30 June 2009

D. A. Powell calls me a kid

I'm ecstatic. No one's called me a kid in a very long time!

Lola Haskins

[from Lola Haskins's Castings, Betony, 1984]


When I told him that was all the meat
he said it was like my cheating self
to use up what belonged to him, then lie.
I was lower than a black widow spider
with an hourglass on her belly,
I was worse than white. His slurred hand
slung the kettle. The boiling soup
blanched my arms and face.
I took up the knife,
but he caught my wrist
as if it were a rabbit in
one of his traps, shook it,
broke its neck.
At my feet hot flies were buzzing
around the scattered bits of pig,
the splashed greens.

Chloe, you left tonight on the wings
we never found, and I could not come to you.
The driver sent me home,
telling me to sew the children's summer clothes.
And when I, ghost, slid out again,
Esau caught my throat with his nine tailed cat.
Think of me where you are.
I am the queen of all the frogs
who sing their pain to the swamp.
I am the rustling in the bushes.
I am the little voices that line
the road you travel,
calling, in the one music,
Turn around!

He is beginning to complain
of pains like sharp lights across the window
that go and come. When the stuck doll
rots in its grave under the dogwood,
he will die.
                 It is a cheerful thing to kill
weeds, to slice their necks and hoe them down.
At noon I nurse the baby, knowing he will be
the last of Esau's blood. His little mouth
sucks greedily at my thin blue milk.
I tell him soon, child, soon.

Buy Lola Haskins's book @ Amazon

29 June 2009

Lucie Brock-Broido

[from Lucie Brock-Broido's The Master Letters, Knopf, 1995]

Radiating Naiveté

I am a false philosopher of this
World, a steady congregation

Of one, nobody's panther, nobody's
Tinny cigarbox, nobody's violin, no

Midsummer naïf in Havana rain.
I am glad to see the summer dying

Off, the umbrage of the cornfields, breast-
High stalks gone brittle in the drought.

The headlights early coming on, dusk
Is an old adjective, color of the blind

Reading their prayer in pocks.
You should have been

A contender, a Canadian dime mixed
Up in our own, worthless & shiny, jamming

Up vending machines & roadside phones,
Old Indian. The harvest will

Be small this year & dear --
I'm nobody's truck farmer, nobody's juke,

Nobody's cold sweat on the wooden front porch,
Nobody's southern heartbreak hill.

I'm wide-eyed as Louis Armstrong when he woke
Moonlit in his darkened motel room: all

My white soprano injuries.
I am acquisitive, I pray

Alone. In the ashes, nobody's isotope,
No glass of milk. Nobody's stained-

Glass messages, not the radium
In its dish, wide-eyed

As Madame Curie, lit
By half-lives at her hand,

Nobody's sin, nobody's white-
Knuckled god, nobody's humming bird.


Lord, one day you'll find these in a locked box, unlocked
By your daughter, who will roam with you to the fire-

Place & kneel there at another's ashes, scoop
Them out into a sugar bowl to take home with you to spread

Them on your garden floor, fertile enough for pale
Infertile wintertime. Kneel now with me while I am still

Alive & vivid, blessed by a season of high fever, still
Whole at the larynx & can speak these things

Aloud to you. For one season I have swept
A city by a storm. For you, love, my hair is famous

Hair, my hands are clean, large & white enough
For harm. At the throat of November, when the streets

Are waxy as the underbellies of awed swans, besieged
By wet, cremated leaves, an ancient light lights

The season in its ancient repetitions, old song
About the father, the bedeveling, the histories.

Historically, I am insatiable & cannot be beloved hard
enough. I'm intoxicated, a little whore, lie

Now with me while I am still holy like
This: I hid me -- as the lice hid all through the spring

Of my hair, divine in their guise, invisible
Cocoons beating white & more or less white,

Their bedeviling, as they hid in their cases
While I slept face down in my hair, white in my bed,

Little lamb, an innocent. I will harm as hard
As I have sealed the ashes in their urn, bold

As a tendon arcked in the lover's hip as she spreads
Her wing -- you are impotent, you are wed, I am

Thinking of the humpbacked trunk, full
Of my things, fifty years from now, the terrible

Crystal of what she will find, your precious
One, your lamb. This is my work.

Buy Lucie Brock-Broido's book @ Amazon

Carol Peters

It Is Time to Explain Myself

                            — after Walt Whitman

let us stand up
udder of my heart
I am a free companion
cushion me soft

life is a suck and a sell
what is commonest and cheapest and nearest and easiest is me
no sweeter fat
walks with the tender and growing night

winged purposes
I will do nothing for a long time but listen

turn and live awhile with the animals
moth and the fisheggs
a hummer and a buzzer
fish-smack pack

agonies are one of my changes
they who piddle and patter
gibberish of the dry limbs

miracle enough to stagger
I am not contained between my hat and my boots
I have instant conductors all over me
stucco'd with quadrupeds

procreant urge
the crescent child that carries its full mother in its belly

stand by the curb prolific
he most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher

whirling is elemental

Brian Brodeur

If you don't read Brian's blog -- interviews with poets about how they wrote a poem -- you should.

28 June 2009

Richard Greenfield

[from Richard Greenfield's A Carnage in the Lovetrees, University of California, 2003]

Piece Together

Where piety kneeled piety prayed through the soft textured ceiling,
speaking in the night to the king of kings in a heaven so in love

with its own perfection, it was selfish, hovering above the cries,
above the bodies of pain, ignoring all dependencies, too selfish

to take along the neglected.      The inconsolable.      The sometimes
stalled. The detritus of them goes as deep as where the rock begins.

1927: a decade old, the scattered bones of one hundred thousand
men find a home in the ossuary at Douaumont near Verdun.

Watched the mobile of metal fish turning in the half-light, spotty
patterns on the walls over the bed. Crested mute in the silent end

of dawn, cruelty hazed the violated text. Whipped with a belt
until my back bled. Father also put salt styptic into the cuts,

came to me as I slept and held me down.      Lyrical instructions.
Saint Theresa wept at seing the marks. Kissed me hard and

wrapped her arms about my neck.      Lyrical intentions,
also a flower. She was sixteen, moaning I love you I love you in the

dimming.     I knew I stayed too long.     Jots.     A tattered imitation.
A plum tree.;     Heart slamming, the lacquer evening split around,

me and my bike, the beautiful clicking of bearings, coasting. High
hum of tread on asphalt. These are my streets, block after block

and the fanning spray of the sprinklers. Possession two-thirds of
the soul. The house so small from my place in the cottonwood.

The crawfish caught in starlight through water and muck in the
silver creek. Possession three-thirds of the soul. Enormous

detachment from the senses, elaborate calligraphy on the paper.
I read my books in closets, beneath the soft walls of coats and in

the cedar-scented rooms of our forgotten storage, the unuttered,
the familiar machinery of language moving by,

child is me  bird is free  wheel  is moving away  heap is heart  sky is
open  wood is high  water is drowning  air is  breath  an owl

feathers   so holy   so   flashed from a window of my tree house
startled it,   watched it cut the night over the fields

                              over the anonymous period

Buy Richard Greenfield's book @ A Carnage in the Lovetrees (New California Poetry)

27 June 2009

Marc Livingston

[from Marc Livingston's The Confessional Heart of a Man, iUniverse, 2009]

Betrayal (Part TWO)

Told her my secrets, where, how, and when I stole the money.
Begged her to keep these amongst ourselves; her response was, "You can trust me, honey."
Knew somethin' was wrong when it was time to get away and went for my stash.
Found nothing but the feds waiting for me, but no sign of her or the cash.

