooks


"The Second Sermon on the Warpland"
For Walter Bradford

1.

This is the urgency: Live!
and have your blooming in the noise of the whirlwind.


2.

Salve salvage in the spin.
Endorse the splendor splashes;
stylize the flawed utility;
prop a malign or failing light—
but know the whirlwind is our commonwealth.
Not the easy man, who rides above them all,
not the jumbo brigand,
not the pet bird of poets, that sweetest sonnet,
shall straddle the whirlwind.
Nevertheless, live.


3.

All about are the cold places,
all about are the pushmen and jeopardy, theft—
all about are the stormers and scramblers but
what must our Season be, which stars from Fear?
Live and go out.
Define and
medicate the whirlwind.


4.

The time
cracks into furious flower. Lifts its face
all unashamed. And sways in wicked grace.
Whose half-black hands assemble oranges
is tom-tom hearted
(goes in bearing oranges and boom).
And there are bells for orphans—
and red and shriek and sheen.
A garbageman is dignified
as any diplomat.
Big Bessie’s feet hurt like nobody’s business,
but she stands—bigly—under the unruly scrutiny, stands in the
     wild weed.

In the wild weed
she is a citizen,
and is a moment of highest quality; admirable.

It is lonesome, yes. For we are the last of the loud.
Nevertheless, live.

Conduct your blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind.

---Gwendolyn Brooks


"This then, I thought, as I looked about me, is the representation of history. It requires a falsification of perspective. We, the survivors, see everything from above, see everything at once, and still we do not know how it was."
---W.G Sebald, The Rings of Saturn


"If power were never anything but repressive, if it never did anything but to say no, do you really think one would be brought to obey it? What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression."
---Michel Foucault, "Truth and Power," trans. unknown


"This very insatiability of the photographing eye changes the terms of confinement in the cave, our world. In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing. Finally, the most grandiose result of the photographic enterprise is to give us the sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads – as an anthology of images."
---Susan Sontag, On Photography


"I am in debt. I owe the world an unpayable sum, and yet each morning at my desk with the sun rising in the long distance—some mornings it blazes and on others it is a distant bulb barely able to raise smoke from the cold black tar of the roof—I sit down to repay that debt. My debt is simple. It is the poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Larry Levis. The prose of Norman Maclean and Michael Ondaatje. Derek Walcott and Wallace Stevens. Henry Thoreau and Ed Abbey. Naomi Shihab Nye and Terrance Hayes. Jack Gilbert. The list goes on and on. Some are my friends and some are people I know only in their words. But they have—each and every one—given me their language and their syntax. They have each offered me a gift—a fragment, story, a song, a glimpse of the sun streaming through their world. You want to know what keeps me going? I have no choice. The words are theirs and I owe the vigorish. It is all I can do to keep up the payments."
---Jeffrey Thomson


"In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr."
I

honey people murder mercy U.S.A.
the milkland turn to monsters teach
to kill to violate pull down destroy
the weakly freedom growing fruit
from being born

America

tomorrow yesterday rip rape
exacerbate despoil disfigure
crazy running threat the
deadly thrall
appall belief dispel
the wildlife burn the breast
the onward tongue
the outward hand
deform the normal rainy
riot sunshine shelter wreck
of darkness derogate
delimit blank
explode deprive
assassinate and batten up
like bullets fatten up
the raving greed
reactivate a springtime
terrorizing

death by men by more
than you or I can

STOP


II

They sleep who know a regulated place
or pulse or tide or changing sky
according to some universal
stage direction obvious
like shorewashed shells

we share an afternoon of mourning
in between no next predictable
except for wild reversal hearse rehearsal
bleach the blacklong lunging
ritual of fright insanity and more
deplorable abortion
more and
more
---June Jordan


"Sanctuary"
My land is bare of chattering folk;
The clouds are low along the ridges,
And sweet's the air with curly smoke
From all my burning bridges.
---Dorothy Parker


"Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors."
---Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe


"Frequently Asked Questions: 10"
Do you see current events differently because you were raised by a black father and are married to a black man?

           I am surprised they haven’t left already — 
things have gotten downright frosty, nearly unbearable.
A mob of them is apparently mouthing off outside

when I put down my newspaper and we all gather
           to stand beside my daughter in the bay
of kitchen windows. Quiscalus quiscula:

this name sounds like a spell which, after its casting,
          will make things crumble into a complement
of unanswerable questions. Though, if you need me

           to tell you God’s honest truth, I know nothing
but their common name the morning we watch them attack
our feeder. I complain about the mess they leave. Hulls

           I’ll have to sweep up or ignore. My father — 
who I am thankful is still alive — says We could use
a different kind of seed. A simple solution. We want that

brown bird with the shock of red: the northern flicker.
           We want western bluebirds, more of the skittish
finches. But mostly we get grackle grackle grackle

all day long. Can it be justifiable to revile these
           harbingers? They scoff all we offer
and — being too close and too many — scare

other birds away. My husband says, Look
           at all those crackles. I almost laugh at him,
but the winter air does look hurtful loud

around the black flock. Like static is loud when it sticks
           sheets to sheets so they crackle when pulled
one from another. And sting. My father — who is older now

           than his older brothers will ever be — promises
           he will solve the problem of the grackles
and leaves the window to search for his keys.

The dawn sky — blue breaking into blackness — 
           is what I see feathering their bodies. The fence
is gray. The feeder is gray, the aspen bark. Gray

           hulls litter the ground. But the grackles,
their passerine claws — three facing forward, one turned
           back — around the roost bar of the feeder, are

so bright within their blackness, I pray they will stay. 

---Camille T. Dungy


"We read many different Iliads, many different Alcestises in the course of our lives, and the relationship between the two texts, and between Achilles and Admetus, will change accordingly. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between ourselves and the poetry, or our reading of it. But of course the words on the page are always the same; it is we who change a little each year, just like the tree outside our library window. Thus it happens that as we examine ourselves in the poetry on the page, its allusions to us may change from time to time. But when the buds ripen in spring, the tree brings forth leaves like the ones that the wind blew away in the fall."
---Richard Garner, “From Homer to Tragedy: The Art of Allusion in Greek Poetry”


"Someday I'll Love Ocean Vuong"
After Frank O’Hara / After Roger Reeves

Ocean, don’t be afraid.
The end of the road is so far ahead
it is already behind us.
Don’t worry. Your father is only your father
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine
won’t remember its wings
no matter how many times our knees
kiss the pavement. Ocean,
are you listening? The most beautiful part
of your body is wherever
your mother’s shadow falls.
Here’s the house with childhood
whittled down to a single red tripwire.
Don’t worry. Just call it horizon
& you’ll never reach it.
Here’s today. Jump. I promise it’s not
a lifeboat. Here’s the man
whose arms are wide enough to gather
your leaving. & here the moment,
just after the lights go out, when you can still see
the faint torch between his legs.
How you use it again & again
to find your own hands.
You asked for a second chance
& are given a mouth to empty into.
Don’t be afraid, the gunfire
is only the sound of people
trying to live a little longer. Ocean. Ocean,
get up. The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world. Here’s
the room with everyone in it.
Your dead friends passing
through you like wind
through a wind chime. Here’s a desk
with the gimp leg & a brick
to make it last. Yes, here’s a room
so warm & blood-close,
I swear, you will wake—
& mistake these walls
for skin.
---Ocean Vuong


"How is it possible to reclaim the body when it’s visible only in a mirror? A reflection of the body, external and reversed: the image both belongs to me and doesn’t. The photos, which I still have tucked away in the plastic sleeves of leather albums, reflect something more than what they show: a gaze that follows across the distances of continents and years. I can move my body through the world, and yet there is also an image of my body that resembles in every way the real thing: two people, bound together by this perceived resemblance—a woman who has died, a woman who goes on living."
---Lacy M. Johnson, The Other Side


"Slept"

    The thorns had hands. The fire stood still.
     It will take a hundred years

    to piece together a hundred dreams.
     A room of ashes was a room out-spun.

    Mother says the heart is a wheel

    and it will turn as I turn. Quickly.
     Nightly.            I  married the owl.

    ~

    I told her I could not walk,

    the walls circled my steps. I told her,
     my flesh became stone  and I did not

    bleed blood, but sound.
           What sound?    I could not describe it;

    it was voiceless

    and low. But it was not.
     Mostly I was not            alone  in my solitude.

    My breath became the ghost of me,

    or the ghost of an old man
     I’d long forgotten,
                                        a midnight grandfather.

    Pages of thoughts, they were not mine,
               though my hand mastered

    their language. I told her,

               I        cannot howl winsomely
     like vixens.
                           Like thieves. I wandered the forest,

    fingering every loose twig,
     but I was sleeping. My hand,

    good as air, was sleeping.

    ~

    In my sleep, I wrote the field guide:
     red-winged dream, tufted dream.

    One was of salt,

               one        without hunger—a forest

    of three-leaved trees.
     I thought I knew everything.

    My bed sat alone amongst the sassafras.
     A fox, mid-pace and mid-bark, stopped

    statue-like on a patch of moss.

                 I        was watcher,

    or maker.                      Yellow-bellied
     dream, mourning dream.

    Each thing I saw: a seed to myself.

    Inside a girl stirred restless as rain.
     I could not see her. I only grew.

    Mother says when the basket’s full,
     it is time to come home.

    ~

    Asleep, I lived

               in        silence, but in light.

    What if waking             were        a room
     black as the mind? Horn-billed dream,

    Stellar’s dream. And the body,

    a darkness        there        is no memory of.

---Jennifer Chang


"Poetry — No definition of poetry is adequate unless it be poetry itself. The most accurate analysis by the rarest wisdom is yet insufficient, and the poet will instantly prove it false by setting aside its requisitions. It is indeed all that we do not know. The poet does not need to see how meadows are something else than earth, grass, and water, but how they are thus much. He does not need discover that potato blows are as beautiful as violets, as the farmer thinks, but only how good potato blows are. The poem is drawn out from under the feet of the poet, his whole weight has rested on this ground. It has a logic more severe than the logician’s. You might as well think to go in pursuit of the rainbow, and embrace it on the next hill, as to embrace the whole of poetry even in thought."
---Henry David Thoreau

i said, "hey, girl with one eye, i'll cut your little heart out 'cause you made me cry"

"Lee's hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. 'Don't you see?' he cried. 'The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in 'Thou shalt,' meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—'Thou mayest'— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if 'Thou mayest'—it is also true that 'Thou mayest not.' Don’t you see?' "
---John Steinbeck, East of Eden


"That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coalbins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain."
---Ray Bradbury, The October Country


"An editor doesn't just read, he reads well, and reading well is a creative, powerful act. The ancients knew this and it frightened them. Mesopotamian society, for instance, did not want great reading from its scribes, only great writing. Scribes had to submit to a curious ruse: they had to downplay their reading skills lest they antagonize their employer. …. In their fear of readers, ancients understood something we have forgotten about the magnitude of readership. Reading breeds the power of an independent mind. When we read well, we are thinking hard for ourselves—this is the essence of freedom. It is also the essence of editing. Editors are scribes liberated to not simply record and disseminate information, but think hard about it, interpret, and ultimately, influence it."
---Susan Bell


"The poet is someone who is permanently involved with a language that is dying and which he resurrects, not by giving it back some triumphant aspect but by making it return sometimes, like a specter or a ghost: the poet wakes up language and in order to really make the 'live' experience of this waking up, of this return to life of language, one has to be very close to the corpse of the language."
---Jacques Derrida, trans. unknown


"But with that I have to say I don't believe in 'best of' books. It creates a hierarchy, and books are not hierarchy, books are medicine. We read what we need to heal us. There are personal prescriptions, but there's no such thing as 'best.' "
---Sandra Cisneros


"We cannot make ourselves understand; the most we can do is to foster a state of mind, in which understanding may come to us."
---Aldous Huxley


"In what form, asks the writer, can I most truthfully describe the world as it is experienced by this particular self? And it is from that starting point that each writer goes on to make their individual compromise with the self, which is always a compromise with truth as far as the self can know it. That is why the most common feeling, upon re-reading one's own work, is Prufrock's: 'That is not it at all … that is not what I meant, at all…' Writing feels like self-betrayal, like failure."
---Zadie Smith, "Fail Better"


"Bad writing does nothing, changes nothing, educates no emotions, rewires no inner circuitry---we close its covers with the same metaphysical confidence in the universality of our own interface as we did when we opened it. But great writing---great writing forces you to submit to its vision. You spend the morning reading Chekhov and in the afternoon, walking through your neighbourhood, the world has turned Chekhovian; the waitress in the cafe offers a non-sequitur, a dog dances in the street."
---Zadie Smith, "Fail Better"


"The search for an identity is one of the most wholesale phony ideas we’ve ever been sold. In the twenty-first century it’s almost entirely subsumed in its purest form of 'brand identity'—for Levi to be 'more black' would simply involve the purchasing of items connected with the idea of blackness. How can anyone be more black? Or more female? It’s like saying 'I want to be more nose-having, more leg possessing.' People can only be defined by their actions in a world that contains other people. Sitting on a hill alone screaming 'I am a Muslim in the 24–29 age bracket who likes Pepsi and sitcoms about loose bands of interconnected young people in my age group; I am a person who is French and into the things of Frenchness; I am a basketball player; a flower picker…' What does it mean? The Belsey children need to stop worrying about their identity and concern themselves with the people they care about, ideas that matter to them, beliefs they can stand by, tickets they can run on. Intelligent humans make those choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone. The world does not deliver meaning to you. You have to make it meaningful. The Belseys need to weigh situations as they appear before them, and decide what they want and need and must do. It’s a tough, unimaginably lonely and complicated way to be in the world. But that’s the deal: you have to live; you can’t live by slogans, dead ideas, clichés, or national flags. Finding an identity is easy. It’s the easy way out."
---Zadie Smith, On Beauty


"I want to be loved unreasonably by an unreasonable love because we’ve nearly drowned in the poison of reasonable loving, reasonable liking, reasonable living, reasonable essays, reasonable art and reasonable political discourse."
---Kiese Laymon


"My literature classes didn’t help. My professors stressed the importance of approaching a text with detachment, with a critical gaze rather than an emotional one. There wasn’t a place in academia for gushing or ranting. There wasn’t room to simply say, 'I loved this and I don’t know why.' One had to use academic jargon. One had to be methodical and thorough. It was like listening to a song and wanting so badly to get up and dance, but instead of dancing, you have to sit there and think about why those sounds made you want to dance and consider the exact mechanics behind the formula of a danceable song. And I didn’t want to fucking do that. I just wanted to dance. I just wanted to read. I just wanted to write. I didn’t want to deconstruct lines of poetry or do a close reading of Faulkner’s usage of semicolons."
---Jenny Zhang, "The Importance of Angsty Art"


"On Leaving the Body to Science"
The my becomes
            a the, becomes
                         the state’s

the coroner’s,
            a law’s, something
                         assignable,

by me, alone,
            though it will not
                         be the I

I am on
            leaving it, no
                         longer to be

designated human or
            corpse: cadaver
                         it will be,

nameless patient
           stored in
                        the deep hold

of the hospital
           as in the storage
                       of a ghost ship

run aground —
          the secret in it
                       that will,

perhaps, stir again
          the wind that
                       failed. It

will be preserved,
          kept like larva,
                       like a bullet

sealed gleaming
          in its chamber.
                       They will gather

around it,
          probe and sample,
                        argue — then

return it
          to its between-
                        world, remove

their aprons
          and gloves
                        and stroll, some evenings,

a city block
           for a beer,
                        a glass of chilled

white wine. Even there, they
           will continue
                        to speak of it,

what they
           glean from beneath
                        the narrative

of scars, surgical
           cavities, the
                        wondrous

mess it became
           before I left it
                        to them

with what’s
           left of me, this
                        name, a signature,

a neatened
           suture, perfect, this
                        last, selfish stitch. 

---Claudia Emerson


"The pleasure of recognizing that one may have to undergo the same realizations, write the same notes in the margin, return to the same themes in one’s work, relearn the same emotional truths, write the same book over and over again—not because one is stupid or obstinate or incapable of change, but because such revisitations constitute a life."
---Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts


"My Uncle's Favorite Coffee Shop"
Serum of steam rising from the cup,
what comfort to be known personally by Barbara,
her perfect pouring hand and starched ascot,
known as the two easy eggs and the single pancake,
without saying.
What pleasure for an immigrant—
anything without saying.

My uncle slid into his booth.
I cannot tell you—how I love this place.
He drained the water glass, noisily clinking his ice.
My uncle hailed from an iceless region.
He had definite ideas about water drinking.
I cannot tell you—all the time. But then he’d try.

My uncle wore a white shirt every day of his life.
He raised his hand against the roaring ocean
and the television full of lies.
He shook his head back and forth
from one country to the other
and his ticket grew longer.
Immigrants had double and nothing all at once.
Immigrants drove the taxis, sold the beer and Cokes.
When he found one note that rang true,
he sang it over and over inside.
Coffee, honey.
His eyes roamed the couples at other booths,
their loose banter and casual clothes.
But he never became them.

Uncle who finally left in a bravado moment
after 23 years, to live in the old country forever,
to stay and never come back,

maybe it would be peaceful now,
maybe for one minute,
I cannot tell you—how my heart has settled at last.
But he followed us to the sidewalk
saying, Take care, Take care,
as if he could not stand to leave us.

I cannot tell—

how we felt
to learn that the week he arrived,
he died. Or how it is now,
driving his parched streets,
feeling the booth beneath us as we order,
oh, anything, because if we don’t,
nothing will come.
---Naomi Shihab Nye


"I have spent time studying the nature of light. It is part curiosity and part meditation; someday I hope to understand why I see the way I do. Scriveners have studied light, too, and in the books Madding read to me, they claimed that the brightest light—true light—is the combination of all other kinds of light. Red, blue, yellow, more; put it all together and the result is shining white.

"This means, in a way, that true light is dependent on the presence of other lights. Take the others away and darkness results. Yet the reverse is not true: take away darkness and there is only more darkness. Darkness can exist by itself. Light cannot."
---N.K. Jemisin, The Broken Kingdoms


"I overcame myself, the sufferer; I carried my own ashes to the mountains; I invented a brighter flame for myself. And behold, then this ghost fled from me."
---Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. unknown


"What Came to Me"
I took the last
dusty piece of china
out of the barrel.
It was your gravy boat,
with a hard, brown
drop of gravy still
on the porcelain lip.
I grieved for you then
as I never had before.
---Jane Kenyon


"The Woodlice"
The beauty of one sister
who loved them so
she smuggled the woodlice
into her pockets & then into
the house, after a day’s work
of digging in the yard,
& after the older ones of us
had fed her & washed,
she carried them into
the bed with her, to mother
them, so that they would have
two blankets & be warm, for
this is what she knew of love,
& the beloveds emerged one
by one from their defenses, unfolding
themselves across the bed’s white sheet
like they did over 400 years ago, carried
from that other moonlight,
accidentally, or by children, into
the ship’s dark hold, slowly
adapting to the new rooms
of cloths, then fields, & we,
the elders to that sister,
we, having seen strangers
in our house before, we, being
older, being more ugly & afraid,
we began, then, to teach her the lessons
of dirt & fear.
---Aracelis Girmay


"Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live."
---Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye


"Ashes of Life"
Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike;
Eat I must, and sleep I will,—and would that night were here!
But ah!—to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike!
Would that it were day again!—with twilight near!

Love has gone and left me and I don’t know what to do;
This or that or what you will is all the same to me;
But all the things that I begin I leave before I’m through,—
There’s little use in anything as far as I can see.

Love has gone and left me,—and the neighbors knock and borrow,
And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse,—
And to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow
There’s this little street and this little house.
---Edna St. Vincent Millay


"Imagine that the world is made out of love. Now imagine that it isn’t. Imagine a story where everything goes wrong, where everyone has their back against the wall, where everyone is in pain and acting selfishly because if they don’t, they’ll die. Imagine a story, not of good against evil, but of need against need against need, where everyone is at cross-purposes and everyone is to blame."
---Richard Siken


"Ignorance in doing science creates the excitement of doing science, and anyone who does it knows that discoveries lead to a further ignorance."
---George Coyne


"I’m working on my own life story. I don’t mean I’m putting it together; no, I’m taking it apart."
---Margaret Atwood, The Tent


"Why we don't die"

In late September many voices
Tell you you will die.
That leaf says it. That coolness.
All of them are right.

Our many souls- what
Can they do about it?
Nothing. They’re already
Part of the invisible.

Our souls have been
Longing to go home
Anyway. “It’s late,” they say.
“Lock the door, let’s go.”

The body doesn’t agree. It says,
“We buried a little iron
Ball under that tree.
Let’s go get it.”
---Robert Bly


"When you are writing laws you are testing words to find their utmost power. Like spells, they have to make things happen in the real world, and like spells, they only work if people believe in them."
---Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall


"Hatred"
I shall hate you
Like a dart of singing steel
Shot through still air
At even-tide,
Or solemnly
As pines are sober
When they stand etched
Against the sky.
Hating you shall be a game
Played with cool hands
And slim fingers.
Your heart will yearn
For the lonely splendor
Of the pine tree
While rekindled fires
In my eyes
Shall wound you like swift arrows.
Memory will lay its hands
Upon your breast
And you will understand
My hatred.
---Gwendolyn B. Bennett


"Let us take seriously the figure of the feminist kill-joy. Does the feminist kill other people’s joy by pointing out moments of sexism? Or does she expose the bad feelings that get hidden, displaced, or negated under public signs of joy? The feminist is an affect alien: she might even kill joy because she refuses to share an orientation toward certain things as being good because she does not find the objects that promise happiness to be quite so promising."
---Sara Ahmed, "Happy Objects"


"Toward what island-home am I moving"
Toward what island-home am I moving,
not wanting to marry, not wanting
too much of that emptiness at evening,
as when I walked through a field at dusk
and felt wide in the night.
And it was again the evening that drew me
back to the field where I was most alone,
compassed by stems and ruts,
no light of the fixed stars, no flashing in the eyes,
only heather pared by dry air, shedding
a small feathered radiance when I looked away,
an expanse whose deep sleep seemed an unending
warren I had been given, to carry out such tasks—
that I might find nothing dead.
And it was again the evening that drew me
back to the field where I could sense no boundary—
the smell of dry earth, cool arch of my neck, the darkness
entirely within myself.
And when I shut my eyes there was no one.
Only weeds in drifts of stillness, only
stalks and gliding sky.

