Hurry

Marie Howe


We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up, honey, I say, hurry hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me,
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down
as she likes them.

Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?

Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her
Honey, I’m sorry I keep saying Hurry –
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.

And Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

How to Listen

Major Jackson


I am going to cock my head tonight like a dog
in front of McGlinchy's Tavern on Locust;
I am going to stand beside the man who works all day combing
his thatch of gray hair corkscrewed in every direction.
I am going to pay attention to our lives
unraveling between the forks of his fine-tooth comb.
For once, we won't talk about the end of the world
or Vietnam or his exquisite paper shoes.
For once, I am going to ignore the profanity and
the dancing and the jukebox so I can hear his head crackle
beneath the sky's stretch of faint stars.

from Leaving Saturn, 2002
The University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA

Bike Ride with Older Boys

Laura Kasischke


The one I didn't go on.

I was thirteen,
and they were older.
I'd met them at the public pool. I must

have given them my number. I'm sure

I'd given them my number,
knowing the girl I was. . .

It was summer. My afternoons
were made of time and vinyl.
My mother worked,
but I had a bike. They wanted

to go for a ride.
Just me and them. I said
okay fine, I'd
meet them at the Stop-n-Go
at four o'clock.
And then I didn't show.

I have been given a little gift—
something sweet
and inexpensive, something
I never worked or asked or said
thank you for, most
days not aware
of what I have been given, or what I missed—

because it's that, too, isn't it?
I never saw those boys again.
I'm not as dumb
as they think I am

but neither am I wise. Perhaps

it is the best
afternoon of my life. Two
cute and older boys
pedaling beside me—respectful, awed. When we

turn down my street, the other girls see me ...

Everything as I imagined it would be.

Or, I am in a vacant field. When I
stand up again, there are bits of glass and gravel
ground into my knees.
I will never love myself again.
Who knew then
that someday I would be

thirty-seven, wiping
crumbs off the kitchen table with a sponge, remembering
them, thinking
of this—

those boys still waiting
outside the Stop-n-Go, smoking
cigarettes, growing older.

from Dance and Disappear, 2002
University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA

My Father's Hats

Mark Irwin


Sunday mornings I would reach
high into his dark closet while standing
on a chair and tiptoeing reach
higher, touching, sometimes fumbling
the soft crowns and imagine
I was in a forest, wind hymning
through pines, where the musky scent
of rain clinging to damp earth was
his scent I loved, lingering on
bands, leather, and on the inner silk
crowns where I would smell his
hair and almost think I was being
held, or climbing a tree, touching
the yellow fruit, leaves whose scent
was that of clove in the godsome
air, as now, thinking of his fabulous
sleep, I stand on this canyon floor
and watch light slowly close
on water I can't be sure is there.

from New Letters, Volume 66, Number 3, 2000
New Letters

The Hymn of a Fat Woman

Joyce Huff


All of the saints starved themselves.
Not a single fat one.
The words “deity” and “diet” must have come from the same
Latin root.

Those saints must have been thin as knucklebones
or shards of stained
glass or Christ carved
on his cross.

Hard
as pew seats. Brittle
as hair shirts. Women
made from bone, like the ribs that protrude from his wasted
wooden chest. Women consumed
by fervor.

They must have been able to walk three or four abreast
down that straight and oh-so-narrow path.
They must have slipped with ease through the eye
of the needle, leaving the weighty
camels stranded at the city gate.

Within that spare city’s walls,
I do not think I would find anyone like me.

I imagine I will find my kind outside
lolling in the garden
munching on the apples.

From Gargoyle Magazine
Volume 44

How to Change a Frog Into a Prince

Anna Denise


Start with the underwear. Sit him down.
Hopping on one leg may stir unpleasant memories.
If he gets his tights on, even backwards, praise him.
Fingers, formerly webbed, struggle over buttons.
Arms and legs, lengthened out of proportion, wait,
as you do, for the rest of him to catch up.
This body, so recently reformed, reclaimed,
still carries the marks of its time as a frog. Be gentle.
Avoid the words awkward and gawky.
Do not use tadpole as a term of endearment.
His body, like his clothing, may seem one size too big.
Relax. There's time enough for crowns. He'll grow into it.

from The Poets' Grimm: 20th Century Poems from Grimm's Fairy Tales, 2003
Story Line Press, Ashland, OR

Our Other Sister

Jeffrey Harrison


The cruelest thing I did to my younger sister
wasn't shooting a homemade blowdart into her knee,
where it dangled for a breathless second

before dropping off, but telling her we had
another, older sister who'd gone away.
What my motives were I can't recall: a whim,

or was it some need of mine to toy with loss,
to probe the ache of imaginary wounds?
But that first sentence was like a strand of DNA

that replicated itself in coiling lies
when my sister began asking her desperate questions.
I called our older sister Isabel

and gave her hazel eyes and long blonde hair.
I had her run away to California
where she took drugs and made hippie jewelry.