No pleading out to one or two counts; had me dead to rights.
Want to add homicide to my indictment, even though she gave me pleasurable nights.
Had the nerve to come to my trial, wave, and kiss my main man; she showed how easily she played me.
Gave this woman the world, my secrets, and my heart, making it too easy for her to betray me.

The Call

Got the same problems as the man in the next cell.
Wife calls his family, my family, saying goodbye and wishing me well.
Got fifteen minutes left out of three hundred for the month. My call gets accepted, and this man answers, asking me what I want!

Stunned beyond stunned, a chuckle escapes his mouth.
The voice becomes different now, feminine; she says I have no home when I get out.
Wanna cry, not gonna cry, but recourse of action is limited to nil.
Another inmate yells, "Say man, you almost finished with the damn phone!" And I drop the phone with the wife explaining and proceed to turn rejection into motive to kill!

As a sentence of a few months grows to my natural life, I read tearfully a last letter from my spouse.
She says so and so and I are done; it was just a fling, so please come back to our house.
My laugh is maddening, and being in solitary, it is the only thing that keeps me from being alone.
But what will haunt me 'til the hereafter is that I still had ten minutes left to use the phone.

Buy Marc Livingston's book @ Amazon

26 June 2009

Ange Mlinko

[from Ange Mlinko's Starred Wire, Coffeehouse, 2005]

Color Deepening in Autumn Sweat

I believe we shall have our amethyst hair, our emerald hair,
In the future. Other than accepting what's in the air
As fog is to sea

Mysterious "dudgeon"
Follows me around, a diagnosis
Rather than a symptom
Though even sound gets wet in rain. "What does it mean?"

That "dudgeon" afflicts me, though I should burgeon
Frosted in granulated sugar. Immortal trees they become,
As none are lonely, except maybe the docked baobab.
Taking it seriously,
The village that comes alive once a year
With gifts to buy.

An aunt and uncle live near it, with a little stream
That turns famous down the road. I am no more so
Than that river's much-diminished source I visit
Deep blue and cold,
An arpeggiated tuxedo shirt

With an inflatable guest bed in the brown and amethyst woods.

The little dunce doesn't know the clock of windows
Of his own house, so when I say "The ten a.m. room, if you please"
He stays poised at the top of the stair like an observatory,
Adumbrated with eyelashes.

Iseult's result doesn't match mine, so we re-set the mirrors up
To cascade the view of the future backwards:
Even the concrete sensitized with chips can't tell us
Where to go by sparkling; where we'd be yodels in a thermos

Keep on a bluff. Certain ratty violets
Festooned in a ronde macabre, a lab
Where the budgie's "Cranach, Cranach!" can't be prized
From my recurrent beefs occlude

My view of the sweet
hypoglycemic across the street.

Durance [excerpt]


In halting to hear the cries striated by the grate
wondering if their helps were true
at their height and heart together
like flowering coral quince --
I reached a rapprochement
with doubt as the crowd outspread, to and fro
making of space an integument.
The visiting lampposts can always take
their nineteenth-century light elsewhere
but me, I have to get bitten by one
and join the vampiry of lamps
gaslighting the pathetic fallacy skirts
girls wear under the weeping cherries
near deaf to chronology that cries
peering under their bangs to find
arcades are snowing every brick in their repertoire.

Buy Ange Mlinko's book @ SPD or Amazon

24 June 2009

Inger Christensen

[from Inger Christensen's Butterfly Valley: A Requiem, tr. Susanna Nied, New Directions. 2001]

Meeting [excerpt]


I do not know what it is. I cannot tell you what it is. I have
      no clear concept; as with words, it is no longer clear
      what they are.
Within the world. Once lost in the grass and always happily
      crawling. One second the connection with evil lost and
      always thoughts about some little approaching second or
Care only about trees. They open out, fold in, close, stand
      ajar. They have a tree-life, longer on the average. Trees
      are also beautiful.
Care only about sea and sky and earth. The streaming, lift-
      ing, bearing. The longest-living and all that moves with,
      in, on; it is no longer clear what it is.
But it is within the world. We have stood up somewhere
      and begin with steps. We press close to a tree to remem-
      ber the grass. We press close to each other to remember
      the tree. Step by step we go farther, try to remember the
      body, press close to the wind and to space to try to see
      what it is.
But it is no longer clear. We are within the world. Grass, tree,
      body. Sea, sky earth -- care only about those. Nothing
      has happened. But there is a silence. There is a lie. I can-
      not say what it is.
Time sneaks kindly about. Streets blossom. Houses sway
      like palms. Seagulls circle the holy flagpole. Everything
      is in violent upheaval, like flowered dresses on tourist
      boats. I have no clear concept. But bravely we say hello
      and goodbye or lay wreaths.
My love -- for that word exists -- there is a lie. There is a
      closed door. I can see it. It is gray. It hgas a little black
      hand to shake hello and goodbye. It has a little, black,
      stiff hand, which is completely still now. That door is not
      a lie. I sit and stare at it. And it is not a lie. I cannot tell
      you what it is.

Buy Inger Christensen's book @ Amazon

what's good poetry?

Read Wallace on the latest issue of Poetry

23 June 2009

Juliana Spahr

[from Juliana Spahr's Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You, Wesleyan, 2001]

things [excerpt]


The tear refers to an ideal circle that is
not met.

The tear is not right or circular.

Yet it is capable. It is da kine.

Clowns paint this wrong circle beneath
their eye because they too are pulled out
of whack.

They are the human wearing the signs
of how all is not right (the frown) yet
how things will be all right (the colorful

Da kine.

Like fuck-you-aloha-I-love-you.

That is da kine.


Da kine is the mosh pit at the fuck-you-
aloha-I-love-you show.

The mosh pit is thrashing about in
masking tape.

Everyone is connected in the thrash,
everyone taped together in the fuck-

So the thrash in anger is the thrash of
connection, of joining.

The more thrashing, the more sticking.

It is the thrash of reaching out for others
in the most isolated land mass.

It is da kine.


Da kine is the tear that the incarcerated
tattoo, one drop for each year caged, or
one drop for each man killed, beneath
their eye.

Here the tear is a wrong made sad yet a
defiance of this sadness.

It is worn for all to see, it is permanent
and will leave with the incarcerated
upon release, to remind us all is not
well and that all tears are not cathartic.

So da kine is complex and the word
means anything and that is what is
lovely about it.

As lovely as a tattoo tear.

Buy Juliana Spahr's book @ Amazon

22 June 2009

Francis Ponge

[from Francis Ponge's Soap, tr. Lane Dunlop, Stanford University, 1998]

                                                        Coligny, August 8th, 1946

It was also because we were, then, cruelly, unthinkably, absurdly deprived of soap (as we were, at the same time, of several essential things: bread, coal, potatoes), that I loved it, appreciated it, savoured it as though posthumously in my memory, and hoped to recreate it in poetry . . .