Come, black anchor, let us not be harmed.
The deer leafing in the dark.
The old man at the table, unable to remember.
The children whose hunger is just hunger,
and never desire.
---Joanna Klink


"She loved to read and did so quite uncritically, taking each book as a prescription of sorts, an argument for a certain kind of life."
---Jennifer Egan, The Invisible Circus


Where does the world cease to be itself
and become our longing for it?
---Christopher Howell, "Longing"


"… self-knowledge isn’t the goal I seek. Strength, strength is what I want. Strength not to endure, I have that and it has made me weak— but strength to act—"
---Susan Sontag


"To me, a song is a validation of lyric poetry’s primal nature. Song exists inside time to express individual feeling, but it also has the capacity to transcend time. Song emanates from individuals and rises up out of time. Lyric poetry speaks from the very middle of this mystery. Song and lyric poetry have a lot to do with my thinking about the Book.

"The Book I am imagining is a gigantic anthology filled with every poem and song ever written. All poems and songs feed into it. The Book is an ultimate jukebox, an iPod as big as the moon from which each person can download that playlist that will help them live. We go to it not for entertainment (as the jukebox or iPod metaphor might imply) but to find the words we need to sustain us. The Book is a huge, accessible repository of testimony about the mysteries and catastrophes and wonders that we experience. We’re there to sustain the Book, too, with what we sing, write, and compose. When you write a poem, it’s here in time, functioning in your own individual life, and maybe the lives of the people around you. But your poem also goes into the Book, where it has its own life, the span of which may be much longer and much different than you’ve imagined."
---Gregory Orr


"Full Moon"
Good God!
What did I dream last night?
I dreamt I was the moon.
I woke and found myself still asleep.

It was like this: my face misted up from inside
And I came and went at will through a little peephole.
I had no voice, no mouth, nothing to express my trouble,
except my shadows leaning downhill, not quite parallel.

Something needs to be said to describe my moonlight.
Almost frost but softer, almost ash but wholer.
Made almost of water, which has strictly speaking
No feature, but a kind of counter-light, call it insight.

Like in woods, when they jostle their hooded shapes,
Their heads congealed together, having murdered each other,
There are moon-beings, sound-beings, such as deer and half-deer
Passing through there, whose eyes can pierce through things.

I was like that: visible invisible visible invisible.
There’s no material as variable as moonlight.
I was climbing, clinging to the underneath of my bones, thinking:
Good God! Who have I been last night?
---Alice Oswald


"The Future Is an Animal"
In every kind of dream I am a black wolf
careening through a web. I am the spider
who eats the wolf and inhabits the wolf’s body.
In another dream I marry the wolf and then
am very lonely. I seek my name and they name me
Lucky Dragon. I would love to tell you that all
of this has a certain ending but the most frightening
stories are the ones with no ending at all.
The path goes on and on. The road keeps forking,
splitting like an endless atom, splitting
like a lip, and the globe is on fire. As many
times as the book is read, the pages continue
to grow, multiply. They said, In the beginning,
and that was the moral of the original and most
important story. The story of man. One story.
I laid my head down and my head was heavy.
Hair sprouted through the skin, hair black
and bending toward night grass. I was becoming
the wolf again, my own teeth breaking
into my mouth for the first time, a kind of beauty
to be swallowed in interior bite and fever.
My mind a miraculous ember until I am the beast.
I run from the story that is faster than me,
the words shatter and pant to outchase me.
The story catches my heels when I turn
to love its hungry face, when I am willing
to be eaten to understand my fate.
---Tina Chang


"House Guest"
The sad seamstress
who stays with us this month
is small and thin and bitter.
No one can cheer her up.
Give her a dress, a drink,
roast chicken, or fried fish—
it’s all the same to her.

She sits and watches TV.
No, she watches zigzags.
“Can you adjust the TV?”
“No,” she says. No hope.
she watches on and on,
without hope, without air.

Her own clothes give us pause,
but she’s not a poor orphan.
She has a father, a mother,
and all that, and she’s earning
quite well, and we’re stuffing
her with fattening foods.

We invite her to use the binoculars.
We say, “Come see the jets!”
We say, “Come see the baby!”
Or the knife grinder who cleverly
plays the National Anthem
on his wheel so shrilly.
Nothing helps.

She speaks: “I need a little
money to buy buttons.”
She seems to think it’s useless
to ask. Heavens, buy buttons,
if they’ll do any good,
the biggest in the world—
by the dozen, by the gross!
Buy yourself an ice cream,
a comic book, a car!

Her face is closed as a nut,
closed as a careful snail
or a thousand year old seed.
Does she dream of marriage?
Of getting rich? Her sewing
is decidedly mediocre.

Please! Take our money! Smile!
What on earth have we done?
What has everyone done
and when did it all begin?
Then one day she confides
that she wanted to be a nun
and her family opposed her.

Perhaps we should let her go,
or deliver her straight off
to the nearest convent - and wasn’t
her month up last week, anyway?

Can it be that we nourish
one of the Fates in our bosoms?
Clotho, sewing our lives
with a bony little foot
on a borrowed sewing machine,
and our fates will be like hers,
and our hems crooked forever?
---Elizabeth Bishop


"Everyone’s getting older. When I crossed that line in my mind where I knew I was with the person that I wanted to marry, it was a very heavy thing, because you’re inviting death into your life. You know that that’s hopefully after many, many, many, many years, but the idea of death stops being abstract, because there is someone you can’t bear to lose. when it registers as true, it’s like a little shade of grief that comes in when love is its most real version. Then it contains death inside of it, and then that death contains love inside of it."
---Joanna Newsom


"my dream about being white"
hey music and
me
only white,
hair a flutter of
fall leaves
circling my perfect
line of a nose,
no lips,
no behind, hey
white me
and i’m wearing
white history
but there’s no future
in those clothes
so i take them off and
wake up
dancing.
---Lucille Clifton


"Cutting away what I consider to be the engine of the essay—doubt and the unknown, let’s say—leaves us with articles and theses, facts and information, our side and their side, dreary optimism and even drearier pessimism, but nowhere to turn in a moment of true need."
---Charles D’Ambrosio, "Loitering"


"Professor Johnston often said that if you didn’t know history, you didn’t know anything. You were a leaf that didn’t know it was part of a tree."
---Michael Crichton, Timeline


"One actually thinks in poetry […] It’s a form of thought, not a form of expression, because a form of expression means you have something separate from what’s being expressed."
---Margaret Atwood


"I like Simone Weil’s idea that writing is actually the translation of a text we already carry within us. That notion makes a heavy task lighter. In fact, though, writing is the backbreaking work of hacking a footpath, as in a coal mine; in total darkness, beneath the earth.

"In poetry there are moments of illumination. A streak of light falls in the dark corridor, then the darkness slams shut overhead once more.

"In prose the darknesses are even thicker, the black clods even harder."
---Anna Kamieńska


"Yet how strange a thing is the beauty of music! The brief beauty that the player brings into being transforms a given period of time into pure continuance; it is certain never to be repeated; like the existence of dayflies and other such short-lived creatures, beauty is a perfect abstraction and creation of life itself. Nothing is so similar to life as music."
---Yukio Mishima, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, trans. unknown


"The Darren language has a word for the attraction one feels to danger: esui. It is esui that makes warriors charge into hopeless battles and die laughing. Esui is also what draws women to lovers who are bad for them—men who would make poor fathers, women of the enemy. The Senmite word that comes closest is ‘lust,’ if one includes ‘bloodlust’ and 'lust for life,’ though these do not adequately capture the layered nature of esui. It is glory, it is folly. It is everything not sensible, not rational, not safe at all—but without ensui, there is no point in living."
---N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms


"… memory does not so much depend on the completeness of things left behind as on their thoroughly crafted and rough outlines, on their worn surfaces, on their very scars and absences, on mould, rusts, and fragmentations. In other words, ruined things remind us, as archaeologists and students of things, to acknowledge that they do not remember–or at least only reluctantly so–the linear narratives we relentlessly have made them bear witness to. Indeed, such appropriation of things and fragments from the past as ‘historical witness’ may also be seen as yet another aspect of their domestication; a conduct where things are made to serve as loyal contributors to a continuous past which in reality they are ‘blasted’ out of and thus, exist in opposition to."
---Dora Petursdottir and Bjornar Olsen, "Archaeology of Ruins"


"Strange Theater"
You are reading a book at a table on the stage
of a small theater. The theater will be closing
in two months. There are books by Freud, Nietzsche,
and Foucault on the table. You are seven, face
beautifully framed by thick glasses, having read
since four with just one candle. There is nothing
on stage except you, the candle, the books.
The curtain falls. You are crushed between the purple velvet.

Act II, Scene I

Open, A girl in a garden.

She is picking azaleas, placing them into a metal can,
swelling. The bees and the dragonflies won’t leave
her. She swats at them with a small shovel.

The background changes and she is ten years older,
in the army with a rifle. The rifle is always the main character.
Two years later, times have changed. She’s performing
in a sequined number, face covered with pancake and blush,
just a few people in the audience as she sings her final number,
a couple of steps and her stockings fall to her ankles.

Act II, Scene II

The spotlight is focused on someone new. A hustler
with a purple fedora, a cigar, a fat gold cane.
He dances, sidesteps the woman. He is the predator
and she should’ve seen it coming but she had
her childhood glasses on. She is tough and wrestles
the hustler. She has him head-locked under her arm,
the props are falling, they are tumbling down
a hole left of stage.

Act III, Scene I

The hustler is gone. All she has left of him
is his plumage. She is hungry and indicates so
by holding her stomach and grimacing.
She wants to go home.

There is a paper boat that can take her back
to New York but she is not sure it can hold her
weight. The paper boat gondolier pushes her
onto the boat. People wave from the other side.
They wanted her to leave all along, her presence
needed off stage, in the minutes elsewhere.

Epilogue

The journey was under the bright lights,
a floor functioning like an emergency
room in a hospital, gurney and urgency.
She exits and exits again, until she’s
on the street, in a parking lot. How those
faces still light up. She walks through the lot,
as if blindly feeling. She knows them now
in her waking life. They inhabit her, shaking her
down in daylight. The moon never did any good
but light the way to those pale faces.
---Tina Chang


"Wild Invention"
This is a story about a girl who ran,
all night she ran after the wolf, aimed
at its hind legs, then stood above it,
and shot it between the eyes, skinned
it until the soul of the animal departed
from this world. Then the meat stopped
pulsing, then it shined with all its delicate
possibilities.

This is the story of the girl who stalked
the forest with nothing but a shotgun
and compass, due North, hollowed
the animal under moonlight, desire
dripping like blood into a tin pan,
the stars leaking a tonic into her cup.
Her appetite was the forest she traveled.
Though lost, she dragged the wolf
with her like a past surrendering
to a new life. The sun emerging
over the mountain like a heart flayed
open with a light in the middle.

*

The animal must be shot. You must
be hungry enough to skin it without
flinching, must be willing to cook it,
still trembling over the watchful eye
of the fire. You must also be willing
to track yourself down, see the will
of the god who made all beasts fear
for their lives. The rabbit quivers in its
white coat, raises its ears and takes off,
the boar nothing but an exotic pest
roaming the hillsides. You eat, grateful
for the skin that keeps this life in tact,
under the roof beams of your long life,
under a bridge that is a heaven of deer bones.
You are a more wonderful animal
than you could ever imagine: Great flying
loon, foxes coupling in the dark brush.
---Tina Chang


"I pray. I pray a lot. I’m somebody who has a big inner life, and for most of my life it had a lot of darkness in it, and for me prayer is a way of standing in a light. It’s no more complicated than that. So I pray both for people and I do something called the Ignatian Exercises, which are a way of kind of looking at the end of every day at that day and examining places where you saw God, places where God was present for you. If you do that every day over a long period of time, you start to realize that the things you ‘value,’ the things that are supposed to be important to you are often just not that important. And the places that really are sustaining to you in a spiritual way are very surprising — they’re not where you think they’re going to be."
---Mary Karr


"The need to go astray, to be destroyed, is an extremely private, distant, passionate, turbulent truth."
---Georges Bataille, trans. unknown


"Literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear, and, save for one or two passions such as desire and greed, is null, and negligible and non-existent. On the contrary, the very opposite is true. All day, all night, the body intervenes; blunts or sharpens, colours or discolours, turns to wax in the warmth of June, hardens to tallow in the murk of February. The creature within can only gaze through the pane - smudged or rosy; it cannot separate off from the body like the sheath of a knife or the pod of a pea for a single instant; it must go through the whole unending process of changes, heat and cold, comfort and discomfort, hunger and satisfaction, health and illness, until there comes the inevitable catastrophe; the body smashes itself to smithereens, and the soul (it is said) escapes. But of this daily drama of the body there is no record."
---Virginia Woolf, "On Being Ill"


"Joy in the Woods"
There is joy in the woods just now,
      The leaves are whispers of song,
And the birds make mirth on the bough
      And music the whole day long,
And God! to dwell in the town
      In these springlike summer days,
On my brow an unfading frown
      And hate in my heart always—

A machine out of gear, aye, tired,
Yet forced to go on—for I’m hired.

Just forced to go on through fear,
      For every day I must eat
And find ugly clothes to wear,
      And bad shoes to hurt my feet
And a shelter for work-drugged sleep!
      A mere drudge! but what can one do?
A man that’s a man cannot weep!
      Suicide? A quitter? Oh, no!

But a slave should never grow tired,
Whom the masters have kindly hired.

But oh! for the woods, the flowers
      Of natural, sweet perfume,
The heartening, summer showers
      And the smiling shrubs in bloom,
Dust-free, dew-tinted at morn,
      The fresh and life-giving air,
The billowing waves of corn
      And the birds’ notes rich and clear:—

For a man-machine toil-tired
May crave beauty too—though he’s hired.

---Claude McKay


"I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of songs. Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst."
---Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa, trans. unknown


"Still Life"
Down by the pond, addicts sleep
on rocky grass half in water, half out,
and there the moon lights them
out of tawny silhouettes into the rarest
of amphibious flowers I once heard called striders,
between, but needing, two worlds.
Of what can you accuse them now,
                                                    beauty?

---Katie Ford


"How does one hate a country, or love one?…I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply?"
---Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness


"I love borders. August is the border between summer and autumn; it is the most beautiful month I know. Twilight is the border between day and night, and the shore is the border between sea and land. The border is longing; when both have fallen in love but still haven’t said anything. The border is to be on the way. It is the way that is the most important thing."
---Tove Jansson, trans. unknown


"What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing, but one mustn’t make a virtue of it, or a profession."
---Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness


"No matter how voraciously or widely we read, it can still be hard to articulate the exquisite sensation of finding a book that grabs us; whose narrative causes us to lose all sense of time—of our bodies, even—and stay up reading longer than the morning’s commitments make sensible. It’s a bit like being in love, in that sense: even when we know we ought to be doing something else, that the story will still be waiting for us if we step away for an hour or two, it doesn’t seem to matter—we pine, distracted and eager, as in the earliest, deepest stages of infatuation, conducting a whirlwind romance that starts with a word and ends with the rosy afterglow of the last page turned. This is the deepest magic of stories, and its most important: the conjuration of an empathy so pure, it all but tumbles us out of our skins and into someone else’s."
---Foz Meadows


"Because We Love Bare Hills and Stunted Trees"
Because we love bare hills and stunted trees
we head north when we can,
past taiga, tundra, rocky shoreline, ice.

Where does it come from, this sparse taste
of ours? How long
did we roam this hardscape, learning by heart
all that we used to know:
turn skin fur side in,
partner with wolves, eat fat, hate waste,
carve spirit, respect the snow,
build and guard flame?

Everything once had a soul,
even this clam, this pebble.
Each had a secret name.
Everything listened.
Everything was real,
but didn’t always love you.
You needed to take care.

We long to go back there,
or so we like to feel
when it’s not too cold.
We long to pay that much attention.
But we’ve lost the knack;
also there’s other music.
All we hear in the wind’s plainsong
is the wind.
---Margaret Atwood


"One aspect of literature is that it calls us to empathize. Another is that it requires great amounts of time alone, in solitude, thinking one’s own thoughts. If she is not careful, the writer might focus on the second and forget the first. The writing practice, especially when we are apprenticing, especially when we are young, can draw us into the infinite mirror of our self-reflective consciousness. Beware, is all I have to say. Don’t be that guy. Get a job washing dishes. Or work admissions at the local A.I.D.S. clinic. The living, wrought world can not be found in your head."
---Rebecca Gayle Howell


"I had been in recent correspondence with Wendell Berry, in whom I had confided how anxiety-filled I was about the suffering I thought some of us, mostly the poor, would experience in this coming climate change, how I was beginning to think nothing could be done to relieve what was to come. And he told me that I must not give into despair. That hoping was what could be done, actually. And that hope would bring work; work, hope. That I should find, and I’m paraphrasing here, a little job to do—a poem to write, a speech to give.

"Not immediately, but soon thereafter, the first How To poems came, and I followed them. I followed the words, the sentences and lines, like bread crumbs back to shelter. I understood, eventually, I was in the middle of a book, the same way one might understand she’s woken in the middle of a field. One of my teachers, Jean Valentine, told me if I listened for what was true, the poems would write themselves. I tried to do that when I was writing Render. I still do."
---Rebecca Gayle Howell


"For the old-time people, time was not a series of ticks of a clock, one following the other. For the old-time people time was round–like a tortilla; time had specified moments and specific locations so that the beloved ancestors who had passed on were not annihilated by death, but only relocated….All times go on existing side by side for all eternity. No moment is lost or destroyed. There are no future times or past times; there are always all the times, which differ slightly, as the locations on the tortilla differ slightly."
---Leslie Marmon Silko, "Notes on Almanac of the Dead"


"The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.
Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried. Equally as powerful as the desire to deny atrocities is the conviction that denial does not work. Folk wisdom is filled with ghosts who refuse to rest in their graves until their stories are told. Murder will out. Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims."
---Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery


"From this disappearing middle I strolled. I had my curiosity mainly and my stubbornness. They passed as a passion. Everything, happy and unhappy, has resulted from these two traits."
---Lisa Robertson, "Essay on Origins"


"On a Passenger Ferry"
The deck is big, and crowded. In one corner,
an old woman, sick, on chemo, not in pain, is
writing in an elementary-school notebook.
Nobody else saw her, but I saw her.
I had seen her before. Her round, kind face,
smiling and still as a photograph
outside a window—
---Jean Valentine


"This is how I figure it: the ladder is neither immobile nor empty. It is animated. It incorporates the movement it arouses and inscribes. My ladder is frequented. I say my because of my love for it: it’s climbed by those authors I feel a mysterious affinity for; affinities, choices, are always secret."
---Hélène Cixous, qtd. by Marci Vogel in "Line of Sight: Lineage as Vision"


"I have a little talk I give sometimes about windows and mirrors, that children—and humans, everybody—all need both windows and mirrors in their lives: mirrors through which you can see yourself and windows through which you can see the world."
---Lucille Clifton, qtd. by Marci Vogel in "Line of Sight: Lineage as Vision"

i am down the road and up the hill; i wait for you still

"There is no such thing as was—only is. If was existed, there would be no grief or sorrow."
---William Faulkner


"Scar"
Sometimes it’s
       bigger than my
             body, the body

that gave it
       life, that is
           its life—as if I’m

a frame for
      it, as if it
             continues beyond

my end, although no
       one, not here,
             can see where

it goes, how
       far, & now
             it finds

its way into
       every possible
             place I

imagine, even
       the past, which believes
             in my scar like

a prophecy, & like a god’s
       work, I have no
             memory of it breathing

into me &
       abstracting me
             to myth from which to

remake the world
       into the rising
             & falling

action of fiction—my body
       as denouement. Sometimes I feel
             it without waiting

for its hum on
       the nerves, its shivering
             arc from eye

to jawbone. How often
       I want to
             give it a voice so

it can tell
       me what I want
             it to say—that it knows

me like tomorrow
       does. That a need lives
             in lack’s because.

---Emilia Phillips


"Lake Echo, Dear"
Is the woman in the pool of light
really reading or just staring
at what is written

Is the man walking in the soft rain
naked or is it the rain
that makes his shirt transparent

The boy in the iron cot
is he asleep or still
fingering the springs underneath

Did you honestly believe
three lives could be complete

The bottle of green liquid
on the sill is it real

The bottle on the peeling sill
is it filled with green

Or is the liquid an illusion
of fullness

How summer’s children turn
into fish and rain softens men

How the elements of summer
nights bid us to get down with each other
on the unplaned floor

And this feels painfully beautiful
whether or not
it will change the world one drop
---C.D. Wright

her last chance: turn her over and go, pulling out of the last chance texaco

"The pale stars were sliding into their places. The whispering of the leaves was almost hushed. All about them it was still and shadowy and sweet. It was that wonderful moment when, for lack of a visible horizon, the not yet darkened world seems infinitely greater—a moment when anything can happen, anything be believed in."
---Olivia Howard Dunbar, The Shell of Sense


"Scarcely has night arrived to undeceive, unfurling her wings of crepe (wings drained even of the glimmer just now dying in the tree-tops); scarcely has the last glint still dancing on the burnished metal heights of the tall towers ceased to fade, like a still glowing coal in a spent brazier, which whitens gradually beneath the ashes, and soon is indistinguishable from the abandoned hearth, than a fearful murmur rises amongst them, their teeth chatter with despair and rage, they hasten and scatter in their dread, finding witches everywhere, and ghosts. It is night...and Hell will gape once more."
---Charles Nodier, Smarra & Trilby


"The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise."
---Maya Angelou


"At midnight, fireworks in the plaza. No photographs—you know what fireworks are like. Tawdry, staggering, irresistible, like human love. Live stars fall on twenty thousand people massed in a darkened square. Some cry out, get burned, applaud. No star falls on me, although I try to position myself. Will you say you cannot make out my face in the dark? you heartless creature. At the end of the fireworks we burn down the cathedral, as is traditional. So dazed with light and sulfur by now, there is no question it is the appropriate finale. Tomorrow morning, when we try to celebrate Saint James's solemn Mass amid the charred ruins, we will think again. But fireworks are always now, aren't they? like human love. ¡Corazón arriba!

