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.

September 17, 2016

Kindness

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

August 24, 2016

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

by Ross Gay

Friends, will you bear with me today,
for I have awakened
from a dream in which a robin
made with its shabby wings a kind of veil
behind which it shimmied and stomped something from the south
of Spain, its breast aflare,
looking me dead in the eye
from the branch that grew into my window,
coochie-cooing my chin,
the bird shuffling its little talons left, then right,
while the leaves bristled
against the plaster wall, two of them drifting
onto my blanket while the bird
opened and closed its wings like a matador
giving up on murder,
jutting its beak, turning a circle,
and flashing, again,
the ruddy bombast of its breast
by which I knew upon waking
it was telling me
in no uncertain terms
to bellow forth the tubas and sousaphones,
the whole rusty brass band of gratitude
not quite dormant in my belly
it said so in a human voice,
"Bellow forth"
and who among us could ignore such odd
and precise counsel?

Hear ye! hear ye! I am here
to holler that I have hauled tonsby which I don't mean lots,
I mean tonsof cow shit
and stood ankle deep in swales of maggots
swirling the spent beer grains
the brewery man was good enough to dump off
holding his nose, for they smell very bad,
but make the compost writhe giddy and lick its lips,
twirling dung with my pitchfork
again and again
with hundreds and hundreds of other people,
we dreamt an orchard this way,
furrowing our brows,
and hauling our wheelbarrows,
and sweating through our shirts,
and less than a year later there was a party
at which trees were sunk into the well-fed earth,
one of which, a liberty apple, after being watered in
was tamped by a baby barefoot
with a bow hanging in her hair
biting her lip in her joyous work
and friends this is the realest place I know,
it makes me squirm like a worm I am so grateful,
you could ride your bike there
or roller skate or catch the bus
there is a fence and a gate twisted by hand,
there is a fig tree taller than you in Indiana,
it will make you gasp.
It might make you want to stay alive even, thank you;

and thank you
for not taking my pal when the engine
of his mind dragged him
to swig fistfuls of Xanax and a bottle or two of booze,
and thank you for taking my father
a few years after his own father went down thank you
mercy, mercy, thank you
for not smoking meth with your mother
oh thank you thank you
for leaving and for coming back,
and thank you for what inside my friends'
love bursts like a throng of roadside goldenrod
gleaming into the world,
likely hauling a shovel with her
like one named Aralee ought,
with hands big as a horse's,
and who, like one named Aralee ought,
will laugh time to time til the juice
runs from her nose; oh
thank you
for the way a small thing's wail makes
the milk or what once was milk
in us gather into horses
huckle-buckling across a field;

and thank you, friends, when last spring
the hyacinth bells rang
and the crocuses flaunted
their upturned skirts, and a quiet roved
the beehive which when I entered
were snugged two or three dead
fist-sized clutches of bees between the frames,
almost clinging to one another,
this one's tiny head pushed
into another's tiny wing,
one's forelegs resting on another's face,
the translucent paper of their wings fluttering
beneath my breath and when
a few dropped to the frames beneath:
honey; and after falling down to cry,
everything glacial shine.

And thank you, too. And thanks
for the corduroy couch I have put you on.
Put your feet up. Here's a light blanket,
a pillow, dear one,
for I think this is going to be long.
I can't stop
my gratitude, which includes, dear reader,
you, for staying here with me,
for moving your lips just so as I speak.
Here is a cup of tea. I have spooned honey into it.

And thank you the tiny bee's shadow
perusing these words as I write them.
And the way my love talks quietly
when in the hive,
so quietly, in fact, you cannot hear her
but only notice barely her lips moving
in conversation. Thank you what does not scare her
in me, but makes her reach my way. Thank you the love
she is which hurts sometimes. And the time
she misremembered elephants
in one of my poems which, oh, here
they come, garlanded with morning glory and wisteria
blooms, trombones all the way down to the river.
Thank you the quiet
in which the river bends around the elephant's
solemn trunk, polishing stones, floating
on its gentle back
the flock of geese flying overhead.

And to the quick and gentle flocking
of men to the old lady falling down
on the corner of Fairmount and 18th, holding patiently
with the softest parts of their hands
her cane and purple hat,
gathering for her the contents of her purse
and touching her shoulder and elbow;
thank you the cockeyed court
on which in a half-court 3 vs. 3 we oldheads
made of some runny-nosed kids
a shambles, and the 61-year-old
after flipping a reverse layup off a back door cut
from my no-look pass to seal the game
ripped off his shirt and threw punches at the gods
and hollered at the kids to admire the pacemaker's scar
grinning across his chest; thank you
the glad accordion's wheeze
in the chest; thank you the bagpipes.

Thank you to the woman barefoot in a gaudy dress
for stopping her car in the middle of the road
and the tractor trailer behind her, and the van behind it,
whisking a turtle off the road.
Thank you god of gaudy.
Thank you paisley panties.
Thank you the organ up my dress.
Thank you the sheer dress you wore kneeling in my dream
at the creek's edge and the light
swimming through it. The koi kissing
halos into the glassy air.
The room in my mind with the blinds drawn
where we nearly injure each other
crawling into the shawl of the other's body.
Thank you for saying it plain:
fuck each other dumb.

And you, again, you, for the true kindness
it has been for you to remain awake
with me like this, nodding time to time
and making that noise which I take to mean
yes, or, I understand, or, please go on
but not too long, or, why are you spitting
so much, or, easy Tiger
hands to yourself. I am excitable.
I am sorry. I am grateful.
I just want us to be friends now, forever.
Take this bowl of blackberries from the garden.
The sun has made them warm.
I picked them just for you. I promise
I will try to stay on my side of the couch.