A la recherche du Savon Perdu . . .

Also, I often said to myself: Think now! In the Other World (if there is one), when we shall have sufficiently enjoyed the angels' music, what are the objects of the earth that we will remember with joy and tenderness, what are those that it would please us to evoke for our best friends among the angels, so as to make them understand their beauty, their virtues? . . . As being representative of our world, our world below, and of ourselves, as being impregnated by us, our material and, perhaps, our familiar portrait? . . .

Well, certainly soap is one of them!

. . .

                                                        Paris, January 3rd, 1965

Why then is rubbing one's hands, in our regions, an accepted sign of inner satisfaction, and even exultation?

Be sure, we will be able to formulate some more or less plausible explanations of this.

Already, in regard to plausible, how can one fail to connect the act of rubbing hands with that of applause, in which two hands, one against the other, are also employed: clapping rather than rubbing, it's true -- and consequently producing a supplementary acoustic phenomenon: a noise. Here the satisfaction expressed is no longer meant for oneself, but for some other person, whom one wishes to hear it clearly and publicly.

But let's get back to rubbing hands. Couldn't it be taken as the sign in petto of a sort of "linking up", satisfying in itself, of corporal identify, comparable to that attempted by the dog when it tries to bite its tail; be noted then, correlatively to this hypothesis, that among the many double symmetrical organs in the human body (and in most other physical bodies, whatever they may be), hands are among the rare ones which are easily able to come together? Very natural, therefore, that they should not abstain from doing so -- and congratulating each other . . .

As for the rubbing, would not this be, then a redoubling, a multiplication of simple seizing, just as a caress, for example, must be repeated, be made insistent for it to produce its full effect, ending finally in some nervous modification, I mean to say some spasm or orgasm.

The production of its own sign thus becoming the condition of accomplishment of whatever it may be . . . Yes! Yes! It is in exactly this way that writing must be thought of: not as the transcription, according to conventional rules, of some idea (exterior or anterior) but, in reality, as an orgasm: as the orgasm of a being or structure, let's say, conventional to begin with, of course -- yet which must fulfil itself, give itself, exultantly, as such: in a word, to signify itself.

Let us now return to Soap, that is to rubbing our hands with something and, so to speak, by means of a means.

This is done, no longer (as in applause or the rubbing of hands) as a consequence or sign of an achieved result, but for a result to be obtained: a washing or whitening, as it happens.

To give this means its full importance, so as to make it yield its maximum output, to obtain from it its utmost favours (a continual gift of saliva, for example): this truly is the game, the verbal exercise par excellence: this is "poetry"; this is very "morality".

Buy Francis Ponge's book @ Amazon

Jeanette Winterson

[from Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry, Random House, 1989]

The streets are badly lit and the distance from one side to the other no more than the span of my arms. The stone crumbles, the cobbles are uneven. The people who throng the streets shout at each other, their voices rising from the mass of heads and floating upwards towards the church spires and the great copper bells that clang the end of the day. Their words, rising up, form a thick cloud over the city, which every so often must be thoroughly cleansed of too much language. Men and women in balloons fly up from the main square and, armed with mops and scrubbing brushes, do battle with the canopy of words trapped under the sun.

The words resist erasure. The oldest and most stubborn form a thick crust of shattering rage. Cleaners have been bitten by words still quarrelling, and in one famous lawsuit a woman whose mop had been eaten and whose hand was badly mauled by a vicious row sought to bring the original antagonists to court. The men responsible made their defence on the grounds that the words no longer belonged to them. Years had passed. Was it their fault if the city had failed to deal with its overheads? The judge ruled against the plaintiff but ordered the city to buy her a new mop. She was not satisfied, and was later found lining the chimneys of her accused with vitriol.

I once accompanied a cleaner in a balloon and was amazed to hear, as the sights of the city dropped away, a faint murmuring like bees. The murmuring grew louder and louder till it sounded like the clamouring of birds, then like the deafening noise of schoolchildren let out for the holidays. She pointed with her mop and I saw a vibrating mass of many colours appear before us. We could no longer speak to each other and be heard.

She aimed her mop at a particularly noisy bright red band of words who, from what I could make out, had escaped from a group of young men on their way home from a brothel. I could see from the set of my companion's mouth that she found this particular job distasteful, but she persevered, and in a few moments all that remained was the fading pink of a few ghostly swear-words.

Next we were attacked by a black cloud of wrath spewed from a parson caught fornicating his mother. The cloud wrapped around the balloon and I feared for our lives. I could not see my guide but I could hear her coughing against the noxious smell. Suddenly I was drenched in a sweet fluid and all returned to lightness.

"I have conquered them with Holy Water," she said, showing me a stone jar marked with the Bishop's seal.

After that our task was much easier. Indeed I was sorry to see the love-sighs of young girls swept away. My companion, though she told me it was strictly forbidden, caught a sonnet in a wooden box and gave it to me as a memento. If I open the box by the tiniest amount I may hear it, repeating itself endlessly as it is destined to do until someone sets it free.

Buy Jeanette Winterson's book @ Amazon

21 June 2009

Alice Notley

[from Alice Notley's Mysteries of Small Houses, Penguin, 1998]

A Baby Is Born Out of a White Owl's Forehead -- 1972

At this time there are few
poems about pregnancy and childbirth
do I find this curious
I want to shriek at
any identity
this culture gives me claw it to
pieces; has nothing to
do with me or
my baby and never will,
has never perceived a
human being.
My baby is quiet and wise, but I'm
a trade name and I'm
rainwater on a piano -- I'm so
scared then but now of then I'd say
I want to make your tunes go away
to have a child is more casual
than, you might say, and more serious than
the definition
for who, frankly, was ever born
or gave birth?

After the usual pain and the well-meaning,
mostly but not all,
intervention of others and others' words and meanings
I find him. Lying next to me yes and being
nursed by me.
I serve him why not he isn't wrong.

I'm infused with a noxious dispirit
as the world makes me be a woman
everything has gone wrong in some sense by now.

Of two poems one sentimental and one not
I choose both
of his birth and my painful unbirth I choose both.
The woman in the photo has a haircut from Vidal Sassoon
wears a black silky synthetic top and probably a long skirt
the baby on her lap in sleepers and
a blue and white Peruvian cap.
They look abstracted in the same way.
He is the baby unchaotic
he is born and I am undone -- feel as if I will
never be, was never born.

Two years later I obliterate myself again
having another child
not to be a form of woman
but in allegiance to the process I
can't quite see.
I have begun to be.

I sit with my sons in a barely cared-for apartment
inside from Chicago in the TV's ambience (black and
white, like the snow) purple crocuses there
Ted's becoming sick with a lasting illness
though we are calm while money doesn't press us
a moment of happiness, these bodies are clear
all four finally clear and
still clear

but first, for two years, there's no me here.