Before I knew it, she'd moved to Santa Fe
and opened a shop. She sent a postcard
every year or so, but she'd stopped calling.

I can still see my younger sister staring at me,
her eyes widening with desolation
then filling with tears. I can still remember

how thrilled and horrified I was
that something I'd just made up
had that kind of power, and I can still feel

the blowdart of remorse stabbing me in the heart
as I rushed to tell her none of it was true.
But it was too late. Our other sister

had already taken shape, and we could not
call her back from her life far away
or tell her how badly we missed her.

from Feeding the Fire, 2001
Sarabande Books, Louisville, KY

Gretel

Andrea Hollander Budy

This poem uses a fairy tale to examine a female stereotype.


A woman is born to this:
sift, measure, mix, roll thin.
She learns the dough until
it folds into her skin and there is
no difference. Much later
she tries to lose it. Makes bets
with herself and wins enough
to keep trying. One day she begins
that long walk in unfamiliar woods.
She means to lose everything
she is. She empties her dark pockets,
dropping enough crumbs
to feed all the men who have ever
touched her or wished.
When she reaches the clearing
she is almost transparent—
so thin
the old woman in the house seizes
only the brother. You know the rest:
She won’t escape that oven. She’ll eat
the crumbs meant for him, remember
something of his touch, reach
for the sifter and the cup.

from House Without a Dreamer, 1993
Story Line Press, Ashland, OR

Ode on a Grecian Urn

John Keats


Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thou express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunt about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal – yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Keats

Christopher Howell


When Keats, at last beyond the curtain
of love’s distraction, lay dying in his room
on the Piazza di Spagna, the melody of the Bernini
Fountain “filling him like flowers,”
he held his breath like a coin, looked out
into the moonlight and thought he saw snow.
He did not suppose it was fever or the body’s
weakness turning the mind. He thought, “England!”
and there he was, secretly, for the rest
of his improvidently short life: up to his neck
in sleigh bells and the impossibly English cries
of street vendors, perfect
and affectionate as his soul.
For days the snow and statuary sang him so far
beyond regret that if now you walk rancorless
and alone there, in the piazza, the white shadow
of his last words to Severn, “Don’t be frightened,”
may enter you.

From Light’s Ladder
University of Washington Press, 2004

My Daughters in New York

James Reiss

Here a father imagines the lives of his daughters who have moved to the city.


What streets, what taxis transport them
over bridges & speed bumps-my daughters swift

in pursuit of union? What suitors amuse them, what mazes
of avenues tilt & confuse them as pleasure, that pinball

goes bouncing off light posts & lands in a pothole,
only to pop up & roll in the gutter? What footloose new

freedoms allow them to plow through all stop signs,
careening at corners, hell-bent for the road to blaze straight?

It's 10 P.M. in the boonies. My children, I'm thinking
you're thinking your children are waiting

for you to conceive them while you're in a snarl
with my sons-in-law-to-be who want also to be

amazing explorers beguiled by these reckless night rides
that may God willing give way to ten thousand good mornings!

from Ten Thousand Good Mornings, 2001
Carnegie Mellon University Press, Pittsburg, PA

Relearning Winter

Mark Svenvold

Here is a greeting to winter.


Hello Winter, hello flanneled
blanket of clouds, clouds
fueled by more clouds, hello again.

Hello afternoons,
off to the west, that sliver
of sunset, rust-colored
and gone too soon.

And night (I admit to a short memory)
you climb back in with chilly fingers
and clocks, and there is no refusal:
ice cracks the water main, the garden hose
stiffens, the bladed leaves of the rhododendron
shine in the fog of a huge moon.

And rain, street lacquer,
oily puddles and spinning rubber,
mist of angels on the head of a pin,
hello,

and snow, upside-down cake of clouds,
white, freon scent, you build
even as you empty the world of texture-
hello to this new relief,
this new solitude now upon us,
upon which we feed.

from Soul Data, 1998
University of North Texas Press, Denton, TX

Birth Day

Elise Paschen

This poem expresses a mother's joy at giving birth.
For Alexandra, born May 17, 1999



Armored in red, her voice commands
every corner. Bells gong on squares,
in steeples, answering the prayers.
Bright tulips crown the boulevards.

