Monday, May 29, 2017

The Weighing by Jane Hirshfield

The Weighing

The heart’s reasons
seen clearly,
even the hardest
will carry
its whip-marks and sadness
and must be forgiven.

As the drought-starved
eland forgives
the drought-starved lion
who finally takes her,
enters willingly then
the life she cannot refuse,
and is lion, is fed,
and does not remember the other.

So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.

The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Prayers or Oubliettes by Natalie Diaz

Prayers or Oubliettes

Despair has a loose daughter.
I lay with her and read the body’s bones
like stories. I can tell you the year-long myth
of her hips, how I numbered stars,
the abacus of her mouth.

The sheets are berserk with wind’s riddling.
All the beds of the past cannot dress the ghosts
at my table. Their breasts rest on plates
like broken goblets whose rims I once thirsted at.
Instead of grace, we rattle forks
in our empty bowls.

We are the muezzins of the desert
crying out like mockers from memory’s
violet towers. We scour the earth
as Isis did. Fall is forever here—
women’s dresses wrinkle
on the ground, men fall to their knees
in heaps, genitals rotting like spent fruit—
even our roots fall from the soil.

The world has tired of tears.
We weep owls now. They live longer.
They know their way in the dark.

Unfasten your cage of teeth and tongue.
The taste of a thousand moths is chalk.
The mottled wings are the words to pain.

We have no mazel tov.
We call out for our mothers
with empty wine jugs at our heels.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Semi-Splendid by Tracy K. Smith


You flinch. Something flickers, not fleeing your face. My
Heart hammers at the ceiling, telling my tongue
To turn it down. Too late. The something climbs, leaps, is
Falling now across us like the prank of an icy, brainy
Lord. I chose the wrong word. I am wrong for not choosing
Merely to smile, to pull you toward me and away from
What you think of as that other me, who wanders lost among ...    
Among whom? The many? The rare? I wish you didn’t care.

I watch you watching her. Her very shadow is a rage
That trashes the rooms of your eyes. Do you claim surprise
At what she wants, the poor girl, pelted with despair,
Who flits from grief to grief? Isn’t it you she seeks? And
If you blame her, know that she blames you for choosing
Not her, but me. Love is never fair. But do we — should we — care?

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Monk’s Insomnia by Denis Johnson

The Monk’s Insomnia
The monastery is quiet.  Seconal
drifts down upon it from the moon.
I can see the lights
of the city I came from,
can remember how a boy sets out
like something thrown from the furnace
of a star.  In the conflagration of memory
my people sit on green benches in the park,
terrified, evil, broken by love—
to sit with them inside that invisible fire
of hours day after day while the shadow of the milk
billboard crawled across the street
seemed impossible, but how
was it different from here,
where they have one day they play over
and over as if they think
it is our favorite, and we stay
for our natural lives,
a phrase that conjures up the sun’s
dark ash adrift after ten billion years
of unconsolable burning?  Brother Thomas’
schoolgirl obsession with the cheap
doings of TV starlets breaks
everybody’s heart, and the yellow sap
of one particular race of cactus grows
tragic for the fascination in which
it imprisons Brother Toby—I can’t witness
his slavering and relating how it can be changed
into some unprecedented kind of plastic—
and the monastery refuses
to say where it is taking us.  At night
we hear the trainers from the base
down there, and see them blotting out the stars,
and I stand on the hill and listen, bone-white with desire.
It was love that sent me on the journey,
love that called me home.  But it’s terror
of being just one person—one chance, one set of days—
that keeps me absolutely still and makes me listen
intently to those young men above us
flying in their airplanes in the dark. 


Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Apple Trees at Olema by Robert Hass

