Sunday, May 31, 2020

Gay Pride Weekend, S.F., 1992 by Brenda Shaughnessy

Gay Pride Weekend, S.F., 1992

I forgot how lush and electrified
it was with you. The shaggy
fragrant zaps continually passing
back and forth, my fingertip
to your clavicle, or your wrist
rubbing mine to share gardenia
oil. We so purred like dragonflies
we kept the mosquitoes away
and the conversation was heavy,
mother-lacerated childhoods
and the sad way we'd both
been both ignored and touched
badly. Knowing that being
fierce and proud and out and
loud was just a bright new way
to be needy. Please listen to me, oh
what a buzz! you're the only one
I can tell. Even with no secret,
I could come close to your ear
with my mouth and that was
ecstasy, too. We barely touched
each other, we didn't have to
speak. The love we made leapt
to life like a cat in the space
between us (if there ever was
space between us), and looked
back at us through fog. Sure,
this was San Francisco, it was
often hard to see. But fog always
burned off, too, so we watched
this creature to see if it knew
what it was doing. It didn't.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Gubbinal by Wallace Stevens


That strange flower, the sun,
Is just what you say.
Have it your way.

The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.

That tuft of jungle feathers,
That animal eye,
Is just what you say.

That savage of fire,
That seed,
Have it your way.

The world is ugly,
and the people are sad.

Friday, May 29, 2020

The Mothers by Robin Coste Lewis

The Mothers

We meet—sometimes—between the dry hours,
Between clefts in the involuntary plan,
Refusing to think of rent or food—how
Civic the slick to satisfied from man.

And democratic. A Lucky Strike each, we
Sponge each other off, while what’s greyed
In and grey slinks ashamed down the drain.
No need to articulate great restraint,

No need to see each other’s mouth lip
The obvious. Giddy. Fingers garnished
With fumes of onions and garlic, I slip
Back into my shift, then watch her hands—wordless—

Reattach her stockings to the martyred
Rubber moons wavering at her garter.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Steeple-Jack by Marianne Moore

The Steeple-Jack

Dürer would have seen a reason for living
   in a town like this, with eight stranded whales
 to look at; with the sweet sea air coming into your house
 on a fine day, from water etched
   with waves as formal as the scales
 on a fish.

 One by one in two's and three's, the seagulls keep
   flying back and forth over the town clock,
 or sailing around the lighthouse without moving their wings --
 rising steadily with a slight
   quiver of the body -- or flock
 mewing where

 a sea the purple of the peacock's neck is
   paled to greenish azure as Dürer changed
 the pine green of the Tyrol to peacock blue and guinea
 gray. You can see a twenty-five-
   pound lobster; and fish nets arranged
 to dry. The

 whirlwind fife-and-drum of the storm bends the salt
   marsh grass, disturbs stars in the sky and the
 star on the steeple; it is a privilege to see so
 much confusion. Disguised by what
   might seem the opposite, the sea-
 side flowers and

 trees are favored by the fog so that you have
   the tropics first hand: the trumpet-vine,
 fox-glove, giant snap-dragon, a salpiglossis that has
 spots and stripes; morning-glories, gourds,
   or moon-vines trained on fishing-twine
 at the back door;

 cat-tails, flags, blueberries and spiderwort,
   striped grass, lichens, sunflowers, asters, daisies --
 yellow and crab-claw ragged sailors with green bracts -- toad-plant,
 petunias, ferns; pink lilies, blue
   ones, tigers; poppies; black sweet-peas.
 The climate

 is not right for the banyan, frangipani, or
   jack-fruit trees; or for exotic serpent
 life. Ring lizard and snake-skin for the foot, if you see fit;
 but here they've cats, not cobras, to
   keep down the rats. The diffident
 little newt

 with white pin-dots on black horizontal spaced-
   out bands lives here; yet there is nothing that
 ambition can buy or take away. The college student
 named Ambrose sits on the hillside
   with his not-native books and hat
 and sees boats

 at sea progress white and rigid as if in
   a groove. Liking an elegance of which
 the sourch is not bravado, he knows by heart the antique
 sugar-bowl shaped summer-house of
   interlacing slats, and the pitch
 of the church

 spire, not true, from which a man in scarlet lets
   down a rope as a spider spins a thread;
 he might be part of a novel, but on the sidewalk a
 sign says C. J. Poole, Steeple Jack,
   in black and white; and one in red
 and white says

 Danger. The church portico has four fluted
   columns, each a single piece of stone, made
 modester by white-wash. Theis would be a fit haven for
 waifs, children, animals, prisoners,
   and presidents who have repaid

 senators by not thinking about them. The
   place has a school-house, a post-office in a
 store, fish-houses, hen-houses, a three-masted schooner on
 the stocks. The hero, the student,
   the steeple-jack, each in his way,
 is at home.