Pulled from the womb she imitates
that mythic kick from some god's head.
She roars, and we are conquered.
Her legs, set free, combat the air.

Naked warrior: she is our own.
Entire empires are overthrown.

from Birthday Poems: A Celebration, 2002
Thunder's Mouth Press, New York, NY

Timely Enumerations Concerning Sri Lanka

Oliver Rice


Those are the central mountains,
the surrounding plains,
the coasts of mangrove, lagoon, river delta.

This is the temple compound
where the rite will begin this morning
exactly at the hour of Buddha’s enlightenment.

A muttering rises from the roadway
where already, the curfew lifted,
the prawn sellers are out.

That is a tea estate,
a rubber,
a coconut,
where coolies live and die.
There is a graphite mine
where they dig on their knees.

This is the assistant in the ceremony arriving,
who otherwise drives a three wheel taxi,
and these are the brushes, the paints,
the ritual mirror he bears.

The koha birds begin their proclamations
to the boutiques in the new town,
the tenements in the old town,
to the enclaves of the Tamil Hindu minority,
the Sinhalese Buddhist majority.

Those are the relics of the Portuguese occupation,
the Dutch,
the British,
of the struggle for independence.

Here is the ladder propped before the sculpture,
and this is the artist, regally attired,
climbing meticulously, rung by rung,
his back to the carving,
who otherwise keeps records for the tax collector.


The sun rises again on the headlines,
the beggars at the railroad station,
the fish drying on the beach.

Those are the sites of bloodshed
between the government and the insurgents,
villages where massacres have occurred,
rooms where captives were tortured,
grounds where they were surreptitiously buried.

This is the assistant holding the mirror
for the artist to view the stone face,
and here is the artist painting, over his shoulder,
the eyes of the statue,
whereupon it is transformed into the god.

Someone wails behind the rusty bars of a window.

That is a convoy of tanks,
an elder fixing his shoes under an umbrella,
a boy in a bullock cart with a rag around his head,
a film of smog on the palm leaves,
debris from the bombing of a casino.

This is the artist being led away blindfolded.

A dog fight breaks out in the schoolyard.

That is a souvenir shop,
attended by a girl in a white sarong.

From The Gettysburg Review
Volume 17, #2 Summer 2004

After English Class

Jean Little

Photo Credit: http://www.trekearth.com

I used to like "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."
I liked the coming darkness,
The jingle of harness bells, breaking--and adding to
--the stillness,
The gentle drift of snow. . . .
But today, the teacher told us what everything stood for.
The woods, the horse, the miles to go, the sleep--
They all have "hidden meanings."
It's grown so complicated now that,
Next time I drive by,
I don't think I'll bother to stop.

A New Poet

Linda Pastan


Finding a new poet
is like finding a new wildflower
out in the woods. You don't see

its name in the flower books, and
nobody you tell believes
in its odd color or the way

its leaves grow in splayed rows
down the whole length of the page. In fact
the very page smells of spilled

red wine and the mustiness of the sea
on a foggy day - the odor of truth
and of lying.

And the words are so familiar,
so strangely new, words
you almost wrote yourself, if only

in your dreams there had been a pencil
or a pen or even a paintbrush,
if only there had been a flower.

from Heroes In Disguise, 1991
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY

Dutch

Kay Ryan

This poem is a version of the story of the little Dutch boy who saved his country from being flooded by plugging a hole in a dike with one finger.


Much of life
is Dutch
one-digit
operations
in which
legions of
big robust
people crouch
behind
badly cracked
dike systems
attached
by the thumbs
their wide
balloon-pantsed rumps
up-ended to the
northern sun
while, back
in town, little
black-suspendered
tulip magnates
stride around.

from Say Uncle, 2000
Grove Press, New York, NY

Rotary

Christina Pugh

This poem is a meditation on the old fashioned rotary phones that came before the touch-tone type.


Closer to a bell than a bird,
that clapper ringing
the clear name
of its inventor:

by turns louder
and quieter than a clock,
its numbered face
was more literate,

triplets of alphabet
like grace notes
above each digit.

And when you dialed,
each number was a shallow hole
your finger dragged
to the silver
comma-boundary,

then the sound of the hole
traveling back
to its proper place
on the circle.

You had to wait for its return.
You had to wait.
Even if you were angry
and your finger flew,

you had to await
the round trip
of seven holes
before you could speak.

The rotary was weird for lag,
for the afterthought.

