collected, Joanna Penn Cooper, Natalie Diaz, Abigail Thomas, Adrian Matejka, Magnolia trees, Hail Mary, University of Virginia Abort, Reginald Shepherd, Alice Anderson, Rachel Mennies, Jennie Malboeuf, Marcus Wicker, Queen Elizabeth, Jay Besemer, heavy metal music, Driest Place on Earth, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simpleton Sarah, Journal Rachel Mennies, Shanna Compton, Marni Ludwig, Emma Winsor Wood, David Kirby, Lori Desrosiers, Gregory Lawless, John Gallaher, Portable Press, Waldman Lori Desrosiers, Joanna C. Valente, Jennifer L. Knox, Monica Youn, Emilia Phillips Essay, Space Chimp, Cecelia Holmes, a trick of the light, Erin Belieu, dead writers, Eduardo C. Corral, Emilia Phillips, Sophie Klahr Frantic, Arthur Russell Eduardo C. Corral, Susan Slaviero
To the Angelbeast All that glitters isn`t music. Once, hidden in tall grass, I tossed fistfuls of dirt into the air: doe after doe of leaping. You said it was nothing but a trick of the light. Gold curves. Gold scarves. Am I not your animal? You`d wait in the orchard for hours to watch a deer break from the shadows. You said it was like lifting a cello out of its black case. 1
For Arthur Russell Eduardo C. Corral
1 Eduardo C. Corral, "To the Angelbeast," in Poetry, collected in Slow Lightning, Yale
Age of Beauty This is not an age of beauty, I say to the Rite-Aid as I pass a knee-high plastic witch whose speaker-box laugh is tripped by my calf breaking the invisible line cast by her motion sensor. My heart believes it is a muscle of love, so how do I tell it it is a muscle of blood? This morning, I found myself awake before my alarm & felt I`d been betrayed by someone. My sleep is as thin as a paper bill backed by black bars of coal that iridesce indigo in the federal reserve of dreams. Look, I said to the horse`s head I saw severed & then set on the ground, the soft tissue of the cheek & crown cleaved with a necropsy knife until the skull was visible. You look more horse than the horses with names & quilted coats in the pasture, grazing unbothered by your body in pieces, steaming against the drizzle. You once had a name that filled your ears like amphitheaters, that caused an electrical spark to bead to your brain. My grief was born in the wrong time, my grief an old soul, grief reincarnate. My grief, once a black-winged beetle. How I find every excuse to indulge it, like a child given quarters. In the restaurant, eating alone, instead of interrogating my own solitude, I`m nearly undone by the old woman on her own. The window so filthy, it won`t even reflect her face, which must not be the same face she sees when she dreams of herself in the third person. 2 2 Emilia Phillips, "Age of Beauty," Poem-a-Day
Essay on Terry Pratchett (A Corollary) It is widely acknowledged that there are two kinds of writers: the living / and the dead. This is false. Given time, a writer will always die. Once dead, they will spend infinitely more time dead / than they did alive. A living writer is therefore only infinitesimally alive. In other words, they`re already / dead. Since dead writers are dead / and living writers are also dead / all writers are dead. To write is therefore to die. But you the reader because / you are the reader are always / alive. If you die you are by definition not a reader. This is the immortality afforded by literature. It is not given to the writer, as so many writers have wrongly supposed. It is given to the reader, and then only so long as they are a reader: it will not prevent somebody who has been a reader from dying. But while you are a reader you are deathless because you are reading. Be kind, then, reader: you are alive / because I am dead. 3
3 Sam Cha, "Essay on Terry Pratchett (A Corollary)," in Boston Review
Space Chimp Lives! Also known as Ham the Chimp or Ham the Astrochimp, he was the first hominid launched into space, and this is how I think of myself, most days, the canary who keeps on breathing. That`s not a fine enough point. Here, the thing is that home is the process of finding yourself at home, how the destination is the process, there`s no place to get to, there`s only the getting to a place. The fact that the Space Chimp lives isn`t the point, but that we are the Space Chimp. Fat lot of good that does the Space Chimp, who also had a real life and then died about the time I was born. Context is everything. Today I read how someone at a museum dropped a pair of glasses on the floor in a gallery, facing out, near the wall, and people started to gather around it and take pictures. Space Chimp Lives. Don`t get me wrong, I also don`t know what to say in desperate moments, when you`re sharing your devastation and pain. I`m very sorry for your loss. That`s what we do, along with a little cute picture of a crying face, downcast with one little tear. How can this be anything other than an offense? The Space Chimp lives, when it wasn`t expected to happen. It` wasn`t expected not to happen either. Maybe a 60/40 thing, being the first hominid shot into space. Like the first person to try putting cinnamon in red sauce. The answer is yes, where life itself is more a spilling of marbles across a floor. Say, for instance, you`ve just been strapped into a tight bucket seat and shot into space, and you think of the Hell in a handbasket line, and you break out laughing. Well, there you go, comic genius. And we break out that song where we`re going to where the water tastes like wine. 4
4 John Gallaher, "Space Chimp Lives!" in boaat
Arrivals After sex sometimes, there is blood on the sheets bright ciphers The hush of the plane. How slow it feels this coming-to-earth These masks falling from above not meant to save us Your beauty no shelter Your word no shelter To consider: I loved a hive of light To consider: I came when he bit my palm For while, we denied everything our therapists said--it was a good way of being together.
A hand on mine in the dark in the dark in the dark In the airport, trembling back to wonder if the oven is on. How a hand curls a little in sleep; the instinct to cup a hand around any flame 5 5 Sophie Klahr, "Arrivals," collected in Meet Me Here at Dawn, Yes Yes
Frantic in the present I sit in a cardboard box until my fever breaks. The clothes I wore with you I keep together in the closet as if they form some communion in the dark. This is the year of seven new years and I want to celebrate my independence by redacting Oklahoma from every map. I am mostly okay. My husband is not a monster and still I am dumbstruck, endlessly pick fights to see how far I can push. I bathe each day in my electrocuting shower and every time come out clean. 6
Anne Cecelia Holmes
6 Anne Cecelia Holmes, "Frantic in the present..." collected in Dead Year, Sixth Finch
Manhattan is a Lenape Word from the ACE Hotel, Midtown It is December, and we must be brave. The ambulance`s rose of light blooming against the window. Its single siren-call: Help me. A silk-red shadow moving like water through the orchard of her thigh. Her, come--in the green night, a lion. I sleep her bees with my mouth of smoke, dip honey with my hands sweetened on the dark and hive of her breast. Out of the eater I eat. Meaning, She is mine, colony. The things I know aren`t always easy. I`m the only Native American on the 8th floor of this hotel or any, looking out any window of a turn-of-the-century building in Manhattan. Manhattan is A Lenape word. Even a watch must be wound. How can a century or a heart turn if nobody asks, Where have all The natives gone? If you are where you are, then where are those who are not here? Not here. Which is why in this city I have many lovers. All my loves are reparations loves. What is loneliness if not unimaginable light and measured in lumens-- an electric bill which must be paid, A taxi cab floating across three lanes with its lamp lit, gold in wanting. At 2 a.m. everyone in New York City
is empty and asking for someone. Again, the siren`s same wide note: Help me. Meaning, I have a gift and it is my body, made two-handed of gods and bronze.
She says, You make me feel like lightning. I say, I don't ever want to make you feel that white. It`s too late--I can`t stop seeing her bones. I`m counting the carpals, metacarpals of her hand when she is inside me. One bone, the lunate bone, is named for its crescent outline, lunatas, luna. Some night she rises like that in me, like trouble--a slow, luminous flux. The moon beckons the lonely coyote wandering West 29th Street by offering its long wrist of light. The coyote answers by lifting its head and crying stars. Somewhere far from New York City, an American drone finds then loves a body--the glowing nectar it seeks through great darkness--makes a candle-hour of it, and burns gently along it, like American touch, an unbearable heat. The siren song returns in me, I sing it to her throat: Am I what I love? Is this the glittering world I`ve been begging for? 7 7 Natalie Diaz, "Manhattan is a Lenape Word," in Lenny
Clementines What fun to wear nothing but a daffodil around your hips and sun yourself in red lipstick! The blonde`s legs long on the sand like hypnotism. I dream of satin castles growing on my chest. My curls look green as sea glass in the pinned-up ocean. When Pop sends me to retrieve a sweating bottle, screws accuse from their bucket, a saw grins across the wall. On every side of the cellar, Beauty is ambushed. How effortlessly Pen Pal lifts her skirt with a letter opener and never slips on the envelopes from hundreds of admirers! Cool length of a knife at her waist. She twists, like the symbol for &. Penmanship is practicable but is pretty? One day I will not be the reflection in Pop`s trophy: all nose and no symmetry. Mother shuffles on kitchen tiles, singing It`s no good unless he loves you. What if I spin myself in gauze and terror too? The redhead`s o-mouth like a third eye catches me pressing the beer to my hip. Clementines peel easily and everyone likes their smell. Her cheeks pucker red and white, the straw stopping her kiss. The rind winds around her finger and all the blossoms cower.
8 8 Shari Caplan, "Clementines," collected in Advice from a Siren, Dancing Girl
from Ma Vie en Bling: A Memoir But I had been striking against geography for a very long time. Or rather, the systems I believed would end my loneliness amplified it, though I managed most days to feign delight in the wide expanses and simple clothing styles of my native land. These systems that amplified my loneliness included cars, airplanes, computers, and telephones. These systems included universities, literary presses, major American cities
, the U.S. mail, and several private mail carriers including U.P.S. and Federal Express. All my breathing apparatus rejected the air around me as not fit for breath and storms turned streets into rivers. There was a city I didn`t always remember, and then once in it, I recalled it like all cities are recalled by birds. There were gas lamps. There were dead sows full of living birds. I thought about the poet Marcia Nardi who wrote as if there were no connection between my being stuck at the ribbon counter in Woolworth`s for eight hours a day at minimum hourly wage, and my inability to function as a poet. I was melancholy and wrote defenses of my melancholy. I totally forgot to shop. The anesthetizing influence of habit having ceased, I would begin to have thoughts, and feelings, and they were such sad things. Anne Boyer 9 9 Anne Boyer, "But I had been striking against..." collected in Garments Against Women, Ahsahta
The Dog and Cat Circus 1. I was less than successful as a teenage calamity. Too much moping, not enough whiskey. Too much Morrissey, not enough conflagration. That was later, for a time. The conflagration, not the whiskey. (No taste for brown liquors.) 2. There`s a word about fear of a regular pattern of holes--the fear of a honeycomb, for example-- trypophobia. What`s the word for fear of holes in the narrative? For fear of lack of narrative? What`s the word for not knowing if your memory is yours, for, Did I imagine it, or did we try to make jello shots using the chilly crawl space of her attic bedroom as a refrigerator? Why would we do that? Certainly the French have that word. 3. It`s dwindling down to discussions of sweaters and chill, of embarrassing pains and, like, whether the root vegetables taste fresh. By it, I mean all of it. Beckett did the dwindling better. 4. Limerence is also a word. A person from 1979 coined it. Limerence is obsessively wanting your eros reciprocated. Limerence is not to be confused with liminality, but when I think of writing a novel, I think my only interesting plots are limerence and liminality. Conflagration and drift. An oarless boat on fire. 5. Why does the dog need so much love? is what I once asked my mother. We all do, is what my mother said back. We all want the Taj Mahal. If we`re lucky, we get 1000 square feet and a dishwasher. 6. The moon. Someone once called on his night away to tell me to look at the moon. 7. I have drifted from conflagration to moony, dog-like love. As I am wont to do. Someone must have a word for that. It may be a word in one of those languages with only 14 speakers left. Joanna Penn Cooper 10 10 Joanna Penn Cooper, "The Dog and Cat Circus"
from The Family Arcana The telephone rings. We have a telephone? Mother finds it under the kindling. Hello? Hello? It`s Grandmother. She`s lost. She says there are tiny huts. She says: Clouds! Rain coming! She says: Tractor people! We go to the usual place, the unusual places, a few other places. Tiny huts? Tractor people? The skies are perfectly clear. Back home Grandmother is alone at the table. She wants to know if there will be creamed turnips with dinner. Jedediah Berry 11 11 Jedediah Berry, "The telephone rings..." collected in The Family Arcana, Ninepin
Instructions for Making Salsa Verde For days the fireflies have been eating my darkness without Gaining weight
. Disappointment is always buy one, get two free if you have the appetite. I have avocado pits and I lick their swollen faces before I crush them open with the flat of the big knife. Study the fireflies, how they turn away when the wind smells too much of rye. Study anger in the bathroom mirror. A rock looks at salt and shivers, because it doesn`t know if salt is a memory or a promise. Find a recipe for that. 12
12 Adriana Cloud, "Instructions for Making Salsa Verde," Noble / Gas Qtrly, collected in Instructions for Building a Wind Chime, Poetry Society of America
C`est La Guerre If I see one more shred of pink rust come peeling off the face of this warehouse tonight. With my bouquet of railroad ties that I plucked from the Union Pacific who`ll witness me. When I`ve found the man who named the road on which you grew up and defaced him. And wearing his father`s crushed suit and his cufflinks I fire your name in his furrows. When I`ve poured his mother a whiskey and coffee and beer-back I`ll learn her our myth. We come from low country with deer ticks in our blood is that what they`re selling. In search of the black horse who spits on the hay and the barley and hunger strikes. Who lost the blue horse he loved and he`ll die with his eye on the wood where she fell. I fire your name in the furrows tonight for the ones who refuse to survive themselves. Who say every five seconds the nations of dead they tell me my job is assuage them. And every five seconds when I tear out their stitches I tear them out five seconds long. It is you with the planks of rotting down barns in your arms I am barreling toward. It is you from the jackshit connivances of yesterday`s scofflaw patrol I will kidnap. And who will say amen if I fell one more empire that was raised from a handful of litter. And who will help quit our mothers who will not quit treading the rafters of savagery. And who will carry our fathers from the ditches where they crashed their radio flyers. With a bouquet of railroad ties in a crushed suit I will field you this question come winter. In the apocryphal gossip of sea kings my face is scrimshaw like they`ve never witnessed. He sunk himself like a dreadnaught into the sea to landmark her joy is that what they say. And who will witness me if I`m one page in a long book of ways to say no with no ending. And if I come to your door come winter in crushed suit with the stitches to prove you. Danniel Schoonebeek 13 13 Danniel Schoonebeek, "C'est La Guerre," Poem-a-Day
The Parade The parade will feature red dragons, drums, sixty horses and a sharpshooter in kimono. Children will receive small flags to wave. Women will receive small children to clutch. You may note we offer five varieties of yellow ribbon. You may note we`ve drained the gunpowder from your firecrackers. Look at how the cherry blossoms squawk and circle before sinking their pink talons into the monuments. The monuments play dead. They are fleshy with granite. Think of these barricades as an embrace of concrete. Look-- how your country longs to hold you. 14
14 Sandra Beasley, "The Parade," in Blackbird, collected in I Was the Jukebox, Norton
from Diving Makes the Water Deep Or with Steve on a slow sweaty train. Hours in, for the absurdity of further heat (one answer to being trapped in heat), we moved to an improbable plexiglass compartment. Sealed ourselves in. Smoked the cigarettes old men smoke, drank hot white wine, traded clothes with some Germans. An Italian puppeteer in a trench coat joined. He and I were in a heated agreement about the necessity of chaos in art, especially in landscape, especially in regions of historic dairy production. Until I realized he wasn`t saying chaos but cows. Ten years ago. Zach Savich 15 15 Zach Savich, "Or with Steve on a slow sweaty train..." collected in Diving Makes the Water Deep, Rescue Press
Elections have consequences and confetti on one side, not the other Suddenly I`m surrounded by republicans. The president. Congress. The senate. Three quarters of the governors and state legislatures are red. I kissed my wife last night and she tasted like Richard Nixon
. The country`s more republican than I am Bob. I`m all Bob in one sense, but in another, I`m half Virginia and half Hershel, so the math checks out. So what becomes of checks and balances now? Imagine asking yourself, Do you think my ideas are brilliant or merely inspired? Republicans will be able to drill for oil in my bedroom if they want. Who`ll stop them--me? Marcel Marceau? Buddha? That guy`s too chubby and fictitious. But now they`ve done it-- the poets are mad. This means the painters are furious at having to listen to the poets. Soon people who sell art supplies will be livid that the painters spend so much time hiding from the poets and not painting color field portraits of nudes. But how do you paint a color field portrait of a nude? O look--I just got distracted by my own poem. I begin to understand why liberals are out of power. Republicans don`t wonder how to paint color field portraits of nudes. They recognize a trick question when they are one. They see the chance to tell women what to do with their babies and take it. They know it`s finally time to give the long-suffering rich the hand-job of a tax break. But what
am I really saying? I guess that I`m at a loss for a rudder, as it requires first and foremost a boat, and I am what technically is referred to as drowning. Or this isn`t over by any means necessary measures will be taken as a whole the center will not hold me closer tiny dancer in the darkness falls on those who don`t check their flashlight batteries first, everyone check your flashlight batteries first and then repeat after me-- America is the greatest and messiest country because whoever wants to be one of us gets to be on the team. Did I just say suck your left-leaning thumb one more week and then get back to work? No, I did not. Two days, tops. 16
16 Bob Hicok, "Elections Have Consequences and Confetti on One Side, not the Other," in diode
An Obituary The way she leaned a chair. The manner in which she danced At her father's funeral. The club Sandwich she spent ninety days In jail for. Did anyone ever ask her How she felt about the falling asleep And waking up routine? Then the way her piss turned dark yellow. Her children moved out And SVEDKA moved in. Clumps of her golden hair in the shower drain. By summer she looked like winter. By winter she was nearly invisible. A broom stood on a front porch. A floor lamp ate its dinner to the blues. The way she took on the shape of a dehydrated fig tree. The manner in which her teeth leapt When she talked about grace. 17
17 Jeffrey Allen, "An Obituary," in The Laurel Review
from IRL Being sprayed on like roaches by capitalism, by metabolic disease, by team sports names, mascots, by general invisibility of being a function of the past, being a feature of the land By forced Indian boarding schools with 20% mortality rate
s-- By the English fucking language with its high beams in my face I`m totally caught off guard when Muse texts me don't respond don't respond don't respond don't spondee respond don't respond Then text five things in a row and fucking kill myself. I mean my phone. Delete Facebook because okay just because in general just bc you hate yourself doesn`t mean yr allowed to be an asshole. Stop fucking posting about Klonopin, or cutting yourself, or throwing up--Save it for a shitty poem like a normal wretch. Boundaries aren`t cages. 18
18 Tommy Pico, "Being sprayed on like roaches..." collected in IRL, Birds
from Beneath the Ice Fish Like Souls Look Alike
No children exist after midnight. The keyholes rest their eyes. A green apple on the sill kneels to its rottenness. Snow angels like fallout hiss....
The mannequin crosses her arms by dropping them. The leather boot remembers how to be skin. The mannequin envies the photograph its light. The boot remembers life as a dark heat inside.
A baby grand`s gutted to make a bed. A cigarette`s stubbed out in the barrel of a .38 held to a head. A domino is on middle C reminds those who`ve forgotten how to play. A moth in the starless day undresses mannequin
A snake coils in the empty toilet. The moon is nothing but the moon. The telephone rings once. The telephone rings twice. 19
19 Emilia Phillips, "No children exist after midnight..." collected in Beneath the Ice Fish Like Souls Look Alike, Bull City
The President`s Dreams I wake up and watch the president walking his dog on TV, so joyful and dangerous, like a small child building his first fire. Downstairs Catullus sits at the kitchen table. He opens a letter with a sparrow. He pours the filings of his heart into the dregs of his coffee. He scrapes his scorched toast clean with a knife. What do you think? I say to my students, is there only toppling? Last week, eleven men drowned in the president`s dreams. Now there is talk of banning his dreams, of planting flowers in the gun barrels of his dreams. Hey man, he says to his advisors, that is beautiful. Now the police stand on each other`s shoulders so they can peer into my heart, while Catullus writes the body is a trapdoor that the soul falls through on the sticky side of a yellow Post-it note. Today the president wakes up and walks his dog and claims suburban Texas as an ally of the Axis of Beauty. Catullus pours his heart down the sink, since you must choose, he thinks, between the heart and the mind. Having both, he thinks, you`ll never survive. He says the word Texas to himself, slowly, many times. 20
20 Gregory Lawless, "The President's Dreams," collected in I Thought I Was New Here, BlazeVOX
What we`re talking about here is brief: an end to these machinations; an age of iron and rust. Perhaps, more accurately, iron then rust. The invariable oxygenation. The cause/adverb/effect. A side note: luminous is something to do with light. This is only your first clue. The title of Consul and the verb console are not even distantly related etymologically. Keep in mind it`s the Latin com plus solari: to comfort. The m becomes an n because ___________. If you go back far enough, you`ll find words are chiseled in stone. If you go back far enough, you`ll find stone. Roman history is a series of formal dinners. Gaul seems to be the broken saucer in the dishwasher. As this is ancient times, remember the dishwasher is an actual person. Olives are inedible without first soaking for seven days in poison. This is your second clue. Eventually, Aurelius found that the problem with his son Commodus was he never listened. Also problematic was his desire to bind men to poles and chew their testicles off. I am the lion, he would say to the crowds, ignoring their shouts for him to act the part of the hero Hercules, this great son of Zeus, clad in lion`s skin during his long labors. I tire of pretending. I will show you even your skin is costume. 21
21 Matthew Minicucci, "What We're Talking About Here," in Kenyon Review, collected in Translation, Kent State
White Noise The sound of the self, or the self`s deletion? Like wind tossing leaves of aluminum foil, Sun-babble cooling in swirls of moon dust. A sterilized music, a soothing unreason. *** An atomized god, or a god`s accretion? The mind`s swimming laps in Styrofoam peanuts, In the latest decrees from the caucus of cretins. Like birdsong in nightmare. The boiling of seas. *** That sandpaper rasping of grief on grief: Lobotomy`s soundtrack, the curdle of semen. We`ve amplified fog and made audible bleach. The sound of our names in the dialect of demons. 22
George David Clark
22 George David Clark, "White Noise," Poem of the Week, collected in Reveille, University of Arkansas
Banana Palace I want you to know how it felt to hold it, deep in the well of my eye. You, future person: star of one of my complicated dooms-- This one`s called Back to the Dark. Scene 1: Death stampedes through the server-cities. Somehow we all end up living in caves, foraging in civic ruin. Banana Palace--the last of the last of my kind who can read breathes it hot into your doom-rimed ear. She`s a dowser of spine-broken books and loose paper the rest of your famishing band thinks mad. · Mine was the era of spending your time in town squares made out of air. You invented a face and moved it around, visited briefly with other faces. Thus we streamed down lit screens sharing pictures of animals looking ridiculous-- trading portals to shoes, love, songs, news, somebody`s latest rabid cause: bosses, gluten, bacon, God--
Information about information was the pollen we deposited-- while in the real fields bees starved.
Into this noise sailed Banana Palace.
It was a mother ship of gold. Shining out between HAPPY BDAY KATIE! and a photo of someone`s broken toe--
Like luminous pillows cocked on a hinge, like a house with a heavy lid, a round house of platelets and honey--
It was open, like a box that holds a ring.
And inside, where the ring would be:
I think about you a lot, future person. How you will need all the books that were ever read when the screens and wires go dumb.
Whatever you haven`t used for kindling or bedding.
Whatever made it through the fuckcluster of bombs we launched accidentally,
at the end of the era of feeling like no one was doing a thing about our complicated dooms-- Helpless and braced we sat in dark spaces submerged in pools of projected images, trying to disappear into light-- Light! There was so much light! It was hard to sleep. · Anyway. Banana Palace. Even now when I say it, cymbals shiver out in spheres. It starts to turn its yellow gears and opens like a clam. Revealing a fetal curl on its temple floor, bagged and sleeping-- a white cocoon under lit strings that stretch from floor to ceiling-- a harp made of glass
incubating a covered · pearl-- We broke the world you`re living in, future person. Maybe that was always our end: to break the jungles to get at the sugar, leave behind a waste of cane-- There came a time I couldn`t look at trees without feeling elegiac--as if nature were already over, if you know what I mean. It was the most glorious thing I had ever seen. Cross-section of a banana under a microscope the caption read. I hunched around my little screen sharing a fruit no one could eat. 23 23 Dana Levin, "Banana Palace," in Poetry, collected in Banana Palace, Copper Canyon
Love Is a Place from Which You Return The fact of others limits me is one thought, that couples with every chance is your last chance. And I mean I when I say you, which is a helpful conceit. Every chance is that you`re not graceful or the miners were rough building their houses on the cliff face as you look up and are clumsy. We will all be miners then. We will burn our ships for fuel. We will turn gold to lead in our pockets trying to swim the river. What I mean to say is that all is well. All`s pretty good right now. The fire`s big and will last the night. What you were having was a bad dream, whether you look at me that way or the sky does. It goes on. It descends. I`m on your side. It`s an elegy to my friend who died or to myself, younger. It descends along the escarpment until its descent starts to feel like floating or like a bunch of kids in a classroom raising their hands and saying yes. The figures there are floating too, between their caves of light. Normally I`d stop there. Stop writing or talking to you, I mean. They`re having their evening meal. I`d want that to close things out, a series of families mock fighting and laughing. There`s always more to say, though, and I`ll never get to it all. Even if I could, I couldn`t. The fact of others rises around me like two hands. They made it into a TV commercial, but once someone meant it, over a fire, orange in the glow. Two floating hands from the darkness. The fact of others couples them to the future. What they hand to you is that there will always be more to say. And a lot of it will be wrong and a lot of it will be right, or feel right, as you`re sick of goodbyes at some point. Well aren`t we all. You will perhaps say history leads somewhere then, meaning you want where you are to be somewhere, and this certainly feels like somewhere, right now. The trail`s narrow along the remote architectural features. Everyone and everything is possibly dangerous, delicate, and the shadows of your imagination paved with quartz and shards of pottery. They long ago departed, 1,000 years maybe. I would tell them anything if they would only ask, but they never ask. I always thought you were the most beautiful one. I always wanted to be beautiful like that, from these caves that don`t speak. These speaking caves that never speak. It`s why we call them that, caves, or the past, or love, because we stand outside in the sun, calling to them. I was caught up in the moment. And no one knows me better than this. 24
24 John Gallaher, "Love is a Place from Which You Return," in decomP
Self-Portrait in a Tanning Bed It`s February & I am the only black girl at Future Tan Tanning Salon I laugh when I enter my private room & see an African mask above the clothes racks I am getting tired of irony naked climbing onto the plexiglass & hearing it creak I wonder like any other moment alone what if I die like this what if the plastic gives & torched by two dozen ultra violet glass rods I gently close the canopy of the Sun Capsule Super Cyclone 350 wrapped in its purple cylinders of light I can see myself reflected back with tiny goggles at first I think I look like a reverse coon with huge black eyes but I like the way I look darker & like a time-traveler how my breasts must sometimes appear like this to my lover I think I`m sad or something worry how much time has passed since I`ve been here 25
Rio Machete Cortez
25 Rio Machete Cortez, "Self-Portrait in a Tanning Bed," in Poets House, collected in I have learned to define a field as a space between mountains, Jai-Alai Books
On the Uncertainty of Our Judgment Oil darkens the river upstream. Another spill, another assurance from our mayor that the water is fine. He drinks a glass of it for the press, their cameras swallow it up. But purely as a precautionary measure, he`s shut down the river water intakes, let the city draw from its reservoirs--or someone has, some water works worker, I imagine, in a grey jumpsuit, two days` growth of hair on his pale face, stinking of loneliness. Everything remains the same since Monday`s spill, my breasts leaking milk onto my sheets, onto the face of my half-lidded baby when I jerk myself awake, asleep, awake, up on my bare feet in the bathroom where the toilet leaks, smells faintly of piss, but in my stupor I keep stepping into puddles, forgetting, distracted, my baby already (I can hear him) stirring. I turn on the faucet. Somewhere deep beneath my house, old lead service lines pull the water up to me, where it burns over my hands. White lead, as described in Alexipharmaca of Nicander: gleaming, deadly, whose fresh colour is like milk, which foams all over. That slight sting my nipples make before the let down begins, but my baby is sleeping. Is he sleeping? Maybe he`s just calm, waiting to open his eyes, little planet. Last night`s storm has escaped his gaping mouth. The fists he shook at the walls are limp now, would slip easily over the rail of his crib like a tiny bow, rise with the music in his dreams, which swell and turn--dark clouds beneath his lids No one knows how far the spill has traveled since it entered the river, if the water has already sluiced the fuel downstream into our pipelines. But we have assurances. What's important here is to recover our losses, says the mayor, meaning the oil, which he has ordered the Coast Guard to vacuum out of the water so it might still be bought and sold. This is a value system not much different from Greece of 15 BC, when Vitruvius wrote about the dangers of commonplace poison. He described the lead workers as having a pallid colour; the fumes from daily casting destroyed the vigour of the blood. But lead was abundant, malleable, with a low melting point--it was easy everywhere. So the ancients used it to shape and solder pipes, sweeten sour wine, line their aqueducts, transport live fish in tanks made from it, knowing its effect on the body. At this hour, there`s almost silence: the metronome of the mechanical swing rocking my boy, the throated note he suckles down. Why do I imagine that water works worker to be lonely? Perhaps he`s walking toward the valve intake now, imagining applause, whistling a jaunty tune, inexplicably happy in the black morning while I hum my boy archaic lullabies, wondering if a mother`s body can filter out bad water, make it sweet. I may be going mad from lack of sleep. Or perhaps it`s lead in the blood--Saturnism, after the planet god, who orbited slowly, but erupted in violence or revelry. I`m trying to teach my son a wariness I don`t abide by--the wound just sutured shut beneath my belly where he was lifted out of me, chord noosed around his neck, into a surgical room, the lights tined around us, silver instruments, physicians spiraling, the shouting, making their assurances. When I asked what was wrong, they set my shivering newborn on my chest as if he were an answer. Should I wake him now, press a burning nipple into his mouth, let him drain my aching breast? From outside a light brightens then seeps from his face. It will pass, the mayor says in every conference with the press. It will pass. Rising toward my son sleeping beneath the window, I feel dizzy, brace myself against the pane, my hand on the glass, wondering how hard I`d have to press to break through. Danielle Cadena Deulen
26 26 Danielle Cadena Deulen, "On the Uncertainty of Our Judgment," collected in Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us, Barrow Street
I was the show-off the pretender the crooner (no that was you) the rowdy the warmonger (who was the peace-monger) I was the frozen game (you were in the melt-down in forward) You were the exhibitionist on top of the bus flashing your mickey mouse you were the concerned grandpapa you were the poverty I was the mentality I was the paucity Our roles had changed We were the courier of lilies of zombies you`d want to dress up and introduce your kids to We were the flesh and the wax We were the star`s cicatrix We were the bouquet with every favorite flower in us in the general proportion o to be changed again and hanging forth from the throats Our passionately lost life 27
27 Valerie Hsiung, "I was the show-off..." collected in incantation inarticulate, O Balthazar
Tell You To the closeness of you, I give up my body You are well-rested Here I am older than you I will tell you something I am a night person, medicated in your bed We live alone in a public place and have deceived each other I want to pay for my crimes I am waiting to be turned into nightingale So many men take your face now I am excommunicated You have simply loved me too long Understand I am fucking Salinger as often as you I want to be looked in the eyes 28
28 Valerie Duff, "Tell You," collected in To the New World
, Salmon Poetry
Tiara Peter died in a paper tiara cut from a book of princess paper dolls; he loved royalty, sashes and jewels. I don`t know, he said, when he woke in the hospice, I was watching the Bette Davis film festival on Channel 57 and then-- At the wake, the tension broke when someone guessed the casket closed because he was in there in a big wig and heels, and someone said, You know he`s always late, he probably isn`t here yet-- he`s still fixing his makeup. And someone said he asked for it. Asked for it-- when all he did was go down into the salt tide of wanting as much as he wanted, giving himself over so drunk or stoned it almost didn`t matter who, though they were beautiful, stampeding into him in the simple, ravishing music of their hurry. I think heaven is perfect stasis poised over the realms of desire, where dreaming and waking men lie on the grass while wet horses roam among them, huge fragments of the music we die into in the body`s paradise. Sometimes we wake not knowing how we came to lie here, or who has crowned us with these temporary, precious stones. And given
the world`s perfectly turned shoulders, the deep hollows blued by longing, given the irreplaceable silk of horses rippling in orchards, fruit thundering and chiming down, given the ordinary marvels of form and gravity, what could he do, what could any of us ever do but ask for it. 29
29 Mark Doty, "Tiara," collected in Poets for Life: Seventy-Six Poets Respond to AIDS, Persea
from Please Bury Me in This As if death was a place and the dream was rectangular. On the wall near the window, my father wrote and underlined, The crows are Nazis in disguise. After he died, I hung his blue paintings in my room to remember his mind. Now I can see through the wall to the sky. ~ I have seen my own breath in the cold. I have seen my own death, Anna Rontgen said holding the first X-ray ever taken-- Her left hand: the bones of her fingers, her wedding ring. Maybe lifting the veil from the bride`s face is the beginning of language. I miss you, or I think about your skin before I fall asleep. In the postcard I keep of a field in winter, a child`s head is tilted back, her mouth open to snow. The awe is held still, says oh and oh and oh. ~ Paper of the body, I pray, the mind. Instead of stillness, as I close my eyes, I want to rip this page into confetti, throw it in the air. I want my mouth close to your ear. Even just the word surprise. ~ Looking down at the floor afterward, my black heels. Take them off, I think--two open, empty mouths. I want to tell you something memorable, something you could wear around your neck. Once a woman next to me on a train whispered, If I could just cut my head off and sit here. I touched my neck, turned toward the view. Like a string between the body and mind, my hand and neck reflected in the train window overlapping trees.