"When is a pilgrim like the middle of the night? When he burns."
---Anne Carson, "Compostela"


"Beware the autumn people.
For some, autumn comes early, stays late, through life, where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ's birth there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring or revivifying summer.
For these beings, fall is the only normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond.
Where do they come from? The dust.
Where do they go? The grave.
Does blood stir their veins? No, the night wind.
What ticks in their head? The worm.
What speaks through their mouth? The toad.
What sees from their eye? The snake.
What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars.
They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles—breaks.
Such are the autumn people."
---Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes


"September Midnight"
Lyric night of the lingering Indian Summer,
Shadowy fields that are scentless but full of singing,
Never a bird, but the passionless chant of insects,
      Ceaseless, insistent.  

The grasshopper’s horn, and far-off, high in the maples,
The wheel of a locust leisurely grinding the silence
Under a moon waning and worn, broken,
      Tired with summer.  

Let me remember you, voices of little insects,
Weeds in the moonlight, fields that are tangled with asters,
Let me remember, soon will the winter be on us,
      Snow-hushed and heavy.  

Over my soul murmur your mute benediction,
While I gaze, O fields that rest after harvest,
As those who part look long in the eyes they lean to,
      Lest they forget them.

---Sara Teasdale


"A Sunset of the City"
Already I am no longer looked at with lechery or love.
My daughters and sons have put me away with marbles and dolls,
Are gone from the house.
My husband and lovers are pleasant or somewhat polite
And night is night.

It is a real chill out,
The genuine thing.
I am not deceived, I do not think it is still summer
Because sun stays and birds continue to sing.

It is summer-gone that I see, it is summer-gone.
The sweet flowers indrying and dying down,
The grasses forgetting their blaze and consenting to brown.

It is a real chill out. The fall crisp comes.
I am aware there is winter to heed.
There is no warm house
That is fitted with my need.
I am cold in this cold house this house
Whose washed echoes are tremulous down lost halls.
I am a woman, and dusty, standing among new affairs.
I am a woman who hurries through her prayers.

Tin intimations of a quiet core to be my
Desert and my dear relief
Come: there shall be such islanding from grief,
And small communion with the master shore.
Twang they. And I incline this ear to tin,
Consult a dual dilemma. Whether to dry
In humming pallor or to leap and die.

Somebody muffed it? Somebody wanted to joke.
---Gwendolyn Brooks


"Three Songs at the End of Summer"
A second crop of hay lies cut  
and turned. Five gleaming crows  
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,  
and like midwives and undertakers  
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,  
parting before me like the Red Sea.  
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned  
to water ski. They have, or they haven’t.  
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone  
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,  
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.  
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod  
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;  
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.

*

The cicada’s dry monotony breaks  
over me. The days are bright  
and free, bright and free.

Then why did I cry today  
for an hour, with my whole  
body, the way babies cry?

*

A white, indifferent morning sky,  
and a crow, hectoring from its nest  
high in the hemlock, a nest as big  
as a laundry basket …
                                   In my childhood  
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,  
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.

The damp dirt road gave off  
this same complex organic scent.

I had the new books—words, numbers,  
and operations with numbers I did not  
comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled  
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.

Spruce, inadequate, and alien  
I stood at the side of the road.  
It was the only life I had.

---Jane Kenyon


"Empathy isn't just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see."
---Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams


"Getting lost is both the plight and the joy of the artist...This getting lost cannot be faked. We cannot pretend to be lost. We cannot be quasi-lost. In order to possibly find that way out---in order to discover that thing previously unknown to us---we walk through the pitch-black darkness. We feel our hands against cave walls. We slip and fall. We bruise ourselves, blind to our own path."
---Dani Shapiro


"Gathering is peculiar, because you see nothing but what you're looking for. If you're picking raspberries, you see only what's red, and if you're looking for bones you see only the white. No matter where you go, the only thing you see is bones."
---Tove Jansson, The Summer Book


"Average Tour"
It's not the child’s nightmare slide
down a ten-foot razor into a bath
of alcohol, nor the cobra's hooded stare
suddenly come near, but the multiplying string
of insignificance that's become your life.

The doorbell chimes, a phone
jars you from your book.
Your balding pharmacist recounts
the longest dullest joke
in history, his jaw hinged
like a puppet's blah
and blah and blah as you stitch
a smile across your face. A cop
drags you from your slot
in traffic: go straight to court, wait
for hours, weep shamelessly
to save ten bucks.

Such aggressively minor suffering
wins no handshakes, roses, accolades
and threatens to suck the soul out,

though in a small compartment in your skull
you hope for finer things.
At night you set aside your lists
and dime-sized aches to lift its lid
and find the simple room
in which everything you meant to speak
and shape and do is spoken,
formed and done: thirty-odd
thousand jasmine-scented nights
opening like satin umbrellas
all at once. But less and less

you unlatch paradise.
You learn to sleep through days, standing
like a beast, sleep while turning pages
or crying out from love. You sleep
and sleep. One day you wake up dead.
Strange hands raise you from your bed.
The zipper's jagged teeth interlock
before your shining eyes. Small world.
---Mary Karr


"The best way to know life is to love many things."
---Vincent van Gogh


Poem that opened you---
The opposite of a wound.

Didn't the world
Come pouring through?
---Gregory Orr


"Poetry…being able to see ghosts, then making others believe in them wholeheartedly."
---Kevin Stock


"Meditation"

"Is anything central?"
John Ashbery


One event stands out from childhood:
the day someone left.
The house was not empty,
but it would happen again
and again. This affected my sight:
fragments filled the air
with everything---a man
standing by the door, a cinder
in the air, evenings by myself.

Certain contradictions recurred:
a streetlamp glowing at sunrise,
the moon rising in the afternoon.
Now a white sheet covers everything,
a network of cloth, a web on the door.

Perhaps this explains nothing
but a restlessness to leave the world,
the desire to sleep on the floor
of one's past, beyond the rise of memory.
Once, someone left. The world was not changed
as I was, but the house I lived in
was left by itself, a thin frame standing
against the past and parting of events.
---Ira Sadoff


"Persephone in September"
The leaves are at my feet. The grass is dead.
The air is bitter as a dragonbite.
I hear the thunder moaning overhead,
Like some great creature dying in the night.
The winter wraps my shoulders like a shawl,
And I can taste the still unfallen snow.
The darkness comes like footsteps in the hall.
The winds reclaim the world, and I must go.

I take a road beyond the sight of eyes
That runs beyond the minds of walking men,
And only this I leave---a song that cries,
"Oh, I will surely, surely come again!"
And, knowing this, I turn my eyes and mark
My iron lover, crouching in the dark.
---Peter S. Beagle


"Planets and Words

"SESHAT IS A planet of books, of reading and writing. Not only do the people of Seshat document their every waking moment with words, they also build machines that write things into existence. On Seshat, a pen’s ink can be stem cells or plastic or steel, and thus words can become flesh and food and many-coloured candies and guns. In Seshat, you can eat a chocolate soufflé in the shape of a dream you had, and the bright-eyed ancient chocolatier may have a new heart that is itself a word become flesh. Every object in Seshat writes, churning out endless idiot stories about what it is like to be a cow, a pill jar or a bottle of wine. And of course the genomes of living beings are also read and written: the telomeres in Seshatian cells are copied and extended and rewritten by tiny molecular scribes, allowing the people of Seshat to live nearly as long as their books.

"It is no surprise that Seshat is overcrowded, its landfills full of small pieces of plastic, its networks groaning under the weight of endless spambot drivel, the work of fridges and fire alarms with literary aspirations, the four-letter library of Babel that flows from the mouths of DNA sequencers, with no end in sight.

"Yet the Seshatians hunger for more things to read. They have devised books with golden pages that the Universe itself can write in: books where gold atoms displaced by dark matter particles leave traces in carefully crafted strands of DNA, allowing the flows and currents of the dark to be read and mapped and interpreted. And over the centuries, as the invisible ink of the neutralinos and axions dries and forms words on the golden pages, hinting at ships that could be built to trace every whirl and letter out in the void and turn the dark sentences into light, the people of Seshat hold their breath and hope that their planet will be the first line in a holy book, or at least the hook in a gripping yarn, and not the inevitable, final period."
---Hannu Rajaniemi, "Invisible Planets"


"Good Death"
Of words placed in their best black clothes. Of that darkness full.
Of the laugh, forged of dust that spilled its gold light into the tomb.
Of the wreath carved upon the copper vault.
Of the ivory city – bones like trumpets – blowing you away from us in song.
Of the city again where you will be welcomed by vultures.
Of the road between the dates, a short slash. An usher in a gold hat.
Of the pronunciation of sorrow, always, in summer.
Of the snake who suffered the story.
Of the afterlife & its downpour of ordinary rites.
Of rites I enact in my broken thoughts.
Of my fever waving its anguish until the match goes out in disbelief.
Of the nine stars bleeding mercy beneath the roof of God.
Of God, God, & God.
Of the peace & suffering my people have been promised.
Of the clean, white clothes I gave the undertaker.
                              Here are the stockings, I said, not knowing
whether they would match her skin.
Of the poems I’ve been trying to write. Die, I say.
                              Go elsewhere for songs.
Of the food & the appetite.
Of my father’s shoulders in a black suit.
Of downpour again.
Of the animals who charge me with horns
                              when I offer my clay ribs.
Of her visitations.
Of the hot comb I cradled on my knees in the bathroom.
Of the brutal gospel of hair, untouched toothbrush, clothes
                               in closets with sale tags.
Of dreams where my teeth scatter like maple leaves.
Of what I will never remember.
Of the rain that makes my howls float like empty bottles of glass.
Of the dreams where my white clothes grow flames.
Of what I will remember remembering.
Of the neon-colored nail polish on her hand
                             I held at her deathbed.
Of what I hated to ask the night & gods.
Of the knees that remember the orange mud before the grass grew back.
Of you, Reader, looking at my face here & reading
                              because we all want to know how to bear it.
Of the strange, caring question their voices poured like grace
                            over my side where I was trying to leave. Get out of skin.
Of it being over, again & again.
Of it beginning.  They ask me was it a good death, was it
                             a good death, was there peace for all of us. Why
                             should I want peace instead of my mother?
Of the mothers who have always known while holding children
                              in their wombs – why wasn’t I told?
Now I walk into the sea with my jewel of anguish & shake those                            human flowers 
                               from my new, bald skull.

---Rachel Eliza Griffiths


"The Testing-Tree"
1

On my way home from school
   up tribal Providence Hill
      past the Academy ballpark
where I could never hope to play
   I scuffed in the drainage ditch
      among the sodden seethe of leaves
hunting for perfect stones
   rolled out of glacial time
      into my pitcher’s hand;
then sprinted lickety-
   split on my magic Keds
      from a crouching start,
scarcely touching the ground
   with my flying skin
      as I poured it on
for the prize of the mastery
   over that stretch of road,
      with no one no where to deny
when I flung myself down
   that on the given course
      I was the world’s fastest human.

 
2

Around the bend
   that tried to loop me home
      dawdling came natural
across a nettled field
   riddled with rabbit-life
      where the bees sank sugar-wells
in the trunks of the maples
   and a stringy old lilac
      more than two stories tall
blazing with mildew
   remembered a door in the 
      long teeth of the woods.
All of it happened slow:
   brushing the stickseed off,
      wading through jewelweed
strangled by angel’s hair,
   spotting the print of the deer
      and the red fox’s scats.
Once I owned the key
   to an umbrageous trail
      thickened with mosses
where flickering presences
   gave me right of passage
      as I followed in the steps
of straight-backed Massassoit
   soundlessly heel-and-toe
      practicing my Indian walk.

 
3

Past the abandoned quarry
   where the pale sun bobbed
      in the sump of the granite,
past copperhead ledge,
   where the ferns gave foothold,
      I walked, deliberate,
on to the clearing,
   with the stones in my pocket
      changing to oracles
and my coiled ear tuned
   to the slightest leaf-stir.
      I had kept my appointment.
There I stood in the shadow,
   at fifty measured paces,
      of the inexhaustible oak,
tyrant and target,
   Jehovah of acorns,
      watchtower of the thunders,
that locked King Philip’s War
   in its annulated core
      under the cut of my name.
Father wherever you are
    I have only three throws
       bless my good right arm.
In the haze of afternoon,
   while the air flowed saffron,
      I played my game for keeps--
for love, for poetry,
   and for eternal life--
      after the trials of summer.

4

In the recurring dream
   my mother stands
      in her bridal gown
under the burning lilac,
   with Bernard Shaw and Bertie
      Russell kissing her hands;
the house behind her is in ruins;
   she is wearing an owl’s face
      and makes barking noises.
Her minatory finger points.
   I pass through the cardboard doorway
      askew in the field
and peer down a well
   where an albino walrus huffs.
      He has the gentlest eyes.
If the dirt keeps sifting in,
   staining the water yellow,
      why should I be blamed?
Never try to explain.
   That single Model A
      sputtering up the grade
unfurled a highway behind
   where the tanks maneuver,
      revolving their turrets.
In a murderous time
   the heart breaks and breaks
      and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
   through dark and deeper dark
      and not to turn.
I am looking for the trail.
   Where is my testing-tree?
      Give me back my stones!

---Stanley Kunitz


"Under the Harvest Moon"
Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.
---Carl Sandburg


"Writing is a corporeal activity. We work ideas through our bodies; we write through our bodies, hoping to get into the bodies of our readers. We study and write about society not as an abstraction but as composed of actual bodies in proximity to other bodies."
---Elspeth Probyn, "Writing Shame"


"He imagined himself in topographical terms. Corners, junctions, stiles, fingerposts, forks, crossroads, trivia, beckoning over-the-hill paths, tracks that led to danger, death or bliss: he internalized the features of path-filled landscapes such that they gave form to his melancholy and his hopes. Walking was a means of personal myth-making...he not only thought on paths and of them, but also with them."
---Robert Macfarlane, talking of poet Edward Thomas, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot


Because the story of our life
becomes our life

Because each of us tells
the same story
but tells it differently

and none of us tells it
the same way twice

because grandmothers looking like spiders
want to enchant the children
because grandfathers need to convince us
what happened happened because of them

and though we listen only
haphazardly, with one ear,
we will begin our story
with the word and
---Lisel Mueller, "Why We Tell Stories"


"A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman. She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another […] One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight."
---John Berger, Ways of Seeing


"Neither grief nor pride had so much truth in them as did joy, the joy that trembled in the cold wind between sky and sea, bright and brief as fire."
---Ursula K. Le Guin, Planet of Exile


"Metaphor achieves its end through its capacity to function in two referential fields at once, joining the familiar field of established meaning with the unfamiliar field for which there is no external characterisation, and which stands complete within itself. It is this field which houses the forces which make the Pindaric ode a living, lasting thing.

"In order to reach this second field, language must divest itself of its function of direct description. This is the role of metaphor within poetic discourse where it first destroys the literal level, then creates new meaning, Metaphor arises from a blockage in literal, inadequate interpretation, exploiting the gap between words and objects, sense and reference, and splitting the illusory bond between name and thing. From this wreckage a more fundamental mode of reference emerges, one which lays the way for a new, more adequate interpretation. Like ‘poeticalness’ itself, metaphor is not ‘a supplementation of discourse, but a total re-evaluation of discourse and of all its components whatsoever.’ The breakdown of literal levels of meaning sets us on the road to rediscovery and redescription, allowing poet and audience both to step back from a world of ordinary reference where words function as signs, to one of symbols, where words become significant in themselves. This symbolic language is notoriously dense, making words into a more substantial matter which does not merely represent, but expresses. Such opaque discourse replaces denotation with connotation, the hallmark of metaphoric speech."
---Deborah Steiner, The Crown of Song: Metaphor in Pindar


"Defeat"
Defeat, my Defeat, my solitude and my aloofness,
You are dearer to me than a thousand triumphs,
And sweeter to my heart than all world-glory.

Defeat, my Defeat, my self-knowledge and my defiance,
Through you I know that I am yet young and swift of foot
And not to be trapped by withering laurels.
And in you I have found aloneness
And the joy of being shunned and scorned.

Defeat, my Defeat, my shining sword and shield,
In your eyes I have read
That to be enthroned is to be enslaved,
And to be understood is to be levelled down,
And to be grasped is but to reach one’s fullness
And like a ripe fruit to fall and be consumed.

Defeat, my Defeat, my bold companion,
You shall hear my songs and my cries and my silences,
And none but you shall speak to me of the beating of wings,
And urging of seas,
And of mountains that burn in the night,
And you alone shall climb my steep and rocky soul.

Defeat, my Defeat, my deathless courage,
You and I shall laugh together with the storm,
And together we shall dig graves for all that die in us,
And we shall stand in the sun with a will,
And we shall be dangerous.
---Kahlil Gibran, trans. unknown


"A Separate Time"
In the years since I saw you on Sunday,
I left my home and walked out across the earth
with only my occasional luck and knowledge of cards.
I met men and women constantly dissatisfied,
who hadn't learned to close their hands,
who sewed and patched their few words
fashioning garments they hoped to grow into.
There were winters sheltered in a cabin beneath pines.
There were frozen rivers and animals crazy with hunger.
But always I saw myself walking toward you,
as a drop of water touching the earth immediately
turns toward the sea. Tonight I visit your house.
In the time precious to newspapers and clocks,
only a few days have passed. The room is quiet.
Looking into your eyes, I become like the exile
who turns the corner of the last cliff and suddenly
stares down into the valley of his homeland,
sees the terraced fields and white-roofed houses
grouped on the hillside. Then, the smell of woodsmoke
and a woman calling her husband in for the night.
---Stephen Dobyns


"Recovery"
You have decided to live. This is your fifth
day living. Hard to sleep. Harder to eat,

the food thick on your tongue, as I watch you,
my own mouth moving.

Is this how they felt after the flood? The floor
a mess, the garden ruined,

the animals insufferable, cooped up so long?
So much work to be done.

The sodden dresses. Houses to be built.
Wood to be dried and driven and stacked. Nails!

The muddy roses. So much muck about. Hard walking.
And still a steady drizzle,

the sun like a morning moon, and all of them grumpy
and looking at each other in that new way.

We walk together, slowly, on this your fifth day
and you, occasionally, glimmer with a light

I've never seen before. It frightens me,
this new muscle in you, flexing.

I had the crutches ready. The soup simmering.
But now it is as we thought.

Can we endure it, the rain finally stopped?
---Marie Howe


" 'Night is also a sun,' and the absence of myth is also a myth: the coldest, the purest, the only true myth."
---Georges Bataille


"Night Song"
The day darkens. You have not
light enough to push the night
from your rooms. In your mirror,
you see an older self just returned
from a country where you are going.
As you watch him, you imagine
a vast plain under a lowering sky.
There are no stars, but in the distance
are sparse fires of memory, and regret
like an animal’s call on the night air.
He has returned through a place as cold
as indifference or an empty heart,
and you would ask some question,
but he brings neither help nor comfort,
offers no message but silence. So you
step aside. You think this was not
what you were promised or even
planned for. What plans, what had you
intended? You fall like a pebble flicked
from a window above a darkening street.
---Stephen Dobyns


"I feel more and more every day, as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live in this world alone but in a thousand worlds."
---John Keats


"The instant dissolves in the succession of other nameless instants. In order to save it we must convert it into a rhythm. The ‘happening’ opens up another possibility: the instant that is never repeated. By definition, this instant is the final one: the ‘happening’ is an allegory of death."
---Octavio Paz, from “Recapitulations,” trans. Helen Lane


"Art is here to prove, and to help one bear, the fact that all safety is an illusion."
---James Baldwin


"I have the impression that thinking is a form of feeling and that feeling is a form of thinking."
---Susan Sontag


"We must not fear daylight just because it almost always illuminates a miserable world."
---René Magritte


"Madness and witchery… are conditions commonly associated with the use of the female voice in public, in ancient as well as modern contexts. Consider how many female celebrities of classical mythology, literature and cult make themselves objectionable by the way they use their voice. For example there is the heartchilling groan of the Gorgon, whose name is derived from a Sanskrit word garg meaning “a guttural animal howl that issues as a great wind from the back of the throat through a hugely distended mouth.” There are the Furies whose highpitched and horrendous voices are compared by Aiskhylos to howling dogs or sounds of people being tortured in hell. There is the deadly voice of the Sirens and the dangerous ventriloquism of Helen and the incredible babbling of Kassandra and the fearsome hullabaloo of Artemis as she charges through the woods. There is the seductive discourse of Aphrodite which is so concrete an aspect of her power that she can wear it on her belt as a physical object or lend it to other women. There is the old woman of Eleusinian legend Iambe who shrieks and throws her skirt up over her head to expose her genitalia. There is the haunting garrulity of the nymph Echo (daughter of Iambe in Athenian legend) who is described by Sophokles as 'the girl with no door on her mouth.'

