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lay me down on eye-white snow
my slow brooding bed of robin wings
my body slit & smearing everywhere.
I will not name this new opening a wound.
here, there is no pain I didn’t beg for.
I heard the howl, didn’t dare run.
stood waiting for the sweet blades
of jaw & claw. you found me
wasted no time making a myth
of my thigh, my flesh turned to wind
the earth under me wet with my life.
I pray this is what they mean by always
that heaven is a persistent mouth.
Baby, I want you forever this way:
fangs covered in me, moon dyed red
bouncing off front teeth, my body
only certain how to twitch, your belly
round with my joy.
Poem Where I Be a Doe & You, by Effect, Are a Wolf
I had a beautiful dream I was dancing with a tree.
Some things on this earth are unspeakable:
Genealogy of the broken—
A shy wind threading leaves after a massacre,
Or the smell of coffee and no one there—
Some humans say trees are not sentient beings,
But they do not understand poetry—
Nor can they hear the singing of trees when they are fed by
Wind, or water music—
Or hear their cries of anguish when they are broken and
Now I am a woman longing to be a tree, planted in a moist,
Between sunrise and sunset—
I cannot walk through all realms—
I carry a yearning I cannot bear alone in the dark—
What shall I do with all this heartache?
The deepest-rooted dream of a tree is to walk
Even just a little ways, from the place next to the doorway—
To the edge of the river of life, and drink—
I have heard trees talking, long after the sun has gone down:
Imagine what would it be like to dance close together
In this land of water and knowledge…
To drink deep what is undrinkable.
How wide the sidewalks were!
You stood in the middle of ours.
Definite and debonair.
Mama with a big black
Patent leather handbag.
Draped over her arm.
Chic. Loose coat holding no baby inside.
Madaddy suited, slanted wide brim hat.
As if he were seeing Paris
After the war.
Behind them the tall trees
Made shade. And fences
Held back the houses
And kept them off the sidewalk
And out of the street
Steel-veined with streetcar lines
Before they were erased like markings
From a game of hopscotch.
Were there shadows rolling in under the trees?
I see them now.
Photograph: Circa 1960
the new grocery store sells real cheese, edging out
the plastic bodega substitute. the new neighbors
know how to feed their children, treat themselves
to oysters sometimes. other times, to brunch. finally,
some good pastrami around these parts. new cafe
on broadway. new trees in the sidewalk. everyone
can breathe a little easier. neighborhood association
throws a block party. builds a dog park right
in the middle of the baseball field. crime watch listserv
snaps photos of suspicious natives. how’d all these ghosts
get in my yard? cop on speed dial. arrange flowers
as the radio croons orders. rubber on tar,
skin on steel. an army of macbook pros guarding
its french presses. revival pioneers. meanwhile,
white college grads curse their racist neighbors,
get drunk at olneyville warehouse punk shows,
ride their bikes on the right side of the road, say west end
like a badge, while folks on the other side of cranston street
shake their heads and laugh. interrogation lamps
burning down their stoops. banks gutting their houses.
i look more like the cambodian kids against that wall
than any of my roommates. but feel safest within two miles
of an espresso machine. look around at parties and think,
fresh saplings. revival pioneers. know folks look at me
on my bike and think, ivy league. dog park. treat yourself
to a neighborhood sometimes. none of this land is mine
but our footprints are everywhere. silent battlefront
we new settlers shove into our back pockets,
lump in our collective throat as we chase a new world,
sweep the foyer, promise we’ll help clean up the mess.
Because the road to our house
is a back road, meadowlands punctuated
by gravel quarry and lumberyard,
there are unexpected travelers
some nights on our way home from work.
Once, on the lawn of the Tool
and Die Company, a swan;
the word doesn’t convey the shock
of the thing, white architecture
rippling like a pond’s rain-pocked skin,
beak lifting to hiss at my approach.
Magisterial, set down in elegant authority,
he let us know exactly how close we might come.
After a week of long rains
that filled the marsh until it poured
across the road to make in low woods
a new heaven for toads,
a snapping turtle lumbered down the center
of the asphalt like an ambulatory helmet.
His long tail dragged, blunt head jutting out
of the lapidary prehistoric sleep of shell.
We’d have lifted him from the road
but thought he might bend his long neck back
to snap. I tried herding him; he rushed,
though we didn’t think those blocky legs
could hurry— then ambled back
to the center of the road, a target
for kids who’d delight in the crush
of something slow with the look
of primeval invulnerability. He turned
the blunt spear point of his jaws,
puffing his undermouth like a bullfrog,
and snapped at your shoe,
vising a beakful of— thank God—
leather. You had to shake him loose. We left him
to his own devices, talked on the way home
of what must lead him to new marsh
or old home ground. The next day you saw,
one town over, remains of shell
in front of the little liquor store. I argued
it was too far from where we’d seen him,
too small to be his… though who could tell
what the day’s heat might have taken
from his body. For days he became a stain,
a blotch that could have been merely
oil. I did not want to believe that
was what we saw alive in the firm center
of his authority and right
to walk the center of the road,
head up like a missionary moving certainly
into the country of his hopes.
In the movies in this small town
I stopped for popcorn while you went ahead
to claim seats. When I entered the cool dark
I saw straight couples everywhere,
no single silhouette who might be you.
I walked those two aisles too small
to lose anyone and thought of a book
I read in seventh grade, "Stranger Than Science,"
in which a man simply walked away,
at a picnic, and was,
in the act of striding forward
to examine a flower, gone.
By the time the previews ended
I was nearly in tears— then realized
the head of one-half the couple in the first row
was only your leather jacket propped in the seat
that would be mine. I don’t think I remember
anything of the first half of the movie.