I see it too: a bouquet of knives where the head should be. 30
Allison Benis White
30 Allison Benis White, "As if death was a place..." collected in Please Bury Me in This, Four Way
Mostly I Don`t Want to Have a Son-- too many fears. What if he knows the ancients believed more boys than girls were born in wartime, to account for casualties in battle, leave the world in balance? What if he cannot tell whether or not it is wartime, whether or not his purpose is mere replacement? What if he flees to a field of ice, lucks into a research job itemizing the stomach contents of terns, inducing them to spit up their prey for science? What if he makes a mistake and a bird falls ill, and to spare pain, he must bludgeon her with a rock? What if he forges his home on a reckless coast? What if he has to kill her with his fist? What if he then finds solace in superstition? What if he won`t breathe when passing a graveyard? What if he doesn`t realize so many are murdered that graveyards run for miles? What if he goes blue, endeavoring to avoid the breath of the dead? What if he does not die but instead is damaged? What if he must rely on the aid of a dog? What if he does not care for the dog, and strikes it, and leaves it out to swelter, and someone yells I`D HATE TO SEE WHAT YOU WOULD DO TO A CHILD, and runs off? I don`t want to have a son. A daughter is simpler. All she needs to learn is neither to speed nor be caught, and if she is caught, make him follow her to a parking lot, somewhere bright and unclosing, before she cuts the engine. Always ask to see a badge. 31
31 Natalie Shapero, "Mostly I Don't Want to Have a Son--" in Typo, collected in Hard Child, Copper Canyon
from Read Read it again, we murmur, again. Read it. The shadow of the ax falls across the drawn shade of the window behind the bed as the room echoes with the fearsome words in which the deception is dropped: The better to eat you with! Though that charged Q& A remains important, we`ll always wish our heroine had said something like What the fuck are you looking at! or even just As if! Something tough, proving she`s no fool, she`s a survivor, even if it reminds us that she wasn`t brought up well--if she had to stay at all, if she had to speak. Fuck you, we imagine her scoffing (and we imagine ourselves cheering her on: say it), you pathetic little shit. And then everything should happen at once: the window`s glass crashing in, an ax swinging down, a spray of blood fanning up around the leering jaws and lolling tongue, and the glee in the wolf`s eyes extinguished. At last. Then Red, with a bad case of Stockholm syndrome and her lifetime membership in the Sierra Club, crying on the floor beside the body: You... you could have just trapped him... you could`ve released him in [sniff] Wyoming or... something... Ah, my dear, my dear ...this breed, Grandma gently laughs, stepping away from the podium, is in no danger of going extinct! Laura Mullen 32 32 Laura Mullen, "Read," collected in Complicated Grief, Solid Objects
In the First World The moon is pink. Husks of cicada and hummingbird corpses litter the sidewalk. Our daughter plots a ceremony at her plastic table. She draws a picture for your grandmother who isn`t dead. She whispers thank yous for tiny teddy bears, stolen from your other grandmother`s bed. The one who is dead. She counts to seven and tells me I have stolen a letter from the alphabet; I have stolen the eight. Here, the people eat endless appetizers and die from sadness. Amelia Martens 33 33 Amelia Martens, "In the First World," collected in The Spoons In the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat, Sarabande
Instructions for Learning a foreign language
Most cruelty begins with loneliness. The ways, the colors, how pain makes us a canvas. If I wanted a name for every kind of ache, I would need more words. It begins with turning into something I don`t want to be. My mother. A well. When your girlfriend picks up after the twelfth ring I say the cruelest thing I can think of: my name. Someone tried to hurt the sky too, and the moon is a chipped fingernail. Was it beautiful? Only in the way that all endings are. 34
34 Adriana Cloud, "Instructions for Learning a Foreign Language," collected in Instructions for Building a Wind Chime, Poetry Society of America
from Diving Makes the Water Deep 71. My course on The Literature of Longing would include the moment in Canto V of Dante`s Inferno when the lovers abandon the pretense of reading (That day we read no more) and the moment with a woman I met when I was sitting at a bar reading (she asked if I wanted some of the bread from her plate), who had a copy of the Inferno from the public library
in her car, and I read her that passage, and then we read no more. 72. Half an hour later, in the parking lot of an apartment complex (she`d taken me to see a tree she liked). A sudden battering. Woman at the windshield. Help I woke up he was hitting me he has a gun he`s coming back. We stood with her for a long time under a tree, waiting for the police. Holding hands. The three of us. Zach Savich 35 35 Zach Savich, "My course on the Literature of Longing..." collected in Diving Makes the Water Deep, Rescue Press
Note Found in a Copy of A Midsummer Night's Dream Lesley says she's going to write ya so I thought I'd say hello first! I'm glad you two made up. You're a great great guy and Lesley deserves the best. Well gotta go! I love Jacob! Bye - Robyn. Judging by the abrupt disappearance of highlighter, I`d guess he gave up during Act Two. He? She? Did Bryan leave it here, or was it never delivered? Bryan, I did want to do what we did last night! I just felt sick and like it would take all of my energy! I did not do anything that I did not want to do! Through the windows of the library the leaves shiver to the tune of Max Bruch`s Scottish Fantasy. It all tastes of the jammy fingers that last handled these headphones. Everything we did I wanted to happen! You didn't make me do anything! If I didn't want to do something or didn't want you to do something I would of said something to you about it! It`s the moment when Helena pursues Demetrius into the forest. Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me, Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave, Unworthy as I am, to follow you. Evidence is emerging to suggest that Shakespeare`s plays may have been written by a sexually liberal daughter of Jewish musicians. Bryan, I love you and I don't want you to feel like you raped me! In the film, they`re on bicycles, and Calista Flockhart, perhaps surprisingly, holds her own. I wonder if there`s a cafeteria on this floor.
You DIDN'T so I wish you wouldn't feel that way! Barbara Johnson has an exceptional essay on the usage of the second person address somewhere on these shelves. I will not stay thy questions; let me go, Or if thou follow me, do not believe But I shall do thee mischief in the wood. Finally, here comes the rain. Even inside, the smell of hot pavement gives the Reading Room an erotic humidity. Have Akiko Suwanai`s recordings of the Fantasy sold better than others` because of the cover photo of her, lounging with her luscious hair raining down? You are a pretentious patronizing dickwad. Well, I have to go now and pay attention to Professor Roberts. I Love You W/All My Heart! Her dotage now I do begin to pity. Love Always, Lesley Anne Busch. I could give this to Mike Roberts who might call the police or at least a student counsellor. Not that it would change much. Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex. How many wives have, on occasion, just lain back and let their men get it over with? Probably all of them. How many men had the senses to notice, and feel anger or guilt? Fare thee well, nymph; ere he do leave this grove Thou shalt fly him, and he shall seek thy love. And which would have been worse for them losing the note, or having someone return it? Akiko Suwanai tears through the final runs of the Fantasy, her hands damp from the rain that is peppering the library windows. Bottom, with his ass-head, gropes his way toward the spellbound queen. 36
36 Adam Sol, "Note Found in a Copy of A Midsummer Night's Dream," collected in Complicity, McClelland & Stewart
Ard Na Mara Catherine and John said it meant beside the sea. I thought it meant above, because the house was above a pasture swooping down to the tide, a thirty-foot drop. You`d step through layers of grass and manure-smell to the red, leathery weed splashed across the rocks, and then looking up, you`d feel dwarfed by the one wall left standing-- a fragment of Sweeney`s castle--just a stone wing-blade, but you got the idea: fortress, and the fear of raids. Later when I first read the opening of the Agamemnon, I thought the Greek signal fires must have been lit on points like this, the war won but not over, the flames a signal to begin learning the next thing to dread. The Dobbyns long ago had turned the hayloft into a room to let. There was a shred of linoleum, a cot with spring, and a low sink, the kind to bathe a baby in. Knives, forks, butane, and windows on three walls. A red door with a latch opened onto cement stairs leading down to a toilet in the barn. Me pissing with the cows, those enormous, contented breathers. I spread a sleeping bag on the cot and slept at an angle so I could look out to the point. I had a Hermes Rocket to type on. The war in Viet Nam still ongoing, but I was well out of it, as far as I could get. I went in to Donegal once a week for newspapers and wine gums. For rent I helped John milk the cows and tend to the hay all through the summer. In return I got the earliest hours of the day,
and during storms, the whole afternoon free. I stayed put, tried not to leave the farm. I never saw the ruins of a chapel in the next pasture over, and only now have I learned that a sixth-century monk named Aedh had made his cell in the crawlspace there. Now there are metal roadside markers, and a guidebook to his gravestone, an upright bolt of granite, as tall as I am, rough-hewn, rounded, mossy, and chiseled smooth in front. At the top, like a halo, an incised, long-armed Maltese cross in a wide circling rim, a sign, the book says, of an art in transition, the pagan monolith crowned with Christian radiance. To the right and below the wheel is a three-sided Celtic knot-- symbol of the Trinity--a weave that makes me imagine Aedh`s bones, the arms and legs folded neatly over one another. I stand above him in the mid-day quiet and remember how deeply I resented the cars that sometimes sped by on their way west. I stirred as little as I could, sought out no one. I loved the sweet silence of hay as it cured, and the labor too, the mowing and tossing, letting grass breathe itself dry. Even the raucous, oily baler, an old engine with flying ropes, and compacting magic, dropping bales behind for me to pick up and bring in on the back of a tractor cart. I would heave them to the loft, then climb bale upon bale to wedge them into dusty corners, the weight of each locking the other down. I worked with single-minded intent, the way a calf might plunge its nose into a milk pail.
I felt a little like the cows too, the way they knew exactly where they belonged. They walked themselves in from the field, did nothing but chew and stare while I fiddled with the milking tubes. Each summer night was a long prelude and a short darkness. I would eat late and alone in my room-- scrambled eggs, rice. I could hear the pub in the village warming up as I went to bed between nine and ten. Sunlight would angle low into the room sometimes, and I would feel vaguely visited, though I could hardly say by what. My knuckles would ache, and my breath would quicken, as if I were late, or had to get somewhere in a hurry, though I didn`t know where. I would lie in bed, eyes open, fingers behind my head. Though I had nothing to worry about, I worried. I would watch that light as it passed through the window as if it had a mind of its own. It would reach across my room out to the field and trees that stood between me and Aedh and his grave. In the morning I woke before the cows. Sometimes I could see the bay, but mostly it was a mist or a fog or a shifting cloud cover. I would heat water for tea, and sit at my table and lamp while the sunlight, wherever it was, nibbled at the dark. I wrote in a lined spiral notebook as much as I could. I wanted to tell why I joined and how I came to quit the war. The feeling the words gave me was as the light did the night before. 37
37 Fred Marchant, "Ard Na Mara," in Post Road Magazine, collected in The Looking House, Graywolf
[I gave myself to Him--] I thought it something small. Everything was. Girling from one party to another--I was the prettiest abbess, my wimple crisply folded, my cocktail habit vaccinating me against all thought. Amor vincit omnia engraved the length of my thigh, my pictures all black-barred. Yes, I was a yes girl. Yes, I had such fun I can`t say I remember. But gradually a heresy took hold-- et tu, Brutal, broke across the horizon like a hand snuffing out the sun. For all your cruelties, you`re the Him that I write to, letter after letter, requesting only that you return me to my prior state. Have pity on a girl of Catholic tastes. I want the same as anyone, just more, and faster. Make nice, make haste, I say, and never yield. 38
38 Rebecca Hazelton, "[I gave myself to Him--]" in Pleiades, collected in Fair Copy, Ohio State
Inseminator Man When I call him back now, he comes dressed in the silver of memory, silver coveralls and silver boots and a silver hard hat that makes no sense. The cows could not bombard his head, though the Lilies and the Buttercups, the Jezebels and Mathildas, avenged their lot in other ways like kicking over a pail or stomping on his foot. Blue welt, the small bones come unknitted, the big toenail a black cicada peeling off its branch. ··· It wasn`t hard to understand their grudge, their harbor of accumulated hurts-- imagine lugging those big tits everywhere, year after year. Balloons full of wet concrete hung between their legs like scrotums, duplicate and puffed. I remember grappling with the nipples like a teenage boy in a car`s backseat and how the teats would always fill again before I could complete their squeezing out. At night, two floors above them in the half-demolished barn, my hands ached and made me dream of cows that drained until the little stool rose off the ground and I found myself dog-paddling in milk. ··· The summer after college I`d gone off to live with women who`d forsworn straight jobs and underwear and men. At night the ten of us linked hands around a low wire-spool table before we took our meal of vegetables and bread. Afterward, from where the barn`s missing wall opened out on Mad River, which had no banks but cut an oxbow flush with the iridescent swale of the lower fields, I saw women bathing, their flanks in the dim light rising like mayflies born straight out of the river. ··· Everyone else was haying the lower field when he pulled up, his van unmarked and streamlined like his wares: vials of silvery jism from a bull named Festus who--because he`d sired a Jersey that took first place at the Vermont State Fair in 53-- was consigned to hurried couplings with an old maple stump rigged up with white fur and a beaker. When the man appeared I was mucking stalls in such heat that I can`t imagine whether or not I would have worn my shirt or at what point it became clear to me that the bull Festus had been dead for years.
··· I had this idea the world did not need men: not that we would have to kill them personally, but through our sustained negligence they would soon die off like houseplants. When I pictured the afterlife it was like an illustration in one of those Jehovah`s Witness magazines, all of us, cows and women, marching on a promised land colored that luminous green and disencumbered by breasts. I slept in the barn on a pallet of fir limbs, ate things I dug out of the woods, planned to make love only with women, then changed my mind when I realized how much they scared me. ··· "Inseminator man," he announced himself, extending a hand, though I can`t remember if we actually spoke. We needed him to make the cows dry off and come into new milk: we`d sell the boy calves for veal, keep the females for milkers, and Festus would live on, with this man for a handmaid, whom I met as he was either going into the barn or coming out. I know for a fact he didn`t trumpet his presence, but came and went mysteriously like the dove that bore the sperm of God to earth. ··· He wore a hard hat, introduced himself before I took him in, and I remember how he graciously ignored my breasts while still giving them wide berth. Maybe I wore a shirt or maybe not: to say anything about those days now sounds so strange. We would kill off the boys, save the females for milkers I figured as I led him to the halfway mucked-out stalls, where he unfurled a glove past his elbow like Ava Gardner in an old-movie nightclub scene. Then greased the glove with something from a rusted can before I left him in the privacy of barn light with the rows of cows and the work of their next generation while I went back outside to the shimmering and nearly blinding work of mine. Lucia Perillo 39 39 Lucia Perillo, "Inseminator Man," collected in The Body Mutinies, Purdue University
Amanda Hopper`s House It was a farmhouse for killing, the kind I saw in the paper above a row of senior portraits: girls found in the basement. Frosted eye-shadow, bangs like birds` nests. Girls I saw and said to myself: good. they deserve it. The stupid sluts' sit on my tongue. I swallow, but the stupid sluts stick there like chicken bones. Like Amanda`s older sister, Gloria, splayed across the hood of her boyfriend`s Chevy Nova. From the breakfast table we watch him open her dry skinny legs and press his belt buckle into her denim crotch. It`s 9 am and they chew grape gum. We follow the unfurling snail silhouettes of their French kisses as Mrs. Hopper looks out, wary, from behind the newspaper headline: Body of Missing Teen Found in Family Shed. She fishes in her pink robe for a pack of cigarettes, places a menthol between her feathering lips, flicks her lighter, picks her cuticle, tells us out the corner of her mouth to stop gaping and eat our fucking Lucky Charms. 40
40 Karyna McGlynn, "Amanda Hopper's House," collected in I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl, Sarabande
The Future is One of Place The future is one of place devoid of race. A jawbone under a sock is a geological clock. The plunking of rain on the termite-riddled windowpane: reading a Bible on that ledge is a tiny college. A Galapagos tortoise is killed (or, simply, unwilled). The Ebola virus weeps, or retires, because, like us, it tires. Meanwhile, below the subbasement, a Suede Revolution: the phlegmatic skill of the cryptographer soixante-huitards the teleprompter. The id in facsimile is suspended on a leash, twisting in the rain above that goddammed windowpane. Being is slightly corrupted by the Thinking that`s one-upped it (like the pun on pain) and will never love again. 41
Brian Kim Stefans
41 Brian Kim Stefans, "The Future is One of Place," in Poetry
Mechanized Bride The phenomenon is sex by proxy, the (re)insertion of rogue text. I am (hyper)textual, an alien automaton (dis)arranged by median nerve fibers. You jacked in to my dollslot, called me a slick witch. Your chimerical heroin(e). We are (re)configuring this utopia where every phantasm is a cyborg butterfly. What skull drugs figure in your iridium correlations? I am (self-)aware, a new version of noir slut to your outlaw player. I add horror to your hypothesis. 42
42 Susan Slaviero, "Mechanized Bride," collected in Cyborgia, Mayapple
Evolutionary Pleasures l was talking to this man, this laser-eyed blindster, about my substantial experience dealing with the platypus, so I talk about the platypus a fair amount, because how can you not, right? l mean it`s a fucking bird, it`s a fucking mammal, and he looked at me and he said, That`s what you do, isn`t it, you`re always making it about the platypus, but then it surfaced that despite his having occasion to meet the platypus and his having dealt cards to them on his own recognizance, watched them frolic in the grass and grow shiny in the remainders of the day, okay, so, he`d even recorded it, some kind of episode with a razor, that this man had not a single intimate idea about how to actually see a platypus, or smell a platypus, no way of really going at it nose-level, no way of getting outside of his own perceptual disfiguration of the platypus. It was a real heroic kind of creative literary blindness, career-worthy school-built Frankensteinian winsomeness, like this epic white smog of genius the mystery of this man`s failure to just let the fucking platypus be, let me tell you, like, give me some thick fucking description of the platypus, that just conversating about the platypus, forgetting of course the magisterial evolutionary question of its genome, I might as well have been talking about an ocelot, ocelot, in fact, being a word l used while speaking with him in a completely unacceptable and erroneous manner, as in my saying, when I said to him, I ocelot through meetings by grinding a hole in the underside of the conference table with the metal tip of my mechanical pencil. I chew the resulting filings between my front teeth and make a little growl that could be throat-clearing. I said this and then he nodded, and I thought maybe he thought he was in danger and it would be better to nod, but I tell you it was a quiet night and there wasn`t much at this party except for the usual wild rocket hugging the walls smelling mustardy, okay maybe a few white kids committing a bit of autostripping in their third degrees, but nothing I wouldn`t say was called for at a time wherein illegalism is a kind of antianti-reparational beacon practiced at the highest levels of all three branches of whatever you want to call it, government, institutionalism. But I wasn`t talking about government, I was talking about the platypus, I wanted to talk about the platypus, the sunken projectile hybridity of its idiosyncratic head, what is the nature of its fleshy border, what is its face, the timbre of its call a kind of shuffling of air, the limpidity of its milk, the tender division of the egg by the birthing puggle, its labile form like a waxed bird smoked at the tips, the bill chock full of sensory organs, the tail a library of lifesaving fat. I wanted to talk about the platypus and what it can do but a great violence was growing within me and Nietzsche called out from the homosexual health spa of heaven just northwest of this man`s boyish fan of man hair that When I think of all of the work I`d done to admit to the platypus why don`t I devote some time to those dry forgotten corners of sweet cheese you luxuried in your youth, your ceaseless mental gropes of the poor yellow-pitted bandleader, the fine freed bananas you`ve browned to the negligent song of your bitching hours, Okay? he asked. Just visualize that vial of misgifted perfume you spent on the toilet, spiteful gold in the Ostern tint, then you! Your precious spray on sheets born to rags. And then you cogitate on that smart, funny actress of some repute you and a much drunker and susceptible friend propositioned at that pseudo-chichi afterparty out of an infinitesimally negligible desire to actually do her, there she was sitting next to her minced-pie-faced husband and she said, My, I am flattered, but she knew and I knew, even the friend who`d later spray vomit the promotional Vampyre Blood Vodka martinis across the white kitchen tile recently installed by the silent, murderous super, that you did it so could say it, that you would never survive bleaching it back to the whiteness, the end of my desire, and so you talk a great fucking game about the platypus. Sara Jane Stoner
43 43 Sara Jane Stoner, "Evolutionary Pleasures," collected in Experience in the Medium of Destruction, Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs
To spectate is a verb that does not mean to watch. It is intransitive. Although the Latin root spectare means to watch; nonetheless, it is wrong to say you spectate me; but not wrong to say you watch me. If you spectate you become multiple; you are an audience defined by your attention to the spectacle. If I am the spectacle, I become temporal; bounded in time. I am an event now, a kind of show.
Exhibition of the Hanged Man
I entertain visitors. There are new entrances to my body, their edges outlined in blacks and grays and reds like the entrances to the face of a young girl. 44
44 Monica Youn, "Exhibition of the Hanged Man," in The Paris Review, collected in Blackacre, Graywolf
Slow Crescendo In the crime shows I`ve been watching, things culminate into worst case scenarios and long drawn-out scenes of broken pool cues and smeared mascara. A Rottweiler lies down in the snow to die with the prostitute he swore to protect. Around here, all that happens is I wait until four to nap and then have to listen to the family below get home and clomp around like a drunk fourteen year-old in a tube top and clogs. A whole family
made up of multiple copies of the same drunk girl and her sad feathered hair. I should put more beautiful words to this. I should say, the near October light through blinds. Or just, I have a proto-human growing in my abdomen. He weighs a little more than a can of Coke. Yesterday was cracked and somber, and I made my way uptown, seeking out any odd moment to be weird and gentle after a bummer of a rough morning. Then I lay in a darkened room while a Caribbean lady jabbed a sonogram wand at me to get Peanut to pose right. He acted pretty put out. I wanted to cry. The screen on the wall showed the bones and snow. The beautiful part is that everything`s fine. I`ve been off coffee, and much of my life is a slow movie on an art gallery wall. You climb into a room with pillows on the floor and watch it all swim around. You are in love with someone you just met, who`s lying there, too. You barely touch, but you`re also the same person. Part of the movie is a tiny spine, tiny kidneys. A four-chambered heart. Look at all the wonder. Joanna Penn Cooper 45 45 Joanna Penn Cooper, "Slow Crescendo"
God of gas station bathrooms And of girls held hostage Inside their own bedrooms-- Girls driven in the ambulance Of their mother`s car To the nearest lockdown. Half girls turned tomBoys turned zombie, Drool, beauty-child. And memory That warm slop of honey, Seeping. No way to stop it And its gorgeous hurricane of bees. 46
46 Cynthia Cruz, "Breaking Glass," collected in The Glimmering Room, Four Way
What Fire Was That Tonight all the stuffing pours out of your father-- the night sprayed with grease. The night like a lantern flashing inside a girl. You ride toward the fires. You ride toward your father as you would the sea. Your horse means business. Its eyes like parsley, its teeth like shot glasses. Poor father. The fog batters everything. It eats and eats. The homesick constellations: The Northern Tire Iron, The Quilt of Marbles, The Glitter-Sling, are torn down now by the fog. When the ride is over your father is there burning like a rest stop in the mountains. You smell the charred rafters. You knock, knock, but no answer. Your horse will not enter. And you go in now, you go in. 47
47 Gregory Lawless, "What Fire was That," in Drunken Boat, collected in I Thought I Was New Here, BlazeVOX
Writing past midnight as usual I enter a poem with one idea, end up writing another. You are already asleep for hours. I lie down beside you, reach out. You hold my hand for a while, then fall back to sleep, snoring. My breasts are round as similes, each nipple an exclamation point, vagina warm as a slant rhyme, my hands and fingers are verbs. I come quietly beside you, a flutter of breeze, a small wave. My body freed of words, your breath lulls me to sleep. 48
ah, the desire, ah, the writing... --Anne Waldman
48 Lori Desrosiers, "Night Writing" collected in The Philosopher's Daughter, Salmon Poetry
The Moon Moth Lives for a Week after Emerging You are in a new house. It is your fifth birthday. The Charles River shushes your tantrums, infrequent as they have become. The moon moth is an introvert. Her wings light up the night like limes but she prefers her Sycamore hollow. Here is an insect that understands you. At two, you wanted out only in rain, when everyone else hid and you held your own roof. Now, you lead the four year-olds in the march of naughty coconuts, with a bucket on your head, an oak pod on your nose. At five, I too was a red kite tugging all the bows behind me. But I was quieted by men who thumped behind me in their cars, chewing at my plaid. The moon moth`s tail can be bitten off by predators without harm to her. Small freed valve of the heart, I used to be an excellent singer, never apologizing for improvisation. Hannah, you are fivebeautifulfive while I am learning that the moon moth has no mouth as an adult, and this is the reason she dies. 49
49 Shari Caplan, "The Moon Moth Lives for a Week After Emerging," in Drunk Monkeys
Jersey City Poems A swirl of trash-- I`m dodging it. A gust of nasty wind. Now you`re about to be even more remote. Look at me, complete bitch with nowhere to go. Companion in tan pants. I am what to you? My people wear sneakers while they hunt and fish, short perms, cuntish, so I shouldn`t say something is wrong with you because you grew up in an asshole place. Together we made our way here where the neighbor`s noise drives you deeply inside, where each A in my name becomes a long pit, a grave, where I`ve got something in my tooth, some smudge on my face, something off, wrong, nothing light now. Nothing lit up, bright, aflame. Who called out to me when my pace slowed Skank, the voice said, The razor wire that`s around anything nice shining in the dark. The thing is I am a thing walking, another nothing, can to be crushed, bone to be chewed He moistens his lips in the street light and waits or wait, am I the man? I am. Asking the price, setting the time.
