Monday, November 30, 2020

There Are Only 1,000 Numbats Left in the Wild by Christopher DeWeese

There Are Only 1,000 Numbats Left in the Wild

because what they need are quiet woods
where trees fall and nothing happens
the moss like a lake of no drowning
the birds like management in a factory
I don’t know
I know none of this should surprise me
in poetry class I write NUMBATS on the board
and the students look at their phones
they say ooh they’re so cute
and then they get sad about all the dying
on my Annual Faculty Report I write
developed new interdisciplinary pedagogy
under “routine service”
I send it to the dean
but my digital signature looks too big
when I paste it into the document
it lists just slightly to the left
like the diseased hedge in my yard
one question is should I spend two hours
figuring out how to make it right
my head like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
of figuring shit like that out
when my union went on strike
I was replaced by a poet from Linkedin
I stood outside in the Januaried wind
for three angry weeks
and my daughter said bosses stop this isn’t right
and then she wrote it on a sign
I tell my students that writing poems
might not be their career
but it still can be their life
and the dean sends me a note tied with red string
that says actually many CEOs majored in humanities
did I mention I’m being observed
did I mention that enrollment is down
did I mention I’m serving on six committees
the fact that anything grows anywhere
is one example of belief
my students keep looking at me
like they’re expecting me to help them
like it’s my job to help them
so I erase NUMBATS from the board
and instead I write MERITOCRACY
and my students look at their phones
and then they cry what do you mean

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Looking Back on the Muckleshoot Reservation from Galisteo Street, Santa Fe by Arthur Sze

Looking Back on the Muckleshoot Reservation from Galisteo Street, Santa Fe

The bow of a Muckleshoot canoe, blessed
with eagle feather and sprig of yellow cedar,
is launched into a bay. A girl watches
her mother fry venison slabs in a skillet—
drops of blood sizzle, evaporate. Because
a neighbor feeds them, they eat wordlessly;
the silence breaks when she occasionally
gags, reaches into her throat, pulls out hair.
Gone is the father, riled, arguing with his boss,
who drove to the shooting range after work;
gone the accountant who embezzled funds,
displayed a pickup, and proclaimed a winning
flush at the casino. You donate chicken soup
and clothes but never learn if they arrive
at the south end of the city. Your small
acts are sandpiper tracks in wet sand.
Newspapers, plastic containers, beer bottles
fill the bins along this sloping one-way street. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Last Night by Sharon Olds

Last Night

The next day, I am almost afraid.
Love? It was more like dragonflies
in the sun, 100 degrees at noon,
the ends of their abdomens stuck together, I
close my eyes when I remember. I hardly
knew myself, like something twisting and
twisting out of chrysalis,
enormous, without language, all
head, all shut eyes, and the humming
like madness, the way they writhe away,
and do not leave, back, back,
away, back. Did I know you? No kiss,
no tenderness—more like killing, death-grip
holding to life, genitals
like violent hands clasped tight
barely moving, more like being closed
in a great jaw and eaten, and the screaming
I groan to remember it, and when we started
to die, then I refuse to remember,
the way a drunkard forgets. After,
you held my hands extremely hard as my
body moved in shudders like the ferry when its
axle is loosed past engagement, you kept me
sealed exactly against you, our hairlines
wet as the arc of a gateway after
a cloudburst, you secured me in your arms till I slept—
that was love, and we woke in the morning
clasped, fragrant, buoyant, that was
the morning after love. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Problem of Describing Trees by Robert Hass

The Problem of Describing Trees

The aspen glitters in the wind.
And that delights us.
The leaf flutters, turning,
Because that motion in the heat of summer
Protects its cells from drying out. Likewise the leaf
Of the cottonwood.
The gene pool threw up a wobbly stem
And the tree danced. No.
The tree capitalized.
No. There are limits to saying,
In language, what the tree did.
It is good sometimes for poetry to disenchant us.
Dance with me, dancer. Oh, I will.
Aspens doing something in the wind. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

