Saturday, January 31, 2015

Solitaire by Deborah Landau


That summer there was no girl left in me.
It gradually became clear.
It suddenly became.

In the pool, I was more heavy than light.
Pockmarked and flabby in a floppy hat.
What will my body be

when parked all night in the earth?
Midsummer. Breathe in. Breathe out.
I am not on the oxygen tank.

Twice a week we have sex.
The lithe girls poolside I see them
at their weddings I see them with babies their hips

thickening I see them middle-aged.
I can’t see past the point where I am.
Like you, I’m just passing through.

I want to hold on awhile.
Don’t want to naught
or forsake, don’t want

to be laid gently or racked raw.
If I retinol. If I marathon.
If I Vitamin C. If I crimson

my lips and streakish my hair.
If I wax. Exfoliate. Copulate
beside the fish-slicked sea.

Fill me I’m cold. Fill me I’m halfway gone.
Would you crush me in the stairwell?
Could we just lie down?

If the brakes don’t work.
If the pesticides won’t wash off.
If the seventh floor pushes a brick

out the window and it lands on my head.
If a tremor, menopause. Cancer. ALS.
These are the ABCs of my fear.

The doctor says
I don’t have a pill for that, dear.
Well, what would be a cure-all, ladies,

gin-and-tonics on a summer night?
See you in the immortalities! O blurred.
O tumble-rush of days we cannot catch.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Red Velvet by Nikky Finney

Red Velvet

(for Rosa Parks, 1913-2005)

People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. No--the only thing I was--was tired of giving in.
--Rosa Parks


Montgomery, Alabama, 1955

The setting: A rolling box with wheels
The players: Mr. Joe Singleton, Rev. Scott,
Miss Louise Bennett, Mrs. Rosa Parks,
Jacob & Junie (fraternal twins, fourteen)

The game: Pay your Indian head to the driver,
then get off the bus.
Then, walk to the door at the end of the bus.
Then, reboard the bus through the Black back door.
(Then, push repeat for fifty years.)

Sometimes, the driver pulled off,
before the paid-in-full customer
could get to the one open door.

Fed up with buses driving off--without them--
just as her foot lifted up, grazing, the steel step:

She was not a child. She was in her forties.
A seamstress. A woman devoted to
handmade things.

She had grown up in a place:
where only white people had power,
where only white people passed good jobs on
to other white people,
where only white people loaned money
to other white people,
where only white people were considered human
by other white people,
where only the children of white people had new
books on the first day of school,
where only white people could drive to the store
at midnight for milk
(without having to watch the rearview).


A seamstress brings fabric and thread, collars & hems,
buttonholes, together. She is one who knows her way
around velvet.

Arching herself over a river of cloth she feels for the bias,
but doesn't cut, not until the straight pins are in place,
marking everything: in time, everything will come together.

Nine months after, December 1, 1955, Claudette
Colvin, fifteen, arrested for keeping her seat; before that,
Mary Louise Smith. The time to act, held by two pins.


The Montgomery seamstress waits and waits for
the Cleveland Avenue bus. She climbs aboard,
row five. The fifth row is the first row of the Colored
section. The bus driver, who tried to put her off that day,
had put her off twelve years before. But twelve years
before she was only twenty-eight, still a child to the
heavy work of resistance.

By forty-two, you have pieced & sewn many things
together in segregated Alabama. You have heard
"Nigger Gal" more times than you can stitch your
manners down. You have smelled fear cut through
the air like sulfur iron from the paper mills. The pants,
shirts, and socks that you have darned perfectly, routinely,
walk perfectly, routinely, by you. (Afternoon. How do.)
Those moving along so snug in your well-made, well-sewn
clothes, spit routinely, narrowly missing your perfectly
pressed sleeve.

By forty-two, your biases are flat, your seams are inter-
locked, your patience with fools, razor thin.

By forty-two, your heart is heavy with slavery, lynching,
and the lessons of being "good." You have heard
7,844 Sunday sermons on how God made every
woman in his image. You do a lot of thinking with
a thimble on your thumb. You have hemmed
8,230 skirts for nice, well-meaning white women
in Montgomery. You have let the hem out of
18,809 pant legs for growing white boys. You have
pricked your finger 45,203 times. Held your peace.


December 1, 1955: You didn't notice who was
driving the bus. Not until you got on. Later you
would remember, "All I wanted was to get home."
The bus driver, who put you off when you were
twenty-eight, would never be given the pleasure
of putting you off anything ever again. When he
asks you to move you cross your feet at the ankle.

Well--I'm going to have you arrested.

And you, you with your forty-two years, with your
21,199 perfect zippers, you with your beautiful
nation of perfect seams marching all in place, all
around Montgomery, Alabama, on the backs &
hips of Black & white alike, answer him back,

Well--You may go on and do so.

