Sunday, December 31, 2017

Plantation by Charif Shanahan


When he finally brought the hammer down
One half-inch from my mother’s face

The hole in the wall
Wide as a silver dollar

I was close enough
Huddled there

In the folds of her lap
Her arms wet with sweat and crossed

Against my back
And since from the room

All sound had gone
I was clear enough to see

Inside the cracked plaster:
A river delta, fractured,

Branching off and becoming
The sea. . . Or, a tiny moon

On a shore of white sand,
The tide lapping it in foam and tugging—No,

Twelve dead presidents perched there
Each with the face of my father—

Tight-lipped, vacant-eyed—
Scanning the field for a body to mark

Then locking in on her knee-bent dread—
Ordinary, mammary—

A yellow suckling heavy on her tit. . . No,
I think it was her one good eye

Refusing to blink,
Scaling the bare-white wall

At the core of the mind
(not measuring its height)

Then circling a waterless well
In a desert without sand,

Unnumbered sisters before her
Caught in the belly of the boats—

Where there was too much sound to hear,
Though only one voice, one cry—

Their dark arms like trellised vines
Crossed and reaching.


A Small Needful Fact by Ross Gay

A Small Needful Fact

Is that Eric Garner Worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe. 


Friday, December 29, 2017

The Reader by Wallace Stevens

The Reader

All night I sat reading a book,
Sat reading as if in a book
Of sombre pages.

It was autumn and falling stars
Covered the shrivelled forms
Crouched in the moonlight.

No lamp was burning as I read,
A voice was mumbling, “Everything
Falls back to coldness,

Even the musky muscadines,
The melons, the vermilion pears
Of the leafless garden.”

The sombre pages bore no print
Except the trace of burning stars
In the frosty heaven.


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Since Last We Spoke by Javier Zamora

Since Last We Spoke 

Across the bean field 
we have bulls, silent as grass, 
silent as your calls. My sheets 
don’t smell of kerosene 
anymore. Thank you 
for the stove, lamps,
re-fri-ge-ra-tor, oh 
and the TV. I shoveled 
the dirt myself when 
we turned our icebox 
into pots. I planted 
the peace lilies 
and fancy-leaf caladiums 
you like. Dandelions 
rule the cornfields. It’s how 
the bulls get fat.
¿Remember Doña Chita? 
She had the biggest 
procession to her tomb, 
but I didn’t go. 
Talk louder, mija, 
my ears are turning low. 
You know, I still see you 
with your backpack 
getting in that van, 
not looking back. 
I hear it’s snowing 
like never before, 
year-round. The cashew 
and platano trees miss you—
Oh, and your sister 
works at the clinic. 
She borrows your blazers, 
she’s a secretary, says 
she’ll never leave me


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Every After by Kyle Dacuyan

Every After
All good characters have an air of inexplicable.
There is a woman who drops into the Brattle Bookshop
every month or so incognito. Quietly she rips pages from
used bibles and quietly eats them until the jig is up
and she is asked respectfully to leave. I have many questions.
Does this have something to do with the word made flesh
or vice versa. Is she a militant atheist. Is this a kind of life-
long gustatory rampage. What kinds of things go through
her mind when she’s picking her disguises for bible day.
Where do obsessions come from. Is it erotic. Is the getting
caught erotic and the paper all a ruse. Is paper really
all that digestible. What kind of shit do you shit when you shit
the bible. Does it approach the pain and lonely terror of
a Catholic childhood. Why is obsession so painfully lonely.
Why pleasure. Where do stories go. Bloodwise, nervewise,
to what do they turn and how and where inside our guts.
When did we stop letting stories hang temporarily in air.
Who first had the idea of a book. Of paper. The idea of a
record. The idea of killing something in the name of
permanence. Who imagined permanence. Who first ate
a book. To what territories of magnificence do our bodies
go when they die. Where do we commingle in the future.
Will the soil of us make trees forever. When do stories stop.