Every tank top is frayed and too tight, summer too deep to come out of, every thought overripe, so sweet before it reeks. I will use the two more years I have of youth spend thrift, waste them, trash them. 50
50 Laura Cronk, "Jersey City Poems," in The Seventh Wave
Look upon me. Minerva`s done this. In the blue depths human hair floats willfully and now, above, mine slithers, fixed; I am in love with it. As far as Poseidon, I remember clearly sliding throughout the bulge of the sea, some of it getting in me-- that it made me jolt and buck with its implacable shifting, its twisting. Released like some bone-bereft jellyfish, I am now one of those, all head and hair, and hope never to return to the beforehand; I am a mother of myth. Cursed by my kind, I am more than what were once my kind; winged horses burst from me Medusa, Medusae. 51
51 Julia Leverone, "Anew," in Posit
I`ve never seen the land of milk and honey, but at the Iowa State Fair I glimpsed a cow fashioned of butter. It lived behind a window in an icy room, beneath klieg lights. I filed past as one files past a casket at a wake. It was that sad: a butter cow without a butter calf. Nearby I spied a butter motorcycle, motorcyclesized, a mechanical afterthought I thought the cow might have liked to ride. You don`t drive a motorcycle; you ride it. But not if you`re a butter cow, not if you`re a butter cow who`s seen, if not the land of milk and honey, the land of milk, and dwelled within it. It had a short life span, the butter cow. Before it died, I looked deep into its butter eyes. It saw my butter soul. I could have wept, or spread myself, for nobody, across dry toast. 52
52 Andrea Cohen, "Butter," in Poetry, collected in Kentucky Derby, Salmon Poetry
I Am Not Built for Dead bodies--my people in their tsarist shanties wouldn`t have come seen one, only attending funerals for their own. They came to this land of table wakes and windowed typhoid caskets so I could have a new life mourning those whose books permit remembrance in the open light. America: the old bureau that fell on me when I opened too many drawers. Someone approach and remove it, please, but not you or you or you--yes, now I see everyone good is gone, for everyone good I`ve averted my eyes and sung OH LET THE CIRCLE, and all remaining compatriots are awful: despots too old to be tried, artists in want of adulation, the couple where the woman has a kind of tic and makes a racy comment every twenty minutes. She sucked off a stranger, she told me, during a stay in the French Quarter, and her husband snapped then in her turtle face: NOBODY CARES. EVERYONE HAS A PAST. 53
53 Natalie Shapero, "I am not Built for Dead," in Typo, collected in Hard Child, Copper Canyon
from Please Bury Me in This Even the word depression: I am pretending to be alive. In the Sussex house, I remember reading, Woolf practiced her dialogue out loud lying in an empty bathtub. I`m talking to myself with one hand in my hair. As I decrease, with my head back and my eyes closed, God increases. This is a black glove pulled off slowly, one finger at a time. As in my aunt`s slanted longhand, When the train stopped in Auschwitz . . . Alone in the backyard, I remember learning to twirl a baton as it grew dark--the silver, gleaming wheel. This will mean everything: to keep it moving. ~ Or love: to be injured in the same way at the same time. After my father died, I drew a man in chalk on the living room floor and curled under his arm. This is to say until the rain is streaming down the walls. Every page a pulse, Dickinson wrote in winter. Whatever happens after this, I am tired of saying, A herd of black horses. A herd of black horses. And look how they run so closely together, like everything that hurts and can`t be seen. Someday I believe, in order to be free, what I say will trample me. Allison Benis White 54 54 Allison Benis White, "Even the word depression..." collected in Please Bury Me in This, Four Way
Your Mother Wasted a Year Your mother drank nine million tequila gimlets Your mother wanted them foamy Your mother read Fifty Shades of Grey Your mother walked up Rugby Road feeling restless feeling that teenage feeling feeling spoiled Your mother walked up Rugby Road singing Summer is ready/when you are and it was summer Your mother walked up Rugby Road listening to Summer is ready/when you are and it was technically the last day of winter/the magnolia bulbs were hard knobs against the gray sky/you were a hard knob against your mother`s pelvis/she lifted her feet one by one by Your mother`s manicure was Blue-Away and impeccable Your mother`s lipstick was NSFW Your mother drank seven Estonian beers Your mother poured that year down the drain like the coffee in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Your mother knew that waste is luxury Your mother said I don`t want to grow up I want to spoil Your mother didn`t want to lose weight Your mother didn`t want to do homework Your mother didn`t want to lean in Your mother didn`t want to preregister for daycare Your mother lost touch with all her friends Your mother only played video games Your mother leveled up but not IRL Your mother held the domestic record for longest quickening chain in Final Fantasy XII Then your father achieved the same score but only after Your mother knows it`s mean to say the year in which you were conceived is a year she wasted Your mother knows that now that you, the trace of you, exists, she can never waste anything again
Your mother knows that can never means should never but also will never be able to Your mother knows that she can never means she is not Your mother knows that when you made your shape known she folded up her I Your mother holds you in her pocket like a ticket Your mother could not lift her head from the sofa on New Year`s Eve Your mother said why didn't anyone invite me anywhere for New Year's Eve Your mother used to think what if I threw myself under a truck Your mother thinks what if I let you kill me Your mother painted your room blue because you`re supposed to be a girl Your mother was denied financing Your mother walked up Rugby Road and Pretty Good Year came on and she thought Your mother used to feel bad about the boys she couldn`t love Your mother knows you are her opus Your mother wrote you all over her diary Your mother put you on her google calendar Your mother knows she will get the reminder Caolan Madden 55 55 Caolan Madden, "Your Mother Wasted a Year," in Posit
CHICORA, 1895 Lake Michigan Cups and plates spilled into the lake, a terrible clattering lost among splitting timbers. The fury was so great it exceeded sound, numbed the ears of a coal passer, who paused, mute on the tilted deck, and spotted the dishes in torrent and foam. They looked as though they were soaking in soap suds. A dipper from a gravy bowl spinning on the surface, cream from a milk crock swirling in liquid as dark as the sky. Some men he knew had already tasted it-- were sinking beneath a new milky way. 56
Cindy Hunter Morgan
56 Cindy Hunter Morgan, "Chicora, 1895," collected in Harborless, Wayne State
Against Amnesia Everyone knows that if a tree falls in the woods, and no one hears it, it makes no sound. That if an orgasm sighs in the dark, and no one listens, the sigh is silent. If God flames among the bushes, and there is no Moses nearby, His words are like the mumblings of a madman. For the trees, like the orgasms, like the flames and God, must share their shadows, their thoughts, their loneliness in order to exist at all. If an orgasm does not dream the world and all its aspects, the world has no soul. Without a soul, there is no life or wind, no breath and no trembling or blazing leaves. This is the mathematic equation known by orgasms alone. It is their job to keep the sacred balance, to keep us all from curling inward like a scroll, never to be read or known. Nin Andrews 57 57 Nin Andrews, "Against Amnesia," in Harpur Palate, collected in Our Lady of the Orgasm, MadHat
from The Dead Girls Speak in Unison One of us said [muffled] One of us said [gagging] One of us said [a knocking sound] she`d pull off your face and mail it to fuck town. [titters] 58
58 Danielle Pafunda, "One of us said..." collected in The Dead Girls Speak in Unison, Bloof
Hush The summer you stop speaking is a wet one, rain pouring down, fat drops of condensation dancing down your mother`s ever-melting glass of gin and Fresca. The air, heavy enough to hold in your palm, reeks of dank moss and drowned potato bugs. As soon as you stop speaking, your world becomes earsplitting--faucet handles screech in the cold porcelain sink, water roaring in the walls through copper pipes, baseboards scraped bare by so many wood roaches and mice, the one fallen column of the porch, hollow, where a raised whisper, the hiss of your parents` secret exchange, threatens the brittle balance of it all. They don`t notice your silence for days, but he knows. After dinner he slices into a square icebox cake, pauses, staring as if at the double rectangles of turned earth still fresh in the far corner of the yard. You simply stop talking, and it`s easy. You do the things you`re told, make your bed first thing, take your dish to the sink, comb your hair, part straight, and fasten bows on each side. Your father stops talking too, but only to you. No one notices. Each time you slip out from the hall bathroom he`s there waiting, a smile and a swift, sharp smack across your bottom hard enough to let you know who`s boss. You know. You slip outside, hopping along the toad-dotted walkway. You take off on your brother`s bike, standing on the pedals to reach the high handlebars, riding like that, like a tottering lopsided
old lady, pumping up the lane. At the top of the hill, where bayou turns to piney woods, you spot them. The French sisters--Candy and Cookie--twins, whose house is a replica of your own, upended and facing north, but otherwise identical. You`ve been coming here every day for a week-- the French family van backing into the neighborhood the best thing to happen all summer--you are wretched jealous of their beauty, bandana halters knotted over baggy men`s dress slacks (from when their daddy worked for the man, cut off just below the knee, belted and tied with rope and braids and beads. When they whip their matching waist-length hair out of their eyes, their faces are a dotted snowy hillside, berries fallen in the freeze. And their hands, moving as quickly as they do between one another, are long and the beds of their nails are pale and graceful. You know the ASL alphabet from school, but that`s all. Your questions arrive as quickly as a tick getting off of a dog. The picnic table is covered with sturdy string and big wooden beads painted orange and red and green, by pine needles fallen in bunches from the canopy of woods, by scissors and soda cans and bottles of polish. They teach you to sign: a few words a day. The first: braid, sky, sun, knees. The second: tree, sister, table, kiss. You sit in the corrugated sunlight while their hands fly between knots and conversation, and they laugh their far away laugh that sounds like a girl locked in a metal shed, trying to get out. You hum a tune your father used to sing when you were small. On Wednesdays you finish the belt. The circles
under your eyes are the exact green of moss growing thick on cold boulders of bayou banks. That day when they show you: pinch, love, drink and (when their daddy appears with more Mellow Yellows) father. He seems nice, Mr. French. You tie the knots of your belt too tight and try not to think of the night before. Mr. French gives you a thumbs-up, as if you`re the winner of a beauty contest wearing his cut off polyester orange plaid leisure slacks. Mr. French has a habit of throwing out his arms to the whole earth and signing. This is the life! You wonder about your own father, how long he`d been planning his move. Perhaps he thought it up the day we came home from vacation at Auntie Lina and Uncle Lou`s soy and strawberry farm, only to find our two poodles dead on the back porch, shriveled and thin and rained on and reeking. Miss Oneida always kept the dogs when we traveled, spoiled them bad, but this time she passed away the day we left and her family came from Tupelo, held a wake and funeral, had a big reception laid out nice in the rear yard. No one knew about the dogs. The first night home you and mama put the dogs in boxes, wrapped up in Easter paper covered in pastel crosses, and burned them in the back corner of the yard, as deep as you, leveling the soil. Maybe it was then. You smooth the bumpy length of your new belt and wonder. Or maybe it was the night you first figured a way to keep him out, wedging the tall desk chair so tight under the knob. That night, waiting
as you did, you saw the knob rattle, then quiet. The next day your chair was in the kindling pile. That night you came up with a better plan; you ask him and mama to tuck you in, you say your prayers right nice and close your eyes, faking happy slumber. The instant they leave the room, you slide open the window, pop the screen, hop out and are gone. You sit on the two fresh graves and wait. He comes, wanders the corners of your room, sees the open window, places a hand through it carefully as if the glass might still be there. You raise your arms and sign This is the... but he spots your blue floral gown in the moonlit yard and shuts the window, pulls the latch. For three nights after that you sleep, in your own room, in your own bed, with the door open, peacefully, no interruptions. Your father, as he passes on the way to bed, is singing lightly You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray. You'll never know, dear, how much I love you, please don't take my sunshine away. You get up early every day and put on Mr. French`s pants and stand-ride the 5-speed up to see the twins. The day it happens you coast down the hill home and commit to memory the signs for pretty and love and secret. You are sound asleep in bed, dreaming of the bayou, only silence and a pair of red-headed woodpeckers to share
your picnic. In the dream there is a panic of wings, of woodchips falling, of air too heavy for flight. You`re pinned. You wake, see him hovering, your door shut tight, nightgown and covers thrown to the floor, skin clammy, cold. The room is filled with night air, the scent of locust husks, of pine pollen and rock moss and road dust and frogs. As he lifts you into his arms: you don`t hear, you don`t make a sound. Out the window, into the yard, plodding slowly he carries you to the back behind the pine grove. You see in the cerulean moonlight a new grave, a larger, longer one, wormy and fresh, closer to the fence. Fireflies dart in the trees above and suddenly you, too, are flying, fast, through darkness. You hit bottom, hard. It takes your breath like falling straight backwards off a swing. You can`t think of anything but the playground as great clods of dirt sift down on your stomach and hips, your naked chest, filling the white hollow at the base of your neck. The dirt comes in heaves, topping you head to toe and even though it stings, you keep your eyes open, silent prayer begging God to let you fly away. You see his white cotton boxers shining bright; his glasses like flashes of moonlight. Shoveling, he turns away from you and swings back to the grave.
Those glasses like warning lights at the edge of a track, where there aren`t any safety bars. The dirt piles up and suddenly you hear it, your whole world--locusts and crickets, hanging moss shifting in the oak, zipping wing of firefly, a hound howling in a far off yard. You hear the music of your world and it sounds so far away, a twangy echo kept in a plastic coffee can. And that`s when you hear it, your father`s voice, the same words whispered, sung quiet and sincere, You'll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away. He grabs you up and out and holds you in his lap and cries, muddying your tummy. If you leave me, to love another, you'll regret it all of your days. He holds you, rocks the dawn in, and you hum the song with him and cling like the saved do, and vow to stop speaking, in the hush of that night. 59 59 Alice Anderson, "Hush," collected in The Watermark, Eyewear
I`m Forced to Imagine There Are Two of Me Here To fit in we practice not dancing I pull her hair against our head & burn the water out she sucks-in the lip of our belly I call her Rio say Rio remind them of our white grandmother do what it takes to make them think we are like them Because it is a risk to want us we close the bedroom door she reaches under the blanket It`s just me Rio & The Dark does she part my legs or The Dark`s I spit into our hand & touch her Sometimes she bites our lips to make them smaller we refuse to dance we do what it takes I let her drive Little Cottonwood Canyon It is night we hit a deer breath from its nostrils clouds the windshield It feels like there could be more of us somewhere she opens the car doors we show each other mercy take the same bite of a cracked rib blood from her mouth I move to kiss the animal 60
60 Rio Machete Cortez, "I'm Forced to Imagine There are Two of Me Here," collected in I have learned to define a field as a space between mountains, Jai-Alai Books
Elephants Walking Curled in a window seat, level with wind-swayed oak, aching on a green vinyl pad, I think of the fortunes spent on the hardwood, wainscot study, and the slates fitted for the arbor walkways, the labor it took to lug bricks out to each overly articulated corner, in which nook a child of fortune, cushion-tassel between his fingers, might look up from his reading to see in the heat waves rising over the pale, shimmering delphinium, a plot miracle perhaps, the strange death by spontaneous combustion in Our Mutual Friend, and the child wondering how, why, and could it have been? My childhood bedroom, summer night, one hand marking the book, the other`s palm and fingers printing moist, disappearing shadows on the wall. Then the college library, Harkness Hall, and aged, white-cowled Father Benilde smelling of coffee, muscatel, and Old Spice as he opened the doors at 7:30. First in line, I was all business, heading straight to my end of the long, immovable table, to my first reading of Dante, a paperback copy of Ciardi, with its cover of red, grinning, cartoon devils, which I had in a fit of verisimilitude (a word I had just learned) charred with a lighter. My first lines that year: Butt, butt, base, bale beast. I fear your horns not the least! The intended tone was courtly love, but the words were apostrophe to a buffalo in Roger Williams Park, one that had leaned hard into the sagging hurricane fence near my date. The lines came to me as I woke after a nap in the library. I still love to sleep in libraries whenever I can. I fix my head sideways over my folded hands, and make room for the little puddle of drool I`ll quickly wipe away. I wake into a barely believable clarity throughout my body. I`m ready to grapple with fate, love, sex, the stirrings within. Over readers and sleepers alike hovers a mist or a pollen, and in it I see words shuttling back and forth like birds. In the darkness or dream something hugely important has been free to roam. Grateful, I say to myself, Elephants have been walking. Son, we must give this country great poetry! decreed the older poet to my nodding head, as he shook my hand after the Crystal Room reading. Later, as I walked back to my dormitory, sleet failing to cool me I turned his pronoun over and over, thinking yes, we do, we do. On the news there was the familiar footage: a Phantom run ending in a hypnotic burst of lit yellow napalm. I knew the war was wrong, but that was why, I claimed, I should go, to sing the song of high lament, to get it into the books. Like Ishmael I would sign on for a three-year voyage under a madman captain. Frissons to be had instantly: a pity-the-youth-soon-dying look in the eyes. Are you crazy? asked my girlfriend. But I was filled with vibrant life and felt neither suicidal nor confused when I dialed the Marine recruiter: Yes, I look forward to reporting. Phone in my lap, I sat sideways, my legs dangling over the arms of my red leather reading chair. A warm spring wind was melting the snow
down to bright medallions of ice. I felt clear-headed and refreshed. I just hoped the war would last until I got there. Elephants were walking. 61
61 Fred Marchant, "Elephants Walking," collected in Tipping Point, The Word Works
The US space laboratory, Skylab I, plunged to Earth this evening, scattering debris across the southern Indian Ocean and sparsely populated Western Australia
I covered my grandfather`s WWI helmet with aluminum foil and stood on the roof of Reno De Vino`s apartment building drinking myself into eternal life. I believed in alcohol and aluminum foil. The sky was falling. It clouded with the chatter of the universe`s joke. Others borrowed my helmet. It was a hit. A blow for freedom. Nobody fell off the roof but within five years three of us were dead. Is falling. I shot rubber-tipped arrows into the air and slept with a pot-head ex-model from L.A. We danced to maybe the B-52s or The Clash, The Police or P-Funk. Did they really think that helmet would protect them in the trenches? 19 million dead. Put that in your hat and smoke it. Somebody blew bubbles. We were graduate students
majoring in minoring. Nothing fell anywhere--19 million? Thirty people on a roof in Bowling Green, Ohio, and a good time may have been had by most. Just a small piece of debris--somebody shouting up at us to shut up. The helmet wobbled on my head. The ex-model thought it was cute. Lighting will eventually strike the same spot-- in either ten minutes or a million years. Lightning is commonly misspelled. Sex is commonly overrated. I lost my license for eternal life and returned the helmet to the family archives back in Detroit. I miss those three--one suicide, one maybe-suicide, the other, a random internal explosion. Nothing could get me down in those trenches. Life was good, even with hemorrhoids. Even lying in a hospital with a wife and girlfriend having it out across the bed. I quit drinking, then started again a year later. Beer and potato chips. Pills and no appetite. The two Vietnam vets in our program lived together in a trailer and did not attend the Skylab party but surely got wasted, as they did every night. We left a lot of trash up there on the moon.
62 Jim Daniels, "Skylab Party," in The South Carolina
Review, collected in Apology to the Moon, Bat Cat
Matar as Saudades In the short dream, she falls down the stairs again and again, singing in a bloodied wedding dress, the crowd breathless. My hands tied, again, to the chair to keep me from rushing the stage and kissing her lovely, dead mouth. I never wanted her more than when she died for a love she pretended was real. Desire`s sweetest fiction in three acts and an encore. In the middle dream, an angel milks venom from a snake while I dig and dig in the wet dirt of a grave to pull free a child. Waxy thing, unwelcome need, forehead stained with pink. The child`s birthmark -- her mother`s silhouette. I command my beloved to return to me but the child wails and wails, weeping white sap until my hands stick to her. A contract. The will of the forest. A love with a future instead of a past. Like glass shattered by a high note, it is foreshadowed by music. Like a dog bristling between a girl and a jaguar, it is ferocious and sleepless and bound for tragedy, but not now. Now begins the long dream where I believe my fear and adore it, where I hear the tolling of a song I lived in my early years, pealing underwater like a summons. It belongs to a longing that murmured my name before falling down a flight of stairs, that I still seek knowing I`ll find snakes nesting in the rotted house and the darling dead on my old mattress, her mouth bloodless, waiting, impossible to resist. 63
63 Traci Brimhall, "Matar as Saudades," in Waxwing
About Derrida, If You`re Into That Badgers remind me of the problem with metaphors and how everything is and isn`t a metaphor, but in the end you have to pick a side or else. It`s why I haven`t yet written about when I was in Teach for America, which is a kind of Peace Corps for putting silvery-spoon summa cum laudes in inner city schools. And since we weren`t near the center of anything, you can tell inner city is a metaphor for other things, and one of them is how I was proud of myself for being a white person in a room with black teenagers, and then I was ashamed to realize what I was, and then there were a lot of pencils and books and staplers and shoes being thrown and I was a rabbit, I guess. Even when I was pressing the buzzer to the principal`s office or yelling Listen, just listen! or moving names on Post-it notes down the consequences chart recommended in all the classroom management training sessions while the students laughed that they were winning the game. When a badger catches a baby rabbit from the nest you were just minutes ago cooing to have found, the screaming is so human anybody would cry and be afraid for themselves and realize you must not interrupt before it`s finished. After they`ve formed a mating pair, badgers still bite each other to bleeding, jaw-locked over a scrap of prairie dog. When the mother is weaning she brings a carcass back to the burrow so she can cut at the faces of her pups as they try to eat. My students were neither badgers nor prairie dogs. This is not meant to be a metaphor, but I know when I tell you some characters are white and some are black and there`s correlative imagery about animals, metaphors will happen, and I don`t know how to control the way they are received. Maybe that`s the reason why when I was watching a nature documentary on PBS, it felt like that day the really huge girl in the back row whose name I don`t remember anymore, even though she was the worst part of third period, stopped her loud chatter, the fuck-you-white-womantrying-to-assert-your-authority-in-the-form-of-a-verb-conjugation-worksheet chatter, long enough to say, If you teach us as individuals, then we`ll listen. That was the thesis anyway of a much longer, self-important speech about how I didn`t even know my students` names, much less what they needed to know to be adults in this neighborhood, and I had the gall to tell them to care about how to say je m'appelle and spend hours of their lives piddling with кtre. She was right on, except for how there were thirty-two students and she could only see herself in her desk, and I could only see myself in front of rows and rows of individuals who were sleeping or playing cards or calling me bitch and also l couldn`t stop thinking that being from Greenlawn or Swanee shouldn`t mean no one teaches you how to condescend with a properly accented pronunciation of croissant.
That girl wasn`t in my class anymore when I found out she was twenty and a junior and mother to a daughter who was already walking and talking. Badgers do almost nothing but dig, and they don`t blink to grab a freshkilled pheasant from right out of a bobcat`s mouth. Because of the striped faces, they seem cute and lovable as a skunk, but if they are awake, they are hissing in a way that reminds me of my own lumbering toddler, who came a long time after I left that place and made me feel sorry about everything I ever said to all the troubled or abused children I`ve known, which is getting to be really a lot now in this line of work, and I`ve never helped any of them yet. I think because there`s no such thing as help. The high school was ringed by barbed wire and the windows were made of a plastic that eventually faded to a dingy yellow. When a kid broke a window, they put up a new piece of plastic. I had a key to the bathroom, but was forbidden to give it out and almost never did I give it out anyway. Badgers are ruthless by design--their mothers work hard at making them so. With the kids I know it`s different, because some of them are as tough as badgers and others are entirely something else, prairie dogs or pheasants or bobcats or rabbits, and by the time I have the metaphor straight, it`s the last day of school and Jeff--I still remember his name--is running down the hall hanging onto those pants I told him every day to pull up, and some kid I don`t know and don`t care about is chasing him. It`s going to be a fight and Jeff is going to be expelled this time, I guess. Probably not. Even when I beg them to expel kids, they don`t do it. Probably I`ve just been looking for a fight this whole year and it`s the last day and I want something to go my way, so I grab him under the armpits, and tell myself it`s so he can`t throw a punch. He`s totally exposed, flailing and frantic like a pheasant, but that other kid stops at the sight of my teeth-bared face, then turns away down the stairs. For a long time I told this story like it was a moment I got right, but there is no right. There were other kids in the hallway and they were throwing free condoms from the clinic at each other. The bell rang. It was summer vacation. Cellophane packets fell in a glittering prophylactic rain. I bent to pick up my keys and one was stuck in my hair. After ten years, it almost never comes up in conversation. I meet people and they wouldn`t guess how much I love watching the kids ring up around a fight and some teacher has to push in there and grab someone out by the ear. It`s exciting and violent. It`s like one of those bushes of pink flowers blooming by the sign that warned bringing a gun into this school carries a penalty of five years hard labor. Every morning six buses line up in front of that sign and everyone who gets off the bus is wearing khaki pants and a blue-collared shirt with a patch over the right breast of a roaring panther and the words Jefferson High. When the police came with their masks on, Derrida was one of the students on the roof throwing bricks. When the bobcat brought down the bird with a pounce and a swipe, he lowered his mouth to feed but then the hissing badger shuffled up. He scorns the cat, makes him beg, makes him slink for the picked-over carcass of his own kill. Which one wouldn`t I want to be?
64 64 Kathryn Nuernberger, "About Derrida, If You're Into That," in Harpur Palate, collected in The End of Pink, BOA
Unclassified Stars 1. One summer, Gretel is sent to live with her grandmother by the sea. We are told that the house is gingerbread. Sugar panes in the windows and so forth. The ocean winds bring sweet, delicious smells from the house down the bluffs. Gulls peck at gumdrops on the sill. In the story, the old woman ties an apron around her middle and brings Gretel cold cups of milk in the mornings. In fact, she wears gypsy scarves and drinks gin over ice. Darling, she says, flicking her cigarette and exhaling two lungs worth of dust, this isn't one of your stories. 2. Never mind Grandmother and the liquor and the gulls. The sea is a fact, and its air has edges. Most mornings, Gretel can be found floating on her back in the bay, her small breasts breaking the surface. The pink color of shells. She imagines the candied remains of the eaves dissolving under her tongue. 3. In the original version, even the sea is a lie. The setting is a forest and Gretel has a brother, Hansel. He shreds bread as they walk to keep track. This, however, is the children`s version. It does not account for Gretel`s curves, or the way Hansel looks at her under the unclassified stars. He feeds her little pieces of bread with his hands. She takes them into her mouth, nibbling on the tips of his fingers. Life, we`ve been warned, doesn`t taste like it should in stories. 4. Disregard the part about the bread. It`s not that they are lost, but that they keep themselves like a secret. People in town wouldn`t understand, but we`re better listeners. This is the kind of incest readers champion: cheek to cheek since the womb, sharing a nursery in the formative years. It has always been this way. Gretel and Hansel, Gretel and Hansel. In the picture book, they share open-mouthed kisses in the long shadows, unaware of our eyes. 5. Ultimately, all revisions of her life collapse into one: the sharpening sea, the candied eaves of the cottage, Hansel`s salty fingers in her mouth. At the end of the story, where the moral should be, there are only two nudes reclining, naked and flushed beneath a great oak. Babes in the wood. Who`s to say where one ends and the other begins? Where the body forgets its edges. Where the story drops off and calls itself memory, life. Who`s to say? They have been rolling so long in the leaves, their two skins smell exactly the same. Maggie Smith 65 65 Maggie Smith, "Unclassified Stars," in Mid-American Review, collected in The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, Tupelo
Somebody Gets Shot at the RV Park and suddenly the place is flooded with search lights and Mellencamp. Men with boring haircuts pick up plastic deer, shake the spare keys out, put them down. They`ve got you bike-chained to the picnic table because you`re the prime suspect. Because somebody told somebody that you`re the type of person who leaves their suitcase unattended at the airport. All the detectives are drunk; it`s Oktoberfest. Between interrogations, they pound on the table, demanding meats and puddings. What is your occupation? asks a man with a sweaty red mustache. Adjunct Professor, you tell him. What subject do you teach? asks a man who looks eight-months pregnant. Freshman Composition, you answer. Their lips quiver like bowstrings and you can tell that the facts have not fallen in your favor. It`s as if they`ve had a collective epiphany: all their lives you`ve been tricking them into too-tight pants. I don`t have a motive, you tell them as they check the box on the form that says that you do. Karyna McGlynn 66 66 Karyna McGlynn, "Somebody Gets Shot at the RV Park," collected in Hothouse, Sarabande
Fortuitous Poem I feel bad for Sylvia Plath`s Esther, trying to read Finnegan`s Wake in the middle of a nervous breakdown. This morning, the sun on the dining room table--we have a table now-- and I notice that my local goat cheese looks like an angel when I first spread it on my sprouted bread. This is the problem with lyric poems and class rage. If I weed the irises and have a dining room table, I suspect myself. Everything must happen for a reason. Isn`t that what Voltaire`s fool said? I will stop trying to solve the equation of human suffering--X people stuck at airports plus X people killed in a gas attack minus whatever our government is doing plus whatever our government is doing... Meanwhile I`m here in a room managing my small son, who has sensory problems at the classroom Shabbat. Too many people in one room plus the singing plus the rabbi coming in and reading a book equals E. turning to shove one ear to my chest, then bursting into a different state, shouting out in the middle of the Passover book, Why didn`t they free themselves! and hopping about the room. Then Moses parted the sea, the rabbi says patiently. I gather up my child as the book ends. I go home and try to weed, but he cries about the poor little weeds. Later he tells me he stops loving me when I`m mad, but starts again later. I`ve been so often mad during these months. I want to say something about let my people go, which tradition is partly my son`s--enslaved ancestors--but I also want to say that in Adonis` Syria, being a poet earns you the threat of death. Speaking and not speaking do matter. For a week, I lost the Swiss Army knife I carry with me everywhere, but yesterday I found it among the spatulas. 67 67 Joanna Penn Cooper, "Fortuitous Poem"
Joanna Penn Cooper
Newtown Like a cement statue, Jesus sits amidst a funnel cloud of flipped-over plastic chairs. All the desks show signs of stress. Names remain written on whiteboards and stars still mark good behavior. The furnace kicks on. Papers trestle the dead teacher`s desk on their way to the floor. There is nothing he can do. In the coming days, out-of-state cleaning crews will descend like crows to lift only the lightest stains. Where they fail, the carpet must be cut away. The town whispers his father`s name in hyphenated damn its, while on his head thorns turn like screws. Amelia Martens 68 68 Amelia Martens, "Newtown," collected in The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat, Sarabande
from IRL And ugh someone in this wreck unironically says somethin about being with the big dogs & the voice is coming from within my body. By books I`m body beautiful with the big dogs By the oracle of meter: aortic, epiphanic, epipenic--heartbeat of the streets and walkways and freeways and byways and one ways and bike ways of the mind `s nimble tug on the tongue of the page. Memory would be way less committed without the primordial guidepost of rhythm, cycles of turning leaves. Just look at fair weather Southern California
--so pretty right? But so so dumb. So dumb. 69
69 Tommy Pico, "And ugh someone in this wreck..." collected in IRL, Birds
Boat Sonnet My friend keeps sending me protective Marys, and last year E. kept picking up gravel, pressing it upon me in his small hand with some urgency. Happy rock. I dated a guy in Milwaukee who told me, You just don`t seem as happy as you should. You don`t say? He moved to Madison and bought a boat. I imagine Hepburn saying, you have to row your own boat, but enabling Spencer Tracy, who never divorced. After that, though, she could wear her white shirts & gardening trousers and go on Dick Cavett, not giving a damn about anything. In my daydream, I lie down in the bottom of a boat and float away, meaning I marry my soul. 70
Joanna Penn Cooper
70 Joanna Penn Cooper, "Boat Sonnet"
This Neverender There`s a saw discontinues the loved who are void I have seen it. I have seen it as I have seen from the mess hall their seventh-degree burns rise again. As I have seen in the bagnio my consumption it rises again. This existence in which I blame god on the tree line through which you no longer intrude. This ending in which I withdraw myself from your banks but I`ve seen it. When I return from you like a failed occupation. And I stalk your geese who make laughingstock of my enemies. And into their villages. And the clothes I wear gasoline. There`s a love that persuades you I`ve seen it: beating to death a politico on the steps of the white house for another half century will equal a riot on behalf of the strange who were loved who are void but I`ve loved it. I have loved it as I have loved the mobs who are coming to disfigure my liberty. Who say a stranglehold`s coming for me that cares least for my throat. And this existence in which I blame money on the lowland into which you won`t cloud. And they tell me god`s wealth is my throat within reach but I`ve seen it. I have seen it as I have seen you bed down in a pauper`s grave and the worms tell you god is sketch. I have seen them announce the airstrikes are here for your mess halls but I can`t say if I felt the compunction. If I did I was young.
Or if I did I was you. And god`s wealth was my throat within reach. 71
71 Danniel Schoonebeek, "This Neverender," in Bat City Review, collected in Trйbuchet, University of Georgia
from Please Bury Me in This I am not any closer to saying what I mean. Love has made itself so quiet, a few red fish moving in slow circles. I want to say like blood, like forgiveness, this obedience, looking at the ground on my knees. I mean to cease to feel, to cancel, to give up all claim to-- At some point, I rested my hands over my eyes and mouthed, This is my face housed underwater. This is a love letter. Every word but mouthed erased. ~ Dear Kitty, Dear God, Dear Lucifer. I cut my hair off this morning, placed the long blond braid in an envelope. There is only one arc: suffering, transformation. Dear Linda, Sexton wrote to her daughter on a flight to St. Louis, I love you. In other words, these words, their spectacular lack. ~ I mean my head is a napkin folded into a swan. I mean these are death letters--an obsession with something colorless, private. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that-- And then nothing but my hands unfolding the swan and smoothing it over my lap. ~ Now my neighbor through the wall playing piano, I imagine, with her eyes closed. When she stops playing, she disappears. I am still waiting for the right words to explain myself to you. When there was nothing left to smoke, I drew on my lips with a pen until they were black. Or is this what it means to be empty: to make no sound?
I pressed my mouth to the wall until I`d made a small gray ring. Or maybe emptiness is a form of listening. Maybe I am just listening. 72
Allison Benis White
72 Allison Benis White, "I am not any closer to saying what I mean..." collected in Please Bury Me in This, Four Way
Wolf Lake, white gown blown open White sky, a tinge of blue, birds like silver crucifixes children wear at their First Communion-- the lake, melted candelabra-- no wind, no dust of summer moths, no weeping. Lichen sleeps like fur on a dead thing and the bones of the trees don't creak and the woody stems of the cattails hold the earth steady-- bearded fish are like drunken tangents of thought that trail so far from the original idea-- for instance I once fished here, bass after bass, shined the flashlight down their throats and saw all the way to the gold ovaries, gill slits like louvered blinds letting out light-- meat, heart, memory. The boat was the green of naivetй, the oars mismatched, and who was that girl--a bride-- catching everything and releasing nothing? * Jack in the Pulpit breaks through. Purple veins comb the spathe, then the spadex furred-over with male and female blooms and the cone of firm red berries-- and the trillium's white gown blown open-- and the lapping sound of water, like a dog compelled to lick itself. Lake infested with black swans, beaks breaking the surface tension of the water then pulling out, swallowing down a writhing fish, another, dissatisfied. * There is mist, there is a smudge of moonlight on the water-- lake the color of the groom's Italian leather shoes. I grind against him on the muddy edge, open the gold buttons to get to the skin, the throbbing lip and tongue and cock-- flesh, right now, the wet smear of him
on my palm and lips and inside me, inside, where I live, right now bitter with him, dandelion juice, phosphorous, muck, milk, food-- and beneath us snail shells burst like the skulls of the dead in the crematorium. * There is body, there is experience, there is narrative, there is idea, memory, philosophy, love-- and there are gods and there are the operas of the gods-- there is desire and desire's cold blue-eyed twin-- and this place in-between--water, weeds bound by tangled fishing line, bones washed clean, and ghosts, laced and corseted, dragging their anchors and sinkers and veils. 73
73 Diane Seuss, "Wolf Lake, white gown blown open," in Poetry Daily, collected in Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open, University of Massachusetts
Mr. Polk was Afraid of the Rain No damage we did to his garden would bring him out of doors if the slightest drizzle leaked off his rusty roof. After a while, beheading his tulips got boring so we`d fetch his paper for a penny. He didn`t mind us dripping on the carpet. I have been to the meadow, I have been to the shore, I have been to the ghetto, I have been to the war. One stormy November weekend my mother tsked and brought him bread and eggs. He repaid us with shortbread so buttery it slipped through our fingers. I have seen the boys bite, I have seen the boys lie, I have seen the boys fight, I have seen the boys die. Once when I came home whistling a glory hymn we sang in school, Mr. Polk beaned me with a half-eaten apple. From twenty yards. I once knew a Thomas, I once knew two Jacks, They went out in August, They came home in sacks. When I was old enough to join, I knocked on his door to show him the uniform. He brought me inside holding my elbow like he was helping an old woman cross the street. Showed me his medals and trophies: two stars, a fistful of ribbons, and a tooth inside a velvet ringbox. Thomas was hit in the heart, Jack was hit in the brain, The other Jack was blown apart, They all were hit in the rain. 74
74 Adam Sol, "Mr. Polk was Afraid of the Rain," collected in Crowd of Sounds, House of Anansi
At The Fishhouses And the black water under the boats with their pools of bilge rainbowed out like rinds of steak fat, the salt thick in my nostrils, but pleasant, too: details I still remember from Bishop`s poem, everything else about it lost. At the docks, I watched my friend slip in her rubber boots; the wide, wet planks glossy with mosses. You must walk duckfooted to get to the boats, the black and orange fishing barrels, the air with its tang of rusted metals. There are always hooks and anchors to be found, nets and scrapings of wood planed by chisel, the way my great-grandmother was said to have worked, employed as a shipwright on the city`s waterways in the 30s according to the newspaper clipping my grandmother photocopies for me each Christmas. The description of her gunmetal hair and slim torso clad in overalls, the hands she held out for the Times reporter (Callused, he noted, strong as a man`s) does not recall the woman I remember for her farm in Bothell before it became a Seattle suburb, helping me gather raspberries from the long canes she planted by her porch. We spent an afternoon together sweating in the same long-sleeved checkered shirts she`d sewn us, according to the photo I no longer have, and cannot remember whether is the source or confirmation of this memory: only the papery, gray-green streaks of road dust on the canes, a bowl of chipped porcelain inside of which were raspberries. Very red, very sweet, furred like my friend`s upper lip
I remember between my teeth as we stood on the docks. The smell of iron and winter mist, her mouth like nothing I have tasted since. 75 75 Paisley Rekdal, "At the Fishhouses," in Poetry, collected in Imaginary Vessels, Copper Canyon
Departures Go on and make a bed in the grass Go on and cup the face of the deer in your hands Go on Too much is sacred; I sing a small night song in the refrigerator`s glow I pray for the angels to stop coming but I know they will always come and pray instead for a very good place to hide, for a magic trick I can do with scarves and a nickel Go and bleed somewhere else not on the couch for god`s sake A red plastic bird, its paint worn away, whistled from the chain of our kitchen`s chandelier and only my father could reach it. Wire feet he wound onto the links Something special about the bird-- its cause and effect, the way he made it call Go away, this is my space behind the winter coats Go away, this is my cardboard box
you cannot come inside Christmas, black ice in the headlines; Dusk, and the small bulbs blink on in the trees Dusk, and the bar`s neon gives a little sigh-- windows lit, the streets wet, the looking in while jingling a little change in your pocket then turning away Sophie Klahr 76 76 Sophie Klahr, "Departures," collected in Meet Me Here at Dawn, Yes Yes
Catalogue Entry for Aging
The night we met, I contracted a childhood disease. The discoloration resembled that of turmeric or a fig tree. I measured the color`s expansive, wide distance: Inner thigh to the edge of the mattress.