The Apple Trees at Olema

They are walking in the woods along the coast
and in a grassy meadow, wasting, they come upon
two old neglected apple trees. Moss thickened
every bough and the wood of the limbs looked rotten
but the trees were wild with blossom and a green fire
of small new leaves flickered even on the deadest branches.
Blue-eyes, poppies, a scattering of lupine
flecked the meadow, and an intricate, leopard-spotted
leaf-green flower whose name they didn’t know.
Trout lily, he said; she said, adder’s-tongue.
She is shaken by the raw, white, backlit flaring
of the apple blossoms. He is exultant,
as if some thing he felt were verified,
and looks to her to mirror his response.
If it is afternoon, a thin moon of my own dismay
fades like a scar in the sky to the east of them.
He could be knocking wildly at a closed door
in a dream. She thinks, meanwhile, that moss
resembles seaweed drying lightly on a dock.
Torn flesh, it was the repetitive torn flesh
of appetite in the cold white blossoms
that had startled her. Now they seem tender
and where she was repelled she takes the measure
of the trees and lets them in. But he no longer
has the apple trees. This is as sad or happy
as the tide, going out or coming in, at sunset.
The light catching in the spray that spumes up
on the reef is the color of the lesser finch
they notice now flashing dull gold in the light
above the field. They admire the bird together,
it draws them closer, and they start to walk again.
A small boy wanders corridors of a hotel that way.
Behind one door, a maid. Behind another one, a man
in striped pajamas shaving. He holds the number
of his room close to the center of his mind
gravely and delicately, as if it were the key,
and then he wanders among strangers all he wants.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Thread by Don Paterson

The Thread 

Jamie made his landing in the world 
so hard he ploughed straight back into the earth. 
They caught him by the thread of his one breath 
and pulled him up. They don't know how it held. 
And so today I thank what higher will 
brought us to here, to you and me and Russ,
the great twin-engined swaying wingspan of us 
roaring down the back of Kirrie Hill 

and your two-year-old lungs somehow out-revving 
every engine in the universe. 
All that trouble just to turn up dead 
was all I thought that long week. Now the thread 
is holding all of us: look at our tiny house, 
son, the white dot of your mother waving.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

from The Uses of The Body by Deborah Landau

from The Uses of The Body

Before you have kids,
you get a dog.

Then when you get a baby,
you wait for the dog to die.

When the dog dies,
it’s a relief.

When your babies aren’t babies,
you want a dog again.

The uses of the body,
you see where they end.

But we are only in the middle,
only mid-way.

The organs growing older in their plush pockets
ticking toward the wearing out.

We are here and soon won’t be
(despite the cozy bed stuffed dog pillows books clock).

The boy with his socks on and pajamas.
A series of accidental collisions.

Pressure in the chest. Everyone breathing
for now, in and out, all night.

These sad things, they have to be.
I go into the kitchen thinking to sweeten myself.

Boiled eggs won’t do a thing.
Oysters. Lysol. Peanut butter. Gin.

Big babyface, getting fed.
I am twenty. I am thirty. I am forty years old.

A friend said Listen,
you have to try to calm down.


Monday, May 22, 2017

At the Palais Garnier by Richie Hofmann

At the Palais Garnier
We always arrived late,
     sometimes in masks. You wore a sword
at your side. The heads that watched
     our little pageant were busts of the great composers
and not men lined up for the executions.
     The style was Second Empire,
but the Empire had already fallen
     by the time the façade was finished.
The casts changed seasonally
     like our lovers. I remember,
through black lace fans, Hänsel & Gretl
     eating a garish cake in the darkness.
We covered our mouths
     when we laughed at the children trapped
in the house of sweets. We ate cake at intermission
     in order to stay awake.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Horns by Kwame Dawes


In every crowd, there is the one
with horns, casually moving through
the bodies as if this is the living

room of a creature with horns,
a long cloak and the song of tongues
on the lips of the body. To see

the horns, one’s heart rate must
reach one hundred and seventy
five beats per minute, at a rate

faster than the blink of an eye,
for the body with horns lives
in the space between the blink

and light — slow down the blink
and somewhere in the white space
between sight and sightlessness

is twilight, and in that place,
that gap, the stop-time, the horn-
headed creatures appear,

spinning, dancing, strolling
through the crowd; and in the
fever of revelation, you will

understand why the shaman
is filled with the hubris
of creation, why the healer

forgets herself and feels like
angels about to take flight.
My head throbs under

the mosquito mesh, the drums
do not stop through the night,
the one with horns feeds

me sour porridge and nuts
and sways, Welcome, welcome.


Ode to Magic by Bob Hicok

Ode to Magic

Do the one where you bring the woman
back from the dead, his host, the king, commanded,
but the magician would not.

He did the one in which he was one half
of the folk-indie duo Heartwind.

He did the one that required a volunteer tornado
from the audience.

He did the one in which the lungs of a warlord
are filled with lava.

But he would not bring the woman back from the dead.

The king wanted to cut his head off
but the queen said, Perhaps this is just a poem.
This is just a poem.

Everyone is alive as long as the poem is alive.