One Heart by Li-Young Lee

One Heart

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born
out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open
at either end of day.
The work of wings
was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Eating the Bones by Ellen Bass

Eating the Bones
The women in my family
strip the succulent
flesh from broiled chicken,
scrape the drumstick clean;
bite off the cartilage chew the gristle,
crush the porous swellings
at the ends of each slender baton.
With strong molars
they split the tibia, sucking out
the dense marrow.
They use up love, they swallow
every dark grain,
so at the end there's nothing left,
a scant pile of splinters
on the empty white plate. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

To Paula in Late Spring by W. S. Merwin

To Paula in Late Spring 

Let me imagine that we will come again
when we want to and it will be spring
we will be no older than we ever were
the worn griefs will have eased like the early cloud
through which the morning slowly comes to itself
and the ancient defenses against the dead
will be done with and left to the dead at last
the light will be as it is now in the garden
that we have made here these years together
of our long evenings and astonishment 

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Bride Tree Lives Three Times by Brenda Hillman

The Bride Tree Lives Three Times

In willing textures where the wood rat lives
 the drought lets trees die twice.
 Realism & magic steady one another
  & the hurt in your heart
 from the human fact
circles the edge of the park. The bride
  tree blooms late this year, its nature
 stored at the edge of day—
 some like to avoid the word “nature”
but what to put in its place
 for ants & thoughts & parking meters,
stars & skin & granite, quarks,
  the world above & below . . .
When you are confused about poetry
& misunderstand its brown math,
  the sessile branches & a seal of awe
attach the tree to the dark.
  Someday, you’ll need less evidence;
the missing won’t cease to exist.
For now, you stop to eat the free fruit
 only you knew would appear
& for that you have your human hands,
  infinite nature, a single
 body standing on this earth—

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Stranger by Atsuro Riley


They would congregate right regular.
(In the dirt-lot of the First Baptist
Or along by that abbatoir off the brackcreek.)
The hot meat of the matter
Being to parse-patch what they’d heard of what she was.
Marrowwise what she was to them
Was foreign-faced Not natural: Not from here.
Of no (known) rhizomatic strain nor kith nor kin.
Word said and word’d spread She’s some flotsam
From that load of ‘those’ what flooded here by boat.
Say they bought some bait from off her cart—
How they’d pincer-snatch their change like she was hot.
pink dew-worms I got! fish-eyes & roaches. Live
minnows for cheap. chicken (neck) gristle. no crickets.
Her (uncreased) neck her every body-part their snack.
Theirs to eyeball-eat and memorize
To judge; to pass from each to each from mouth to ear.
Have you smelled the hair on her. Have you
Bagged a feel of leg. Would you
You could always put a bag on her. Why she all the time
Bansheeing (bent down) dawn-sweeping her dirt.
Possessed by slingstone fireball-bags of shit they torched her yard.
(Wouldn’t they congregate
Right regular.)
By time and ire her rent-house formed a skin of dunt and char.


Saturday, November 21, 2020

I Cannot Say I Did Not Ask by Sharon Olds

I Cannot Say I Did Not Ask

I cannot say I did not ask
to be born. I asked with my mother’s beauty,
and her money. I asked with my father’s desire
for his orgasms and for my mother’s money.
I asked with the cradle my sister had grown out of.
I asked with my mother’s longing for a son,
I asked with patriarchy. I asked
with the milk that would well in her breasts, needing to be
drained by a little, living pump.
I asked with my sister’s hand-me-downs, lying
folded. I asked with geometry, with
origami, with swimming, with sewing, with
what my mind would thirst to learn.
Before I existed, I asked, with the love of my
children, to exist, and with the love of their children.
Did I ask with my tiny flat lungs
for a long portion of breaths? Did I ask
with the space in the ground, like a portion of breath,
where my body will rest, when it is motionless,
when its elements move back into the earth?
I asked, with everything I did not
have, to be born. And nowhere in any
of it was there meaning, there was only the asking
for being, and then the being, the turn
taken. I want to say that love
is the meaning, but I think that love may be
the means, what we ask with.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Edward Hopper Study: Room in New York by Victoria Chang

