Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Boy Died in My Alley by Gwendolyn Brooks

The Boy Died in My Alley

     to Running Boy

The Boy died in my alley
without my Having Known.
Policeman said, next morning,
"Apparently died Alone."

"You heard a shot?" Policeman said.
Shots I hear and Shots I hear.
I never see the Dead.

The Shot that killed him yes I heard
as I heard the Thousand shots before;
careening tinnily down the nights
across my years and arteries.

Policeman pounded on my door.
"Who is it?" "POLICE!" Policeman yelled.
"A Boy was dying in your alley.
A Boy is dead, and in your alley.
And have you known this Boy before?"

I have known this Boy before.
I have known this boy before, who ornaments my alley.
I never saw his face at all.
I never saw his futurefall.
But I have known this Boy.

I have always heard him deal with death.
I have always heard the shout, the volley.
I have closed my heart-ears late and early.
And I have killed him ever.

I joined the Wild and killed him
with knowledgeable unknowing.
I saw where he was going.
I saw him Crossed. And seeing,
I did not take him down.

He cried not only "Father!"
but "Mother!
The cry climbed up the alley.
It went up to the wind.
It hung upon the heaven
for a long
stretch-strain of Moment.

The red floor of my alley
is a special speech to me.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. by Noah Eli Gordon

Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.

I’d give you another day dizzy 
in its bracket for the reluctant circumference 
of a sad sad satellite’s antiquated orbital stoppage.
You can’t jump with a lead foot, can’t 
anthropomorphize insect anticipation, can’t 
pixelate postcard nostalgia, can’t 
trace a boy’s tiny hand and call him
king of anything that crosses your path, your past,
your iconographic reluctance to let go the toehold
of ordinary New York lasting so long at night, so
lusty in traffic & another orphan absently
kicking the underside of an orange plastic chair.
Poems shouldn’t make you wait for them to finish.
Like love, they should finish making you wait.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

By the River by Tomas Tranströmer

By the River

Talking with contemporaries I saw heard behind their faces
the stream
that flowed and flowed and pulled with it the willing and the unwilling.

And the creature with stuck-together eyes that wants
to go right down the rapids with the current
throws itself forward without trembling
in a furious hunger for simplicity.

The water pulls more and more swiftly

as where the river narrows and flows over
in the rapids—the place where I paused
after a journey through dry woods

one June evening: the radio gives the latest
on the special meeting: Kosygin, Eban.
A few thoughts drill despairingly.
A few people down in the village.

And under the suspension bridge the masses of water hurl
past. Here comes the timber. Some logs
shoot out like torpedoes. Others turn
crosswise, twirl sluggishly and helplessly away

and some nose against the riverbanks,
push among stones and rubbish, wedge fast,
and pile up like clasped hands

motionless in the uproar . . .

       I saw heard from the bridge

in a cloud of mosquitoes,
together with some boys. Their bicycles
buried in the greenery—only the horns
stuck out.

(Translated by Robin Fulton)


Kingdom Animalia by Aracelis Girmay

Kingdom Animalia

When I get the call about my brother,
I’m on a stopped train leaving town
& the news packs into me—freight—
though it’s him on the other end
now, saying finefine— 

Forfeit my eyes, I want to turn away
from the hair on the floor of his house
& how it got there Monday,
but my one heart falls
like a sad, fat persimmon
dropped by the hand of the Turczyn’s old tree. 

I want to sleep. I do not want to sleep. See, 

one day, not today, not now, we will be gone
from this earth where we know the gladiolas.
My brother, this noise,
some love [you] I loved
with all my brain, & breath,
will be gone; I’ve been told, today, to consider this
as I ride the long tracks out & dream so good 

I see a plant in the window of the house
my brother shares with his love, their shoes. & there
he is, asleep in bed
with this same woman whose long skin
covers all of her bones, in a city called Oakland,
& their dreams hang above them
a little like a chandelier, & their teeth
flash in the night, oh, body. 

