Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Mercy by Philip Levine

The Mercy

The ship that took my mother to Ellis Island
eighty-three years ago was named “The Mercy.”
She remembers trying to eat a banana
without first peeling it and seeing her first orange
in the hands of a young Scot, a seaman
who gave her a bite and wiped her mouth for her
with a red bandana and taught her the word,
“orange,” saying it patiently over and over.
A long autumn voyage, the days darkening
with the black waters calming as night came on,
then nothing as far as her eyes could see and space
without limit rushing off to the corners
of creation. She prayed in Russian and Yiddish
to find her family in New York, prayers
unheard or misunderstood or perhaps ignored
by all the powers that swept the waves of darkness
before she woke, that kept “The Mercy” afloat
while smallpox raged among the passengers
and crew until the dead were buried at sea
with strange prayers in a tongue she could not fathom.
“The Mercy,” I read on the yellowing pages of a book
I located in a windowless room of the library
on 42nd Street, sat thirty-one days
offshore in quarantine before the passengers
disembarked. There a story ends. Other ships
arrived, “Tancred” out of Glasgow, “The Neptune”
registered as Danish, “Umberto IV,”
the list goes on for pages, November gives
way to winter, the sea pounds this alien shore.
Italian miners from Piemonte dig
under towns in western Pennsylvania
only to rediscover the same nightmare
they left at home. A nine-year-old girl travels
all night by train with one suitcase and an orange.
She learns that mercy is something you can eat
again and again while the juice spills over
your chin, you can wipe it away with the back
of your hands and you can never get enough.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Written in Pencil in the Sealed Railway-Car by Dan Pagis

Written in Pencil in the Sealed Railway-Car

here in this carload
I am eve
with abel my son
if you see my other son
cain son of man
tell him I


Thursday, January 28, 2016

the gate by Tadeusz Różewicz

the gate

Lasciate ogni speranza
Voi ch’entrate 

abandon all hope
ye who enter here 

the inscription at the entrance to the inferno
of Dante’s Divine Comedy 


behind that gate 
there is no hell 

hell has been dismantled
by theologians
and deep psychologists 

converted into allegory
for humanitarian and educational


behind that gate
the same thing begins again 

two drunken grave-diggers
sit at the edge of a hole 

they’re drinking non-alcoholic beer
and munching on sausage
winking at us
under the cross 
they play soccer
with Adam’s skull 

the hole awaits
tomorrow’s corpse
the “stiff” is on its way 


here we will await 
the final judgment 

water gathers in the hole
cigarette butts are floating in it 


behind that gate
there will neither be history
nor goodness nor poetry 

and what will there be
dear stranger? 

there will be stones 

upon stone
stone upon stone
and on that stone 
one more stone
(Translated by Joanna Trzeciak)


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Count the Almonds by Paul Celan

Count the Almonds

Count the Almonds,
count, what was bitter, watched for you,
count me in:

I sought your Eye, as it opened and no one announced
I spun that hidden Thread,
on which the Dew, of your thought,
slid down to the Pitchers,
that a Speech, which no one’s Heart found, guarded.

Only there did you enter wholly the Name, that is yours,
stepping sure-footedly into yourself,
the Hammers swung free in the Bell-Cradle of Silences,
the Listened-For reached you,
the Dead put its arm round you too,
and the three of you walked through the Evening.

Make me bitter.
Count me among the Almonds. 


I Remember by Anne Sexton

I Remember

By the first of August 
the invisible beetles began 
to snore and the grass was 
as tough as hemp and was 
no color - no more than 
the sand was a color and 
we had worn our bare feet 
bare since the twentieth 
of June and there were times 
we forgot to wind up your 
alarm clock and some nights  
we took our gin warm and neat 
from old jelly glasses while 
the sun blew out of sight 
like a red picture hat and 
one day I tied my hair back 
with a ribbon and you said 
that I looked almost like 
a puritan lady and what 
I remember best is that 
the door to your room was 
the door to mine.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