You are arrested on a Thursday. That night in
Montgomery, Dr. King led the chant, "There
comes a time when people just get tired." (He
wasn't quite right, but he was King.) He asked
you to stand so your people can see you. You
stand. Veritas! You do not speak. The indelible
blue ink still on your thumb saying, Enough!
You think about the qualities of velvet: strength
& sway. How mighty it holds the thread and
won't let go. You pull your purse in close,
the blue lights map out your thumb, blazing
the dark auditorium.

On Courthouse Monday, the sun day dew
sweating the grass, you walk up the sidewalk
in a long-sleeved black dress, your white collar
and deep perfect cuffs holding you high and
starched in the Alabama air. A trim black velvet
hat, a gray coat, white gloves. You hold your
purse close: everything valuable is kept near
the belly, just like you had seen your own mother
do. You are pristine. Persnickety. Particular.
A seamstress. Every thing about you gathered
up and in place. A girl in the crowd, taught not to
shout, shouts, "Oh! She's so sweet looking! Oh!
They done messed with the wrong one now."

You cannot keep messing with a sweet-looking
Black woman who knows her way around velvet.
A woman who can take cotton and gabardine,
seersucker and silk, swirl tapestry, and hang
boiled wool for the house curtains, to the very
millimeter. A woman made of all this is never to
be taken for granted, never to be asked to move
to the back of anything, never ever to be arrested.

A woman who believes she is worthy of every
thing possible. Godly. Grace. Good. Whether you
believe it or not, she has not come to Earth to play
Ring Around Your Rosie on your rolling
circus game of public transportation.

A woman who understands the simplicity pattern,
who wears a circle bracelet of straight pins there,
on the tiny bend of her wrist. A nimble, on-the-dot
woman, who has the help of all things, needle sharp,
silver, dedicated, electric, can pull cloth and others
her way, through the tiny openings she and others
before her have made.

A fastened woman
can be messed with, one too many times.

With straight pins poised in the corner
of her slightly parted lips, waiting to mark
the stitch, her fingers tacking,
looping the blood red wale,
through her softly clenched teeth
she will tell you, without ever looking
your way,

You do what you need to do &
So will I.

Application for a Driving Licence by Michael Ondaatje

Application for a Driving Licence

Two birds loved
in a flurry of red feathers
like a burst cottonball,
continuing while I drove over them.

I am a good driver, nothing shocks me

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Art of Storm-riding by Yahia Lababidi

The Art of Storm-riding

I could not decipher the living riddle of my body
put it to sleep when it hungered, and overfed it
when time came to dream

I nearly choked on the forked tongue of my spirit
between the real and the ideal, rejecting the one
and rejected by the other

I still have not mastered that art of storm-riding
without ears to apprehend howling winds
or eyes for rolling waves

Always the weather catches me unawares, baffled
by maps, compass, stars and the entire apparatus
of bearings or warning signals

Clutching at driftwood, eyes screwed shut, I tremble
hoping the unhinged night will pass and I remember
how once I shielded my flame.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Lapis Lazuli by W. B. Yeats

Lapis Lazuli

I have heard that hysterical women say 
They are sick of the palette and fiddle-bow. 
Of poets that are always gay, 
For everybody knows or else should know 
That if nothing drastic is done 
Aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out. 
Pitch like King Billy bomb-balls in 
Until the town lie beaten flat. 

All perform their tragic play, 
There struts Hamlet, there is Lear, 
That's Ophelia, that Cordelia; 
Yet they, should the last scene be there, 
The great stage curtain about to drop, 
If worthy their prominent part in the play, 
Do not break up their lines to weep. 
They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay; 
Gaiety transfiguring all that dread. 
All men have aimed at, found and lost; 
Black out; Heaven blazing into the head: 
Tragedy wrought to its uttermost. 
Though Hamlet rambles and Lear rages, 
And all the drop-scenes drop at once 
Upon a hundred thousand stages, 
It cannot grow by an inch or an ounce. 

On their own feet they came, or On shipboard, 
Camel-back; horse-back, ass-back, mule-back, 
Old civilisations put to the sword. 
Then they and their wisdom went to rack: 
No handiwork of Callimachus, 
Who handled marble as if it were bronze, 
Made draperies that seemed to rise 
When sea-wind swept the corner, stands; 
His long lamp-chimney shaped like the stem 
Of a slender palm, stood but a day; 
All things fall and are built again, 
And those that build them again are gay. 

Two Chinamen, behind them a third, 
Are carved in lapis lazuli, 
Over them flies a long-legged bird, 
A symbol of longevity; 
The third, doubtless a serving-man, 
Carries a musical instrument. 

