Monday, May 31, 2021

Apophasis at the All-Night Rite Aid by Catherine Barnett

Apophasis at the All-Night Rite Aid

Not wanting to be alone
in the messy cosmology
over which I at this late hour
have too much dominion,
I wander the all-night uptown Rite Aid
where the handsome new pharmacist,
come midnight, shows me to the door
and prescribes the moon,
which has often helped before.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Unbridled by Carl Phillips


To look at them, you might not think the two men, having spoken briefly
                and now moving away from each other, as different goals
                require, have much history, if any,
between them. That, for a time that seems longer ago now than in fact
                it’s been, they used to enter each other’s bodies so often, so routinely,
                yet without routine ever seeming the right way of putting it,
that even they lost count—back then,
                who counted? It’s not as if they’ve forgotten, or at least
                the one hasn’t, looking long enough back at the other
to admire how outwardly unchanged he seems: still muscled, even if
                each muscle most brings to mind (why, though)
                an oracle done hiding at last, all the mystery made
quantifiable, that it might more easily that way—like love, like the impulse
                toward love—be disassembled. The other man doesn’t look back
                at all, or think to, more immediately distracted
by the dog he had half forgotten at the end of a leash he’d forgotten
                entirely, though here it is, in his hand,
                and the dog at the end of it. What kind of dog? The kind whose
digging beneath the low-lying branches of a bush thick with flowers
                shakes the flowers loose, they make of the dog’s
                furious back a fury of petals that the dog takes no notice of,
though the man has noticed.
                How the petals lie patternless where they’ve fallen.
                How there’s a breeze, bit of storm in it. How as if in response
the dog lifts its dirt-blackened face from the hole it’s digging,
                then continues digging. Then the man is crying. No, it looks like crying.
                Now what good at this point do you really think that’s likely to do
either of us, he says, to the dog.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

The Beard by Amit Majmudar

The Beard 

What was I like, before this beard?
More like, what was I not like.
Who I was depended.
I feared consensus
because stupidity lies
in numbers.
Among believers an atheist,
among atheists a skeptic,
among skeptics an agnostic,
among agnostics all emphatic
on the apophatic,
I laughed in my beard
at market panics,
fanaticism, Beyoncé worship.
Not that I had a beard back then.
Neither did Ahmad Rahami
on his driver’s license,
my doppelgänger Afghan,
mon semblable, I will not say mon frère.
When the pictures of him bearded,
beardless, bearded
showed up on sixty million screens,
I was partway through my third mile
on an Urban Active treadmill.
Well shucks, I thought, and yes
that quaint Midwestern word
appears in my internal monologues,
Well shucks, that bastard looks like me.
Judging from the sidelong glances
of flat-footed accountants running
for their lives
to either side of me,
I was not the only one who thought so.
The more they eyed me,
the more my face began to itch.
By mile five, this thing had bushed out,
my face a time-lapse Chia Pet,
and off the treadmill I was running
to my car for dear life
and a Schick Quattro.
I’ve tried a classic straight razor
I got off Amazon
and a Braun electric shaver, too.
The shave is not so much
not close enough as not
a shave at all, instead a kind
of endless passing of my hand
unbelieving through a hologram.
The more folks look, the more it grows.
You see it’s quite foreclose
the flux of me. I’ve gone from being
e pluribus unum
(and on that pluribus
every rider
me and me and me)
to maybe him, unknowably.
I try to talk to keep things chummy
because my silence, once the sign
of my interiority,
is now at best a sulk, at worst a seethe,
Ahmad, Amit, Rahimi, him me,
me with no way now to bare
my true face veiled beneath his beard.
I am alone here now,
among Americans a foreigner
when just last year I used to be
among Americans American.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Five Flights Up by Elizabeth Bishop

Five Flights Up

Still dark.
The unknown bird sits on his usual branch.
The little dog next door barks in his sleep
inquiringly, just once.
Perhaps in his sleep, too, the bird inquires
once or twice, quavering.
Questions---if that is what they are---
answered directly, simply,
by day itself.
Enormous morning, ponderous, meticulous;
gray light streaking each bare branch,
each single twig, along one side,
making another tree, of glassy veins...
The bird still sits there. Now he seems to yawn.
The little black dog runs in his yard.
His owner's voice arises, stern,
"You ought to be ashamed!"
What has he done?
He bounces cheerfully up and down;
he rushes in circles in the fallen leaves.
Obviously, he has no sense of shame.
He and the bird know everything is answered,
all taken care of,
no need to ask again.
---Yesterday brought to today so lightly!
(A yesterday I find almost impossible to lift.)

