Thursday, August 31, 2017

Dark Summer by Louise Bogan

Dark Summer

Under the thunder-dark, the cicadas resound.
The storm in the sky mounts, but is not yet heard.
The shaft and the flash wait, but are not yet found.

The apples that hang and swell for the late comer,
The simple spell, the rite not for our word,
The kisses not for our mouths,–light the dark summer.


Inland Sea by Charles Wright

Inland Sea

Little windows of gold paste,
Long arm of the Archer high above.
Cross after cross on the lawn. Dry dreams. Leftover light.
Bitter the waters of memory,
Bitter their teeth and cold lips.

Better to stuff your heart with dead moss,
Better to empty your mouth of air
Remembering Babylon
Than to watch those waters rise
And fall, and to hear their suck and sigh.

Nostalgia arrives like a spring storm,
Looming and large with fine flash,
Dissolving like a disease then
                                            into the furred horizon,
Whose waters have many doors,
Whose sky has a thousand panes of glass.

Nighttime still dogs and woos us
With tiny hiccups and tiny steps,
The constellations ignore our moans,
The tulip flames
                        snuffed in their dark cups,
No cries of holy, holy, holy.

Little windows of gold paste,
Long arm of the Archer high above.
Cross after cross on the lawn. Dry dreams. Leftover light.
Bitter the waters of memory,
Bitter their teeth and cold lips.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Sorrow Is Not My Name by Ross Gay

Sorrow Is Not My Name

—after Gwendolyn Brooks

No matter the pull toward brink. No
matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.
There is a time for everything. Look,
just this morning a vulture
nodded his red, grizzled head at me,
and I looked at him, admiring
the sickle of his beak.
Then the wind kicked up, and,
after arranging that good suit of feathers
he up and took off.
Just like that. And to boot,
there are, on this planet alone, something like two
million naturally occurring sweet things,
some with names so generous as to kick
the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,
stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks
at the market. Think of that. The long night,
the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me
on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.
But look; my niece is running through a field
calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel
and at the end of my block is a basketball court.
I remember. My color's green. I'm spring. 


Prayer by Galway Kinnell


Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Learn from the Almond Leaf by Eunice de Souza

Learn from the Almond Leaf
Learn from the almond leaf
which flames as it falls.
The ground is burning.
The earth is burning.
is all. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

God Breaks the Heart Again and Again Until It Stays Open by Sandra Cisneros

God Breaks the Heart Again and Again Until It Stays Open

               after a quote from Sufi Inayat Khan

But what if my heart is a 7-Eleven after its third daytime robbery in a week?

What if my heart is a piñata trashed to tissue and peppermint shrapnel? 

What if my heart is a peeled mango bearing an emerald housefly? 

What if my heart is an air conditioner weeping a rosary of rusty tears? 

What if my heart is Sebastião Salgado’s sinkhole swallowing another child? 

What if my heart is Death Valley in wide-view Cinemascope? 

What if my heart is a chupacabrón chanting, Build the wall? 

What if my heart is the creepy uncle’s yawning zipper? 

What if my heart is a Pentecostal babbling a river of tongues? 

What if my heart is the cross-eyed Jesus bought at the Poteet flea market? 

What if my heart is El Paso, Texas, in bed with the corpse of Ciudad Juárez?

What if my heart is unhinged from the weight of its lice-ridden wings? 

What then for an encore, oh my soul, when you have blessed me a hundredfold?