I don’t know what happened to the swan. I read
every week of some man’s lover showing
the first symptoms, the night sweat
or casual flu, and then the wasting begins
and the disappearance a day at a time.
I don’t know what happened to the swan;
I don’t know if the stain on the street
was our turtle or some other. I don’t know
where these things we meet and know briefly,
as well as we can or they will let us,
go. I only know that I do not want you
—you with your white and muscular wings
that rise and ripple beneath or above me,
your magnificent neck, eyes the deep mottled autumnal colors
of polished tortoise— I do not want you ever to die.
He didn’t invite me to the wedding.
Am I some kind of ghost? A few roses
blown open. People kept trooping back
and forth in downpour to view
the thorny stalks. I saw the photos.
Am I shameful? Even from far away
you can tell someone’s age by how her body
moves. What bird by the steadiness
of its wings. Some trees are simply
more picturesque. Some days
I’m a regret machine. Why
are children always running, is there
so very much to get to? You terrify
the moments. You waste them like this.
And behind walls doors and screens,
everyone you’ve ever lost
is repeating marriage vows.
Our dead friend used to say
when she reached menopause
the swamp cleared from her mind
the sun shone brightly
for the first time since girlhood
she could think clearly
things were outlined as if in lights
a dog was a dog and a man
was only a man
Imprisoned in the arms
of Eros you relax you blur
you have no will of your own
can make you tingle with delight
music art nature kisses touch
the wetness the pulsing
every glance a sort
of soft bullet she said
How true and what a fool
I made of myself
all those years
well we all did, you and I
honey we were like those lab mice
that will step on the pedal
that gives them those thrills
not eating not stopping
until they die
Now when I look at my body
under the spell of gravity
I have to laugh
Oh my god the way we all lined up
like a fleet of taxis at a red light
just waiting and racing our motors
what a joke sex is, though without it
no avenue to paradise
no human glue
Alicia Suskin Ostriker
Our Dead Friend
after Nazim Hikmet, for & after Rassan
At the Detroit Metro Airport
with the turtle-hours to spare
between now & my flight, there is
such a thing as the kindness
of the conveyor belt who lends me
its slow, strange mollusk foot
as I stand quiet, exhausted, having been
alone in my bed for days now, sleeping
in hotels, having spent months, now,
without seeing the faces of my family, somehow
its slow & quiet carrying of the load
reminds me of the kindness of donkeys
& this kindness returns me to myself.
It reminds me of the kindness of other things I love
like the kindness of sisters who send mail,
wherever you are, &, speaking of mail, there is
the special kindness of the mail lady
who says, 'Hi, baby' to everyone, at first
I thought it was just me, but now I know
she says 'Hi, baby' to everyone. That is kindness.
Too, there is the kindness of windows, & of dogs.
& then there was that extraordinary Sunday
back at the house, I heard a woman screaming
about how she was lonely & so lonely
she didn’t know what she’d do, maybe kill
herself, she said, over & over like a parrot
in a cage, a parrot whose human parent
only taught it that one sentence. I looked out
the window & saw her from behind, the way she flung
her arms like she was desperate & being killed
or eaten by an invisible predator, like a tiger or a lion, in the chest.
& her voice seemed fogged out with methadone, I don’t know,
something, & I walked away from the window
& sat, angry with her for screaming, & sad,
& not long after, I heard her saying,
What’d you say? What’d you say to me?
& a man’s voice, low, I could not tell if it was kind.
& she said, I’ll kill myself, I’m so lonely.
& did I tell you, yet, that it was Mother’s Day?
Flowers & mothers, flowers & mothers all day long.
& the woman saying, I’m so lonely. I could kill myself.
& then quiet. & the man’s voice saying, It’s okay.
It’s okay. I love you, it’s okay.
& this made me get up, put my face, again, to the window
to see my landlord’s nephew outside, just hugging her so, as if
it were his mother, I mean, as if he belonged to her,
& then, again, quiet, I left the window but sat
in the silence of the house, hidden by shutters, & was amazed.
When the front door of the brownstone opened up
& let the tall nephew in with his sad & cougar eyes,
handsome & tall in his Carolina-Brooklyn swagger, I heard
him start to climb the stairs above me, & my own hand
opened up my own front door,
& though it was none of my business
I asked him, Do you know that women out there?
& do you know what happened next?
He said, No. The nephew said no, he didn’t know
the woman out there. & he told me Happy Mother’s Day
as he climbed the rest of the stairs. & I can’t stop seeing them
hugging on the street, under trees, it was spring, but cold,
& sometimes in the memory his head is touching hers
& sometimes in the memory his eyes are closed,
& sometimes she is holding him
& singing to him I love you. It’s okay.
I mean to tell you that everywhere I go
I hear us singing to each other. This way. I mean to tell you
that I have witnessed such great kindness as this,
in this, my true life, you must believe me.
I mean, on a Sunday, when nobody was supposed to be
watching. Nobody at all. I saw this happen, the two
of them hugging, when nobody was supposed to be
watching, but not a secret either, public
as the street, not for glory & not for a joke,
the landlord’s nephew ready to stand there for the woman
like a brother or a sister or a husband or son,
or none of these at all, but a stranger,
a stranger, who like her, is an earthling.
Perhaps this thing I am calling kindness
is more simple than kindness, rather, recognition
of the neighbor & the blue, shared earth
& the common circumstance of being here:
what remains living of the last
two million, impossible years…
When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say that even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.
A difficult climb
to a beautiful view—
I don’t like it.