Tonight, a man on the phone poses an inquiry re: two boxes of books by Leon Trotsky
. I cover the mouthpiece, laugh with my co-worker.
Dear Sir or Madam: I am stunned by how easy it is to be a Very Bad Person. 77
77 Claire Donato, "Catalogue Entry for Aging," in Harp & Altar, collected in The Second Body, Poor Claudia
Anti-Eclogue I woke up to the cat eating the phone. Poised on the edge of the bed like a little yogini. My friend calls to tell me she`s having an affair with a married woman. Then my father calls to say he`s reading The Brothers Karamazov. He`s a big Dostoyevsky fan now, can`t get enough of the murder and betrayal. Later in the day a student complains, it`s always about sex, and if you walked around thinking everyone was fixated on sex like Freud says they are, it would just be so funny. When I was a kid I`d go to the woods to smoke cinnamon sticks. The exact length and girth of a cigarette but of course they don`t draw, so pulling too hard makes you lose your breath. October brings it back to me: the smell of wood fire, the color of wet. It`s the crudest month, with all due respect--a month of anniversaries I`d rather not mark, and now, last in the chain, a year since the day that was meant to redeem a season but took the other way instead. Fall in the fullest sense of the word, transgressions and falling in love and falling apart and falling down drunk. You fall to your knees. You fall flat on your face. A shadow falls across the page. A wisp of hair falls into your eyes I once sang Patsy Kline`s I Fall to Pieces to a friend for his birthday. He laughed at first but when he realized I was seriously serenading him, he got a look of wonder on his face and I could see him come to his senses, literally, as an act of mindfulness. Later I fell for a guy because he showed me phlox in the real world, because he made them real, not the shibboleth of poets like timothy or light. My grandmother died in October, and my first love left, and then another, and one more. Losses that stack up like couch cushions. Bereft: to be robbed of a loved one. To be plundered in love. When I rolled over to answer the phone (it was him calling, the man of phlox and sweet William and broom) the cat fell off the bed, making a mewling sound. And that`s why I proposed to him--because of course, internal gyroscope and all, cats don`t fall so much as twist. Because we came home one night to a toad on the front walk and he knew it wasn`t a frog. Because they`re both right, Freud and my student-- that desire, like pain, reduces everything to itself, and if we didn`t find that a little bit funny, we`d fall over backward under the strain of our wishing. Waterfalls. Falling stars. Susannah Mintz 78 78 Susannah Mintz, "Anti-Eclogue," collected in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry, Rose Metal Press
A Little Cough Syrup I tell Richard, my 403(b) guy, that I want to make a change in my deferred-compensation plan, and he says, Let me give you that 800 number so you can call the California office, because, he says, if he`s had a little cough syrup that day, he could make a mistake that, thirty years from now, would have a client eating Alpo right out of the can, like not even able to buy a dog dish in the big, mysterious, and, for that reason, scary future waiting out there somewhere and connected to each of us by a line along which are scattered all the things we think we can overcome when we are as young as I, poseur and shit-for-brains, was thirty years earlier in the chest-high gray trousers and tight purple shirt I`d just bought at a bodega in Spanish Harlem, though the guy I look like isn`t me, is, instead, a New Yorker, tough guy full of street smarts, not a sixteen-year-old hick from Baton Rouge, LA, on his way back from a summer job on Cape Cod and stopping now in the city with his friend Bertrand to make a little gas money for the trip home, Bertrand passing out flyers for an electronics shop and me washing cars until I get fired for pulling off a customer`s skirt with the vacuum cleaner and decide to spend my pay on my idea of what a city kid wears, i.e., Shark-and-Jet attire, right down to the aptly named fence-climbers on my feet, an ensemble Nuyorican and therefore totally outlandish on my blond and freckled body, but, hell, I don`t want my body anymore, don`t want to have anything to do with anyone from Baton Rouge, including myself, except Bertrand, who apparently has a relative in every second city we pass through, such as the man-mountain uncle in Dayton we stop in on a week later at seven in the morning and who speaks in a series of heh-heh chuckles punctuated by an occasional phrase and who is just about to sit down to a platter of at least a dozen fried eggs and maybe twice as many tomato slices, all of which he gives to us, saying, A-heh-heh-heh, dig in, boys, heh-heh-heh-heh, plenty more where that came from, a-heh, a-heh-heh-heh, and at first I think he is laughing at my fab Puerto Rican vines, which he isn`t, and at that moment I want to be, not a New York street kid anymore, but a huge happy glutton, someone as much above it all
as the emperor Sigismund we studied in Latin II who, having made an error in speech and been corrected by a cardinal, replied, Ego sum rex Romanus et super grammatica, or, I am king of Rome and above grammar, meaning, of course, the ablative and the pluperfect, though what I am beginning to suspect on this long trip from the Cape to my mother`s kitchen again is that each life has its own grammar and that there is no point in trying to transcend yours by being somebody else, that if you are alive at all, you are essentially in the same position I`d been in two days earlier in New Jersey at the Palisades Park I`d insisted we visit because of the song of that name by Freddie Boom Boom Cannon and where I soon find myself spinning dizzily on the Tilt-a-Whirl and feeling this terrible pain in the back of my head, and when I resist the centrifugal force long enough to lift myself and look around, I see that everybody else has a head pad, though mine has fallen off, and the Tilt-a-Whirl guy is too cheap to replace it, or maybe he`d just taken a little cough syrup that day, the result being that a rusty bolt is boring into my skull, and though I manage to pull away from time to time, sooner or later my head snaps back and, pow, I get another grammar lesson. *** You don`t even need to take that syrup to mess up a life, your own or someone else`s: the first day on the job I now have, sweetest little old lady is the only person on duty in the personnel office, and there are two new hires there, me and a guy with a full beard and hair out to here, and the old lady says if it`s okay with us, she`ll tell us both about our retirement options at the same time, and I say okay, and the crazy-haired guy just sort of bristles, and the sweet old lady says, Now, Doctuh Kirby, we have two retah-ment plans heah at Flah-da State, and the first does blah-blah, while the second does blah-blah-blah, and which one do you want? And I say I`ll take the one she recommends, and she says, You have made a ve`y fine choice, and then she turns to Grizzly Adams and says, Now how bout you, professuh, and he says-- and remember, this is 1969--I don`t give a fuck, it`s all a bunch of capitalist bullshit anyway, just put me in whichever fucking one you want! and the old lady smiles the sweetest smile and says, Ve`y well! and makes mark on his form, and I imagine her going home that evening and having Old Fashioned and some crackers and rat cheese on the patio with her husband and saying, Henruh, I met the rudest young man today, and I also imagine young Doctor Sasquatch
hobbling back into personnel when he`s seventy, and the person on duty says he can`t explain it, but for some reason there don`t seem to be funds deposited into that particular account, and he`s mad all over again but it`s, like, Milk-Bone time for him. *** The last night before we get back to Baton Rouge, we pull off the highway somewhere near Marksville or Cottonport because Bertrand remembers another set of relatives, his father`s great-uncle and family who live on the bayou in this big sprawling house, and the great-uncle is dead, though the great-aunt is alive, as is her mother and, incredibly, her grandmother, who must be three thousand years old and who, far from having undergone the traditional desiccation of old age, has, over the years, fattened to a bulk that, along with her refusal to utter a word, lends a certain mystique to her in the eyes of two teenaged boys, Bertrand and his Nuyorican fashion-plate friend, who are welcomed as though expected and given йtouffйe and jambalaya and cornbread and ice cream with sliced peaches and bottle after cold, sweaty bottle of Dixie 45 and made to tell their stories and to listen to those to the others, most which center around a family member named Uncle Junior who blows stumps for a living and who was complaining that very day about a helper who had left a screwdriver on an oak stump and retreated to what he thought was a safe distance, though when the charge went off, the helper caught the tool right in the brisket, according to Junior, and had to be trucked to the clinic at Junior`s expense, and that was a brand-new screwdriver, too. Then off to bed, which, for me, is a cot on the screen porch, where I lie awake for a long time and listen to the tree frogs singing and the nutrias splashing and the bull alligators doing that throaty roar they do when they`re looking for wives and, once, the child`s scream a rabbit makes when an owl`s got him, and then I doze a while and wake and sleep again and finally wake for good just as the morning light begins to come through the cypress trees, that dull blue glow that arrives a half hour before the sun itself, and when I open my eyes, the great aunt`s enormous grandmother is standing by the cot, still dressed the way she`d been the night before, and staring down at me, her eyes wet and bulging in the dimness like those of some creature who has come up out of the swamp for God knows what evil purpose.
My own eyes snap shut again instantly, and I lie there a good forty-five minutes, venturing an occasional peep at this crazy old Cajun lady looming over me like my future, huge, silent, unfathomable, and then, suddenly, gone, having disappeared noiselessly between peeps. Bertrand, I say, having found him in a sleeping bag on the kitchen floor and now vigorously shaking his shoulder, we`ve got to get out of here, and, sure enough, find myself that very night in my parents` house again, and as the days go by, moving half-aware into preparation for my senior year and the coming break when I go away to college and all the things I have to think about and do and all the advice my folks are giving me so I won`t make the same mistakes they made, though why shouldn`t I, since I love them and want to be like them and will, whether I want to or no, fuse the grammar of their lives with my own so far, as well as the parts that haven`t been written yet, the half-formed subjects and predicates still roiling in the ooze of the yet-to-come, our Caliban lives at once unutterable and frail. 79
79 David Kirby, "A Little Cough Syrup," collected in The House of Blue Light, LSU
Grandmothers Where does it all begin? God is good; woman bleeds. It was the depression or before. You were cooking over an open greasy fire and the house burned to the ground. And you were cutting the heads off chickens and laughing at the horror of them walking backward and dancing. And you were slitting the throats of two-hundred-pound hogs. And keeping your future husband from priesthood with seven children. You showed me my stuffed puppy legs in the air. He's dead! you said. Or you were a little girl with an iron and a board for Christmas. You learned to drive stick in a field. And you gave birth to father jumping off trains or you gave birth to mother who only gave birth to two. You were a witch, our house adorned with dead animals, fish curling to free themselves from the wall. 80
80 Jennie Malboeuf, "Grandmothers," collected in Best New Poets 2016, University of Virginia
Abort / Retry? Because sometimes she`s more fishflesh than sexbot. Because an empty body is not subject to the laws of gravity. Or addiction. She stuttered upon ignition, fell mute. Her doll-pupils blank and blown. Because this version is more chimerical than intended. The systematic removal of her organs reveals rust, bovine pathology, serpentine viscera. This model brings to mind words like lesion, trauma. Because there is a fetus in her thorax, and proper placement is essential to evolution. Because a wrench is labeled love device. 81
81 Susan Slaviero, "Abort / Retry," collected in Cyborgia, Mayapple
Antibody I`ve heard that blood will always tell: tell me then, antigen, declining white cell count answer, who wouldn`t die for beauty if he could? Microbe of mine, you don`t have me in mind. (The man fan-dancing from 1978 hit me with a feather`s edge across the face, ghost of a kiss. It burned.) Men who have paid their brilliant bodies for soul`s desire, a night or hour, fifteen minutes of skin brushed against bright skin, burn down to smoke and cinders shaken over backyard gardens, charred bone bits sieved out over water. The flat earth loves them even contaminated, turned over for no one`s spring. Iris and gentian spring up like blue flames, discard those parts more perishable: lips, penises, testicles, a lick of semen on the tongue, and other things in the vicinity of sex. Up and down the sidewalk stroll local gods (see also: saunter, promenade, parade of possibilities, virtues at play: Sunday afternoons before tea dance, off-white evenings kneeling at public urinals, consumed by what confuses, consuming it too). Time in its burn is any life, those hours, afternoons, buildings smudged with soot and city residues. Later they take your blood, that tells secrets it doesn`t know, bodies can refuse their being such, rushing into someone`s wish not to be. My babbling blood. What`s left of burning burns as well: me down to blackened glass, an offering in anthracite, the darkest glitter smoldering underground until it consumes the earth which loves me anyway, I`m sure. 82
82 Reginald Shepherd, "Antibody," collected in Wrong, University of Pittsburgh
Seven for Today 1. My son called 911 this morning (again). He was supposed to be listening to his Ramona audiobook on headphones so I could sleep for another twenty minutes, but he fiddled with the locked phone until it made an emergency call, then he handed it to me. Here, you talk. I opened my eyes to see what he'd done, then panicked and hung up. They called back a minute later. No, no emergency. Just my three year-old. Sorry. 2. I ask a friend to tell me to write 500 words. She tells me to write 500 words. I pick up a favorite book, Abigail Thomas's Safekeeping, to remember about writing, about narrative windows into a life. I read about Thomas's second divorce. There were no happy answers, she writes. I read a sad part about how her parents paid for her son to go away to boarding school, and he called her, homesick, begging to come home. She writes, Some things are so sad you think they can't get better and nothing will be ok. She didn't make it better, although she tried, later. It got better by itself. 3. Yesterday we went to the playground for the hour before sundown. My son keeps asking me if it's still winter. I say that it is, even though some of the days have been unseasonably warm. Yesterday was Groundhog Day. The beginning of February is also Imbolc. The park we go to is a sort of oval basin of lawn with stone steps at one end. We run into three girls from preschool there, two of whom are twins. The non-twin really wants E. to play with her, and she crouches beside him as he stuffs old leaves into the bottom of an overturned riding toy. Elias, do you want to play wedding? Do you want to play wedding, Elias?? Finally, with some prompting from me, he replies, I want to play digging. Later, he tries to join his friends as they climb up one structure and hop onto another on repeatedly. One of the twins tells him the game is only for girls. 4. Before we leave the playground, E. becomes increasingly tired and hungry. I can see it in how he begins to roam around, looking for opportunities to be belligerent. I try to coax him toward the car with the promise of Peanut butter
crackers, but it's only when I distract him by pointing to the clouds that he agrees to be picked up. Are they stratus or cumulus? he says. I'm not sure. Stratus, maybe. All clouds are made of water vapor, he tells me. 5. I've been very angry, I tell my friend over text. So have I, he says. And it's slipping out in the wrong places. Yeah, I say. 6. This morning after the 911 call, my son wanders into the kitchen to oversee the coffee making. It is his job to smell the coffee after it is ground, and he becomes agitated if he misses the chance to do it. I try to doze again, but find that I am agitated. Is it an emergency? I say a spontaneous Hail Mary. I'm not Catholic, but I've always loved Mary, and I like the idea of hailing her. Hail, Mary. Come in, Mary. Over. By the time I am at the end of the prayer, my body has relaxed. May we all be cared for. All of us poor sinners. All of us who care for others. Now and at the hour of our death. 7. What I wanted to say was that there were all kinds of people at the playground. I stood over my son, watching him stuff leaves into an overturned toy with another boy as they made dragon soup, and I thought, This is America. This is America. This is America. Joanna Penn Cooper 83 83 Joanna Penn Cooper, "Seven for Today"
The Teenage Girl Understands Remember, there are other ways that men can touch you, my mother said. I thought of the man who pushed his thigh against mine on the bus, said how are you still fifteen-- but she meant so they don't get you pregnant. When she told me about men, my mother began her sentences Understand. Remember. We`ve all failed our mothers once. On his mother`s couch, my mouth filled with him, and I remembered as a young child, my face slammed against that first heavy wave: how the brine filled my body like a bag. Understand that his cock became the shape of my mouth and claimed it. That night he rocked my rigid neck between his hands until it locked. I ate nothing but my work, spat him warm into the sink. If I told her I decided to marry the first man who asked me is this how you like to be touched, my mother would understand. 84 84 Rachel Mennies, "The Teenage Girl Understands," in The Adroit Journal
The White Fires of Venus We mourn this senseless planet of regret, droughts, rust, rain, cadavers that can`t tell us, but I promise you one day the white fires of Venus shall rage: the dead, feeling that power, shall be lifted, and each of us will have his resurrected one to tell him, Greetings. You will recover or die. The simple cure for everything is to destroy all the stethoscopes that will transmit silence occasionally. The remedy for loneliness is in learning to admit the bayonet: gracefully, now that already it pierces the heart. Living one: you move among many dancers and don`t know which you are the shadow of; you want to kiss your own face in the mirror but do not approach, knowing you must not touch one like that. Living one, while Venus flares O set the cereal afire, O the refrigerator harboring things that live on into death unchanged. They know all about us on Andromeda, they peek at us, they see us in this world illumined and pasteled phonily like a bus station, they are with us when the streets fall down fraught with laundromats and each of us closes himself in his small San Francisco
without recourse. They see you with your face of fingerprints carrying your instructions in gloved hands trying to touch things, and know you for one despairing, trying to touch the curtains, trying to get your reflection mired in alarm tape past the window of this then that dark closed business establishment. The Andromedans hear your voice like distant amusement park rides converged on by ambulance sirens and they understand everything. They`re on your side. They forgive you.
I want to turn for a moment to those my heart loves, who are as diamonds to the Andromedans, who shimmer for them, lovely and useless, like diamonds: namely, those who take their meals at soda fountains, their expressions lodged among the drugs and sunglasses, each gazing down too long into the coffee as though from a ruined balcony. O Andromedans they don`t know what to do with themselves and so they sit there until they go home where they lie down until they get up, and you beyond the light years know that if sleeping is dying, then waking is birth, and a life is many lives. I love them because they know how to manipulate change in the pockets musically, these whose faces the seasons never give a kiss, these who are always courteous to the faces of presumptions, the presuming streets, the hotels, the presumption of rain in the streets. I`m telling you it`s cold inside the body that is not the body, lonesome behind the face that is certainly not a face of the person one meant to become. 85
85 Denis Johnson, "The White Fires of Venus," in Poem-a-Day, collected in The Incognito Lounge, Carnegie Mellon University
My Hair is My Thing The symphony`s out of money again, and no wonder: all those violins, the twisted strands and sponges--who could not think of torture? Last week I read a novel about a man so awful that when he died I wept because it was fiction. I wanted it to be real so that he could really die. I wanted you to die also, and to be feted with a lengthy, organza-filled funeral, so that I could make a big show of blowing it off. I decided to go out and get a tattoo of your funeral with me not there, but apparently it`s illegal here to tattoo a person who`s crying. The trend now is to be interred with beloved possessions: pearl-trimmed gun, gold watch, whatever you`ve got. Some people recoil at the waste of it, but not me. These contused little objects of wealth--they`re disgusting. I just pray we have earth and shovels enough. I pray we have bodies enough to bury them all. 86
86 Natalie Shapero, "My Hair is My Thing," in The Adroit Journal, collected in Hard Child, Copper Canyon
1. Susan, if I had your ovaries, I`d summon a homing pigeon to deliver the plague. I`d sweep feathers from the sidewalk until I had a coffin or a pillow. It`s not that I want you dead, but yesterday, lying on a picnic table at a rest stop in Virginia, all those syndicated symbols of hope flocked straight to a forest of Dutch Elm disease. 2. Susan, when I was you, I let my breasts dangle. I let the sand crabs creep across my painted toes. I asked the moon to drop her stole of embittered light so as to lead no one else astray. For moral support, I strung a hammock between pine trees-- a family of nooses holding hands. 3. Susan, high in the canopy, a warbler sings and spreads its communicable disease. Below, pine needles
Letter, Clip If you go back far enough in my family tree there are birds. --Susan Mitchell
stifle the undergrowth. Yesterday, I left my hollow bones in the womb. Today, I stand enormously still. Like the ash tree shading the crematorium, I willow, but I cannot weep. 4. Susan, if I am God, there are so many reasons to worry. All I ask is that you suffer with me. 87
87 Fritz Ward, "Letter, Clip," Sundog Lit, collected in Tsunami Diorama, The Word Works
Bust I`m driving alone in the pre-dawn dark to the airport, nerves nearly gone when I fly now, gravity only another holy thing to contend with, what pushes us down squeezing out the body`s air. The shock jock`s morning jawing clangs in its exaggerated American male register to tell us how the 24-year-old Colombian woman whose breasts had been hacked open and stuffed with one kilogram of cocaine swiftly admitted the smuggled property because she was in dire agony. Wounds rupturing, raging infection, she was rushed to the Berlin hospital. Her three kids were home in her country where she worked in agriculture, another word for cultivation of land, for making something out of dirt. The rude radio disc jockey licks his lips into the studio`s mic and says something about motor boating her tits jammed with nose candy and I`m thinking of my friend who`s considering a mastectomy to stay alive, another who said she`d cut them off herself if it meant living. Passport and boots that slip on and off, a sleepy stream through the radiation machine. A passive pat down of my outline and I`m heading somewhere else before the world has even woken up. I`ve got shit to do and I need to lose a little weight before I turn older. There`s the email scan of the bank statement showing barely enough, the IRS check, the dentist that`ll have to wait until payday next month. We do what we have to do to not cleave the body too quickly. I wait for my zone to be called and line up with all the others, the woman`s voice over the intercom`s buzz reminding us the flight is full, reminding us to carry only what we need. The chill rises up in the jet bridge as does the tremor in my chest as we board, this shiver of need that moves my hand to my breastbone, some small gesture of tenderness for this masterpiece of anatomy I cling to. 88 88 Ada Limуn, "Bust," in Waxwing
Whenever I pick up the hammer in the empty music room I hit the dead key on the xylophone. * Embolism. Shy eruption. What is thunder? God plugging in the razor. Where is father? Where isn`t he? * When I was young if I heard a number, any number, I had to count up to it, to say it, to know for sure. * Little dither. Endless weather. What did father say? It takes your whole life to die. * What is thunder? God trying not to lie. 89
89 Gregory Lawless, "Jingle," collected in I Thought I Was New Here, BlazeVOX
Tango (Cinema Sex Ed)
the come-hither glance the head thrown back
the table dance the predatory advance
the meal ticket out the reclining on the couch
the pair of aces split the feigned indifference
bikini and cape the narrow escape
the billowy curtain
the ruggedly handsome
the expanse of her leg
surf crashing around them on the edge of the bed
hot on the scent they spin as one, the wheel of roulette
the manner to which she is accustomed the object undetected
90 Catherine Bowman, "Tango (Cinema Sex Ed)," collected in Can I Finish, Please?, Four Way Books
Twilight, Starring Kanye The vampires are who everybody wants in their movies right now, but who knows what new creature we`ll see ourselves kissing. I`m thinking the next one won`t idealize a white man, but maybe those motherfucking types go on forever. What monster has such sparkling black skin? What monster has sparkling black skin but everybody can find him more man than motherfucking beast, can still desire him, godlike, knows it`s safe for their sweet daughters to have a cutout of him in their sweet bedrooms. I`m not thinking of zombie Michael. I`m thinking the black man can`t be a monster because he is one, because we won`t let a fantasy form around him. Everybody has at least one dream where the city knows it`s in trouble. And it`s the motherfucking dreamer who has a foot on motherfucking towers, people, and cars and shit. Or I`m hoping I`m not the only one. God knows there`s room for one sweating, flexing monster in my head. And it`s everybody else who`s walking by and flickering a bit on the street, just waiting for a person like me to ask, What monster would you be? Land or sea? Could everybody love you like that? Somewhere on the street, I`m yelling, You can`t make every monster into sexy Halloween costumes. Kanye knows why fantasy exists, and stories, knows how to make women look dead and fill a room with them. And he`s called a monster. I should be in love with motherfucking Edward Cullen I guess. I guess I`m a fool to love Kanye. And everybody can just freak when ################ #################### too. 91 91 Sarah Blake, "Twilight, Starring Kanye," collected in Mr. West, Wesleyan
The sex was never-ending and beautiful like a billion poppies blowing over the graves and empty houses and the explosion in the distance was beautiful like a billion poppies blowing toward the east trying to escape the west and the explosion in the distance worked in our favor as you bent me over toward the east trying to escape the west and the pounding and the pounding working in our favor as you bent me over like thunder and rain, a black blizzard, a charged sky and the pounding and the pounding like an orgasm to wake all neighboring armies: like thunder and rain, a black blizzard, a charged sky I heard myself coming until my throat was sore like an orgasm to wake all neighboring armies or the hard slap on a woman`s round ass I heard myself coming until my throat was sore from screaming over the loud machines or the hard slap on a woman`s round ass committed by a soldier on leave, a soldier gone AWOL from screaming over the loud machines saving his supply of butter and cinnamon for my nipples suckled by a soldier on leave, a soldier gone AWOL the one missing two fingers licking his supply of butter and cinnamon from my nipples because this is how we keep going the one missing two fingers pulling apart our clothes under the battle-broken sky because this is how we keep going like the atom eternally splitting pulling apart our clothes under the century-long sky the sex was never-ending like the eternally splitting atom over the graves and empty houses. 92 92 Tana Jean Welch, "Ad Infinitum," in Beloit Poetry Journal, collected in Latest Volcano, Marsh Hawk
Tana Jean Welch
73 it`s that time of year ice in the trees snow like dirty light piled beside the trash bags city gardens behind chain-link fences mired in white except for an occasional rat everyone lately has cancer Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead of an overdose everyone`s sad & fascinated black night is falling in a song I prefer the one about the glowworm illuminate yon woods primeval come to bed my aeronautical glimmer draw a treble clef a few notes will swoop down nothing lasts anyway & we leave nothing behind 93
93 Kim Addonizio, "73," collected in Mortal Trash, Norton
I remember someone calling my name. I remember cutting all my hair in the heat and wanting to nest in it. What am I to do in a year that won`t let me sink further? Algorithm or logarithm, I don`t remember which makes me crawl up the stairs backwards. Have you noticed the numb in my face yet? I am most happy in photos alone. I am having a little miscarriage for myself. I guess you should know there is a minor difference between this hemorrhage and the silver spoon I jam down your throat. 94
Anne Cecelia Holmes
94 Anne Cecelia Holmes, "I remember someone calling..." collected in Dead Year, Sixth Finch
A Brief Attachment I regard your affections, find your teeth have left me a bruise necklace. Those lipstick marks leech a trail, ear to ear, facsimile your smile. Your 40 ounces of malt liquor, your shrink hate, your eyes dialing 911. The hearts you draw with ballpoint on my cigarette packs when I`ve left the room, penned in your girl`s cursive, look demented, misshapen approximations of what I refuse to hand over. It`s a nice touch, though: a little love to accompany the cancer. My thought follows you to where you spend your days lying in bed, smoking and reading the Beats. The accumulation of clothes and ashes circles you, rising like a moat after rainfall. Often you are a study in detachment--the trigger eye is your eye, still as a finger poised to press should one refuse to cooperate, and I wonder how you can hate men so much when you think like one. Think of what I could be doing outside if I could unlock the door of myself: think bikini, think soda fountain, think tradition, a day lacking entirely your brand of ambivalence. If you were a number, I`d subtract you; if you were a sentence, I`d rewrite you. Are you the one who left these wilted flowers, are you the one whose PIN spells out H-O-L-E? Why are you wearing my clothes? If you are weather, then I am a town, closing down at word of your coming: you`re a glacier on fast forward, you`re direct as a detour, when I say good-bye you move in next door. You say you want to have my baby, you want to buy me a car, and you`re too young to enter a bar. I should tether you to a tree in the dark park, allow the moon to stroke your white neck. I should give you a diamond collar, walk you around the block and show you off. 95
95 Cate Marvin, "A Brief Attachment," in Konundrum Engine Literary Review, collected in Fragment of the Head of a Queen, Sarabande
A Picture is Worth Eight Hundred and Eighty-Seven Words Her name was Alison. Alison or Beatrice. Beatrice or Hiacinth. Like the flower but not spelled like the flower. I`m not one of those guys who forgets women`s names. I`m one of those guys who`s distracted, in this particular constellation of memory, by having taken a picture of my penis long ago that did not include my penis. Things were going well with Alison or Beatrice or Hiacinth, so well we knew we`d make love soon, or to wax pronounly, we knew we were going to do it. But Alison or Beatrice or Hiacinth was very honest and very smart and very shy and very hurt at least once, for she had the idea that we each take a picture of our naked selves and share these photographic confessions. That way, if one of us didn`t like what we saw, we could demur without rejecting actual flesh, actual maybe sagging or strangely asymmetrical or gothically tattooed flesh, in the moment of its unveiling, that phase of a relationship that should be accompanied by the phrase, Ta-Da. I loved the idea, the overwhelming sense of photo-realism it would add to my life, but when I stripped, brought the camera to eye and aimed it at the mirror, I laughed, laughed and thought, Johnson, wang, schlong, puddle rudder, meatcycle, and noticed once more that the penis, especially the flaccid penis, appears to be what God was working on when the phone rang. So I tucked it between my legs and snapped away. In tucking it away I was tucking away the absurdity of language and the organ`s significant lack of utility in its casual state of existence. It was a whim, honestly, not an admission of a secret wardrobe or dimensional concerns, and knowing Alison or Beatrice or Hiacinth as I thought I did, I felt she`d find it cute, endearing even. That one day, we`d tell our oldest child, when we were secretly stoned, just to make her blush, to make him vomit in his brain. But. After the date when we exchanged envelopes, I never heard from Alison OR Beatrice OR Hiacinth, whose picture, by the way, revealed not only a beautiful woman, but also a fine sense of composition, due largely to the Van Gogh print behind her left shoulder that suggested she was, among other things, a starry night. Minutes to hours to days to weeks, time did what it does that makes us compare it to sand and water and really old people in orthopedic shoes. When I couldn`t take it anymore, couldn`t abide that she ignored my calls and wouldn`t ring me up, and accepted that I didn`t want to be a stalker, as lovely
as the lifestyle sounds, I did what anyone would do who once attempted to unfreeze a gas cap with a lighter. I bought a tube of lipstick--Cherries Jubilee, I think, because of course a lipstick called Cherries Jubilee would be cheap and noticeable--and wrote on her windshield, I HAVE A PENIS. If you`re thinking, a note would have done, a letter, a message on her answering machine, some skywriting even would have been better, I have only this to say: you obviously have a frontal lobe, whereas I would need to drill down for proof before I`d commit to having such a gray possession as that. So I`d written in large letters what I never thought I`d have reason to write, when this woman, this older woman in sensible everything--sensible coat and shoes and hat and skin, I found her skin eminently sensible in how it held the parts of her that were supposed to be inside inside--stopped and gave a little tug on her dog, her dachshund I want to say, probably because I had a dachshund as a child. Snippy the miniature dachshund, which even at ten seemed redundant, for I saw no especially large dachshunds, no Godzilla dachshunds I needed to worry about distinguishing from the lesser dachshunds, she stopped and gave a tug on her dog and read what I`d written in my frankly impressive block letters, I was and remain quite legible, whether confessing I have a penis or writing on the whiteboard on the fridge, EGGS, PEACE OF MIND, so my wife and I won`t forget what we want from life, she was there and leaning toward the windshield, the dog leaning the way dogs do when people stop, as if they know it`s a mistake for living organisms to stop, ever, she leaned and looked at the windshield, at me, at the windshield, at me, and whispered very softly, as if her lips were tiptoeing, as if her voice were a match in a room of gasoline, So do I. And smiled. The best smile I`d ever seen. A smile that made me think she`d waited her whole life to admit this to someone on the street, someone with obviously a few things to work on. That became the Cheshire smile, the smile that hangs in the air, that follows and gives me the feeling I can yet be who I am. And her name was Alison. Alison. Alison. Like the song. The beautiful song I`m singing as I type this, singing in my head, where I`m a wonderful singer, as are we all.
