Saturday, June 30, 2018

My Hero Bares His Nerves by Dylan Thomas


My Hero Bares His Nerves

My hero bares his nerves along my wrist
 That rules from wrist to shoulder,
 Unpacks the head that, like a sleepy ghost,
 Leans on my mortal ruler,
 The proud spine spurning turn and twist.

 And these poor nerves so wired to the skull
 Ache on the lovelorn paper
 I hug to love with my unruly scrawl
 That utters all love hunger
 And tells the page the empty ill.

 My hero bares my side and sees his heart
 Tread, like a naked Venus,
 The beach of flesh, and wind her bloodred plait;
 Stripping my loin of promise,
 He promises a secret heat.

 He holds the wire from the box of nerves
 Praising the mortal error
 Of birth and death, the two sad knaves of thieves,
 And the hunger’s emperor;
 He pulls the chain, the cistern moves.

 

Friday, June 29, 2018

A Young Man by Jericho Brown


A Young Man
 
We stand together on our block, me and my son,
Neighbors saying our face is the same, but I know
He’s better than me: when other children move 
 
Toward my daughter, he lurches like a brother
Meant to put them down. He is a bodyguard
On the playground. He won’t turn apart from her, 
 
Empties any enemy, leaves them flimsy, me
Confounded. I never fought for so much—
I calmed my daughter when I could cradle 
 
My daughter; my son swaggers about her. 
He won’t have to heal a girl he won’t let free. 
They are so small. And I, still, am a young man. 
 
In him lives my black anger made red.
They play. He is not yet incarcerated. 

 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Omen to Get Your Ass Up by Angel Nafis


Omen to Get Your Ass Up

It’s hard for me to believe, but, believe
I do       the morning passed me by without
a thought or surrender           I am a miserable
Sunday shut-in           thirst caked up
without a quench in sight         until

I see my homie           waiting to cross
the impossible intersection of Flatbush & Woodruff
It could be         any nigga         afro’d, with metallic
red headphones, gym shoes, unbothered by the day,
but I know         who I know       So I tear open the

bedroom window           force my own messy head
through the metal bars           which are really just
suggestions anyway                     & right away the air
is kind as ever against my chin           trailing my neck,
my breast-plate, an alarm       as good as a homie who

I yell down to      who sees me now & is Hey Boo-ing
rushing past a zillion strangers with her take-out chicken
to the door of my building      no matter
the dice game                or puddles of piss
She says a walk around the hood
got her whole situation right
so now it’s clear who I can be
Summoning her             is summoning me

Here I am           glad to be another loud mouth
through an open window           exercising the right
to be beloved                I am saved for a moment  
the suspended heaven of being recognized
Hollering
Ashley!           Ashley!           Ashley!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Afterlife by Christopher Reid

Afterlife
 
As if she couldn't bear not to be busy and useful
after her death, she willed her body to medical science.
 
Today, as a number of times before, I walked
past the institution that took her gift, and thought,
 
'That's where my dead wife lives. I hope they're treating her kindly.'
 
The dark brick, the depthless windows, gave nothing away,
but the place seemed preferable to either Heaven or Hell,
 
whose multitudes meekly receive whatever the design teams
and PR whizzes of religion have conjured up for them.
 
My wife is in there, somewhere, doing practical work:
her organs and tissues are educating young doctors
 
or helping researchers outwit the disease that outwitted her.
So it's a hallowed patch of London for me now.
 
But it's not a graveyard, to dawdle and remember and mope in,
and I had work to do, too, in a different part of town. 

 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Dear Reader by Rita Mae Reese


Dear Reader

You have forgotten it all.
You have forgotten your name,
where you lived, who you
loved, why.
                      I am simply
your nurse, terse and unlovely
I point to things
and remind you what they are:
chair, book, daughter, soup.

And when we are alone
I tell you what lies
in each direction: This way
is death, and this way, after
a longer walk, is death,
and that way is death but you
won’t see it
until it is right
in front of you.