I don’t like the way
you make me go
all this deferral
up to a future
only you’ve seen
the ascent always leveraged
against an alien payoff
When we get there
I’ll be dead
tired too tired to view
the view the way
I wanted. I wanted
the way to be beautiful
as a stroll in the hanging
gardens of Babylon
or the wisteria-laden
lanes of the rose garden
in the Bois du Boulogne
as beautiful as a jammed
Sixth Avenue crosswalk
in midtown. I wanted
to be going nowhere
nowhere we know
not to have to breathe
so hard into a future
someone else promised.
reputable studies show
makes for a happy
person & nation
I just want
& want now
I don’t want
to look back
& say ah
that was so
if it was
I don’t want
to keep my head down
for miles alert
for insurgent roots
a falling branch
my legs punctured
by stinging flies
who harry the way
only to be able to say
at some notional
top however beautiful
—& see, no insects here
& why not lunch—
it was just
the glorious sun
and twelve islands
inlaid in a lake
& the distant silent
Somehow it was a vision
of all as dust.
If I go
I want every age
to be a stage
one can look around
and say how interesting
& yes a cup of coffee
would be nice.
I’m not going anywhere
fast but where
we’re all going
Against the Promise of a View
The people Jesus loved were shopping at The Star Market yesterday.
An old lead-colored man standing next to me at the checkout
breathed so heavily I had to step back a few steps.
Even after his bags were packed he still stood, breathing hard and
hawking into his hand. The feeble, the lame, I could hardly look at them:
shuffling through the aisles, they smelled of decay, as if The Star Market
had declared a day off for the able-bodied, and I had wandered in
with the rest of them: sour milk, bad meat:
looking for cereal and spring water.
Jesus must have been a saint, I said to myself, looking for my lost car
in the parking lot later, stumbling among the people who would have
been lowered into rooms by ropes, who would have crept
out of caves or crawled from the corners of public baths on their hands
and knees begging for mercy.
If I touch only the hem of his garment, one woman thought, I will be healed.
Could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?
The Star Market
there’s a cosmic storm whenever he’s in my orbit
five races at war outside time, trapped
in one spindly high-toned body, knobby elbows and knees
the rigorously loving teachings of mom and dad take
root despite media engineering and peer pressures.
the snippy cuttings, mouthy snipings, and cheeky wit
that will soon attend his adolescent defenses have yet
to materialize. right now he knows not to prevaricate
and so, that fall morning when i call him
to me for an ancestral chat, to take him into my lap
don’t be afraid, i say. he takes a few eager skips
that turn into squirms when i grab him and hold him tight
situated in my softness, he relaxes some
but stares at my hands in consternation
this is what happens, i think, when the eyes go against the heart
You’re all mixed up, aren’t you?
Your mother belongs to me. What’s my name?
What do you call me?
You don’t want to like me,
Because I’m brown.
Is it because I’m brown?
Well, that’s okay. I’m going
to be brown forever. Is it
okay if I like you?
then I hug him and let go, wondering
if that’s enough to set him free.
A Talk with My Grandson, Age Six
There’s no one left to see his hands
lifting from the engine bay, dark and gnarled
as roots dripping river mud,
no one to see how his palms — slabs of callus
from scouring the long throats of chimneys,
hauling mortar and brick — move
in the fabricated light. Thumb-knuckle
thick and white as a grub where the box-
cutter bit. Split nail grown back
scalloped and crooked. The stitch-
puckered skin. And when they fold into and out
of themselves by the steaming faucet,
when they strip clean, the tap water
running black, then copper, then clear
into the grease-clotted drain
there’s no one to witness the slap
of a wet rag tossed in the break-
room sink or the champ of gravel
in the empty lot. How the stars dim
as morning comes on. How a semi downshifts
on the overpass and the shop windows rattle
as it goes.
My Father at 49, Working the Night Shift at B&R Diesel
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
They said to say goodnight
And not goodbye, unplugged
The TV when it rained. They hid
Money in mattresses
So to sleep on decisions.
Some of their children
Were not their children. Some
Of their parents had no birthdates.
They could sweat a cold out
Of you. They’d wake without
An alarm telling them to.
Even the short ones reached
Certain shelves. Even the skinny
Cooked animals too quick
To get caught. And I don’t care
How ugly one of them arrived,
That one got married
To somebody fine. They fed
Families with change and wiped
Their kitchens clean.
Then another century came.
People like me forgot their names.
A river, wanting to go downhill
will carve new tributaries,
tear through homes,
flood the roots of trees.
The therapist tells you your mind
is swollen with doom
that carries you in its white rush,
torrents ripping through
rock and root.
I don’t know in what direction love pulls me.
But I do know the feeling of the muscle in your chest flailing
for fear of drowning.
At Minnehaha, a young Southeast Asian couple asked me
to take their picture.
Cambodian, or Lao, or Thai, or Viet.
He was heavily tattooed and looked like the dudes
who would have whooped my ass just for breathing,
back in the day.
She had dyed hair,
looked like the girls who dismissed me
as a pasty, boring little sellout back then.
They’re the most gorgeous couple in the park.
If it sounds like I’m making assumptions about them and me,
and it’s not okay
just because I’m Asian too.
They like the picture I take for them.
The creek and the falls are swollen from the rains.
The same that have deluged basements,
dips in the road,
drowned park benches too close to the lake shore.
Each raindrop doesn’t care
if it’s the one to soak in
or the one that stays above it all to flood.
They just throw themselves on top of each other
until they become bigger than who they were
when they were apart.
Gotta love us brown girls, munching on fat, swinging blue hips,
decked out in shells and splashes, Lawdie, bringing them woo hips.
As the jukebox teases, watch my sistas throat the heartbreak,
inhaling bassline, cracking backbone and singing thru hips.
Like something boneless, we glide silent, seeping ‘tween floorboards,
wrapping around the hims, and ooh wee, clinging like glue hips.
Engines grinding, rotating, smokin’, gotta pull back some.
Natural minds are lost at the mere sight of ringing true hips.
Gotta love us girls, just struttin’ down Manhattan streets
killing the menfolk with a dose of that stinging view. Hips.