Oh, body, be held now by whom you love.
Whole years will be spent, underneath these impossible stars,
when dirt’s the only animal who will sleep with you
& touch you with
its mouth.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

No Won-Tons for Whitey by Justin Chin

No Won-Tons for Whitey

The special’s not for you,
The brown rice much too white,
The soy sauce much too salty,
The noodles way too cheap.

No won-tons for whitey,
No nookie for you,
No razzle for baby,
No yum-yums for me.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Fisting Bottom by Justin Chin

The Fisting Bottom

Soon, the carnival of me will be no more
than tossing sausages into an open cave.
The dark maw of Proud Monsters devouring
its shining arrogant young. For those who escape
the kill -- the wily, the motivated, the schemers,
the pure (certainly purer-than-thou), the chosen ones,
the untouchables -- the wreck is never far
from mind, never close at hand, but always sticks
to the back of the throat.
I have turned myself inside-out to turn
my understanding right-side-up or down; I have
wielded my weapon with cunning & grace & skill.
I have lived past the point
of impact; I have seen my disciples and my foes.
I have courted perfect loves and imperfect time; and still
I long to bloom. Rosebud
was never the name of my sled.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Swallowed by Mark Bibbins


When I see an escalator I have to kiss
everyone on it, don’t you? If you like these

pastries—our lawyer calls them perfidy rolls—
there are more on his helicopter.

He’s Serbian or something,
whole family wiped out

by his other family. But he’s fine now.
Drop a kiss on the cultural floor,

three-second rule applies. I don’t even know
who I’m kissing anymore, do you?

Sneak away to where the world snaps in half
and come back with sanctions, come back

with sauces, come back with Haribo,
come back with Inferno flashcards,

come back with glottal nonstop.
Dear Ciacco, your flowers were delicious but barely

a lunch so we dug a new grave for the stems.
“Finish us up,” they sang, “or finish us off.”

Lie down in sewage to stay down; sit up
only for people-will-see-me-and-die-level fame,

smiling like your teeth are on fire.
Oh darling you know what they say:

why have one factory
when you can have five. Our lawyer always

reminds us, “Little hands, long hours.” Indeed!
If I could eat my voice I would, but I’m off

to seize the world, the inside of its machine.
This is the way Celan ends, not with a bang

but a river. Woolf, too; she goes out
the same goddamn way—

I mean wind any creature tight
enough and it does what it has to do.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field by Mary Oliver

White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light, 
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings - five feet apart -
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow -
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows -
so I thought:
maybe death isn't darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us -
as soft as feathers -
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light - scalding, aortal light -
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Zoom! by Simon Armitage


    It begins as a house, an end terrace
in this case
    but it will not stop there. Soon it is
an avenue
    which cambers arrogantly past the Mechanics' Institute,
turns left
    at the main road without even looking
and quickly it is
    a town with all four major clearing banks,
a daily paper
    and a football team pushing for promotion.

    On it goes, oblivious of the Planning Acts,
the green belts,
    and before we know it it is out of our hands:
city, nation,
    hemisphere, universe, hammering out in all directions
until suddenly,
    mercifully, it is drawn aside through the eye
of a black hole
    and bulleted into a neighbouring galaxy, emerging
smaller and smoother
    than a billiard ball but weighing more than Saturn.

    People stop me in the street, badger me
in the check-out queue
    and ask "What is this, this that is so small
and so very smooth
    but whose mass is greater than the ringed planet?"
It's just words
    I assure them. But they will not have it.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Small Wire by Anne Sexton

Small Wire

My faith
is a great weight
hung on a small wire,
as doth the spider
hang her baby on a thin web,
as doth the vine,
twiggy and wooden,
hold up grapes
like eyeballs,
as many angels
dance on the head of a pin. 