Buy Alice Notley's book @ Amazon

20 June 2009

Jay Wright

[from Jay Wright's The Presentable Art of Reading Absence, Dalkey Archive, 2008]

I am speaking to you now.
Surely, we have arrived.
                 This is an infallible claim:
to sit in this garden and to know it,
to watch the evasive sun play
over the juniper,
                          and to feel the absent
hemlock breathing in the distance,
and to covet the astonishment of astilbe
embellishing a hidden path.
So the two of us sit,
mov'd with reverentiall anger,
                           no longer at rest.
This must be the moment of separation,
the first betrayal,
the first ferrying of a constellation
that reminds me that stars
       form in the ash of other stars
                         as they approach their end.
I would betray this ontological event;
I would trace my birth on water,
in the turbulence of a nurturing faith.
I say that my star is nearest earth,
and that my light is mortal.
These sojourners,
these clarions of mid-May,
twins of the deep song,
given substance in spiritual desire,
step diffidently into the garden.
              I say Thou seest me here at midnight,
searching the other side of life.

Buy Jay Wright's book @ Amazon

19 June 2009

Tomaž Šalamun

[from Tomaž Šalamun's Poker, tr. Joshua Beckman, Ugly Duckling, 2003]

Things [excerpt]

Between any two points in space
you can always draw a straight line
but where is the way
between the same place


Bite the neck of your gazelles
             let it run
             let it run
let the blood flood crystal disgust
crystals of your being
divert yourself a handsome leopard
you are tired of foreign guests
             walk in the jungle
             walk in the jungle
you forgot about the pulse of warm skin
forgot how you bore into young flesh
forgot the blood's color is bright
remain lying lazy among your prey
             let it sing
             let it sing
gentle necks of dead gazelles
they're beautiful little things
warm and soft long after death

But there comes a day to strangle them all
tranquil wind brings you the message
then, as on order, you open your mouth
and sense a slab
a smooth steely slab between your teeth


If you count from one to one hundred
you're doing a totally hard job
and still getting there
but if you coung from three to five
you never reach two
and here we go
a lie a crash little sticks through the window
does anything change
push your father to the threshold
and your son will push you through
we still have ten days left to qualify
the fact that the shoe turns toward you
it loses that characteristic tenderness
it had when turned away
and here we go
Moses little fishes the highest comprehension
parallel bars Hegel the shiniest example
paiolas pagaias boom mezza luna
some are born to be stuck
and others with different patents
o water pitcher water pitcher water pitcher
in short, friends, it can be everything
seventeen small slats on my shutter
and I don't like it
and get up
and pull hard
and come back
and still it is completely as it should be
and I don't like it
and get up
and pull hard
little slat little slat little slat
with better teeth
I would go crunch crunch
to all of this is the blissfulness of the illuminated ones
a wench a quench a bench a banana . . .

Buy Tomaž Šalamun's book @ SPD or Amazon

18 June 2009

Fanny Howe

[from Fanny Howe's The Lyrics, Graywolf, 2007]

City Limits


Rain and a splash
        of backward glances from horses
        climbing out of the river.

They are factored out of all equations,
        the luckies. Their shoes
        ring like elfin hammers

and echo on the granite.


From the yellow mist she came to the hospital
        bruised all over and the man asking
Who did this to you?

But now I don't recall
        what she answered.

The more you lie, the less you remember.
Her plan is not to become a ghost at any cost.

A female ghost is at the bottom of the barrel.
So what's to blame
        except the horse in the sun.


The battlefield is where
bombs are planted in a trash can
roosters are crowing
and ink is like mud.
A chicken lives in the kitchen.

That gas lamp provides a silhouette.
History, there are no surprises coming from you.
From bodies, less than none.

Less than none means there is no meaning.


Even among bags, needles and bed pans

Raindrops make ornaments
        out of the lights that shine in them.

Old human breath and an animal soul
        lie down on those horse-hair pillows.


The worst was saved for the best.

The worst was served to the children of the non-avaricious.
A black tomb
of family life, body parts for sale and no sympathy at all.

How can this be happening?
Averted face, a grin.

And these were kind men to everyone at home.

Women loved them.


Horses have fallen on horses
And a heap of laughing soldiers.

No more drama of sulkiness.

They are humans and horses together, they are one thing.

Genesis foot-tap, first out of the yard,
once wrongly placed, the rest
of the hooves follow.

And the pricks
in their pants under massive horse-brown tables
draw up the plans

for continuing slaughter.


"The dragon represents history."

I am running from
these lessons. I am running from school.

Will a new mistake produce better results?

Say I experience once again.
lips on my nipple and the rush
of grief turned into milk. Those
were the days when I understood
emotion as flesh's feelings.

I felt other people more than I knew them.
There were no vapors, even words
stank of milk and mouth.
Love was like a horse. Once I rose
from the bed and left the earth
and my nursing baby and flew
into the likeness of heaven.
But then I volunteered to come back.
Yes, I was a brave soldier then.
I remember baby's eyes were closed
and the sky never looked so smart.
Say I had never had this happen.
Where would I be today?


The horses' flanks are shiny.
They are ears even as they are meat.
They listen to the music
of human voices and leaves and twitch.

Sodomize them, the crowd of bodies cries.
Call on the diligence of the penis
and carnal clitoris, cry the rest.
In music there is rest.

Why did God leave us, isn't it obvious?

Of meaty flanks I sing.
I will go down with the polis.

Let the police drag me away.

"Get rid of those tickets,
Go to the show."

I knew everything was backwards
I didn't need to be told
you were out there, God, or hear
all those cafeteria sounds
in the light that I am,
turning around on a pencil.


Teacher leaned forward and amended
my story about the yellow horse
at the bottom of the road
facing up to where I stood
and coated in silver fog.
He said there was never any fog
in that part of town and I said nothing
though I was the one who went there.

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17 June 2009

Barbara Guest

[from Barbara Guest's Collected Poems, Wesleyan, 2008]

An Emphasis Falls on Reality

Cloud fields change into furniture
furniture metamorphizes into fields
an emphasis falls on reality.

"It snowed toward morning," a barcarole
the words stretched severely

silhouettes they arrived in trenchant cut
the face of lilies . . . .

I was envious of fair realism.

I desired sunrise to revise itself
as apparition, majestic in evocativeness,
two fountains traced nearby on a lawn . . . .

you recall treatments
of "being" and "nothingness"
illuminations apt
to appear from variable directions --
they are orderly as motors
floating on the waterway,

so silence is pictorial
when silence is real.

The wall is more real than shadow
or that letter composed of calligraphy
each vowel replaces a wall

a costume taken from space
donated by walls . . . .

These metaphors may be apprehended after
they have brought their dogs and cats
born on roads near willows,

willows are not real trees
they entangle us in looseness,
the natural world spins in green.

A column chosen from distance
mounts into the sky while the font
is classical,

they will destroy the disturbed font
as it enters modernity and is rare . . . .

The necessary idealizing of your reality
is part of the search, the journey
where two figures embrace

This house was drawn for them
it looks like a real house
perhaps they will move in today

into ephemeral dusk and
move out of that into night
selective night with trees,

The darkened copies of all trees.

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how poets respond to Emily Dickinson

A Poet's Corner of Responses to Dickinson's Legacy

edited by Martha Nell Smith & Laura Elyn Lauth

Kazim Ali

[from Kazim Ali's The Far Mosque, Alice James, 2005]


We came to the next part together and eager,
trying on the accretion of coats,

your rough cheek against mine.
Cauldron eyes, you're striking, ferrous, uncurdling me.