96 96 Bob Hicok, "A Picture is Worth Eight Hundred and Eighty-Seven Words," in The Southern Review, collected in Sex & Love &, Copper Canyon
Sir or Madam after Jean-Pierre Rosnay Because I know also well though you should not have been permitted to enter through the radiation. Because maybe I have all forgotten but I know well though you should not have brought the ticket even though you fear you will be unable to procure one at the portal. Because maybe you have also forgotten the hospital where you had been barred to see the radiation. But, if we speak of the hospital, should we remember it as the place where if we shrink, and we shudder, that`s normal? Because I know also well though you had been cautioned year upon year while migrating towards the hospital. Because I know also though you had tried to scale the ingress in the hospital at the efficient hour. Because I know though your migrating had not been permitted to enter through the radiation. Because I know you will go like a specter who has made fault in the grass, your tongue flailing near the defeated planet, near it, yes, near but not it. Because of time in time I know though, for you, the hospital is the hospital at the interior of the man, and that is astonishingly difficult there to operate. Valerie Hsiung 97 97 Valerie Hsiung, "Sir or Madam," collected in incantation inarticulate, O Balthazar
What I Miss Most about Hell is prayer. I`d pack a plastic bottle with vodka, drive to the crag of my life-- the parking lot of a pancake house-- and scream. I prayed like everyone I loved was on fire. The bright, violet blob I called God would forgive the atrocities roared in ethanol rage while I`d shake like a dog demanding answers from the maker of figs: why the sycamore fruit sweetens only when bruised, the way a fist will ripen a child. 98
98 Eugenia Leigh, "What I Miss Most about Hell," in Waxwing
Among Competing Answers, Choose the Simplest I`m straightening up the house while Robin`s on the phone with her brother who`s walking her through the steps to find the arrest report of her other brother. It looks like it`s three charges this time, but one of them isn`t available for viewing, which gets confusing, in the cacophony of birds dissipating from tree to tree way, which is also a version of that feeling you have when you aren`t having any feelings in a situation in which you think you should be having feelings. But numbness is also a feeling, as I`m looking things up on the internet to try to help, even though I was just thinking that`s a rather futile task. If we refused every futile task, though, we`d do very little in this life, I`m countering to myself, as Robin and her brother are wondering if their brother had been taking his medications and how that might`ve been a part of it. And haven`t we had this conversation before, arguing against our current conception of empathy, that it`s too easily swayed by individuals in crisis and not enough by long-term goals? It`s important that we follow the terms of grief. That we wrap the wound in gauze and pick up our drums and flutes. It reminds me of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Riker gets turned into a god, and loses his capacity for empathy, fried, as he was, by the weight of his power. Where do we start is the same question as where do we stop. Like most things, it depends on your phrasing. You campaign, as they say, in poetry, and you govern in prose. No wonder then, that people say poetry is dead. For years after my first divorce, I kept my wedding ring on my keychain, as poetry, a reminder of something, a negotiation with myself. Some empathy. I was never very specific regarding what I was supposed to be reminding myself of, or negotiating. I think maybe I just didn`t know what to do with it, really, until one day I was at work and someone stole my keys, wanting the ring, to pawn or to, I guess, marry someone. So then I got this second lesson, a lesson about the surface-level reality of one`s lessons, and I tell this story often because I think it`s funny, though no one else ever does, which makes it even more funny. 99
99 John Gallaher, "Among Competing Answers, Choose the Simplest," in The Los Angeles Review
30 1. I will publish a book by the time I'm 30. 2. April, June, September, November. 3. Breasts or chests and an empty stomach lying on their side. 4. At age 30 my mother gave birth to me. Of five children, I`m the middle. Her favorite. The oldest son of my generation. I chose to not have offspring. 5. I turned 30 on November 26, 2001. New York City still smelled of ash. 6. An omen of blackbirds roosting on electrical wire. 7. For the very first time I fell in love with a man. 8. Every morning I count the almonds I drop in my oatmeal. 9. There are 30 hours in a day, minus six, which I could totally use. 10. Taylor Swift sings of young abandon in 22 (ooh-ooh). That I abandoned. 11. I detest the rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars despite not having heard their music. Leto is forever Catalano to me.
12. Space Station Expedition 30 Soyuz Capsule landed in Kazakhstan. A friend adopted a cherubic boy from a Kazakhstan orphanage. Renamed him Julien. He now resembles his French-Polish father. 13. My sole brother`s birthday is May 30. I often fail him. 14. Forgiveness has proven to be the hardest lesson. 15. Fifteen is halfway there. There is halfway to sixty. 16. Adulthood prances nowhere near a New Yorker in his 30s. 17. If I run on a treadmill for 30 minutes, I`ll burn a cupcake. Or two. 18. I met a lion-maned sorceress, wearing a glittery sweater. We ate dim sum. Went on adventures. 19. The last TV show I regarded as religion was 30 Rock. 20. In many parts of the world 30 chickens constitute wealth. 21. Zero Dark Thirty is military slang for the unspecified time in the early morning hours before dawn. 22. 30 was the title of the final episode of the final season of The Wire. 23. In The Seasons of a Man's Life, psychologist Daniel J. Levinson defines The Dream--youth, illusion, inspiration, omnipotence, heroic drama--and how it needs to be modulated during the transition period (28-33) of early adulthood. For survival.
I aged out of 30 Under 30.
At the end of a press release, the end of a story.
In a clearing, a sawed-off tree. I count its rings. History.
30 was a telegraphic shorthand to end transmission in the American Civil War.
My roommate and I rushed to our Manhattan rooftop and saw a tower downtown crumble into smoke and nothing.
When my knee inadvertently touched his at a poetry reading, he moved not a muscle.
Eyes inward, moan arising from the throat. 100
Joseph O. Legaspi
100 Joseph O. Legaspi, "30," in Waxwing
Instructions for Weeding a Garden Sometimes the name of a flower is more beautiful than the flower itself. Amaranth, larkspur, the memory of my mother bent over the sedum`s uncombed heads back in a garden whose smell I can no longer pick from a swatch book. It was August and I was learning about sleep, the way you learn about water when you are thirsty. 101
101 Adriana Cloud, "Instructions for Weeding a Garden," collected in Instructions for Building a Wind Chime, Poetry Society of America
First Husband I took you in your blue Walmart vest, took your may I help you literally, took the keys to your car and threw them out the window. I took thee to the prom. I took your best friend for a test drive, but we were on a break. I took you stupefied by misapplied Prozac, I took the part of Ingйnue #2 to your experience, sat with welted ass and demure face, blushing over my bound wrists. I took your shaved curls from the sink, and they clung to me. I took your love and called it crush. I took you seriously and got took. I took my itinerary across the southern states and folded the map until we overlapped. I took the vodka bottle from your hand and poured it over my breasts. I took your clothes that smelled like her and stuffed them in the litter box. I took my cues from what thought I should feel in the role of Betrayed Wife, or Betraying Wife, or Wife Who Can`t Remember Who Fucked Who Anymore. No more ingйnue. I took your hand one last time. I took down your new address. I took your hand again. I took my tongue and touched it to your lips, but you wouldn`t kiss me. I took that as no but knew what no meant to us, so I took your pants off, I took no excuses, Michael, I took your name, I took your hand, and in the perpetual backward glance, I take your name again. 102
102 Rebecca Hazelton, "First Husband," collected in Vow, Cleveland State University Poetry Center
Dolphin Live Birth
Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn. --Gore Vidal
Ghost of Gore Vidal, please watch over me as I watch this dolphin live birth online. We're sort of a militarized republic, you said. Remain over me, and what you see in the present and the future. Art, the function of art, is to remain here. Success is made through failure, made the dolphins female, watching me, birthing me. But need was gone? Not sure. What rearming? What energy and patience? Gore Vidal, the family that previously Kickstartered for a dolphin midwife live birth disappeared from the internet without a trace. I searched for them. They were peace-loving crust punks. Their story is our story. Two crust punks expecting one more wanted to Give Birth in Hawaii with a Dolphin Midwife. To all the women who want a baby, over here please! And to all the children who weren`t born in a hospital, step over here please! Reality star Scott Disick posted a photo to Instagram: a man with his dick in the mouth of a fish. Bestiality, rape, blow jobs, pornography--this photo had it all. His caption, however, was an inquiry of taxonomy: Does anyone know what kind of fish this is?
The unfed mind devours itself.
The photo was taken down. I`ve given some blow jobs. Each was a difficult though rewarding gift. I empathize for that dead or dying fish. It is the woman without arms. 103
103 Amy Lawless, "Dolphin Live Birth," in Bennington Review
Angel of cocaine Overdoses and middle-aged men Discovered on floors, in bars, In women`s bathrooms-- Beneath a juvenilia of stars. Quarantined Adderall and Michelob Chasers. If no one sees, does that mean It never happened? Getting off the medicine Is like a religious experience, But that doesn`t make it religious, Does it? I hope you`ve collected your lies In your exquisite Notebook. 104
104 Cynthia Cruz, "Death Star," collected in The Glimmering Room, Four Way
Isn`t True Love Wonderful? Ecobutch from Cornish just made me her favorite, which is more than I can say of Kitchenslut100 or 101. Ecoslut might be the one for me, and because of the wonders of wondering, I can click on pixels of my affection all night and see their private peccadilloes rise beneath my touch. One likes fisting, another vanilla ice cream licked from her hair. Where do people come from, where do they get fetishes for tomboys in stilettos? I don`t know what I like until I`ve seen it on a pillow 300 days in a row. It`s ok to wash the pillowcase as long as it spins in counterintuitive ways--we all have idiosyncrasies, if not mates. My notmates are many, and we share so much: birth month, love for loosefitting modifiers, close-ups long on soft focus. Most employ the selfie, which shouts how alone they are, unless you count vitamin supplements and hair gels on bathroom counters. Context matters, and in a finite youand-me verse, I need to hurry and admit I love you and how does anyone rappel out of herself into another without grave risks? You have a habit of tilting your brain back, with a question. You have a body with windows and doors and once you left the lights on in there, the way people in Amsterdam in tall, slender houses on sleepy canals will, without draperies, a kind of invitation, a way of saying I have nothing to hide. I appreciate now how you take the long way from A to A, how you believe Z or hyacinths or maps to crumbled places may figure into it. I`m trying to articulate my lack of attraction to people trying to do things. Would you like to love me without trying? That`s
an abstract proposition that ought to come with an airline ticket and an overhead compartment. I want to go away with you so we can come home together, so we can stand at passport control and have the man in the glass booth glance from our papers to the clock on the wall, back to us, and ask, as the maitre d` once did to my first sweetheart and me at The Lark Supper Club outside of Iowa City in 1985: Isn't true love wonderful? It is, and after the man waves us on toward the carousel, after we claim our suitcases and the beagle named Rex trained to sniff out heroin and pears and illicit French cheeses makes a beeline for me, unbidden, I`ll unzip myself, letting all my light, for anyone in this dark world to trip over. 105
105 Andrea Cohen, "Isn't True Love Wonderful?" in The American Poetry Review, collected in Unfathoming, Four Way Books
from The Dead Girls Speak in Unison Then, we lay back on limestone in sodden undies and counted the scorpion stars. And when they fell into our open guts our torsos spread like brides. Get into our limbic chambers! One day you will punch the wrong grouse in the gut and her stingers pour over your guilt, your quilt your skin your hot little grin. 106
106 Danielle Pafunda, "Then we lay back on limestone..." collected in The Dead Girls Speak in Unison, Bloof
The Other Victorians You know the Other Victorians? The ones Foucault writes about in The History of Sexuality The frauds against procreation who did acts contrary to nature Like Michael Field, a Victorian gentleman poet Who wrote 27 verse plays & 8 volumes of poetry Who is not a man at all But two women, an Englishwoman and her niece And their chow dog they adored They wrote poems about flowers pussy and the patriarchy What else are you doing to do When you are the Other Victorians In whose hearts burn a fervent heat And Virginia Woolf
is only a Victorian baby in a bonnet So cannot yet measure your entangled violence? Katharine Bradley (1846-1914) Lost her dad at two and when her mom died She went to college in Cambridge & Paris Then joined Ruskin`s Guild of Saint George A small utopian society for art snobs Kat pissed off Ruskin when she wrote to tell him She lost God but found a Skye Terrier Annoying Ruskin was necessary defiance, I`m sure Look at what he did to pretty Effie Grey Married her and then ignored and bullied her Because a woman`s body wasn`t what he expected Effie got a divorce due to his incurable impotency And made off with a Pre-Raphaelite painter What else can you do, Kat? When they call you An aberration of the genetic instinct And make you an object of analysis and target of intervention You adopt your niece Edith Cooper (1862-1913) When her mother dies, adopt a joint pseudonym Properly anonymous and vaguely pastoral To write poems like Maids not to you my mind doth change In which between women exists manifold desire Sounding a lot like French Feminist theory of the 70s Together you write, Men I defy, allure, estrange, Prostrate, make bond or free Back to your medieval craft guild, John What can you do? When sex and its effects are to be pursued Down to their slenderest ramifications By doctors, clergy, police You are financially independent that helps Working side by side you wrote verse plays Loyalty or Love, The Tragic Mary, or Attila, My Attila And poems about sex behind parquet doors
Beneath bedclothes, under surveillance Hiding from those other Victorians Weeping over Tennyson in ferny parlors You describe a girl with her lips apart, like aspen-leaflets trembling in the breeze Trembling! Leaflets! So lovely! So Victorian! Now your souls so knit, / I leave a page half-writ For a quickie in the hedges of St. James` park Robert Brown
ing praised Michael Field`s work Edith wrote to him about Katherine She is my senior, by but fifteen years She has lived with me, taught me, encouraged me And joined me to her poetic life An industrious writing team taking the scene by storm With books of poems like Wild Honey from Various Thyme Mystic Trees, and Poems of Adoration Mixing with the heavies of the nineties The Aestheticists, Pater, Wilde, young Yeats Friends called you The Michaels, The Field, The Michael Fields Yet you fought with Aubrey Beardsley Over his depraved art, which is disappointing Because I want interesting Victorian artists to get along The Field begged Browning not to reveal their secret Edith wrote that would indeed be utter ruin to us We have many things to say that the world Will not tolerate from a woman`s lips They must maintain the disguise A job of many Other Victorians Unless you wanted to go the way of Wilde Sentenced to two years` hard labor For gross indecency for the Love that dare not speak its name He had to walk a treadmill pick oakum wear a hood The wit of Europe called CC3, the number of his cell Hunger, illness, and injury destroying his health Upon release, he sailed for France never to return home And never saw his sons again His horrid young boyfriend betrayed him And he died sick and broken, exiled to a filthy hotel The Michael Fields mourned Wilde So glam and sparkling, a raging diamond A thousand vicious Victorian judges burn In hell for harming him! In the poem Unbosoming your breast is rent With the burthen and strain of its great content And the love breeding in your heart Is like a thousand vermilion-beads That push, and riot, and squeeze, and clip And flowers have a tremulous, bowery fold As if from Luce Irigaray`s This Sex Which is Not One
My best friend, a real live lesbian Thinks this poem is a little silly, which it probably is She says I wish I were a lesbian, probably true In that stupid way straight girls think it`s easier To date women rather than men As if the patriarchy doesn`t wreck us all But she finds Michael Field moving Knowing what it`s like to live hidden even from yourself To walk into the grocery store at thirteen And hear someone say, What is that? To have your father say your dead mother Would not have liked you to be gay To not come out until after college And finally to decide to live revealed Michael Field, you dedicated your first book Long Ago To Sappho, a girl`s best ancient friend In the preface you said, Devoutly as the fiery-bosomed Greek Turned in her anguish to Aphrodite To accomplish her heart`s desires I have turned to the one woman Who has dared to speak unfalteringly Of the fearful mastery of love Another problem for Other Victorians For all of us really, the fearful mastery of love But especially hard for them Locked up in asylums, sent to penal colonies & houses of correction Punished for moral folly and physical imbalance Or sentenced to bed like Elizabeth Barrett Browning Or Woolf and most everybody dies tragically The poor Brontлs all died so terribly What a second novel Emily would have written! So amazing! Could her sister really have burned it? So unfair! Emily had a dog named Keeper (And so did my real life lesbian best friend) And a falcon named Hero, now I`m distracted By my desire to make the past Palatable and comprehensible Surely one of Power/Knowledge`s microtechniques What on earth are you supposed to do? You`re not the Lady of Shalott Not trapped in a tower surrounded by a moat Stuck inside to work on your weird weavings Not under a vague curse that makes you Kill yourself like a Victorian performance artist The second you see Lancelot galloping outside You bedeck your boat with flowers to float Down to Camelot and perish on the spot Only for Lancelot to say, She has a pretty face But you too are half sick of shadows
You`re not Christina Rossetti
either Who rejects her suitors with a No thank you, John And rejects chess, too, why not? So boring And attends to fallen women at a prison And writes lesbian incest poems about goblins In which sisters lick each other`s faces A Victorian badass that Christina And Woolf is just a girl when you are writing Her mother is dying and abandoning her To her stepbrothers with their roving hands And it`s before Freud says we`re all bisexual Some more than others clearly Long before Gertrude and Alice walk Basket around Paris Who`s better? Their dog or yours? Yours You`re Michael Field, dammit You parade him through London`s parks Write a book of poems for him, Whym Chow: Flame of Love In class one of my student asks why all lesbians love dogs I`m taken aback, but he explains his two moms Have always had dogs & all their friends too But all my lesbian friends adore cats, I protest My best friend thinks this is funny She has two cats, thank you, John What are you going to do? Publish your poems that claim If thou are beloved, oh then Fear no grief from mortal man But it isn`t true, Edith`s dad disapproves Of your love so she suffers from what Foucault Says, There is not one but many silences And when he dies, you buy a grand old house With the money and when your dog dies You both convert to Roman Catholicism Get caught up in the majesty of it all The rituals, candles, velvets, the dark places And Katherine you don`t say anything When Edith gets cancer and you do, too You hold her tremulous hand and wipe her brow Stay up reading to her when she can`t sleep for the pain To ease her tempestuous heart Perhaps reading H.D. Imagiste who just published Her first poems also inspired by Sappho And who would live in London with her wife during the Blitz And Kat, you die just eight months after Edith dies As the Suffragettes bomb churches The Great War comes marching And everybody will die those Other Victorians Not just the frail crazy pretty ladies floating Down the river with flowers trailing from their fingers But two women bedside gazing at each other
Surrounded by the fruits of their labor What are you going to do? Write poems and resist silence and death 107
107 Camille Guthrie, "The Other Victorians," in At Length
one of the star-eyed neighbors spills white all over the carpet again & leans into it like sniffing a fish`s ear. The other neighbor is Pisces reclining, So & So on the couch in Atari`s glow. All of these habits from Vietnam, blamed on Agent Orange-- heroin & gunplay first, cocaine after. Not every fatherless black could object to war like Sun Ra did. Not every fatherless black could get kicked out of the army before the fighting started like Richard Pryor. Hardly any fatherless blacks could skip Vietnam, as far out from this space as any black boy will get. Listen: the neighbor`s cigarette is about to burn into her own hair violently, the same way it burned a socket into that unfortunate shag rug in their living room. Listen: we have to get off this pockmarked planet.
108 108 Adrian Matejka, "& Later," in Poem-a-Day, collected in Map to the Stars, Penguin
Mortification Montage She writes her mother from camp: I don`t have enough scrunchies! Everybody here has like thirty scrunchies! Her mother sends a box of scrunchies made from quilting scraps & old bra straps. She wants to die. She draws a Guess? label onto the butt of some jeans from Sears. The fifth-grade student body disapproves. She gets back on the horse; she asks a boy to dance. The boy says, With a dog? His lacrosse buddies erupt in a chorus of barking & belching. She buys a T-shirt so she has something to cry into. She steals a pair of shoes so she can get away faster. When her stepfather picks up the phone, she says, I`m going to jail. She sings Mozart`s Lacrimosa in the back of the cruiser. She holds a Mr. Coffee carafe against her inner thigh. The Cure`s Pornography plays on & on. Her prom date comes drunk in a Mickey Mouse tux. They dine & dash. He goes down on her with a Maglite flashlight. This is the labia majora he says with a poke. This is the labia minora, he says with a poke. She flunks out of Community College
because slam poetry is more important. She drops out of slam poetry because, Swing dancing! She brings a man home. Wait here, she breathes. She puts on a crinoline, a 1950s prom dress, coral lipstick & a dead woman`s stockings. She runs back into the man`s arms: Oh, Dennis! Don`t take me behind the bleachers! I`m a virgin! I have to be home by eleven! The man blinks at her. She doubles down, rips her bodice, slaps herself, says: How dare you, Dennis! I`m the prom queen! The man leaves. She tries to sleep her way through the zodiac. She offers a defense in her journal: For all intensive purposes, she writes, I`m doing it for my art. She takes a swig from a beer with three butts in it. She orders the shrimp scampi and feels real sophisticated. A man says, What do you really want? She says, To be the most important poet of my generation. The man looks away. I feel sorry for you, he says. I think you`re going to lead a very lonely life. In the bay, a man-of-war brushes against her arm like the tall, preoccupied stranger at a party
where her wine is about to leave three long welts on the arm of the hosts` white leather couch. 109
109 Karyna McGlynn, "Mortification Montage," collected in Hothouse, Sarabande
The Origins of the Practice In some orders the eyes are trained to look neither left nor right as one walks, but to focus instead on two or three steps ahead. Cloister manuals might ask one to avoid looking up as a person enters the room so as to keep the still-point focus of attention. One could, I suppose, keep any of the senses in custody, but eyes are naturally unruly, straying without conscience. Recall the infant`s peek-a-boo, the thrill of presence and absence, or the would-be lover`s stolen glance, or the aggression in sizing someone up, the contempt one senses in an unrelenting stare. And then there is Agnes, about whom little is certain except the importance of eyes in her story. Twelve-year-old daughter of Roman aristocrats, who may themselves have been converts, she becomes a Christian during the reign of Diocletian and his persecutions. A prefect`s son, who is smitten by her, and possibly her wealth, proposes marriage, but she refuses, saying she has already consecrated her virginity to a spouse, who cannot be beheld by mortal eyes. Her conversion is brought to the attention of a judge who invites her to return to the pagan and burn incense at the shrine of Minerva. When she refuses, he threatens her with torture. Fires are lit, hooks and spikes assembled, but these do not frighten her. The judge orders her stripped before a crowd in the square, thinking humiliation will work. But a miracle of visual custody occurs--the crowd, especially the young men, avert their eyes, all but one lad, curious and impudent, with lust taking hold. Instantly he is struck by lightning and blinded. The blow leaves him convulsing in the square. The lesson, however, does not end with him. The judge will have to order Agnes executed. Here the accounts vary widely: she is burned alive, or beheaded, or given the gentle death--a slit artery in the neck. Perhaps it takes time for the authorities to decide on a method. As their betters discuss what to do, the ordinary soldiers pause to look things over. They speak of the child`s long hair that during the day had lengthened into a veil to cover her body. They marvel at the shackles that keep falling from her tiny wrists. They puzzle over the fires that won`t stay lit. And like soldiers
everywhere, they stand and stare at what they would have to do, but did not want to do, and would do anyway. This reverie lasts long enough to make the child herself grow impatient with them. Agnes calls out toward one who has his sword already drawn: This lover, she shouts, this one at last, I confess it, pleases me. I shall welcome the whole length of his blade into my bosom. What are you waiting for, executioner? What are you waiting for? 110
110 Fred Marchant, "The Origins of the Practice," collected in The Looking House, Graywolf Pressnational poet
ry Month The parade was dull. The queen old, wearing a frumpy sweater against the cold. No candy. The marching band wore black, smoked cigarettes, and whined a lot. Some guy in a beard guided a giant balloon shaped like a question mark. When the hyacinth girl ran off with the mermaid, a language poet read his work in his native tongue, something he called language. People learned something, though--you can`t teach old rain new tricks. And don`t look a gift book in the mouth. In fact, don`t look at it at all. Of course, most people don`t need to be told that. The month was long and cruel--as it should be. When the parade ended, someone woke briefly and was awarded tenure. People went home to watch television. The home team won in extra innings. Kevin Griffin 111 111 Kevin Griffith, "National Poetry Month," in Pearl, collected in Denmark, Kangaroo, Orange, Pearl Editions
Bat Boy Washed Up Onshore
I have grieved Bat Boy. When I was a sophomore with a joint and a bad boyfriend, he was an urchin with spray paint and an underpass that felt like home. When my trip turned oh-shit-I-can-only-see-in-blackand-white, Bat Boy took me to the gas station to walk the neon pharmacy of the candy aisle. Anyone would have cried to stare at the newsprint of his face, but he was the leather-winged angel of that place, showing me how every microscopic quadrant of my tongue was a different piece of molten fructose architecture. People who are depressed can`t see colors as brightly. The blur of his fang-teeth was probably hepatitis yellow if I could have seen him clearly, but after that I got clean because it seems you never get to go back to the first glittering rainbowed miracle of a gas station and wishing for it newsprints your face and your insides. Bat Boy was gone a long time, undercover for the CIA in the mountains of Tora Bora, an American hero in the headlines, even if you couldn`t see through the gray of his redwhite-and-blue bandanna. I was busy organizing protests with a lot of colorful posters and tie-dye. He`s not the only person I don`t know at all anymore. When the paper went bankrupt everyone became very frank about how it was all made up. There wasn`t even a kook in an attic reporters went out to interview. Just cynics with word processors. I thought I remembered one day buying a pack of Tic Tacs, white and plain in their plastic box, when I saw the cover where he washed up dead on the beach and it was like when Shelley was found on the shore and how they said his heart just wouldn`t burn, waterlogged and smoking on the pure, beating some untranslated poem. But actually that`s not true, so l looked it up again, and it was the merman I was thinking of. Bat Boy is without end. He`s looking up at the incoming drone, he`s under the overpass flashing his teeth, he`s hissing in the static behind the news that a certain number of people are dead and a certain number are wounded and I wonder what we might say, were we ever to pass each other at the periphery of someone else`s war or natural disaster, how we would talk if one of us were really there. 112
112 Kathryn Nuernberger, "Bat Boy Washed Up Onshore," in The Southeast Review, collected in The End of Pink, BOA
A Glossary of French Orgasms Averse, nf A sudden shower of orgasms. Also, a deluge of pleasure. Bougonnement, nm A grumpy orgasm. An orgasm that is always complaining. Is that the best you can do? Croissй, nf An orgasm that takes you to the place where life and death part, where heaven and earth meet. Diablesse, nf An orgasm that burns, or at least singes your skin. Йtoile, nf An orgasm that thinks it is the only star in your heaven. Fraude, nf A fake or deceptive orgasm. Also, a smuggler of orgasms. Gifle, nm An orgasm that slaps you in the face. Also, a wakeup call. Hargne, nf An ill-tempered orgasm that makes you pay for your sins, or at least confess them. Idem, nf An orgasm that is always the same. A regular, everyday orgasm. Jouet, nm An orgasm that treats you like a toy or something to play with when she`s bored. Also, the orgasm next door. Kamikaze, nm An orgasm that can only happen once in a lifetime. Also, a lethal orgasm. Local, nm An orgasm from your hometown. Also, an orgasm with pompoms. Moulant, nm An orgasm that fits you as snugly as a wool dress, hot out of the dryer. Narratrice, nf An orgasm that narrates events as they happen. Ombre, nf A shadowy orgasm who takes your light away forever. Prisme, nf A transcendental orgasm. An orgasm that changes the way you see the world.
Quotepart, nf The number of orgasms you are allowed to have in a single life. Rappel, nm An orgasm that cries out again and again. Also, an orgasm that reminds you of its speed. Spectateur, -trice, n An orgasm that watches you, as if from above, whenever it makes love to you. Also, an out-of-body orgasm. Tragique, nm An orgasm that ends badly. An orgasm that regrets having met you. Utopie, nf The afterlife of the orgasm. And the afterlife of the afterlife of the orgasm. Vague, nf An orgasm wave. Also, an orgasm that washes over you not once, but at least three times before leaving. Watt, nm A unit of power, used to measure the current flowing through the heart of the orgasm. Xйnophobe, nf An orgasm that dislikes anything new. A conservative orgasm. Yoyo, nm An orgasm that changes its mind frequently. Also, an orgasm on a string. Zeste, nm The peel of an orgasm. The flavor or spirit of the thing. Also, a tiny orgasm with a large bang. Nin Andrews 113 113 Nin Andrews, "A Glossary of French Orgasms," collected in Our Lady of the Orgasm, MadHat
In 1933 in Chicago, they would see gangsters in classic limousines, the ones with rounded fenders. Dillinger and his gang were shooting up the town. Her brothers played cops and robbers, or stickball; ran wild in the streets. In the tiny apartment, she had no bed, slept on a trunk. She and her brothers got scarlet fever. Their mother was sick too, so the kids had to go to different hospitals. She wrote to her brother, My hospital has cute mice. What is yours like? He wrote her back, Please don`t send any more letters. You are a bad girl telling lies about mice. He never believed her. Even now, at eighty-six he thinks she was lying. 114
114 Lori Desrosiers, "Blanche Remembers," collected in The Philosopher's Daughter, Salmon Poetry
the deer become pre-teens suddenly, the woods are full of magazine cutouts, glittered with watermelon body spray, echoing with shrieks & key-clacks & the telltale noise of someone signing on to AIM. the deer`s hooves are painted ungodly colors and some of them have stacks of bracelets around their ankles and are daring each other to rip them off. their tattoos are temporary, thank god, but a few of them have figured out how to get the older deer to buy them wine coolers, the hems of their skins and shirts inching higher by the hour. the deer can take care of themselves, though, they`re smart girls. you wouldn`t understand the things they`re planning on three-way calls. you wouldn`t understand the things they do in the dark. 115
Cassandra de Alba
115 Cassandra de Alba, "the deer become pre-teens," in Drunk In A Midnight Choir, collected in habitats, Horse Less
When I am a Teenage Boy I am like my parents` house, in a state of constant remodel we can ill afford, the noise behind a tarp producing little more than dust. But the footprint must change despite great expense. Large parts need to move for the sake of flow. I learn the trick is to appear intact, though recently the problem of my torso is introduced. My mother says I`ve always been a little Jew around the waist. She had specific hopes, shelled out for the stag tuxedo suit, sent me for cotillion lessons. Mind like a boardwalk jewelry store, heyday 1962, she wears her hostess gown in the kitchen while I creak along with the crock pot pulverizing our Sunday stew. Because I`m an only, she put a TV in my room for company. It`s a solid business, taping cable porn to VHS. But when I`m caught extorting the gym coach, meds are discussed at school. My mother says we don`t do meds, my dad and me. And I`m not caught often. Who would I be without this brain that itches like the dragonflies I hose from the pool`s filter? Instead, I take myself in hand. I buy a trench with birthday money sent by a childless aunt we thought dead years ago. We don`t use the word lesbian because my mother says, Who says that sort of thing? I perform my coat darkly in a graveyard split by an interstate where our housekeeper`s son is housed. Here, I feel most vivid, futurely, Peter Parker praying for his spider. Oh, I am replete with plans. I`ll be like that prince in the novel I didn`t read in English class. I don`t finish books, but I get the gist-- some sad lady who offs herself by train. Ballrooms.