God does not need
too much wire to keep Him there,
just a thin vein,
with blood pushing back and forth in it,
and some love.
As it has been said:
Love and a cough
cannot be concealed.
Even a small cough.
Even a small love.
So if you have only a thin wire,
God does not mind.
He will enter your hands
as easily as ten cents used to
bring forth a Coke.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Loneliness by Fanny Howe


Loneliness is not an accident or a choice.
It’s an uninvited and uncreated companion.
It slips in beside you when you are not aware that a
choice you are making will have consequences.
It does you no good even though it’s like one of the
elements in the world that you cannot exist without.
It takes your hand and walks with you. It lies down
with you. It sits beside you. It’s as dark as a shadow
but it has substance that is familiar.
It swims with you and swings around on stools.
It boards the ferry and leans on the motel desk.

Nothing great happens as a result of loneliness.
Your character flaws remain in place. You still stop in
with friends and have wonderful hours among them,
but you must run as soon as you hear it calling.
It does call. And you climb the stairs obediently,
pushing aside books and notes to let it know that you
have returned to it, all is well.
If you don’t answer its call, you sense that it will sink
towards a deep gravity and adopt a limp.

From loneliness you learn very little. It pulls you
back, it pulls you down.

It’s the manifestation of a vow never made but kept:
I will go home now and forever in solitude.

And after that loneliness will accompany you to
every airport, train station, bus depot, café, cinema,
and onto airplanes and into cars, strange rooms and
offices, classrooms and libraries, and it will hang near
your hand like a habit.
But it isn’t a habit and no one can see it.

It’s your obligation, and your companion warms itself
against you.
You are faithful to it because it was the only vow you
made finally, when it was unnecessary.

If you figured out why you chose it, years later, would
you ask it to go?
How would you replace it?
No, saying good-bye would be too embarrassing.
First you might cry.
Because shame and loneliness are almost one.
Shame at existing in the first place. Shame at being
visible, taking up space, breathing some of the sky,
sleeping in a whole bed, asking for a share.

Loneliness feels so much like shame, it always seems
to need a little more time on its own.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Letter to Anne by Langston Hughes

A Letter to Anne

Since I left you, Anne, 
I have seen nothing but you. 
Every day 
Has been your face, 
And every night your hand 
And every road 
Your voice calling me. 
And every rock and every flower and tree 
Has been a touch of you. 
Have I seen anything else but you,


Monday, December 14, 2015

Opus Posthumous by James Longenbach

Opus Posthumous

When I painted, everybody saw.
When I played piano, everybody heard.

I ate your raspberries.
The sign no trespassing applied to me.

Now, the hemlocks have grown higher than the house.
There’s moss on my stoop, a little mildew
In the shower but you’ve never seen my shower.

I can undress by the window,
I can sleep in the barn.

The sky, which is cloudy,
Suits the earth to which it belongs.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Rukeyser by Gerald Stern


A visit with Muriel in her New York apartment,
helping her in the kitchen, making her tea,
freeing her from a statement but she knew it
by heart and wouldn’t listen though there was a
rupture somewhere in the second sentence,
and we were alone for an hour until her nurse
came back and scolded her for leaving her bed
and sitting with only a loosely knitted shawl
over her shoulders and only a thin slip
to cover her, a silk or rayon; and when
the subject was murder or lying, there was a look of
abandonment to her as it was when she let
her poems fall on the floor in Philadelphia
in the long narrow theater on Walnut Street
but I never finished my tea and I escaped
before the nurse could get to me and I
turned west, for the record, near Lexington, I think,
against the sun, for it was March already.