Before the touch-tone,
before the speed-dial,
before the primal grip
of the cellular,

they built glass houses
around telephones:
glass houses in parking lots,
by the roadside,
on sidewalks.

When you stepped in
and closed the door,
transparency hugged you,
and you could almost see

your own lips move,
the dumb-show
of your new secrecy.

Why did no one think
to conserve the peal?

Just try once
to sing it to yourself:
it's gone,

like the sound of breath
if your body left.

from Hayden's Ferry Review, Issue 27, Fall/Winter 2000-2001
Hayden's Ferry Review

Knowledge

Philip Memmer


My philosopher friend is explaining again
that the bottle of well-chilled Coke in my hand

might not be a bottle of Coke,
that the trickle of bottle-sweat cooling in my palm

might not be wet, might not be cool,
that in fact it’s impossible ever to know

if I’m holding a bottle at all.
I try to follow his logic, flipping the steaks

that are almost certainly hissing
over the bed of coals – coals I’d swear

were black at first, then gray, then red –
coals we could spread out and walk on

and why not, I ask, since we’ll never be sure
if our feet burn, if our soles

blister and peel, if our faithlessness
is any better or worse a tool

than the firewalker’s can-do extreme.
Exactly, he smiles. Behind the fence

the moon rises, or seems to.
Have another. Whatever else is true,

the coals feel hotter than ever
as the darkness begins to do

what darkness does. Another what? I ask.

From Poems and Plays #11, spring/summer 2004

Turtle

Kay Ryan


Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
She can ill afford the chances she must take
In rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
A packing-case places, and almost any slope
Defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
She’s often stuck up to the axle on her way
To something edible. With everything optimal,
She skirts the ditch which would convert
Her shell into a serving dish. She lives
Below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
Will change her load of pottery to wings.
Her only levity is patience,
The sport of truly chastened things.

From Flamingo Watching
Copper Beach Press, 1994

Immortality

Lisel Mueller

This poem will make you remember how time was frozen in the story of Sleeping Beauty.


In Sleeping Beauty's castle
the clock strikes one hundred years
and the girl in the tower returns to the
world.
So do the servants in the kitchen,
who don't even rub their eyes.
The cook's right hand, lifted
an exact century ago,
completes its downward arc
to the kitchen boy's left ear;
the boy's tensed vocal cords
finally let go
the trapped, enduring whimper,
and the fly, arrested mid-plunge
above the strawberry pie,
fulfills its abiding mission
and dives into the sweet, red glaze.

As a child I had a book
with a picture of that scene.
I was too young to notice
how fear persists, and how
the anger that causes fear persists,
that its trajectory can't be changed
or broken, only interrupted.
My attention was on the fly;
that this slight body
with its transparent wings
and lifespan of one human day
still craved its particular share
of sweetness, a century later.

from Alive Together: New & Selected Poems, 1996
Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, LA

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

Richard Brautigan


I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

(1967)

After Years

Ted Kooser

This is a love poem in which the poet's imagination flies far from his own experience.

Add caption

Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer's retina
as he stood on the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.

from Solo: A Journal of Poetry, Premiere Issue, Spring 1996

Reckless Poem

Mary Oliver


Today again I am hardly myself.
It happens over and over.
It is heaven-sent.

It flows through me
like the blue wave.
Green leaves – you may believe this or not –
have once or twice
emerged from the tips of my fingers

somewhere
deep in the woods,
in the reckless seizure of spring.

Though, of course, I also know that other song,
the sweet passion of one-ness.

Just yesterday I watched an ant crossing a path, through the
tumbled pine needles she toiled.
And I thought: she will never live another life but this one.
And I thought: if she lives her life with all her strength
is she not wonderful and wise?
And I continued this up the miraculous pyramid of everything
until I came to myself.

And still, even in these northern woods, on these hills of sand,
I have flown from the other window of myself
to become white heron, blue whale,
red fox, hedgehog.
Oh, sometimes already my body has felt like the body of a flower!
Sometimes already my heart is a red parrot, perched
among strange, dark trees, flapping and screaming.