Friday, August 25, 2017

Dolphin by Robert Lowell


My Dolphin, you only guide me by surprise,
a captive as Racine, the man of craft,
drawn through his maze of iron composition
by the incomparable wandering voice of Phèdre.
When I was troubled in mind, you made for my body
caught in its hangman’s-knot of sinking lines,
the glassy bowing and scraping of my will. . . .
I have sat and listened to too many
words of the collaborating muse,
and plotted perhaps too freely with my life,
not avoiding injury to others,
not avoiding injury to myself—
to ask compassion . . . this book, half fiction, 
an eelnet made by man for the eel fighting  

my eyes have seen what my hand did.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Portrait of the Alcoholic with Relapse Fantasy by Kaveh Akbar

Portrait of the Alcoholic with Relapse Fantasy

You’re in a car and crying and amazed
at how bad it feels to do bad things. Then

you’re in a hotel bathroom with blood
on your undershirt and the smell of a too—

chlorinated pool outside. You know
one hundred ways to pray to the gods

rippling beneath that water. Confess, tangle,
pass through. Once your room is dark

they come inside, dripping wet. When you show
them the burnt place on your arm,

they show you the bands of flesh cut
from their thighs. You suck their tongues,

trace the blisters under their wings. It’s so lucky,
this living forever all at once. When you turn

on the lights, you’re inconsolably
glad. You could stop this whenever, but why?


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Under One Small Star by Wisława Szymborska

Under One Small Star

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity if I’m mistaken, after all.
Please, don’t be angry, happiness, that I take you as my due.
May my dead be patient with the way my memories fade.
My apologies to time for all the world I overlook each second.
My apologies to past loves for thinking that the latest is the first.
Forgive me, distant wars, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
I apologize for my record of minuets to those who cry from
     the depths.
I apologize to those who wait in railway stations for being asleep
     today at five a.m.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing from time to time.
Pardon me, deserts, that I don’t rush to you bearing a spoonful
     of water.
And you, falcon, unchanging year after year, always in the
     same cage,
your gaze always fixed on the same point in space,
forgive me, even if it turns out you were stuffed.
My apologies to the felled tree for the table’s four legs.
My apologies to great questions for small answers.
Truth, please don’t pay me much attention.
Dignity, please be magnanimous.
Bear with me, O mystery of existence, as I pluck the occasional
     thread from your train.
Soul, don’t take offense that I’ve only got you now and then.
My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere at once.
My apologies to everyone that I can’t be each woman and
     each man.
I know I won’t be justified as long as I live,
since I myself stand in my own way.
Don’t bear me ill will, speech, that I borrow weighty words,
then labor heavily so that they may seem light.

(Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanaugh)


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Monomoy by Carl Phillips


Somewhere, people must still do things like fetch
water from wells in buckets, then pour it out
for those animals that, long domesticated, would
likely perish before figuring out how to get
for themselves. That dog, for example, whose
refusal to leave my side I mistook, as a child,
for loyalty — when all along it was just blind ... What
is it about vulnerability that can make the hand
draw back, sometimes, and can sometimes seem
the catalyst for rendering the hand into sheer force,
destructive? Don’t you see how you’ve burnt almost
all of it, all the tenderness, away, someone screams
to someone else, in public — and looking elsewhere,
we walk quickly past, as if even to have heard
that much might have put us at risk of whatever fate
questions like that
                                     spring from. Estrangement — 
like sacrifice — begins as a word at first, soon it’s
the stuff of drama, cue the follow-up tears that
attend drama, then it’s pretty much the difference
between waking up to a storm and waking up
inside one. Who can say how she got there — 
in the ocean, I mean — but I once watched a horse
make her way back to land mid-hurricane: having
ridden, surfer-like, the very waves that at any moment
could have overwhelmed her in their crash to shore, she
shook herself, looked back once on the water’s restlessness — 
history’s always restless — and the horse stepped free.


Postlude by William Carlos Williams


Now that I have cooled to you
Let there be gold of tarnished masonry,
Temples soothed by the sun to ruin   
That sleep utterly.
Give me hand for the dances,            
Ripples at Philae, in and out,         
And lips, my Lesbian,         
Wall flowers that once were flame.         

Your hair is my Carthage         
And my arms the bow,         
And our words arrows         
To shoot the stars         
Who from that misty sea         
Swarm to destroy us.         