Crying ’bout getting old—Patricia, you need to get up off
what God gave you. Say a prayer and start slinging. Cue hips.
Grant me shelter & bread.
Grant me porch ledge, mantel.
Scented candles, bed. Grant me
four walls, a 5-foot fridge & a hall.
& maybe four more walls. Yes.
Four more walls. & a desk. &
a decent laptop, plus pleather
rolling chair. So that I might sit
& write you a poem, Lord.
A psalm praising all you’ve given:
Air I sing with. Cricket’s falsetto.
Buzzing bees & nectar—
how chrysanthemum feels
on the tongue
is what you are to me.
You see what I am doing here.
You see, I am being so sincere,
Sire. Which is sad. Still, grant me
a few free hours each day. Grant me
a Moleskine pad & a ballpoint pen
with some mass. Grant me your gift
of this voice. Pages & pages
of this voice, in a good book
from a loving press. & grant me
a great love, too. Grant a way
to provide for my love. Like,
a tenure-track job
at a small college in the Midwest.
The kind with poems
& papers to read. With hoodies
running in & out of my office.
Deadline, paychecks, &
an OK 401(k). Grant me
everything, Lord. Not today.
But before 28. Be Bulldozer.
Genie. Let every prayer avalanche
me into dust, blank matter. Debris.
Make me worthy. O Lord, make me me.
Prayer on Aladdin’s Lamp
It’s called Sisyphus. No. Sisyphus. Yes. Apparently
some Greek myth. This guy is punished for—punished—yes—
for something, and has to roll a rock up a hill every day
and every day it rolls—a rock, yes—
and every day it rolls back down.
Something about the absurdity of life.
Camus says—Camooo—says it’s
about the condition of man and that
it’s meaningless and we have to just keep
doing it and—the rock, yes, rolling the rock—and that
gives our life meaning. Yeah. Well
if that don’t drive you to God—
Woman on Cell Phone Dragging an Empty Cart Through Washington Square Park
Absurdity of Life
I was making a roast.
The smell wafted from the kitchen into the living room,
through the yellow curtains and into the sunlight.
Bread warmed in the oven,
and in my oven mitt, I managed to forget
that I’d ever punched someone in the face.
It seemed so long ago, I might not even have done it.
I went out into the yard before dark
and saw last year’s rake on the lawn.
It was a cheap metal one
that tore up the old grass.
I did that for a while.
When I went back in the house,
the roast was burned black
and the bread was hard.
I sat on the couch and watched it get dark.
I was getting hungry, but I felt afraid
of seeing the refrigerator light go on.
Then I would have to turn on other lights,
and then what would I do?
I heard a car pass once in a while.
I thought about a time on vacation
when I bought a newspaper and tomatoes
from a supermarket I’d never heard of.
I remembered an old bathing suit I had,
but I couldn’t think of what happened to it.
I could move away.
I could get in the car right now
and drive all night,
as soon as I had a sandwich.
Turkey, tomato, mayo,
Swiss, lettuce. It was exciting.
I still had my shoes on. I drove to a truck stop.
It was bright inside and I loved the world.
I bought a sandwich and ate it from my lap while I drove.
When I pulled up to my house it was quiet.
The number of rice grains left in your supper bowl
foretells how many pockmarks will appear on your lover’s face
Sleeping on your back will flatten your head’s shape
but sleep on your stomach and you’ll induce nightmares
Eating the fat inside the crab sharpens the mind
so too the roe extracted from the steamed fish
Never let your feet touch cold water from the bathtub or
the sea on days when you’re menstruating
Pinch the nose before age six when the cartilage is pliable
so the nasal bridge will grow narrow and high
Drift asleep with your hair wet
and you’ll suffer from decades of migraines
You’ll wreck your eyesight poring over pages in low light
but looking at all things green from a distance can coax it back
Old Wives’ Tales on Which I Was Fed
He is not as young as he used to be. With a groan
he chooses a sizable canvas. He broods on it.
He wastes his time haggling about his commission
with a mean Carmelite monk from the Abruzzi,
prior, or canon, or whatnot. It is winter now.
His finger joints start cracking like the brushwood
in the fireplace. With a groan he will ground
the canvas, let it dry, ground it once more,
will scrawl his figures, impatiently, ghostlike,
on small cartoons, and set them off with white lead.
He temporizes and idles away a few weeks,
rubbing down his colors. But at long last—
Ash Wednesday has gone by, and Candlemas—
early one morning he dips his brush in burnt umber
and starts painting. This will be a gloomy picture.
How do you go about painting Doom? The conflagrations,
the vanishing islands, the lightning, the walls
and towers and pinnacles crumbling ever so slowly:
nice points of technique, problems of composition.
Destroying the world is a difficult exercise.
Hardest to paint are the sounds—for example
the temple veil being rent asunder, the beasts
roaring, and the thunderclaps. Everything, you see,
is to be rent asunder and torn to pieces,
except the canvas. And there can be no doubt
about the appointed time: by All Souls’ Day
the frantic sea in the background must be coated
over and over again with a thousand layers
of transparency, with foamy green lights,
pierced by mastheads, by ships reeling, plunging down,
by wrecks, while outside, in mid-July,
not a dog will stir on the dust-covered square.
The women have left, the servants, the disciples.
In the forlorn town only the Master remains.
He looks tired. Who would have thought that he, of all people,
would look dead tired? Ochre—everything seems ochre now,
shadowless, standing still, transfixed in a kind
of evil eternity, except the picture. It grows
and darkens slowly, absorbing shadows,
steel-blue; livid, dull violet, caput mortuum,
absorbing demons and horsemen and massacres,
until Doom is happily consummated and the artist,
for a brief moment, is, like a child, unmindfully merry,
as if his life has been spared, and in his relief
on this very night he asks his friends to a feast
and treats them to truffles, to grouse and old wine,
with the season’s first rainstorm pounding away at the shutters.
Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Apocalypse, Umbrian Master, about 1490
All Souls' Day
You, woman, bearing your losses,
the dog’s leash taut in your hand,
how can you so blind & quickly
pass us on your morning walks?
Haven’t you yet learned
there are happenings on planes
you do not see?
The dog knows we are here & have
crucial news. When he stops
& presses his muzzle to the air,
can’t you see him sniffing at our feet?
What the Memories Said
We ironed fall leaves
between wax-paper sheets.
We melted crayons into candles
and froze Kool-Aid into popsicles.
We poked cloves into oranges. We grew roots
on sweet potatoes tooth-picked in water.
We taped our broken glasses together
and shut up. We made shoe-box
dioramas with Play-Doh and modeling clay.
We cut snowflakes from folded paper
and hung them with kite string.
We made newspaper kites
and imagined they could fly.
We shaped tin foil into fake coins
for our church envelopes.
We covered love bites with Kool-Aid.
We filled liquor bottles with holy water.
We hid our stash in beanbag chairs.
We drove to Ohio for drugs
and rolled back our father’s odometer.
We mounted our girlfriends
on basement pool tables, clacking balls together
for ears upstairs.
We drew lies with chalk
and the truth with tar.
We lit our hair on fire
to cover the smell.
Hair on Fire
'If this were the beginning of a poem, he would have called the thing he felt inside him the silence of snow.' -Orhan Pamuk
Before the hanging cross, the girls
take turns standing at attention before
us with eyes closed or hands clasped,
headbands bright green or bangles
yellow, glints that fill the silence like
falling snow. They recite poems they
have carried in their mouths for days,
and my desire to go back, to be one
among these slender, long-haired girls
is a thistle, sharp and twisting at my
side. The words
psalm, blessing, lord
rise in me like bees heavy with pollen,
and the teenager I once was unzips
herself from me, shows up, a crocus
bristling through snow. She’s back
in the old chapel where the priest
again lifts into the air the Bible,
declaims about the kingdom of God,
gifts promised only the righteous—
the girl I was, heavy and slow in her
thick glasses, knew she would never
enter heaven, never be these pretty girls
singing, arms pale and slim as the white
birch whose branches, dappled with gold,
shade the stained glass window. In Pamuk’s
novel, Snow, the headscarf girls in Eastern Turkey
hang themselves rather than go uncovered,
and still I want that certainty of conviction,
even as the self beside me pulls on her hair,
sucks long strands of it deep into her mouth—
so I gather her in my arms, shake her, tell
her to listen, that the sky will always happen,
Sometimes, it causes me
to tremble, tremble,
she sings beside these
girls who will grow into or away from their
bodies, and I know I must push the heavy
amber of her back inside me. Help me, Lord.
There are so many bodies inside this one.
Poetry Recitation at St. Catherine’s School for Girls
A classmate and I chose pendulums,
what happens when a pendulum
hangs from a pendulum?
How does gravity work then?
We were studying invisible forces
and left the classroom, heading into
the world with just our two bodies,
which were to be both string and bob.
In the woods behind school, he climbed into a tree
and lowered himself down,
holding a branch.
I reached up to his thin ankles
and lifted my bare feet off the ground.
Someone must have been there to try to make us swing,
record the harmonic oscillations,
and take the polaroids,
still stapled to this yellowed lab report.
It’s haunting to discover it now, to see in the photos
how we hung there smiling, white,
safe and dumb.
How little history we knew.
If only all feet could come back
to stand on the ground,
not get buried under it,
left to hang above, left outside
in the told and untold,
in the toll of hot municipal suns.
We didn’t understand much of anything
but completed the assignment,
typed up the results, passed physics,
went to college and typed and typed
and never took another science class,
we were humanities majors.
Sometimes when I’m not typing now
I run lines with an actor friend
and can’t get them out of my head.
Another heavenly day,
says Winnie as the curtain rises.
She’s buried to her waist in earth
and for a while you think it can’t get any worse.
What are they, really?
Don’t let me sleep on.
everyone wants to know
what I saw on the long walk
away from you
I couldn’t eat
and didn’t sleep
for an entire week
I can hardly picture any of it now
save the fox I thought
was in the grass but wasn’t
I remember him quiet
as a telescope
tiny as a Plutonian moon
was wilding around us
the sky and the wind
the riptides and
the rogue comet
blasting toward earth
do you remember this
I introduced myself
by one of the names
I kept back then
the fox was so still
I could have called him anything
Portrait of the Alcoholic with Withdrawal
Today is a trumpet to set the hounds baying.
The past is a fox the hunters are flaying.
Nothing unspoken goes without saying.
Love’s a casino where lovers risk playing.
The future’s a marker our hearts are prepaying.
The future’s a promise there’s no guaranteeing.
Today is a fire the field mice are fleeing.
Love is a marriage of feeling and being.
The past is a mirror for wishful sightseeing.
Nothing goes missing without absenteeing.
Nothing gets cloven except by dividing.
The future is chosen by atoms colliding.
The past’s an elision forever eliding.
Today is a fog bank in which I am hiding.
Love is a burn forever debriding.
Love’s an ascent forever plateauing.
Nothing is granted except by bestowing.
Today is an anthem the cuckoos are crowing.
The future’s a convolute river onflowing.
The past is a lawn the neighbor is mowing.
The past is an answer not worth pursuing,
Nothing gets done except by the doing.
The future’s a climax forever ensuing.
Love is only won by wooing.
Today is a truce between reaping and rueing.
The guy Dad sold your car to
comes back to get his money,
leaves the car. With filthy rags
we rub it down until it doesn’t shine
and wipe your blood into
the seams of the seat.