All points of passage between two bodies
are points of danger.

What will be left as "what-I-believe-in"
hits the surface of the water from a great height?

Now no passengers, no sails, no anchor, only the me-craft,
swimming like crazy through fire-sleeved water with you.

Breathing it, being burned by it.
Thinking sometimes to walk on it.

Also being encircled.
Also being dispersed.

Sleep Bowl

The light bowl
of your voice

Sounds across the surface of my sleep
bit by bit coming to it

White wings brushing
against the eardrum

You were named in me thirteen years ago
by my mother rust-clad at the promise river

The dozen different versions of me
being carried on drafts away

Sleep little sweat-lodge, spirit house,
imaginary boy, petaled to my side, breathing

Saying his father's name
across the bowl of my sleep

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16 June 2009

Anne Winters

[from Anne Winters's The Displaced of Capital, University of Chicago, 2004]


Bone-ivory thins out to sparkling gauze,
and the helices spell out their last revisions:
cascades of microscopic cellular flaws.

Dark quadrants in the X-rays of my jaws
mark the retreating toothbed, new excisions,
the ivory thinned out to sparkling gauze.

The synovial sea that bathed my knees withdraws,
leaving bone nubs to clickings and collisions,
cascades of calcium, microscopic flaws.

What's worse, this age of ice-flare and failed thaws
that might clear nights for rare auroral visions,
instead blows through my sleep like cradle-gauze,

filled with nursery-rockers, pastel night-lights: straws
that wove about those years of small decisions
a screen against the tide of cellular flaws.

Why should the ova and the menses pause
for this bleak text of lapses and elisions:
bone-ivory thinning out to sparkling gauze,
cascades of tiny intracellular flaws.

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Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

[from a series of letters from Mei-mei Berssenbrugge to the editors in American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language, eds. Claudia Rankine & Juliana Spahr, Wesleyan, 2002]

Letter Nine

As for compositional method, I can't concentrate, so I think of an idea for a poem and just hold it in mind. I'm thinking a matrix of the idea, emotion, scene. I gather quotes from disparate selected books, cultural criticism, philosophy, Buddhism, and daily life, a few hundred notes. I cut them out and lay them out as a map of the area of the poem on a big table, plus pictures. Then over a few intense days, I write a very rough first draft, which I edit for a long time. At first I appropriated the quotes, but recently they've become more and more transformed. The whole process is very loose, to keep unconscious, and then I clarify later.

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15 June 2009

Sarah Manguso

[from Sarah Manguso's Siste Viator, Four Way, 2006]

The Black Garden

The first thing I did was imagine a circle and get in it.
Outside the circle the world waited
With its dinner party and its hologram floor of moving stars.


Why is it called thus
The tourists asked the inhabitant.
Nothing grew or died there.
And they could not see where the circle ended and began.
I am the only one who can see it.
I am a lonely albino, I pour dark tea down my gullet
All day long just so they can see me.


Today I woke up, juggled, made a few notes,
And became symbolically suicidal.
My juggling-balls are shaped like stars.


Where are you if not outside the enclosure?
Only figments live inside.
I am colorless and cold. I am my own figment.

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14 June 2009

Nina Cassian

[from Nina Cassian's Continuum, Norton, 2008]

In an Olde English Inne

I'm cold,
sometimes drunk,
wasting my working vacation
near a fireplace, its coals burned out,
and a black cat --
talking to myself
and sometimes to the cat.

This realm is possessed by sundry ghosts,
some bearded, some feathered,
some just naked
like long, transparent fingers
playing an invisible score.

Cold, useless, drunk
and talking to myself
-- while the cat's only activity
is purring.

Tristia & Inferno

I refuse to climb and to descend
those paths
to make this place more familiar to me,
this place everybody talks about,
though nothing ever happens here.

I prefer to be exiled like Ovid
(whose nickname "Naso" fits my nose)
though not at a fiendish seashore, the Pontus Euxinus,
nor between hills almost bald,
with just one wart or a tuft of hair
from long-gone forests.

I prefer to be exiled like Dante
(with whom I share the profile),
but not from Eternal Rome,
rather from my vanishing childhood
in which many things happened,
but are never mentioned.

Actually, here I am, exiled
between a pregnant yesterday
and an aborted tomorrow.

Bun Nina Cassian's book @ Amazon

13 June 2009

Fanny Howe

[from Fanny Howe's The Deep North, Sun and Moon, 1988]

There is no longer any class outside the class of character, and no history to put your faith in.
You can actually live as if you have no culture, no perspective particular to a date in time.
You are an individual whose prime and solitary property is your own body.
Dying becomes a hell beyond all reason or justics in this ahistorical context.

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John Ashbery

[from John Ashbery's Three Poems, Viking, 1970]

The New Spirit [excerpt]

. . . This possibility of fulfillment creates the appetite for itself, with the result that the dislocations come through to us as romantic episodes or chapters; "There's the one in which I fell away gradually, without even realizing it until we were already far apart, separated by new habits and preoccupations that had arisen even as we sat close to each other, talking about the weather and so on." To have the whole outline in mind yet not notice the individual changes as they occur, and then one day it dawns on you that you are the change, so naturally you could have seen it coming. A subtle corrosion has taken over this branching out, on a higher plane because the totality of its gradations had been breathed into the start, yet sinking deeper than that other that is cast aside because, whatever you might say of it, in the pattern of base voluptuousness it was perfect, a luminary, and things that are perfect of their kind are better than the flawed, interrupted spiral of that other narration whose purpose was to instruct and entertain, but which succeeded in doing neither because it was too turned in upon itself, and therefore suffered a shameful destiny, a chariot going down kicking and struggling at the first brush with the sun's deleterious rays. Quick thinking on your part saved us from such a melodramatic end, though: you merely restored the dimension of the exploratory dialogue, conducted in the general interest, and we resumed our roles of progressive thinkers and builders of the art of love. Not that such a thing could exist, or if it did it would certainly not be anything like an art, which can only exist by coming up into existence, and then the rules may be drawn up, though it makes very little difference since no one will ever play that game again. It lay there in our already clouded vision as we looked at each other, some dark beginning force that made it clear that the time for action was past and the time for making speeches had come. So, somewhat stimulated at the idea of not turning back but going forward, making virtue of necessity, no doubt, we proceeded to actually examine what there was left for us. Not really, of course, but we could feel it as one feels the temperature dropping even though one senses only separate instances and not the movement of the fall. It was waiting for us: the sense that we must now put our ideas together and use them as steps for attaining some kind of rational beauty within the limits of possibility, that would not offend everyday experience, even of the coarsest or most monotonous kind. A prison, in sum, but disguised as a school, built on the false premise of education, that the boredom now would necessarily result in some ultimate note of improvement, though nothing resembling that magnificent but empty structure we had started to build incorrectly and had even begun to get used to despite it having remained largely at the blueprint stage. This was hell or worse, since there was no disproportion, no juxtapositions to distract, nothing but the day-to-day growth without change, no kind of manner in the sullen sunlight that trickled in, illuminating everything equally: a moral universe which the present had transcended but which was able to reassert its authority during the confusion that followed on its inevitable downfall and had now emerger stronger than before: strong as iron. In the very act of contemplating such a state of affairs prior to rejecting it one is caught up on the wheel, there is no alternative, and one finds oneself liking oneself and whatever it is quite as much as ever, more in fact now that a sure sense of purpose implements the drive into a definite thingness, virtue still from necessity, mother of invention, but its own reward. Remains of the old atrocity subsist, but they are converted into ingenious shifts in scenery, a sort of "English garden" effect, to give the required air of naturalness, pathos and hope. . . .

