Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Moonlight Sonata by Ruth Padel

Moonlight Sonata

We make the life we need.
The city’s bells are muffled,
the sky is frozen copper.
You can still hear, sometimes.
Still win the improvising contests.
A sonata in C sharp minor,
quasi fantasia, like a blind girl
lit by moonlight she cannot see.
New melodies unfold from tiny seeds.
Euphoria, then presto agitato, manic rage.
The music of loss, of losing. Bass clef.
High treble only once
and in despair. Then the new
shocked calm of Is it true. Is this
what it sounds like, going deaf? 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Ghost Poem by Vona Groarke

Ghost Poem 

Crowded at my window tonight, your ghosts
will have nothing to speak of but love
though the long grass leading to my door
is parted neither by you leaving
nor by you coming here. The same ghosts
keep in with my blood, the way
a small name says itself, over
and over, so one minute is cavernous
compared to the next, and I cannot locate
words enough to tell you your wrist
on my breast had the same two sounds to it.
You are a sky over narrow water
and the ghosts at my window
are a full day until I shed their loss.
I want to tell you all their bone-white,
straight-line prophecies
but the thought of you, this and every night,
is your veins in silverpoint mapped
on my skin, your life on mine,
that I made up and lived inside, as real,
and I find I cannot speak of love
or any of its wind-torn ghosts to you
who promised warm sheets and a candle, lit,
but promised me in words. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Concrete River by Luis J. Rodriguez

The Concrete River

 We sink into the dust,
 Baba and me,
 Beneath brush of prickly leaves;
 Ivy strangling trees--singing
 Our last rites of locura.
 Homeboys. Worshipping God-fumes
 Out of spray cans.
 Our backs press up against
 A corrugated steel fence
 Along the dried banks
 Of a concrete river.
 Spray-painted outpourings
 On walls offer a chaos
 Of color for the eyes.
 Home for now. Hidden in weeds.
 Furnished with stained mattresses
 And plastic milk crates.
 Wood planks thrust into
                 thick branches
                 serve as roof.
 The door is a torn cloth curtain
                 (knock before entering).
 Home for now, sandwiched
 In between the maddening days.
 We aim spray into paper bags.
 Suckle them. Take deep breaths.
 An echo of steel-sounds grates the sky.
 Home for now. Along an urban-spawned
 Stream of muck, we gargle in
 The technicolor synthesized madness.
 This river, this concrete river,
 Becomes a steaming, bubbling
 Snake of water, pouring over
 Nightmares of wakefulness;
 Pouring out a rush of birds;
 A flow of clear liquid
 On a cloudless day.
 Not like the black oil stains we lie in,
 Not like the factory air engulfing us;
 Not this plastic death in a can.
 Sun rays dance on the surface.
 Gray fish fidget below the sheen.
 And us looking like Huckleberry Finns/
 Tom Sawyers, with stick fishing poles,
 As dew drips off low branches
 As if it were earth’s breast milk.
 Oh, we should be novas of our born days.
 We should be scraping wet dirt
                 with callused toes.
 We should be flowering petals
                 playing ball.
 Soon water/fish/dew wane into
 A pulsating whiteness.
 I enter a tunnel of circles,
 Swimming to a glare of lights.
 Family and friends beckon me.
 I want to be there,
 In perpetual dreaming;
 In the din of exquisite screams.
 I want to know this mother-comfort
 Surging through me.
 I am a sliver of blazing ember
                 entering a womb of brightness.
 I am a hovering spectre shedding
                 scarred flesh.
 I am a clown sneaking out of a painted
                 mouth in the sky.
 I am your son, amá, seeking
                 the security of shadows,
                 fleeing weary eyes
                 bursting brown behind
                 a sewing machine.
 I am your brother, the one you
                 threw off rooftops, tore into
                 with rage--the one you visited,
                 a rag of a boy, lying
                 in a hospital bed, ruptured.
 I am friend of books, prey of cops,
                 lover of the barrio women
                 selling hamburgers and tacos
                 at the P&G Burger Stand.
 I welcome this heavy shroud.
 I want to be buried in it--
 To be sculptured marble
 In craftier hands.
 Soon an electrified hum sinks teeth
 Into brain--then claws
 Surround me, pull at me,
 Back to the dust, to the concrete river.
 Let me go!--to stay entangled
 In this mesh of barbed serenity!
 But over me is a face,
 Mouth breathing back life.
 I feel the gush of air,
 The pebbles and debris beneath me.
 “Give me the bag, man," I slur.
 “No way! You died, man," Baba said.
 “You stopped breathing and died.”
 “I have to go back! don’t
 I try to get up, to reach the sky.
 Oh, for the lights--for this whore
                 of a Sun,
 To blind me. To entice me to burn.
 Come back! Let me swing in delight
 To the haunting knell,
 To pierce colors of virgin skies.
 Not here, along a concrete river,
 But there--licked by tongues of flame!