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Given to Rust by Vievee Francis

Given to Rust
Every time I open my mouth my teeth reveal
more than I mean to. I can’t stop tonguing them, my teeth.
Almost giddy to know they’re still there (my mother lost hers)
but I am embarrassed nonetheless that even they aren’t
pretty. Still, I did once like my voice, the way it moved
through the gap in my teeth like birdsong in the morning,
like the slow swirl of a creek at dusk. Just yesterday
a woman closed her eyes as I read aloud, and
said she wanted to sleep in the sound of it, my voice.
I can still sing some. Early cancer didn’t stop the compulsion
to sing but
there’s gravel now. An undercurrent
that also reveals me. Time and disaster. A heavy landslide
down the mountain. When you stopped speaking to me
what you really wanted was for me to stop speaking to you. To
stifle the sound of my voice. I know.
Didn’t want the quicksilver of it in your ear.
What does it mean
to silence another? It means I ruminate on the hit
of rain against the tin roof of childhood, how I could listen
all day until the water rusted its way in. And there I was
putting a pan over here and a pot over there to catch it. 


Monday, December 25, 2017

Darkening, Brightening by Carl Phillips

Darkening, Brightening 
Listening's not enough, you've gotta watch them, that way they feel
less lonely. Him singing. Maybe I'm singing it. Latest hunch:
it's been too late, forever. Raft of sunset. Swing
of the mind like a fist, swinging—rough here, here
more delicate, as if undecided: to mean no harm, or
to not especially,
                            just now, be looking for it. The raft
noticeably less steady here, where the water this
otherwise silence most resembles has turned abruptly still:
braid-less, the water. Like remembering the words themselves—
Swans rowing at nightfall across a sky filled with snow, and
Very little we wouldn't have done for what we thought
was power—but not
                                  who said them. The breeze
notwithstanding. The usual first moths appearing,
moth-like, flower-like, like those flowers from childhood
we used to call Strip Heaven, a game, something someone
played , once. The way I'm figuring it, the half-life's
                                                                                    not a half-life,
when it's all you've known, he says, watching me
watch back. The sound of two bucks locking antlers. Sound
of luck—shadow-luck—when, unexpectedly, it seems
        there's been
some mistake. I hate the word unbearable. All this talk about
trust coming always down, after much struggling, to a
        drowned body:
easily lost; not irretrievable—Very well, then. Drag the lake.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Love by Radmila Lazić


I sharpened knives
All night.
To welcome you
In the brilliance of their blades,
And among them,
My love sparkles
For your eyes only.

(Translated by Charles Simić)


For the AIDS Dead by Frank Bidart

For the AIDS Dead
The plague that you have thus far survived.  They didn't.
Nothing that they did in bed that you didn't.
Writing a poem, I cleave to "you." You
means I, one, as well as the you
inside you constantly talk to. Without
justice or logic, without
sense, you survived.  They didn't.
Nothing that they did in bed that you didn't. 


Friday, December 22, 2017

Ave Maria by Frank O'Hara

Ave Maria
Mothers of America
                               let your kids go to the movies!
get them out of the house so they won’t know what you’re up to
it’s true that fresh air is good for the body
                                                              but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images 
and when you grow old as grow old you must
                                                                  they won’t hate you
they won’t criticize you they won’t know
                                                           they’ll be in some glamorous country
they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or playing hookey 
they may even be grateful to you
                                                  for their first sexual experience
which only cost you a quarter
                                            and didn’t upset the peaceful home
they will know where candy bars come from
                                                               and gratuitous bags of popcorn
as gratuitous as leaving the movie before it’s over
with a pleasant stranger whose apartment is in the Heaven on Earth Bldg
near the Williamsburg Bridge
                                                oh mothers you will have made the little tykes
so happy because if nobody does pick them up in the movies
they won’t know the difference
                                             and if somebody does it’ll be sheer gravy
and they’ll have been truly entertained either way
instead of hanging around the yard
                                                     or up in their room
                                                                                   hating you
prematurely since you won’t have done anything horribly mean yet
except keeping them from the darker joys
                                                               it’s unforgivable the latter
so don’t blame me if you won’t take this advice
                                                                      and the family breaks up
and your children grow old and blind in front of a TV set
movies you wouldn’t let them see when they were young 