              Once after
your niece had been to visit you
and I said something about
how you must love her
or she must love you
or something useless like that,
you gripped my forearm
in your terrible swift hand
and said, she is
everything—you gave
me a shake—everything
to me.
               And then you fell
back into the well. Deep
in the well of everything. And I
stand at the edge and call:
                  chair, book, daughter, soup.

 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Her Long Illness by Donald Hall


Her Long Illness

Daybreak until nightfall,
he sat by his wife at the hospital
while chemotherapy dripped
through the catheter into her heart.
He drank coffee and read
the Globe. He paced; he worked
on poems; he rubbed her back
and read aloud. Overcome with dread,
they wept and affirmed
their love for each other, witlessly,
over and over again.
When it snowed one morning Jane gazed
at the darkness blurred
with flakes. They pushed the IV pump
which she called Igor
slowly past the nurses' pods, as far
as the outside door
so that she could smell the snowy air. 

 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Ode to Dusty Springfield by David Trinidad


Ode to Dusty Springfield

What makes                     
a voice                     
distinct?                     
What special                     
quality                     
makes it                     
indelible?                     
Yours is plaintive,                     
as any singer                     
of torch songs                     
must be,                     
yet endowed                     
with confidence,                     
and fully                     
in command.                      
Deep and                     
resonant,                     
a bit husky                     
if you like.                     
A voice that rises—                     
or skyrockets,                     
rather—from                      
a wellspring                     
of pure emotion.                     
Manically                     
infatuated                     
in “I Only                     
Want to Be                     
with You.”                     
Desperate to                     
keep your                     
lover from                     
leaving in                     
“Stay Awhile.”                     
Despondent                     
in “I Just                     
Don’t Know                      
What to Do                     
with Myself”                     
and “You Don’t                     
Have to Say                     
You Love Me.”                     
All cried out                     
in “All Cried                     
Out.”  But then                     
amazingly                     
on the rebound                     
in “Brand New Me.”                      

I hear your                     
voice, Dusty,                     
and I am                     
instantly                      
whisked                     
back in time,                     
not quite                     
a teenager                     
all over                     
again,                     
full of longing                     
and confusion,                     
listening                     
to your                     
latest hit                     
on my                     
red plastic                     
transistor                     
radio on                     
a mid-sixties                     
Los Angeles                     
suburban                     
summer                     
afternoon.                      

Twice in                     
my life, I                     
found myself                      
in the same                     
room as you.                     
Can one fathom                     
anything more                     
miraculous?                     
The first                     
time was                     
in 1983, late                      
November,                     
in the basement                     
of a church                     
in Los Feliz,                     
around the                     
corner from                     
where I lived.                      
Sober only                     
a few weeks,                     
I watched                     
you approach                     
the podium,                     
but didn’t                     
realize who                     
you were                      
until you                     
identified                     
yourself as                     
“Dusty S.”                     
For the next                     
twenty minutes,                     
you told us                      
the story                     
of your                     
drinking.                     
How early in                     
your career,                     
backstage                     
before a                     
performance,                      
one of the                      
Four Tops                     
handed you                     
your first                     
drink, vodka.                     
How smoothly                     
it went down                     
and loosened                     
you up,                     
lit you from                     
within,                     
gave you                     
enough                     
courage                     
to go out on                     
stage, into that                     
blinding spot,                     
and sing like                     
no one else.                     
The alcohol                     
eventually                     
stopped working—                     
it always does,                     
that brand                     
of magic                     
is transient—                     
and here you                     
were, two                     
decades                     
later, sober                      
and clean                     
and still singing,                     
so to speak,                     
before a live                     
audience.                     
In my youth,                     
your words                     
had come over                     
the radio                     
and stirred                     
feelings                     
of heartbreak                     
and infatuation.                     
Now they                     
inspired me                      
to keep                     
coming back.                      