"Putting a door on the female mouth as been an important project of patriarchal culture from antiquity to present day. Its chief tactic is an ideological association of female sound with monstrosity, disorder and death."
---Anne Carson, The Gender of Sound


"Tell Me Something Good"
You are standing in the minefield again.
Someone who is dead now

told you it is where you will learn
to dance. Snow on your lips like a salted

cut, you leap between your deaths, black as god’s
periods. Your arms cleaving little wounds

in the wind. You are something made. Then made
to survive, which means you are somebody’s

son. Which means if you open your eyes, you’ll be back
in that house, beneath a blanket printed with yellow sailboats.

Your mother’s boyfriend, his bald head ringed with red
hair, like a planet on fire, kneeling

by your bed again. Air of whiskey & crushed
Oreos. Snow falling through the window: ash returned

from a failed fable. His spilled-ink hand
on your chest. & you keep dancing inside the minefield—

motionless. The curtains fluttering. Honeyed light
beneath the door. His breath. His wet blue face: earth

spinning in no one’s orbit. & you want someone to say Hey…
    Hey
I think your dancing is gorgeous. A little waltz to die for,

darling. You want someone to say all this
is long ago. That one night, very soon, you’ll pack a bag

with your favorite paperback & your mother’s .45,
that the surest shelter was always the thoughts

above your head. That it’s fair—it has to be—
how our hands hurt us, then give us

the world. How you can love the world
until there’s nothing left to love

but yourself. Then you can stop.
Then you can walk away—back into the fog

-walled minefield, where the vein in your neck adores you
to zero. You can walk away. You can be nothing

still breathing. Believe me.

---Ocean Vuong


"Forecast"
I twist myself into a knot
the day pulls taut.

I am what I am
told. Good red meat

gone necrotic. A spot of black
spread out to ruin

a perfect evening. It’s the way
the weather wears me.

A cold, blank day. My blood-
burned fingers. A white noise

swelling in me. It’s nothing
but night now. That’s how

all the days end. An hour
glistens in its glass case, turns

rancid in my memory.
Another day, another

dress the day lays out
before me. I grow older

if I’m lucky.
And I’m lucky.

My sad heart in its excess.
Such petty injury. I am worn

against the weather. Limp and prone
to empty.

What came before this.
I can’t remember.

I dress for all the lives I want
behind me. I have come here

to make seen the day
I see. I fall from focus.

The day goes sour. It asks me
nothing. It asks nothing of me.
---Camille Rankine


Time, for us, is a straight line,
                                               on which we hang our narratives.
For landscape, however, it all is a circling
From season to season, the snake’s tail in the snake’s mouth,
No line for a story line.
In its vast wheel, in its endless turning,
                                                             no lives count, not one.

Hard to imagine that no one counts,
                                                         that only things endure.
Unlike the seasons, our shirts don’t shed,
Whatever we see does not see us,
                                                        however hard we look,
The rain in its silver earrings against the oak trunks,
The rain in its second skin.

---Charles Wright, "Scar Tissue II"


"Any entity, any process that cannot or should not be resisted or avoided must somehow be partnered. Partner one another. Partner diverse communities. Partner life. Partner any world that is your home. Partner God. Only in partnership can we thrive, grow, change. Only in partnership can we live."
---Octavia Butler, Parable of the Talents


"Changelings are fish you're supposed to throw back."
---Holly Black, The Darkest Part of the Forest


"The Flower Carrier"
for Jean Cassou and for Ida Jankelevitch

My hands are no longer mine,
they belong to the flowers I’ve just plucked;
can these flowers, with such pure imagination,
invent another being for these hands
that are no longer mine? And then,
obedient, I’ll stand at his side,
at the being’s side, curious about my former hands,
and I will never leave him, listening
with all my heart, before he can say to me:
O light-fingered one!
---Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. A. Poulin, Jr.


"For Phil"
in memory of Philip Levine

He sits reading under his desk lamp,
he loves how wind distresses tail and mane,
he likes the rhymes internal and irregular,
how people from the old days walk in and out
of the poem, how the father who dies
in one stanza can rise in another, how, despite
the drought, the rain keeps falling in fourteen lines.
His rumpled bed is never not specific
as the dent his head leaves in the pillow.
He rubs his hands across his jaw, unshaven,
his touch on the back of your wrist is delicate
and urgent, when you help him up from bed,
he isn’t shy about holding on, when he lies
back down, he grips his water bottle and won’t
let go. Smiling, says: Let’s not use that word:
it’s been used ten thousand eight-hundred
and seventy-six times. He shrugs off the weepers,
the brotherly lovers, the sour preachers turning
purple and blue in their dandruff-sprinkled robes.
Out in his backyard in Fresno, the oranges ripening.
At his window in Brooklyn, the plane trees,
stripped bare of leaves, click softly in the breeze.
Him in his undershirt, in his tweed jackets,
in sweat pants watching Norman Schemansky clean and jerk.
Now he’s throwing rocks on the bridle path,
he’s turning into a fox, the brush of his tail
mocks the path, he leaps clear of his own tracks,
doubles back, loses the lords and ladies riding.
Now he’s preaching to rats, showing them pages
in Holy Books, Money Books, Books of the Entitled
that are good to eat and chew right down.
But all alone in his study with ice and sun, he scrawls
with his fountain pen, crosses it all out, starts again:
and this time rising up are the sheared away walls
of an abandoned highschool, a stack of rusted axles,
a diner where nobody talks openly
of love but where ketchup and mockery
are served up with the coffee and his heart,
arrhythmic, pulse out of sync, all on its own.
---Tom Sleigh


"November Aubade"
When I was very young, I confused
the sound of crickets with the stars.
It was, almost, a word—the shrill chant diffused
by recurrence. Through the wind the stars
held and wavered. Even now, while walking by
a culvert on a warm November day,
the stagnant water shows a sky—
and the grass is deep with stars. But they
have dimmed—these are the last to fade—
like the voice of someone you once loved
you still hear in the early light of day.
---Carol Quinn


Not knowing when the Dawn will come,
I open every Door,
Or has it Feathers, like a Bird,
Or Billows, like a Shore —
---Emily Dickinson


"Happiness"
There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
                     It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

---Jane Kenyon

we play with our bags on our shoulders, my sweet lady lioness

"One Poem"
Here, the sentence will be respected.

I will compose each sentence with care by minding what the rules of writing dictate.

For example, all sentences will begin with capital letters.

Likewise, the history of the sentence will be honored by ending each one with appropriate punctuation such as a period or question mark, thus bringing the idea to (momentary) completion.

You may like to know, I do not consider this a "creative piece."

In other words, I do not regard this as a poem of great imagination or a work of fiction.

Also, historical events will not be dramatized for an interesting read.

Therefore, I feel most responsible to the orderly sentence; conveyor of thought.

That said, I will begin:

You may or may not have heard about the Dakota 38.

If this is the first time you've heard of it, you might wonder, "What is the Dakota 38?"

The Dakota 38 refers to thirty-eight Dakota men who were executed by hanging, under orders from President Abraham Lincoln.

To date, this is the largest "legal" mass execution in U.S. history.

The hanging took place on December 26th, 1862---the day after Christmas.

This was the same week that President Lincoln signed The Emancipation Proclamation. 

In the preceding sentence, I italicize "same week" for emphasis.

There was a movie titled Lincoln about the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. 

The signing of The Emancipation Proclamation was included in the film Lincoln; the hanging of the Dakota 38 was not.

In any case, you might be asking, "Why were thirty-eight Dakota men hung?"

As a side note, the past tense of hang is hung, but when referring to the capital punishment of hanging, the correct tense is hanged.

So it's possible that you're asking, "Why were thirty-eight Dakota men hanged?"

They were hanged for The Sioux Uprising.

I want to tell you about The Sioux Uprising, but I don't know where to begin. 

I may jump around and details will not unfold in chronological order.

Keep in mind, I am not a historian.

So I will recount facts as best as I can, given limited resources and understanding.

Before Minnesota was a state, the Minnesota region, generally speaking, was the traditional homeland for Dakota, Anishnaabeg and Ho-Chunk people.

During the 1800s, when the U.S. expanded territory, they "purchased" land from the Dakota people as well as the other tribes.

But another way to understand that sort of "purchase" is: Dakota leaders ceded land to the U.S. Government in exchange for money and goods, but most importantly, the safety of their people.

Some say that Dakota leaders did not understand the terms they were entering, or they never would have agreed.

Even others call the entire negotiation, "trickery."

But to make whatever-it-was official and binding, the U. S. Government drew up an initial treaty.

This treaty was later replaced by another (more convenient) treaty, and then another.

I've had difficulty unraveling the terms of these treaties, given the legal speak and congressional language.

As treaties were abrogated (broken) and new treaties were drafted, one after another, the new treaties often referenced old defunct treaties and it is a muddy, switchback trail to follow.

Although I often feel lost on this trail, I know I am not alone.

However, as best as I can put the facts together, in 1851, Dakota territory was contained to a 12-mile by 150-mile long strip along the Minnesota river.

But just seven years later, in 1858, the northern portion was ceded (taken) and the southern portion was (conveniently) allotted, which reduced Dakota land to a stark 10-mile tract.

These amended and broken treaties are often referred to as The Minnesota Treaties.

The word Minnesota comes from mni which means water; sota which means turbid.

Synonyms for turbid include muddy, unclear, cloudy, confused and smoky. 

Everything is in the language we use.

For example, a treaty is, essentially, a contract between two sovereign nations.

The U.S. treaties with the Dakota Nation were legal contracts that promised money.

It could be said, this money was payment for the land the Dakota ceded; for living within assigned boundaries (a reservation); and for relinquishing rights to their vast hunting territory which, in turn, made Dakota people dependent on other means to survive: money.

The previous sentence is circular, which is akin to so many aspects of history.

As you may have guessed by now, the money promised in the turbid treaties did not make it into the hands of Dakota people.

In addition, local government traders would not offer credit to "Indians" to purchase food or goods.

Without money, store credit or rights to hunt beyond their 10-mile tract of land, Dakota people began to starve.

The Dakota people were starving.

The Dakota people starved. 

In the preceding sentence, the word "starved" does not need italics for emphasis. 

One should read, "The Dakota people starved," as a straightforward and plainly stated fact.

As a result---and without other options but to continue to starve---Dakota people retaliated.

Dakota warriors organized, struck out and killed settlers and traders.

This revolt is called The Sioux Uprising.

Eventually, the U.S. Cavalry came to Mnisota to confront the Uprising.

Over one thousand Dakota people were sent to prison.

As already mentioned, thirty-eight Dakota men were subsequently hanged.

After the hanging, those one thousand Dakota prisoners were released.

However, as further consequence, what remained of Dakota territory in Mnisota was dissolved (stolen).

The Dakota people had no land to return to.

This means they were exiled.

Homeless, the Dakota people of Mnisota were relocated (forced) onto reservations in South Dakota and Nebraska. 

Now, every year, a group called the The Dakota 38 + 2 Riders conduct a memorial horse ride from Lower Brule, South Dakota to Mankato, Mnisota.

The Memorial Riders travel 325 miles on horseback for eighteen days, sometimes through sub-zero blizzards.

They conclude their journey on December 26th, the day of the hanging.

Memorials help focus our memory on particular people or events. 

Often, memorials come in the forms of plaques, statues or gravestones.

The memorial for the Dakota 38 is not an object inscribed with words, but an act.

Yet, I started this piece (which I do not consider a poem or work of fiction) because I was interested in writing about grasses.

So, there is one other event to include, although it's not in chronological order and we must backtrack a little.

When the Dakota people were starving, as you may remember, government traders would not extend store credit to "Indians."

One trader named Andrew Myrick is famous for his refusal to provide credit to Dakotas by saying, "If they are hungry, let them eat grass."

There are variations of Myrick's words, but they are all something to that effect.

When settlers and traders were killed during the Sioux Uprising, one of the first to be executed by the Dakota was Andrew Myrick.

When Myrick's body was found,                              

                        his mouth was stuffed with grass.

I am inclined to call this act by the Dakota warriors a poem.

There's irony in their poem.

There was no text.

"Real" poems do not "really" require words.

I have italicized the previous sentence to indicate inner dialogue; a revealing moment.

But, on second thought, the particular words "Let them eat grass," click the gears of the poem into place.

So, we could also say, language and word choice are crucial to the poem's work.

Things are circling back again.

Sometimes, when in a circle, if I wish to exit, I must leap.

And let the body                                          swing.                                

 

From the platform.

             

          Out       

                     to the grasses.

---Layli Long Soldier

crestfallen sidekick in an old café, never slept with a dream before he had to go away

"Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind."
---James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk


"To believe in the immortality of a poem would be to believe in the immortality of language. We must bow to the evidence: languages are born and die; any meaning will one day cease to have meaning. And isn't this ceasing to have meaning the meaning of meaning? We must bow to the evidence …"
---Octavio Paz, "Recapitulations"


Why does tragedy exist?

Because you are full of rage.

Why are you full of rage?

Because you are full of grief.
---Anne Carson, Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides


There is a kind of depression that empties the soul.
The eyes stay bright,
                             the mind stays clear as Canada on an autumn day
Just after the rain.
But the soul hangs loose as a plastic bag in a tree
When the wind has died.
                                        It is that drained.
And overcast. The little jack-weeds
That line its edges exhale,
And everything falls to a still, uneasy remove.
It stirs when the wind shifts,
                                             and seasons tumble and stall.
It stirs, but it doesn't disappear.
Though weeds re-up and the clouds relent,
                                                                     it doesn't disappear.

---Charles Wright, Littlefoot


"I see now that keen interest can illuminate anything, and that anything, moreover, has something worth illuminating in it, and that without that interest gates carved by Benvenuto Cellini from two diamonds would merely look chilly."
---Lord Dunsany


"The crucial thing in any work of any kind is that it must be a gift---the reader must possess it even more than the person who wrote it. It must be given completely."
---Jesse Ball


"Empathy isn't just something that happens to us---a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain---it's also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It's made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it's asked for, but this doesn't make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we've committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I'm deep in my own. To say 'going through the motions'---this isn't reduction so much as acknowledgment of the effort---the labor, the motions, the dance---of getting inside another person's state of heart or mind.

"This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always arise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones."
---Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams


"Investigation"
This much is known:
the thread you never
let go of
guided you back.
And when you emerged,
years later, light
hurt your eyes.
Blood on your rusted
blade was dry.

But what happened
in the labyrinth?
In deepest dark
you grappled,
felt its breath
on your face,
stabbed,
and fled.

                A monster?
Wouldn't anything
cry like that,
pierced to the heart?

---Gregory Orr


"Poetry is a shared social space."
---Mary Jo Bang


"There's no absence, if there remains even the memory of absence. Memory dies unless it's given a use. Or as Athos might have said: If one no longer has land but has the memory of land, then one can make a map."
---Anne Michaels, "The Drowned City, Part I"


desire,
a huge fish I drag with me
through the wilderness:
I love its glint among the dust and stones."
---Gregory Orr, "Leaving the Asylum"


"Gwendolyn Brooks Park, Topeka"
They carved the letters yellow,
and painted
the wood around the letters green,
chained a picnic table to the grass
out near where the roof of the dead
mall directs a crack
of sunset to radiate the Burger King sign gold.
Last place open after midnight:
then apartment windows hold
stars and satellites in the cold.
A creek runs like a paper fold
from one corner of park to other,
twenty or thirty blocks from where
she took her first breaths of infancy
in the only city I know of
with the letters for poet
that does not also carry
a port or a point in its name.
---Ed Skoog


"A poem, if thrown at a pane of glass, should break the glass."
---Daniil Kharms


"A few nights ago, I felt the same pull I felt the day I turned on a television, years ago, and watched the beginning of a nation sinking into something called terrorism. Daily the news would play these wars out live & daily I'd watch this new reality television this easing of violence into our consciousness muting this thing called violence numbing us to this thing once called violence now called protection. I killed my television soon after."
---Metta Sáma, "Silence: a Retreat a Meditation"


"Rain Moving In"
The blackboard is erased in the attic
And the wind turns up the light of the stars,
Sinewy now. Someone will find out, someone will know.
And if somewhere in this great planet
The truth is discovered, a patch of it, dried, glazed by the sun,
It will just hang on, in its own infamy, humility. No one
Will be better for it, but things can't get any worse.
Just keep playing, mastering as you do the step
Into disorder this one meant. Don't you see
It's all we can do? Meanwhile, great fires
Arise, as of haystacks aflame. The dial had been set
And that's ominous, but all your graciousness in living
Conspires with it, now that this is our home:
A place to be from, and have people ask about.
---John Ashbery


"I feel like all the work is collaborative work, it's just that it comes out under an individual name so the other people you’re in collaboration with are subordinated in a certain kind of way to one's own name, even though all of those voices are constantly with you and in your head. There's a customarily solitary practice of orchestrating or organizing all those voices in a particular way, but I think now what I'd like to do is just not even be involved in that solitary practice of composing, or arranging. I mean there's always an element, however illusory, of working by yourself, which takes the form of practicing in that sense that, you know, a piano player would practice alone, but then the actual practice that you're practicing for, so to speak, is in the ensemble, in the encounter."
---Fred Moten

doors on the rudders of big ships

"An Ancient Gesture"
I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can't keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don't know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.

And I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
This is an ancient gesture, authentic, antique,
In the very best tradition, classic, Greek;
Ulysses did this too.
But only as a gesture,—a gesture which implied
To the assembled throng that he was much too moved to speak.
He learned it from Penelope…
Penelope, who really cried.
--Edna St. Vincent Millay


"Whether one 'knows Greek' or not, Greek tragedy lies at such a distance from the modern reader that it must be translated, through the imagination… We do not need to 'know Greek' to understand the moment at which Pentheus cries to the mother who is about to tear him to shreds, 'have pity on me, mother!' Tragedy represents the critical moments at which words fail. But it also represents the power of words and the ways in which their meanings are scored into the body and spirit of the men and women who have to live out their consequences. The words 'father' and 'mother', for instance, carry consequences from which Oedipus and Orestes and Hamlet cannot escape. A word such as 'justice' may mean such different things to different people that their differences can only be settled by death."
--Adrian Poole, "Tragedy: Shakespeare and the Greek Example"


"A Passage"
From the road we see the skeletal stalks
of the corn from summer, forms so anguished thick
with August, they rot into their spaces---
a beauty whose only sign is the shadow
cast by the sorrow of the autumnal light. Love,

form this view there's inside the field's surface
a swaying where the wind whooshes through, a
presence like the impulse passing through
a rippled pond or old black church
people who at-the-end turn their lives into humming.

Love, we are an edge to this field, our bodies
border to rows standing six feet tall.
What I wish for you is this momentary sense:
The picture is of something perfect
like standing in line for nothing.

Gazing presences, however long we stand here
we are extending a line. The summer is
a passage that sees itself through us
just as on the road for a moment we see
ourselves changed as ever we needed to be.
--Christopher Gilbert


"The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses on its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color."
--Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting


I keep on thinking.
                                     If I sit here for long enough,
A line, one true line,
Will rise like some miraculous fish to the surface,
Brilliant and lithe in the late sunlight,
And offer itself into my hands.
I keep thinking that as the weeks go by,
                                                                         and the waters never change.

--Charles Wright, "Littlefoot"


"Where one can be seen. What places one frequents"
 You occur in everything that remains unnamed.
You happen in the sand escaping the hand of time.

Your sex occurs while nobody watches,
flowers and graduates
in a sad room
and nobody is going to see it.

You have a place in your mother’s eyes,
in the mouth of friends, tailors and shopkeepers,
in the silence of accountants,
in all the words, meals, and disasters
that your memory discarded.

But you occur like never before on the sidewalks
when free of vigils your single oceanic
form bursts forth.

Your single oceanic form,
the manners of mercury.

You are an exile, an insistence in a thousand directions,
the strength of the wind and its erratic coupling.
It seems like your branches were budding alliances,
that all were signs of an intimate
uprising.            And the leaves
fall, and there is no roar,
symphony nor conclusion. 

Although exactly beautiful, a moment.

You will never know what face you wear when nobody looks at you.
It is a fish from the abyss, a story made flesh,
what the gods say when the sun is rising,
what an Atlantan thinks when seeing he is threatened.
Gift of the vagrant, great dignity and a bed for sweetness.

But you will never know about yourself in treasure.

The days ride on the days,
everything that breaks carries a remembrance of itself,
the science of the collar governs mortals.

But never you, never unanimous, never sky of you. 

--Julieta Valero, translated from the Spanish by Curtis Bauer


"The Saints"
The saints cannot distinguish
between being with other people and being
alone: another good reason for becoming one.

They live in trees and eat air.
Staring past or through us, they see
things which we would call not there.
We on the contrary see them.

They smell of old fur coats
stored for a long time in the attic.
When they move they ripple.
Two of them passed here yesterday,
filled and vacated and filled
by the wind, like drained pillows
blowing across a derelict lot,
their twisted and scorched feet
not touching the ground,
their feathers catching in thistles.
What they touched emptied of colour.

Whether they are dead or not
is a moot point.
Shreds of they litter history,
a hand here, a bone there:
is it suffering or goodness
that makes them holy,
or can anyone tell the difference?

Though they pray, they do not pray
for us. Prayers peel off them
like burned skin healing.
Once they tried to save something,
others or their own souls.
Now they seem to have no use,
like the colours on blind fish.
Nevertheless they are sacred.