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Quail by Richie Hofmann


He addressed me as “my quail, my sweet quail.”
He was easy to obey.
It was a year ago in Connecticut, I remember the middle of his body,
the beach, a hollowed out tree in the sand, changing leaves,
the parking lot of a senior citizens home—
When will I see him again, I asked myself
while I was with him,
taking off my socks in the sand,
and again the next day, when I wasn’t,
and the day after that,
and the day I woke up
and there was snow on the tennis courts.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Kid by Ai

The Kid

My sister rubs the doll’s face in mud,   
then climbs through the truck window.   
She ignores me as I walk around it,   
hitting the flat tires with an iron rod.
The old man yells for me to help hitch the team,
but I keep walking around the truck, hitting harder,   
until my mother calls.
I pick up a rock and throw it at the kitchen window,   
but it falls short.
The old man’s voice bounces off the air like a ball
I can’t lift my leg over.
I stand beside him, waiting, but he doesn’t look up
and I squeeze the rod, raise it, his skull splits open.   
Mother runs toward us. I stand still,
get her across the spine as she bends over him.
I drop the rod and take the rifle from the house.   
Roses are red, violets are blue,
one bullet for the black horse, two for the brown.   
They’re down quick. I spit, my tongue’s bloody;   
I’ve bitten it. I laugh, remember the one out back.   
I catch her climbing from the truck, shoot.   
The doll lands on the ground with her.
I pick it up, rock it in my arms.
Yeah. I’m Jack, Hogarth’s son.
I’m nimble, I’m quick.
In the house, I put on the old man’s best suit
and his patent leather shoes.
I pack my mother’s satin nightgown
and my sister’s doll in the suitcase.
Then I go outside and cross the fields to the highway.
I’m fourteen. I’m a wind from nowhere.   
I can break your heart.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Recollections by Aleksandar Hemon


My father once asked me: How is it I can recollect
with utmost clarity what happened forty years ago,
but not what I did this morning at all? I didn’t know,
but I recognized I would always recall that moment.
It was late summer. We were driving to the country
to see my grandfather, now blind and demented,
who could walk only in short shuffling steps, peed
himself, did not know where he was, could never
forget where he’d come from. He would demand
to be taken back to Ukraine, to the home he’d left
at the age of twelve. There were times when he felt
he was abandoned in a dark forest, so he crawled
on all fours to hide in the bedding closet, where
he wept as we searched the house. We found him,
promised we’d take him home, walked him back
to his sagging couch. I would feed him with a spoon:
wet bread, mashed potatoes, soft corn, as he couldn’t
chew. He’d ask: ‘Am I still hungry?’ My grandmother,
his wife, long gone, she would have always known.
He’d inquire who I was, why I was present there.
I didn’t always have a clear idea. I just was. I strode
through life scouting the world for what I’d recollect
in the long lightless future I couldn’t begin to know.
From Grandfather I learned only the past mattered.
The rest is a blind completion of a misshapen circle,
a return to the original longing by way of loss, each
day but a day before the one we cannot yet recall.

Monday, May 24, 2021

An Emphasis Falls on Reality by Barbara Guest

An Emphasis Falls on Reality 

Cloud fields change into furniture
furniture metamorphizes into fields
an emphasis falls on reality.
"It snowed toward morning," a barcarole
the words stretched severely
silhouettes they arrived in trenchant cut
the face of lilies...
I was envious of fair realism.
I desired sunrise to revise itself
as apparition, majestic in evocativeness,
two fountains traced nearby on a lawn....
you recall treatments
of 'being' and 'nothingness'
illuminations apt
to appear from variable directions -
they are orderly as motors
floating on the waterway,
so silence is pictorial
when silence is real.
The wall is more real than shadow
or that letter composed of calligraphy
each vowel replaces a wall
a costume taken from space
donated by walls....
These metaphors may be apprehended after
they have brought their dogs and cats
born on roads near willows,
willows are not real trees
they entangle us in looseness,
the natural world spins in green.
A column chosen from distance
mounts into the sky while the font
is classical,
they will destroy the disturbed font
as it enters modernity and is rare....
The necessary idealizing of you reality
is part of the search, the journey
where two figures embrace
This house was drawn for them
it looks like a real house
perhaps they will move in today
into ephemeral dusk and
move out of that into night
selective night with trees,
The darkened copies of all trees.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