The king wears a crown of a thousand crows.

The queen keeps three lovers inside the castle
of her dress, the third a spare for the second,
the second a technical advisor to the first.

The magician’s tongue is nothing but the word
abracadabra and the dead woman has just written
cotton candy on her shopping list, just written
antelopes and reminded the poet
he is running out of things to say.

The queen asks him, Do the one in which your heart
is folded over and pounded with moonlight,
in which you claim to miss everything —
I like how big your arms are in that one,
your throat the size of the universe
before silence gets the last word.

Oh, that one, the poet says, is this one,
is the only one.

Listen to it sound like shucked corn,
like a single blade of grass eating sun,
like any train or noisemaker or hallelujah
that will keep this line from being
the last line, and this line
but not the coming line, the hush,
the crush it is.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Rape Joke by Patricia Lockwood

Rape Joke

The rape joke is that you were 19 years old.

The rape joke is that he was your boyfriend.

The rape joke it wore a goatee. A goatee.

Imagine the rape joke looking in the mirror, perfectly reflecting back itself, and grooming itself to look more like a rape joke. “Ahhhh,” it thinks. “Yes. A goatee.”

No offense.

The rape joke is that he was seven years older. The rape joke is that you had known him for years, since you were too young to be interesting to him. You liked that use of the word interesting, as if you were a piece of knowledge that someone could be desperate to acquire, to assimilate, and to spit back out in different form through his goateed mouth.

Then suddenly you were older, but not very old at all.

The rape joke is that you had been drinking wine coolers. Wine coolers! Who drinks wine coolers? People who get raped, according to the rape joke.

The rape joke is he was a bouncer, and kept people out for a living.

Not you!

The rape joke is that he carried a knife, and would show it to you, and would turn it over and over in his hands as if it were a book.

He wasn’t threatening you, you understood. He just really liked his knife.

The rape joke is he once almost murdered a dude by throwing him through a plate-glass window. The next day he told you and he was trembling, which you took as evidence of his sensitivity.

How can a piece of knowledge be stupid? But of course you were so stupid.

The rape joke is that sometimes he would tell you you were going on a date and then take you over to his best friend Peewee’s house and make you watch wrestling while they all got high.

The rape joke is that his best friend was named Peewee.

OK, the rape joke is that he worshiped The Rock.

Like the dude was completely in love with The Rock. He thought it was so great what he could do with his eyebrow.

The rape joke is he called wrestling “a soap opera for men.” Men love drama too, he assured you.

The rape joke is that his bookshelf was just a row of paperbacks about serial killers. You mistook this for an interest in history, and laboring under this misapprehension you once gave him a copy of Günter Grass’s My Century, which he never even tried to read.

It gets funnier.

The rape joke is that he kept a diary. I wonder if he wrote about the rape in it.

The rape joke is that you read it once, and he talked about another girl. He called her Miss Geography, and said “he didn’t have those urges when he looked at her anymore,” not since he met you. Close call, Miss Geography!

The rape joke is that he was your father’s high-school student — your father taught World Religion. You helped him clean out his classroom at the end of the year, and he let you take home the most beat-up textbooks.

The rape joke is that he knew you when you were 12 years old. He once helped your family move two states over, and you drove from Cincinnati to St. Louis with him, all by yourselves, and he was kind to you, and you talked the whole way. He had chaw in his mouth the entire time, and you told him he was disgusting and he laughed, and spat the juice through his goatee into a Mountain Dew bottle.

The rape joke is that come on, you should have seen it coming. This rape joke is practically writing itself.

The rape joke is that you were facedown. The rape joke is you were wearing a pretty green necklace that your sister had made for you. Later you cut that necklace up. The mattress felt a specific way, and your mouth felt a specific way open against it, as if you were speaking, but you know you were not. As if your mouth were open ten years into the future, reciting a poem called Rape Joke.

The rape joke is that time is different, becomes more horrible and more habitable, and accommodates your need to go deeper into it.

Just like the body, which more than a concrete form is a capacity.

You know the body of time is elastic, can take almost anything you give it, and heals quickly.

The rape joke is that of course there was blood, which in human beings is so close to the surface.

The rape joke is you went home like nothing happened, and laughed about it the next day and the day after that, and when you told people you laughed, and that was the rape joke.

It was a year before you told your parents, because he was like a son to them. The rape joke is that when you told your father, he made the sign of the cross over you and said, “I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” which even in its total wrongheadedness, was so completely sweet.