 It could not be dangerous to be living
   in a town like this, of simple people,
 who have a steeple-jack placing danger signs by the church
 while he is gilding the solid-
   pointed star, which on a steeple
 stands for hope.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

My Father, Playing Tennis by Patrick Phillips

My Father, Playing Tennis

strikes a figure somewhere between
Australopithecus robustus, with its thick skull-crest
and massive, gnashing jaw,

and Homo habilis, that big-brow’d,
tool-making, late Pleistocenian,
wielding his racquet like a fire-charred limb,

eyes flashing, nostrils flaring
as he stalks the little green ball,
so in love with the chase

it must be a vestigial trait,
coded in the deepest, most ancient folds
of his cerebral cortex,

a throwback to the days
when the small, furry thing
darting just out of reach meant dinner,

when the zeal with which he smashes
easy volleys smack
at the other guy’s face meant survival.

Raising his sweat-banded forearm,
thick-boned and coated with black hair,
like the silver-back upland Gorilla gorilla,

he lofts the ball softly, cocks his arm,
and then kills it: grunting and spitting,
arms flailing wildly as he charges the net,

while in the far court I stand, just like what I am:
a fur-less, immature Homo Sapiens sapiens
staring, weak-kneed, at what I came from.

Now That We Have Tasted Hope by Khaled Mattawa

Now That We Have Tasted Hope

Now that we have come out of hiding,
Why would we live again in the tombs we’d made out of our souls?

And the sundered bodies that we’ve reassembled
With prayers and consolations,
What would their torn parts be, other than flesh?

Now that we have tasted hope
And dressed each other’s wounds with the legends of our oneness
Would we not prefer to close our mouths forever shut
On the wine that swilled inside them?

Having dreamed the same dream,
Having found the water behind a thousand mirages,
Why would we hide from the sun again
Or fear the night sky after we’ve reached the ends of darkness,
Live in death again after all the life our dead have given us?

Listen to me Zow’ya, Beida, Ajdabya, Tobruk, Nalut,
Listen to me Derna, Musrata, Benghazi, Zintan,
Listen to me houses, alleys, courtyards, and streets that throng my veins,
Some day soon, in your freed light, in the shade of your proud trees,
Your excavated heroes will return to their thrones in your martyrs’ squares,
Lovers will hold each other’s hands.

I need not look far to imagine the nerves dying,
Rejecting the life that blood sends them.
I need not look deep into my past to seek a thousand hopeless vistas.
But now that I have tasted hope
I have fallen into the embrace of my own rugged innocence.

How long were my ancient days?
I no longer care to count.
I no longer care to measure.
How bitter was the bread of bitterness?
I no longer care to recall.

Now that we have tasted hope, this hard-earned crust,
We would sooner die than seek any other taste to life,
Any other way of being human.

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Grind by Ange Mlinko

The Grind

Three mini ciabattini for breakfast
where demand for persnickety bread
is small, hence its expense, hence my steadfast
recalculation of my overhead,

which soars, and as you might expect
the ciabattini stand in for my fantasy
of myself in a sea-limned prospect,
on a terrace, with a lemon tree...

Not: Assessed a fee for rent sent a day late.
Not: Fines accrued for a lost library book.
Better never lose track of the date.
Oversleep, and you’re on the hook.

It’s the margin for error: shrinking.
It’s life ground down to recurrence.
It’s fewer books read for the thinking
the hospital didn’t rebill the insurance;

the school misplaced the kids’ paperwork.
Here’s our sweet pup, a rescue
which we nonetheless paid for, and look:
he gets more grooming than I do.