Edward Hopper Study: Room in New York

The woman's finger hangs
above the F key. She always
wears the same red dress.
The man's hands cup
the newspaper edge, his face
ashen, half-edible.
The woman's back
to the man, head down,
her arm, dairy and bloated,
long before men preferred
peeling brown shoulders,
the midriff. She can't leave him,
doesn't know how.
How many times have you
heard this? You will hear it
again and again, like the F key
that in a moment will
glaze the room with its
throbbing mouth. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

You Talk of Going but Don’t Even Have a Suitcase by John Wieners

You Talk of Going but Don’t Even Have a Suitcase

I will be an old man sometime
And live in a dark room somewhere.
I will think of this night someplace
the rain falling on stone.
There will be no one near
no whisper on the street
only this song of old yearning
and the longing to be young
with you together on some street.
Now is the time for retreat,
This is the last chance.
This is not the last chance.
Why only yesterday I lay drugged
on the dark bed while they came
and went as the wind
and they shall come again
and bear me down into that pit
there is no returning from.
Old age, disaster, doom.
It shall be as this room
With you by the sink, pinching your face
in the mirror.
Time is as a river
and I shall forget this night,
its joy.
You shall disappear down the road
and I shall moan your name
in the pillow, while candles burn outside
in windows of strange houses
to mark our fame. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Rules by Leila Chatti

The Rules

There will be no stars—the poem has had enough of them. I think we can agree
we no longer believe there is anyone in any poem who is just now realizing
they are dead, so let’s stop talking about it. The skies of this poem
are teeming with winged things, and not a single innominate bird.
You’re welcome. Here, no monarchs, no moths, no cicadas doing whatever
they do in the trees. If this poem is in summer, punctuating the blue—forgive me,
I forgot, there is no blue in this poem—you’ll find the occasional
pelecinid wasp, proposals vaporized and exorbitant, angels looking
as they should. If winter, unsentimental sleet. This poem does not take place
at dawn or dusk or noon or the witching hour or the crescendoing moment
of our own remarkable birth, it is 2:53 in this poem, a Tuesday, and everyone in it is still
at work. This poem has no children; it is trying
to be taken seriously. This poem has no shards, no kittens, no myths or fairy tales,
no pomegranates or rainbows, no ex-boyfriends or manifest lovers, no mothers—God,
no mothers—no God, about which the poem must admit
it’s relieved, there is no heart in this poem, no bodily secretions, no body
referred to as the body, no one
dies or is dead in this poem, everyone in this poem is alive and pretty
okay with it. This poem will not use the word beautiful for it resists
calling a thing what it is. So what
if I’d like to tell you how I walked last night, glad, truly glad, for the first time
in a year, to be breathing, in the cold dark, to see them. The stars, I mean. Oh hell, before
something stops me—I nearly wept on the sidewalk at the sight of them all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Old Land by Aleksandar Hemon

The Old Land 

In the old land,
people perished not from hunger,
but from gorging on lust and liver.
Birds flew backwards, thoughts swarmed
Against foreheads. Grass vined up stakes,
Sprouted out of the eyes of the impaled.
In the old land,
The mountains were seasonally flattened,
Carved and rolled up like woven prayer mats.
The sky was shallow and piebald in the fall,
Striped and shiny when it rained or snowed,
So splendorous we’d go blind, lose our minds.
In the old land,
Homes were made of honeycomb and straw,
Cars ran on blood, melted pennies, bones.
Streets zig-zagged like startled antelopes.
Life and death were simple and whole,
No need for explanation, let alone hope.
In the old land,
Love was meant for strangers and their dogs,
Yowling, licking wounds, sore lymph nodes.
So we were living our long lives at home,
Until we sank and resurfaced in this void,
Different skins, goggled eyes, nowhere to go.
Just to be as we were, we had to destroy
All the wrong distant lands, the many
Scared elsewheres, banging at our doors.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Bright Copper Kettles by Vijay Seshadri