The second                     
time, 1987,                     
four years                     
sober, at a more                     
upscale meeting                     
at Cedars-Sinai                     
in West Hollywood,                     
I sat directly                     
behind you.                     
It was hard                     
to breathe                     
being in such                     
close proximity.                     
I didn’t hear                     
a word the                     
speaker said.                     
During his                     
drunkalog,                     
I slowly,                     
surreptitiously,                      
moved the                     
toe of my                     
white high-top                     
until it touched                     
the back of                     
your folding chair.                     
Then said a                      
little prayer.                     
I hoped                     
(should I be                     
embarrassed                     
admitting this?)                     
that some                     
of your                     
stardust                     
might travel                     
down the                     
metal leg                     
of your chair,                     
like a lightning                     
rod, and be                     
passed on                      
to me.                      

It’s after                     
midnight                     
again, Dusty,                     
half a century                     
since, on                     
a suburban                     
lawn or alone                      
in my room,                     
I suffered                     
through hits                     
by Paul Revere                     
& the Raiders                     
and Herman’s                     
Hermits,                      
just to                     
experience                     
two or                     
three minutes                     
of your                     
sultry voice.                     
I’m on                     
YouTube                      
again, watching                     
the black-and-white                     
video of you                     
singing “I                     
Only Want                     
to Be                     
with You.”                     
Your 1964                      
appearance                     
on some teen                     
variety show.                     
I’ve viewed                     
it innumerable                     
times, but                     
it’s always                      
exciting to see                     
you dance                     
out of the                     
darkness into                     
the round                     
spotlight,                     
exuberant                     
as the song’s                      
intro, arms                     
outspread,                     
in a chiffon                     
cocktail                     
dress and                     
high heels,                     
your platinum                     
hair, sprayed                     
perfectly                     
in place,                     
as bright                     
and shiny                     
as the moon.                     
Midway                     
through the                      
song—the                     
instrumental                     
bridge—you                     
turn and                     
sashay around                     
the edge of                     
the spotlight,                     
the ruffled                      
hem of your                     
chiffon dress                     
twisting with                     
your hips                     
and intricate                     
footwork.                     
Circle circling                     
circle: your                     
full backlit                     
hair orbiting                     
the pool of                     
white light                     
in the center                     
of the stage.                     
I watch this                      
again and again,                     
like Bashō’s moon                     
walking around                     
the pond                     
all night long.

 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Syringa by John Ashbery


Syringa
 
Orpheus liked the glad personal quality
Of the things beneath the sky. Of course, Eurydice was a part   
Of this. Then one day, everything changed. He rends   
Rocks into fissures with lament. Gullies, hummocks   
Can’t withstand it. The sky shudders from one horizon   
To the other, almost ready to give up wholeness.   
Then Apollo quietly told him: “Leave it all on earth.   
Your lute, what point? Why pick at a dull pavan few care to   
Follow, except a few birds of dusty feather,
Not vivid performances of the past.” But why not?   
All other things must change too.
The seasons are no longer what they once were,   
But it is the nature of things to be seen only once,
As they happen along, bumping into other things, getting along   
Somehow. That’s where Orpheus made his mistake.   
Of course Eurydice vanished into the shade;
She would have even if he hadn’t turned around.
No use standing there like a gray stone toga as the whole wheel   
Of recorded history flashes past, struck dumb, unable to utter an intelligent
Comment on the most thought-provoking element in its train.   
Only love stays on the brain, and something these people,   
These other ones, call life. Singing accurately
So that the notes mount straight up out of the well of   
Dim noon and rival the tiny, sparkling yellow flowers   
Growing around the brink of the quarry, encapsulates   
The different weights of the things.
                                                       But it isn’t enough   
To just go on singing. Orpheus realized this
And didn’t mind so much about his reward being in heaven   
After the Bacchantes had torn him apart, driven   
Half out of their minds by his music, what it was doing to them.
Some say it was for his treatment of Eurydice.
But probably the music had more to do with it, and   
The way music passes, emblematic
Of life and how you cannot isolate a note of it
And say it is good or bad. You must
Wait till it’s over. “The end crowns all,”
Meaning also that the “tableau”
Is wrong. For although memories, of a season, for example,   
Melt into a single snapshot, one cannot guard, treasure   
That stalled moment. It too is flowing, fleeting;   
It is a picture of flowing, scenery, though living, mortal,   
Over which an abstract action is laid out in blunt,   
Harsh strokes. And to ask more than this
Is to become the tossing reeds of that slow,
Powerful stream, the trailing grasses
Playfully tugged at, but to participate in the action   
No more than this. Then in the lowering gentian sky   
Electric twitches are faintly apparent first, then burst forth   
Into a shower of fixed, cream-colored flares. The horses   
Have each seen a share of the truth, though each thinks,   
“I’m a maverick. Nothing of this is happening to me,   
Though I can understand the language of birds, and   
The itinerary of the lights caught in the storm is fully apparent to me.
Their jousting ends in music much
As trees move more easily in the wind after a summer storm   
And is happening in lacy shadows of shore-trees, now, day after day.”
 