When I turn my hand mill, I think of the dowager
who ground gems on ham for her guests;
the queen who ground out two cups of flour
on the pregnant abdomen of her husband’s mistress;

I think of a “great rock-eating bird”
grinding out a sandy beach,
the foam said to be particulate matter
of minute crustaceans, each

brilliantly spooning up Aphrodite
to Greek porticoes, and our potatoes,
and plain living which might be
shaken by infinitesimal tattoos.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

From Life by Shane McCrae

From Life

I came from life from living I arrived
Nowhere     in the midst of God     in the midst of God
God is a city      in which no one has ever lived
We live      in houses like the houses we once had
Some in their first      some in their last
I live in the house I lived in with my wife
The first year we were married     a small white
House at the edge of campus it’s as if
We never graduated     never left
Except she isn’t here     and none of our
Friends but the friends who died so long ago
They aren’t our friends anymore
I do what old friends do
And love them anyway    we eat together at the Waf-
fle House on Saturdays and wait all week to die
How many weeks now I don’t know
Except it can’t be more than three
Thousand I guess about three thousand    sixty years or so
Or how long do young people live
Seems like it’s longer every day    three thousand or
She would be here with me I have
Thought hard about it and I’m sure
But sometimes     I feel like I’ve thought about
Her life for longer than she could have lived it
And mean to ask an angel      why we can see
Everything but Earth     from Heaven
But I don’t ask     I don’t think I could stand to not
Be answered     but I don’t think I could stand the answer
If you enjoyed this poem, why not read …

Saturday, May 23, 2020

And I Was Alive by Osip Mandelstam

And I Was Alive

And I was alive in the blizzard of the blossoming pear,
Myself I stood in the storm of the bird-cherry tree.
It was all leaflife and starshower, unerring, self-shattering power,
And it was all aimed at me.

What is this dire delight flowering fleeing always earth?
What is being? What is truth?

Blossoms rupture and rapture the air,
All hover and hammer,
Time intensified and time intolerable, sweetness raveling rot.
It is now. It is not.

(translated by Christian Wiman)

Friday, May 22, 2020

Compline by W. H. Auden


Now, as desire and the things desired
Cease to require attention,
As, seizing its chance, the body escapes,
Section by section, to join
Plants in their chaster peace which is more
To its real taste, now a day is its past,
Its last deed and feeling in, should come
The instant of recollection
When the whole thing makes sense: it comes, but all
I recall are doors banging,
Two housewives scolding, an old man gobbling
A child's wild look of envy,
Actions, words, that could fit any tale,
And I fail to see either plot
Or meaning; I cannot remember
A thing between noon and three.

Nothing is with me now but a sound,
A heart's rhythm, a sense of stars
Leisurely walking around, and both
Talk a language of motion
I can measure but not read: maybe
My heart is confessing her part
In what happened to us from noon till three,
That constellations indeed
Sing of some hilarity beyond
All liking and happening,
But, knowing I neither know what they know
Nor what I ought to know, scorning
All vain fornications of fancy,
Now let me, blessing them both
For the sweetness of their cassations,
Accept our separations.

A stride from now will take me into dream,
Leave me, without a status,
Among its unwashed tribes of wishes
Who have no dances and no jokes
But a magic cult to propitiate
What happens from noon till three,
Odd rites which they hide from me - should I chance,
Say, on youths in an oak-wood
Insulting a white deer, bribes nor threats
Will get them to blab - and then
Past untruth is one step to nothing,
For the end, for me as for cities,
Is total absence: what comes to be
Must go back into non-being
For the sake of the equity, the rhythm
Past measure or comprehending.

Can poets (can men in television)
Be saved? It is not easy
To believe in unknowable justice
Or pray in the name of a love
Whose name one's forgotten: libera
Me, libera C (dear C)
And all poor s-o-b's who never
Do anything properly, spare
Us in the youngest day when all are
Shaken awake, facts are facts,
(And I shall know exactly what happened
Today between noon and three)
That we, too, may come to the picnic
With nothing to hide, join the dance
As it moves in perichoresis,
Turns about the abiding tree.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Barbie Chang’s Tears by Victoria Chang

Barbie Chang’s Tears

Barbie Chang’s tears are the lights of
              the city that go off on

off on the men walking around the city
              move but Barbie Chang

doesn’t she cannot promote herself if
              she had legs she would

stop begging if she had a head she
              would stop her own

wedding but the city has no extra
              bedding it is not

ready yet the maids are still making
              beds Barbie Chang is

still making things up there are always
              storms long arms drinks

with pink umbrellas because they know
              she is confused like a

seahorse light avoids her town on
              the map B2 C4 she

wants to be used she doesn’t want to
              be with you it is morning

again and Barbie Chang is already
              mourning the men the

night men who are always right who
              never write back

she prefers to sleep on her back so she
              can see the eyes of her

attackers in the morning a bed with
              questions with her

depression on each side two small
              holes from knees

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Map of Love by Donald Justice

