Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Man on a Fire Escape by Edward Hirsch

Man on a Fire Escape


He couldn’t remember what propelled him

out of the bedroom window onto the fire escape

of his fifth-floor walkup on the river,


so that he could see, as if for the first time,

sunset settling down on the dazed cityscape

and tugboats pulling barges up the river.


There were barred windows glaring at him

from the other side of the street

while the sun deepened into a smoky flare


that scalded the clouds gold-vermillion.

It was just an ordinary autumn twilight—

the kind he had witnessed often before—


but then the day brightened almost unnaturally

into a rusting, burnished, purplish-red haze

and everything burst into flame;


the factories pouring smoke into the sky,

the trees and shrubs, the shadows,

of pedestrians scorched and rushing home. . . .


There were storefronts going blind and cars

burning on the parkway and steel girders

collapsing into the polluted waves.


Even the latticed fretwork of stairs

where he was standing, even the first stars

climbing out of their sunlit graves


were branded and lifted up, consumed by fire.

It was like watching the start of Armageddon,

like seeing his mother dipped in flame. . . .


And then he closed his eyes and it was over.

Just like that. When he opened them again

the world had reassembled beyond harm.


So where had he crossed to? Nowhere.

And what had he seen? Nothing. No foghorns

called out to each other, as if in a dream,


and no moon rose over the dark river

like a warning—icy, long forgotten—

while he turned back to an empty room.


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Now What by Solmaz Sharif

Now What


And so I sat at a tall table

in an Ohio hotel,

eating delivery:

cheese bread


with garlic butter, only it was

not butter, but partially

hydrogenated soy

bean oil


and regular soybean oil and it

came in a little tub like

creamer that’s also not



America in 2019

means a poem will have to

contain dairy that is,

in fact,


not dairy. On Instagram: a man

has bought a ten foot by four

foot photo of a bridge

he lives


beside, bridge he can see just outside

his window, window which serves

as a ten foot by four

foot frame.


My materialist mind, I can’t

shake it. Within a perfect

little tub of garlic



a relief of workers, of sickles,

fields of soy. We were tanners

pushed to the edge of the



once, by the stench, the bubble of vats

of flesh and loosening skin,

back when the city pulled,



bucket by leather bucket, its own

water from wells. Then we worked

the cafeterias

at the


petroleum offices of the

British. Then, revolution—



Monday, July 20, 2020

On Alcohol by Sam Sax

On Alcohol


my first drink was in my mother

my next, my bris. doctor spread red

wine across my lips. took my foreskin



every time i drink     i lose something



no one knows the origins of alcohol. tho surely an accident

before sacrament. agricultural apocrypha. enough grain stored up

for it to get weird in the cistern. rot gospel. god water



brandy was used to treat everything

from colds to pneumonia

frostbite to snake bites


tb patients were placed on ethanol drips

tonics & cough medicines

spooned into the crying mouths of children



each friday in synagogue a prayer for red

at dinner, the cemetery, the kitchen




how many times have i woke

strange in an unfamiliar bed?

my head neolithic



my grandfather died with a bottle in one hand

& flowers in the other. he called his drink his medicine

he called his woman

    she locked the door



i can only half blame alcohol for my overdose

the other half is my own hand

that poured the codeine    that lifted the red plastic again & again &



i’m trying to understand pleasure     it comes back

in flashes    every jean button thumbed open to reveal

a different man     every slurred & furious permission



i was sober a year before [          ] died



every time i drink     i lose someone



if you look close at the process of fermentation

you’ll see tiny animals destroying the living body

until it’s transformed into something more volatile



the wino outside the liquor store

mistakes me for his son

Sunday, July 19, 2020

First Light by Chen Chen

First Light


I like to say we left at first light

        with Chairman Mao himself chasing us in a police car,

my father fighting him off with firecrackers,

        even though Mao was already over a decade

dead, & my mother says all my father did

        during the Cultural Revolution was teach math,

which he was not qualified to teach, & swim & sunbathe

        around Piano Island, a place I never read about

in my American textbooks, a place everybody in the family

        says they took me to, & that I loved.

What is it, to remember nothing, of what one loved?

        To have forgotten the faces one first kissed?