From Five Points
Volume 6, No.3 2002

My Life

after Henri Michaux
Joe Wenderoth


Somehow it got into my room.
I found it, and it was, naturally, trapped.
It was nothing more than a frightened animal.
Since than I raised it up.
I kept it for myself, kept it in my room,
kept it for its own good.
I named the animal, My Life.
I found food for it and fed it with my bare hands.
I let it into my bed, let it breathe in my sleep.
And the animal, in my love, my constant care,
grew up to be strong, and capable of many clever tricks.
One day, quite recently,
I was running my hand over the animal's side
and I came to understand
that it could very easily kill me.
I realized, further, that it would kill me.
This is why it exists, why I raised it.
Since then I have not known what to do.
I stopped feeding it,
only to find that its growth
has nothing to do with food.
I stopped cleaning it
and found that it cleans itself.
I stopped singing it to sleep
and found that it falls asleep faster without my song.
I don't know what to do.
I no longer make My Life do tricks.
I leave the animal alone
and, for now, it leaves me alone, too.
I have nothing to say, nothing to do.
Between My Life and me,
a silence is coming.
Together, we will not get through this.

from It Is If I Speak, 2000
Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT

A Birthday Candle

Donald Justice


Thirty today, I saw
The trees flare briefly like
The candles on a cake,
As the sun went down the sky,
A momentary flash,
Yet there was time to wish

from The Summer Anniversaries, 1960
Originally published in The New Yorker
Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT

June 11

David Lehman

Sometimes a birthday passes without much fanfare, which is what this poem is about.


It's my birthday I've got an empty
stomach and the desire to be
lazy in the hammock and maybe
go for a cool swim on a hot day
with the trombone in Sinatra's
"I've Got You Under My Skin"
in my head and then to break for
lunch a corned-beef sandwich and Pepsi
with plenty of ice cubes unlike France
where they put one measly ice cube
in your expensive Coke and when
you ask for more they argue with
you they say this way you get more
Coke for the money showing they
completely misunderstand the nature of
American soft drinks which are an
excuse for ice cubes still I wouldn't
mind being there for a couple of
days Philip Larkin's attitude
toward China comes to mind when
asked if he'd like to go there he said
yes if he could return the same day

from The Daily Mirror, 2000
Scribner, New York

Near the Wall of a House

Yehuda Amichai


Near the wall of a house painted
to look like stone,
I saw visions of God.

A sleepless night that gives others a headache
gave me flowers
opening beautifully inside my brain.

And he who was lost like a dog
will be found like a human being
and brought back home again.

Love is not the last room: there are others
after it, the whole length of the corridor
that has no end.


from Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai.
Edited and translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell (1986).
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York, NY

Bringing My Son to the Police Station to be Fingerprinted

Shoshauna Shy

The speaker of this poem is trying to distract herself from an unpleasant reality. Here, the title means everything.


My lemon-colored
whisper-weight blouse
with keyhole closure
and sweetheart neckline is tucked
into a pastel silhouette skirt
with side-slit vents
and triplicate pleats
when I realize in the sunlight
through the windshield
that the cool yellow of this blouse clashes
with the buttermilk heather in my skirt
which makes me slightly queasy
however

the periwinkle in the pattern on the sash
is sufficiently echoed by the twill uppers
of my buckle-snug sandals
while the accents on my purse
pick up the pink
in the button stitches

and then as we pass
through Weapons Check
it's reassuring to note
how the yellows momentarily mesh
and make an overall pleasing
composite

from Poetry Northwest, Spring 2001
University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Watching the Mayan Women

Luisa Villani

"Selva" means forest or jungle.



I hang the window inside out
like a shirt drying in a breeze
and the arms that are missing come to me

Yes, it's a song, one I don't quite comprehend
although I do understand the laundry.
White ash and rain water, a method
my aunt taught me, but I'll never know
how she learned it in Brooklyn. Her mind
has gone to seed, blown by a stroke,
and that dandelion puff called memory
has flown far from her eyes. Some things remain.
Procedures. Methods. If you burn
a fire all day, feeding it snapped
branches and newspapers—
the faces pressed against the print
fading into flames-you end up
with a barrel of white ash. If
you take that same barrel and fill it
with rain, let it sit for a day,
you will have water
that can bring brightness to anything.
If you take that water,
and in it soak your husband's shirts,
he'll pause at dawn when he puts one on,
its softness like a haunting afterthought.
And if he works all day in the selva,
he'll divine his way home
in shirtsleeves aglow with torchlight.

from Hayden's Ferry Review, Issue 26, Spring / Summer 2000
Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

Days

Billy Collins


Each one is a gift, no doubt,
mysteriously placed in your waking hand
or set upon your forehead
moments before you open your eyes.

Today begins cold and bright,
the ground heavy with snow
and the thick masonry of ice,
the sun glinting off the turrets of clouds.

Through the calm eye of the window
everything is in its place
but so precariously
this day might be resting somehow

on the one before it,
all the days of the past stacked high
like the impossible tower of dishes
entertainers used to build on stage.