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Go On by Fady Joudah

Go On

And when all hell broke this and that
and teeth began to chatter the ice storm in the heart
was thawing out at missile speeds through pupils
that not inhalation constricts or exhalation dilates
a global warming in gumless mouths
The stench of corpses
in whose direction all lips moved
for irises fixed on decomposition
In times like these
something has to be said in a language
good for burial

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Island by Langston Hughes


Wave of sorry,
Do not drown me now:
I see the island
Still ahead somehow.
I see the island
And its sands are fair:
Wave of sorry,
Take me there.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Marsyas by Paisley Rekdal


We think Marsyas is the only one
who changed, stepping forth
from the forest to challenge Apollo, staring at the god
he could never rival as if
into a harshly lit mirror, each recoiling
at what he found there: the jealousy knifed
inside the mortal talent, the cold perfection
threaded through with rage.
But then the muses stirred behind them.
And Marsyas, out the painful human wish
to be admired, cannot help but play.
And afterwards, the cutting,
the stripped corpuscles, the ruined mouth—
     Only after his victory would Apollo reach out
and clip three small muscles from the satyr’s throat
and shoulders, and dry them on a rock, and string them between
the curved horns of his lyre. Then the god
would pull a song
through that tender sinew, telling himself
it was not the crying of one
who’s lost everything he loves but the god’s
own singing that he heard, and after which
the muses strained, because it was the song
of someone who knew what it was like
to be alive, which the god could not bear
to know, or to stop playing.
And so Apollo, unthinking, binds himself
to Marsyas: the god taking from his rival
fear and desire, the satyr hardened by the god’s
cruel skill, until both songs
writhe inside each other, sung
by one who cannot understand death, and so
never understands what he plays,
knowing only how his hand
trembles over the plucked muscle:
adding, he thinks, something lower to the notes,
something sweeter, and infinitely strange.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Waking with Russell by Don Paterson

Waking with Russell                                               

Whatever the difference is, it all began 
the day we woke up face-to-face like lovers 
and his four-day-old smile dawned on him again, 
possessed him, till it would not fall or waver; 
and I pitched back not my old hard-pressed grin 
but his own smile, or one I'd rediscovered. 
Dear son, I was mezzo del cammin 
and the true path was as lost to me as ever 
when you cut in front and lit it as you ran. 
See how the true gift never leaves the giver: 
returned and redelivered, it rolled on 
until the smile poured through us like a river.
How fine, I thought, this waking amongst men! 
I kissed your mouth and pledged myself forever. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

I Knew a Woman by Theodore Roethke

I Knew a Woman

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones, 
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;   
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:   
The shapes a bright container can contain! 
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak, 
Or English poets who grew up on Greek 
(I’d have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek). 
How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,   
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand;   
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin;   
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;   
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake, 
Coming behind her for her pretty sake 
(But what prodigious mowing we did make). 
Love likes a gander, and adores a goose: 
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize; 
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;   
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;   
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,   
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose 
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved). 
Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:   
I’m martyr to a motion not my own; 
What’s freedom for? To know eternity. 
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.   
But who would count eternity in days? 
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:   
(I measure time by how a body sways).