A Map of Love

Your face more than others’ faces
Maps the half-remembered places
I have come to while I slept—
Continents a dream had kept 
Secret from all waking folk
Till to your face I awoke,
And remembered then the shore,
And the dark interior.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Winter Scene by A. R. Ammons

Winter Scene

There is now not a single
leaf on the cherry tree:

except when the jay
plummets in, lights, and,

in pure clarity, squalls:
then every branch

quivers and
breaks out in blue leaves.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Object Permanence by Nicole Sealey

Object Permanence

We wake as if surprised the other is still there,
each petting the sheet to be sure.

How have we managed our way
to this bed—beholden to heat like dawn

indebted to light. Though we’re not so self-
important as to think everything

has led to this, everything has led to this.
There’s a name for the animal

love makes of us—named, I think,
like rain, for the sound it makes.

You are the animal after whom other animals
are named. Until there’s none left to laugh,

days will start with the same startle
and end with caterpillars gorged on milkweed.

O, how we entertain the angels
with our brief animation. O,

how I’ll miss you when we’re dead. 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Paean to Place by Lorine Niedecker

Paean to Place

                                        And the place
                                        was water            
      Water lily mud
My life

in the leaves and on water
My mother and I
in swale and swamp and sworn
to water

My father
thru marsh fog
      sculled down
            from high ground
saw her face

at the organ
bore the weight of lake water
      and the cold—
he seined for carp to be sold
that their daughter

might go high
on land
      to learn
Saw his wife turn

and away
      who knew boats
            and ropes
no longer played

She helped him string out nets
for tarring
      And she could shoot
            He was cool
to the man

who stole his minnows
by night and next day offered
      to sell them back
            He brought in a sack
of dandelion greens

if no flood
No oranges—none at hand
      No marsh marigold
            where the water rose
He kept us afloat

I mourn her not hearing canvasbacks
their blast-off rise
      from the water
            Not hearing sora
rails’s sweet

spoon-tapped waterglass-
descending scale-
            Did she giggle
as a girl?

His skiff skimmed
the coiled celery now gone
      from these streams
            due to carp
He knew duckweed

toward Mud Lake bottom
      Knew what lay
            under leaf decay
and on pickerel weeds

before summer hum
To be counted on:
      new leaves
            new dead

He could not
—like water bugs—
      stride surface tension
            He netted

As to his bright new car
my mother—her house
      next his—averred:
            A hummingbird
can’t haul

Anchored here
in the rise and sink
      of life—
            middle years’ nights
he sat

beside his shoes
rocking his chair
      Roped not “looped
            in the loop
of her hair”

I grew in green
slide and slant
      of shore and shade
thru weeds

Maples to swing from

Grew riding the river
      at home-pier
            Shelley could steer
as he read

I was the solitary plover
a pencil
      for a wing-bone
From the secret notes
I must tilt

upon the pressure
execute and adjust
      In us sea-air rhythm
“We live by the urgent wave
of the verse”

Seven year molt
for the solitary bird
      and so young
Seven years the one

for town once a week
One for home
      faded blue-striped
as she piped
her cry

Dancing grounds
my people had none
      woodcocks had—
air around

such as what flower
      to take
      to grandfather’s grave

water lilies—
he who’d bowed his head
      to grass as he mowed
      Iris now grows
on fill

for the two
and for him
      where they lie
      How much less am I
in the dark than they?   

Effort lay in us
before religions
      at pond bottom
            All things move toward
the light

except those
that freely work down
      to oceans’ black depths
            In us an impulse tests
the unknown

River rising—flood
Now melt and leave home
      Return—broom wet
            naturally wet

soak-heavy rug
water bugs hatched—
      no snake in the house
            Where were they?—

who knew how to clean up
after floods
      he who bailed boats, houses
            Water endows us
with buckled floors

You with sea water running
in your veins sit down in water
      Expect the long-stemmed blue
            speedwell to renew

O my floating life
Do not save love
      for things
            Throw things
to the flood

by the flood
      Leave the new unbought—
            all one in the end—

I possessed
the high word:
      The boy my friend
            played his violin
in the great hall

On this stream
my moonnight memory
      washed of hardships
            maneuvers barges
thru the mouth

of the river
They fished in beauty
      It was not always so
            In Fishes
red Mars

rides the sloughs and sluices
      of my mind
            with the persons
on the edge