Unpronounceable Russians suffering. Blah blah. But that guy Stiva eating his sausages? Someday I`ll have a faithful servant, too. Or at least a wife. I fear I`ll always be a little piggy in the middle, but that grease I`ll lick from my fingers, it tastes like everything now. 116
116 Erin Belieu, "When I am a Teenage Boy," in Willow Springs
Untitled (Future) I touch your sharp hip bone like a weak clairvoyant. It is possible to love without being lovers. The world will lose another species of toad before we fix our morning coffee. The moon frowns down to earthly lovers, as pragmatic as a mechanical engineer. Here it is, the future already. We make love or we do not or it is love that makes us. Even the Dead Sea is dying. Bits of space rubbish collide like young drunks fucking. The future is a no-holds-barred event. But we make love like concerned cardiologists. Or we do not. There is the moon, speckled with glass colonies. Even the dead can see: you will either stay or leave And well-fashioned machines will roll out green highways and high-speed rails. And tomorrow`s commuters will commute. 117
117 Paul-Victor Winters, "Untitled (Future)," in KYSO Flash
Security Camera Sweethearts in school uniforms spoon froyo into each other`s mouths on a bench across from the Korean consulate. Death to the infidels. Down the street some boys shed their aprons to practise skateboard flops off an abandoned Buick. We shall bathe the streets in blood. Someone`s mother drives by, sipping bourbon from a spill-proof mug. The nose-ringed cashier says, Moulin Rouge has layers that you miss unless you`re on X. Revenge revenge revenge revenge. A kid in an all-terrain stroller prefers his thumb to the pacifier strapped to his collar. Die, you fascist pig. Gravel gathers in the curb with stubs, shards, and other garbage. The bones of the filthy will burn forever. Little fists of grass muscle through the sidewalk cracks. The bus slows for an expectant mother, but she`s just catching her breath. The godless will be torn to pieces by dogs, and crows will gorge on their eyes. A businesswoman in cowboy boots fields a call between drags. There`s blood in the water and she`s not going to miss her chance. 118
118 Adam Sol, "Security Camera," collected in Complicity, McClelland & Stewart
from Please Bury Me in This I am writing to you as an act of immolation, relief. If each letter is a will, I want Djuna Barnes` words written in the dust: The unendurable is the beginning of the curve of joy. Once I stood in a black dress at a bus stop and opened a clear umbrella. Waiting for hours in a glass room. Dear world, I want now what I have always wanted: scissors and someone to write to. Matches and someone to write to. I mean the bowl I`m carrying is broken and filled with feathers. Whatever God is, something gentle inside something ruined in the mind. ~ Daydreaming and soon, between my fingers, a filter and a long ash. Like a name repeated too many times, whispered mouth to ear. How I collected shells on the beach but at home they were no longer beautiful. I want to make it last just a few minutes, like the first words I saw written in the sky: Laura, will you . . . Look up, my father said at the end of the Santa Monica pier. Laura, I am writing to disappear. ~ Reaching in to touch its spine, for a few years I carried Duras` The Lover in my purse. I touch my mouth with one finger to hold still. When I first met my mother, I lay on top of her in my underwear and shook until I choked. To reduce anxiety, mainly, the length of the binding, the locating tic. As if The Lover was singular, not something entered only through separation. To open her book is to begin to tear her apart. ~
Like the coldness of the body, to paraphrase, the head split, the top physically removed. I want to be hurt like this. A poem like any religion, mortality and bewilderment confined and lit. The singing I heard as a child as I sat in the stall of the temple bathroom with my legs shaking. To mean glorious, if I read Dickinson in a doorway someday, I will make the shape of a gun with my hand near my head and pull the trigger. Allison Benis White 119 119 Allison Benis White, "I am writing to you as an act of immolation..." collected in Please Bury Me in This, Four Way
You Are Everything to Me But You Are Nowhere On Earth Because You Have Died
a woman is being choked with Christmas lights by nothing except herself and there is no one in the house except for her and the skeleton of her body there is a man on a chair late at night when she has gone to sleep and he paints her face neon with glue and her mouth is plastered shut like her cunt that has been blinded by acid rain and she is so sad now, so sad that she Instagrams photos of herself without clothes because there is nothing left to hide anymore except killing herself but she`s saving that for a day where the rain sounds like Nico and does she really have a hand in her forgetting? Beneath everyone`s face is a skull and there is nothing sweeter than waking up and begging your way back in for the want of two and not one. 120
Joanna C. Valente
120 Joanna C. Valente, "You are everything to me but you are nowhere on earth because you have died," in Typo
A Story from My Romantic Past. It Was Full Of Misgivings Meaning it would always start in a small room that was filled with new carpeting. And black boxes painted brown. Like a showroom for people who don`t like things. There were women there, too. Innumerable women. And they were wearing a type of small animal that coiled around their fingers and elbows and panty lines. The animals made small figures over their dйcolletage. I tied the animals to the radiator pipes. I fed them pretzels cut into small pieces. I was trying to make them less bashful. How is it a normal person can sound out whatever they think are being put in parentheses? I was an OK intellectual. I liked dancing to techno. I had taken a vacation once to Nice, France. I would say I was at least tolerable. Which was a key to my success in romantic undertakings. That, and living by myself. I made dinner by myself. I learned to drink wine by myself after work on Fridays. I spent longish nights with my hand held above a ventilation duct until a small animal would crawl out. I was hoping for it to be mangled, or at least lame from climbing through ductwork and half-operational vent fans. The things we all do for a little attention. I have a collection of small animals! I announced one night at a friend`s party. This might not have been the best headline for my match.com profile. But I had pillows that were small animals. And recyclable bags that looked vaguely like animals. There were open-wound animals I kept living by putting breath mints into their sores. Which certainly gave a fresh scent to my apartment. The scent was called Small Animal with Pedigree. The real story of my romantic past begins when I learned to go out dressed as a small animal. I had sewn tiny teeth into my wrist. I carried a pair of pliers. I carried blueprints of small rooms and the various ductwork feeding into them. Kent Shaw 121 121 Kent Shaw, "A Story from My Romantic Past. It Was Full Of Misgivings," HOBART
Mushrooms A sudden spotlight floods the black empty stage. How long have we been sitting here? Are you, next to me, still there? Still you? Funny how the dark can make you feel alone--even though people are all around you--and feel bad, like you did something dumb. A person (?) in a panda costume steps from the wings, strolls center stage and pulls a cherry from its pocket. This is a paycheck, it declares, the voice within the head muffled by thick fake fur. Bullshit, you whisper in my ear--whisper because, I can tell, you`re afraid the panda will hear you. Maybe I should be afraid, too. All I feel is alone--even though people are around me--and bad because the panda thinks I`m dumb enough to believe its lies. But we`re not making a move to kill it-- you and I--as pandas are highly endangered so maybe we are that dumb. Maybe it`s right. Maybe we should try making babies with it. I read somewhere that, next to diamonds, pandas are the hardest things to make on earth. 122
Jennifer L. Knox
122 Jennifer L. Knox, "Mushrooms," in Typo
from The Last Great Adventure Is You Somewhere they tell a woman to accept tragedy with grace Somewhere a horse falls into a burning trench The body of the horse does not understand The body of the woman will not bend The night falls into her ungentle Off her bones the night is falling him She rides the ghosts of all horses fallen She ghosts the fallen horse all night The first painting on the walls of a cave was a horse Over a horse the first war He was seized from the sky Taken from the moon`s dark side Weighed down with bones and revenge The body of the horse does not understand Somewhere a fallen horse drinks the blood of a woman With blood under their eyes they incant their fallen She will die the next of kin all the horses in the sky She will die again and again All the men in the earth rise up from the dead From their graves they unearth the trenches But from grave to grace horse and woman will not consent They scatter the bones on the moon`s dark side Somewhere the horses in the sky rein down Somewhere in the cave of her horse falling Bury this last woman alive 123
123 Rosebud Ben-Oni, "Somewhere they tell a woman..." in Waxwing
Snowstorm in Detroit A stuck car bleeds transmission fluid, spots the new snow. Across the street, a car pulls to the curb. The woman who was stabbed last week struggles out, eases up her steps. The morning paperboy, hours late runs down the street tripping on his unbuckled boots dropping his papers. He gets up, walks away the wet papers blowing in the snow. An old pickup skids into a parked car, keeps on going. A man in a t-shirt running, yelling, throws snowballs. The guy who once set a cat on fire pushes himself down the street leans into the storm. Next door, a child cries, a woman cries, a dog barks and scratches the door. The stuck car dies. The preacher gets out, slams the door stands in the street hugging an armload of prayers. 124
124 Jim Daniels, "Snowstorm in Detroit," collected in Places/Everyone, The University of Wisconsin
from Diving Makes the Water Deep 30. This colleague was very lonely. When she went through a breakup, I gave her Maggie Nelson`s Bluets. She read it and said how could a book purportedly about color not discuss issues in Asian-American diaspora (this colleague`s field)? I saw the point, and have since raised a related one when teaching the book; and moon has the nerve to not be the sun. (What to make of criticism that says the problem with one thing is that it is not everything, or even a potential set of possible other things? The problem with one life.) Zach Savich 125 125 Zach Savich, "The colleague was very lonely..." collected in Diving Makes the Water Deep, Rescue Press
Kansas City Loves You but you`re tired of her so you pick a fight with a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 on a bet that you`d puke neon. You do. A hipster takes a picture of it so you leave that party in a city that knows you`re unarmed. It loves the smell of your need for anything liquid or pulsing, leads you to an alley bar where you find a girl who leans close to complain about her infected nipple ring. Kiss her to make her stop. Her girlfriend is watching, promising to cut you if you touch her again. You dare her. Aim her imaginary shank to the wrong side of your chest. Turns out she`s all talk. So are you. The moment resolves into a Queen song on the jukebox. Try to fit the movement of your hips into a song that doesn`t want you. Settle for a boy. Tell him to call you anything he wants. He whispers Grace in your ear like he`s saying a prayer for a better woman. When you fall off your barstool he`ll promise to kiss your bruise later which is all anyone really wants so you follow him to his apartment. He shows you pictures of women bound in ribbon. You ask him to show you his bathroom, the walls a muddy midnight you want to lick. Your body settles for tiled floor to cool your bum wine fever, holds you better then he could. You swear you can hear his disappointed hard-on thumping against the other side of the bathroom door, and you try dreaming an exit. 126 126 Krysten Hill, "Kansas City Loves You," in PANK, collected in How Her Spirit Got Out, Aforementioned Productions
Prayer I've been in more laps than a napkin. Isis, Osiris: Mae`s venerable kin: raise her up, anoint nipples, lips in pink oils, rhinestones. Name her: Never Mother, Moral Vermin, Minor Porn, Vireo, Viper. Embalm her remains in one-liners. Preen ever in her, ever over her. Let her rise on TV to violins: alive ever as a hanker, a slip of spin, prism of skin to enliven lovers, liars, to revile time. Here`s a little lay for that NeverHas-Been, Ever-Has-Been, Nation`s Stain: here`s a thin ankh beaten in tin. O Mae, O Mother, O Rival-- Ain`t no sin. 127
127 Paisley Rekdal, "Prayer," collected in Imaginary Vessels, Copper Canyon
Do You? You asked once if I thought you shouldn`t be married. Perhaps (I think I said) you married the wrong person. To each their poison, their chain, their joy. Their hospital their someone at home. Dependent, partner, passenger, hostage. To each their ring and albatross. To each their cross, their pause. To each their myth and law their allergy their and pleasure. Each to their frame, each to their mold. To each their fuel and code. To marrying up, marrying in, marrying late. For the children. For the hell of it. Sophie Klahr 128 128 Sophie Klahr, "Do You," in The Rumpus, collected in Meet Me Here at Dawn, Yes Yes
And Death Demands a Labor When it rains in Boston, from each street rises the smell of sea. So do the faces of the dead. For my father, I will someday write: On this day endeth this man, who did all he could to craft the most intricate fears, this man whose waking dreams were of breaking the small bones in the feet of all the world`s birds. Father. You know the stories. You were raised on them. To end a world, a god dances. To kill a demon, a goddess turns into one. Almanacs of annihilation are chronicled in cosmic time. Go on. Batter everything of mine that you can find. Find my roe deer with the single antler. Kill him. Find a girl, or a woman. Display to me her remains on some unpaved expanse, like road kill on Kentucky highways, turning from flesh to a fine sand made of ground bone, under a sun whose surface reaches temperatures six times hotter than the finest crematory. On the surface of the earth, our remains are in unholy concert with the remains of all who have gone before and all who will follow, and with all who live. In this way, our ground resembles a bone house. Search in my body for my heart, find it doesn`t sit gently where you learned it to be. Thieve in my armory. Take my saws, take my torches, and drown my phalanx of bees. Carve into me the words of the chronicler of hell. Make your very best catastrophe. My piano plays loud and fast although my hands are nowhere to be found. Father, as you well know, I am but a woman. I believe in neither gods nor goddesses. I have left my voice up and down the seam of this country. I, unlike you, need no saws, or torches. The bees you drowned will come to me again. Each time you bear your weapons, I, no more than a woman, grow a new limb. Each time you use a weapon, my sinews grow like vines that devour a maple tree. When I cry, my face becomes the inescapable sea, and when you drain blood from a creature, I drink it. On this day this man died, having always eaten the good food amid the angry ghosts, having always made the most overwrought hells. On this day the moon waxes gibbous and the moths breed in the old carpets. On this day from a slit in the ground rises
a girl who does not live long. On this day to me a lover turns his back and will not meet my eye. On this day the faces of the death-marked are part-willow, part-lion. On this day has died an artist of ugly tapestries, and his wares burst into flame. On this day endeth this man upon who I hurl the harvest of this ghostly piano, and on the surface of this exceptional world the birds have all come to our thresholds, our windows and our doors, our floorboards, our attic crannies and underground storerooms, wires and railroads, tarmacs, highways, cliffs and oceans, and have all begun to laugh, a sound like an orange and glittering fire that originates from places unseen. 129
129 Sumita Chakraborty, "And Death Demands a Labor," in The Adroit Journal
Places Everyone There's a place for everyone in our organization. The best-looking women work in bedding. The fat, wholesome women who smell like cookies work in kitchen. In china and silver the women are fragile, elegant, middle-aged. In men`s hen-pecked grandfathers with their pasty smiles suck ass to sell suits. The healthy bastards with sons who have failed them work in sporting goods. All the angry people work downstairs in the stockroom heaving boxes in and out of trucks. That`s where all the blacks work. I work down there tossing boxes with them not even trying to match their anger. 130
130 Jim Daniels, "Places Everyone," collected in Places/Everyone, The University of Wisconsin
The dark sea dreams them. They are the inexchangeable currency of dreams, the interest the other world pays and pays into this one. In the blueing pre-dawn they seem hewn out from the littoral like great, waterlogged diamonds, an interior gleam. Who speaks for them speaks for the secret side of the womb for they are the long-tasseled death-bonnets of children we conceive but never bring to term. And so we love and jointly curse them. It is impossible to tell if they reach for us or we for them, so strange is their delicate gravity: They are sisters to the moon then, and pulse in her wake, a curdled blooming of echoes as she too is an echo. But in the fluorescent pink and green pockets of their bodies, softer than night, they`re smuggling rumors of those suns we fail to imagine. They hold whole oceans beneath their umbrellas. Tell me, friend, is there an end to revelation? The poison
flowers blossom inside me like colored Rorschachs I might come to believe in. Evening and thunderheads in the austral sky, the jellyfish tides, an exhibition of lightnings. Scaled-down Hiroshimas of the deep, they flare in the mind, their cold medusa-bells resounding, calling us back to the black sands of sleep. 131
George David Clark
131 George David Clark, "Jellyfish," in Southern Poetry Review, collected in Reveille, University of Arkansas Press
Rain Always, before rain, the windows grew thick with fog. Mist descended over the evening rooftops and rain made generalities of the neighborhood. Rain made red leaves stick to car windows. Rain made the houses vague. A car slid through rain past rows of houses. The moon swiveled on a wet gear above it. The moon--a searchlight suspended from one of the airships-- lit the vague face peering through the windshield, the car sliding down the rain-filled darkness toward the highway. The men controlling the airships were searching for him, and he passed through the rain as a thought passes through the collective mind of the state. Here I am in this rain-filled poem, looking out my kitchen window into the street, having read the news of the day-- we are hunting them in our neighborhoods, they have no place among us-- and now the car has turned the corner and disappeared into the searchlights that make from the rain glittering cylinders of power. 132 132 Kevin Prufer, "Rain," in Poem-a-Day
Pink Moon Self Portrait Once I told a poet at a bar that I was having difficulty. Oh, Joanna, she said. Don`t have difficulty. I laughed at myself then, at all of it. I tried to leave for the woods to stare at a fire, but the poets came and sat on my log, talking about the job market. True story of difficulty. Perhaps you will understand if I tell you that I sat in the driveway for a good five minutes before getting out of the car this afternoon, wondering if I should call someone because a squirrel was looking at me funny. Finally, I honked the horn to make it go away. Then honked again. It`s like what Virginia Woolf said--if you could see what really moves through your friends` minds throughout the day, you`d be appalled. Once something really odd gave me the giggles in a college fiction class, and the guy sitting next to me said, That`s exactly the kind of thing that would make her laugh. The wave of affection I felt for myself then would appall you. Joanna Penn Cooper 133 133 Joanna Penn Cooper, "Pink Moon Self Portrait," in The Tiny
from A Bestiary
On the first day of class, as an ice-breaker, I had my students play Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board. In small groups, students huddled around another student who was lying on the ground, perfectly stationary. Using just two fingers to lift, they chanted, Light as a feather, stiff as a board, light as a-- and I walked around and saw nothing happen.
You have to believe, I chided. You`re not believing!
And the students chanted, Light as a feather, stiff-- and still nothing was happening. This was no surprise to me. It shouldn`t work.
Outside, snowflake ballerinas spun and they spun.
I said, Come on, guys, you have to at least try!
The students chanted, Light as a feather, stiff as a board, again and again--until: a girl began to lift off the ground. Her classmates` fingers barely touched her. She was rising, as if effort and determination alone could bring forth magic. I looked over and the other group was standing and their girl was floating nearly waist high.
The students re-arranged the tables and returned to their seats.
I call a thing magic if I cannot immediately understand the process by which it is made, like electricity and felt, happily ever after and swamp coolers in the desert, like discrimination and cruelty, like the residual buzz that rattles in the small of your ear when all you should hear is silence, like a threat.
How did that work? I asked. That`s not supposed to work.
The students` faces were bright, celebratory.
I mean, physics tells us that you can`t lift a whole adult person off the ground using a couple of fingers and some chanting. The heater kicked on, and its low warble invigorated me. It`s just not possible!
I had an entire lecture planned around why the exercise hadn`t worked: about how we as adults are too skeptical to believe in magic, about how we put all of our faith in science, which not too long ago was also a form of magic; about how we`re cynical and that`s sad; about how we can no longer access childhood wonder.
My entire lecture was obsolete.
I let the class out an hour early.
I did not need to convince them, because they already believed.
134 134 Lily Hoang, "On the first day of class..." collected in A Bestiary, Cleveland State University Poetry Center
On the Seventh day God says: What you`ve got is virgin charm & a knife in your pocket. & I`m like, Thanks? The heart finds its anchor in the sky. The woman is told she is a tabernacle. On the forty-third day, I confuse my hangover for grief. God says, Your longing will be for me, & I will dominate you. & I`m like, Nope! The morning wears a cotton dress. Is this all I will amount to: The hot breath of months in my pocket? Every telephone pole I mistook for a tree? The melancholy suspicion of library security? Nah. The bartender hums the tune of a hummingbird rising from its flower. I say: I inherited Sappho's pussy & I believe me. God says, Thou shalt not kill. & I`m like, But what about with my eyes. I never asked for the capacity to love ugly things, but here I am. Carnation, daisy, lavender lately the lavender of late. I boil my stock exclusively with wishbones. I say, I like my men smooth & far away, reticent as a bookshelf. & God butts in: I can do that for you. His eyes search me like a pendulum. I`ve scraped a dead man`s ashes out from under my fingernails like lice eggs. A woman raised in contest with other women is a child of God.
God says, This is getting serious. & I`m like, You bet. I remember my ignorance & miss it. The skies open silently with a woman`s legs. Morning glory, morning glory, morning hallelujah. 135
135 Katie Condon, "On the Seventh day God says: What you've got is virgin charm & a knife in your pocket." in boaat
Baile Gitano The flamenco dancer`s thigh was pure lust in the flood of night moon and I realized I`d forgotten the splendor of lunar light as your hand seized my arm, my body. Things must be forgotten-- you said, in between bites of paella, rice cascading down your chin. Forget so you can enjoy again! Experience comes only in the unexpected. The waiter placed a wilted rose in my hair. Red and yellow frogs--the size of my toes and bright as the dancer`s flaring skirt-- tapped round our chairs, our sandaled feet. They glistened exotic, but the waiter said the frogs were commonplace--a sign of the season`s end when the bay becomes a natural humidor: No good for baile. Only the tobacco leaf thrives. Bodies slip over each other, stick to bed sheets. Undaunted, you moved closer. Your finger found its home under the edge of my panties as a crisp, pomegranate-filled empanada arrived on my plate and I remembered to forget as soon as the sweet red jelly touched my tongue. It was easy enough to let the taste of jelly and rum escape, but I knew abstracting men from memory was never my method. I pressed the blade of the guillotine, cutting you another cigar, and the round head fell without regret to the feet of frogs. 136
Tana Jean Welch
136 Tana Jean Welch, "Baile Gitano," in The Briar Cliff Review, collected in Latest Volcano, Marsh Hawk
Hard Child So I had two lists of names for a girl, so what. The president`s allowed to have two speeches, in case the hostage comes home in a bag. The geese in the metropark don`t want for bread crumbs, despite the signs proclaiming the land provides them all they need. I was a hard child, by which I mean I was callous from the start. Even now, were I to find myself, after a grand disease or blast, among the pasty scattering of survivors, there isn`t one human tradition I would choose to carry forward. Not marking feast days, not assembling roadside shrines, not marrying up, not researching the colloquialism STATEN ISLAND DIVORCE, not representing paste pearls as the real things, not recounting how the advent of photography altered painting, soured us on the acrylic portrait, thrust us toward the abstract, sent us seeking to capture in oil that which film would never be wasted on: umbrella stands, unlovely grates, assorted drains, body casts. I typically hate discussing the past and treasure the option, rarer and rarer, to turn from it, as when K.`s twins were born and one of them nearly died--I don`t even remember which, that`s how much they got better. 137
137 Natalie Shapero, "Hard Child," in Gulf Coast, collected in Hard Child, Copper Canyon
Midsummer On the balcony across the courtyard, a Japanese girl sprays her mother`s tea roses with an old perfume bottle full of faucet water, then wets her bangs and smoothes them back under her barrettes. It hasn`t rained-- smoke chews through the bridges on the east banks, and I curse the slices of contrails in the sky, their icy altitudes, and all that fresh flight. The girl`s cheeks are radish colored from the heat, dripping sweat. She leans across the rail and reads the grass where sprinklers tear their single sentence into mist. 138
138 Gregory Lawless, "Midsummer," in The Adroit Journal, collected in I Thought I Was New Here, BlazeVOX
Plastic Cookie Like a teapot, I`m tipped to spill from my kettle snout some silver tears, these few drops that glow and drip their arrows down into the ground from off my eyes and nose. I was going to send back the plastic cookie fallen from your daughter`s false stove, her pretend kitchenette, into the net compartment that opens up beneath my daughter`s stroller when its pink flower is broken open, which I discovered upon landing in Newark, to push my nervy daughter along bright airport corridors so that we might be reunited with our luggage. My orange suitcase pops its atrocity out from that mystery mouth that spills onto the metallic fins that spool around, and I run to clutch at it, heave its weight. Yet, just yesterday, it sat fat in your room, contents sprung: underwear, diapers. The both of us fearful for our respective daughters, too deep, perhaps, in love with our singular daughters, drinking late into the night, speaking of our daughters. Earlier, furious your fearsome daughter pulled her entire plastic kitchen down, crashed it to the floor, as if toppling a bookshelf with the simple tug of a hand. Daughters astonishing daughters! Mine with her dish-wash hair, plate eyes full of gray-blues, wanting to play with your daughter`s stove, the plastic kettles, tea cups. Still little, wobbling all over the room. Then dusk sat its fat ass down at last. To our great relief, we found our daughters deep asleep, and were free to drink the rum of us, which was, as it always had been, a gradual drink. And you know what you know with your hands, wish the night blacker since blackest is forever. Who`d believe I`d be dropping such bells of tears now, to hear them ring inside the earth that absorbs them? Let us not hand down this history to our
daughters. Let`s ignore what a plastic cookie means to us, or for that matter why your daughter had one in the first place. Forget your daughter`s pale glare in that doorway`s 3 a.m.: innocent us lying underneath and atop one another on your lousy futon. Denier, liar, totem. You`d given me a plastic cookie. No. You and your daughter gave me and my daughter a plastic cookie. You cannot now comfort me. So disown me. The soil is free. Within it lives all that matters. One day, I`ll see you down there. Daughter-free. 139
139 Cate Marvin, "Plastic Cookie," in Poem-a-Day, collected in Oracle, Norton
Supplication with Rabbit Skull and Bouquet take me by the elbow take me by force can you see the bones left in my ear can you see the boy`s name cut in my bark our messiahs are blowing us kisses from heaven our messiahs are hopeless and modern they speak in the continental longhand they speak only in our sleep the doubt between us hangs like a moon the doubt between us stickies up our tongues there is no such thing as certainty there is no such thing as sorcery the spell cast in the night was just a hard wind the spell cast on your cup was just a heap of words your cup is still full of poison your cup was never there at all whose blood is this on the bedsheets whose blood is this on the cross not that cross not any cross you know I`m thankful for your beaded carapace I`m thankful for your yellow pills I am a grown man I am growing into my science excuse the buttery light haloing my head excuse the rabbit skull crunching in my teeth I lack money I lack sexual preference can you help me with any of this can you help me shrink back to a dainty mouth you have swallowed so much already you have swallowed even my bouquet of corn and straw the fire under my bed is quiet as a fossil the fire under my bed is simple as a bed I trust completely whatever`s in your body I trust completely whatever`s in your pockets visit me at home where ghosts will watch us from the closet visit me at home and pin your money to my skin Kaveh Akbar 140 140 Kaveh Akbar, "Supplication with Rabbit Skull and Bouquet," in Poem-a-Day, collected in Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Alice James
I was popular in certain circles Among the river rats and the leaves. For example. I was huge among the lichen, and the waterfall couldn`t get enough of me. And the gravestones? I was hugely popular with the gravestones. Also with the meat liquefying beneath. I`d say to the carrion birds, I`d say, Are you an eagle? I can't see so well. That made them laugh until we were screaming. Eagle. Imagine. The vultures loved me so much they`d feed me the first morsel. From their delicate talons, which is what I called them: such delicate talons. They loved me so deeply they`d visit in pairs. One to feed me. One to cover my eyes with its velvety wings. Which were heavy as theater curtains. Which I was sure to remark on. Why can't I see what I'm eating? I`d say. And the wings would pull me into the great bird`s chest. And I`d feel the nail inside my mouth. What pals I was with all the scavengers! And the dead things too. What pals. As for the living, the fox would not be outdone. We`d sit on the cliff`s edge and watch the river like a movie and I`d say, I think last night... and the fox would put his paw on top of mine and say, Forget it. It's done. I mean, we had fun. You haven`t lived until a fox has whispered something the ferns told him in your one good ear. I mean truly. You have not lived. 141
141 Gabrielle Calvocoressi, "I was popular in certain circles," in The Awl, collected in Rocket Fantastic, Persea
Praise House: The New Economy The rosemary bush blooming its unabashed blue. Also dumplings filled with steam and soup so my mouth fills and I bubble over with laughter. Little things. People kissing on bicycles. Being able to walk up the stairs and run back down. Joanna`s garden after the long flight to Tel Aviv. Not being detained like everyone thought I would. The man with dreadlocks and a perfect green shirt walking home from work. One cold beer before I drink it and get sick. How peaches mold into compost in a single day: orange to gray to darkness into dirt. Her ankle`s taste. The skin right under the knob, delicate as a tomatillo`s shroud. All the animals that talk to me. That I finally let them talk to me. The blessing of waking early enough to watch the fox bathe itself. The suction of a man`s hands meeting another`s on the street. Every single person looking up to see them. Bros, yes. But lovely in the golden light with brims swung to the back. I want shoulders like they have. Want my waist to taper to an ass built like the David`s. I admit it: this body`s not enough for me. Still I love it. Al B Sure blasting out a Nissan Sentra`s windows. Bowties. Ridiculous blues. My mother`s seizures--specifically that I don`t have them. That I can answer Ross` call or not because we live Harmonious and are always talking somehow. Tapestries with their gluttony of deer. Fig perfume and also cypress. Boxer briefs and packing socks in jockey shorts. Strap ons. Soft and hard. Welcome in her hand and in mine as I greet the real me. The little shop in Provincetown.
--after and for Ross Gay
And the speckled dog that licks itself in that fresco of the crucifixion. Mary Oliver. I love her. I really do. The baseball she gave me that says, Go Sox! Though, I love the Orioles. Old Bay on all my shrimp. And justice. And cities burning if people need to burn them to get free. My grandmother gardening in the late light. Sun Ra. The first time. Paris, even though I`ve never been there. Natal plums. Tattoos everlasting: Clouds. Orion`s belt. Pushing inside her with both hands holding myself up. My weight. Her grabbing and saying, God. Fuck. The neighbors. Casablanca. Not knowing anything. Angels. Mashed potatoes. Good red wine. 142
142 Gabrielle Calvocoressi, "Praise House: The New Economy," in The American Poetry Review, collected in Rocket Fantastic, Persea
I`m not hungry. I`m wearing these shoes. I`ll have another drink. Here`s my Credit card
. I`m not wearing a bra. I`m not brushing my hair. I am going to be a poet. I am going down this slide. 143
143 Jill McDonough, "Bad Decisions," collected in Reaper, Alice James
You are in bed and Antigone`s dead once again though offstage and alive on the previous page doomed proud girl elective fatalist & the dark Doсas and perved-out girls are facing off at the Met Velбzquez vs. Balthus and you know who wins. A sleeping woman is an erotic thing in many a painting and Albertine sleeps away it seems a million days as Proust swerves ever unto a swerving desire. But/And l you are sleeping and no one`s painting or writing or looking You`re sleeping by the cat in another room and Sinatra croons a tune as charming as hell even yet on NPR. Where we are isn`t fixed by any GPS or pinpointed location
Girls in Bed
can`t be mapped by street name city state or nation O the drift as between America and Europe as between girls in bed and girls dead The vast Atlantic suddenly reveals itself a thin watery thing covering a continental shelf An Atlantean upsurge cracks the abyssal plain proves what looks sundered is so deep under linked 144
Maureen N. McLane
144 Maureen N. McLane, "Girls in Bed," in The Paris Review, collected in Some Say, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Blue Over Orange October`s first cold day & when I get in the car my breath forms a brief chrysanthemum on the inside of the windshield & I`m aware, suddenly, of all the yellow leaking from the world, the lost green veins of the leaves. On my list of errands the last stop is the video store where the movies I watched in college are now classified as Cult Favorites or Classics & the beautiful boy who works the counter rolls his eyes when I take out the Truffaut for the dozenth time. Not again, he says. He`s nice to everyone, but he sees me, if he sees me at all, as an adult woman in a dark coat, with an expensive bag. We touch only when we exchange money. The lobby of a narrow French apartment, an allйe of poplars: those are scenes from a movie, not my life. I`m unlikely to rent the movies that excite him: Japanese animation, a documentary on mountain climbing, seventies concert films from before he was born. Hours later, at home with my glass of bourbon, he`s with me still, & I think, out of nowhere I tell myself, about how when I was thirteen & we lived overseas I saw middle-aged NCOs with beer guts & sunburned scalps walking the streets of San Angeles City, holding the hands of girls not much older than I was, girls paid to be adoring, who covered their mouths when they giggled & wore strange yellow nylons the color of no human skin. When we`d walk down those streets, my friends & I, our raffia bags stuffed with devalued pesos, Filipino boys would sit on their haunches & make wet clucking sounds at us. Back then I imagined the misery of the teenaged prostitutes, though not in any detail, & the men`s daughters stateside, reading Tiger Beat in their rooms, trying on Yardley lipstick. Later I thought about the wives, left behind at Lackland or Minot or Clovis, the scent of coffee, Salems, Emeraude, & something that may
or may not have been history pushing them to the sides of their own lives; now I think of the men-- how little of life turns out to be a choice, after all, & the way those choices we do make can transform beauty into pathos or desire into commerce. We are, all of us, almost alike. 145
145 Aleda Shirley, "Blue over Orange," collected in Dark Familiar, Sarabande
Divas` Division When I was on the road I didn't eat. I threw up at every show, but no one seemed to notice. Your shelf life only lasts until you're 30. I was 26, spent half my pay on Botox and bigger lips. My implants made it hard to lift my arms. Women who came up on their own don't like us very much. They think we're getting a free ride. My trainer wouldn`t teach me how to fall, said I was used to being on my back. If we don't know what we're doing, we're easier to fire. My bruises wouldn`t heal. I covered them with makeup so I wouldn`t look tough. Guys in the locker room aren't used to hearing no. When you get called a slut, you have to laugh it off. My angles always involved men--who thought I was hot, broke my heart or learned I was a whore. My boyfriend complained about my schedule, so the office let me go. They figured he`d just date another Diva. My hair was falling out. I took so many Xanax I got lost backstage. At the end of my first year, I couldn`t catch my breath, move fast enough for matches. I was afraid I`d die if I kept going. Quitting was the hardest thing I've ever done. Carrie Shipers 146 146 Carrie Shipers, "Divas' Division," in The Laurel Review
Confession At first, pain arrives wearing my own face, and I welcome her because I am lonely. I walk with her along the wooded path in the park behind the empty house, the dog snout-deep in the wet-matted leaves, and I tell her over there he kissed me, hard and she inhales. I've been here with you before, she says. She gets me drunk in Boston, runs her hands over the bar: you looked past me here, too, she says. You only wanted to see his face. The confessional poet risks only what she`s willing to admit. I use the personal, wrote Sexton, when I am applying a mask to my face. Because you will no longer touch me, I let pain instruct me. I bind my fingers together in the shape of an oath before I place them between my legs. In my imagination a single mouth lowers itself down my breasts and stomach in a perfectly straight line. I pretend I cannot recognize the mouth, the face, but I weaken and soon I am finished, bound prone into myself. I wake hours later and my fingers are white and cold and numb. When I return them to their starting place, they feel almost like someone else`s hands. The confessional poet never discloses which of her stories are true. Some of her stories are entirely true, but all of her stories could be untrue. This self-protection sometimes looks like fraud. I use the personal, wrote Sexton, when I am applying a mask to my face. Like a rubber mask that the robber wears. Pain hears me call her name, for I have named her, and she turns around. She resembles me less the closer I allow her. Some nights I awaken to her hands moving inside of me, her mouth pressed against my neck. You`d always ask me how does this make you feel? how does this make you feel? each time we fucked. How do I make you feel, Rachel. How do I make you feel. Pain doesn`t ask, for she already knows the answer. The confessional poet risks more if she is a woman. Of Sexton, the critic John Simon wrote one of her symptoms was a preternatural need to be loved by everyone all the time. He wrote Sexton managed to function in some ways and keep teaching, writing, falling in love, having affairs -- anything to keep her poetic juices flowing. He imagined her suicide as a kind of poem. In the end, Simon wrote of Sexton, it is the poetry that matters. Pain leaves, and in her absence I dig my hands into my skin and nobody responds. I chase the escaped dog through the park as the sun sets because I forgot to close the door. I forget my gloves and hat and scarf and jacket and shoes and socks and run exposed through the snow because I have forgotten I possess a body. When I realize I am cold, a stranger has bent over me, blocking the waning light, the dog a shivering comma beside us. Who are you she asks me. Is this your dog? Who are you. Where do you belong. Rachel Mennies 147 147 Rachel Mennies, "Confession," in Waxwing
Handsome Man Handsome man who rides in to save me, I`m ready for all manner of rewarding. I have kept this pressed handkerchief scented with the most precious of exotic oils in the fold of my sleeve. I`m going to drop it. I`m going to thank you so hard -- oh, oh, no, I did not mean of course, of course, certain standards, protocols, I only meant -- Absolutely. Let`s start again. Handsome man who rides in to save me, I`m ready to step down from this post to which a dragon has tied me, despite a total lack of opposable thumbs, and swoon into your arms like this, see how limp? I`ve been working on my lax muscle tone, I`ve been flexing my can`ts and helpless cries, just last month I couldn`t escape from a blanket I awakened under, it took hours, that`s how good I damsel. Handsome man who rides in to save me, I have been watching you from atop this hill as you fought your way past that wild boar which may have been a hog and that wall of thorns which may have been a hedge, and that witch who wanted you to be kind to old women but you showed her what was what. You have conquered young and old,
and my heart, handsome man who rides in to save me, you`ve truly -- oh, I see, this is more of a platonic sort of rescue, you`re more in it for the prestige. You and The Black Knight have a competition -- uh huh. Right. Ok. No, it`s fine. It`s fine. Handsome man who rides in to save me -- look, I get it, there`s no need to be a dick about it, Handsome man who rides in to save me, not all of us were born pretty. Some of us have had to cultivate a personality. Uh huh. Uh huh. Sure. I bet she said that. I bet you`ve got a lot of high ratings from other princesses. You know what? You know what, handsome man who rides into save me? I think I`m just going to stay here. Yeah. With the dragon. I`m just going to swoon by myself. Look at me swooooooooning. Yeah. Like that. Like that? That`s right. That`s right. Ride away. That`s what you`re good at. Ride away! 148
148 Rebecca Hazelton, "Handsome Man," in Waxwing
Good The other night I learned that there is something called the glare of an egg It`s the liquid that becomes a film at the boiling point that connects the egg to its shell and I said, but isn`t the shell part of the egg too? Good, my friend said as though it was. I said I seemed to be well-suited for living much to my chagrin It`s not hard to die, my friend said. You could drown in a puddle Have you tried? That night I tried to seize the day and slip gently into the water but even though my eyes were closed my nose was open I smelled the sea inside my own skull and surfaced exasperated Tonight I made myself a dress out of butcher paper They say old seamstresses used to do that when they were practicing or might as well have anyway I could not perform the brutal act It`s not so easy, I said making pleats in the sunshine Are you an angel? he said and I said no, I`m just backlit from this angle, I said, everyone could be an angel 149
149 Larisa Svirsky, "Good," in Typo
Looking at Men after Iliana Rocha The world teaches us there`s nothing to see here, only everything that matters. The world teaches us to fear what desires us: a matter of survival. The world`s pedagogy has not evolved lately, all armpit hair & biceps & bigger is better. Doesn`t matter if a man`s wearing a three-piece that costs more than your car or a neon vest or a prison jumpsuit, he has a right to the space you occupy. A memory: junior-high baseball tryouts, this boy making fun of my name. He was a running back & special-teams star, fast & strong & angry all the time, popular & dangerous; he`d die of heart failure
at forty-two but of course we didn`t know that. On this day all that mattered was that we both knew he would be the starting center fielder once he`d finished shredding me. It`s how things work. How they have always worked. When I tried ignoring him, willing myself invisible & mute, he dropped his glove & jogged toward me, spitting profanity. We were boys but he saw what it meant to be a man: no problem aggression can`t solve, flex & fist, cock & rock & stomp out weakness. I did not make the team that year, or the next. In porn, the men are supposed to be invisible--who wants to focus on that dangle & flop & hairy flesh--women are the centerpiece-- & yet it is the men whose pleasure matters, whose erection lets us know it`s time to begin, whose ejaculation lets us know what success looks like. This is what the world teaches us, & I`m exempt from nothing. I love muscles swelling under sleeves. A beer gut means you make the rules; hairy forearms are a ticket to all the backrooms in all the land.
