Friday, September 30, 2016

Don't You Wonder, Sometimes? by Tracy K. Smith

Don't You Wonder, Sometimes?


After dark, stars glisten like ice, and the distance they span
Hides something elemental. Not God, exactly. More like
Some thin-hipped glittering Bowie-being—a Starman
Or cosmic ace hovering, swaying, aching to make us see.
And what would we do, you and I, if we could know for sure

That someone was there squinting through the dust,
Saying nothing is lost, that everything lives on waiting only
To be wanted back badly enough? Would you go then,
Even for a few nights, into that other life where you
And that first she loved, blind to the future once, and happy?

Would I put on my coat and return to the kitchen where my
Mother and father sit waiting, dinner keeping warm on the stove?
Bowie will never die. Nothing will come for him in his sleep
Or charging through his veins. And he’ll never grow old,
Just like the woman you lost, who will always be dark-haired

And flush-faced, running toward an electronic screen
That clocks the minutes, the miles left to go. Just like the life
In which I’m forever a child looking out my window at the night sky
Thinking one day I’ll touch the world with bare hands
Even if it burns.


He leaves no tracks. Slips past, quick as a cat. That’s Bowie
For you: the Pope of Pop, coy as Christ. Like a play
Within a play, he’s trademarked twice. The hours

Plink past like water from a window A/C. We sweat it out,
Teach ourselves to wait. Silently, lazily, collapse happens.
But not for Bowie. He cocks his head, grins that wicked grin.

Time never stops, but does it end? And how many lives
Before take-off, before we find ourselves
Beyond ourselves, all glam-glow, all twinkle and gold?

The future isn’t what it used to be. Even Bowie thirsts
For something good and cold. Jets blink across the sky
Like migratory souls.


Bowie is among us. Right here
In New York City. In a baseball cap
And expensive jeans. Ducking into
A deli. Flashing all those teeth
At the doorman on his way back up.
Or he’s hailing a taxi on Lafayette
As the sky clouds over at dusk.
He’s in no rush. Doesn’t feel
The way you’d think he feels.
Doesn’t strut or gloat. Tells jokes.

I’ve lived here all these years
And never seen him. Like not knowing
A comet from a shooting star.
But I’ll bet he burns bright,
Dragging a tail of white-hot matter
The way some of us track tissue
Back from the toilet stall. He’s got
The whole world under his foot,
And we are small alongside,
Though there are occasions

When a man his size can meet
Your eyes for just a blip of time
And send a thought like SHINE
Straight to your mind. Bowie,
I want to believe you. Want to feel
Your will like the wind before rain.
The kind everything simply obeys,
Swept up in that hypnotic dance
As if something with the power to do so
Had looked its way and said:
                                                     Go ahead.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Apple Tragedy by Ted Hughes

Apple Tragedy

So on the seventh day
The serpent rested, 
God came up to him. 
"I've invented a new game," he said. 

The serpent stared in surprise
At this interloper. 
But God said: "You see this apple?" 
I squeeze it and look-cider." 

The serpent had a good drink
And curled up into a question mark. 
Adam drank and said: "Be my god." 
Eve drank and opened her legs

And called to the cockeyed serpent
And gave him a wild time. 
God ran and told Adam
Who in drunken rage tried to hang himself in the orchard. 

The serpent tried to explain, crying "Stop"
But drink was splitting his syllable. 
And Eve started screeching: "Rape! Rape!" 
And stamping on his head. 

Now whenever the snake appears she screeches
"Here it comes again! Help! O Help!" 
Then Adam smashes a chair on his head, 
And God says: "I am well pleased"

And everything goes to hell. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Torso of Air by Ocean Vuong

Torso of Air

Suppose you do change your life.
& the body is more than

a portion of night — sealed
with bruises. Suppose you woke

& found your shadow replaced
by a black wolf. The boy, beautiful

& gone. So you take the knife to the wall
instead. You carve & carve

until a coin of light appears
& you get to look in, at last,

on happiness. The eye
staring back from the other side —



Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Abduction by Stanley Kunitz

The Abduction

Some things I do not profess 
to understand, perhaps
not wanting to, including
whatever it was they did
with you or you with them
that timeless summer day
when you stumbled out of the wood,
distracted, with your white blouse torn
and a bloodstain on your skirt.
“Do you believe?” you asked.
Between us, through the years,
we pieced enough together
to make the story real:
how you encountered on the path
a pack of sleek, grey hounds,
trailed by a dumbshow retinue
in leather shrouds; and how
you were led, through leafy ways,
into the presence of a royal stag,
flaming in his chestnut coat,
who kneeled on a swale of moss
before you; and how you were borne
aloft in triumph through the green,
stretched on his rack of budding horn,
till suddenly you found yourself alone
in a trampled clearing. 

That was a long time ago,
almost another age, but even now, 
when I hold you in my arms, 
I wonder where you are.
Sometimes I wake to hear
the engines of the night thrumming
outside the east bay window
on the lawn spreading to the rose garden.
You lie beside me in elegant repose,
a hint of transport hovering on your lips,
indifferent to the harsh green flares
that swivel through the room,
searchlights controlled by unseen hands.
Out there is a childhood country,
bleached faces peering in
with coals for eyes.
Our lives are spinning out
from world to world;
the shapes of things
are shifting in the wind.
What do we know
beyond the rapture and the dread?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Directly by Sharon Olds


Then, one late afternoon, 
I understand:  the harm my father 
did us is receding.  I never thought 
it would happen, I thought his harm was stronger than that, 
like God’s harm—flood, or birth without 
eyes, with mounds of tissue, no retina, no 
pupil, the way my father on the couch did not 
seem not to be using eyes 
but not to have them, or to have objects 
for eyes—Jocastal dress-brooches. 
But he had not been hated, so he did not hate us, 
just scorned us, and it is wearing off. 
My son and daughter are grown, they are well 
as if by some miracle.  The afternoon has a 
quality of miracle, the starlings all facing 
the west, his grave.  I come to the window 
as if to open it, and whisper, 
My father’s harm is fading.  Then, 
I think that he would be glad to hear it 
directly from me, 

so I come to where you are, bone 
settled under the dewed tangle 
of the blackish Northwoods moss like the crossroads 
hair of a beloved.  I come to you here 
because it is home:  your done-with body 
broken back down into earth, holding 
its solemn incapable beauty.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

In Colorado My Father Scoured and Stacked Dishes by Eduardo C. Corral

In Colorado My Father Scoured and Stacked Dishes

in a Tex-Mex restaurant. His co-workers,
unable to utter his name, renamed him Jalapeño.

If I ask for a goldfish, he spits a glob of phlegm
into a jar of water. The silver letters

on his black belt spell Sangrón. Once, borracho,
at dinner, he said: Jesus wasn’t a snowman.

Arriba Durango. Arriba Orizaba. Packed
into a car trunk, he was smuggled into the States.

Frijolero. Greaser. In Tucson he branded
cattle. He slept in a stable. The horse blankets

oddly fragrant: wood smoke, lilac. He’s an illegal.
I’m an Illegal-American. Once, in a grove

of saguaro, at dusk, I slept next to him. I woke
with his thumb in my mouth. ¿No qué no

tronabas, pistolita? He learned English
by listening to the radio. The first four words

he memorized: In God We Trust. The fifth:
Percolate. Again and again I borrow his clothes.

He calls me Scarecrow. In Oregon he picked apples.
Braeburn. Jonagold. Cameo. Nightly,

to entertain his cuates, around a campfire,
he strummed a guitarra, sang corridos. Arriba

Durango. Arriba Orizaba. Packed into
a car trunk, he was smuggled into the States.

Greaser. Beaner. Once, borracho, at breakfast,
he said: The heart can only be broken

once, like a window. ¡No mames! His favorite
belt buckle: an águila perched on a nopal.