No wonder you find yourself
perched on the top of a tall ladder
hoping to add one more.
Just another Wednesday,

you whisper,
then holding your breath,
place this cup on yesterday's saucer
without the slightest clink.

Forgotten Planet

Doug Dorph

I ask my daughter to name the planets.
"Venus ...Mars ...and Plunis!" she says.
When I was six or seven my father
woke me in the middle of the night.
We went down to the playground and lay
on our backs on the concrete looking up
for the meteors the tv said would shower.
I don't remember any meteors. I remember
my back pressed to the planet Earth,
my father's bulk like gravity next to me,
the occasional rumble from his throat,
the apartment buildings dark-windowed,
the sky close enough to poke with my finger.
Now, knowledge erodes wonder.
The niggling voce reminds me that the sun
does shine on the dark side of the moon.
My daughter's ignorance is my bliss.
Through her eyes I spy like a voyeur.
I travel in a rocket ship to the planet Plunis.
On Plunis I no longer long for the past.
On Plunis there are actual surprises.
On Plunis I am happy.

from Too Too Flesh, Mudfish Individual Poet Series #3, 2000
Box Turtle Press, New York, NY

Dandelion

Julie Lechevsky


My science teacher said
there are no monographs
on the dandelion.
Unlike the Venus fly-trap
or Calopogon pulchellus,
it is not a plant worthy of scrutiny.
It goes on television
between the poison squirt bottles,
during commercial breakaways from Ricki Lake.
But that's how life
parachutes
to my home.
Home,
where they make you do
what you don't want to do.
Moms with Uzis of reproach,
dads with their silencers.
(My parents watch me closely because I am their jewel.)
So no one knows how strong
a dandelion is inside,
how its parts stick together,
bract, involucre, pappus,
how it clings to its fragile self.
There are 188 florets in a bloom,
which might seem a peculiar number,
but there are 188,000 square feet
in the perfectly proportioned Wal-Mart,
which allows for circulation
without getting lost.
I wish I could grow like a dandelion,
from gold to thin white hair,
and be carried on a breeze
to the next yard.

from Poems & Plays, Number 8, Spring/Summer 2001
Middle Tennessee State University

The Yawn

Paul Blackburn


The black-haired girl
with the big
                          brown
                                          eyes
on the Queens train coming
                          in to work, so
opens her mouth so beautifully
                          wide
                                       in a ya-aawn, that
two stops after she has left the train
I have only to think of her            and I
                                                                   o-oh-aaaww-hm
                                                                      wow        !

from The Cities (Collected Poems), 1985
Persea Books, New York, NY

Smell and Envy

Douglas Goetsch

The speaker of this poem makes it clear he is a city poet.
The Pleiades is a cluster of stars.


You nature poets think you've got it, hostaged
somewhere in Vermont or Oregon,
so it blooms and withers only for you,
so all you have to do is name it: primrose
- and now you're writing poetry, and now
you ship it off to us, to smell and envy.
But we are made of newspaper and smoke
and we dunk your roses in vats of blue.
Birds don't call, our pigeons play it close
to the vest. When the moon is full
we hear it in the sirens. The Pleiades
you could probably buy downtown. Gravity
is the receiver on the hook. Mortality
we smell on certain people as they pass.

from Nobody's Hell, 1999
Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn, NY

The End and the Beginning

Wislawa Szymborska


After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won't
straighten themselves up, after all.
Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.
Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.
Someone has to drag in a girder
to prop up a wall,
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.
Photogenic it's not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.
We'll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.
Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about
who will find it dull.
From out of the bushes
sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.
Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.
In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

from Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska, 2001
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY

Social Security

Terence Winch


No one is safe. The streets are unsafe.
Even in the safety zones, it's not safe.
Even safe sex is not safe.
Even things you lock up in a safe
are not safe. Never deposit anything
in a safe-deposit box, because it
won't be safe there. Nobody is safe
at home during baseball games anymore.
At night I go around in the dark
locking everything, returning
a few minutes later
to make sure I locked
everything. It's not safe here.
It's not safe and they know it.
People get hurt using safety pins.
It was not always this way.
Long ago, everyone felt safe. Aristotle
never felt danger. Herodotus felt danger
only when Xerxes was around. Young women
were afraid of wing├Ęd dragons, but felt
relaxed otherwise. Timotheus, however,
was terrified of storms until he played
one on the flute. After that, everyone
was more afraid of him than of the violent
west wind, which was fine with Timotheus.
Euclid, full of music himself, believed only
that there was safety in numbers.