Bright Copper Kettles

Dead friends coming back to life, dead family,
speaking languages living and dead, their minds retentive,
their five senses intact, their footprints like a butterfly’s,
mercy shining from their comprehensive faces—
this is one of my favorite things.
I like it so much I sleep all the time.
Moon by day and sun by night find me dispersed
deep in the dreams where they appear.
In fields of goldenrod, in the city of five pyramids,
before the empress with the melting face, under
the towering plane tree, they just show up.
“It’s all right,” they seem to say. “It always was.”
They are diffident and polite.
(Who knew the dead were so polite?)
They don’t want to scare me; their heads don’t spin like weather vanes.
They don’t want to steal my body
and possess the earth and wreak vengeance.
They’re dead, you understand, they don’t exist. And, besides,
why would they care? They’re subatomic, horizontal. Think about it.
One of them shyly offers me a pencil.
The eyes under the eyelids dart faster and faster.
Through the intercom of the house where for so long there was no music,
the right Reverend Al Green is singing,
“I could never see tomorrow.
I was never told about the sorrow.”

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Triolet on a Line Apocryphally Attributed to Martin Luther by A. E. Stallings

Triolet on a Line Apocryphally Attributed to Martin Luther

Why should the Devil get all the good tunes, 
The booze and the neon and Saturday night, 
The swaying in darkness, the lovers like spoons? 
Why should the Devil get all the good tunes? 
Does he hum them to while away sad afternoons 
And the long, lonesome Sundays? Or sing them for spite? 
Why should the Devil get all the good tunes, 
The booze and the neon and Saturday night? 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Sway by Denis Johnson


Since I find you will no longer love,
from bar to bar in terror I shall move
past Forty-third and Halsted, Twenty-fourth
and Roosevelt where fire-gutted cars,
their bones the bones of coyote and hyena,
suffer the light from the wrestling arena
to fall all over them. And what they say
blends in the tarantellasmic sway
of all of us between the two of these:
harmony and divergence,
their sad story of harmony and divergence,
the story that begins
I did not know who she was
and ends I did not know who she was.

Friday, November 13, 2020

When the Beloved Asks, “What Would You Do If You Woke Up and I Was a Shark?” by Natalie Diaz

When the Beloved Asks, “What Would You Do If You Woke Up and I Was a Shark?”

My lover doesn’t realize that I’ve contemplated this scenario,
fingered it like the smooth inner iridescence of a nautilus shell
in the shadow-long waters of many 2 a.m.s—drunk on the brine
of shoulder blades, those pale horns of shore I am wrecked upon,
my mind treading the wine-dark waves of luxuria’s tempests—
as a matter of preparedness, and because I do not sleep for fear
of such things, and even other things—I’ve read that the ocean
is a large pot of Apocalypse soup soon to boil over with our sins—
but a thing is a thing, especially if it’s a 420-million-year-old beast,
especially if you have wronged as many as I. Beauty, it is simple,
more simple than a beloved can imagine: I wouldn’t fight, not kick,
flail, not carry on like one driven mad by the black neoprene wetsuit
of death, not like sad-mouthed, despair-eyed albacore nor blubbery
pinnipeds, wouldn’t rage the city’s flickering streets of Ampullae
of Lorenzini, nor slug my ferocious, streamlined lover’s titanium
white nose, that bull’s-eye of cartilage, no, I wouldn’t prolong it.
Instead, I’d place my head onto that dark altar of jaws, prostrated
pilgrim at Melville’s glittering gates, climb into that mysterious
window starred with teeth—the one lit room in the charnel house.
I, at once mariner, at once pirate, would navigate my want by those
throbbing constellations. I’d wear those jaws like a toothy cilice,
slip into the glitzy red gown of penance, and it would be no different
than what I do each day—voyaging the salt-sharp sea of your body,
sometimes mooring the ports or sighting the sextant, then mending
the purple sails and hoisting the masts before being bound to them.
Be-loved, is loved, what you cannot know is I am overboard for this
metamorphosis, ready to be raptured to that mouth, reduced to a swell
of wet clothes, as you roll back your eyes and drag me into the fathoms.