They ask if I remember them, the aunts, the uncles,

        & I say Yes it’s coming back, I say Of course,

when it’s No not at all, because when I last saw them

        I was three, & the China of my first three years

is largely make-believe, my vast invented country,

        my dream before I knew the word “dream,”

my father’s martial arts films plus a teaspoon-taste 

        of history. I like to say we left at first light,

we had to, my parents had been unmasked as the famous

        kung fu crime-fighting couple of the Southern provinces,

& the Hong Kong mafia was after us. I like to say

        we were helped by a handsome mysterious Northerner,

who turned out himself to be a kung fu master.

        I don’t like to say, I don’t remember crying.

No embracing in the airport, sobbing. I don’t remember

        feeling bad, leaving China.

I like to say we left at first light, we snuck off

        on some secret adventure, while the others were

still sleeping, still blanketed, warm

        in their memories of us.

What do I remember of crying? When my mother slapped me

        for being dirty, diseased, led astray by Western devils,

a dirty, bad son, I cried, thirteen, already too old,

        too male for crying. When my father said Get out,

never come back, I cried & ran, threw myself into night.

        Then returned, at first light, I don’t remember exactly

why, or what exactly came next. One memory claims

        my mother rushed into the pink dawn bright

to see what had happened, reaching toward me with her hands,

        & I wanted to say No. Don’t touch me.

Another memory insists the front door had simply been left

        unlocked, & I slipped right through, found my room,

my bed, which felt somehow smaller, & fell asleep, for hours,

        before my mother (anybody) seemed to notice.

I’m not certain which is the correct version, but what stays with me

        is the leaving, the cry, the country splintering.

It’s been another five years since my mother has seen her sisters,

        her own mother, who recently had a stroke, who has trouble

recalling who, why. I feel awful, my mother says,

        not going back at once to see her. But too much is happening here.

Here, she says, as though it’s the most difficult,

        least forgivable English word. 

What would my mother say, if she were the one writing?

        How would her voice sound? Which is really to ask, what is

my best guess, my invented, translated (Chinese-to-English,

        English-to-English) mother’s voice? She might say:

We left at first light, we had to, the flight was early,

        in early spring. Go, my mother urged, what are you doing,

waving at me, crying? Get on that plane before it leaves without you.

        It was spring & I could smell it, despite the sterile glass

& metal of the airport—scent of my mother’s just-washed hair,

        of the just-born flowers of fields we passed on the car ride over,

how I did not know those flowers were already

        memory, how I thought I could smell them, boarding the plane,

the strange tunnel full of their aroma, their names

        I once knew, & my mother’s long black hair—so impossible now.

Why did I never consider how different spring could smell, feel,

        elsewhere? First light, last scent, lost

country. First & deepest severance that should have

        prepared me for all others. 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

9-11-01 by Fanny Howe



The first person is an existentialist


Like trash in the groin of the sand dunes

Like a brown cardboard home beside a dam


Like seeing like things the same

Between Death Valley and the desert of Pavan


An earthquake a turret with arms and legs

The second person is the beloved


Like winners taking the hit

Like looking down on Utah as if


It was Saudi Arabia or Pakistan

Like war-planes out of Miramar


Like a split cult a jolt of coke New York

Like Mexico in its deep beige couplets


Like this, like that . . . like call us all It,

Thou It. “Sky to Spirit! Call us all It!”


The third person is a materialist.


Friday, July 17, 2020

Wakefullness by John Ashbery



An immodest little white wine, some scattered seraphs,

recollections of the Fall—tell me,

has anyone made a spongier representation, chased

fewer demons out of the parking lot

where we all held hands?


Little by little the idea of the true way returned to me.

I was touched by your care,

reduced to fawning excuses.

Everything was spotless in the little house of our desire,

the clock ticked on and on, happy about

being apprenticed to eternity. A gavotte of dust motes

came to replace my seeing. Everything was as though

it had happened long ago

in ancient peach-colored funny papers

wherein the law of true opposites was ordained

casually. Then the book opened by itself

and read to us: “You pack of liars,

of course tempted by the crossroads, but I like each

and every one of you with a peculiar sapphire intensity.

Look, here is where I failed at first.