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Mastectomy by Wanda Coleman


the fall of
velvet plum points and umber aureolae 
remember living 
forget cool evening air kisses the rush of 
liberation freed from the brassiere 
forget the cupping of his hands the pleasure 
his eyes looking down/anticipating 
forget his mouth. his tongue at the nipples 
his intense hungry nursing 
forget sensations which begin either 
on the right or the left. go thru the body 
linger between thighs 
forget the space once grasped during his ecstasy  
sweet sweet mama you taste so

Monday, September 21, 2020

Words, Wide Night by Carol Ann Duffy

Words, Wide Night

Somewhere on the other side of this wide night
and the distance between us, I am thinking of you. 
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.
This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say 
it is sad? In one of the tenses I singing
an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.
La lala la. See? I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills
I would have to cross
to reach you. For I am in love with you
and this is what it is like or what it is like in words.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin [“I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison”] by Terrance Hayes

American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin [“I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison”] 

I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison,
Part panic closet, a little room in a house set aflame.
I lock you in a form that is part music box, part meat
Grinder to separate the song of the bird from the bone.
I lock your persona in a dream-inducing sleeper hold
While your better selves watch from the bleachers.
I make you both gym & crow here. As the crow
You undergo a beautiful catharsis trapped one night
In the shadows of the gym. As the gym, the feel of crow-
Shit dropping to your floors is not unlike the stars
Falling from the pep rally posters on your walls.
I make you a box of darkness with a bird in its heart.
Voltas of acoustics, instinct & metaphor. It is not enough
To love you. It is not enough to want you destroyed. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Crusoe in England by Elizabeth Bishop

 Crusoe in England  


A new volcano has erupted, 

the papers say, and last week I was reading    

where some ship saw an island being born:    

at first a breath of steam, ten miles away;    

and then a black fleck—basalt, probably— 

rose in the mate’s binoculars 

and caught on the horizon like a fly. 

They named it. But my poor old island’s still    

un-rediscovered, un-renamable. 

None of the books has ever got it right. 


Well, I had fifty-two 

miserable, small volcanoes I could climb    

with a few slithery strides— 

volcanoes dead as ash heaps. 

I used to sit on the edge of the highest one    

and count the others standing up, 

naked and leaden, with their heads blown off.    

I’d think that if they were the size    

I thought volcanoes should be, then I had    

become a giant; 

and if I had become a giant, 

I couldn’t bear to think what size    

the goats and turtles were, 

or the gulls, or the overlapping rollers    

—a glittering hexagon of rollers    

closing and closing in, but never quite,    

glittering and glittering, though the sky    

was mostly overcast. 


My island seemed to be 

a sort of cloud-dump. All the hemisphere’s    

left-over clouds arrived and hung 

above the craters—their parched throats    

were hot to touch. 

Was that why it rained so much? 

And why sometimes the whole place hissed?    

The turtles lumbered by, high-domed,    

hissing like teakettles. 

(And I’d have given years, or taken a few,    

for any sort of kettle, of course.) 

The folds of lava, running out to sea, 

would hiss. I’d turn. And then they’d prove    

to be more turtles. 

The beaches were all lava, variegated,    

black, red, and white, and gray; 

the marbled colors made a fine display.    

And I had waterspouts. Oh, 

half a dozen at a time, far out, 

they’d come and go, advancing and retreating,    

their heads in cloud, their feet in moving patches    

of scuffed-up white. 

Glass chimneys, flexible, attenuated,    

sacerdotal beings of glass ... I watched    

the water spiral up in them like smoke.    

Beautiful, yes, but not much company. 


I often gave way to self-pity. 

“Do I deserve this? I suppose I must. 

I wouldn’t be here otherwise. Was there    

a moment when I actually chose this? 

I don’t remember, but there could have been.”    

What’s wrong about self-pity, anyway? 

With my legs dangling down familiarly    

over a crater’s edge, I told myself 

“Pity should begin at home.” So the more    

pity I felt, the more I felt at home. 


The sun set in the sea; the same odd sun    

rose from the sea, 

and there was one of it and one of me.    

The island had one kind of everything:    

one tree snail, a bright violet-blue 

with a thin shell, crept over everything,    

over the one variety of tree, 

a sooty, scrub affair. 