Copernicus by Paul Tran


Who doesn’t know how
doubt lifts the hem of its nightgown
to reveal another inch of thigh
before the face of faith?
I once didn’t. I once thought I was
my own geometry,
my own geocentric planet
spinning like a ballerina, alone
at the center of the universe, at the command of a god
opening my music box
with his dirty mouth. He said
Let there be light
And I thought I was the light.
I was a man’s failed imagination.
Now I know what appears
as the motion of Heaven
is just the motion of Earth.
Not stars.
Not whatever I want. 

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Waking Early Sunday Morning by Robert Lowell

Waking Early Sunday Morning

O to break loose, like the chinook
salmon jumping and falling back,
nosing up to the impossible
stone and bone-crushing waterfall –
raw-jawed, weak-fleshed there, stopped by ten
steps of the roaring ladder, and then
to clear the top on the last try,
alive enough to spawn and die.
Stop, back off.  The salmon breaks
water, and now my body wakes
to feel the unpolluted joy
and criminal leisure of a boy –
no rainbow smashing a dry fly
in the white run is free as I,
here squatting like a dragon on
time's hoard before the day's begun!
Fierce, fireless mind, running downhill.
Look up and see the harbor fill:
business as usual in eclipse
goes down to the sea in ships –
wake of refuse, dacron rope,
bound for Bermuda or Good Hope,
all bright before the morning watch
the wine-dark hulls of yawl and ketch.
I watch a glass of water wet
with a fine fuzz of icy sweat,
silvery colors touched with sky,
serene in their neutrality –
yet if I shift, or change my mood,
I see some object made of wood,
background behind it of brown grain,
to darken it, but not to stain.
O that the spirit could remain
tinged but untarnished by its strain!
Better dressed and stacking birch,
or lost with the Faithful at Church –
anywhere, but somewhere else!
And now the new electric bells,
clearly chiming, "Faith of our fathers,"
and now the congregation gathers.
O Bible chopped and crucified
in hymns we hear but do not read,
none of the milder subtleties
of grace or art will sweeten these
stiff quatrains shoveled out four-square –
they sing of peace, and preach despair;
yet they gave darkness some control,
and left a loophole for the soul.
When will we see Him face to face?
Each day, He shines through darker glass.
In this small town where everything
is known, I see His vanishing
emblems, His white spire and flag-
pole sticking out above the fog,
like old white china doorknobs, sad,
slight, useless things to calm the mad.
Hammering military splendor,
top-heavy Goliath in full armor –
little redemption in the mass
liquidations of their brass,
elephant and phalanx moving
with the times and still improving,
when that kingdom hit the crash:
a million foreskins stacked like trash ...
Sing softer!  But what if a new
diminuendo brings no true
tenderness, only restlessness,
excess, the hunger for success,
sanity or self-deception
fixed and kicked by reckless caution,
while we listen to the bells –
anywhere, but somewhere else!
O to break loose.  All life's grandeur
is something with a girl in summer ...
elated as the President
girdled by his establishment
this Sunday morning, free to chaff
his own thoughts with his bear-cuffed staff,
swimming nude, unbuttoned, sick
of his ghost-written rhetoric!
No weekends for the gods now.  Wars
flicker, earth licks its open sores,
fresh breakage, fresh promotions, chance
assassinations, no advance.
Only man thinning out his kind
sounds through the Sabbath noon, the blind
swipe of the pruner and his knife
busy about the tree of life ...
Pity the planet, all joy gone
from this sweet volcanic cone;
peace to our children when they fall
in small war on the heels of small
war – until the end of time
to police the earth, a ghost
orbiting forever lost
in our monotonous sublime.

Friday, November 6, 2020

OK fern by Maureen N. McLane

OK fern

OK fern
I’m your apprentice
I can now tell you
apart from your
darker sister ferns
whose intricate ridges
overlay your more
regular triangled fans.
Tell me what to do
with my life. 