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12 June 2009

Fanny Howe

[from Fanny Howe's Gone, University of California, 2003]

Doubt [excerpt]

Anyone who tries, as [Virginia Woolf] did, out of a systematic training in secularism, to forge a rhetoric of belief is fighting against the odds. Dsiappointments are everywhere waiting to catch you, and an ironic realism is always convincing.

Simone Weil's family was skeptical too, and secular and attentive to the development of the mind. Her older brother fed her early sense of inferiority with intellectual put-downs. Later, her notebooks chart a superhuman effort at conversion to a belief in affliction as a sign of God's presence.

Her prose itself is tense with effort. After all, to convert by choice (that is, without a blast of revelation or a personal disaster) requires that you shift the names for things, and force a new language out of your mind onto the page.

You have to make yourself believe. Is this possible? Can you turn "void" into "God" by switching the words over and over again?
Any act of self-salvation is a problem because of death which always has the last laugh, and if there has been a dramatic and continual despair hanging over childhood, then it may even be impossible.
After all, can you call "doubt" "bewilderment" and suddenly be relieved?

Not if your mind has been fatally poisoned. . . .
But even then, it seems the dream of having no doubt continues, finding its way into love and work where choices matter exactly as much as they don't matter -- at least when luck is working in your favor.

Is Knowing

Is knowing the same as owning?
Do I already have it

(Poetic model)

a spiral thumb-print
taped responses to each event

I thought I was
a five-part someone

who had to decipher the air
in things before navigating them

and each error was necessary

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11 June 2009

Barbara Hamby

[from Barbara Hamby's All-Night Lingo Tango, University of Pittsburgh, 2009]

Ganymede's Dream of Rosalind

Girlfriend, I am the boyfriend you never had -- honeysuckle mouth,
indigent eyes, no rough Barbara beard when kissing me. Popinjay,
keep me in your little chest, nestle me in your cosy love hotel,
my mouthful of tangy violets, my pumpkin raviolo, my spoon
of crushed moonlight in June. On your breast let me sup,
quaff the nectar of your sweet quim, trim repository of dear
succulence. Only touch my cheek with your hand, and let
us again meet as we did that first time in Act II, Scene IV
when we ran away to the Forest of Arden. Rough sphinx,
you know my heart, because it's yours, too, and quartz,
altogether transparent stone. I yearn for you as a crab
craves the wet sand, a wildebeest the vast savannah, a toad
every mudhole and mossy shelf. Forget Orlando. I'll marry myself.

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10 June 2009

Matthea Harvey

[from Matthea Harvey's Modern Life, Graywolf, 2007]

The Lost Marching Band

is often seen snaking over hilltops, the cymbal player holding his cymbals aloft like the golden ears of a giant mouse. Only the mouse shows up in bedtime stories. Parents never mention the deer found bludgeoned by flutes, imprints of keys on their cheeks and haunches. As children themselves, they'd been rushed past the oboe player found abandoned in the street, still keeping a reed moist in her mouth though one sleep in the sun had baked all music out of it. Sometimes, after a long rain has filled the tuba and the baritone and the band has taken turns drinking, they revert to their old ways. They find a field and start spelling out words -- GO TEAM, or SPIRIT. Pivot, turn, pivot. It comforts them to do it. Their unsnapped spats flap in the wind. The twirler's baton is a twig. The conductor's last gold button fell into a puddle years ago where it shone over a scene long forgotten: two teams, a ball, a game.

Emphasis on Mister or Peanut, Robo or Boy

In the chapters on Special Children, the parenting books stress the need for role models. Hence the silver-framed portraits of Mr. Peanut, the Michelin Man and Mrs. Butterworth in silver frames on Robo-Boy's bureau. Robo-Boy has never quite known what to do with them. For a while he thought they might be estranged relatives, especially since his parents never mentioned them. Mr. Peanut, debonair as Fred Astaire, looks like the kind of uncle who might tell you over steak and a cigar that with a pair of gloves and a monocle slotted over your eyesocket, you can have your pick of the ladies. Mrs. Butterworth figured more in Robo-Boy's brief religious phase -- there's something holy in her maple syrup glow, and in her shape, something of the Buddha. The Michelin Man is the one who worries him. With his perpetual thumbs-up and cheerful expression he looks like he might be hoping to hitchhike his way the hell out of here --

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09 June 2009

Sandra Meek

[from Sandra Meek's Biogeography, Tupelo, 2008]

Fracture and Regelation Theory

Where species overlap (sympatric, simpatico), songs evolve
                             and diverge, no I without you
        distant, or strange -- so this fallen male I hear (a female
               would be nearly silent, a mere
                      wing flick)
                             low in the bush, his body's fluted drum

what sings, not the flawed wings' scrim of rain meshed
               in black wire's lace, what crowding or chemicals' fine veil
        twisted, trapping him (dogday cicada, harvestfly)

in flightless emergence. Late summer
                      is a vibration of air, the world
        humming; my observation, the field
               where row after row of chemically mutated

line up, pin through thorax, pin
                      through thorax -- My freeze
        doesn't fool him; he cuts off,
far from the canopy's chorus evolution
meant him to reach by blood's
                      hydraulic extension inflating and

liftng his wings. As amulets of jade, secreted
               under the stilled tongue, once they marked hope
        for rising, the past misting away
                             to a scarf so transparent it

can't be seen, finer even than that cloth before the weavers' thumbs
                      were amputated, a crimson sari pulled entire
               through a wedding ring, finer than the soul

blooding the body, that delta of iron, of rust, vein
                      to capillary: the rivered earth
        in aerial view, dendritic map
               of the valley grained in the trunk beneath the crackling

abandoned skin: Magnolia grandiflora, its own range
        narrowed and pared (climate change,
                      glaciation) while beetles droned
               after huge, moon-white flowers, acorns going off like distant
buckshot in the reservoir --

                                    All things near
in their loss. Sun in the fist of trees, chapel bells rack up
                      the elegaic number while the dying goes on in un-

memorialized silence and the dead drift
              into overgrown margins, scrub
        of sumac and pine,
                      flicking their failed wings --

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08 June 2009

Agha Shahid Ali

[from Agha Shahid Ali's Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A book of Ghazals, Norton, 2003]


The pure pain with which he recognizes angels
has left him without cures among the dreamless angels.

The dawn looked over its shoulder to ask the naked night
for the new fashions in which it could dress angels.

Is it that I've been searching in the wrong places for you?
That your address is still Los Angeles, Angels?

The air is my vinegar, I, its perfect preserve --
Watch how I'm envied by Heaven's meticulous angels.

In Inferno the walls mirror brocades and silks.
Satan's legions -- though fallen -- are, nonetheless, angels.

