July 11, 2017

Go Forget Your Father

by Cathy Linh Che


Because the birds sculpted
the air with their song — 

I sent that flash across the sea.
Candle in a paper lantern,

the flame rose and dipped.
  

I’ve been hiding
from my father.

Fog-damp pall over the city.
I ink this bruise onto paper.

Years ago, in Highland Park,
we’d picnic in the backyard.

We slept in the living room.
I clung to my beautiful mother.

Flipped the pillow and pressed
against its coolness.

I held grudges like tiny fists of sand,
then, let go.

I kissed the fog and sky
and the ocean’s cobalt hue.

You. I hadn’t yet met you.
 

Murky alphabet — 

I falter the letter, I elide the gaps.
If the opalescent dew meant anything,

it meant that one day
I’d be lifted above my feelings.

You’d become less than a feeling,
the way every lover I’ve known

no longer hurts me.
Those old charges detonated.
 

Here and now, I make room for joy.
Birds ribbon the air with their singing.

Bird voices riot up. The planes
with their hulking engines — 

they fly too. The jags of each cliff head — 
Your lips — I uninterrupt.

I charley horse and miracle ride
your absence. The whipped froth of the ocean.

Puddle of salt water, shivering wound.
Seaweed, we sing of losses.

Cold under this blanket, I wait
for my alarm to sing.
 

I’ve polished this anger and now it’s a knife.
I’m hardened as a hunter ornamenting his cave

with the bones of the dead. I’m so sick
of history dragging behind me.

Today, I don’t want to be sad. But my father
has retreated into silence and the lashes

across his back have not healed,
and my mother tells me he could have killed

himself that night and we’d be blamed.
Call the police, she said.

We stood barefoot on the street, listening
to him throw things

against the garage walls, detonations
of only what we could imagine.

I hurl stones into the ether.
I wash my hands in ink.

The lost in the fog body borne of matter,
history-less, untethered.

Better to be alive and bewildered.
At least I can name the thing.

To love my father
is to love his wounds.

In times like these, we present our hurts
like old toys we polish up

to show each other
who we used to be.

May 09, 2017

For My Mother

by Mary Sarton

Once more
I summon you
Out of the past
With poignant love,
You who nourished the poet
And the lover.
I see your gray eyes
Looking out to sea
In those Rockport summers,
Keeping a distance
Within the closeness
Which was never intrusive
Opening out
Into the world.
And what I remember
Is how we laughed
Till we cried
Swept into merriment
Especially when times were hard.
And what I remember
Is how you never stopped creating
And how people sent me
Dresses you had designed
With rich embroidery
In brilliant colors
Because they could not bear
To give them away
Or cast them aside.
I summon you now
Not to think of
The ceaseless battle
With pain and ill health,
The frailty and the anguish.
No, today I remember
The creator,
The lion-hearted.

April 29, 2017

The First Owner of This Book Says Its Story

by Lex Runciman

Smaller than an opened hand this little book —
war over, paper yet rare and dear.
The important word here, over — turn the page.

But how, when your child learned to walk
hand to stranger's hand in the Piccadilly Tube shelter -
sleep-fractured nights, a small girl's uneven

balance and stagger, each step kindness, distraction,
panic, dread. Deaths and Entrances, 1946,

acid pages foxing and foxed, that girl's prayers
by some trick older and her father returned
— no longer those fears he or she or I might be dead.

I read in memory of, in praise of.
In thanksgiving for, I keep and read this little book.

And one night between "Holy Spring"
and "Fern Hill," I place a curved inch
of that girl's cut hair, that I might forget

and then all Gabriel and radiant find
my child of apple towns, not war —
not dark, but windfall light.

April 27, 2017

The Old Astronomer (To His Pupil)

by Sarah Williams

Reach me down my Tycho Brah̩, РI would know him when we meet,
When I share my later science, sitting humbly at his feet;
He may know the law of all things, yet be ignorant of how
We are working to completion, working on from then to now.

