Sunday, October 22, 2017

Before You Came by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Before You Came
Before you came,
things were as they should be:
the sky was the dead-end of sight,
the road was just a road, wine merely wine. 
Now everything is like my heart,
a color at the edge of blood:
the grey of your absence, the color of poison, of thorns,
the gold when we meet, the season ablaze,
the yellow of autumn, the red of flowers, of flames,
and the black when you cover the earth
with the coal of dead fires. 
And the sky, the road, the glass of wine?
The sky is a shirt wet with tears,
the road a vein about to break,
and the glass of wine a mirror in which
the sky, the road, the world keep changing. 
Don’t leave now that you’re here—
Stay. So the world may become like itself again:
so the sky may be the sky,
the road a road,
and the glass of wine not a mirror, just a glass of wine.

(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)


Saturday, October 21, 2017

What Use Is Knowing Anything if No One Is Around by Kaveh Akbar

What Use Is Knowing Anything if No One Is Around

What use is knowing anything if no one is around
to watch you know it? Plants reinvent sugar daily
and hardly anyone applauds. Once as a boy I sat
in a corner covering my ears, singing Quranic verse

after Quranic verse. Each syllable was perfect, but only
the lonely rumble in my head gave praise. This is why
we put mirrors in birdcages, why we turn on lamps

to double our shadows. I love my body more
than other bodies. When I sleep next to a man, he becomes
an extension of my own brilliance. Or rather, he becomes
an echo of my own anticlimax. I was delivered

from dying like a gift card sent in lieu of a pound
of flesh. My escape was mundane, voidable. Now
I feed faith to faith, suffer human noise, complain
about this or that heartache. The spirit lives in between

the parts of a name. It is vulnerable only to silence
and forgetting. I am vulnerable to hammers, fire,
and any number of poisons. The dream, then: to erupt
into a sturdier form, like a wild lotus bursting into

its tantrum of blades. There has always been a swarm
of hungry ghosts orbiting my body—even now,
I can feel them plotting in their luminous diamonds

of fog, each eying a rib or a thighbone. They are
arranging their plans like worms preparing
to rise through the soil. They are ready to die
with their kind, dry and stiff above the wet earth.

Friday, October 20, 2017

After Twelve Days of Rain by Dorianne Laux

After Twelve Days of Rain

I couldn’t name it, the sweet
sadness welling up in me for weeks.
So I cleaned, found myself standing
in a room with a rag in my hand,
the birds calling time-to-go, time-to-go.
And like an old woman near the end
of her life I could hear it, the voice
of a man I never loved who pressed
my breasts to his lips and whispered
“My little doves, my white, white lilies.”
I could almost cry when I remember it.

I don’t remember when I began
to call everyone “sweetie,”
as if they were my daughters,
my darlings, my little birds.
I have always loved too much,
or not enough. Last night
I read a poem about God and almost
believed it—God sipping coffee,
smoking cherry tobacco. I’ve arrived
at a time in my life when I could believe
almost anything.

Today, pumping gas into my old car, I stood
hatless in the rain and the whole world
went silent—cars on the wet street
sliding past without sound, the attendant’s
mouth opening and closing on air
as he walked from pump to pump, his footsteps
erased in the rain—nothing
but the tiny numbers in their square windows
rolling by my shoulder, the unstoppable seconds
gliding by as I stood at the Chevron,
balanced evenly on my two feet, a gas nozzle
gripped in my hand, my hair gathering rain.

And I saw it didn’t matter
who had loved me or who I loved. I was alone.
The black oily asphalt, the slick beauty
of the Iranian attendant, the thickening
clouds—nothing was mine. And I understood
finally, after a semester of philosophy,
a thousand books of poetry, after death
and childbirth and the startled cries of men
who called out my name as they entered me,
I finally believed I was alone, felt it
in my actual, visceral heart, heard it echo
like a thin bell. And the sounds
came back, the slish of tires
and footsteps, all the delicate cargo
they carried saying thank you
and yes. So I paid and climbed into my car
as if nothing had happened—
as if everything mattered — What else could I do?

I drove to the grocery store
and bought wheat bread and milk,
a candy bar wrapped in gold foil,
smiled at the teenaged cashier
with the pimpled face and the plastic
name plate pinned above her small breast,
and knew her secret, her sweet fear—
Little bird. Little darling. She handed me
my change, my brown bag, a torn receipt,
pushed the cash drawer in with her hip
and smiled back.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Laws of God, the Laws of Man by A. E. Housman

The Laws of God, the Laws of Man

The laws of God, the laws of man,
He may keep that will and can;
Not I: let God and man decree
Laws for themselves and not for me;
And if my ways are not as theirs
Let them mind their own affairs.
Their deeds I judge and much condemn,
Yet when did I make laws for them?
Please yourselves, say I, and they
Need only look the other way.
But no, they will not; they must still
Wrest their neighbor to their will,
And make me dance as they desire
With jail and gallows and hell-fire.
And how am I to face the odds
Of man's bedevilment and God's?
I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.
They will be master, right or wrong;
Though both are foolish, both are strong.
And since, my soul, we cannot fly
To Saturn nor to Mercury,
Keep we must, if keep we can,
These foreign laws of God and man. 