Thursday, December 21, 2017

All Your Horses by Kay Ryan

All Your Horses

Say when rain
cannot make
you more wet
or a certain
thought can’t
deepen and yet
you think it again:
you have lost
count. A larger
amount is
no longer a
larger amount.
There has been
a collapse; perhaps
in the night.
Like a rupture
in water (which
can’t rupture
of course). All
your horses
broken out with
all your horses.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Ballad by Sonia Sanchez

    (after the spanish)  

forgive me if i laugh 
you are so sure of love 
you are so young 
and i too old to learn of love. 

the rain exploding 
in the air is love 
the grass excreting her 
green wax is love 
and stones remembering 
past steps is love, 
but you. you are too young 
for love 
and i too old. 

once. what does it matter 
when or who, i knew 
of love. 
i fixed my body 
under his and went 
to sleep in love 
all trace of me 
was wiped away 

forgive me if i smile 
young heiress of a naked dream 
you are so young 
and i too old to learn of love.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Carousel by Jaya Savige


Dense night is a needs thing.

You were lured
     in a luminous canoe
said to have once ruled
     a lunar ocean.

     The 2 am soda pour
of stars is all but silent;
only listen — 

   sedater than a sauropod
     in the bone epics
it spills all the moon spice,

     releasing a sap odour
          that laces
     us to a vaster scale
          of road opus.

A carousel of oral cues,
these spinning sonic coins.

A slide show of old wishes.


Monday, December 18, 2017

With a Changing Key by Paul Celan

With a Changing Key

With a changing key
you unlock the house where
the snow of what’s silenced drifts.
Just like the blood that bursts from
your eye or mouth or ear,
so your key changes.

Changing your key changes the word
that may drift with the flakes.
Just like the wind that rebuffs you,
packed round your word is the snow.

(Translated by Nikolai Popov and Heather McHugh)


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Letters to a Stranger by Thomas James

Letters to a Stranger


In April we will pierce his body.
It is March. Snow is dust over the branches.
A pony hunches in the orchard.
I stand at the frozen mouth of the river,
Thinking of you.
In the house where you live
Frost glitters on the windows
Like uncounted pieces of silver.
Already they are preparing the wine and the bread.


The field is banked with purple asters
And a spill of mustard flowers.
The earth has taken on terrible proportions.
Out in an unused meadow
The wildflowers have already covered
The delicate bones of an Indian.
Bees are flying across the meadow
To a hive under the rafters of the barn.
Someone is leading a horse with crippled bones
Into the spikes of clover.


Alexander died this morning,
Leaving his worldly possessions
To the strongest.
I watched an empire fade across his lips.
They propped him in the sun a while,
And then three women came to scour his body
Like a continent.
I am afraid of what the world will do.
Only this afternoon
I heard two worms conversing
In the shadow of his breastbone.
I slipped out of the palace
And entered a vein of gillyflowers
On the edge of potter’s field.
I will not be missed.
No one even noticed.


I have been thinking of the son
I would like to have.
The leaves have all gone yellow
Overnight, wrinkling like hands
In the updraught.
I drove my car by the creek
Because I had nowhere else to go.
The milkweed’s delicate closet had been fractured,
Filling the air with rumors.
Despite all I could do, the sumac
Had taken on the color of a mouth.
Tonight, I perceive the young girls
In my mother’s blood
Letting their seed pass by unnoticed,
A red nativity.