They drift through the atmosphere,
their blue eyes sucked dry
by the ordeal of seeing,exuding gaps in the landscape as water
exudes mist. They blink
and reality shivers.
--Margaret Atwood


To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie—
True Poems flee—
--Emily Dickinson


"We think of love as this thing that is accompanied by strings, and it’s a force for good, and if something bad happens, then that's not love. And the therapeutic tradition I come from, I used to work in therapy, also says it's not love if it feels bad. I don't know so much about that. I don't know that the Greeks weren't right. I think they were: that love can eat a path through everything. That it can destroy a lot of things on the way to its own objective which is just its expression of itself. My step-father loved his family. Now, he mistreated us terribly quite often. But he loved us. Well, that, to me, is something worth commenting on in the hopes of undoing what I see as terrible damage in the way that people talk about love as this benign, comfortable force. It's not that. It's wild."
--John Darnielle


"Still-Life with Turkey"
The turkey's strung up by one pronged foot,
the cord binding it just below the stiff trinity
of toes, each with its cold bent claw. My eyes

are in love with it as they are in love with all
dead things which cannot escape being looked at.
It is there to be seen if I want to see it, as my

father was there in his black casket and could not
elude our gaze. I was a child, so they asked
if I wanted to see him. "Do you want to see him?"

someone asked. Was it my mother? Grandmother?
Some poor woman was stuck with the job.
"He doesn't look like himself," whoever it was

added. "They did something strange with his mouth."
As I write this a large moth flutters against
the window. It presses its fat thorax to the glass.

"No," I said, "I don't want to see him." I don’t recall
if I secretly wanted them to open the box for me
but thought that "no" was the correct response,

or if I believed I should want to see him but was
too afraid of what they'd done with his mouth.
I think I assumed that my seeing him would

make things worse for my mother, and she was all
I had. Now I can't get enough of seeing, as if I'm paying
a sort of penance for not seeing then, and so

this turkey, hanged, its small, raw-looking head,
which reminds me of the first fully naked man
I ever saw, when I was a candy striper

at a sort of nursing home, a war veteran,
young, burbling crazily, his face and body red
as something scalded. I didn't want to see,

and yet I saw. But the turkey, I am in love with it,
its saggy neck folds, the rippling, variegated
feathers, the crook of its unbound foot,

and the glorious wings, archangelic, spread
as if it could take flight, but down,
downward, into the earth.
--Diane Seuss


"The point of having a child is to be rent asunder, torn in two. Years before I had my son I heard of an artist explaining why she had decided to become a mother: I didn't want to reach the end of my life intact. Imperious, I judged this to be sentimental---permanently damaged by a chronic illness, I considered myself already ruined and misunderstood by the healthy and normal. And what is more normal than the ability to give birth? But motherhood is a different sort of damage. It is a shattering, a disintegration of the self, after which the original form is quite gone. Still, it is a breakage that we are, as a species if not as individuals, meant to survive."
--Sarah Manguso, "The Grand Shattering"

daddy daddy, please spare my soul from my own judgment

"A tale, like the universe, they tell us, expands ceaselessly each time you examine it, until there is finally no telling exactly where it begins, where it ends, or where it places you now."
--Chang-Rae Lee


"Who Understands Me but Me"
They turn the water off, so I live without water,
they build walls higher, so I live without treetops,
they paint the windows black, so I live without sunshine,
they lock my cage, so I live without going anywhere,
they take each last tear I have, I live without tears,
they take my heart and rip it open, I live without heart,
they take my life and crush it, so I live without a future,
they say I am beastly and fiendish, so I have no friends,
they stop up each hope, so I have no passage out of hell,
they give me pain, so I live with pain,
they give me hate, so I live with my hate,
they have changed me, and I am not the same man,
they give me no shower, so I live with my smell,
they separate me from my brothers, so I live without brothers,
who understands me when I say this is beautiful?
who understands me when I say I have found other freedoms?

I cannot fly or make something appear in my hand,
I cannot make the heavens open or the earth tremble,
I can live with myself, and I am amazed at myself, my love, my beauty,
I am taken by my failures, astounded by my fears,
I am stubborn and childish,
in the midst of this wreckage of life they incurred,
I practice being myself,
and I have found parts of myself never dreamed of by me,
they were goaded out from under rocks in my heart
when the walls were built higher,
when the water was turned off and the windows painted black.
I followed these signs
like an old tracker and followed the tracks deep into myself,
followed the blood-spotted path,
deeper into dangerous regions, and found so many parts of myself,
who taught me water is not everything,
and gave me new eyes to see through walls,
and when they spoke, sunlight came out of their mouths,
and I was laughing at me with them,
we laughed like children and made pacts to always be loyal,
who understands me when I say this is beautiful?
--Jimmy Santiago Baca


"The point of having a child is to be rent asunder, torn in two. Years before I had my son I heard of an artist explaining why she had decided to become a mother: I didn't want to reach the end of my life intact. Imperious, I judged this to be sentimental--permanently damaged by a chronic illness, I considered myself already ruined and misunderstood by the healthy and normal. And what is more normal than the ability to give birth? But motherhood is a different sort of damage. It is a shattering, a disintegration of the self, after which the original form is quite gone. Still, it is a breakage that we are, as a species if not as individuals, meant to survive."
--Sarah Manguso, "The Grand Shattering"


"Lying My Head Off"
Here's my head, in a dank corner of the yard.
I lied it off and so off it rolled.
It wasn't unbelieving that caused it
to drop off my neck and loll down a slope.
Perhaps it had a mind of its own, wanted
to leave me for a little while.

Or it was scared and detached itself
from the stalk of my neck as a lizard's tail
will desert its body in fright of being caught.
The fact is, I never lied. The fact is,
I always lied. Before us, we have two mirrors.
At times, they say, one must lie in order

to survive. I drove by the house, passed
it several times, pretending it was not
my own. Its windows were red with curtains
and the honeyed light cast on the porch
did not succeed in luring me back inside.
I never lied. I drove by the house,

suckling the thought of other lovers
like a lozenge. I was pale as a papery birch.
I was pure as a brand new pair of underwear.
It will be a long while before I touch another.
Yet, I always lied, an oil slick on my tongue.
I used to think that I was wrong, could

not tell the truth for what it was. Yet, one
cannot take a lawsuit out on oneself.
I would have sworn in court that I believed
myself and then felt guilty a long time after.
I hated the house and I hated myself.
The house fattened with books, made me

grow to hate books, when all the while
it was only books that never claimed
to tell the truth. I hated him and I hated
his room, within which his cloud of smoke
heaved. I disappeared up narrow stairs,
slipped quick beneath the covers.

My stomach hurts, I told him, I was tired.
I grew my dreams thick through hot nights:
dear, flickering flowers. They had eyes
which stared, and I found I could not afford
their nurture, could not return their stare,
Meanwhile, liars began their parade

without my asking, strode sidewalks inches
before my doorstep. I watched their hulking
and strange beauty, their songs pregnant
with freedom, and became an other self.
I taught children how to curse.
I bought children gold pints of liquor.

I sold my mind on the street.
1 learned another language. It translates easily.
Here's how: What I say is not what I mean,
nor is it ever what I meant to say.

You must not believe me when I say
there's nothing left to love in this world.
--Cate Marvin


"And if I Am to Forgive You"
trigger warning: abuse )
--Sierra DeMulder


"For Memory"
Old words:  trust   fidelity
Nothing new yet to take their place.

I rake leaves, clear the lawn, October grass
painfully green beneath the gold
and in this silent labor thoughts of you
start up
I hear your voice:   disloyalty   betrayal
stinging the wires

I stuff the old leaves into sacks
and still they fall and still
I see my work undone

One shivering rainswept afternoon
and the whole job to be done over

I can't know what you know
unless you tell me
there are gashes in our understandings
of this world
We came together in a common
fury of direction
barely mentioning difference
(what drew our finest hairs
to fire
the deep, difficult troughs
unvoiced)
I fell through a basement railing
the first day of school and cut my forehead open--
did I ever tell you? More than forty years
and I still remember smelling my own blood
like the smell of a new schoolbook

And did you ever tell me
how your mother called you in from play
and from whom? To what? These atoms filmed by ordinary dust
that common life we each and all bent out of orbit from
to which we must return simply to say
this is where I came from
this is what I knew

The past is not a husk   yet change goes on

Freedom. It isn't once, to walk out
under the Milky Way, feeling the rivers
of light, the fields of dark--
freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine
remembering. Putting together, inch by inch
the starry worlds. From all the lost collections.

--Adrienne Rich


The daily things we do
For money or for fun
Can disappear like dew
Or harden and live on.
Strange reciprocity:
The circumstance we cause
In time gives rise to us,
Becomes our memory.
--Philip Larkin


"A Work of Fiction"
As I turned over the last page, after many nights, a wave of sorrow enveloped me. Where had they all gone, these people who had seemed so real? To distract myself, I walked out into the night; instinctively, I lit a cigarette. In the dark, the cigarette glowed, like a fire lit by a survivor. But who would see this light, this small dot among the infinite stars? I stood a while in the dark, the cigarette glowing and growing small, each breath patiently destroying me. How small it was, how brief. Brief, brief, but inside me now, which the stars could never be.
--Louise Glück


"Questionnaire"
1. How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

2. For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.

3. What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.

4. In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.
--Wendell Berry


"In Middlemarch love enables knowledge. Love is a kind of knowledge. If Fred didn't love Mary, he would have no reason to exercise his imagination on her family. It's love that makes him realize that two women without their savings are a real thing in the world and not merely incidental to his own sense of dishonor. It's love that enables him to feel another's pain as if it were his own. For Eliot, in the absence of God, all our moral tests must take place on this earth and have their rewards and punishments here. We are one another's lesson, one another's duty."
--Zadie Smith, "Middlemarch and Everybody"


"While melancholy is a state of vague dreaminess, never deep or intense, sadness is closed, serious, and painfully interiorized. One can be sad anywhere, but sadness grows in intensity in a closed space while melancholy flourishes in open spaces. Sadness almost always stems from a precise motive and is therefore concentrated, whereas there are no exterior causes for melancholy. I know why I am sad, but I do not know why I am melancholy."
--Emil Cioran, "On Sadness"


"The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things--the beauty, the memory of our own past--are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."
--C. S. Lewis


"After Many Springs"
Now,
in June,
When the night is a vast softness
Filled with blue stars,
And broken shafts of moon-glimmer
Fall upon the earth,
Am I too old to see the fairies dance?
I cannot find them any more.
--Langston Hughes


"The poet Osip Mandelstam talked about the revision process as being like the process of memory: that a glimpse of the whole piece comes in a flash and the writer spends months and years trying to remember it exactly."
--Stephen Dobyns, "Deceptions"


"When we come upon beautiful things--the tiny mauve-orange-blue moth on the brick, Augustine's cake, a sentence about innocence in Hampshire--they act like small tears in the surface of the world that pull us through to some vaster space; or they form 'ladders reaching toward the beauty of the world,' or they lift us (as though by the air currents of someone else's sweeping), letting the ground rotate beneath us several inches, so that when we land, we find we are standing in a different relation to the world than we were a moment before. It is not that we cease to stand at the center of the world, for we never stood there. It is that we cease to stand even at the center of our own world. We willingly cede our ground to the thing that stands before us."
--Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just


To look hard at something, to look through it, is to transform it,
Convert it into something beyond itself, to give it grace.
For over 30 years I've looked at this meadow and mountain landscape
Till it's become iconic and small
And sits, like a medieval traveller's triptych,
                                                                     radiant in its disregard.


--Charles Wright, "Looking Around III"


"Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note"
Lately, I've become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus...

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars,
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night, I tiptoed up
To my daughter's room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there...
Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands.
--Amiri Baraka


"No two stories ever go the same way, although in different hands one story might possibly go any one of a thousand ways; and though the woods may look the same from outside, it is a new and different labyrinth every time."
--Eudora Welty, "Place in Fiction"
Entry tags:

(no subject)

"Chalk Dust on the Air"
for Gary Simmons

Our hero explains what lines behave as waves
also behave as particles depending upon the presence
of observers, a market of admirers, etc. Think of sifted
sands Tibetan monks spend months to whisk in minutes:
their attack on nostalgia. Think of Milky Ways of water
damage on the bedroom ceiling. The Apollo module
on the dresser and the Ring Nebula is the blur where
Mom tried to clean expletives crayoned on the wall.
Whorls beyond, imagine a can of Krylon ship-shaped
with braided-rubber-band-propeller roped out to
the nosebleeds in the murk of heaven's hood. The spray
can tags earth's dewy rooftop with synesthetic stars,
foamy scars that welt the blue and melt like meringue
in the dusk, a residue of light in the periphery. Winged seeds
from silver maples at the feet of unshaven sheriffs
offering fists of baby's breath. They smile with cigar stubs
plugging the breach. Renegade lines unleash the hounds,
shake the weight of undressed eye. When some lines try
to pass for the color behind the color they came in, our hero
attempts no intervention. When he orders the lines disperse,
one sheriff's bullhorn blast unsacks a rain of feathers
--Gregory Pardlo


"For Which It Stands"
For a flag! I answered facetiously. A flag of tomorrow,
fluent in fire, not just the whispers, lisps, not just the still there
of powdered wigs, dry winds. Who wants a speckled
drape that folds as easy over smirch as fallen soldier?
This is rhetorical. Like, "What to the Negro
is the fourth of July?" A flag should be stitched with a fuse.

Jefferson said for each generation a flag. Maybe
he said Constitution. I once raised a high-top flag
of my hair, a fist, a leather medallion of the motherland.
I studied heraldry and maniples (which are not
what you might guess), little sails and banners
down to the vane of a feather. Because his kids were
rebel cities my father loved like Sherman. Because
I wanted history I could touch like the flank of a beast.

My wife's people are from San Salvador. They sent us
with a guard, his AK shouldered like a mandolin, among
anil-tinted shawls and jerseys, across tiled and pocked
concrete, and the gated stalls of El Centro. I felt sacred
as a goat there, too, as I did below the Mason-Dixon
where our only protection was the Fourteenth Amendment.

Afraid our Yankee plates would be read aggressive as a Jolly
Roger we rented a compact in Atlanta. Charleston, Savannah,
Montgomery, and after Birmingham we were broke.
Skipped Selma. Slept at B&Bs where my dreams power-
washed layers of footnotes and Februaries, revealing
the surreal sheen of Apollo Creed's trunks, the apocalyptic
Americana of Jacko moonwalking around a tinfoil Buzz
Aldrin planting the corporate ensign. Years passed. I grew
youthless in my dad-pants, but still puffed at pinwheels
and windsocks, launched glyphs of grillsmoke and one day
it came to me, as if commissioned, Theater Gates's Flag
from old fire hoses, a couple dozen, like vertical blinds, no,
like cabin floorboards of canvas colored rusty, brick dust, some
cheerless drab-and-custard, beside a medley of vespertine
blues, hoses evoking landscapes of sackcloth and gunny,
texture of violence and tongues inflamed by shine, holy ghost.

Ross, Duchamp, Johns, et al., are integrated here with officers
of the peace, their dogs, and, in evidence, their pretend
tumescence Gates has hung to cure like pelts
or strips of jerky.

How did it feel to shield spirit with flesh? I mean,
what did it do to the body, water furry as the arm
of an arctic beast? What thirst did it ignite?

Gates's salute is a torch song, a rhythm
of hues marching over a pentimento of rhyme.
I approve its message, its pledge to birth a nation
of belonging and to teach that nation of the fire
shut up in our bones.
--Gregory Pardlo

i live in a city sorrow built (it's in my honey, it's in my milk)

dear Antigone,
I take it as the task of the translator
to forbid that you should ever lose your screams
--Anne Carson, from "The Task of the Translator of Antigone," Antigonick


"One of my earliest memories is of trying to peel off the wallpaper in my room, not out of animosity but because it seemed there must be something fascinating beyond the surface pattern of galleons, globes, and telescopes."
--John Ashbery


"Marginalia"
for Colin Channer

"sing the union cause, sing us,/the poor, the marginal."
--Robert Hayden, "Homage to Paul Robeson"

Preamble

Note the confection of your body
salt on the breeze, the corn-
silk sky. Olmstead's signature
archways and meadows. Kite
strings tensing the load of a saddle-
backed wind. This is Prospect Park,
Brooklyn, where limbs tickle
and jounce as if ice cubes shiver
along the shirtsleeves of evergreens. Pond
water whispers, and the echoes of Yankee
fifes linger in wind and in the shirring jazz
hands of leaves, and those shirts,
the skins, the human retinue converging
on the uneven playing fields. The African
drum and dance circle sways the pignut
tree into a charismatic trance as
Orthodox women walk powerfully by, jogging
shoes blinking beneath the billows of their
skirts, children rollerblading, trailing
tzitzits. Take heart in the percussion
structuring the distance like prophetic
weather, a shelter of vibrations:
the last conga note a bolt tapped into
the day's doorframe and you are no less,
no more home here than in the corridors
you return to in your dreams. Illusory,
altogether babel-fractured, a single word
from you might bring the verdant fun-house
down. Listen like a safecracker, navigate
the intricate ruptures by ear: the Latin
patios of picnickers, the Slavic tongues
of lovers replacing your mouth with self-
conscious silence. You are Caliban
and Crusoe, perpetual stranger with a fork
in the socket of life's livid grid,
stunned and bewildered at the frank
intrusion of the mosquito on the hairless
back of your hand. You are stranded
at the limit, extremity and restriction,
jealous for that elusive--the domestic, yes,
you're thinking: not the brick and mortar, but
the quickening backfill of belonging, the stranger-
facing, the neighbor-knowing confidence and ease
with the ripple that diminishes as it extends
over the vast potential of immovable thirst.
You are home now, outsider, for what that's worth.
--Gregory Pardlo


"Problema 2"
"My Father they have killed me."
--Chinua Achebe

Consider throwing the baby from the window a figure
of speech barely reaching across the fence separating
expression from intent. For all our sake, I tell my wife,
I'm going to throw the baby out the window now,
as I rise from the sofa in response to the midnight
wail of another footie uprising heard among
the moans and whines of our neighbors' appliances
and the various alarms of the city's eternal self-soothing.
The ancient hardwood floor in the bedroom upstairs
groaning under thirty-pound footsteps for the fourth time
tonight. It is nearly July in Brooklyn. Windows are open.
Consider the neighbors grimacing, pillowing
their ears against the little one's battle cry.

Because I am teaching Euripides in the fall, I am
reading him now between commercial breaks, and
imagining far-flung Brooklyn quorumed in the armories
and in streets beneath the gingkoes and buttonwoods,
crowds gathering to mandate I quiet my lamb eternally.
What if my neighbors read my hyperbole as oath, made me
keep my word? Who would I betray? Would I smuggle
my mewling daughter to Canada, flee this land? I do love
Brooklyn so. I have lent a neighborly ear to elderly
West Indians on the B44 from Bed-Stuy to Flatbush.
Heard them lament Yankee reluctance to use
old-country discipline, which, they claim, is the only real
solution to this climate of "gang foolery." Spanking. Yes.
The sacramental rod tanning backsides of the elect few,
a ritual hazing to appease the divinity of the unknowable
and omnipresent urban populace. Consider the vanity
of sacrifice, the paper tiger of blind devotion fanning
the dander of a timid hand. Consider Agamemnon,
victim of pride and contagion, raising that hand
against his child at Aulis, the inexorable machinery of tribalism
grinding away the primacy of paternal love. Beware the prophet,
the genie, the divine stranger who, with a wink, unmasks your
arrogant self-images, who finds the harmonic note that gathers
your most discordant emotions toward the mute
accumulation of will. What I do this night
I do for you, Brooklyn,
I offer,
as the banister whimpers beneath my trembling hand.
--Gregory Pardlo


"Four Improvisations on Ursa Corregidora"
after Gayl Jones

trigger warning: abuse, intimate partner violence )
--Gregory Pardlo

by the time you go to bed, i'm getting my shine on

"What I do know is that love reckons with the past and evil reminds us to look to the future. Evil loves tomorrow because peddling in possibility is what abusers do. At my worst, I know that I've wanted the people that I've hurt to look forward, imagining all that I can be and forgetting the contours of who I have been to them.

"Like good Americans, I told Grandma, we will remember to drink ourselves drunk on the antiquated poison of progress. We will long for 'shall's' and 'will be's' and 'hopes' for tomorrow. We will heavy-handedly help in our own deception and moral obliteration. We will forget how much easier it is to talk about gun control, mental illness and riots than it is to talk about the moral and material consequences of manufactured white American innocence.

"We will lament the numbers of folks killed in mass murders in the United States. There's a number for that. We will talk about the numbers of people killed in black-on-black murder. There's a number for that. We will never talk about the number of unemployed and underemployed hard-working black folks living in poverty. We will never talk about the numbers of black folk in prison for the kinds of nonviolent drug-related offenses my white students commit every weekend. We will never talk about the number of human beings killed by young American military men and women draped in camouflage, or the number of human beings murdered by drones across the world. We will never talk about the specific amount of money this country really owes Grandma and her friends for their decades of unpaid labor. We will never talk about the moral and monetary debt accrued by the architects of this Empire. There are shameful numbers for all of that, too."
--Kiese Laymon in an essay you can read here


"Night"
The cold remote islands
And the blue estuaries
Where what breathes, breathes
The restless wind of the inlets,
And what drinks, drinks
The incoming tide;

Where shell and weed
Wait upon the salt wash of the sea,
And the clear night of stars
Swing their lights westward
To set behind the land;

Where the pulse clinging to the rocks
Renews itself forever;
Where, again on unclouded nights,
The water reflects
The firmament's partial setting;

--O remember
In your narrowing dark hours
That more things move
Than blood in the heart.
--Louise Bogan


"Grey Eyes"
When she speaks it is like coming onto a grave
at the edge of a woods, softly, so we
do not enter or wholly
turn away. Such speech
is the breath a brush makes through hair,
opening into time
after the stroke.

A tree is bending
but the bird doesn't land.

One star,
earthbound, reports a multitude of unyielding
others. It
cannot help its   falling   falling
into the dull brown earth of someone's back yard,
where, in daylight, a hand reaches
in front of the mower and tosses it, dead stone,
aside. We who saw it fall

are still crashing with light into the housetops,
tracing in the mind that missing
trajectory, rainbow of darkness
where we were--children
murmuring--'There, over there!'--while the houses
slept on and on.