I Am So in Love I Grow a New Hymen by Sandra Cisneros

I Am So in Love I Grow a New Hymen

Terrorists of the last 
decade. Anarchists who fled 
with my heart thudding on the back
bumper of a flatbed truck,
Nelson Algren impersonators.
Joe Hill detonators. Los-mas-
Olympic gold, silver, bronze love-
triathlons and several blue
ribbon, runner-ups to boot.
Forgot, forgotten, forget.
Past tense and no regrets.
No doubt you’re Villa
and I’m Pershing’s dizzy troops.
No doubt I’m eucalyptus and you
a California conflagration. No doubt
you’re eucharist. Euclidean geometry.
World War II’s Gibraltar strait, 
the Chinese traders of Guangzhou.
Zapatistas breakfasting at Sanborn’s.
Sassoferrato’s cobalt blue.
Museo Poldi Pezzoli’s insurance rate.
Gaudi’s hammer against porcelain plates.
Ay, daddy, daddy, I 
don’t give a good goddamn. I 
don’t give
a good


Sunday, January 24, 2016

How to be Drawn to Trouble by Terrance Hayes

How to be Drawn to Trouble

The people I live with are troubled by the way I have been playing
“Please, Please, Please” by James Brown and the Famous Flames
All evening, but they won’t say. I’ve got a lot of my mother’s music
In me. James Brown is no longer a headwind of hot grease

And squealing for ladies with leopard-skinned intentions,
Stoned on horns and money. Once I only knew his feel-good music.

While my mother watched convicts dream, I was in my bedroom
Pretending to be his echo. I still love the way he says Please
Ten times straight, bending the one syllable until it sounds
Like three. Trouble is one of the ways we discover the complexities

Of the soul. Once, my mother bit the wrist of a traffic cop
But was not locked away because like him, she was an officer

Of the state. She was a guard at the prison in which James Brown
Was briefly imprisoned. There had been broken man-made laws,
A car chase melee, a roadblock of troopers in sunblock.
I, for one, don’t trust the police because they go around looking

To eradicate trouble. T-R-oh-you-better-believe
In trouble. Trouble is how we learn what the soul is.

James Brown, that brother could spice up any sentence he uttered
Or was given. His accent made it sound like he was pleading
Whether he was speaking or singing. A woman can make a man
Sing. After another of my mother’s disappearances, my father left her

Bags on the porch. My father believes a man should never dance
In public. Under no circumstances should a grown man have hair

Long enough to braid. If I was a black girl, I’d always be mad.
I might weep too and break. But think about the good things.
My mother and I love James Brown in a cape and sweat
Like glitter that glows like little bits of gold. In the photo she took

With him, he holds her wrist oddly, probably unintentionally
Covering her scar. There’s the trouble of being misunderstood

And the trouble of being soul brother number one sold brother
Godfather dynamite. Add to that the trouble of shouting
“I got to get out!” “I got to get down!” “I got to get on up the road!”
For many years there was a dancing competition between

My mother and father though rarely did they actually dance.
They did not scuffle like drums or cymbals, but like something

Sluggish and close to earth. You know how things work
When they don’t work? I want to think about the good things.
The day after the Godfather of Soul finished signing just that
All over everything in the prison, all my mother wanted to talk

About were his shoes. For some reason, he had six or seven pairs
Of Italian leather beneath his bunk suggesting where he’d been,

Even if for the moment, he wasn’t going anywhere.
Think about how little your feet would touch the ground
If you were on your knees pleading two or three times a day.
There are theories about freedom, and there is a song that says

None of us are free. My mother had gone out Saturday night,
And came home Sunday an hour or so before church.

She punched clean through the porch window
When we wouldn’t let her in. I can still hear all the love buried
Under all the noise she made. But sometimes I hear it wrong.
It’s not James Brown making trouble, it’s trouble he’s drawn to:

Baby, you done me wrong. Took my love, and now you’re gone.
It’s trouble he’s asking to stay. My father might have said Please

When my mother was beating the door and then calling to me
From the window. I might have heard her say Please just before
Or just after the glass and then the skin along her wrist broke.
Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease, that’s how James Brown says it.