Every discoloration of the stone, 
Every accidental crack or dent, 
Seems a water-course or an avalanche, 
Or lofty slope where it still snows 
Though doubtless plum or cherry-branch 
Sweetens the little half-way house 
Those Chinamen climb towards, and I 
Delight to imagine them seated there; 
There, on the mountain and the sky, 
On all the tragic scene they stare. 
One asks for mournful melodies; 
Accomplished fingers begin to play. 
Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes, 
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay. 

In the Storm by Mary Oliver

In the Storm

Some black ducks
were shrugged up 
on the shore.
It was snowing

hard, from the east,
and the sea
was in disorder.
Then some sanderlings,

five inches long
with beaks like wire
flew in,
snowflakes on their backs,

and settled
in a row
behind the ducks -- 
whose backs were also

covered with snow --
so close
they were all but touching,
they were all but under

the roof of the ducks' tails,
so the wind, pretty much, 
blew over them.
They stayed that way, motionless, 

for maybe an hour, 
then the sanderlings,
each a handful of feathers,
shifted, and were blown away

out over the water
which was still raging.
But, somehow,
they came back

and again the ducks,
like a feathered hedge,
let them
crouch there, and live.

If someone you didn't know
told you this,
as I am telling you this, 
would you believe it?

Belief isn't always easy.
But this much I have learned --
if not enough else -- 
to live with my eyes open.

I know what everyone wants
is a miracle.
This wasn't a miracle.
Unless, of course, kindness -- 

as now and again
some rare person has suggested --
is a miracle.
As it surely is.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Crown by Kay Ryan


Too much rain
loosens trees.
In the hills giant oaks
fall upon their knees.
You can touch parts
you have no right to—
places only birds
should fly to.

Reincarnation by Ellen Bass


Who would believe in reincarnation
if she thought she would return as
an oyster? Eagles and wolves
are popular. Even domesticated cats
have their appeal. It’s not terribly distressing
to imagine being Missy, nibbling
kibble and lounging on the windowsill.
But I doubt the toothsome oyster has ever
been the totem of any shaman
fanning the Motherpeace Tarot
or smudging with sage.
Yet perhaps we could do worse
than aspire to be a plump bivalve. Humbly,
the oyster persists in filtering
seawater and fashioning the daily
irritations into lustre.
Dash a dot of Tabasco, pair it
with a dry Martini, not only
will this tender button inspire
an erotic fire in tuxedoed men
and women whose shoulders gleam
in candlelight, this hermit praying
in its rocky cave, this anchorite of iron,
calcium, and protein, is practically
a molluskan saint. Revered and sacrificed,
body and salty liquor of the soul,
the oyster is devoured, surrendering
all—again and again—for love.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Limits by Jorge Luis Borges


There is a line of Verlaine that I will not be able to remember.
There is a street nearby that is widowed of my footsteps,
there is a mirror that has seen me for the last time,
there is a door that I have closed until the end of the world.
Among the books of my library (I am looking at them)
there is one that I will never open now.
This summer I will be fifty years old;
Death is wearing me away, relentless.


Hay una línea de Verlaine que no volveré a recordar.
Hay una calle próxima que está vedada a mis pasos,
hay un espejo que me ha visto por última vez,
hay una puerta que he cerrado hasta el fin del mundo.
Entre los libros de mi biblioteca (estoy viéndolos)
hay alguno que ya nunca abriré.
Este verano cumpliré cincuenta años;
La muerte me desgasta, incesante.

Letters from an Institution by Michael Ryan

Letters from an Institution

The ward beds float like ghost ships   
in the darkness, the nightlight
above my bed I pretend is a lighthouse   
with a little man inside who wears   
a sailor cap and tells good old stories   
of the sea. The little man is me.   
Perhaps I have a dog called Old Salt   
who laps my hand and runs endlessly   
down the circular stairs.
Perhaps he bites like sin.
I dream of ships smashing the reefs,   
their bottoms gutting out,
the crews’ disembodied voices screaming   
Help us help us help somebody please   
and there is no one there at all   
not even me. I wake up nervous,
Old Salt gnawing my flesh. I wake up nervous,   
canvas bedstraps cutting my groin.   
The night nurse, making the rounds,   
says I bellow in sleep like a foghorn.


Nothing moves at night   
except small animals   
kept caged downstairs   
for experiments, going   
bullshit, and the Creole   
janitor’s broom whisking   
closer by inches.
In the ward, we all
have room for errors and elbows
to flail at excitement.
We’re right above the morgue;
the iceboxes make our floor   
cold. The animals seem to know
when someone, bored with holding
on, gives out: they beat   
their heads and teeth   
against the chicken wire   
doors, scream and claw   
The janitor also knows.   
He props his heavy broom   
against his belt, makes   
a sign over himself
learned from a Cajun,   
leaves us shaking
in our bedstraps
to drag the still
warm and nervous body   
down from Isolation.


