Saturday, February 29, 2020

the lesson of the falling leaves by Lucille Clifton

the lesson of the falling leaves

the leaves believe
such letting go is love
such love is faith
such faith is grace
such grace is god
i agree with the leaves

Friday, February 28, 2020

Ordinariness of the Soul by Zbigniew Herbert

Ordinariness of the Soul

In the morning mice scamper
over the head
over the floor of the head
shreds of conversations
scraps of a poem
the room’s muse
in a blue apron

such important guests
visit my master
well Heraclitus the Ephesian for example
or the prophet Isaiah

today no one rings

the master paces about impatiently
talks to himself
tears up innocent papers

in the evening goes out in an unknown direction

the muse unties her blue apron
rests her elbows on the window sill
leans out
for her sergeant
with the red mustaches

(Translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter)

Monday, February 24, 2020

I will tell you the truth about this, I will tell you all about it by Tracy K. Smith

I will tell you the truth about this, I will tell you all about it

Excellent sir, my son went in the 54th regiment

Sir, my husband who is in Company K, 22nd regiment, U.S. colored troops
And now in the Macon Hospital at Portsmouth with a wound in his arm
Has not received any pay since last May
And then only $13.

Sir, we the members of Company D, of the 55th Massachusetts volunteers
Call the attention of your excellency to our case.
For instant, look and see that we never was freed yet.
Run right out of slavery in to soldiery and we hadn’t nothing at all.
And our wives and mothers, most all of them is a perishing all about.
And we all are perishing ourself.
I am willing to be a soldier and serve my time faithful like a man.
But I think it is hard to be put off in such doggish manner as that.

Will you see that the colored men fighting now are fairly treated?
You ought to do this and do it at once.
Not let the thing run along. Need it quickly and manfully.
We poor oppressed ones appeal to you and ask fair play.

So please, if you can do any good for us, do it in the name of God.
Excuse my boldness, but please, your reply will settle the matter
And will be appreciated by a colored man
And who is willing to sacrifice his son in the cause of freedom and humanity.

I have nothing more to say.
Hoping that you will lend a listening ear.
To a humble soldier.
I will close, your for Christ’s sake.
I shall have to send this without a stamp.
For I h’ain’t money enough to buy a stamp.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Climate by Annelyse Gelman

The Climate

It was like watching a wave approach
from a great distance, so great

that at first it is not a wave at all, but
a mere horizon, static and singular,

so that one, it being possible, presumably,
to avail oneself of the diversions

of the beach, might turn one’s back
on the ocean altogether, might turn instead

to the sand, heaped and tunnelled,
the sunscreened hand that fumbles

for a book, indeed, the book,
the sentence, the syntax, the sun

blanching the page, stained, perhaps,
with sweat, the creamy pleasure

of not-laboring, when one would otherwise
labor, the pleasure of wasting

oneself, of decadent uselessness,
though one might, of course, always alarm

to some emergency, a child caught
in the undertow, say, who must be

dragged to shore and breathed into
like an empty balloon, an empty balloon

on which everything depends, might,
bent over the small body, waiting for it

to rise, to float, casting a shadow
the size of oneself, not even see,

though one was, of course, warned
it would come, and soon, the shadow

of that wave, like a new sky, already
overhead and even now descending.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Association by Franz Wright


Dawns when I can’t sleep I walk,
in thought, all the way
around Walden.

My father loved Thoreau, I wish
he could have walked there
with me once,

my hungover Virgil. Lying in bed
with a big ax
lodged in my head, I still hear him

as if from the next room
bumping into things and cursing.
Give us this day, he mutters,

our daily stone. Nice.
Can’t blame him, though. This morning
can’t sleep for missing him.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Death Again by Jim Harrison

Death Again

Let’s not get romantic or dismal about death.
Indeed it’s our most unique act along with birth.
We must think of it as cooking breakfast,
it’s that ordinary. Break two eggs into a bowl
or break a bowl into two eggs. Slip into a coffin
after the fluids have been drained, or better yet,
slide into the fire. Of course it’s a little hard
to accept your last kiss, your last drink,
your last meal about which the condemned
can be quite particular as if there could be
a cheeseburger sent by God. A few lovers
sweep by the inner eye, but it’s mostly a placid
lake at dawn, mist rising, a solitary loon
call, and staring into the still, opaque water.
We’ll know as children again all that we are
destined to know, that the water is cold
and deep, and the sun penetrates only so far.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Ode to Fat by Ellen Bass