Another junior-high memory: selecting the yearbook who`s who, most likely to & all that. Asked to vote for best-looking guy, I picked the starting quarterback, a dark-haired boy who treated me with contempt. He was taller than I, stronger, a better athlete, at ease on the planet. Once I sat behind him in the bleachers at a high school game while he made out with a dance-squad girl. She caught me watching, smirked *Do you have a problem?* Well, sure, who doesn`t, but of course I said nothing, looked away, chastened & hungry. It was her I wanted but him I envied. There is zero chance this man remembers me, but here I am: not being him still shapes what I think of myself. I cannot believe how stupid I am. I cannot believe I`m more than halfway through with this life & still molded out of ninth-grade humiliations. I do not dare to admit weakness. I cannot tell the truth about want. I am not this body. I am not this sex. I am not strong enough to be anything else. 150
150 Amorak Huey, "Looking at Men," in Typo
My 1985 I wasn`t a math star, but one or two of my new friends were. I liked to work into casual conversation fusillades of words like nexus and tensor. The counsellor from the department of recreation said I had the voice of an angry thirty-year-old. I thought I had a penetrating gaze; kids thought I was staring at them. I had to be told. After that, I imagined I lived on the moon for two days; I stood out and hid there, a demented sentry from an awkwarder parallel world, a young Bizarro. On our class trip to the beach and the World of Tomorrow, the boys were igneous. I was sedimentary: I set out to lie with the other girls on the low dunes before the morning heat got metamorphic. They folded their towels and moved off, so I closed my eyes on the hypothesis that it would make me calmer. In the talent show, I played piano for Annabelle`s show tunes (we rehearsed extra for passages marked improvise) then sang Take a Pebble by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They thought I was caterwauling. I thought I was Orphic. 151
151 Stephanie Burt, "My 1985," in The New Yorker, collected in Advice from the Lights, Graywolf
The Integrity of Matter There`s blood on the page before this one. See? The dark kicks up. Air torques. Rain tasers the skin. What did Ginsberg say? That he wrote poems to tell his version of things in a world that only tells versions of power? How many days do we have, after all. A tornado touches down in the next town north. My heart iambs to some ancient classic--maybe Jackson Browne, maybe Stylistics. I totter at the St. Vrain Creek where it bursts from the Rockies. Cottonwoods catch me. When the child who lives in this house is away his toys grieve. Thomas the Train is speechless and the mottled ball sits still. I forget the name of the film where a woman walks into walls in hopes of entering the womb of an atom. The child`s atoms are here, even as he climbs into the next plane home. What a big open space I am. The way these electrons come together, you`d think I was real. 152
152 Maureen Seaton, "The Integrity of Matter," in Posit
Strip Poker I`m giving blood and looking at a magazine photo of bosomy Ava Gardner next to that squirt Sinatra and remember saying, Want to play strip poker? to my mom when I was eight because I thought it was a game, not a way to get naked, and was ready to put on lots of layers that hot July evening-- pj`s, raincoat, my patrolboy`s belt with the badge I was so proud of--and figuring my mom would do the same with her clothes: the cotton dresses she taught fifth grade in over the jeans and boots she wore for gardening and, on top of everything, the long coat she wore when she went out with my dad on cool nights and the ratty mink stole her rich sister had given her. My dad looked up from his newspaper, looked down again. My mother looked up from her book, looked down again, looked up again, said, No, thank you, darling, which is how it was in our house: no yelling, no explanation, even, just the assumption that you were a smart kid, you could figure things out on your own, like no, thanks meant no, but thank you anyway and not zero thanks, or that the K-9 corps was so-called because K-9 = canine, i.e., wasn`t just some arbitrary government code-- which is good, I guess, because if people aren`t constantly explaining stuff to you when you`re a kid, then you grow up mentally active, though also doubting everything, even yourself, because if you`re the one who comes up with the answers, then what the hell good are they? Which is the kind of thing that led Kafka to ask, What have I in common l with the Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself,
and might have led Stalin to ask, What have I in common with other human beings
, only he was too busy coming up with rules such as this one for the Union of Soviet Composers: The main attention of the Soviet composer must be directed toward the victorious progressive principles of reality, toward all that is heroic, bright, and beautiful. But what about all that is cowardly, dull, and ugly? Tightrope-walker Karl Wallenda: To be on the wire is life; the rest is waiting. But there`s much more waiting than wire-walking, so what are we supposed to do when we`re on the ground? Someone, not Henry James, I think, but one of those Henry James kind of guys-- cultured, reticent, well-off but not too--said a gentleman was a person who never knowingly made anyone else uncomfortable, which is a good idea, although one you can take too far, because one of those old smart Greeks, maybe Sophocles, said it was better never to be born, and think how comfortable that would make everybody, because if you weren`t born, you couldn`t bother anyone, especially yourself! Are you a runner, Mr. Kirby? asks Melba the blood-bank nurse, who has two fingers on my right wrist and one eye on her watch and the other on me, who says, no, he`s not a runner, though he does a lot of yard work, and why does she want to know, and Melba says, Because you have a pulse of fifty, and if you have a pulse of fifty and you`re not a runner, often that means you`re dead, which, sooner or later, I will be, will be naked again, sans pj`s, raincoat, belt and badge, everything. The blood leaps from a vein in my elbow, pools in a plastic sack, and I`m a little whiter than I was when I read that Ava Gardner said, Deep down, I`m pretty superficial-- deep down, Ava darling, we`re all pretty superficial, and beautiful, too, in or out of our clothes.
153 153 David Kirby, "Strip Poker," collected in The House of Blue Light, LSU
Freshbaby Will you drink teeny bottles of coconut rum, and value a hot tub? asks Baby. We`re exhuming our pierced-navel youth. We spend our time biting our pen caps, writing flurries of ballpoint and college-ruled love notes behind the solar-system shower curtain dividing our shared room. We bake a black forest cake for German class but it proves somehow plagued with ants, an irreparable social downer. We wish to be rid of the man with the mustache and his beagle, named Pluto, which sealed the deal of our vernal disdain. Might you sleep with Kelly Michaels`s older brother? I once saw him ketchup his eggs. No one`s parents are ever home. It`s a good question. Biology textbooks and long lonely walks, caffeine pills and wet-haired older waiters, two-liters with the labels torn off: that`s what teen-Babies are made of. And the right kind of flare in one`s jeans. How about Joe Palomino? For the lack of cable one night we settle in to watch VHS porn we found in tin buckets in the attic. We revert to being so dumb we believe our stomachaches idiopathic. We tear the sleeves off our T-shirts and Sun-In our hair. Looks good. We ride bikes but we wear our helmets. Everything smells like wet asphalt. 154
154 Sarah Trudgeon, "Freshbaby," in diode
Welcome to the Jungle With champagne I try expired white ones I mean pills I mean men I think I`m going crazy sometimes really you think I`m joking I`m never joking All Men Have Been Created Equally To Shiver At The Thought Of Me is something I used to think but forgot or got drunk tried smoking something new put on a wig made a scene threw up in someone`s living room cooked too much food every time can someone just give it to me when I get home I know the answer is probably cleavage cleavage all the boys I know holding my arms down taking off my bracelets with their white hands I`ve pissed on a sidewalk in midtown watched a Joan Crawford movie at dawn art is nice but the question is how are you making money are you for sale people in movies are always saying I can`t live like this! packing a little bag or throwing down their forks I mean it one of these days my whole body might just go away like just standing in line at Whole Foods or Purgatory I wish I were a dream for you to suck on once I got four tattoos cut off all my hair died my hair blonde had a party had fifty parties looked for Jupiter and Venus in the smog
painted and repainted my nails what can they do for you sir the question is where the fuck is the sun the answer is tip-toe into the park at midnight pretend it`s green like home 155
155 Morgan Parker, "Welcome to the Jungle," in Prelude, collected in There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncй, Tin House
What Doesn`t Kill You What doesn`t kill you only makes you reconsider, later, whether calling your barbarian of a neighbor a barbarian was really a good first stab at honesty or just low tolerance to the new medication. Death, after all, is a possible side effect. *** Being human, there`s something flighty with your compass, something flinty with your lighter. *** Joy is one of those things you save for the hobby store, those blessed moments of peace in the presence of the little man with the white sandwich on the little bench outside the train depot built to some absurd scale you could only be a demigod. *** Repainting is never a solution. *** The fox with its snout stuffed in a flower is not a figure for nostalgia. It is simply his moment alone without the hounds and the fat men on horseback chasing close behind.
A moment of solace in a game called How Far Can You Run Before You Burst Into Flames? 156
156 Steve Mueske, "What Doesn't Kill You," in Typo
At a party I am staring at a gigantic cardboard cutout of Beyoncй that`s across the room, realizing I will never be what I want to be. I get drunk enough to forget my aspirations and go home unfucked and hungry, smear my makeup and pass out to a movie about the end of the world. If I could bathe I totally would, but the future is here and everything must be destroyed. My problem is that the only thing I`m good at destroying is my body, a vessel I wreck again and again like a car in a video game programmed to ignore the physics of death. They say the asteroid will be here in two weeks, so I`m making a moonlight raid on the boy`s village. At night they know all hips are great--they can take shelter under mine. 157
157 Colette Arrand, "Body Image," in Waxwing
To the Wolves For Violet, Magnolia (died March 16, 2004) How you must have suffered getting accustomed to the void--alone in the soothing silk pod of my womb. Violet, Magnolia. Violet, Magnolia. I loved to say it. Not alone entirely, but alone. I wonder did your ears notice the telltale cadence of only one underwater heart beating? Could you, with your tiny legs and fingers, which you liked to put into your mouth, feel the still ribs and skull full of your sister`s body? You were always the strong one. They say that`s true of all twins--there is always the one who is slightly sturdier, slightly bigger, inching ahead in the race to birth`s finish line. You might have assumed, balanced as you were in that bubble of loss and life, that something terrible was wrong. You were to be my fourth born, surely Magnolia--your silent twin--would have been fifth. How many years I`d suffered, the flare of Lupus catching in my body like a grass fire, wreaking havoc on my entire being. Elbows, knees, fingers, even the tiny joints of my toes scabbed over with that terrible, purple-red rash, turning to brown, the mark of the ravaged wolf appearing on my face. With each flare up I`d become almost elderly in my gait and pace, until the rashes scabbed over hard, turned dark hard russet, fell off. It was then, at the end of that flare up, when I went to hear your heartbeats. I heard yours, but your twin was already gone. Still I wanted you something fierce. More, now. I worried and fretted and tortured myself into the ground with every metaphor on earth for the word decay. I have three healthy babies (two still in diapers) I`d tell myself, peering into the mirror. For weeks my face stayed clear. Every morning I`d rise, look, say to my reflection I have three healthy babies as if it were some sort of guarantee. I was, after all, the world`s most annoying pregnant person--no hint of morning sickness, ankles lean as fine birch branches, hair twice as thick and shining like sunlight, not a stretch mark in sight. I prepared your room--took out the second crib and brought in a big green leather rocking chair, imagined sitting
there, nursing you, looking out on the hundred yards of bayou emptying into salty, wide open gulf, the waters merging, the creatures staying mainly to one side, the other. I have three healthy babies, I said again, not realizing my husband stood in the closet not three feet away. From behind the door: Get over it. And so I did, decided to block your twin from my mind, shove her memory away like so many fallen Magnolia trees, lost in piles of roadside debris. I gained weight. My father died. I finished your lilac nursery. I bought a set of old glass and steel doctor`s shelves and filled them with treasures: a stuffed dog, perfect pinecone, a row of your grandparent`s bronzed baby shoes, a small collection of heart-shaped rocks. My father sent you an antique doll, with a porcelain face painted all innocence, and a fine lace gown to cover the rest of her. I waited. I mourned. I slept well. March thirty-first I began to bleed. My husband came home from his shift at the hospital and found me on the silver-blue bedroom divan, crying, holding my belly. What's wrong? Blood. He called a colleague from the other room, came back, said We'll go over tomorrow first thing. Sleepless the whole night, bleeding: he snored. Crossing west on the Biloxi Bridge by dawn: I already knew. There was not just one dead baby, now there were two. Magnolia, and you. It was too late for surgery--they thought it best to induce. As I felt your big head crowning, the doctor said, Oh, she's blonde just like you, honey, and we smiled at one another. My husband cussed under his breath, left the room. I held you both a while. Violet, Magnolia. You were three times as big as Magnolia, she looked something awful, her face by now deformed, her skin the color of ruin. The next day, I sat in the pale purple nursery at home and told my sweet three that you had gone to God with Papa. They kept saying APRIL FOOLS! APRIL FOOLS! and APRIL FOOLS! as if the news was some kind of trick, until they noticed their mama`s tears.
The oldest whispered She's an angel now in her girly pouty baby voice. The next morning, as we were sitting at the formal dining table for breakfast, all of us dressed finer than the nines as usual, as if nothing had happened, we heard him call to the kids from the back veranda. Look kids! See? In his hands he held a minuscule baby hummingbird, dead. He said, Look at the violet of her throat and dark eyes, doesn't she look sad? The kids, in habit, nodded and recoiled. This is like what Mama did to Violet. I gathered them to me, scurried them off to the shady National Seashore behind our house. Walking through the woods, in a hushed row behind me, the kids were nearly soundless. Their footsteps fell like the steps of wolves. I felt the familiar burn rise up in me, felt my joints scabbing over, the mask of the wolf appearing on my face. A fox crossed our path, the broken-wing distraction call of killdeer filled the canopy of savannah pine, singing Kill-dee-dee Kill-dee-dee Kill-dee-dee a frenzied lullaby. As we passed the flat muddy bayou bank, a young alligator didn`t bother to flinch and neither did we. At the end of the trail, we found our way to the wall of the bridge, threw aside shoes, dipped in our feet. The bayou passed beneath us into open Gulf, the sun went down. In the profound haze of dusk, we didn`t even see the bottlefish floating in the tidal marsh, didn`t notice the fully-inflated blue-violet sail skimming the surface, didn`t suspect the mass of jellyfish-like tangles underneath. Bottlefish are not jellyfish: they are an entire damn colony, four kinds of minute, highly modified subterranean souls, each needing the other to survive. That bottlefish stung my girl something fierce, leaving whip-like red welts on her alabaster leg. The four of us made time, then, and I carried her, howling in pain, toward the light of our kitchen window, the bottle of vinegar waiting, back up the dark woodsy Nature`s Way Trail, home; my two small boys following close behind. 158 158 Alice Anderson, "To the Wolves," collected in The Watermark, Eyewear
The Cure for Melancholy is to Take the Horn Powdered unicorn horn was once thought to cure melancholy. What carries the hurt is never the wound but the red garden sewn by the horn as it leftand she left. I am rosing, blooming absence, its brilliant alarum. Brodsky said, Darkness restores what light cannot repair. You thrilled meopened to the comb. O, wizard, O, wound. I want the ebon bull and the moon I`ve come for the honeyed horn. Queen Elizabeth
traded a castle for a single horn. Surrender to the kingdom in my hands army of touch marching upon the alcazar of your thighs like bright horns. I arrive at youhalf bestia, half feast. Tonight we harvest the luxed forest of Caderas, name the darkful fruit spicing our mouths, separate sweet from thorn. Lanternist, in your wicked palm, the bronzed lamp of my breast. Strike the sparker take me with tremble. Into your lap let me lay my heavy horns. I fulfilled the prophecy of your throat, loosed in you the fabulous wing of my mouth red holy-red ghost. I spoke to god, returned to you feathered, seraphimed and horned. Our bodies are nothing if not places to be had by, as in, God, she has me by the throat, by the hip bone, by the moon. God, she has me by the horn. 159
159 Natalie Diaz, "The Cure for Melancholy is to Take the Horn," in The Paris-American
The Driest Place on Earth I watched in horror as the man hung half a pig by a hook in the window. Nearby, the sea shone or something. Nearby, the wingspan of a hawk cast an elongated shadow. I listened with horror to the words I was missing. A wrongness was growing in the living moon. & nearby, the sea rolled endlessly. Nearby, the saw grass peered through the grit & preened. I`ve never been to Florida. Louisiana however is second skin of mind, a habit-habitat. & Texas on the way there, the red soil & black boars, the frankly haunted pines lone men in pickups fishing for nothing they intend to catch. & nearby, the sea froths over the edge. & nearby, the sea. Nearer & nearer the obliterating sea 160
160 Shanna Compton, "The Driest Place on Earth," in The Awl
Ceremony for a Bystander Listen, I am returning to where you are. Wisteria, wisteria, asleep on the stalk, show me how to keep the mouth soft. Inside, wasps are building cornices in the dust and not one accurate place in the silence. 161
161 Marni Ludwig, "Ceremony for a Bystander," collected in Pinwheel, New Issues
from Chelate my philosophers are all in love with one another : disturbing, bizarre associations result from their couplings : forays into polyamorous activity : this approaches scientific inquiry : if four philosophers suddenly orgasm, then freak downpour in cairo : why has no one warned me : the wind takes my hat away : i chase it like i chase conclusions : being, matter, nothingness : ideal, will, order : someone better kiss me right now :: Jay Besemer 162 162 Jay Besemer, "my philosophers are all in love with one another," collected in Chelate, Brooklyn Arts
Ars Poetica Battle Rhyme for Sucker Emcees after Adrian Matejka Who shall not be named. Who shall not be coveted beyond whatever well-mannered Hot 100UK List. (You pick.) Who, keep it real, may not even exist after this riff, after this rift. Who, you may not even claim ten years from this line when finally the mic splits from his mitts-- Check it: anyone can strum da DUM da DUM (no SHIT) on a ceremonial lute. Even a classically trained orangutan, though most of you be absolutely abecedarian. Parakeets: Dactyls. Basic Bitches, Simpleton Sarah`s & disco loops. Yo! you gave up on the moon for a tweed suit & elbow patches. Does your heart also beat watch-slow, in perfectly fixed patterns? Does your stroke not stroke? Poor you. Who me? I be your organic turkey on steroids. LL-- straight swole, & hard as hell. Bigger. Blacker. Deafer, you are autotune & I`ve already pressed mute. I be the Anti-wack ODB. Big Baby Jesus, Osiris. Bet your wife might like it. The antivirus to your metrics, flexin`. Got mine honest. God-given. Got yours, too.
163 163 Marcus Wicker, "Ars Poetica Battle Rhyme for Sucker Emcees," in jubilat, collected in Silencer, Houghton Mifflin
blowjob Toutes les dames boivent gratuitement read the sign on the door, so I, sixteen, not yet a whomever, or an unopened letter in a broken dresser, did & so more of the more of the sad same story: he was tall, blond, white as an allegory, a catch that had caught me, which makes me (a) a bleak, (b) a ball, (c) contagious, or (d) the lure-- Please discuss, along w/ the effect of the sea slamming the shore hoarse & her pink knees pebbled red from the force. 164
Emma Winsor Wood
164 Emma Winsor Wood, "blowjob," in Whiskey Island
The Second Body is a Shield This poem was composed in 12-point sans serif font while the poet took place In the past, doomed to remember the world as it took place outside The detritus of heavy metal
music in her mind, orchestrating a school Of second graders eating sushi on a sidewalk in Park Slope, in the neighborhood in which she spent the Summer in heat in a bed in a room overlooking the neighborhood Drug rehabilitation institute. Unclothed, the first body Came, touched her skin, and her mind grew Diseased by its eroticism. Now she carries a dense Second body in her brain, a second body not unlike The first, whose material form encompasses every facet of The world, yet is not the world, and her desire rises and falls, rises and Pauses and thinks to possess a very fine mind, expertise with regard to Sex, the fruit of geometric pliability and a knack for crafting dialogue From everyday speech--should have been a playwright--but the best Circumstances are never the best. literary influence
s include the former`s untamed aggregate, the reality Of whose experience is formed by combining several disparate parts, then shouting You don`t know where I`m at?! You don`t know where I`m at?! Within this faux-fucked 8 Ѕ" x 11" Static electricity. To which the second body Responds: Imagine a pure gold ring. Divide it in half, then keep Dividing and dividing and dividing. 165
165 Claire Donato, "The Second Body is a Shield," in Aufgabe, collected in The Second Body, Poor Claudia
Boy, Allegorically Deployed Kiss the past until it`s bitter, his unexplored expanse of skin; cold coinage of brass nipples kisses his chest tender to the abrading tongue. He is what snows in it is snowing, precipitating indecision and a sea of wavering white fields. Sheer stipulation, verb, the act of being carried out: bird water where finches drown of thirst, a glass of axioms, half-full. (See, we have bodies, and smell like the sea.) Occasionally anyone. Ghostly geology, slag and charnel leaf, slate face with eroding fossils, this is not his body: a damaged would-be nobility disturbs the surfaces of things, even dust fails me. The most beautiful boy thinks beautiful is too large and vacant, ripped-open emptiness on the left margin of argument: thinks he can`t remember whether I remember no one`s there, what he calls himself. Calls himself I at times, and lies down in a field of broken leaves and shattered grass. Himself on his way to being blazon, eyes ears lips tongue, full catalogue of cartilage and muscle and the saline bags light seeps through. Lies down and he is Atlas, hands lacking labels for the lands his hands land on. We have loved something and moved on, carnage of pink balls and buttocks, the world when looked at properly, a game of names and places no one`s seen. Caress cold breath until it rains (we`ve spoken of the rain already), drown the day. Then you`ll be music too. 166
166 Reginald Shepherd, "Boy, Allegorically Deployed," collected in Fata Morgana, University of Pittsburgh
What is Ohio? Who is Mr. Ellington? I can`t remember his face, the deep furrow, his mix tape cassette-- though I know every note was marked with sanctity`s odor and secrets. The sun came out today (ta-dah!) with faint overtures of clarinet. Grilled skewered beef, six-winged angel billiard hall, roiling heaven scent. I want in. I want out. In out in out in out: O coquette. Q: Hello? Mister Fist? A: My first rosette. The Usage Panel finds gavel as a verb, with regret, unacceptable. The soul creamed, dome of flies, spread out on ice dinette. He visited me last night. My second bet. A good bourbon, a crappy hotel room, the leverage of his turbojet. I joined the trees last night: mean drunks, lashed tongues, slurred threat. As the drunk angel falls, so a frothy uncorked lament. Fuck fuck fuck or a polite old-fashioned perfumed sunset. A polar bear walks into a bar and orders three rounds of arctic melt. Young soldiers in flimsy coffins. Email subject line: don`t forget. Myrrh, thistle, wings, carbon net. Please send our regrets, our nimble-stained-fingered public debt. The heart bitten into a typeface called oubliette. Thief, cleanse me with your purified sweat. From the Midwest, CB sends corn casserole, big bands, alphabets. 167
167 Catherine Bowman, "What is Ohio Who is Mr Ellington," in Harvard Review, collected in Can I Finish, Please?, Four Way Books
Atahualpa The Inca lets Pizarro stroke his tunic. A crude adventurer in armor, touching the Offspring Of The Sun Itself. I said to him, Inca, of what is a robe as soft as this mayde? He explained it was frome the skins of vampyre bats that flye at night in Puerto Viejo & Tumbez & which feede upon the natives. Sacred was the Inca`s spittle: women of noble families were employed to catch it in a cloth, lest the ground should not defile it. Later, the Sun God is garroted, a Dominican priest thrusting a crucifix into his hand before the noose is tightened. Later, an Andean mountainside is honeycombed with nitro to blow up & extract its gold. Later, an oil rig catches fire in the Gulf outside Biloxi, killing eleven. Later, Phil Spector points a very large pistol at Dee Dee Ramone & his guitar. He is producing the album The End of the Century & seeks for eight hours to extract the opening chord of Rock and Roll High School. From the mummified head of a rival, the Inca commanded a drinking goblet to be fashioned, the refreshment emerging from a spigot in the mouth. In Be My Baby, Spector`s storied Wall of Sound is comprised of sleigh-bell, castanet, full orchestra & the Ronettes in beehive hairdos, who are less four mixed-race girls from East LA than noblewomen chosen to retrieve the Sun God`s spit. Take 135. To accessorize his tailored suits, Spector kept a cache of pistols in the way that other men keep ties. Bling & Rolex, a ruby-studded coke spoon swaying his pallid throat. & in the suburbs this morning a trio of my neighbors armed with handguns stalk a rabid raccoon, zigzagging dogwood & azaleas, the neighborhood children in tow, maintaining respectful distance. From a hedge the creature darts out; the briefcase man my neighbor aims his pistol. A froth of blood, a second shot against the head. Four states south there are plans to ignite five hundred miles of oil-bespattered water Even the Inca`s table scraps were holy relics & warehoused in camphorwood trunks. My neighbor pokes the bloated stomach with a stick. I am coming to believe the Gnostics were right; insatiable & shameless is the Demiurge, though ably do we serve Him. The cocked .44 increases not His grandeur, though a temple-psalm results in the form
of a minor song within the corpus of four pretend-brothers in leather jackets. Once more we sift the mountain`s rubble, extract the nuggets, golden fillings, the rooms overflowing with valises, shoes & hair. The face on the goblet will be hewn into a smile. O Fearsome One, look upon us as we linger by the flowerbeds, making small talk as the joggers & the mothers pushing strollers file by. On cable we will view the oil rising miles to a sky turned blue-black in the fashion of a bruise. Factotums all, we rise at dawn to creep into the cave where our quarries slumber. Razor-fanged, blind. The huge ears tremble at our step, a dainty dish to set before the Firstborn Of The Sun. We club, we net, we shake them lifeless in our woolen sacks, careful to leave the pelts undamaged. 168
168 David Wojahn, "Atahualpa," in The Cortland Review, collected in For the Scribe, University of Pittsburgh
I Try Not To See Myself as a Mother Figure I imagine Kanye`s hand on my stomach because I`ve begun to imagine that everyone`s touching me through my clothes. I was not one for fantasies, but fantasizing makes me more of a woman. If I see Kanye`s teeth in my bedroom, if I see him with the head of a falcon, penis of a buck (which I`ve never seen), or if I see myself in his studio, in his house, introduced to Jay-Z, drinking what I can`t drink--I am a fool. I am encouraged to paint myself the fool. Tattoo of Kanye`s head on my hip. Something to morph. To humble me. Humiliate me. If I can only see myself protecting Kanye, am I even a woman? 169
169 Sarah Blake, "I Try Not to See Myself as a Mother Figure," in Boston Review, collected in Mr. West, Wesleyan
Divine Oh hell, here`s that dark wood again. You thought you`d gotten through it-- middle of your life, the ogre turned into a mouse and heart-stopped, the old hag almost done, monsters hammered down into their caves, werewolves outrun. You`d come out of all that, into a field. There was one man standing in it. He held out his arms. Ping went your iHeart so you took off all your clothes. Now there were two of you, or maybe one, mashed back together like sandwich halves, oozing mayonnaise. You lived on grapes and antidepressants and the occasional small marinated mammal. You watched the DVDs that dropped from the DVD tree. Nothing was forbidden you, so no worries there. It rained a lot. You planted some tomatoes. Something bad had to happen because no trouble, no story, so Fuck you, fine, whatever, here come more black trees hung with sleeping bats like ugly Christmas ornaments. Don`t you hate the holidays? All that giving. All those windup crиches, those fake silver icicles. If you had a real one you could skewer the big cursed heart of your undead love. Instead you have a silver noodle with which you must flay yourself. Denial of pleasure, death before death, alone in the woods with a few bats unfolding their creaky wings. 170 170 Kim Addonizio, "Divine," in Fifth Wednesday, collected in Mortal Trash, Norton
I crack open a light bulb for the dead electricity, the filament I bury in the yard. Now nothing gets past me without first an obedience test. My organs twitch to tell what I already know: all years share the same dread. The egg I crush with my whole fist will never be born or eaten by anyone. Human behavior dictates the time leading up to here, how in the morning the sun screams itself awake and some of us too if we let it. If I am unclear it is because I am gutless. Something eats through my hope and leaves a dark stain. I have no master plan, no key to bully what comes next. What comes next could be a miracle or a threat. I fling myself through a series of windows just to make sure I am still real. 171
Anne Cecelia Holmes
171 Anne Cecelia Holmes, "I crack open a light bulb..." in Nightblock, collected in Dead Year, Sixth Finch
summer`s laid out before me flat as a sweat palm an inland salt sea & still I feel hurried this sense of not-doing persuades me I can do even less my to-do list`s eat, go on a walk, masturbate at least once, make sure to bathe if only for your own damn self the body abstracted from consequence from law I try to smoke weed again but remember why I can`t I can`t spend hours piecing together the world through glimpses through the bedroom blinds the held-breath of sirens in the distance my head like a bell submerged with the ship in a tidal pool the tongue weightless in the brass in the mouth the mouth which opens only to
Believe it or not I Started to Worry
sing for my own ear that gir-hir-hirl like a shook chain you've got an ass like I've never seen the shower pounding the metal basin once we had possums living underneath the house you could hear them scratching below the tub the dog lost his mind trying to get to them his nose shoved down the drain I learned to forgive my own instincts their musk and bared teeth for repetitive injuries the body stops sending relief so a turned ankle already turned won`t swell what about my heart my heart self-sustaining like a male corpse flower with its plenary fishoil slick black garlic dumpster fire stench calls carrion beetles to bathe in the weightless yellow
172 172 Emilia Phillips, "Believe It or Not I Started to Worry," in The Shallow Ends
I Passed Three Girls Killing a Goat I passed three girls killing a goat, shotgun leaned up against a tree and the entrails spilling into a coil on the ground. It was hooked between the tendons of its back legs to a high branch that gently creaked like a dry hinge busybody aunties wouldn`t oil. Blood drained into a pail, you could smell it shifting with the air, and black flies landed in the shadows of things where the wind didn`t touch. I dreamed I was carrying a sack filled with animals, and it dragged blood in the gravel and stained my skirt hem, you could follow my trail to the county line where old men sat on the liquor store porch. One crooked his half-arm for the bottle where the auger had caught his hand. I dreamed I was in a new country rinsing livers under a spigot, and the men cracking black walnuts on a stone named my limbs like the weather, like none of us knew the same words. By the tree the girls and the goat were faltering, one squatted to sharpen her blackened blade on a strop, and the men on the county line leaned back on the heels of their chairs talking about anything, each other, spring weather, the long-haired boy scalped by a combine, and one of them swore you only plant beans with the moon in Capricorn otherwise the fields choke up with scrub juniper. One looked intently at his left palm; his right wrist uselessly brushed the woven seat of his chair. When a wind came, the screen door leapt up on its leather hinges which never creaked and slammed shut. Mud daubers in the muck by the spigot blew sideways around my ankles and up under my skirt, and inside I could hear the woman who lived with the liquor store proprietor cursing as she locked up the vanilla like she knew how to break the back of a ghost. 173
Miriam Bird Greenberg
173 Miriam Bird Greenberg, "I Passed Three Girls Killing a Goat," in Poetry, collected in In the Volcano's Mouth, University of Pittsburgh
Manic Panic If you lie still and concentrate, you can forget your body and float like a balloon to the ceiling where plaster stars prick like thumbtacks. So scoured out, you can`t feel anything, like the pink-haired girls who butcher their arms. Come down. There is no merit badge for levitation. You can leave your body, but it will pucker and fall eventually, snagged in bare branches, which like antennae receive signals too high-pitched for us to hear. How sad, everything, and how inexpensive to say it out loud. The hills smoke like a motherboard. Feeling bad has never felt better, think the green-haired girls who brand the smiles of lighters into their thighs and wear striped stockings so tight, the stripes distort. You`re not like them. They`re still trying to live the days of Manic Panic and bar marquees where all the Ls were sevens. How sad, everything, and how cheap to say it out loud. The hills smoke like mothers, like purple-haired girls. Stretched taut, filled with nothing, you rise. 174
174 Maggie Smith, "Manic Panic," in Failbetter, collected in The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, Tupelo
Varieties of Cool A friend had a friend who winked us past rope lines, we were enskyed for one night in hipness it was boring the champagne tasted no better than wonderful the music was the same lobotomy of thump that had been playing for years as dissent from our Puritan roots then we freed ourselves in a cab, something yellow that wasn`t a flower but wanted to be, sang Homeward Bound passably to be happy about melancholy and teach the driver from Sri Lanka a thing or two about the American wistfulness for home all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge and walked across the night and water that I got down on my belly and said hello to through the wooden slats in Brooklyn Heights we ate grapes and waved at all the effort by the various Carnegies and Seagrams to live forever, my friend had a cough that became an acronym, I sat beside his missing a man with my missing a woman in front of homes we knew from movies but appeared less famous than cozy at four in the morning as we tried to decide which house wanted to adopt us I couldn`t get over the grapes he said, That's New York, you can get anything as long as it's not what you really need he didn`t say that I`m confusing him with Mick Jagger and this poem with a novel, he said something and I did back and forth, it was quiet and that`s how conversation works, the grapes were good and the night air had no idea how bad his cough would get, I am grateful that, on balance, the absence of stars in Manhattan is offset by the number of lights there`s no reason to leave on but people do
175 175 Bob Hicok, "Varieties of Cool," in The New Yorker, collected in Sex & Love &, Copper Canyon
She was talking about Akhmatova and Mandelstam, how there was only one egg, which she gave him. But what I heard was one ache: there was one ache, and they shared it. 176
What I Heard
176 Andrea Cohen, "What I Heard," in Alaska Quarterly Review, collected in Unfathoming, Four Way Books
from The Dead Girls Speak in Unison Though our sticks are split we still get eventide still get lit, night-capped. Kidnapped, feet wrapped in the loopy intestine of your funny little dream. You think you`ve found the sweetest hole-- to bury your craggy face. The underworld is burning. Whatevs, little legs. Make with the running. Up the sheets like a ladder each chanteuse gone to heck will beckon your wreck. 177
177 Danielle Pafunda, "Though our sticks are split..." collected in The Dead Girls Speak in Unison, Bloof
from Diving Makes the Water Deep 93. Cavafy, I sometimes say in a class. A poet of--you know that moment when you are sharing an armrest, very aware of the armrest? Zach Savich 178 178 Zach Savich, "Cavafy, I sometimes say in a class..." collected in Diving Makes the Water Deep, Rescue Press
When one is a child one cannot tell
Calvary from cavalry, the hill
for the horsemen. Each means your death.