Years later she is still nesting on the light
of that plundered moment, her black hair
frozen to her head with yearning,
saying, 'Father, I am a colder green
where the mower cut a swath
and I lay down
and the birds that have no use for song
passed over me
like a shovel-fall.'

She closed her eyes. It was early morning. Daybreak.
Some bees
were dying on my wing–humming
so you could hardly hear.

--Tess Gallagher


"Learning a Language"
She's reading your minds
as you pass by, the

dipsomane déguisée en rose

While she waits
for her date
to turn up, the moon
in the man...

She know exactly what is going to happen

she'll be guided
upstairs
to a bedroom, and turning around
he will show her his
gun

He'll ask if she would like to
hold it,
which she will

amazed
at its lightness
and beauty
this thing

it must have taken 4 million years to make

squeezing it she will feel cold
and invisible light flowing
into her spine

So there is a door out of here after all

And to visit a new place creates one
in the brain

How do you say no

How do you say anything
to throw up in

Can I use this room to cry

Radiant fuel
body
of water

along which she walks, she is
walked

Why
did we leave, and how
are we ever getting back--
--Franz Wright


"Lonesome Pine Special"
I was walking out this morning with rambling on my mind.
--Sara Carter

There's a curve in the road, and a slow curve in the land,
Outside of Barbourville, Kentucky, on U.S. 25E,
I've always liked
                            each time I've passed it,
Bottomland, river against a ridge to the west,
A few farmhouses on each side of the road, some mailboxes
Next to a dirt lane that leads off through the fields.
Each time I'd think
                                How pleasant it must be to live here.
 
                                    _____
 
In Kingsport, when I was growing up,
Everyone seemed to go to Big Stone Gap, Virginia, up U.S. 23,
All the time.
                      Everyone had an uncle or aunt there,
Or played golf, or traded cars.
They were always going up there
                                                      to get married, or get liquor,
Or to get what was owed them
By someone they'd been in the service with.
 
Lone went up there more often than anyone else did,
Part of his territory for State Farm,
                                                         somebody said,
Without much conviction.
 
When the talk turned to whiskey,
                                                      and everyone dusted his best lie off,
We all know, or thought we knew, where Lone went
With his funny walk and broken back
He could hit a golf ball a ton with,
                                                        even if he did stand sideways
Like a man hauling a body out of the water,
Being the real owner, we thought, of that gas station out on the Jonesboro highway
You went to the back of
                                        for a pint after 10 p.m.,
Lone getting richer and richer until the Moose Lodge
Started to take his business away
                                                    by doing it legal, and during the daylight.
 
So Lone went back, we all thought,
To stumping around the golf course, still
Hitting it sideways, still selling whatever he could
To anyone foolish enough to play with him and pay him,
Old Lone, slicker than owl oil.
 
                                    _____
 
It was all so American,
The picket fence of wrought iron a hundred years old,
Lilacs at every corner of the lawned yard
                                                                  in great heaps and folds,
A white house and wild alfalfa in scattered knots
Between the fence the cracked sidewalk,
The wind from the Sawtooth Mountains
                                              riffling the dust in slow eddies along the street
Near the end of June in Hailey, Idaho,
The house where Pound was born,
                                                        with its red maple floors
And small windows two blocks from Idaho 75,
Hemingway ten miles on up the same road between two evergreens,
Nobody noticing either place
                                                as the cars went through town
All night and all day, going north, going south . . .
 
                                    _____
 
Another landscape I liked
Was south of Wytheville, Virginia, on U.S. 52
Just short of the Carolina line,
                                                 a steel bridge over the New River,
Pasture on both sides of the road and woods on the easy slopes,
Big shrubs and trees lining the riverbanks like fur,
The road and the river both
Angling back toward the Iron Mountains,
The valley bulging out to the east
                                                       in a graceful swirl,
The dead chestnut trees like grey candles
Wherever the woods began . . .
 
What is it about a known landscape
                                                          that tends to undo us,
That shuffles and picks us out
For terminal demarcation, the way a field of lupine
Seen in profusion deep in the timber
Suddenly seems to rise like a lavendar ground fog
At noon?
                What is it inside the imagination that keeps surprising us
At odd moments
                            when something is given back
We didn't know we had had
In solitude, spontaneously, and with great joy?
 
                                    _____
 
Today, at midsummer noon, I took the wooden floats
To the Yaak River, the small ones I'd carved from the larch
And cedar chips,
                             and loosed them downstream
To carry my sins away, as the palace gardians did each year at this time
In medieval Japan,
Where the river goes under the new bridge
                                                                      on County 508
And the first homesteaders took up their quarter sections.
From Sam Runyan's to Susie Speed's
Through white water and rock and the tendrilous shade
Of the tamaracks,
                              out into rubbery blotches of sunlight,
The floats' shadows hanging beneat them like odd anchors
Along the pebbled bottom, the river slowing and widening,
The floats at great distances from one another
Past Binder's cabin under the black
                                                          of the evergreen-covered dam
And over the falls and gone into foam and next year . . .
 
                                    _____
 
In the world of dirt, each tactile thing
                                                             repeats the untouchable
In its own way, and in its own time.
Just short of Tryon, North Carolina, on U. S. 176,
Going south down the old Saluda Grade,
                                                                   kudzu has grown up
And over the tops of miles of oak trees and pine trees,
A wall of vines a hundred feet high, or used to be,
Into South Carolina,
That would have gone for a hundred more with the right scaffolding,
Rising out of the rock and hard clay in thin, prickly ropes
To snake and thread in daily measurable distances
Over anything still enough long enough,
                                                                  and working its way
Out of the darkness and overhang of its own coils
To break again and again
Into the sunlight, worthless and everywhere,
                                                                        breathing, breathing,
Looking for leverage and a place to climb.
 
                                    _____
 
It's true, I think, as Kenko says in his Idleness,
That all beauty depends upon disappearance,
The bitten edges of things,
                                            the gradual sliding away
Into tissue and memory,
                                       the uncertainty
And dazzling impermanence of days we beg our meanings from,
And their frayed loveliness.
 
Going west out of Kalispell, Montana, on U.S. 2,
If you turned at Kila,
                                   and skirted the big slough
Where Doagie Duncan killed three men some seventy years ago
After a fight over muskrat hides,
Then turned south toward the timber
                                                            and higher ground
On the dirt road to the Flathead Mine,
Past Sundelius' homestead and up toward Brown's Meadows,
Then swung down where the mine road
                                                                branches right and doubles back,
You'd come through the thinning spruce and fir
And lodgepole pine to suddenly open hillsides
And deep draws
                           of the Hog Heaven country
And start to see what I mean, the bunchgrass and bitterroot
And wild clover flattening under the wind
As you turned from the dirt road,
                                                      opened the Kansas gate
And began to follow with great care
The overgrown wagon ruts through the blowing field,
                                                                              the huge tamarack snag,
Where the tracks end and the cabin is,
Black in the sunlight's wash and flow
                                                             just under the hill's crown,
Pulling you down like weight to the front door . . .
 
The cabin is still sizable, four rooms and the walls made
Of planed lumber inside,
                                         the outside chinked with mud
And cement, everything fifty years
Past habitation, the whole structure
                                                          leaning into the hillside,
Windowless, doorless, and oddly beautiful in its desolation
And attitude, and not like
The cold and isolate misery it must have stood for
When someone lived here, and heard, at night,
This same wind sluicing the jack pines
                                                                and ruined apple trees
In the orchard, and felt the immensity
Loneliness brings moving under his skin
Like a live thing, and emptiness everywhere like a live thing
Beyond the window's reach and fire's glare . . .
 
Whoever remembers that best owns all this now.
After him it belongs to the wind again,
                          and the shivering bunchgrass, ad the seed cones.
 
                                    _____
 
There is so little to say, and so much time to say it in.
 
Once, in 1955 on an icy road in Sam's Gap, North Carolina,
Going north into Tennessee on U.S. 23,
I spun out on a slick patch
And the car turned once-and-a-half around,
Stopping at last with one front wheel on a rock
                                                                            and the other on air,
Hundreds of feet of air down the mountainside
I backed away from, mortal again
After having left myself
                                        and returned, having watched myself
Wrench the wheel toward the spin, as I'm doing now,
Stop and shift to reverse, as I'm doing now,
                                                                       and back out on the road
As I entered my arms and fingers again
Calmly, as though I had never left them,
Shift to low, and never question the grace
That had put me there and alive, as I'm doing now . . .
 
                                    _____
 
Solo Joe is a good road.
It cuts southwest off Montana 508 above Blacktail Creek,
Crosses the East Fork of the Yaak River
                                                                 and climbs toward Mount Henry.
Joe was an early prospector
Back in the days when everything came in by pack string
Or didn't come at all.
                                    One spring he shot his pet cat
On the front porch with a rifle between the eyes
As she came through the cabin door.
He later explained she was coming for him
                                                                      but he got her first.
He drank deer's blood, it was said, and kept to himself,
Though one story has him a gambler later downriver near Kalispell.
Nobody lives there now,
But people still placer-mine in the summer, and camp out
Illegally on the riverbank.
No one knows anything sure about Joe but his first name
And the brown government sign that remembers him.
And that's not so bad, I think.
                                                 It's a good road, as I say,
And worse things than that will happen to most of us.
 
                                    _____
 
The road in is always longer than the road out,
Even if it's the same road.
I think I'd like to find one
                                          impassable by machine,
A logging road from the early part of the century,
Overgrown and barely detectable.
I'd like it to be in North Carolina,
                                                       in Henderson County
Between Mount Pinnacle and Mount Anne,
An old spur off the main track
The wagons and trucks hauled out on.
Blackberry brambles, and wild raspberry and poison ivy
Everywhere; grown trees between the faint ruts;
Deadfall and windfall and velvety sassafras fans
On both sides . . .
                              It dips downhill and I follow it.
It dips down and it disappears and I follow it.

--Charles Wright


"Lot's Wife"
And the just man trailed God's shining agent,
over a black mountain, in his giant track,
while a restless voice kept harrying his woman:
"It's not too late, you can still look back

at the red towers of your native Sodom,
the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,
at the empty windows set in the tall house
where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed."

A single glance: a sudden dart of pain
stitching her eyes before she made a sound . . .
Her body flaked into transparent salt,
and her swift legs rooted to the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem
too insignificant for our concern?
Yet in my heart I never will deny her,
who suffered death because she chose to turn.
--Anna Akhmatova, translated from the Russian by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward

comes to be wrong, though the secret was safer at night

"There Is No Shelter"
Each evening, the sins of the whole world collect here like a dew.
In the morning, little galaxies, they flash out
And flame,
                   their charred, invisible residue etching

The edges our lives take and the course of things, filling
The shadows in,
                      an aftertrace, through the discards of the broken world,
Like the long, slow burn of a struck match.

--Charles Wright


"The Body as Metaphor"
We only imagine it ends
like childhood, or rain:
fever, the purl in the bone, the amended
lustre of the self, all shell and glitter,

as if I had long been decided
that flesh is a journey,
something immense in the blood,
like a summer of locusts,

or something not quite visible, but quick
as birchseed, or the threading of a wire
through sleep and rapture, gathering the hand
that reaches from the light, to close, or open.
--John Burnside


"The Asians Dying"
When the forests have been destroyed their darkness remains
The ash the great walker follows the possessors
Forever
Nothing they will come to is real
Nor for long
Over the watercourses
Like ducks in the time of the ducks
The ghosts of the villages trail in the sky
Making a new twilight

Rain falls into the open eyes of the dead
Again again with its pointless sound
When the moon finds them they are the color of everything

The nights disappear like bruises but nothing is healed
The dead go away like bruises
The blood vanishes into the poisoned farmlands
Pain the horizon
Remains
Overhead the seasons rock
They are paper bells
Calling to nothing living

The possessors move everywhere under Death their star
Like columns of smoke they advance into the shadows
Like thin flames with no light
They with no past
And fire their only future
--W. S. Merwin


"Moonbeam"
The mist rose with a little sound. Like a thud.
Which was the heart beating. And the sun rose, briefly diluted.
And after what seemed years, it sank again
and twilight washed over the shore and deepened there.
And from out of nowhere lovers came,
people who still had bodies and hearts. Who still had
arms, legs, mouths, although by day they might be
housewives and businessmen.

The same night also produced people like ourselves.
You are like me, whether or not you admit it.
Unsatisfied, meticulous. And your hunger is not for experience
but for understanding, as though it could be had in the abstract.

Then it's daylight again and the world goes back to normal.
The lovers smooth their hair; the moon resumes its hollow existence.
And the beach belongs again to mysterious birds
soon to appear on postage stamps.

But what of our memories, the memories of those who depend on images?
Do they count for nothing?

The mist rose, taking back proof of love.
Without which we have only the mirror, you and I.
--Louise Glück


"Amber"
It never mattered that there was once a vast grieving:

trees on their hillsides, in their groves, weeping--
a plastic gold dropping

through seasons and centuries to the ground—
until now:

On this fine September afternoon from which you are absent
I am holding, as if my hand could store it,
an ornament of amber

you once gave me.

Reason says this:
The dead cannot see the living.
The living will never see the dead again.
The clear air we need to find each other in is gone forever, yet

this resin
collected seeds, leaves, and even small feathers as it fell
and fell,

which now in a sunny atmosphere seem as alive as
they ever were,

as though the past could be present and memory itself
a Baltic honey--

a chafing at the edges of the seen, a showing off of just how much
can be kept safe

inside a flawed translucence.
--Eavan Boland


"One Night"
I am scared of one night. One night might come upon me while I sleep. One night might kiss me & never unzip its lips. I never try to leave the bed, never try to sit up. One night is always there like a tumor: a drum machine fear. I've known one night my whole life. It chases me off the edge of the screen at the end of each act. It speaks & I listen with all my wounds & all my fingerprints. I want an operation to connect me to one night. It is lost in the dark, surely alone, surely shivering, & there is nothing I can do to protect it.
--Mathias Svalina

and maybe in her wildest dreams she is a human

"With Ruins"
Choose a quiet
place, a ruins, a house no more
a house,
under whose stone archway I stood
one day to duck the rain.

The roofless floor, vertical
studs, eight wood columns
supporting nothing,
two staircases careening to nowhere, all
make it seem

a sketch, notes to a house, a three-
dimensional grid negotiating
absences,
an idea
receding into indefinite rain,

or else that idea
emerging, skeletal
against the hammered sky, a
human thing, scoured seen clean
through from here to an iron heaven.

A place where things
were said and done,
there you can remember
what you need to
remember. Melancholy is useful. Bring yours.

There are no neighbors to wonder
who you are,
what you might be doing
walking there,
stopping now and then

to touch a crumbling brick
or stand in a doorway
framed by the day.
No one has to know you
think of another doorway

that framed the rain or news of war
depending on which way you faced.
You think of sea-roads and earth-roads
you traveled once, and always
in the same direction: away.

You think
of a woman, a favorite
dress, your old father's breasts
the last time you saw him, his breath,
brief, the leaf

you've torn from a vine and which you hold now
to your cheek like a train ticket
or a piece of cloth, a little hand or a blade--
it all depends
on the course of your memory.

It's a place
for those who own no place
to correspond to ruins in the soul.
It's mine.
It's all yours.
--Li-Young Lee


"When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else."
--Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace


"In the afternoons, when the shades were pulled for my nap, the light coming through was of a dark yellow, nearly orange, melancholy, as heavy as honey and it made me thirsty. That doesn't say it all, nor even a greater part. Yet it seems eve more incomplete when we were there in person. Half the day in half the room.
--Lyn Hejinian, "A name trimmed with colored ribbons"


"We are the learned or ignorant caretakers of several memories. When I write, language remembers without my knowing or indeed with my knowing, remembers the Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, the whole of literature, each book.

"Then, I who write, I inscribe an additional memory in language--a memory in progress--of what I have read personally, noticed, retained from a text or a language to the other. And the whole is poured back, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, into the river I sail."
--Hélène Cixous


"It had been quiet in Estha's head until Rahel came. But with her she had brought the sound of passing trains, and the light and shade and light and shade that falls on you if you have a window seat. The world, locked out for years, suddenly flooded in, and now Estha couldn't hear himself for the noise. Trains. Traffic. Music. The stock market. A dam had burst and savage waters swept everything up in a swirling. Comets, violins, parades, loneliness, clouds, beards, bigots, lists, flags, earthquakes, despair were all swept up in a scrambled swirling."
--Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things


"Occasionally, when [she] listened to songs that she loved on the radio, something stirred inside her. A liquid ache spread under her skin, and she walked out of the world like a witch, to a better, happier place. On days like this there was something restless and untamed about her."
--Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things


"I believe that one can only begin to advance along the path of discovery, the discovery of writing or anything else, from mourning and in the reparation of mourning. In the beginning the gesture of writing is linked to the experience of disappearance, to the feeling of having lost the key to the world, of having been thrown outside. Of having suddenly acquired the precious sense of the rare, of the mortal. Of having urgently to regain the entrance, the breath, to keep the trace."
--Hélène Cixous, translated by Deborah Jenson


"We're thirsty, thirsty. We're salt water and sweet. And the bitter and the sad mixes with the dulce. It's as if we're rivers and oceans emptying and filling and swelling and drowning one another. It's frightening and wonderful all at once. For once, I feel as if there's not enough of me, as if I'm too small to contain all the happiness inside me."
--Sandra Cisneros, Caramelo

and you came right away, and you came right away--but you never stayed

"Frame, an Epistle"
Most of the things you made for me--blanket--
chest, lapdesk, the armless rocker--I gave
away to friends who could use them and not
be reminded of the hours lost there,
not having been witness to those designs,
the tedious finishes. But I did keep
the mirror, perhaps because like all mirrors,
most of these years it has been invisible,
part of the wall, or defined by reflection--
safe--because reflection, after all, does change.
I hung it here in the front, dark hallway
of this house you will never see, so that
it might magnify the meager light,
become a lesser, backward window. No one
pauses long before it. But this morning,
as I put on my overcoat, then straightened
my hair, I saw outside my face its frame
you made for me, admiring for the first
time the way the cherry you cut and planed
yourself had darkened, just as you said it would.
--Claudia Emerson


Under the heart of grass, dew is heavy.
Along the path, a barefoot child carries
an open basket of strawberries.
And through a window I watch him--
as if he's hauling a basket of dawn.

How I wish a path would run my way,
how I wish I held a basket that swayed.
Then I wouldn't long for a far-off realm,
I wouldn't envy what someone else had.
And I would never--really--come back home.
--Arseny Tarkovsky, translator unknown


"Gravity"
After Carrie Mae Weems's "The Kitchen Table Series"

I. THE STRAW

Can you throw this away Maybe you should hire more Black staff
Where are you really from You’re not busy are you You look ethnic today
Where's the African American section Can you turn the music down
Fasterfasterfaster Let me see those eyes Beautiful If you were mine
I'd never let you leave the house It's like you went straight to Africa
to get this one Is that your hair I mean your real hair Blackass
Your gums are black You Black You stink You need a perm
I don't mean to be
racist

But
You're scarred over, I'm the one bleeding
You're just going to rip apart whatever I say
You've said sorry only two times
We tacitly agreed
Then dead me


II. THE CAMEL'S BACK

When you born on somebody else's river in a cursed boat it's all
downhill from there. Ha. Just kidding. I'd tell you what I don't have
time for but I don’t have time. Catch up. Interrogate that. Boss. Halo.
I juke the apocalypse. Fluff my feathers. Diamond my neck. Boom,
like an 808. One in a million. I don't want no scrubs. You don't know
my name. Everything I say is a spell. I'm twenty-five. I'm ninety. I'm
ten. I'm a moonless charcoal. A sour lover. Hidden teeth beneath the
velvet. I'm here and your eyes lucky. I'm here and your future lucky.
Ha. God told me to tell you I'm pretty. Ha. My skin Midas-touch the
buildings I walk by. Ha. Every day I'm alive the weather report say:
Gold. I know. I know. I should leave y'all alone, salt earth like to stay
salty. But here go the mirror, egging on my spirit. Why I can't go back.
Or. The reasons it happened. Name like a carriage of fire. Baby, it's
real. The white face peeking through the curtain. Mule and God. I'm
blunted off my own stank. I'm Bad. I dig graves when I laugh.
--Angel Nafis


"The present is not marked off from a past that it has replaced or a future that will, in turn, replace it; it rather gathers the past and future into itself, like refractions in a crystal ball."
--Tim Ingold, "The Temporality of the Landscape"


"To Be Alive"
To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That's crudely put, but...