The rape joke is that you were crazy for the next five years, and had to move cities, and had to move states, and whole days went down into the sinkhole of thinking about why it happened. Like you went to look at your backyard and suddenly it wasn’t there, and you were looking down into the center of the earth, which played the same red event perpetually.

The rape joke is that after a while you weren’t crazy anymore, but close call, Miss Geography.

The rape joke is that for the next five years all you did was write, and never about yourself, about anything else, about apples on the tree, about islands, dead poets and the worms that aerated them, and there was no warm body in what you wrote, it was elsewhere.

The rape joke is that this is finally artless. The rape joke is that you do not write artlessly.

The rape joke is if you write a poem called Rape Joke, you’re asking for it to become the only thing people remember about you.

The rape joke is that you asked why he did it. The rape joke is he said he didn’t know, like what else would a rape joke say? The rape joke said YOU were the one who was drunk, and the rape joke said you remembered it wrong, which made you laugh out loud for one long split-open second. The wine coolers weren’t Bartles & Jaymes, but it would be funnier for the rape joke if they were. It was some pussy flavor, like Passionate Mango or Destroyed Strawberry, which you drank down without question and trustingly in the heart of Cincinnati Ohio.

Can rape jokes be funny at all, is the question.

Can any part of the rape joke be funny. The part where it ends — haha, just kidding! Though you did dream of killing the rape joke for years, spilling all of its blood out, and telling it that way.

The rape joke cries out for the right to be told.

The rape joke is that this is just how it happened.

The rape joke is that the next day he gave you Pet Sounds. No really. Pet Sounds. He said he was sorry and then he gave you Pet Sounds. Come on, that’s a little bit funny.

Admit it.


Temptation of the Composer by Airea D. Matthews

Temptation of the Composer
Oh Shepherd, our honeyed marriage
          bed in the meadow was too narrow
and though you herd wild things,
          you were deaf to my footsteps.
As you lay there in the dew of me, curled,
          satiated, I tiptoed backwards
toward our door under twisted reeds.
          Out where pasture led to brackish
waters and red-hot mists rose from quartz
          I lowered myself into rockpores
while rushing wings of screech owls
           seemed to sing: Welcome, Dark-Light
                                             Welcome, Wild-Love


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Slander by Franz Wright

I can just hear them
on the telephone and keening
all their kissy little knives
or voraciously taking turns
nursing a lie
still in its early white whisperhood
and I could do something
bad back to them
someday, I guess—
but why
Exclusion doesn’t hurt
that much, in fact
I’ve visited the stars on foot
Come disdain of the dreamhand for grammar
and fame, this Boston’s
gothic chilly April
night (new leaves the color
of her eyes) beloved
booknight real
real world, oh
prasini arachnid
Light green eyes dusk distant
tolling now fading
to heartscar
which says
I was loved, always
And then they wounded me
so usefully—


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Waking in the Blue by Robert Lowell

Waking in the Blue

The night attendant, a B.U. sophomore,
rouses from the mare’s-nest of his drowsy head
propped on The Meaning of Meaning.
He catwalks down our corridor.
Azure day
makes my agonized blue window bleaker.
Crows maunder on the petrified fairway.
Absence! My heart grows tense
as though a harpoon were sparring for the kill.
(This is the house for the “mentally ill.”) 

What use is my sense of humor?
I grin at Stanley, now sunk in his sixties,
once a Harvard all-American fullback,
(if such were possible!)
still hoarding the build of a boy in his twenties,
as he soaks, a ramrod
with a muscle of a seal
in his long tub,
vaguely urinous from the Victorian plumbing.
A kingly granite profile in a crimson gold-cap,
worn all day, all night, 
he thinks only of his figure,
of slimming on sherbet and ginger ale—
more cut off from words than a seal.
This is the way day breaks in Bowditch Hall at McLean’s;
the hooded night lights bring out “Bobbie,"
Porcellian ‘29,
a replica of Louis XVI
without the wig—
redolent and roly-poly as a sperm whale,
as he swashbuckles about in his birthday suit
and horses at chairs. 

These victorious figures of bravado ossified young. 

In between the limits of day,
hours and hours go by under the crew haircuts
and slightly too little nonsensical bachelor twinkle
of the Roman Catholic attendants.
(There are no Mayflower
screwballs in the Catholic Church.) 