Please, please, please, please, please, Honey, please don’t go.

Of Mere Being by Wallace Stevens

Of Mere Being

The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,

A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird's fire-fangled feathers dangle down.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Landscape, Dense with Trees by Ellen Bryant Voigt

Landscape, Dense with Trees

When you move away, you see how much depends   
on the pace of the days—how much
depended on the haze we waded through
each summer, visible heat, wavy and discursive   
as the lazy track of the snake in the dusty road;
and on the habit in town of porches thatched in vines,   
and in the country long dense promenades, the way   
we sacrificed the yards to shade.
It was partly the heat that made my father
plant so many trees—two maples marking the site
for the house, two elms on either side when it was done;   
mimosa by the fence, and as it failed, fast-growing chestnuts,   
loblolly pines; and dogwood, redbud, ornamental crab.   
On the farm, everything else he grew
something could eat, but this
would be a permanent mark of his industry,
a glade established in the open field. Or so it seemed.   
Looking back at the empty house from across the hill,   
I see how well the house is camouflaged, see how   
that porous fence of saplings, their later
scrim of foliage, thickened around it,
and still he chinked and mortared, planting more.   
Last summer, although he’d lost all tolerance for heat,   
he backed the truck in at the family grave
and stood in the truckbed all afternoon, pruning
the landmark oak, repairing recent damage by a wind;   
then he came home and hung a swing
in one of the horse-chestnuts for my visit.
The heat was a hand at his throat,
a fist to his weak heart. But it made a triumph   
of the cooler air inside, in the bedroom,
in the maple bedstead where he slept,
in the brick house nearly swamped by leaves.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Last Night by Hester Knibbe

Last Night

Saved two children last night.
They lay under thin black ice
one gone blue, the other grey.
I laid them out on grass
that snapped under my step
wrung their bodies warm and dry
gave them the gust of my breath.

Then I looked out at the morning
that lay lukewarm on the water
put on a tank top
arranged some grasses in a vase
fished two children out of sleep.

(Translated by Jacquelyn Pope)


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Harvard Professor Emeritus by Tadeusz Dąbrowski

Harvard Professor Emeritus

Harvard Professor Emeritus,
thank you for coming to my reading,
though you had so many other attractions to choose from,
upstairs Šalamun was speaking, Pamuk two doors down.
Thank you for coming, although you started to snore
before I started to read, and you woke up again
at the applause. It was wonderful to watch you sinking
into your chair, plunging into the amniotic fluid
of sleep, nourishing yourself on my metaphors
through an invisible umbilicus. Or maybe in the meantime
you were out on a cosmic walk wearing a spacesuit
of Slavonic speech, protecting you from the void.
Or else you had no dreams at all, you were on your usual
self after a stroke, and I was keeping you alive
in a poetic coma. I don’t know, in any case
thank you for coming. What mattered more to me
was your presence than your absence.

(Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones)


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Mannerism by René Ricard


These are the problems which inhabit the imagination
Tincture of opium, redolent eucalyptus balm
The constituent order fails
At any attempted rescue, the end of a soft brown epoch

Some things were marvelous: Bring on the Byzantine
The gilded orient spoiling Venice’s moldy sewer
“Why must they build their capitals on swamps?”
Paris! London! Moscow!

We find remaining fragments bizarre
It’s the mulch of the Cul de Sac
Tempting our languor with that dead clutter sensation
“I’m like a fallow field.”
The party’s over and we remember this.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous


Tell me it was for the hunger
& nothing less. For hunger is to give
the body what it knows

it cannot keep. That this amber light
whittled down by another war
is all that pins my hand

to your chest.


You, drowning
between my arms —

You, pushing your body
into the river
only to be left
with yourself —


I’ll tell you how we’re wrong enough to be forgiven. How one night, after
mother, then taking a chainsaw to the kitchen table, my father went to kneel
in the bathroom until we heard his muffled cries through the walls.
And so I learned that a man, in climax, was the closest thing
to surrender.