But you there beside me—         
Oh how shall I defy you,         
Who wound me in the night         
With breasts shining         
Like Venus and like Mars?         
The night that is shouting Jason         
When the loud eaves rattle         
As with waves above me         
Blue at the prow of my desire.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Break by Aracelis Girmay

When the boys are carnivals
we gather round them in the dark room

& they make their noise while drums
ricochet against their bodies & thin air
below the white ceiling hung up like a moon
& it is California, the desert. I am driving in a car,
clapping my hands for the beautiful windmills,
one of whom is my brother, spinning,
on a hillside in the garage
with other boys he’ll grow old with, throw back.
How they throw back their bodies
on the cardboard floor, then spring-to, flying
like the heads of hammers hitting strings
inside of a piano.
                                  Again, again.
This is how they fall & get back up. One
who was thrown out by his father. One
who carries death with him like a balloon
tied to his wrist. One whose heart will break.
One whose grandmother will forget his name.
One whose eye will close. One who stood
beside his mother’s body in a green hospital. One.
Kick up against the air to touch the earth.
See him fall, then get back up.
Then get back up. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Incantation by Czesław Miłosz


Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.
It establishes the universal ideas in language,
And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice
With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.
It puts what should be above things as they are,
It is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.
It does not know Jew from Greek or slave from master,
Giving us the estate of the world to manage.
It saves austere and transparent phrases
From the filthy discord of tortured words.
It says that everything is new under the sun,
Opens the congealed fist of the past.
Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia
And poetry, her ally in the service of the good.
As late as yesterday Nature celebrated their birth,
The news was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo,
Their friendship will be glorious, their time has no limit,
Their enemies have delivered themselves to destruction.

(Translated by Czesław Miłosz and Robert Pinsky)


Friday, August 18, 2017

The Leash by Ada Limón

The Leash

After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear,
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what’s
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say, Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don’t know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don’t die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Worry by Sam Sax


is a woman
burying bread

beneath her lawn.
praying for summer

to make whole loaves
break in their plastic

shells through dirt
like so many hands.

worry is how i thumb
a groove in the stolen

jewel case in my back
pocket at tower

records, the man
puts his hands

on me & i’m cooked,
i’m crooked, red

handed, red thumbed.
had enough money

in my pocket
for music

& who really needs
that bad? all my father’s

overtime stocked
in our pantry.

all my mother’s
edges worried

smooth below
the river of her

boss’s hands.
who am i

who steals music
who sells drugs

because i love
how it sounds.

who sold my own
good mouth

for gold. a man
puts his hands

on me &
i’m his & i’m paid.

in the old country
women buried

what little we had
in the dirt & hoped

it would make more
better on earth.

in this country
all food is unzipped

from its plastic
& passes clean through us.

my grandmother’s
panic is a relic, is bread

unearthed from
some forgotten dust

bowl still dark
& moldy & whole.

why not eat the hand
that feeds you, i think,

why not eat the arm,
the elbow,

the shoulder? why
not eat the whole

damned body alive

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Spire by Ellen Bryant Voigt

The Spire

In the Bavarian steeple, on the hour, 
two figures emerge from their scalloped house 
carrying sledges that they clap, in turn, 
against the surface of the bell. By legend 
they are summer and winter, youth and age, 
as though the forces of plenty and of loss 
played equally on the human soul, extracted 
easily the same low bronze note spreading 
upward from the encumbrance of the village, 
past alluvial fields to the pocked highland 
where cattle shift their massive heads 
at this dissonance, this faint redundant 
pressure in the ears, in the air. 
From the village, the mountain seems 
a single stone, a single blank completion. 
Seeing the summit pierce the abstract heavens, 
we reconstruct the valley on the mountain— 
a shepherd propped against his crook, birds 
enthralled on a branch, the branch feathering 
the edge of the canvas—transposing 
such forms as can extend the flawed earth 
and embody us, intact, unaltering, among 
the soft surprising trees of childhood, 
mimosa, honey locust and willow. 
Wood in the midst of woods, the village 
houses are allied in a formal shape 
beside a stream, the streets concluding 
at the monument. Again the ravishing moment 
of the bell: the townspeople, curious 
or accustomed, stop to count the strokes, 
odd or even—the confectioner counting out 
the lavender candies for his customer, 
the butcher, the greengrocer, the surgeon 
and the constable—as the housewife 
stands on the stoop, shaking her mop, 
and sees the dust briefly veil the air, 
an algebra of swirling particles.