Each snowflake stirs before
lifting into the sky as I
learn you won’t be dead.
The unsuffering ends
when the mess of your head
pulls together around
a bullet in your mouth.
You spit it into Dad’s gun
before arriving in the driveway
while the evening brightens
and we pour bag after bag
of leaves on the lawn,
waiting for them to leap
When the bass drops on Bill Withers’
Better Off Dead, it’s like 7 a.m.
and I confess I’m looking
over my shoulder once or twice
just to make sure no one in Brooklyn
is peeking into my third-floor window
to see me in pajamas I haven’t washed
for three weeks before I slide
from sink to stove in one long groove
left foot first then back to the window side
with my chin up and both fists clenched
like two small sacks of stolen nickels
and I can almost hear the silver
hit the floor by the dozens
when I let loose and sway a little back
and just like that I’m a lizard grown
two new good legs on a breeze
-bent limb. I’m a grown-ass man
with a three-day wish and two days to live.
And just like that everyone
knows my heart’s broke and no one is home.
Just like that, I’m water.
Just like that, I’m the boat.
Just like that, I’m both things in the whole world
rocking. Sometimes sadness is just
what comes between the dancing. And bam!,
my mother’s dead and, bam!, my brother’s
children are laughing. Just like—ok, it’s true
I can’t pop up from my knees so quick these days
and no one ever said I could sing but
tell me my body ain’t good enough
for this. I’ll count the aches another time,
one in each ankle, the sharp spike in my back,
this mud-muscle throbbing in my going bones,
I’m missing the six biggest screws
to hold this blessed mess together. I’m wind—
rattled. The wood’s splitting. The hinges are
falling off. When the first bridge ends,
just like that, I’m a flung open door.
Brokeheart: Just Like That
Better off Dead
My mother was in the hospital & everyone wanted to be my friend.
But I was busy making a list: good dog, bad citizen, short
skeleton, tall mocha. Typical Tuesday.
My mother was in the hospital & no one wanted to be her friend.
Everyone wanted to be soft cooing sympathies. Very reasonable
pigeons. No one had the time & our solution to it
was to buy shinier watches. We were enamored with
what our wrists could declare. My mother was in the hospital
& I didn’t want to be her friend. Typical son. Tall latte, short tale,
bad plot, great wifi in the atypical café. My mother was in the hospital
& she didn’t want to be her friend. She wanted to be the family
grocery list. Low-fat yogurt, firm tofu. She didn’t trust my father
to be it.
You always forget something, she said, even when I do the list for you. Even then.
In the Hospital
She couldn’t stop—she did it
almost every afternoon while
they napped or later sat
upstairs with homework.
She listened to the scrape
of desk chairs on the ceiling
while she measured and blended,
hummed from oven
to sink, redolence rising
in a sweet promise she thought
was required, didn’t know
how to live without,
all her life afraid
to be left empty-handed.
Lisa C. Krueger
Donating the Cake Dome
A man walks into a coffee shop.
But it’s not a joke.
I bought coffee there
Small, with milk.
It’s never a joke
to walk in or out of a shop
unharmed. It’s easy
you aren’t a person
being shot at.
I wasn’t, though
I was there,
and I never knew it.
Did not once
Thinking it now
the moment thins,
and I move back to
other coffee shops
where I never fell, or bled,
I sit for a while
with my regular cup
and feel things collapse
or go on, I can’t tell.
Koko Taylor walked up on John Henry
took the hammer right out his hand
and bent it and twisted it into a fine necklace
and took him to a real nice dinner.
Koko Taylor had twelve thousand wigs.
One she never wore. Just kept at home.
Was enchanted, spun from gold and full of rubies,
and sang to her at night in the voice of her mother.
Koko Taylor wrote songs with a blue ink pen.
Koko Taylor wrote rivers with a blue ink pen.
Koko Taylor wrote the Illinois Central Rail line with a blue pen.
Just got right on her knees and scratched it into the ground.
Koko Taylor was the ghostwriter of seventeen Beatles songs.
Koko Taylor was the inventor of the icebox.
Koko Taylor could play chess with checkers.
Koko Taylor could bake a pound cake in the palm of her hand by winking.
Koko Taylor flew from Memphis to Chicago on a jukebox.
The jukebox could grant three wishes.
Koko Taylor wished for lipstick the color she saw in a dream.
She wished to be born again, under a good sign.
She wished for a better jukebox.
Eve L. Ewing
True Stories about Koko Taylor
abuelita’s hands were a time card she clocked
in and out, morning and night. they were
a pile of dirty sheets at the foot of a bed,
gnarled broomsticks, dustpans, and sooty vacuums,
her hands were soiled rags in yellow gloves,
they were two pillows beaten of mites
and dead skin, her hands were paper towels
and windex on greasy mirrors.
they were many rooms each day.
her hands were a slice of wonder bread
dipped in dark coffee with sugar,
they were cinnamon sticks oozing in farina,
they were ketchup squeezed over a plate
of scrambled eggs and white rice
they were what fed and cleansed
her hands were my hands
rushing to school before work.
564 park avenue
Because words dazzle in the dizzy light of things
and the soul is like an animal–hunted and slow–
this buffalo walks through me every night as if I was
some kind of prairie and hunkers against the cold dark,
snorting under the stars while the fog of its breathing
rises in the air, and it is the loneliest feeling I know
to approach it slowly with my hand outstretched
to tenderly touch the heavy skull furred and rough
and stroke that place huge between its ears where
what I think and what it thinks are one singing thing
so quiet that, when I wake, I seldom remember
walking beside it and whispering in its ear quietly
passing the miles, the two of us, as if Cheyenne or
the lights of San Francisco were our unlikely destination
and sometimes trains pass us and no one leans out hard
in the dark aiming to end us and so we continue on
somehow and today while the seismic quietness of
the earth spun beneath my feet and while the world
I guess carried on, that lumbering thing moved heavy
thick and dark through the dreams I believe we keep
having whether we sleep or not and when you see it
again say I’m sorry for things you didn’t do and
then offer it some sweet-grass and tell it stories
you remember from the star-chamber of the womb
or at least the latest joke, something good to keep it
company as otherwise it doesn’t know you are here
for love, and like the world tonight, doesn’t really
care whether we live or die. Tell it you do and why.