Say surrender. Say alabaster. Switchblade.
Honeysuckle. Goldenrod. Say autumn.
Say autumn despite the green
in your eyes. Beauty despite
daylight. Say you’d kill for it. Unbreakable dawn
mounting in your throat.
My thrashing beneath you
like a sparrow stunned
with falling.


Dusk: a blade of honey between our shadows, draining.


I wanted to disappear — so I opened the door to a stranger’s car. He was divorced. He was still alive. He was sobbing into his hands (hands that tasted like rust). The pink breast cancer ribbon on his keychain swayed in the ignition. Don’t we touch each other just to prove we are still here? I was still here once. The moon, distant & flickering, trapped itself in beads of sweat on my neck. I let the fog spill through the cracked window & cover my fangs. When I left, the Buick kept sitting there, a dumb bull in pasture, its eyes searing my shadow onto the side of suburban houses. At home, I threw myself on the bed like a torch & watched the flames gnaw through my mother’s house until the sky appeared, bloodshot & massive. How I wanted to be that sky — to hold every flying & falling at once.


Say amen. Say amend.

Say yes. Say yes



In the shower, sweating under cold water, I scrubbed & scrubbed.


In the life before this one, you could tell
two people were in love
because when they drove the pickup
over the bridge, their wings
would grow back just in time.

Some days I am still inside the pickup.
Some days I keep waiting.


It’s not too late. Our heads haloed
with gnats & summer too early
to leave any marks.
Your hand under my shirt as static
intensifies on the radio.
Your other hand pointing
your daddy’s revolver
to the sky. Stars falling one
by one in the cross hairs.
This means I won’t be
afraid if we’re already
here. Already more
than skin can hold. That a body
beside a body
must make a field
full of ticking. That your name
is only the sound of clocks
being set back another hour
& morning
finds our clothes
on your mother’s front porch, shed
like week-old lilies.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Everything Good between Men and Women by C. D. Wright

Everything Good between Men and Women

has been written in mud and butter
and barbecue sauce. The walls and
the floors used to be gorgeous.
The socks off-white and a near match.
The quince with fire blight
but we get two pints of jelly
in the end. Long walks strengthen
the back. You with a fever blister
and myself with a sty. Eyes
have we and we are forever prey
to each other’s teeth. The torrents
go over us. Thunder has not harmed
anyone we know. The river coursing
through us is dirty and deep. The left
hand protects the rhythm. Watch
your head. No fires should be
unattended. Especially when wind. Each
receives a free swiss army knife.
The first few tongues are clearly
preparatory. The impression
made by yours I carry to my grave. It is
just so sad so creepy so beautiful.
Bless it. We have so little time
to learn, so much... The river
courses dirty and deep. Cover the lettuce.
Call it a night. O soul. Flow on. Instead.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Portrait of Lucy with Fine Nile Jar by Lucie Brock-Broido

Portrait of Lucy with Fine Nile Jar

My torso is a cedar chest in the brief closet 
Of the middle of a country, hollow 

                         Until three young sisters 
Curl there like marsupials and shut 

The bevelled door and die there, 
                         Not determined yet, into 

The camphored pouch of an Otherworld. 
Around this death there was a fine Nile jar 

Of halo-light, where I am 
                         Thinking of you now, 

                         Everything; you’re all 

Out of time like a nightjar In the diorama of the great hall 

Of prehistory, depicting the tiny cataclysmic 
                         Moment of some mythic, leggy 

Accident that changed the world 
One day, numinous as a Petrarchan 

Sunflower in the night. A moment 
                         Perfect as a bee suspended 

In the perfect weather of a honey jar. 
Your heart was cinctured, full, surrounded 

By a hinder of restharrow 
                         Roots, nestled in its little parasol 

Of amber grief, willful as a wooden tiger standing 
                         In an empty yellow room. 

While you were leaving, I was lying, eastward, 
On my back, like a pharaoh counting 

The layers of muslin wound 
Around my cumbrous (nearly human) 

Hand, counting the days until 
                                               An evermore arrives.