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Mango Seedling by Chinua Achebe

Mango Seedling

Through glass window pane
Up a modern office block
I saw, two floors below, on wide-jutting
Concrete canopy a mango seedling newly sprouted
Purple, two-leafed, standing on its burst
Black yolk. It waved brightly to sun and wind
Between rains—daily regaling itself
On seed-yams, prodigally.

For how long?
How long the happy waving
From precipice of rainswept sarcophagus?
How long the feast on remnant flour
At pot bottom?
   Perhaps like the widow
Of infinite faith it stood in wait
For the holy man of the forest, shaggy-haired
Powered for eternal replenishment.
Or else it hoped for Old Tortoise’s miraculous feast
On one ever recurring dot of cocoyam
Set in a large bowl of green vegetables—
   These days beyond fable, beyond faith?
   Then I saw it
Poised in courageous impartiality
Between the primordial quarrel of Earth
And Sky striving bravely to sink roots
Into objectivity, mid-air in stone.

I thought the rain, prime mover
To this enterprise, someday would rise in power
And deliver its ward in delirious waterfall
Toward earth below. But every rainy day
Little playful floods assembled on the slab,
Danced, parted round its feet,
United again, and passed.

It went from purple to sickly green
Before it died,
   Today I see it still—
Dry, wire-thin in sun and dust of the dry months—
Headstone on tiny debris of passionate courage.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Fledgling by Traci Brimhall

I scare away rabbits stripping the strawberries
in the garden, ripened ovaries reddening 
their mouths. You take down the hanging basket 
and show it to our son—a nest, secret as a heart, 
throbbing between flowers. Look, but don’t touch, 
you instruct our son who has already begun 
to reach for the black globes of a new bird’s eyes, 
wanting to touch the world. To know it. 
Disappointed, you say: Common house finch, 
as if even banal miracles aren’t still pink 
and blind and heaving with life. When the cat 
your ex-wife gave you died, I was grateful. 
I’d never seen a man grieve like that 
for an animal. I held you like a victory, 
embarrassed and relieved that this was how 
you loved. To the bone of you. To the meat. 
And we want the stricken pleasure of intimacy,
so we risk it. We do. Every day we take down 
the basket and prove it to our son. Just look
at its rawness, its tenderness, it’s almost flying. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Pardon by Richard Wilbur

The Pardon

My dog lay dead five days without a grave 
In the thick of summer, hid in a clump of pine 
And a jungle of grass and honey-suckle vine. 
I who had loved him while he kept alive  

Went only close enough to where he was 
To sniff the heavy honeysuckle-smell 
Twined with another odor heavier still 
And hear the flies' intolerable buzz.  

Well, I was ten and very much afraid. 
In my kind world the dead were out of range 
And I could not forgive the sad or strange 
In beast or man. My father took the spade  

And buried him. Last night I saw the grass 
Slowly divide (it was the same scene 
But now it glowed a fierce and mortal green) 
And saw the dog emerging. I confess  

I felt afraid again, but still he came 
In the carnal sun, clothed in a hymn of flies, 
And death was breeding in his lively eyes. 
I started in to cry and call his name,  

Asking forgiveness of his tongueless head. 
..I dreamt the past was never past redeeming: 
But whether this was false or honest dreaming 
I beg death's pardon now. And mourn the dead.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Plague of Dead Sharks by Alan Dugan

Plague of Dead Sharks

Who knows whether the sea heals or corrodes? 
The wading, wintered pack-beasts of the feet 
slough off, in spring, the dead rind of the shoes’ 
leather detention, the big toe’s yellow horn
shines with a natural polish, and the whole 
person seems to profit. The opposite appears 
when dead sharks wash up along the beach 
for no known reason. What is more built 
for winning than the swept-back teeth, 
water-finished fins, and pure bad eyes 
these old, efficient forms of appetite 
are dressed in? Yet it looks as if the sea 
digested what is wished of them with viral ease 
and threw up what was left to stink and dry. 
If this shows how the sea approaches life 
in its propensity to feed as animal entire, 
then sharks are comforts, feet are terrified, 
but they vacation in the mystery and why not? 
Who knows whether the sea heals or corrodes?: 
what the sun burns up of it, the moon puts back.