On Translating Poetry by Zbigniew Herbert

On Translating Poetry

Like a clumsy bumblebee
he alights on a flower
bending the fragile stem
he elbows his way
through rows of petals
like pages of a dictionary
he wants in
where the fragrance and sweetness are
and though he has a cold
and can’t taste anything
he pushes on
until he bumps his head
against the yellow pistil
and that’s as far as he gets
it’s too hard
to push through the calyx
into the root
so the bee takes off again
he emerges swaggering
loudly humming:
I was in there
and those
who don’t take his word for it
can take a look at his nose
yellow with pollen

(Translated by Alissa Valles)


Monday, August 14, 2017

In Defense of “Candelabra with Heads” by Nicole Sealey

In Defense of “Candelabra with Heads”

If you’ve read the “Candelabra with Heads”
that appears in this collection and the one
in The Animal, thank you. The original,
the one included here, is an example, I’m told,
of a poem that can speak for itself, but loses
faith in its ability to do so by ending with a thesis
question. Yeats said a poem should click shut
like a well-made box. I don’t disagree.
I ask, “Who can see this and not see lynchings?”
not because I don’t trust you, dear reader,
or my own abilities. I ask because the imagination
would have us believe, much like faith, faith
the original “Candelabra” lacks, in things unseen.
You should know that human limbs burn
like branches and branches like human limbs.
Only after man began hanging man from trees
then setting him on fire, which would jump
from limb to branch like a bastard species
of bird, did we come to know such things.
A hundred years from now, October 9, 2116,
8:18 p.m., when all but the lucky are good
and dead, may someone happen upon the question
in question. May that lucky someone be black
and so far removed from the verb lynch that she be
dumbfounded by its meaning. May she then
call up Hirschhorn’s Candelabra with Heads.
May her imagination, not her memory, run wild.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Author Reflects on His 35th Birthday by Ishmael Reed

The Author Reflects on His 35th Birthday

35? I have been looking forward 
To you for many years now 
So much so that 
I feel you and I are old 
Friends and so on this day, 35 
I propose a toast to 
Me and You 
35? From this day on 
I swear before the bountiful 
Osiris that 
If I ever 
Try to bring out the 
Best in folks again I 
Want somebody to take me 
Outside and kick me up and 
Down the sidewalk or 
Sit me in a corner with a 
Funnel on my head 

Make me as hard as a rock 
35, like the fellow in 
The story about the 
Big one that got away 
Let me laugh my head off 
With Moby Dick as we reminisce 
About them suckers who went 
Down with the Pequod 
35? I ain’t been mean enough 
Make me real real mean 
Mean as old Marie rolling her eyes 
Mean as the town Bessie sings about 
“Where all the birds sing bass” 

35? Make me Tennessee mean 
Cobra mean 
Cuckoo mean 
Injun mean 
Dracula mean 
Beethovenian-brows mean 
Miles Davis mean 
Pawnbroker mean 
Pharaoh mean 
That’s it, 35 
Make me Pharaoh mean 
Mean as can be 
Mean as the dickens 
Meaner than mean 

When I walk down the street 
I want them to whisper 
There goes Mr. Mean 
“He’s double mean 
He even turned the skeletons 
In his closet out into 
The cold” 

And 35? 
Don’t let me trust anybody 
Over Reed but 
Just in case 
Put a tail on that 
Negro too 


from An Explanation of America: A Love of Death by Robert Pinsky

from An Explanation of America: A Love of Death

Imagine a child from Virginia or New Hampshire 
Alone on the prairie eighty years ago 
Or more, one afternoon—the shaggy pelt 
Of grasses, for the first time in that child’s life, 
Flowing for miles. Imagine the moving shadow 
Of a cloud far off across that shadeless ocean, 
The obliterating strangeness like a tide 
That pulls or empties the bubble of the child’s 
Imaginary heart. No hills, no trees. 