It Begins with the Trees by Ada Limón

It Begins with the Trees 

Two full cypress trees in the clearing
intertwine in a way that almost makes
them seem like one. Until at a certain angle
from the blue blow-up pool I bought
this summer to save my life, I see it
is not one tree, but two, and they are
kissing. They are kissing so tenderly
it feels rude to watch, one hand
on the other’s shoulder, another
in the other’s branches, like hair.
When did kissing become so
dangerous? Or was it always so?
That illicit kiss in the bathroom
of the Four-Faced Liar, a bar
named after a clock, what was her
name? Or the first one with you
on the corner of Metropolitan
Avenue, before you came home
with me forever. I watch those green
trees now and it feels libidinous.
I want them to go on kissing, without
fear. I want to watch them and not
feel so abandoned by hands. Come
home. Everything is begging you. 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Where I Came From by Ruth Stone

Where I Came From

My father put me in my mother
but he didn’t pick me out.
I am my own quick woman.
What drew him to my mother?
Beating his drumsticks
he thought—why not?
And he gave her an umbrella.
Their marriage was like that.
She hid ironically in her apron.
Sometimes she cried into the biscuit dough.
When she wanted to make a point
she would sing a hymn or an old song.
He was loose-footed. He couldn’t be counted on
until his pockets were empty.
When he was home the kettle drums,
the snare drum, the celeste,
the triangle throbbed.
When he changed their heads,
the drum skins soaked in the bathtub.
Collapsed and wrinkled, they floated
like huge used condoms.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Recension Day by Duncan Forbes

Recension Day

Unburn the boat, rebuild the bridge,
Reconsecrate the sacrilege,
Unspill the milk, decry the tears,
Turn back the clock, relive the years
Replace the smoke inside the fire,
Unite fulfilment with desire,
Undo the done, gainsay the said,
Revitalise the buried dead,
Revoke the penalty and the clause,
Reconstitute unwritten laws,
Repair the heart, untie the tongue,
Change faithless old to hopeful young,
Inure the body to disease
And help me to forget you please.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Desert by Adonis