Last night they dragged the canal
For an old man’s body.
Now he is singing for a hook
Just below water level.
A branch of ice is splitting open
Across each window,
And snow is dismantling the weeds
Like the breakable furniture of a boudoir.
I have been rereading your letters.
It is too cold for a virgin birth to occur
Even in the frosty suburbs
Of a wildflower.


I have learned to camouflage myself in church,
Masking my body
With the body of a saint.
Last night frost glazed the face of Mary Magdalene,
And snow rode up to the altar windows.
Before morning, the sparrows came down
To the body of Saint Francis.
Now he is upholstered in oak leaves
Like a living room chair.
This morning we are preparing a crucifixion.
I am thinking of you now.
With the velvet at my knees
And the silverware shining on the altar
And the stained glass moving out of focus
And the cross veiled in black,
I am present for the news of an enormous death.
I take the bread on my tongue
Like one of Christ’s fingers,
And the wine rides through my breast
Like a dark hearse.
All the while I am thinking of you.
An avalanche of white carnations
Is drifting across your voice
As it drifts across the voices of confession.
But the snow keeps whispering of you over and over.

The Just by Jorge Luis Borges

The Just

A man who cultivates his garden, as Voltaire wished.
He who is grateful for the existence of music.
He who takes pleasure in tracing an etymology.
Two workmen playing, in a café in the South, a silent game of chess.
The potter, contemplating a color and a form.
The typographer who sets this page well, though it may not please him.
A woman and a man, who read the last tercets of a certain canto.
He who strokes a sleeping animal.
He who justifies, or wishes to, a wrong done him.
He who is grateful for the existence of a Stevenson.
He who prefers others to be right.
These people, unaware, are saving the world.

(Translated by Alastair Reid)


Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Poet's Occasional Alternative by Grace Paley

The Poet's Occasional Alternative 

I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft a poem would have had some
distance to go days and weeks and
much crumpled paper
the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor
everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it many friends
will say why in the world did you
make only one
this does not happen with poems
because of unreportable
sadnesses I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership I do not
want to wait a week a year a
generation for the right
consumer to come along 


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Extraordinary Rendition by Paul Muldoon

Extraordinary Rendition


I gave you back my claim on the mining town
and the rich vein we once worked,
the tumble down
from a sluice box that irked 

you so much, the narrow gauge
that opened up to one and all
when it ran out at the landing stage
beyond the falls. 

I gave you back oak ties,
bully flitches, the hand-hewn crossbeams
from which hung hardtack 

in a burlap bag that, I’d surmise,
had burst its seams
the last night we lay by the old spur track. 


You gave me back your frown
and the most recent responsibility you’d shirked
along with something of your renown
for having jumped from a cage just before it jerked 

to a standstill, your wild rampage
shot through with silver falderals,
the speed of that falling cage
and the staidness of our canyon walls. 

You gave me back lake skies,
pulley glitches, gully pitches, the reflected gleams
of two tin plates and mugs in the shack, 

the echoes of love sighs
and love screams
our canyon walls had already given back.


English by Yusef Komunyakaa


When I was a boy, he says, the sky began burning,
& someone ran knocking on our door
one night. The house became birds
in the eaves too low for a boy's ears.

I heard a girl talking, but they weren't words.
I knew one good thing: a girl
was somewhere in our house,
speaking slow as a sailor's parrot.

I glimpsed Alice in Wonderland.
Her voice smelled like an orange,
though I'd never peeled an orange.
I knocked on the walls, in a circle.

The voice was almost America.
My ears plucked a word out of the air.
She said, Friend. I eased open the door
hidden behind overcoats in a closet.

The young woman was smiling at me.
She was teaching herself a language
to take her far, far away,
& she taught me a word each day to keep secret.

But one night I woke to other voices in the house.
A commotion downstairs & a pleading.
There are promises made at night
that turn into stones at daybreak.

From my window, I saw the stars
burning in the river brighter than a big
celebration. I waited for her return,
with my hands over my mouth.