Ode to Fat

Tonight, as you undress, I watch your wondrous
flesh that’s swelled again, the way a river swells
when the ice relents. Sweet relief
just to regard the sheaves of your hips,
your boundless breasts and marshy belly.
I adore the acreage
of your thighs and praise the promising
planets of your ass.
O, you were lean that terrifying year
you were unraveling, as though you were returning
to the slender scrap of a girl I fell in love with.
But your skin was vacant, a ripped sack,
sugar spilling out and your bones insistent.
O, praise the loyalty of the body
that labors to rebuild its palatial realm.
Bless butter. Bless brie.
Sanctify schmaltz. And cream and cashews.
Stoke the furnace
of the stomach and load the vessels. Darling,
drench yourself in opulent oil,
the lamp of your body glowing. May you always
flourish enormous and sumptuous,
be marbled with fat, a great vault
that I can enter, the cathedral where I pray.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Deportation Letter by Javier Zamora

Deportation Letter

The words Notice to Appear flap like a monarch trapped in a puddle.
Translation: ten years in a cell cold enough to be named Hielera.
If not that, a plane with chains locked to her legs. My aunt swam across
the Río Bravo twice to see her second daughter born in Greenbrae.
¿Why can’t my sister come here? asks the one who speaks English.
The monarch’s beaten, but it won’t listen. Since nothing’s wasted,
it might get eaten, it will nourish ants already gathering.       

It was a hill like this. I was tired. I couldn’t keep running and fell. If it wasn’t for
the women who went back to pick me up from the shore, I wouldn’t be here.        

Somewhere along here there’s a bridge. A cactus-pear bridge,
red like: the dirtiest sunset, Gila monster hiding, leftover sardines in tin.
¿The hibiscus sprouting? ¿Bougainvillea? One daughter wakes
and sees them and the volcano, and fire flowers through her window.
She’s never seen the bridge her mom isn’t afraid of.       

My aunt, twenty-five years selling pupusas near that pier, ten and counting
cleaning houses, baking bread, anything in Larkspur. Most people
in La Herradura haven’t seen their parents. Her daughter Julia,
over there. Here, her daughter Adriana takes the bus to school every day.       

The first try we were already in that van and La Migra was chasing us. The driver
said he was going to stop, we should open the doors and run. There were a lot of
Sirens. Men through the speakers. I got to a bush and hid. One dog found me.
He didn’t bite. He just stood next to me till one gringo handcuffed me.       

This beach, these hills, are pretty. It looks like La Puntilla, except it’s cold.
I wish Julia was here. Javier, take a picture of Adriana and me. I’ll send it to Julia.        

It’s complicated. Mamá me dejaste, decí que vas a regresar, I said, at night
on that same bed you sleep in now. Same bed next to the window
from which you see the lemons, the custard apples, the bean fields,
then the volcano. I’m sorry none of us ever saw you draw butterflies
like we see Adriana draw them, with the caption: “the butterflies
were going to save the world from tornado. And did.”

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Descent of Man by Vijay Seshadri

The Descent of Man

My failure to evolve has been causing me a lot of grief lately.
I can't walk on my knuckles through the acres of shattered glass in the streets.
I get lost in the arcades. My feet stink at the soirees.
The hills have been bulldozed from whence cameth my help.
The halfway houses where I met my kind dreaming of flickering lights in the woods
are shuttered I don't know why.
"Try," say the good people who bring me my food,
"to make your secret anguish your secret weapon.
Otherwise, your immortality will be
an exhibit in a vitrine at the local museum, a picture in a book."
But I can't get the hang of it. The heavy instructions fall from my hands.
It takes so long for the human to become a human!
He affrights civilizations with his cry. At his approach,
the mountains retreat. A great wind crashes the garden party.
Manipulate singly neither his consummation nor his despair
but the two together like curettes
and peel back the pitch-black integuments
to discover the penciled-in figure on the painted-over mural of time,
sitting on the sketch of a boulder below
his aching sunrise, his moody, disappointed sunset.