from The Paris Review, Volume 42, Number 156, Fall 2001
The Paris Review

Promised Land

Samuel Menashe


At the edge
Of a World
Beyond my eyes
Beautiful
I know Exile
Is always
Green with hope—
The river
We cannot cross
Flows forever

Ode to Thanks

Pablo Neruda - translated by Ken Krabbenhoft

Thanks to the word
that says thanks!
Thanks to thanks,
word
that melts
iron and snow!
The world is a threatening place
until
thanks
makes the rounds
from one pair of lips to another,
soft as a bright
feather
and sweet as a petal of sugar,
filling the mouth with its sound
or else a mumbled
whisper.
Life becomes human again:
it’s no longer an open window.
A bit of brightness
strikes into the forest,
and we can sing again beneath the leaves.
Thanks, you’re the medicine we take
to save us from
the bite of scorn.
Your light brightens the altar of harshness.
Or maybe
a tapestry
known
to far distant peoples.
Travelers
fan out
into the wilds,
and in the jungle
of strangers,
merci
rings out
while the hustling train
changes countries,
sweeping away borders,
then spasibo
clinging to pointy
volcanoes, to fire and freezing cold,
or danke, yes! and gracias, and
the world turns into a table:
a single word has wiped it clean,
plates and glasses gleam,
silverware tinkles,
and the tablecloth is as broad as a plain.
Thank you, thanks,
for going out and returning,
for rising up
and settling down.
We know, thanks,
that you don’t fill every space-
you’re only a word-
but
where your little petal
appears
the daggers of pride take cover,
and there’s a penny’s worth of smiles.

Ode to a Toad

Anne-Marie Wulfsberg


I was out one day for my usual jog,
(I go kinda easy, rarely full-hog)
When I happened to see, right there on the road
The squishy remains of a little green toad.

I thought to myself, where is his home?
Down yonder green valley, how far did he roam?
From out on the pond I heard sorrowful croaks,
Could that be the wailing of some of his folks?

I felt for the toad and his pitiful state,
But the day was now fading, and such was his fate.
In the grand scheme of things, now I confess,
What's one little froggie, more or less?

Locals

James Lasdun


They peopled landscapes casually like trees,
being there richly, never having gone there,
and whether clanning in cities or village-thin stands
were reticent as trees with those not born there,
and their fate, like trees, was seldom in their hands.

Others to them were always one of two
evils: the colonist or refugee.
They stared back, half-disdaining us, half-fearing;
inferring from our looks their destiny
as preservation or as clearing.

I envied them. To be local was to know
which team to support: the local team;
where to drop in for a pint with mates: the local;
best of all to feel by birthright welcome
anywhere; be everywhere a local ...

Bedouin-Brython-Algonquins; always there
before you; the original prior claim
that made your being anywhere intrusive.
There, doubtless, in Eden before Adam
wiped them out and settled in with Eve.

Whether at home or away, whether kids
playing or saying what they wanted,
or adults chatting, waiting for a bus,
or, in their well-tended graves, the contented dead,
there were always locals, and they were never us.

from Landscape with Chainsaw, 2001
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY

The Dead

Susan Mitchell

This is a fantasy poem about the dead.


At night the dead come down to the river to drink.
They unburden themselves of their fears,
their worries for us. They take out the old photographs.
They pat the lines in our hands and tell our futures,
which are cracked and yellow.
Some dead find their way to our houses.
They go up to the attics.
They read the letters they sent us, insatiable
for signs of their love.
They tell each other stories.
They make so much noise
they wake us
as they did when we were children and they stayed up
drinking all night in the kitchen.

from The Water Inside the Water, 1994
Harper Collins

This Moment

Eavan Boland

This poem just tries to capture a moment in time.


A neighbourhood.
At dusk.
Things are getting ready
to happen
out of sight.
Stars and moths.
And rinds slanting around fruit.
But not yet.
One tree is black.
One window is yellow as butter.
A woman leans down to catch a child
who has run into her arms
this moment.
Stars rise.
Moths flutter.
Apples sweeten in the dark.

from In a Time of Violence, 1994
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY

The Student Theme

Ronald Wallace


The adjectives all ganged up on the nouns,
insistent, loud, demanding, inexact,
their Latinate constructions flashing. The pronouns
lost their referents: They were dangling, lacked
the stamina to follow the prepositions' lead
in, on, into, to, toward, for, or from.
They were beset by passive voices and dead
metaphors, conjunctions shouting But! or And!