If we're not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?
--Gregory Orr


"It's not enough that a poem extol the virtues of survival and overcoming. What if the poet never overcomes? What if the poet hears the same bitter verdict when testimony after testimony has been given? What if that poet--and this is the ultimate emotional transgression that repels the reader who takes comfort in literature as forgiveness--still feels a shadow of hate and it is that hate that disfigures song into something broken? But see, the only way to get at that inalienable grief is to disfigure song."
--Cathy Park Hong, "Against Witness"


"This first, which might doom everything: poetry is the closest literary form we have to silence. I think about prose too sometimes. What I think is--prose is made almost completely of words. And poetry is not. I keep coming back to this notion in more visceral ways, especially these warmer mornings, the windows open, all the early neighborhood silence rushing in. But of course that silence, like poetry's, isn't silence at all. I hear all manner of birds--the robin's clear push-me, pull-me song, the whirl of the wren and the house finch, the plaintive two or three notes of the chickadee, the two-note hiccup rush of the titmouse. Count more: the thump of the paper on the porch, the guy across the street slamming his car door once, twice. [...] Such an ordinary world. Not the sound of poetry. Not yet anyway. Still, the wayward, sometimes urgent sound of such a world is specifically--to me--a poetic sound, neither the mind's nor the heart's but some weird hybrid, a rhythm out to discover what is knowable and, more aptly perhaps, what is not."
--Marianne Boruch, "The Sound of It"


"In this rhetoric s/m becomes reparative or restorative; and the formalization of its practices suggests a ritual that is repeated in order to recuperate losses or heal the wounds of life. S/m, then, implicitly begins to take on the shape of an art form that is counterpoised to life, and in this opposition its acting out becomes an artistic performance that is more 'real' than life itself. 'Above and beyond the boundaries of time, the boundaries of life and death, there is a greater truth in visions,' Thompson writes. In this way s/m becomes expressed as a journey in which there is no truth prior to the experience but one at the journey's end. Nonetheless this 'end-truth' is somehow always already there, for it is a presupposition of the desire to make the journey itself. In this sense s/m takes on both a redemptive and pastoralizing tone, partaking in the discourses of sacrifice, amendment, atonement. Not, however, in the service of those who have 'sinned,' but as compensation for those who have been sinned against."
--Lynda Hart, Between the Body and the Flesh: Performing Sadomasochism


"Between takeoff and landing, we are each in suspended animation, a pause between chapters of our lives. When we stare out the window into the sun's glare, the landscape is only a flat projection with mountain ranges reduced to wrinkles in the continental skin. Oblivious to our passage overhead, other stories are unfolding beneath us. Blackberries ripen in the August sun; a woman packs a suitcase and hesitates at her doorway; a letter is opened and the most surprising photograph slides from between the pages. But we are moving too fast and we are too far away; all the stories escape us, except our own."
--Robin Wall Kimmerer, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses


"I Am an Only Child (Am I Only a Child)"
Occasionally, there is a herd of mares outside my window.
They shout my name over & over. I say back, I say, I don't have
any stories to tell you. They become angry. They throw their
bodies at the walls of my home. Finally I dig a moat. I dig it
deep. All night, there are horses drowning outside my window.
They cry, How could you do this to us? They cry. I lower the blinds
& sleep for a long, long time. When I awake, my bedroom is full
of limp horse bodies. Who put these in here? Who?
but not a single mare stirs. I lift the blinds. The moat is empty.
The face of the water gleams in the sun. I leap out. I lower
my body into the moat. Finally I am alone, I say to myself. I dip
my muzzle into the water, & drink.
--Anaïs Duplan


"Take away my affections and I should be like sea weed out of water; like the shell of a crab, like a husk. All my entrails, marrow, juice, pulp would be gone. I should be blown into the first pubble and drown. Take away the love of my friends and my burning and pressing sense of the importance and lovability of human life and I should be nothing but a membrane, a fibre, uncoloured, lifeless..."
--Virginia Woolf, from a letter to Ethel Smyth


"The future is only an indifferent void no one cares about, but the past is filled with life, and its countenance is irritating, repellent, wounding, and to the point that we want to destroy or repaint it. We want to be masters of the future only for the power to change the past."
--Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting


"A story with a single ending seems to us a bare and diminished thing, like a tree with a single branch; and each ending seems to us an expression of something that is buried deep within the tale and can be brought to light in that way and no other."
--Steven Millhauser, Little Kingdoms


"Drag"
The dress is an oil slick. The dress
ruins everything. In a hotel room
by the water, I put it on when
he says, I want to watch you take it off.
Zipping me up, he kisses the mile
markers of my spine. I can't afford
this view. From here, I see a city
that doesn't know it's already
drowning. My neck shivers from
the trail of his tongue. I keep my
eyes on the window, just past
his bald spot. He's short. I can see
the rain that has owned us for weeks
already. The dress will survive us.
The dress will be here when men
come in boats to survey the damage.
He makes me another drink, puts
on some jazz, and the dress begins
to move without me. Slow like some-
thing that knows it cannot be stopped,
the dress seeps. The dress slides
with my body floating inside,
an animal caught in the sludge.
If he wraps his arms around me,
it will be the rest of his life.
I don't even know what I am
in this dress; I just sway with
my arms open and wait.
--Saeed Jones


"Night, the Poem"
If you find your true voice, bring it to the land of the dead. There is kindness in the ashes. And terror in non-identity. A little girl lost in a ruined house, this fortress of my poems.

I write with the blind malice of children pelting a madwoman, like a crow, with stones. No--I don't write: I open a breach in the dusk so the dead can send messages through.

What is this job of writing? To steer by mirror-light in darkness. To imagine a place known only to me. To sing of distances, to hear the living notes of painted birds on Christmas trees.

My nakedness bathed you in light. You pressed against my body to drive away the great black frost of night.

My words demand the silence of a wasteland.

Some of them have hands that grip my heart the moment they're written. Some words are doomed like lilacs in a storm. And some are like the precious dead--even if I still prefer to all of them the words for the doll of a sad little girl.
--Alejandra Pizarnik, translated by Cole Heinowitz


"IX Shooting Back"
You load, focus, aim.
The shutter falls like a tiny axe,
Reopens, a blinking eye washed in light.

An image enters the world
Premature, wet, lit like a miracle. The holier ones
Exploit darkness, develop like secrets.

Only the faithful possess
Nerve enough to stand this long, arms crossed,
Fearlessly posed, in the line of fire.

Every shot attempts to capture
The will-to-survive of its target:
High-top fades, hooded sweats, hard stares,

A Gucci background, a wicker chair.
--Thomas Sayers Ellis


"The Corn Baby"
They brought it. It was brought
from the field, the last sheaf, the last bundle

the latest and most final armful. Up up
over the head, hold it, hold it high, it held

the gazer's gaze, it held hope, did hold it.
Through the stubble of September, on shoulders

aloft, hardly anything, it weighed, like a sparrow,
it was said, something winged, hollow, though

pulsing, freed from the field
where it flailed in wind, where it waited, wanted

to be found and bound with cord. It had
limbs, it had legs. And hands. It had fingers.

Fingers and a face peering from the stalks,
shuttered in the grain, closed, though just a kernel

a shut corm. They brought him and autumn
rushed in, tossed its cape of starlings,

tattered the frost-spackled field.
--Mark Wunderlich

i hope your mother knows what it is you have seen (she'd be so proud)

"An Urban Convalescence"
Out for a walk, after a week in bed,
I find them tearing up part of my block
And, chilled through, dazed and lonely, join the dozen
In meek attitudes, watching a huge crane
Fumble luxuriously in the filth of years.
Her jaws dribble rubble. An old man
Laughs and curses in her brain,
Bringing to mind the close of The White Goddess.

As usual in New York, everything is torn down
Before you have had time to care for it.
Head bowed, at the shrine of noise, let me try to recall
What building stood here. Was there a building at all?
I have lived on this same street for a decade.

Wait. Yes. Vaguely a presence rises
Some five floors high, of shabby stone
--Or am I confusing it with another one
In another part of town, or of the world?--
And over its lintel into focus vaguely
Misted with blood (my eyes are shut)
A single garland sways, stone fruit, stone leaves,
Which years of grit had etched until it thrust
Roots down, even into the poor soil of my seeing.
When did the garland become part of me?
I ask myself, amused almost,
Then shiver once from head to toe,

Transfixed by a particular cheap engraving of garlands
Bought for a few francs long ago,
All calligraphic tendril and cross-hatched rondure,
Ten years ago, and crumpled up to stanch
Boughs dripping, whose white gestures filled a cab,
And thought of neither then nor since.
Also, to clasp them, the small, red-nailed hand
Of no one I can place. Wait. No. Her name, her features

Lie toppled underneath that year's fashions.
The words she must have spoken, setting her face
To fluttering like a veil, I cannot hear now,
Let alone understand.

So that I am already on the stair,
As it were, of where I lived,
When the whole structure shudders at my tread
And soundlessly collapses, filling
The air with motes of stone.
Onto the still erect building next door
Are pressed levels and hues--
Pocked rose, streaked greens, brown whites.
Who drained the pousse-café?
Wires and pipes, snapped off at the roots, quiver.

Well, that is what life does. I stare
A moment longer, so. And presently
The massive volume of the world
Closes again.

Upon that book I swear
To abide by what it teaches:
Gospels of ugliness and waste,
Of towering voids, of soiled gusts,
Of a shrieking to be faced
Full into, eyes astream with cold--

With cold?
All right then. With self-knowledge.

Indoors at last, the pages of Time are apt
To open, and the illustrated mayor of New York,
Given a glimpse of how and where I work,
To note yet one more house that can be scrapped.

Unwillingly I picture
My walls weathering in the general view.
It is not even as though the new
Buildings did very much for architecture.
Suppose they did. The sickness of our time requires
That these as well be blasted in their prime.
You would think the simple fact of having lasted
Threatened our cities like mysterious fires.

There are certain phrases which to use in a poem
Is like rubbing silver with quicksilver. Bright
But facile, the glamour deadens overnight.
For instance, how "the sickness of our time"

Enhances, then debases, what I feel.
At my desk I swallow in a glass of water
No longer cordial, scarcely wet, a pill
They had told me not to take until much later.

With the result that back into my imagination
The city glides, like cities seen from air,
Mere smoke and sparkle to the passenger
Having in mind another destination

Which now is not that honey-slow descent
Of the Champs-Élysées, her hand in his,
But the dull need to make some kind of house
Out of the life lived, out of the love spent.
--James Merrill


"Humor can get in under the door while seriousness is still fumbling at the handle."
--G. K. Chesterton


"God could be only the fruit of our anemia: a tottering and rachitic image. He is mild, good, sublime, just. But who recognizes himself in that mixture redolent of rose water, relegated to transcendence? […] Because he overflows with life, the Devil has no altar: man recognizes himself too readily in him to worship him; he detests him for good reason; he repudiates himself, and maintains the indigent attributes of God. But the Devil never complains and never aspires to found a religion: are we not here to safeguard him from inanition and oblivion?"
--Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay

all the notebooks in the world can never hold the lives i hold

"Hoplophobia"
The most common manifestation of hoplophobia
is the idea that [weapons] possess a will of their own.

--Colonel Jeff Cooper


trigger warning: violence, war, guns, murder )
--Jamaal May


"How to Disappear Completely"
You are quarter ghost on your mother's side.
Your heart is a flayed peach in a bone box.
Your hair comes away in clumps like cheap fabric wet.
A reflecting pool gathers around your altar
of plywood sub flooring and split wooden slats.
You are rag doll prone. You are contort,
angle and arc. Here you rot. Here
you are a greening abdomen, slipping skin,
flesh fly, carrion beetles.
This is where bullets take shelter,
where scythes find their function, breath loses
its place on the page. This is where the page is torn
out of every book before chapter's close,
this is slippage, this is a shroud of neglect
pulled over the body, this
is your chance to escape.
     Little wraith,
bend light around your skin until it colors you clear,
disappear like silica in a kiln, become
glass and glass beads, become
the staggered whir of an exhaust fan:
something only noticed
when gone. Become
an origami swan. Fold yourself smaller
than ever before. Become less. More
in some ways but less
in the way a famine is less. They will
forgive you for not being satisfied
with fitting in their hands.

They will forgive you
for dying to be

a bird diminutive enough
to fit in a mouth and not be crushed.

--Jamaal May


"Fire Graffiti"
Throughout those dismal months my life was only sparked
alight when I made love to you.
As the firefly ignites and fades, ignites and fades, we follow the flashes
of its flight in the dark among the olive trees.

Throughout those dismal months, my soul sat slumped and lifeless
but my body walked to yours.
The night sky was lowing.
We milked the cosmos secretly, and survived.
--Tomas Tranströmer, translator unknown


"Words"
What has happened?
language eludes me
the nice specifying
words of my life fail
when I call

Ah says a friend
dried up no doubt
on the desiccated
twigs in the swamp
of the skull like
a lake where the
water level has been
shifted by highways
a couple of miles off

Another friend says
No no    my dear    perhaps
you are only meant to
speak more plainly

--Grace Paley


"The Abyssal Plain"
Here beneath the last revenant of light
that falls the way a man might fall asleep,
drawn through the part that hallucinates
eel and angel, the strange blue fin that sweeps
a camouflage of dust into the camera,
what good is desire. The lamps of fish
have all gone cold, dark, their exotica
scattered in tiny particles of flesh.
What this world needs is a place to drown
its refuse: old ships, derricks, nuclear waste,
the leviathan of grief. A place like time
which, in truth, heals nothing. It forgets,
taken in like a pill that makes us calm
and dreamless, beneath the silence of the rain.
--Bruce Bond


"Self Portrait"
I did not want my body
Spackled in the world's
Black beads and broke
Diamonds. What the world

Wanted, I did not. Of the things
It wanted. The body of Sunday
Morning, the warm wine and
The blood. The dripping fox

Furs dragged through the black New
York snow--the parked car, the pearls,
To the first pew--the funders,
The trustees, the bloat, the red weight of

The world. Their faces. I wanted not
That. I wanted Saint Francis, the love of
His animals. The wolf, broken and bleeding--
That was me.
--Cynthia Cruz


"Elegy for a Walnut Tree"
Old friend now there is no one alive
who remembers when you were young
it was high summer when I first saw you
in the blaze of day most of my life ago
with the dry grass whispering in your shade
and already you had lived through wars
and echoes of wars around your silence
through days of parting and seasons of absence
with the house emptying as the years went their way
until it was home to bats and swallows
and still when spring climbed toward summer
you opened once more the curled sleeping fingers
of newborn leaves as though nothing had happened
you and the seasons spoke the same language
and all these years I have looked through your limbs
to the river below and the roofs and the night
and you were the way I saw the world.
--W. S. Merwin


"Desires are already memories."
--Italo Calvino, translator unknown


The world has tired of tears.
We weep owls now. They live longer.
They know their way in the dark.
--Natalie Diaz, "Prayers or Oubliettes"


"Awaking in New York"
Curtains forcing their will
against the wind,
children sleep,
exchanging dreams with
seraphim. The city
drags itself awake on
subway straps; and
I, an alarm, awake as a
rumor of war,
lie stretching into dawn,
unasked and unheeded.
--Maya Angelou


"I feel that I am just earth, soil lying helpless to move myself, but thinking. I seem to hear herds of big beasts like horses and cows thundering over me, and rains beating down; and winds sweeping furiously overall acting upon me, but me, well, just soil,
feeling but not able to take part in it all. Then a soft wind like love passes over and warms me, and a summer rain comes down like understanding and softens me, and I push a blade of grass or a flower, or maybe a pine tree--that's the ground thinking. Plants are ground thoughts, because the soil can't move itself."
--Zora Neale Hurston, "John Redding Goes to Sea"


"To write by shreds, by storm clouds, by visions, by violent chapters, in the present as in the archpast, in pre-vision, in the true chaos of verbal tenses, crossing over years and oceans at a god's pace, with the past on my right and the future on my left--this is forbidden in academies, it is permitted in apocalypses. What joy it is."
--Hélène Cixous, Stigmata: Escaping Texts


"Herman Finley"
I didn't tell you that, in the end, he begged
For the end. Death like the bed after
The bedtime story. Death like a widening
Crack of light beneath the door.
He begged them to let him
Go so he could go. Said I want
To die. Then said kill me. Please.

You and I endure that first pain.
We just want to die. People with that
Other ultimately physical agony say
Kill me and know they won't discuss it
In therapy. Kill me. I'm thinking
Of him today because I want to die
And I am ashamed to say it. My thinking

Is red and sticky. Rather than kill me,
I'd like you to listen as I live
In a perpetual whine. Can't I still be
Somebody's baby? Say yes for yourself.
Call me some time. Every day I wish to die,
Remind me how he insisted.
Kill me. And I'll live again.
--Jericho Brown


"I suppose it is submerged memories that give to our dreams their curious air of hyper-reality. But perhaps there is something else as well, something nebulous, gauze-like, through which everything one sees in a dream seems, paradoxically, much clearer. A pond becomes a lake, a breeze becomes a storm, a handful of dust is a desert, a grain of sulfur in the blood is a volcanic inferno."
--W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn


"Cocktails with Orpheus"
After dark, the bar full of women part of me loves--the part that stood
naked outside the window of Miss Geneva, recent divorcée who owned
a gun, O Miss Geneva where are you now--Orpheus says she did

not perish, she was not turned to ash in the brutal light, she found
a good job, she made good money, she had her own insurance and
a house, she was a decent wife. I know descent lives in the word

decent. The bar noise makes a kind of silence. When Orpheus hands
me his sunglasses, I see how fire changes everything. In the mind
I am behind a woman whose skirt is hiked above her hips, as bound

as touch permits, saying don't forget me when I become the liquid
out of which names are born, salt-milk, milk-sweet and animal-made.

I want to be a human above the body, uprooted and right, a fold
of pleas released, but I am a black wound, what's left of the deed.
--Terrance Hayes


"The secret of understanding poetry is to hear poetry's words as what they are: the full self's most intimate speech, half waking, half dream. You listen to a poem as you might listen to someone you love who tells you their truest day. Their words might weep, joke, whirl, leap. What's unspoken in the words will still be heard. It's also the way we listen to music: You don't look for extractable meaning, but to be moved."
--Jane Hirshfield


"sideshow"
trigger warning: violence, guns, racism, suicide )
--Danez Smith


"My medium is poetry; my tool is American English, a language I adore for its shorthand syntax, its outrageous slop, its mongrel weirdness. I think and dream and feel in this language like the wiry old rose bush that pushes its way out from my front yard to splay its blooms above the cracked sidewalk."
--Cate Marvin


"I Don't Miss It"
But sometimes I forget where I am,
Imagine myself inside that life again.

Recalcitrant mornings. Sun perhaps,
Or more likely colorless light

Filtering its way through shapeless cloud.

And when I begin to believe I haven't left,
The rest comes back. Our couch. My smoke

Climbing the walls while the hours fall.
Straining against the noise of traffic, music,

Anything alive, to catch your key in the door.
And that scamper of feeling in my chest,

As if the day, the night, wherever it is
I am by then, has been only a whir

Of something other than waiting.

We hear so much about what love feels like.
Right now, today, with the rain outside,

And leaves that want as much as I do to believe
In May, in seasons that come when called,

It's impossible not to want
To walk into the next room and let you

Run your hands down the sides of my legs,
Knowing perfectly well what they know.
--Tracy K. Smith


"Snow at Night"
I prefer it even to love,
alone and without ghost
it falls a hard weather,
a withdrawing room
that revives me to stolen daylight
in which I feel no wish
to brush a gleaming finish
over the sheen-broken glass
I've arranged and rearranged,
an apprentice of mosaics
who will not be taught but asks
to be left alone with the brittle year
so carnivorous of all I'd made.
But the snow I love covers
my beasts and seas,
my ferns and spines
worn through and through.
I will change your life, it says,
to which I say please.
--Katie Ford


"Two Men & a Truck"
Once, I was as large
as any living creature could be.

I could lift the world and carry it
from my breast to its bath.

When I looked down from the sky
you could see the love in my eye:

"Oh, tiny world, if anything
ever happened to you, I would die."

And I said, "No!" to the hand. Snatched
the pebble from the mouth, fished it out

and told the world it would choke!
Warned the world over & over! "Do

you hear me? Do you want to choke?!"

But how was the world to know
what the truth might be? Perhaps

they grant you special powers, these
choking stones. Maybe

they change the child into a god, all-swallowing.


For, clearly, there were other gods.
The world could see

that I, too, was at the mercy of something.
Sure, I could point to the sky

and say its name, but I couldn't make it change.
Some days it was blue, true, but others

were ruined by its gray:
"I'm sorry, little world--

no picnic, no parade, no swimming pool today ... "

And the skinned knee in spite of me.
And why else would there be

such terror in the way she screamed, and the horn honking,
and the squealing wheels, and, afterward, her cold

sweat against my cheek?

Ah, she wants us to live forever.
It's her weakness ... Now I see!


But, once, I was larger
than any other being--

larger, perhaps, than any being
had any right to be.

Because, of course, eventually, the world
grew larger, and larger, until it could lift

me up and put me down anywhere
it pleased. Until, finally, I would need

its help to move the bird bath, the book-
shelf, the filing cabinet. "And

could you put my desk by the window, sweetie?"

A truck, two men, one of them my son, and
everything I ever owned, and they

didn't even want to stop for lunch.

Even the freezer. Even the piano.
("You can have it if you can move it.")

But, once, I swear, I was ... And now
this trunk in the attic to prove it:

These shoes in the palm of my hand?
You used to wear them on your feet.

This blanket the size of a hand towel?
I used to wrap it around you sleeping

in my arms like this. See? This
is how small the world used to be when

everything else in the world was me.
--Laura Kasischke


"A Reason"
That is why I am here
not among the ibises. Why
the permanent city parasol
covers even me.

             It was the rains
in the occult season. It was the snows
on the lower slopes. It was water
and cold in my mouth.

            A lack of shoes
on what appeared to be cobbles
which were still antique

           Well wild wild whatever
in wild more silent blue
 
           the vase grips the stems
petals fall    the chrysanthemum darkens

           Sometimes this mustard feeling
clutches me also. My sleep is reckoned
in straws

            Yet I wake up
and am followed into the street.