Pray remember that I leave you all my theory complete,
Lacking only certain data for your adding, as is meet,
And remember men will scorn it, ‘tis original and true,
And the obloquy of newness may fall bitterly on you.

But, my pupil, as my pupil you have learned the worth of scorn,
You have laughed with me at pity, we have joyed to be forlorn,
What for us are all distractions of men’s fellowship and wiles;
What for us the Goddess Pleasure with her meretricious smiles.

You may tell that German College that their honor comes too late,
But they must not waste repentance on the grizzly savant’s fate.
Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

What, my boy, you are not weeping? You should save your eyes for sight;
You will need them, mine observer, yet for many another night.
I leave none but you, my pupil, unto whom my plans are known.
You “have none but me,” you murmur, and I “leave you quite alone”?

Well then, kiss me, – since my mother left her blessing on my brow,
There has been a something wanting in my nature until now;
I can dimly comprehend it, – that I might have been more kind,
Might have cherished you more wisely, as the one I leave behind.

I “have never failed in kindness”? No, we lived too high for strife,–
Calmest coldness was the error which has crept into our life;
But your spirit is untainted, I can dedicate you still
To the service of our science: you will further it? you will!

There are certain calculations I should like to make with you,
To be sure that your deductions will be logical and true;
And remember, “Patience, Patience,” is the watchword of a sage,
Not to-day nor yet to-morrow can complete a perfect age.

I have sown, like Tycho Brahé, that a greater man may reap;
But if none should do my reaping, 'twill disturb me in my sleep
So be careful and be faithful, though, like me, you leave no name;
See, my boy, that nothing turn you to the mere pursuit of fame.

I must say Good-bye, my pupil, for I cannot longer speak;
Draw the curtain back for Venus, ere my vision grows too weak:
It is strange the pearly planet should look red as fiery Mars,–
God will mercifully guide me on my way amongst the stars.

April 09, 2017

A Homecoming

by Wendell Berry

One faith is bondage. Two
are free. In the trust
of old love, cultivation shows
a dark graceful wilderness
at its heart. Wild
in that wilderness, we roam
the distances of our faith,
safe beyond the bounds
of what we know. O love,
open. Show me
my country. Take me home.

April 07, 2017

Costume Jewelry

by me

You once said I wore grief like costume jewelry,
wrapped myself in it like the              drape
                                                                             and sweep
of a cheap
dress. I think the word
you were looking for is
                                       “gaudy.” And
maybe I have exalted grief, maybe
sorrow            swaddles
                                         me. Once I held
the knotted arthritic hand of a dying
woman, drowning
in her own lungs; once stood
dumb before a dear friend’s
mother after that friend
                                             hanged       herself;
thrice swallowed voice and terror
when shouting men followed me         
                                                         for blocks
in the dark. How many friends
have written goodbye letters, and how
many didn’t bother with goodbyes at all;
the countless ways gin
goes down
                         smoother than empty silence; how many
apologies I made for the ambit of my body,
for the chasm under my tongue, for how
urgently I constructed homes inside others when
they had issued me no invitation, and
how many times I should have known better.


Maybe you were right. Grief garments
me, that ancient weave. But you must
forgive me. I can only wear the clothes
                                                                 I am given.

March 13, 2017

"Where Was I before I Was Born?"

by Joe Wilkins

With me, though differently
early light slanting through cypress
and your mother calling, softly,
from the warm, dark room I left
for a glass of water.

Or before, when the beautiful idiot
who was my one burning friend slipped
from the bridge's lip and fell through starlight,
you were the sharp, glassy shards
of light in my eyes.

Or when the man I never knew
who would be my father drove all night
through the prairie dark, his blood howling
for everything and nothingremember,
he did not know how any of this would go.

With your grandmother, then,
wandering the fields, lowering herself
to the earth, though water-swollen and awkward
as she was it was all she could do to touch and not tear
the small, green hands of wheat.

The long way up from Oklahoma
you rode your great-grandfather's right shoulder.
He was sixteen, wild and tired, and you were the one
dipper of rinse water he was allowed
come nightfall.