Friday, January 8, 2016

Between the Wars by Robert Hass

Between the Wars

When I ran, it rained. Late in the afternoon—
midsummer, upstate New York, mornings I wrote,
read Polish history, and there was a woman
whom I thought about; outside the moody, humid
American sublime—late in the afternoon,
toward sundown, just as the sky was darkening,
the light came up and redwings settled in the cattails.
They were death's idea of twilight, the whole notes
of a requiem the massed clouds croaked
above the somber fields. Lady of eyelashes,
do you hear me? Whiteness, otter's body,
coolness of the morning, rubbed amber
and the skin's salt, do you hear me? This is Poland speaking,
“era of the dawn of freedom,” nineteen twenty-two.
When I ran, it rained. The blackbirds settled
their clannish squabbles in the reeds, and light came up.
First darkening, then light. And then pure fire.
Where does it come from? out of the impure
shining that rises from the soaked odor of the grass,
the levitating, Congregational, meadow-light-at-twilight
light that darkens the heavy-headed blossoms
of wild carrot, out of that, out of nothing
it boils up, pools on the horizon, fissures up,
igniting the undersides of clouds: pink flame,
red flame, vermilion, purple, deeper purple, dark.
You could wring the sourness of the sumac from the air,
the fescue sweetness from the grass, the slightly
maniacal cicadas tuning up to tear the fabric
of the silence into tatters, so that night,
if it wants to, comes as a beggar to the door
at which, if you do not offer milk and barley
to the maimed figure of the god, your well will foul,
your crops will wither in the fields. In the eastern marches
children know the story that the aspen quivers
because it failed to hide the Virgin and the Child
when Herod's hunters were abroad. Think: night is the god
dressed as the beggar drinking the sweet milk.
Gray beard, thin shanks, the look in the eyes
idiot, unbearable, the wizened mouth agape,
like an infant's that has cried and sucked and cried
and paused to catch its breath. The pink nubbin
of the nipple glistens. I'll suckle at that breast,
the one in the song of the muttering illumination
of the fields before the sun goes down, before
the black train crosses the frontier from Prussia
into Poland in the age of the dawn of freedom.
Fifty freight cars from America, full of medicine
and the latest miracle, canned food.
The war is over. There are unburied bones
in the fields at sun-up, skylarks singing,
starved children begging chocolate on the tracks.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Root Cellar by Theodore Roethke

Root Cellar
Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!—
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

End of the World by Else Lasker-Schüler

End of the World

There is a weeping in the world
As though the dearest God Himself were dead,
And the plummeting shadow, it burdens down
Like a grave of lead.

Come, let’s hide and loneliness softens …
Life is locked in our hearts
As in coffins. 

You, let’s hug in a deep kiss —
A longing throbs throughout the world,
And we must die by this.

(Translated by Rolf-Peter Wille)


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Dissolution by Eileen Myles


sometimes I forget what country I’m in
I could write poems in bed
I think
have some Americans
look at your awful mov-
ie to tell you when
you’re wrong
& just racist. I got this bug bite
      that could be anything.
Got no new information
to send across. I’m willing
to embrace new sorta cray-
ony tone
      scribbled version
of empty so it’s kind
of full. A kid could draw this world
had been lived in
so long.

You forgot
to call your family
& now you’re ready to write an
bible of love.

The ripple
of experience is the
only beauty here.

My coloring book
why not is so
like a movie. And I just hand you this damp
coloring book
I say there. That’s my model.
Not the kind of laminate
shit you can bring
in the tub. I’m not making some
picture book of bourgeois
life. A damp
coloring book
is naturally
orange. You left
it outside   now you want to save
it?   It’s still good
    and that’s your secret.

How did a mosquito
get under these sheets. Knocking
against my calf. They
stop when I stop
thinking about them. The book
that was my very
private thing
is gone.


Monday, January 4, 2016

To the New Year by W. S. Merwin

To the New Year

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning
so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible