Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ghazal for Becoming Your Own Country by Angel Nafis

Ghazal for Becoming Your Own Country

     After Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s “Self Stones Country” photographs

Know what the almost-gone dandelion knows. Piece by piece
The body prayers home. Its whole head a veil, a wind-blown bride.

When all the mothers gone, frame the portraits. Wood spoon over
Boiling pot, test the milk on your own wrist. You soil, sand, and mud grown bride.

If you miss your stop. Or lose love. If even the medicine hurts too.
Even when your side-eye, your face stank, still, your heart moans bride.

Fuck the fog back off the mirror. Trust the road in your name. Ride
Your moon hide through the pitch black. Gotsta be your own bride.

Burn the honey. Write the letters. What address could hold you?
Nectar arms, nectar hands. Old tire sound against the gravel. Baritone bride.

Goodest grief is an orchard you know. But you have not been killed
Once. Angel, put that on everything. Self. Country. Stone. Bride.


Monday, January 30, 2017

A Marriage Poem by Ellen Bryant Voigt

A Marriage Poem


Morning: the caged baby
sustains his fragile sleep.
The house is a husk against weather.   
Nothing stirs—inside, outside.   
With the leaves fallen,
the tree makes a web on the window   
and through it the world
lacks color or texture,
like stones in the pasture
seen from this distance.

This is what is done with pain:
ice on the wound,
the isolating tourniquet—
as though to check an open vein
where the self pumps out of the self
would stop the second movement of the heart,   
diastolic, inclusive:
to love is to siphon loss into that chamber.


What does it mean when a woman says,   
“my husband,”
if she sits all day in the tub;
if she worries her life like a dog a rat;
if her husband seems familiar but abstract,
a bandaged hand she’s forgotten how to use.

They’ve reached the middle years.   
Spared grief, they are given dread
as they tend the frail on either side of them.   
Even their marriage is another child,   
grown rude and querulous
since death practiced on them and withdrew.

He asks of her only a little lie,
a pale copy drawn from the inked stone   
where they loll beside the unicorn,   
great lovers then, two strangers
joined by appetite:
                              it frightens her,
to live by memory’s poor diminished light.   
She wants something crisp and permanent,   
like coral—a crown, a trellis,
an iron shawl across the bed
where they are laced together,
the moon bleaching the house,
their bodies abandoned—


In last week’s mail,
still spread on the kitchen table,
the list of endangered species.
How plain the animals are,
quaint, domestic,
but the names lift from the page:   
Woundfin. Whooping Crane. Squawfish.   
Black-footed Ferret. California Least Tern.

Dearest, the beast of Loch Ness, that shy,   
broad-backed, two-headed creature,   
may be a pair of whales or manatee,   
male and female,
driven from their deep mud nest,
who cling to each other,
circling the surface of the lake.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Capacity of Speech by Austin Smith

The Capacity of Speech

It is easy to be decent to speechless things. 
To hang houses for the purple martins 
To nest in. To bed down the horses under 
The great white wing of the year's first snow. 
To ensure the dog and cat are comfortable. 
To set out suet for the backyard birds. 
To put the poorly-shot, wounded deer down. 
To nurse its orphaned fawn until its spots 
Are gone. To sweep the spider into the glass 
And tap it out into the grass. To blow out 
The candle and save the moth from flame. 
To trap the black bear and set it free. 
To throw the thrashing brook trout back.
How easy it is to be decent 
To things that lack the capacity of speech, 
To feed and shelter whatever will never 
Beg us or thank us or make us ashamed.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Secret by Denise Levertov

The Secret

Two girls discover   
the secret of life   
in a sudden line of   

I who don’t know the   
secret wrote   
the line. They   
told me 

(through a third person)   
they had found it 
but not what it was   
not even 

what line it was. No doubt   
by now, more than a week   
later, they have forgotten   
the secret, 

the line, the name of   
the poem. I love them   
for finding what   
I can’t find, 

and for loving me   
for the line I wrote,   
and for forgetting it   
so that 

a thousand times, till death   
finds them, they may   
discover it again, in other   

in other   
happenings. And for   
wanting to know it,   

assuming there is   
such a secret, yes,   
for that   
most of all.


Friday, January 27, 2017

In The Midst of Life by Tadeusz Różewicz

In The Midst of Life 

After the end of the world
after death
I found myself in the midst of life
creating myself
building life
people animals landscapes

this is a table I said
this is a table
there is bread and a knife on the table
knife serves to cut bread
people are nourished by bread

man must be loved
I learnt by night and day
what must one love
I would reply man

this is a window I said
this is a window
there is a garden beyond the window
I see an apple tree in the garden
the apple tree blossoms
the blossom falls
fruit is formed

my father picks the apple
the man who picks the apple
is my father

I sat on the threshold

that old woman who
leads a goat on a string
is needed more
is worth more

than the seven wonders of the world
anyone who thinks or feels
she is not needed
is a mass murderer

this is a man
this is a tree this is bread people eat to live
I kept saying to myself
human life is important
human life has great importance
the value of life
is greater than the value of all things
which man has created
man is a great treasure
I repeated stubbornly

this is water I said
I stroked the waves with my hand
and talked to the river
water I would say
nice water
this is me

man talked to water
talked to the moon
to the flowers and to rain
talked to the earth
to the birds
to the sky
the sky was silent
the earth was silent
and if a voice was heard
from earth water and sky
it was a voice of another man

(Translated by Adam Czerniawski)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Talking in Bed by Philip Larkin

Talking in Bed

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.
Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside, the wind's incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds in the sky,
And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation
It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Schwinn by Matthew Zapruder


I hate the phrase “inner life.” My attic hurts,
and I’d like to quit the committee
for naming tornadoes. Do you remember
how easy and sad it was to be young
and defined by our bicycles? My first
was yellow, and though it was no Black
Phantom or Sting-Ray but merely a Varsity
I loved the afternoon it was suddenly gone,
chasing its apian flash through the neighborhoods
with my father in vain. Like being a nuclear
family in a television show totally unaffected
by a distant war. Then we returned
to the green living room to watch the No Names
hold our Over the Hill Gang under
the monotinted chromatic defeated Super
Bowl waters. 1973, year of the Black Fly
caught in my Jell-O. Year of the Suffrage Building
on K Street NW where a few minor law firms
mingle proudly with the Union of Butchers
and Meat Cutters. A black hand
already visits my father in sleep, moving
up his spine to touch his amygdala. I will
never know a single thing anyone feels,
just how they say it, which is why I am standing
here exactly, covered in shame and lightning,
doing what I’m supposed to do.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Gospel of Barbecue by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

The Gospel of Barbecue

Long after it was
necessary, Uncle
Vess ate the leavings
off the hog, doused
them with vinegar sauce.
He ate chewy abominations.
Then came high pressure.
Then came the little pills.
Then came the doctor
who stole Vess’s second
sight, the predication
of pig’s blood every 
fourth Sunday.
Then came the stillness
of barn earth, no more 
trembling at his step.
Then came the end
of the rib, but before 
his eyes clouded,
Uncle Vess wrote
down the gospel
of barbecue.

Chapter one:
Somebody got to die
with something at some
time or another.

Chapter two:
Don’t ever trust 
white folk to cook
your meat until
it’s done to the bone.

Chapter three:
December is the best
time for hog killing.
The meat won’t
spoil as quick.
Screams and blood
freeze over before
they hit the air.

Chapter four, Verse one:
Great Grandma Mandy
used to say food 
you was whipped
for tasted the best.

Chapter four, Verse two:
Old Master knew to lock
the ham bacon chops
away quick or the slaves
would rob him blind.
He knew a padlock
to the smokehouse
was best to prevent 
stealing, but even the
sorriest of slaves would
risk a beating for a full
belly. So Christmas time
he give his nasty
leftovers to the well
behaved. The head ears
snout tail fatback
chitlins feet ribs balls.
He thought gratitude
made a good seasoning.

Chapter five:
Unclean means dirty
means filthy means
underwear worn too
long in summertime heat.
Perfectly good food
can’t be no sin.
Maybe the little
bit of meat on ribs
makes for lean eating.
Maybe the pink flesh
is tasteless until you add
onions garlic black
pepper tomatoes
soured apple cider
but survival ain’t never been
no crime against nature
or Maker. See, stay alive
in the meantime, laugh
a little harder. Go on
and gnaw that bone clean.

Monday, January 23, 2017

In the Middle of This Century by Yehuda Amichai

In the Middle of This Century

In the middle of this century we turned to each other
With half faces and full eyes
like an ancient Egyptian picture
And for a short while.

I stroked your hair
In the opposite direction to your journey,
We called to each other,
Like calling out the names of towns
Where nobody stops
Along the route.

Lovely is the world rising early to evil,
Lovely is the world falling asleep to sin and pity,
In the mingling of ourselves, you and I,
Lovely is the world.

The earth drinks men and their loves
Like wine,
To forget.
It can't.
And like the contours of the Judean hills,
We shall never find peace.

In the middle of this century we turned to each other,
I saw your body, throwing shade, waiting for me,
The leather straps for a long journey
Already tightening across my chest.
I spoke in praise of your mortal hips,
You spoke in praise of my passing face,
I stroked your hair in the direction of your journey,
I touched your flesh, prophet of your end,
I touched your hand which has never slept,
I touched your mouth which may yet sing.

Dust from the desert covered the table
At which we did not eat
But with my finger I wrote on it
The letters of your name.

(Translated by Assia Gutmann)


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Inniskeen Road: July Evening by Patrick Kavanagh

Inniskeen Road: July Evening

The bicycles go by in twos and threes -
There's a dance in Billy Brennan's barn to-night,
And there's the half-talk code of mysteries
And the wink-and-elbow language of delight.
Half-past eight and there is not a spot
Upon a mile of road, no shadow thrown
That might turn out a man or woman, not
A footfall tapping secrecies of stone.
I have what every poet hates in spite
Of all the solemn talk of contemplation.
Oh, Alexander Selkirk knew the plight
Of being king and government and nation.
A road, a mile of kingdom, I am king
Of banks and stones and every blooming thing.


Imperialism Takes off my Head by Tomaž Šalamun

Imperialism Takes off my Head

In the morning, when I wake,
I feel the monster has been translated.
He meted, decomposed, and translated himself.
I cannot call him back,
he lies on the other side, lazy pig,
I cannot call him back.
You do not eat the grass anymore.
The meadow is burned by the welding machine.
You do not eat my mouth and sound,
you do not like my ears, little girl.
You cannot break through, into the sun,
but you feed on some interplanetary
continent of swamp shells.
Light the fires,
beautiful people of the world,
light the fires.

(Translated by Anselm Hollo, I think)


Friday, January 20, 2017

Girrl by Niki Herd


Find one thing to love
inside yourself
carry it like a gun
in guerilla hands
and when government
defeats you, mountains fall
lovers leave, and the words
of women before come
crashing to the ground
hold this love between
your hands, sing its name
like the alphabet
and shoot woman. Shoot.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Mourning What We Thought We Were by Frank Bidart

Mourning What We Thought We Were

We were born into an amazing experiment.

At least we thought we were. We knew there was no
escaping human nature: my grandmother

taught me that: my own pitiless nature
taught me that: but we exist inside an order, I

thought, of which history
is the mere shadow—


Every serious work of art about America has the same
theme: America

is a great Idea: the reality leaves something to be desired.

Bakersfield. Marian Anderson, the first great black classical
contralto, whom the Daughters of the American Revolution

would not allow to sing in an unsegregated

Constitution Hall, who then was asked by Eleanor
Roosevelt to sing at the Lincoln Memorial before thousands

was refused a room at the Padre Hotel, Bakersfield.

My mother’s disgust
as she told me this. It confirmed her judgment about

what she never could escape, where she lived out her life.

My grandmother’s fury when, at the age of seven or
eight, I had eaten at the home of a black friend.

The forced camps at the end of The Grapes of Wrath
were outside

Bakersfield. When I was a kid, Okie

was still a common
term of casual derision and contempt.


So it was up to us, born
in Bakersfield, to carve a new history

of which history is the mere shadow—


To further the history of the spirit is our work:

therefore thank you, Lord
Whose Bounty Proceeds by Paradox,

for showing us we have failed to change.


Dark night, December 1st 2016.

White supremacists, once again in
America, are acceptable, respectable. America!

Bakersfield was first swamp, then
desert. We are sons of the desert
who cultivate the top half-inch of soil.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

How the Milky Way Was Made by Natalie Diaz

How the Milky Way Was Made

My river was once unseparated. Was Colorado. Red-
fast flood. Able to take

       anything it could wet—in a wild rush—

                                 all the way to Mexico.

Now it is shattered by fifteen dams
over one-thousand four-hundred and fifty miles,

pipes and pumps filling
swimming pools and sprinklers

      in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

To save our fish, we lifted them from our skeletoned river beds,
loosed them in our heavens, set them aster —

      ‘Achii ‘ahan, Mojave salmon,

                                Colorado pikeminnow—

Up there they glide, gilled with stars.
You see them now—

      god-large, gold-green sides,

                                moon-white belly and breast—

making their great speeded way across the darkest hours,
rippling the sapphired sky-water into a galaxy road.

The blurred wake they drag as they make their path
through the night sky is called

      ‘Achii ‘ahan nyuunye—

                                our words for Milky Way.

Coyote too is up there, crouched in the moon,
after his failed attempt to leap it, fishing net wet

      and empty, slung over his back—

                                a prisoner blue and dreaming

of unzipping the salmon’s silked skins with his teeth.
O, the weakness of any mouth

      as it gives itself away to the universe

                                of a sweet-milk body.

Just as my own mouth is dreamed to thirst
the long desire-ways, the hundred-thousand light year roads

      of your throat and thighs.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O'Brien

The Beautiful Librarians

The beautiful librarians are dead,
The fairly recent graduates who sat
Like Françoise Hardy’s shampooed sisters
With cardigans across their shoulders
On quiet evenings at the issue desk,
Stamping books and never looking up
At where I stood in adoration.