After a hearty New England breakfast,
I weigh two hundred pounds
this morning.  Cock of the walk,
I strut in my turtle-necked French sailor’s jersey
before the metal shaving mirrors,
and see the shaky future grow familiar
in the pinched, indigenous faces
of these thoroughbred mental cases,
twice my age and half my weight.
We are all old-timers,
each of us holds a locked razor.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Water Grave by Mai Der Vang

Water Grave

We cross under
the midnight shield
and learn that bullets

can curse the air.
A symposium
of endangered stars

evicts itself to
the water. Another
convoy leaves the kiln.

The crowded dead
turn into the earth’s
unfolded bed sheet.

We drift near banks,
creatures of the Mekong,
heads bobbing like

ghosts without bodies,
toward the farthest shore.
With every treading

soak, the wading leg,
we beg ourselves to live,
to float the mortared

cartilage and burial
tissue in this river yard
of amputated hearts.


The Visible World by Jorie Graham

The Visible World

I dig my hands into the absolute. The surface
into shingled, grassed clusters; lifts.
If I press, pick-in with fingers, pluck,
I can unfold the loam. It is tender. It is a tender
maneuver, hands making and unmaking promises.
Diggers, forgetters. . . . A series of successive single instances . . .
Frames of reference moving . . .
The speed of light, down here, upthrown, in my hands:
bacteria, milky roots, pilgrimages of spores, deranged
                                                                 and rippling
mosses. What heat is this in me
that would thaw time, making bits of instance
shovel by shovelful—my present a wind blowing through
                                                                         this culture
slogged and clutched-firm with decisions, overridings,
taken? . . . If I look carefully, there in my hand, if I
                                                     break it apart without
crumbling: husks, mossy beginnings and endings, ruffled
                                                                           airy loambits,
and the greasy silks of clay crushing the pinerot
                                                                            in . . .
Erasure. Tell me something and then take it back.
Bring this pellucid moment—here on this page now
                                                       as on this patch
of soil, my property—bring it up to the top and out
sequence. Make it dumb again—won’t you?—what
                                                                     would it
take? Leach the humidities out, the things that will
                                                                         insist on
making meaning. Parch it. It isn’t hard: just take this
and spread it out, deranged, a vertigo of single
in full sun and you can, easy, decivilize it, un-
                                                                hinge it
from its plot. Upthrown like this, I think you can
abstract it. Do you wish to?
Disentangled, it grows very very clear.
Even the mud, the sticky lemon-colored clay
hardens and then yields, crumbs.
I can’t say what it is then, but the golden-headed
mating, forgetting, speckling, inter-
will begin to be gone from it and then its glamorous
                                                                            veil of
echoes and muddy nostalgias will
be gone. If I touch the slender new rootings they show me
                                                                            how large I
am, look at these fingers—what a pilot—I touch, I press
                                                                         their slowest
electricity. . . . What speed is it at?
What speed am I at here, on my knees, as the sun traverses now
                                                                                 and just begins
to touch my back. What speed where my fingers, under the
                                                                              dark oaks,
are suddenly touched, lit up—so white as they move, the ray for
                                                                                         a moment
on them alone in the small wood.
White hands in the black-green glade,
opening the muddy cartoon of the present, taking the tiny roots
                                                                                        of the moss
apart, hired hands, curiosity’s small army, so white
                                                        in these greens—
make your revolution in the invisible temple,
make your temple in the invisible
revolution—I can’t see the errands you run, hands gleaming
                                                            for this instant longer
like tinfoil at the bottom here of the tall
                                      whispering oaks . . .
Listen, Boccioni the futurist says a galloping horse
                                                               has not four
legs (it has twenty)—and “at C there is no sequence
because there is no time”—and since
at lightspeed, etc. (everything is simultaneous): my hands
serrated with desires, shoved into these excavated
—mauve, maroons, gutters of flecking golds—
my hands are living in myriad manifestations
                                                       of light. . . .
“All forms of imitation are to be despised.”
“All subjects previously used must be discarded.”
“At last we shall rush rapidly past objectiveness” . . .
Oh enslavement, will you take these hands
                                       and hold them in
for a time longer? Tops of the oaks, do you see my tiny
                                                                      golden hands
pushed, up to the wrists,
into the present? Star I can’t see in daylight, young, light
                                                                     and airy star—
I put the seed in. The beam moves on.