The client leaves. History matters on,

rolling distractedly on these shores. Each day, dawn

condenses like a very large star, bakes no bread,

shoes the faithless. How convenient if it’s a dream.”


In the next sleeping car was madness.

An urgent languor installed itself

as far as the cabbage-hemmed horizons. And if I put a little

bit of myself in this time, stoppered the liquor that is our selves’

truant exchanges, brandished my intentions

for once? But only I get

something out of this memory.

A kindly gnome

of fear perched on my dashboard once, but we had all been instructed

to ignore the conditions of the chase. Here, it

seems to grow lighter with each passing century. No matter how you twist it,


life stays frozen in the headlights.

Funny, none of us heard the roar.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Immigrant by Nayyirah Waheed



you broke the ocean in

half to be here.

only to meet nothing that wants you.


Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Outsider Art by Kay Ryan

Outsider Art

Most of it’s too dreary
or too cherry red.
If it’s a chair, it’s
covered with things
the savior said
or should have said—
dense admonishments
in nail polish
too small to be read.
If it’s a picture,
the frame is either
burnt matches glued together
or a regular frame painted over
to extend the picture. There never
seems to be a surface equal
to the needs of these people.
Their purpose wraps
around the backs of things
and under arms;
they gouge and hatch
and glue on charms
till likable materials—
apple crates and canning funnels—
lose their rural ease. We are not
pleased the way we thought
we would be pleased.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

[I’m not with my] by Joshua Beckman

[I’m not with my]

I’m not with my blue toes or my doggies
nor am I under any arched roof rotting blossoms
in my drain, sunlight pouncing upon me,
nor am I fixed like a tree, nor am I unfixed
like a wind. I ate an apple, that’s fine
and after Anthony left I got a whiskey.
I stared a bit like a shadow at a book,
a fold in my shirt showed a monk’s bowing head
in a column of dusty light, but I just basically
used it to cover up my arm which was prickling
now because of some awful thing within me.
Big nasty sun making me feel old and then
this lovely gold bird flew up to my lunch.
An actual family of little white turnips
rolling over in the boiling pot like some
clouds is how I act. A great blue sky for a bed
and that beauty make me happy again.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Storm by Kamilah Aisha Moon


Night squall raging,
black branches
batter every window
as the sky lashes
the city. Without devices,
all I can do is shelter in place—
& wait the latest nightmare
out, find other sources
of power as I sit in the dark
save for a candle burning
for my mother writhing
in an ICU & for the world
to make it against all odds.
In every sense, I burn
in the unseen places, head
filling with smoke, each hour
lived in a dense haze.

Millions weather this
twenty-first-century unholy
Passover, homes
bereft & singed forever.
The unruly rich in charge
deign themselves
gods, maniacal &
merciless. Every warning
unheeded, no bona fide mark
of protection
this time, no choice
in the losses raining
almost everywhere.

Candlelight for two
is a date; I faintly
remember those.
is a séance—
forgive me,
my dearly departed
for crying out
so often, for still needing you
so damn much

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Other Lives And Dimensions And Finally A Love Poem by Bob Hicok

Other Lives And Dimensions And Finally A Love Poem

My left hand will live longer than my right. The rivers 
of my palms tell me so. 
Never argue with rivers. Never expect your lives to finish 
at the same time. I think 

praying, I think clapping is how hands mourn. I think 
staying up and waiting 
for paintings to sigh is science. In another dimension this 
is exactly what's happening, 

it's what they write grants about: the chromodynamics 
of mournful Whistlers, 
the audible sorrow and beta decay of Old Battersea Bridge. 
I like the idea of different 

theres and elsewheres, an Idaho known for bluegrass, 
a Bronx where people talk 
like violets smell. Perhaps I am somewhere patient, somehow 
kind, perhaps in the nook 

of a cousin universe I've never defiled or betrayed 
anyone. Here I have 
two hands and they are vanishing, the hollow of your back 
to rest my cheek against, 

your voice and little else but my assiduous fear to cherish. 
My hands are webbed 
like the wind-torn work of a spider, like they squeezed 
something in the womb 

but couldn't hang on. One of those other worlds 
or a life I felt 
passing through mine, or the ocean inside my mother's belly 
she had to scream out. 