Unforced Error by Meghan O'Rourke

Unforced Error

Once: those long wet Vermont summers.
No money, nothing to do but read books, swim
in the river with men wearing their jean shorts,
then play bingo outside the church, celebrating when we won.
Nothing seemed real to me and it was all very alive.
It took that long to learn how wrong I was—
over the rim of the horizon the sun burns.
Heidegger: “Every man is born as many men
and dies as a single one.”
The bones in us still marrowful.
The moon up there, too, an arctic sorrow.
I’m sorry, another Scotch? Some nuts?
I used to think pressing forward was the point of life,
endlessly forward, the snow falling, gaudily falling.
I made a mistake. Now I have a will. It says when I die
let me live. A white shirt, bare legs, bones beneath.
Numbers on a board. A life can be a lucky streak,
or a dry spell, or a happenstance.
Yellow raspberries in July sun, bitter plums, curtains in wind.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Elegy by W. S. Merwin


Who would I show it to

Thursday, December 10, 2015

As I Cross the Heliopause at Midnight, I Think of My Mission by Matthew Zapruder

As I Cross the Heliopause at Midnight, I Think of My Mission

Drunker than Voyager I
but not as Voyager 2 I rode my blue
bike back through the darkness
to my lonely geode cave of light
awaiting nothing under the punctured
dome. I had achieved escape
velocity drinking clear liquid starlight
at the Thunderbird with a fingerless
Russian hedge fund inspector and one
who called himself The Champ. All
night I felt fine crystals cutting
my lips like rising up through
a hailstorm. And the great vacuum
cleaner that cannot be filled moved
through my chest, gathering
conversation dust and discharging
it through my borehole. During
one of many silences The Champ
took off his face and thus were many
gears to much metallic laughter
revealed. Long ago I forgot
the word which used to mean in truth
but now expresses disbelief. So
quickly did my future come. You who
are floating past me on your inward way,
please inform those glowing faces
who first gave me this shove I have
managed to rotate my brilliant
golden array despite their instructions.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl (443) by Emily Dickinson

I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl (443)

I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl—
Life's little duties do—precisely—
As the very least
Were infinite—to me—

I put new Blossoms in the Glass—
And throw the old—away—
I push a petal from my Gown
That anchored there—I weigh
The time 'twill be till six o'clock
I have so much to do—
And yet—Existence—some way back—
Stopped—struck—my ticking—through—
We cannot put Ourself away
As a completed Man
Or Woman—When the Errand's done
We came to Flesh—upon—
There may be—Miles on Miles of Nought—
Of Action—sicker far—
To simulate—is stinging work—
To cover what we are
From Science—and from Surgery—
Too Telescopic Eyes
To bear on us unshaded—
For their—sake—not for Ours—
'Twould start them—
We—could tremble—
But since we got a Bomb—
And held it in our Bosom—
Nay—Hold it—it is calm—

Therefore—we do life's labor—
Though life's Reward—be done—
With scrupulous exactness—
To hold our Senses—on—


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Boy Breaking Glass by Gwendolyn Brooks

Boy Breaking Glass

To Marc Crawford 
from whom the commission

Whose broken window is a cry of art   
(success, that winks aware
as elegance, as a treasonable faith)
is raw: is sonic: is old-eyed première.
Our beautiful flaw and terrible ornament.   
Our barbarous and metal little man.

“I shall create! If not a note, a hole.   
If not an overture, a desecration.”

Full of pepper and light
and Salt and night and cargoes.

“Don’t go down the plank
if you see there’s no extension.   
Each to his grief, each to
his loneliness and fidgety revenge.
Nobody knew where I was and now I am no longer there.”

The only sanity is a cup of tea.   
The music is in minors.

Each one other
is having different weather.

“It was you, it was you who threw away my name!   
And this is everything I have for me.”

Who has not Congress, lobster, love, luau,   
the Regency Room, the Statue of Liberty,   
runs. A sloppy amalgamation.
A mistake.
A cliff.
A hymn, a snare, and an exceeding sun.