The active verbs were all routinely modified
by adverbs, that endlessly and colorlessly ran
into trouble with the participles sitting
on the margins knitting their brows like gerunds
(dangling was their problem, too). The author
was nowhere to be seen; was off somewhere.

from The Uses of Adversity, 1998
University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA

Litany

Billy Collins

            “You are the bread and the knife,
                   The crystal goblet and the wine...”
                                —-Jacques Crickillon
 
You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
 
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.
 
It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
 
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
 
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
 
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
 
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don’t worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and—somehow—the wine.

A Narrow Fellow in the Grass

Emily Dickinson

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him,--did you not,
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun,--
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature's people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.

Totally like whatever, you know?

Taylor Mali


In case you hadn't noticed,
it has somehow become uncool
to sound like you know what you're talking about?
Or believe strongly in what you're saying?
Invisible question marks and parenthetical (you know?)'s
have been attaching themselves to the ends of our sentences?
Even when those sentences aren't, like, questions? You know?
Declarative sentences - so-called
because they used to, like, DECLARE things to be true
as opposed to other things which were, like, not -
have been infected by a totally hip
and tragically cool interrogative tone? You know?
Like, don't think I'm uncool just because I've noticed this;
this is just like the word on the street, you know?
It's like what I've heard?
I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions, okay?
I'm just inviting you to join me in my uncertainty?
What has happened to our conviction?
Where are the limbs out on which we once walked?
Have they been, like, chopped down
with the rest of the rain forest?
Or do we have, like, nothing to say?
Has society become so, like, totally . . .
I mean absolutely . . . You know?
That we've just gotten to the point where it's just, like . . .
whatever!
And so actually our disarticulation . . . ness
is just a clever sort of . . . thing
to disguise the fact that we've become
the most aggressively inarticulate generation
to come along since . . .
you know, a long, long time ago!
I entreat you, I implore you, I exhort you,
I challenge you: To speak with conviction.
To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks
the determination with which you believe it.
Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker,
it is not enough these days to simply QUESTION AUTHORITY.
You have to speak with it, too.

It Is I Who Must Begin

Vaclav Havel


It is I who must begin.
Once I begin, once I try -
here and now,
right where I am,
not excusing myself
by saying that things
would be easier elsewhere,
without grand speeches and
ostentatious gestures,
but all the more persistently
- to live in harmony
with the "voice of Being," as I
understand it within myself
- as soon as I begin that,
I suddenly discover,
to my surprise, that
I am neither the only one,
nor the first,
nor the most important one
to have set out
upon that road.

Whether all is lost
or not depends entirely on
whether or not I am lost.

The Space Heater

Sharon Olds


On the then-below-zero day, it was on,
near the patients' chair, the old heater
kept by the analyst's couch, at the end,
like the infant's headstone that was added near the foot
of my father's grave. And it was hot, with the almost
laughing satire of a fire's heat,
the little coils like hairs in Hell.
And it was making a group of sick noises-
I wanted the doctor to turn it off
but I couldn't seem to ask, so I just
stared, but it did not budge. The doctor
turned his heavy, soft palm
outward, toward me, inviting me to speak, I
said, "If you're cold-are you cold? But if it's on
for me..." He held his palm out toward me,
I tried to ask, but I only muttered,
but he said, "Of course," as if I had asked,
and he stood up and approached the heater, and then
stood on one foot, and threw himself
toward the wall with one hand, and with the other hand
reached down, behind the couch, to pull
the plug out. I looked away,
I had not known he would have to bend
like that. And I was so moved, that he
would act undignified, to help me,
that I cried, not trying to stop, but as if
the moans made sentences which bore
some human message. If he would cast himself toward the
outlet for me, as if bending with me in my old
shame and horror, then I would rest
on his art-and the heater purred, like a creature
or the familiar of a creature, or the child of a familiar,
the father of a child, the spirit of a father,
the healing of a spirit, the vision of healing,
the heat of vision, the power of heat,
the pleasure of power.

from The New Yorker, January 22, 2001
Conde Nast, New York, NY

Sentimental Moment or Why Did the Baguette Cross the Road?

Robert Hershon

This is a poem about a father who sometimes forgets that his son has become a grown-up.


Don't fill up on bread
I say absent-mindedly
The servings here are huge

My son, whose hair may be
receding a bit, says
Did you really just
say that to me?

What he doesn't know
is that when we're walking
together, when we get
to the curb
I sometimes start to reach
for his hand

from Poetry Northwest, Volume XLI, No. 3, Autumn 2000
Poetry Daily, University of Washington, Seattle, WA