Monday, February 17, 2020

I Don’t Want to Be Demure or Respectable by Mary Oliver

I Don’t Want to Be Demure or Respectable

I don’t want to be demure or respectable.
I was that way, asleep, for years.
That way, you forget too many important things.
How the little stones, even if you can’t hear them, are singing.
How the river can’t wait to get to the ocean and the sky, it’s been there before.
What traveling is that!
It is a joy to imagine such distances.
I could skip sleep for the next hundred years.
There is a fire in the lashes of my eyes.
It doesn’t matter where I am, it could be a small room.
The glimmer of gold Böhme saw on the kitchen pot
was missed by everyone else in the house.

Maybe the fire in my lashes is a reflection of that.
Why do I have so many thoughts, they are driving me crazy.
Why am I always going anywhere, instead of somewhere?
Listen to me or not, it hardly matters.
I’m not trying to be wise, that would be foolish.
I’m just chattering.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Violins by Rowan Ricardo Phillips


He never saw a violin.
But he saw a lifetime of violence.

This is not to presume
That if he had simply seen

A violin he would have seen
Less violence. Or that living among

Violins, as though they were
Boulangeries or toppling stacks

Of other glazed goods like young adult
Fiction, would have made the violence

Less crack and more cocaine,
Less of course and more why god oh why.

More of one thing
Doesn’t rhyme with one thing.

A swill of stars doesn’t rhyme
With star. A posse of poets doesn’t rhyme

With poet. We are all in prison.
This is the brutal lesson of the 21st century,

Swilled like a sour stone
Through the vein of the beast

Who watches you while you eat;
Our eternal host, the chummed fiddler,

The better tomorrow,

Saturday, February 15, 2020

To the Young Who Want to Die by Gwendolyn Brooks

To the Young Who Want to Die

Sit down. Inhale. Exhale.
The gun will wait. The lake will wait.
The tall gall in the small seductive vial
will wait will wait:
will wait a week: will wait through April.
You do not have to die this certain day.
Death will abide, will pamper your postponement.
I assure you death will wait. Death has
a lot of time. Death can
attend to you tomorrow. Or next week. Death is
just down the street; is most obliging neighbor;
can meet you any moment.

You need not die today.
Stay here–through pout or pain or peskyness.
Stay here. See what the news is going to be tomorrow.

Graves grow no green that you can use.
Remember, green’s your color. You are Spring.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Clouds Act Bleakly by Frank O'Hara

The Clouds Act Bleakly

The clouds act bleakly
and when they can manage it,
crush someone's head in
without a sound of anger.
This is a brutal mystery.

We meet in the streets
with our hands in our pockets
and snarl guiltily at each other
as if we had flayed a cloud
or two in our salad days.

Lots of things do blame us;
and in moments when I forget
how cruel we really should be
I often have to bite my tongue
to keep from being guilty.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Testament Scratched into a Water Station Barrel by Eduardo C. Corral

Testament Scratched into a Water Station Barrel

In the desert, the moon
shivers. Tonight, to stay awake, I’ll cut my feet
with glass.
Outside Oaxaca, in a clinic, my mother said,
“I hate your Indian face.”
In the dream I’m running. My limbs skeletal
and scabbed.
After my mother’s death, I found, in a box,
her wedding dress.
As I lifted the lid, a stench corkscrewed
into my nostrils:
the dress had curdled like milk. During the day
I gather tinder.
Paper. Shed snakeskin. When the last light
above the mountains
knots into stars, I crouch under mesquite,
make a fire.
Sometimes the moon stops shivering. Sometimes
I tally what I owe.
In the dream I’m running through a hallway.
The floor uneven.
The walls green. Last month, as my son blew out
the candles
on his cake, I noticed, for the first time,
the hideous shape
of his nose. Tonight I’ll pinch my thighs to stay
awake. My mother,
in the clinic, said, “The rain has a fever, it
needs plenty
of rest, it needs to drink plenty of water.” The doctor
scribbled in a file
then asked for more money. If my mother
could see me now!
My feet bloody. My face darker than ever.
Tonight, to stay awake,
I’ll sit close to the fire. In the dream I stumble,
but I never let go
of my right breast: an urn heavy with my own
ashes, an urn
I’m lugging God-knows-where.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Keeping Quiet by Robert Bly

Keeping Quiet

A friend of mine says that every war
Is some violence in childhood coming closer.
Those whoppings in the shed weren’t a joke.
On the whole, it didn’t turn out well.