"Let there be Light," He said, "And the music of the spheres."
To what tune does one set The Satanic Verses, Angels?

I won't lift, off the air, any wingprints, O God --
Hire raw detectives to track down the mutinous angels.

All day we call it wisdom but then again at night
it's only pain as it comes from the darkness, Angels!

Why is God so frightened of my crazy devotion to Him?
Does he think that, like Satan, I too will finesse angels?

Do they dye their wings after Forever, tinting their haloes,
aging zero without Time, those androgynous angels?

You play innocence so well, with such precision, Shahid:
You could seduce God Himself, and fuck the sexless angels.

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07 June 2009

Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge

[from Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge's I Love Artists: New and Selected Poems, University of California, 2006]

Tan Tien

As usual, the first gate was modest. It is dilapidated. She can't tell
which bridge crossed the moat, which all cross sand now, disordered with
It's a precise overlay of circles on squares, but she has trouble locating
the main avenue and retraces her steps in intense heat for the correct
which was intentionally blurred, the way a round arch can give onto a red
far enough in back of the arch for sun to light.

If being by yourself separates from your symmetry, which is
the axis of your spine in the concrete sense, but becomes a suspension
in your spine like a layer of sand under the paving stones of a courtyard
or on a plain, you have to humbly seek out a person who can listen to you,
on a street crowded with bicycles at night, their bells ringing.

And any stick or straight line you hold can be your spine,
like a map she is following in French of Tan Tien. She wants space to fall
to each side of her like traction, not weight dispersed within a mirror. At any
an echo of what she says will multiply against the walls in balanced,
dizzying jumps like a gyroscope in the heat, but she is alone.

Later, she would remember herself as a carved figure and its shadow on a
     blank board,
but she is her balancing stick, and the ground to each side of her is its length,
disordered once by an armored car, and once by an urn of flowers at a
The stick isn't really the temple's bisection around her, like solstice or
This Tang Dynasty peach tree would be a parallel levitation in the spine
of the person recording it.

Slowly the hall looms up. The red stair's outline gives way to its duration
as it extends and rises at a low angle.
In comparison to the family, the individual hardly counts, but they all
wait for her at a teahouse inside the wall.
First the gold knob, then blue tiers rise above the highest step,
the same color as the sky.

When one person came to gain its confidence,
she imagines he felt symmetry as flight after his fast among seven meteorites
in the dark. He really felt like a globe revolving within a globe.
Even the most singular or indivisible particle or heavenly sphere will adjust
when the axis extending beyond itself is pushed, or the sphere it is within
is pushed. What she thought was her balance flattens into a stylized dragon
on the marble paving stones.

Yet she's reluctant to leave the compound. Only the emperor
could walk its center line. Now, anyone can imagine how it felt
to bring heaven news. She is trying to remember this in Hong Kong
as the tram pulls suddenly above skyscrapers and the harbor
and she flattens against her seat, like a reversal occurring in the poles,
or what she meant by, no one can imagine how.

Buy Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge's book @ Amazon

06 June 2009

Marvin Bell, István László Geher, Ksenia Golubovich, Simone Inguanez, Christopher Merrill, Tomaž Šalamun, Dean Young

[from Christopher Merrill, Marvin Bell, István László Geher, Simone Inguanez, Dean Young, Ksenia Golubovich, & Tomaž Šalamun's 7 poets 4 days 1 book, Trinity, 2009]

in the beginning [by Simone Inguanez]

in the beginning, there were grapes.
then the word -- words like cherries
and daily bread, and like water
-- before it freezes
where a certain someone's indifferent glance . . .
and, with words, your eyes, a well of knives.
pleasure pain
the edges of thin lines.

i still dream you're inside me
without knocking entering this temple
which waits for you --
and i say don't lose your way
in the dark
and you smile --
you taste of honey.

Half-Life [by Dean Young]

In darkness every murmur emerges
from a body of honey. Answers
are snatched from flames, from strange
creatures fed by hand. Music is a mushroom,
an argument between mirrors. Night
condemns us to another life,
that bottom line of the periodic table
where the elements last only nanoseconds.
I'm too sleepy to start over now,
too awake to believe this quicksilver dream.
Please be gentle as an isotope can be,
darling who undresses to disappear.
Nothing breaks down quicker than Dean
Youngium, the last atom before
the first layer of devils.

untitled [by Christopher Merrill]

First grapes, then songbirds, then the leopard sleeping
In the tree above the newlyweds' Land Rover.
He dreams of wildebeests. She lies awake
Until first light, when it begins again --
The yearning, the singing. The leopard licks the cub
Of the baboon it ate for dinner. Sweetness,
Like hunger, is demanding, and desire
Is ravenous for light as well as flesh.
It's a matter of arithmetic:
One glass of red, one glass of white, and then
A washing machine -- O broken beauty! -- floods
The Serengeti Plain. A turboprop
Plummets toward the canyon in which the guerrillas
Plotting to kidnap a priest toast the pilot.
The groom stirs in his sleep. Sweet dreams, she tells him.

We'll Calmly Swallow This [by Tomaž Šalamun]

They don't know what they're doing.
Girls remain lying.
You're rabid.
The papyrus' breath.
When you tear yourself
away from the chain, do you
still sense saltiness? I passed the night
on the sieve. Below the grill there were
eyes and water. Little cloths with
which you mopped the tiger's
front, where are the temples from?
The poodle has built himself a wooden
shack and leveled it with his right
leg. I shudder in the bindweed.
The bindweed overgrew my shoulder.

untitled [by István László Geher]

Like a leopard sleeping on the tree
was the way he talked to people.
He was not one of them.
With his darkling desire he walked
the earth the way the predator rests.
In the inner darkness the prey
is other-worldly, he used his heart
like someone learning fear,
clumsy, fearing he was no good.
He would have woken to any noise
but life and death and hate and love
were silence for him. He waited
for the voice. His claws, drawn in,
spared time from tearing. The sleep
in his leopard's eyes grew towering.
Those mounting it could never reach the top.

untitled [by Ksenia Golubovich]

The river flows ever so gently
Under the cement bridge at night. You stand
Upon a river rock to show me balance,
Then I -- to show exuberance. The bridge --
A simple stretch of steadiness above
A sliding strip of water . . . "fit together" --
You say. I stand on rocks, you -- on the shore
Touching the tips of my cold fingers --
I find it strange -- your thought amazes me
And through amazement it begets a child
-- a thought of steps and rocks and of the river
That crossed the bridge's heart, its darkening head
Under the lover's arm . . . Is that reality
Sweet music of the minds? Joining
Two half-believes we stand and move. We dance.

untitled [by Marvin Bell]

Okay, one last bowl of stones for dinner
before we wake. O broken beauty whole
until the dawn. The statue David's of a piece
with the bones and entrails left for vultures,
if you never cry. Mozart is denial. Poetry
is denial. Beauty is denial. Union is fencing
behind which condos rise with good views.
Please forgive me my war criminals. And
the crooks who took away our soul. Let my
dream kidnap a bucket of Texas slime
and make a man of it. Am I to sleep deeply
by the river or beget beauty in the air
instead of hewing the trees? Here the forest
is a forest, and our dream a little Mozart playing
brilliantly for the grownups, don't you think?