And thank you the baggie of dreadlocks I found in a drawer
while washing and folding the clothes of our murdered friend;
the photo in which his arm slung
around the sign to "the trail of silences''; thank you
the way before he died he held
his hands open to us; for coming back
in a waft of incense or in the shape of a boy
in another city looking
from between his mother's legs,
or disappearing into the stacks after brushing by;
or moseying back in dreams where,
seeing us lost and scared
he put his hand on our shoulders
and pointed us to the temple across town;

and thank you to the man all night long
hosing a mist on his early-bloomed
peach tree so that the hard frost
 not waste the crop, the ice
in his beard and the ghosts
lifting from him when the warming sun
told him sleep now; thank you
the ancestor who loved you
before she knew you
by smuggling seeds into her braid for the long
journey, who loved you
before he knew you by putting
a walnut tree in the ground, who loved you
before she knew you by not slaughtering
the land; thank you
who did not bulldoze the ancient grove
of dates and olives,
who sailed his keys into the ocean
and walked softly home; who did not fire, who did not
plunge the head into the toilet, who said stop,
don't do that; who lifted some broken
someone up; who volunteered
the way a plant birthed of the reseeding plant
is called a volunteer, like the plum tree
that marched beside the raised bed
in my garden, like the arugula that marched
itself between the blueberries,
nary a bayonet, nary an army, nary a nation,
which usage of the word volunteer
familiar to gardeners the wide world
made my pal shout "Oh!" and dance
and plunge his knuckles
into the lush soil before gobbling two strawberries
and digging a song from his guitar
made of wood from a tree someone planted, thank you;

thank you zinnia, and gooseberry, rudbeckia
and pawpaw, Ashmead's kernel, cockscomb
and scarlet runner, feverfew and lemonbalm;
thank you knitbone and sweetgrass and sunchoke
and false indigo whose petals stammered apart
by bumblebees good lord please give me a minute...
and moonglow and catkin and crookneck
and painted tongue and seedpod and johnny jump-up;
thank you what in us rackets glad
what gladrackets us;

and thank you, too, this knuckleheaded heart, this pelican heart,
this gap-toothed heart flinging open its gaudy maw
to the sky, oh clumsy, oh bumblefucked,
oh giddy, oh dumbstruck,
oh rickshaw, oh goat twisting
its head at me from my peach tree's highest branch,
balanced impossibly gobbling the last fruit,
its tongue working like an engine,
a lone sweet drop tumbling by some miracle
into my mouth like the smell of someone I've loved;
heart like an elephant screaming
at the bones of its dead;
heart like the lady on the bus
dressed head to toe in gold, the sun
shivering her shiny boots, singing
Erykah Badu to herself
leaning her head against the window;

and thank you the way my father one time came back in a dream
by plucking the two cables beneath my chin
like a bass fiddle's strings
and played me until I woke singing,
no kidding, singing, smiling,
thank you, thank you,
stumbling into the garden where
the Juneberry's flowers had burst open
like the bells of French horns, the lily
my mother and I planted oozed into the air,
the bazillion ants labored in their earthen workshops
below, the collard greens waved in the wind
like the sails of ships, and the wasps
swam in the mint bloom's viscous swill;

and you, again you, for hanging tight, dear friend.
I know I can be long-winded sometimes.
I want so badly to rub the sponge of gratitude
over every last thing, including you, which, yes, awkward,
the suds in your ear and armpit, the little sparkling gems
slipping into your eye. Soon it will be over,

which is precisely what the child in my dream said,
holding my hand, pointing at the roiling sea and the sky
hurtling our way like so many buffalo,
who said it's much worse than we think,
and sooner; to whom I said
no duh child in my dreams, what do you think
this singing and shuddering is,
what this screaming and reaching and dancing
and crying is, other than loving
what every second goes away?
Goodbye, I mean to say.
And thank you. Every day.

August 14, 2016

Lot's Wife

by Kristine Batey

While Lot, the conscience of a nation,
struggles with the Lord,
she struggles with the housework.
The City of Sin is where
she raises the children.

Ba'al or Adonai
whoever is God
the bread must still be made
and the door still swept.
The Lord may kill the children tomorrow,
but today they must be gathered and fed.
Well and good to condemn your neighbors' religion:
but weren't they there
when the baby was born,
and when the well collapsed?
While her husband communes with God
she tucks the children into bed.
In the morning, when he tells her of the judgment,
she puts down the lamp she is cleaning
and calmly begins to pack.
In between bundling up the children
and deciding what will go, she runs for a moment
to say goodbye to the herd,
gently patting each soft head
with tears in her eyes for the animals that will not understand.
She smiles blindly to the woman
who held her hand at childbed.
It is easy for eyes that have always turned to heaven
not to look back;
those that have beenby necessitydrawn to earth
cannot forget that life is lived from day to day.
Good, to a God, and good in human terms
are two different things.

On the breast of the hill, she chooses to be human,
and turns, in farewell
and never regrets
the sacrifice.

May 02, 2016

Short Talk on the Mona Lisa

by Anne Carson

Every day he poured his question into her, as
you pour water from one vessel into another,
and it poured back. Don’t tell me he was paint-
ing his mother, lust, et cetera. There is a mo-
ment when the water is not in one vessel nor in
the other–what a thirst it was, and he sup-
posed that when the canvas became completely
empty he would stop. But women are strong.
She knew vessels, she knew water, she knew
mortal thirst.

April 08, 2016

The Abandoned Valley

by Jack Gilbert

Can you understand being alone so long
you would go out in the middle of the night
and put a bucket into the well
so you could feel something down there
tug at the other end of the rope?

March 11, 2016

Spring is like a perhaps hand

by e.e. cummings

Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window,into which people look(while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.