I have a garden in my brain
shaped like a maze
I lose myself
in, it seems. They only look for me   
sometimes. I don’t like my dreams.

The nurses quarrel over where I am   
hiding. I hear from inside   
a bush. One is crisp
and cuts; one pinches. I’d like to push   
them each somewhere.

They both think it’s funny
here. The laughter sounds like diesels.   
I won’t come out because I’m lazy.   
You start to like the needles.
You start to want to crazy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

American Boy by Thom Gunn

American Boy

I do not seek you out
For if I do
You say I might get tired of you.
To think I was afraid
You’d be the one to tire while we both still
Warm to the naked thrill
Precisely of that strangeness that has made
For such self-doubt.

I hated those old men
With turkey-necks
And undiminished love of sex,
The curtains of their skin
Tripping them up at their incautious play,
When out of torpor they
Had woken as ambitious as if in
Their prime again.

Now I myself am old
We calculate
Our games for such and such a date.
Like bicoastal romance,
In which one night a quarter is the most
Spared to the other coast,
Ours thrives as we stretch out our ignorance:
Men of the world.

Affectionate young man,
Your wisdom feeds
My dried-up impulses, my needs,
With energy and juice.
Expertly you know how to maintain me
At the exact degree
Of hunger without starving. We produce
What warmth we can.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Words by Franz Wright


I don't know where they come from.
I can summon them
(sometimes I can)
into my mind,
into my fingers,
I don't know why. Or I'll suddenly hear them
walking, sometimes
they don't often come when I need them.
When I need them most terribly,

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Lisbon Revisited (1923) by Álvaro de Campos / Fernando Pessoa

Lisbon Revisited (1923)

No, I don’t want anything.
I already said I don’t want anything.

Don’t come to me with conclusions!
Death is the only conclusion.

Don’t offer me aesthetics!
Don’t talk to me of morals!
Take metaphysics away from here!
Don’t try to sell me complete systems, don’t bore me
with the breakthroughs
Of science (of science, my God, of science!)—
Of science, of the arts, of modern civilization!

What harm did I ever do to the gods?

If you’ve got the truth, you can keep it!

I’m a technician, but my technique is limited to the technical
Apart from which I’m crazy, and with every right to be so.
With every right to be so, do you hear?

Leave me alone, for God’s sake!

You want me to be married, futile, predictable and taxable?
You want me to be the opposite of this, the opposite of
If I were someone else, I’d go along with you all.
But since I’m what I am, lay off!
Go to hell without me,
Or let me go there by myself!
Why do we have to go together?

Don’t grab me by the arm!
I don’t like my arm being grabbed. I want to be alone,
I already told you that I can only be alone!
I’m sick of you wanting me to be sociable!

O blue sky—the same one I knew as a child—
Perfect and empty eternal truth!
O gentle, silent, ancestral Tagus,
Tiny truth in which the sky is mirrored!
O sorrow revisited, Lisbon of bygone days today!
You give me nothing, you take nothing from me, you’re
nothing I feel is me.

Leave me in peace! I won’t stay long, for I never stay
long . . .
And as long as Silence and the Abyss hold off, I want to be

(Translated by Richard Zenith)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Japanese Maple by Clive James

Japanese Maple

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?

Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.

My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colors will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Song at the End of the World by Czesław Miłosz

A Song at the End of the World

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.

Warsaw, 1944

(Translated by Anthony Miłosz)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by William Carlos Williams

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

To a Book by Franz Wright

To a Book

How different the book looks to its maker: the botched phantom pages still there, interleaved before his eyes.

Before his eyes
the maybe five nights
when he fell asleep
the way a flower turns toward the sun.

Against all of the years
unable to sleep or go on.
So busy failing,
nobody knows what hard work that is.

Barely time for a coffee break,
never mind a vacation.
Some have worked their whole lives without finding
time to cry.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

All Good by Maureen N. McLane

All Good

a “beautiful day”
nothing happened
and nothing was going to happen
the wind shook leaves
that did not fall
the moored boat did not sail
& the rain fell
on casual grass
everything was full
including the empty glass  


a “beautiful rose”
no sign of a woman
but a boy’s succulent anus
in a Persian lyric
call it ranunculus
or camellia
are they not more enfolded
than the folded rose
whose folds your nose
now probes  


the mountain’s
any cloud can take him
any sun have him
it’s all good
today’s assent
and tomorrow’s

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Winter by Ben (age 5)


Oh I hate winter
Oh I hate winter
Just I hate winter
Oh I hate winter
Oh I hate winter
Oh I hate winter
Just I hate winter
More and more and more
I hate winter
Just more and more
I hate winter