But how late to be regretting all this, even
Bearing in mind that regrets are always late, too late!   
To which Orpheus, a bluish cloud with white contours,   
Replies that these are of course not regrets at all,   
Merely a careful, scholarly setting down of
Unquestioned facts, a record of pebbles along the way.
And no matter how all this disappeared,   
Or got where it was going, it is no longer   
Material for a poem. Its subject
Matters too much, and not enough, standing there helplessly   
While the poem streaked by, its tail afire, a bad   
Comet screaming hate and disaster, but so turned inward   
That the meaning, good or other, can never   
Become known. The singer thinks
Constructively, builds up his chant in progressive stages   
Like a skyscraper, but at the last minute turns away.   
The song is engulfed in an instant in blackness   
Which must in turn flood the whole continent   
With blackness, for it cannot see. The singer   
Must then pass out of sight, not even relieved   
Of the evil burthen of the words. Stellification   
Is for the few, and comes about much later   
When all record of these people and their lives   
Has disappeared into libraries, onto microfilm.   
A few are still interested in them. “But what about   
So-and-so?” is still asked on occasion. But they lie   
Frozen and out of touch until an arbitrary chorus
Speaks of a totally different incident with a similar name   
In whose tale are hidden syllables
 
 
Of what happened so long before that
In some small town, one indifferent summer. 

 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party by Chen Chen


I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party
 
In the invitation, I tell them for the seventeenth time 
(the fourth in writing), that I am gay.  
 
In the invitation, I include a picture of my boyfriend 
& write, You’ve met him two times. But this time,  

you will ask him things other than can you pass the
whatever. You will ask him  

about him. You will enjoy dinner. You will be 
enjoyable. Please RSVP.  
 
They RSVP. They come. 
They sit at the table & ask my boyfriend  
 
the first of the conversation starters I slip them
upon arrival: How is work going?   
 
I’m like the kid in Home Alone, orchestrating
every movement of a proper family, as if a pair   
 
of scary yet deeply incompetent burglars 
is watching from the outside.   
 
My boyfriend responds in his chipper way. 
I pass my father a bowl of fish ball soup—So comforting,  

isn’t it? My mother smiles her best 
Sitting with Her Son’s Boyfriend  
 
Who Is a Boy Smile. I smile my Hurray for Doing 
a Little Better Smile.  
 
Everyone eats soup. 
Then, my mother turns  
 
to me, whispers in Mandarin, Is he coming with you 
for Thanksgiving? My good friend is & she wouldn’t like  

this. I’m like the kid in Home Alone, pulling 
on the string that makes my cardboard mother  
 
more motherly, except she is 
not cardboard, she is  
 
already, exceedingly my mother. Waiting 
for my answer.  
 
While my father opens up 
a Boston Globe, when the invitation  
 
clearly stated: No security 
blankets. I’m like the kid  
 
in Home Alone, except the home 
is my apartment, & I’m much older, & not alone,  
 
& not the one who needs 
to learn, has to—Remind me  

what’s in that recipe again, my boyfriend says 
to my mother, as though they have always, easily  
 
talked. As though no one has told him 
many times, what a nonlinear slapstick meets  
 
slasher flick meets psychological 
pit he is now co-starring in.  
 
Remind me, he says 
to our family.