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Martha Rhodes

[from Martha Rhodes's Perfect Disappearance, New Issues, 2000]

Through Clouds, Their Whispers

A bridge, fallen. And so
they call me. Lie across our river, they beg
up through clouds, their whispers reach me.
Why should I bother? Why listen?
I have never been touched before, why now,
such intimacies -- they explain how they'll
move on me, rolling, stamping.
They'll dump garbage, furniture, their murdered.
Some god-help-them will jump from me, let them, I'm told.

How do they want me?
On my back looking up their skirts,
staring at their bulging zippers,
into their baby carriages? Or turned over?
Never before touched,
how many hands positioning me?
Then the planting of trees up my spine as I span their ankle-deep river.
They will celebrate me with bandstands, dog runs, bike paths.
I have never been, nor have I, touched. Do I dare do this?

When they walk across who will first wrap her long legs around me,
roll down that hill into this river, lie on its banks, spreading wide
so the breeze of me may dry her every and all afternoon, she will
walk across the small of my back, she will lie on my back,
gently day and night I will swing her to sleep.

But if my arms tire, and my legs
and my ribs, when they begin to crack
and I can no longer reach shore-to-shore (yes
even our bones shrink), which of you cousins
will listen if I call upward,
will any of you come for me,
or even remember me,
how twice each day
I stand in your midst --
we scrub and groom ourselves
with so much hope, as if
at last, in these clouds,
someone's there for each of us,
for each, a kiss.

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05 June 2009

Barbara Guest

[from Barbara Guest's Forces of Imagination: Writing on Writing, Kelsey Street, 2003]

You enter the poem like Ulysses embarking on a "beautiful voyage."

The rules are inside your head.      They belong to you.      As you grow along with poetry you learn there are certain things the tribe cannot do (not rules) and you cannot do if you are to maintain your best position within the poem.

When in trouble depend upon imagination.

Picasso, when facing his inquisitors: "Subject matter? You have to have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea."

To translate this sensitive remark (to my way of thinking): the poem should not be programmatic, or didactic, or show-off.     But another way is to go inside the poem itself and     be in the dark     at the beginning of the journey. Here, with a vague idea (as Picasso suggested) of what to write,
     and I am trembling     am trembling with the excitement

         This trembling is a good idea, because it means
you are not exactly in charge. Ulysses learned, to his dismay and once to his delight,

         his ship would encounter circumstances     well beyond his control
Magic and spells     would victimize
     poetry entering its own domain
     may (for a time) cast its spell over the poet

you, also, are going to to entertain within the poem circumstances over which you must eventually take control, but at first you have no control

if you are a good poet to begin with you have an idea and you know enough
         about where your objectives are, but someone here allows
the poem's powers, even as magic entered the sails of Ulysses, and not by
         didacticism of your own will     as you enter the great seas or
                 little bay of your poem.

what Picasso said about subject matter:
"It's always something else in the end."

While the poem is in the making it changes as thoughts change. There are certain rhythmical tides and swells on this voyage when the poem gains control of its shape and enters its own rhythmical waters; times when the poem withdraws into itself/ and as you coast 'musing' remember the rocks upon which the Sirens sang . . . .

                 when the poem can be, I believe, in most danger.

What is so fascinating about poetry is: how many encounters we meet with on the way of its writing.
     And the explicit will of the poem, until it releases.    the myth: of itself

"the poem wrote itself." when the identify of the poem is so fixed the poem is willing to trust itself to the poet.

     before the poem can "write itself"

amid currents: "reality" and multi-identificational
                        objectives / Body, Mind, Soul /

                        the dark identity of a poem must be encountered

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Kazim Ali

[from Kazim Ali's The Fortieth Day, BOA, 2008]

Dear Sunset, Dear Avalanche

dear thunder without lightning
dear window sound of last year

dear mountainous landscape

water in air unraveling
dear ice filled clamor that fetches

I'm fetching, tolling, a libelous suit
sold and soldiering up the slopes

navigating the trails without adequate supplies
opening up the roof of the ride

a somnambulist, a compassless climber,
a lunchless hack, naked on the rock road

my ear cocked to the distance
dear solo slipping sun

this is the part the slow whispering interrupts
dear disappeared, dear desperate

this is the part you're always interrupting,
the part you want to be buried under --

The Desert

To make the darkness possible
you close the shutters

When light streams in
it is harder to see

You're inside arguing about whether
a cloud was once a river

While outside a man stutters,
trying to talk to the cacti

If you could receive only one answer
would you choose to know

what he is choking on
or what he is trying to say

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04 June 2009

Denis Johnson

[Denis Johnson's The Incognito Lounge, Carnegie Mellon, 1994]

The Confession of St. Jim-Ralph
Our Patron of Falling Short,
Who Became a Prayer [excerpt]

With four monstrosities in uniforms
like mine, I pulverized guitars and wept
for the merriment of many. Brothers,
when shadows lengthen, and they lower down
the American flag and close our government,
another country rises like a mist
by garbagey coliseums on the warehouse
side of town to listen to that rock
and roll: God speaking with the Devil's voice,
unbreathable air of manacles, a storm
to bless your multicolored lips with sperm.
We sundered them until they brought their bones
forth from the flesh and laid them at our feet,
screaming their lungs shut tight as fists,
shedding their homes forever, leaving name
and tongue and mind and sending us their heads
through the mails in the night. We ran it past the edge,
we gave them something everyone could dance to --
whatever is most terrible is most real --
the Bible fights, the fetuses burning in light-bulbs,
the cunnilingual, intravenous
swamp of love. Three times I died on stage,
and the show went on while doctors snatched
me back from Chinatown with their machines.
We struck it rich. Without a repertoire,
without a name or theme, we toured the land
and eighty thousand perished. We were real,
but not one company recorded us:
everywhere we went they passed a law.
We toured the land -- sweet, burning Texacos,
the adrenaline darkness palpitates frantically,
the highway eats itself all night, the radio's
wheedling bebop fails in the galactic
soup near dawn; the Winnebago shimmers,
everything tastes like puke, the eight-ball
bursts, nobody
know how to drink in this fuckin town . . .
One night I heard our music end
abruptly in the middle of a number
and looked around me at a gigantic silence.
I felt the pounding, saw the screams, but all
was like the long erasure of a wind
calming and disturbing everything
on its route through stunned fields of hay.
My bodyguards tried with huge gentleness to lead
me off, but I threw myself outside, rolling
through a part of town I'd never seen --
the flat grey streets looked Hebrew, and the windows
held out the paraphernalia of old age,
porcelain Jesuses gesturing from the shadows
of porcelain vases, surrounded by medicines.
A rain began. I strained myself to hear
the trashcans say their miserable names,
but nothing. At the brink
of stardom high over the United States,
untouchable as God but better known,
I stumbled over streets that might've been rubber,
deaf as a cockroach, finished as a singer.
Brothers I spilled myself along the roads.
Mold grew on me as I dampened in alleys.
I began in ignorance. How could I know
that whoever is grinding up his soul is making
himself afresh? That the ones who run away
get nearer all the time? Look here or there,
it's always the horizon, the dull edge
of earth dicing your plan like a potato. . . .

Buy Denis Johnson's book @ Amazon