--Barbara Guest


"Tender Arrivals"
Where ever something breathes
Heart beating the rise and fall
Of mountains, the waves upon the sky
Of seas, the terror is our ignorance, that's
Why it is named after our home, earth
Where art is locked between
Gone and Destination
The destiny of some other where and feeling
The ape knew this, when his old lady pulled him up
Off the ground. Was he grateful, ask him he's still sitting up there
Watching the sky's adventures, leaving two holes for his own. Oh sing
Gigantic burp past the insects, swifter than the ugly Stanleys on the ground
Catching monkey meat for Hyenagators, absolute boss of what does not
Arrive in time to say anything. We hear that eating, that doo dooing, that
Burping, we had a nigro mayor used to burp like poison zapalote
Waddled into the cave of his lust. We got a Spring Jasper now, if
you don't like that
woid, what about courtesan, dreamed out his own replacement sprawled
Across the velvet cash register of belching and farting, his knick names when they
let him be played with. Some call him Puck, was love, we thought, now a rubber
Flat blackie banged across the ice, to get past our Goli, the Africannibus of memory.
Here. We have so many wedged between death and passivity. Like eyes that collide
With reality and cannot see anything but the inner abstraction of flatus, a
biography, a car, a walk to the guillotine, James the First, Giuliani the Second
When he tries to go national, senators will stab him, Ides of March or Not. Maybe
Both will die, James 1 and Caesar 2, as they did in the past, where we can read about
The justness of their assassinations
As we swig a little brew and laugh at the perseverance
Of disease at higher and higher levels of its elimination.
We could see anything we wanted to. Be anything we knew how to be. Build
anything we needed. Arrive anywhere we should have to go. But time is as stubborn
as space, and they compose us with definition, time place and 
condition.
The howlees the yowlees the yankees the super left streamlined post racial ideational
chauvinists creeep at the mouth of the venal cava. They are protesting 
fire and
Looking askance at the giblets we have learned to eat. "It's nobody's heart," they
say, and we agree. It's the rest of some thing's insides. Along with the flowers, the
grass, the tubers, the river, pieces of the sky, earth, our seasoning, baked
throughout. What do you call that the anarchist of comfort asks,
Food, we say, making it up as we chew. Yesterday we explained language.
--Amiri Baraka


"Register of Eliminated Villages"
trigger warning: war )
--Tarfia Faizullah
Entry tags:

nobody's up except the moon and me and a lazy old tomcat on a midnight spree

"Consider the Space between Stars"
Consider the white space
between words on a page, not just
the margins around them.

Or the space between thoughts:
instants when the mind is inventing
exactly what it thinks

and the mouth waits
to be filled with language.
Consider the space

between lovers after a quarrel,
the white sheet a cold metaphor
between them.

Now picture the brief space
before death enters, hat in hand:
vanishing years, filled with light.
--Linda Pastan

she is the one who touched his heart; he made too much of this, of course

" 'You hold that anger,' Mistress Weatherwax said, as if reading all of her mind. 'Cup it in your heart, remember where it came from, remember the shape of it, save it until you need it. But now the wolf is out there somewhere in the woods, and you need to see to the flock.' "
--Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky


" 'Need each other as much as you can bear,' writes Eileen Myles. 'Everywhere you go in the world.'

"I felt the wild need for any or all of these people that night. Lying there alone, I began to feel--perhaps even to know--that I did not exist apart from their love and need of me.

"Of this latter I felt less sure, but it seemed possible, if the equation worked both ways.

"Falling asleep I thought, 'Maybe this, for me, is the hand of God.' "
--Maggie Nelson


now what were motionless move(exists no

miracle mightier than this:to feel)
poor worlds must merely do,which then are done;
and whose last doing shall not quite undo
such first amazement as a leaf-here's one

more than each creature new(except your fear
to whom i give this little parasol,
so she may above people walk in the air
with almost breathing me)-look up:and we’ll

(for what were less than dead)dance,i and you;

high(are become more than alive)above
anybody and fate and even Our
whisper it Selves but don't look down and to

-morrow and yesterday and everything except love
--e. e. cummings


"Prayers"
1.
We pray
and the resurrection happens.
Here are the young
again,
sniping and giggling,
tingly
as ringing phones.
2.
All we ask
is that our thinking
sustain momentum,
identify targets.
The pressure
in my lower back
rising to be recognized
as pain.
The blue triangles
on the rug
repeating.
Coming up,
a discussion
on the uses
of torture.
The fear
that all this
will end.
The fear
that it won't.
--Rae Armantrout


"All witches are selfish, the Queen had said. But Tiffany's Third Thoughts said: Then turn selfishness into a weapon! Make all things yours! Make other lives and dreams and hopes yours! Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine!"
--Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men


"The Unexplorer"
There was a road ran past our house
Too lovely to explore.
I asked my mother once--she said
That if you followed where it led
It brought you to the milk-man's door.
(That's why I have not travelled more.)
--Edna St. Vincent Millay


"Let me begin by telling you that I was in love. An ordinary statement, to be sure, but not an ordinary fact, for so few of us learn that love is tenderness, and tenderness is not, as a fair proportion suspect, pity; and still fewer know that happiness in love is not the absolute focusing of all emotion in another: one has always to love a good many things which the beloved must come only to symbolize; the true beloveds of this world are in their lover's eyes lilac opening, ship lights, school bells, a landscape, remembered conversations, friends, a child's Sunday, lost voices, one's favorite suit, autumn and all seasons, memory, yes, it being the earth and water of existence, memory."
--Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms


"When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares."
--Henri J. M. Nouwen


i am accused of tending to the past
as if i made it,
as if i sculpted it
with my own hands. i did not.
this past was waiting for me
when i came,
a monstrous unnamed baby,
and i with my mother's itch
took it to breast
and named it
History.
she is more human now,
learning language every day,
remembering faces, names, and dates.
when she is strong enough to travel
on her own, beware, she will.
--Lucille Clifton


"I learned a long time ago that life introduces young people to situations they are in no way prepared for, even good girls, lucky girls who want for nothing. Sometimes, when you least expect it, you become the girl in the woods. You lose your name because another one is forced on you. You think you are alone until you find books about girls like you. Salvation is certainly among the reasons I read. Reading and writing have always pulled me out of the darkest experiences in my life. Stories have given me a place in which to lose myself. They have allowed me to remember. They have allowed me to forget. They have allowed me to imagine different endings and better possible worlds."
--Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist


"Could Have Danced All Night"
The wolf appointed to tear me apart
is sure making slow work of it.
This morning just one eye weeping,
a single chip out of my back and
the usual maniacal wooden bird flutes
in the brain. Listen to that feeble howl
like having fangs is something to regret,
like we shouldn't give thanks for blood
thirst. Even my idiot neighbor backing out
without looking could do a better job,
even that leaning diseased tree or dream
of a palsied hand squeezing the throat but
we've been at this for years, lying exposed
on the couch in the fat of the afternoon,
staring down the moon among night blooms.
What good's a reluctant wolf anyway?
The other wolves just get it drunk
then tie it to a post. Poor pup.
Here's my hand. Bite.
--Dean Young


"[W]e are not looking for a perfect analysis, but we are looking for
the mark of vulnerability which makes a great text not an authority
generating a perfect narrative, but our own companion, as it were, so
we can share our own vulnerabilities with those texts and move."
--Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak


"A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead."
--Graham Greene, The End of the Affair


"I don't believe in freedom. I think it's an illusion. A nightmare. I think it's bad. I think we depend on the air to breathe, that animals die so that we can eat them, that some one cares for us so that we feel secure, that everything is o.k. so that we have peace. I think we are all dependents! I do think that we have the possibility to have the keys to our own cell, to our own prison. I want to be the owner of my own prison keys. But I don't want to be 'free'. Trying to be 'free' is like trying to be a lone-standing star. The stars shine, but they do not give warmth. And they are very distant. I want heat! I want to be near to others. I want to be human, a prisoner to life."
--Concha Buika


"Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That's where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go."
--Rebecca Solnit


"Please Stand a While Longer in the Vast, Amazing Dark"
Maybe don't for another minute be afraid
of anything. Because swimming is really useful
against drowning which you didn't know until
you tried it. And then your life was just massive
regret. And then you thought about three
purple blossoms in the hair
of a beautiful girl. But that's not the part
that aches in a deep kind of place
inside you. Like if your dinner caught fire
in your stomach and then you ran
to the river which was dry. And your friend
was a jerk who doesn't share resources
including a hose. Most things lose
interest when you are quiet
and small. Most things want to be
around other majestic things that make
noise or beauty. Wind plucks a flower
for sailing. You stand there in the presence
of whatever you are not.
--Wendy Xu


"The feeling that something is missing never, ever leaves you--and it can't, and it shouldn't, because something is missing. The missing part, the missing past, can be an opening, not a void. It can be an entry as well as an exit. It is the fossil record, the imprint of another life, and although you can never have that life, your fingers trace the space where it might have been, and your fingers learn a kind of Braille.

"There are markings here, raised like welts. Read them. Read the hurt. Rewrite them. Rewrite the hurt."
--Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?


"If books could have more, give more, be more, show more, they would still need readers who bring to them sound and smell and light and all the rest that can't be in books. The book needs you."
--Gary Paulsen, The Winter Room


"We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a home. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening, to use our own voice, to see our own light."
--St. Hildegard von Bingen, translator unknown


"Watch This"
1.
Small flame wandering
on its wick.

2.
I had wanted
intimacy, for you to see
what I saw
in my mirror.

3.
Pleasure preferred
in semblance,

sibilance
--Rae Armantrout


"There Are Birds Here"
For Detroit

There are birds here,
so many birds here
is what I was trying to say
when they said those birds were metaphors
for what is trapped
between buildings
and buildings. No.
The birds are here
to root around for bread
the girl's hands tear
and toss like confetti. No,
I don't mean the bread is torn like cotton,
I said confetti, and no
not the confetti
a tank can make of a building.
I mean the confetti
a boy can't stop smiling about
and no his smile isn't much
like a skeleton at all. And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone.
I am trying to say
his neighborhood
is as tattered and feathered
as anything else,
as shadow pierced by sun
and light parted
by shadow-dance as anything else,
but they won’t stop saying
how lovely the ruins,
how ruined the lovely
children must be in that birdless city.
--Jamaal May


"Poetry wants to make things mean more than they mean, says someone, as if we knew how much things meant, and in what unit of measure."
--Rae Armantrout


"Odd as it may seem, I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me."
--Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow


"What is a quote? A quote (cognate with quota) is a cut, a section, a slice of someone else's orange. You suck the slice, toss the rind, skate away."
--Anne Carson, "Foam (Essay with Rhapsody): On the Sublime with Longinus and Antonioni"


"[...] in trying to heal that wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man's work."
--García Lorca, "Theory and Play of the Duende," translated by A. S. Kline


"The Muse stirs the intellect, bringing a landscape of columns and an illusory taste of laurel, and intellect is often poetry's enemy, since it limits too much, since it lifts the poet into the bondage of aristocratic fineness, where he forgets that he might be eaten, suddenly, by ants, or that a huge arsenical lobster might fall on his head--things against which the Muses who inhabit monocles, or the roses of lukewarm lacquer in a tiny salon, have no power.

"Angel and Muse come from outside us: the angel brings light, the Muse form (Hesiod learnt from her). Golden bread or fold of tunic, it is her norm that the poet receives in his laurel grove. While the duende has to be roused from the furthest habitations of the blood."
--García Lorca, "Theory and Play of the Duende," translated by A. S. Kline


"I believe that words uttered in passion contain a greater living truth than do those words which express thoughts rationally conceived. It is blood that moves the body. Words are not meant to stir the air only: they are capable of moving greater things."
--Natsume Soseki, Kokoro


"The more I wonder, the more I love."
--Alice Walker, The Color Purple

ink on a pin underneath the skin: an empty space to fill in

"Scary Parents"
trigger warning: heroin, child abuse )
--Michael Dickman


"The things I steal from sleep are what I am."
--Theodore Roethke


"The Difficulty"
This film, like many others,
claims we'll enjoy life
now that we’ve come through

difficulties, dangers
so incredibly condensed
that they must be over.

If the hardship
was undergone by others,
we identified with them

and, if the danger was survived
by simpler life forms,
they're included in this moment

when the credits roll
and we don't know
when to stand
--Rae Armantrout


"A riot is the language of the unheard."
—Martin Luther King Jr.


"Poem That Wants to Be Called the West Side Highway"
You can do the work just by starting it. You can
do whatever you want. A bill
is drafted on a train to Albany, or in a black
limousine. Like how one day I walked
the entire length of Manhattan, except I didn't.
I didn't finish. Not nearly. How could I?
Stopped as I was by the boat basin. These
credit cards fill with gin
and tonic. They pool with the stuff. Maybe
I get a little lost sometimes,
start thinking I went to Yale. Once I swam
to Governors Island, between the ferries
and freighters. It was like a job you should've seen
me quit. Maybe they looked for me. Maybe
it wasn't someone else's shift, and then
it was. Sometimes people are just turnstiles.
You have to tell them to keep
turning, keep turning into someone else. The rain
crashes across a cab, and the road
has filled. We're waterborne. Or whatever
the word is for that little moment
when the heart lifts. Why don't you devote
yourself the way you once did? It's
an old answer, and an early
one. The alarm goes off for a while after it
stops. In your face in the bathroom
mirror. You play that little song to look at
your teeth. My teeth. They haven't been cared for.
The class giggles at my age. This is
my hearing. The chances taken on a new face.
--Samuel Amadon


"Perpendicular"
It would have been a fine path for a lizard to cross
but I saw none. Brambles and sweet briar grew
on the town side, poppies and wild grasses on the river.
Too hot for birds, the ducks were out, in water and mud,
and frogs were out, by the hundreds it seemed, saying,
Way, Way, in their deepest voices. It was beautiful there
but I'd seen beauty and its opposite so often
that when warmth broke over my skin I remembered winter,
the way fresh grief undoes you the moment you're fully awake.
When she turned two, I asked my young friend
what she would serve at her birthday party and she said,
Tofu and cupcakes. When she was three and I was very sad
she called and said, What are you doing? Picking flowers?
She talked in poems like she was dreaming all the time
or very old or Virginia Woolf. More often in the first world
one wakes from not to the nightmare. When I dreamed I lost
my love I willed myself awake because I would not
survive the pain again, even dreaming. Which is responsible
for that mercy, Doktor, the conscious or the un-? I want
the poppies picked and I want the poppies left where they grow.
Like looking through the window of a moving train
at someone walking up a road lined with poplars
and being someone walking up a road lined with poplars.
The train and the trees, a shower of petals and bees,
sun on the glass and the train perpendicular to the road.
Things entirely themselves arriving in the deep
double shadows of the grass and passersby.
--Kathy Fagan


"At the Fishhouses"
And the black water under the boats with their pools
of bilge rainbowed out like rinds
of steak fat, the salt thick
in my nostrils, but pleasant, too: details
I still remember from Bishop's poem, everything
else about it lost. At the docks,
I watched my friend slip
in her rubber boots; the wide, wet planks
glossy with mosses. You must walk
duckfooted to get to the boats, the black and orange
fishing barrels, the air with its tang
of rusted metals. There are always hooks
and anchors to be found, nets and scrapings
of wood planed by chisel, the way
my great-grandmother was said
to have worked, employed as a shipwright
on the city's waterways in the '30s according
to the newspaper clipping my grandmother
photocopies for me each Christmas.
The description of her gunmetal hair
and slim torso clad in overalls, the hands
she held out for the Times reporter
("Callused," he noted, "strong as a man's")
does not recall the woman
I remember for her farm in Bothell
before it became a Seattle suburb, helping me gather
raspberries from the long canes
she planted by her porch. We spent an afternoon
together sweating in the same long-sleeved
checkered shirts she'd sewn us, according
to the photo I no longer have, and cannot remember
whether is the source or confirmation
of this memory: only the papery, gray-green
streaks of road dust on the canes, a bowl
of chipped porcelain inside of which
were raspberries. Very red, very sweet, furred
like my friend's upper lip I remember
between my teeth as we stood
on the docks. The smell
of iron and winter mist, her mouth
like nothing I have tasted since.
--Paisley Rekdal


"Proof of Poetry"
I wanted first to end up as a drunk in the gutter
and in my twenties I almost ended up there--

and then as an alternative to vodka, to live

alone like a hermit philosopher and court
the extreme poverty that I suspected lay in store for me anyway--

and there were the years in which

I needed very badly to take refuge in mediocrity,
years like blunt scissors cutting out careful squares,

and that was the worst, the very worst--

you could say that always my life
was like a patchwork quilt always ripped apart--

my life like scraps stitched together in a dream

in which animals and people,
plants, chimeras, stars,

even minerals were in a preordained harmony--

a dream forgotten because it has to be forgotten,
but that I looked for desperately, but only sporadically

found in fragments, a hand lifted to strike

or caress or simply lifted for some unknown reason--
and in memory too, some specific pain, sensation of cold or warmth.

I loved that harmony in all its stages of passion

the voices still talking inside me . . . but then, instead of harmony,
there was nothing but rags scattered on the ground.

And maybe that's all it means to be a poet.
--Tom Sleigh


"Strindberg Gray"
He was trying to teach me to economize with my language. Strindberg gray
he said, instead of

              and I thought, sad stuff; plays. Okay: born, rented room,
to Dad & Mom business & bar, how could you not? Or thought,
I cannot be your Lithuania nor her other Armenia,
emptied into river if not skein-tangled senseless. He won't say her name
and not a word of the thitherings. Only that she was lost. Don't speak
the heavy hinges, the crushed-bud breaking of taste
from language. That sort of excess has no place in the new economy.

Strindberg gray, say, when one thinks only January, January, January.
Of the Occurrence as recurrent. A single gunshot
in Dempster's cistern, the echo chambers of sleep. The gray lot
of days in low-light hospitals, Strindberg.

I'll call him gray, his sitting heavy. And her so Strindberg with veil and rose,
her poised in shadow at the door. Funereal nails sunk
into knees would be dripping were they not so goddamn gray.

Excess was for days when my mother sat turning grape leaves
with three sets of pockets: Turkish, English, & Armenian, plus lemon to dry it all out.
By ten, they'd sewn up two; said one is more than enough.

"English, only, Sanossian.
You will speak what we speak."

I don't know what it’s like to lose
a language. Instead,

Strindberg gray, I say, when I want to bring his lost girl back. Strindberg gray,
though I cannot take from him January, July, or the months of coping between.
When my mother leafs through me in her memory banks, bits of face are missing;
sometimes I'm limbless or smear. Gray even scentless, and still all Strindberg.

I tell him, I raise her: be darlings and come scream with me
from all the pockets sewn over. Maybe by late summer we'll be humming:
Tennessee yellow; Tennessee, Tennessee.

--Knar Gavin


"Quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean 'love' in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again."
--Joan Didion, "Goodbye to All That"


"Boy in a Whalebone Corset"
trigger warning: child abuse, homophobia, homophobic and misogynistic slurs )
--Saeed Jones


"My Grandmother's Grave"
When my grandmother died
I thought, "She can't die again."
Everything in her life
happened once and forever:
her bed on our roof,
the battle of good and evil in her tales,
her black clothes,
her mourning for her daughter who
"was killed by headaches,"
the rosary beads and her murmur,
"Forgive us our sins,"
her empty vase from the Ottoman time,
her braid, each hair a history--

First were the Sumerians,
their dreams inscribed in clay tablets.
They drew palms, so dates ripen before their sorrows.
They drew an eye to chase evil
away from their city.
They drew circles and prayed for them:
a drop of water
a sun
a moon
a wheel spinning faster than Earth.
They begged: "Oh gods, don't die and leave us alone."

Over the Tower of Babel,
light is exile,
blurred,
its codes crumbs of songs
leftover for the birds.

More naked emperors
passed by the Tigris
and more ships . . .
The river full
of crowns
helmets
books
dead fish,
and on the Euphrates, corpse-lilies floating.

Every minute a new hole in the body of the ship.

The clouds descended on us
war by war,
picked up our years,
our hanging gardens,
and flew away like storks.

We said there isn't any worse to come.

Then the barbarians came
to the mother of two springs.
They broke my grandmother's grave: my clay tablet.
They smashed the winged bulls whose eyes
were sunflowers
widely open
watching the fragments of our first dreams
for a lifetime.

My hand on the map
as if on an old scar.
--Dunya Mikhail


"The Chart"
trigger warning: racism )
--Rafael Campo


"You remember having friends who used to lampoon the world so effortlessly, crouching at the verge of every joke and waiting to pounce on it, and you remember how they changed as they grew older and the joy of questioning everything slowly became transformed into the pain of questioning everything, like a star consuming its own core."
--Kevin Brockmeier, The View from the Seventh Layer


"Before You Switch Us Off"
An assembly line somewhere
is still churning out husks
of zinc and cadmium like us
but I guess we shouldn't expect to remain
useful after our arms of cable rust over.
So come

collect us for scrap, grind us up
in the gear-laden belly of one of us.
Let it be your hand that pries the access door
with a flat edge of knife, your hand
holding fistfuls of wire, pulling until LEDs go dim.
What if we are analog?

What if our insides are the inner workings
of some clock you don't realize is necessary
until the blade gets stuck,
and a current scrambles up fingertips
in a hurry to your heart, remembering
to fry and shut
down every nerve
ending on its way?

What if the chassis left clicking and buzzing
in a Detroit scrap yard is still
brimming with circuit and hum?
What if armor--

An assembly
line somewhere is
still churning out husks of zinc
and cadmium like us but
I guess we shouldn't
expect to remain useful after
our arms of cable rust
over. So
come.
--Jamaal May


"It's not 'natural' to speak well, eloquently, in an interesting articulate way. People living in groups, families, communes say little--have few verbal means. Eloquence--thinking in words--is a byproduct of solitude, deracination, a heightened painful individuality."
--Susan Sontag, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals & Notebooks 1964 - 1980


"Night Walk"
The all-night convenience store's empty
and no one is behind the counter.
You open and shut the glass door a few times
causing a bell to go off,
but no one appears. You only came
to but a pack of cigarettes, maybe
a copy of yesterday's newspaper--
finally you take one and leave
thirty-five cents in its place.
It is freezing, but it is a good thing
to step outside again:
you can feel less alone in the night,
with lights on here and there
between the dark buildings and trees.
Your own among them, somewhere.
There must be thousands of people
in this city who are dying
to welcome you into their small bolted rooms,
to sit you down and tell you
what has happened to their lives.
And the night smells like snow.
Walking home for a moment
you almost believe you could start again.
And an intense love rushes to your heart,
and hope. It's unendurable, unendurable.
--Franz Wright


"All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind."
--Kahlil Gibran


"[...] all we see of each other is a speck, like the wick in the middle of that flame. The flame goes about with us everywhere; it's not ourselves exactly, but what we feel [...]"
--Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out