For the Last American Buffalo
Instagram is democratising poetry. For gatekeepers, who work via western frameworks, it is clearly awful. But women of colour, LGBT+ and other marginalised people now have platforms to speak up, and that is not a literary journal. They, who want to make these platforms disappear, generalise the work and say it is craftless and amateurish because the people here haven’t pursued MFAs and whatever other qualifications gatekeepers think is necessary to write poetry.
All art is consumerist in some way: Writer-poet Nikita Gill
Culture and Society
If William Shakespeare was alive today, he would be on Instagram
Poets of Instagram inject new life, fresh voices into poetry genre | CBC News
Culture and Society
A bush in the excitement of its roses could not have bloomed so beautifully as you did then. It was a look I'd like to give this page. For that is poetry: to bring within about, to change.
William H. Gass
In the Heart of the Heart of the Country: And Other Stories (NYRB Classics)
Roses Are Red
poetry as heart of literature
While poets historically focused on producing a few highly thought-provoking poems in a given period of time, social media seems to have changed that. Poets are now expected to produce an absurdly high quantity of poems just to keep readers happy.
The skate culture parody of Instagram poets calls out bad men
I stood at one end of the room and watched him. Between us was a bed and a table and things in a hotel--you know, things that are anonymous and belong to no one. Like a sea or a life. And all I remember is how expensive it was. Not the room, but the feeling.
Three poems by Alex Dimitrov
people in love
Writing About Love
Feeling of being in love
feelings in love
I’ve always thought that writing poetry has very little to do with the intellect. It’s not something one can explain and chat about very easily: certainly not about the making of it. It’s very resistant to explanation. It comes from a place that is occult, in the sense of being hidden. It attends to some of our deepest anxieties and hopes in the same way that dreams do.
Robin Robertson: ‘Writing poetry has very little to do with the intellect’
Culture and Society
i think about this poem a lot. as a single woman in a culture/society that constantly sells romance, i feel isolated. people often refer to themselves as "lucky" when they find someone, but does that mean i am "unlucky"? this poem reminds me that i'm not. thanks, @nktgill
The Perks Of Being The Single Girl
If I spoke prose you'd all find out / I don't know what I talk about.
Jeremy Hilary Boob, Ph.D. - Nowhere Man/Lord Mayor/Max (voice)
Poetry is as intimate as it is non-remunerative, a tiny part of the small word of books where writers lay themselves bare and mine the darkest corners of their lives for art.
Poetry Twitter Erupts over a Plagiarist in Their Midst
Writing & Expression
What would compel someone — even a young, naïve, evidently troubled poet — not just to commit a blatant act of plagiarism, but to tattoo someone else’s poetry on her skin and try to pass it off as her own, on the internet of all places, rendering her humiliating exposure and downfall all but inevitable? Did she secretly yearn to be caught? Did she genuinely believe nobody would notice?
She Had Climbed Into My Story and Worn My Skin
What is the word for a bird, already stunning in its sitting form, opening its wings and the watcher loses their breath?
Ode to My Lover's Left Hand
i have not yet
grown wild enough to believe
in anything i cannot see
with my own eyes.
Silence has always been my loudest scream.
Cry For Help
opened me up
like a book
& poured the
- my personal pen & paper.
- don’t try to waste your time again.
I rejoice in the morning.
despite it all
No matter if I live or die
I Promise Imma meet you on the other side.
The Get Down
Only from Exile Can We Come Home
None of this means it was love.
All of this means it was love.
All the people I half loved who didn’t even half deserve it
Now I know that love is forgetting you, love is not wanting you back, love is falling in love again, love is allowing me to feel angry with you, despair about you, hope about us, and then wisdom that it wasn’t you, it will never be you.
Turns out love is forgetting you – Jessica Semaan – Medium
Love And Loss
Love and Heartbreak
i don’t change the water
i just let them die
and then don’t throw away the dried flowers
I'm Always Letting Beauty Slip Away
It is what makes you human.
Is it? Not conscious thought? Not poetry, or art, or music, literature? Murder. Murder is my heritage.
Dr. Gaius Baltar
Poetry? You’ll stop at nothing to make me talk.
(Neil Patrick Harris)
A Series of Unfortunate Events
The Vile Village: Part One
Stop At Nothing
this is where i come from.
everyone i love still lives there.
A Coworker Asks Me If I Am Sad, Still
If I had a nickel for every time I stayed up too late for someone who would never wake up for me...
If I Got Paid For All My Emotional Labor
Pouring words out into the cosmos that dive deep into love and loss, joy and regret and empowerment, Bianca's words leave a trail of goosebumps across your skin and the gentle knowing that you are not alone.
Bianca Sparacino — The Superstar Instagram Poet Who Will Make You Feel Things
Okay, I'm not going to give up. Solitude never hurt anyone. Emily Dickinson lived alone, and she wrote some of the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known... then went crazy as a loon.
The Secret War of Lisa Simpson
I am familiar with the works of Pablo Neruda.
Bart Sells His Soul
But if the Holy Ghost once more
Should lend his aid to us we'd see
Others perform what Jesus did—
Since in his heartsick anguish he
For years my heart inquired of me
She tells me, 'I don't know how to love anyone with my whole being,'
I tell her, 'I don't know how to not.'