If he laughs out loud, his hands tremble.
Bugs Bunny wants to deport him. César Chávez

wants to deport him. When I walk through
the desert, I wear his shirt. The gaze of the moon

stitches the buttons of his shirt to my skin.
The snake hisses. The snake is torn.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Yesterday Down at the Canal by Frank O'Hara

Yesterday Down at the Canal

You say that everything is very simple and interesting
it makes me feel very wistful, like reading a great
                                                 Russian novel does
I am terribly bored
sometimes it is like seeing a bad movie
other days, more often, it’s like having an acute disease
                                                           of the kidney
god knows it has nothing to do with the heart
nothing to do with people more interesting than myself
yak yak
that’s an amusing thought
how can anyone be more amusing than oneself
how can anyone fail to be
can i borrow your forty-five
I only need one bullet preferably silver
if you can’t be interesting at least you can be a legend
(but I hate all that crap)


Friday, September 23, 2016

Butter by Elizabeth Alexander


My mother loves butter more than I do, 
more than anyone. She pulls chunks off 
the stick and eats it plain, explaining 
cream spun around into butter! Growing up 
we ate turkey cutlets sauteed in lemon 
and butter, butter and cheese on green noodles, 
butter melting in small pools in the hearts 
of Yorkshire puddings, butter better 
than gravy staining white rice yellow, 
butter glazing corn in slipping squares, 
butter the lava in white volcanoes 
of hominy grits, butter softening 
in a white bowl to be creamed with white 
sugar, butter disappearing into 
whipped sweet potatoes, with pineapple, 
butter melted and curdy to pour 
over pancakes, butter licked off the plate 
with warm Alaga syrup. When I picture 
the good old days I am grinning greasy 
with my brother, having watched the tiger 
chase his tail and turn to butter. We are 
Mumbo and Jumbo’s children despite   
historical revision, despite 
our parent’s efforts, glowing from the inside 
out, one hundred megawatts of butter.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

to the sea by Aracelis Girmay

to the sea

You who cannot hear or cannot know
the terrible intricacies of our species, our minds,
the extent to which we have done
what we have done, & yet the depth to which
we have loved
what we have
loved —

the hillside
at dawn, dark eyes
outlined with the dark
sentences of  kohl,
the fūl we shared
beneath the lime tree at the general’s house
after visiting Goitom in prison for trying to leave
the country (the first time),
the apricot color of camels racing
on the floor of  the world
as the fires blazed in celebration of  Independence.

How dare I move into the dark space of  your body
carrying my dreams, without an invitation, my dreams
wandering in ellipses, pet goats or chickens
devouring your yard & shirts.

Sea, my oblivious afterworld,
grant us entry, please, when we knock,
but do not keep us there, deliver
our flowers & himbasha bread.
Though we can’t imagine, now, what
our dead might need,
& above all can’t imagine it is over
& that they are, in fact, askless, are
needless, in fact, still hold somewhere
the smell of coffee smoking
in the house, please,
the memory of joy
fluttering like a curtain in an open window
somewhere inside the brain’s secret luster
where a woman, hands red with henna,
beats the carpet clean with the stick of a broom
& the children, in the distance, choose stones
for the competition of stones, & the summer
wears a crown of  beles in her green hair & the tigadelti’s
white teeth & the beautiful bones of Massawa,
the gaping eyes & mouths of its arches
worn clean by the sea, your breath & your salt.
                      Please, you,
being water too,
find a way into the air & then
the river & the spring
so that your waters can wash the elders,
with the medicine of the dreaming of their children,
cold & clean.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Myth by Muriel Rukeyser


Long afterward, Oedipus, old and blinded, walked the 
roads.      He smelled a familiar smell.        It was 
the Sphinx.      Oedipus said, "I want to ask one question. 
Why didn't I recognize my mother?"      "You gave the 
wrong answer," said the Sphinx.     "But that was what 
made everything possible," said Oedipus.      "No," she said. 
"When I asked, What walks on four legs in the morning, 
two at noon, and three in the evening, you answered, 
Man.      You didn't say anything about woman." 
"When you say Man," said Oedipus, "you include women 
too.      Everyone knows that."       She said, "That's what 
you think."


Ghazal, After Ferguson by Yusef Komunyakaa

Ghazal, After Ferguson

Somebody go & ask Biggie to orate
what's going down in the streets.

No, an attitude is not a suicide note
written on walls around the streets.

Twitter stays lockstep in the frontal lobe
as we hope for a bypass beyond the streets,

but only each day bears witness
in the echo chamber of the streets.

Grandmaster Flash's thunderclap says
he's not the grand jury in the streets,

says he doesn't care if you're big or small
fear can kill a man on the streets.

Take back the night. Take killjoy's
cameras & microphones to the streets.

If you're holding the hand lightning strikes
juice will light you up miles from the streets

where an electric chair surge dims
all the county lights beyond the streets.

Who will go out there & speak laws
of motion & relativity in the streets?


Monday, September 19, 2016

I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror by Agha Shahid Ali

I See Chile in My Rearview Mirror

    By dark the world is once again intact,
    Or so the mirrors, wiped clean, try to reason. . .
                                        —James Merrill 

This dream of water—what does it harbor?
I see Argentina and Paraguay
under a curfew of glass, their colors
breaking, like oil. The night in Uruguay 

is black salt. I’m driving toward Utah,
keeping the entire hemisphere in view—
Colombia vermilion, Brazil blue tar,
some countries wiped clean of color: Peru 

is titanium white. And always oceans 
that hide in mirrors: when beveled edges
arrest tides or this world’s destinations
forsake ships. There’s Sedona, Nogales 

far behind. Once I went through a mirror—
from there too the world, so intact, resembled
only itself. When I returned I tore
the skin off the glass. The sea was unsealed 

by dark, and I saw ships sink off the coast 
of a wounded republic. Now from a blur
of tanks in Santiago, a white horse
gallops, riderless, chased by drunk soldiers 

in a jeep; they’re firing into the moon.
And as I keep driving in the desert,
someone is running to catch the last bus, men
hanging on to its sides. And he’s missed it. 

He is running again; crescents of steel 
fall from the sky. And here the rocks
are under fog, the cedars a temple,
Sedona carved by the wind into gods-- 

each shadow their worshiper. The siren
empties Santiago; he watches
—from a hush of windows—blindfolded men
blurred in gleaming vans. The horse vanishes 

into a dream. I’m passing skeletal
figures carved in 700 B.C.
Whoever deciphers these canyon walls
remains forsaken, alone with history, 

no harbor for his dream. And what else will
this mirror now reason, filled with water?
I see Peru without rain, Brazil
without forests—and here in Utah a dagger 

of sunlight: it’s splitting—it’s the summer
solstice—the quartz center of a spiral.
Did the Anasazi know the darker 
answer also—given now in crystal 

by the mirrored continent? The solstice,
but of winter? A beam stabs the window,
diamonds him, a funeral in his eyes.
In the lit stadium of Santiago, 

this is the shortest day. He’s taken there.
Those about to die are looking at him, 
his eyes the ledger of the disappeared.
What will the mirror try now? I’m driving, 

still north, always followed by that country,
its floors ice, its citizens so lovesick
that the ground—sheer glass—of every city
is torn up. They demand the republic 

give back, jeweled, their every reflection.
They dig till dawn but find only corpses.
He has returned to this dream for his bones. 
The waters darken. The continent vanishes.


Swing Low by Rickey Laurentiis

Swing Low

We aren’t the solid men.
       We bend like the number seven. 
Dig at corners, eat cobwebs, we
      are barefoot and bare-legged.
      We hang like leaves in autumn.

We aren’t the stolid men.
      We scribble in familiar ink
about sunfalls and night. We
      see the white in the sky, and sigh.
      We lie with penciled grins.

We aren’t the men, any men.
      We rip at the neck and wonder why 
while rattlers roll in. Bent 
      as a number, crooked, sundered,
      we aren’t the idle lightning 

if black thunder.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Fist by Derek Walcott

The Fist

The fist clenched round my heart
loosens a little, and I gasp
brightness; but it tightens
again. When have I ever not loved
the pain of love? But this has moved 

past love to mania. This has the strong
clench of the madman, this is
gripping the ledge of unreason, before
plunging howling into the abyss. 

Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Telling the Bees by Deborah Digges

Telling the Bees

It fell to me to tell the bees,
though I had wanted another duty—
to be the scribbler at his death,
there chart the third day’s quickening.
But fate said no, it falls to you
to tell the bees, the middle daughter.
So it was written at your birth.
I wanted to keep the fire, working
the constant arranging and shifting
of the coals blown flaring,
my cheeks flushed red,
my bed laid down before the fire,
myself anonymous among the strangers
there who’d come and go.
But destiny said no. It falls
to you to tell the bees, it said.
I wanted to be the one to wash his linens,
boiling the death-soiled sheets,
using the waters for my tea.
I might have been the one to seal
his solitude with mud and thatch and string,
the webs he parted every morning,
the hounds’ hair combed from brushes,
the dust swept into piles with sparrows’ feathers.
Who makes the laws that live
inside the brick and mortar of a name,
selects the seeds, garden or wild,
brings forth the foliage grown up around it
through drought or blight or blossom,
the honey darkening in the bitter years,
the combs like funeral lace or wedding veils
steeped in oak gall and rainwater,
sequined of rent wings.
And so arrayed I set out, this once
obedient, toward the hives’ domed skeps
on evening’s hill, five tombs alight.
I thought I heard the thrash and moaning
of confinement, beyond the century,
a calling across dreams,
as if asked to make haste just out of sleep.
I knelt and waited.
The voice that found me gave the news.
Up flew the bees toward his orchards.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Conversation with a Stone by Wisława Szymborska

Conversation with a Stone

I knock at the stone's front door
“It's only me, let me come in.
I want to enter your insides,
have a look around,
breathe my fill of you.”
“Go away,” says the stone.
“I'm shut tight.
Even if you break me to pieces,
we'll all still be closed.
You can grind us to sand,
we still won't let you in.”
I knock at the stone's front door.
“It's only me, let me come in.
I've come out of pure curiosity.
Only life can quench it.
I mean to stroll through your palace,
then go calling on a leaf, a drop of water.
I don't have much time.
My mortality should touch you.”
“I'm made of stone,” says the stone.
“And must therefore keep a straight face.
Go away.
I don't have the muscles to laugh.”
I knock at the stone's front door.
“It's only me, let me come in.
I hear you have great empty halls inside you,
unseen, their beauty in vain,
soundless, not echoing anyone's steps.
Admit you don't know them well yourself.”
“Great and empty, true enough,” says the stone,
“but there isn't any room.
Beautiful, perhaps, but not to the taste
of your poor senses.
You may get to know me but you'll never know me through.
My whole surface is turned toward you,
all my insides turned away.”
I knock at the stone's front door.
“It's only me, let me come in.
I don't seek refuge for eternity.
I'm not unhappy.
I'm not homeless.
My world is worth returning to.
I'll enter and exit empty-handed.
And my proof I was there
will be only words,
which no one will believe.”
“You shall not enter,” says the stone.
“You lack the sense of taking part.
No other sense can make up for your missing sense of taking part.
Even sight heightened to become all-seeing
will do you no good without a sense of taking part.
You shall not enter, you have only a sense of what that sense should be,
only its seed, imagination.”
I knock at the stone's front door.
“It's only me, let me come in.
I haven't got two thousand centuries,
so let me come under your roof.”
“If you don't believe me,” says the stone,
“just ask the leaf, it will tell you the same.
Ask a drop of water, it will say what the leaf has said.
And, finally, ask a hair from your own head.
I am bursting from laughter, yes, laughter, vast laughter,
although I don't know how to laugh.”
I knock at the stone's front door.
“It's only me, let me come in.
“I don't have a door,” says the stone.

(Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanaugh)


The Dictators by Pablo Neruda

The Dictators

An odor has remained among the sugarcane:
a mixture of blood and body, a penetrating
petal that brings nausea.
Between the coconut palms the graves are full
of ruined bones, of speechless death-rattles.
The delicate dictator is talking
with top hats, gold braid, and collars.
The tiny palace gleams like a watch
and the rapid laughs with gloves on
cross the corridors at times
and join the dead voices
and the blue mouths freshly buried.
The weeping cannot be seen, like a plant
whose seeds fall endlessly on the earth,
whose large blind leaves grow even without light.
Hatred has grown scale on scale,
blow on blow, in the ghastly water of the swamp,
with a snout full of ooze and silence 

(Translated by Robert Bly)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Deer by Terrance Hayes

The Deer

Outside Pataskala I saw the deer with a soft white belly,
the deer with two eyes as blind as holes, I saw it leap
from a bush beside the highway as if a moment before
it leapt it had been a bush beside the highway, and saw
how if I wished it, I could be the deer, a creature bony
as a branch in spring, and when I closed my eyes, I found
the scent of muscadine, the berry my mother plucked
Sundays from the roadside where fumes toughened
its speckled skin and seeds slept suspended in a mucus
thick as the sleep of an embryo. It is the ugliest berry
along the road, but chewed it reminded me of speed,
and I saw when I was the deer that I didn’t have to be a deer,
I could become a machine with a woman inside it
moving at a speed that leaves a stain on the breeze
and on the muscadine’s flesh, which is almost meat,
the sweet pulp a muscadine leaves when it’s crushed
in the teeth of a deer, or a mother for that matter
or her child waiting with something like shame to be fed
a berry uglier than shame, though it is not like this
for the deer, it is not shame because the deer is not human,
it is only almost human when it looks on the road
and leaps covering at least thirty feet in a blink, the deer
I cannot be, the dumb deer, dumb and foolish enough
to ignore anything that runs but is not alive, a trafficking
machine filled with a distracted mind and body deadly
and durable enough to deconstruct a deer when it leaps,
I’m telling you, like someone being chased. I remember
a friend told me how, when he was eight or nine,
a half-naked woman ran to the car window crying her man
was after her with a knife, but his mother locked the doors
and sped away. Someone tell him his mother was not
a coward. That’s what he thinks. Tell him it was because
he and his little brother were in the car, she would not
let the troubled world inside. It was no one’s fault.
The mind separated from the body. I could almost see
the holes of her eyes, the white fuzz on her tongue,
the raised buds soft as a bed of pink seeds,
the hole of a mouth stretched wide enough to hold
a whole baby inside, I could almost see its eyes
at the back of her throat, I could definitely hear its cries.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Old Woman’s Lament in Autumn by Rae Armantrout

Old Woman’s Lament in Autumn

Sorrow is my corner store
where jack-o’-lantern balloons
get high on the last helium.

The endcap is gold today
with numbered bags
of Werther’s Original.

No one is Werther.

Last night a newscaster
mentioned an “elderly victim.”
Don’t call me that.

I’m old
and obdurate.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

White Lobelia by Stephanie Burt

White Lobelia

Little megaphones,
we hang out in the garden center and gossip
with the petunias three seasons a year.

With leaves too small to resemble
thumbs or hands or hearts, too soft
for any parts
of our threadable stems to grow thorns,
we prefer to pretend we are horns,
cornets and alto sax, prepared to assemble
in studios and sightread any charts.

We are of course for sale
to generous homes. Some of us have become
almost overfamiliar with ornamental
cabbage, with the ins and outs of kale.
Others have lost our voice
in a painstaking effort to justify our existence
as a perennial second choice.

Like you, we dismiss whatever comes easiest
to us and overestimate what looks hard.
In our case that means we admire
our neighbors’ luxuriant spontaneities
and treat the most patient preparers with disregard.

We strive for contentment in our
hanging baskets once
we know we will not touch ground.
We tell ourselves
and one another that if you listen
with sufficient
generosity, you will be able
to hear our distinctive and natural sound.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Memory by W. S. Merwin


Climbing through a dark shower 
I came to the edge of the mountain

I was a child 
and everything was there

the flight of eagles the passage of warriors 
watching the valley far below

the wind on the cliff the cold rain blowing upward 
from the rock face

everything around me had burned 
and I was coming back

walking on charcoal among the low green bushes 
wet to the skin and wide awake