Friday, October 13, 2017

Why Is We Americans by Alison C. Rollins

Why Is We Americans

We is gator teeth hanging from the rear-
view mirror as sickle cells suckle at Big
Momma’s teats. We is dragonfly
choppers hovering above Walden Pond.
We is spinal cords shedding like the skin
of a cottonmouth. We is Psalm 23 and
the Pastor’s chattering chicklets. We is
a good problem to have. We is throats
constricting and the grape juice
of Jesus. We is Roach and Mingus in
Birdland. We is body electric, eyes
watering with moonshine, glossy lips
sticky with lard. We is half brothers in
headlock, arm-wrestling in the dirt.
We is Vaseline rubbed into knocked
knees and cracked elbows. We is ham
hocks making love to kidney beans. We
is Orpheus, lute in hand, asking do we
have a problem? We is the backstory
of myth. We is sitting horse and crazy
bull. We is brown paper bags and
gurgled belches. We is hooded ghosts
and holy shadows roaming Mississippi
goddamned. We is downbeats and
syncopation’s cousin. We is mouths
washed out with the blood of the lamb.
We is witch-hazel-coated backs sucking
on peppermint wrappers. We is the
spiked antennas of a triangle face
praying mantis. We is barefoot
tongue-tied hogs with slit throats and
twitching bellies. We is sun tea and
brewed bitches. We is the crying
pussies that stand down when told to
man up. We is Radio Raheem and Zoot
Suit Malcolm. We is spit-slick low cuts
and fades. We is scrappy black-masked
coons and turkey-necked bullfrogs. We
is the pits of arms at stake, the clouds
frothing at the mouth. We is swimmers
naked, private parts allegedly fondled
by Whitman beneath the water. We is
late lurkers and castrated tree limbs
on the Sunday before last. We is red-
veined pupils and piss-stained knickers,
slack-jawed and slumped in the
bathroom doorway. We is whiplash
and backhanded ways of settling grief.
We is clubbin’ woolly mammoths
upside the head, jammin’ fingers in
Darwin’s white beard. We is comin’
round yonder, pigeon-toed and
bowlegged, laughin’ our heads off.
We is lassoed cowboys swingin’ in
the sweet summer breeze.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Breath by Don Paterson


after Rilke 

Breath, you invisible poem -
pure exchange, sister to silence,
being and its counterbalance,
rhythm wherein I become,

ocean I accumulate
by stealth, by the same slow wave;
thriftiest of seas . . . Thief
of the whole cosmos! What estates

what vast spaces have already poured
through my lungs? The four winds
are like daughters to me.

So do you know me, air, that once sailed through me? 
You, that were once the leaf and rind 
of my every word?


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone by Rainer Maria Rilke

I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone enough
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small enough
to be to you just object and thing, 
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying 
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions, 
where something is up, 
to be among those in the know, 
or else be alone. 

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection, 
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection. 
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent; 
for there I would be dishonest, untrue. 
I want my conscience to be 
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed 
for a long time, one close up, 
like a new word I learned and embraced, 
like the everday jug, 
like my mother’s face, 
like a ship that carried me along 
through the deadliest storm.

(Translated by Annemarie S. Kidder)


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Little Bit by Eileen Myles

A Little Bit

It’s a little bit
true that the
hole in my jacket
the breast pocket
yeah all relaxed
has a hole &
pens keep
slipping through
one’s in the lining
but this one
now it’s a writing
silly black out there
wants to
tell its
song. Miguel’s
book was
in the air &
I was on
a train
my feet are cold
and you wouldn’t
be in the
air so
long it doesn’t happen
like this
there’s no climate
in a plane
and I was in one
but not on
my mother
is gone
each thing I do
is a little
bit wrong. I’m willing
to apologize
but they never
help it’s
just pointing
out the hole
& people
forget but I
won’t forget


Monday, October 9, 2017

As from a Quiver of Arrows by Carl Phillips

As from a Quiver of Arrows 

What do we do with the body, do we 
burn it, do we set it in dirt or in 
stone, do we wrap it in balm, honey,
oil, and then gauze and tip it onto 
and trust it to a raft and to water?

What will happen to the memory of his 
body, if one of us doesn't hurry now
and write it down fast? Will it be
salt or late light that it melts like?
Floss, rubber gloves, and a chewed cap

to a pen elsewhere —how are we to 
regard his effects, do we throw them
or use them away, do we say they are 
relics and so treat them like relics?
Does his soiled linen count? If so,

would we be wrong then, to wash it? 
There are no instructions whether it
should go to where are those with no
linen, or whether by night we should
memorially wear it ourselves, by day

reflect upon it folded, shelved, empty.
Here, on the floor behind his bed is 
a bent photo—why? Were the two of 
them lovers? Does it mean, where we
found it, that he forgot it or lost it

or intended a safekeeping? Should we
attempt to make contact? What if this
other man too is dead? Or alive, but 
doesn't want to remember, is human?
Is it okay to be human, and fall away

from oblation and memory, if we forget,
and can't sometimes help it and sometimes
it is all that we want? How long, in
dawns or new cocks, does that take?
What if it is rest and nothing else that

we want? Is it a findable thing, small?
In what hole is it hidden? Is it, maybe,
a country? Will a guide be required who
will say to us how? Do we fly? Do we 
swim? What will I do now, with my hands?

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Man Walking to Work by Denis Johnson

Man Walking to Work
The dawn is a quality laid across
the freeway like the visible
memory of the ocean that kept all this
a secret for a hundred million years.
I am not moving and I am not standing still.
I am only something the wind strikes and clears,
and I feel myself fade like the sky,
the whole of Ohio a mirror gone blank.
My jacket keeps me. My zipper
bangs on my guitar. Lord God help me
out by the lake after the shift at Frigidaire
when I stop laughing and taste how wet the beer
is in my mouth, suddenly recognizing the true
wedding of passage and arrival I am invited to.