The Kindest Thing She Almost Did
What’s more, is Tinder causing us to skip that vital step where we gauge compatibility in a partner? If we’re all performing, how do we know if the person on the other side is right for us?
Meet the Poet Laureate of Tinder
What is the universe without each sunrise? That’s how we judge our gods, not on their math but their poetry.
Who wants transparency when you can have magic? Who wants prose when you can have poetry? Pull away the veil and what are you left with? An ordinary young woman of modest ability and little imagination. But wrap her up like this, anoint her with oil, and hey, presto, what do you have? A goddess.
Duke of Windsor
Smoke and Mirrors
'S,' because she’s so sublime,
'A,' because she’s awesome all the time!
'B,' because she’s the best babe in school, 'R,' because she really makes me drool!
And 'I' is for the icon she’s become, 'N' is ‘cause she’s great, she makes me numb!
And 'A,' it’s redundant to say, is the great mark she gets everyday! No matter how it’s spelled, Sabrina is unparalleled!
Sabrina, the Teenage Witch
And the Sabrina Goes To...
I want to write a poem for the women on Long Island whose words stretch and curl like bubblegum around the forefinger.
Ode to the Women on Long Island
accepting this body
did not mean convincing myself
that it was beautiful
Some Thoughts On Bodies And Beauty
All sad people like poetry. Happy people like songs.
Above the Vaulted Sky
A bullet held me captive, gun in my face, your hate misplaced. White skin, light skin, but for me, not the right skin.
Dear White People
Black Lives Matter
maybe sore today but
tomorrow is always new.
Muscles And Your Ability To Heal
i play hide and seek with demons
and one of them likes sharp edges
things i do when i'm sad
your shampoo smelled like the riverbank & I wondered if that’s where you went on nights you couldn’t sleep.
Let Me Last A Little Bit Longer
I'm a poet, and I like my lies the way my mother used to make them.
What is this taht I can see
Cold icy hands taking hold of me
for Death has come, you all can see.
Hell has open it,s gate to trick me.
Oh! Death, Oh! Death, can't you spare me, over for another year!
I'll stuff your jaws till you can't talk
I'll blind your leg's till you can't walk
I'll tie your hands till you can't make a stand.
And finally I'll close your eyes so you can't see
I'll bring sexual death unto you for me.
Oh! Death To Nancy
The summer heat is kind at night, and every window in our house is open and welcome to it.
On Loving Every Adventure Ahead Of Us
Our family are an alternate stratification of poetry and mathematics.
it's no longer a mystery watch us go down in history
Kristin Michelle Elizabeth
this will set me free
I'll be your muse
as long as you're my fuse
Kristin Michelle Elizabeth
this will set me free
me, the emotional moon you, the vibrant sun both of us more beautiful when we are one
Kristin Michelle Elizabeth
this will set me free
I was always
the lyrical tune in your ear turned up too loud
you always had a way of turning me down
It's time my beat drowns you out
Kristin Michelle Elizabeth
this will set me free
you might as well be the sky that twinkle in your eye
please don't stop looking at me like that
you bring me right back to life
Kristin Michelle Elizabeth
this will set me free
In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is Your will that I should know You
And turn to You.
Lord, I hear Your call and follow;
Letters and Papers from Prison
find the pocket of your heartbeat
where you keep forgiveness.
we will try again tomorrow
I want to unhook my shadow from the wall and dress it in street clothes.
still in this desert i am pleading for rain,
still i'm hoping there is something to love
Here's To Hoping There's Something To Love Here
need to be loved
A rather serious—maybe too serious—university
student from another country came to Hafiz to
personally ask for his permission to translate some
of Hafiz's poems into a little book.
And he said to Hafiz, ‘What is the essential
quality in your poems that I
need to incorporate in
my translations to make them
abiding and authentic?’
And Hafiz smiled, and placed his arms
on the man's
shoulders, then said, ‘Do you
really want to know?’
And the young man said, ‘Of course.’
‘Well, well then,’ Hafiz began and
‘My poems lift the corners of the mouth—
mouth, the heart's mouth.
And can effect any opening
that can make love.’
Hafiz of Persia
The mystical poet who can help you lead a better life
i'm still mourning every word unspoken since the last time you told me you loved me.
It's As Simple As That
What I can say is that it was clear to many of us that an indigenous African literary renaissance was overdue. A major objective was to challenge stereotypes, myths, and the image of ourselves and our continent, and to recast them through stories—prose, poetry, essays, and books for our children. That was my overall goal.
There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra
African Literary Renaissance
Music resembles poetry, in each
Are nameless graces which no methods teach,
And which a master hand alone can reach.
An Essay on Criticism by Alexander Pope
Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends, I to my own heart, I to seek among phrases and fragments something unbroken—I to whom there is not beauty enough in moon or tree; to whom the touch of one person with another is all, yet who cannot grasp even that, who am so imperfect, so weak, so unspeakably lonely.
my very first memory involves watching her plant roses in a garden
and i’ve written too many poems to call this anything other than symbolic.
My Mother Taught Me To Wear Memories Like A Shadow
The passion doth fly.
Love must be enduring;
The flowers fade by,
Fruit must be maturing.
Song of the Bell
Joy, thou beauteous godly lightning,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire drunken we are ent’ring
Heavenly, thy holy home!
Thy enchantments bind together,
What did custom stern divide,
Every man becomes a brother,
Where thy gentle wings abide.
Ode to Joy
Poetry has the capacity, in its own ways and by its own means, to remind us of something we are forbidden to see.
Poetry and Commitment
Going Beyond The Limits
What Is Denied
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
Wild Geese (Bloodaxe World Poets)
Beside the stove
we ate an orange. And there were purple flowers
on the table. And we still had hours.