The cities dissolve, and the earth is a cart loaded with dust
Only poetry knows how to pair itself to this space.
No road to this house, a siege,
and his house is graveyard.
               From a distance, above his house
               a perplexed moon dangles
               from threads of dust.
I said: this is the way home, he said: No
               you can’t pass, and aimed his bullet at me.
Very well then, friends and their homes
                in all of Beirut’s are my companions.
Road for blood now—
               Blood about which a boy talked
               whispered to his friends:
                              nothing remains in the sky now
                              except holes called “stars.”
The city’s voice was too tender, even the winds
would not tune its strings—
The city’s face beamed
like a child arranging his dreams for nightfall
bidding the morning to sit beside him on his chair.
They found people in bags:
              a person                                                 without a head 
              a person                                                 without hands, or tongue
              a person                                                 choked to death
              and the rest had no shapes and no names.
                             —Are you mad? Please
                                                             don’t write about these things.
A page in a book
              bombs mirror themselves inside of it
              prophecies and dust-proverbs mirror themselves inside of it 
              cloisters mirror themselves inside of it, a carpet made of the alphabet
                             disentangles thread by thread
falls on the face of the city, slipping out of the needles of memory.
A murderer in the city’s air, swimming through its wound—
its wound is a fall
that trembled to its name—to the hemorrhage of its name
and all that surrounds us—
houses left their walls behind
                                               and I am no longer I.
Maybe there will come a time in which you’ll accept     
to live deaf and mute, maybe
they’ll allow you to mumble: death
                                                and life
                                                and peace unto you.
From the wine of the palms to the quiet of the desert . . . et cetera
from a morning that smuggles its own intestines
               and sleeps on the corpses of the rebels . . . et cetera
from streets, to trucks
               from soldiers, armies . . . et cetera
from the shadows of men and women . . . et cetera
from bombs hidden in the prayers of monotheists and infidels . . . et cetera
from iron that oozes iron and bleeds flesh . . . et cetera
from fields that long for wheat, and grass and working hands . . . et cetera
from forts that wall our bodies
               and heap darkness upon us . . . et cetera
from legends of the dead who pronounce life, who steer our life . . . et cetera
from talk that is slaughter           and slaughter         and slitters of throats . . . et cetera
from darkness to darkness to darkness
I breathe, touch my body, search for myself
               and for you, and for him, and for the others
and I hang my death
between my face and this hemorrhage of talk . . . et cetera
You will see—
                say his name
                say you drew his face
                reach out your hand toward him
                or smile
                or say I was happy once
                or say I was sad once
                you will see:
                                 there is no country there.
Murder has changed the city’s shape—this stone
                                                                 is a child’s head—
and this smoke is exhaled from human lungs.
Each thing recites its exile . . .                a sea
                                              of blood—and what
do you expect on these mornings except their arteries set to sail
into the darkness, into the tidal wave of slaughter?
Stay up with her, don’t let up—
she sits death in her embrace
and turns over her days
                                              tattered sheets of paper.
Guard the last pictures
of her topography—
she is tossing and turning in the sand
in an ocean of sparks—
on her bodies
are the spots of human moans.
Seed after seed are cast into our earth—
fields feeding on our legends,
guard the secret of these bloods.
                               I am talking about a flavor to the seasons
                               and a flash of lightning in the sky.
Tower Square—(an engraving whispers its secrets
                                                               to bombed-out bridges . . . )
Tower Square—(a memory seeks its shape
                                                               among dust and fire . . . )
Tower Square—(an open desert
                                                               chosen by winds and vomited  . . . by them . . . )
Tower Square—(It’s magical
                                              to see corpses move/their limbs    
                                              in one alleyway, and their ghosts    
                                              in another/and to hear their sighs . . . )
Tower Square—(West and East
                                and gallows are set up—
                                martyrs, commands . . . )
Tower Square—(a throng
                of caravans: myrrh
                                               and gum Arabica and musk
                                                              and spices that launch the festival . . . )
Tower Square—(let go of time . . .
                                              in the name of place)
—Corpses or destruction,
                  is this the face of Beirut?
—and this
                a bell, or a scream?
—A friend?
—You? Welcome.
               Did you travel? Have you returned? What’s new with you?
—A neighbor got killed . . . /
 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A game /
—Your dice are on a streak.
—Oh, just a coincidence /
                                   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
                                              Layers of darkness
                                              and talk dragging more talk.         
(Translated by Khaled Mattawa)

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

[I saw a little movie of a person stroking a small bird with two Q-tips, one held between] by Diane Seuss

[I saw a little movie of a person stroking a small bird with two Q-tips, one held between]

I saw a little movie of a person stroking a small bird with two Q-tips, one held between 
the forefinger and thumb of each hand. It tipped back its head to receive the minor 
tenderness, which to the bird must have felt like being touched by a god. For a moment 
I knew what it would be to feel at the mercy of love, small-scale, the kind shown but not 
spoken of. I was afraid to touch you. I was afraid of the lesions you’d described to me 
over the phone, their locations and the measurement, in centimeters, of each. Jesus-marks, 
you called them. All so I would be prepared and unafraid or less afraid but still I was afraid 
of dying like you were dying. When I first arrived I looked so long into your eyes you 
shivered and ordered me to look away. You were imperious in your dying and yet courtly 
about my fear, you understood, as if I were a child afraid of lightning storms, which I am, 
having at age ten been struck. Out of the blue you said that once you were dead I’d never 
be able to listen to Blue again, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, not just the song but the whole album. 
It was a minor curse you lay across my shoulders like a fur dyed blue, and so I listen now 
in defiance of you. In the listening the pronouns shift. We are listening. There is no death.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Wilde Woman of Aiken by Robin Coste Lewis