This has been going on for thousands
Of years! It doesn’t change. Something
Happened to me, and I can’t tell
Anyone, so it will happen to you.

What Is a Diagnosis to a Demon by Shauna Barbosa

What Is a Diagnosis to a Demon

My Gods fast together. Nod in agreement
before relaying results. I stroll around on the verge
of an omg a gasp a wow a why don’t the doctors
jazz it up a bit. Say it’s a delayed overdose,
you been out here looking for what’s been looking for you.
Turn the heat up. Say there’s something bigger waiting.
Say what doesn’t drown you makes you taller.
Say every new wound is still a regular old wound.
Say you’ll meet a man who’s going to love you
while your body grows with nothing in it.
Tell me he’ll have a voice deeper than demons.
Tell me he’ll be tall like stacked milk crates.
That way he could also be a bedframe.
Could carry decaying vinyl. Tell me
I could shoot a ball straight through him.
Don’t tell me a couple hours before morning break
that it’s just a cyst. A li’l fibroid. A change in diet,
a birth-control pill, and come back next year. My God,
just break me to blood, let me bleed to abandon
on a white couch, from the same cancers
obsessed with all my fat aunties from the South.
I was taught to bring food up to my lips.
For quality assurance, I want all the salt.
I want to drop with the beat.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Baked Goods by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Baked Goods

Flour on the floor makes my sandals 
slip and I tumble into your arms. 

Too hot to bake this morning but
blueberries begged me to fold them

into moist muffins. Sticks of rhubarb 
plotted a whole pie. The windows

are blown open and a thickfruit tang
sneaks through the wire screen

and into the home of the scowly lady
who lives next door. Yesterday, a man 

in the city was rescued from his apartment
which was filled with a thousand rats. 

Something about being angry because
his pet python refused to eat. He let the bloom 

of fur rise, rise over the little gnarly blue rug, 
over the coffee table, the kitchen countertops

and pip through each cabinet, snip
at the stumpy bags of sugar,

the cylinders of salt. Our kitchen is a riot
of pots, wooden spoons, melted butter. 

So be it. Maybe all this baking will quiet
the angry voices next door, if only

for a brief whiff. I want our summers

to always be like this—a kitchen wrecked
with love, a table overflowing with baked goods
warming the already warm air. After all the pots

are stacked, the goodies cooled, and all the counters
wiped clean—let us never be rescued from this mess. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Little Book of Hand Shadows by Deborah Digges

The Little Book of Hand Shadows

You who began inside me, 
see a tortoise, a stork, a wolf come out of my hand.

Stand behind me, your shadow eclipsing
my shadow.

Make the cock crow by opening and closing two fingers. 
We can be anyone now.

We can be spirit, ships homing, ten brothers in heaven. 
Can you feel the sweet wind of their wing beats?

Can you smell the damp forest 
as the walls fill up?

The breathe with things. 
Crook your right forefinger which forms a paw.

Remember a crab moves a little sideways. 
Pick me up like you used to and whirl me around.

Mother Hubbard's dog's begging. 
Your Dapple Grey appears to be running.

Our shadows spill shadows. 
They pool, they molt.

They grow out of the dark, they grow 
out of themselves.

They crowd the ark, they crowd the world with their finger-ears 
and thorny toes and their broken beaks

and knuckled hearts, 
their broken beaks and knuckled hearts.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

A Dream of Burial by James Wright

A Dream of Burial

Nothing was left of me
But my right foot
And my left shoulder.
They lay white as the skein of a spider floating
In a field of snow toward a dark building
Tilted and strained by wind.
Inside the dream, I dreamed on.

A parade of old women
Sang softly above me,
Faint mosquitoes near still water.

So I waited, in my corridor.
I listened for the sea
To call me.
I knew that, somewhere outside, the horse
Stood saddled, browsing in grass,
Waiting for me.