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Advice to a Prophet by Richard Wilbur

Advice to a Prophet

When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,   
Mad-eyed from stating the obvious, 
Not proclaiming our fall but begging us 
In God’s name to have self-pity, 
Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,   
The long numbers that rocket the mind; 
Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,   
Unable to fear what is too strange. 
Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.   
How should we dream of this place without us?— 
The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,   
A stone look on the stone’s face? 
Speak of the world’s own change. Though we cannot conceive   
Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost 
How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,   
How the view alters. We could believe, 
If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip   
Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy, 
The lark avoid the reaches of our eye, 
The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip 
On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn 
As Xanthus once, its gliding trout 
Stunned in a twinkling. What should we be without   
The dolphin’s arc, the dove’s return, 
These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?   
Ask us, prophet, how we shall call 
Our natures forth when that live tongue is all 
Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken 
In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean   
Horse of our courage, in which beheld 
The singing locust of the soul unshelled, 
And all we mean or wish to mean. 
Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose   
Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding   
Whether there shall be lofty or long standing   
When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Resembling Flowers Resembling Weeds by Ama Codjoe

Resembling Flowers Resembling Weeds

I’m fourteen and the smell of singed hair
circles me like the halo of a pre-Renaissance
Madonna. Loss already on my face.
A summer crush holds out his fingers
for the other boys to smell. The next day
I choose a cute outfit: shorts with tiny
repeating flowers. I braid my hair
into a wreath of juniper and dandelion.
There’s an iteration of myself with gills
and fins who my twin brother knew
as well as he knew himself, then
there’s me with petals on my thighs
and in my hair, flowers even inside.
The untrained eye can mistake yarrow
for flower or blue-eyed grass for weed.
Facing the mirror, irises grow wide
across the field of myself. They’re so good
at making use of holes. I want to balance
pitchers of seawater on my head. I want
to be more like my eyes. I carry holes
and purses and a picture of me, age six,
Easter bonnet tied under my chin, shins
grazed by bluebells, a steeple I can hear
beyond the frame. An image I’ve only held
in another’s retelling. The scentless
girl I was has a fragrance I recognize
in the mirror. The girl and I bring
our rose-perfumed wrists to the flesh
below the ears. Flesh that will one day be eaten
but not consumed. What is covered now by cloth
and petals will be taken wholly. A tongue,
feeling like many, will coax woman out of us.

Episode in a Library by Zbigniew Herbert

Episode in a Library

A blonde girl is bent over a poem. With a pencil sharp as a lancet she transfers the words to a blank page and changes them into strokes, accents, caesuras. The lament of a fallen poet now looks like a salamander eaten away by ants.

When we carried him away under machine-gun fire, I believed that his still warm body would be resurrected in the word. Now as I watch the death of the words, I know there is no limit to decay. All that will be left after us in the black earth will be scattered syllables. Accents over nothingness and dust.
(Translated by Czesław Miłosz and Peter Dale Scott)

Monday, November 2, 2020

Years by Jon Anderson


Sometimes in weariness I stop.
Because I’ve been lucky
I think the future must be plain.
Over the trees the stars are quite small.
My friends talk quietly
& we have all come to the same things.
Now if I die, I will
Inherit awhile their similar bodies.
Now if I listen
Someone is telling a story.
The characters met.
They enchanted each other by speech.
Though the stories they lived
Were not the same,
Many were distracted into love,
Slept, & woke alone, awhile serene.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Never Lonelier by Gottfried Benn

Never Lonelier 

Never lonelier than in August: 
hour of plenitude—in the country 
the red and golden tassels, 
but where is your pleasure garden?   
Soft skies and sparkling lakes, 
the healthy sheen of fields, 
but where is the pomp and display 
of the empire you represent?   
Everything lays claim to happiness, 
swaps glances, swaps rings 
in wine-breath, in the intoxication of things, 
you serve the counterhappiness, the mind.      

(Translated by Michael Hofmann)