The Wilde Woman of Aiken


                     Albumen photograph on Orange Mount
                      J. A. Palmer, 1882

I am not supposed to be
beautiful. I am not
supposed to sit
before the observant eye
of a sunflower. I am incapable
of having a voice
like a robin’s singing
of springtime’s newborn impatiens,
its balsams and touch-me-nots
crouched so low to the ground.
Vases and I are not permitted
to dally. If I were a name,
it would be Wall
paper. My hair is made
of a million breathing paisleys.
For five thousand years,
I have listened to you
think aloud about a world
that does now exist.
I am sitting here,
in the open,
and you are there, dripping
beneath your dark
velvet, waiting for the light
to reach you.
I have wondered
where you really live,
why you cannot hear
all the glass inside your syllables
slide off the table
whenever your mouth
opens and is then closed.
The story has not even begun.
The only thing left inside
my hand is my own
quiet hand. I am the Fourth Sister.
My florets stand tougher
as golden angles. My head
is packed with eager seeds
crisscrossing in spirals
one hundred garlands long.
It’s over now.
About my wait, dark
and bright, there is this
satin sash the color of the sun
warmed eggplant
still fetching
on the vine.
prevent me.

Monday, May 17, 2021

What Kind of Times Are These by Adrienne Rich

What Kind of Times Are These

There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.
I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.
I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.
And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Sweet Things by Thom Gunn

Sweet Things

He licks the last chocolate ice cream
from the scabbed corners of his mouth.
Sitting in the sun on a step
outside the laundromat,
mongoloid Don turns his crewcut head
and spies me coming down the street.
‘Hi!’ He says it with the mannered
enthusiasm of a fraternity brother.
‘Take me cross the street!?’ part
question part command. I hold
the sticky bunch of small fingers in mine
and we stumble across. They sell
peaches and pears over there,
the juice will dribble down your chin.
He turns before I leave him,
saying abruptly with the same
mixture of order and request
‘Gimme a quarter!?’ I
don’t give it, never have, not to him,
I wonder why not, and as I
walk on alone I realize
it’s because his seven-year old mind
never recognizes me, me
for myself, only says hi
for what he can get, quarters to
buy sweet things, one after another,
he goes from store to store, from
candy store to ice cream store to
bakery to produce market, unending
quest for the palate’s pleasure. Then
out to panhandle again,
more quarters, more sweet things.
My errands are toothpaste,
vitamin pills and a book of stamps.
No self-indulgence there.
But who’s this coming up? It’s
John, no Chuck, how
could his name have slipped my mind.
Chuck gives a one-sided smile, he stands
as if fresh from a laundromat,
a scrubbed cowboy, Tom Sawyer
grown up, yet stylish, perhaps
even careful, his dark hair
slicked back in the latest manner.
When he shakes my hand I feel
a dry finger playfully bending inward
and touching my palm in secret.
‘It’s a long time
since we got together,’ says John.
Chuck, that is. The warm teasing
tickle in the cave of our handshake
took my mind off toothpaste,
snatched it off, indeed.
How handsome he is in
his lust and energy, in his
fine display of impulse.
Boldly ‘How about now?” I say
knowing the answer. My boy
I could eat you whole. In the long pause
I gaze at him up and down and
from his blue sneakers back to the redawning
one-sided smile. We know our charm.
We know delay makes pleasure great.
In our eyes, on our tongues,
we savour the approaching delight
of things we know yet are fresh always.
Sweet things. Sweet things.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Running Orders by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

Running Orders
They call us now,
before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass-shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think, Do I know any Davids in Gaza?
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
war-time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
Just run.
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
to nowhere.
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are.
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Once by Paisley Rekdal


white field. And the dog
dashing past me
into the blank,
toward the nothing.
not running anymore but
this idea of him, still
in his gold
fur, being
what I loved him for
first, so that now
on the blankets piled
in one corner
of the animal hospital
where they’ve brought him out
a final hour, two,
before the needle
with its cold
he trembles with what
he once was: breath
and muscle puncturing
the snow, sudden
stetting over the tips
of the meadow’s buried
grasses after–what
was it, a rabbit?
Field mouse? Dashing
past me on my skis,
for the first time
faster, as if
he had been hiding this,
his good uses. What
a shock to watch
what you know unfold
deeper into, or out of
itself. It is like
loving an animal:
hopeless, an extravagance
we were meant for:
startled, continually,
by what we’re willing
to feel. The tips
of the grasses high
in the white. And the flat
light, drops of water
on the gold
coat, the red, the needle
moving in, then out,
and now the sound of an animal
rushing past me in the snow.