Here, when I say I never want to be without you, 
somewhere else I am saying 
I never want to be without you again. And when I touch you 
in each of the places we meet, 

in all of the lives we are, it's with hands that are dying 
and resurrected. 
When I don't touch you it's a mistake in any life, 
in each place and forever.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Samurai Song by Robert Pinsky

Samurai Song

When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined. 

When I had no eyes I listened.
When I had no ears I thought.
When I had no thought I waited. 

When I had no father I made
Care my father. When I had
No mother I embraced order. 

When I had no friend I made
Quiet my friend. When I had no
Enemy I opposed my body. 

When I had no temple I made
My voice my temple. I have
No priest, my tongue is my choir. 

When I have no means fortune
Is my means. When I have
Nothing, death will be my fortune. 

Need is my tactic, detachment
Is my strategy. When I had
No lover I courted my sleep.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Q by Sharon Olds


Q belonged to Q.&A.,
to questions, and to foursomes, and fractions,
it belonged to the Queen, to Quakers, to quintets—
within its compound in the dictionary dwelt
the quill pig, and quince beetle,
and quetzal, and quail. Quailing was part of Q’s
quiddity—the Q quaked
and quivered, it quarrelled and quashed. No one was
quite sure where it had come from, but it had
travelled with the K, they were the two voiceless
velar Semitic consonants, they went
back to the desert, to caph and koph.
And K has done a lot better—
29 pages in Webster’s Third
to Q’s 13. And though Q has much
to be proud of, from Q.&I. detector
through quinoa, sometimes these days the letter
looks like what medical students called the
Q face—its tongue lolling out.
And sometimes when you pass a folded
newspaper you can hear from within it
a keening, from all the Q’s who are being
set in type, warboarded,
made to tell and tell of the quick and the
Iraq dead.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

A short narrative of breasts and wombs in service of Plot entitled by Claudia Rankine

A short narrative of breasts and wombs in service of Plot entitled

Liv lying on the floor looking at

The Dirty Thought

[The womb similar to fruit that goes uneaten will grow gray fur, the
breasts a dying rose, darkening nipples, prickling sickness as it moves
toward mold, a spongy moss as metaphor for illness.]

Liv, answer me this: Is the female anatomically in need of a child as a
life preserver, a hand, a hand up? And now, and now do you want
harder the family you fear in fear of all those answers?

Could you put fear there as having to do with the price of milk, as having 
to do with prudence? To your health. Cheers. Or against the aging
body unused, which way does punishment go?

“Let us not negotiate out of fear . . . ” butbutbut . . . Then the wind
touched the opened subject until Liv finding herself in light winds,
squalls, was without a place to put her ladder.

From the treetop something fell, a bundle, a newspaper, a bug, a bag,
still nobody’s baby. The sound was desperation dropped down, a
falling into place, and not way away—

Statistics show: One in what? One in every what? A child in every pot
will help the body grow? No matter, all the minutes will still slip into
the first then the ashes will shiver.

Liv, is the graffitied mind sprained? Who sprayed an answer there?
Which cancer? What dirtied up intention? No matter. Anyway, which
way does your ladder go?

Toward? Or away in keeping with that ant crawling on your ankle? Oh
mindless hand, rub hard. Not quite in pain because pain is shorthand
for what? One in every what? Cradle all.

Or kiss it up without facing yourself. Knowing the issue, Liv slouches,
her chin resting on her folded hands. She thinks: blunt impact, injury.
She tosses a but against the wall,

she tosses: boom. boom.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Injunction by Frank Bidart


As if the names we use to name the uses of buildings
x-ray our souls, war without end:
Palace. Prison. Temple. School.
Market. Theatre. Brothel. Bank.
War without end. Because to name is to possess
the dreams of strangers, the temple
is offended by, demands the abolition of brothel, now theatre, now
school, the school despises temple, palace, market, bank; the bank by

refusing to name depositors welcomes all, though in rage prisoners
each night gnaw to dust another stone piling under the palace.

War without end. Therefore time past time.

Rip through the fabric. Nail it. Not
to the wall. Rip through

the wall. Outside

time. Nail it.