Letters are trees.
Behind them something
walks, or struggles. You strain to see
just what sort of beast this is.
Not a nice one, perhaps. Not like
the sleeping kitten,
or the Sunday School
There may be an army in the forest
and not kind at all.
A nick in the lead-based paint.
Or the soldiers themselves, soft & heavy.
Something walks behind them
and it might be language.
Language, the adults hiss, at the older boys
and girls with their musky scents, some-
times at each other.
As if what is hidden
comes to light, in this forest.
And if the figures be melted down, cast
is the church, and here
is the steeple.
The fingers inside blind.
Like the alphabet.
You add eyes--twin pricks--to the
O, to the e. And stand
corrected. Smooth, yes, as a trunk, yes.
As the seam of a soldier.
Will I make a good one, you wonder. Just then,
beyond your range of vision, something
aim. In the distance a bald hill.
Bare. Someone or something has left it.
A loamy odor, as of shirts
worn by men.
And you hear the baying, no
the neighing of the horses.
The one with the black mane is the one
you like best.
It is a blind horse, but powerful.
It has thrown its rider.
Wounded, he has hidden himself. In the forest.
From which you cannot tear your
error. Or the barrel of your toy musket.
Your own lips moving. By way of
invitation. Or reply. 179
179 G.C. Waldrep, "Blood Ruminant," in New England
Review, collected in Disclamor, BOA
a deer with the head of Emily Dickinson
a deer with the head of Emily Dickinson has been spotted all over town: hugging the edge of the forest, standing fog-shrouded in post-midnight parking lots, up to its knees in the river's slow swirl. the thing about the deer with the head of Emily Dickinson is that no one has ever seen her move-- she is never seen coming or going, never leaping across the road like the hundreds of deer-headed deer who haunt our forests-- the deer with the head of Emily Dickinson is always standing there, stone-still in the middle distance, for as long as you care to look. 180
Cassandra de Alba
180 Cassandra de Alba, "a deer with the head of Emily Dickinson," in Flapperhouse, collected in habitats, Horse Less
Instructions for Drowning You don`t believe in salvation, but lie to him anyway in the Jeep with the fingerprinted windshield, Route 6 panting beneath you. Shave your legs while singing, heel high on the chipped tiles, throat in love with stones. Don`t worry about someone walking in, what they might see. Only another body can know a body. Reed, swamp song, your body when his hand under your dress, when his breath. Dandelions, the sticky eyes of yellow grapes. Consider the sea bottom, how it might shape itself around your sadness when his fingers, when no light but fireflies. Learn the vocabulary of water, how it is always reaching. 181
181 Adriana Cloud, "Instructions for Drowning," collected in Instructions for Building a Wind Chime, Poetry Society of America
Elegiac Stanzas (with Rhinestones) Let me tell you how Princess Di died for me. Here`s the news surging across the Atlantic, gathering force as it sweeps over the Bible belt, comes hurtling down I-35 on the back of a semi, slipping through the tinted double doors on a stolen snatch of sunlight, coming to rest at the Crystal Palace Gentleman`s Club. I have just offered a well-dressed man a lap dance. He rebuffs me with a polite, but firm No thank you. I`m waiting for Big Tits. Like he`s waiting for the bus. This is my sixth Diet Coke with extra cherries and I`m sitting at a little lacquer table with an engineer who shyly strokes the black feathers of my open negligee. But the news: zipping over the carpet`s neon geometry, strobing from stiletto to stiletto in a crude game of telephone, until, finally, one of the older girls, Misty, in a turmoil of mascara, rushes my table, crushes herself into me and chokes it out: Princess Di... she`s been... shot! Look, I can never make it sound right, or convince anyone this isn`t about me, because however I tell it, there I am in a San Antonio strip club dressing room, singularly unaffected amidst the glitter and wails, while girls I`d never spoken to held me to their bare breasts and just sobbed. All the men were left weirdly alone with their wallets, and the manager, against his wishes, had to shut down the Palace and send his inconsolable princesses home. 182
182 Karyna McGlynn, "Elegiac Stanza (with Rhinestones)," collected in Hothouse, Sarabande
C.O. Cold scrambled eggs. Burnt bacon curling under his slightly cockeyed glasses. Opera on the stereo, the bay ice-flat and gray as a naval deck. The shore rimy and swirling with snow, gusts rising up to us, a window rattling behind his I can breathe out here. A Sunday in November, 1969, the morning after Trinity Square mounted his Old Glory trilogy. Bloody Mary toasts, with celery-stick swizzles, Worcestershire, horseradish, and fiery talk about the Narragansetts, and the colonials who were slavers. To the sunporch beaming with poets I carry with me a shadowy prosaic: orders to Vietnam. A green lieutenant, shave-headed as a monk, I leave tomorrow and can`t fathom Lowell`s question about the Green Bah-rehs, his breath chopping the word into hardly intelligible halves. He takes over and pictures the pajama`d guerrilla flying out the rear hatch of the helicopter. He asks me if I have seen this, and he assumes I know more than I am saying, me now the dim, lumpen, and enemy soldier pleading innocence, ignorance, dismay. It is as if a vacuum has sucked up the stray talk, and under his affronted glare I feel like Hawthorne`s young Robin Molineux bewildered by Boston`s mocking, checker-faced hostility. I too am blistered by the moment, and can`t believe this is happening. The china clinks, and talk slowly resumes while I come to, blinking like a hammered calf. I hardly know the abbreviation C.O., but a conscience must be at work when he leans over and whispers, Come back. Intact, rhyme nearly full, orders fully meant.
in memoriam: Robert Lowell Fred Marchant
183 183 Fred Marchant, "C.O." collected in Tipping Point, The Word Works
P.T. Barnum`s Fiji Mermaid Exhibition as I Was Not The Girl I Think I Was I was a girl, I was one of those Fiji zombie-mermaids, very ugly although I experienced myself as a flickering and silver-finned virgin. People above the water use words like tease and when I learned of this word, my feelings were so hurt I refused to be kissed for as long as my longing would allow me to remember this vow, which was six months with only occasional faltering. When I was a mother I sometimes told my daughter who loves sea creature
s little stories before bed and they always began, When I was a girl and lived in the ocean... When I was a wife and a mother and a responsible member of the electorate and was remembering but not telling how I was once a zombie-mermaid girl, senatorial candidates at podiums were describing rapes like twittering invitations until it seemed a thousand-million fluttering rapes had perched on the comments field of the Huffington Post chirping the sins of the bitch-teases who got naked in their beds and the bitch-teases who just wanted oral and the bitch-teases who were so drunk nobody could be expected to understand what they were saying. The one I have been loving and who says he loves me, I thought, I`ll ask him about the shock of this tease and I`ll ask him who the honorable representative from Missouri raped and who the one from Indiana and if 1 in 5 of the women I pass on the street have been raped, how many in 5 of the men I pass on the street have raped and I`ll ask him if when I was naked and just wanted oral, did I have it coming and escape on pure luck? and I thought, he`ll tell me the air is full of words that are ideas for lies. So I swam up to him with the glitter of my tail that sometimes I`m afraid he can see is rust flaking the way salmon do sideways at the end of the season, all piled-up in the mouth of their being born, I swam up to him, trying to be winning with my glitter and asked him about how long ago back when I was a mermaid and I did and I didn`t and it was sweet and special and nervous and sometimes I would but not predictably and please don`t ask. I was telling him the truth of it, the refracted light and blooming anemones of it, the red coral and unfurling starfish of it, but he saw such a cloud of skin-flaked trout over my telling and I could see it too in him saying, Yeah, you were and in him saying, Yeah, you got lucky and in him saying, I thought you were over this girlish naivetй which is when he may as well have said, If I had raped the tail off you, and I might have, I would not have been wrong, because I hate the demure silver of you and we both know what kind of mermaid you are. But we don`t both know. Sometimes after we do he looks at me with a face made of waves, as if he really knows me, and now I know I hate that face. It`s the most perfectly wrong face and I want to break the barnacle of it. Now I know I never tease because getting off makes a line at the shore of myself and he can try to wash his silking way across it, but I know he is not water and I know it and I know it and I know he is not water, I am water and he is the rake of sand. Kathryn Nuernberger 184 184 Kathryn Nuernberger, "PT Barnum's Fiji Mermaid Exhibition," in Green Mountains Review, collected in The End of Pink, BOA
All-purpose Spell for Banishment A pox on ________ and the gerrymander he rode in on. Expel, export, exile him while we waft sage-smoke around. At this zero hour, as our wombs contract under the moon, cast him out, groper / loomer / cheater / harasser / rapist mogul bully frilled narcissus of a boss. Evict without visa. Dissolve his assets and social media
accounts. Let there be no combover strays stranded on sofa-backs, no insurgent perfume. Erase his name even from rumor. From amygdala. Remove all dimples left in moss by cloven loafer. There is no ________. There never was. As the last syllable of this incantation sounds, it dawns on us how light we feel, like lemon mousse in a silver dish on an early spring morning before the leaves grow in, each cell of foam trapping nothing but sugar and sunshine. On our tongues, only spit. 185
185 Lesley Wheeler, "All-purpose Spell for Banishment," in Salamander
Plush Bunny My poor little future, you could practically fit in a shoebox like the one I kept `pecial bunny in when I decided I was too old to sleep with her. I`d put a lid on the box every night. I knew she couldn`t breathe--she was stuffed, but I thought she`d like the dark, the quiet. She had eyes, I could see them. They were two stitches. My future has eyes, for a while. Then my future has stitches, like `pecial`s. Then cool cotton, like her guts. Of course there is another world. But it is not elsewhere. The eye traps it so where heaven should be you see shadows. You start to reek. That`s you moving on. 186
186 Max Ritvo, "Plush Bunny," in Poetry Northwest, collected in Four Reincarnations, Milkweed
You`re worthless, a leafy performance. Orgasm, wasted on a mirror-- Your fear is a white skull atop a red encyclopedia. The laughter of the interior experience, To Thine Own Self etcetera. Your inked, ornate script in Old English like scaffolding veined near a wholesome areola--Sweet Jailbate, preening at the gym another year won`t erase it. You tug your dick and yawn, trying to maintain. Nothing, pageantry. You`re empty. The error`s your self-loathing`s incomplete-- Horror, Flowers, Pleasure. Black Halls. You`ll live forever. You`ll turn autoimmune. Bubonic, venereal, green moil of the groin. Like a tree branch in summer trying to shake off
summer-- You'll learn the songs that wither. 187
187 Miguel Murphy, "Hamlet," in Blackbird
The orgasm is not sure about the About Me page. What can she say about herself? That she was once a cello? Well, not a cello exactly, but the notes that emerged? No, not the notes exactly, but the aura of the notes, the small ache they left in the sky like an imprint in blue--though it wasn`t a sky exactly, the cloudless space, there, opening and opening inside every woman. (She always did have a preference for women.) Nin Andrews 188 188 Nin Andrews, "The orgasm is not sure about the About Me page," collected in Our Lady of the Orgasm, MadHat
It`s a Limousine It is nothing like a shark but the monochrome blanched off-white of its long body is dumb like a shark`s nose and dead eyes and it is turning a corner. There`s always a child in awe who asks what is that. And we must supply the information, however embarrassing our world may be in the explanation. For example this dumb automobile that will make me one day explain Prom, which made me, personally, throw up in a parking lot. Or wealth. That one is difficult. Because the sparkling wide-eyed young ones all want all the money and candy and most especially baby kittens the size of gumdrops that will never grow up. For them our world is a cotton candy haze except when you accidentally mention a dead cat who was named Peanut. Then the storm appears on the brow, looms like charred coffee at the depths of a cup. And why shouldn`t we give that man bent on the corner money? (Because we don`t have much money, honey.) What`s that? A man who drives a very nice car and is just about hit you. You must remind these little dumb-dumbs they are very small, no one can see them, anyone is liable to run them over, no one cares about what grade they`re in, they must stop touching everything, they can`t have cake, popcorn, popsicles, cupcakes for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It`s a limousine, and it represents every stupidity known to human kind. And you, my child, are never allowed to ride in one. May they one day become obsolete, may spaceships replace them, may you one day cease to force me to answer all of your questions about this awful world again. Though by then I may be dead. And for now I`ll take grabbing your hand in mine while crossing this fearsome parking lot as my one true reason to live. 189 189 Cate Marvin, "It's a Limousine," in The Baffler
Beat Boxing That day the dancers started trying to break but somebody broke the radio while trying to snatch a grocery sack from an old lady. That day the old lady`s paper sack broke under the weight of absent expectations & dry spaghetti & Granny Smiths fell apart on the street like busted explanations in a British accent: La Di Da Di, we likes to party-- That grocery mess made Garrett laugh so hard it built a backbeat. That laugh loaned muscle instead of bringing the knuckle like a side fist beating as fat as an apple on a lunchroom table. A beat that huffed a mad circle of knuckle-ups. The rappers rap when the huff coughs up. The breakers break when this gruff grumble verses up. It breathed deep in someone else`s crushing break up & rough motives where the handclap should be. That breathing rim shot the whole cluster of Kangoled knuckleheads. Empty grocery sacks between handclaps. The old lady`s wig tilted between backslaps & laughs. Out of breath, that beat rested--a loan shark on Thursday prepping for Friday payday. Nobody breathed as that beat made metronomes from breaths. The old lady went inside to call the cops & nobody breathed another beat as the apple bruised to a stop. 190 190 Adrian Matejka, "Beat Boxing," collected in Map to the Stars, Penguin
Nope As for yes I`ve been against it since ballet & I refused to leap like a little white flag in the gym & I refused to skate on blades if there was ice which there was not & I refused to ride in the backs of trucks & did not kill my mother & father & did not not want to either & did not wear red bandannas or gyrate with tassel & baton in the Jesus parade or go door to door with The Old Farmer`s Almanac or curl my hair except for that one blue summer after the 7th grade or talk with other girls about how to fix my face or go with them to the mall to steal bikinis there or just lean hot against a swanky pillar until a cowboy came by if cowboy is the right word for southwest Virginia since there were no priests back then in the motherland. There`s just lichen now in the motherland. Just lichen & other forms of algae in the motherland & vines & moss in the graveyards of the motherland whereas before at least in Bristol there was Valleydale Foods & hence wild gangs of handsome butchers who`d knock on your door on Sundays to see if you wanted any hog meat for the freezer you didn`t have in your basement like the God you didn`t have down there either but just crickets & webs & things gone flat like the tires on the bikes you didn`t ride & the tubes you didn`t float slow saying yes O yes down that olden river on. 191 191 Adrian Blevins, "Nope," in The Baffler
Lagoon When I was fifteen, tight and brash in love, I read the Brontлs and the weeklies each night after work and before you, whose thirst and ribs astounded. You would be reading something by Bukowski, something about a woman who maybe fucked rosebuds and flinched. You brought me a flower from a package weak with flowers from the fill-station food mart, but I would not let you put it inside me, what with my head of voices and dazzled housecalls, what with the smell of hot dogs and gas all over that rose. But that isn't possible. No. But is this? I had chosen you, in brown rooms, in laundries, chosen you self-sown, best, but do not think of you often. Still I find myself here, and the voices find me again recounting splinters. Is this what you did? Yes. I waded in head-smut and sand. You brought me, bit and dreary, into what you named lagoon (but was mostly rainwater). Yes I knew better then; yes I didn't. Is this what you did? Meaning: You did this. 192
192 Lynn Melnick, "Lagoon," collected in If I Should Say I Have Hope, Yes Yes
VCR&B All my favorite singers sound like modems. I intend this to be read as a loving observation the same way an aging mechanic lifts the engine from the torso of his Cutlass Supreme & sends it off to become someone else`s future. Which is to say, coolly, I know what time it is. All my favorite singers sample dead legends & let the spirit speak in HD: Heathen`s Desire, Holy Diffraction-- the only difference worth noting is whether you want your body to be something it is not or someplace it has never been when the synth-laden outro begins. Whether you do or do not believe that freaky cyborgs are indeed amongst us when the bass kicks you upside the knees like a little brother testing his legs, his luck, your love. All my favorite singers tend to refrain from using terms like love un-ironically, which could be read as a way of distancing what we came here for or what we built this petulant hunger from. Zapp & Roger hum compuuuter luuuuuuv & I don`t imagine another person on the end of another screen, blowing emoji kisses at me from across the distance, but a glowing Xbox One, my first iPhone, this smooth, black alphabet full of wires & light, lying to my escapist heart, daring this flesh to be its own system of stars & gas giants, unfurl into the slick ether like so much cellophane, everywhere & nowhere I have ever wanted to be. 193 193 Joshua Bennett, "VCR&B," in Blackbird, collected in The Sobbing School, Penguin
Denouement in a Wooden Dollhouse Attention, Dollhouse, to the sound of stage drapes furling back and a soft snap almost like the striking of a match. That easily you`re lit: one lick and then a flicker at the paisley couch-- the balsa floor lamp blooming like a tulip, while the chandelier shivers and flares then pops its glass piсata to spit firedrops through the room. Groomdoll, if each chair is cotton stuffing in a cufflink box--if tissue--then you knew day one you lived in kindling, but what else could you do? The work of dolls is small-scale drama, but with no director and no plot, you mostly labored at the hallway mirror practicing extremes of feeling on your plastic face. Here`s the horror you perfected. Bridedoll, as a host of crackling yellows climbs the spiral stairs behind you, something in your hollow parts is warming toward a climax. What or who have you been miming? How awful much of you is costume? Singed in your retreat and torn, your gown has let a little air in, and the aria you`re always on the verge of inventing rises in you like a vow that`s been inverted. Attention, Dolls: your immolation`s imminent. Already something`s at the door to the master bedroom, is painting it red, will soon lacquer it black. I`ve been so lonely, someone says. I know, the other answers. With that, the dialogue stalls. You touch, and then you`re burning. Somewhere, past the flimsy panels, you can almost hear applause. 194
George David Clark
194 George David Clark, "Denouement in a Wooden Dollhouse," collected in Reveille, University of Arkansas Press
Essay on Inheritance What`s half-certain: a father always multiplies and here he is to teach you long division. Shit. He`s cut off his head. Did you know he was going to do that? Here`s the doctor! But he`s got his eyes on you. He`s shining the light in yours. It breaks like a line does. See, he understands a poem. He`s never doubted the blood in his body. The funeral director`s come. Gravedigger next. A father`s singular when dead the way he should be. That you`re sure about. But who will give the eulogy? Not someone who erred her whole daughter life, who sits grateful, alone on the stairs. Thank the god who banned ghosts. Unfortunately, you always took after your father-- see, a long time ago the doctor charted the paths of blood. But don`t trust the doctor! You have to cut off the head sometime, so the Hydra proves. Myth as reinforcement. You speak with your very own mouth. With your very own hands. 195
195 Elisa Gonzalez, "Essay on Inheritance," in Hyperallergic
Cosmology i. Vermeer's placed us just behind the Officer`s shoulder, facing the Laughing Girl, a window open between them, the wall alabaster in sun, a map dividing morning's glow. My brother sits across from me, militant in hunter's camo, chapped, reddened hands wrapped around a steaming mug, the kitchen sunrise-bright. His first shot missed, the second tore the doe's stomach wide. Crimson in winter woods. My father's telling him to go to sleep--It`s been two days. She must be dead--but he's still picturing snow, how blood crossed his path like lines of latitude, how the forest stretched farther than he knew. 196
196 Vanessa Stauffer, "Cosmology," collected in Cosmology, Dancing Girl
Trevor Trevor rusted pick-up & no license. Trevor 15; blue jeans streaked with deer blood. Trevor too fast & not enough. Trevor waving his John Deere hat from the driveway as you ride by on your squeaky Schwinn. Trevor who fingered a freshman girl then tossed her panties in the lake for fun. For summer. For your hands were wet & Trevor`s a name like a truck revving up in the night. Who snuck out to meet a boy like you. Yellow & nearly nothing. Trevor going 60 through his daddy`s wheat field. Who jams all his fries into whopper & chews with two feet on the gas. Your eyes closed in the passenger, the wheat a yellow confetti. Three freckles on his nose. Three periods to a boy-sentence. Trevor Burger King over McDonald`s cause the smell of smoke on the beef makes it real. Trevor I Like sunflowers best. They go so high. Trevor with the scar like a comma on his neck, syntax of what next what next what next Imagine going so high and still opening that big. Trevor loading the shotgun two red shells at a time. It's kind of like being brave, I think. Like you got this big ol'e head full of seeds & no arms to defend yourself. His hard lean arms aimed in the rain. When he touches the trigger`s black tongue, you swear you can taste his finger in your mouth. // Trevor pointing at the one-winged starling spinning in dirt & takes it for something new. Something smoldering like a word. Like a Trevor who knocked on your window at three in the morning, who you thought was smiling until you saw the blade held over his mouth. I made this, I made this for you, he said, the knife suddenly in your hand. Trevor later //
on your steps in the grey dawn. His face in his arms. I don't wanna, he said. His panting. His shaking hair. The blur of it. Please tell me I am not, he said through the sound of his knuckles as he popped them like the word But But But. & you take a step back. Please tell me I am not, he said, I am not a faggot. Am I? Am I? Are you? Are you Trevor`s eyes: the blue shafts in a gutted mine? // Trevor the hunter. Trevor the carnivore, the redneck, not a pansy, shotgunner, sharpshooter, not fruit or fairy. Trevor the meateater but not veal. Never veal. Fuck that, never again after his daddy told him the story when he was seven, at the table, veal roasted with rosemary. How they were made. How the difference between veal & beef is the children. The veal are the children of cows, are calves. They are locked in boxes the size of themselves. A body-box, like a coffin, but alive, like a home. The children, the veal, they stand very still because tenderness depends on how little the world touches you. To stay tender, the weight of your life cannot lean on your bones. We love eatin what's soft, his father said, looking dead into Trevor`s eyes. Trevor who would never eat a child. Trevor the child with the scar on his neck like a comma. A comma you now // put your mouth to. That violet hook holding two complete thoughts, two complete bodies without subjects. Only verbs. When you say Trevor you mean the action, the pine-stuck thumb on the lighter, the sound of his boots on the Chevy`s red hood. The wet live thing dragged into the truckbed behind him. Your Trevor. Your brunette but blond-dusted-arms man pulling you into the truck. When you say Trevor you mean you are the hunted, a hurt he can`t refuse because that's something, baby. That's real. & you wanted to be real, to be swallowed by what drowns you only to surface, brimming at the mouth. Which is kissing. Which is nothing // if you forget.
Trevor lying shirtless on the barn rafters. Trevor wearing the WWII Army helmet he bought for $7 in Wethersfield. Trevor on his back with his dead mother`s radio to his ear, listening, listening. The field empty of an orchard. The night empty of fathers. Trevor so still you had to run a finger across his cheek, to make sure. & he twitches. & it`s fourth down for the Patriots, says the radio. With 27 seconds to go. & Trevor`s fists are tight as white rosebuds on the first day of June. All or nothing says the radio. His ear, every petal, pressed to the black world. We got this, he says. We got this. & he`s looking up at the ceiling, then through it, to the starless sky & you never knew his voice could be this soft, as if he was whispering a secret to a seed still green in the loam. We got this, he says as dust coats your lungs, sweat in your eyes, Trevor`s gaze fixed on a star neither of you sees. We got this. & you believe him. // His tongue in your throat, Trevor speaks for you. He speaks & you flicker, a flashlight going out in his hands so he knocks you in the head to keep the bright on. He turns you this way & that to find his path through the dark woods. The dark words-- which have limits, like bodies. Like the calf waiting in his coffin-house. No window--just a slot for oxygen. Pink nose pressed to the autumn night, inhaling. The bleached stench of cut grass, the tarred gravel road, coarse sweetness of leaves in a bonfire, the minutes, the distance, the earthly manure of his mother a field away. Clover. Sassafras. Douglas fir. Scottish Myrtle. The boy. The motor oil. The body, it fills as it fills up. But your thirst overflows what holds it. But your ruin, you thought it would nourish him. That he would feast on it & grow into a beast you could hide in. But every box will be opened in time, in language. The comma on his neck a border, a break. The line broken, a queering of syntax, of Trevor, who stared too long into your face, saying Where am I? Where am I? Because by then there was blood on your lips.
By then the truck was totaled into a dusked oak, smoke in the wrinkled hood. Trevor, vodka-breathed & skull-thin, said Stay. Said Just stay some more as the sun slid deeper into the trees, as the windows reddened in the weak light, You should stay here, they reddened like someone trying to see through shut eyes. // Trevor who texted you after two months of silence-- writing please instead of plz. Trevor who was running from home. Who was getting the fuck out. Soaked Levi`s. Eye a burst plum from his daddy`s one-arm-lost-in-the-war haymaker. Who ran away to the park because where else when you`re 15. Who you found in the rain, under the metal slide shaped like a hippopotamus. Whose icy boots you took off & covered, one-by-one, each dirt-cold toe, with your mouth. The way your mother used to do when you were small & shivering. Because he was shivering. Your Trevor. Your all-American beef but no veal. Your John Deere. Green vein in his jaw: stilled lightning you trace with your tongue. Because he tasted like the river & maybe you were one wing away from sinking. Because the calf waits in his cage so calmly to be veal. Because you remembered // & memory is a second chance. Trevor`s head tilted back, dipping into the dream again. Trevor with one good eye searching, searching. Ink-throat opened behind his incisors. Both of you lying beneath the slide: two commas with no words, at last, to keep you apart. You who crawled from the wreckage summer like sons leaving their mothers` bodies. A calf in a box, waiting. A box tighter than a womb. The rain coming down, its hammers on the metal like an engine revving up. The night standing in violet air, a calf shuffling inside, hoofs soft as erasers, the bell on his neck ringing & ringing. The shadow of a man growing up to it. The man with his keys, the commas of doors. Your head on Trevor`s chest. The calf being lead by a string, how it stops
to inhale, nose pulsing with dizzying sassafras sweetness. Trevor asleep
beside you. Steady breaths. Rain. Warmth welling through his plaid shirt like steam issuing from the calf`s flanks as you listen to the bell
across the star-flooded field, the sound shining
like a knife. The sound buried deep in Trevor`s chest
& you listen. That ringing. You listen like an animal
learning how to speak. 197
197 Ocean Vuong, "Trevor," in Buzzfeed