I can't say her name, because it was
dangerous in our house so close to the water.
Was she a boy's make-believe friend
or a beehive breathing inside the walls?

Years later my aunts said two German soldiers
shot the girl one night beside the Vistula.
This is how I learned your language.
It was long ago. It was springtime.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

It Was Like This: You Were Happy by Jane Hirshfield

It Was Like This: You Were Happy

It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness—
between you, there is nothing to forgive—
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.

It doesn’t matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Left by Nikky Finney


   Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!
       —Rudyard Kipling, “A Counting-Out Song,"
in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, 1923

           The woman with cheerleading legs
has been left for dead. She hot paces a roof,
four days, three nights, her leaping fingers,
helium arms rise & fall, pulling at the week-
old baby in the bassinet, pointing to the eighty-
two-year-old grandmother, fanning & raspy
in the New Orleans Saints folding chair.

                       Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!   

          Three times a day the helicopter flies
by in a low crawl. The grandmother insists on
not being helpless, so she waves a white hand-
kerchief that she puts on and takes off her head
toward the cameraman and the pilot who
remembers well the art of his mirrored-eyed
posture in his low-flying helicopter: Bong Son,
Dong Ha, Pleiku, Chu Lai. He makes a slow
Vietcong dip & dive, a move known in Rescue
as the Observation Pass.   

          The roof is surrounded by broken-levee
water. The people are dark but not broken. Starv-
ing, abandoned, dehydrated, brown & cumulous,
but not broken. The four-hundred-year-old
anniversary of observation begins, again—   
                      Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!   
                      Catch a— 
The woman with pom-pom legs waves
her uneven homemade sign:    

                      Pleas Help  Pleas 

and even if the e has been left off the Pleas e 

do you know simply 
by looking at her
that it has been left off
because she can’t spell
(and therefore is not worth saving)
or was it because the water was rising so fast
there wasn’t time?          

                      Eenee Menee Mainee Mo!    
                      Catch a— a—   

          The low-flying helicopter does not know
the answer. It catches all this on patriotic tape,
but does not land, and does not drop dictionary,
or ladder.   

          Regulations require an e be at the end
of any Pleas e before any national response
can be taken.   

          Therefore, it takes four days before
the national council of observers will consider
dropping one bottle of water, or one case
of dehydrated baby formula, on the roof
where the e has rolled off into the flood, 

                      (but obviously not splashed
loud enough) 

where four days later not the mother,
not the baby girl,
but the determined hanky waver,
whom they were both named for,
(and after) has now been covered up
with a green plastic window awning,
pushed over to the side
right where the missing e was last seen.   

                      My mother said to pick   
                      The very best one! 

What else would you call it,
Mr. Every-Child-Left-Behind. 

Anyone you know
ever left off or put on
an e by mistake? 
Potato   Po tato e   

          In the future observation helicopters
will leave the well-observed South and fly
in Kanye-West-Was-Finally-Right formation.
They will arrive over burning San Diego.   

          The fires there will be put out so well.
The people there will wait in a civilized manner.
And they will receive foie gras and free massage
for all their trouble, while there houses don’t
flood, but instead burn calmly to the ground. 

The grandmothers were right
about everything.   

          People who outlived bullwhips & Bull
Connor, historically afraid of water and routinely
fed to crocodiles, left in the sun on the sticky tar-
heat of roofs to roast like pigs, surrounded by
forty feet of churning water, in the summer
of 2005, while the richest country in the world
played the old observation game, studied
the situation: wondered by committee what to do;
counted, in private, by long historical division;
speculated whether or not some people are surely
born ready, accustomed to flood, famine, fear.   

                     My mother said to pick  
                     The very best one  
                     And you are not   it!   

          After all, it was only po’ New Orleans,
old bastard city of funny spellers. Nonswimmers
with squeeze-box accordion accents. Who would
be left alive to care?