The year after, when he swung his two fists
at his own father's drunken face, you
were all the many bones, the bruises rising
beneath both skins. You, the boiling blood. You,
the breath funneling in and out. You,

the mad, hard hearts
every muscle and sinew, you
I'm telling you there was a world before
and there will be a world after, and they are the same
and only world, and I turn now and bow

to everything that breaks my heart
which is where you were, that place
hope lives, in the breaking.

February 14, 2017

You, Therefore

by Reginald Shepherd

For Robert Philen

You are like me, you will die too, but not today:   
you, incommensurate, therefore the hours shine:   
if I say to you “To you I say,” you have not been   
set to music, or broadcast live on the ghost   
radio, may never be an oil painting or 
Old Master’s charcoal sketch: you are 
a concordance of person, number, voice, 
and place, strawberries spread through your name   
as if it were budding shrubs, how you remind me   
of some spring, the waters as cool and clear 
(late rain clings to your leaves, shaken by light wind),   
which is where you occur in grassy moonlight:   
and you are a lily, an aster, white trillium 
or viburnum, by all rights mine, white star   
in the meadow sky, the snow still arriving 
from its earthwards journeys, here where there is   
no snow (I dreamed the snow was you, 
when there was snow), you are my right, 
have come to be my night (your body takes on   
the dimensions of sleep, the shape of sleep   
becomes you): and you fall from the sky 
with several flowers, words spill from your mouth 
in waves, your lips taste like the sea, salt-sweet (trees   
and seas have flown away, I call it 
loving you): home is nowhere, therefore you,   
a kind of dwell and welcome, song after all,   
and free of any eden we can name

February 07, 2017

Cutting Loose

by William Stafford

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose from
all else and electing a world
where you go where you want to.

Arbitrary, sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound
will tell where it is, and you
can slide your way past trouble.

Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path—but that's when
you get going best, glad to be
lost, learning how real it is
here on the earth, again and again.

January 04, 2017

Good Bones

by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

December 11, 2016

Dear America

by Robert Wrigley

"somewhere I have never travelled..."
— E.E. Cummings

Dear planet, dear hemisphere, dear tree.
Dear whitetail buck, dear dirt, dear stone.
Dear crack in the stone from which a wildflower
called Scarlet Gilia rose and blossomed last summer.
Dear Scarlet Gilia, now desiccate and gray.
Dear everything that dies.
Dear sky, dear clouds. Dear citizen fly
dying on the windowsill. Dear windchill,
dear mid-autumn snow, dear wood stove,
dear split of firewood undoing itself inside.
Dear nothing which we are to perceive in this world.
Dear intense fragility. Dear nation undoing itself.
Dear equality. Dear eyes deeper than all roses.
Dear worshipped god, dear dollars, dear
sense of decency, dear home of the brave.
Dear everyone, dear dead in the war
and the peace. Dear peace. Dear piece of ass.
Dear waterboard, dear enhanced interrogation,
dear euphemism. Dear water and air. Dear detainee.
Dear rage, dear fear. Dear queered
in the myriad ways of queering.
Dear others, othered. Dear other countries.
Dear mother country. Dear tired and poor, etc.
Dear documents, dear “all men,” dear women, etc.
Dear etcetera—you know who you are. Dear you-
know-who-you-are. Dear drones. Dear non-voters.
Dear inalienable rights, dear aliens, dear natives, who hardly exist, etc.
Dear registry, dear dead majesty, dear internment,
dear slavery, dear mass incarceration, dear prisons
and hospitals for the purpose of dear profit. Dear planet,
which will not die and will not mourn us if we do.
Dear two-by-two, dear ark. Dear sea level.
Dear Pacific Garbage Patch. Dear itch
to destroy, dear boy become a man
no good man would recognize. Dear maximize,
dear capital, dear nobody, not even the rain.
Dear America, rendering forever and death
with each breath. Dear Klansman, having got
exactly, so far, what he wants.

October 17, 2016

At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border

by William Stafford

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed — or were killed — on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.