The child’s heart lightens, tending like a bubble 
Towards the currents of the grass and sky, 
The pure potential of the clear blank spaces. 

Or, imagine the child in a draw that holds a garden 
Cupped from the limitless motion of the prairie, 
Head resting against a pumpkin, in evening sun. 
Ground-cherry bushes grow along the furrows, 
The fruit red under its papery, moth-shaped sheath. 
Grasshoppers tumble among the vines, as large 
As dragons in the crumbs of pale dry earth. 
The ground is warm to the child’s cheek, and the wind 
Is a humming sound in the grass above the draw, 
Rippling the shadows of the red-green blades. 
The bubble of the child’s heart melts a little, 
Because the quiet of that air and earth 
Is like the shadow of a peaceful death— 
Limitless and potential; a kind of space 
Where one dissolves to become a part of something 
Entire ... whether of sun and air, or goodness 
And knowledge, it does not matter to the child. 
Dissolved among the particles of the garden 
Or into the motion of the grass and air, 
Imagine the child happy to be a thing. 

Imagine, then, that on that same wide prairie 
Some people are threshing in the terrible heat 
With horses and machines, cutting bands 
And shoveling amid the clatter of the threshers, 
The chaff in prickly clouds and the naked sun 
Burning as if it could set the chaff on fire. 
Imagine that the people are Swedes or Germans, 
Some of them resting pressed against the strawstacks, 
Trying to get the meager shade. 
                                                A man, 
A tramp, comes laboring across the stubble 
Like a mirage against that blank horizon, 
Laboring in his torn shoes toward the tall 
Mirage-like images of the tilted threshers 
Clattering in the heat. Because the Swedes 
Or Germans have no beer, or else because 
They cannot speak his language properly, 
Or for some reason one cannot imagine, 
The man climbs up on a thresher and cuts bands 
A minute or two, then waves to one of the people, 
A young girl or a child, and jumps head-first 
Into the sucking mouth of the machine, 
Where he is wedged and beat and cut to pieces— 
While the people shout and run in the clouds of chaff, 
Like lost mirages on the pelt of prairie. 

The obliterating strangeness and the spaces 
Are as hard to imagine as the love of death ... 
Which is the love of an entire strangeness, 
The contagious blankness of a quiet plain. 
Imagine that a man, who had seen a prairie, 
Should write a poem about a Dark or Shadow 
That seemed to be both his, and the prairie’s—as if 
The shadow proved that he was not a man, 
But something that lived in quiet, like the grass. 
Imagine that the man who writes that poem, 
Stunned by the loneliness of that wide pelt, 
Should prove to himself that he was like a shadow 
Or like an animal living in the dark. 
In the dark proof he finds in his poem, the man 
Might come to think of himself as the very prairie, 
The sod itself, not lonely, and immune to death. 

None of this happens precisely as I try 
To imagine that it does, in the empty plains, 
And yet it happens in the imagination 
Of part of the country: not in any place 
More than another, on the map, but rather 
Like a place, where you and I have never been 
And need to try to imagine—place like a prairie 
Where immigrants, in the obliterating strangeness, 
Thirst for the wide contagion of the shadow 
Or prairie—where you and I, with our other ways, 
More like the cities or the hills or trees, 
Less like the clear blank spaces with their potential, 
Are like strangers in a place we must imagine.