Snail shells lay under these in drifts    

and, at a distance, 

you’d swear that they were beds of irises.    

There was one kind of berry, a dark red.    

I tried it, one by one, and hours apart.    

Sub-acid, and not bad, no ill effects;    

and so I made home-brew. I’d drink    

the awful, fizzy, stinging stuff 

that went straight to my head 

and play my home-made flute 

(I think it had the weirdest scale on earth)    

and, dizzy, whoop and dance among the goats.    

Home-made, home-made! But aren’t we all?    

I felt a deep affection for 

the smallest of my island industries.    

No, not exactly, since the smallest was    

a miserable philosophy. 


Because I didn’t know enough. 

Why didn’t I know enough of something?    

Greek drama or astronomy? The books    

I’d read were full of blanks; 

the poems—well, I tried 

reciting to my iris-beds, 

“They flash upon that inward eye, 

which is the bliss ...” The bliss of what?    

One of the first things that I did 

when I got back was look it up. 


The island smelled of goat and guano.    

The goats were white, so were the gulls,    

and both too tame, or else they thought    

I was a goat, too, or a gull. 

Baa, baa, baa and shriek, shriek, shriek, 

baa ... shriek ... baa ... I still can’t shake    

them from my ears; they’re hurting now. 

The questioning shrieks, the equivocal replies    

over a ground of hissing rain 

and hissing, ambulating turtles 

got on my nerves. 

When all the gulls flew up at once, they sounded 

like a big tree in a strong wind, its leaves.    

I’d shut my eyes and think about a tree,    

an oak, say, with real shade, somewhere.    

I’d heard of cattle getting island-sick.    

I thought the goats were. 

One billy-goat would stand on the volcano 

I’d christened Mont d’Espoir or Mount Despair 

(I’d time enough to play with names),    

and bleat and bleat, and sniff the air.    

I’d grab his beard and look at him.    

His pupils, horizontal, narrowed up 

and expressed nothing, or a little malice.    

I got so tired of the very colors!    

One day I dyed a baby goat bright red    

with my red berries, just to see    

something a little different. 

And then his mother wouldn’t recognize him. 


Dreams were the worst. Of course I dreamed of food 

and love, but they were pleasant rather 

than otherwise. But then I’d dream of things    

like slitting a baby’s throat, mistaking it    

for a baby goat. I’d have 

nightmares of other islands 

stretching away from mine, infinities    

of islands, islands spawning islands,    

like frogs’ eggs turning into polliwogs    

of islands, knowing that I had to live    

on each and every one, eventually,    

for ages, registering their flora,    

their fauna, their geography. 


Just when I thought I couldn’t stand it    

another minute longer, Friday came.    

(Accounts of that have everything all wrong.)    

Friday was nice. 

Friday was nice, and we were friends.    

If only he had been a woman! 

I wanted to propagate my kind,    

and so did he, I think, poor boy. 

He’d pet the baby goats sometimes, 

and race with them, or carry one around.    

—Pretty to watch; he had a pretty body. 


And then one day they came and took us off. 


Now I live here, another island, 

that doesn’t seem like one, but who decides? 

My blood was full of them; my brain    

bred islands. But that archipelago 

has petered out. I’m old. 

I’m bored, too, drinking my real tea,    

surrounded by uninteresting lumber. 

The knife there on the shelf— 

it reeked of meaning, like a crucifix. 

It lived. How many years did I    

beg it, implore it, not to break? 

I knew each nick and scratch by heart, 

the bluish blade, the broken tip, 

the lines of wood-grain on the handle ... 

Now it won’t look at me at all.    

The living soul has dribbled away.    

My eyes rest on it and pass on. 


The local museum’s asked me to 

leave everything to them: 

the flute, the knife, the shrivelled shoes, 

my shedding goatskin trousers 

(moths have got in the fur), 

the parasol that took me such a time    

remembering the way the ribs should go. 

It still will work but, folded up, 

looks like a plucked and skinny fowl. 

How can anyone want such things? 

—And Friday, my dear Friday, died of measles 

seventeen years ago come March.