Monday, December 7, 2015

The Shirt by Robert Pinsky

The Shirt

The back, the yoke, the yardage. Lapped seams,
The nearly invisible stitches along the collar
Turned in a sweatshop by Koreans or Malaysians

Gossiping over tea and noodles on their break
Or talking money or politics while one fitted
This armpiece with its overseam to the band

Of cuff I button at my wrist. The presser, the cutter,
The wringer, the mangle. The needle, the union,
The treadle, the bobbin. The code. The infamous blaze

At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven.
One hundred and forty-six died in the flames
On the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes—

The witness in a building across the street
Who watched how a young man helped a girl to step
Up to the windowsill, then held her out

Away from the masonry wall and let her drop.
And then another. As if he were helping them up
To enter a streetcar, and not eternity.

A third before he dropped her put her arms 
Around his neck and kissed him. Then he held
Her into space, and dropped her. Almost at once

He stepped to the sill himself, his jacket flared
And fluttered up from his shirt as he came down,
Air filling up the legs of his gray trousers—

Like Hart Crane’s Bedlamite, “shrill shirt ballooning.”
Wonderful how the pattern matches perfectly
Across the placket and over the twin bar-tacked

Corners of both pockets, like a strict rhyme
Or a major chord. Prints, plaids, checks,
Houndstooth, Tattersall, Madras. The clan tartans

Invented by mill-owners inspired by the hoax of Ossian,
To control their savage Scottish workers, tamed
By a fabricated heraldry: MacGregor,
Bailey, MacMartin. The kilt, devised for workers
To wear among the dusty clattering looms.
Weavers, carders, spinners. The loader,

The docker, the navvy. The planter, the picker, the sorter
Sweating at her machine in a litter of cotton
As slaves in calico headrags sweated in fields:

George Herbert, your descendant is a Black
Lady in South Carolina, her name is Irma
And she inspected my shirt. Its color and fit

And feel and its clean smell have satisfied
Both her and me. We have culled its cost and quality
Down to the buttons of simulated bone,

The buttonholes, the sizing, the facing, the characters
Printed in black on neckband and tail. The shape,
The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

How to Get Back to Chester by Edward Hirsch

How to Get Back to Chester

I remember the greasy moon floating
like a tire over the highway, the last
stars flecked like dust on the window
of my father’s garage. For years I’ve walked
away from the concrete fields of a lousy
childhood, the damp haze of life in Chester,

but now I’ve come back to follow the
moon through the toothed stacks of chimneys,
through the back alleys lit up by shabby
yellow lanterns. I’ve come here to stand
like a pilgrim before the tin shacks
holding their tin ears on the highway

while trucks roar by without stopping
and factories clack their fat tongues
together in wind. I’ve come here to listen
to strangers talk about football, to waitresses
talk to strangers. I’ve come to see myself
taking deep blasts from the old furnace.

Not much is changed here, yet
not much is left of childhood, either.
If you want to get back to Chester
you have to listen: you have to stand
like a penitent in your bare feet
and feel the air darken before a storm;

you have to stare at the one viny
plant waving on the family porch
until you feel your father’s grimy palm
gripping your hand, until you finally taste
the words at the back of your own mouth, saying
Don’t come back, son. And welcome. 

The Hotel by Austin Smith

The Hotel

The radiator holds
its boiling water
like an accordion
holding its breath
in a ditch. The room
itself is simple,
the sort rented out
night by night
to the poor to make
more poor or to die in
but it is not night
nor is she poor. She
could have afforded
a nicer room and it is
day. Closing the blinds
the way someone
takes out a contact
that’s been bothering
her, she lies down,
the only sounds
wrenches clunking
in the radiator
and a boy playing
piano in the lobby
like someone falling
down stairs. Clearly
he is unsupervised.
Clearly soon someone
will come grab him
by the wrist, shaking
him once, the way one
shakes a thermometer.
Clearly it is a boy,
or a drunk man
who’s never played
and wants only to feel
the cold ivory keys
the way a woman
will sometimes feel
the forehead
of a child she knows
is perfectly well.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Lana Turner has Collapsed! by Frank O'Hara

Lana Turner has Collapsed!

Lana Turner has collapsed! 
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky
and suddenly I see a headline 
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up.