Once I glimpsed the staffroom
Where they smoked and (if the novels
Were correct) would speak of men.
I still see the blue Minis they would drive
Back to their flats around the park,
To Blossom Dearie and red wine
Left over from a party I would never

Be a member of. Their rooms looked down
On dimming avenues of lime.
I shared the geography but not the world
It seemed they were establishing
With such unfussy self-possession, nor
The novels they were writing secretly
That somehow turned to ‘Mum’s old stuff’.

Never to even brush in passing
Yet nonetheless keep faith with them,
The ice queens in their realms of gold –
It passes time that passes anyway.
Book after book I kept my word
Elsewhere, long after they were gone
And all the brilliant stock was sold.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Aubade with Burning City by Ocean Vuong

Aubade with Burning City

South Vietnam, April 29, 1975: Armed Forces Radio played Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” as a code to begin Operation Frequent Wind, the ultimate evacuation of American civilians and Vietnamese refugees by helicopter during the fall of Saigon.

            Milkflower petals on the street
                                                     like pieces of a girl’s dress.

May your days be merry and bright ...

He fills a teacup with champagne, brings it to her lips.
            Open, he says.
                                        She opens.
                                                      Outside, a soldier spits out
            his cigarette as footsteps
                            fill the square like stones fallen from the sky. May all
                                         your Christmases be white as the traffic guard
            unstraps his holster.

                                        His hand running the hem
of  her white dress.
                            His black eyes.
            Her black hair.
                            A single candle.
                                        Their shadows: two wicks.

A military truck speeds through the intersection, the sound of children
                                        shrieking inside. A bicycle hurled
            through a store window. When the dust rises, a black dog
                            lies in the road, panting. Its hind legs
                                                                                   crushed into the shine
                                                       of a white Christmas.

On the nightstand, a sprig of magnolia expands like a secret heard
                                                                      for the first time.

The treetops glisten and children listen, the chief of police
                                facedown in a pool of Coca-Cola.
                                             A palm-sized photo of his father soaking
                beside his left ear.

The song moving through the city like a widow.
                A white ...    A white ...    I’m dreaming of a curtain of snow

                                                          falling from her shoulders.

Snow crackling against the window. Snow shredded

                                           with gunfire. Red sky.
                              Snow on the tanks rolling over the city walls.
A helicopter lifting the living just out of reach.

            The city so white it is ready for ink.

                                                     The radio saying run run run.
Milkflower petals on a black dog
                            like pieces of a girl’s dress.

May your days be merry and bright. She is saying
            something neither of them can hear. The hotel rocks
                        beneath them. The bed a field of ice

Don’t worry, he says, as the first bomb brightens
                             their faces, my brothers have won the war
                                                                       and tomorrow ...    
                                             The lights go out.

I’m dreaming. I’m dreaming ...    
                                                            to hear sleigh bells in the snow ...    

In the square below: a nun, on fire,
                                            runs silently toward her god — 

                           Open, he says.
                                                         She opens.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Your Name by Eileen Myles

Your Name

It’s very hard
to hunt
from indoors
I’ll say that for
you. And         
text is
at best
an attenuated
sound has
a range
of many desires
not just map.
I subscribe
to the grandpa
bunny bunny school
of theory
I mean genesis
to write
is a form
of accounting
& approximate
in the sunny
mouth of
time. A horny
bet. Or else
lolling around the fire
what did you
get. How can
we avoid it.
This “making
a speech.” Long limbed
& maybe
in July. Aren’t
we lucky to have
captured each
other in this
hideous neon light.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Special Orders by Edward Hirsch

Special Orders

Give me back my father walking the halls
   of Wertheimer Box and Paper Company
      with sawdust clinging to his shoes.

Give me back his tape measure and his keys,
   his drafting pencil and his order forms;
      give me his daydreams on lined paper.

I don’t understand this uncontainable grief.
    Whatever you had that never fit,
      whatever else you needed, believe me,

my father, who wanted your business,
    would squat down at your side
       and sketch you a container for it.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Touch by Terrance Hayes


We made our own laws.
I want to be a Hawk,
A Dolphin, a Lion, we’d say

In stores where team logos hung
Like animal skins.

By moonlight,
We chased each other
Around the big field

Beneath branches sagging
As if their leaves were full of blood.

We didn’t notice when policemen
Came lighting tree bark
& our skin with flashlights.

They saw our game
For what it was:

Fingers clutching torso,
Shoulder, wrist—a brawl.
Some of the boys escaped,

Their brown legs cut by thorns
As they ran through the brush.

It’s true, we could have been mistaken
For animals in the dark,
But of all our possible crimes,

Blackness was the first.
So they tackled me,

And read me my rights without saying:
You Down or Dead Ball.
We had a language

They did not use, a name
For collision. We called it Touch.